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Over the last 2+ years, I’ve experienced the most significant philosophical awaking of my 42 year old life. I’m choosing to write about it mainly so that my friends and family will better understand why I say what I say and why I make the decisions that I do.

This is not an attempt to tell you that I’ve found the meaning of life or the fountain of youth. And this is not to denounce your school of thought, or in some cases, your very reason for living. This is about how I came to question what I was told and where I now stand. I was born with a brain, and my body works better and lasts longer when I use it. Yours does too! Really! Exercising your brain is a great part of preventing Mild Cognitive Disorder which can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

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My Christian Upbringing
From my birth through late adolescence I attended various Protestant churches with my parents. At age 5, my dad coached me to accept Jesus as my personal savior. My parents sent to me Christian schools starting with first grade and through my senior year in high school.

Not only did I attend Sunday morning church services, but also Sunday school, Sunday evening service, youth group, and sometimes Wednesday night prayer meeting. None were optional. Once I started attending Edgewood School of Seventh Day Adventists in Stoneham, Massachusetts, my church youth activities were supplemented with Seventh Day Adventist youth programs called Junior Missionary Volunteers and Pathfinders.

I’m not complaining about any of this. I’m just making the point that my spiritual path was clearly chosen and well-orchestrated. I was indoctrinated into the Christian faith.

My Own Spirituality, or Lack Thereof

For many years, I was what I’d call a “skeptical” Christian. I appreciated most of the Bible’s moral codes of conduct (the popular ones like being kind to your neighbor, not killing, etc.), but never felt “full of the Holy Spirit” or that Jesus/God was the center of my life, leading it. Some Christians would argue this lack of spirituality was my own fault and that I should have tried harder to read the Bible and pray.

In 8th grade, I remember being told by my Christian school teacher that it seemed I wasn’t taking religion seriously, that it seemed to him I wasn’t fully committed. I was actually shocked, because I didn’t feel that way at all. Spiritually speaking, I felt normal amongst my other 13 year old classmates and their spiritual lives.

4 years earlier, I had made a pledge not to smoke, drink, or use drugs. I’ve kept that pledge and I intend to keep it throughout my life. It’s one of the aspects of me that I’m most proud of. It’s one of the choices that defines me.

At age 18, I chose to be baptized, as did a group of other church friends.

The point is, I understand people’s desire to follow their convictions, to strive to do what is expected of them, and to want to make their family members proud.

Discovering Science & Raising Red Flags in the Bible

In 2011, I started working at a recording studio that produces audio books. It was the start of my greatest personal growth. It exposed me to many books I wouldn’t have picked up and read on my own. Here is where things get juicy.

Continental Drift & How Old Is Planet Earth

Reading the 2012 Marie Tharp biography called Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor (2012) by Hali Felt, I learned about Continental Drift and Plate Tectonics, subjects I don’t ever remember being covered in any of my Christian school science classes. Although I’m sure I remember noticing that several continents looked as though they could have almost fit together if they were puzzle pieces.

mid-atlantic rift

Over a 20 year period while working at Columbia University, Marie Tharp, along with her partner Bruce Heezen, collected soundings and seismographic data. In 1952, while focusing on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, an underwater mountain range in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, Tharp discovered a massive, deep sea fracture, or “rift valley” at the crest of the ridge. Initially, her partner Heezen was skeptical and dismissive.

She knows exactly what he’s afraid of. They both know that the existence of such a rift means continental drift.

Years later, she wrote in a Natural History article,

If there was such a thing as continental drift, it seemed logical that something like a mid-ocean rift valley might be involved. The valley would form where new material came up from deep inside the earth, splitting the Mid-ocean ridge in two and pushing the sides apart. That, in turn, would move the continents to their various tectonic plates.

The author writes:

Depending on your intellectual confidence, the mention of continental drift provoked anything from mild anxiety to flat-out horror.

Once I started thinking about the meaning, I was full of questions too!

When Marie & Bruce’s physiographic diagram was placed together on a light table with a map marking earthquake epicenters…

…it was clear that the earthquake epicenters did not just cling to the slopes of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. They fell within Marie’s rift, so many dots clustered within the valley that they appeared to fill it, forming a nearly unbroken line up and down its length.

Marie went on to discover the ridge was part of a continuous, 40,000 kilometer-long system of mid-ocean ridges on the floors of all the earth’s oceans. The ridge and its rift even cuts through land–Iceland (the Reykjanes Ridge).

The discovery was huge: shallow-focus earthquakes seemed to originate in rift valleys, which weren’t confined to the Atlantic and Indian oceans. …she could sketch one nearly continuous rift valley all across the world, a forty-thousand-mile-long underwater structure, quite possibly the largest geologic feature on Earth.

Tharp and Heezen would go on to produce the first scientific map of the ocean floor, showing exactly how this ridge spanned the entire globe. Their ocean map is now integrated into Google Maps. Click the satellite view, zoom out enough and you can see it for yourself.

In the book, I learned that Marie understood the magnitude of their discovery and the huge implications on how people would look at creationism and science, as the discovery of this worldwide ridge system led to the scientific acceptance of Wegener’s theory of continental drift and plate tectonics.

Word of God

Traditional Christianity (and Judaism) interprets Genesis chapter 1 as literal, with God creating the heavens and the earth (verse 1,2) light out of darkness (verses 3-5), the sky separating the water on earth from the water elsewhere (6-8), land and seas (9,10), plants (11-13), lights in the sky including the sun and the moon (14-19), animals (20-25), and man (26-31), all within a 6 day period, making the earth around 5,700 to 10,000 years old. Fundamentalist Christians use the Bible as a history book.
But if the earth is older than Christians believe, is the Bible historically accurate?

For anyone that might not know (like me before I opened my mind and researched), basically, the earth’s continents slowly move, about an inch per year, away from the ridge, widening in the rift (or valley) inside. Put it all together and continental drift and the Christian young earth theory are incompatible.

The above section is my brief account on how I became interested in the truth about our planet’s age and how it conflicts with a literal Bible translation. It has been incredibly exciting to learn more about geology and just how the tectonic plates move along the earth, and how volatile the areas of intersection are.

It has also been an eye opener as to how this aspect of science was neglected in my Christian school science curriculum, and how Christian schools continue to give so little importance to certain aspects of science.

The questions of earth’s age and finding some major problem Bible passages made it easier for me to ask serious questions of my Christians family and friends. None had answers that satisfied me. Very few were interested in admitting there may be conflicts. Most importantly, I have the confidence to seek out the answers on my own–to find truth that I can believe.

Using the Bible for Evil?

Is the worldwide spread of Christianity an absolute good?

Most of us believe in the concepts of good and evil. Is the Bible mankind’s only legitimate moral compass?

Traditional Christianity teaches that written word complied in the Bible is directly inspired by God:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
-2 Timothy chapter 3 verse 16

Is this true?

When reading the Bible passages below, I have carefully considered the foresight of an all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful God, and have questioned whether the same entity could ever take ownership of these ideas, knowing how his supposed thoughts and words have been used (historically and at present).

How has Christianity influenced colonization, slavery and racism, and attitudes toward people who are gay?

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
-Matthew chapter 28 verse 19

How many people have been killed in wars throughout human history in the name of God? How have nations used the Bible to colonize cultures near and far?

1. All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. 2. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves.
-1 Timothy Chapter 6 verses 1 and 2

Do you consider this writing the direct inspiration from God? I do not. I consider it an indication of a particular man’s bias.

If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
-Leviticus chapter 20 verse 13

The genesis for anti-gay policies, violence, and other actions, right here on paper. Directly inspired by God? Or man’s bias?

Does a good Christian act on this policy or does he understand that a certain percentage of people are born gay, and the real test of humanity is in how we understand and protect (or not) those in society that are marginalized and in need of understanding and protection.

Does the Christian ideal of living for the next life in heaven relieve believers from responsibilities to their current residence (earth)?

Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.
-Genesis chapter 9 verse 1

As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.
-Genesis chapter 9 verse 7

Huge problems facing our planet and our own future: human overpopulation and human impact on the planet. Would an all-knowing God really instruct man to fill the earth? Or would he sternly warn against such a concept that would ultimately lead to the depletion of the planet’s life and natural resources at an alarming rate?

The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.
-Genesis chapter 9 verses 2, 3

Are Bible passages like this used to defend and promote the commercial meat industry and all that it brings (global warming, animal cruelty, dwindling freshwater supply, loss of forests and grasslands, soil erosion, dead zones in coastal areas, disease, antibiotic resistance, etc.)?

You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive.
-Genesis chapter 6 verses 19, 20

Is evolution a hoax? Did Noah really allow 400,000 different species of beetles on the ark, plus a pair of every other living animal?

Are Christians manipulated to vote pro big business, pro big food, pro big energy, anti environment, etc.?

Are Christians manipulated by big business to think of environmentalists, scientists, and liberals as radical?

How are Christians suckered into voting against sustainable environmental policies?

How are Christians suckered into never-ending holy wars?

How do big corporations benefit by Christians believing in a literal translation of the Bible, believing God offers the entire planet and every living thing on it for man’s pleasure, that God considers homosexuality “wicked,” that non-believers will burn in a fiery hell and believers will spend eternity in heaven?

If people did not believe in a supernatural end of the world intervention and safe passage to everlasting life in heaven, would they be less inclined to believe big energy-driven propaganda that global warming doesn’t exist or isn’t influenced by humans? If so, do big energy companies count on this attitude of people “living for the next world” so they can make profits now, without changing their business model?

Has the concept of the Christian “missionary” encouraged colonization and slavery, even in our own country?

These days it’s not uncommon to hear our friends, family, publicists, celebrities, and of course politicians tout the United States as the greatest country in the world. I’ve heard it from President Obama himself, and even he admits it’s a cliche:

Look, there’s no American politician, much less American President, who’s not going to say that we’re not the greatest country on Earth. So that’s a cliche.

It’s true that many Americans enjoy a very comfortable income and can live in relative tranquility, far above standards in other countries. But just how did our nation become so successful? The earliest success came from the “free” labor of stolen Africans forced to work on plantations owned by the richest Americans.

Many slave owners maintained good standing in their communities while committing this evil horror by influencing the public that the Bible condoned slavery. They went even further by trying to convince the public and their slaves that Africans were biologically inferior than whites, making them ideal choices for slaves.

Slaves were even told the “good news” and given the opportunity to convert to Christianity. How grateful they should have been. (sarcasm)

My Conscience Tells Me So

A person that identifies himself a Christian and a churchgoer, does not necessarily make him a good or better person than a non-believer.

What makes someone a good person has to do with the way he treats people, especially people and other life forms that are powerless, that do not have a voice. A good person uses their influence (their vote) to fight corruption, to protect the powerless and the less fortunate, and to protect the future of the planet and life on it.

I know that my views are considered “radical” by some, especially by people in my family and extended family, and the people I grew up with. I embrace the term because I am thinking independently, with my own mind. No one has held my hand. The more I’ve learned, the more I’ve changed. While many people my age are getting more and more proud and confident in the beliefs they’ve held since they were teens, I take pride in knowing that I don’t assume I know everything. I’m happy to learn and admit there is so much more to learn.

So that’s where I am. Thanks for reading. You deserve to know where I stand and what I’ve learned, and my passion for learning more.

All Bible quotes in this article are from the New International Version (NIV).

Paradise Found book cover

Related Reading:
The Bible, of course

Paradise Found: Nature in America at the Time of Discovery by Steve Nicholls
Learn about the relationship different plant and animal species have with each other, and the destruction that happens when that delicate balance is tampered. See how people have used Bible passages to defend the greed of ever-growing capitalism and it’s devastating effects.

Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor by Hali Felt
Learn about the history of plate tectonics and true age of the earth.

American Antislavery Writings: Colonial Beginnings to Emancipation, James G. Basker, editor
Notice how slave owners and companies that benefited from slave labor used the Bible to defend the practice. Notice how the church could not bring itself to collectively denounce it. A notable exception was by Philadelphia Quakers, as early as 1688.

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen
Learn about the scary effects of global warming, the true history of AIDS, etc.

8 Replies to “My Conscience Tells Me So – Independent Thinking & Personal Revelations”

  1. Dear Josh, I loved your testimony. Here are my comments. “What makes someone a good person has to do with the way he treats people”. Dear Josh, The light of Christ is not in everyone. A self-proclaimed Christian may not understand anything Christ taught, IE, the meaning of what Christ expects from a true Christian. Being humble, “I take pride in knowing that I don’t assume I know everything”, and questioning why things are the way they are, I believe, brings us all closer to God.Jesus taught us to be humble. “the first shall be last, and the last first”. But True Love and Faith in Christ is a Feeling and a leap that most cannot make or don’t understand. Faith is believing in what we can’t see and sometimes, don’t understand. But without Love and Faith in Christ, we are dead. Following God’s law is something we don’t have to do. We have free will! But if you put aside his law, for what we want, then we drift from Christ. We all fall short, we all question what we don’t understand, but when we us them as reasons not to follow God’s law, we separate ourselves from Christ. My Father taught me many things, things I didn’t understand at that moment, I may have been angry or confused, but I usually obeyed. When I didn’t, I got in trouble or hurt myself or someone else. Many times, later in life, I understood what he tried to teach me years early. I realized they were true. It’s the same with our faith and love of Christ. So keep the Faith, and always choose Love over injustice and hatred, and you will hold Christ in your Heart, no matter how much, or little a person understands~! Sincerely Yours, Rusty.

  2. Great,Josh! I’ve always admired your independence of mind. That’s rare enough among people who did not grow up with the kind of indoctrination that you did. As a person who was also intellectually hamstrung by indoctrination in my youth, in my case Roman Catholic indoctrination, I identify profoundly with your passionate embrace of our right to exercise the one thing that, in the words of Henry Drummond (the Clarence Darrow figure in the play, Inherit the Wind), “sets us apart from all other creatures upon the earth, the power to think. . .” As your colleague and friend, I’m proud of you for having the courage to exercise that right.

  3. Hi Josh,

    Wow- I don’t think we ever talked a lot about your upbringing. I grew up a devout Catholic, but was unable to stay there as an adult once I began to be exposed to the wider world and question certain supposed absolutes. Over time, I have been able to remain Christian, but it is redefined from what I was originally taught. For many years it has seemed to me that there are those who name themselves as Christian, without embracing what I understand as being Christ-like. I try to focus on the red words in the new testament- the words that are supposedly spoken by Jesus. The sermon on the mount. The lord’s prayer. The beatitudes. Those feel right in my heart.

    I cannot come to terms with the misogyny, the prejudice, and the homophobia that are pervasive in many organized religions. These things hurt. And I just cannot believe that God supports hurting people. In the Catholic church I was taught that as a woman, I was not smart enough or holy enough or important enough to be a leader. I was taught to consider myself better than someone who is gay (feel sorry for the sinners- be kind, but know they are wrong.) I think Pope Francis is the best hope the Catholic church has had in a long time. But even Pope Francis and his concern for the poor and devalued is not enough to have me return to the Catholic church.

    My faith is my own. I attend a church (Congregational) that says “Whoever you are, and wherever you are on your journey, you are welcome here.” We also say “God is still speaking- don’t put a period where God put a comma.” There is no finished body of work about christianity and faith. It will continue to evolve for as long as there are humans alive on this earth. And I think that is what Jesus would want from a church- a place of community that values love in action over arguments of religious doctrine.

    Anyway, thank you for sharing your thoughts. You are brave to do so. I know it is hard to be in a position apart and at odds with your family of origin. I am too.

    This is a great post to read heading into Easter weekend by the way. And thanks for the book recommendation!


  4. This looks like a continuation of some of our recent conversations.

    I’m surprised that you hadn’t heard about the Pangea principle untill recently. I don’t have a problem with that co-existing with Christianity, whether it is true or not. There is nothing wrong with embracing modern science while also being a Christian.

    If you could also consider the “3rd option” in addition to the two viewpoints that you espoused.

    The first option is the current liberal anti christian predominant thought, and the second option is the negative Christian interpretation of the Bible that you outline here. This option is what I call the “hate option”. There is a public perception that Christians only hate things now. They hate abortion, gays, and evolution. Known as being very judgemental. I don’t argue that that exists. It seems that that has unfortuneately been your christian experience during your life. I didn’t know that you had felt so “indoctrinated” or forced into those christian activities. I always find that people who grow up that way are more likely to revolt against it later in life, not double down with more of it. Repression breeds contempt. Ultimately any viewpoint is something you have to come to on your own, not be pushed on you. Unless you are a total sheeple, which you are clearly not thankfully.

    So my third option is that none of the current scientific knowledge has to contradict the Bible, or doesn’t disprove the Bible. I know you were saying that I had a more progressive Christian view. I think you might be surprised to find that there are more Christians who are like that than you realize. It is not a requirement to be ignorant to be a Christian, it just happens a lot unfortuneately!

    You give the evidence of continental drift or evolution as proof that there is not a Christian God. The error is that you can’t disprove God with mere human knowledge. If God exists, then he cannot be disproved with man’s knowledge or rules. I find that this is the most typical reasoning given to disprove Christianity, but inherent in the argument is limiting God to man’s knowledge and power. “Christ could never exist because we have evidence of the big bang” , for instance. Well, if God exists, then anything we observe today could be suspended in any type of miraculous way, as God sees fit. It is definitely something we cannot understand. So ultimately it is all a matter of faith. When you make the choice to believe in God, then anything is possible. Not to sound trite, but SERIOUSLY! We are talking about an omnipotent being here. If you get to the point where you can consider that possibility, then you have to admit that you cannot disprove it with any human knowledge, because those laws don’t apply. I would say the big bang actually points more to a creator anyhow. As opposed to previous thought where an atheist would say that the universe had simply always existed.

    So as a Christian, I don’t feel I have to have the answers to all of these questions, in fact part of Christianity is to take a lot of things on faith. Knowing that I will never know how to create a universe in my human life doesn’t really surprise me or make me sad. I never expected to do it anyhow, so no big deal.

    I respect your thoughtfulness, and the fact that you are even asking the question.

    And if you place Christianity in the pigeonhole that you have, then you are correct.

    The only problem is that those aren’t all of the facts, Christianity won’t fit in that pigeonhole.

  5. Joe, this isn’t a followup from the excellent conversation I had with you and your wife a few weeks ago. This is something I’ve been drafting and appending for months before I posted it. In our conversation, I raised some of the points I’ve been pondering and questioning–something I like to do with Christians whose opinions I value, to see what the reaction is.

    You really read my essay and came to the conclusion that I’m trying prove there is no God or no Christian God? You’ve have to be coming from a very defensive angle to read into it that way.

    I have no problem with people believing in something that they can’t prove. Especially if it offers them hope for living their lives. I have a problem when it comes to people acting on certain beliefs is detailed in my essay.

    The liberal form of Christianity that you mention means one picks and chooses what they like and don’t like from the Bible. Is the Bible inspired by God or not? I made several points about this in my essay. It doesn’t get more hateful than a command to kill gays (Leviticus 20:13 that I quoted in my essay). If you pick and choose, rationalize and defend, then what is wrong with Rastafarianism? Whatever works for you.

    As you point out, and I’d agree, if there is one, we can’t fully understand him (it?). History has proven that man has learned much from science. Man is always learning from science as well.

  6. Frank article recognizing many of my arguments and addressing some of them from a liberal Christian perspective. Hoping conservative Christians will take notice:


    “Recent data from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication suggests that while 64 percent of Americans think global warming is real and caused by human beings, only 44 percent of evangelicals do. Evangelicals in general, explains Hayhoe, tend to be more politically conservative, and can be quite distrusting of scientists (believing, incorrectly, that they’re all a bunch of atheists). Plus, some evangelicals really do go in for that whole “the world is ending” thing—not an outlook likely to inspire much care for the environment. So how does Hayhoe reach them?”

    Thanks to Joseph Shell & his wife Lana for finding this and sending it to me.

  7. Josh, I truly respect your thought on the matters you have approached so well. I have known you outside of the Christian realm and know you to be a passionate, sincere man. I have many friends who believe in God although I am a Socialist hence atheist this doesn’t give me any reason to denounce or reject their beliefs. Like yourself I look to the virtues’ they behold, and how they live life respecting righteousness and speaking out even when not popular against corruption.

    Your humble analysis is so spot on. I have been told so many times by Christians that they are praying for me so that I can be saved? Please, I tell them pray for the homeless, the victims of war, the sickly. I do quite well on this Earth. There is Socialist thought that Jesus himself was the first practicing Socialist. It’s all about humanity my friend, and that you understand, respect to you.

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