My own Private Idaho and the Bible

So we all grow up different, but we don’t realize this fact. What do I mean?

Some examples: for a lot of people in Mexico, none of their friends has central air conditioning. They hear about it, but none of their friends have it nor do they. In England, everyone knows about the world cup (soccer) , even if they do not watch it. But if you asked a Texan, “Who was in the world cup?” They probably do not know. I sure would not know!

We all live in our own private Idaho.  (this is a song reference..btw)

How does this relate to the Bible?

I grew up in a tradition called the bible church. It is part of larger movement that, in it’s purest form, makes up 8% of Americans that would be called “conservative evangelicals.” These could be Pentecostals, church of Christ, some baptists, non-denominational, etc. This statistic is according to Barna Group, an evangelical polling company that is part of this 8%.

A much larger group of people fit some of the beliefs of conservative evangelicals but not all. In the mainstream media, conservative evangelicals like to portray themselves in an either/or manner. Meaning that you are either one of them, or you are a non-christian/secularist/unbeliever.

But this is not true. And it only seems true when you stay in your own ghetto of the 8%.

Let me share my own story. When I was 18, I went to work for a law firm. The men that worked there all went to church, and went to either a baptist or Presbyterian church. But their church attendance was social/political, not personal or spiritual. They were not part of the 8%. They told me things like “Wow, when you go to college you get to party, get drunk, and sow your wild oats!”

This was bizarre to me. Because my father, and all his friends, were part of the 8% and true evangelicals. When they talked to me about college they talked about majors, career choices, and making sure I did not get too secular, etc. But even not all the 8% are in the same private Idaho.

None of my dad’s friends drank alcohol. For me, a normal Christian did not drink alcohol. But 12 counties away, if I had been in New Braunfels, a German-Texan county, all the church going, conservative Lutherans who are part of the denomination know as the Missouri synod are part of the 8%. And they are almost all beer drinkers. They come from Martin Luther, who drank beer as he talked theology.

In New Braunfels, the deacons and elders of churches would of course think those lawyers were losers, but unlike my dad and his friends, they did not equate alcohol with “partying.” Each group lived in a ghetto. The lawyers grew up in families that were culturally christian but did not take God seriously. My dad grew up amongst tee-totallers. And the Germans.well they grew up German! 😉

How does this relate to the bible? We all approach the bible the way we were told by our parents and church.

I attend a local church in Austin with about 400 members. I am in the process of being ordained in a church called the UCC. We hear the bible and the gospel preached every Sunday. We teach our children bible stories. The church members are some of the most moral, kind, and Christ-like people I know.

But unlike the 8% of evangelicals, virtually no one at my church thinks the bible is literally true. None of us believe Adam and Eve were real people. We know that scholars of the bible learned over 200 years ago that the Genesis stories were a way of telling truth that were not about history but about theology. We know that Moses did not write the Torah, but rather it was collected 100s of years after his death. You may disagree. Fine. But there are many theories about the bible. And each private Idaho/ghetto tends to only hear their version.

Virtually no one at my church thinks the bible is inerrant. We do not think it is a book of literal history, though some of it did happen. It has many historical errors. It is not a book of science. The old testament was written by people who thought God lived in the sky and that if you went high enough, you would find God above the clouds.

What progressive and moderate Christians teach is that the truth of the bible is not literal but spiritual. They teach that the writers of the bible experienced God and were inspired to write down their experience. Later, Jesus came, and his followers recorded their versions of his life and their ideas about what he meant to them and to the world.

It is important to point out that the books of the bible were not picked out by God, but by roman catholic/orthodox bishops. And I am not a Catholic.

Add to this fact that protestants, Catholics, orthodox, and Coptic Christians all have different books in their bibles. The protestant bible is the shortest with the least amount of books.

So when people say, “I just believe the bible!” I ask, “Which one? Do you include the apocrypha, which Paul himself quotes in the new testament?” (this usually just confuses them or makes them mad. And then I get judged or they walk away.)

The fact is that 1000s of churches and Christians do not take the bible literally. Some of them are pretty conservative. At Austin Presbyterian Seminary I met a lot of young pastors who knew the bible had errors but were pretty close in their beliefs to what the 8% of conservative evangelicals believe.

But I also met pastors who were all over the spectrum.

What they all had in common was that they loved God, they loved the church, and they followed the teachings of Jesus.

Unlike some people, I don’t have the gall/pride to judge other Christians based on dogma. When I went to seminary, some of the people who loved Jesus the most, who were the most generous, and prayerful people were way more liberal than me. And some were way more conservative than me. I would never be as unchristlike as to say that being in either direction meant someone was “not really a true christian.”

But you hear that all the time from many in the 8% . They constantly set themselves up as judge and jury of fellow Christians, and other fellow humans who love God and/or Jesus. These modern day pharisees feel the need to say “I am the right one, you are wrong.”

So when you are shocked because other people see the bible or God differently, maybe it is time you got out of your own private Idaho. And stop judging people. Start listening to people. I have learned so much from people who do not live in the same private Idaho as me.


Post script: Paul once boasted of his credentials. So let me boast.

I was raised in a bible believing family. At the age of 5, I walked the aisle and accepted Jesus as my Lord and savior and prayed the sinners prayer. At the age of 15, I experienced the holy spirit and spoke in tongues. Some would call that the Baptism of the Spirit. It was a life changing moment. In my teens and 20s I would go witnessing, led people to Jesus, and went on mission trips. I have read the bible too many times to count. I can’t count the number of hours I spent singing praise and worship songs.

But none of that means anything compared to the fact that I experience God as a reality and that the old hymn is true for me:

“they ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart.”

The skeptical side of my brain can admit that my experience of God and Jesus does not prove God and Jesus are real. But I want the people that live in the 8% ghetto to know that I love Jesus. But also, I do not think the bible is inerrant. I do not base my life on the books of Leviticus or the old testament. And when I feel God taking me to task, it is never over my theology. It is always over how I have treated or not treated a fellow human being. God does not seem that concerned about my doctrine. But seems very concerned with how much love and compassion is in my heart and how I treat the people I meet each and every day.



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What Would God Do? (Versions of God)

So a person I met online has become very skeptical, and left the ministry. A “friend” of his implied that because he has become a skeptic, God is making sure he does not find a job.I believe there is some kind of Divine Presence in the Universe, so I asked myself the question:

What Would God Do?

Let’s suppose a God that acts in the universe, cares, and is generally like most people perceive God to be. I am going to run down 3 versions of what God might do.

  1. The Billy Graham God/Wesley Loving God

God sees that this person’s faith has wavered and they are in financial straights. God finds a person who is prayerful, humble, kind and listening that knows this person. God “lays it on their heart” to bless this skeptic and the person contacts the skeptic and says, “I know you doubt God. But I do not doubt you. I know you try your best, and want to know the truth. I accept you for who you are. God loves you, no matter what doubts you have. God is not afraid of any questions. Here is money during you time of need. It is a gift to remind you that God is the giver of good things, even to those that doubt him.” And without judgment or shaming–leaves.

  1. The John Wimber/pentecostal god:

God tells a christian to go to the skeptic. The christian says, “God told me to give you 2000 dollars and tell you that he saw you when you tucked your children into bed after watching (some specific TV show the christian could not have know the skeptic and his kids watched.) And that God knows you love them. God loves you the same way. God will be with you through your doubts.” And without judgment or shaming… leaves.

  1. The god I hear some people talking about (Mark Driscoll remix)

God is petty. God is easily angered. This God likes to negatively motivate people. God punishes this skeptic by not letting them find a job, and sends unsympathetic people to harass him.

A question: If this 3rd God was real, why would the skeptic worship him except to avoid hell? I can imagine the skeptic sitting quietly in heaven, despising this God, but glad to not be burning.

Frankly, I wish that God A or B was the God I experience. I believe in the divine, but wonder why the divine does not act more creatively or powerfully in the world, given that the divine is loving.

As for God C, well, if that is the real God, I do not want to know that God.





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Paul Kurtz on Neo-Humanism

I am not a secular humanist. I am more a “really think the secular is important, don’t rule out divine” humanist.


Noted Professor Paul Kurtz was widely heralded as the “father of secular humanism.” late his life he wrote, “In our view of the current scene, not enough attention has been paid to ‪#‎Humanism‬ as an alternative to religion. Humanism presents a set of principles and values that began during the Renaissance and came to fruition during the modern era. It marked a turning point from the medieval concern with the divine order and salvation to an emphasis on this life here and now, the quest for personal meaning and value, the good life and social justice in modern democracies and economies that served consumer tastes and satisfactions.”

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My Jesus Story.

When I was in my early twenties, I left a very controlling church.

My therapist told me that I had lost my self, that I broken pieces of myself off in order to fit into the group.

As I drove home, I had a vivid picture in my head (not a vision). It was of me. I was basically the June Cleaver wife for my  husband Jesus. Domestic bliss ensued and things were good. Then years went by. Slowly Jesus changed. Became more controlling, more demanding. Eventually Jesus became violent and began assaulting me (in very bad ways). But I ripped at Jesus’ face and it was a mask and underneath was the face of my college minister. That was the end. I realized that the abuse I felt was not from God. But that God had not stopped it.

I was driving and crying. I said, “You left me Jesus. You left me with them.” But then I started sobbing even harder and I sad “You left me, ME. Don’t ever leave me again, ME. Don’t ever leave, Me.”

My whole personality was disintegrated. I did not not really know what I was, what I liked. During the crucial years of 16-23 I had been on a religion binge that truncated my growth in every normal area.


So a few days later, I was in my run down cool-ass rental house in a terrible neighborhood in Waco. And I was in my room. Again I had a vivid picture (not a vision.) I was in a large room, with hard wood floors. I had just seen the movie the “The Crow.” The room was the kind of room rich people have when they have a whole room with hard wood floors and nothing in it but a grand piano and then big open windows/french doors. Off in the distance was a piano. Anyway, I was standing in the room. Jesus came in. He was dressed like The Crow, and and very pale. He came up to me and stood silently. I began to beat the holy shit out of him. I knocked him down and hit him again and again til there was blood everywhere. And I knew he was fine with that. Because he had done nothing to stop the people at my church from hurting me. I hit him again and again and kicked him.

And I said, “it is OVER.  This is our separate peace.” (remember that book?)

That was the end of me being best friends with Jesus from age 23 to 36. During that period he meant nothing to me. Never thought about him, etc. Never prayed to him.


At the age of 26 I read “The Politics of Jesus” by Yoder. I got involved with the emergent church; soon after again had a very sentiment-oriented relationship with Jesus. For awhile it was very sentimental. Now it has again changed, positive but less emotionalistic.

Anyway, that is my Jesus story.

Who am I? I am the dude that beat up Jesus. Don’t worry, he is very forgiving.


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The real truth about prayer as a chaplain

I read today about two Navy chaplains suing because they claimed they were forbidden to pray in the name of Jesus. They stated, “Dietsch told the chaplains that it was the policy of the VA in general and her in particular that chaplains should not pray in the name of Jesus.”   Is that likely to be close to the actual policy? My guess would be yes. The rule of thumb as a chaplain when it comes to sectarian prayers would be–don’t. Unless the person you are talking to lets you know they are a Christian and would want you to do so. Would you want a Hindu chaplain praying to Vishnu if you were a practicing Catholic?   A chaplain is not denominational pastor. A chaplain does not serve just Christians. It seems some Christians have gotten the bad idea that every Christian prayer has to end “in Jesus name” But they are wrong.


In general, a chaplain should not walk into a room thinking they will pray in Jesus name.   Why? Because it not their job to shove Jesus down people’s throats.   It is their job to minister love and hope to all. In Texas, my expectation as a chaplain was that about 4 out of 5 visits, people wanted prayer.   If I was not sure if they were Christian, I would pray “Dear God” and end, ‘in the Lord’s name, amen.” If they had told me they were a Christian, I did end the prayer, “in Jesus name.” If you asked every single person with whom I did in fact, “pray in Jesus name,” if they were glad I did so, and if that was how they prayed at their church. I am very sure they would have said yes. Because it was my job to figure out how best to pray for them. It was not my job to pray my way but to pray their way. I was a master Jedi at knowing how to pray for people. I could tell which people would want me to pray, “In Jesus’ name.”


I have been Baptist, pentecostal, mainline, and visited many other religious groups. Each group uses different words to mean similar things. As a chaplain it is was my job to use words I felt I could use with honesty that also fit the needs of the patient. If a patient told me they were Catholic, I chose to end prayers with, “in the name of the father and the son and the holy ghost.” Why? Well, that is how Catholics pray. Almost all Christians believe in the father, son, and holy ghost, me amongst them at time. And as a christian chaplain, it was not weird for me to therefore pray in the name of the father, son, and spirit.   Are there limits to what a Chaplain might pray to accommodate someone? Yes. A christian chaplain is not expected to pray in the name of Thor or Vishnu.

Back to me. I was forbidden, in my own chaplain training, not from quoting bible, but from quoting scholars and statistics. I guess I could sue now and I could say, “my leaders were anti-science and anti-academic. I am a mainline minister. I believe in science and academics, and they would not let me quote my authority!”   But that would be a lie. Why? Because the reason I was FORBIDDEN to quote scholars was the following, I was told, “Pete you like to cite statistics and scholars. But we want to hear what you believe, what you feel. We don’t want to know what you know. We want to hear from your heart.” If that is too touchy feely for you, dear reader. Get the heck out the chaplain business! Because being a chaplain is all about helping people deal with their sorrow pain, and fear. In sum, their emotions.


I had to learn to stop hiding behind theory and ideas to be more vulnerable. To trust that when I said something that was my own belief people would listen to me simply because I was me. Not because I was smart.   Only in 1 out of about 20 visits would I have a chanced to share my actual theology with a person. More often I helped them articulate what they believed or helped them connect to what they believed and find comfort in it. With many I did not talk a whole lot about God, because they wanted to talk about other things.   Sometimes we talked about God and God’s love and forgiveness. But it was never my job to change their beliefs. Rather it was to minister love, compassion, and hope. If you want to change people’s beliefs, go be a full time pastor or preacher. Do not become a chaplain.


The long and short of it can be summed by this: we had a marine chaplain in my group at hospital. he was a Jerry Falwell conservative. He thought non-christians went to hell. He thought the bible was perfect. He thought Adam and Eve were real people. Did he walk into a room demanding to pray, “in the name of Jesus?” No. Because he was not an asshole. Both he and I did have chances to pray in Jesus’ name. But we did not demand or force the issue. He did not force his conservative religion. I did not force my liberal religion. No chaplain, especially a military one, should violate a person’s freedom by shoving religion at them.

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Guests should link responsibly

Don’t link to my blog in all caps,  GUEST.  it makes me look like an idiot. so I deleted my blog post and moved it.

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First Blog! Skeptics and Feminism

Well, yet another skeptic proves that just ending a belief in superstition does not mean you are not a douchebag.

I saw the following post:

“Rationalwiki has…….pro-feminist agenda”

Well, if they are they are pro-feminist, I am on board! Smile. To be fair a wiki should not have a slant.  However. I already noted before on other forums my objection to feminists writing a wiki from a POV that clouds issues. I want to state here is my sadness at the tragedy amongst modern skepticism that it has such a vocal anti-feminist component. When the basic trope of feminism is that women are equal to men, we should all be seen as human first, and that society has yet to address it’s inherent anti-women structures and bias.

“Oh you must be a feminist!”

Well, of course. I married a woman and love her. But what do you mean by feminist? I don’t accept all feminist theories. Why? It is impossible! Feminism is multifarious and the schools of thought are sometimes in opposition. I love to ask ask “anti-feminsts” if they object to the binary construction of gender found in early feminist theory or if they rather find issue with the use of feminist theory in conjuction with postmodern or critical theory? (that is half just babble.) Or if it is rather they have no problem with structuralist feminist theory which deals with institutions but are rather taking to task schools of feminist thought that say women can never have power over men even in dyads (some feminists say women are always at disadvantage but other academically recognized theories note that a woman may have less power in society in general but all the power at home in the relationship dyad with male spouse. I guess maybe the anti feminist has not read a lot about theories on dyads, triangulation and homeostais in familial systems, etc…..

I do find it  hilarious when a skeptic speaks in terms of “pro feminist agenda” Which agenda? There are 1st wave, 2nd wave, 3rd wave, and now 4th wave feminist conceptions. Some feminists are sex-worker positive some are anti porn. Some pro-porn. Some feminists think capitalism is great; some think it hurts women. Some feminists are Christians and some feminists are atheists. in short…to say there is a monolithic “pro-feminst agenda” out there is just kinda cute. I am guessing that never read Camille Paglia’s harsh critiques of other feminists.

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