Before I intimate the declining state of religion in this country, let me say that it is in dismal disarray.

Thousands of churches in America, on any given Sunday morning, have a telling number of empty pews–most of them more than half-empty. An equal number (thousands) of articles have been written, asking, “Why is church membership declining?” That is not my particular concern either.


My interest is in the growing number of agnostics and atheists, in general. I well remember a time in this country when only one atheist’s voice was being heard and who name was well-know–Madalyn Murray O’Hair. O’Hair once opined, “Religion has caused more misery to all of mankind in every stage of human history than any other single idea.” The remarkable, but unthinkable truth, is that she was right! Keep this thought in mind.

Before I share statistics, it is important to understand the meaning of the words “atheist” and “agnostic.” According to Dr. Phil Zuckerman, in an October 2015 issue of Psychology Today, “An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in the existence of God or gods. And agnostic is someone who isn’t sure if there is a God or not, or who doesn’t feel like he or she (or anyone) can have any valid information on the matter, and thus, thinks that it is impossible to say there is a God, or that there isn’t.”

I’ll go with Zuckerman’s definitions, but simplify them by saying that both atheists and agnostics (nonbelievers) simply have no belief in a deity, period. They are neither theists nor polytheists. They are about as willing to talk about God or gods as they are to enter into a passionate, intense discussion of unicorns or leprechauns!

Atheism and agnosticism is growing at breathtaking rates through the world. Just to share some statistics, according to the Oxford Handbook, 41 percent of the people of France (or nearly 20 million) are nonbelievers. Almost one-third of the people of the United Kingdom are nonbelievers. But, wait…

While we may not be surprised that 17 percent of the people of Russia are nonbelievers, it startles us to learn there are a little less than half that number (8 percent) in the United States. The actual number of unbelievers in the United States is 18,625,556. Compare to the population of the State of New York - 19,795,791 (2014)



The rise in numbers of unbelievers in the U.S. is, unquestionably, not due to the efforts of Madalyn Murray O’Hair!

I suspect this statistic is buoyed and burgeoning because the church continues to be unrealistic in its teachings, along with its unrelenting promotion of the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible. It is growing because of the unremitting hypocrisy between what Christians “say” and what Christians “do.”

The results of the recent election evince the latter. I cannot, in my lifetime, remember so profane and un-Christ-like a candidate as Donald Trump; yet, evangelical Christians overwhelmingly supported and voted for him. Go figure!

(c) 2017, L. Milton Hankins



[Editor’s Note:  Following are personal observations and conclusions I have reached. You may not agree with some or all of them and that’s okay. Think about some of the important observations and conclusions you have come to during your lifetime. Hey, I might not agree with some or all of yours either, but, it’s an informative and fun reflection on your life experiences.]

From infancy I attended Sunday school and church. I went on to college and seminary and was, somewhat simultaneously, a pastor/teacher for 50-plus years. Living life observantly has taught me more about religion, the church and the spiritual life that I could’ve ever absorbed from books. Here are a few serious (and silly) lessons I’ve learned:

♦ Most church signs display either bad spelling, poor grammar or faulty theology. Some, all three!


♦ Churches say they want to grow, but they don’t want to bring in new people with new ideas. They say “We’ve never done it that way before.”

♦ Christians preach generosity and practice frugality.

♦ Faith comes not from knowing; faith comes from not knowing. Faith does not arrive at what we’ll know, but journeys toward what we’ll never know.

♦ In spite of what some Christians believe, not everything in the Bible is demonstrably true.

♦ Atheists spend too much time talking about God.  Think about it. Unicorns and trolls don’t exist, so we don’t spend a whole lot of time talking about them.

♦ Don’t count on tomorrow. It might not come.

♦ Everyone knows the “Golden Rule”; almost no one follows it.

♦ If Jesus returns on a Saturday evening, he won’t be in church on Sunday morning.

♦ There’s absolutely no saving grace in years of faithful church attendance.

♦ Love your neighbor, but erect a sturdy fence.

♦ Treat animals like you believe in reincarnation.


♦ In the long run, it IS true that “what goes ’round comes round.’

♦ It is not true that you can’t worship on the golf course or at the seashore as well as you can in church.

♦ Never make change out of the offering plate.

♦ Preachers who cannot properly interpret Shakespeare (17th Century English) shouldn’t be interpreting the King James Version of the Bible.

♦ Christians say heaven is a wonderful place, but they don’t seem overly anxious to go there.

♦ We humans are just discovering what the Creator has known all along.

♦ Just because a creed is old and oft-repeated does not make it true.

♦ The Ten Commandments do NOT need to be displayed; they need to be obeyed.



♦ According to physics, for every action there is an equal, opposite reaction; for every good there is an equal, opposite evil.

♦ The most abhorrent sin is bigotry. Bigotry thrives on a false sense of superiority. Bigotry is a disgusting form of hypocrisy.

♦ If parishioners cannot remember what the morning sermon was about, then the homily was either poorly constructed, feebly delivered or simply not worth remembering!

♦ Humans believe (and live) too many half-truths.

♦ It is better to be wrong and stand corrected than to be corrected and then take a wrong stand.

♦ If you fall for everything, you won’t believe in anything.

♦ The ways we are alike have a difficult time surfacing through the ways we are different.

Sometime, set aside some time to jot down the general, personal, religious/spiritual lessons you have learned in your lifetime, so far. I suspect it will be a longer list than you imagined. According to phrases.org.UK, Julius Caesar recorded the earliest known version of this proverb: “Experience is the best teacher.”

(c) 2017, L. Milton Hankins (all rights reserved)

[L. Milton Hankins is a theologian, former pastor, author and columnist and the publisher of Columnist with a View (columnistwithaview.com). He lives with his wife Deborah and Jose, their three year old chihuahua, in Ashland, Kentucky. This article first appeared in the Huntington, WV Herald-Dispatch. Milt’s e-mail address is amsmilt@windstream.net]





A recent op-ed piece by a leader of the United Methodist Church, published in the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, urged West Virginia’s U. S. Senators to save Medicaid so that federal funds can continue to help break the grip of the opioid epidemic.

This thoughtful article offers the theological hook–the parable of The Good Samaritan–on which to hang a political imperative to increase access to federal funds for substance abusers to receive care.

Although the story of The Good Samaritan is a good story, another parable–the Prodigal Son–is, in my opinion, more instructional and worthy of being taken into consideration for addressing the current drug problem.

In the story of the Prodigal Son, a young man leaves home and squanders his portion of his inheritance by living a less-than- desirable lifestyle. He eventually finds himself broke, hungry, neglected and living in a pigsty. It is here that he “comes to his senses” and makes a decision to go back home. He then starts walking. As he approaches home, the young man’s father runs down the road to meet his son and hugs him in a welcoming embrace.

The story of The Prodigal Son does not tell us why the young man left home and what motivated him to take a walk on the wild side (I’m sure he had his reasons). The story also does not tell us whether the father knew his son was grubbing around in a pigsty far from home (I think he did, but chose to stay home). But, one thing we know for sure–the squanderer got out of the muck by coming to his senses and beginning the long walk back. His father did not rescue him nor did anyone help him on the way back. The young man made a choice to change and then acted on that choice.

Many substance abusers probably relate more to the young man in the Prodigal Son than to the man beaten by robbers in the Good Samaritan–while one made bad choices, the other had no choice. Many mental health care providers probably relate to the remedy for the young man in the sty more than the care provided to the man found beaten and lying in a ditch. We can pull addicts out of the ditch and take them to a healthy place to recuperate, but they will not walk the road of recovery unless, or until, they make a choice to walk that walk.

Urging senators to allocate more federal funds for treatment through Medicaid presupposes that present Medicaid treatment merits our continued support. That supposition is not supported by what we are finding on the streets. I have a sick feeling Medicaid funds are now, in effect, being used to make cleaner pigsties or to rescue addicts who have not, on their own, “come to their senses.”

We, as a community, cannot beg or bribe addicts with Medicaid treatment to choose a new and better way. Substance abusers have to make that choice to be someone new on their own, and then start living into that new-ness. When they do we, as a community, will celebrate by joyously feasting with them.




White men, including white pastors, are failing women’s health.

I’m not saying every white man in the Trump Administration, or every white male pastor in the country is intentionally working against women’s rights.

But here’s the thing.

Because they are white and hold positions of power, when white men in government, and white male pastors in the United States (and even in the United Church of Christ) are not intentionally and loudly advocating for all women’s rights, then they are effectively being complicit in silencing women and their health care needs in our country.

The pervasiveness of issues that disproportionately affect women in our country is staggering and deserves outrage and advocacy, not silence.

Consider that approximately half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. In women under 20 that statistic rockets to 4 out of 5. Women of color and poor women experience even higher rates. Women do not get pregnant by themselves. Where is the outrage about this very preventable condition, and where is the overarching support for services to prevent it?

Almost 20% of women in America report experiencing rape in their lifetime, and over 40% of them were first raped before age 18. Higher percentages of students of color report having been raped than white students.

Nearly twice as many American women were murdered by current or ex male partners between 2001 and 2012 than American troops were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq during the same time period. African American women experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35% higher than that of white women).

The prevalence of these issues means they are all too alive and well in our congregations. Every Sunday, families affected by unintended pregnancy, by sexual violence, and by domestic abuse walk into churches. Using the above statistics, one in two children who come to church weren’t planned. One in five women in your congregation has been raped. And one in four women in your church have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner.

Politicians attend church and speak about upholding Christian values–but then vote against funding agencies that provide family planning and birth control services to people at low or no cost. They applaud themselves for voting to enact health care revisions that provide less coverage to families who have chosen to have those unintended babies and are having trouble caring for them on limited budgets. And they create loopholes, which can make it more difficult to access medical care and mental health services when someone experiences intimate partner violence.

That doesn’t seem very Christian to me.

So I ask you. Are you talking about these issues in church? Are you designing faith formation lesson plans to give an alternate message to violence in relationships? Are you having Bible studies to lift up faith-based messages of equity and hope? Are you providing outreach programs imbued with justice-filled actions?

I admonish you to:

Stop blaming women, overtly or by your silence, for unintended pregnancies.

Use your power to create a culture where relationship equity is the expectation–instead of double standards regarding sexual activity, financial and emotional burdens for contraception falling to female-bodied people, and social stigma being born [sic] by the person with a uterus. Advocate for community agencies to maintain government funding for health care and family planning services.

Stop blaming women, overtly or by your silence, for being sexually assaulted.

Stop spending money trying to teach them how not to be assaulted. Instead, use those funds and your privilege and power to loudly educate yourselves and your brothers on the gender roles, stereotypes and privilege that lead to attitudes condoning women being raped. Work to make consent the norm and expection. Advocate for funding for health care services to survivors, regardless of when the assault occurred.

Stop blaming women, overtly or by your silence, for domestic abuse.

Instead, work to dismantle the culture of male violence, to cultivate norms that revere men for being peaceful problem solvers and healthy partners. End stigma about discussing these issues, and advocate for funding for health care services for those who have survived violence in relationships.

The question is, what are you NOT doing? What are you not talking about? What are you not actively advocating for? And why?

Find your voice and use it loudly. Lives are depending on it.

[Amy Johnson, MSW, CSE is on national staff as the United Church of Christ Our Whole Lives Coordinator. She is co-author of Homegrown Faith and Justice and Our Whole Lives for Grades 4-6, 2nd Ed. She is passionate about promoting safe and healthy sexuality education and culture in faith communities. This article first appeared in NEW SACRED]

“We Invented Jesus Christ” — ANCIENT CONFESSION FOUND

“We Invented Jesus Christ” — ANCIENT CONFESSION FOUND

[EDITOR’S NOTE:  The following article is NOT the belief or opinion of Columnist with a View or its publisher and editor. It is an interesting point of view, however, promoted by Biblical scholar Joseph Atwill. Readers are encouraged to do some research on Atwill and the subject before forming an opinion concerning the subject.  Google:  Joseph Atwill]

American Biblical scholar Joseph Atwill will be appearing before the British public for the first time in London on the 19th of October to present a controversial new discovery: ancient confessions recently uncovered now prove, according to Atwill, that

the New Testament was written by first-century


Roman aristocrats and that they fabricated the entire story of Jesus Christ. His presentation will be part of a one-day symposium entitled “Covert Messiah” at Conway Hall in Holborn.

Although,to many scholars, his theory seems outlandish, and is sure to upset some believers, Atwill regards his evidence as conclusive and is confident its acceptance is only a matter of time. “I present my work with some ambivalence, as I do not want to directly cause Christians any harm,” he acknowledges, “but this is important for our culture. Alert citizens need to know the truth about our past so we can understand how and why governments create false histories and false gods. They often do it to obtain a social order that is against the best interest of the common people.”


Atwill asserts that Christianity did not really begin as a religion, but a sophisticated government project, a kind of propaganda exercise used to pacify the subjects of the Roman Empire. “Jewish sects in Palestine at the time, who were waiting for a prophesied warrior Messiah, were a constant source of violent insurrection during the first century,” he explains. “When the Romans had exhausted conventional means of quashing rebellion, they switched to psychological warfare. They surmised that the way to stop the spread of zealous Jewish missionary activity was to create a competing belief system. That’s when the ‘peaceful’ Messiah story was invented. Instead of inspiring warfare, this Messiah urged turn-the-other-cheek pacifism and encouraged Jews to ‘give unto Caesar’ and pay their taxes to Rome.”

[Jesus Christ] may be the only fictional character in literature whose entire life story can be traced to other sources.


Was Jesus based on a real person from history? “The short answer is no,” Atwill insists, “in fact he may be the only fictional character in literature whose entire life story can be traced to other sources. Once these sources are all laid bare, there’s simply nothing left.”

Atwill’s most intriguing discovery came to him while he was studying “Wars of the Jews” by Josephus [the only surviving first person historical account of first-century Judea] alongside the New Testament. “I started to notice a sequence of parallels between the two texts,” he recounts.

“Although it’s been recognized by Christian scholars for centuries that the prophesies of Jesus appear to be fulfilled by what Josephus wrote about in the First Jewish-Roman war, I was seeing dozens more. What seems to have eluded many scholars is that the sequence of events and locations of Jesus ministry are more or less the same as the sequence of events and locations of the military campaign of [Emperor] Titus Flavius as described by Josephus. This is clear evidence of a deliberately constructed pattern. The biography of Jesus is actually constructed, tip to stern, on prior stories, but especially on the biography of a Roman Caesar.”

How could this go unnoticed in the most scrutinized books of all time? “Many of the parallels are conceptual or poetic, so they aren’t all immediately obvious After all, the authors did not want the average believer to see what they were doing, but they did want the alert reader to see it. An educated Roman in the ruling class would probably have recognized the literary game being played.” Atwill maintains he can demonstrate that “the Roman Caesars left us a kind of puzzle literature that was meant to be solved by future generations, and the solution to that puzzle is ‘We invented Jesus Christ, and we’re proud of it.'”

Is this the beginning of the end of Christianity? “Probably not,” grants Atwill, “but what my work has done is given permission to many of those ready to leave the religion to make a clean break. We’ve got the evidence now to show exactly where the story of Jesus came from. Although Christianity can be a comfort to some, it can also be very damaging and repressive, an insidious form of mind control that has led to blind acceptance of serfdom, poverty, and war throughout history. To this day, especially in the United States, it is used to create support for war in the Middle East.”

Atwill encourages skeptics to challenge him at Conway Hall, where after the presentations there is likely to be a lively Q&A session. Joining Mr. Atwill will be fellow scholar Kenneth Humphreys, author of the book “Jesus Never Existed.”

[This announcement/article first appeared in CORESPIRIT.  It is not under copyright. Joseph Atwill has written a work of speculative non-fiction called Caesar’s Messiah, “which argues that the New Testament Gospels were written as wartime propaganda by scholars connected to the Roman imperial court…” Wikipedia. Many articles about Atwill and his work can be found through Google. Atwill’s book can be purchased through Barnes & Noble and Kobo.  Robert Eisenman, Professor of Middle East Religions and Archaeology says, “If what Joseph Atwill is saying is only partially true, we are looking into the abyss.”]




I put on my clerical collar and drove the rainy streets to Lancaster, PA, suddenly regretting ever signing up to speak. I was sure that these people didn’t want to hear from a pastor, and with good reason too.

I never wanted to be a pastor.

Churches are complicated and pastors always look tired. I always thought some other sucker could do that job; I wanted to be a rocket scientist.

My whole life was leading up to a career of rockets and robots when suddenly, when I was 17 years old, a switch went off in my mind and I couldn’t understand Calculus anymore. In my frustration, I felt that gentle but firm tug of the Spirit telling me that my worst fears had come true. She wanted me to become a pastor. I had fought it for years, but the current of the Spirit is strong and I was swept up in it.

Over the next decade, I found God, lost my faith, embraced secular humanism, rediscovered my love of science, found God again, discovered a faith that was informed by science, stumbled into the UCC (United Church of Christ) almost by accident, and discovered that I wasn’t alone there.

So when a local clergy friend told me about the March for Science, I knew that I had to be there, representing both halves of my paradoxical self–the spiritual side that regularly experiences the unknowable Spirit of the Living God and the rational side of me that demands peer reviewed sources for extraordinary claims.

I think it’s possible to be a scientific mystic, though I’m sure folks on both sides would disagree with me. That’s why I knew it wasn’t enough to march. I also had to share my story. Luckily, the Lancaster “March for Science” was looking for more speakers and one of the organizers was a Christian.

Thanks again, Spirit!

Most people at the march had been burned at some point by the Church, put down for asking too many questions, or belittled for choosing to believe testable hypotheses over a book of ancient mythology.

I steeled myself against the inevitable comeuppance from the crowds, but was instead greeted by enthusiastic selfies and the almost universal sentiment, “You’re not really a priest, are you?” It was easier to believe that a person had bought clerical clothing as a joke to compliment their protest sign than it was that a pastor was actually standing in support of science. Folks couldn’t seem to understand how I could march with them since they only heard religious fundamentalists thumping the Bible and insisting that their literal interpretation was the only interpretation. My heart was broken.

On a side note, the electricity wasn’t working and the microphones were useless, so since I was already standing up on a raised planter in the middle of the crowd leading chants, they asked me if I would be able to give my speech without amplification. After a few minutes of yelling, someone handed me a megaphone. A group of mostly non-religious people actually gave a preacher a bullhorn on a street corner so that they could better understand what he was yelling at them. I will never not love that irony.

After my speech, I had dozens of Christians come up to me to thank me because they thought they were the only ones there.

We Christians who believe that science is real are more numerous than we think and we are allowing the outspoken Biblical Fundamentalists to drive the debate and create the false narrative that their interpretation is the only one. So many of the scientific hot-topics in this country are based on this false dichotomy, and we who disagree need to stand up and make our voice heard for every single spiritual skeptic who think they are alone.

We Christians who believe that science is real are more numerous than we think.

Science is real. God is love, and the rest is up to us.

Science is real, God is love, and the rest is up to us.

[Zack Jackson is the pastor of Community UCC in Reading, PA and an adjunct professor of theology at Palmer Theological Seminary. He is not a real scientist. More like a science groupie. He cares deeply about spreading scientific literacy and engaging honestly about faith and science. Check out his blog if you want to join that conversation at http://musicalspheres.blog

This article first appeared in NEW SACRED, a United Church of Christ blog, on 01 Jun 2017 and is reprinted here with their written permission.]