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Atheism vs. Christianity: The Insults aren’t Working

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When people believe that their worldviews are epistemologically superior to others (which most do), the temptation is high to disparage other worldviews with condescending insults. Atheists and Christians are equally guilty of this. Members of both sides are constantly attacking each other in an attempt to make the opposition appear ridiculous.

Insult against atheism

Insult against Christianity

Many atheists believe that Christians are stupid and vice versa. This belief is particularly present when in the middle of a heated debate with a member of the other side. Even I am often tempted to insult the intelligence of the other side until I remember that not too long ago, I was on their side.

It is a rather weird anecdote of human psychology that I, 1) Always consider myself intelligent, 2) Am constantly updating my belief system, and 3) Several months later I tend to think of anyone holding any of my old beliefs, as being “stupid”. It’s hypocrisy, I know, and it may just be me but I suspect it applies to many other people as well. It’s something I need to think about before silently or vocally insulting someone else’s intelligence.

Those insults do not help change the mind of the religious person or the atheist. I know this after experiencing both sides. All that an insult accomplishes is to anger the other person and destroy all chance of a continued dialogue. Insults probably do more harm than good.

As hard as it might be to believe, there really are intelligent Christians that wholeheartedly believe in the literal truth of the Bible. I should know–I used to be one. It is a testament to the power of indoctrination, and the atheist hoping to change religious minds would do well to understand this power. The Christian would do well to understand that the atheist is intelligent, and that he is also a seeker of truth, and not intrinsically evil.

Based once again only on my experience on both sides of the argument, here are some tips I have for encouraging a shift in a worldview. They will be written from the perspective of an atheist trying to change a Christian’s worldview.

1) Be an ethical and an intelligent person. Show the other side, by your speech and actions, that you’re not stupid or intrinsically evil.

2) Begin a dialogue. The tone of the dialogue is important. It should be friendly and never confrontational. Give the (truthful) impression that you are also seeking truth and not just manufacturing counter-arguments for the sake of disagreeing.

3) Take it slowly. It took me about ten years of thought to go from fundamental Christian (Amish) to atheist. What you’re seeking is a radical shift in worldview and it’s not going to happen overnight. In fact, if you throw too much “evidence” at the other side all at once, you’re more likely to push the other person away than to change their mind. Judge the other person’s position and level of knowledge and seek only a small victory in any given conversation. If you achieve it, leave it at that and let it ferment in the other person’s mind. Remember, you are trying to undermine years and years of indoctrination.

4) This may or may not be effective for everyone, but it seems to work for me: Guide the other person to the answer rather than giving it to them. I find that it is more effective to ask the right questions than it is to state the answers.

5) Provide well-written and easy to understand resources to help your fellow truth-seeker to understand the more technical aspects of your worldview. For example, several of Richard Dawkin’s books were instrumental in helping me understand evolution and grasping the general idea of evolution was a turning point in my transition from fundamental Christian to atheist.

So in conclusion; be nice. How nice? Pretend that the person you’re debating with is your best friend, your significant other, or your mother. They really are mine.

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TLC’s Breaking Amish: Timeline of a Scandal

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It all started several months ago when I found some articles about an upcoming television series called “Breaking Amish”. It sounded interesting, so I read the articles and discovered some pictures. Immediately, I recognized Jeremiah, and thought, “Well he hasn’t been Amish for years.”

Now, thanks to international awareness of TLC’s deception, most people probably know that Breaking Amish is not entirely true. But how exactly, did the scandal evolve from a handful of pissed off ex-Amish people posting their displeasure on Facebook, to a scandal heard around the world? Here I take a look back at how it all started, and attempt to construct a timeline. Need to take down the latest lying television network? Hopefully you’ll find some tips here. Okay, so we didn’t exactly take them down… but at least we caused some headaches for them.

September 9, 2012 (31 pageviews)

Episode 1 plays at 10:00 PM EST. In this episode, we are introduced to the cast and they talk about the Amish and how they have been given the opportunity to break away and visit New York City.

I didn’t watch the episode when it ran the first time, but I watched it when it came back on at midnight. I wasn’t really that interested in watching it at all since most television shows about the Amish are way off and we mostly just make fun of them when they do come on. But, I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to write a review and perhaps boost the viewers on this little blog (I was averaging from 30-60 page views a day on here). So I guess in that sense I was seeking attention when I posted my angry thoughts about Breaking Amish.

Watching the first episode made me angry. I had no idea the extent to which Breaking Amish was going to be deceiving its viewers. On the show they were being billed as “Amish” and thinking of leaving “for the first time”. In reality, I had met Jeremiah several years ago and he hadn’t been Amish for years. He was driving a pretty nice SUV for Christ’s sake!

September 10, 2012 (1,793 pageviews)

Today Facebook came alive with hopping mad ex-Amish people. They knew that Breaking Amish was fake and they rightfully believed that the show was putting the Amish in an unfairly negative light. A lot of ex-Amish are talking to each other (wall-to-wall) and also on a page titled “Breaking Amish” that was promoting the show.

Today I wrote a review of the first episode (TLC’s Breaking Amish: An Analysis of Episode 1 by a Former Amish) and posted it to this blog.

Then, because I wanted to reveal to the world that Jeremiah wasn’t who he was claiming to be on the show, I spent several hours looking for evidence to back me up. I looked through my old photos thinking I might find some of him (I didn’t) and I scoured the internet. Finally, I found his deleted Myspace page in Google’s cache. It showed thumbnail pictures of him back in 2007, and he wasn’t dressed Amish.

A former roommate of Jeremiah’s posted on Facebook, and suggested that we might be able to find court records for him in several Ohio counties, so I searched high and low for those. I finally found his divorce records from 2011 which showed that he had married in 2005 and has three children.

I wrote up a post (TLC’s Breaking Amish: The Scandal of Jeremiah Raber) detailing the evidence I had found and posted it to the blog. Note to anyone wanting to expose the truth; Choice of words is important when trying to get the attention of the internet. Notice that I made sure to add “TLC” and “Breaking Amish” to the page title. Those are highly searched keywords. Also, I added “Scandal” to the title, thinking that it would bring in a lot of traffic once the truth became widely known. In retrospect, I should have used something along the lines of “Breaking Amish is Fake” since that brought in a lot more traffic.

After publishing those two posts, I started commenting on news articles about Breaking Amish. Hoping to reveal the truth and generate some traffic, I would include a link back to one of my articles. It worked. People started coming in and also telling other people about my damning posts.

September 11, 2012 (4,193 pageviews)

The Facebook page (Breaking Amish) is still very active with angry ex-Amish. I write and publish a post about it (Ex-Amish Unite in Vicious Protests Against TLC’s “Breaking Amish”).

Somebody starts a new page on Facebook (Breaking Amish the Truth) and they proceed to post evidence of Breaking Amish’s deceptions. The start with a picture of Abe and Rebecca together with a baby, a picture of Sabrina looking decidedly non-Mennonite, and some information about Jeremiah’s past that was listed in one of my posts.

September 12, 2012 (4,121 pageviews)

The first Facebook page (Breaking Amish) disappears. I’m guessing it was kicked off of Facebook because of some of the vicious attacks and counter-attacks going on between ex-Amish and fans of the show.

A picture of Jeremiah surrounded by beer-drinking buddies emerges on Facebook.

September 13, 2012 (3,110 pageviews)

Another Facebook page (Breaking Amish the Exposé) that’s very similar to Breaking Amish the Truth, is created.

Sabrina’s marriage license from 2009 pops up on Facebook.

Crushable.com runs a story suggesting that Breaking Amish might not be as real as they’d like you to think. They refer to this blog and the Breaking Amish the Truth Facebook page as their sources. It is encouraging to see that are websites are starting to take notice.

September 14, 2012 (1,678 pageviews)

CBS Philly runs a story on Breaking Amish. They interview a Mennonite man who took offense of Breaking Amish’s false claim that these kids wouldn’t be allowed back in the Amish. The show’s production company rebuts by saying they never claimed the cast would be permanently shunned.

Today I found Facebook pages for the Abe’s brother Andy and for the two Bens that appeared on the show. None of them appear to have been Amish for some time. I wrote up another post (Update on Breaking Amish: The Scandal) and published it to this blog.

September 15, 2012 (1,580 pageviews)

The Niagara Gazette publishes an opinion piece calling Breaking Amish “ignorant and disrespectful”.

September 16, 2012 (11,267 pageviews)

Episode 2 of Breaking Amish played tonight for the first time. In this episode, the cast leave the Amish “for the first time” and go to New York where they pretend to experience showers and microwave ovens for the first time.

Abe’s arrest record from 2008 for public intoxication in Kentucky, is revealed on Facebook.

A photo of Kate that was submitted to a modeling website in 2010, appears on Facebook.

September 17, 2012 (29,819 pageviews)

CBS 21, a small television news station in Pennsylvania runs a story questioning the show’s authenticity. One of the people interviewed, thanked me for my posts and said he used some of my findings in the interview. I am glad that a news station has finally picked up the story.

I published TLC’s Breaking Amish: Episode 2 Brings us More Lies on this blog.

September 18, 2012 (26,232 pageviews)

Examiner.com, starts posting a ridiculous number of articles about the possibility that Breaking Amish is fake. As is typical of “news” sites that pay their “writers” based on page views and barrage you with irritating popups, they post half a dozen articles about other articles whenever a bona fide news news site runs an article about Breaking Amish. As you might guess from my word choices, I’m not fond of websites that, instead of doing real journalism, simply grab the work of other journalists and re-package it in half a dozen different ways for the sake of making money. Anyway, I digress…

WetPaint.com and Starcasm.com publish articles about the allegations of fakery and cite this blog as one of the sources.

I published TLC’s Breaking Amish: Is Kate Fake too? on this blog.

Someone from a post-production company that worked on Breaking Amish, attacked this blog with false comments, using multiple names and email addresses.

September 19, 2012 (16,995 pageviews)

CBS 21 runs another story about Breaking Amish. This time they get TLC to respond to the allegations. TLC has the following to say; “There is a lot of information floating around about the group featured on ‘Breaking Amish’. Much of it is not true, but some of it is – and is addressed in upcoming episodes.

September 20, 2012 (15,655 pageviews)

Variety runs a story about the fakery. In the article they say that TLC claimed it does not advertise that the cast of Breaking Amish is leaving the community for the first time.

In reality, TLC advertises the show on its website as, “Breaking Amish, premiering Sunday, Sept. 9 at 10|9c, provides a never-before-seen look inside the lives of young men and women as they, for the first time, trade horse and buggy with taxi cabs to break out from their respective Amish/Mennonite communities in their pursuit to chase big dreams in the Big Apple.” (emphasis is mine) It was also explicitly stated at the beginning of episode 2, that the cast are leaving their Amish communities for the first time.

The scandal appears to have gone viral as Google’s top search results for “breaking amish” are peppered with keywords like “fake” and “fraud”.

September 21, 2012 (19,024 pageviews)

The New York Daily News gives us a few more details and a person associated with the show claims that as filming progressed, it became clear that at least one of the cast members had misrepresented themselves.

Great! Let’s blame it all on the cast!

In the same article, TLC says that the issues will be addressed in future episodes.

Time to start re-writing and re-editing.

The Daily Mail Online (a British news site) questions the authenticity of Breaking Amish. The link back to one of my posts. It’s a good feeling to see the truth going international for the first time. It only took 12 days.

September 22, 2012 (10,636 pageviews)

News of the fakery appears on Good Morning America (ABC).

A private investigator with veiled threats of a lawsuit, pays a visit to the person that they believed was responsible for this blog. Did they think they could just scare these scandalous revelations into disappearing?

September 23, 2012 (27,871 pageviews)

Episode 3 airs on TV. Jeremiah admits that he was kicked out of the Amish three times before. Remember how, TLC stated that they are leaving their Amish communities for the first time? The said this at the beginning of the second (and maybe the first) episode, and also advertise it online as such.

September 24, 2012 (42, 030 pageviews)

A picture of Rebecca in a skimpy two-piece bikini from 2010, pops up on Facebook.

I published TLC’s Breaking Amish: Episode 3 Brings us Fewer Lies.

September 25, 2012 (20,765 pageviews)

CBS 21 gets hold of Jeremiah’s ex-wife, who says the show is fake, and runs a story about it.

September 26, 2012 (18,184 pageviews)

Evidence that Sabrina and another person from Breaking Amish appeared in Amish at the Altar, a National Geographic show that aired in 2010, emerges on Facebook.

September 27, 2012 (12,320 pageviews)

Pictures from two of Sabrina’s deleted Twitter accounts, appear online. Included are pictures of her non-Mennonite wedding.

Summary

At this point, Breaking Amish has been thoroughly debunked and shown to be fake on a number of levels. It has also been demonstrated that TLC lied to its viewers when they explicitly said, on screen, “They’ll leave their community for the first time.

Our Responsibility to the Truth

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We tend to think that our responsibility to the truth is satisfied if we refrain from uttering hurtful lies. Even the most ethical among us seem to think that we’re fine as long as we don’t intentionally deceive others. Is our responsibility really limited to that?

Many people tell white lies to their spouses, lie on their tax returns, commit warranty fraud, propagate rumors, emphatically state things which they have no evidence for, and allow people and organizations to get away with saying things that aren’t truthful. The same people feel hurt when someone lies to them.

Lying can be intentional or unintentional. When done intentionally, it is often because some advantage is to be gained by the deceit. When unintentional, it can usually be blamed on carelessness or intellectual laziness. Just as we are culpable for intentional lies, I believe we are also blameworthy for our unintentional lies.

Lying damages society in a number of ways. That is true whether the lie is intentional or unintentional but we tend blame only those that lie intentionally because we assume that unintentional lies can’t be avoided. That assumption is wrong.

Most unintentional lies can be avoided by doing some simple fact-checking. A lot of the rest can be avoided by doing more in-depth research. The rest can be avoided by rephrasing our statements to note our level of uncertainty. All unintentional lies can be avoided by being aware of our own ignorance. We are all ignorant, to an extent, in different areas of knowledge. That is fine as long as we are aware of what we are ignorant about and refrain from speaking with an air of knowledge on those subjects.

Take for example, the person who hears that homeopathy works wonders and recommends it to a friend with cancer–as an alternative to a hospital visit. Later that friend dies, partially because he wasted time with an ineffectual treatment instead of getting chemotherapy. The person who recommended the ineffectual treatment is at least partially to blame for the death.

It is not enough to believe that what we are saying is the truth. To ensure that our statement doesn’t bring harm to society, we must investigate the truth of the statement before stating it. We must ask ourselves in what ways the statement could be false. Even when we have gathered evidence to support our assertion, we should caveat it with a reference to the evidence or to our level of uncertainty. There is nothing wrong with prefacing some statements with “I think” and concluding them with “but I could be wrong about that.” Too many people are too quick to assert something. If they would only add a reference to the evidence they are basing that assertion on, we could more easily determine its validity for ourselves.

If a scientist tells us that we are safe from an earthquake and then a deadly earthquake occurs, we are rightfully angry. How could that scientist not look at all the evidence? How could that scientist not end the statement with a comment about the uncertainty involved with such a statement? We are angry about this and yet we continue to propagate rumors about people we don’t like particularly well.

Perhaps the amount of blame we assign to the unintentional liar should be based on the intellectual ease with which the lie could have been avoided. If someone makes a false statement that couldn’t have been avoided without considerable research then perhaps that person is not as blameworthy as the one whose lie could have been avoided by doing some simple fact-checking.

We must become critical thinkers (I believe this skill should be formally taught in elementary school). After my parents and most of society deceived me, albeit unintentionally, for more than ten years, is it any wonder that I hate deception? It is our responsibility to learn how people deceive each other both intentionally and unintentionally. By studying the art of truth we also learn about cognitive biases–how our brains deceive us and how we go on to deceive others because of that.

Before I conclude this post, I want to talk briefly about something that really irritates me; rumors. I was once accused of committing a crime (I was never charged and the real perps admitted to it several weeks later), so I know the power of slander/rumors and the damage that they can cause to their subjects. By being responsible for the things that we say, we become one less person that starts a rumor–one less person that hurts another. When I hear what sounds like a rumor, rather than spreading it further, I find it more productive to offer alternative explanations to the rumored one. It often takes the gossiper aback and causes him or her to reconsider their evidence.

I encourage you not to blindly believe the things I’ve said here but to reason through it yourself. By learning the skills of critical thought, we become filters for the information that flows through society. Not only can we stop ourselves from uttering unintentional lies, we can offer commentary on the ones that others utter. And always remember… we are to blame for our lies, the intentional ones and the unintentional ones.

TLC’s Breaking Amish: Jeremiah’s Girlfriend, Iva

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Remember that tear-jerking scene in Episode 1 of Breaking Amish, where Jeremiah and his Amish girlfriend break up?

Jeremiah and Iva

Jeremiah and Iva

Image courtesy of TLC

Maybe one reason the two didn’t display much emotion, is simply because they never did love each other. New evidence suggests that this scene is just another staged scene.

A source was kind enough to send me a link to an Iva’s Facebook page. The Iva depicted in the photos on that page appears to be the same Iva shown on Breaking Amish. The source also said that Iva has always lived in Pennsylvania and never in Holmes County, Ohio where the scene was supposedly filmed. On the Facebook page, I found a lot of photos dating back to 2011 in which Iva isn’t dressed Amish. I think it’s reasonable to believe that Iva also left the Amish some time before filming began.

The screenshot below, shows a photo of Iva in New York City. The photo was uploaded to Facebook on December 23, 2011.

Iva in New York City, December 2011

Iva in New York City, December 2011

The images of Iva in addition to anecdotal evidence given by various sources, I believe, is reason to question the authenticity of the relationship between Jeremiah and Iva.

The screenshot below shows more of Iva’s photos:

Iva's Photos

Iva’s Photos

The screenshots above were taken from Iva’s public Facebook page several weeks ago. She has since set her page to private.

TLC’s Breaking Amish: Episode 5 is all About Sex

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The latest episode of Breaking Amish slides still deeper into what appears to be TLC’s bottomless pit of depravity. This episode is all about sex and they start off by accusing Amish everywhere of being perverts and happily engaging in bestiality. It is starting to look like TLC has some kind of vendetta against the Amish as episode after episode portrays the Amish as being pure evil.

First of all, do Amish men f*** animals? Unfortunately, it has happened. I know of two cases in which an Amish man allegedly (I believe it given the evidence I was presented with at the time) had sex with or attempted to have sex with farm animals. Is it common or widespread like the cast of Breaking Amish would have you believe? I don’t think so.

We see more fake dating by Abe and Rebecca (I say “fake” because they’ve been a couple for a long time and apparently even have a child. Rebecca was apparently married to another guy when she ran off with Abe. Rebecca and the other guy divorced in July of 2012. Apparently there is no limit to how low TLC will stoop when doing a “reality” show.

Jeremiah’s sexism reaches even more appalling lows in this episode as he calls a bunch of women “bitches”, visits a strip club and questions Abe’s masculinity for refusing to be there, and is adamant that women have to do all the laundry and other household chores. Jeremiah is a chauvinist pig. I cannot stress enough that Jeremiah is evil on his own–that kind of evil is not representative of Amish men in general.

In the latest episode of Breaking Amish, we see more melodrama as people cry, people make allegations, people get indignant, people fight (literally), people lie, people whine and complain, etc. These melodrama techniques are unfortunately, pretty common in today’s “reality” television programming which is why I almost never watch reality television. I just find it sickening to watch this kind of brain-rotting crap in which attention-seeking imbeciles engage in ridiculous antics intended to hold the attention of the morons of society so that they will eventually buy useless shit they don’t need and make morally bankrupt people a little more money (yes I know that I just insulted most people). Nevertheless, given my knowledge of the Amish, I feel morally compelled to continue watching in order to give my opinion so that people not so knowledgeable about the Amish aren’t completely deceived.

Matt’s Escape from Religion – Guest Post

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The following is a guest post by Matt. Matt grew up in Lancaster County, PA where he was a member of a religious sect similar to the Amish. After being directed to this website by a friend, Matt offered to share the story of his own journey from religious faith to what he describes as mental freedom. It is his hope that those still caught up in similar circumstances will profit by his story and find the courage to deal with their doubts or frustrations in a positive and healthy way.

……………………………………….

      Religion was not a large part of my life as a child. My mother paid it lip service but never laid herself open to the charge of zealotry. She sometimes took my sister and me to Sunday school when I was very young. There they passed out candy, which I found agreeable, and there were games and puzzles and songs to sing. If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands! I was as dedicated as the next child when it came to the clapping.

We had a huge book of Bible stories that was kept on the bottom shelf of our homemade bookcase. It was filled with gloomy pictures of Jesus holding lambs and blessing tragic children clad in strange clothing. From this book I gained a conception of God as being a stern personage with an enormous beard who existed in an eternal state of washed-out pen and ink colors. I was also of the belief that God lived in the attic above the grape arbor belonging to our neighbors, Sadie and Ivan. I was told God could always see me and that seemed like the best vantage point for omniscience.

Later, my sister and I found ourselves living with strangers after our parents’ marriage fell apart. Their names were Todd and Nancy Rolland, and they were what are commonly referred to as Holy Rollers. They started taking us to church on a regular basis, something we had never experienced before. Nancy’s religion pervaded every part of her life. Their house was situated on a beautiful wooded lot and there was always an army of cats hanging around. When one of these felines showed up at the back door with a horrible case of mange, Nancy instantly declared the cat a direct agent of God whom Satan was seeking to destroy by means of a skin condition. She prayed aloud that Satan and his minions would be bound and that the cat should be delivered by the Power of the Blood. It was that kind of a household.

I was 9 at the time and already an avid reader. Books were an avenue of escape for me that nothing could take away. I read everything I could lay my hands on; The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, The Hobbit, The Wind in the Willows, Oliver Twist, A Wrinkle In Time, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Arthur Conan Doyle, Greek mythology, anything with even the faintest trace of science fiction about it—I was a machine. At school I tuned everything and everyone out and pursued my own inner life. Teachers would reprimand me for reading while they were trying to teach us Math or the history of the Leni Lenape Indians, a group of people whom had apparently gone in for living in caves and planting artifacts around the state of Pennsylvania. At home I would crawl into bed at 6:00 pm and sleep until I was forced to get up and go to school in the morning. I think 12 hour sleeping jags reveal a lot about the state of mind I was in at the time. Feeling abandoned and deeply depressed, I was the perfect target for philosophies that trade in promises of unconditional love and future rewards.

One night we were taken to a revival meeting at the Rolland’s church, The Worship Center. In retrospect, the name seems very heavy with 70s sensibilities; Jesus is groovy, man! He was presented as the Friend who never failed; the Light in the darkness; the Answer to all problems.

It was the first time I can recall actually hearing and understanding the ‘Plan of Salvation’; how Jesus came down from His Throne on High to redeem the human race from their sinful and fallen condition. And I was suddenly struck by the realization that I was included within the Sinner fold under discussion. Had I ever told a lie? Well yeah, I guess so. Had I ever called my sister a name or had a fight at school? Guilty! Had I ever stolen anything? Of that I was innocent, but by then my own sinful condition had been impressed upon me and when the penitent were called forward to receive Jesus as their Savior I was among those who pressed forward.

An earnest young fellow with lapels the size of a coal barge led me through the prayer of repentance and Salvation. Rising from our knees, he clasped me to his breast and hailed me as brother. I was among the Redeemed now. He gave me a powder blue paperback copy of the New Testament and instructed me to read it diligently. And so I became a Christian.

Wishing to know more about my new-found religion, I took that young man’s advice and read from the Bible before going to bed every night. I prayed very sincere prayers for the salvation of those around me. Such was my zeal that I began to preach the Gospel to other students in Mrs. Donna Shay’s fourth grade class in dear old Clay Elementary school. My classmates listened to my harangues with the patient tact of incomprehension and utter disinterest. Alas, I made no converts in those fallow fields!

Due to circumstances I will not bother going into, I was separated from my sister and sent to live with my Uncle Lester and Aunt Mildred. Their church was the polar opposite of The Worship Center. Lester’s family was Mennonite, a stern and legalistic sect of Protestantism not far removed from the Amish. In these circles one did not go about saying the name Jesus aloud. Indeed, they positively cringed when compelled by circumstances to talk about their faith in any capacity whatever. The path to Heaven was apparently paved in equal parts by obedience to arbitrary rules and by refraining from asking any questions. An example:

“Aunt Mildred, doesn’t the Bible say that to call your brother a fool is to be in danger of Hell fire?”

“Of course it does! Didn’t Sam Martin preach that last Sunday?”

“Right…..right…..but then here, in this verse, God says to this man, ‘Thou fool! Tonight thy soul shall be required of thee!’”

“Yes, it does. I’m glad to hear you’ve been paying attention in church.”

“But…but if it’s sinful to call someone a fool, why does God do it? Shouldn’t He be the perfect example of righteousness?  I mean, I don’t understand….”

“You be quiet, Matt! You think you know everything! You think the world owes you a living! You worry more about how lazy you are and not so much about the Bible!”

Clearly this was an unproductive source of reasoned debate. I had many such doubts. The glaring inconsistencies of the Bible came to me under my own steam and as a result of reading the book for myself without the filter of pat rationalizations which are normally employed to sweep them under the carpet. Why would God give a commandment that forbade killing and then go on to repeatedly command the children of Israel to kill? How could you justify sending a plague that decimated an innocent population because their King had taken a census that displeased the Lord (the displeasure arising from reasons I still cannot comprehend)? Wouldn’t true Justice take the life of the King and leave those who had nothing whatever to do with the census unmolested?

How could you justify putting babies and young women to the sword, as God specifically commanded the Israelites to do? What deeply disturbing impulse causes one to take virgin adolescents into slavery, as God commanded to take place? What were these obviously insane rules regarding menstruating women being ‘unclean’, and how had they come to be included in a set of moral codes in any rational system of thinking? Didn’t God create the women to menstruate? And wouldn’t any uncleanness attach to the Creator rather than the hapless Creation who had no say in the design?

I still believed completely. I just assumed that since I was not an adult I was unable to understand, as I did not enjoy the benefit of that ineffable and all-encompassing wisdom that children assume all adults have. And so I ignored my gnawing doubts and continued on the path to Zion.

Then came puberty. My awakened sexual awareness gave me agonies of guilt that can barely be described. The Bible said that to look on a woman to lust after her in your heart was a sin worthy of eternal damnation, and there I was, Lusting in the morning, Lusting in the afternoon, and Lusting double time in the evenings. I prayed abject prayers of repentance; I swore I would change my wicked ways; I pleaded with God to remove this thorn out of my side and deliver me from evil. Then I would go to the orthodontist and return home to frantic masturbatory fantasies about his healthy and amply endowed assistant. It was a vicious cycle of guilt, shame and despair; followed by tears, lamentations, and a genuine fear of burning alive in hell forever.

I was baptized, upon my own request, when I was 16. I hoped that this step would bring me closer to God and make the demands of my religion easier to fulfill. However, I soon discovered that the religion that promises everything and delivers nothing was not to be amplified or enhanced by simple belief and obedience to its commands. Clearly there was still something lacking.

I abandoned the Mennonite church when I was 22; I felt that while Christianity was clearly true (as any fool could see, just look at the creation around you and try to deny it, Atheists!) I had fallen in among people who were blinded by tradition and unexamined religious dogma. I was looking for something more. I wanted the real and living Jesus; I wanted a church that was alive and aware and basking in the peace which passeth all understanding, which portion is promised to His children in the Bible.

Because Lord knows, I certainly did not have this peace! I was still ravaged by guilt and shame and an overwhelming desire to meet debauched and shameless women. I was a wreck of hatred and anger, bitterness and wrath. My vanity was constantly at war with my self-loathing, and while I presented an exterior of self-assurance I was totally lost within. I was of all men most miserable!

It had become somewhat undeniable that my prayers were going nowhere. I was unable to produce a single instance in which I felt that any prayer of mine had been unequivocally answered.  I gradually stopped praying, or at least abandoned all but the most perfunctory of prayers. I would debate with Atheists on this dazzling new invention they were calling the Internet, but I had stopped going to church except for funerals and weddings.

These pesky online Atheists kept posing vicious and pernicious misrepresentations of my religion disguised as questions about the illogical nature of my beliefs, and I would huffily promise to pray for their salvation once I was too soundly beaten in the ongoing debate to fool even myself any longer about the shakiness of my assertions and platitudes.

And then I set my foot on the path that led me to where I am today. I decided that, while I was a backslidden and unworthy servant of Christ, I was still a Christian at heart and that surely answers to these questions could be found if only I searched hard enough!

I began reading apologetics; I read C. S .Lewis, my old friend from the Rolland days. I read Josh McDowell; I read James Dobson; I read authors whose names I can no longer remember.

And none of it was helping. Suddenly all the doubts I had muzzled for years came snarling forth into the daylight. How can any god who calls Himself eternally Just and Merciful condemn any of his children to hell? Mercy is the quality of sparing those who deserve punishment from the weight of that punishment. The only people who can be shown mercy are those who do not deserve it. Yet the religion insisted that those who did not deserve it would by no means receive mercy, but should be hurled into the Pit to suffer forever!

Those who repented and obeyed the rules were technically spotless and so disqualified themselves to receive mercy. If you are rewarded for good behavior you are receiving exactly what is merited. The people in hell, who did not deserve mercy and were therefore the only ones who qualified for it, were to be denied mercy. It was totally illogical.

Things must be consistent if they are true. If I told you I had a 2 inch tall elf I kept in my pocket, I think you could be forgiven for disbelieving if none of the Elf Snacks you set out for him were ever eaten. The observable conditions would be inconsistent with my claims.  Logic must not only begin reasonably, it must lead to sensible conclusions. IF there is a 2 inch elf, and IF you put out Elf Snacks, THEN those snacks would be eaten. Any other conclusion shows that either I am lying about the elf or I truly believe it but am daft.

If the Bible is true and Jesus is real, why were His followers not demonstrably happier than everyone else who did not have the benefit of divine protection and the peace that all Christians are promised? Jesus said his followers would raise the dead and heal the sick and cast out devils, all in his name. Why is Stephen Hawking still in a wheelchair, then? Why do hospitals even exist? Why do people continue being blind and deaf and halt and lame? Are Christians unwilling to heal them as their God has commanded them to do?

Which is more likely, I asked myself: that Jesus is real and the Bible is true and yet somehow, in TWO THOUSAND YEARS, it was impossible to demonstrate that any of those Elf Snacks had been eaten? There was no evidence for any of the Bible’s claims. Plenty of assertions and insistence that it’s true but that is not the same thing as evidence.

So was it more reasonable to assume that the whole thing was part wishful thinking, and an even larger measure of Control Mechanisms at work? Would the God of Love, the Christ of mercy and forgiveness, the meek and lowly Jesus, REALLY take the time to instruct His disciples to be sure to pay their taxes?????  At the very least it suggested severe tampering by a Priesthood whom, for 1,500 years, were the only people who could read and write. Everyone else had to just take their word that they were receiving, through the priests, an accurate account of what God’s laws and demands were.

Now there’s a system that could never be abused in the service of self-interest and personal benefit at the expense of the Little Guy!

I was 31 when I finally found the courage to say, “I don’t believe a word of this!”

The relief of no longer forcing my mind to ignore the obvious and inescapable was enormous.

After I got out of the Navy at 35 I went down to Myrtle Beach, SC to visit a friend and unwind. I bought the best marijuana available, smoked up, and stayed high for 2 years. It was wonderfully liberating. Weed frees the mind of all the shackles Society’s conditioning put upon us as children. All that horrible Guilt was fast dissipating. My attention was drawn increasingly inward, rather than constantly focused outward in hopes a promised Messiah would come and fix me. I sought professional help to work through the trauma I experienced as a child. I became aware that there was no one inside my head but me; nobody was judging me, condemning me, damaging me—except for me! The Me that had swallowed all these lies, the Me that had invested belief in a religion that is so shaky that for 2,000 years it has required an army of apologists to explain away its contradictory absurdities and rationalize its savage atrocities and Stone Age ignorance.

Where are the apologists for gravity? Or for the freezing point of water? Where are the defenders of the belief that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west? These things require no apologists because their truth is evident to everyone. If there is really a God, an entity that is separate from and watching over us, surely He would be just as self-evident.

I am the person I am because that is who I am.  I believe the same is true of every other righteous, decent person. It’s not because there is a mystical presence that makes us good; We are Good because We are Good.

I have peace such as I couldn’t even imagine when I was bound in the dungeon of organized religion. The love I feel for my brother is no longer stifled by the self- hatred that must inevitably come with rules and laws that make us dirty in our own sight.

I have escaped.

Selah!

TLC’s Breaking Amish: Episode 4 and Still no Explanations

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Last night I watched episode 4 of Breaking Amish. I should just stop writing now. At first it was exciting to point out the lies and fakery spewing forth from TLC’s latest farce but as the onslaught continues, writing about it just starts getting depressing.

Some people find it hard to understand why I want to defend the Amish against exploitative shows like Breaking Amish. Am I not an atheist after all? Do I not hate the Amish? Well yes I am an atheist but no I do not hate the Amish. The first eighteen years of my life were spent (sometimes, depending on my mood, I might say “wasted”) as an Amish kid. However, my entire family and almost all of my friends are Amish, and I love them. The Amish culture was a large part of my life and while I do not want that life for myself any longer, I will defend it with all the power of my pen from people wishing to make money by lying or otherwise exploiting them. The Amish, in my opinion, are philosophically misguided (as any religious group is) but as a group, they are the nicest people you will likely encounter.

This episode brings us more pretending. Jeremiah pretends to learn driving again. We know that’s not true. They pretend to have cellphones for the first time. “What is texting?” asks Kate. Yeah, right! The girls pretend to get makeovers for the first time. We have plenty of pictures that proves that just plain false. Oh, look! Here’s Sabrina with her hair down at her non-Mennonite wedding years ago: (source)

Sabrina Wedding Photo

Sabrina Wedding Photo

“We just had our first date last night,” Rebecca proudly tells us after a night out with Abe. Apparently when they started hanging out years ago and conceived a child, they called it something other than “dates”.

A lot of people probably have questions about Rebecca’s teeth, or lack thereof. I don’t know why she had all her teeth pulled, so don’t ask me. I can tell you that the barbaric dentistry that she spoke of could be true. I know that in some of the very conservative Amish communities they really have Amish dentists armed with nothing more than a pair of pliers. Many of the Amish are not too great when it comes to their teeth. I for one, never went to the dentist in all the 18 years that I was Amish. My baby teeth either fell out on their own or I wiggled them out with my fingers (and who says Amish boys don’t cry). We brushed our teeth regularly and that was pretty much it. There were exceptions when things got really bad. I remember my sister going to a dentist for a root canal several times but other than that, I don’t remember any of my family ever visiting a dentist.

My biggest beef with the latest episode is the lack of the promised and long-awaited explanations from TLC. When are they going to explain to us why they claimed that the cast members are leaving the Amish for the first time when in reality they haven’t been Amish for up to fourteen years? When will they explain to us that these kids have encountered plenty of showers, and microwaves before? When will they tell us how photos of Kate appeared on a modelling website years ago? When will they tell us about Abe and Rebecca’s baby? When will they tell us about Sabrina’s non-Mennonite wedding that happened years ago? When will they tell us about Jeremiah’s ex-wife and three kids from years ago? Do they think we’ve forgotten? Why do they keep insulting their viewers’ intelligence?

TLC’s Breaking Amish: Episode 3 Brings us Fewer Lies

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I thought I was done writing about Breaking Amish. Turns out, it just doesn’t feel right to stop now. Episode 3 was pretty boring for me. There are significantly fewer lies in this episode but the false implications (e.g. just leaving the Amish, experiencing these things for the first time, etc.) remain. I wonder if somebody in some production studio had to work overtime rewriting the episode because of the huge backlash against the show.

The first thing I noticed was the absence of the written introduction. When the first two episodes played on TV, one of the first frames showed the line, “They’ll leave their community for the first time”. That introduction is gone in episode 3 and I thank TLC for that.

In this episode, Jeremiah drives a car under the watchful eye of an instructor. He makes a grand show of being an inexperienced driver and even knocks over a traffic cone to complete the illusion. Jeremiah says that he has driven before but only on country roads. Lie! I know for a fact that Jeremiah has driven quite a bit in a city with a population of more than 50,000 people. While it might not have been NYC, it was definitely more than a country road. I know this fact because I saw it with my own eyes and I could find a dozen witnesses who would agree with me. He drove just fine then and that was about four or five years ago. I suspect that he got to that city by driving more than a thousand miles on the interstate highway system.

That was the only outright lie that I caught on last night’s episode (definitely a significant drop in the number of lies) but there are plenty of false implications there that are just not explicitly voiced. The implication is still there that these kids are leaving the Amish for the first time (well, except for Jeremiah who admits to being kicked out of the Amish three times already), and experiencing these “English” things for the first time.

As for TLC’s promise to bring light to the controversy… well, I didn’t see any in this episode. There are no explanations for the lies that we’ve uncovered. All that TLC gives us in this episode is several allusions to an explanation. These are when Jeremiah admits that he’s been kicked out of the Amish three times already and when he reveals that he’s worn “English” clothes before.

In this episode, Kate and Rebecca visit a modeling agency and they are asked pose in swimsuits. Rebecca tells us, “I believe in modesty, and spreading yourself out for the world to see you naked, that is not modesty to me, at all.” It sounds like she’s talking about a Penthouse spread but from the context I think she’s talking about wearing a swimsuit. Check out this photo taken about two years before filming began and judge for yourself whether Rebecca is really too modest to wear a swimsuit. Click to enlarge.

Rebecca at a Pool Party

Rebecca at a Pool Party

The above photo is courtesy of Shannon Marie Edwards via https://www.facebook.com/BreakingAmishTheExpose

I found the original on Facebook and it was uploaded on June 12, 2010 so the date on the photo is accurate.

In this episode, Rebecca’s grandfather visits her in New York City. This man is quite a bit heavier than the grandfather that Rebecca chased into the house back in episode one. Sources tell us that this second grandfather really is her grandfather but the first one was not. Funny thing is, both grandfathers say the exact same sentence with voices that sound exactly the same to me. I think the same soundbite might have been used for both people.

The only other gripe I have with this episode is the rude and cruel language used by some of the cast. Rebecca likens the French lady from the modeling agency to a heel-biting Chihuahua. Jeremiah says he would have told his mom to get the f*** out. These are the words of a-holes no matter what the cultural background.

The one part of this episode that I liked was the reference to Amish home cooking when Abe and his mom are chatting in the restaurant. Amish home cooking really is the best. You won’t find a better pie, or better mashed potatoes, or even better cereal, than what my Amish mom makes.

Is TLC’s Long Island Medium Fake too?

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In the last week or so this blog has been getting 15,000 to 30,000 page views per day. All that attention was generated by my last several posts which reveal that TLC’s Breaking Amish is based on a false premise. Given all this attention, I feel it is my ethical responsibility to point a questioning finger at another one of their shows–Long Island Medium.

Anyway, my point should be an obvious one–you can’t talk to dead people! Convincing people that you can talk to dead people is easy. All it takes is research and cold reading.

So please contact TLC and ask them to prove that  the Long Island Medium is not a fake. If it’s real, it should be easy to prove. There’s even a $1 million dollar prize in it for them if they can prove that it’s real.

My posts over the last two weeks have generated a lot of interest. They have also generated a lot of something else as evidenced by a visit from a private investigator with veiled threats of a slander lawsuit. However, I believe in revealing the truth, even if the process or the potential consequences become scary.

TLC’s Breaking Amish: Is Kate Fake too?

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On Breaking Amish, Kate is portrayed as the bishop’s daughter. Supposedly she has been an Amish girl all her life (except for a brief stint in Florida where she got a DUI) and is just now truly leaving the Amish.

In reality, sources tell me that Kate hasn’t been Amish for years. She has been driving a car, dressing non-Amish, and working in a Ruby Tuesdays in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

In the mugshot from Kate’s arrest in Florida for DUI, she has her hair down and looks decidedly non-Amish. Luckily for TLC, they came clean about this. You can see the arrest record and mugshot here. This page also shows her full name (Katie Ann Stoltzfus) and her date of birth. I love Florida’s public records policy.

The real shocker came with the discovery (discovered about 24 hours ago) of a modeling photo posted on exploretalent.com in which Kate apparently entered a Best Smile contest. The contest was in August 2010. I guess her aspirations of being a model are real. It might be the only real thing about Breaking Amish.

Kate's Best Smile Entry

Kate’s Best Smile Entry

The photo is from https://www.facebook.com/BreakingAmishTheTruth and the original tip was from Colleen Smiley.

Taking a picture like this, much less posting it to a modelling site would be forbidden by the Amish. We can conclude that she did not just recently leave the Amish.

Interestingly, within hours of this evidence being posted on the Facebook Truth page, the profile and everything was removed from the modelling site. Lucky for you, you can still see the original page in Google’s cache.

UPDATE: 9/18/2012, 4:13 PM EST:

Dear lying spammers. You can give up, now. Your comments will not be approved. Other comments will be approved after I’ve determined that they’re legit.

Someone from PostWorks NY, a production company that worked on Breaking Amish, keeps spamming this blog using multiple names and email addresses in an attempt to have his or her comments posted. I sent their company an email asking them politely to stop whichever employee is making these attacks. I haven’t heard back yet.

Somebody using a proxy server to hide behind is also spamming this blog using multiple names and email addresses.

It seems I’ve stirred up a nest of angry hornets.