Bill Ferguson, one of this paper's most beloved columnists, wrote last Feb. 11:
"I don't think this editorial page has ever hosted a more controversial columnist than Dr. Bill Cummings."
And many people, I'm sure, wonder why Charles Richardson continues to allow me to stir up his readers. After all, this is a peaceful, Christian section of the Bible Belt, and the majority of his readers have priests and pastors who violently object to my columns. Several of these "Christian leaders" can't hide their anger when they write letters to the editors, and their parishioners tell me they even condemn me from their pulpits, waving this paper over their heads.
Why don't I stop writing about religion and go back to my career field of leadership?
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Bill Ferguson in that column, "Finding God in the library," nails it. He tells the story of the Southern Baptist preacher who told his congregation that "anyone who dies without accepting Christ as their savior is bound for hell, even if they'd never heard the name Jesus and therefore had never had a chance to make that decision."
It's because of this kind of uneducated, harmful and arrogant preaching that I feel forced to write. I am not urging Christians to walk out and give up their religion. I am not trying to destroy your faith. On the contrary, I am suggesting an attitude of investigation and questioning that is designed to strengthen your faith. Faith without questions fades away with knowledge and experience. Why else do we have so many empty churches?
I am hoping that I will hit on subjects (like atonement, gay marriage, infant baptism and a different way to read your Bible, etc.) that have long lingered in your minds but you haven't had the opportunity to question. If you did question them, you were silenced. Many Protestants heard "because the Bible says so." Many Catholics heard "because the Church says so." These answers may be sufficient for children (and grown-up children), but they just don't cut it for educated adults.
I'm not saying that you'll find the right answer. Some questions are really difficult, like: "Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?" Most priests and pastors don't have a clue, so they come up with the standard "seminary stock answers" that are supposed to put the issue to rest, but the issue still smells. Something doesn't make sense. If you're going to be a believer, you must be allowed to tear into "senseless dogma" and accept it (if you want to) for a reason other than "somebody else said so" and "here's a Scripture quote to prove it!"
As Bill Ferguson said: "believe your gut." Many times you'll find that God is in your gut, not in the words of someone else. Faith means believing in God — your God — not in somebody else's idea of God.
That's why I write. I certainly don't have all the answers. I don't even have all the questions. But I have images in my head of people in "religious pain," pain that was caused unnecessarily by priests, pastors and born-again Christians who pressed their righteousness into the tender souls of others who had no one to help them.
Our readers confirm this to me in private emails as well as in the comments online, like John G. Kelly Jr.'s remark when reading the story of my wife as a child having to build a "Ledge in Hell" for herself and her daddy. "Indeed such preaching scars young children and that should be grounds for child abuse charges," he wrote.
I wrote a column last year titled "Please don't read this," and I preached "complete abstinence" for readers who "know the truth." I maintained that people who feel questioning their faith is a sin (I used to believe that) should skip my columns altogether. And the reason is because (as one Macon attorney advised me by phone): I have "become the Devil."
This reminds me: I laugh a lot. I don't take all this as seriously as others, and so you will find me laughing from time to time — right in the middle of my column. But I can't help it, and I am way too old to change.
Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corp. and Cummings Management Consultants. His blog is www.progressiveheretic.com.