This blog intends to provide some balance in the religious debate by providing a counterpoint to Billy Graham's religious advice. On his website http://www.billygraham.org/ he responds to readers' questions by quoting from the bible. I am attempting to respond to those same queries by resorting to reason and rationality.

I must acknowledge a debt here to Jeff Hope who started in this vein but who has unfortunately taken a hiatus. His blog is http://atheistsanswer.wordpress.com/. Jeff has inspired me to continue.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Don't Fence Me In

There has been an ongoing dispute about the construction of an eruv in the northern suburbs of Sydney Australia. "Eruv" has no direct translation in English, so "fence" is used. It is not a fence in the conventional sense, but merely a wire strung between poles, much as telephone cables are now. It delineates an area within which it is allowable for orthodox Jews to break rules pertaining to the Sabbath. On the Sabbath and holy days orthodox Jews (10% of the Jews in this area) are not allowed to do any work, which is a good way to ensure that they don't spend 7 days a week working and hence achieve some sort of work / life balance. However, "work" is defined as pushing anything including a stroller, so families with young children are unable to go out on these days. Check out this newspaper article:
Obviously the Jewish god has initiated this rule. However, what god do these people worship? Does he sit up there on his cloud and think "Look at those people pushing their kids to the park on the Sabbath! They must be evil and be punished!". Or does he think "Look at those people pushing their kids to the park on the Sabbath! What fine parents they are looking after their children. I must reward them!". Surely an omniscient god can see into their hearts and discern their intentions, or is he a pedantic tyrant who will trap them on a technicality.
Furthermore the Hebrew word "eruv" has no direct translation into English, and so perhaps the Hebrew word for "work" also has no direct translation into English. Perhaps something got lost in the translation? Is pushing a stroller really work? Is pushing a button (another pedantic rule) really classified as work? Did strollers and buttons exist when these rules were drawn up?
Let's step back and think for a moment.... There's this rule made up centuries ago translated from an ancient language which tries to control concepts which weren't even invented then, and a particular group has to erect a structure around everyone else's homes in order to break their own rule. Again I ponder: how can grown-ups think in such a woolly way?
If these Jews could erect their eruv without disruption to the rest of the community then it is probable that no one would mind. However, they cannot. It requires the construction of extra poles and wires around the neighbourhood. So everyone else has to lumbered with this eyesore to pander to the irrational beliefs of a minority.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Son of The Exorcist

I'm back. Sorry to all of you in the blogosphere for the holiday, but I'm back. The trigger for my re-emergence from under the atheist rock from where I had hoped to ignore religion is an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 02/04/11: http://www.smh.com.au/national/sympath-for-the-devil-sheds-light-on-exorcist-shortage-20110401-1crnr.html This news item tells us of a seminar in the Vatican to work out a strategy to combat devil-worship, the occult, satanist groups, sects, etc. Seminars scrutinised Satanism with "seriousness and scientific rigour". So good news to all rational people: the Catholic Church is now going to use scientific rigour - I hope they will use that same rigour on their own teachings, but somehow after centuries of doing otherwise, I doubt it. The seminars went on to warn of the dangers that the Twilight and Harry Potter series posed because they lead to an interest in the occult. Back in the 1970's the performer Alice Cooper was similarly considered a danger, after all he wore devilish make-up and sang rock-and-roll songs! Next came a warning of the danger that yoga, reiki massages, and tai chi posed, in that they could lead people into the grip of "demonic forces". By this time I was laughing out loud, but I totally gagged when the 80-yr-old father Gregory Jordan claimed that ouija boards and astrology posed a risk. Who needs to satirise religions when they provide such bizarre outpourings? So I checked my stars for today: "Events at Casa Capricorn are no: 1 on April's agenda, with a new domestic cycle beginning and movement taking off at a faster pace than your usual controlled rhythm. This week, a no-prisoners approach will only evoke friction and opposition. The machinery of the universe supports your asking for help rather than assuming you can do everything yourself". Now that I've read this I'm off to worship Satan in a graveyard at midnight under the full moon. I'll reserve my opinion of astrology for another blog. It constantly amazes me that normally sane grown-ups believe this far-fetched unsubstantiable nonsense. The article finished by telling us that there had been four exorcisms performed in the Brisbane Catholic archdiocese last week. It's funny how the devil only seems to possess those of the Catholic faith but leaves everyone else in the world alone. So stay away from Catholicism and you won't be possessed by the devil!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Tyranny Of Geography

QUESTION: Today's comes from PR...
"My family came from a country that doesn't have many Christians, and I'd like to ask you a question. I understand Christians believe Jesus was devine, but isn't God supposed to be pure and holy? How could He have anything to do with a sinful world?".

The fact that your family came from a country with few Christians should tell you something about belief: it is dependent on geography. Different cultures have different deities, and over milennia this can change. Why is India full of Hindus, Iran full of Muslims, and Italy full of Roman Catholics? Why did these various gods reveal themselves to people based around man-made borders? The answer is obvious: because the gods are man-made.
You pose a theologically interesting, but in reality meaningless question: How could a pure god exist in a sinful world? A belief system could make up any reason to rationalise this. Asking questions such as this is to ask the wrong question. Instead ask yourself why different cultures and different countries have different deities.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Judgement For All

QUESTION: Today's comes from JM...
"Does God always judge people who are evil and deliberately do wrong? I'd like to think he does, but there are still a lot of evil people left in the world, and most of them seem to go through life without much bad ever happening to them."

Before your question can properly be answered we need to clarify two concepts. Firstly you mention evil people as opposed to good people. Please take a moment to think of a way to discern who is evil and who is good. Apart from some obvious villains such as mass-murderers it is extremely difficult to identify these character types. We are all a combination of varying degrees of these character types, and this can change over time. Are you an evil person or a good person? How many people are one extreme or the other?
Secondly you mention the concept of doing wrong. What guidelines would you draw up to determine whether an action is wrong or right? Most, if not all, decisions in our daily lives cannot be categorised as one of these extremes or the other. Different actions have different consequences for different people over different time periods. Often the consequences cannot be discerned in advance.
It's tempting to subscribe to the notion that the world's baddies will get what they deserve some day, and if it doesn't happen in this life then it will happen in another. However, the problem with this is identifying the baddies from the goodies and framing a moral structure to judge them. These are impossible tasks that religions claim to be able to achieve, however, they cannot exactly explain how. Beware of charlatans providing false hope.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Another Ritual

QUESTION: Today's comes from TK...
"We moved to a new city last year, and the church we've started attending is more formal or traditional than our old one. Recently, they've been talking about Advent, and I'm too embarrassed to admit I don't even know what it means. I know it has something to do with Christmas, but what?".

There is an Advent calendar which has a chocolate to eat on each day leading up to Christmas, but I haven't read anything in the Bible about this nor concerning Advent in any form. Christianity claims that the Bible is the whole truth but there are many Christian rituals and beliefs which don't appear there. Where do these come from? Are they holy or just some cultural curiosity? How did they originate? Why?
Don't be timid to ask questions when in church. Religions prosper when they are dictating terms to unthinking followers. If you are not sure on something or if it sounds implausible, speak up. Too many people just blindly accept what is told them without any period of reflection.
There are many differences in belief and ritual between denominations, and yet they all miraculously consider themselves to be right. If the church you have changed to does not satisfy you then go to another, or don't go to any, or start your own!