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.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Two Day Christianity

QUESTION: Today's comes from LK...
"I admit we're mainly 'Christmas and Easter' Christians, since those are the only days we go to church. But what's wrong with that? Weekends are the only time we have to ourselves, and God wouldn't want us to neglect our family time, would He?"

There are well over a billion Christians in the world, but church attendances are poor. Obviously most of them don't go to church, and attendance is dropping especially in the Western world. So you are typical Christians in that you have taken on the dominant religion in your neighbourhood and country because you think it's the right thing to do. You are obviously satisfied with your life and are intelligent enough to realise you don't need guidance from an organisation that clings to unverifiable doctrine and has proven itself to be morally bankrupt many times over.
It's time to ask yourself the big questions regarding your belief and view of the world. If you examine the situation objectively you will not find any need for any god. However, there are some principles that Christianity unfairly takes credit for that you may wish to uphold. These include things like "treat others as you want them to treat you", "care for others less fortunate than yourself", "leave the world a better place than you found it", etc. So use your leisure time wisely. Time spent with loved ones is not only relaxing and enjoyable, but also mutually beneficial.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Preying On The Young

QUESTION: Today's comes from JH...
"Our daughter came home from college at Christmas and told us she'd become a Christian there. We're not religious, however, and recently she's turned very negative toward us for not believing as she does. Is this the way Christians are supposed to act?".

The greatest gift any parent can give their offspring is an unencumbered mind, and you have obviously given that to your daughter by not indoctrinating her when she was young and impressionable. However, people at her age are very idealistic and someone has recruited her by appealing to her idealism. They have told her that to be a decent person she needs to convert to Christianity which they tell us is the superior religion. The corollary of this stance is that she now thinks that you are inferior idealistically and spiritually, which is an attitude typical of religious people. No wonder religions are so often in conflict. There are hundreds of gods and all of their followers think they are worshipping the one and only. It is important at this stage to let her realise that you and the rest of the family are decent people with a firm set of morals and principles, and that you didn't need a deity to arrive at them. However, don't try to directly talk her out of her new-found faith as this will just make her defensive. It's an awkward situation for you, as it's hard to sit down and have a rational discussion about something so irrational. Having different members of the family with different belief systems is another way that religions divide people up.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Taxing Problem

QUESTION: Today's comes from RMcD...
"Last year I earned some extra money working on the side and I didn't see any reason for paying income tax on it this year. Several friends did the same, but my wife says this was wrong in God's eyes. What does God have to do with taxes? That's not a spiritual issue."

Is it wrong to pay less than your share of taxes? Of course it is, and it is shortsighted as well because the government uses the money to provide services for you and everyone else. What does your conscience tell you to do? Your conscience is that part of yourself that compels you to do the right things. It is programmed into you genetically, by your upbringing, and by society's standards. You're grown up now, so there is no parent or any other being hovering over you to force you into anything. Look inside yourself and decide. Ultimately you are the one who has to live with your decision.
You may think that doing a small transaction in the cash economy will make no difference to the national economy, but when taken to extreme it can be devastating. Just look at the mess that Greece is in at the moment. Due principally to the cash economy their government hasn't been collecting the proper amount of taxes for years on end, but have been spending as if they had. Inevitably the national debt mounted up until the country became totally broke, with the country's debt now above 100% of GDP. If you don't want this to happen to your country then pay your share of the country's bills.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Outdated Beliefs

QUESTION: Today's comes from DR...
"Over the centuries, we've changed our ideas about every other area of knowledge, so why shouldn't we change our ideas about God? Why should I believe in a religion that's almost 2,000 years old?".

If you examine the history of spiritual thought you will see that there has been constant, albeit slow change. Over the centuries belief systems have come and gone. They have often been dominant for hundreds if not thousands of years, but inevitably they die out and are replaced. Religions always postulate some explanation for natural phenomena, but the totality of human knowledge is increasing all the time obviating the need for any religious explanation. We no longer worship the sun as the ancient Egyptians did because we understand it, and we don't worship Posiedon the god of the oceans because we now understand the waves and tides etc. We no longer think that the way to stop a volcano erupting is to throw in a virgin. Similarly the current crop of religions will die out. Unfortunately history tells us that they will be replaced by another raft of religions, and unfortunately the cycle will inevitably repeat. The human being seems to have an inbuilt need (or want) for there to be some sort of overarching spiritual guidance. I don't have the gene for this but the majority of the world's population seem to have it. The best we can hope for is to make people realise that we have a choice - that we don't have to follow the beliefs of our family or community. The more people think about these matters, the more likely that irrational beliefs will die out.
In a way you could see belief systems as being in some sort of Darwinian struggle for survival. They compete with each other for territory and do their best to propagate themselves. Followers are constantly being recruited and barriers are put in the way of apostates. The weak religions die out and the strong last for centuries. Classic survival of the fittest!


Wednesday, May 19, 2010


QUESTION: Today's comes from LP...
"I know we can become addicted to things like alcohol and drugs, but is it possible to become addicted to other things? My cousin spends hours and hours every day exercising, and it's almost like an addiction with her."

It's quite true that it's not only alcohol and drugs that you can become addicted to. Any activity can become addictive, such as video games, sport, and even religion. However, it's important to delineate between interest and addiction. An addiction has two main components: you are compelled to do some activity; and there is some damaging effect from that activity. What is the downside of your cousin's exercising? Keeping oneself fit and healthy is admirable, but does it take all her time so that other aspects of life are neglected? From the information you've provided, it is unlikely that your cousin is addicted. Why don't you pull on some shorts and join her - you might find out something. At the very least your fitness will improve!
There are plenty of people around the world who become fanatical about religion. It is illuminating to check them against the addiction indicators: compulsion and damage. I'm sure you could find plenty of positive matches, but try telling some religious fanatic that they need to acknowledge they have a problem and to start detox.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Another Distant God

QUESTION: Today's comes from ZS...
"I don't have any trouble believing in God but He seems very far away -- like a distant relative I've never met. People talk about getting close to God, but what do they mean by this, and is it really possible?".

So you believe in a god but don't actually know anything about him. I can tell you that you will never receive any response from him because there never has been and never will be. Any feedback such as answered prayers can all be explained in other ways. This lack of response is telling you that he does not really exist, other than in your head. There seems to be a need in some human beings for there to be a higher spiritual power and it is ok to hold such a belief, but avoid the delusion that there is actually a being in existence somewhere. If you hop into a helicopter and fly all over the world you will see the manifestation of this need in many different (and at times quite bizarre) ways. The various cultures around the world have a multitude of gods, and each one is considered to be the one and only. Some belief systems worship many gods, but the common theme is lack of response from them. Be wary of anyone who tries to peddle a god to you because they can never have any proof. However, they act as though they are totally convinced and in so doing betray their lack of intellectual rigour.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Different Children

QUESTION: Today's comes from GR...
"Why are children so cruel? Our son has some slight physical handicaps, and it's really hard for us to watch some of the children in his class make fun of him and call him nicknames that are hurtful. We've thought about saying something to his teachers, but we don't want to be complainers".

Children can be hurtful to those they see as different. It seems to be programmed into our nature to be conscious of differences. Perhaps it was an aid to survival in more primative times for like beings to band together for protection. I would certainly approach his teacher about this, as well as any religious teachers of the other students because they aren't doing their job properly. They should be teaching the children that it's ok to be different. It's worthwhile to point out to your son that he is different, but also point out that all students in his class have a point of difference. The more different types of children are in a class, the more likely they will, with the right teaching, come to accept each other and grow up tolerant.
In my locality there are many different schools run by various religions. Children are divided up based on the religion of their parents and educated separately. This cannot be conducive to harmony as young people grow up with mutual distrust and lack of understanding. All children should be educated together, with religious instruction kept for a separate time.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Too Much Altruism

QUESTION: Today's comes from KJ...
"I work in the emergency room of our local hospital, and to be honest, I'm about burned out. I get very discouraged because most of the people who come here are here because of their own bad decisions -- too much drinking, drugs, fighting, you name it. We patch them up, but two weeks later they're back. Why bother? Should I change careers?".

You obviously have a job that is more stressful than most. Also you obviously have an altruistic streak whereby you get fulfillment from helping others, but are getting frustrated that your efforts are not making any difference. How long has it been since your last holiday? If it has been a while then take a long break and see how you feel upon your return. If you've had the usual number of breaks recently then you may be ready for a change in direction. Recent research has shown that people such as paramedics have a significantly higher rate of burn-out and mental health issues. How do your co-workers fare? It may be time to move on. What else could you do? Are there any medical roles where you get to use your skills in an environment where you'll be more readily appreciated? Think carefully. You only get one life. By all means help others, but don't waste all of your life in sacrifice for others thinking that you'll get some reward after you die. This is unsubstantiable delusion.
Above all don't ask yourself "what is the right thing to do in this situation?". How many times do we ask ourselves that very question? And how often are we unable to find an answer? We are actually asking ourselves the wrong question. There is no right answer. Life is not black and white. There are different courses of action that have different outcomes for different people at different times, and a lot of the outcomes cannot be seen from where we are now.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Treatment Of Animals

QUESTION: Today's comes from KH...
"Our daughter is very tender-hearted toward animals, and recently became a volunteer at our local animal shelter. We're glad she's found something that interests her, since many kids her age (she's 16) drift along without much purpose. She feels this is what God wants her to do with her life, but is God really interested in things like this?".

In caring for animals it's great that your daughter has found something that motivates her. It's intrinsic to human nature that people have empathy for other living things, some have it more so than others. Also some animals are cuter and friendlier than others, but they have the same intrinsic value as those that are not quite as loveable. Furthermore, it should not be overlooked that animals also serve mankind, by providing food, clothing, guide dogs, etc. In recent times civilised countries are becoming more conscious of the treatment of animals, and as a result farming has become more humane. This change has come about because society and the times we live in have changed. Agitation for better treatment for animals has not come from religion. In fact some religions still insist on animals being killed in a particular way, which has no correlation to the welfare of the animal. What's more the Christian bible has many references to the practice of sacrificing animals to satisfy god. The method to do so is clearly spelled out in several places. Bizarrely, Noah was so grateful with god for saving him from the flood that he constructed an altar and sacrificed many animals as a gesture of thanks. He only started with two of each so who knows how many species he made extinct!


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tax-Free Havens

QUESTION: Today's comes from MH...
"I just paid my taxes, and it makes me angry to see all the churches, charities and other organizations that don't pay a cent in taxes, while I have to pay until it hurts. They ought to pay their fair share just like everyone else. I know you don't agree, but that's my position."

Back in the past when tax exemptions for religions and charities were formalised it was assumed that they used all of their money (after covering costs) for charitable works. So the making of this law was reasonable to bring maximum benefit to society. However, when you look more closely, religions are stockpiling assets (been to the Vatican lately?) and using vast sums in proselytising. Moneys spent on feathering their own nest and recruiting followers are not charitable works and so should not be above the tax laws.
The recent global financial crisis brought to light how staggeringly wealthy some religions are. The Anglican diocese in my region lost a hippopotamian $160 million through poor investment decisions, yet they are operating only slightly below normal. How wealthy they are is anybody's guess. They are accountable to no one. I think the likelihood of them selling all of their possessions and giving to the poor is extremely slim.
There are even some religions which make products for sale in competition with regular enterprises, eg breakfast cereal. This is unfair as they have the advantage of not paying tax and so can compete on a playing field that is sloped to their advantage. I agree with you, MH. The tax-exempt status of religions and charities is unfair and should be stopped. The best you can do is write to your local member of parliament and keep this issue in the public domain. Perhaps eventually weight of public opinion will bring change.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mothers Day

QUESTION: Today's comes from BF...
"I've had a rocky relationship with my mother most of my life, and in fact we've hardly spoken in the last year. But recently, the mother of a close friend of mine died, and it's started me thinking if I ought to try to change this. But how do I go about it? Or is it even possible?".

There are some truisms that are quite apt: You only get one mother; you can't choose your relatives; blood is thicker than water. It is understandable that you want a good relationship with your mother - she probably wants this too. However, for reconciliation to occur both parties need to meet halfway. So start with a small gesture such as a card on Mothers Day or her birthday, and give her an opportunity to respond in kind. Also it would be instructive to think back on what has gone wrong in the past. There is no point in dredging up past indiscretions, but nevertheless lessons can be learned from them. What does she have to complain about with you? Is there anything that you could change to smooth the process? Do you have any siblings? What sort of relationship do they have with her? Could you get them to invite you to an event at which your mother will attend? The presence of others could temper any overt ill-feeling and provide a foundation for the future. Try to be honest with her without being judgemental. Reconciling a deep chasm with anyone is a challenge, so good luck.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Words In Your Mouth

QUESTION: Today's comes from SL...
"I grew up in a church that always used printed or memorized prayers in its services, and I'm having a hard time learning to pray on my own. I even worry if it's wrong to try praying in our own words, because we might say something wrong and offend God. Is this a danger?".

When deciding on your spiritual beliefs you should look inside yourself and decide what you know to be true. Be careful to distinguish justifiable truths from wishful thinking. Trying to follow someone else's system of beliefs will inevitably lead to inner conflict. The prayers that you were given to say are an example, whereby you feel you are being holy but the prayers do not come from your heart and hence are meaningless. How do you feel about someone putting words into your mouth and telling you what to say? Most people would reject this, as the majority of the population pride themselves on making up their own mind. Religions such as Christianity are by their nature dissatisfying because they come from sources external to yourself. My advice is to decide what you believe in and ignore external influences.
Your question covers praying and worrying and wondering if you are fitting in with the correct dogma. The time and energy used up here would be better spent on thinking things through, making up your own mind, and enjoying yourself.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Hope For The Future

QUESTION: Today's comes from KM...
"I get very disillusioned with the way our politicians squabble all the time. Do you see any hope for the future, or is our nation headed for the trash heap like every other civilization?".

Squabbling politicians are a fact of life in the democracy in which Westerners live. There is a governing party and an opposition and they are opposed to each other and so argument and conflict are inevitable. The purpose of this is so that legislation gets a thorough review before becoming law. The media focuses on this conflict because it provides news. Successful legislation and committees are not newsworthy. Keep in mind that the wheels of parliament turn in their own way and be thankful that we have freedoms and protections that other countries do not have.
How often do you hear the lament that "everything is dreadful now". When someone says this you should ask them when it was that were things so rosy. Sure we have problems and challenges now but this has always been the case. A lot of the problems of the past have been fixed, and unsurprisingly new problems rear their heads. There will always be challenges and the next generation will rise to meet them. Be careful of belittling the next generation. They are as principled and committed as your generation were at the same age.
Looking over the history of humankind there have been civilisations that have risen up and subsequently faded away. In the same manner this will happen to the dominant countries in the world today. However, do not despair about this - the wheels turn very slowly. However, to safeguard later generations it would be prudent to not make enemies in this day and age, and to care for others who are weaker and poorer than yourself. Looking after others will have positive consequences for all involved.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Door To Door Sales

QUESTION: Today's comes from AMcK...
"Some people came to my door the other day to talk about religion, and (if I understood them) they said it's a mistake to say that Jesus was the unique Son of God. We're all sons of God, they said. I don't know much about religion, but are they right?".

Your dilemma underlines one of the weaknesses of Christianity - that is there are so many interpretations of the doctrine and hence so many divisions within the faith. Even learned people who have studied the bible for decades cannot agree on basic tenets such as the one you are perplexed about. Strangely, they all think they're right, so much so that they will doorknock all over the world to convince others to follow their interpretation. I often wonder why they feel the need to do this. Why aren't they content to let people make up their own minds? Can it be that they seek justification for their own fragile beliefs by convincing others to believe the same dogma?
You will find that the evangelists that you mention will use verses from the bible to justify their viewpoint. Then they will use other verses from the bible to justify their use of the bible as the ultimate authority. They don't seem to understand what a circular definition is. The following is a circular definition: 'The bible is the word of god because the bible says so'. Beware of following people who generate such zeal from such shaky evidence.
So are we all the sons of god? It is pointless speculating on such a question. Instead ask yourself whether we are all the same? I have found that, underneath, we are all the same. Do your own research and you will uncover uncontrovertable evidence - and you won't need anyone coming to the door to talk you into anything.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Stairway To Heaven

QUESTION: Today's comes from LF:
"Is there any way I can know -- really know -- that I am going to go to heaven when I die? I believe in Jesus and have given my life to Him, but I still can't say that I know beyond doubt that I'll go to heaven."

There are plenty of theories around concerning what happens after death. They include: some sort of judgement; eternal life; punishment; reincarnation; etc. However, there is no way anyone can possibly know exactly what happens, and as such any theories can never be more than speculation. People come up with theories that reflect what they would like to happen, usually revolving around such things as "you don't actually die - you live forever", "you get judged as a good person", "you get reunited with your loved ones who pre-deceased you", etc. These theories are merely wishful thinking. The human being has a very strong survival instinct, so it's not surprising that people are receptive to after death theories.
Plenty of people profess to be sure that they are going to heaven, but you're bound to find that everyone has doubts. Even someone such as yourself who has dedicated their life to Jesus has doubts. This is normal. I recommend that you stop worrying about what will happen after death and make the most of your life here on Earth. If you lead a decent and fulfilling life then, if there happens to be some post-death judgement, I'm sure you will come out favourably.
The idea that only those who accept Jesus Christ as their saviour will go to heaven is not compatible with an all-loving god. Would such a god consign all non-Christians to eternity in hell because they happened to be born into a family practising another religion? There are plenty of decent people in other faiths, and I'm sure that a god who loves all people equally would not treat them the way Christianity tells us that he would. This proves to me that the Christian idea of heaven is false.