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, July 31, 2010

It Depends On How You Look At It

QUESTION: Today's comes from SL...
"A friend of mine says you can prove anything from the Bible, and therefore it doesn't make any sense to believe it. To prove her point, she claimed the Bible even says in one place that there is no God. I don't agree with her, but I didn't know what to say."

There are many denominations of Christianity. Wikipedia catalogues a myriad of these, and they exist because each has their own interpretation of the bible. If the bible were clear in its message there would only be one denomination, but it patently is a very interpretational text. There are several groups in my neighbourhood who lead radically different lifestyles based around the same bible. It's not hard to find justification for extreme views from a book in which the divine being takes extreme action such as: listing the rules for slavery; destroying whole towns (men, women, children, babies, animals); treating women as possessions; requesting animal sacrifices; and drowning the whole world's population except the eight on the ark. What tends to happen is that the reader already has their view of life and then scours the bible to find corroborating verses, and disregards the rest. If they can't find justification then they twist the text to suit their ends.
Also bible followers claim it to be the ultimate source of life guidance, however, this task can also be fulfilled from other works such as Aesop's Fables or the Laws of Hammurabi. Furthermore the bible makes claim to successful prophesy, but so do the writings of Nostradamus if you interpret them favourably. The bible is a very interpretational text and there are many sources of moral guidance, so read them all and selectively draw inspiration from all of them.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Guilt Trip

QUESTION: Today's comes from JK...
"I think people's guilty feelings are just a psychological hang-up. We feel guilt because we don't do what others expect of us. But if we'd quit worrying about that, our guilt feelings would go away. I don't buy what you preachers say about our need for forgiveness."

You are correct when you say that we feel guilty because we don't do what others expect of us, but there are other factors that come into play. Our feelings of guilt come from our consciences which are shaped by a number of influences. Firstly, there is our upbringing where principles are instilled into us by our parents and teachers. There is a direct correlation between what they teach us and our consciences. Second, there is society in general which shapes our understanding of living together. There is a direct correlation between what society teaches and our principles. Thirdly there are the laws of the country which are very definite in what is permitted. There is a direct correlation between these laws and our actions. And finally, there are our own thought processes whereby, as we mature, we realise truths about the world from our own life experiences. There is a direct correlation between what we learn from ourselves and our mistakes, and how we treat others.
However, there is no correlation between anyone's god and our consciences. There is no link here, in fact there is not even any semblence of consensus about what form god takes, much less what principles he tries to distill in us. This regular but futile attempt to give god credit for our behavioural principles is completely unfounded.
So by all means quit worrying because worrying is just a destructive emotion. However, your conscience will remain, and the more you listen to it the more harmonious your life will be.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Irrelevant Belief

QUESTION: Today's comes from DN...
"Some of the best people I know aren't Christians, and in fact they aren't even religious. On the other hand, some of the most selfish people I know claim to be Christians. How do you explain this, if Christianity is supposed to make a difference in our lives?".

It's easy to verify your observation that there are decent people who aren't Christian, as they can be found in all walks of life. They may belong to another religion or may not be religious at all. What impels us to be good comes from our upbringing, our society, and our conscience. There has never been any statistics gathered that prove that Christians commit fewer crimes. Which god anyone believes in doesn't seem to make any difference to the life they lead. Supernatural belief is irrelevant to this. Decent people are identifiable from their words and deeds. Anyone who thinks clearly can see the irrelevance of religion.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Futile Mission

QUESTION: Today's comes from GH...
"This summer, our church's youth group is going on a mission trip overseas for a couple of weeks. They'll be doing some construction work for a church there, but do trips like this honestly do any good? What can a bunch of unskilled teenagers do that the local people can't do for themselves?".

In this question you don't mention anything about the destination country, so it can be assumed that it is a second or third world country. However, there are even missionaries who go to first world countries and it amazes me that they knock on my door to enquire if I have heard about Jesus Christ. Do they really think that I haven't? What a waste of time, money, and effort! No matter what level of wealth the destination country enjoys, the purpose of this trip is to convert people - that's what a mission is. Every culture has some sort of deity and/or belief system. I can't see the benefit that changing someone's deity will bring, all it will do is improve the stats for the missionaries. Changing the god someone worships will make no difference to their life.
Your youth group probably has the characteristics of most young people in that they are idealistic and full of energy, so even though they are light on experience, they have plenty to offer. As for helping with construction of churches in poorer countries it would be more beneficial if they helped in the construction of something useful such as wells or health clinics. When people build houses of worship the only benefit is to their religion, there is no benefit to the local populace because they undoubtedly already have a set of beliefs.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Sky Is Falling

QUESTION: Today's comes from PF...
"My friend keeps sending me e-mails about what's happening in the world, and some of them are really scary. We seem to be headed downhill faster and faster -- economically, socially, morally, you name it. I don't see much of anything good happening in our country, do you?".

At first thought there appears to be so much wrong with the world today: terrorism; climate change; AIDS; economic crises; etc. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that civilisation as we know it is in decline. However, when you think back to earlier times, even though they didn't have the problems we have now, they still had other huge problems. In the last 100 years there have been: global pandemics; world wars; the great depression; the holocaust; etc. Before that there were: regular wars; rampant disease; widespread ignorance; etc.
How many times do you hear an old person (or a person old at heart) moan about how things used to be so much better? If you hear this, challenge the speaker to describe how things used to be and ask them exactly when this utopia occurred. Invariably they are unable to do so without resorting to selective memory. Other people say that the young people these days are dreadful and just don't care. I remember in the early 1970's when I was a teenager the older generations said the same about us. Everything old is new again. Things are different now, but not worse.
Furthermore there are sections within our society in whose interests it is to make us alarmed, such as politicians, media outlets, and religious leaders. Media outlets prosper by making us worried about disasters that befall us, so they sensationalise everything that happens to engender a reaction in their audience. Our news services are so efficient that the slightest calamity anywhere in the world is immediately broadcast into our loungerooms. Politicians and religious leaders want us to believe that society is degenerating so that we look to them for support and leadership by voting for them or by joining their congregations. My advice is to be concerned about society, do what you can to improve things, but don't waste your mental health by worrying.


Friday, July 2, 2010

Alternate Spirituality

QUESTION: Today's comes from RK...
"I went into a shop the other day and the owner started talking with me about her beliefs, which I found fascinating. She says she has the ability to communicate with spirits from centuries ago, and she's into all sorts of things of a mystical nature. I'm interested in spirituality. Could this be what I'm looking for?".

It's not hard to encounter someone who will try to impress their beliefs upon you. It happened to you in a shop, but it can happen when someone stops you in the street, or knocks on your door, etc. This demonstrates that these beliefs must be conveyed to others via human discourse. Believers may genuinely think their dogma to be authentic, but no spiritual dogma is inherent in us and it is never conveyed directly from the supernatural beings themselves, so it is obviously man-made.
You tell us that you are interested in spirituality. This is quite common because it's an area that defies rational analysis and for some reason the human being is receptive to such thoughts. Just look at the number and popularity of movies, TV programs, books, etc that are based on the supernatural. By all means be entertained by these sources (I'm sure the shopkeeper is fascinating), but beware giving any credibility to other people's delusions.
Furthermore any spiritual person will warn you off other belief systems bacuse they deem them to be erroneos and hence misleading. They describe other beliefs as superstitious and dangerous. This leaves the open-minded enquirer with a choice between competing systems. The only logical conclusion is that none of them have any credibility.