An adventure in miracles and blogger integrity.

Last week I read the following blog post, http://creationbydesign.wordpress.com/2011/03/19/marian-apparitions-akita-and-the-disaster-in-japan/, which led me down a path I had not expected. It wasn’t the blog posting itself that caused the distraction, but the first comment on the post. The comment contains the following sentences.

I would ask the people of Japan to look at the history of Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped and what happened. The one building that was saved was a church where the rosary and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was practised daily. The fire separated as it rushed towards the church and those priests were the only survivors for miles around.

This triggered alarm bells in my mind. I am no stranger to miraculous stories and have encountered many over the years, but this was one I had not heard. I am usually very suspicious of stories like this and need more than someone else’s word before I will believe.

The miracle that never was

Being curious I did some internet searching and discovered enough for me to doubt the story. Specifically, no evidence for a church having been spared blast of the bomb. Some churches did remain standing, but none was undamaged. In fact there were quite a few buildings that still stood, in a very damaged state, after the bomb, though the majority were flattened.

I replied with my accuracy concerns and a brief explanation as to why.

The blog owner came back with a reply that included more details on the Hiroshima miracle story and some other stuff that I don’t accurately remember. The further details are widely repeated around the internet, interestingly, mostly on catholic websites and forums, and are pasted below.

At 2:45 a.m.  on August 6, 1945, a B-29 bomber took off from the island of Tinian to drop the first atomic bomb on Japan.  At 8:15 a.m. the bomb exploded eight city blocks from the  Jesuit Church of Our Lady’s Assumption in Hiroshima.  Half a million people were annihilated.  However, the church and eight Jesuit fathers stationed there survived (four of the priests were Fathers Hugo Lassalle, Kleinsorge, Cieslik and Schiffer.  According to the experts they “ought to be dead,” being within a one-mile radius of the explosion.

With this extra information I went about doing more research, because now I felt like I’d been challenged.

There were some key facts that I was able to determine quite quickly.

  • The population of Hiroshima at the time was less than half a million and about 25% of them died as a result of the bomb
  • One of the priests suffered severe radiation sickness and was unwell for the rest of his life, despite this he still managed to survive for 30 years after the bomb.
  • There may have been only four priests, not eight.
  • The church and the attached residence were both significantly damaged in the blast, though they did not collapse.
  • The priests concerned were not the only survivors at that proximity to the blast.

Dramatic stories like this live and die on their specifics, so they had better be correct. In this case they are not and its ill advised to accept them unquestioningly.

I wrote a long reply to the blog (which will be repeated at the end of this post) detailing what I had found and why I questioned the accuracy of the story.

The response from the blog author is best described as a rant than a reasoned reply. At least one of my points was misrepresented and I was called a god hating atheist for daring to doubt a miracle.

Before I could compose a response, the blog owners reply was deleted, along with my long post and his previous reply to that. My original posting was edited down to significantly and a new reply was up which is an acknowledgement that the story is questionable.

Blogger Integrity

Which brings me to the issue of blogger integrity. I consider it very bad form to edit down replies to your blog without making it clear what you have done and why. In this case its clear to me that its to save the blogger in question from looking a tad foolish. My answer to that is, take care not to paint yourself as a fool in the first place. Far better to leave your mistakes visible for all to see and post a retraction. That shows true integrity.

Editing down and deleting posts while a discussion is still in progress is poor, very poor, and to me that loses the person concerned many credibility points.

———-

My refutation post that got deleted follows…

Some facts that I have been able to gather about Hiroshima.

 

The 1945 population of Hiroshima as less than half a million. The link in my earlier post puts the number at 255,000. This BBC page puts the number at 350,000 http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/august/6/newsid_3602000/3602189.stm as does this page http://history1900s.about.com/od/worldwarii/a/hiroshima.htm.

Several other sources put the number between 300,000 and 400,000. All of this brings significant doubt on the accuracy of this statement from your reply to me.

“Half a million people were annihilated.”

When you look for numbers perished, both in the blast and subsequently due to illness, the number ranges between 70,000 and 140,000. Most people survived. The claim of half a million people being annihilated is now no longer questionable, but demonstrably wrong.

The paragraph that you quote that contains the half a million claim is repeated in many places across the internet with very little supporting documentation. One such location is this one: http://www.hovensd.com/pdfs/Bulletins/Bulletin%20-%2011-21-10.pdf which lists four priest names Fathers Hugo Lassalle,  Kleinsorge, Cieslik and Schiffer. These four names come up many times, but the names of all 8 survivors never.

The second paragraph that you quote appears to come from this source http://www.blessedmotherschildren.com/9/category/hiroshima/1.html. It says four resident priests not the eight that is widely reported elsewhere. What is also interesting is that the protection of the rosary is ascribed solely to a single priest, Fr. Schiffer, rather than everyone. Also, the amazement of the doctors at his well-being is ascribed to the immediate days following and not to years later, as reported on other websites that repeat the story. So here we have two specifics that are repeated across the internet that do not match the testimony of one of those involved.

This page http://www.directessays.com/viewpaper/13833.html, specifically says that Father Kleinsorge suffered from illness in the days after the bomb, so yes he survived, like the majority did, but it didn’t escape unscathed, he suffered radiation effects too, like the majority of those who survived. He would suffer the effects of that radiation for the rest of his life, http://pketko.com/Hiroshima/survivors.htm#Father Wilhelm.

 

This page, http://facultyfp.salisbury.edu/tfrobinson/An%20Account%20of%20Hiroshima.htm, by a Father John A. Siemes, says that the house was damaged, with all doors and windows blown out and some structural damage.  This contradicts your claim of no damage.

You’d have thought that if there truly was a house that escaped damage completely, that there would have been photographic evidence of it wouldn’t you? After all there is photographic evidence of the vast range of damage, both from the ground and the air. How did a house that supposedly escaped damage, when everything around it was allegedly destroyed, also escape being photographed? I suggest its far more likely that the house was indeed damaged but that the structure didn’t fully collapse and that it wasn’t unique in that. There is photographic evidence of buildings that did not fully collapse, but all buildings also lack their doors, windows and many their roofs too. A building that survived undamaged would stick out in all that destruction, especially one so close to the blast, and would most certainly have been photographed and further documented, yet that evidence does not exist, why is that?

You state that’s its not highly possible that anyone could survive close to the blast. This page, http://www.atomicarchive.com/Maps/HiroshimaMap.shtml, shows a small map of Hiroshima and lists some numbers of people killed and injured. What is very interesting is the numbers listed for the one kilometre zone.

Population: 31,200, killed: 26,700 (86%), Injured: 3,000 (10%)

This page repeats those numbers, http://www.hiroshima-remembered.com/maps/HiroshimaMap.html.

Assuming those numbers are accurate, that’s over 1000 people survived uninjured from the one kilometre zone.

My scientism on such a story, is that in order for me to believe such an incredible thing could happen, there should be further evidence outside of the initial claim. That evidence either does not exist or differs from the accounts given above. For me this is enough to call into serious question the existence of the claimed miracle.

Lastly, I urge you to read the following page with a genuinely open mind, it is written by someone who has put more effort than I have into checking the facts of this story http://www.lazyboysreststop.com/mary25.htm.

 

 

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Godless girls voice challenge

Thanks to The Secret Atheist (http://thesecretatheist.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/im-not-dead-i-dont-want-to-go-on-the-cart/) I found myself reading the Godless Girls voice challenge (http://www.godlessgirl.com/2011/04/challenge-what-does-your-voice-sound-like/) and decided to have a bit of fun and take part as well.

I am somewhat disappointed that I am not the first (or even 2nd) pom to have a crack but I’m sure that won’t detract from the amusement factor. Its certainly interesting and amusing listening to the different ways we say things.

If you’re at all curious as to how I sound, well my effort is here: http://vocaroo.com/?media=vG8HcFGoIozTRn8RX

A Word on the Left Behind Books

I have mixed feelings on the Left Behind series of books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. There was a time when I certainly would have accepted much of what they proposed in the theology of the books, but I always read them as enjoyable novels.

When discovered the books while browsing a Christian bookstore. I picked up the first one, liked the back cover synopsis and made a decision buy the first 3. I started reading them and was hooked from the first pages. I found the stories original, enjoyable and engaging.

At that time of my life I have not given End Times much thought for many years and while I was very dubious about the literal turn of events, it didn’t bother me enough to affect my enjoyment of the books. One can read and enjoy a fantasy without it affecting real life after all.

Within weeks of me purchasing and starting to read the books, I was on the phone to a friend and he excitedly told me that he’d found the most enjoyable books he’d read in a long time and started extolling the virtues of their story telling and narrative. Before he even got to the point of telling me the name of the books or the subject matter, I interrupted him and told him he was talking about the Left Behind books. His dumbstruck silence at the other end was hilarious, yet is very illustrative of the impact my first encounter with these books had on me.

I gobbled up the books, eagerly welcoming each new one as it came out. I even bought the first three movie DVDs that came out.

Then the boredom set in, as the series progressed and got to book 10 or so my enthusiasm had waned, I continued to read the series because I wanted to know what happened, but the enjoyment and the pleasure had gone out of reading them. By the time I got to the last book, the reading of it was a mere formality, just to say I’d done it, there was very little of the original pleasure of the reading left and I found the ending all rather twee and ‘Hollywood’ in its perfect ending.

If I discovered the books now, I’m not so sure I’d read them. I certainly doubt I’ll ever read any of them again.

That’s not because I’ve changed my mind on my original opinion. I am sure if I read the first book again I’d enjoy it to the same degree, I think the series certainly lost its momentum and should have been several books shorter. Its almost as though huge profit was visualised when the popularity of the books was realised and so the latter half of the series stretched the story out. I have no idea on the truth of that but it certainly felt that way.  Now I discover that beyond the original 12 books that I read, there are now three prequels and another one added to the end, cynicism confirmed me thinks.

So yes I did enjoy reading the initial books, I enjoyed them very much. Yet looking back at them with the eyes of an Atheist I found myself being very cynical and sad. Cynical that its cashing in on a dubious theology that has caused hurt to many (see my previous post: https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/its-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it/) and sad that the books have probably helped to reinforce that dubious theology into many and thereby (possibly) causing yet more hurt to those who now needlessly fear a Rapture that will never come.

Its the End of the World as We Know It

Given the publicity and internet talk of the last week, this seems as good a time as any to make a post about what in Christian circles is generally referred to as End Times.

Like the vast majority of people, the rapture prediction of Harold Camping did not have me fooled at all. Even as a rapture believing, literal thinking, fundamentalist; I would not have accepted that any person could know in advance the date of Jesus coming again, or any rapture event. After all, the Bible does say that no man can know the date. Plus the clues that Mr Camping followed to get that date, apparently exactly 7000 years after Noah’s Flood, are dubious to say the least.

Thinking back to my childhood and the literal indoctrination I received at mission school inZambia, I remember a surprising amount of End Time teaching. We were taught to live as though Christ would come again tomorrow and to live in expectation that we would live to see that day. The rapture scenario was assumed to be true, though biblical doctrine of it is a tad dubious.

On more than one occasion the assertion that we were ‘living in End Times’ was made. Despite my young age, this wasn’t so much scary, as exciting; imagine the privilege of being of one the glorious few who would actually get to witness the second coming with their own eyes rather than the more common, being raised from the dead!

Why the fear?

I read with great interest this post and the associated links; http://secularwings.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/what-happens-may-22/. Zoe touched on a subject that had not previously occurred to me. That Christians would fear judgement day. For me, confident from a young age in my assured salvation, judgement day was something to anticipate not fear. It was the day of reckoning for those who denied Christ, but for those to accept him, there was certain salvation and everlasting joy. Our sins would not be a barrier to salvation, so long as we still have the Holy Spirit in our lives, which I did from the day that I knelt down and prayed the prayer of conversion.

I certainly don’t want to mock or belittle anyone who had a fear of the day of Christ’s coming again. I guess our reaction depends on how we were taught. I was taught that being perfect and sinless was not a criteria, being saved was. The concept of having to account for our actions to a Holy King was taught but not swelled on, the emphasis was that those who denied Jesus would be the ones who had much to fear. Hence my confusion that Christians would be concerned about that day; yet it appears that many are, or have been.

Personally I put this down to confused teaching rather than Christians of uncertain foundation. If the preaching and teaching on the subject is such that it leaves Christians in fear of their eternal soul, then something is very wrong.

But what of the dubious theology behind the rapture?

I am not aware that any church I have regularly attended as an adult has had a minister or pastor who accepted the rapture as a viable biblical prophesies. Internet searches on the subject seem to indicate that our Christian cousins in theUSare far more pro the rapture than mainstream Christianity is in theUK. In fact I remember one very well liked pastor going out of his way to condemn the theology behind the Left Behind series of books.

Now I have to make it clear that I am by no means an expert on the book of Revelations and I certainly have no credentials that entitle me to talk with authority on the subject.

When one considers the End Times prophecies that are taken from the Bible, especially the last book; the reality of a rapture and prolonged period of judgement before Christ’s eventual return on bodily form, seems highly suspect. Its not at all like the first chapter of Genesis, where a literal reading leaves one in little doubt over what supposedly happened.

End Time theology and prophesy requires much interpretation and reading what different people say reveals a vast array of differences. About the only certainty is that no one can no for sure; which leave the previously mentioned Harold Camping in the unenviable position of being mocked and ridiculed by Atheists and Christians alike.

Personally, I was taught that the second coming and the rising up of all Christians into heaven was a single event, yet many seem to interpret them as two distinct events, the Rapture and the Glorious Appearing, each separated by varying amounts of time, depending on who you read.

Leave the End Times alone

If there is anything to learn from the sordid mess; its that prophesy and teaching on End Times should be left well alone.

Yet, that seems to be impossible; like a cloud of insects around a porch light on a dark night, Christians and crackpots seem incapable of avoiding the subject and each time the result is the same.

A Christian’s Duty is to Procreate?

I can’t remember exactly who said it, what exactly was said, or even what the context was; but sometime in the late 1990’s something hit the news about it being the duty of all married Christians to procreate.

I know it was the late 1990’s because I remember where my wife and I were living at the time and we only lived in that flat for 3 years. I also remember raising this issue on a Christian newsgroup at the time, this was in the days before internet forums and blogs became the method by which opinions were discussed and recounted.

The source of this statement must have come from the Church of England, because it wouldn’t have hit theUKnews headlines if it had come from any other church demonization. A brief internet search has failed to find the source, but then searching for anything over ten years old on the internet is practically impossible these days.

At this time, my wife and I had been married for about 5 years, were childless through choice and were both very involved in our local church. I was involved in the youth work and my wife both the youth work and the worship group. Our commitments were to a level that would have been impossible if we had children.

Its unfortunate that I don’t remember exactly what was being reported on because that information would be helpful now in putting my reaction into context. What I do remember is not very much balance in the response of the Christian leadership that was interviewed on this story. They all seemed to make an effort downplay the potential offence of this dictum, while not actually saying it was a wrong thing to say. At least that’s my memory of the story, and it could by that my position at the time was slightly biased.

For me, the biggest issue was that it was not the message I had received from any of the churches I attended and no one I knew personally backed up this message. However, what was also clear, looking around me, was that my wife and I were most certainly in a minority, being married for so long and still being childless.

Offended, hurt and upset

I found the statements, as reported on the news, upsetting. How dare these religious leaders dictate how I should live my life when they know nothing of the context of my life. I also could not reconcile the instruction to procreate with any passage in the Bible. Yes there are passages about having children, but there was no insinuation that a marriage without children was an incomplete marriage.

I brought up my feelings on the Christian newsgroup I frequented, I remember it being a specificallyUKfocused one, but in reality I can’t be certain how many of the posters were actuallyUKbased orUKnationals.

In my post of complaint I recounted how my wife and I were devout and how we both enjoyed making ourselves available to the church and how we served it lovingly. The decision to have (or not have) children had not been made, we were simply enjoying the life we had as a couple and the available we had to our church, which would be much more limited if we’d had children.

The responses I got were even more hurtful. This is the only time I can honestly say that I have been hurt, upset and offended by the Christian community; the fact that it was over something so personal made it doubly worse. I think of the many people on that list, only two made a positive comment back to me, one describing our attitude and ‘lovely’, the rest backed up the premise that as married Christians, my wife and I had a duty to bring children into the world.

I have no idea if the on-line Christian culture at the time was mainly from the more is fundamental Christian or if this really was what the mainstream believed and I had simply missed it. Either way, it deepened my feelings of betrayal by those who I felt should have been understanding and supportive.

 

Still a dedicated Christian

In hindsight its easy to point to this event as a starting point in my move away from Christianity and in the narrative of this blog it probably gives that impression. The truth is, I don’t think that’s the case. That point was almost 10 years away still. What this event did do for me was form a distrust of entertaining on-line Christian discussions. It wouldn’t be long before I abandoned using that particular newsgroup altogether and I didn’t actively engage in any other Christian resources after that.

That Certainly is Convenient

My last post (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/you-have-my-permission-to-be-controversial/) had me thinking about coincidences and happening of convenience. When my wife and I move to the town that we currently live in; it was due to my job. In the months building up to the move several things combined to give us the distinct impression that God was guiding us.

In no particular order;

–         The minister of the Baptist Church in town was a friend of the Curate at the Church of England Church we’d been attending previously.

–         A friend of my brothers was dating a girl who attended that same Baptist Church

–         A girl who grew up at that Baptist Church had married my cousin inZambia, which helped me to get back in touch with that part of my family. (something we wouldn’t actually find out until after the move)

–         A girl who I knew, who attended my Mother’s Baptist Church had married someone who grew up in this same Baptist Church we would end up attending.

–         Despite resistance from my wife to moving to this town, attempts to buy a house in neighbouring towns failed. Either we couldn’t find a house we liked or we were outbid on the properties we did like.

–         When my wife eventually consented to looking at houses in this town, we found a flat that was new to the market, viewed it and made an offer all in one afternoon. Our offer was accepted.

There are probably a few other moments that could be added to this list, but the years have not been as kind to my memory as I would like them to be. The point is, that we interpreted all these things as evidence of God’s hand in the move and that it was most certainly His will.

We’re still in the early stages of our next big move, but the coincidences have already started.

–         Our house is being bought by a retiring Minister. It’s a cash purchase from his church organisation. This means there is no chain of people before him, to complicate the moving process

–         The house we are buying is a new build, not something we expected but the value compared to older houses is good and we won’t need to spend money redecorating. Also, buying a new house means no onward chain to complicate the move.

–         After an original concern over when the new house would be completed it turns out its going to be ready in August, which just so happens to be the month our purchasing minister retires and will need our house.

–         The father of one of the ladies at our current church used to be the minister at the Baptist Church in the town we are moving to.

–         When we visited the church a couple of weeks back, we found it a relaxed and less formal church than our own. There did appear to be a need for a worship group and it just so happens that my wife is gifted musically and on the occasions that she leads worship at our current church, she is always appreciated.

Of course we’ve discussed that there have been some rather fortunate moments in our plans to move. Neither of us has brought up the God at work assumption though. Certainly in years gone by I would have already been interpreting this as God’s will, but not now. Coincidences happen all the time.

Now I prefer to express it in the words of the great Tyrone from The Backyardigans; “That certainly is convenient”.

You Have my Permission to be Controversial

“You have my permission to be controversial, and to ask the hard questions.”

Those were the words my wife said to me over the weekend. Before I get to that though; first a bit of background leading up to the conversation and context.

After a lovely pre-Easter holiday and a long weekend break for the Royal Wedding we spent a few days at my in-laws.

Over breakfast on our last day, before we headed back home, my mother-in-law mentioned a good childhood friend of my wife’s. A friend with whom she’s had sporadic contact since the breakup of her marriage. My in-laws are close to her parents, so we get much second-hand news from them. Anyway, it’s a long and messy story which has no place in this blog apart from the mention that this friend now proclaims “there is no God”. This is apparently due to the new man in said woman’s life.

The emotion with which my mother-in-law expressed this latest development made it clear that not only was she saddened by this news, but she was shocked to the point of considering it an immensely hurtful thing to say. While I can certainly appreciate why my mother-in-law feels that way, it didn’t fill me with any confidence as I edge myself closer to the point at which I make my confession.

What it did do though, was give me a chance to open up a conversation with my wife and Atheism and reduced faith. So I decided that I’d make use of that later in the day.

Later in the day turned out to be on the drive home. An hour and a half, when we could talk without interruption; thanks to a recently purchased in car DVD system for the daughter on the back seat.

I mentioned to my wife that I was a little taken by the strength of her mother’s response over news of her friend’s atheism. My wife acknowledged it was strong, then changed the focus to that of her friend and pointed out that given what she has been through, its hardly a surprise that she struggles with accepting there is a God, let alone manages to maintain a relationship with Him.

My wife made a good point, though personally I don’t accept the ‘bad things happened to me therefore there is no God’ argument. I find it a bit self absorbed and illogical. If you’re going to declare the absence of God, do it based on (lack of) evidence and logical conclusions, not because of some sob story. No matter how bad life may seem to you, there will always be someone in a worse situation who manages to praise God and be cheerful about it. So I have little sympathy for boohoo stories which try to justify non belief in God.

Of course my reply to my wife was more considered, plus she knows where I stand on this point anyway so there really was no need to extended explanation.

The conversation moved on a bit and at some point the news came on the radio to announce the death of Osama Bin Laden, so we meandered around that a while before eventually coming back on track.

We discussed our faith and my wife surprised me by saying she’d noticed my withdrawal from Christianity since my mothers death three years ago, she also noted that while my mother’s death wasn’t the cause that was about the time it started. (The story of my mother’s illness and death will come in time; my chronological narrative hasn’t reached that point yet.)

My wife is right of course and I was a little taken aback by her accurate insight, though the shame is mine for even thinking that my wife does not know me that well by now.

So I acknowledged my wife was right and admitted that my Christianity has suffered to the point that I was concerned that recovery to what it once was would be impossible. She accepted this as though she knew it already; maybe she did and was being gracious towards me. Maybe she knew I wasn’t being entirely truthful, if she did, she didn’t follow it up.

I knew I wasn’t being entirely truthful. In the past few months when I have been pondering over how to come clean I’ve decided the best way is to treat it as a journey and give my wife the chance to get used to the idea rather than spring it on her. Maybe I’m underestimating her again. Maybe she knows far better than I realise and is continuing to be gracious and loving. Either way I don’t want to rock the boat any more than I need to, my wife is precious to me and I’d rather live a lie than risk losing her.

Anyway, the conversation moved on some more and we talked about how we’d both been unhappy in our current church for at least a couple of years and it had likely moved to the point where recovery from that was impossible under the current leadership. The problem is that we have many good friends here. We’ve discussed moving church a few times and each time decided that was not what we wanted.

The future will change

However, that’s not where it ends. We recently decided to relocate and are in the process of finalising the sale of our house; we’ve yet to start packing and sorting out our accumulated junk. The move won’t happen until August, so we have some time yet.

The move is unrelated to our church situation, but it does mean that there will be a new church for us to attend. My wife made it clear that she would like us to be able to attend together and be a family at church again.

This is where we get to the above mentioned statement. In the context of being at church again my wife acknowledge the negative impact our recent church experience had had on us and asserted that she wanted the move to be a time to change that. I agree with her, though I didn’t voice that I was not so comfortable being a church goer again. This is something I will need to deal with in time.

Perhaps sensing this and knowing that silence on the subject has been part of our current problems finished with encouragement for me. She stated that she wants me to be more involved intellectually and vocally, to ask the difficult questions, the questions that my scientific mind brings up and to be controversial in it.

We’ll see how it goes, I’m not really one for speaking out and being controversial, but maybe a new found bravery will come.

Until then, there is packing to do….