Sailing in a Sea of Negativity

There are times when I feel that there are elements of the atheist and sceptic community who are only happy when they are knocking someone else down, or more specifically, mocking and laughing at someone else’s irrational beliefs because they consider them stupid and idiotic. Its not just the atheists and sceptics of course, there is this type of person everywhere, however lately I’ve begun to wonder if there are those who take their position of being non-religious to such an extreme that their sole purpose seems to be to tell everyone about how bad and awful religion is.

It came to a head for me when I listened to several episodes of an atheist podcast and in the guise of proclaiming how wonderful it was to have a purpose without religion it majored on the delusion of the believer. Proclaiming the wonders of having a life of purpose without religion is not the same as telling the (un)converted how misguided the religious are. I actually got very annoyed with hearing the same anti-religious rhetoric rather than good quality reasoned argument.

I’m not going to name and shame here, it would distract from my point and the list of offenders would be too long to be practical. Some generally decent blogs and podcasts have also fallen for the same ‘lets bitch about religious because its trendy’ bandwagon; plus I should also get it out there now, yes I’m guilty of those same accusations in this blog as well. I hope that I’m fair and balanced in my posts, but I do have to acknowledge that in telling my story there are some things I have said (and maybe will say) that are not especially nice about religion. There is also much good religion has done in my life and I hope I am balanced and fair, giving credit and blame where each is deserved.

Choosing sources

In my reading on science and religion there have been a variety of podcasts and blogs I have perused. Some I still subscribe to and some I have chosen to leave alone or avoid. Finding some which appear to exist for the sole purpose of telling the world how bad and wicked religion is disappoints me; not because I think religion needs me to defend it, but because I consider an overtly negative and derisive tone unhealthy. How can you spend so much time focussing on the negatives of something you disagree with and not be affected by it? I can’t think of a better way to foster extremism than to focus so much energy of the negative aspects of a specific subject!

Even in the blogs and podcasts that I have chosen to stay subscribed to, for reasons of my own scientific education and learning, I find posts and episodes which are so negative I end up moving on and waiting for the next instalment.

Language should be appropriate

I’m not saying that religion is blame free; far from it. More specifically, there are some religious people who have done some horrid things and there are some people who have done some horrid things in the name of religion. Those acts and the perpetrators deserve scorn that’s appropriate to their actions.

What I find much more bothersome is the attitude which is basically the religious are stupid and that fact alone makes them deserving of ridicule and scorn. As someone who was brought up to have respect for others, regardless of creed, I find this conflicting attitude contemptible and hard to stomach. I’m not for a second implying its all one way, its not, and that’s not my point anyway. What I am finding is that there are so many un-called for digs in the direction of religion or the religious that normally mild mannered me is getting sick of it.

Get excited about life not about others lives

There is so much pleasure in being curious about science and living life to its fullest and enjoying the best of what nature and man has to offer. When I read a science blog or listen to a sceptic podcast I want to learn about science and understand the specifics of why certain ideas are false. Inappropriate attacks on others just because of what they believe bugs me silly and I really don’t want any part of it. One specific laughable example is the person who gets all hot and bothered about those who they consider are guilty of pushing religion onto others and then go and do exactly the same with their own anti-religious beliefs!

No, I don’t like the negativity that floats about the fringes of religion and I don’t buy the argument that its all religions fault. As the adage goes, it takes two to tango and those who spout their overtly anti-religious rhetoric are guilty of spreading negativity and I do get concerned about where that could lead.

The Fear of Hell

In my life as a Christian I have heard a few sermons on the subject of hell, but none has really made much of an impact on me. Certainly not enough to stick in my mind, I am unable to recall any of these sermons, let along count them. I don’t think the number is huge, but there have definitely been a few. What I recall best is various conversations and varied opinions on the subject.

I pretty much always believed that hell was a real place; after all, you can’t have a real heaven and not a real hell can you? Many others I know take the view that hell is just not being in the presence of God; in other words, hell rather than being an actual place is simply not heaven. I always had an issue with that logic as you can’t have you next life not in heaven and not actually be somewhere else. The counter to that is the always convenient get out clause of “you can’t know what the afterlife will be like”. Hell therefore would always be a subject on which you could guarantee a variety of opinion, but very little meat to back up a viewpoint.

The teaching that I can best recall on the subject has always focused more on the assurance of being saved rather than the fear of not being saved.

The Trouble with Reading

My long held views on hell came when I read the book “The Road to Hell”. I found it an easy read and I found the conclusions logical and there was nothing that I objected to in the theology. Even now I will agree that if you are going to profess faith, this book on hell will be a useful guide.

The biggest single impact the book had on me was its warning to those with the responsibility of teaching others. The book made the point that all the teaching that Jesus gave on the subject was to his disciples (and possibly also those who already followed him) I can’t remember if that second clause was made in the book, that’s me covering my own memory; it was about 17years ago so I can’t claim to be recalling it perfectly. The key point being that the teaching on hell by Jesus was not to those who were unsaved but to those who Jesus was training to be his fishers of men. I never did check the bible to confirm that fact as claimed so I would welcome comment from anyone who has made that check.

The point that is made is Jesus would not have reserved his teaching on hell for those he was closest to if it wasn’t of critical importance to them. If hell was for the unsaved, why preach it to the converted? The conclusions drawn on the subject parallels with other biblical subjects that issue warnings to teachers, specifically “it would be better for a millstone to be tied round your neck than to lead one of my flock astray”. The essence being that hell is preached to the followers of Jesus because it was a warning to them and not a tool to be used to scare people into conversion. More crucially, it’s a warning to those who would lead and teach.

There is much more in the book about hell than just this and I think what I have recalled above probably just comes from a single chapter. It is however, my take away message from the book and what struck me most on reading it.

Motivating fear

At the time that I read the book, I had been in youth work for about five years and would be for most of the next decade. The message of the book did serve to focus me somewhat. I wanted to make sure that the message I gave was true and in keeping with the Bible. I didn’t want to invoke a hellish punishment by leading young people astray.

On balance I think its an unhealthy form of motivation but I also think that its also a good way of reminding those with responsibility and authority that they do have someone that they are answerable to and that they can’t manipulate with impunity. For those that still believe, I think it can be a good reminder of who holds ultimate authority and it is certainly more useful than preaching hell, fire and damnation to the unsaved.

 

The Prophesies of Jesus’ Crucifixion

Last week one of the church members preached a sermon on the prophesies of Jesus’ crucifixion. It was an interesting sermon and despite having spent many years as a Christian and been to a quite a few Christian conferences, it is not one I think I have heard before. This made a nice change and, given the Easter period, nicely topical too.

The sermon basically said that there were 33 specific prophesies related to Jesus’ crucifixion and then ran through a list of each source prophesy. Time constraints meant that the fulfilment of each could not be gone into, but the reference for each fulfilment was helpfully out up on the OHP. Certainly a lot of effort had gone into the sermon and for me, it was the first time I’d really sat up and paid attention to a sermon in a very long time.

Is self-reference valid?

A big problem I have with this sort of claim for the fulfilment of prophesy is that the prophesy and the fulfilment and the interpretation is all held within the bible. Prophesies and fulfilments really do need to have reliable external sources to back up both ends of the claim. Using the bible to self-reference its own prophesies has got to be an obvious opening for criticism even from the most ardent of believers. More than that, each fulfilment appears to be retrospectively matched with the prophesy that is deemed to fit best. This is something that I find deeply unsatisfying.

I won’t dwell on this though, so moving on…

Thinking Sceptically

I can’t remember all of the prophesies discussed and I certainly didn’t count to see if there were 33 mentioned in the sermon. What I did do with each one though was run a quick mental check to see if I thought that each prophesy was specific enough and how well I thought it matches the fulfilment without too much call to interpretation.

What I did find was that in my opinion too many of the reported prophesies are not specific enough for my satisfaction. I found that this even applies to the more famous ‘Servant King’ prophesies found in Isaiah.

Back at home after the service my wife asked me what I thought of the sermon and I briefly explained the above and how I found it interesting but not convincing. I found myself being a little surprised when she used the word ‘sceptical’ in her own description of her thoughts about some of the items. This surprised me as I didn’t expect it, her faith is not going through the same crisis as my own, so it was surprising to hear her use that phrase. Maybe my own experience is having an effect on her. Pushing her in the same direction that I have just travelled in matters of faith is not on my agenda so I am not going to pursue it. I guess we’ll just have to see what transpires in that matter.

Striking the Heal and Broken Bones

There is one prophesy that I wish to pay more attention too because it’s the stand out item that I took away from the sermon.

The sermon made reference to the traditional idea that crucifixion involved crossing the feet and nailing them to the front of the cross with a single nail going through both feet. However, recent evidence apparently shows that this is probably wrong and the more likely way of nailing the feet to the cross is one foot either side of the vertical and one nail through each heal securing the feet.

Reference was then made to the Fall from the Garden of Eden and the serpents curse, which involved mention of the serpent striking the heal of man. This is apparently now a prophesy for the method of Jesus’ foot attachment to the cross. This is what I mean my retrospective application of a loose phrase that is not a specific prophesy.

My wife agreed with my concerns over this item but she did also point out that the Genesis phrase used is an odd phrase and why would it be said like that if not intended for future reference? She makes a good point, however one should also consider that this is being taken from the English translation, the original language version should really be used here to see what the actual phrase was and how the English translation fits with that context. This actually applies to all of the prophesies to be honest, so it raises the valid question of why should a sermon such as this be taken seriously when it only refers to the English language version of the Bible?

I then pointed out that surely a nail driven through the heal to secure that foot to a cross would effectively render the heal bone broken, thus negating the no broken bones prophesy. My wife suggested that was being overly picky and that the context of the no broken bones prophesy is specific to the practice of the Roman soldiers breaking the legs of the crucified in order to hasten death. She makes a good point, again.

My own memories of the no broken bones prophesy is that it was a literal and wider prophesy relating to the whole life of Jesus. Now that I am older I am happy to accept that it’s a more specific intention and that the heal bone issue is not covered, however it is another example of how non-specific the wording combined with retrospective application leads to joining up events in a manner that suits the reader. As such, I can’t accept this as reliable prophesy and fulfilment.

After the sermon, I had asked the church member in question the same question about the heal and the broken bone and he said it was a good question and he would talk to a Christian doctor he knows and come back to me. We’ll see what happens on that one.

Personally, the whole sermon was interesting and engaged me, but ultimately I found it intellectually and spiritually unsatisfying and it confirmed for me that my decision to move to atheism is the right one.

Creationism on my doorstep

A couple of weeks ago I noticed a leaflet in our church advertising a discussion on origins that would be held at the local secondary school.

Curious, I read a bit more and a couple of points on it rang alarm bells for me.

Discussion on origins is Philosophical?

The heading on the leaflet bill it as a philosophical discussion. This bothered me because how we came about is surely in the realm of science. Granted the religious aspects of origins could arguably fall under the umbrella of philosophy. What concerned me was that billing it as philosophical and omitting reference to science immediately sets the tone as religious in nature, more specifically, creationist.

Reading further the noticed mentioned a UK creationism organisation and one of its key people by name.

I looked up the organisation to try and find some more detail on the specific discussion in question. The website listed a couple of events that they have representation at. What really grabbed my attention though was a note that said they will on occasion to talks or discussions at schools but that they will not be publicised on the site.

Flying Under the Radar?

The cynic in me wonders if the reason for this is so as to not attract too much attention from those who directly and actively oppose creationism through direct scientific argument.

Hosting such events at a school and having some local churches advertise it seem to me a safe way of getting enough doubt in science sown to impressionable people without having any credible argument or evidence shown.

Sadly for me, the event was a mid-week afternoon and I was unable to attend due to commitments in London.

After the event, my wife mentioned it to some friends we were entertaining for dinner and it turns out that one of the more elderly members of our church is very pro creationism and makes a good philosophical argument was very involved in this event, so maybe I’ll get an opportunity to challenge creationism directly in the future. Until then, I shall remain disappointed that this event happened and had very little publicity outside of a specific circle.