Looking back at Christmas

As a Christian I loved the Christmas story. With its singing angels and divine guidance; it’s a child-friendly story with an almost magical captivation.

I still enjoy Christmas, but in a very different way, I like the decoration filled house, and the cards from friends and seeing family and the extended days off work. But the Christmas story? Well it’s nonsense isn’t it?

I don’t think I ever critically analysed the Christmas story as a Christian. I accepted it as literally true because it was in the bible and I was a Christian so I had to believe it. Why should I ever question it? My exit from Christianity didn’t really involve that part of the bible so in my questioning of what I believed, those chapters and verses didn’t play a significant role.

What has intrigued me about the story in later years is that every Christmas, at least it seems that way, there is a fresh barrage of proposals for what might be the Christmas star, as if that’s the most serious objection to the narrative. Over the years I’m sure I’ve heard every single variation of celestial event being credited as a possibility. Nova, comet, conjunction, you name it, it’s been suggested. However, no one has ever answered how some travellers arriving at a town would be able to identify a specific property from a ‘star’ that is in the sky. If I step outside my house on a clear night and look up and pick a star that looks like it’s above my house and then go to the other end of town, that same ‘star’ will be above whichever house I choose to stand outside. I would also not be able to navigate back to my house using that star as my navigation aide. How on earth did those wise men manage it?

This is fatal to believing the guiding star element of the Christmas story. Well it should be. Yet every year a new swathe of Christian commentary proposes some natural event that could have been the ‘star’ and each one forgets to explain that last point. Is that bit not important? Of course it is, but it can only happen if there is some supernatural assistance of some description, in which case why even bother with the pretence of invoking a natural event? Just say God guided them using a supernatural light that only they could see. of course that doesn’t help the narrative because for something like God being born on earth, something big needs to accompany it, and you don’t get bigger or more glorious than a guiding star! So the modern day Christian is caught in a trap created by an ancient myth.

The problems don’t stop there either. The reported census doesn’t match the required time slot, it happened ten years after King Herod died, and there never was a requirement to travel to an ancestors’ town anyway. The narrative needs to get Jesus born in Bethlehem and so this is made up in order to get him there, nothing more. King Herod didn’t kill all those baby boys. Mary and Joseph didn’t travel to Egypt. One account says Jesus was presented at the temple in Jerusalem after Mary’s 40 days of uncleanliness, another says Jesus was a young child still in Bethlehem for the wise men to visit, what happened to the home they travelled from? The gaps and inconsistencies are more blatant than a Hollywood action flick.

Back to the wise men, does anyone else find it odd that the wise men came from an entirely different land? Why could it not be fellow Jews? No doubt there’s an apologetic that says it’s to show just that Jesus was King of the World not just King of the Jews, or something. This is what’s called retrospective interpretation, probably the least honest of the apologetics strategies.

The Christmas story makes no sense and it should not be believed as an historical event. It’s a myth, let’s keep it that way.

I love Christmas, and I love it even more without the unbelievable mishmash of nonsense that Christianity tries to turn it into.

Not Enough Evidence – A Response

The second of the Saints and Sceptics short series addressing what it calls popular atheist arguments is Not Enough Evidence (http://www.saintsandsceptics.org/three-popular-atheist-arguments-part-2/)

My response to the first post is here: https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2016/12/05/the-presumption-of-atheism-a-response/ . There is a third post in the series but I’m unlikely to make a response to that one.

This second post makes reference to Bertrand Russell and his apparent refrain of ‘Not enough evidence God! Not enough evidence!’ The source of this attribution would appear to be in this article, http://www.unz.org/Pub/SaturdayRev-1974feb23-00025, where in response to the question of what he’d say if faced with God, Mr Russell replied “I probably would ask, ‘Sir, why did you not give me better evidence?’ ”

Personally, I prefer Stephen Fry’s response, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-suvkwNYSQo.

That’s not the point of this post though, the question at hand is on the evidence while we’re alive, not the hypothetical.

The Saints and Sceptics item opens by setting the scene that the atheist case is that in the absence of evidence the default position is non-acceptance, in other words, no evidence for god means atheism is the starting point and the case must be made for a god in order for that position to become considered. Okay so far. Saints and Sceptics calls this the presumption of atheism. Reference is made to the first item in the series with the conclusion that:

So, even if the insufficient evidence objection is accepted, it doesn’t provide a good reason to accept atheism

And if you read my response to the first item you’ll see that there is a mismatch in the understanding of atheism. Atheism is the non adherence of theism. That is no belief in god. Like in the first item, Saints and Sceptics has gone for the far end of atheism and used that to define all atheism. I won’t repeat my response to that.

Moving on, we get to:

For example, if the only kind of evidence that can be considered for the existence of an entity is direct detection with the five senses, then there would be no evidence for God.

Good, this is why I have no belief in any god.

However, this is completely inadequate as an account of evidence, even within science.

Uh oh!

If evidence is understood more plausibly in terms of facts that are better explained by one hypothesis than its rivals, then there could well be evidence for God.

Bet you didn’t see that coming!

Hypotheses need testing before they get accepted.

A reference is made to a previous post called The Evidence For God (http://www.saintsandsceptics.org/the-evidence-for-god/), oddly, it contains no evidence, only assertions. Ho hum.

Even if it is granted that there might be some evidence for God, it might still be objected that it is insufficient, but how are we to decide? How much evidence is needed and how convincing does it need to be?

Two very good questions.

In answer we get an index link titled Evidence Of God (http://www.saintsandsceptics.org/articles/existence-of-god/) featuring links to a few arguments that are very familiar, Fine Tuning, Maths, Big Bang; you know, the usual fair. The links are all well known reasons, or arguments, that Christians will use to justify their belief. However, arguments are not evidence so the title is misleading. Arguments should have supporting evidence, which these ones are lacking. There’s a theme emerging here.

We wouldn’t claim that the evidence logically proves God’s existence

Thank goodness for that! Odd use of the word logically though. No one says that gravity is logically proven.

Interestingly, since Russell’s death in 1970, powerful new scientific evidence concerning the fine-tuning of a range of physical constants that are necessary for intelligent life has provided an interesting twist on the design argument. Is this evidence sufficient? If not, why not? And perhaps more importantly, what kind of evidence would be needed?

Suddenly it’s the penultimate paragraph and no actuall evidence has been discussed, what is this post about then?

Is this evidence sufficient? The author asks. What evidence? I wonder.

If not, why not? The Author asks. Because there isn’t any is the best I can muster.

And perhaps more importantly, what kind of evidence would be needed?

A great question, and pertinent too. I’ll answer it.

Evidence that can be used to create a testable hypothesis. That way a set of repeatable and reliable tests for god can be performed and the case for god properly examined. That is the standard and if the theist wants their god idea to be taken seriously, that is what they must submit to.

Regrettably, for some atheists it has become little more than a slogan, a way of avoiding the need to consider the evidence seriously. And it would be an unfortunate irony if a statement which at face value emphasizes the importance of evidence is actually used as a strategy for avoiding it.

Great pithy ending, such a shame that in their decrying of the atheist’s frustratingly consistent demand for evidence, Saints and Sceptics has forgotten to include any. Now that’s irony!

A Skeptics(!) Takes a Look at Science Part II

I read a few blogs whose authors clearly disagree with my worldview. I think it’s good to do that. This isn’t the first time I’ve made a post that’s commenting on the particular blog I’m responding to and I doubt it’ll be the last. It’s a veritable goldmine of potential posts, made all the more easier for the lack of a comments section.
You’ll need to read this to understand all of my comments below.
1) Science is based on observation and experimentation. ‘String theory’ doesn’t have much (any?) supporting evidence and is not widely accepted, or even seriously considered. The sentence “they spend an inordinate amount time and money chasing, trying to convince us  that they are truthful” isn’t true for string theory . Its a bad example. A good example would be the Higgs Boson, theorised, fits the models, generally accepted, expensive experiment built, tested and confirmed. Note ‘confrimed’, shown to be real, cost justified!

Then the author jumps to evolution. Why do theists so often do that? Start with something ‘out there’ and suddenly dive to evolution! Two completely different disciplines. It’s like they’re trying to taint the water or something.

Anyway, the reason why the evolutionary process is still being tested and experimented on is not to look for an elusive proof, but to learn. Each feature, behaviour and mutation has a different selective pressure and some are easier to explain than others. Learning is good. To sit back and think the job is done and we know it all is the utmost arrogance.

2) Scientists accept we all have biases, that’s why peer review exists. Even that isn’t perfect and sometimes fails us. Mistakes happen, but crucially, mistakes also get found out and corrected. It would be better to not have the mistakes and that’s the ideal, but bias means those will happen. No one should claim there is no bias in science. Though the scientific method itself, should be bias free and the process designed to eliminate bias.

To place any god into the science lab would be to introduce deep bias with presupposition. Excluding god isn’t bias, its the null hypothesis at work, it’s not specifically god that is excluded, but ALL presuppositions that should and must be excluded each and every single time, always and forever. When an experiment reliably and predictably indicates a god, then that god can come and play with the Bunsen burner, until then the cosmic waiting room is the best it can hope for.

3) theists regularly confuse lack of religion for another religion and this is an example of the nonsense that follows.

4) still rambling about religion. Oh if only we all lacked bias!

5) I have a dream! I have a dream that there is enough money going round for all the good science to get all that it needs every time it needs it.

Still going on about religion and invoked Bodwin’s Law, tut tut!

and finally

6) Science has discovered and described the easy stuff and is now onto the harder stuff. It’s only to be expected that as technology improves we’ll get to discover stuff that has previously evaded us. That’s why it took 100 years to discover gravitational waves. This is neither a shocking nor a ground-breaking suggestion.

As for physics having got to the end? Poppycock! With each new thing we learn we find more things that we now need to learn about. Any scholar that claims this for physics or biology isn’t well versed in physics or biology!

Censorship by the minority

One of my loves is thespianism, or amateur dramatics, to call it by its more well-known (and less mis-heard) name. The thrill of entertaining, the hard work on many rehearsal nights and the utter terror of fluffing it up in front of a live audience all combine into a hobby that is completely satisfying and jolly good fun. I generally enjoy the rehearsals far more than the performances. Rehearsals are where the cast goof off, laugh, mess up and generally get all the silliness out of the way.

Performance nights are when it all gets deadly serious, the adrenalin levels are high and the focus switches from entertaining ourselves to entertaining a paying audience. I love the rush I get in my chest before my first stage entrance, I stand ready in the wings, my hands sweaty, muttering my lines to myself and listening for my cue. That moment is equivalent to finding yourself alone with the hot girl you’ve fancied for months and you know this is the best (and probably only) chance you’ll get to ask her out for a drink!

My love of the stage goes back to when I was in my twenties and I managed, by accident more than design, to find myself in a couple of high profile local productions as well as various shows done with the church drama group, including a handful of pantomimes. The pantomime is a particularly British thing so any foreign readers may need to look that one up!

Unfortunately, work got in the way and I could no longer guarantee that I would not get called to a client halfway across the country a week before a show started. So I had to give up that hobby.

This changed two years ago and I’ve now found myself with stable work hours and a stable work commute. A very well respected local group, which puts on two shows a year, now gets my time two evenings a week. It’s a lot of hard work, matched by equal amounts of fun. The group performs in a small village hall and has some regular supporters who travel from the nearest city, 40 miles away, to see their shows.

It’s at this point that the issue of censorship comes up. Some of the groups’ supporters come from a church and our latest production, a mere six weeks away, includes profanity that comes under the banner of ‘taking the Lord’s name in vain’.

Someone from a church outside the area has read the script and complained to the chairperson of the committee responsible for the hall we use, who in turn passed on the complaint to the director of the play. The director herself is a Christian, and, with her husband, attends a local church. They aren’t offended by the langue used in the play. When she informed the cast of the conversation she’d had, the unsaid implication was that the route of communication used suggested that non-conformance with the complaint would result in some form of reprimand. Why didn’t the complainer go direct to the director to discuss the concerns? The director, a gentle and respected lady, was clearly bothered, and a little upset, by the conversation that she’d had.

Predictably, the cast are all furious. What has happened, is that some lines have been forced to be changed, by someone unconnected to the production, meaning that the rest of the visiting audiences will not get the performance planned by the team or a script as written by the author. Now, I am more than happy to concede that changing a couple of religious expletives to something less offensive to the minority isn’t a major blow to artistic licence. Amusingly (ironically?), a couple of the replacement phrases are actually funnier and add to the scene, though that is not true of all of them. Some are a loss too. The issue here isn’t so much about what has changed, it is that someone acquired a copy of the script to see what they would be offended by and, instead of choosing to avoid this show, they’ve forced it to be changed to suit their sensibilities. In doing that, they have ensured that everyone else gets their censored version of the show, not the show that was planned. Since when does any audience member get to have that power?

As a former believer, I do get the issue with blasphemy. It would have definitely jarred with me to hear “Christ!” uttered loudly in exasperation when other words could do the job effectively. I know Christians, who will come to see the show, who would feel the same if the phrase had remained unaltered. Does that give them the right to force a change? I don’t think so.

There are other parts of the play that the moralistic Christian could also feel aggrieved about. Here is a list:

  •  Casual racism
  •  Implied infidelity
  •  Blatant sexual innuendo
  •  Assumption of guilt before finding out the facts
  •  Admission of infidelity
  •  Constant verbal abuse of a wife by her husband
  •  Favourable discussion of prostitution

Shouldn’t a Christian be just as concerned about all of those too? If one feels it appropriate to demand lines get changed because they offend your god, why not the scenes that contain the above? Do they not offend?

My attitude towards religion has hardened. It isn’t a passive thing that people do, it’s a scourge that empowers the minority to dictate to the majority what they are allowed to enjoy. The sooner that power is weakened and removed, the better.

 

What is the effect of a church leader with an Atheist Spouse?

 

If any reader has an practical experience on this subject, or even if you have an opinion on this, I would very much welcome your comments.

Since the great coming out a couple of years ago (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/the-coming-out-begins/) my wife has continued her involvement with the local church and we’ve had many conversations on the matter. Things have changed slightly from the initial desires discussed. I don’t attend church any more, though I do attend some of the more social aspects and we continue to be good friends with the Pastor and his family and one other family in the church. These are friendships that are important to us both. I am, however, the sole atheist and there is no one outside the church whom we socialise with.

My wife has gradually increased her involvement in the church and regularly leads worship (along with the other couple mentioned above). She has even supported another local Baptist church by preaching there a couple of times. She is liked by that congregation and has been invited back to preach again. I’m not at all surprised by that. My wife preaches and leads sensitively and makes her points concisely and clearly. She is humble in her presentation and when I was a believer I enjoyed hearing her preach.

Since the big breakup of last year (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/its-all-gone-to-shit/) church life has become much calmer and happier. Those who left are doing their own thing and the church that remains has attracted new people and by all accounts and a much better place to be. So much so that I understand there is a very good chance that the women in leadership rule (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/on-women-in-the-church/) will be put to a vote and removed. This is a bit speculative on my part and I am very likely jumping the gun, but I am also very confident that this is the current state of the church membership.

This will have a significant effect on my wife because she would be given the chance to preach on occasion and she’ll be doing so with the explicit support of the Pastor and other in the leadership.

 

But what about the Atheist Spouse?

This does have an effect on me too and I swing constantly in my attitude on the subject (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/and-so-the-pendulum-swings/). Should I challenge my wife on things that I consider untrue about Christianity? I do the same with friends and family when faux medical benefits such and acupuncture or homeopathy, why should religion be treated differently?

Or do I leave her to it and treat it like a hobby, much like my photography? Except I can’t do that because they are not comparable as hobbies; plus it also involves my daughter and she is important to me and I should have a say. So I continue to struggle on the subject.

 

Interesting chats

Over the past year or more my wife and I have had multiple conversations on Christianity, mostly they have been amicable with only a very few ending badly. It is a constant learning and challenging experience for us both. If only all people of our respective views could have this many conversations with someone of the opposite position.

 

But what about the subject of this post?

This isn’t specific about my situation. It is more of a general thought process, however I think it does need considering for my wife and what she does.

In my Christian days I would have considered a church leader who has an atheist spouse as compromised. Compromised because their home life clearly isn’t always focused on the church and a spouse of a church leader is expected to be there is presence, a visible support and someone to go to when the leader themselves is not available. As a couple they are expected to be a united team. If the spouse is an atheist then they are clearly in opposition to the leader and so the leader is not fully effective as a Christian and they could even compromise their message so as to accommodate the position of their spouse.

I am fairly sure that there are many Christians about the world who would feel similar now. Some people in our church (yes I still refer to it as our church even if it really isn’t my church) know of my atheism, even if it is not publically announced. It is one thing for my wife to preach at another local church, which knows nothing of our situation. Having her preach at the church where we are known so much better raises a new set of questions which we’ve not fully addressed.

There is no doubt that when the time comes for her to preach there, it will be with the full support of the pastor and others in the leadership, but as recent events have shown, that is not a guarantee of the full support of the wider church family.

The Validity of Debating Creationists

I’m very intrigued about tonight’s debate between Ham and Nye. The news and publicity that I am seeing about it is has been almost non-stop for the last couple of weeks. Though the mainstream media here in limeyland doesn’t appear to have picked up on it. I’m keen to see if it is reported at all tomorrow. I expect to see something in the morning news and later in the papers, I guess I’ll find out tomorrow. I’ll not be watching it live though, since it’ll be midnight here when it starts and goodness knows what time when it’s over. I expect I’ll check YouTube for videos tomorrow to see how it went. No doubt my feedly stream will be full of comment in the morning as well.

One of the hottest questions on the subject of the debate seems to be the validity of the debate rather than what the content is likely to be. The opinions here are almost as polarised as the subject itself.

I fully get the objections that vocal naysayers are raising. Debating Creationists does give undue validity to their opinions and making it this public, especially so. The Ham publicity machine has clearly been working very hard. The important point is, scientific truth is not decided by debate; it is dictated through evidence. Debating the validity of Creationism gives a platform to ideas which should have died out a long time ago and the debate format simply gives them life through the method of slippery rhetoric. Clever words do not truth make, regardless of how much the speaker believes it.

However, this does also give an opportunity for those creationists who are prepared to pay attention to the science to actually hear a science description from someone who is not trying to peddle religion off the back of it. When I look back at the science I read about in my creationist days, I can see how it was always shaped in a way that led to god. Creationists talking about science invariably frame the discussion to guide a god agenda and this is dishonest. When I read creationist comment on science now, I can see that clearly and it alarms me. Creationists who have relied on the likes of Ham and AiG to feed them these twisted versions of science now have a chance to hear it more clearly, if only they will have ears to hear.

I hope that Nye will rise to the challenge and give many creationists something serious and honest to think about and investigate. I hope he has good advisors and has had enough time to prepare because getting through to a creationist is not the same as explaining science to the secular layperson. If a scientific argument is seen as threatening to a Creationist, then it’ll be rejected. The science needs to be phrased in a way that invites (temps?) them to look deeper.

This event always springs to mind when thinking about discussions such as this: https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/when-friends-are-unkind/

 

First Time Back at Church for a Year

Recently I attended a Church service. I can’t remember when I last attended one but I am fairly sure it was about a year ago. It may have been a service over the Christmas period last year. I can’t recall for certain when the last service I actually attended was but a year seems about right.

The last time I attended I do recall having issues with worship. I didn’t like singing the songs that I know so well because of what they represent. Standing there not singing them made me feel conspicuous and uncomfortable. What I chose to do then was to sing quietly, I didn’t enjoy it and it framed much of my desire to stop attending church completely. My wife understood and agreed that she would rather I didn’t attend if it made me feel that way.

So when our pastor friend asked if I would take photos at an upcoming baptism service, I surprised myself by readily accepting the invitation.

Historically, baptism services have tended to be emotional services. They remind me of my own baptism as a youngster, the same age that my daughter is now as it happens. As a Christian, baptisms were a good reminder of the promises I made and served as a focus point. This service would hold none of that for me and I was interested to see how I would respond to this one. Of course the primary reason I was there was to record the moment of immersion of the two adults being baptised and as far as I was concerned, any personal misgivings would be second place.

As it happens the service brought up nothing for me at all. There were no negative emotions, no uncomfortable memories and no feelings of discomfort. I even found myself signing the songs, which I still know by heart, in a manner that I haven’t for a very long time. That is I sang them as enthusiastically as one can without actually entering into a spirit of worship. The singing desire just came and I went along with it, I deny any suggestion that I was actually worshiping though.

My wife led the service, which she does regularly at the church and I did realise one thing, I miss hearing her sing, it is probably the single biggest loss I feel about no longer attending church. Even as an atheist I recognise that she sings well and leads sensitively, she is good at it, gifted even. I don’t have to engage with the spiritual content to appreciate and enjoy the good voice at the front. Other than that realisation, the service passed without event for me, the two getting baptised said their pieces and I took my place to capture their moments.

Talking with my wife about it later in the day I expressed my thoughts as mentioned above, that joining in the singing came naturally, in return she expressed surprise that she saw me singing at all. I guess the break from church caused me to calm down somewhat and my reaction to worship is less harsh than it once was. I don’t really think there is much to unpack here, other than to recognise the continued evolution of my own thought processes.

I don’t think it means that I’ll be returning to attending church regularly, I think my attitude will harden again if I go too often. It is nice to know that I can now attend a service and sing heartily without the associated baggage I had last year. That in itself should be considered positive progress.

Childhood Conversations

There was one thing that happened on the day which touched on something that may well rear its head at a point in the future, though for now it is not an issue. That is of talking Christianity with our daughter. She and I travelled to church together because my wife had gone earlier to prepare for the service. Knowing it was a baptism service, my daughter asked questions about why someone would get baptised and what it means to be baptised. I answered truthfully from the Christian perspective and even told her I was her age when I made my decision to be baptised.

If I’m honest, I didn’t especially enjoy answering like that but my daughter deserved a truthful answer and I believe I gave her that. She didn’t lead on to ask me why I no longer attend church; I would have told her the truth if she had. If my daughter is going to ask questions of the Christian life then I should answer those questions without bias. She attends church each Sunday morning with my wife and she has a child’s acceptance of what goes on there. If I were to take every opportunity to push and counter with my own feelings I could cause upset, yet at the same time, I struggle with letting her continue to believe something that I utterly reject. I struggle with her being indoctrinated each week, yet I don’t want to cause upset by being the bad daddy that hates church, because at root that is not what I am.

For now it does not need to be made into an issue and I see no point in escalating it to that status. I accept that while I continue to live a life that is tightly bound to Christianity these things will always be there. For now I’ll celebrate the progress and not make an issue of things that don’t yet deserve it.

 

 

The Atheist Prayer Experiment

I listen to an large number of podcasts. In fact I’d go so far as to say that when I’m working from home or out and about with my iPod, my listening is 99% podcasts. They vary from music podcasts to comedy and audio stories right the way to science based. There are some atheist podcasts and there is a sole Christian podcast in the list.

That Christian podcast is Unbelievable? (https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/unbelievable/id267142101) From UK Christian radio station Premier. The basic format is that the Christian host takes a subject each week and generally chairs a discussion between a theist and a non-theist. Usually the theist is a Christian. I find the show is generally well balanced and I appreciate the honest discussion that follows. I think Justin (the host) does a very good job.

Now that the plug is out of the way; last year they ran An Atheist Prayer Experiment (http://www.premier.org.uk/atheistprayerexperiment). I’m so far behind on listening to the podcast that I’m only just catching up with the results shows. The basic idea was to challenge Atheists to pray daily for 40 days asking God to reveal Himself to them.

My Thoughts

When I first heard about the challenge, I did consider if I would have taken part. The experiment was already over by the time I heard the first podcast advertising it. My conclusion was that no I would not take part because I would more than likely be guilty of not being open enough to pray the prayer and mean it. Surely that would disqualify me as I could not be objective.

The conclusion from that was that if the only people would be able to take part where those who were considered open to their being a god, then surely they can’t call themselves atheists can they? While I applaud the sentiment behind the experiment I do see it as being a bit valueless.

Testing God?

Having ruled myself out of taking part, my next thought was that surely this would come under the banner of testing god and the Bible specifically warns against this doesn’t it. I had a brief conversation with my pastor (since I no longer attend the church is he still my paster? Who cares, he’s a good chap and a good friend so for clarity I’ll refer to him as my pastor) on this and we both seemed to agree that it did get close to falling foul of that.

Rather naughtily I asked the question “In that case, isn’t all prayer testing god?” Hmmm, I think the answer to that is a whole blog post on its own. Anyway, we agreed that the boundary was more a fat grey line than an absolute boundary.

Later I would discuss this with my wife and while we too agreed it was a largely valueless experiment, her answer to the testing god question was that the warning to not test god was more about seeking a bargain than it was about praying this sort of prayer. I asked her if Jacob and the Fleece was a test, she said yes. We agreed that since the command came much later than Jacob’s bargain that we’d let him off on this occasion.

Praying on Video

In order to protect himself from accusations of not being sincere, one participant recorded a video of himself praying. Christians commented that the prayer was genuine and complimented him on his prayer. The participant reported that he felt humiliated by it. I wondered why they were complimenting him on the words he used, surely it’s the state of his heart and mind towards god that is of greater importance!

It’s a Christian Win-Win

Regardless of the results, Christians can claim a win here. If there were many converts, well the answer is obvious. For each of those who don’t convert, well they were clearly not open to god’s message or the time wasn’t right for them, or any other apologetic reasoning.

As it happens, there was a tiny number of converts out of the 70-odd participants.

 

Swearing on the Bible

 

A few weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I found myself swearing an oath with my hand on a bible.

In my Christian days I this practice bugged me somewhat. I always considered the verse in James which talks about not swearing on the book of the law and letting your word be reliable. In my more arrogant moments I would say that if I were ever in that situation I’d open the Bible to the relevant passage, read it, and then refuse the request.

These days, I’m not quite so hot headed about the issue, but I do wonder why it is done and why people still accept it. There is good argument for both Christians and atheists to object to the practice. The way I squared with it was that I took the view that it was better to have a bible there on display and seen as a symbol of trustworthiness. The issue now, is that it is only Christians who have that option.

I get the reasons; there is solemnity in putting your hand on the bible and making a promise. As a child, the challenge from people doubting ones word was to “swear on your mother’s life”. People who really wanted to be believed would do this in an effort to show their reliability. My mother’s life is more valuable to me than a bible; can’t that be used as a sign of my reliability? Of course the legal process would consider that a flippant offer, so why should the bible be seen as less flippant?

As it happens, the oath swearing was a requirement of my being an executor of my late mother’s will and in order for my brothers and I to get our inheritance, I had to make a visit to a solicitor and swear that I am me.

It is interesting that for items such as passports it is sufficient for me to get a photo signed by someone who knows me or that for me to go and get a benefits payment I just need to produce a document with my name and address on it, along with something with a signature. However, this process required something more, and that something more is for me to visit the office of someone who has never met me before, put my hand on a bible, promise I am me and sign a form. My neighbour could have done it in my place and no one would have been any wiser. Well technically, the signature could eventually be checked and found to be wrong, assuming it was checked downstream of the swearing.

The actually event took me by surprise because I wasn’t expecting it. The first alert came when I was introduced by the secretary as being there for a swearing oath, she then informed the duty solicitor that there was a bible in the meeting room. Because of the background detailed above I was immediately on alert for what was about to happen.

After a brief chat with myself I decided it wasn’t worth kicking a fuss over and that I would go with it.

The moment itself was me with my hand on the bible repeating a phrase that was being read out to me. The only other times I have repeated stock phrase was at the dedication of my daughter, when I was a god-father and when I got married. All those seemed more solemn than the moment I was having in that average meeting room with my hand on a slightly battered bible.

I took it seriously, but it didn’t feel as wholly solemn as it should have. I dare say that if I was still a believer I may have felt differently.

Afterwards I asked the solicitor if there had ever been anyone object to the process. She said not, but that there was an alternative phrase for the occasion should someone prefer to forgo the bible option. I was both impressed and pleased there is that option but I don’t think I missed out on anything by choosing not to object; after all, in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that important. My promise would still mean the same and any falsities would still hold the same punishment.

I couldn’t help wonder though, if this practice should be consigned to history and what value it really has. Those that will intend to lie their way will do so, bible or not, and those that wish to be honest will do so, bible or not. I don’t believe the presence of the bible in situations like this makes a difference. It’s the solemnity of the moment that is important; in which case it probably is time that something was found that will be equally acceptable to Christians, atheists and other faiths alike.

Though, honestly speaking, it is not something I’d consider important enough to campaign for. There are far bigger issues in the world than the need to worry about the technicalities of convincing people to tell the truth.

 

 

Featured on Why Evolution is True

Well, yesterday didn’t turn out as I expected.

I’ve been following Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True blog for a couple of years, so I know he likes to receive reader input on occasion. He had recently posted a link to a video on a child interacting with a gorilla at a zoo (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/08/27/so-human-in-aspect/) so I decided to send him this photo of me as a child interacting with a monkey in Zambia. Jerry responded very quickly and asked if I knew the species, I didn’t, but a quick search seemed to identify it as a Blue Monkey.

34 - Matthew with Bungy

I also gave Jerry a little detail about the circumstances of my family being in Zambia and why I was following his blog. Jerry immediately showed an interest in my story and asked for more detail. The result was a rapid brain dump of my experience of leaving my faith and a post on his blog (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/leaving-faith-behind-a-readers-story/).

I am touched that Jerry thought my story worth telling and I fear that I have not given the it justice. There is much to tell and it is impossible to make it succinct.

One thing that did become clear to me during my exchange with Jerry is that it has been far more emotional than I normally acknowledge. Not because of leaving the faith but because of the change in dynamics between those I love and call friends. It’s not that I am judged (at least I am not aware that I am) and it’s not that I am rejected (I’m not), it’s simply that on a basic level all my emotional interactions have changed and not always in an obvious way. Mostly it is in deeply subtle ways and it takes a long time to notice.

As I hint in my piece for Jerry, I waver constantly in my attitude towards Christianity and over the years this has taken its toll too. This is stuff I need to process to make sense of. I’ve made the intellectual journey, that was easy; the harder part is now sifting through the results and I’m clearly not done there yet.

That said; I’d like to thank Jerry for his interest and his kind offer to tell my story, it is appreciated. I’d also like to thank those who have come here from Jerry’s blog, the spike in visits has eclipsed my previous best day by a significant factor. I predicted 100x but I think it’s actually more like 50x. I have also gained some new subscribers, so thank you to you too.

I am now off to read the comments on Jerry’s post, I suspect I’m in for some serious limey loving.