Motivating Children into the Kingdom

Its with a little bit of trepidation that I write this post, because I am stilling working through what I think on the subject. However the subject has been nagging away at me for some time.

It all started a few months back when my daughter brought a friend home from school and said friend then joined her at our church for early evening club. The church runs a very popular even club for pre-teens and teens. The church is located in a very good location close to the town centre and so an evening youth club makes sense. Its popularity as a hangout is not at all surprising.

What started bothering me was when my daughter got excited about getting an extra point for bringing a visitor. Apparently there is a points system in place and kids get points for attendance, bringing a guest and various other things. Those with the most points at the end of the term get a prize. At least I think that’s how it works. What bothered me was the motivation in bringing along a friend, was it to have fun or to get a precious point? Given the age, its more likely to be the former; however, the excitement displayed over a single score point did get me thinking.

Part of the reason for my concern was also the fact that the invite came from the children and the parents were faced with the request to join a club where saying no would mean denying their child a fun and games evening for reasons that she would not understand. So I think the potential for putting the parents in an uncomfortable position did bother me. As it happens the parents were more than happy to let the friend start attending the club regularly and we now share lifts to save on car journeys. It turns out that friend’s older sister also attended the club when she was the same age; so in this particular case no harm is done. That doesn’t mean it’ll always be that easy though.

What is a fair way to Motivate Children into Faith?

I don’t have an answer to this question.

I am pretty certain that in my Christian years I would have been okay with this as a motivation for children to evangelise and bring friends into a church environment. Nowadays I am more cautious and wary of such overt indoctrination, as a child I too was indoctrinated.

I think its pretty safe to say that there are atheists whose view of religion is so negative that this form of child motivation will be viewed as wicked and manipulative. Yet they’d probably be okay about using the same tactic to bring children into a youth equivalent of Sceptics in the Pub, assuming such a thing exists; objecting because its religion does seem the height of hypocrisy. My earlier concern about the parents’ response works both ways anyway.

I don’t really see any way in which I can legitimately object to this situation but yet the fact that it exists niggles at the back of mind. I think I’ll just have to put it down to my current state of faith abandonment and accept that things like this will occasionally bug me and I’ll have to get over it.

Death of a Much Loved Mother

There is so much I want to write and say about Mum, but little of it is relevant to the scope of this blog, which is the story of my Christianity and deconversion from it. However, Mum was a major influence on my life and the story of her life is a genuinely interesting one which I think could be told on its own. I often entertain the idea of attempting to write her story myself. She certainly deserves it.

Mum’s death from Pancreatic Cancer a little over three years ago had a huge impact on me and I am definitely not over it. Writing this blog entry will likely be the hardest one I do. Mum’s death also came at the time when my Christian faith died. The two are not related, one definitely did not cause the other, at least not for me.

“I can’t believe in a God who would let this happen to Mum”

Those are not my words, rather they are the words of my youngest brother. He said it to me while she was still alive. My brother lived with Mum (and our step-father) for the last three years of Mum’s life and saw the cancer slowly kill her. He cared for her daily, cooked for her and confided with her. During that time I watched my brother change into the man that he now is and it makes me immensely proud to be his brother.

Mum’s death affected him deeply too. We are both witness much of what Mum went through in Zambia, one small snippet is referred to here (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/coming-close-to-being-an-orphan/) and we are witnesses to her unending dignity, love and patience. In fact at her funeral, several people made references to this event where she was kidnapped from the farm we lived on and commented on how she responded to it.

My brother was far more damning about God in Mum’s final years than I was. He was blunt, if there was a God, then that would mean he watched Mum through her life serve Him and suffer greatly physically and mentally and still serve Him, and serve Him well. Then in her early 60s let her suffer and die with what is arguably the worst cancer you could get today. Surely such a woman deserved better from God and God should reward such service.

I could see my brother’s point, but I didn’t agree; despite my faltering faith I wasn’t going to buy into the argument that bad things happening to good people means there is no God. My brothers story is very different from mine and I wasn’t at all surprised by his reasoning. He’d long ago stopped living like a Christian and I figured his faith was long past rescuing. I think this experience for him was just a final nail in the coffin.

I couldn’t tell Mum about my loss of faith. I was still processing it myself and the acceptance of what was to come and the grief that followed complicated that somewhat. Would I tell her now if she was alive and well still? I don’t know. I did ponder on telling her but decided against it, given the circumstances I didn’t want to put the spiritual worries of another son onto her.

It wouldn’t be until some months after Mum’s funeral that I would tell my brother about my loss of faith.

 

 

HIV and AIDS are Proof of Evolution

Last month marked the 30th anniversary of the publishing of details of a new disease, one that the world now knows as AIDS.

The history of HIV and AIDS is scarily fascinating. Its spread across the world was rapid and catching it pretty much condemns you to a prolonged death as your body gets weaker and weaker.

I boarded at secondary school in theUKin the early 80’s and I remember some of the news reports about this new disease. One thing that I especially remember is that it seemed to be a disease that targeted homosexuals, at least that’s the impression that the news reports left me with. It was no surprise that I and my fellow school friends considered it just deserts for those who dared to live such a disgusting and unnatural lifestyle. Of course, none of us knew, or had actually met an AIDS suffer, so it was easy to be prejudiced from a distance.

For me, it wouldn’t be long for that to change. My mother worked as an Occupational Therapist at the Hospital inLusaka,Zambiaand would encounter a few AIDS patients during her years there. SO on holidays back toZambia, there were a few people that we would encounter socially who suffered the disease. I remember one lady in particular who was always a pleasure to see as she was always cheerful and bright she was a Zambian and had AIDS, I have no idea how she became infected, but that isn’t the point. She was a wonderful person, as far as I can remember, given I was a young teenager when I knew her, my mother always spoke well of her, even long after we leftZambia. I don’t know when she died, I just know that there came a time when she was no longer a part of our lives.

Enough of That, What About the Evolution?

To most people HIV and AIDS burst on to the scene in the 1980s. The disease was at first unknown and a bit of a mystery and as several cases started to be linked and a pattern emerged, the disease was given a name. At the time it was being identified the disease was mainly inAmericaand some parts ofAfrica, but of course it was already spreading about the world.

This was the time when it became a well known disease because it was very effective at spreading and it seemed to be sticking to certain people types, homosexuals and haemophiliacs appeared to be the most affected groups. This was of course a big clue in identifying how it spreads.

Once you have a major disease like AIDS that spreads through sexual intercourse, you’ve got a disease that is going to be extremely hard to stop.

The story doesn’t start with the 1980s though. Scientists have a record from 1959 of a man who died in the Congoof a mystery disease that, thanks to a kept sample, has now been identified as AIDS (http://www.aegis.com/news/sfe/1998/se980201.html).

The Origin

HIV appears to have crossed the species barrier from Chimpanzees to Humans. There are two strains of HIV in humans, HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is also found in Chimpanzees, though they do not suffer in the same way as Humans do, possibly because they have developed a resistance of some description (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/269306.stm)

HIV-2 came to humans from Monkeys, thought it is also believed that HIV-1 got to Chimpanzees from Monkeys originally (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/06/0612_030612_hivvirusjump.html)

Exactly how HIV came into humans is not known, eating of bushmeat or getting infected blood into a cut or sore seems to be the most common hypothesis and it certainly seems a plausible explanation of how the infection crossed the species barrier into Humans. As someone who has lived in remote parts of Africa and seen and heard of some of the things that happen, I certainly have no difficulty imagining this scenario occurring, the science of how that allows a virus to cross infect a species is a separate issue.

There is some controversy over the origins of HIV though, with some people linking it to the Polio vaccines of the 1950s. These vaccines (which were oral) where created using Chimpanzee tissue. There are also a few slightly more wacky suggestions too. As far as I can tell, these alternative ideas stem from an idea that it was either some form of human mistake or, more cynically, part of a greater conspiracy. Proof is the missing factor in all these other ideas.

Species Jumping

Regardless of what one chooses to believe about how HIV first appeared in Humans, there is the issue of cross species infection. First there is from Monkeys to Chimpanzees and then there is from Chimpanzees to Humans. Whether it is through ingestion of infected blood, a laboratory mistake or a mad scientist trying to kill the world, the issue that can not be ignored is the relationship between the HIV virus and that found in Monkeys and Chimpanzees. The virus trail leads to that point no matter how you follow it. Somehow HIV, a virus that is staggeringly similar to the SIV virus in our tree swinging cousins, appeared in Humans. The only conclusion one can come to is that SIV is the parent of HIV. HIV appears in Humans as the result of Human tissue or blood coming into contact with the SIV virus from a Monkey or Chimpanzee.

The only way to avoid the conclusions that HIV is the result of a cross species infection is to invoke special creation. Either it spontaneously appeared, or God created it; the former is silly and the latter brings up so many questions about the character of God that it would take a very brave creationist to try it on. Such a person would also have to explain measles, influenza A, Ebola, SARS and dengue; all of which have come to Humans from another species.

There is another challenge to overcome if the following page is correct (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/aids/virus/tree.html); that is the implication that the HIV virus crossed into Humans multiple times.

Evolution of HIV and AIDS

HIV in Humans is not pleasant (http://www.everydayhealth.com/hiv-aids/effects-of-hiv-on-body.aspx) and will likely lead to AIDS (http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/HIVAIDS/Understanding/howHIVCausesAIDS/Pages/HIVcausesAIDS.aspx).

The HIV virus has changed and mutated over the past 30 years to the point that there are different identifiable strains of the virus, this is how evolution works, separated populations develop their own mutations and characteristics and if they remain isolated long enough, will eventually become separate species. HIV’s mutations and can be tracked to several sub categories of the original (http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/medicine_04).

HIV is a very changeable virus and is very quick to become resistance to the drugs used against it (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HIV_Drug_Resistance). This is evolution in action, without it, the virus would be much more stable and therefore easier to treat and kill off.

However, all is not lost, we Humans are fighting back too and there are mutations that are giving resistance to help the fight (http://www.thetech.org/genetics/news.php?id=13).

FIV

As if all of the above is not enough, we now have FIV (http://jvi.asm.org/cgi/reprint/68/4/2230.pdf), a Feline equivalent to HIV-1.

Summary

HIV / AIDS is nasty, you don’t want it and you don’t want anyone you love to get sick that way either. The wonders of nature do not favour anything, not even us Humans.

Viruses are good at adaptation. HIV / AIDS is an especially good example of a virus that mutates rapidly. Rapidly enough to not only cross the species barrier multiple times and to multiple species, but also to resist our attempts at controlling it by rapidly mutating defences against our attacks.

You can’t look at the way HIV / AIDS has spread and changed and not be impressed by its effectiveness. Effectiveness that demonstrates the science behind evolution. HIV / AIDS was not created and it has not remained constant.