Entries from September 2008 ↓

News: Harris Despairs over Sarah Palin’s Faith

Sam Harris wrote of his despair in Newsweek over Palin’s public appeal despite her ignorance and, more concerning, her faith-driven views on politics.

I care even more about the many things Palin thinks she knows but doesn’t: like her conviction that the Biblical God consciously directs world events. Needless to say, she shares this belief with mil-lions of Americans—but we shouldn’t be eager to give these people our nuclear codes, either. There is no question that if President McCain chokes on a spare rib and Palin becomes the first woman president, she and her supporters will believe that God, in all his majesty and wisdom, has brought it to pass. Why would God give Sarah Palin a job she isn’t ready for? He wouldn’t. Everything happens for a reason. Palin seems perfectly willing to stake the welfare of our country—even the welfare of our species—as collateral in her own personal journey of faith. Of course, McCain has made the same unconscionable wager on his personal journey to the White House. (full article – 20 Sep 2008 – my emphasis)

Alex McCullie

Comment: Going Quiet for a Month

I’m on holidays in India shortly, so my postings will be few or non-existent over the next month. They will resume from November.

Alex McCullie

Comment: Buying a Bible in Melbourne

I needed a bible or, to be more precise, a Christian Bible. I haven’t opened one for years nor have one at home, so I think the ‘ignorance’ criticism of theists provides some room for attack against critics like me. So this is part of my self-education on Christianity today. Even with the revisionism of the Christian progressives, the Bible’s two libraries of books - Hebrew or Old Testament and Christian or New Testament - are still the cornerstone of Christian belief so I started there.

Why not visit Christian bookshops to get my bible? Traditionally I avoided these places and treated them like adult bookshops – too embarrassing to be seen entering or leaving. I went to The Word (two branches), the Central Catholic Bookshop and The Uniting Church bookshop. Here are my observations on choosing a bible was well as the styles of these Christian bookshops.

I never appreciated the variety of bible versions. I expected one correct English translation of the inerrant Word of God and it used to be the King James Version (KJV). Now you have word by word translations from Greek or Hebrew or, perhaps, Aramaic. There are thematic thought by thought approaches to translation as well as “hip new age” street language translations. Most versions now have gender inclusive updates with person, mortal and the like replacing man, such as the New Language Version (NLV) to Today’s New Language Version (TNLV). There’s mixed support for this with some expressing disquiet about destroying the lyrical appeal of the bible. By the way the latest version of the venerable KJV is NKJV (N for new). Now within each range of bibles you can buy anything from compact travel editions to large-print editions as well as study and student versions with extra explanatory notes. Your next choice is paperback, hard cover, budget edition, fake leather and real leather covers. Then believing becomes really expensive. I liked the idea of specialist versions dedicated to different members of the family – grandmother or grandfather - presumably their access methods to God are different. As you can imagine all explanatory bible commentary assumes its literal truth, so don’t expect any secular criticism here.

The bookshops are interesting too. All staff were very helpful, especially when I mentioned my non-believing status. The Word bookshop had a more evangelical feel with gospel music playing and peachers on video display. There was little or no space given to progressive Christian literature by Borg, Boernhoffer, Holloway or Jesus Seminar. The Catholic Bookshop in Lonsdale Street had materials that strongly supported the Roman Catholic version of Christianity not surprisingly. So, for example, I found The Jeruselum Bible, the original version, here but not elsewhere. Finally, the Uniting Church bookshop felt the most liberal with dissenting texts in the theology section. Here for the first time I found the more controversial Christian authors. Like the others, though, they have a wide range of bibles, prayer books, children’s books as well as other devotional books, brochures and music.

Just for the record I bought a couple of bibles - New Revised Standard study bible and NKJV travel bible.

Alex McCullie

News: Sharia Comes to UK with Full Powers

ISLAMIC law has been officially adopted in Britain, with sharia courts given powers to rule on Muslim civil cases.

The government has quietly sanctioned the powers for sharia judges to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence.

Rulings issued by a network of five sharia courts are enforceable with the full power of the judicial system, through the county courts or High Court.

Siddiqi said that in a recent inheritance dispute handled by the court in Nuneaton, the estate of a Midlands man was divided between three daughters and two sons.

The judges on the panel gave the sons twice as much as the daughters, in accordance with sharia. Had the family gone to a normal British court, the daughters would have got equal amounts.

In the six cases of domestic violence, Siddiqi said the judges ordered the husbands to take anger management classes and mentoring from community elders. There was no further punishment.

In each case, the women subsequently withdrew the complaints they had lodged with the police and the police stopped their investigations.

Siddiqi said that in the domestic violence cases, the advantage was that marriages were saved and couples given a second chance.

(TimesOnLine 14-Sep-2008)

News: Banning Creation Criticism in Islamic Turkey

Richard Dawkin‘s site has been banned by a Turkish court after a complaint by Islamic creationist author, Adnan Oktar. (Article at Monsters and Critics blog Article at Richard Dawkins) According to the newspaper articles the complaint was about the defaming of his book, Atlas of Creation, by Dawkins.

Alex McCullie

News: See “Born Again” Film from SnagFilms

I have added a link to see Born Again (from SnagFilms) for free. See the link at the bottom of the right column below the news feeds.

Alex McCullie

Comment: Making Christianity Credible in a Secular Age

Today’s mainstream churches worry about the declining numbers of “bums on seats” especially amongst the young, the so-called Generation Y. Some commentators write off the support by Gen Y as a sign of their superficiality and self-interest. This may be so. Perhaps the churches should also look at the relevance of their theology and teachings for some sort of credibility gap with people in today’s secular age.

Traditional believers are asking modern, or post-modern, young people to believe that there is a physically undetectable supernatural world – a superior world – where a reasonably well-defined God with infinite knowledge and power is taking a personal interest in our individual welfare in ways we can’t understand. By the way our lack of understanding is commonly stated as a human short-coming. To connect to this God we need to accept the literal truth of the Bible, two compilations of books written, edited, translated and published over the last 2 500 years by many people with diverse interests, histories and motives. The justification for acceptance is that these writings are the true Word of God and that God directly worked through those many writers, editors and publishers.

It is reasonable to assume that many people are seeking a spirituality in their lives beyond their everyday existence. Even though many like me find that special quality in the natural world, others want the greater meaning from something beyond the physical. However most of these same people see traditional Christian claims and beliefs as coming from a series of naive and unbelievable fairy stories from a primitive past still being perpetuated today.

This is nothing new. Many Christian scholars are arguing for an overhaul of Christian beliefs (see references below), in particular, shifting away from a literalistic interpretations to treating the Bible as powerful metaphors relevant to the human condition. This puts the big-ticket items of Christianity under the spotlight:

  • Was Jesus really the son of God as well as part of the Trinity?
  • Was he born of a virgin birth?
  • Did Jesus die and was resurrected to (re)join God and, thereby, save us from our original inherited sin?
  • In fact, did Jesus exist at all as one person or was his Bible persona some sort of idealised compilation of preachers?
  • Therefore, is the Bible really a mixed collection of historical stories with powerful metaphorical messages written by a diverse range of people rather than the inerrant Word of God?
  • If these are wrong or, at least, doubtful, then what does it mean to be a Christian?
  • Are there other ways to achieve salvation than through one specific set of religious beliefs?

Asking these questions even in recent times would have been considered heresy. But they are being asked now in progressive religious academic circles. However despite these discussions and questioning amongst theological scholars it is hard to imagine substantial changes at the pews even in a very secular Australia. Many traditional Christians would be unacceptably threatened by these thoughts. Most could not entertain the blasphemous idea that Jesus is not truly the son of God but was only a gifted preacher.

Still these changes seem necessary if Christianity is to be relevant in the 21st Century to younger and future generations.

Alex McCullie

More information

A quick search for ‘Christianity’ returns a vast number of evangelist US based web-sites that promote a fully traditional, literalistic view of the Bible. However here are some alternate search names to check:

  • Jesus Seminar – a progressive academic research body seeking the historical Jesus
  • Val Webb – author of Like Catching Water in a Net, which covers much of the progressive Christianity mentioned here
  • Marcus Borg – prolific author and theological scholar with many popular publications
  • John Dominic Crossan – historian of Jesus
  • A previous posting with progressive Christian links

Comment: Evolution & Religion Still A Fiery Mix

200 years after Darwin’s birth and 150 years after the publication of On Origin of the the Species we expected press articles, new books and television shows on evolution. And, guess what, they have started and, of course, the vexed question of its relationship with religion arises.

The Church of England posted an article by Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, Director of Mission and Public Affairs entitled Good religion needs good science where Brown admits some church people may have been mistaken in attacking Darwin’s ideas in the mid 19th century. However he spends most of the article attacking Social Darwinism which he implies is a natural outcome of scientific atheism through the misuse evolutionary theory to promote moral improvement through social engineering. I’ll discuss his article more below.

Also the Roman Catholic Church again acknowledges the validity of a religious version of evolution, theistic evolution, and denies the literal truth of the Genesis creation stories (articles: Roman Catholic response (via Reuters), Comment on apologies). However BBC News has an article about creationism in the UK – it may be more widespread than generally thought (British creationists – BBC News).

Back to Rev Brown’s article about good religion and good science. He equates evolution offering some sort of implicit moral progress. This is one of the great myths about evolution perpetuated by allies and opponents alike. There is no sense of progress in the evolutionary theory - all living things including humans develop through chance and adaption to the environments. As environments change, then successions of living things adapt in different ways. Chance comes from environmental changes, reproduction and mutations. Evolution unlike religious practices has no sense of intentionality – no overall purposes or goals. It is a combination of blind processes that acts like a “blind watchmaker” to use Richard Dawkin’s word play on William Paley. So there is no moral dimension to evolutionary processes nor is there any sense of progress to higher life forms nor is there any superiority of one species over any other. On the other hand I would argue that Christianity has traditionally promoted all of these ideas. Despite Brown’s claims about the easy misuse of science, most religious supporters have had no problems applying social engineering on others for the “greater good”. But, of course, this was justified as doing God’s work.

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned
(Mark 16:15-16)

Alex McCullie

News: Center of Inquiry Promo Video

Video from the Center of Inquiry promotes the use of science and reason to better humankind rather than traditional religious beliefs and dogma. (YouTube video)

Alex McCullie

News: Shermer’s Thoughtful Comments to Is Religion Evil?

Michael Shermer, writer of numerous books and articles as well as head of Skeptics Society, has written a thoughtful response to the question of religion as the root of all evil (his posting).

He discusses the abolition of slavery (a positive for Christianity), gay marriage and attitudes to gays in general (a negative) and people’s need for spirituality more than religion.

Alex McCullie