I had a phone call from the Sunshine Coast Daily last week. Would I write a short piece in response to the question, “Is it time for Australians to reconsider the relevance of Christianity?” I gave it a dignified two seconds thought before I said, “Yes!”
The concept was a ‘head to head’ style article, with me answering ‘on behalf of’ the godless and someone else answering for the Christians. And, who represents Christians better than anyone else in this country? The Australian Christian Lobby of course! Well, not ‘of course’ – as we know, they represent only a small proportion of actual Christians – but that’s who the Sunshine Coast Daily chose. And, to be fair, I’m hardly an elected representative for atheists, so I really shouldn’t gripe.
The article will probably go up online later this week, but I know you’re all champing at the bit to read it, so I’ve reproduced it here. Of course, if you’re in the Sunshine Coast region, do the right thing and pick up a hard copy and you might also consider dropping them a line, or giving them a call to thank them for allowing us atheists to have a say*. It seems to be a new policy of the paper and one that should be recognised and applauded.
“Is it time for Australians to consider the relevance of Christianity?”
Lyle Shelton – Australian Christian Lobby
While Christianity’s human practitioners have not always done the right thing, there is no doubt the religion itself has been an overwhelmeing influence for good in the past 2000 years.
People of faith, motivated by its central ethos of love for God and love for others, gave rise to the modern hospital system, public education, trade unions, care for the poor and the abolition of slavery – all before any of these were on the agenda of governments.
Christianity was a major force against the tyrrany of kings and was important to the evolution of modern representative democracy and the idea that there should be checks and balances on people who hold power.
Nations with Christian foundations remain the freest and most civil on the planet.
The 20th century’s experiment with state-mandated atheism in Eastern Europe, Russia, China and elsewhere was a bloody catastrophe.
More needs to be taught about the gulags.
It is a credit to nations with a Christian heritage like Australia that Muslims fleeting persecution from extreme forms of Islam in places like Afghanistan and Iran are so keen to re-settle here.
It’s interesting that people from overfly nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia, which practice varying degrees of sharia law, are eager to come to a country whose legal system traces its roots to the bible.
Christianity says we should welcome as many of these vulnerable people as we can.
Yes, there is a contest for the future values of our nation but a free society does not fear this debate.
Sadly there are some who deeply resent Christianity and seek to expunge it from public life with the coercive force of politically correct laws and tribunals
This is emerging as a serious threat to free speech and freedom of religion which may well affect everyone to some degree.
Mistakes have certainly been made in the name of Christ.
But despite this, Christianity has bequeathed a rich cultural heritage and civility that we would do well to examine closely before aggressive secularists make the decision for us to discard it.
Lyle Shelton is chief of staff of the Australian Christian Lobby
Chrys Stevenson, Sunshine Coast Atheists
Australians really should reconsider the relevance of Christianity to Australian society.
There was a time when our pubs and shops were closed on Sundays. Now they’re not only open, but bustling.
Today, nearly 70 per cent of Australians are married by civil celebrants. What does it say about Christianity’s relevance when most people, on the most important day of their lives, say ‘no’ to religion?
Australia is one of world’s most secular nations. No need for an atheist bus sign saying “Sleep in on Sundays” – 92 per cent of us already do.
Christianity is in decline. An international survey in 2008 found 30 per cent of Australians don’t believe in God while 26 per cent have doubts to varying degrees.
The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) may have access to the Prime Minister’s office, but they most assuredly don’t represent the views of most Australians, or even most Christians.
Despite the increasingly shrill protestations of the ACL, a recent Galaxy Poll showed even most Christians support same-sex marriage.
While churches oppose voluntary euthanasia, 85 per cent of Aussies support it. Denied the opportunity to die with dignity, Australia’s elderly most commonly choose hanging as an alternative.
Most Australians are horrified at the high rate of youth suicide. Gay teens are up to 14 times more likely to end their lives. Yet, recently, the ACL endorsed a law which allows religious schools to expel students for no reason other than being openly gay.
Has anyone noticed those standing up for fairness, equality and the alleviation of suffering in these scenarios aren’t the Christians?
The ACL may argue that Australia would be a better place if ‘Christian values’ were returned to centre-stage. Consider this. In those halcyon days when Christianity was far more ‘relevant’ than it is today, we supported the White Australia Policy. Racism and sexism were rife. Gay couples had no rights and were derided as poofters and fairies. Christian churches presided over the ‘stolen generation’. With abortion illegal, women with unwanted pregnancies used a coat hanger or turned to back street butchers. Divorcees were social outcasts and single mothers were cruelly coerced into adoptions. It is only as we became more secular that these things changed.
So yes, let’s reconsider the relevance of Christianity to Australia’s past and present. And then, let’s raise a toast to a future in which Christianity is increasingly irrelevant.
Chrys Stevenson is the convenor of the Sunshine Coast Atheists and co-founder of new national lobby group, Reason Australia.
*Sunshine Coast Daily ‘Letters to the Editor’: email@example.com
Thank the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org (Thanks Mark and journalist Owen Jacques for putting the piece together).
Astute readers may have noticed a couple of historical howlers from our friend, Lyle. Please feel free to address them in comments. Neither Lyle nor I had the opportunity to view each other’s copy before it was submitted, so we were both ‘writing blind’. Now I’ve seen his arguments, I may well take them on directly later in a future blog post. But if anyone else wants to have a go – please feel free.
Related Posts on the ACL
If your product’s a dud, Jim, don’t blame the opposition (Ethics in schools)
Anzac Day Cheap Shot from Religious Extremist
Defending the Indefensible: The Historical Lineage of the Australian Christian Lobby’s ‘Christian Values’
Great read Chrys, and I think you did very well given you had to write blind. As usual the ACL glosses over several glaring historical issues ! Great to see a newspaper providing us godless heathens a voice, keep up the great work. 🙂
Representing a business which is based on a never ending lie, that discriminates and promotes hatred of those that don’t “toe the line”, that is self centred and selfish, that is a total fraud and those that subscribe have been conned, it can’t be surprising the xian lobby have had their leader utter un-truths in reponse to the question. The fact that 92% of us don’t bother with the waste of time that is church would suggest that stone age religious nonsense is in the way out in Australia. For that, we should be proud.
Excellent blog, Robster, as a Christian myself with a theological background I can say you hit the nail right on the head: church is a business, for the most part. Oh, and by the way, church as we know it in the west has no roots whatsoever in Scripture-but you already knew that, didn’t you? Search out Constantine for more on that one.
Of course you know that more people are meeting in homes than institutional churches in Australia and in the U.S. and hence, “church” is irrelevant to 92%. A correct and accurate blog, Robster. Church leaders-like pastors-aren’t anything like the leaders we have today either. If you doom your study you’d find that out for yourself. This is not to say that all institutional churches or pastors are ineffective or “out to con.”
Now all you need to do is explain your opening sentence (“never-ending lie(s); “promotion of hatred” etc) otherwise its unsupported and vague narrative that lacks any weight. I don’t mean to belittle you but let’s share our opinions without the need to attack each other and, Robster, let’s be clear in the points we are expressing.
Why not ask, ‘Is it time for Australians to reconsider the relevance of organised religion?’
I got the impression that Lyle seemed to assume that the question was about the relevance of Christian influence to public policy.
Andrew, I have no control over what Lyle ‘assumed’. We were both given the same question. I agreed to answer by interview. Apparently, Lyle said he would rather put his answer in writing. As a result, I was offered the same opportunity, which I accepted. The conversation that I had with the paper was short and sweet – here’s the question, are you interested in answering it. I expect that Lyle’s interaction with the paper was similarly brief. There was certainly no suggestion that it should be ‘angled’ in any particular way.
I wasn’t haven’t a go at you Chrys..
I just answered the question that was put to me, Kate.
Te smartest comment to be found on this blogsite, Kate. Well said. As I said to Robster, so much of organised religion is not Scripturally sound. But let’s not then “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, either. This is why we MUST look at Christianity in the light of Scripture, not people simply carrying a badge. As a Christian I don’t assess the Muslim faith through the lens of Sept.11. Great comment.
So, Steve, I think I have this straight now. Christian actions and attitudes which don’t align with your personal understanding of the Bible aren’t ‘scripturally sound’ but those which do, are? Similarly ‘real Christians’ are those who agree with your interpretation of the Bible, and those who don’t aren’t ‘real Christians’?
Oh dear. Poor man seems completely confused about the history of social development. Well said Chrys and I can see how you must be bursting to write a response.
Well done and well said
Let us know when it is published so we can send letters to the editor 🙂
Christians started trade unions ???????? I thought unions were godless communists ?
Superb article Chrys. Such thorough research too. I can’t wait for it to go online on the papers website so I can make a comment and e-mail the Editor. Thanks, Phil
Thorough research? How do you validate your statement? Please explain.
Steve, I expect Phil is referring to the statistical information. If you doubt the level of my research in this area, perhaps you should take a look at the Atheist Nexus submission to the Freedom of Religion and Belief Inquiry which I researched and authored – fully referenced in academic style – all 266 pages of it.
You’ll find it here: http://api.ning.com/files/JlxXGwK19SL08EjuQagojReVMawZItDgqv*ZJEGJuzo2pkHW3yXopfNtBkUeSjFQ4o81VvJUFkMIfLfWHEIIQJEL5U*D7OxE/SubmissionAtheistNexus.pdf
So let me see if I’ve got this straight. Lyle Shelton claims those speaking out against Christianity are inhibiting free speech. So we should shut up? Go Figure.
I hope in the future ALL religion becomes irrelevant in the public sphere and is just a personal thing that is kept at home.
Chrys, did you catch +Jensen’s 2005 Boyer Lectures called ‘The future of Jesus’ by any chance?
Yes, I have read it, but not recently.
The gentleman does seem to be confused about the our societal origins. Democracy and codified laws owe far more to the Code of Hamurabi, and to fifth century Athenians than to any Christian organisation. I’d love to know what influence the established church had on the development of the universal franchise or the muzzling of the monarchy – rthe church was still preaching the three estates at the turn of the Nineteenth Century, there were no church spokesmen chained to Parliamentary railings alongside the Suffragettes, and last time I looked, one of the Queen of England’s titles was still Defender of the Faith.
I did respond in length to your article, Chys but sadly, the Daily has nothing of the forum this morning.
As a Humanities and World Religions teacher I made comment of your reference to The Stolen Generations and White Australia Policy era- your comments are validated statements. Sadly you raise various points that analyse Christian theism without any Scriptural basis. If you hold such historical events to the light of Christ (which is the foundation of Christianity) you’l find-like all faiths-that many acts such as those in the 18th and 19th centuries, are perpetrated by so-called Christians that uphold the label but little else. The same could be said of Saladin during the Crusades or the crimes of September 11 to build a case against Islam. Doing so would be deemed preposterous. First and foremost, let’s look at those that live out true Christianity, such as the team of workers who are assisting helpless flood victims in our state by rebuilding homes free of charge; my chaplain friend who consoled a teen who was suicidal, or the team who visits Wacol and Woodford prisons fortnightly to counsel and provide an ear for the incarcerated. This is just a few that I know of taking place in the past month.
You were obviously writing to a limited word count but you response is shallow, largely unsupported and made absolutely no mention of those of a Christian faith that do make an incredibly significant impact in our culture. Your closing paragraph reeks of disrespect to a large body of our population and your own militaristic objectives. Well done to Mr. Shelton-he presented his case without needing to attack or devalue anyone. I do encourage you to dig deeper in the future and not simply refer to historical or social events that have occurred under the banner of Christianity. I am ashamed of what has occurred in the name of Christ, but we still see a faith system that continues to impact society in a positive way. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Chrys.
But a bald statement by Lyle, such as: “The 20th century’s experiment with state-mandated atheism in Eastern Europe, Russia, China and elsewhere was a bloody catastrophe,” implying that atheism, in complete isolation from anything else, was the direct cause of the ‘bloody catastrophe’ is alright by you? I don’t see Lyle making any mention of the good that non-Christians can do either…Where’s the respect?
Given that so many Christians seems to define atheists as self-centred, hedonistic and materialistic, do you also think that when atheists are behaving altruistically, ethically and humanely that they ‘uphold the title (of atheist) but little else?’
Religion is past its use-by date.
“militaristic objectives”? Are you serious? And you intend to deploy the “No True Scottsman” fallacy as well as a defence?
Steve, your religion has no monopoly on good and moral behaviour. I think the term you may be looking for is “humanist”. The only way you can say that your religion does not promote the many bad things that it does is by cherry picking your scriptures or reinterpreting them in truly bizarre ways or both.
No, he didn’t, actually. The no true Scotsman fallacy is when something that doesn’t define something is used to define it – e.g. saying “no true scotsman would drink english beer” is the no true Scotsman fallacy, however saying “no true scotsman would lack scottish citizenship / anscestry” is not fallacious at all. I can wear my Scottish rugby jersey and put on the accent all I like, but no matter how much I claim that I’m scottish, I’m not. British immigration won’t let me in just because I have a jersey and red hair. The no true scotsman fallacy does not deny that certain things are essential to indentity.
In the case of Christianity, following Christ is what defines someone as a Christian. Calling oneself a Christian without following Christ’s teaching is akin to me calling myself Scottish because I choose to wear the jersey.
As jayel points out, state-atheism might have other issues at play in terms of their tragic record, do you also allow that something done in the name of Christianity might also actually be other ideologies at play?
“Cherrypicking” scripture? When did I ever do that? Present to me scripture “cherrypicked” and I’ll explain how it fits in with present-day issues; prooftexting isn’t necessary. If you read Scripture you’d know it’s quite self-explanatory (my Middle School students prove this each week without my need to spoonfeed them). In fact, those scriptures that may seem vague can be understood by searching out the Hebrew or Greek texts-not a difficult thing to do.
Danny, I’ll never say that Christian theism is without fault. You won’t find a faith that meets such a criteria. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that Christianity has gotten it wrong on many an occasion. I won’t however, accept that many acts have been perpetrated under the title of Christianity without ever having known the Scriptures. And no, I didn’t mean “humanist”.
Andrew, Steve certainly did invoke the ‘no true Scotsman fallacy’. It is a specious argument to say Christians who do the wrong thing are by definition ‘not real Christians’. I’m going to deal with Steve’s comment at length later this week, but for now, suffice to say that Christians, for centuries, have undertaken abominable, evil, reprehensible acts either because they believed that passages in the Bible mandated or supported them, or because they were able to rationalise their acts based on their intepretation of Biblical passages.
To suggest that these people were ‘not true Christians’ is anachronistic. In their own minds they certainly were, in the minds of those who were suffering at their hands they were, and where their actions are based on Scriptural authority (or at least their interpretation of it) you just can’t wiggle out of it and say well they were wrong, so they couldn’t have been Christians or acting out of true Christian conviction. (I will provide evidence when I deal with this at more length).
Inevitably, in time Christians will look back over the tussles about same-sex marriage and the churches’ treatment of homosexuals and their lies about homosexuality and feel the same kind of shame they now feel about Christian support of slavery, or witch-burning, or denying women the vote. And then, if I am still alive, I will hear a future Steven say, “Oh well, those terrible people who were so bigoted, whose attitudes did such terrible harm to so many innocent lives and used the Bible to defend their actions were ‘not real Christians’. And you and I suspect, Steve, will be the Christians they are talking about.
No, he didn’t, as I explained, but you seem to be invoking the ‘no no-true-Christian fallacy’. It is a specious argument to suggest that there’s no definition for what it means to be a Christian: it means to be a follower of Christ. And remember, that Jesus himself pointed out that not everyone who claims to be his follower, indeed, even those who claim to have done great miracles in his name are necessarily his followers (see Matthew 7). What they thought in their own minds was wrong according the person Christians, but definition, follow. By their fruit, he says you will know (and see how he follows that up in Matthew 25 with what that fruit looks like). If the sign says it’s an apple tree but it produces lemmons, it’s not an apple tree.
Further, just because someone thinks their view / action is justified by a given text does not mean it necessarily is – as you ought to be well aware following the recent high-court case you were following.
Now this is not to say that Christians never do things that are inconsistent with their beliefs, of course we do, but there is a difference between producing a few duds, and never producing good fruit at all. Despite what you’ve assumed, I didn’t say that certain people are not true Christians, I’m challenging the assumption that simply claiming to be one means you are, and that just because something thinks their actions are justified and mandated, that they actually are. I’m talking general principles, not individual cases as you seem to want to. The question isn’t “are they a real Christian?” but “are they really following Christ with those actions / claims?” (to use my analogy – is this a good apple that this tree labelled ‘apple tree’ has produced?)
And the eugenics of the C20th thought their actions were based on science, and the League of Militant Atheists in the USSR who went around harassing religious people thought their actions were the result of a rational suppression of religion… something tells me you don’t accept either of those statements, however… If someone can wrongly co-opt science and atheism to support and justify certain actions, don’t you think someone can do the same with Christianity?
Incidentally, I had lunch with a former fundamentalist Christian this week. He had been a ‘real Christian’ with a deep Christian conviction. Christianity was not a Sunday affair for him, he lived and breathed the Bible. He said, “If I thought God wanted me to crawl over broken glass I would have done it happily.” He then said to me, “You know, Chrys, all those terrible things that the Westboro Baptist Church says about homosexuals? Well, short of standing on the street waving “God hates fags” placards, all the Christians (admittedly fundamentalists, not liberals) I knew and still know essentially agree, privately, with everything Phelps says. It was a compelling insight from someone who had been ‘inside’ fundamentalism for over 20 years. Are you going to tell me now that all the people in fundamentalist churches aren’t ‘real Christians’ either?
Please define ‘real Christians’. To answer your previous blog we can understand my earlier statement by what you’ve posted above. Just because someone has been inside fundamentalism for 20 years and has “deep convictions” doesn’t mean they are following Scripture or practicing true Christian principles! Deep convictions are irrelevant if they aren’t grounded in the principles of Scripture. If they aren’t they can be misleading.
When Jesus died He spoke of love and grace, not bigotry and prejudice. In fact, His overarching message was to love (all of the Old Testament Scripture is fulfilled through love for one-another). So to answer your question, anyone, regardless of their years in fundamentalist churches, who incites hatred towards another is not a genuine PRACTICING Christian. Are they any lesser than you or me? Absolutely not. But how we live and what we speak can be measured in the light of the Bible; that’s why I live by the standard of The Bible. I have struggled to find such a concrete, sound foundation for my life elsewhere. I’m sorry but I cannot make it any clearer than that. As the Bibles states, “You shall know them by their fruit”. If the fruit’s rotten then who cares how long they’ve been in church, what their convictions are, or whether they label themselves a ‘real Christian’.
I do apologise for my lack of knowledge regarding the Westboro Baptist Church.
I do appreciate and enjoy our dialogue, Chrys, but I get sick to death of misrepresentations of Christianity by people such as your friend above.
Steve, Jim Wallace has said clearly that his strident opposition to homosexuality stems not from hate, but from love. He knows full well that the ACL’s attitude to homosexuals hurts them – he has said so plainly. Despite this, he insists on saying untrue, hateful, hurtful things that add to a toxic atmosphere for young gay. He will tell you he is acting scripturally, he will point you to the scripture, he will tell you he loves the sinner but hates the sin. He will endorse expelling gay kids from school, but excuse it by saying it should be done in a ‘loving way’. How do you expel someone in a loving way???? Jim and the ACL firmly believe that imposing their religion on us is done ‘out of love’ – that he knows what is good for us, because the Bible tells him so. There is nothing he does which is not backed by Scripture. It may not be your interpretation of Scripture, but I assure you it is done with a full understanding that Christ asked Christians to act with love – that’s what HE thinks he’s doing.
Come census time, the Christian lobby is not fussy about who identifies as Christian to bolster their numbers and justify the degree of influence they have/would like to have on the government of the day. Maybe the ABS should go with your phrase and put ‘Practicing Christian’ as one of the options. But then the number of Christians would probably plummet…oh, dear….
One other example while I’m on a roll. I have a dear friend, around my age, who, throughout his childhood and teens was subjected to brutal beatings by his father. This experience was deeply traumatising. The beatings were delivered, however, out of the sincere conviction that this was the God-approved way of bringing up children. The scriptural support for this conviction is in several places in Proverbs, including: Proverbs 23:13, 14 – Do not withhold correction from a child, For if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, And deliver his soul from hell.
Apparently, there is also a verse somewhere that dictates the number of times the child should be hit. I believe it was around 40. So when my friend transgressed, he received 40 strokes. And apparently, this was OK with God as long as it didn’t kill him.
My friend’s father was, and still is, deeply religious, knows his Bible back to front, and is in absolutely no doubt that his actions are supported by the Bible. He wants to do nothing more than serve your righteous, jealous, vindictive, angry God and has dedicated his life to that purpose. As far as he’s concerned, the abuse meted out to his children was simply doing what God wanted him to do.
Now, the fact that others may not agree with how this man reads the Bible, simply means that they are a ‘different kind’ of Christian, not that he is ‘not a real Christian’. He most assuredly is.
Thanks for the clarification on this, Chrys. It’s difficult to respond to without reading it further but I do understand the point you are raising here. Thanks.
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“Thank the editor: email@example.com (Thanks Mark and journalist Owen Jacques for putting the piece together).”
That would be the same Mark Furler who wrote this :
Yes, Vance. There has been some concern expressed about the lack of balance in the Sunshine Coast Daily on religious matters. Mark Furler, the editor, is a Christian and some believe his Christian bias was evident in the paper. I’m not a regular reader of the paper, and I don’t know Furler, so I make no judgment on this. However, it seems apparent that, if this was the case, the SCD is now making a concerted effort to achieve a better balance and seek out the opinions of non-believers and publish their letters. Whether this was Furler’s choice or whether pressure was brought to bear on him I can’t say. However, I do think it’s a move which should be recognised and applauded.
As a Christian I love and support your idea here, Jayel. It would make people consider who they areaway are (“honest-to-God believers or just name-bearers).
Consider this: if they’re not practising Christians then they’ll be of little impact in their community or against those who wish to push non-Christian values/ beliefs; therefore they’re of no concern anyway. A great proposal
It gets tricky though, Steve – who gets to define ‘practising’? Who gets to define ‘Christian’ for that matter? 🙂
Also, how do you make the leap from being a non-practising Christian to being of little impact in their community? Do practising Christians always have a large impact on their community and is that impact positive or negative? Depends on the type of Christian and one’s perspective I suppose. Hmmm, another can of worms unleashed…
I see your point, Chrys, and it is a valid one. This, however, is why it is difficult to discuss this issue firstly over the web, and secondly, without any absolutes.
What I can say is that I see a practising Christian to be one that lives out what JC outlined in Scripture.
As a committed believer I have had to struggle with the foolishness that is too often associated with religion and then communicate in the midst of the hypocrisy the validity of my faith.
Jesus made a statement, saying: I did not come to abolish the Law (of Moses/ Old Testament) but to fulfil it”. Essentially He goes on to explain that fulfilment of the past laws was by love. In fact, I see so much of the Christian faith in hypocrisy today because we a re quick to build churches, justify Sunday services-essentially, the significance of institutional church-and yet fall short of the greatest commandment: love one another. The Bible even outlines that attributes of love in 1 Corinthians (often quoted at weddings): being patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, keeping no record of wrongs etc. To live these out is, to me, being a practicing Christian.
To answer you second question, I think that to be a rpacticing Christian will be impacting on the community, but as the Bible states, no to one’s own personal benefit at the expense of others. Obviously this impact may vary. My closest friend was Allan Taylor, a local chaplain on the Sunshine Coast who was run down by 4wd. Allan radically influenced the Coast by his selflessness of caring for the sick; running funerals and weddings free of charge and the like. His life was obviously impacting, but it wasn’t until his funeral did I get to see the thousands that he impacted (over 2,500 attended and then PM Rudd acknowledged him and his wife nationally). William Wiberforce abolished slavery; two examples of differing influence, as I see it.
In closing, I do have personal standpoints on homosexuality, abortion, marriage and the like, but I firmly believe that these should never come before loving an individual. I have found repeatedly in my life that I can coexist peacefully and win another’s respect if I love first. I openly share my hope in Jesus, but never at the expense of isolating or silencing others.
I do like the point made by someone recently that we all should have a voice. I don’t believe in any one group silencing another; if God gave us a brain to use, then let’s use it to discuss these issues and work to bring resolve. As I often tell my students, it’s only a closed mind that’s of no use.
Sorry, Chrys, I meant Jayel! My apologies to you too, Jayel.
Not rocket science really, not terribly intellectual, not even original, but worthy of being repeated none the less …
I find it a much greater challenge to my intellectual capacity to believe that a big bang created and pieced together so perfectly our world – without the aid of a master hand planning designing and sculpturing it into place.
Ofcourse if there is no creator, no accountability for our actions, it does make life simpler as we are then free to throw off constraint and do what we will without our conscience calling our actions into account doesn’t it?
I think Lyle made some good points that should not be too quickly passed over simply because they are in opposition to what you choose to believe … and yes I too can’t wait to see what the statistics come out of the latest census.
Carolyn, happy to have you comment on my blog, but I think it would be fair to disclose your involvement with the Australian Christian Lobby. The point is, facts do not depend on the extent of your scientific knowledge, your ability to comprehend it, or on what you can ‘imagine’ or ‘prefer to believe’. Of course, you are perfectly at liberty to believe whatever you wish, our objection is when your organisation tries to inflict your studied ignorance on the rest of us.
“I find it a much greater challenge to my intellectual capacity to believe…”
It *is* a challenging concept to get one’s head around, isn’t it, Carolyn. Physics is complex. But that’s not a reason to reject it or to invent an alternative explanation for which there’s no evidence.
“to throw off constraint and do what we will without our conscience calling our actions into account”
That comment is as offensive as it is incorrect, for it implies non-believers have no morals and this is patently incorrect.
Louella, my input into this discussion has been ongoing and as I have stated, no comment made in anger or offence is effective. Like Carolyn, I too believe in a creator and find it of greater faith to believe in a big bang, or event that denies a greater deity that brought about detailed and evidently, organised creation.
I do not believe that a non-religious person simply is without morals or ethical virtues, but perhaps a better way of making Carolyn’s point (if I may) is to say that irrespective of our personal faith/beliefs the Bible does indeed provide a very concrete and explicit foundation for the social and ethical issues that one undoubtedly faces in their life. Having lived on both sides of the fence, I can say that we as fallible human beings are terrible when we choose to become the highest form of authority. Is this to say that Christians, Hindus oar Muslims will not make moral errors? Absolutely not. All of us do. But I do see the point that Carolyn is trying to address: we walk a dangerous line should we choose to allow man to determine right from wrong on all moral grounds.
Ironically, at the heart of the Christian faith is to accept that we cannot get things right on our own and hence, ask someone greater than ourselves to asset us in this process. This is genuine humility in action and faith lived out. No churches, pastors or clergy. Pure faith that we are in need of assistance in this process. Just a thought…
As a matter of interest, I understand that many non-believing physicsts and cosmologists initially resisted the Big Bang model, because they preferred an eternal universe, which required no prior cause. The Big Bang, they feared, allowed God too much of a foot in the door..
You are, of course, free to believe whatever you wish – but the lack of any evidence beyond your own unsupported belief should at the very least make you acknowledge your belief as mere personal faith rather than proven fact, and should certainly deter you from making such baseless assumptions as those in your second paragraph.
I’m not about to argue the case for the ethical standards of atheists and agnostics – that’s been done far more eloquently than I could hope to do by others, but I would like to ask you just this one simple question, that in my experience is always dodged by persons professing religious belief: why do those of your faith need the threat of being called to account by a higher power in order to act in a decent and responsible manner?
Just to put that question into a more personal perspective, so as to clarify my meaning: I am an agnostic. I do not believe in a god, nor in the fantasised Christian version of Jesus. I believe myself to be a decent and responsible person, with personal moral standards as high as most of my fellow human beings. Like them, I often fall short of my own standards, yet I have never once felt obliged to account for my shortcomings to any other power than my own sense of right and wrong. Nor did I ever have any difficulty in reproaching myself, and striving to do better in the future.
Steve, thanks for sanitizing Carolyn’s acerbic remarks.
I agree comments made in anger or offense are ineffective but I can’t agree that we “are terrible when we choose to become the highest form of authority” or that “the Bible does indeed provide a very concrete and explicit foundation for the social and ethical issues”.
Our sense of right or wrong comes from within. All (non-psychopath) humans flinch from cruelty and injustice and inherently know that for us to live together harmoniously, we need to treat each other well.
How do you know which bits of the Bible to adopt and which to reject? It’s your innate sense of morality. And what an empowering, joyous, rewarding and addictive thing it is to choose an ethical path for no other reason than that deep inside you know it’s the right thing to do! No offer of deferred heavenly reward or threat of future punishment required.
Hi Louella, some good questions posed here. Having studied and endeavoured to live out the teachings of Scripture, I believe that we can find solid truths that we can live our lives by; this is difficult for me to explain over the web (plus I am terribly slow at typing, too!). Where most people-including many Christians-make an error in interpreting Scripture is in understanding that there are two covenants that must be acknowledged and understood. If they are not, the Bible always reads as a law book, and contradictory on a number of issues. However, to understand and rightly divide Scripture reveals that it can be “lived out” and most social issues can be understood from a solid Biblical perspective.
With regards to truth /right and wrong coming from within, history tells us that man has always resorted back to its past failings. However, as I explained to Chrys Stevenson, the Bible does indeed provide a secure and solid understanding that (obviously is unchanging) and is not subject to our feelings or what we perceive to be morally absolute. From this perspective, truth becomes concrete and not relative. However Biblical truth, in my opinion, is only useful if one chooses to live by it, otherwise we label ourselves Christian but demonstrate hypocrisy; which is sadly what the church is known for.
Of course one can discover much “immorality” in religious texts, and also committed by peoples of religious persuasion. No doubt some non-religious display equally abhorrent behaviours.
That, to my mind, is a trivial line of argument to pursue. It inevitably results in schoolyard type arguments of “You-did-you-didn’t” variety.
But the basis of ALL religion is the claim that there exists some kind of supernatural entity, which some call a ‘God’ or ‘Gods’, but all with quite inadequate justification.
Here is an argument that debunks all such claims.
Bertrand RUSSELL, an eminent English Philosopher and Mathematician from the 50’s once said:
“The statement :
– ‘God exists’
and equally the statement :
– ‘God does not exist’
are both equally self-contradictory, and illogical.
Because by using the word ‘God’,
both statements PRESUME the existence of such an entity,
before any debate has started.
Far better, said RUSSELL, to change both statements into a single question, and ask:
‘Does there exist an entity X,
with properties A, B, C;
and if those properties can be detected to adequate proof,
then X exists.”
Now the properties A, B, C that are commonly used in the ‘God type questions’ are these:
A = omnipotence (infinitely and all powerful);
But if X has the property of omnipotence,
we then have to ask if X is able to create another entity Y,
that is more powerful than X.
If X cannot create Y, then X is NOT omnipotent;
If X can create Y, then X becomes NON omnipotent.
Thus “omnipotence” is a self-contradictory concept.
B = omnipresent (present everywhere, in all matter & space)
But if X is omnipresent, then X is within every atom, every electron, every proton, and therefore all humans are made out of ‘god-stuff, and therefore cannot commit evil.
However, EVERY holy book dwells on the ever present sinfulness of man (e.g. original sin)
Thus omnipresence is a self-contradictory property, in such religions.
This is often rationalised by alleging that “god gave man free-will to choose to sin, or not’. However, to create man with free-will, but with an imperfect ‘moral calculator’, is to make man destined to inevitable failure, then punish him for this defect, rather like plucking wings of frail flies. What a torturous god !!
C = omniscience (knowing EVERYthing that has happened, is happening, will happen).
But if X is omniscient, then X knows beforehand all the ‘sins’ that mankind is going to commit, all the natural disasters that will befall them
To have created such evil beasts as man, such cruel forces in nature, does not at all bespeak of the loving god that is said to inhabit all holybooks.
Thus omniscience is a self-contradictory property for a good “X”.
D = ineffability (infinite spiritual beings are completely unknowable by mere mortal beings)
But if X is ineffable, then no one should make any claims whatsoever about whether X is good, holy, loving …
Even to appoint a label like ‘God’ defies the definition of ‘ineffability’.
Not one religion lives up to the requirements of ineffability.
E = one can come to know X by faith, and faith alone.
But, one could then claim that if ‘faith is the only true tool for ascertaining truth’, then it is the right of anyone to claim that they have a faith that all religious faith is a delusion.
Thus religious faith, and all faith, is a self-contradictory notion.
F = the ontological proof for a god,
i.e., that throughout all entities in this Universe, there is a spectrum of qualities, going from best to worst; the best and worst in goodness, loving, etc.
Since there MUST exist a best (even if not excellent) and a worst, then there MUST exist an entity that possess ALL the very best of ALL qualities, and that entity is god, and MUST necessarily exist.
If that is true, then there MUST exist a perfectly happy, perfectly satisfying, godLESS universe; and maybe it’s the one we live in.
And there MUST exist a maybe not so perfect universe, except it is perfectly godLESS, and maybe it’s ours.
For more examples like these, read the book :
“The Miracle of Theism”, by J.L MACKIE, Clarendon press, Oxford, 1982.
Out of print now, but Amazon can still sell new/used copies.
Unfortunately Russell is using his own strawman definitions.
Omnipotence doesn’t mean the ability to do whatever illogical things I can think up – it means the power to do what is there to be done. Logically incoherent ideas aren’t there to be done. The too-heavy-rock gambit, which is essentially what Russell posited, but with x and y, is logically incoherent – the premises negate each other and so the syllogism is fallacious.
While we’re quoting dead philosophers, I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that putting the words ‘God can’ before a nonsense sentence is still nonsense.
His definition of omnipresent is more akin to pantheism than anything classical theism has every described.
His omniscience gambit is a false dichotomy – it’s interesting, as this gambit is normally found using omnipotence, actually.. but never-the-less, the excluded third horn is similar. Russell would first have to show that God could have no valid reason to allow it. Until such time, the dichotomy is fallacious.
Again, Russell uses a strawman definition of ineffable. The classical theist understanding of God’s ineffatability is that the full nature of God is not fully describable in human terms, it doesn’t mean we can’t say or know anything about him. That is, while we can understand certain things about God, we cannot fully comprehend him in his entirety.
I’m not quite sure what Russell is trying to prove with E. Is he suggesting that classical theism says God is knowable by faith alone? Hardly.
I also don’t quite follow his use of the ontological argument.. how did he jump from God exists necessarily to – there must exist a universe a nice universe in which he doesn’t?
As Plantinga puts it – if God is a maximal being then there is no possible universe in which he cannot exist. If God exists in any possible universe he must exist in every possible universe.
I personally don’t find this argument a very good one.. sure, it’s pretty hard to get around the logic, but I don’t think God is to be found at the end of a clever syllogism (and I forget if Plantinga said the same or not..) What the ontological argument does do, is show that God, if he exists, must be a necessary entity, and not a contingent one. (I personally find the multi-verse theory pretty absurd.. a universe where Dawkins is the Pope and Pat Robertson is the president of the Atheist Society?)
Anyway… ain’t syllogisms fun? 😉
Andrew offers this view, in regard to the “Omniscience Self-Contradiction”:
“Omnipotence doesn’t mean the ability to do whatever illogical things I can think up – it means the power to do what is there to be done. Logically incoherent ideas aren’t there to be done.”
This a quite curious definition of omnipotence, or of being “all powerful.”
He implies that <>
I wonder where Andrew gets this idea, apart from Xian Fundy Tracts?
The Oz Macquarie Dictionary (rev 3rd Ed.) , for one example, defines “Omnipotent” as :
1. Almighty, or infinite in power;
2. Having unlimited or very great authority.”
No matter, let us merely accept Andrews definition, that <>,
and demonstrate where it leads him.
A. Monotheists commonly assert that “Science cannot discover how the Universe has been created, for Physics cannot explain how “something came from nothing.” Only the god hypothesis can explain this anomaly, they add. Yet they admit that this theistic is quite illogical.
On the other hand, Andrew would assert that no god could do anything so illogical.
B. An alleged “Virgin Birth” is quite, quite illogical for any species larger than a nemotode.
Further, it has NEVER been scientifically documented.
But to Andrew, “no probs”, I guess.
C. Transubstantiation, as alleged to occur every Mass in the RCC, turns Bread & Wine into Body Flesh and Body Blood. Of course some will allege that this is really only some kind of spiritual metaphor. But then its no longer transubstantiation.
Need one go on, cataloguing the many self-contradictions in Andrew’s line of argument ?
WORDPRESS is one of those idiotic WORDPROCESSORS that interprets in funny ways.
Here are the necessary corrections:
1. He implies that “Logic supervenes Omnipotence.”
2. No matter, let us merely accept Andrews definition, that “Logic supervenes Omnipotence.”
I’ve been resisting the urge to join in the morality tangent that I’ve been reading in my email inbox… resisting to no avail… 😀
Right – we seem to, as humans, have an innate sense of right and wrong, and we view those who lack this as being somehow deficient or abnormal (psychopaths). I agree that one doesn’t need to be a believer to be a good or moral person, and I would argue that Christianity teaches such – that we all have this moral ‘compass’. We live as if there are objective moral values and duties – if you don’t agree, can I steal your car?
As Michael Nazir-Ali put it:
The problem with positing morality purely as a product of social evolution is that it can only take one so far – it might account for a kind of back-scratching morality, but it cannot account for real altruism, and especially that which appears to work against the survival of one’s genes. On this point Dawkins, at least, resorts to a kind of ‘evolution of the gaps’ and posits that real altruism is simply a “misfire” (as I suppose is art and music?).. But there’s a further problem, namely Hume’s ‘is-ought’ problem, which notes that you can’t draw a prescription from a description. That is, you can’t draw a moral ‘ought’ from a description of what ‘is’. Not killing each-other might very well prove to be a more productive way of living together, but that doesn’t mean there’s a moral obligation for one person not to – perhaps killing a few rivals will be more productive for them. Or if we think about altruism again – it is better for me not to swim out and save the drowning stranger, but is there not some degree of moral obligation for me to try and help save someone? Quite simply, no purely naturalistic account of morality that I’ve seen has managed to bridge the is-ought divide, and is often quite utilitarian in nature (which I suppose is fine so long as you’re in the majority).
I think Lewis had is right when he noted that we judge a drawing of New York by the objective place. We cannot make any kind of value judgement without some kind of standard by which we’re judging it. So if we say that something is morally good because it promotes harmonious living, we have to ask why harmonious living is ‘good’ – by what standard do we judge that? What is ‘good’ anyway? To my mind, subjective and inter-subjective morality simply falls as soon as we presume to hold someone else accountable to it.
Some object that morality has changed and thus cannot be objective, but by the same reasoning we would have to say that the laws of the physics have changed because we hold some things and reject some things that previous generations didn’t.
Colin Kline wrote:
Firstly, Colin, if you’re ‘replying’ to me, you can write to me, that’s ok. And secondly, if ad hominem like this is the level of your argument, is it worth continuing? Hopefully we can have a more rational discussion that one which resorts to fallacies like that. We’ll see…
Dictionaries are great. But imposing a dictionary definition onto someone else’s definition is not so, it’s called equivocation. You don’t get to define what classical theism means when they use the term. Never-the-less, I’m happy enough with the Maquarie’s definition, for it too does not imply that logically incoherent things can be done.
Am I saying that ‘logic supervenes omnipotence’? I’m saying that logical incoherence is just that – incoherent. The concept of a square circle is inherently logically incoherent. No matter how much power someone has to do things, a square circle remains incoherent nonsense.
Notice my emphasis on the word inherently. This is what I perhaps did not make more clear in my last post, as the examples you give are not inherent logical incoherences.
Let’s take your A – things cannot bring themselves into existence, that’s self-bootstrapping. However there is nothing logically incoherent in saying that an entity such as God might bring something into existence that had previously not existed. There is no ‘square circle’ in that.
Or take B – there is nothing inherently logically incoherent or contradictory about a supernatural agent causing an egg to be fertilised without the normal prior intercourse. Again, no ‘square circle’ kind of incoherency there.
Now you might think both of these things are improbable or unlikely or whatever, but my point is that there is no inherent logical incoherency there as there is in things like square circles.
So to say that omnipotence doesn’t mean the ability to do the logically incoherent does not, as you argue, rule out the miraculous (overriding of normal, natural laws).
If one wants to argue that God has the power to create a square circle (which would mean that we all look at this shape and agree that it’s a square circle), then the whole objection from logical contradiction that Russell initially posted loses any force. To restate his syllogism:
But if you say that omnipotence does include the power to logically incoherent things, then why not simply posit a third horn of:
X can create Y and yet still be omnipotent.
(That is no different to suggesting a square circle btw)
If God is omnipotent in the way you want to define it, then why can’t he do that, if after all, he can do the logically incoherent? Or are you now going to claim that omnipotence is subservient to logic?
In this ‘debate’,
I assert that the word “omnipotent” ineluctably means that there are NO constraints to such an infinite power, not even logic.
I don’t assert that such an entity exists.
I just define this word “omnipotence”.
Andrew F implements a different definition, that an “omnipotent” power cannot do that which is illogical.
We will have to just differ on definitions.
Noting we have both omitted any rigorous definition of the word “illogical”.
So let us pass on to another deficiency (as I claim) in the possible characteristics attributed to a “god”, or “X”.
Another flawed property is “ineffability” which – strictly – means that nothing at all can be known about the properties of a “god-like” entity, including that even its existence cannot be known, especially to mere mortals.
Certainly, it is asserted by the ineffabilists, no “holy book” – including the murderous, barbarous, and immoral Adamic texts of the “bible, koran, torah”, can reveal any truths about their ineffable entity.
But if true, then one cannot even assert that the contents of these books can be understood, or revealed by faith, or hermeneutics, or anything.
Conversely, if one invokes the ontological principle, that a perfect being should necessarily perfectly reveal itself, then we note the millions of words and pages spent on hermeneutics attest otherwise.
This conflict should not be surprising, since there is much evidence that the bible (& other holy books) were in fact derived from prior pagan texts.
Here is an excerpt from that link:
Origins of the Earliest Scripture
Prehistory to 1850 B.C.E.
Scholars have traced the roots of many of the Old Testament stories to the ancient,
pagan myths of the ancient Mesopotamian cultures.
In the Fertile Crescent, the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers,
in present-day Iraq, gave birth to some of the worlds first civilizations.
In this early flowering of civilization, many religious myths abounded,
seeking to explain what was then unexplainable.
From this context comes the oldest complete literary work we have,
the age of which we are certain, dating back at least 7,000 years.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is a lengthy narrative of heroic mythology that incorporates many of
the religious myths of Mesopotamia, and it is the earliest complete literary work that
Many of the stories in that epic were eventually incorporated into the book of Genesis.
Borrowed from the Epic of Gilgamesh are stories of the creation of man in a wondrous
garden, the introduction of evil into a naive world, and the story of a great flood
brought on by the wickedness of man, that flooded the whole world.
Thus, the concept of “ineffability” was fabricated to cover up the many cracks in this massive plagiarism, by xians, of earlier texts.
As I said, Colin, if you’re going to critique classical theism’s claim of omnipotence, you have to taketheir definition. Further, as I showed, your definition does away with any grounds on to claim logical contradiction anyway.
Again, we must understand the word in the sense that classical theism understands it, or else we’re equivocating. As it happens, the dictionary definition of ineffable that I read doesn’t mean ‘unknowable’ but ‘indescribable’. When we say that God is ineffable, it doesn’t mean we can’t know anything about him, but rather that our human linguistics are insufficient to fully describe him. That also doesn’t mean we can’t say anything in terms of description, but simply recognises that any description is going to be bound by language and human comprehension in some way.
Another of the dictionary’s definitions is ‘unspeakably sacred’ which God’s name is said to be – hence why the Jewish people would not utter it, nor write it out fully.
If you insist that ineffable means unknowable, then I will simply agree that God is not ineffable in the way you mean it.
As irrelevant as it is, I happen to agree that the Genesis creation account is a response (actually a challenge) to the surrounding Mesopotamian creation accounts.
I agree with the fact that we should be allowed to have a say in the paper but I don’t think it’s necessary to kowtow to this mainly xian part of Australia and it’s media by kissing their feet for ‘allowing’ us to have a say in a democracy where we have freedom of speech. I don’t see the xians kissing anyone’s feet for having their say (big time) in every form of media on the coast. Forgive my bluntness but I’m on my second glass of wine 😀 tonight, and religion hits a raw nerve with me.
Mysty, I don’t think I was kowtowing, but if we ask a publication to change their behaviour and they do, I think it’s common courtesy to acknowledge that. Gratitude does not involve kissing someone’s feet (or arse). It’s simply an acknowledgement that the right decision has been made. Enjoy your wine – I’m just heading off for mine now! 😉