Thursday, 31 October 2013

Can desire and reason live side by side?

I've been asked over the past few weeks why I don't just call myself an atheist or 'give up the dream' or pick a side relating to there being a god or creator. Each time it's been light hearted banter, it is after all, not that an important of an issue even though I spend a lot of time reading and writing about it. 

The reason I won't choose, I've always said,was because there's no way of knowing for certain. How did something come from nothing? Why/ how is there consciousness? How can we explain certain paranormal occurrences? These are the questions that keep me wondering and keep me from 'giving up the dream.' In fact it was that very term that triggered something in me, yes it was a dream in the sense that I wanted there to be more, it was a longing for a majestical awakening- a sign of something extra after we die, a place where consciousness is separate from the physical body. So although as i've outlined I won't commit to disbelief because of those unanswered questions I also don't want there to be nothing either.

Now once I admitted that to myself, I'm left with the unsavoury feeling that I am no longer completely unbiased by emotion. Maybe I have over looked certain aspects so that my unanswered questions remain that way, maybe I put more weight in circular arguments than I should have, would have, before I became someone who wants there to be something rather than someone who is completely indifferent. 

That being said I hope my desires would never cause me to be ignorant of the facts, because although it would be a wonderful idea for there to be a spiritual, magical realm, it does none of us any good to believe it baselessly. 

Monday, 28 October 2013

Evangelising in British Schools - Unbelievable? Debate

This is mainly a post in response to the latest Unbelievable? debate from Premier Radio, which I advise anyone who is interested in religious debate to subscribe to, it is available as a podcast on iTunes.  In the latest debate Terry Sanderson from The National Secular Society went head to head with Reverend David Robertson about the latest  report released by the NSS regarding Evangelism in State Schools . Ther is a concern that certain Christian groups attending British State schools and evangelising to pupils rather than only informing pupils about religion.

The report is a collection of complaints that parents had made regarding Christian groups attending Religious Eduction classes, a class that looks at a wide variety of religions from an objective view point R.E as it is shortened to is supposed to be informative and fact based and has no spiritual or theological purpose. This is a fact that unfortunately David Robertson failed to understand during his argument, which he came at very aggressively from the beginning.  The complaints ranged from the fact that parents had not been informed that Christian groups would come into school, to children being given Bibles and being told this was the most important book they would ever read. Other instances highlighted by Terry Sanderson were young children being told by visitors to the school that miracle healing works.

Robertson believed the report was scare mongering, anti-chritistian and anecdotal as there were no statistical evidence to back up the frequency of occurrences and complaints. While he may have been right regarding the methodology of the report his answer to some of Sanderson's complaints showed he hadn't fully grasped the idea of objective teaching.

For example Sanderson wants religious education to remain objective, and has no problem with Christians coming into schools to inform children about the traditions, history and story of Christianity, however the evidence that groups had been crossing the objective line and began evangelising in schools was met with indifference by Robertson.  Instead of admitting evangelism isn't objective he went off on a tangent about The NSS wanting to influence the national curriculum, he then began insisting that Sanderson say wether he believed it should be taught that abortion is right in schools, again Sanderson said the facts and opinions of abortion should be taught and the decision left up to the child as to wether they find it wrong or right.  Robertson again unaware of the reality of being objective only read that Sanderson was advocating that abortion is right should be taught in schools.

It was a frustrating tit for tat as the Christian representative got weighed down by his own anger and intolerance for the NSS. He exposed his personal belief that children should not be allowed to make up their own mind on the ideas of abortion and euthanasia. He overlooked the points made my Sanderson about children not being taught in an educational environment that miracle healing works to which Robertson angrily replied "how do you know it doesn't work?" Again missing the idea that what Sanderson wants is a fact based education in the school, and I for one agree with him.

Religion in school should stay within the realm of informing as it was for me when I was at school.
In primary school there was a marginal amount of Christian ideology taught in our lessons, we preyed in morning assembly and sang hymns, but by the time secondary school came around all trace of that was gone - and rightly so. Religious Education classes focused on looking at the different beliefs people held, the moral arguments around euthanasia, abortion and gay marriage. But these were done as an open debate with the teacher acting as moderator only and our opinions were left for us to form.

Robertson he made a valid point that the production of the report was to condemn the actions it depicted,  Sanderson tried to state it was only a report and neither condemned or supported it was only to demonstrate findings. However, it is quite obvious the report is constructed to counter these arguments but someone has to. Yes in a country of 50 million+ a few complaints seems marginal, however it is something that should be monitored and the NSS report gives a voice to concerned parents who must, state school or other wise, be aware of the nature of their children's education.

You can read The National Secular Societys Report here 

And listen to the Unbelievable debate by visiting Premier Radio's page here

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Should we be offended by a god that judges?

I recently purchased Timothy Kellner's book The Reasons for God- Belief in An Age of Skepticism and although he outlines a lot of unbiased attitudes in his opening chapters, it is the chapter 'How can a loving God send people to hell?' that I am going to be talking about in the next few posts, mostly because it falls flat of any sort of answer at all and rather exposes some strange ad hominem arguments.

I will say firstly though that I am enjoying Timothy Kellner's book and find most of it interesting and it has some great points and will probably do a full review of it at some point. But this post addresses something I read in his book and was taken a back by the short sightedness of his explanation.

A judging god offends me...

The most shocking argument the Kellner unleashes in this chapter is in response to a woman who stated that a god who judges people offends her. To which Kellner replies "I respectfully urge you to consider your cultural location when you find the Christian teaching about hell offensive.'  He then goes on to tell her that the aspects of Christianity that Westerners like, i.e. forgiving your enemies other societies find 'repulsive'. 'Traditional societies the teaching about turning the other cheek makes absolutely no sense. It offends peoples instincts about what is right' He then leaps from this argument to a subtle attack on the questioner, claiming that because she favours the god of love and is offended by a god of judgement this must mean she holds her world view over that of other cultures in short finding a Western world view to be superior to that of non-Western ones. He states 'Why, I concluded, should Western cultural sensibilities be the final court in which to judge wether Christianity is valid? I asked the woman gently whether she thought her culture superior to non-Western ones. She immediately answered 'no'. 'Well then,' I asked, 'why should you cultures objections to Christianity trump theirs?'

I find his argument flawed in several ways

1) Westerners do not conclusively uphold and endorse the ideas about forgiving their enemies. Take America as an example, one of the largest Christian countries, also one of the few Western countries to still practise the death penalty, arguably not an act that forgives your enemies. Also a country that attacks invades and bombs countries regularly is also not an act that could be classed as forgiveness quite clearly an act of judgement. The idea that the West loves forgiveness and traditional cultures don't is an idea he implies himself and not the questioner. Where are these countries that are so repulsed by forgiveness?

2) Every time you disagree with someones way of thinking it does not transpose into finding a whole culture inferior to yours. This is an ad-hominem attack that is making the woman feel as though she is feeling superior to another cultures.

3) Isn't forgiveness and love a way that we are all trying to live? Didn't the West once live in a way of judgement, looking back several centuries in England there were witch trials, public executions, torture, lack of religious or political freedom. Aren't we all in agreement that forgiveness is the better way to live. That judging others for the colour of the skin, sexuality or gender is counterintuitive to living harmoniously?  That is whether you like it or not , the way the world is evolving, and countries that do not practice this are viewed in a negative light by Christians and none Christians, by the secular world as well as religious.  It is not by feeling superior that we feel things ought to change but by seeing how badly practising this form of judgement impacts on peoples lives and freedoms that means we fight for human rights and for equality. These are the characteristics by which the world changes for the better, so it is completely acceptable to feel that Christianity and by proxy the god of Christianity would have these characteristics as well.

He then goes on to say that we should imagine 'Christianity is not the product of anyone culture but is actually the transcultural truth of God. If that were the case we would expect that it would contradict and offend every human culture at some point, because human cultures are ever changing and imperfect. If Christianity were the truth it would have to be offending and correcting your thinking at some place. Maybe this is the place, the Christian doctrine of divine judgement.'

Yes human cultures are ever changing but most are evolving into more tolerant countries which aim to improve the lives of those in it, that give equality and freedom to its people that don't judge others that act upon leniency. Will it not be soon that a god of judgement will not only contradict some human thought but all human thought. I also don't see why 'If Christianity were the truth it would have to be offending and correcting your thinking at some place.' Surely if Christianity were the truth, which we are always reminded is absolute, there would be no room for throwing out its passages and accepting others which is what anyone would have to do to make Christianity seem reasonable to the modern world.

Yes you can be offended by a judging god because it is always contradictory to love, forgiveness and understanding which we deem to be high qualities in people all around the world. So it is no stretch to be offended by a god that doesn't embellish these qualities that we find so perfect in humans that god should easily see how futile judgement is.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Free religious, atheist and agnostic books. UPDATE

Here is a list of FREE books, eBooks and PDF's for all religious books, scripture, atheist and agnostic books. It's a work in progress but these are links that I've had time to check or have used in the past. Either send for or download. Some of these links may become useless in time so I'll try to keep it as functional as possible. Also if you have any free book links you want to add just drop it in the comments and I'll add it to the list.

Note: Some free books may require you to sign up to a mailing list or ask for a donation. I have tried to limit the use of these in this list however they are included.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Joseph Atwill's Covert Messiah - Unlikely to reveal anything new

 There's a bit of a flutter in the religious debate world at the moment as Joseph Atwill's Covert Messiah seminar is due to take place on the 19th of October in London. There he will announce the case for his 'ancient confession' and theory that Jesus is 'a fabricated cover story for an Imperial psychological warfare operation born out of the First Jewish-Roman War in the first century.' But do such claims hold any weight or is this just another theory drawn together by wishful thinking and a loose grasp on history and theology? Is Covert Messiah simply a money making scheme created for controversy and a tidy £35.00 entrance fee?

Joseph Atwill reassures us that although the idea may sound far-fetched the quality of the evidence may surprise us. That remains to be seen but until the  unveiling, the internet is left to speculate about the premis of his argument based on the contents of his previous work which the seminar will likely reinforce.

 Mr Atwill calls himself an American Biblical Scholar (a title that is debatable).
In 2006 he wrote and published the book "Caesar's Messiah" that garnered relative success and influenced a documentary of the same name in 2011. However others feel his credentials are lacking in areas needed to substantiate a Josephus conspiracy theory. Before he has even announced the details of the ancient confession, which sounds dramatically Dan Brown-ish, experts in the field don't seem to think he has done the research and have found several holes in his thesis. (Read Tom Verenna's implausibility breakdown here.)

While he may be bundled up with other Christian mythicists like Ralph Ellis, whose Jesus as the son of King of Edessa  theory received much more than a skeptical eye, the documentary based on his works did gather quite a bit of a following. This doesn't mean much in the way of reliability- I learnt that about The God Who Wasn't There and still feel a bit stung about the debunk.

 The theory that Jesus was developed by the Roman government and then employed historian Flavius Josephus  to write the gospels is not an entirely new theory in fact it closely replicates a theory that has been reworked several times in the past century, and has many similarities to the Piso Family Conspiracy which is generally thought to be unfounded. In Atwill's reworking he believes Josephus has left clues in his own writing which correspond with the New Testament that when pieced together point at a conspiracy for psychological warfare around 70 AD as a way to pacify the Jewish people.

I'm not going to lie, the cleverly marketed symposium did draw me in, I like the touch of hosting it in Holborn's Conway Hall, more so because I used to work in Holborn and know the area is littered with masonic goings on, only adding to the cloak and dagger feel. Atwill has his own sentimental reasons for choosing to hold it Conway Hall and it is a fitting venue; it's founder was an advocate of free thought. However, I suspect the unveiling will not fulfill anyone's need for definitive answers and will fuel the blogosphere for many months to come.

Covert Messiah  is being held on the 19th of October 2013 in Conway Hall, Holdborn, London. You can get more info and tickets here.

Monday, 7 October 2013

The Snowy Peak syndrome of Atheism and Apologetics

When I studied politics (briefly) in college we were introduced to the term "Snowy Peak Syndrome" which refers to the top of organisations / fields/ professions being dominated by white middle class men. It was a term coined by Trevor Phillips, this was his original statement:

'Across the private sector we have what I call the ‘snowy peaks syndrome’ - a mountain represents an organisation’s workforce. At the base you find large numbers of women and ethnic minority workers whereas at the summit you find a small amount of white, middle class men.' Source
It's not just the workplace or industry that suffers from Snowy Peak Syndrome it appears it is also the sphere of religious debate.When doing a quick search for "most well known atheists" I stumbled upon this page The 25 Most Influential Atheists. Here's a sample of them put together in this poorly made graphic:

At the top -  the forefront of atheism is lacking in diversity

If you looked yes you will notice a distinct lack of women  and racial diversity. Why is this? Is religion still a part culturally of black and asian communities that accounts for the lack of representation in these areas?  For example Black female atheist Jamilla Bey suggests that being religious is seen as part of black identity, she said "It's a problem that amongst African Americans there's this narrative that says in order to be authentically black, one must be God-fearing, or one must be a good godly woman or a good godly man."

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Disowning terrorists is a paradoxical loophole that helps nothing

Atrocity after atrocity is occurring world wide and it's a distinct blend of religious extremism and politically infused guerrilla  warfare.

Kenya, Nigeria, Israel, Pakistan and the UK are just some of the countries that have been on the receiving end of radical Islam this year alone. The problem is two fold, a blur between cries for the removal of armed forces in mostly Islamic countries/the retribution for war in Islamic countries and the instigation of Sharia Law.