You can’t keep religion out of politics

Signpost: Religion / politicsReligion and politics are inexorably linked and we should respond to that through debate and democracy, not through attacking religion.

There are as many different reasons for entering politics as there are people who enter politics. Some see an injustice that they must correct. Some are personally affected by a policy and wish to change it. Some don’t care about policy as long as they have power or wealth. And some wish to shape the world as their religious beliefs tell them it should be, and that is not always a bad thing.

Politics and religion have always been intertwined and there are many political movements that emerged from religious roots. Of course there are as many religious viewpoints as there are non-religious, and so we see both Christian Socialism which has shaped the Labour party since the 1960s and at the same time we see the Conservative party full of Christians with right-wing policies. Religion is no guarantee of good or bad policies any more than atheism is but there is overlap between religious and non-religious policies and ideals so that religious roots may have no impact on whether a policy is considered good or bad by someone who is not religious.

I believe that religion and state should be separate. I think that when the state has an official religion, that religion is likely to be imposed on others by mandating prayers, services or ceremonies as part of government business and perhaps in other areas. We see lots of examples of this in the UK with prayers at the start of parliament sessions, and a religious oath before giving testimony in a court of law. (Although it is possible to opt out of this now.) I believe that in a multicultural multi-faith society this is wrong. Instead all government and all public services ought to be secular, without preventing anyone from following their religion. If politicians wish to pray about their duties I don’t have a problem with that, but like  the councillor who recently won a court case to prevent prayer from being incorporated in the official agenda of council meetings, I believe that it should happen outside of the official government process. I believe that laws which impose a religious belief on us are a bad thing. I do not believe that government should impose any religious beliefs about who may marry who, or allow discrimination based on sexuality or any other attribute. I wish that religious politicians would not try to impose their morality on other people but instead stick to ensuring equality and justice for all.

For people who are raised in a religious environment there is unlikely to be any difference between their opinions formed through their upbringing and those that spring from their religion and so even if they wanted to, they could not separate the two. In any case, we cannot ask that people’s opinions are not shaped by their religion as to do so is to deny freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and freedom of expression which are all basic human rights. We must be allowed to think and believe freely. In a democracy people from any viewpoint should have the right to stand for election and to represent their voters if elected. Since we cannot prevent religion from shaping people’s opinions, the only way to oppose bad policies is to elect people of a different viewpoint and out-vote the policy. Of course in some cases this is impossible, such as in the case of Anglican bishops with a place in the House of Lords. I do not believe that bishops should have an automatic right to be in the House of Lords, but then it is not democratic anyway and the whole thing needs reform.

It is common to see people oppose a policy because the politician behind it is religious. I think this is disingenuous. Bad policy should be opposed because it is bad policy, not because of where it came from. If the only reason behind a policy is religion with no other factors then yes by all means oppose it on that basis, but if a Christian politician proposes a policy that you disagree with but has reasons other than their faith, attack the reasons and not their faith. To attack a policy merely because the politician behind it is religious is a bad argument and based on bigotry not reason.


From Christian to Atheist

I used to believe in God, up until about a year ago. My mother is Catholic and my father protestant so I was raised as a Catholic. I missed my chance at confirmation because of a house move, and so I was put forward for confirmation much later than normal. At the time I had some problems with the Catholic church and I had a hard time deciding whether I wanted to be a Catholic or a protestant. I was never in any doubt that I would remain a Christian though. In the end I chose to be confirmed into the Catholic church, partly on the basis that I could work to change the parts of it that I had a problem with. I was stupid to ever think that.

My parents were part of a Christian group that lived as a community all together in one set of buildings. This group prayed and ate together, and those that didn’t go out to work elsewhere would work within the group on their own farm or running a guest house and retreat centre. The Christians in this group were of many different denominations and all went to different churches on Sundays. As a result although I was a Catholic I was in contact with Christians of all denominations that were living and praying together, and had a faith that affected me every day in everything that I did.

At university I joined the Christian Union. In a very short space of time I was playing guitar for them and became a worship leader. (Someone who picks the songs, organises other musicians, and leads the congregation for the singing part of the service.) I ran into some problems with other Christians not believing that Catholics were Christians, but I defended my position well and continued to be accepted by the CU and to lead their worship.

I met a nice Christian girl who introduced me to other friends and took me to rock and goth clubs. (We later married.) I had no problem remaining a Christian while attending such things, and again was able to defend this to other Christians that thought it was not appropriate. In fact by attending those clubs while holding Christian beliefs and values, and by showing those beliefs without forcing them on anyone, I actually made a good impression for Christianity on many of my non-Christian friends. Whether or not the people I associated with and the music I listened to had a damaging effect on my faith, I don’t know. But I will admit that it reinforced in me the idea that people could be moral and caring without religion.

I really believed in God. I really believed that Jesus had died in my place as punishment for my sin. I honestly thought that the Holy Spirit came down to earth and guided me. One of the reasons was that I experienced different feelings during my prayer and worship. A worship session can take the mood and the feelings of a whole congregation and change them. A standard worship session would open with a prayer, then have a loud praise song or two, (or more) then perhaps a quieter song or two, and then a mix of prayer – maybe with background music, and quieter and more repentant songs. At the end there would be either a talk or sermon, or a couple of louder songs to wake everything up again. The whole process took me and others into “a state of worship” which I can’t describe. It was like a drug. It was an entirely different emotional state, one focussed on God but blissful and comforting.

How do I explain the other things that I previously took as evidence for God? I was what is called a Charismatic Catholic. Unlike many Catholics we prayed in tongues (Making sounds believed to be other languages to talk to God, called Glossolalia) and prophesied. (Spoke messages believed to be given to us by God.) I never heard an actual voice from God. After a time of prayer or singing I think my mind was in a state a bit like meditation and I would have thoughts that fitted a situation, so I would say them. Sometimes those thoughts matched a situation that I did not know about, and then that would be taken of confirmation that the message was from God. I now believe this to be similar to the way in which astrologers, mediums and fortune tellers extract information about someone through careful questions and then adjust their prophecy as it comes out until it makes someone respond thinking that it is a message for them. Except in the case of Christian prophecy, everyone does it to each other. I think that faith in what is happening leads to a doublethink that causes everyone there to accept each other’s prophecy while being able to fabricate one themselves and believe it to be God. Another form of this was in reading from the Bible until finding a verse or a chapter that had enough similarities to the current situation to apply. Sometimes this would take the form of opening the bible at random and picking a verse. Of course if it doesn’t apply then the reader quietly moves on to something else, so that the only random picks that we told to each other were the applicable ones. It looked like it worked.

Then there was healing. When injured or sick or just suffering from a headache we would pray for each other. It usually involved “laying on of hands” – placing hands on the person being prayed for while praying. For big problems that meant lots of people gathering round, placing hands on the person and praying. I saw people healed. Although what I actually saw was people say that they felt better. I now believe that to be a placebo effect, which is a lot stronger than you may think. I myself have prayed with people for a headache, or a stomach ache, or a sore thumb or something equally minor and seen them get up and get on with stuff, claiming to feel better.

I have always had a skeptical worldview, wanting to see evidence of things before I would believe them – except where Christianity was concerned. Over the last eleven years I got skeptical about more and more aspects of Christianity, and got more annoyed with people saying things that I thought were stupid up to the point where I began to think a lot of it was stupid. I realised that people would pick and choose which laws in the bible they wanted to apply. This isn’t entirely irrational, because Christians believe that after the coming of Jesus we entered a new covenant with God which replaced the old covenant – that previously in place between the Jews and God which required all the laws to be kept. This new covenant made the laws of the old testament of the bible obsolete. One specific example is that St Peter was told that he could eat pork which was previously forbidden. However, what happens is that some rules have been kept, like those on homosexuals, and others abandoned, like menstruating women staying away from everyone or people not going to the toilet inside the camp. (Hands up Christians who have an inside toilet!) This double standard on laws and rules is intensely annoying to me.

I remember some years ago going back to visit my parents and going to prayer meeting with them. People there were praying for several people who were long-term sick, and praying for healing. I knew that these people had been prayed for many times before. They were still ill. I didn’t like it, but I pushed the thought to one side and ignored it. There were also a few other things said which I disagreed with but I kept quiet and just decided to leave that out of my own faith. As I said, I started to get more and more skeptical about many beliefs and practices. I personally had a more stripped down core of faith which did not include things that I thought were stupid. I still had problems with the Catholic church, and I started going to an Elim church with my wife instead. This was also a lot more convenient and nicer to go to church together than to separate places. In 2009 we moved back to my parents hometown and at that point I never really went back to church because I couldn’t find one that I liked.

In 2010 I came across Boobquake. Boobquake was a joke experiment intended to make a point about religion. An imam in Iran had blamed an earthquake on women revealing too much. Jen Mcreight proposed on her blog, BlagHag, that women all over the world should wear low-cut tops on the same day to see if it made a statistical difference to the number of earthquakes. The idea quickly spread all over the world and made headlines everywhere. As a result of that story I started reading BlagHag. Jen writes mostly about skepticism, atheism, feminism, science and cool geeky stuff. From there I started to read other skeptic and atheist blogs, and realised that I was a skeptic.

In October I went a Catholic Conference – a weekend of prayer and worship. My parents were in charge of the music and I was helping, in spite of serious doubts about Christianity by now. For most of the weekend I attended the parts with music and went and sat in a different room for the talks and the prayer sessions. I was, to my surprise, actually able to engage with the music to worship properly, and reached that state of worship that I described earlier. Perhaps it was because I was making an effort in order to play the part that I had been asked to. But my absence for the other parts was noticed by other people and when questioned on it I simply answered that I was not in a spiritual state to cope with any of those parts right now. At the end of the conference there was a healing session. In that session the speaker spoke about healing and groups of people prayed with those who were sick and asked for healing. I was there at the start of the session for reasons that I can’t remember. (Perhaps I didn’t get out in time.) After just a few minutes I could not stand what was being said any more. I have been sick since late 2000. I heard (or misheard) several times through the years that those with enough faith would be healed. Christians close to me assure me that this is not what is taught in the bible or by the church but that hasn’t stopped others from saying it. My parents suffer, one from severe spinal problems and one with diabetes and complications of that, and they have not been healed, even though I know of no one with a stronger faith than them. One of my sisters has suffered from ME for even longer than I have and has still not been healed.

I walked out of that room. I discovered that I wasn’t the only one, either. Several other people had left that session and I broke down in the rest room as I talked to other people, and I admitted that I was struggling to believe. I still wanted to believe – I intended to read some important books and to re-examine my faith. Then, though, I attended the final session of that conference at the request of my mum. In that session the speaker talked about St Therese of Lisieux. He talked about how Therese was so sick that she could not get out of bed and could not eat except for communion bread. He talked about how she would wait to hear of someone who did not accept God, and then she would “suffer for them” until they accepted God. She believed that her pain was for those people. I just could not accept that a loving God would either cause this woman to suffer for other people, or accept her dedication of suffering to these people.

In November I had to have surgery and spend several weeks in bed for the second time that year. Before I had even recovered from my surgery I got flu. Twice. That kept me in bed most of the time from then until Christmas. I think it was some time around this stage that I started to become depressed. Towards the end of November I wrestled with the existence of God after an argument in some circles that skeptics had to be atheists. I concluded that I was uncertain of the existence of God, and I stated that it was causing me problems. By Christmas Eve I had become very depressed and as I was on a train to stay with family I had my netbook with me but no internet access and so I decided to write. I wrote something which contained as many grievances with Christianity as I could think of at that point and I declared that I was no longer a Christian. In my horrible depression, I posted that article on my blog late on Christmas Eve, not thinking about anyone else and certainly not what it would do to my family. I am sorry to say that I upset my mum horribly and I am sure that I upset others too. I am so sorry that I ruined their Christmas.

In losing my faith I had lost something so deeply embedded in my life that the only thing I can compare it to is the possibility of being abandoned by my wife of eleven years, or of her death. I fell apart that night. I became suicidal. That night it was about -17c outside and I intended to go outside and freeze to death. I completely intended to die, so as to avoid (I thought) being abandoned by my family because of my lack of faith and so as to avoid the loss that I felt at no longer believing in God. I honestly don’t know how I did not go through with it but I somehow survived that Christmas and spent most of it hiding in my bedroom, leaving others to assume that I was ill.

Since Christmas I have tried my hardest to avoid thinking about it all. On a few occasions when I have tried to revisit my loss of faith or talk about it I have ended up in severe depression again. I still feel the loss, of feeling a connection with God, of being able to pray, and most of all of being able to worship with music. I have thought that perhaps I should try to pray and sing to God anyway, but I have changed from agnostic to atheist. I cannot make myself pray when I no longer believe that anyone is there to hear it. I have always had a black-and-white attitude to everything, and if I believe that there is no God then I cannot become a hypocrite and pray to one anyway, no matter how much I want to. I envy those with faith now. I think they are deluded to believe in God, but that belief is such a comfort and a hope for them that perhaps it is worth being deluded. But I can’t do that.

Do you know what Chiropractic really is?

Do you know what chiropractic is? Most people that have heard of it will generally hazard a guess that it is something to do with bad backs. They are sort of right. Chiropractors do manipulate the spine, and other parts of the musculoskeletal system. But they do it in the belief that some or all other medical problems are a result of problems with the spine, and can be fixed through manipulating the spine.

Daniel David Palmer invented the theory of chiropractic in 1895. He decided that all living things have vital energy called Innate Intelligence. Innate Intelligence supposedly flows out of the brain and through the spine to the organs. According to Palmer, misaligned vertebrae block the flow of Innate Intelligence, and that is the cause of all other illness. Palmer also rejected the idea of germs and of vaccination because he thought that all illness is caused by this blockage.

These ideas, of course, have no basis in science at all, and there is no evidence that things work this way. In 2008 the British Chiropractic Association launched a libel case against science writer Simon Singh over an article that he wrote in The Guardian. I have reproduced the relevant part here. See the rest, with notes in this article: The libellous Simon Singh article on chiropractors.

First, you might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that, “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything. And even the more moderate chiropractors have ideas above their station. The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

This lawsuit caused uproar in the scientific world because the BCA was effectively using libel law to silence scientific opinion. Simon Singh’s defence effectively put the efficacy of chiropractic on trial. The BCA dropped their case in April 2010. The idea that chiropractic can be used to treat colic, habits, ear infections and asthma is not only without scientific basis, but also dangerous. Someone seeking treatment for these things will not get the real effective treatment that they need. Promoting the use of chiropractic to treat babies for these things is just cruel. The lack of proper treatment will lead to suffering for the baby, and the chiropractic treatment can itself cause injury and prolonged pain.

Chiropractic does seem to fill a gap in health services. I have spoken to several people in both the UK and the USA who have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) and visit chiropractors. The problem seems to be that physiotherapists and other  specialists within the NHS and conventional healthcare don’t seem to have the knowledge or the time necessary to deal with problems caused by hypermobility. Chiropractors appear to know the musculoskelatal system and especially the spine in a lot more detail, and are willing to help reset subluxations. (Partial dislocations) Chiropractors also take the time to listen to their patients. This could be because they are generally seen privately and so have more incentive to earn their fee.

Unfortunately despite them offering useful help with back and joint problems, I think any good in Chiropractic is negated by the rest of what they believe. For a start, there is room for confusion because chiropractors use the term subluxation in a different sense to the medical profession – they believe that there are dysfunctional segments of the spine that block innate energy, and they call this a subluxation too. Chiropractors believe that these vertebral subluxations (which aren’t subluxations in the normal sense) block innate intelligence and prevent if from reaching the rest of the body. They think that this is the cause of infections and illness. I think possibly the worst thing that chiropractors do is to advise people not to get their vaccinations. I have said before when talking about homeopathy that we all rely on “Herd Immunity” for vaccines to work, and telling people not to have them in the hope that chiropracty or homeopathy will prevent viral infections is not only obscenely stupid, it’s a danger to the whole of society.

Some people will argue that it is acceptable to use a Chiropractor if they stick to actual physical problems and avoid other issues, but in my opinion this is that this gives them some respect in the mind of the public and opens the way for people to fall for the rest of what they say. Ultimately, if a person is spending their own money, and receives some benefit from chiropractic treatment for physical problems, it isn’t my place to tell them to stop seeing a chiropractor. I do think that they are making a mistake though, and I really hope that no one else will see it as a reason to trust a chiropractor for anything else.


More Information

UK Skeptics – Chiropractic

The libellous Simon Singh article on chiropractors

On Putting Chiropractic On Trial – Simon Singh’s Defence

Simon Singh libel case dropped

Homeopathy again

This is yet another post on homeopathy and alternative medicines. This one is prompted by a conversation that I had a few days ago which unfortunately resulted in me no longer being friends with someone that I had previously enjoyed talking to. The conversation was prompted because the person in question had put up a link to the “Homeopathy Heals” campaign web site. After questioning her views on the subject I received several comments about how great it was and I responded by asking her to read my recent article on alternative medicine to see what I thought. Unfortunately as soon as she started to read the article she told me “if you believe chiropractors to be useless, nothing written by you is worth reading I’m afraid.” (I mentioned chiropractic at the start of the article. Chiropractors believe that every part of the body can be fixed by manipulating the spine.)

Alternative medicine seems to be as emotional a subject as religion. But then, alternative medicine mostly works through faith. It practically is religion.

The thing is, homeopathy does sometimes do something. And it mostly does that something through the placebo effect. The placebo effect is actually quite effective at treating quite a lot of physical health problems and can help a lot in reducing pain. What it can’t do is cause major physical healing, such as curing diabetes or cancer, or replacing vaccinations.

Part of what makes homeopathy occasionally effective must surely be that homeopaths spend a lot of time with their patients and show more interest in them. I have heard from people that have spent hours or even whole days with their homeopath. That results in a more holistic approach that allows any worries and stress to be talked through, something that rarely happens when our GPs are so rushed.

If people choose to use alternative medicines like homeopathy and chiropractic in the face of all logic and reason then ultimately they are relying on faith. I can be quite happy with people relying on faith, as long as it doesn’t affect anyone else. I am OK with someone using a homeopathic remedy for a headache and having faith that it will work. I am not happy when people use faith instead of vaccines, or force their remedies on children that cannot decide for themselves, or on animals that will continue to suffer. (And I don’t believe for a second that animals are cured by homeopathy. Show me the evidence.)

I am sure that placebos could have their place in medicine. If we can reduce the amount of chemicals and drugs that must be used to treat illness by getting the mind to cooperate, that is a good thing. But the deception that we find in most alternative medicine is wrong and dangerous. Promoting such things by attacking science is especially wrong. We need our medicine to be based on evidence. I am outraged by the fact that Boots continues to sell homepathic treatments alongside real medicine, misleading people into trusting something that they shouldn’t. I am even more angry that the NHS continues to pay for homeopathic hospitals and treatments.

If you want to use homeopathic medicine, and you have faith in it, then it might do something for you some of the time. But know that it works through faith not science and reason. Please don’t inflict it on those that have no choice, and please, I beg you, don’t use it instead of vaccines. Most of all, don’t ever tell me that I should use it, and don’t expect me to respect any of the bizarre attempts at explaining how it is supposed to work.

Related Articles

Alternative Medicine – a dangerous game

More on the placebo effect

Interesting Links

Homeopathy Heals campaign

10 23 campaign

In which I talk about abortion and upset everyone

A lot of my friends on twitter have been discussing abortion from a feminist pro-choice point of view. Many of my friends on Facebook have mentioned abortion from a Catholic pro-life point of view and requested that I go and sign petitions or join groups against it. I’ve decided to try and work out what I think, and probably upset all the Christians AND the feminists in one go. This is an emotive subject and it can’t be written about or debate without upsetting someone. I have been assured by several people that they will still be my friend whatever I write here, so I just want to remind them that I have that in writing! If you’re going to be upset by reading opinions, or call me names because of it, don’t read this.

As a thirty-something man I often feel that feminists think I am not allowed to comment on some issues. I comment here as a husband who knows what it is like for his wife to have a pregnancy scare at a bad time, and also as a former Christian, a skeptic and an advocate of science. I am not telling anyone what to believe, and I do not force anyone to change their behaviour because of my opinion on this subject. This is what I think, not what I am telling you to think. So don’t attack me on it.

Unlike the idea parodied in the famous Monty Python song, I don’t believe that every sperm is sacred, nor every egg, and not even every fertilised egg. How can it be, when of thousands of sperm and thousands of eggs, only a very few will meet and fertilise, and of those, most will not implant, and even then, a blastocyst may well not stay attached to the lining of the womb? The logic that says otherwise does not stand up to scrutiny. Accordingly, I have no problem with the morning after pill. (There goes the Christian vote.)

At some point between fertilisation and birth, a fetus becomes a living human being, conscious, and capable of feeling pain. We don’t know at what point that happens. Once you have a baby that can move, kick and feel pain, I think a woman’s choice is no longer relevant. There are two people involved, not just the mother. The baby is a living being, a human, and has human rights. End of story.  (There goes the feminist vote.) I am fairly sure that self awareness and learning to respond to outside stimulus continues long after birth, and so what is the difference in consciousness between a 23.5 week old fetus and a week old baby? That is a genuine question, I’m not trying to evoke emotion to back an argument either way.

Currently the law allows abortion up to 24 weeks through a pregnancy. Some MPs have campaigned for that limit to be reduced to 20 weeks. The earliest known surviving birth is at 21 weeks. I believe that the 24 week limit is political, not based on facts. I’ve heard a fetus described as “just a clump of cells” but I have also seen abortion decscribed as “deliberate procedure of hacking an unborn child to pieces in the womb.”  In reality the development of a baby is a continuum and we do not know enough to be able to pinpoint a change between clump of cells and living baby.

In 2007 the commons science committee investigated the issue. A Guardian report said this:

“A report on the scientific issues surrounding abortion published yesterday by the Commons science and technology select committee finds that survival rates of babies born before 24 weeks are not high enough to warrant cutting the limit.”

I strongly object to that phrase “not high enough to warrant” as I am of the opinion that any possibility of survival from that early means that an abortion could be ending the life of a living being. Ultimately though, I have no more knowledge of when the limit should be than anyone else does.

I accept that abortion is a necessary evil in some cases. UK law currently allows an abortion to take place later than 24 weeks in certain circumstances:

  • if it is necessary to save the woman’s life
  • to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman
  • if there is substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.

I think those are a good guideline for when an abortion should happen at all, not just when a late abortion is allowed. I don’t like the idea of aborting a baby because of detected illneses, but I can live with that. I certainly don’t like the idea of ending pregnancy for other reasons such as finance, career, or just not wanting to be a parent. I honestly don’t know what I think in the case of rape.

However, and this is important, where I have said that I don’t like it, that is my opinion and I do not have any right to force that on anyone else and so I won’t.

Soph Warnes has put up a very insightful response with lots of links to more information on her blog.

Why faith?

Just in case you didn’t know, a few weeks ago I arrived at a decision that I would no longer call myself a Christian. I wrote a long, angry, ill-timed article about it which I won’t link here as I don’t wish to offend any more people. I am sure that you can find it if you really want to read it.

My decision might have seemed like an ill-informed snap decision to many. It wasn’t. I have been forming opinions in this direction for perhaps two years, with elements from further back. Some recent events were the final trigger that set off all that had been building up and I made my choice.

It has been pointed out to me that a lot of my reasons for not being a Christian are actually only reasons to reject organised religion. Well yes. I am particularly scathing of many things done by the Catholic church, and I stopped being a Catholic several years ago and started attending an Elim church. Many bad things are done by protestant Christians too. I know that Christians of all types have done good things, usually without any other motive but too often there are bad things carried along with that. Particular ideas, expectations and judgements that all but negate the good stuff. I won’t even go into the stuff done by morons like Westborough Baptist Church or Abortion Clinic protesters. I don’t think they are even Christians by any definition except their own.

Leaving aside my rejection of religion itself, what about God? I said in my earlier article that I would remain agnostic and open to persuasion rather than become an atheist. That is the problem though. Persuasion. To be persuaded, I need evidence, and Christianity is designed around not giving me any. I don’t dispute that Jesus existed. There is plenty of historical evidence for that. What I find so frustrating is the insistence that I must rely on faith alone and that I shouldn’t need evidence.

Some people at this point would point at Lewis’s trilemma as evidence. It really isn’t, I can assure you. Here is what C.S. Lewis said:

“Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable.”

I have often seen the above quote paraphrased as “Jesus was either mad, bad, or God.” I see no reason to pick God out of those answers.

Faith is a virtue. Why?

Johns gospel tells us about Thomas who was not with the other disciples when Jesus first visited them after his death, and refused to believe it without evidence. Chapter 20 verse 29 goes on to say “Then Jesus told him: Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

I do not understand the logic here. Why is it better to have faith without evidence? It seems to me like a recipe for believing anything and everything.

I cannot bring myself to believe in God without evidence. As I said a few months ago in when I wrote about skepticism, I am critical of those things that are harmful and are without reason or logic or even counter to such ideas. Scientology, homeopathy, promotion of anti-vaccine ideas, denying climate change, and more. But how can I criticise all those and not be critical of faith in God? All we have to go on are some historical figures and a lot of feelings and personal revelation. Very strong personal revelation, but still personal and can’t be replicated in controlled observed conditions.

If God is real and wants us to know about him and to worship him, why doesn’t he show himself to us today? And I mean physical manifestation, not personal revelation. Two thousand years is a long time to go without new evidence, and it’s long enough to cast doubt on the reliability of old evidence. So why faith? What is wrong with evidence?

Why I am no longer a Christian

This blog post is angry, shouty, incoherent and out of order. It is going to upset a lot of people. If you are one of them, I’m sorry. If you can’t handle my personal rant without hating me, please don’t read this.

Continue reading “Why I am no longer a Christian”

The Catholic Church and abortion to save a life

This story in the Seattle Times (Now also in the Guardian) tells us about a Catholic hospital that has had its affiliation with the church withdrawn because they performed an abortion that was the only way to save the mothers life. The woman in question was suffering from pulmonary hypertension, which could only be resolved by ending her pregnancy. Doctors gave her a 100% chance of dying within hours.

The story has been picked and written about by a prominent atheist and denounced as proof that the church is evil. Although I left the Catholic church a couple of years ago in protest at several other teachings that I disagree with, I rushed to comment and defend the church. I wanted to say that this was a misreading of what the church teaches, that it was just this Bishop that was wrong. Except that I couldn’t.

I was always under the impression that the Catholic Church would allow an abortion if it would save the life of the mother and otherwise both mother and baby would die. However on reading the catechism and New Advent it seems that I am wrong. The catechism is absolutely clear that abortion is never allowed and it makes no mention of abortion as an accidental result of life-saving medical treatment. The only exception that I could find in New Advent says

However, if medical treatment or surgical operation, necessary to save a mother’s life, is applied to her organism (though the child’s death would, or at least might, follow as a regretted but unavoidable consequence), it should not be maintained that the fetal life is thereby directly attacked.

While this allows for providing life-saving medical treatment that might inadvertantly cause an abortion, it makes no exception for performing an abortion if ending the pregnancy itself is the only way to save the mothers life.

I cannot agree with this view. What sense does it make to condemn both mother and baby to death? There is no way that I can defend the punishment of those doctors that saved a mothers life, after convening their hospitals ethics committee too, I should add. The staff at this hospital do their utmost save lives and ease suffering and to abide by the ethical and moral code of the hospital and the church. To those atheists that say the churches decision is evil; I can’t argue that you are wrong.

On scepticism and god

Warning: contains religion and uncertainty

I have come to realise that the way I think about things has a name. Scepticism. It’s easy to spot sometimes. Internet scams, bogus medicine, bizarre ideas and rumours, I can easily see that I am a sceptic when it comes to those. Generally when something new comes up I use the scientific method to determine fact from fiction.

Over the last few months I have been paying a lot more attention to sceptics and scepticism. I follow a few well known sceptics and scientists on Twitter and read their blogs. In the last few days an argument has been brewing relating to the Skepticon convention. They have been accused of being a purely atheist convention rather than catering to all sceptics. It has led several prominent atheists to stand up and say that scepticism and atheism are the same thing, and others have said that they are not the same thing but religion is the most important thing to be sceptical about because of the amount of harm that religion has done. It has also been said that Skepticon is not an atheist convention, with only three out of fifteen speakers talking about religion, although others have claimed that more talks ended with atheist conclusions.

Since it is not possible to prove a negative, it is impossible to say that god does not exist. Technically this means that a sceptic that has concluded there is no proof of god should become an agnostic, not an atheist. The justification that has been used for becoming an atheist instead has often been the Null Hypothesis If you have a hypothesis about something, you must come up with the opposite hypothesis, and then test statistically whether one or the other is more likely. For a brilliant explanation involving aliens and socks, have a look here. Atheism can be seen as the null hypothesis, with the existence of god as the alternative hypothesis to be tested.  To me, it seems partly a cop out that non-believers would choose to be atheist rather than agnostic, but at the same time I can see how the same concept applies to things like homeopathic remedies or horoscopes.

It does seem to be the case that most self-identified sceptics are also atheists. I have had conversations where I have been told that I cannot be a sceptic without also being an atheist. I have to admit to struggling with this idea. Why do I believe in god when I question everything else? I can’t answer that in any acceptable way. I just don’t know.

This leaves me in a difficult position. I believe, not because of any kind of logic, but purely through experience. I have been to church, prayer times and worship meetings and have worshipped god, and been truly lost in the worship. I have seen great examples of faith around me. At the same time, I constantly struggle with claims of healing, (which seemingly does not apply to me) and recently walked out of a healing service our of sheer frustration. I struggle at people that pray and ask god for things that I think he is never going to give, often because people can sort that stuff out themselves. I frequently have the thought “God doesn’t work that way!”

I am left with the option of compartmentalising my faith away from my scepticism, or going with logic and losing my faith completely. I have gone with the first option for months now, but I am consciously aware of the division in my thinking, and not owning an electric monk, the breakdown in logic is causing a lot of frustration.

All my pain is good

Today I was grossly offended by a hymn that we sang at church. The hymn in question is titled “Happy are they, they that love God” and was written by Charles Coffin in 1736.  The line that offended me was “Then shall they know, they that love him, how all their pain is good.” I was singing this song along with the rest of the congregation, but as we started to sing that line I stopped. I couldn’t sing it. All my pain is good? How could anyone write that?

I should explain at this point, that I suffer from M.E. and from chronic migraines. As such I have near constant pain that takes a great deal of effort to control so that I can live my life. I have no pretensions here; many many people suffer far more pain than I do and may be completely crippled by it. My pain is minor compared to those people, but is still greater than that of normal healthy people.

This bold statement that all my pain is good made me angry. More than that though, it led me to some serious thinking. How is pain good? Can any possible good resulting from pain cancel out the bad, to the point that I can say it was all good?

Continue reading “All my pain is good”