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Irreverent Thoughts On Clerical Claptrap

Irfan Yusuf, lawyer, writer and 'Ozzie Mozzie', challenges our stereotypes of the Muslim religion once again. Irfan's last piece on Webdiary was Muslim musings on Easter.

by Irfan Yusuf

I have a very serious question for all you Margostanis out there. What is it about Aussie clerics that causes so much bunkum to emerge from their mouths?

Halal Bunkum
We all remember that Sheik from Sydney who said some women are eligible to be raped. Then he tries to explain himself by suggesting he only meant Muslim women who take off their headscarves. My conservative Indian mum (who hates me getting involved in public debates) was so irate, she ordered me to write something about it.  I did. You can read it here.
(I’m sure if my mum was Michelle Leslie, she would have ordered the same.)
And what about that dude who got on national TV and declared Uncle Usama was a nice-enough dude? What can I saw? Irreverent words from irrelevant clerics!
Into this category, I’d love to include the king of violent bunkum, Uncle Usama himself. It’s just that this article is about clerics. Or in the case of imams, this article is about qualified scholars of religious law. And Usama is neither a cleric nor a scholar.
In fact, perhaps the only expertise Mr Bin-Reagan can claim is in civil engineering. As for theology, if his views didn’t lead to so many innocent (and mostly Muslim) civilians dying, Usama would be the laughing stock of Islamic theology.
The Archbishop of Mexico (apologies to Mr Bracks)
Some imams have expressed themselves in pretty crazy language when it comes to other faiths ane cultures. But then there are other clerics who have the benefit of resources, genuine scholarship and the benefit of meeting loads of plebs and a handful of pollies.
The first time I met George Pell was in August 1999 at a speech he gave to the Centre for Independent Studies. He was delivering the annual CIS Acton Lecture. At the time, he was a mere humble Catholic Archbishop of Mexico.
Here was something I never knew quite existed – a cleric with a brain! I was so used to the silly dudes who’d give sermons on Fridays down at the local mosque. My chaplain at St Andrews was much better, though we rarely heard him talk about how religion related to civil society. Then again, our brains were probably too under-developed for that.
But Rev George was awesome. I even got to ask him a question about where legitimate religious involvement in public life ends and religious fundamentalism begins. I don’t quite recall his answer, but I did get to meet up with his assistant who gave me his card.
Huh? An archbishop with a proper and professional assistant? And a secretariat? Poor Sheik Hilali couldn’t even get a paid and accredited translator to help him. Or even someone to answer his phone!
Pell’s Sources
The Centre for Independent Studies claims it isn’t conservative, that it is apolitical and completely non-factional. I was told this again at their 30th anniversary fundraising dinner on Thursday night. And I almost believed them.
I didn’t see Rev George there. But I did see the Anglican Bishop of South Sydney. I also saw Bob Carr, Tony Abbott, Nick Minchin, John Howard, Warren Mundine and a few other dignitaries.
The CIS has invited a range of people to speak on Islam. They have invited American-Israeli journalist Daniel Pipes. Now Daniel is a real authority on modern 20th century Muslim political thought. Why?
Well for starters, he has a PhD from Harvard. Gee. I’m so impressed. But what was his PhD in? Hamas suicide bombers? The life and times of Ayatollah Khomeini? Taliban policies and their effects on women’s water polo in Afghanistan?
Pipes’ thesis was on the most relevant topic of medieval European history. Yep. I guess if I wanted to become an expert on psychiatry, I should go and study orthopaedics. Heck, it’s all medicine!
Pipes also claims expertise because he can read and speak fluent Arabic. Which really tells us a lot. Arabic has changed and evolved over the last 1,400 years. It has had to interact with various languages as Islam spread through North Africa, Europe and Asia.
Modern Arabic has a few things in common with the Arabic of the Koran and other Islamic sources. Just as the average teenager might find something in common between Eminem lyrics and the middle English text of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.
Arabic has some relevance to understanding the ideological leanings of the movement of Islamic Zionism (more on that phrase later). Islamic Zionists like Usama bin Ladin do speak modern Arabic. But where did they get their inspiration from?
The first successful Islamic Zionist was, of course, Khomeini. We all know that Khomeini was the first Islamic Zionist to successfully set up an Islamic state (which is, in fact, the primary goal of Islamic Zionism).
Now Pipes can certainly read and recognise Khomeini’s work, the bulk of which is written in Farsi. Just as I can understand the work of Nietzsche as it first appeared in German. After all, German and English share quite a few common letters.
The other ideologue of Islamic Zionism was Abul A’la Maududi, a Pakistani journalist who taught himself Islamic scholarly subjects and wrote lots and lots of really interesting stuff. And what language did Maududi speak and write in?
Yep, you guessed it. Urdu.
Pell’s Qur’an
Why do I mention Pipes so much? Well, for starters, Pipes appears prominently in the speech Cardinal Pell gave to a group of Catholics in the United States in February this year. That speech was reported recently in a number of newspapers and media outlets.
Pell makes a number of comments about the Muslim scriptures. I’m not sure if his understanding of the Qur’an is work-in-progress or whether he has really thought about the 70 or so pages of the Qur’an he has apparently read. I’m also not sure if he can understand the Qur’an in its original classical Arabic, a language most modern Arabic-speakers grapple with.
I have some suggestions for the good Cardinal. Presuming, of course, that he reads this website.
Firstly, Pell should advise on which translation of the Qur’an he has used. Muslims don’t refer to an English translation of the Qur’an as “the Qur’an” in the way Christians might refer to the NIV or KJV as “the Bible”. When Muslims think of “the Qur’an”, they think of it in its original classical Arabic. And as far as I know, Pell hasn’t spent 2 or 3 years studying classical Arabic at al-Azhar University or in some Indonesian pesentran.
So one reason why Muslims won’t take the Cardinal seriously is because he hasn’t actually told us which translation of the Koran he relies upon. Different translations have been produced by different writers with different biases.
Also, the good Cardinal should advise on which commentaries of the Koran he makes use of. The process of extracting rules from Koranic verses is a science in itself. Muslims don’t make up rules for themselves by reading an English translation. Rather, they rely on trained jurists who use distinct methodologies to come up with principles and who then apply these principles to come up with different rules.
In Sunni Islam (followed by around 90% of the Muslim community worldwide), there are four schools of Islamic law. This means four distinct methodologies for extracting rules. Within each school, there are different sub-branches of legal rulings. Legal pluralism is the order of the day.
In Shia Islam (followed by the majority of people living in Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan and some Gulf states), the rules and laws of Islam must be obtained from a living mujtahid or jurist who has reached a level where s/he can derive rules from the sources. Following the views of the founder of a school who died 1,200 years ago isn’t enough.
The Qur’an in Practice
Muslim reverence for the Qur’an is a universal phenomenon. In our house, we always keep the Qur’an in the top shelf where it can gather plenty of dust. I try and recite a little of it everyday. Especially when I get pulled over by the cops at an RBT unit and I’ve left my license at home.
The reality of the Qur’an for most people is found in how they live their lives. I realise this may be hard for pastors from Catch The Fire Ministries to believe, but not all Muslims go around burning embassies over a set of cartoons.
There are 1.2 billion Muslims across the planet. If each of us strapped bombs to our stomachs and pressed the right button, I doubt there’d be much left of the planet. If all Muslim blokes stood on the borders of Israel, pulled down their trousers, unleashed and urinated, the poor Jewish state would automatically become part of the (then very polluted) Mediterranean Sea.
The fact is that Muslims understand that the verses that talk about war and death and killing were revealed for a specific historical context. Just as the verses in Leviticus were revealed in that context.
For every 1 verse in the Qur’an speaking of war and violence, I’m sure I could find 5 verses in the Old and New Testaments. But what counts is NOT the text. Rather, what really counts is how the text is interpreted and lived.

Yes, there are Hindus in India that believe sections of the Bhagavat Gita teaches them to burn Australian Catholic missionaries alive or to massacre 17,000 Muslims in Gujarat state in 2002 (I never saw John Howard or Alexander Downer mentioning that massacre. Perhaps they enjoyed it.)
But that doesn’t mean Hinduism is an inherently evil religion. If it were, I doubt Muslim artists in Yogyakarta would be performing the Ramayana ballet in the shadow of Indonesia’s largest Hindu Temple.
If the Qur’an was so violent and anti-democratic, I’d have expected the East Timor’s Muslim Prime Minister to declare a Fretilin-Jihad on Indonesia. I would have expected Thailand’s Muslim Foreign Minister to declare war on Malaysia. And I would have expected “Crazy John” Ilhan to declare a Telstra-Jihad on Optus and Vodafone!

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in defence of religion

Jenny Hume, I sincerely understand how it feels when individuals attack religion or label religion as the core of all problems with society. As a Muslim, I experience it far too well. In fact, it is rather contradictory considering the warmongering, death and destruction secularist, humanist and atheist ideologies have caused society. These ideologies have caused more deaths and destruction than religious conflicts combined.

When it comes to blogs, and not just Webdiary, you would find that individuals post some of the most sophisticated and articulate bulls**t when it comes to Islam and Christianity, especially the former. These self-declared scholars with their degrees feel that there meager qualifications are sufficient to comment thoroughly on complex theology such as Islam. Maybe if these people took the time to read various religions they would get an ACTUAL understanding of it instead demonizing it.

To be honest I have continuously pondered how these academics could actually deride and ridicule religion when they know next to nothing about it. Maybe “liberal education” has given the opportunity for people to create so many differing interpretations of an issue or event that the truth just “banishes in the abyss”. I don’t know, but at least “we” can agree that only “God” knows.

Irfan Yusuf: “The fact is that Muslims understand that the verses that talk about war and death and killing were revealed for a specific historical context”.

Indeed, and it is rather pitiful that these intellects in the western world could not comprehend the meaning of these basic verses. It makes a person wonder how the “West” can send someone to the moon yet could not understand the nature and context of Quranic verses.

Revisionist History?

Mahmoud, apart from the pogroms instituted by Stalin that resulted in the deaths of 20 million Russians (my maternal grandfather and uncle being among them) and the excesses of the various Chinese cultural revolutions, please list the "secularist, humanist ... ideologies" that you refer to and what the death tolls were in any conflicts that they participated in.

Personally I know of none, in the centuries prior to the 20th. The history of mankind shows that religion and power were entwined in every culture and in every conflict. From the early Akkadian/Mesopotamian on through to the Egyptian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Hun, Viking, European centres of power, all manifestations of public power were endowed with the blessings of their various Gods.

I find that the type of generalisation you rely on are common with many respondents and are misleading and historically suspect.

Mahmoud, sharing life...

Mahmoud, the most valuable experience of my life was spent in a Muslim country where I lived in a girl's hostel for a year studying Islam and Arabic. It was in that country that I learnt tolerance and patience.

(I also learnt how to survive on next to nothing, as the Australian government, in true bureacratic incompetence, failed to pay my living allowance under the scholarship I was on for the first ten months I was there! Never want to see another tomato sauce chepati as long as I live, mate!).

Though a Christian, I was treated with respect by my Muslim friends, as were other girls who adhered to Buddhism and Shinto beliefs. We used to all sit and discuss the differences in our religious beliefs under the stars at night and from there developed real understanding and tolerance. I learnt far more about Islam under the stars and living with Muslim girls than I ever learnt in the actual classroom, in the same way as I learnt far more about Christianity in the home where it was lived daily, than in the actual church or religious classes at school.

Sharing life even for only a short time can do so much to foster understanding. Not surprisingly we learnt we all wanted the same thing out of life, a peaceful and happy life. Sadly I know some of them could never have that, such as the Palestinian girl separated from her family under the occupation of the West Bank. She belonged to Fatah and saw her only future at the end of a weapon. She finally abandonned her studies to go back and fight. She may now be dead, who knows.

I do not think we should just dismiss the academics who have extensively studied theology and religion generally. Despite the disagreement Roger has with me, he (and not only him) has in other posts made quite a contribution to my understanding of some of the issues in the Christian church. And I do deplore the way the bureaucrats, the priethood (and yes the mullahs) and the fundamentalists in religion have seized the agenda and run the show their way, often departing from the very principles of the faith they espouse. We ordinary believers do need to call them to account where possible. I think the world is in great danger from religious fundamentalism, not just Islamic. But yes, secularists have done more than their share of killing! I keep coming back to it. It is mankind that fails.

I do find it rather disturbing however that educated people can be so dogmatic in their opposition to the views and beliefs of others, because that is what spawns intolerance, and it is intolerance that spawns trouble, all kinds. So often we are told it is all about education. If we can get that right we will fix the world's problems. I think that is far too simplistic.

Rational debate has to be objective. If it is not, then you have to go behind the facade and find the reason. Otherwise all you do is deal in suface language and generalities that go nowhere.

We are in the minority on Webdiary Mahmoud. But that is OK. If we stop engaging with each other, then inflexibility and intolerance will carry the day. I am going to adopt the rule of responding to posts that stir me up a bit by pouring some cold water on it for a few days. The old count to ten rule had a lot going for it.

PS. My first lesson as a student of Islam came when I put the Koran on the floor one day. A Muslim friend picked it up and said we never put the holy book on the floor. I thought fair enough. My mother told me never to put the Bible under another book. It must always be on top. So respect for each others faiths, should perhaps start with respect for each other's Holy Book. Regards to you.

Oh, the shame of it all.

The more perceptive of Webdiarists will probably have noted certain inconsistencies between this and other posts under my name. May I set the record straight on one or two points. First, I have never lived in a girls' hostel, not for a year; not even for a day. Secondly, the assertion: "Though a Christian, I was treated with respect by my Muslim friends, as were other girls ..." would lead the average reader to conclude that I was (and still probably am) a transvestite, and a damned convincing one at that. Not even the inimitable Danny La Rue in his/her prime could have got away with living with a bevy of Muslim girls on this basis, and in a girls' hostel, and in guess where? Pakistan!

Hell's bells! I might have got away with it, for a minute or two had I been so inclined provided it was a dark night, and there was a power failure. But for a year? I would have been fatwahed, disembowelled and fed to the vultures inside an hour. Not only that, but the hypocrisy of my professing Christianity while living as a transvestite in a Muslim girls' hostel would probably have been enough to launch the Final Jihad, leading to the fall of Rome, London, New York and Sydney in its first week.

Neither have I any disagreements with Roger that I am aware of.

The truth of the matter is that my wife Jenny Hume wrote the piece, but inadvertently posted it under my name. I was out at the time slogging away in the far paddock while she was back home at our one computer (which she regards as hers) observing the Sabbath and indulging in a bit of bloggery. Perhaps Malcolm B Duncan could advise me on the legal implications and avenues of compensation. Would I be within my rights to take the keyboard and throw it in the back of the Ute alongside the chainsaw when I go out slogging, while her indoors would incline to blogging?  

Scott Dunmore

Well Ian, I'm glad that's clarified. I hope you chaps aren't embarassed by this but I find it hilarious. "You 'ad year in girls 'ostel? You were blooody looky." Aargh please please stop you two, I'm getting the stitch. Somebody please get our blockies another computer.

Let him slog

Scott, don't worry about you! If I don't stop laughing he's threatening divorce. To make it worse it sat there for half a day uncontested for all the world to see!! He's ruined methinks.

No no! Whatever you do, don't get him another computer. He's got one. His fault if his HD went on strike. Anyway, let him do his time in the back paddock sloggin. He's got three years bloggin' up on me. After all he's only building, (OK, a lady shouldn't swear but I will) another bloody shed. What is it about blokes and their bloody sheds. I'm out of here. Might help if put his dinner on. Just might save the marriage.

Thanks all round it seems


Roger, it surprised me to experience the relief I felt. What is it? It's not like we know each other (all of us), in a real sense but can feel slight or gratification from our communications here.

We wound up talking about two different things as a result of my clumsiness but that doesn't matter now. No wonder I consider religion to be a subject that's not mentioned in polite company. Frightens the horses old chap, doncha know?

I'm pretty much done here as I think is everybody else. Two last thoughts until the next time. Your choice of Mother Theresa as an example; if the little I have read is true, would be poor. Was she driven by compassion resulting from her faith or was there something deeper and darker motivating her? I have no way of knowing whether or not she was naturally compassionate but the extent of her works suggests something else. Was she driven by doubt about her belief? Given her background there was no where else to go.

On the subject of belief. It has always been in the background of my thoughts but this has brought it into sharp relief.

Belief is not a matter of reason but emotion. I would suggest that the empirical evidence for this is there for all to see who will. Not just in a religious sense but in all our experiences. You will still find people who believe Lindy Chamberlain was guilty. In the face of all contra indications, free market adherents cling to their belief at a time when we are on the verge of a fiscal meltdown and I could go on. As far as I know it has never been a subject of psychological study and I wouldn’t know where anybody would start. I’d be interested to know if any work has been done here.

End Of The Line

Well done, Scott. Final word on Mother Theresa. I mentioned her only because of her profile. She was widely revered but had an implacable critic in Christopher Hitchens who had nothing good to say about her.

Till next time. 

Well Thank Go.... For That

Ian, I was going around the bend trying to recall our disagreement. Onset of dementia now being averted I return to less important things.

Ian Macdougall and Mahmoud.

Ian Macdougall: You should stick to your own computer. Let this be a lesson to you! Mahmoud: Correction . My other half did not live in a girl's hostel - he's threatening to sue his own wife!

This was a reply by me to you but attributed to him. Make more sense now? Now we are even. He did it to me once on some esoteric stuff beyond my comprehension. Hamish. Sorry for the mixup. Cheers. 

lfe's like a good whodunnit,when you look at it,sung to ...

For those who really want the answer to who or what is waiting for them past cloud 9 they only need to work on the top floor of a building with a telstra transmitter it seems. Stay tuned to this news that recieved so little coverage for an obvious reason.


Tackling fast buses are probably quicker but a lot meaner on the driver.

Such is the winnowing of truth from beliefs and faiths and awfully good stories. One has to wait until the last page to find out who dunnit.

Natural selection

They were in the business faculty for 10 years. Radiation, what radiation?

Radiation gives ya cancer & religion can bring on pink barricade

Hi Malcolm, radiation from the Telstra tower above the cement roof. There may not even be an open proper study into this, we shall see.

Reminds me of the East German soldiers who had to stand in front of the radar for technical reasons and then sued for their resulting very nasty problems. The 3G with its higher energy is apparently the worst, I think it was a Scandinavian (on my file at home) who demonstrated the changes in brain membranes in mice from it in 2002, but of course that is not high priority research is it? Can't really see industry innovation technocrats going up the the uni bio department and paying for research that will sink their shares faster than lead, or gold. This should wave enormous red flags but I suspect it will take a mini epidemic to wake up people to the risks of such transmitted energy. Look how long it took for cigarettes to be damned. Biological science predicted the effect from day one.

Check above the court house. The towers are usually above hospitals and highrise/shopping centres. Regulations vary about sitting, council to council.

Whether one believes that we all meet in Heaven or not, if people's lives are put at risk for a high tech economy and profit it would be nice to at least be informed as smokers are.

As to our discussion here, my only comment is that it is all very well to have passionate beliefs and we can all respect that, but when the same drives someone to gain political power to enable them to be enforced upon others, that I do not respect, nor like much. Abbott should have done what Blair's fundamentalist minister did when offered Health and refused due to conviction clash, but no. The State election is, I have heard from a very reliable source, the site of a real attack by the anti-abortionists, so quiet before hand but dying to make a real change in the legislation once in. That is the kind of religion we must be wary of. NSW will soon get a taste.

Pink barricades lkie the Columbians now.


Megadeaths and religion

I thought I'd try to do a rough quantitative assessment concerning whether Christianity, other religions, or secularism is nastiest.  As someone has already pointed out, Mao and Stalin, both atheists, were the two biggest mass murderers in history.  Let's expand the list a little, to include all seven individuals who've been responsible for five million or more deaths in the last millennium:

Mao Tse-Tung (atheist):  73 million

Joseph Stalin (atheist):  43 million

Adolph Hitler (Christian -- sort of):  21 million

Khublai Khan (sky-worshipper and animist):  19 million

Empress Ci-Xi (Taiping rebellion) (Confucian):  12 million

Leopold II of Belgium (Christian):  10 million.

Chiang Kai-Shek (Christian):  10 million.

There are three institutions, not associated with a specific individual, which have killed more than five million each:

Twentieth century European colonialism (Christian):  50 million

African slave trade (Christian and Muslim):  17 million

Conquest of the indigenous Americans (Christian):  14 million

There are also a few (not many) declared wars that have killed similar numbers, namely:

The First World War (Christian):  15 million

The Japanese War (Shinto):  6 million

The Thirty Years War (Christian):  6 million

So, of these 13 megadeaths, Christians have carried out seven or eight, other religions two or three, and secularists have been responsible for  two only.  But in term of numbers of victims, secularists have killed  more people (116M), as against Christians (67M, not including the Nazis), and  other religions (42M).

Have I missed any biggies?

David C: Hi John, what was your reference for the China figure? 

A few

John, you might like to add Pol Pot, Mugabe, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Kim Sung, Suharto,  the Ruwandans, the Burundis, Taylor and such ilk,  and let us not forget the likes of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and all those ancient heroes. Yes, they are portrayed as heroes on our screens today. Scour the pages of history and the list is endless.

What they all actually believed in as they murdered, starved, enslaved and tortured is another matter.

And I would suggest that claiming to being a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, whatever,  is one thing. Being one and practising the tenets of the faith is quite another.

So I keep coming back to this point. It is people who fail and fail appallingly.

Failing Does Not Stop The Belonging

Jenny, your point that people fail is moot. There are no (or precious few) solitary believers. The vast majority sign on to their own brand of religious preference and find whatever it is that they look for in the institution of their choice.

The institutions are corrupt travesties and they and their members go hand in hand. Differentiation is pointless.

Independent believers

Roger, I still stand in admiration of your prose, erudition and logic processes but now you have angered me. Before I go any further, rest assured that I will continue to value your contributions here.

"There are no (or precious few) solitary believers."

Did you bother to read my post or was your finger on the scroll button? Just in case you missed it the first time around, I suggested that your view of religious belief was too narrow.

Now that I'm wound up you can cop this. Do the terms "patronisation" and "intellectual thuggery" have any resonance for you?

Regardless of what you think of me, in this space I am your friend. It is not incompatible.

Scott, I am puzzled

Scott, I am puzzled. I read your original comment regarding my taking a narrow view and found nothing specific to respond to.

In what sense did you mean "narrow"? I am widely read in theology and have undertaken formal study of it. I have written many times in this forum on my extensive experiences as a believer of nearly 30 years and the reasons why I stopped being one and I won't repeat it here.

Just recently, I authored two WD columns All's Not Well In The Garden Of Eden  and The Real War Is Queer As Folk in which I wrote extensively and widely on my  views on religion and spirituality.

I do not regard my views as narrow but I admit that my thinking so is hardly proof of whether I am or am not. So perhaps you can volunteer something specific of your own. I would be happy to read it and respond (or not).

The more troubling aspect of your last post is the accusation of "patronisation" and "intellectual thuggery". You need to be a lot more forthcoming than that. I could accuse you of being a metre tall and coloured green with purple spots but without some proof it is little more than a theatrical flourish.

I would assume that we both subscribe to the ethos of a forum such as WD, namely robust exchange of ideas and intellectual honesty.

I do not consider any exchange in which religious belief is presented as fact or in which there are explicit or implicit references to the existence of a supreme deity as being trivial. Far too much harm has been done in the world for centuries by secular power masquerading as the hand of God to give any leeway.

While I understand the yearning of many people to be assured of a life with spiritual meaning and the possibility of eternity this is not a precursor to embracing truth or for that matter goodness.

Theologically speaking, no one is good but God. All are sinners and none are worthy of salvation. One cannot impugn the integrity or the goodness of a believer because theologically we have none. It is only through secular ideas such as liberty and freedom that we invest the human entity with attributes such as integrity and dignity. One has nothing to do with the other and in fact religion is antithetical to most things that we hold dear in secular society, particularly freedom. Religion encourages submission and servitude, something that any robber baron, politician or hardman understands very well.

It is hardly "intellectual thuggery" or "patronisation" to have some knowledge of a matter at perhaps a level that is of little interest to most. But when a view is expressed here, the only way that you can be egalitarian is to assume that all writers have similar experience to your own. To not do so is to be patronising.

Personally, I do not write on matters of religion and spirituality to teach or proselytise but to see that things that I agree with or disagree with can be tested. From my own perspective, all exchanges are a learning experience.

Megadeaths: the message

John, your interesting post, if correct, does reveal one clear message: humans, down through the centuries, clearly are natural killers of their own kind regardless of their political and/or religious convictions.

Problem is that now we have the weapons to kill bigtime. No longer the trenches, soldiers with rifles, the charge of the Light Brigade. That's all kid's stuff! Now we can slaughter millions all at once by pressing a button.

Problem is that many countries have buttons. Some of these countries don't like each other. Some of these countries have resources that other countries want (oil). One of these countries desperately wants to retain its top-dog status and is led by a mumbling fool. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to work out what is coming.

No doubt about it. We are intelligent. But our urge to kill will destroy us!

Megadeaths and religion

Hi David. Most of the figures I gave are those of RJ Rummel. Take them with as many grains of salt as you like.

The figure for the number of deaths Mao is responsible for varies a lot between sources. The main difference involves whether he can be considered responsible for the deaths in the Great Famine of 1958-1961. Recent evidence suggests he was. See here.

Mao's policies caused the famine. He knew about it from the beginning. He didn't care! Indeed, he wanted to take even more food from the mouths of his starving people in order to increase his export of food.

The other figure that would be highly controversial is the 50 million for deaths due to colonialism. See here.

Here's a good overall summary.

For a pretty comprehensive summary of sources and all the different estimates different people have made, see here.

Back to Irfan's recognition of Daniel Pipes' academic abilities

Hi Irfan, always interested in your aid to enlightenment. And usually have quite a laugh, a dash of therapy. I like your comments on the source of information about modern Islam and even historical as there seems to be quite a bias in the manner in which such is portrayed. This includes from such academics as Bernard Lewis and the "expert " Daniel Pipes. Fictional tales also seem to have a slant and even tales of allegedly nonfiction. (Amused by the counter spin, it may catch on.) Movies of course are the centre of subliminal propaganda and stereotyping. So many nationality villains to choose from yet so often there is the 1984 styled Muslim sterotype to hate. I will start to get really scared when it is Chinese.

One author I notice against the stream is Morris Gleitzman, a gifted children's author, who brought the humanity of the grieving father to all and showed the friendship between all and mateship in battling against injustice. Ali was the Dad's name.

John Cornell is an adult author unfettered by stereotyping, but more empassioned by what he sees around him. I heard him interviewed just before the Iraq war and he was outraged at the goings on and bewildered that it should be so. John Le Carre.

Wondered about this:

In Shia Islam (followed by the majority of people living in Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan and some Gulf states), the rules and laws of Islam must be obtained from a living mujtahid or jurist who has reached a level where s/he can derive rules from the sources. Following the views of the founder of a school who died 1,200 years ago isn’t enough.

Have there ever been a She? Or was that just the ultimate in hypothetical?

How many of these are there in, say Iraq? Is it common like say a priest, or more like a Bishop or Cardinal level and number. What if two disagree, is that respected or do they have to argue it out? By the way, was the reference to Reagan's warlike/military methods being repeated by OBL or to Reagan gaining an engineering degree? Or was OBL showing signs of renal dementia in his last days of public life, as Reagan was?

It must be so frustrating to read so much from "experts" knowing their ignorance (deliberate or otherwise) and so upsetting to see their words repeated by those in power and influence and thus validated. Thanks.


Uisge Beatha

Ah Jenny, you appear to have tragically missed a point I made. You see Malcolm (may his claymore be broken and his kilt shredded, Odin the all-father willing) imbibes Irish whisky. In his favour though, he does drink (I mistrust people who don't) although with my proviso on adulteration. "M'lud, as to the matter of adulteration, the witness remains silent."

The thing that stands out in all this is the bond that ties us. Our shared, (for the most part) values, our sense of humanity, our need for creativity and the desire to be heard and recognised. Outside of this, personal belief systems matter no whit. The one quarrel I have is that in my world, religion is not mentioned in polite company.

The effect of the media

The first rule, Irfan, is never trust the media.

Take for example, their headline, Bin Laden in the classroom. It turns out that their headline refers to a single book found in the home of a teacher, who I'd bet had nothing to do with Bin Laden, but was suffering a mental breakdown in mid-life, a book which Amazon describes as:

Osama bin Laden pretends to be a selfless freedom fighter seeking to rid the Islamic world of Western dominance and the de facto leader of the Muslim faithful. This biography tells the story of a different man, one whose troubled childhood and adolescent excesses in sex, money, and alcohol, fractures his assumed moral superiority, and renders him more human than icon.

I’d give even money that there was more than one Bible in the house. Would the media consider the headline “Biblical Armageddon in the classroom”?

There are a lot of crazies out there, but who is exploiting them?

Religion makes Politics Dangerous

Hamish, I think your statement, “Religion feeds off human's unavoidable spiritual need and manipulates it to the service of power groups,” is spot on.

We must constantly be on guard against religions that try to manipulate. That is why secular democracy is so important.

Don't take any religion seriously

Irfan, you say, “one reason why Muslims won’t take the Cardinal seriously is because he hasn’t actually told us which translation of the Koran he relies upon. Different translations have been produced by different writers with different biases.”

Isn’t that the problem with religion as a whole, all the “holy” books have different translations and have been produced by writers with different biases?

Religion has been used to support many unholy causes.

I find it impossible to take any of it seriously.

In defence of religion against the state

Mike, with your wholesale dismissal of religion as the “business of stupidity’ obviously you see no value in the theoretical underpinnings of the history of Western civilization and its values of liberty and freedom.

But then one should not be surprised considering the history of the secular humanist world improvers.

Mao, Stalin and Hitler all thought that religion was for fools and societal benefits could come from the power of the state. Religion over time has had its faults but in contrast to the body count of these secularists then give me religion any day.

No doubt more modern secularists put their ‘faith’ in the world improving nature of modern democracy. These democrats although obviously more moderate (and still held in check by the vestiges of constitution and the rule of law) are still little different except that they now they seek to confiscate the wealth of their own subjects and impose their own agendas both domestically and on a global canvas.

You may be right in pointing out the relatively different freedoms enjoyed by people in the state of Israel and those in nearby Islamic societies.

More an important question in my opinion is what are the circumstances that have made these societies so militant and what continues to drive them to be so.

Your comment that they hate us because we are “secular” and George Bush’s because of our “freedoms”, I personally believe misses the point.

The history of inept interference by western world improvers into the affairs of others is the root cause which has been recently made worse by the neo-cons controlling US foreign policy.

The neo-Wilsonian policy of bringing democracy to the world will not ensure a free society. If freedom tempered by reciprocal societal and community obligation is the best measure of progress then religion in that part of the world may in effect be a better way to ensure freedom and protection of the disadvantaged.

It would be better than the position of a multi-ethnic country like Iraq where civil war is likely because of the imposition of a centralised democracy will see the majority take 100% of the spoils.

The "stupidity" of the world improvers is that they think they can pass laws to make people moral.

Rob, I think that you are

Rob, I think that you are desperately confused. Liberty and freedom have nought, rien, nihil, nada, nic, nieto, nani mo nai koto to do with religion particularly Christianity. While there is much that motivated those who want or wanted the "freedom" to practice whatever brand of religion pleasured them, freedom or liberty are not central tenets of anything that you will read in any "sacred" book.

As far as lauding the "theoretical underpinnings", the fact that Christianity sold its soul to Contantine for a share of earthly spoils, poltical patronage and power is cause for shame and not celebration. The religion of this country, as in many others, is a travesty and a crude, grotesque caricature of what appears in the NT to be an exhortation to a lifetime of service to your fellow man.

Another point of confusion seems to be what world history are you comparing when you refer to something done by "the secular humanist world improvers". Compared to what, the decimation of indigenous culture, century by century, continent by continent by Christian conquerors? For example, are you so proud of what the Christian churches have achieved with our own Aborgines?

Let's not take Stalin's or any dictators lying, self-serving, megalomanic words as a counterpoint. Dictatorship is as crude a way of running any country. But perhaps, for balance, you could comment on a 1700 year dictatorship based at the Vatican. The Catholic Church has been quite open in its stated position of not being a democracy. Catholics do not get a vote in the running or their church and a pertinent reminder are the collective descriptions of those believers as the "faithful" and "sheep".

But the most troublesome statement is your rather trite acceptance of the status quo with "religion over time has had its faults but in contrast to the body count of these secularists then give me religion any day". If that is a prescription for a better world then "beam me up Scotty". That is a very poor generalisation.

But finally you decide to have "two bob each way" and make some half-reasonable attempts that identify some real problems. If you stopped tripping over the "world improvers" stone, I think that you might actually make a good point.

The world is the way it is not because any "world improvers" have made it that way. The world is the way it is because the super-rich and super-powerful, aided and abetted by their associates in the religious sphere make it that way daily. And if we continue to laud the methods and philosophies of those who have no respect for us then we are being very foolish.

Secular religions of the 20th C

Rob, when anti-humanists point out the horrors unfolding from the application of secular ideologies in the 20th Century, it's pretty fair cop. But my own experience and reflection upon these ideologies - and they are still around on the margins, both left and right - is that they are religions without God, and indeed do contain exactly the same seeds of civil war and mass abuse of humanity as any theistic religion.

When Marx accused religion of being the opiate of the people, I don't think it was merely condemnation, but an unintended revelation of how he saw humans and history. I think he was intelligent enough to realise that he was, in trying to give the new industrial proletariat a cohesive and revolutionary political identity, giving them a new opiate - but a 'progressive' one without the trappings of supernature.

I can't remember who gave me the thought, which I find quite compelling, that to understand religion at its root (Jesus in first century Palestine, Mohamed in Medina and Mecca, Confucious and Lao Tsu (oh, and Mao) in China etc) you have to understand that it is a political movement. I think we can already sense, with neo versions of Marxism, anarchism, liberalism, fascism and conservatism, the rudiments of religion emerging from political upheaval, with prophets, 'Meccas', a developing canon etcetera. Who is Karl Marx in 2000 years, assuming civilisation rising and falling, massive destruction, selection and tampering of historical sources and complete replacements of peoples and technologies? Will he have walked on water and fed the huddling masses? Maybe.

Just to be really confusing, here's my favourite Marxian quote, from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte:

The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. And just when they seem engaged in revolutionising themselves and things, in creating something entirely new, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle slogans and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honoured disguise and this borrowed language. Thus Luther donned the mask of the Apostle Paul, the Revolution of 1789 to 1814 draped itself alternately as the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and the Revolution of 1848 knew nothing better than to parody, in turn, 1789...


The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot draw its poetry from the past, but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself, before it has stripped off all superstition in regard to the past. Earlier revolutions required world-historical recollections in order to drug themselves concerning their own content. In order to arrive at its content, the revolution of the noneteenth century must let the dead bury their dead.

The poetry of the 21st Century, in my view, must begin with a frank and candid recognition of the profound ignorance of every human in the face of a reality which actually is infinite and remains infinitely mysterious regardless of what airs some of us attempt. What the history of both religion and secular ideology has taught us is that there is no place for arrogance and certainty in politics. The alternative, in practice, is humility, the pluralistic wisdom of democracy, and something akin to the scientific method, where all truth is contingent.

Like some other Webdiarists, I draw a sharp - even contrasting - distinction between religion and spirituality. Spirituality is the individual's own necessary engagement, starting at scratch from birth for each of us, with the infinite mystery. Religion comes with official institutions, spokespeople, privileged texts and creeds and can be taught to children before they have even developed their critical faculties. Religion feeds off human's unavoidable spiritual need and manipulates it to the service of power groups.

Um... at least that's my view.

Is There A Gigantic Ear In Space?

Hamish, if the central belief of the major Semitic religions, Judaism, Christianity  and Islam, were true then we would all be bloody fools not to believe.

The problem is that God is always inconveniently mute on the subject except when he decides to move the Earth and some of us get in way or can't get out of the way quick enough. The inscrutable God that He is, we have no way to influence Him. Instead, we have to rely on a group of learned males, who's integrity is assumed beyond reproach, to be our intermediaries and guides.

He also poses such exquisite dilemmas. For example, what redemptive value do we find in a 3yr old baby, Sophie Delezio being horribly disfigured, burned and maimed only to be traumatised a second time? Surely something magnificent and noble has happened to amplify the glory of God The Almighty in this senseless human tragedy. Such a terrifying God, so seemingly careless, so immune to the pleadings of the innocent. What are we missing?

Please turn the page and delve deeper into the turgid, feverish and self-loathing mind of that paragon of theological assasination, Augustine or his even more able later successor, Aquinas. These two learned brutes will tell you that Sophie deserved it. It is her fault because she is blighted by Original Sin. It matters not what happens to her here. Her reward is in heaven if she does not succumb to the world between now and when she exits this mortal toil. You have to fascinated by a God who sees His creation as a testing ground for moral valour and who exhorts his followers to put all unbelievers to the sword or turns them into pillars of salt and so on.

Of course, there is the story of Jesus. Now here is a God that I think most would agree is approachable and worthy of emulation except that no one really bothers. Because His way is diametrically opposite to everything we hold dear such as house, car, tv, holiday, fitness centre, Starbucks, being thin, watching Big Brother, no asylum seekers, the stock market, He tends to get praised for being something other that what He supposedly was.

Jesus is, in turn, for freedom, democracy, the US of A, a healthy bank account, tithing, just wars, monarchy and a host of other fantabulous worldy attributes. This sort of Jesus is worth following. The one who knew prostitutes and drank and ate with society's dregs and tax collectors is an uncomfortable fit for a burgeoning world.

"God, hello, are you there, hello, hell... Now the rest of you just shut up. How can God hear my prayer if there are 6 billion of you babbling on to Him about your pathetic little lives?"

"Dear God, please don't listen to anything I've got to ask for myself. Please grant everybody else's prayer and I'm happy to wait till last. Please take the money I've got in the bank and distribute it to those who you know are needy. Look, just take everything because it's your's anyway. I'll take the family and go live in a humpy along the river until you sort it all out. Thanks. One last question, Is it OK to get social welfare payments?"

PS Rob -

Your "defence of religion against the state" cannot apply to Islam, at least not according to Mahmoud in another thread, who described how in true Islam religion and state cannot be separated.

You're kidding, right, Rob?

Somehow I can't see Hitler, Stalin and Mao as secular liberal humanists. Can you, or were you just joking?

There are obvious religious elements to Communism and Nazism: the worshipping of the sacred, the holy scriptures, the prophets, the strict morality, the threat of horrific punishment for blasphemy or apostasy... indeed, for such reasons both Communism and Nazism can be considered to essentially BE religions. Many Germans thought Hitler was the second coming of Jesus, but even without that, it is apparent that Hitler and Mao were worshipped as gods.

The Western values of liberty and freedom came about as part of a general movement AGAINST religious values, the Enlightenment. Note that some of the foremost exponents of liberty and freedom, such as Thomas Jefferson, utterly despised Christianity (Jefferson called it "the most perverted system that ever shone on man... no better than any of the other absurd superstitions that bedevil mankind"). Even today, we can see an inverse relationship between the degree of official religiosity of a country and its degree of liberty and freedom for its citizens. Liberty and freedom are virtually absent in highly religious societies such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, for example.

Eminent theologians and Arabists

The Word...


There goes George Pell again with eminent fellow theologian and Arabist John Howard, immersing the holy relic of Christ’s crucifix in their dirty malodorous urine.

No doubt Muslims who revere Christ will not be impressed.

As Pell and Howard's savage scriptures put it, better that a millstone be hung about their necks and they be cast into the sea.

And note that Pell’s ratty little speech was delivered in the tropical and humid domain of ugly George Bush’s equally crazed brother, Jethro.

Meanwhile, if the baby Jesus and his Mum and Dad (and their little donkey) splashed out of the Prince of Wales Passage onto the end of tiny Friday Island, would they count as legit Reffos?

I mean, they wouldn’t be using a boat, banned by the DIMIA leviathan. Unless donkeys were redefined as “boats,” for the porpoises of the Act. And porpoises too.

All-powerful Amanda can do anyfink.

AND they (the Holy Family, the well known Reffos) wouldn’t be Muslims, although the blessed Virgin and St Joseph, like their little boy, are most definitely of Middle Eastern appearance.

So bad, you could almost take them for Sicilians.

And SHE wears a hejab, so they’d be borderline. HE looks like Arafat, too.

Anyway, once their little animal got through quarantine on TI, they could set off for the south, and perhaps enter Geo Pell’s cash-filled Temple.

And in a few years, yea verily, their lad could give His Eminence a good little run for his money on Scriptures. And the creepy Pipes, too.

He might turn their attention to the bit where a wise man said: “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to Me.”

Elementary My Dear Irfan

"I have a very serious question for all you Margostanis out there. What is it about Aussie clerics that causes so much bunkum to emerge from their mouths?"

Quite simply because they believe in the existence of supernatural beings. Such delusional thinking leads on to a belief in the infallability of any drivel they spout. You are correct in identifying that the trend is not confined either to one sect of Islam or Christianity for that matter.

Repeal s116 of the Commonwealth Constitution I say. If we had one Established Church, we'd only have one lot of nonsense to deal with and I can say that because I don't see religious people treating atheists with a lot of tolerance.

Intolerant drivel

MBD: Well this sort of drivel really convinces me that in being a Christian I have got a lot to worry about, that's for sure!

I wonder how many of those thugs on Cronulla beach are atheists. Most I'll bet, and aren't they models of tolerance. No. I'll stick with Christianity thanks. I see it was a group of Christian surfees who invited a group of Muslim young people to join them down on the beach in friendship in an attempt to heal some of the wounds. Can't see too many atheists bothering.

I guess Webdiary is not really a place Christians should hang around. The antipathy and down right intolerance towards any sort of religious belief that seems to creep into posts on so many subjects is a religion in itself. I'll make an exception of Roger Fedyk and one or two others who engage constructively and objectively on the subject.

If atheists or secular humanists or whatever you call yourselves really want to be taken seriously, then maybe a little tolerance would not go astray. But I won't hold my breath. No, WD is definitely not a place for Christians to hang about. And that's OK. Each to his/her own as they say.

Meanwhile I better go make up the spare bed. Definitely not done to share the marital bed with an atheist. That might be just too tolerant.

Hamish: individuals might have some antagonisms, and they cut in different directions, but here's the official word: people of every religion are welcome on Webdiary.


Jenny, I really didn't want to go into this because as a card carrying atheist, those who hold religious beliefs share a different reality to mine and I don't see any basis for discourse. Your heartfelt comment has touched me however so I would like to communicate with you and tell you of my observations of the human condition for more time now than I would like.

I've said this before on this site; I know there are two kinds of people, gentle folk and bastards. The funny thing is that religious belief of any kind has no bearing on the demeanor of the individual. I must confess to being mistrustful of what I call "God botherers" (a Scottish term), but by the same token, hold dear the memory of some of the kindest and most caring folk that I have come across who were devoutly Christian.

Personally I am tolerant of all gentle folk regardless.

Tolerating different realities

Scott, I agree with you entirely. There are gentle folk and there are bastards. And you find them in all walks of life, and you find them amongst believers and non believers.

When realities are so different there is no real meeting of the mind so as you say, there is then not a lot of point in engaging with each other. So by and large I don't engage with those who are so vehemently anti religious on Webdiary. But unlike you, I do believe that the demeanour of people can be influenced by their religious beliefs. Or maybe I should say that I believe a religious belief can lead to a person moderating their behaviour. Demeanour is perhaps a bit more complex. But yes, gentle people are everywhere, not just in the church, or the mosque, or the temple.

Malcolm, well, no doubt I took leave of my senses taking a swipe at you. But, unlike you I do believe in tolerance, so I won't try to bring you into the fold. I know a lost cause when I see it. But I confess I am curious as to how one can exercise tolerance in anything, while not actually believing in it.

Roger, I might have to revise my opinion of you mate, but I figure that people who really get wound up over something usually have good reason. But as you say, the Delizio family, if they are believers might be feeling very abandonned by God right now. One's beliefs can take a battering. I felt that way once myself when I blamed my God for the death of a child I loved more than anyone in the world. I blamed him even more when he took my mother just four weeks later, dead with a broken heart, and then my brother, also dead with a broken heart  over the loss of his young son.

As I sat in the gutter outside the hospital, with anguish in my heart, the like of which I could never imagine possible, I screamed over and over again at my God. How could you so cruel to this family. We are not a bad family. How could you...Then a stranger came up and put her arm around me. She lifted me up out of the gutter, and she called a taxi to take me home. I believe to this day that God sent her. You would say she was just being kind I guess. Maybe she was.

I said good-bye to my family from the Church though my faith was badly shaken, and it was a long time before I could walk inside a church again. But then people, some total strangers, started coming to me asking me if I would help them with their funerals. They had heard I did nice funerals! It was not something that was easy to say no to! So I started selecting Biblical texts, and writing eulogies  for total strangers, and gradually I restored my faith. God works in mysterious ways the evangelical would say. I saw it a bit more pragmatically than that. I just saw people in grief seeking help from someone they felt might understand.

I do not think we can demand anything of a God if there is one,  nor for that matter blame Him when things go wrong. I do in fact believe we have to take responsibility ourselves for many of our life outcomes, and just accept it when things go badly wrong for us. But at those times, it does sometimes help to believe in a power greater than oneself and yes, it also sometimes helps to challenge that belief.

So I let the light go out for awhile. But recently I lit it again.

Now before Malcolm and the rest of you all  have apoplexy I will sign off. Scott is right. No point engaging on the issue really. Our realities are just too far apart. There may or may not be a god. None of us can say with certainty one way or another. The whole show out there is bigger than all of us and always will be.


No, Jenny Hume, I shan't have apoplexy. Lawyers develop a capacity not to "believe". If I believed clients I'd have a very hard job running their cases objectively and I'd be at risk of compromising my overriding duty to the Court.

My greatest difficulty with belief is: what distinguishes anyone's god from faeries for example? No decent childhood is lived without believing in faeries. Why then are they not real? What sets the Norse pantheon of gods above the Celtic? Is Diana Athena? What price Horus? Was Augustus a god?

Take comfort where you find it by all means but beware belief because, and this was my original point, belief leads to intolerance and inflexibility because it promotes moral absolutism. I certainly believe in intolerance: I've seen enough of it over the years. So, I can practise tolerance and flexibility without adopting them as personal tenets.

Irfan, now look what you've started

It's not often I find myself in disagreement with you chaps but Malcolm and Roger I think you have far too narrow a view of religion. Roger, as eloquent and erudite as ever, while all you say is true, there are probably as many different religions as there are believers.

Nietzsche and Kirkegaard had different views on this; the former believing the church was attempting to deny the normal human condition and the latter essentially, that people were  picking from religion only what suited them.

Of course both were right but coming from different perspectives.

From my childhood to my early twenties I held a very strong Christian faith but never went near a church. I held my own views of Christ's existence and the reason for it but considered the idea that he sacrificed himself to save us from our sins to be total claptrap.

I woke up one morning and God was gone; no reason, I just stopped believing but the memory of the days of my belief are not forgotten. Thus I will not deride others for their belief nor will I try to convince them of the error of their ways. You touched on it with your reference to Thomas Payne; it is a singular and personal journey.

Moral absolutism

Malcolm, no. All that good stuff from the home country will probably stave off any risk of apoplexy. But I confess I can't really see what believing or not believing a client has to do with believing or not believing in God.

I can accept that lawyers have at times to be a bit like diplomats, ie sell something they may not believe in, be it a client's innocence, or the policies of the government. But I think if I was on trial and I knew I was innocent, I would want a lawyer defending me who did believe in that innocence. The self fulfilling prophecy is a powerful thing. I would not want to be its victim, not if my freedom was at stake.

As for moral absolutism, I detect a lot of that on Webdiary and yes, it is flowing from intolerance and inflexibility. Yet Webdiary seems to be inhabited almost exclusively by professed non-believers, and mostly very intelligent ones at that. So I don't think religious belief has an exclusivity there. When it comes to intolerance and inflexibility, I think we can look more to what life experiences a person may have had to find the real causes.

But I suspect Malcolm that you and I are not going to agree on much. So cheers to you anyway.

Atheist Webdiary

G'day Jenny. You have said again that, "Webdiary seems to be inhabited almost exclusively by professed non-believers." That may be true but I suspect that of you scratch the surface you'll find a lot of nuance in these atheists.

From my perspective, it's hard not to notice the popularity of threads about spirituality in general. Even atheists - and I'm drawing on my own introspection here - have a deep impulsive attraction to questions of spirituality. I once had the job of helping to move the library of the Queensland Humanist Society, of which I was a member for a couple of years. I have never seen a bigger library on theology and spirituality. These people (ok, we) were obsessed with religion.

Just possibly - and please don't take this the wrong way because I like you heaps - the dichotomy that arrises from, "Who thinks there is a god?" misses the material about which we are likely to be able to constructively engage. God is a mechanism in my view, to an engagement with questions like, "What am I doing here?", "What is my duty on Earth?" and "How can I have a relationship with an infinite universe that doesn't destroy my will to exist?"

Just a thought.

All in a tiss

Hamish, a bit of a serve from you. Well all I did was take a swipe at that irreverant Scot and a few others along the way. And now they've all got themselves into a real tiss.

But take you the wrong way? How could I with censure so gently put it fluttered to the ground? And after all, you like me heaps you say. That softens the pain. But are you so sure about that? We don’t know each other. I might not be such a nice person. I don’t think I was a very nice kid you know. Oh yes, dutifully muttering prayers every night. After that? Like all kids, off to the world of imagination. No Malcolm, no faeries for me. I’ll just slip into the desert, line up all the debt collectors and publicans in Australia and mow them down, rid the world of such scourges. Oh, the satisfaction, all that blood staining the desert sands. Balm to the soul that was for years.

Thou shalt not kill, not even debt collectors! My poor old very very Christian Mum was beside herself. Hang on now! I was only trying to scare him off. Well... admittedly, it was loaded but even so... Hell. I was only a kid and he was bigger than me and Mum put together. But God’s laws must and did prevail, so it’s probably safe Hamish. I think I am now, quite tame. For you anyway, I’ll just turn the other cheek. So long as you don’t kick the dog.

Now seriously. I could not agree with your last statement more. It is missing the point, all this arguing about the existence of a supreme being or not, and it was not my intention that the thread take off in that direction. I just got irritated by the mad Scot’s choice of words, and I have to be fair, not just his. But I figured many good Christians would be downright offended, so I suggested Webdiary may not be a place they would want to hang around. Not some I know anyway. Why?

Well, as Mike Lyvers would I think agree. For some people (even many of those cast off as“human detritus” in the third world), their religious beliefs are often their life rafts and that is all that keeps them going in the face of their grief, their poverty, their terrible situations. Some people need to believe to survive and can be very vulnerable. I have seen a lot like that in my life, good, caring but damaged, deprived and troubled people seeking solace in their beliefs. I myself believe, not because I need to, but because I just decided to. The Christian code of life was one I could relate to, and spiritually it sits best with me, probably because it is familiar more than anything. I think we all have spiritual needs. How we satisfy them varies greatly.

But there is a big difference between deciding to believe something and needing to. So I would not recommend Webdiary to people like my own sister for instance. When our family died in the way they did, she needed her faith to survive while I found it of little comfort and for quite some time, abandoned it. I did not rely on God to restore my emotional equilibrium. But I just know that if my sister at that time had logged onto Webdiary and seen her faith so challenged, and referred to as drivel, and thereby lost it, I do not think she would have survived. I would likely have had to bury her too. I just think we should be very careful in the words we use to decry others’ beliefs. And Mike, you would or should know, it is not what you say, but how you say it. So Roger, I would tone it down a bit. If you need to patronise and try and force your views, then really, who has the problem there? Malcolm actually does not bother me with his views. I just got irritated by the way he expressed them. But that is just Malcolm as we all know. But you really seem to have a big problem with believers. But I do not think you can hold the good Christians of history, (and there are many), all responsible for the failings of the actual institutions.

Thanks Scott and Will. By your objective input you defend my right to believe what I choose to without seeing the need to deride or belittle that belief. But I am comfortable in what I believe and it is not a life prop so there is no risk of me falling over. No need to shred Malcolm's kilt Scott. But you say he drinks Irish. God! What a traitor.

Believe me, all of you, if I could relieve the wealthy churches (and overly wealthy people) of even part of their riches, I would do so and apply them to saving some of the “human detritus” from their fate. A rich church is anathema to Christianity. That is what I meant by properly practising Christianity in another post. To speak for the poor while hoarding such riches while the poor suffer, is not practising the teachings of Christ, not by my measure.

Money is the God so many worship these days, and I see many people living in a spiritually barren landscape. Many of their kids turn to drugs, and in increasing numbers they take their own lives. Christianity can promote sound life values, and satisfy spiritual needs, but many have now let go of their faith in this country, no doubt for the similar reasons as you Roger. But now many criticise their own children for their lack of values and struggle to even define what those values should be.

Let go of belief by all means if it has lost credibility, but do not assume that for everyone it had and has no purpose, and therefore can have no relevance in society today. Leave a spiritual void, and I think there will be, and indeed there are now deep problems in our society. I second what you say Roger, those that make a real difference through their Christianity are worth our admiration. But sure, the church and Christianity through the ages, and not just Christianity, has a lot to answer for. I am able to accept a lot of what you all say. Therefore, as a Christian I can hang around Webdiary, but some could not.

Malcolm:: Believe this? No. You probably won’t. A Christian standing up for an atheist, risking everything because she was outraged that he was publicly called a hypocrite. Why? Well on being asked if he was a practising Christian, he dared to reply no, but that does not mean I am not a good man. Who stood up publicly and loudly declared that was an outrage. Yes, got it in one. Nasty stuff all that and as a lawyer you would know the power of context, and believe me, it was powerful. Supreme Court, 5 writs, 150,000 smackers funnelled to your lot, and three years of life. Worth it? On a matter of principle? Every bit. On some things you either stand up and be counted or you crawl into a hole and hide. I am not into hiding in holes, and nor is the good Scot I live with. Of course the whole thing was as you would guess, very complicated, but that outrage and its interpretation was the lynch pin of the case.

Now, on that little problem you face with the bastards that won’t pay. No ideas sorry. Risky business, debt collecting. You need good Christian clients like my old Mum. She paid every cent she ever owed, as a matter of principle.

Hamish, again, your concerns are respectfully noted. And I actually do hope we meet one day. Then you can make an objective decision as to whether you really like me or not. Till then, cheers to all of you good non believers.

Tis' Not What It Seems

Jenny, I read your last post with some consternation.

I want to respond to some portions of it:

But I just know that if my sister at that time had logged onto Webdiary and seen her faith so challenged, and referred to as drivel, and thereby lost it, I do not think she would have survived.

Firstly what you write is disingenuous. Webdiary is not here and never has been to vouchsafe for your sister's mental health or yours or my own. Second, how could you possibly "just know"? Are you prescient? It never happened and is the sort of conjecture that makes nonsense of adult, informed debate.

"I would likely have had to bury her too". Really? I think you invest WD with a power that none of us have recognised to date. Personally, I take what you wrote as an uninformed insult.

"I just think we should be very careful in the words we use to decry others’ beliefs. And Mike, you would or should know, it is not what you say, but how you say it" Exactly why would we do that and what makes you think that writers do not measure their words anyway? Are you suggesting that some form of emotional censorship needs to be applied? There are rules that govern what will be published here, so if it is published then the writer has done what has been required of them.

"So Roger, I would tone it down a bit. If you need to patronise and try and force your views, then really, who has the problem there?" Jenny you have the right to disagree with everything that I or anyone else writes. But, there is something completely against the spirit of open discussion in what you have just written to me. If I was to be facetious (which I am being) perhaps I would suggest that I submit my writings to you first so that I can meet your approval. Is that your expectation from Webdiary?

In closing, I will go back to my first quote of your writing:

But I just know that if my sister at that time had logged onto Webdiary and seen her faith so challenged, and referred to as drivel, and thereby lost it, I do not think she would have survived.

You show a poor understanding of faith, at least theologically. As clearly laid out by St Paul, faith is not something that you can work towards or acquire. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. If this gift, by the Third Peron of the Trinity, is so fragile that it can be destroyed by the words of some other person, what does that say about the power of God and St Paul's rather grand expectations that faith, hope and love will empower you and change your life?

In case you are inclined to disbelieve anything I say, here is a quote from Father Cantalamessa from Catholics Online :

The criticism of nonbelievers and dialogue with them, when carried out in respect and reciprocal loyalty, are very useful to us. Above all they make us humble. They oblige us to take note that faith is not a privilege or an advantage for anyone. We cannot impose it or demonstrate it, but only propose it and show it with our life. "What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?" says St. Paul (1 Corinthians 4:7). In the end, faith is a gift, not a merit, and as all gifts it can only be lived in gratitude and humility.

I do not write things in an attempt to destroy your's or anybody's faith or to impugn your beliefs. However, as a believer you should know enough about what you have chosen to believe to answer this and many other paradoxes that are raised by a spiritual quest. If this is not important to you then your faith is a closed system.

Personally, I do not have a problem. I have spent many years both in study and discussion of theology and am completely open to truth. If I have said things that are personally too harsh, I apologise, but you and others have chosen to express your spirtual beliefs in a public forum. If you write it, I will actually give you the credit of knowing what you are writing about.

Now that was strong

Roger, I have clearly upset you and that was not the intention so I apologise. But uninformed insult? With respect Roger, I find that accusation and the general tone of your response way over the top as Malcolm says.

Your very strong emotional response to what I thought was a very genuine and objective articulation of my views simply confirms what I was trying to say. What we write can have also sorts of unexpected effects on the reader. So if the issue is one that can strike at the very heart of another person's emotional well being, we should perhaps be a bit more circumspect in what we write, and how we write it. It just so happens that people's religious belief systems fall into that category. Now that is a generaly statement only and is not directed at you or anyone in particular. So do not read it otherwise.

It may be theologically unsound, Roger, but  many strong believers have come to their beliefs through a conscious decision based on a need to believe. That is simply a statement of fact. Because it is based on need, it can be very easily threatened, yes by the words and actions of others. I see it all the time, vulnerable people who are clinging to religion as their life raft, irrationaly and theologically unsound as that may be. So all I was saying is that I would not recommend Webdiary, or any website for that matter, where religious belief was being so vehemently opposed, to any person like that. Call it compassionate caution if you like. But you seem to have taken that personally for some reason.

But of course we have to be able to have free discourse on Webdiary and the net generally, and the moderators are there to decide whether posts comply with the basic rules of the site. No one is suggesting otherwise. What circumspection we individually apply to what we write is up to our own consciences. To suggest that I was vesting some sort of power in Webdiary per se Roger is, with respect, rubbish. But I do not not underestimate the power of the written word for one minute.

I did not find what you have written prior to this personally harsh, but at times you are patronising and talk in absolutes that I do not agree with, though they do not bother me personally. I just find them intellectually arrogant. I would not be as strong in my words as Scott perhaps but he has made the same point.

God is mute. Do you therefore reject the experiences of those people who claim to have had God speak to them? How can you or I judge the truth or otherwise of their experience? It is arrogant of us to do so without all the facts.

No I am not prescient but I certainly wish that I had been on several occasions. But at least I am perceptive, I am intelligent enough and I have enough life experience to recognise the signs which tell me when a vulnerable person is near the edge, and to know that to expose that person to something they would find threatening would be most likely catastrophic. That is what the education concerning mental illness and emotional vulnerability is all about Roger. Learn and recognise the signs and act accordingly. Ignore them at your peril. In the family situation I was in, it would have been very perilous.

I would like to discuss this further, but frankly we probably won't agree on much. And the  never ending drought up here is demanding our attention.

And anyway. You are right. I am not well versed in matters of Christian theology but do not find that an impediment to my faith and it is far from a closed system. My formal education, even at university, was secondary to the more important issues of survival that we faced as a family, and I regret that greatly. So you are probably far better educated than I will ever be and I have little hope of catching up now.

But what I do have is a vast experience of life, and have for the most part of it rubbed shoulders with the "human detritus" in our own society. From the time I could crawl our home was full of such people, my mother, despite our being very poor, insisting on taking them in to live with us till the day she died. I guess when you live around vulnerable, damaged and hurting people all your life you are more cautious than most in what you do and say. Again, that is just an observation. It is not directed at you. It just tells you where I am coming from. When we know where people are coming from we can understand better what they are saying and why. If we don't then we are likely to press all sorts of buttons in people and get reactions to things we write that are quite unexpected. I feel I have pressed some buttons with you for some reason.

Anyway. Genuinely sorry that I upset you. It was never my intention.

Gesture Appreciated

Jenny, while I really appreciate your gesture, it is totally unnecessary. When I used the word "insult", I took some time weighing up whether I would use "offend" or "insult". I decided that "insult" was the less emotive term.

Now after your considered reply, I have a challenge, myself, in framing my response. You have written what you have through the filter that you refer to at the start of your second paragraph, my "strong emotional response".

Unfortunately, I don't recognise that in what I wrote because nothing could be further from the truth. However, when you only have words, it is easy to make an inference which we would not, of course, if we were face to face.

Perhaps, if I explain what I do when I write on issues that deal with spirituality, religion or philosophy, you will have a better insight. I rarely use "stream of consciousness" writing except on things that are somewhat trivial in terms of my interests. My last post to you was written over period of nearly 2 hours involving at least 5 revisions. I make it a firm rule that I will not send anything until I am satisfied with what I have written and never if I am angry.

The first things that I look at removing are any suggestions of excessive emotionalism. Not because I don't acknowledge my own emotions but because I consider that exchanging points of view in these areas requires the most accurate and deliberate statements because these are important areas to most people. That no doubt sounds pedantic but it is the process that I employ. If I have any doubts, I will "sleep on it".

I know that some things I write are stated strongly and deliberately so. But even there, I employ that device for what I consider the most compelling reasons. I have written often, that I would not comment on issues of personal belief, with one exception, when they are presented in a public forum as fact, either implicitly or explicitly.

I understand the interaction between growing personal beliefs and the believer, neophyte or mature; and between the believers and "official" religion. I made the point earlier, quite strongly, that there are very few, perhaps none, solitary believers. The common expression for believers is to join or attend a belief community. Each of these communities are affiliated within hierarchical structures and these structures are inevitably enmeshed with secular power and ultimately with corrupt secular power.

In my experience there is a significant dichotomy between what most people take on board as their "faith" and what they are obliged to believe, as in say, the Nicene Creed. In doctrinal terms, what each individual member of a religion believes is usually a mixture of official theology, local cultural customs and superstition. While no religion would admit to encouraging superstition, they are obliged to turn a blind eye or risk losing their members. A good example of this is the common practice of believers reading horoscopes. Theologically this activity is proscribed but is generally ignored as a lesser evil (than losing customers).

While an individual's belief system is inviolate and nobody else's business, becoming a member of a church, for usually the most parochial reasons, is a public act. Walking through the church doors automatically makes the believer an associate in all acts, omissions and commissions of their church and the wider structure to which the church is affiliated.

The ordinary believer would probably not even be cognisant of the wider implications of their simple act of belief but there is no doubt that the people at the pinnacle of ecclesiastical power make full use of the believer's attendance and membership in their ongoing machinations within the corridors of secular power. There is a brutal power play that is exercised when a church says "we have 2 million members".

I applaud your social concern and what your mother taught you. Both my wife (who remains a solid Catholic in spite of what I believe) and I have been involved over the years with many outreach activities working on the streets of Melbourne, London, Houston and Philadelphia with the homeless and lately in our advocacy on gay issues. Being a non-believer does not remove a person's compassion no more than being a believer automatically endows you with compassion. If the last were true, we would not see such abominations as this current government's Pacific Solutions policy and all the other indicators of a heartless society.

We have seen in Australian society, a capacity for altruism, as has happened in Beaconsfield or after the Boxing Day tsunami. As uplifting as the response to those events has been, they are only momentary phenomena. People's attention is short and a consistent change of heart and the creation of a viable equal opportunity society in Australia very quickly returns to lowest common denominator political bargaining and a clamour for personal or group advantage. Being a believer makes no difference to that final outcome and on the face of it, namely that I as a believer, am invoking the power of God into my life, it should.

As I have already said, Christianity has had 1700 years to show that it can make a difference in the world. There is no large scale evidence of that. Even in the rather curious business of potential sainthood you only get a Mother Theresa once in a century. If the only business of personal belief is as a boon to the individual then what is the purpose of the example of the historical Jesus?

Clear the slate

Roger, thank you for your considered response and shall we now agree, rather than go over each other's actual words and intent anymore, to just declare the slate clean?

I think we both agree that the written word has its limitations when you are trying to have a discussion about issues like this, and inevitably misinterpretations will arise. I too have a policy of not writing when a bit steamed up, but I do write when I am tired, usually after a long day out on the farm. Not a good idea.

I do in fact greatly respect your knowledge on issues theological and if I ever have the time I will get myself a bit better informed. Most of my generation came to our religion through parental influence in early childhood. There were just two books in our house that I knew of, though no doubt there were others. There was the Bible and the Short Stories of Henry Lawson. We got a reading from each every night, and that was it. So my education got off to a pretty narrow start, and the wolf was constantly at the door, so it did not get much better after that. I regret the lost opportunity but never the lessons of life itself. I consider myself so very very fortunate in so many ways.

I agree that when one steps inside the church one is by that very act joined to that institution with all its faults, and I am never blind to the omissions and commissions of the institutions and those that make up its hierarchy. I guess I do see some positives though in the work that good Christians do through their church amonst the disadvantaged, both in Australia and overseas. But yes, compassion and good works (a term I dislike, as you do "over the top"!) are not confined to believers and just as well, as believers are a declining breed.

I do find it interesting though that faith survived quite strongly in some parts of eastern Europe despite decades of repression of the institution of the church. Perhaps the buildings and the priests are quite unnecessary. The Covenanters, which were my mob, had to resort to the open fields.

I too am very concerned at the selfishness in our society. The wealthier some get, the more they seek, while others slip further into poverty. I never lose an opportunity to remind the younger members of my extended family of the sacrifices their grandparents made to build this country. I think we, who are the last links with that generation, have a responsibity to do that. They suffered two horrific world wars, the depression and lack of education and opportunity. My mother grieved all her life over her brother who was MIA in Flanders. How hard it was for her to never know. An uncle went mad in a prisoner of war camp, while others lived with life long injuries. But millions in Europe lost far more. Two of my friends and an elderly neighbour have no extended family. They all died in the holocaust or in Eastern Europe at the war's end and I cannot even begin to imagine what horrors they went through. Your family would know something of all that.

I was interested to read that your wife is still a Christian so we have a bit in common. The wives continue to believe, while the husbands do not. I think that says something about tolerance on both sides. Ian is in fact one of the most compassionate people I know, and I doubt one would find one of higher integrity anywhere. He also has a vast knowledge on so many subjects which is a bit daunting at times. But right now he is more concerned for his reputation on Webdiary! The thought of him living in a Muslim girls' hostel was a bit too much, and if I don't stop laughing, he might really engage the mad Scot.

It is late yet again and this does not engage with you on the actual points you make about faith, and believing, but which I have thought about. You pay me the courtesy of taking so much time to set out your point of view, and back it up, and I appreciate that. But have got to head south tomorrow so better sign off. Cheers for now.

More Thanks Is Due

Jenny, you are correct, enough has been said. I am fascinated by your reference to the Covenanters.

It has often seemed bizzare to me that people get to choose where God will live. Consecrated buildings and the like are a pale comparison to the grandeur of nature and the universe (God's creation to all believers and and an uncomfortable reminder of our inadequacy to those of us who do not believe).

Meeting in the fields or under trees or in the mountains seems emminently more suitable to me. If I wanted to attend a memorable service (and I actually attend Mass often because it is a family activity that is important to my wife), I would choose to have one on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Having visited it a number of times when we lived in the US, it has the immediate impact of making me and my thoughts totally insignificant. If God does not dwell in the Grand Canyon then He does not dwell anywhere.

Fortunately my wife leaves WD to me, like a prophet in his own country, my musings have no status in my own house. The cat is more intelligent I have been told.

I knew I was in trouble when...

Roger, there was nothing in the post to which I referred that I expected to draw a response, I was merely sharing an experience that I thought might go a little way into explaining belief. It was your apparent dismissal of my claim to have been a “solitary believer” that miffed me. Further, if you can find one solitary believer in a handful of people, I would suggest there’s more than a few out there. In my youth I kept my religion to myself and my peer group would have been surprised to learn of my belief.

This might go some way to explaining why I considered your view of religion as being too narrow. I had gained the impression, rightly or wrongly, that you see the churches of all kinds as religion itself. I have demonstrated that that is not exclusively the case.

More than a direct accusation of being patronising, it was my way of letting you know that that was the impression I was getting and suggesting (clumsily and ungently), that maybe a little introspection wouldn’t go astray because the other impression I’m getting is that this is “Roger’s War on Religion”; a futile exercise if it is.

At this point I must tell you that I have been unintentionally discourteous; I have addressed you on a subject about which you have written at some length but I have read neither of your articles. The former because I had not re-discovered WD at that point and the latter because I was not interested in the subject matter. You don’t consider it trivial, I think it’s irrelevant. That will be redressed in a quiet moment in the next few days as it now has relevance. Not in itself but so that I might gain an insight into why you think the way you do on this and obviate the reason for anger. (Far too strong a word anyway.) Incidentally, the values of secular humanism are as easily debauched; "Operation Iraqi Freedom". My god.

In the meantime I might be talking rubbish but decided that your not unexpected protest deserved some kind of immediate response.

Now I will speak, not about religion but of it.

In this matter I do not see how people can choose to believe or not. It’s not (in my experience), a matter of weighing up the pros and cons; it’s either there or not.

We will find little disagreement here. I have witnessed the damage done by religion. Not indirectly as is the case when it is used as justification for indulgence of lust for blood and power, but in the case of individual anguish where self imposed strictures on behaviour stemming from belief run headlong into perfectly natural feelings of desire and love. Surely that is not a matter of choice; the feelings of guilt and self loathing must be the most destructive of all emotions. That is my main beef with religion.

On the other hand I will tell you of a long time friend of mine, a personable highly intelligent and most spontaneously witty person I have met. He kicked heroin addiction only to replace it with alcohol. I watched his decline with impotent sadness, to the point where I was waiting for him to die. Before that happened he found his god. The piss head friend with whom I used to get on the tear was gone. (Just as bloody well, I was long too old for that shit anyway.) Yes, he’s still the same person, now married with a beautiful child, but so much of his life is now excluded from me. The joy of those who love him, for his resurrection (not in the religious sense), and the fact of his survival I believe says something.

This only to demonstrate there is good and bad in everything. That’s the nature of things, chaos mostly and occasional accidental order. Nothing to be done but take comfort in the good that man can do and the company of gentle like minded people.

I am sorry for the anger, that is always the case. It should have been left for the morning and maybe there was an element of Sir Galahad there, ludicrous if there was because our Jenny is more than capable of taking care of herself.

Words, Blah!

Scott, I can see the mix up. My reference to a "solitary believer" was a poor choice of words because I was referring to an "unaffiliated believer" that is one whose was their own singular church and not a member of a group. That sort of believer is a rarity and in the main people tend to congregate.

You are correct that I differentiate between spirituality which is personal and religion is collegial. Spirituality can have a powerful impact for good at a local, intimate level, that is one person at a time. Irrespective of the belief system itself, a spiritual person will be empathetic and sympathetic, all the necessary attributes to make a difference in another person's life. Religion, on the other hand, which is always attended by all the trappings of secular power is an abomination.

In my opinion, the real problem is that people join religions when they embark on a personal spiritual quest. One cannot be compatible with the other. If you are religionist, and you will remain one while you attend your church, then a share of the responsibility for the wrongs perpetrated by the religion devolves on to your shoulders. That is a harsh condemnation but what is the alternative? Can a Catholic, for example, say "I am here only for me and my soul's salvation and what my church does is none of my business"? The Nuremberg defence is not an option in a believer's life.

I have often contemplated what wider meaning is contained in examples of significant life changes such as the ones that occurred in your friend's life. To be trite, the first reaction can be 'miracles happen' which provides a lot of scope for acknowledging a benevolent God.

However, the reality is that your friend's recovery is a statistical aberration. Most people on that slippery slope do not have a happy outcome. Your friend is like the lucky survivor of the tsunami who prayed for God to save him and here he is so it must be true. That ignores that potentially 250,000 other prayed and their prayers were not answered because they are dead. Whose witness do we believe the bodies in the morgue or the lucky survivor's?

While I often yearn for living in gentle company and would like to bask in the glow of the good that we can do for each other, how could I do that? Take any point on the compass and follow that line. You will reach in every direction the most appalling misery and squalor. Why would I ignore the preponderance of such evidence to decide in favour of a fortunate happy outcome for one life's lucky one's living in relative affluence?


Have I suddenly slipped onto the set of The Ladykillers?  I think that reply to Jenny Hume was a bit over the top, old chap.  What she said, whether you agree with it or not, struck me as entirely genuine.

That I might think her beliefs (or she mine) certifiably delusional doesn't make it personal.  After all, I was once instrumental in binning my mother-in-law (she was chatting to the real mozzies, Irfan Yusuf will be pleased to hear) whom I liked greatly.

Enough Of That "Old" Stuff

Malcolm, I have not questioned whether Jenny’s beliefs are genuine. I am certain that they are. If you would read what I wrote without assuming that I am taking a personal set against her you will get an entirely different sense of what I wrote and perhaps why I wrote it.

The issue, as I see it, is the differentiation between personal belief systems and public expressions of the same including membership of formal religious institutions. I have stated a number of times in different forums that I believe that people's personal beliefs are inviolable. However, once they choose to make a public profession of their belief, behind which  the assumption is made, or is openly claimed, that their deity exists or is a motivating or actual force behind events in their life then such professions cannot go unchallenged. They are conjecture no matter how genuinely those beliefs are held.

Perhaps these things are not important to you but they are to me.

Now on to something else, namely, "over the top". This is one of those Americanisms that I loathe. It means nothing and conveys nothing except that the user has some level of concern or unease about something. I would like to know exactly what you meant by that expression, if you have the time and inclination to express it.

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