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'People In Glass Houses' by Tanya Levin

Chris Saliba is a Webdiary contributor. His archive is here. His last Webdiary piece was his review of Barack Obama's 'Thoughts on reclaiming the American dream'. His blog is here.

After a touch of controversy, former Hillsong congregant Tanya Levin’s book about her experiences in one of Australia’s uber-churches has been published by Black Inc.  Allen and Unwin, despite promoting the book on their website a compelling insider’s story (‘a brave book by a courageous woman’), dropped People In Glass Houses when their publishing director Patrick Gallagher decided Hillsong exposed too great a defamation risk. Despite Hillsong spokeswoman Maria Ieroianni maintaining the church did not lobby the publishers, it appears the church is perceived as possibly litigious.

Tanya Levin doesn’t seem like your typical Pentecostal church swayer. Her Hillsong memoir has more wisecracks than Fanny Brice, Dorothy Parker and Ruby Wax put together. She quotes Joan Rivers, reads Paris Hilton’s Confessions of an Heiress as though it were revelatory scripture, and describes herself as a Jewish South African princess. To say that Levin is an ironic writer is an understatement. How then did she end up a member of Hillsong? It makes sense that she was booted out of this Christian church popular with the likes of John Howard, Peter Costello and Bob Carr. But the question that will occupy most readers is, how did she ever get in?

Perhaps the church learned too late about what type of character they had with Levin, and would have barred her at thirteen should they have known there was such a skeptic in their midst. Hillsong’s doors are now effectively shut on Levin. After attending the 2005 Women’s Colour Your World Seminar, doing research for this book, she caused a bit of an upset. She later wrote to Brian Houston, requesting an interview for her book.  In response she received a very cool corporate style letter from the church’s general manager George Aghajanian. Levin was told to "refrain from attending any future Hillsong church services or events; including accessing Hillsong’s land and premises at any time".

Beneath the wisecracks, though, lurks the anxiety of a woman in search of herself after having filed for divorce from a decidedly patriarchal church. Much of Glasshouses reads like self-therapy. This is not to say it’s morbidly self-obsessed, just inward looking. Don’t expect a shocking blow-by-blow expose, following a straight narrative line of the young novice entering church, followed by the gathering clouds of doubt,  and then the final act of apostasy.  Following Levin’s story is like listening to a brilliant but eccentric genius talk to themselves. You have to pay attention, as she mixes insights with throwaway one-liners in equal measure. This is a serious book that often asks you not to take it too seriously.

Tanya Levin was introduced to the Hillsong Church at the age of 13 by her parents, Fred and Elaine. The family had immigrated from South Africa in 1977, when Tanya was six years old. Levin’s own time line of her involvement with the church runs thus: "Five years of attendance, twelve years of hell, three years of daring to suspect, and six weeks of watching it disintegrate."

Her suspicions first started at the age of sixteen, when she thought the people in the congregation speaking in tongues were all crazy, performing in a ‘charade’. Levin never completely quit the church after these first seeds of doubt, but rather maintained an ambivalent relationship. "I never quit being a Christian," Levin writes, "I just stopped showing up for work"’ While not showing up for work, the absentee Christian nevertheless maintained a troubling spiritual, intellectual and theological argument with Hillsong.

The final nail in the coffin came in 2002 when Hillsong’s Pastor Brian Houston came clean with the truth about the rumours that had been circulating about his father Frank Houston, considered the father of Sydney's Pentecostal churches. He had confessed to sexually molesting underage boys. Levin’s blood boiled. Not so much at the revelation, bad as it was. What made her gorge rise was that no recognition was shown to the victims of the crime. Brian Houston, holding his wife Bobbie’s hand, asked the church to pray for them and their family. They got a standing ovation.

To Levin’s indignation, there was no statement from Houston vowing that this would never happen again. No policies were to be put in place so that all those in positions of authority at Hillsong would know what their responsibilities were if they should ever witness anything inappropriate. Houston didn’t even ask for forgiveness from the victim’s families. It was like they didn’t exist.

‘My blood skipped from boiling to mercury. Watching people get had is upsetting at the best of times; watching them applaud a cover-up was heartbreaking. To digest having a paedophile for a patriarch so readily is no mean feat. How do you get people to comply like this?’

This is a question that Levin tries to answer, dipping into the psychiatric literature on cults. Yes, the author seems pretty adamant that Hillsong is a cult. These chapters will give the skeptical a smirk of satisfaction. Levin describes the recruitment techniques of cults, how they brain wash, the idea of ‘thought reform’, how schools indoctrinate, and so on and so forth.

Maintaining that Hillsong is in the brainwashing business, Levin writes:

‘So what inspires people to devote so much of their time and money to a group so soon after joining? How do you find yourself applauding the senior pastor’s cover-up of his father’s sexual misuse of the same role and powers? It’s actually not hard. Most importantly, whatever you call it, no one who has been brainwashed believes they’ve been brainwashed.’

Another beef Levin has with Hillsong is its attitudes towards sex. She doesn’t like the church’s attitude to women, who don’t register as far as she’s concerned, and gay men. With regards to Lesbianism the church takes a Victorian attitude: women simply wouldn’t do something so beastly. Levin’s dark humour is at its best when describing the sex scenes out of the Old Testament:

‘If the entire plot of the Old Testament were made into a movie, it could only be screened in Amsterdam. With story lines so violent and obscene, even to preach against them would require an Adults-Only timeslot. The children of Israel make the twenty-first century pornographers look infantile and unimaginative.’

Sex roles in Hillsong are simple and clearly defined. No one must deviate. "The sexuality of the fundamentalist is simple and totalitarian," we are told. The men have their own conferences, and the women have theirs. The men’s conference goes for two nights and one day. What do they get up to? We don’t know. The closest we get to the goings on of the men’s conference is from a monthly e-mail from the men’s group RealMen. When it comes to sex for real men, we are informed that anal sex is out for medical reasons (bad for your bum), but everything else on the menu can be savoured and enjoyed.

Homosexuality is a major preoccupation for the Hillsong church. The church cannot accept homosexuals because they are the ultimate rule breakers. And if you’re a woman, you’re basically just looking for a good Christian hubby. Beyond that, you don’t exist. Women appear nowhere in the Christian hierarchy. Women are Adam’s spare rib.

Anyone who has endured the rigours of a Christian education will recognise the above. My first three years of schooling were spent in a state school, followed by nine years of primary and secondary education in Catholic schools. The sex divide was the first thing that struck me about Catholic school after my experiences in a state school. For some reason the boys had their own massive paddock to play in. No girls allowed. The nuns would occasionally relax this rule – maybe once or twice a year – and the girls would be granted the temporary privilege of using the boys’ yard.

Then when I went to secondary school, an all boys Catholic school, cultivating masculinity was a high priority from day one.  The brothers insisted we do everything in a big ‘manly fashion’. It seemed odd to me when my form teacher, Brother Michael, would  exhort us to speak in ‘big manly voices’. I was only twelve at the time.

Perhaps this anxiety that men should be men, or RealMen, is used as a cloak to hide high levels of homosexuality. When it comes to Hillsong, Levin claims there are, ‘More homos than you can poke a stick at. Even the stories I verified added up to a disproportionate number.’ This despite the church’s claim to have no homosexuals, or at least active homosexuals, in their congregation.

Why is Hillsong so popular? Why are politicians like John Howard and Peter Costello keen to be seen as part of the Hillsong scene? For the latter I guess they go where the votes are, or where they think they can rustle up a constituency. The church’s ‘prosperity theology’ – the notion that God wants you to be rich – must be a very agreeable theology to John Howard.

As to why the church is so popular with regular folk, I’m guessing it’s because they’ve successfully co-opted two of the secular world’s most basic cultural and economic planks: popular music and capitalism. The bands and live performances at Hillsong make churchgoing more like a concert, rather than some boring conventional service, with uninspired readings from the New Testament (I speak from experience, church going in my day was one of unremitting boredom). Checking through the Aria Australian top fifty this week, I noticed that Hillsong has an album, Saviour King, at number twenty, down from seventeen. (Highest position was number six.) Prosperity theology hardly needs explaining. It’s akin to saying if money doesn’t grow on trees, then it should.

What happened to Tanya Levin’s faith? In the end she came to the conclusion that uncertainty was the best faith, and quotes Albert Einstein to explain her new found religion:

‘I believe in mystery and, frankly, I sometimes face this mystery with great fear. In other words, I think that there are many things in the universe that we cannot perceive or penetrate and that also we experience some of the most beautiful things in life in only a very primitive form. Only in relation to these mysteries do I consider myself to be a religious man.’

Amen to that.


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Yes John, we really do need faith!

Yes, John, we really do need faith!  I agree that there are some charities of non religious organizations that do a lot of good work. However, the fact is that most charities are run by Christian or religious groups.Even the Red Cross has it's origins in Christianity. One of it's founders, Henry Dunant was an evangelical and fundamentalist Christian.Further, The New Testament biblical character of the Good Samaritan permeates the official History of the Red Cross.

 You see John, you just cannot get away from faith and religion.There are many people of goodwill  who follow the teachings of Christ, and who make positive and lasting contributions to their fellow human beings and the world.

Even  our common set of values and laws were derived from Judeo-Christian Ethics.

The problems in this world stem not from religion or faith, but from greed, lust for power, intolerance and selfishness!

And John, please don't tell me that all atheists are altruistic with pure unselfish motives, mate!

Better that we all learnt to live together accepting  each others differences, rather than trying to change one another eh?

 Believers and non-believers!


PS Hi Jen, how's your sister coming along?

Slowly Kath but getting there

Kath: She's getting there slowly thanks Kath.  It is her 70th next week so I am hoping she will be better for a celebration in the old family pad at Goulburn in early October. She is a very devout person and of all the family has done the most to help people in need, even when she has never been in good health for many years herself.

I dug out one of two farm pictures for Harry's site but do not know how to post them to the site. So need some help on what to do there. 

Cheers. Off to serve soup to the scot. Apologies to Daniel as he passes by. As I said, we need more chics around this place. But WD widows are probably like me, mostly cooking for the man while he blogs happily away.  

Richard: I need to find myself one of those ;) 

The Courtier's Reply

[P.Z. Myers]

I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor's boots, nor does he give a moment's consideration to Bellini's masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor's Feathered Hat.

We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor's raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk.

Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.

Personally, I suspect that perhaps the Emperor might not be fully clothed — how else to explain the apparent sloth of the staff at the palace laundry — but, well, everyone else does seem to go on about his clothes, and this Dawkins fellow is such a rude upstart who lacks the wit of my elegant circumlocutions, that, while unable to deal with the substance of his accusations, I should at least chide him for his very bad form.

Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor's taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.

Is blind faith immoral?

In fact, one can go further, and point out that it may well be immoral to have beliefs without a logical basis. Theodore Schick, Jr. and Lewis Vaughn discuss why this is so:

'Everybody's entitled to their own opinion' goes the platitude, meaning that everybody has the right to believe whatever they want. But is that really true? Are there no limits on what is permissible to believe? Or, as in the case of actions, are some beliefs immoral? Surprisingly, perhaps, many have argued that just as we have a moral duty not to perform certain sorts of actions, so we have a moral duty not to have certain sorts of beliefs. No one has expressed this point of view more forcefully than the distinguished mathematician W. K. Clifford: 'It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence.'"

Others of similar stature have echoed this sentiment. Biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, for example, declared, 'It is wrong for a man to say that he is certain of the objective truth of any proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty.' And Brand Blanshard has proclaimed that where great human goods and ills are involved, the distortion of belief from any sort of avoidable cause is immoral, and the more immoral the greater the stakes.

These men think it wrong for belief to outstrip the evidence because our actions are guided by our beliefs, and if our beliefs are mistaken, our actions may be misguided, As Blanshard indicated, the more important the decision, the greater our duty to align our beliefs with the evidence, and the greater the crime if we don't. Where not much hangs on the belief, it might be thought that what one believes has little importance. But Clifford claims that even in trivial matters we have a duty to proportion our belief to the evidence:

'Every time we let ourselves believe for unworthy reasons, we weaken our powers of self-control, of doubting, of judicially and fairly weighing evidence. We all suffer severely enough from the maintenance and support of false beliefs and the fatally wrong actions which they lead to.... But a greater and wider evil arises when the credulous character is maintained and supported, when a habit of believing for unworthy reasons is fostered and made permanent.'

According to Clifford, responsible believing is a skill that can be maintained only through constant practice. And since responsible believing is a prerequisite for responsible acting, we have a duty to foster this skill.

Roger: If responsible believing is a skill that can be learned. What do you think about blind faith? It seems to me that it is quite dangerous.

The Exercise Of Faith Is Not Blind

John, I could certainly take issue with Clifford but I don't think that would be a particularly useful exercise. He does say something that, possibly unintentionally on his part is true, for a believer, namely the requirement for constancy of practice.  Within the body of believers there is a constant conversation that would have no presence to those who do not believe.

The acceptance of faith, and the commitment to live by that faith are only meant to be the start of a spiritual and practical journey.

At its core, the spiritual journey has an element which is reserved for the benefit of the believer, the closely experienced interaction between the believer and their God. However, there is no guarantee that any believer will experience such a thing. Mother Theresa certainly did not as her now-published private letters attest. Would someone know from the outside how bleak the internal spiritual landscape was for that exemplary woman?

In the face of her own spiritual desolation what was it that she turned to? The service of others! That is a conscious decision remade daily. Now Mother Theresa might be considered an extreme example both by what she did and what she experienced. However on the spiritual artifact scale from a life filled with fairytale spiritual bliss to a life bare of intimate spiritual comfort, most believers will tell you, honestly, that their experience is always somewhere near the barren end.

The comfort that makes the journey worthwhile is the comfort received from a small measure of satisfaction that you might receive from being of service to someone in need. 

You might see from this, John, that while there might be people who you might categorise as having "blind faith", it is not something that I readily recognise. "Blind faith in what" would be my first question, if I was discussing that with one of those people. If they follow Christ, they can't be doing it blindly. Christ asks of us everything up to the ultimate sacrifice, our lives. How could you be blind to that.

I have been writing about it constantly for the past few weeks. You cannot be a professed Christian and not live a life of service to others, particularly to those who are not Christian. If you do not live a life of service you are not a Christian. It really is that simple.

You can call yourself a Christian, you can attend services, you can give away a part of your income but if you are not personally engaged in rendering service to others you are NOT a Christian. You do NOT follow Christ. James writes unequivocally in his 2nd letter; "Faith without good works is dead".

So blind faith is no faith at all. It is at best a pious prejudice with no more moral power than that exhibited by the ugly red-necked xenophobic hordes that Hansonism panders to. It is dangerous, as you suggest, and we should refrain from referring to it as faith.

Faith can be good and evil.

Roger, Jenny and Kathy: I accept that religion and faith can cause men and women to do good. My point is, do we need it, to do good? I don't think so. There are many examples of non religious organisations that do good. RSLCARE, Plan international, and the Red Cross are  examples of non religious organisations that do good in our society. I have no faith, in anything supernatural, I work for RSLCARE looking after the elderly as a volunteer, I give financial support to Plan and Red Cross. So the argument that my organisation does more good than yours, does not get us anywhere. I believe that we have a natural instinct to help others.

Roger, you talk of a spiritual journey, I agree with you, I think, my life can be described as a spiritual journey. I have had many attempts at finding God's will and I understand the barren end of faith. I have come to realise that the spiritual journey is a lonely journey and may be a natural process we go through.

Why I ask, all of us to examine our religion and faith, is that I find that many people, while on their spiritual journeys, find others that want to show the way (religion).  We are vulnerable to outside influences, false prophets who can led us into evil. This can be seen in the likes of Osama Bin Laden.  It  can also be seen in the Theocracies  of  Iran and US. If we look at the history of the Christian religion it has a dark side as well as a good side.

The reason I am so vocal at the moment is the rise of the Christian right in Australia. I believe that religion should not get involved in politics. We live in a secular state and we should defend it. The same battle is going on in Turkey where the Islamists are threatening a secular state.

Roger, as usual I agree with what you have written, I am trying to express my fear of organised religion. It has a track record of leading good people to do evil things. A individual on a spiritual  journey is  a wonderful idea. It is the vulnerability of people on  their  journey that  I think we should be aware of.  May be God is natural not supernatural and then we would not need blind faith.

The Wisdom Of Solomon Required

John, I acknowledge your concern, and yet, I am much more concerned by other problems facing humankind.

In spite of the influence that religious organisations have upon governments, that influence has absolutely no influence in the corporate world.

The world's major problem is not terrorism or the rise of political religious organisations, rather it is institutionalised corporate anti-socialism. By law, publicly-held businesses are required to do nothing that will diminish the value of the shareholder's holdings. Business leaders can be sued for corporate malfeasance if they spend corporate funds on socially-conscious projects that bring no direct value to their business.

Corporations are the most vicious resources predators on this planet. There is not a single resource that will not be exploited remorselessly as long as the business returns a profit, irrespective of the social cost. Business leaders who have families and love them spend the most productive parts of their lives creating wealth with enormous deleterious side-effects to the rest of the planet.

triple A rating in a pudding eating

Roger, I do think you are right. And I think that Nations are threatened by such powerful groups who really are accountable to none, if the shareholder is divided, or there is a dominant block. Transnationals seem to be able to elude the very laws of nations in which they operate and disappear in complex restructuring when the shit is about to hit the fan.

Nations are a structure of some benefit,and it could be debated such as by capitalist anarchists like Paul, because it gives some accountability through elections via information via press. Unfortunately sometimes nations seem like giant cheap labour markets for exploitation.

At least those still have their opium.  Religion and distraction (sport/entertainment/sex, not in that order) are two areas dangerous to remove from the underclass.

I listened to Prof Dawkins argue at the Ideas Festival in Brisbane on Radio National last night. Very interesting. He has approached the idea of religion from a scientific point of view, ie hypothesis formation based upon experiments and testing of data.  He points out that there is no scientific proof, just undiscovered facts and explanations. He also says to his credit that if there is ever proof he will be the first to genuflex , kneel and do homage.

Well, you can't get fairer than that. Religion never said there was proof, nor that it was a science. Now we just need religion to get out of science.

And John, I really like your values and it matters not what religion or not you are. All the same they do seem rather familiar.

I like CS Lewis . His last battle has the honest and noble enemy who worships the Tash being embraced by Aslan into Narnia2.  All that you did that was good in Tash's name was for me, all that is done bad in my name is for Tash.

I know that is not Organised Church doctrine as they want people to stick with the club for power's sake, but I think that was CS Lewis's way of saying intentions and deeds make the (in this case ) Christian, rather than deeds, and we are all "Christians" if our deeds are such.

Anyway, John, i would give you a triple A rating, and that is more reliable than anything S&P give.

As the kitchen says, the proof of the Pudding is in the eating, we gotta die to find out if we made the right  decisions, chose the right path, or if it even matters to us after death...

And the churches are there

John: If you watched Four Corners tonight which dealt with the terrible consequences for the individual and for families of problem gamblers, you would see that, as usual, trying to do something about this problem are the combined Christian churches.

I sometimes wonder where those in need would be in this country without the work of the combined church organizations. The Salvos and the Wesley Central Mission and the like do an incredible job in helping people in need; many of whom the wider society see as detritus. 

So can you not see any good in the work of those who follow Christ, trying to do his work in an ever increasing materialistic and greedy world?

And there are countless numbers of people around the world who follow Christ's example, bringing hope, love and help to so many more in so many different ways in so many countries.

Much as you and Daniel would like to do away with faith and religion in this world, I believe it would be a much poorer place and many who are in need would simply die, with hope of a better life.  Think of the blind children given back their sight through the Christian Blind Mission and tell me that the believers in that organization are just deluded, as Dawkins would have it. Well if that is what delusion does, then let us have more of it. Much more.

Talk is Cheap!

Unfortunately Jen,"There are none so blind than those that will not see!" You are wasting your breath my dear.

Anyhow,we really don't need all those Christian Charities do we? Anglicare, The Salvos, Wesley Cental Mission, St Vinnies and the Good Samaritans. Heck no, all those thoughtful caring committed atheists will take  up the slack  in no time eh?

 Hmm... Now, what was the name of that well known atheist charitable organization that has helped so many people?

Never mind..

 I am sure the world would be a much better place without faith and religion Jenny!  Hell, we may even  reach utopia without it!

And so too are they Kathy

Kathy: Yes I know I waste my breath so I don't try too hard. But those decrying faith are actually doing the same. One could say blind atheism but what is the point?

There are of course organizations that do a lot of good and which are not run by any church, but the churches traditionally, because of Christ's teaching are committed to trying to help others all over the world. Though I am not so sure about churches like Hillsong.  

When I saw that 4 Corners program last night with all those people pumping money into a box of flashing lights I could not help thinking what a barren spiritual place those machine banks must be. If people can afford to waste money like that it would be far better that they followed Christ and used it to help others. There are so many who need help through no fault of their own. I think of people in our community with a disabled child struggling through life, never getting a decent break or relief and who would welcome some help as just one example. But of course the gamblers are often themselves the ones in need. A very sad situation for their families and for them. I cannot get my mind around the mindset that would see someone go through even the family home that way. And what beats me is that the one person whom I know who did do that was in fact a psychologist. Makes one wonder what advice he gave to clients who had a compulsive gambling problem. 

I've never gambled and cannot get my head around those like the late Mr Packer who pushed millions into gaming houses. I know he did do good with his money which few know about but the amount that went into gambling could have done so much more for so many. I just wonder why people make the choices they do when there is so much suffering in the world. I could not live with myself if I had millions and a child in a third world country went blind for the want of five dollars. But I will never have millions for that very reason.

Roger: You put is so well. Blind faith. One might apply the term to those who follow cult figures like the Jonestown people, but the ordinary Christian like myself is by no means blind in faith. I was taught about Christ as a child. I listened to my mother, but it was the exemplary life she led helping others through her faith that convinced me that faith was not something that enslaved or blinded one. I thought a lot about what I believed and went through periods of spiritual barreness, but in the end found that faith was really the rock on which I had built my life. I remember sniggering with my class mates in our church school during prayers and the Head Mistress took us all to task and said: You will look back and realise that this time spent in prayer each day is the most valuable part of you school days. Thirty years later we had a re-union of my class and I asked the others did they remember that. And they all said yes, and that how true those words were for them, as they were for me.

My life would be spiritually barren without my faith. I find that I do things for others, many just small things, such as just sit and chat for an hour or so with the lonely old widow over the road, and I find that I derive much joy from that small deed. To go there feeling gloomy, but to come away both of us having had a good laugh is so uplifting. A sense of well being that I certainly could not derive from seeing coins drop out of a slot from a flashing machine.

Ah yes, faith lights up the dark lanes. I would feel blind  without it and I am certainly not rendered blind by it. Sometimes the light seems a bit dim, but something always seems to recharge the battery in the torch. 

All the best to you both. And John and Daniel. I had better try and do something to appease the tax man this week. Now Daniel, that is what I call boring. Ian is in there writing a piece for WD and I am doing the tax. Something wrong there for sure. But at least he seems better so he take over the soup making now.




We Count Our Blessings

Jenny, these things can be of no importance to much of the world but of inestimable value to each one of us individually.

As much as John is concerned by the presence of politico-religious power (it has always been thus) perhaps he will accept that his greatest allies are those who don't want to change the world, only themselves.

Does McGrath have all the answers?

Jenny: Dawkins on McGrath, "But whereas I and other scientists are humble enough to say we don’t know, what of theologians like McGrath? He knows. He’s signed up to the Nicene Creed. The universe was created by a very particular supernatural intelligence who is actually three in one. Not four, not two, but three. Christian doctrine is remarkably specific: not only with cut-and-dried answers to the deep problems of the universe and life, but about the divinity of Jesus, about sin and redemption, heaven and hell, prayer and absolute morality. And yet McGrath has the almighty gall to accuse me of a “glossy”, “quick fix”, naive faith that science has all the answers."

Why should I read McGrath, does he has anything fresh to add to the discussion?. 

Christians with a lot to answer for.

The church settlement is essentially one town crossing the border, a jumble of walled compounds, trailers and farm fields at the base of spectacular red bluffs. Nearly all of the 6,000 residents follow the dictates of Mr. Jeffs, who they believe speaks for God; women wear ankle-length dresses, and children are taught to run away from outsiders.

Mr. Jeffs, 51, is in the Purgatory jail in southern Utah, his trial scheduled to start on Sept. 10 on charges of being an accomplice to rape, for his role in forcing a 14-year-old girl to marry an older cousin. He faces several other sex-related charges in Arizona.

If this behaviour was going on in a Muslim country we would be outraged and it would be all over the international media. Christians have a lot to answer for. The Theocracies in Iran and the US are tarred with the same brush. I see no one is willing to listen to Dawkins and debate the issue. All gone back to our cosy faith.

I just don't want to see a theocracy in Australia. 

And do you really think

John: And do you really think that if you did away with faith and religion there would be no rape of minors, no charlatans prepared to prey on the gullible and weak in the world?

And do you believe the atheist regimes around the world such as those in China, the USSR and elswhere are models of human rights? And that atheists generally are not guilty of the sort of crimes some preachers of religion are guilty of?

Why do atheists not get a bit real and acknowledge that observance of religious faith probably does more good in the world than harm. It is really very boring when atheists pick every crime committed by  preachers claiming to be speaking for or representing God and use those as an example to somehow justify their atheism. It is a weak argument against faith.

As I said Dawkins has had his run here and in the press. He is becoming rather overexposed and after awhile people just stop listening. His personal antagonism towards faith and his inability and unwillingess to really understand it is patent the moment he opens his mouth. Have you read McGrath's book?

Imagine a world without religion.

Jenny: Doing away with faith and religion is not going to solve all the worlds problems. But  I would like to imagine a world without  religion.

Atheist are not free from sin nor do they claim to be.

I think we are currently threatened by  a religious fanatic, who has recently threatened to kill us all, unless we all convert to Islam. He has a following of young men, and women, who are willing to throw their lives away to achieve their goals. This is a very serious situation, and one that should make us think about the reasons religion can drive anyone to this level of determination.

Religion has played a big role in the history of man and it is a now looking to play a bigger role in the running of our country.  This is evidenced by both contenders for the job of Prime Minister openly displaying their Christianity. It is why at the last election and in the up coming election Family First plays a role. With supporters like this "A Family First campaign worker in Queensland also attracted criticism for suggesting lesbians should be burnt like witches."

The resurgence of religion is a serious problem and the secular state is at risk. 

We should all have a good look at our convictions. If anyone can show me, one event that can be put down to the supernatural, show me the light.  

Religion has and is causing millions of people to fight and die for their beliefs. The first step to bring this wicked waste to an end might be to re-examine our belief systems.  Understand ourselves and we may be able to understand others.

John, Such Commonsense Is Unwanted By Many!

John writes: Religion has and is causing millions of people to fight and die for their beliefs. The first step to bring this wicked waste to an end might be to re-examine our belief systems. Understand ourselves and we may be able to understand others. 

But John, people who believe don't want to examine their belief systems let alone re-examine them!

Given that billions are involved in this fantasy called religion, how is humankind ever going to progress past the stage of primitive superstition and set up a more logical, rational world.

As well, religious institutions don't want to give up their extreme wealth and power. And politicians don't want to lose the vote of the faithful either.

We seem to be locked into an endless, futile cycle, one that guarantees that war will never stop and ignorance will continue to prevail much as it's done for thousands of years.

Right On, Daniel

Daniel, whether by design or by accident you have very clearly laid out the crux of the very problem that we are meant to fix by our actions.

You and John have stated the obvious but missed the solution. The world will not change by billions re-examining their belief system. It will only change by billions exercising their faith systems. That's me and you doing things not talking about them.

If we, by the million's, followed the selfless example of a Mother Theresa, for example. or an Albert Schweitzer or a Fred Hollows or a member of Medecin San Frontieres or a street counsellor in St Kilda or a visitor to countless hospitals every where and attended to the needs of our fellow humans what need would there be for belief systems because we would be living the life of Christ, factual or fictional, every day. 

That is the challenge! 

No Peace While Faith Exists!

Roger tells us: The world will not change by billions re-examining their belief system. It will only change by billions exercising their faith systems.

But I thought that most problems in the world were caused by misguided folk exercising their divisive, fantasy-based faith systems, Roger!

I thought that Muslim folk all over the world feel that they are under threat from white Christian folk from America and Australia and Britain; and Palestinians legitimately feel they are under threat of extinction by Jewish folk using American arms; and that Hindus in India feel that Muslim folk from Pakistan created a survival threat for them; and Muslim Iran feels under threat of imminent nuclear attack from Western Christian nations; and so on, and on, and on...ad nauseam.

Roger, faith is a dangerous and divisive thing. History shows clearly that we will never have peace while faith exists!

Surely it's time for reality and intelligence to finally prevail.

How About Some Real Intelligence

Daniel, once again, you have not read what was written but launched yourself off on some tangent.

"But I thought that most problems....", Daniel, go back and read what I wrote and you will answer your own question.

"I thought that Muslim folk...", Daniel, arrant nonsense, go back and read what I wrote.

"Roger, faith is a dangerous and divisive....", Daniel, this is a simplistic and provocative mis-statement that shows no command of history, religion, theology or faith. For example, you have previously volunteered that The Crusades were a religious war, something that historical scholars do not contend except in the very loosest terms. You have never responded as to why your earlier statement vis-a-vis The Crusades should be taken seriously. It seems to have ended up in the same large hole that many of your other pronouncements disappear in to.

"Surely it's time for reality and intelligence to finally prevail", Daniel, I heartily agree, do you have something that you want to contribute to that aim? Perhaps you can tell us why your version of "reality" should be given some credence and whether "intelligence" is your code word for things that you find agreeable.

Those That Breal The Law Only

John, people in the US are outraged and people of conscience, here, will also be outraged. But, the law will be applied.

I wonder what the point of your posting is? There are thousands of Mr. Jeffs around the world and millions of gullible people who think that their needs are being fulfilled. That says a lot about the human condition.

There is a biblical injunction that all people of faith must follow, "Beware false prophets". That means questioning the bona fides of the Mr. Jeffs as well as the mainstream churches. If one finally has to face a judgement it will do you no good to say "I was a good Methodist" or "I followed the teachings of the Catholic Church". As a believer you must follow Christ. Mr. Jeffs is not a substitute.

As to your final paragraph, why would you be concerned, now, about a theocracy in Australia, We already have one. Our monarch is the head of the Church of England, the acknowledged Defender of the Faith. That's one of the most compelling reasons to vote for a republic. I don't want a theocracy either.

Say no to theocracy

Roger: you're right, the law will be applied, thank goodness. Why, I am drawing WD's attention to these false prophets, is the fact that many of us seem very prone to false prophets. The idea that "God will fix it, if we're good", Iran and the US are good examples of countries where false prophets already have control. I believe we must keep false prophets from becoming law makers. In the last election we saw the rise of Australia First, our politicians are outdoing themselves on how "Christian" they are, Howard had taken financial support from the exclusive brethren.

Religions ( by any definition most, must be false prophets) are taking an  more active part in politics. It is impossible to come up with a false prophet detector. With the current  polarisation  of  religion to the extent that some extremists are declaring war on us, it is time to have a really good look at religion, history and politics.

I would like us all to have a reality check, and have a good look into ourselves, look at the atrocities that have been done in our name, often in the name of religion, such as disposition of indigenous people,  the  removal  of Palestinian  people from their homelands. If we are to survive this century, I believe we must base our trust in logic not fantasy, or wishful thinking.

There are real issues such as climate change, peak oil, and the clash of civilisations that are threatening to wipe us from the planet. I think we can best face these urgent problems by realising we are on our own and our future is in our hands, not some fancy magic being we may call God. If we think, as  Iran's population thought, become good Muslims(Christians in our case) and God will fix the world, we are deluding ourselves.

It is time to face the future, as adults, accept our place in the world. Anyone who wants to put themselves up as an agent of God should show proof.  Otherwise they are likely to be false prophets and distract us from the real task ahead, the survival of the planet and all the species that call it home. We do not have time to fight each other over whose prophet is better or worse. We do not have the comfort of loving fairies, magic rocks, and false gods,  to distract us from taking action.

I think we should not trust politicians, that say they have a connection to a God of any sort. It shows a gullible and illogical mind, at best and dishonesty at worst.

It Is Time, John!

"...it is time to have a really good look at religion, history and politics." says our John.

When one starts to look at religion, point out its inconsistencies, its musty anachronisms, its total lack of evidence, its complete unbelievableness, folks begin to complain. The more religious they are, the more they complain. "Don't take away our crutch," they cry, gnashing their teeth. If pressed, they typically resort to insult or feigned laughter to try to crush those who expose their beliefs for what they are: fantasies.

With politics it's a similar story. Our current political system is corrupt, badly flawed. The APEC Summit demonstrated that clearly. Democracy is rapidly becoming even more of a myth.

And history, well that is a totally subjective notion anyway as, in recent times, Germans, Japanese and Israeli historians attest.

When are people going to accept the reality of the world and themselves and try to build a just, caring society, one that considers everyone to be of equal importance?

To be or not to be...perchance to dream

Daniel: "When are people going to accept the reality of the world and themselves and try to build a just, caring society, one that considers everyone to be of equal importance?"

A nice summary of Jesus’ teaching. Perhaps it is the religious institutions and the dogma that you reject?

There are great words of wisdom out there, to ponder what the realities are, what the meanings if there are any, and so on. There are so many writings including the main churches/religions, but also humanist, that all have such a common thread. But I haven't seen it as well expressed as you did, just then. Nice one. It shows you seek the same things that great people, truly great people have sort since we have had enough leisure to contemplate.

Consider: when asked what are the two greatest commandments" the love the Lord your G-d and to love your neighbour as yourself” was the answer given. Both are passive, caring, gentle.

It is the perverters of religious thought who have turned such into hating and controlling and hurting.

You are right, there are plenty around and that simple test – which group does it sound like, will tell you if they are perverters ... Methinks so many of the world leadership use religion, not just Salafy/wahabist Islam but also fundamentalist Hindu, Christian and Zionist. Even Buddhism I understand was changed to war religion/philosophy by the Japanese state.

Anyway, do we have to reject the idea of religion just because some pervert it and use it to manipulate?

Certainly it could be replaced by humanist philosophy. That would cater for the day to day and morality.

I do not know if it will help with the hard times, the slow dying, the heavy suffering, the cutting loss. Perhaps for those with loving people around it will be enough. Pity those who do not.

Is religion just used as a crutch then? Are those who hand over independence of existence – refuting there is no one but me and no time but now – less strong? Is the filling of religious temples during war and threat and suffering and loss just a sign of weakness? Seeking illusion? Yet it happens in every group, every religion. I wonder what the areligious like communists do at such times. Do they reinvent a special stone to hold, imagine a special place to seek comfort, think of and talk to a loved but dead relative? People who have been betrayed by the institution of religion, such as child abuse victims, I wonder how they seek sanctuary from fears, comfort when alone.

Sometimes I try and look at it from G-d's point of view. A bit of heresy here, eh? But to me G-d has a great sense of humour, that is part of love hmmmm " How many bloody times do I have to send prophets, and teachers and learning, leisure time and time of strife, how many times until they will listen and stop twisting the message, how clear do I have to be - stop fking hurting each other and pay me some attention......or maybe this free will thing was not such a good idea after all. ..... without effort of thought, it is nothing...without learning and questioning they just list in the sea of ignorant shopping channels....hmm, my next species will be better....oh sht, who let those fken nukes off everywhere? Next time, no bloody Y chromosome, hmm disappear it at adulthood, after rugby finals."

I just know (here is the extra boring personal bit) that for years I followed the inherited religion, then rejected that and had dream after dream of blackness and nothing … it is terrifying, awakening in a cold sweat ..Have you ever had it? For a year I withstood and then had to seek.

I have such admiration for those who can face the nothing of atheist belief. So then I read andread and found Bibles and read and read other religions, philosophy, things, other versions, cover to cover, analysed as usual each step, each history, each background cultural event ... fascinating . So much in texts is twisted for the cultural times. I reject the Nicean Creed as a political manipulation by Constantine, not something one can discuss as it is rabbited out each Sunday, but I notice that about 25% of the clergy also reject it in studies. hmmm. One has to choose what is closest to what one seeks and accept that, like people, one has to take the good with the bad when seeking G-d within. I am too great a coward to be a martyr for religious doctrine. Again, I admire those who are not such cowards for great values.

There. Tough guide at times but not impossible, one can but try and at least one can live by such values. The hardest thing was stopping myself when I came to a racist value I had held in the past and allowed as it was common with those around. Now I try to imagine I am of that group before I make a comment or accept a sweeping statement, and there are plenty out there.

My dreams of nothing stopped immediately. I had even forgotten about them until this thread started. Was it a calling or perhaps there was a clear psychological reason but it still, it was. It was like looking into the vast airless universe, nothing and darkness of death.

The really hard thing is it made me more sensitive to others' suffering. Reading the Gospels was like that, hard to ignore the clear message and teaching. This is an amazing change about. I used to be able to be tough as nuts and hard as the man of steel, dismissive as they come, they deserve it, they all are like that,  they are too different to worry about, there are too many anyway, a few less so what, sweep them all away into the sea ... etc . It is frightening to think about. I think it was a combination of elitist feeling growing up and fear. And so hard to keep the friends who all agreed and went along. Have they also changed and do not want to bring it up again as they too want to stay friends?

Why more sensitive I don't know. It makes it harder to ignore what is happening. One realises one is not special compared to others, and the only real fear is the final one. I think what happens when all is over and is there a reckoning? one wants to join with G-d but one gets there and there is the question... how can one say "there was nothing I could do".......because we do know, don't we, what is happening right now to so many. What could we do if we really cared about the stranger facing horror? The pain people are feeling..

Peace., sleep well.

Hoist away Daniel.

Daniel writes: When one starts to look at religion, point out its inconsistencies, its musty anachronisms, its total lack of evidence, its complete unbelievableness, folks begin to complain. The more religious they are, the more they complain. "Don't take away our crutch," they cry, gnashing their teeth. If pressed, they typically resort to insult or feigned laughter to try to crush those who expose their beliefs for what they are: fantasies.

And earlier on this thread:
Richard, regarding your comment about the valuable insights you are getting from the Agony Aunts, I feel compelled to tell you about one of my fowls that died yesterday. It was white and quite old. When I found it it was stiff and cold.  I threw it into some blackberry bushes but not the ones that I pick fruit off for jam. Oh, no! I thought it might taint the jam, give it a feathery taste. You're a man of good taste. Do you think I did right?

P.S. I've got a sniffle. Perhaps it's dead fowl flu.

Seems to me you hoist yourself on your own petard on this thread Daniel me lad. A nice example of feigned laughter to try and distract from the issue of faith and crush those who expose their beliefs.

So 'tis you who resorts to laughter and ridicule and complaint because you cannot understand or cope with people who have faith or who chat about things that bore you. Just what is your problem?

Oh, never mind. I doubt you really know yourself. But whatever it is don't let it rule your life this way. And stop nashing your teeth. Dentists are mighty expensive these days.

Richard Dawkins at the Sydney Writers Festival

Radio National's Science show has an excellent  interview with Robin Williams and Richard Dawkins on his book The God Delusion.

Any God botherers want to take up the challenge?

Dawkins has had his run

John: I think we've been down the road with Dawkins on the morality thread.  I would recommend McGrath's Dawkins God to any who are prone to swallow too much of Dawkins.

The term God botherers is one atheists like to throw around. It is totally meaningless to believers and says more about the user than the ones it is aimed at.

I'm with Angela on the issue of scientists trying to deal with theological concepts. Best they stay out of it if they cannot handle the intellectual challenges faith poses for them. And that goes for Dawkins.

Cheers John 

A really fuzzy line, Mike

Mike: Having a recurrence of the vicious flu, I am not disposed to write much at the moment.

I am not familiar with the life and times of Mohammed, but if he ordered the slaughter of Jews who did not accept his revelations as divine, then that was just as much a political act as a religious one. As we see today, religion is the glue that holds Islamic societies and their armed forces together. Similarly, the Cathars challenged the scriptural authority of Rome, and in so doing, as the church hierarchy somewhat slowly realised, challenged its temporal authority as well. Some historians argue that a line runs back from Luther to the 12th C Cathars to the 4th C Manichees - all heretics in the eyes of Rome.  My point is simply that there is no clear dividing line between politics and religion, and that religious doctrines inevitably finish up serving political ends. I call as my witnesses the Revs Jerry Falwell and Fred Nile.

The 'witches' were often practitioners of 'pagan' rituals, but also were herbalists and midwives, and by virtue of that, an alternative authority at the village level to the priest. (The practice of summoning 'friendly spirits' and scaring off evil ones at times of need has been widespread through human history.) Heresy hunting and the establishment of a permanent and international Inquisition consolidated papal power, only for it to collapse with the Reformation and the rise of nation-based protestantism as seen for example in the Church of England, the Lutheran church, and the Church of Scotland. A key factor in this was the defection of local princes, whose high offices could not save them from the Inquisition,  to the protestant cause.

Needless to add, it was not long before the protestants (eg Calvin) were running inquisitions of their own. As in Stalin's Russia, nobody save one was really safe.

I recommend Norman F Cantor, Medieval History (1963) and Paul Elliott,  Brotherhoods of Fear (1998) as sources on this important subject.

War is natural

Bloody battles sometimes occur between silverbacks when they square off to compete over female groups or home ranges...............However, males do fight over acquisition and defense of females, and the new leader of a group may kill unrelated infants.

As a member of the Great Ape family, killing to gain control, is part of our genetic make up.  We have only survived, by being on the winning side of many battles. Darwin's law the survival of the fittest. We use the excuse of religion or politics to put a cover on our basic urge to control. War is not caused by religion or politics, it is part of our basic instinct. Look back over history and you will see that, those with the biggest sword, ruled. Religion or politics just made it "legal"  we call it civilisation.

If we accept, that we come from a background of killing to survive. It is much easier to understand war. The civilisation process may be the reasonable thing to do, but it is not the natural thing to do. Peacemakers are in fact fighting nature. Until we accept the rules of law on a global scale, and give power to the International criminal courts to control war criminals, we are destined to continual war. 

Full vs partial immersion

Mike: "There are no religious conflicts in the world and have never ever been, in my opinion, that have been motivated by the pure zeal for a theological ideal. Yes there have, Roger - a great many, in fact. Read your history." (This quote contains a statement by Roger in italics and your response to it in plain type.)

I assume that Roger is saying that in all cases of such disputes the theology is the surface language overlying a more basic struggle over land, wealth, privilege, power or perhaps a more pressing life and death issue of some kind.

Roger can justify his statement in one of two ways: either by listing  every religious conflict in history and showing how each was at base about something else, a somewhat time consuming process, or by making that general statement and inviting you and other readers to produce just one example of a religious conflict in which it cannot be said to apply.

Your countering generalisation "Yes there have, Roger - a great many, in fact. Read your history..." invites an 'is - isn't' argument such as is often found in school playgrounds. An easier way would be for you to provide that one specific example that demolishes Roger's generalisation.  The only one that I can think of that comes even close is the conflict within Protestantism over partial vs total immersion in baptism, which led to the formation of the Baptist Church (see http://baptistnsw.asn.au/about/faith ). But even there, it is not hard to see other forces at work, of which the players themselves may have had little knowledge.

If Karl Marx was right about just one thing, it was this: what people say they are on about, as distinct from what they are actually on about, need not necessarily have much overlap at all.

I cannot speak for Roger, but I would be most interested to learn of just one example where his statement does not apply.

Ian -

Ian, I did respond to Roger, but it wasn't posted for some reason. I cited the Crusades as well as Mohammad wiping out Jews that refused to accept his revelations as divine . But many others come to mind. Consider the Aztec religion's demand for human sacrifices to bloodthirsty gods; religious devotion required capturing and cutting out the hearts of many victims each year. Witch hunting is another example of conflict based on religion - those suspected of practicing pagan beliefs were tortured and killed. And the Catholics ruthlessly persecuted "heretical" sects such as the peaceful Cathars - wiping out every single one, man, woman and child. I'd asked Roger to explain how the Catholic persecution of the Cathars was not motivated by religion.

Missed This One, Mike

You raise the Aztecs. On the face of it ritualistic killing was part of Meso-American culture. Yet is was not exclusively a religious phenomena. We have some problems with determining exactly what religious weight to put on the killing because the deciphering of Meso-American pictographs is still a young and developing science. However, it is already accepted that there was no really exclusive religious culture rather it was politico-religious and very much driven by petty plots, jealousies and the need to expand by conquest.

In the case of the Catholic Church, I go back to what I wrote earlier. Nothing in the philosophy of the founder of Christianity supports killing or violence. The development of precepts such as a just war and other justifications for Catholicism to officially sanction murder have been acknowledged as trying to provide a religious framework to the human propensity to move easily to violent resolution of problems.

The persecution of those who would "steal the faithful" cannot be considered in any other context apart from a "turf war". The Catholic Church like all other major Christian churches have always protected their hegemony. Christianity is the largest business on earth.

Looked at dispassionately, how could someone within Christendom claim that they can murder in the name of their religion when Christ himself offered no resistance to the taking of His own life.

Society has come to accept that there are religious reasons and justifications for killing for one reason only, namely, killing has never stopped. The history of mankind is a history of conquest in blood. We are frauds and liars who cannot honestly face our own blood lust. Rather, we need to disguise it as something else.

demonisation of the opposition

Roger, I now see where you are going with this. My view is somewhat different because I see religion as what religionists make it to be, rather than simply what the Holy Prophet supposedly once said.

Yes, Jesus did not command his followers to slaughter unbelievers, agreed. (Mohammad apparently did do so in some contexts, though; in the introduction to my Penguin Classics edition of the Koran, several slaughters of Jews are described). Nevertheless theological scholar Elaine Pagels has identified an aspect of Christianity that can all-too-easily be used as justification for such slaughter, and that is its demonisation of the opposition. In the New Testament for example, those who don't accept the divinity of Jesus are described as condemned to suffer the torments of hell for eternity; they are regarded as either deluded by or followers of the "bad God," Satan. As Pagels notes in her book on the history of the Devil, this literal demonisation of non-believers was a bifurcation that readily inspired all sorts of mass slaughters conducted by Christians throughout history - slaughters of Jews, of Muslims, of minority sects within Christianity (such as the Cathars). The demonisation of Jews, for example, as those who stubbornly refused to accept the divinity of Jesus despite all the so-called evidence, led Martin Luther to call for their annihilation and inspired centuries of Jew-hatred in Europe that eventually culminated in the Holocaust. (Not that Luther started this - the Catholics had been persecuting Jews via the Inquisition for centuries before that.)

In any case my point (and Pagels') is that the very exclusivity of some religions, Christianity in this example, was all too often an inspiration for slaughter.

Thanks For The Pagels View

Mike, I have never read Pagels but will do so with interest. 

The philosophical discussion that encompasses theology is strewn with contradictions. There are contradictions that stem right back to a dispassionate examination of the Godhead. The omni attributes are the Kekule's benzene rings of theological debate, no beginning-no end. The biggest theological contradictions arise from a consideration of omni-presence, God existing in all places at all times. I did write about this extensively in the old WD but apparently only to my own amusement, no takers in that debate.

I have named a principle for living, Humification,  in honour of our resident farmer's wife, Jenny Hume. Our Jenny would knowingly rather live as a follower of Christ even if He does not exist. We now know that Mother Theresa lived the same way for 50 years. The world's great philosophers (and I do not include Mohammed among them, I'm afraid) have always inspired and encouraged selflessness, courtesy, service and husbandry. Religion does not.

Perhaps there are really just too few Mother Theresa's and Jenny's for the rest of us to see the difference. Most people with spiritual inclinations have a fondness for religion. It does not challenge you to be all that different from the ones that have no religion. As Pagels notes, there is always a self-serving contrary view that you can take comfort in if you find a commandment you don't like; always a theologian or preacher to suit your needs and push your wheelbarrow. Makes you wonder why God started this push-me:pull-you contretemps.

Serving Christ, seeking Nirvana, connecting with Gaia is really very difficult. We do not like difficulties so we choose religion. Then we argue about it.


Roger: A new one for the OED? Well I hope I have not mislead you. To another in the blogosphere this lady is fatally flawed! Can't win them all though can you so I'll stick with you and ignore the other. I just live a simple life and it was the light shone on my path by Christ that I chose to follow. I was never one for wandering down a dark lane.  But I do see many with no faith floundering around through the dark.  

Now with the Scot gone down with this terrible flu I am between sister with pneumonia in Goulburn and making soup in Canberra for said Scot. But I am sure he will be back on deck blogging all day in a day or so. My cooking is enough to stir most out of the sick bed. And my having to cook meat for them all is a bit of an ask. 

Cheers to Kathy and Angela and hope all the kids are better. I think all the viruses have mutated during the long dry and warm seasons and have emerged with a vengeance to catch everyone off their guard. A bit of global warming around here would not go astray right now. And a drop of rain or two.  Nursing duty calls. Gotta go.

Read the Bible but miss out all that boring Jesus bit before Rev

Thanks Kathy and Jenny for your kind thoughts, numero 5 is better but numero 4 had  a day off  , just the usual day event, not sick enough to make things easier,just sick enough to be cranky....ykk. Three more to go and one away OS and Hubby is out of town of course...me, however, fit as a horse as usual, very lucky there. Only get sick rarely but then it is usually very attention grabbing.  

Jenny, that sounds awful, pneumonia! And I think I saw and "Ian "(same one?) making a comment ,so maybe he is sneaking out with his slippers on( hopefully).

Now Kathy....here I go, luckily non-angelic as Solomon has said,so I fear not, I am a little confused about Mary. What is her current state? Is she bodily somewhere,as Jesus resurrected and ascended on ACTS, or is it spiritual,in which case she has not resurrected so a spirit around bodily Jesus or still in a different place but communicating somehow..? And ,just wondering,is there anything in the New Testament that says she can be prayed and has effect?

Richard: Nothing about St Jude and lost causes either, but he's almost as popular.

Also I do not understand why she was declared ever Virgin when I cannot ifnd anything in the NT to say that,in fact it seems to say the opposite in calling James John's brother and others.

Personally I quite like the spritiualisation of objects and living creatures, very comforting to people and close,very "pagan". I understand there is quite a renaissance of Paganism.   I like ot explore ideas from theological point of view but do accept that science paradigms (thanks Solomon) are different .

What we seek and recieve comfort from may not have solid ground in theory,but  still work. For example ,when sad or had a loss,just seeing a beautiful sky or timbered hill can be soothing. Just a happy laugh . Cuddling a doll,holdng a particular rock (they have a long istory of "powers", believing something is a true relic-I wonder how many healings from such belief,not whether the relic was indeed true- alll things can giv healing and comfort. I wonder if such depends upon what one associates with comfort, subconsciously or taught or through experience.

Anyway Kathy, it matters not whether I personally or others agree with the scriptural interpretation regarding Mary or your personal beliefs which are sacred, I just wondered from your better knowledge where it is, as I have not ever thought about this before.

.Escriva was a huge believer and hence the rising importance of this with his group's rising power and influence.He has caused teh building of some beautfiul Temples to her.

Have you read any of the writings of Bishop Robinson? Ah,now he is someone I would love to read on WebDiary.

There are many differences in how people view infinity.

I agree again with Roger about the difference between religion and the organisations that build around such and then the codifying of that religion and then the adapting for the cultural, social and power pressures.   Even using such in the SunTzu manner,to war.

I think those who have studied the social and cultural norms of Jesus time,can better understand his teachings from the perspective of a man brought up in the Hebrew faith of the time,who questions the Temple (ie religious authority) on scritural grounds,and must be careful of the political situation in a land occupied by a foreign military with a different religion (I think he would reject Diana worship) and seeing violence and suffering. We do not even know what happened to him from his Barmitsvah to the age of 30! Did he live in Qumrun as a celebate? Why not married off ? Or was he? Did he travel? Did he have exposure to other religions? The Hebrews were great traders at the time and there were many settlements amongst the ports of Asia. Perhaps he did indeed get the India.There are so many years of his life not accounted for. Would make a great book.

Anyway, when there is so little information one must be careful of assumptions and misinterpreting the words and teachings attributed to him and consider such in the perspective of the times. Above all his one clear message was peace, not to respond to violence with violence but with forgiveness and to share one's belongings  and care with others,even those who are not even of your religion.

One must assume various fundamentalists have not read their Bible past Joshua or before John's fantasy dream..missed all that boring Jesus bit.


Richard: In an odd piece of synchronicity, I'm listening to (more than watching) The Da Vinci Code while reading your comment.  Who knows, Angela?

I'm Ready To Go But Not Just Yet.

Angela, if we accept some generalisations regarding human nature we arrive at a point where perfidy is honoured, outside the familial circle, and altruism is despised.

The dichotomy that we then face is that we can only peacefully prosper through altruistic tendencies, both individual and society-wide, and must eschew perfidious behaviour. 

Where we have powerful adversaries altruism is equated with weakness which in turn can lead to enslavement and death. The message that Christ came to deliver, by permitting His own death, is that death is conquered. To believe in Christ is to unreservedly accept the promise of eternal life.

If His message is true then to die either naturally or by the violence of some else's hand is the entré to that promise. And yet, here we cling so tenaciously to the will to live that we remake the eternal promise into all manner of codes and dogmas. In fact we remake it into anything else but what it is. It is the main purpose of religion.

Mary Mother of Jesus

Angela, my faith is a very deep and personal thing. And of course as Roger has said, it not something that one can prove. Nor do I have any need to do so.

From a young age I was taught to love and to pray to Mary with confidence.

I am  however no theologian,(certainly Roger is the man who has studied theology in depth) and my faith is a simple one. I no longer read the gospels, prefering instead other spiritual reading. For example, writings from Sisters' Josepha Menendez, Mary Of The Trinity and Sister Consolata Bertrone. Three nuns who lived in the 20th century who experienced revelations from Our Lord. "Dark Night of The Soul" John of The Cross. Too many more to mention here Angela.

But I digress. Mary was assumed into heaven, body and soul, at the time of her death.This is an accepted teaching of the Catholic Church, and one to which I subscribe.

 There are four Marian dogmas:

1 Divine Motherhood

2 Mary's virginity

3 Immaculate Conception

4 Mary's Assumption.

 Sorry I don't have the time to really explain  in any detail. And,  suffice to say ,that even though I grew up in the "faith" I was not always faithful. It has taken many years of prayer and meditation to get to this point, and I still have a long way to go!

 I do draw great strength, hope and comfort from praying to Jesus and Mary, and believe that I have received many graces over the years as a result.


Sorry, can't agree Roger

"We do not like difficulties so we choose religion."

Sorry Roger, can't agree. In fact I think the opposite is true. Without my religion, without God (for me they are both entertwined) things would be altogether cruisey.You know,"eat drink and be merry" Live for today, the moment. Just so long as you are not hurting anyone else. Certainly the easy option. 

 But a cruisey life is an empty life. (for me) A life devoid of purpose and meaning.

 A superficial selfish life.

To follow Jesus, well, that's a tough option. A life of suffering and sacrifice. Of dying to oneself! But it's a satisfying fulfilling option! And a rewarding and happy  one, even in this life.  The good thing is, no matter how many times you fall he is there to help you pick yourself up, to carry that load.As long as you love  and trust in him. He knows our weaknesses. Our failings.

 My motto has always been "Trust in Jesus and you will never be disappointed!"

 And, I never have been.

Doubtless, he has many a time had cause to be disappointed in me, though.

An Explanation, Kathy

Kathy, a large thread like this with so many contributors makes it difficult to maintain the sense of what people are saying. I think that you have misunderstood the points that I have been making.

I have been consistently making the argument that religion is not faith even though it is popular to use the terms interchangeably. Catholicism, for example, like many other main stream churches is a religion. In spite of their own self-labelling, theses churches are not faiths.

Faith is an individual's personal response to a gift from the Holy Spirit. Faith does not require a religion. When you write of service to Jesus, hardship, dying to oneself etc., you speak of faith not religion. Your faith does not require structures, hierarchies, riches or theology beyond an understanding of the two super commandments that Jesus gave us to encapsulate all rules. Love God with your whole heart and your neighbour as yourself. If you follow those precepts you will live a life that does no harm to anyone else and a life of service.

Following on from your motto, religions do not trust in Jesus, in fact, in many ways they barely acknowledge Him. In His place we have rituals, performed in imposing surroundings where Jesus is a mostly a co-actor.

I don't intend the following to be demeaning of women in any way but in Catholicism, for example, Mary has been raised to the status of Co-Redemptrix. The sacrifice of Jesus no longer is enough because he needs other actors to give his work value. Nowhere can this role for His mother be found in the New Testament. Religion creates it, faith does not. Either God sent His Son to be our saviour or he sent a mother and son tag team to make the sacrifice stick.

Religion is partial to muddying the waters of belief because it is primarily concerned with its own hegemony. On the other hand, when you encounter someone in pain or need, your response to that need requires no references to a rule book or a book of theology. You act from the heart because of your openness to the love of Christ.

When I write that so many people choose religion, it is because it is patently obvious that they do not choose faith. For example, for a person of faith, the invasion of another country and the killing of its people would not be possible without breaking Jesus' commandments. Yet in a country where over 30% profess to be Christians where is the protest, where is the demonstration of soldarity with the world's oppressed. No, people choose religion because religion takes away the need to live a life of faith.

I hope that this clarifies what I have written.

Roger, a brief response

Roger you said "For example, for a person of faith, the invasion of another country and the killing of its people would not be possible without breaking Jesus' commandments. "

I am not a Christian nor did I support the invasion of Iraq, but if the people of a country are being brutalized then an invasion that stops that brutalization might be consistent with Jesus's principle of compassion and "Do unto others". Perhaps a humanitarian invasion of Darfur, or the Kosovo intervention, might comply with that.

Don't Think So, Mike

Mike, the problem with your suggestion is that you assume that Jesus would have made some "goodie/baddie" distinctions. His sacrifice was for all. For those with the guns and those being killed.

In fact his response would be, "Let's go to Darfur and willingly exchange our lives for those who are threatened there". I don't think "Let's go in and kill the mutha......" was in His vocabulary. 

It's a very different way of looking at things. Makes no sense to most people. 

Mike, George has a helper!

I was pleased to read Roger's comment about Jesus. Roger assures us, "In fact his (Jesus) response would be..."

George is on a divine mission and now it appears so is Roger. George is doing God's work and Roger is speaking for Jesus, reading His mind even. We are lucky to have them both in Australia at the same time.

Richard, regarding your comment about the valuable insights you are getting from the Agony Aunts, I feel compelled to tell you about one of my fowls that died yesterday. It was white and quite old. When I found it it was stiff and cold.  I threw it into some blackberry bushes but not the ones that I pick fruit off for jam. Oh, no! I thought it might taint the jam, give it a feathery taste. You're a man of good taste. Do you think I did right?

P.S. I've got a sniffle. Perhaps it's dead fowl flu.

Richard:  I'm not of good taste.. chuck my stiff cold corpse under a bush and your jam won't be much good at all.  As Jenny was asking, why do you have such a problem with this thread, Daniel?  As has also been said, if you don't like it you are not compelled to participate.  If you want to separate a discussion about religion from the humanity of its participants, you're maybe not going to get any sweetness from your fruit.

opium, once started it can be so hard to stop or control

Well, now.  Daniel, relax,  it is not that threatening.  Chat about feelings, beliefs and things that are close and personal. Probably more a chick thing, but heck Roger is a whiz here...do I remember some training in the past? 

Kathy, I take it you are not sure where the beliefs about Mary come from in the Gospels?  I am asking an honest question and I thought you would know, ok if you don't, no sweat.

When I read th Gospels I see a loving Mother suffering  by watching her son die an agonising slow death,abandoned and alone. I think, from memory,that Mary 2 was also there. That kind of motherly  love is rather special.  Do you think the tenets of Mary were added later by the priest hood of the church for any reason?  Do you know when they were added?  Do you think it matters to understand the history of one's religion or is it better to just accept what one is told? Acceptance of the Obediance lesson of Paul. Ask me no questions and I 'll teach you no lies,nothing. The teaching of faith and example of Thomas I know is meant to relieve us of any burden of deep thinking as to evidence and what is actually written and why and all that stuff.  Also ,as it was all in a language that was only understood by the elite and Priestly class , it was not possible for the average person to think about the details or question them.

Hence when a priest or Pope says "we must attack the infidels" they know that it is written so, don't they? Sure it was in Latin but all trusted the interpretation of the Church.  Any contradiction must come from within alone, as it eventually did

. But what now,that we can all read and discuss the meaning and study the context ,what now when the Pope says "we must go and kill" .

You will of course know that Pope JP refused to sanction the Iraq war as a Just war. That means that any catholic who goes and fights there has no religious justification and risks dying in mortal sin, non?.

Mike, you perhaps may benefit from reading the Gospels as to what Jesus' teachings are regarding violent solutions. Along a similar line to Hillel earlier.  Yet I think "turn the other cheek" and "forgive your enemies "and " Give the thief your coat as well"was the new bit as compared to eye for eye and punish for seven genrerations eh? Can't see many funamentalists sticking to these basic tenets. They seem to go back to wallowing in the violence from the Old Testament. my kids "Christian " calendar ,published by teh Scripture group from US is full of fighting,murder and maehem,even genocide,with no teachings of Jesus and hardly any references to him at all and his radical pacifist views. Quite pathetic really.  I really do think there is a huge danger to Christianity from the Zionist Christian groups who so pervert the scriptures, both to Christians and to Jews. Who really wants Israel wiped out to bring a Messiah?

Roger , I am still thinking of what you have said.  As a learned man,what do you think about the missing years?    Have you read any evidence or contempory writings that may show light?   I find it very strange that there is nothing about it in the Gospels.  Makes one wonder if the earlier bits that are there are also fill in for consumption. Ok I admit it, I do not ascribe to the infallibilty of the Bible but do accept much of it's guidance and great wisdom in the New Testament and Jesus as the son of G-d as so many great Prophets before him were. I do not ascribe to the Nicean Crede,nor do ,I note, a surprisingly large number of educated priests when serveyed..  I think Qumrun may be interesting  and it is a shame that study of such areas is so fraught with religious tension.  There are possibly power issues too as the dating of the vellum is so important for the Christian Churches.  

I wonder just what people who are so deeply committed to a particular belief system do when that system is shattered by archeological data? And what if it was a major religion?  No doubt the holder of that data has quite a bit of power.  Perhaps the Faith based groups will continue anyway,after all we do have so many Scientologists and Hindus, Chritians and Moslems etc . I guess I have yet to see greater teachings than those in the Book, while accepting for human errors.

Are there any religions with hard proof of their set of beliefs?   I think there is something in the human psych that demands a worship state,there seems to be such an easy acceptance by so many of things to worship,new religions seem to deify their charismatic leaders so easily.   I think it takes the pressure of us and removes the fear of the eternal darkness,the abyss of nothing that the aetheist embraces after death. It's ok ,now the nightmares will stop as there is hope,the priest of the religion says .....but only if you follow these rules...

Epoch after epoch. Religion,the opiate of the masses, the controller of the slaves, the civiliser of society, the book of rules to ensure continuing status quo. How convenient for the ruling elite to say that the reward comes after death,and the harder you work , the poorer you are ,the more injustly you have been treated,the better the reward... no pay -as-you-go for them.   And if you go fighting for your "religion" then paradise is a certain. Pure unstained,taking the cross will wash away your sins...what was actually said ...and echoed throughout time as religion was used to justify fighting for the state.

When, I ask ,did the  "thou shall not kill" get changed to "thou shall not do murder"? All my older Bibles have the original saying " not Kill" and yet my reform book says "not Murder" in hebrew. Anyone explain? the Hebrew word must be specific and my Hebrew is crap.. (New Testament was in Greek) so does anyone have an old Torah or Bible with the earlier books in Hebrew?  Just something that I keepnoticing each weekend. It starts to whittle into the consciousness. .

I can certainly see the attraction of religion to  States.   How better if it has doctrine that is unchallengeable and a service in a foreign tongue.

Anyway,that is my spiel. Come and crush. I am just seeking truth.

 ....and Daniel, how sad for your chicken. I thought you would have honoured it's service to you by a decent burial ,beneath the blackberry bush ,all creatures are sacred . A rotting chook is not a pleasant smell, near a blackberry bush means lots of smelly pricks must be suffered to correct the error, as sometimes happens in life, getting out of a jam.

Sniffle now for you  may be flu but only fowl flu if you sucked of the fowl's beak nares  to relieve it's breathing obstruction, or ate the flesh . My sympathy if you did either. Sounds a bit Darwin Award-ish. All the same chicken soup does wonders I think Jenny says. :) . Peck up.


judge not...

As ever Angela Ryan offers a thoughtful and non adversarial contribution to these sorts of discussions. I'll wager some would recall the old WD  threads involving the commentaries of "Dissent" magazine commentator, the late Dr. Dennis Kenny. 

Thoughtful commentators would find  John  Howard's reductionist and casual treatment of three thousand years of hard work, deep thinking and actual experiential inputs, as to the building of the "Judeo-Christian Ethic" ( actually the Greco- Judeo- Christian Ethic ) appallingly lazy and unwarranted in their curt dismissal of its nuances and process. The lives of  Socrates, the Old  testament prophets, gentle Epicurus, the Disciples,  Akiva, St Paul, Hypatia and so many others combined are just reduced to a curt "cop it sweet" grunt , in passing?

When love and faith deteroriate to ideology, public piety and ritual, finally descending to observance in the breach, all the work has been in vain. All the rote learning in the world cannot conjure up a single iota of compassion. It is (necessarily?)  a scarce resource or quality in a world defined through meaning and value and seems often only to occur spontaneously and in the heat of the moment, often in those prepared for, respecting of and awaiting its actualisation. If the worldly cannot find it within themselves, we can only wonder at this and avoid that which seems to have contributed to such a poverty of living.

Pure Wisdom

... lots of smelly pricks must be suffered to correct the error, as sometimes happens in life, ...

It is always worthwhile to dig through Angela's prose because, although it be back breaking work, every now and then a priceless shining gem of the clearest insight is there to be mined. 

Chicks, roses and gems for Geoff., a gardening chick discussion

Ah Geoff, it is with such clever miners like you in mind that I throw out such gems, seeds among the chaff to grow in fertilised minds and produce whatever dead chickens on Bush might produce. We all communicate on different levels and I know anything else just wouldn't make the grade into that awaiting fertile ground, would it? 

And all this on a chick discussion point. Sorry Jenn. Just couldn't help meself. 

Now Geoff, your condition concerns me.Rather than suggest you and Daniel re-coop together, how about just:try chicken soup for your back, er, orally of course. .

I can understand your preference for spoon feeding. It's a generation  thing I see in my Granddad too. Actually he's dead now and I miss my granddad muchly. He was in Crystals too.  And a Queenslander who died still believing in Joh, his mate. Ah well. Love em for who and what they are, not their political beliefs.

Anyway,Crystals shall flow in true Rhodish manner and ave always been my best friend.. Bless the empire, old and new, and may the bluebird of happiness not die on your roses or I 'll have to talk of really big pricks.

Dixie Chicks have made a cute movie for those who like such things, and I think they told the shrib where to go. Wrong music for me. I like Lordhi at present. Hear of them Geoff? Also like Pavarotti as the kids do some opera singing. You can chose your husband but you can't chose the kids he brings, eh?  :)

Mary and Faith.

Angela, you are searching for answers, whereas I have long ago found mine.The answers to your questions of Mary's status can be found in those four Marian dogmas that I mentioned previously.They are covered most extensively.

For example, with regards to The Immaculate Conception.: Luke 1:28 The angel calls Mary "full of grace"  (Not an everyday occurrence I would think, for any woman) There are many references from the gospels, if that's what you are after.

Have a google, and you will easily find the information. One cannot explain these doctrines in a few succint sentences! Though this is what you seem to want.

However ,as I said I no longer read the gospels myself, prefering other spiritual literature to nurture my faith.

 If you want an example of my faith and belief in Mary I will give you one. Our Lord said  this, to Sister Mary of the Trinity,1901-1942.(Approved by the Church.)

" You will not understand till you get to Heaven what you owe to My Mother, and the gift that was made you when I gave her to you to be your Mother. How impenetrable is the love of God, who created for you the Virgin Mary, Mediatrix of all Graces!"

Mary herself has appeared at various places throughout the world with messages from God. One of the better known apparitions were those of Fatima, also sanctioned by the Church.

 Over the years I have gotten to know Mary better, from a spiritual perspective.I've read the gospels, but I've moved on. What nurtures and feeds my faith  now is prayer and spiritual reading.

Angela, faith is a very personal thing. Sometimes I feel very close to God.. Sometimes, even, I feel as if my soul has been given a fleeting glimpse of Heaven, and I have experienced an intense feeling of complete and utter joy, when thinking of Jesus.... Other times he seems so far away.

Faith really, is inexplicable.You don't get it from textbooks.

It does not arrive with a flourish at the front door. Nor does it sneak in the back door.It is an evolutionary process. Well it was/is for me.

And, I don't need to justify or substantiate my faith and beliefs to anyone,no matter how cynical they may be.


Not enough chicks Angela

Angela: A chick thing. Yes probably, and it is high time there were a few more chicks around WD. I read somewhere that blogs are mostly inhabited by men and when the women butt in they do their best to bully them and drive them out. I think we have the odd macho hanging around here from time to time, and I think threatened by our presence and input is the correct word.

Though our presence and chit chat is probably not quite as threatening to some as the subject of religion and faith. That really puts some of the guys into a spin I notice.

And yes, Roger is the best one to deal with them which he does so beautifully. 

I must agree with you, there seems to be a lot of fiddling going on with each new version of the Bible. One would have to go back to the ancient texts to see how far each new version has distorted the original message. I believe translations should as far as possible be true to the original texts with no amending for the sole purpose of making it more palatable. Murder instead of kill. I noticed that one too. 

I refuse to read anything other than the old King James version, as recent as that is itself. And as far as I am concerned the Lord's Prayer was clear enough, yet they had to go and change it too. So I still say it as I learnt it so long ago.  They even changed some of the titles of the old hymns and you can no longer find them in the hymn book unless you know the new first line which is usually just turning around the original line for no apparent reason. Be thou my Vision, my old school hymn has become God be my Vision. Now what is the point in that I ask? I had to search the whole book to find it again for our school reunion service.

Back to our Daniel. He really seems to have a real problem with faith and when someone keeps coming in like that with silly attempts at put downs, then you really have to ask just what is going on here with that person.  He doth protest far too much methinks.

I cannot help him with chicken soup, but I would be prepared to do veggie for him. My condolences over your chick Daniel. I suggest you plant some yellow daffodils over her to brighten your day though you seem rather jaundiced, so yellow may not be good. Perhaps it would be better to get some purple pansies instead.  

And cheers to you Richard. For you I would plant a host of Sweet Williams which I will rename as of now, Sweet Richards. You defend the ladies here so nicely. Or maybe a Peace Rose would be better.

Told You So

Daniel, you're a tragic where this column is concerned. Can't help yourself, I see. 

Don't want to be involved and here you are, again.

Stop fighting it Daniel, God wants you. 

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