The May 2011 issue of New Horizons magazine, a publication of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, has an article describing their missionary work among the Karimojong, a tribe living in northeastern Uganda. In Needing Jesus More Than Anything Else, Albert J. Tricarico, Jr. maintains that in spite of all their problems what they really need is, you guessed it, a relationship with Jesus Christ:

“The people, apart from grace, are enslaved to the sins of drunkenness, stealing, lying, violence, idleness, and jealousy. Polygamy is widely practiced. Animism is their faith, and superstitions of various kinds have captured their hearts and direct their conduct… This is why the Orthodox Presbyterian Uganda Mission is committed to Word-based ministry, combined with works of mercy. We in the Mission want to love our neighbors in many ways, which is why we have a clinic, a farm, and a workshop. It is why we drill wells, teach literacy, and deliver community health instruction. But at every turn we want to love people in the very best way. Above all else, the Karimojong people need Jesus. We have Jesus, and we want to give him to them.”

One person stated the problem as:

“The problem with Karamoja”, a man in Entebbe told me, “is that the people are not civilized. They wear no clothes, raid for cows, and kill people. Ah, those Karimojongs!” This was the response I recently received when I said that I live in Karamoja. It was not the first time I had heard such a thing. He went on to suggest the two things that will help the Karimojong people most: education and disarmament. “Take all their guns, and put the children in school.” That was his program for change.”

Actually that is a very good program for change. A secular education always is. Teaching evolution, for example, shows us that we are all related. We are all brothers and sisters. While I commend the Orthodox Presbyterian Church for building clinics, farms, workshops and teaching people to read and write, the last thing they need is another non-existent god to worship. Jesus isn’t the answer and hasn’t been all that helpful in Uganda.

David Bahati is a Christian, a worshipper of Jesus, and a protege of The Family. His ideal for Uganda, based on a literal interpretation of the scripture is to condemn and kill all homosexuals! (see David Bahati and The Family in Uganda and David Bahati Interview by Rachel Maddow). An extreme example? Not when the man is a member of Parliament, has the backing of a religious organization and almost made his vision law in Uganda! At least he isn’t a consistent literalist (very few are) or he would also be promoting the death penalty for such vicious crimes as: picking up sticks on the Sabbath, disobedience children, false prophecy, adultery, and possibly for eating shellfish (Actions which demand the death penalty in the Old Testament, God Hates Shrimp).

No, what Uganda doesn’t need is more religion – any kind of religion. It needs education, hospitals and clinics, clean water, infrastructure and social change (for example see Ugnanda’s Major Challenge in 2011). It doesn’t need another reason to hate.

In the aftermath of the End of the World / Rapture fiasco, several important lessons need to be learned.

  1. Faith is not a virtue. A lot of people had faith, they had to. There was no logical reason to believe a man that already predicted the wrong date once (now twice). But faith has to trump reason. It’s what faith does and without faith it is impossible to please their god (Hebrews 11:6). Reason said this event wasn’t going to happen just like all the other past dates for the rapture, but they went with faith to please “god”. A case in point: “I had some skepticism but I was trying to push the skepticism away because I believe in God,” said Keith Bauer – who hopped in his minivan in Maryland and drove his family 3,000 miles to California for the Rapture.” (Associated Press)
  2. Belief has consequences. People used their life savings to put up billboards, finance ad campaigns and give money to Harold Camping and Family Radio. Some people will have lost everything not to mention the embarrassment some will suffer. “Robert Fitzpatrick, of Staten Island, said he was surprised when the six o’clock hour simply came and went. He had spent his own money to put up advertising about the end of the world. “I can’t tell you what I feel right now,” he said, surrounded by tourists. “Obviously, I haven’t understood it correctly because we’re still here.” (Associated Press)
  3. Explanations will come. The usual explanations will be forthcoming: a wrong calculation, a spiritual explanation of how the event really happened, how there was so much faith and repentance that Jesus delayed to give people more time to repent, etc. While it may seem silly to continue trusting in this man, history shows us that many will only deepen their faith and readily accept any explanation. It is hard to admit you are wrong when the stakes are so high. In Old Testament times a false prophet was supposed to be stoned to death.
  4. Belief in a Rapture is just as silly as setting a date. A recent poll has shown that 41% of people believe that the rapture will occur and almost 60% in the South (U.S.) believe it. These people are primed to believe the next set date. They may not have believed Camping, but if a pastor they respect sets a date, they will be sure to follow. This doctrine is just like religion itself, it has no evidence to support it – just faith. It is even worst since the the rapture doctrine is relatively recent in the history of Christianity (Rapture). Belief in an untestable and unsupported hypothesis is silly at best and, as we have recently seen, devastating at worst.
  5. Question everything. Don’t rely on faith. I know Christians are fond of saying that there is enough evidence to warrant faith, but there isn’t. If there was enough evidence, faith would not be needed. Don’t take my word for it, examine the evidence yourself but you have to step outside the Christian bubble and read the “unsafe” non-Christian literature.
  6. Don’t laugh. Ok, you can laugh at the ideas, but not the people. Most were sincerely deluded and some lost everything they had. Everyone makes mistakes. Almost everyone can fall for a properly executed con. Be gentle, maybe you can help these people pick up the pieces and embrace reason, not faith.

It is time that we, as a people, out grow primitive superstitions and embrace the rational. It may be uncomfortable but reality is a much better place to live.

Is there media bias against Christianity? I don’t believe so. It takes some audacity to cry bias or persecution when 76% of people in the U.S. self identify as Christian (American Religious Identification Survey 2008). It takes even more moxie when conservative Christianity has a strangle hold on politics in general and the Republican party in particular. Not catering to the Christian right can cost an election, not to mention the fact that 53% of people say they would never vote for an atheist for public office (2007 Gallup Poll).

Recently Dr. Daniel Dennett was asked the question: “Is there widespread media bias against Christianity? Against evangelicals such as Brit Hume and Sarah Palin? Against public figures who speak openly and directly about their faith? Against people who believe as you do?” I would encourage everyone to read his full answer in “Religious No Longer a Protected Class.” He makes some excellent points:

“There is no media bias against Christianity. If it appears to some people that there is, it is probably because after decades of hyper-diplomacy and a generally accepted mutual understanding that religion was not to be criticized, we have finally begun breaking through that taboo and are beginning to see candid discussions of the varieties of religious folly in American life.” (Dennett)

I agree. Religion should no longer get a free pass. No one should be able to hold up their holy book and say “thus saith god,” at least not without considerable evidence that god indeed has said something. Of course, every holy book makes the claim, but none can prove it.

“I look forward to the day when violence done under the influence of religious passion is considered more dishonorable, more shameful, than crimes of avarice, and is punished accordingly… I also look forward to the day when pastors who abuse the authority of their pulpits by misinforming their congregations about science, about public health, about global warming, about evolution must answer to the charge of dishonesty.” (Dennett)

The claims of religion need to be put to the test. We aren’t primitive peoples in awe of the wind, rain and thunder. Modern man should demand evidence. We shouldn’t be led around by the nose by the modern equivalent of a ‘”witch doctor.” We should ask the hard questions and not accept the answers of “you need faith”, “trust god”, and “lean not on your own understanding.” Such platitudes are a cover for ignorance, laziness and deceit.

“The double standard that exempts religious activities from almost all standards of accountability should be dismantled once and for all… Religious leaders and apologists should accept that since their institutions are so influential in American life, we have the right to hold their every move up to the light.” (Dennett)

Amen. No more “get out of jail free cards” should be given to those who claim a religious motive and a “calling” from god. If you want to play in the market place of ideas put up the evidence and be willing to be critiqued and criticized as every other idea.

At one time, at least one conservative Republican Senator understood this:

“I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in A, B, C and D. Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of conservatism.” Republican Senator Barry Goldwater (1909-1998), Congressional Record, 16 Sept. 1981

I’m betting that few if any politicians would be willing to take such a stand now, but hopefully the climate is beginning to change. The recent outcry concerning Pat Robertson’s idiotic remarks concerning Haiti (see McDonnell, White House decry Robertson’s Haiti Comments) is an encouraging sign as is the growing vocal atheist and skeptic movement. I’ll stand with Dennett and say “High Time.

The February 2009 issue of Church & State Magazine has the following article:

In A Bid To Keep Religious Symbols On Public Land, Anti-Separationist Forces Have Declared The Christian Cross To Be Secular.

“But in July, U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns said the Latin cross sends a non-religious message of “military service, death and sacrifice.” Burns ruled the Latin cross could stay standing because it is not a religious symbol, but rather a symbol of American patriotism … Secularizing the central symbol of Christianity is the newest tactic by anti-separationist groups to preserve government displays of the cross and America’s “Christian heritage.” Americans United is trying to counter that legal movement, and hopes to stop it, beginning in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals when the court hears the Mt. Soledad case.”

I find this simply amazing. In order to keep a religious symbol on public property Christians are claiming it is a secular symbol. Isn’t this like shooting yourself in the foot? How can a Christian, in good conscience, make such a statement? Isn’t there a commandment against lying? I guess you can break all sorts of commandments if you are doing it for god. So much for moral integrity.

I just finished reading The Fall of the Evangelical Nation: The Surprising Crisis Inside the Church by Christine Wicker. I highly recommend this book, especially for those atheists who never had a “born-again” experience. Wicker does an excellent job showing the appeal and strength the evangelical faith has for many. It may sound foreign to you, but it’s very real to those that have experienced it. I was able to relate to those experiences as well as the reasons why many are leaving the evangelical-fold. She points out that impressions are not always reality. The view that Right-wing, evangelical Christians are a powerful force in society and the majority of Christians are in sync with them is essentially a myth. Their power is based on a very strong marketing campaign and shrewd manipulation and use of the media.

The number floating around is that 25 percent of the population is supposed to be in the strong evangelical camp. Politicians fear and cater to this group, yet this group doesn’t exist anywhere near the 25 percent mark. Using numbers from various Christian organizations, Wicker shows that, at best, this number is 7 percent and is likely to be much lower. Furthermore, this number is falling and has been falling for decades. Evangelistic efforts are stagnating and churches are losing the younger generation in droves. This makes non-theists a larger group than the one many politicians are afraid of crossing!

The reasons for this decline are numerous and, for me, encouraging, but they all boil down to this one simple exchange between Wicker and two of her friends:

Not long ago, coming back from dinner, I said to two of my Methodist friends, in defense of the über-evangelicals who sometimes seem to be invading our families and neighborhoods, “What could be better than serving the God of the universe? Is it better just to schlub along, going to work, making a buck, ferrying your children around, having no great purpose, no great assurance of anything but death? Serving almighty God in almighty ways is the evangelical way, and what’s not good about that?” (Kindle Edition, Loc. 2258-62)

The response gives insight into the depth of the evangelical problem:

“Sounds like a great deal,” replied my Midwestern mother-of-four friend tartly, “except you have to give up your brain for it. Not something I’m ready to do.” (Kindle Edition, Loc. 2262-65)

Wicker and a growing number of “Christians” are leaving the evangelical faith for a kinder, gentler type of “Christianity”. She says:

“If evangelicals give up the idea that only they are saved and that hell doesn’t await everyone who disagrees with them, they will be a very different faith group. It will be a struggle to keep religious passion high without the threat of hell to spark it, a struggle to keep devotion steady without the allure of being the only ones whom God favors. But some of these new-style followers of Jesus believe they have something to offer that transcends such doctrine, something that has changed them, something that is with them still, something that can change the earth. Him.” (Loc. 2781-86, emphasis mine)

Here, I disagree with Ms. Wicker. Yes, it will be a very different faith but it will also be a very different god. This “Him” will be nothing more than a warm-fuzzy feeling made up of how the individual views “Him”. With no authority, no doctrine, no reward, no punishment, no central organization, and only feelings and impressions, each individual will have a slightly different “warm-fuzzy” kind of “Him”. This kind of god is only a heart-beat away from Deism and a short hop to no god at all.

Last week John McCain made a surprising choice for Vice President, the relatively unknown and inexperienced Sarah Palin. I don’t think it’s too skeptical to say this choice was directed by McCain’s desire to capitalize on disgruntled Hillary supporters and to pander to the conservative evangelical vote, which have had a problem with his candidacy. This blog isn’t about the problems and issues surrounding Palin as a Vice President choice, but rather it’s a look at those loving Christian communities that tell us that Christianity is THE moral basis which shows us how to live – God’s way. Lest you think it is only Islam that downgrades women, conservative fundamental Christianity doesn’t do women any favors either. Unfortunately, some women want it this way. Look at this quote on the B. B. Warfield group on Yahoo written by a woman:

“I was going to vote – however unwillingly – for McCain but now will not. First and foremost, overriding all other reasons, is that I do not believe the LORD approves of or intends for women to occupy high office, and yes, I’m including Queen Victoria and Margaret Thatcher in that. ;^) Isaiah 3:12, with its “O My people! Their oppressors are children, and women rule over them” language, combined with Genesis 3, 1 Corinthians 14, and a fair number of other verses makes clear (IMO, and that of at least John Knox) that ruling is meant to be the role of men. So. Having a female in the VP slot is not anything I could ever, in conscience, vote for. Second, even if I weren’t implacably opposed to a woman as president, I couldn’t be in favor of one with five small children, whose credentials are two terms on the city council of a town of about 7,000, two terms as its mayor, and serving as governor since 2006. And while her fiercely pro-life convictions are admirable, I’m not crazy about her membership in “Feminists for Life”, and how she referred to those who had asked her (when she was running for governor) whether a mother of four small children could perform both as governor and carry out her maternal duties as Neanderthals.”

And

“ISTM if the woman were truly putting her children first she wouldn’t be eager to place them in a position to BE assaulted by the left. What her husband’s thinking of, to allow her to do this, beats me.
Oh wait. That’s right. This is a wholly egalitarian, feminist family so he probably doesn’t have a lot to say about it.”

Sad, isn’t it?

With Palin’s choice McCain might have alienated some of those very conservative Christians he is trying to court! While I don’t think Palin is qualified for the office, it has nothing to do with her gender. It has to do with her inexperience and views. To disqualify someone because of her gender or the number of children she has is draconian in the extreme, but for some Christian groups gender does disqualify a person from any type of leadership role. Now, do you really want the “law” of the Bible to be the law of the land? Maybe you need the Millstone of gender equality.

I was looking through the church ads in the newspaper last Saturday when one of them caught my eye. The motto of this church was “For Those Who Want More”. What exactly does that mean? More of what? Does it mean more Jesus or more emotion or more sermons or more people or more coffee and pastries (yup they have a shop on site) or what? Now I happen to know that this is a Charismatic/Pentecostal type church so they are very emotionally centered so do I assume a more emotionally charged service? How about more Christian love and kindness? If so, they have a funny way to show it. A few years back my dad and I were taking a rental car back to the airport when it stopped running right outside the church. No one helped us and they looked at us like lepers when we asked to use a phone to call the rental company. Not exactly friendly to a stranger in need, so maybe it’s not about Christian love. So maybe it is all about more Jesus? If so, how do you get more of Him? Maybe it’s all about lengthy sermons? Then again, maybe it is all about more coffee and pastries. Their web site says “We carry a variety of different pastries including bagels, scones, cookies, and more, an assortment of cold and hot beverages such as smoothies, lattes, cappuccinos, chillers, and more”. At least that would be practical.

One thing we can know for certain is that “MORE” certainly doesn’t mean more logic, more reason, or more reality.

Father Damien was a Roman Catholic priest who worked with lepers in Hawaii during the 1800s. He eventually contracted the disease and died in 1889. The Vatican recently “confirmed” a 2nd miracle opening the way to proclaim Father Damien a Saint. This miracle was the full cure of cancer from Audrey Toguchi, who decided against chemotherapy and flew to Molokai to pray to Father Damien:

“Dear Lord, you’re the one who created my body, so I know you can fix it,” Toguchi prayed. “I put my whole faith in you. … Father Damien, please pray for me, too, because I need your help.”

The full story can be found here http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,400984,00.html.

To the faithful, there is nothing that can be said to sway them from believing in the miracle working Father Damien, but to the skeptic there are a host of questions the call into doubt the miracles recorded.

  1. If you are trying to use the God of the Bible to support such a miracle, you will be hard pressed to do so. 1 Timothy 2:5 says “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”. There is no room for saints as a mediator between God and man, so many Protestants reject the notion of saints. Of course the Catholic Church doesn’t agree, but their support comes from their tradition not the Bible.
  2. While Father Damien might have been a good Humanitarian in his love and treatment of lepers, and this is disputed by some (http://web.archive.org/web/20050207115024/http://praiseofglory.com/rlsdamien.htm), he obviously was not able to cure anyone in his time. He even succumbed to leprosy. But then, maybe he is able to perform miracles now that he is dead.
  3. Why did he only cure 2 people? How many thousands of have prayed to Father Damien without a cure? Why these 2 people? Why Toguchi? If this dead priest can intercede on the behalf of those who pray to him, you can only say that he is capricious in that he heals a few and ignores most of his petitioners. What kind of saint is that?
  4. While there is no doubt that Toguchi had cancer, there is some doubt as to the extent of it in her lungs as only 1 “spot” was biopsied. She was also subjected to chemotherapy for the tumor she had removed. Dr. Schilsky, who reviewed her case, said “The point here is that the primary tumor was treated, and that could have helped her immune system control any remaining cancer in her body”.
  5. While it isn’t common, spontaneous remission of cancer does occur. Estimates vary, but between 1 and 60,000 and 1 in 140,000 cases of cancer do undergo spontaneous remission. Some mechanisms have even been proposed, although it is hard to study such a rare event. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez)

Until all rational avenues are eliminated a supernatural one should not be evoked. What would it take for me to believe that Father Damien or any saint or God can do a healing miracle? Any one of the following would be sufficient:

  1. All people who prayed to such an individual or deity are cured.
  2. A limb is actually grown back after prayer.
  3. A leper offers up a prayer and is instantaneously cured.

After all, the Bible records such miracles.

On July 23 Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) and Prof. Peter Enns issued a statement announcing his departure from the Seminary (http://www.wts.edu/stayinformed/view.html?id=187). The announcement was a nice politically correct statement as to the mutual affection and gratitude shared by each and so ended the tenure of Prof. Enns. On the surface there doesn’t seem to be anything unusual here, right? Not quite. In May a board was setup to investigate “certain matters” relating to Prof. Enns (http://www.wts.edu/stayinformed/view.html?id=159) and he was scheduled for an August 25th dismissal hearing. Obviously this was a serious matter and the resignation obviates the need for such a “trial”. What were those “certain matters” and what was Prof. Enns’ great crime? He dared to think. In 2005 he published Inspiration and Incarnation (http://www.amazon.com/Inspiration-Incarnation-Evangelicals-Problem-Testament/dp/0801027306/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1217823031&sr=8-1).

In looking at the Old Testament scriptures, he sees it as a mixture of divine and human, much as Christ was supposedly divine and human, hence the incarnation analogy. In trying to come to grips with the problems and contradictions in the Old Testament, he sees a role of the human instead of the traditional, conservative “god-breathed” inerrant scriptures. For instance, the early chapters of Genesis are grounded in ancient myths and that the historical descriptions in the Old Testament are biased. Furthermore, the New Testament writers read into the Old Testament (eisegesis) what they wanted to find in support of Christian “Theology”. To be fair, I believe Prof. Enns still believes himself to be an evangelical Christian and the scriptures to be inerrant, but then he has to play a game with what inerrant means. However, to come to the place where he doesn’t brush aside the contradictions in the Old Testament using standard “should have”, “could have”, and “might have” methods is a major step in the right direction. One can only hope that he takes the next big step and realize the book has no divine authorship at all. It is wholly man-breathed.

What this controversy shows is that true scholarship and exploration of ideas is rarely possible in a conservative seminary. I guess “teach the controversy” has no place in conservative bible “scholarship” if it comes from one of their “own”.

(For those who would like more information about this controversy, see the following reviews of Prof. Enns book, one in which he replies point by point to the reviewer: http://peterennsonline.com/ii/a-response-to-paul-helms-review-of-inspiration-and-incarnation/ , http://www.reformation21.org/featured/some-reflections-by-a-christian-college-professor.php )

Do you believe in hell? Really believe in it or just give it lip service?

Robert Ingersoll in 1877 said:

“I do not believe this doctrine, neither do you. If you did, you could not sleep one moment. Any man who believes it, and has within his breast a decent, throbbing heart, will go insane. A man who believes that doctrine and does not go insane has the heart of a snake and the conscience of a hyena.” (“The Liberty of All”)

If you really believe in hell would any of you bring children into this world if there were even a small possibility of this unspeakable torture happening to them? Wouldn’t it be a monstrosity to even consider such an act? Do you really believe those friends and family, not saved by the blood of Jesus, will be tortured forever in the pit of hell? Could you even live with such a thought for even a moment without breaking out into tears of pain? Do you really believe a loving, caring and compassionate God would be so prideful and arrogant as to throw everyone into an eternal fire because of a lack of faith in Him WHICH He Himself gives or withholds? Could such a God really destroy the bulk of His creation with such wanton callousness?

Think about it Christian, do you really believe in hell?