Religious Fun From Down Under

The moral and ethical standards practiced by parts of the Christian community is not to be admired. This is true both in the U. S. and other places including Australia.

While Australia’s political system seems to have some strong secular attributes, it is also entangled with lots of Christianity. The separation of church and state is not very clear.

An interesting bit of Christian political gamesmanship is going on at the moment. The census questions in Australia include a question about religion. In the last census it showed an overwhelming majority of citizens are Christian.  Using this data as justification, several government policies fund and promote Christian activities.

A little wrinkle in the census question that favors marking “Christian”. The Christian option is right below the question. To choose “atheist”, one has to go to “other” and there find the atheist option.  In neighboring New Zealand the atheist option was placed next to the Christian option and the percentage of atheists officially recorded shot upward.

Just now the Australian government is considered a revision in its census presentation to make choosing atheist as easy as choosing Christian. A Christian group is opposing this saying atheists can find the atheist option. It is not an important enough issue to change the census presentation, it says.

Meanwhile, the Christian group continues to encourage Christians to mark “Christian” in order to safe guard the public money for their faith. Apparently, it does not matter how Christians achieve victory so long as they succeed.

[A link on this topic is found in comments.]

Does Worshipping Nature Compete With Church

There is some talk on the web just not about the possibility the decline in religiosity is at least partly due to the attraction of the outdoors. Someone noted that in the Northwest U. S. where some of the most beautiful natural environment is churches are more empty than elsewhere.

It doesn’t seem to me that the mountains of the NW are anymore of a draw on Sunday morning than the golf courses on the Great Plains. In terms of numbers nationwide, golf courses must take more people out of church than mountains.

Decades ago in a letter to Ann Landers a wife lamented her golfing husband. He would golf Sunday mornings when she thought he should be in church. He was quite forceful, she said, in saying the grass and birds put him closer the God than did the stuffy church.

I myself do not see the relationship between a “natural” setting and a god. The “natural” setting of a golf course was designed as a man made theatrical presentation of nature. The ponds and greens were put there by bulldozers and lawn chemicals. Even a lot of what we see in our National Park System was designed and constructed decades ago to be pleasing to the eye.

Even where an outdoor setting has not been altered by humans, it is the result of wind, rain and the evolution of plants and animals, not a god.

I doubt nature is actually taking people out of church.

[A link discussing this topic can be found in comments.]

The Religious Right Has Odd Political Views

I realize there are all kinds of views within the religious right as there are within any large group. There are celebrity preachers and politicians who say they speak for the religious right and I am taking those views as representing a large cross section.

It is often said if a person or political candidate is not mad about abortion and gay marriage he/she is not a Christian. There are other Christians who take issue with this.

In the best selling book, What’s Wrong in Kansas, the author traces the persuasive courting of the religious right by the business lobby in Kansas. The religious right was told business interests would support anti abortion legislation if the right supported lower corporate taxes. Corporate taxes went down but abortion remains.

It seems peculiar that there is so much support among religious people for lower taxes on the very rich. Surely the Bible does not support this. Although I would predict there will be those who read support for the rich into Jesus.

I don’t understand why there are U. S. flags in Christian churches. There is nothing in the Bible declaring an obligation to display a patriotic flag or that patriotism is some kind of a Christian virtue.

Over on the liberal end of the Christian spectrum one does not see strange political postures couched in religious terms. My prediction remains the liberal branch in the long run will far better than the conservative branch.

[An article about this topic is linked in comments.]



Why Do So Many Religions Discriminate Against Women

Here there is a big newspaper story about the local Catholic Bishop. He is angry at a group of Catholics who run a shelter and soup kitchen. Why could anyone be angry at such a wonderful group of people? Women, that’s why.

A retired priest and the women run the Catholic shelter. As such, they have been an official arm of the local Diocese. But, the women got too uppity. A couple of them have traveled advocating the faith play a role in helping the poor. A part of these presentation is a mass. The women conduct the mass.

This seemingly harmless act led to expressions of disgust in some places they have been. Some Bishops denounced the women.

But none went so far as the local Bishop who disenfranchised the organization from holding Catholic sanctioned mass. The men and women in the group said they were only trying to do what Jesus wanted done.

Insulting women is not limited to Catholics. There are several branches of Protestants who do this also including some Baptists and Lutherans. Traditional Jews have no use for women clergy nor do Muslims. One can almost runs the table of religions and find discrimination.

These rules against women came from thousands of years ago. Men in these religions liked the rules. While some practices from antiquity have been dropped, men liked this one so much it remains.

Discriminating against women is no different than discrimination against races. The time has come for religions to drop this terrible practice.

[A link to the no mass story can be found in comments.]

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome

This is the title of a new book. In an interview the author made it clear the term is not meant to be a serious mental or physical ailment but somewhat tongue in check. It is a clever title.

Her story is about finding her church’s hand too heavy on her young desire to ask questions. She left it to seek another more open path. She then church shopped at an almost endless number of branches of Christianity and non Christian faiths.

She concluded there are so many different versions of the super natural it could just be they are all one. She found, predictably, each one did not believe the others were valid. This frustration with believers was part of her Post Traumatic Church Syndrome (PTCS).

I read recently about Abraham Lincoln’s exasperations with Christianity and thought his experience must be a little like PTCS. He was never a member of any church but must have been in the presence of very religious people every day. He lamented that both sides of the civil war prayed to the same god thinking their god was for them and against their enemy. Most everyone elected to a public office experiences lectures by true believers about the righteousness of one side and the evilness of the other.

While I don’t encounter this often myself, there are many authors these days writing about the experience of leaving the faith. “Who am I now?” is often the theme.

PCDS is a nice catch all phrase for those on the move.

[A link with the article I referred to is in comments.]



Christian Students Refuse to Read Racy Literature

Recently Duke University offered a choice of books for freshman students in a summer reading course. The online discussions among students has leaked onto the internet.

Some Christian students posted they avoided one book in particular because it offended their morals. This set off a lively discussion with other students who argued racy fictional content is part of the world of literature and students who avoid them are limiting their intellectual development.

The question of whether Christian students are better Christians or more informed adults if they avoid morally offensive literature is an interesting one.  As a parent who has paid for lots of college, I wanted my children to be exposed to the broadest possible exposure in their college years. My wife and I had discussions reminding each other that our children might turn out to have much different ideas than our own.

I wish it were true that all pre college students were encouraged by their parents/teachers/preachers to look outside what they have experienced and learned so far in their lives. Some of what is in the news everyday, prejudice and hostility toward people who are different from the majority, comes from never stepping outside that which is familiar as I see it.

The big political flap over “religious freedom” is at least in part about people who do not want to do certain things where they work. I hope it does not mean religious students must be accommodated in what is studied.


Doubts About the Historical Jesus

Currently, there is no way to establish for certain there was or was not a preacher named Jesus of Nazareth. I dare say we will never know.

We are left with disagreement on what constitutes credible evidence. There is only one source for the view there was a Jesus. It all comes from those selling the Christian religion. Whether the argument for a Jesus is made by secular scholars like Bart Ehrman, or Christian scholars, all information came from sources that had the goal of converting others.

This weakness in the case for a literal Jesus is difficult to explain to the public. Secular writers are improving, however.

My theory about political and religious arguments is that the winning side needs to have a summary that will fit on a billboard and can be understood by someone passing be at 70 miles per hour.  Any explanation more complicated starts out behind.

The argument for a Jesus can be presented easily on a billboard. The billboard would say, THE BIBLE SAYS SO. Trying to make argue against a literal Jesus just takes more words.

Today I read an article entitled, “Five reasons Jesus did not Exist.” These five reasons will not fit on a billboard.

The arguments which question the literal Jesus require careful attention to details. In the long run, probably it is good those who raise doubts about it do not resort to over simplifying their argument.

They advocate reading carefully and applying critical thinking to religious dogma.

[A blog explaining the five reasons to doubt a literal Jesus can be linked in comments.]


Denominations that Split Over Gay Marriage Will, in Time, Split Again.

If there is anything that typifies the history of Protestantism it is groups forming around some theological concepts and then splitting again. There can be no doubt this will continue, the groups who recently split off will split again as will those who stayed with the original denominations.

One of the problems within Protestantism, especially the broad bush branch we refer to as evangelical, is a lack of carefully spelled out doctrine. Catholics, on the other hand, have so much doctrine and such a bureaucracy enforcing it there is a different problem.

When a denomination says it is “Bible based” or claims its theology centers on the Bible but does not spell out in some detail whatever interpretations it makes of the Bible, it does not present a solid foundation upon which to accept or reject positions that come along with changes in the culture. As a theology professor put it recently, evangelical doctrine is troublesome because “it implicitly assumes too much and explicitly states too little.”

This incite is especially clear in issues surrounding gay marriage. When the case is made that gay marriage and the underlying assumption of homosexuality is clearly labeled sin in the Bible is challenged, use of the “clobber scriptures” to justify this prohibition do nothing to nail sin to the wall. Almost without exception, the clobber scriptures refer to heterosexual men performing ridicule in front of audiences.

Basing beliefs on “what the Bible says” has never been a defense that could stand up to assault from dissenters.

[A link to more discussion from a Christian professor can be found in comments.]

The Case of the Missing Scriptures

A lady wrote a religion columnist recently to complain some of her favorite verses were not her new Bible. The columnist explained that as more ancient material is found and entered into computers to analyze, additional parts of the Bible fall into the doubtful category.

Missing from newer Bibles is a favorite where Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone…” and “..go and sin no more.” These sentences showed up in later versions of hand copied papers but were not in some earlier ones. So, some contemporary publishers have left them.

Another favorite passage being left out is about the tomb, “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.” Nice stuff but it was in some sources and not in others.

In the surviving written material, which is not original but what is left after being recopied by generations of scribes, are four different versions of the ending of the Book of Mark. Contemporary scholars do not know what to make of this variety of writing. It seems like the Mark author wrote an ending that later scribes or religious mucky mucks kept changing.

There are others. Believers who study this say these changes do nothing to alter the “main message” of the Bible.

Whatever that ‘main message’ is, it was recopied many times and we can never be  certain it was in the very first written copy.

[A link is provided in comments that discusses a Christian perspective of missing scriptures.]



Can Christianity Help Overcome Depression

There are several current books by Christians discussing what is called “darkness.”  I understand it is not the technical absence of light, like when a light bulb blows, but the darkness of thought, depression.

While the Bible discusses darkness in a way that suggests dark moods, I really don’t understand why people would say it there is something in its ancient writing that provides universal help. To say a god is the source of “light” does not help someone who is unable to believe there is a god. Yet, I gather many of the books about darkness advise believing because it is the only source of help.

Historically there been suspicion in the faith about the science behind mental health treatment. The entire field of psychiatry has been debunked by some prominent Christians.

In the Christian blog I read today, the blogger/author was asked how Christians could do about another person’s “darkness”. Her answer was almost the classic advice a nonbeliever would give to another nonbeliever.

She said you should listen to the person without being judgmental. You should see if there are things you could do for that friend to help lighten whatever load is carried. Encourage the person to seek medical advice and they reinforce the importance of taking medicines. The remaining bit of advice was to read a little Bible and pray.

To me, if would be more honest for the Christian admit there is not much help in Christianity to help depression.

[A link in comments discusses a Christian perspective of depression.]