01 August 1998 : Christine
As a Christian, I am appalled by the quotes on your sites from alleged Christians. I am dismayed that you are using these to form judgement of "theists"-- I believe it is an extremely small minority that would "glory in the death of a pagan," for example. You don't need to accept such trash to be a Christian. Anyone who tells you any different doesn't understand Christianity.

01 August 1998 : Catherine

Thanks for your email, and what seems to be a genuine address, hence my reply which also appears on my email page. As stated, I'm not lampooning you because you made specific points, to which I've replied. I'm not being confrontational, nor am I excusing my position (if you've read my biography you know why I am an atheist). If you find my comments hurtful then that is your decision, for you seem to be what others might term 'liberal' theists (unless you're the worst kind of apologist), but the irony is that if you are tolerant of non-theists, you are as much potential if not actual victims of the extreme views offered by others of your own religion. This is only part of the site, anyway; as you are probably aware there are also many images, which I hope you enjoyed and accepted on their own neutral terms.

> As a Christian, I am appalled by the quotes on your sites from alleged Christians.
The only way of determining if someone is an xian is if they define themselves as such, and everyone quoted has done so.

> I am dismayed that you are using these to form judgement of "theists".
I am not 'forming judgement', merely quoting what has been said.

> I believe it is an extremely small minority that would "glory in the death of a pagan," for example.
I'd like to think you are right, but that's not the point of the Quotes section, which is to show the hypocrisy and fear of non-conformity that underlies all dogma.

> You don't need to accept such trash to be a Christian.
To you, it's trash; to others, it's what being an xian is all about, and justifying everything they do by saying "it's in the name of god".

> Anyone who tells you any different doesn't understand Christianity.
They do, but in their own way, which to them is the only way: that is one of my points. The bible can be used to justify / excuse / forgive / absolve any atrocity from a single murder to genocide, simply because it contain all modes of human behaviour.

As for why those pages exist, it's to counter some of the very extreme religious right-wing sites (eg. "http://www.av1611.org" or "http://home.earthlink.net/~thogmi"), which are I admit aimed at a minority (though a growing one), but such extreme views are always given more TV time / net space than a counterpoint, which is why I've created my own pages to add to those I've listed on my links page.

Finally, out of curiosity (if you reply), are you from UK or Europe or US?

01 August 1998 : Christine

Thank you for your response, and especially the manner of your response, which was not confrontational in any way.

The only way for you (or me, for that matter) to determine if someone is a Christian may be by whether they claim to be one or not, but I don't think everyone who claims to be a Christian really is one. However, I do believe in a God that can read a person's heart and know whether they are or not. I don't know what the only way is to interpret the Bible, but I do believe there is only one way.

I am also going to be so bold as to say that justifying slavery, genocide, etc. using the Bible is not it.
The essence of the entire Bible speaks stronger than any one quote.About my "judgement" remark: I didn't read your biography (although I think I will now) and I merely meant that I was assuming that it was quotes like these that helped you form your opinions (judgement didn't imply "judgemental.")

Part of the reason I wrote to you was that you would know that many Christians feel as disappointed as you do with the hypocrisy. I am upset that they call themselves Christians and give the rest of us a bad name.

02 August 1998 : Catherine

Thank you for your reply.

I am of course aware there are many people who live 'Christian' lives (no denigration intended), but unfortunately they are also one of the most silent groups, except perhaps when it comes to voting, though even then an attitude of indifference may allow the Jerry Falwell / Pat Robertson kind of character to reach office.

Would I be right in assuming the second paragraph implies you are saying that people simply use the word or concept of god as an excuse for their behaviour (i.e., taking his name in vain in the worst possible sense, considering they profess to believe in him)? If so, then I cannot but agree.

As for god reading a person's heart, would that mean even unbelievers who act kindly and well, out of the goodness of their heart for their fellow human-being and other animals (humanism, extended to all living things), have his blessing? If so, then why not, from my humanist's point of view, remove the 'god' factor and behave well simply because it is the good (and therefore right) thing to do? I'm not trying to convert you! :-) Merely indicate my outlook.

Having said that, I do appreciate that most people need some form of faith, to help them through their life - I don't have a problem with that, though I cannot relate to it in any way. Simply because existence is such a wonderful thing (my being an atheist doesn't in any way depreciate my wonder for what is all around us - plants, animals, stars, galaxies - I stand in awe of what can be), the human need for meaning in what is a vast and vastly complex universe (which though it may be governed by relatively simply physical and chemical rules still produces almost limitless variety) is very great. For me, though, the being is what matters and, if you'll forgive the cliché, 'life is what you make of it'. If, ultimately, you feel that your life is or has been worthless, then it is only so because that is how you have made it.

04 August 1998 : Dale

I'm Christine's husband, an evangelical, Christine pastor. When referring to God to a person who believes in God, you might respect the person's belief and use a capital "G". It is an offense to us to have God referred to as "god".

For me, I know right from wrong, true from false, from the Bible which is inspired by God. As a humanist, how do you discern right from wrong, true from false? If it is what you believe, and another disagrees is there any criteria for judging who is right (and how do we determine if the criteria used is true?), or is there any objective truth at all?

You use language of needing God. Yes, I need God. I believe everyone does. I'm not limited to my wisdom and my strength, but draw from any infinite source of wisdom and strength. I have complete hope for myself in this life and in the next, because my hope rests in God. I live for God, and if needed, would die for the God who I have been reconciled to through Jesus Christ.

I would commend to you C.S. Lewis, who was an avowed atheist, who the hound of heaven relentlessly pursued, and he became the greatest apologist for Christianity in the 20th century. My hope is that hound would diligently pursue you as well.

04 August 1998 : Dale
Catherine, You say that you will not mock serious posts, and then proceed to mock Michael's. Have you determined that anyone who believes in Jesus Christ can't possibly be serious? Are you are an atheist who is as rigid and unyielding as the fundamentalists you ridicule?

Rather than challenge extreme examples of Christianity, why don't you try to grapple with a genuine representative rather than a caricature, or are you only able to destroy a straw man? I would like to see you engage CS Lewis' "Mere Christianity" vs. a T.V. evangelist. Are you, or any atheist, up to the task?

05 August 1998 : Christine
Catherine, It's Christine again.

I've read your autobiography. You imply that you didn't really make a decision to be an atheist, that it just sort of happened that way as a result of various parts of your upbringing. I would agree, and would urge you to at least decide to be an atheist after investigation of the options.

In another e-mail on your page, you tell someone who says God exists to "present your evidence." You are claiming there is no God; present your evidence. Let's use the Big Bang Theory as an example. Let's assume that it is a true explanation of the creation of the universe. The odds are astronomical that such an event would result in the right elements in the right proportion so that life would come to exist. Science tells me that.

Another part of your autobiography says that you had so many gods to choose from that you didn't see any difference between them. You may have had a lot of gods to choose from, but you couldn't have been taught very much about them if you see them as all basically the same. The Judeo-Christian God is essentially the same as Zeus?

Again, I urge you to make that choice. Since you asked for facts, there was a link I found connected to the other email that presents facts specifically to people who consider themselves skeptics. It is http://bigissues.interspeed.net/skeptic1.html. If you're going to be an atheist, at least choose to do it; don't just fall into it and be justified by finding hypocritical comments. And, anticipating a question that you may or may not be asking, I did choose to be a Christian, and not just "fall" into it. Although we celebrated Christmas and Easter growing up, I was taught Christianity as a child much the same way you were (at least from my interpretation of what you said): bits and pieces here and there, but no one concerted effort on anyone's part to teach me what "my" religion believed. I got all that much later.

Thanks for reading this far. You've had me thinking a lot over the past couple days.

08 August 1998 : Catherine
Dale & Christine,

If you were offended by the lack of a capital 'G' then I will change that, though the lower-case merely means yours is one amongst many gods, as I'm sure you know.

No, I have not arrogantly determined that anyone who believes in Christ is not serious, but I do not and will never accept spam as a valid form of communication, least of all when it's an attempt at proselytising. "But also, something is wrong with us. No one keeps their own standards." is what he's said, amongst other things. First he accuses people of not keeping their own standards (which he knows nothing about though he may imply they are less 'perfect' than his own), then he advertises a 'way out' of the invented (i.e., straw-man) situation by offering them 'God'. To do this, one must admit one is a sinner, then seek God's forgiveness, but how does one know if one has been forgiven or not?

So without the Bible no one would know how to behave and society as we know it would fall apart? Are you truly saying it is only because of the decalogue (which is broken repeatedly within the Bible not only by the tribes of Israel but by God himself) that you don't take a gun to your school playground and kill a dozen or so children, then trash the nearest shopping mall to furnish your home? In terms of morals and ethics, I doubt there is an 'objective truth', though there are many (and different) civilised modes of behaviour, but certainly there is in terms of the physical universe. Morals and ethics are determined by societies, and change depending on what is needed for the group and its individuals. Sin, however, is a purely religious construct, so once the condition has been recognised (either by self analysis or by outside judgement), it can be 'cured' or absolved by the same religious people who created it.

As for what is true or false. Do you take the Bible literally, or as a collection of myths and figurative narrative, written in terms that could be understood by people at the time it was written? If the Bible is your truth, then do you accept everything in the Bible Science section? I hope not. I do not doubt I exist, or that you are a few thousand miles from me - I am not a figment of your imagination, or vice versa.

I have no need to use a straw-man argument, unlike Michael Fackerell. In your wife's earlier correspondence with me, she said "You don't need to accept such trash to be a Christian. Anyone who tells you any different doesn't understand Christianity." and "I don't think everyone who claims to be a Christian really is one." The people I've quoted are not caricatures (unless you automatically define an extremist as a caricature), they have the support of many ('millions' is an oft-quoted number used by them to describe the number of their followers, which is likely an exaggeration), and they are very serious about their goals - never doubt that.

With regards to needing faith (I didn't specifically state in a deity), I used the word more to mean trust rather than belief in a G/god(s). If this belief gives comfort and happiness to the believer, then fine; as I said above, I don't have a problem with that. I admit I am concerned by your admission you would die for your God. Doing what, exactly?

I did read more C. S. Lewis after Narnia and the Perelandra / Malacandra books, and enjoyed the writing, but I'll admit his arguments I only saw, as your own words have described him, as the words of an apologist. This does not of course invalidate anything he has said, and his arguments have been taken up by manys others since, but if a person needs religion it should be something they search for and find in their own way, not have thrust upon them from outside (you use the phrase 'hound of heaven relentlessly pursued' which is a good summary of the self-righteous zeal afflicting many preachers), whether by parents or school or peer-pressure.

You urge me to make my choice, but it was made many years ago simply because, as I say, I saw no difference between the many G/god(s) (both monotheistic and pantheistic) on offer. I requested evidence (which is not unreasonable bearing in mind the assertion being made); facts are a different thing entirely.

With regards to my choice of G/god(s), or rather my lack of choice (or need) : "Having been exposed to the likes of Zeus and Hera … learned of the equivalent Roman pantheon and their own mythology, then … Scandinavian gods … , Egyptian gods …, so to me the Christian God was just another one …" You say I "couldn't have been taught very much about them if" I saw "them as all basically the same", but it's precisely because I was taught so well that I saw no difference between them. The Greeks invented their Zeus etc., the Romans invented their own gods and then assimilated various minor cults and equated them with their own pantheon as their empire expanded, the Norse people invented their own gods suited to their way of life, the Chinese and Indians and South Americans did likewise, so yes, when you ask if I thought "the Judeo-Christian God is essentially the same as Zeus?" then I reply with a resounding 'yes,' because they and all other G/god(s) are human constructs and so reflect the cultures which created them. Anyone who has read the history of middle-eastern mythology knows where Yahweh comes from.

As for the anthropic coincidence, that argument may be countered by reading about chemical bonding, atomic structure, physical laws, and acquiring an appreciation of 'deep time' and 'deep space' (which is a humbling experience - the universe is very old and very large). It is only a modern conceit along the lines of geocentrism - rather than the earth being the centre of the universe, with sun and moon and all the stars and planets revolving around us in their crystal spheres, it is said the universe has been made for us, or at the very least had a helping-hand in its evolution: we are here because we were meant to be here, whereas the opposite is true: we are here because the universe is the way it is.

Now, you may accept all that and then ask 'but how did the chemical / physical / atomic laws come into being?', which is perfectly valid, but the non-theistic answer is simply that in this universe (there may after all be others), that is simply the way things are; other universes if they exist will have other values for their physical laws. If God caused the big-bang then he must have been outside the universe he was creating, so where, and what made that? Did he use the same quantum fluctuations that current theory describes as being the origin of this universe? If theists contend the universe had a primal cause which was God, then using the same primal cause argument, what caused God? If God was always there (wherever 'there' is or was) then why posit his existence when the same reasoning can be applied to the universe? Also, there is much physical evidence to support the big-bang theory and subsequent expansion (as opposed to the steady-state or oscillating universe theories), whereas God is only 'found' in the minds and hearts of his believers.

10 August 1998 : Dale
Catherine, Good to hear from you. I'm game for continuing, if you are as well. If this is not helpful to you, by no means do I want to be a pest!

I don't believe that it is possible to thrust true religion on another. Christianity is a relationship to God through Christ and an experience of forgiveness in Christ. I can not force another to have this experience. The most I can do is to share my experience with another and hope that they might have a similar experience.

I believe that there is objective truth which stands over and above any society. For instance, if a culture advocates the abuse of women or children, they are wrong. The source of right and wrong is God, and God has revealed this to us in the Bible. I think the Bible needs to be understood as God intends, primarily as a source of what to believe and how to behave, rather than as a modern text book for science and mathematics.

Evangelical Christians believe that all sin. God has determined right and wrong, and all (except Jesus) have at times chosen the wrong over the right. Sin separates us from God, who is holy and has nothing to do with sin. All sin is against God, because we are God's (whether we know it or not) and are to live as He wants us to. The way God has offered for us to be reconciled to Him and to have our sins forgiven, is through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.

As an evangelical Christian, I believe that since my life has been redeemed by Christ, it is no longer mine to do with as I please, but offered to Christ to do with as He pleases. My hope is that everything in my life would reflect that I serve and follow Jesus: how I spend money, what I do with my time, my relationships to loved ones as well as those with who I dislike, my living and my dying.

God is real and true. The fact that God's existence can't be proved by science and reason, point more to the limitations of science and reason rather than the limitations of God. To me, it would seem to be rather meaningless to believe only in what can be experienced through our senses. Carl Sagan was asked how he knew that love was real? How can love be explained by science and reason? Faith is similar. With regard to the big bang theory, it seems to require a fair amount of faith. Even if true, what caused the big bang? Could not God have created through the big bang?

As a science fiction fan, I wish it were possible for us to mind-meld so you might know my heart and mind. It feels impossible to find words to describe my beliefs and experience. Not that we would necessarily agree with one another from a mind-meld, but there would be understanding.

15 August 1998 : Catherine
Dale, Thanks for your reply.

No, I don't think you're being a pest at all. In one sense, I've invited criticism simply by having that part of my web-site as it is, and I find this exchange very interesting because you are offering a 'live' commentary, a to-and-fro of opinions that could never be achieved by either of us reading a book. This response is going to be rather long, I'm afraid, and whilst I know full well we can never agree on the fundamental issue of God, that shouldn't stand in the way of a good honest debate. After all, if I'm not prepared to do this, why invite it?

You say "I don't believe that it is possible to thrust true religion on another", yet previously you had said Lewis was pursued by the "hound of heaven", which seems rather at odds with the first statement; if people need religion, they should find it in their own way, and which religion is 'true'? Regarding the second issue, the abuse of women and children, and the bible being the source of right and wrong, all I can say is : have you read Hosea 13:16, Ezekiel 9:5-7, Isaiah 13:15-18, etc., and the other numerous examples of genocide, infanticide, and misogyny I've quoted in Bible Morality?

What caused the big bang? I admit I'm no physicist, and can only go by the popular books that have been written since the 1960s to explain in lay terms the formulation and verification of relativity and quantum theories. Without going into a boring amount of detail, the key issue is that particle/anti-particle pairs[*] can come into existence without cause and apparently from nothing, simply due to the uncertainty principle that applies to vacuum fluctuations. 'Apparently from nothing', because there is never nothing - virtual pairs are always being created and destroyed, and whilst they can't be observed directly, their effects on the energy and magnetic properties of atoms have been observed and validated. Yes, these are 'only' theories, but they change through time as knowledge is gained and they are tested by observations and confirmed predictions - they do not remain inviolable like dogma.

This may seem to you like a tremendous leap of faith on my part to accept all of this, especially in simplified terms which might be likened to a parable, but whereas faith (in the truly religious sense rather than the sense of trust when we say we have faith in someone) involves accepting without supporting (or despite contrary) evidence, all of the experiments can be observed and repeated, and the horrendous maths involved can also be learned by someone who is willing to do so (though not everyone can do so, of course, but that is not the issue). In other words, although I have to initially trust the scientists who say they have done such-and-such an experiment and obtained result so-and-so, if I duplicated the experiment I would recreate the results to within limits defined by the theories which describe what happens and, most importantly, why. Should I (and then everyone else) repeatedly demonstrate something not explained or predicted by the theory, then it is re-written or scrapped - that is the essence of science.

How do we know what is real if not by our senses (whether directly or enhanced by machines such as a microscope or Hubble)? To me, that's what makes everything so wonderful! That there is so much we can discern and experience, and enjoy. The senses which our bodies possess, which have evolved as a means of protection and survival have, as our brains developed and gave us the ability to predict (animals migrating, season changes, plants, etc), so we could project into the future our experiences of the past. Love is an emotion, yes, and though this will sound horrendously clinical, that means it's nothing but a series of electro-chemical reactions in the body and brain: a response via sensory input from someone (family, friend), or something (a pet animal, music, cinema).

As a quick example (this is where a mind-meld would really be useful!) - my pet garter snake lives in a vivarium near a large window but out of direct sunlight. He is completely safe from natural predators, but a few months ago a crow passed overhead and he was very, very frightened. Or was he? He reacted instinctively, wriggling away into the corner of his vivarium furthest from the window, and curled himself up as small as possible under his shelter. He was born in a shop and had never even seen a bird before. His reaction was a 'hard-wired' instinct for self-preservation (this is not to suggest he has a 'genetic memory' of the bird-shape, simply that anything large and fast is a potential threat), but was he what we would define as 'afraid'? We humans define 'fear' as a specific response to something that either threatens us or our loved ones, or something we hold dear - in extreme terms this can be nationalism, which is itself a form of love; it can also of course be a fear of what might be rather than what is. My snake can only react to a bird that does fly overhead, not feel fear for all the ones that might, whereas a dog or cat that has been rehoused after having come from an abusive home will react with fear if it sees a loving owner accidentally mimic an action from its previous owner that meant it would be hurt - it remembers the action was followed by pain and, upon seeing the action repeated, is afraid of the future pain. Sorry if that went on a bit, but I hope you see what I mean.

Faith, too, is such an emotion, perhaps a need to believe both that what one does has a reason (a projection of one's actions into the future, to make everything worthwhile), and that there is also a reason for why one simply is. I do not deny many people need to believe in something exterior (nor would I ever deny them that opportunity), and for you that is God (to me that means 'concept of God', to you that means the actual God the creator); for me it is what is - essentially a materialistic view though not in the derogatory sense of meaning someone obsessed with possessions. I was raised with a sense of wonder at that vast and vastly intricate what is, and I accept it on its own terms, not as a reflection of God's glory.

The two biggest problems I have is that whilst you say your life has been redeemed by Christ and is now his to do with as he pleases, how do you actually know what he wishes? If you feel it in your heart (and by no means is this meant to be sarcastic), or if you are moved by an emotional response that dictates to you what is right, how can you differentiate what you want to accomplish as an individual, and what your heart or soul informs you is the will of Christ? Or has the one been subsumed into the other so that essentially there is no difference, that everything you do is for him and in his name? Then there is 'sin'. Having been invented by religion for its own ends, why impose it on everyone? That, along with the heaven & hell scenario which is shared by the monotheistic religion of Islam (and there's a connection, as it's essentially bribery and threats to make one God dominant over all the other local gods that were available at the time, hence your first commandment (which is different in Jewish mythology)), is only the world-view of some, and so should apply only to those who believe in it.

As you have said, "It feels impossible to find words to describe my beliefs and experience. Not that we would necessarily agree with one another from a mind-meld, but there would be understanding." I couldn't agree more, for I cannot adequately express in words my sheer wonder at what I see before me - trees and insects and animals and stars and galaxies, and all the human creations such as art and music and buildings.
* Note
I'm also aware of what string theory and twistor theory says regarding the creation and annihilation of virtual string / particle / point / world-line pairs, but for this simple reply there was no need to mention them as well.

UPDATE : 18 September 1998
It's been a month now and still no reply, which is a pity as this was just getting interesting.