Simon Teague

04 May 2001 : Simon
thanks for your web pages which I have found very entertaining. But I must say, also very sad. You obviously have absolutely no idea what the Christian faith is, what it teaches or what it believes, or indeed, what the word 'faith' means at all. Your near fanatical bias shows your own rather unfortunate bigotry. If you are going to argue against Christianity, which of course you are perfectly entitled to do, then please lets have some intelligent, rational and informed argument.

07 May 2001 : Catherine
Simon, thank you for your comments, and I hope you don't consider this rather long reply to be as fanatical as you judge the pages you have seen.

You are quite correct, I have no understanding whatsoever of religious faith beyond an in-context definition (rather than a personal experience), and without wishing to sound sarcastic, I can truly see no difference between someone (Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc.) saying they have belief in their own particular god and another person saying they believe extra-terrestrials are regularly visiting this planet and abducting people for very crude anatomical experiments.

If by 'Christian faith' you mean belief in the existence of their (and presumably your) God as the only one, and the bible as His word, then as I have said in my replies both to Christine Proulx and Kim Hoyme, I see nothing to differentiate that from any other religion, whether Pagan, Shintoism, or Voodoo. Then there is faith that there is order and reason to existence because it was made by God, that we as humans are here for a purpose, to meet a grand design (if you take one of the Genesis stories literally, it was to dress and keep Eden, that is, to be a gardener), and if that gives believers a sense of security and comfort and value in what would otherwise be to them a vast and vastly impersonal universe (which is precisely how I view and accept it, without feeling in any way belittled, though that is not to say I do not feel a sense of wonder and awe, for I certainly do), then I certainly have no wish to change that, as long as they do not try and impose that belief upon other people and affect their lives (see later). One absurd conclusion from this, however, is that this entire universe of 100,000,000 galaxies, each with 100,000,000 stars, was made especially for humans, which is as egocentric as stating the Earth was the centre of the universe.

A person may have faith in the existence of a 'something' named G/god, a universal spirit / creator / guide, but all these, as with the others, are faith in the presence of something which can never be shown to be anything other than a person's individual feelings and impressions, and so once again, to me, are in no way dissimilar to a Feng Shui practitioner balancing forces they say only they can experience: they believe (have faith) in the existence of the metaphysical energy they are harnessing and shaping. Lastly, faith as hope for an after-life, whether as the next stage in some form of evolution / progression, or in its simplest terms, a reward for having had faith (in God) to begin with, regardless of one's actions during life towards humans and other living creatures.

I would disagree about my fanatical bias (did you read about my education and upbringing?), for I am not the one demanding all believers in other religions convert to the 'one true faith' (whichever happens to be the dominant one at the place and time) or, to demonstrate their love and compassion, condemn everyone to suffer for an infinite amount of time just for believing (having faith) in a different version of the same Christian God, or any of the other G/god(s). Nowhere have I said that I, as an atheist, expect or demand that anyone who has a religion must deny their belief and live in 'the real world', all I have done is point out some absurdities in answer to those such as creationists and other dogmatics who state that one particular translation of a hodge-podge of censored, interpreted, and re-translated stories and histories represent the whole truth of the universe (which wasn't even known about when the books were written), and provides everything that humanity needs for all time.

Neither do I stop strangers in the street and tell them any faith they have is worthless and that death is the end of their personal existence (though our individual atoms are recycled, and what about the wonder of actually being born of star-stuff, as Carl Sagan was wont to say?), unlike the group of women who have accosted me a couple of times outside the building where I work because they have to 'spread the word' for my own benefit, as they want to save my soul in which they believe, for any beliefs I might have are judged to be wrong unless in agreement with their own. They may truly think they are doing good, 'God's work', but apart from the right they have given themselves to do so (by their faith?), has anyone asked them to try and insinuate themselves into other people's lives? This may be excused by saying it is in the bible, but so are lots of other things which modern civilisation has successfully banished, though some people have tried to use the bible as an excuse for slavery, rape in marriage, etc., and most followers use it as an excuse to impose their beliefs on other people and judge which relationships are 'valid' and 'moral' (i.e., heterosexual ones only), and so on.

You also say I am a bigot, but as I have stated elsewhere I certainly have reasons to hold my views, and how can a minority outlook be considered disproportionate when religion is so pervasive that sports-people thank God when they win but not their trainers and the hours of practise they put in (yet they blame themselves when they lose, not God), and I can barely pick up a magazine about astronomy without an author basically saying we still don't know how or why the universe came into being (which is certainly true), therefore God did it and we need look no further?

I agree I could argue my case in a far more formal manner, taking individual points of belief and / or dogma and saying why I think they are suspect or invalid, but to do so goes beyond what is necessary and has already been explained in my biography. I know why I think as I do, and can explain why, so to actually discuss in any great detail the arguments from Analogy / Artifice, Contingency (necessary being), Ethics / Evil / Morality, First Cause, & Teleological / Goal, is, I think, beyond what is required here, and the cases pro & contra have in any case been formalised far more eloquently in various books.

09 May 2001 : Simon
Phew, that certainly was a long reply! Thank you for taking the time to respond to my very short and rather inadequate original mail. As you have realised I am indeed a Christian, having converted to the Orthodox faith many years ago. This was the result of much enquiring and study into several of the worlds religions and philosophies (including atheism). As a graduate in History and Enlightenment Philosophy is was my job for a few years after all! But I am surprised that you lump all religions and superstitions together, as I assume, different expressions of the same neurosis. Why not put evolution and creationism into the same box as they both address the existence of life on earth. Or Fascism, Nazism, Socialism, Anarchy and Communism as they are all expressions of political intent and ambition for 'society'. Perhaps all philosophy should be discarded because Diderot has been shown to be incorrect on certain issues. Clearly this would be absurd, as some beliefs and ideologies have more credibility than others. Some have demonstratable truths, some are more rational, some preach equality. Others say there is none, and never can or should be equality. Some openly preach violence, lies and hate as a means to further their cause whereas others would abhor such methods, even if at times they have degenerated to such an extent as to use them.

The same can, and should be applied to religion. Some faiths are more rational than others. Some, one in particular, have more historical credibility than others. etc. etc. Real faith is based on much much more than 'because it feels good to me'. I believe Christianity is the only really credible religion spiritually, historically, morally and philosophically. I do not believe this because I am a Christian; I am a Christian because I came to believe and this. But those of us who have faith in the Divine should certainly not be shielded from criticism and scrutiny. Indeed we have been battered by the most severe for several centuries now, although I wish someone would come up with an original argument for a change. But keep it up, we can take it! But then if you are so sure God does not exist, why is the atheist lobby always bashing on about Him so much? I makes me think of the Russian man I once met who had become a devout Orthodox Christian. He told me that growing up in the atheist Soviet Union, he was constantly being told God did not exist. He wondered why so much effort and zeal was being put into something non-existent? This made him enquire into his Christian heritage and what exactly all the fuss was about. Hence, to cut a long story short, after a long and very difficult journey he came to faith. Or rather, diverted his faith from non-belief to belief. If so much effort is put into denying religion on the grounds of the misery it has caused to man, as I have heard said, then this seems to me to be a very misguided approach. Anti-Christian/Atheist societies are responsible for the worst abuses of mankind. E.G. Soviet Russia, The French Revolution, Nazi Germany, Maoist China, Pol Pots Cambodia to name but a few. The balance is certainly in our favour. If we want to see a society with freedom and liberty then the best, though certainly not perfect examples, are Christian based societies. (I can hear you scream from here!)

I do however, think you would find that my opinion of some religion would be very similar to your own. Islam for example, I believe it to be nothing more than seventh century fascism based on the fairy-tale ramblings of an itinerant camel trader. If brought up in a fundamentalist islamic society, atheism would I think be the better option. Like yourself I do not believe in the god of islam. I do not believe god of the koran is God and therefore, as god does not exist. Does this make me a semi-atheist? Does this make me a bigot? No because we have to distinguish between faiths. But distinguishing does not mean condemning all its followers to some kind of eternal bonfire. We must remember, and I'm sure you would agree, that there is truth and error, rational and irrational, right and wrong, credible and the incredible. Because 2+2 does not =5 it does not follow that 2+2 does not =4 either! It does not mean I think all muslims, hindus et should be persecuted, forced to be Christian or that they will all go to hell! It is not for me to judge. It is however for all of us to fight against hatred, bigotry and 'believe what I believe or else' religion. Islam is a good example of this, as perhaps so is the evangelical Christian movement, some of whose ramblings are indeed absurd in the extreme. For example the Bible is not, as they would say, a 100% perfect tale of the creation of the earth and the actions of a few people on it. It was not written to be such. The orthodox faith has never seen it as such. The Bible can, if you wish, be used to justify any thing if you try hard enough and twist it accordingly. Because some have done so it simply does not follow that the whole 60+ books of the Bible should be consigned to the waste bin. You can not look at, say TV evangelists and street Bible pushers and then write off two thousand years of Christianity from then on. We really do deserve better.

As for my own faith, and the Orthodox church which I am a part of, I have never seen any attempt to bully people into church or condemn anyone. We have too much to worry about in condemning ourselves through our actions and failures. Missionary activity is on the basis of live the Gospel, pray, repent and worship, and people will come of their own accord. And come they do. The only real missionary activity for a Christian is be to be holy. Something very few of us achieve.

So there you go, a few of my ramblings. It was nice 'speaking' to you.

13 May 2001 : Catherine
Thank you for an equally long response, which I found very informative because you elaborated on so many things. I do however have a few more queries, so would you be adverse to swapping a couple more emails? Also, as I am also placing this exchange and any subsequent correspondence on my feedback page, if you'd rather your email address were omitted, please let me know.

First of all, you have at least examined what is on offer and made your own choice, rather than being someone raised in a religious environment and accepting without challenge all they have been taught, so from that point of view I cannot in any way criticise your choice. As you say yourself, "I am a Christian because I came to believe [and ?] this", so most importantly you know why you believe as you do: it was a conscious decision, and ultimately that is all that can be asked of anyone. As an atheist, however, I would have to disagree with you that some religions are more rational than others (here I am speaking of the basis of religion, not the actual doctrines), for the concepts of G/god(s) vary only in their abilities and claims to power. I also admit that from my point of view your studies of religion and philosophy led to one of them (in this case a branch of Christianity) either fulfilling a need you had (though it may not have been known at the time), not that I think this is in any way wrong, for such searches, whether for 'meaning' or for something that might best be described as 'spiritual', and so you consciously made a choice to appropriate the system of belief that best suited you, meeting requirements "spiritually, historically, morally and philosophically"; or, during your studies, something struck a chord and, as they say, everything fell into place. I know that might sound almost as if I said you went shopping, but that's not quite what I meant.

Grouping all G/god(s) together, as I certainly do, is a fact of being an atheist, for I see them all as inventions of their time and place and culture, but to cite your example I would not group creationism and evolution for the simple reason that whilst it is true they are both 'descriptions' of a particular thing, one is based on evidence and is therefore testable and falsifiable, and can be changed to suit new observations and facts, whereas the other is a dogmatic conclusion which ignores any facts that do not suit. One might just as well otherwise say that meteorology and Thor are in the same group, as both account for thunder-storms. The other list is indeed a selection of political alternatives, so they could certainly be grouped under 'politics'; the validity (or not) of each is in this case determined by a combination of the original theory, how it is put into practice, and the extremes of them all have far more in common than not, creating as they do climates of fear, oppression, and paranoia. There is little, if anything, to differentiate McCarthyism and Stalinism when it come to such things as purges and informers, all for "the good of the state", but it does not follow from that, that any system which is shown to be flawed should be discarded in its entirety: like a scientific theory open to scrutiny, it should be tested and, if found wanting, revised and updated - unless it is like Blondlot's N-rays, which was thrown away.

There is a sort-of joke, that monotheists are only one god away from being an atheist, for if you do not believe in Ra, Shiva, Odin, etc., then if you apply the same reasoning to your lack of belief for those deities, then Allah or Yahweh will fail under the same scrutiny and thus be dismissed as well, but this is of course not the case. What I think some of the more militant atheists do not recognise is that for the vast majority of people there is almost a need to believe in something greater than themselves, to feel they belong to… not necessarily a plan, but a purpose, a reason for what is, that their existence has meaning beyond the immediate confines of their own lives, perhaps because they cannot accept that life is what we make of it. Not that I think most of them seek someone /something external to blame (despite the growing numbers of 'victimhood' litigation from people who refuse to take responsibility for their own choices and actions, some of which I've mentioned in my quotes page), and in any case to rant at God means first believing in him, which then leads to apostasy, not atheism; rather, it is perhaps due to a sense of not belonging in society, or that there has to be something else beyond that. For me, there is the world, with all that it represents, then the vastness of space dotted with galaxies and nebulae, but these are physical things, and whilst more than sufficient for atheists, are not suitable for those who seek beyond the material.

The "Atheist lobby" as you put is, I think, more active in countries such as the U.S. where religion seems to be thrust into the daily lives of everyone (and has been so inexorably linked to politics and nationalism so that one cannot criticise one without appearing to renounce them all), whereas here in Britain (I forgot to ask - where do you live?) despite there being an 'official state religion', in the vast majority of cases such a thing is rightly maintained as a personal belief. Only when it encroaches into public life is there protest, for example a one-minute silence for thought and contemplation, which is a back-door method of getting prayer into schools; what would happen if someone did a quiet, contemplative head-stand during this time? Chances are they'd be accused of blasphemy. But then, I've never seen the need for special buildings in which to pray: if you believe in a God who created everything, where better than in a field or forest to praise his works? Granted churches, mosques, etc., are wonderful examples of the mason's art (and just because I don't believe in the God they have been built to celebrate, does not mean I cannot admire the architecture of Canterbury or Wells cathedral), and can inspire, but they are still human creations. Having said that, simply because they are human constructs, it is entirely silly to (as in some Muslim buildings) not build as best one can, with the excuse that perfection can only be achieved by God; in fact, I would say that such an outlook would be offensive to most G/god(s) simply because not doing one's best denies the abilities given to us and so does not make full use of G/god's gifts. And then, it is far from uncommon for any believer, regardless of faith, to claim only they are capable of behaving in a moral fashion, for if atheists have no G/god(s) to tell them how to behave (via 'God-given' laws such as the 10 commandments), how can they? This is an utterly vacuous 'argument', but still has a lot of power to those who adhere to it without any knowledge of the vast history of philosophy and secular humanism. It is perhaps one reason why fundamental Islam has risen so much in recent years, for to those people who are unable to ask questions as to how to best live life, it gives an easy, page-by-page account of all aspects, though given its ancient origins there are many things with which it cannot cope.

Your comment about judging all Christians on the basis of televangelists and various others is of course correct: it is like judging the concept of anarchy based on the actions of some yobs who trash a junk-food store. Ultimately, the only thing that atheists have in common is their lack of belief in G/gods(s); please note, this is lack of belief, not belief in the lack. As for your idea of 'best' societies, one has to ask "best for whom?" Would this be a theocracy in which Christianity replaced the fundamental excesses of the Muslim Taliban, of the kind Pat Robertson and his ilk wish to create, or merely one in which the majority of people's individual beliefs were Christian? I would also question the joining as in "Anti-Christian/Atheist societies", for one does not imply the other: you'll find that with all but a few exceptions, the anti-Christians have either been other Christian sects who see themselves as the only 'true' one and all the others heretics, or Muslims, which like all monotheistic religions demand that theirs is the only G/god, even though for example the bible names many others that were worshipped with equal validity in the same region at the same time. Every culture believed and claimed and hoped and prayed their own G/god was on their side when they went into battle, from Joshua's serial genocide to the American invasion of Vietnam (and that war wan't even officially declared). It is certainly true that regimes which have had atheism as part of their outlook have been responsible for some of the worst recent atrocities, but atheism was not used as the excuse (they were mainly political, but see my comments below), whereas every war fought in the name of God has by definition been about religion (though I would question if he's supposed to be that powerful, why does he need people fighting for him, and if he needs to be worshipped he isn't worthy of it), whether the Crusades (which went on for almost two centuries), Pope Innocent III (innocent is the last thing he was!), the Turkish war against orthodox Christians during the First World War, every single instance of in-fighting between dozens of Christian sects, etc., etc..

I am pleased you do not take the bible literally, though as I have already said elsewhere I consider it a useful document of its time, taken in the context of, say, the (legal) Code of Hammurabi or the (story) Epic of Gilgamesh, and as with anything that touches upon both good and bad aspects of human behaviour, can be an inspiration to some who read it, though why that cannot come from inside themselves I do not understand. Again, though, as an atheist, my inspiration, my emotional fulfilment (or spiritual if you prefer), comes from an enjoyment and awe at what is: everything from the smallest insect to the sprawling vastness of two interacting galaxies. For me, that they are, is sufficient. Yes, I am interested in how, which is why I regularly read science magazines and so on, but the why aspect, which is currently religion's purview, is something that is of no concern to me. It's not that I do not want to know or do not care why, though for some branches of science at the smallest level everything is actually based on probability (which might be strange or unsettling for some people who need a sense of order to the universe, no matter that on the large scale there is vast complexity, which is a different thing entirely), but I do not consider it matters. That the universe is as it is, is sufficient, and of course if it were much different then we would not be here to appreciate it.

As you can see from my political stance, I consider many of the current political parties to be at times virtually indistinguishable from religion, especially when it comes to doctrine / dogma and the unquestioning loyalty they demand, and as I stated, I would certainly class the extremes of Communism in that category, but then I would also lay that blame on the fanatical interventionism of the U.S. and its European state, the U.K., who use the excuse of "freedom and democracy [at any cost]". I have no wish to get into an argument about whether Hitler for example was or was not a Christian (though he certainly thought and wrote of himself as one), and whilst it is certainly true that some of the recent atrocities have been caused by regimes which had atheism as part of their political / religious stance (once again, the two have been conflated into a total and totally repressive regime), it is equally true that in past centuries religion has been used as the basis and cause for even more strife. But, before your hackles rise, my point is that in the end the justification (whether in the name of religion and / or politics) is almost meaningless because all that counts is what people do to one another; being told it's for your own good (to save your soul) or that of the state (we know what's best for you) is no comfort to someone who's being killed for having differing beliefs or being of the wrong ethnicity, regardless of the reasons of the killer, who will always see themselves as vindicated.

Lastly, to round off what has been a far longer reply than I'd originally anticipated, I could not agree more with you when you say "we have to distinguish between faiths … does not mean condemning all its followers to some kind of eternal bonfire … for all of us to fight against hatred, bigotry and 'believe what I believe or else' religion", neither would I condemn the bible or any other book simply because of the manner in which some people use it for their own ends (though that does not of course mean I do not have serious issues with much of the content and it messages); perhaps the message of tolerance is summed adequately by the eight words of the Wiccan Rede: "An harm ye none, do as ye will", bearing in mind the 'none' applies to all life, not just Human, so it is rather Buddhist in nature, too. From a personal point of view, if your belief gives you a sense of 'what is right' then I can only say you have made the correct choice for yourself, and I wish you well with it, as it is something many people strive for, and do not always achieve.

01 June 2001 : Simon
The 'every one has to believe in something' approach is often used in a very patronising way, implying that the beliefs of a Christian are only held due to some kind of personal inadequacy, or emotional weakness. A crutch to lean on. It is also a very proud view; "everyone has to believe in something…… um… except me of course as I'm 'above' such things". You say I examined what was 'on offer' and made a 'Choice' implying that I take a pick an'mix approach to religion according to my own tastes. This is not the case. My religious conviction is more a question of being unable to deny this and remain honest with myself and the evidence presented. I can assure you, my life would be a lot easier and far more comfortable if I was to abandon my faith. No more long hours standing in church; far fewer moral constraints; no more reading through long, and admittedly sometimes boring prayers; no more confession, I could keep all my money to myself; I could really 'live it up'! Have 'real' fun! Sod everybody else and look after number one! But this is not the way to live. It is not the best course for man individually or communally, I believe. You say I made a choice. In a sense I did as I came to a point where I 'chose' to believe, in the same way that at some stage you chose to believe in the athiest faith. (Yes Athieism is most certainly a belief and indeed a faith. You could even say that the athiest is only one God away from theism). That was your choice. But I suspect, like me, it was a choice that offered you personaly no alternatives. It was not a case of shall I choose this faith or shall I choose that faith, it was and is a question of where else can I go (ie St. John 6:68)? This is truth and so must be acted upon. Not to do so would be to deny yourself emotionally, spiritually, psychologically and intellectually. It would mean basically having to live a lie. And indeed to live without God is doing exactly that. So is my faith 'a system of belief that best suits me'? Well of course spiritually yes it is. But if it is best for me as I suspect you mean in the day to day routine of life, then again yes it is, but not because it always makes me perfectly at peace or floating on cloud of self-righteous contentment. It is best for me because this is how I was created to be, not because it necessarily makes me 'feel good'.

You seem to have a very unscientific approach to religion even though you appear to have trust in the scientific 'process'. Science looks at the evidence, reassess, is willing to change its views, admits it might be wrong, knows that the question is not settled once and for all but has to be constantly re-examined. Science does not say that this is the answer and so the end of the question and any further consideration of it. If I as a Christian take this approach I am condemned as blinked, narrow minded and, of course, a bigot. As you say "it should be tested and, if found wanting, revised and updated". This is good advice that we should all follow. You say that God is an invention of man, but can you tell me when this invention occurred? Can you chart its development? What evidence can you present?

I am sure you believe an Atheist society which forbids public faith and perhaps worship in schools preferable, but I can ask you the same question you ask me; preferable for who? Certainly not for me or millions of others. Atheist societies have an appalling record of intolerance, religious persecution and human rights abuses. Indeed, the history of secular humanism is enough to make many find faith in God. The 'Enlightenment' for example must have been one of the greatest euphemisms ever used. If you examine the development of its humanist philosophy we can thank it for such giving birth to such delights the French revolution, Marxism and the 'freedoms' of Soviet Russia, the breakdown of society we appear to be witnessing as western man adopts the dog-eat-dog live for today Godless appraoch to life. Can you really tell me that society is improved when Christ is abandoned?

I think I need to elaborate on my views of the Bible. I did say that not every word can be considered as infallible in that not every piece of punctuation or use of vocabulary can be considered as utterly perfect. The English Bible is of course after all a translation from the original Greek. However, it is none the less the word of God. It is correct in all areas of faith and doctrine and in fact, extremely reliable in historical accuracy. As I say it is the word of God, yet at the same time infused with the word of man. It is a perfect blend of human and divine revelation. In the same way that Christ is perfect God AND perfect man. I try to look at it this way: Fudamentalist Christians and Muslims see their scriptures as a perfect representation of God; say, like a photograph. The Bible however is more akin to a painting of God. Each Gospel for example, is a beautiful and superbly accurate representation of God and yet as with any painting, it is infused with the style of the artist. Hence all four Gospels have differences, yet all four still remain a brilliant, accurate and true representation of the divine. As such we can rely on them as the Word of God to be trusted, lived by, preached, studied, cherished, read and re-read. Only a an immature and shallow appraoch would write off the Bible as innacurate and full of contradiction and error. The Bible was inspired by God yet written by the church and can only be understood when read in the context of the church and the holy fathers.

I can not let this idea of Hitler being a Christian go without comment. The very idea is absurd despite what he may or may not have claimed. Of course, the Hitler label is a convenient one to hang on your opponents as it instantly demonises them, but it is one which should be treated with the upmost suspicion. Hitler was entirely pagan in his beliefs, obsessed with Teutonic warrior myth and the occult. The Nazi party was very anti Christian and stepped up persecution of the church as they became more secure in power during the 1930's. The Catholic church was seen as one of the great enemies of the Volk along with liberalism, communism and the Jews. However, I would indeed admit that this is somewhat ironic as the Roman Catholic church was a great ally of the Nazis in the Balkans and responsible with Himmler's Bosnian Muslim SS divisions for the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Serbian Orthodox Christians. Incidentally, Himmler believed that Islam was the worlds greatest religion and greatly encouraged it. This should not be surprising as Nazism and Islam share many ideals, e.g. Keeping women in the home pregnant and uneducated, expansionist, militaristic, anti-Semitic and totalitarian, suffering no rivals in ideology. You may say that the church has also been guilty of this, however if it has been it is instantly denying its own beliefs and doctrines. Excommunicating itself you might say. Nazism and Islam however fit very comfortably with these abuses of man and indeed in many places encourage it with the promise of divine blessing and paradise. There is also documentary evidence to show that when the Jewish question was 'solved', the Christian church was to be next. No, Hitler and the Nazis were not Christian. You may think that what I have said is only more reason to abandon religion, but once again I stress that you have to distinguish between beliefs and practices.

As which many areas of life there are fakes and forgeries. A fake only 'works' when it looks like the genuine article, yet it still remains a fake. We have to test the spirits and use decernment. Saint Thomas the Apostle is honoured in the Orthodox church because he was an apostle of Christ, but also because of his initial unbelief! He is an example to us not to blindly accept what is told to us or our own prejudices but to examine the facts and admit with humility if we are wrong.

06 June 2001 : Catherine
Simon, thank you for taking the time to respond. I know this is going to be another long reply, but I hope you find my points interesting, as I do yours.

No, I didn't mean to say that I was 'above such things' in a patronising way, merely that I don't need them. Just because someone has no religion or abandons one they have grown up with does not mean they then automatically become a selfish person, for Humanism has at its heart the welfare of all people; indeed, one of its creeds (which is actually shared by the politics of anarchy) is that you cannot be truly happy if you know that a fellow human being is suffering, though personally I'd extend that to include all living things. As to why you should not be selfish (i.e., assuming you don't have a conscience), then at the very least a form of PESI (Principle of Enlightened Self-Interest). It doesn't do you any good being nasty to or inconsiderate of other people if they then leave you isolated (no social life, no chance of having a partner or being cared for in illness or old-age), without aid should you need it (who will help you fix the leaking roof or build a wall?), lack of meaningful employment, and so on. It is true that to be anything other than an atheist I would be living a lie, but from that you then say that living without God is a lie? Presumably this applies not only to me abut anyone else who doesn't believe in your particular version of the Christian deity? What a judgement that is, on a par with Dale Proulx determining everyone to be a sinner (unless of course they adhere to his brand of Christianity).

I do believe in something, or have 'faith' if you prefer that term, but it is in the abstract concept of Humanity as an evolving creature (by which I mean 'animal' rather than a literal 'created being') that will, through rationalism, outgrow its animal-heritage of claiming and fighting over resources (originally water and food, but now anything that means profit or gain for the group), traits which are evident in our cousins, the apes, as well as many other social animals. I would not say that I need that faith, it is more of a hope, for as an atheist I have no problem accepting the random forces of nature, chemical reactions and physical bonds between elements to eventually form proteins and so on, as I fully accept us being here for no external reason (e.g., fulfilling a plan of a creator), and that as such our life has meaning only if we imbue it with such. Otherwise it becomes utterly pointless and perhaps even impersonal, which is a very sad and defeatist outlook, and without wishing to sound in any way offensive or derogatory, I think this is what religions offer people: a purposeful answer to the question "why are we here?"

Atheists cannot be omniscient and state "there is no God" (just as theists cannot likewise state "God exists", though they all claim it), but they can certainly say "there is no evidence of G/god(s) as worshipped in any of the human religions", and whilst it is true that keeping an open mind is a good thing (as indeed with all claims that do not readily fit into the mainstream), I would then ask do you have an open mind on the existence of gryphons? No one can say with absolute certainty "there are no gryphons," though it can be said almost without contradiction "there are no gryphons here on earth, now" (the Cealocanth is a good example of this outlook being proven wrong once evidence was forthcoming), yet these animals are not thought of as real. I didn't make an active choice to become an atheist, it is simply the default position, and I have yet to see any evidence to change my outlook, as I have not yet seen anything to modify my stance on being an a-gryphonist or an a-Odinist.

Science, per se, is merely knowledge, but the scientific method can and should be applied to all things, and I would certainly say that a society based on this system of inquiry is preferable to one based on any form of theism, or indeed an extreme of atheism where that outlook is enforced, for any society, whether atheist or theist, should never forbid the practice of private worship or any outward expression of personal belief such as wearing crosses or pentagrams, whether alone or in a group.

What I would say, however, is that all systems of belief, regardless of their supposedly divine origin or not, should always be compliant enough to accept revision in the face of new discoveries. Muslims made marvellous advances in the field of astronomical observation, but they were acting in contradiction to what was written in the Qur'an (both as a source of knowledge and a stringent system of behaviour), and Galileo could not have used his discoveries of planetary phenomena to challenge the reigning view had he taken the Bible as a literal truth, and as you know he rejected the church's orthodoxy. One's personal belief or faith must always accommodate verifiable results, and if it does not, then whilst I certainly agree that a person has every right to hold a view (an inside-out hollow earth with the sun at the centre), and I would defend their right to hold their view, they do not have an equal right to be taken seriously if it contradicts overwhelming external evidence.

As with all monotheistic cultures, which by definition say only their God is the 'real' one, they have to stamp out all competing religions, and there are societies existing today (e.g., Buddhists) who, whilst they have certainly heard of Christ because of exchanges of ideas from early travellers and now, modern communications, have lived perfectly well without him and from their point of view do not have anything lacking, and they live what the vast majority of people would regard as a 'spiritual' existence. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, all claim through divine revelation to be the single true religion, which instantly brings them into conflict with one another and even internally as factions emerge and fight amongst themselves as each claims divine authority.

I definitely consider the Bible to have merit, especially as an historical document (I have never denied the fact that many true events are incorporated in varying fashions), and even as a codified system of behaviour, but the assertion it is the word of God is based on the Bible itself saying it is, which is circular reasoning. I would certainly say that its messages are more important than any of the contradictions and outright errors it contains, and a certain amount of common sense has to be applied, taking into account its origins. For example, the much-lauded KJV (which many claim is the only valid version despite it being, as you say, a translation) speaks of a unicorn, and whilst I admit to not knowing the original word (whether Greek, Coptic, Hebrew, etc.), if someone were to describe to me a creature that looked like a squat grey horse with one horn (albeit a short one), I could not use the modern description of 'rhinoceros' because the word didn't exist, I would have to use a contemporary approximation - unicorn. That was of course hypothetical, but I hope you see what I mean, and this is compounded by stories as metaphors, but is this a modern interpretation? The main problem I have is with people who take every word, whether translated or not, as the literal truth, claiming every word is inerrant simply because it is in the Bible; Muslims do the same thing, too, despite the fact that the Qur'an as it exists today was actually formed from various collections which scholars read and made decisions on what was to be the 'real' version.

As for the origins of religion, it is hardly something that was documented at the time, so to ask for direct evidence of its invention is I think a little disingenuous, for it existed long before any form of permanent record became available for us to examine, and when dealing with times so long ago there is a very real danger of projecting our modern sensibilities onto people who would have no idea of (and had no need for) our current way of life. Having said that, and without going into a lot of background detail that can be found in most books on comparative mythology and religions, Neanderthal Man probably began what might loosely be termed 'religion' when he began to bury his dead, either in the belief that there might be some form of after-life or simply out of respect for that person and what they had done; then there's a very large gap of time until about 25,000 BCE when the first artefacts become available, human figures with enlarged sexual characteristics, possibly some form of fertility symbolism. Religion began as a means of explanation of the world, ascribing unknown things (stars, weather, etc.) to motivating spirits, perhaps to personalise them and thus make them more accessible, and from there developed to a form of representation of the natural world in the hope that an image of something would either affect that thing or take on characteristics of that thing. The systems became more formalised and individualised into manifestations (gods) as Man changed from being a roaming hunter to a settled farmer, creating permanent settlements which needed to be sustained, then individual city-states rose to prominence in Mesopotamia (c3000 BCE), based around a temple for their city-god: the wonderful Epic Of Gilgamesh (one of the oldest surviving stories and myths) portrays their gods as very personal deities who speak regularly to the hero and his friend Endiku, though they are not immune to being outwitted by their human creations (e.g., the story of Ishtar's use of the Bull Of Heaven). As a digression, this is also when writing developed, both as a means of tracking commerce and maintaining government, keeping records of food, people, property, and laying out legal transactions and contracts. Surviving tribes in South America and New Guinea, and the Aborigines, are perhaps the nearest surviving equivalents of primitive man, where our modern concepts of G/god(s) are unknown: I use the word primitive in a non-derogatory sense, for they live as they need to, and have no incentive to change as happened elsewhere, though modern life has obviously encroached and effectively destroyed their ways.

With regards to Hitler, it's likely we can never agree on precisely what he was, and quotes can easily be lined up on both sides, for it could be argued that regardless of what he actually said, did he really mean it or was he merely an opportunist who used whatever system of belief suited him at the time so he could gain support, either from the church itself (which readily supported him) or simply the ordinary people to endorse his policies? He (both personally and the higher echelons of the regime as a whole) certainly made use of various pseudo-Pagan beliefs and took many Nordic concepts as well as Teutonic ones, yet he created a restrictive church state and wanted religion taught in schools, and he followed the Catholic standards in thinking "the perfidious Jews" the enemies of God, so in that respect he was a typical Lutherian.

A problem arises, however, by claiming that just because someone says they are a Christian and say they are acting in God's name and then give thanks to God for their victories, they then are not a true Christian if they do anything that might be termed bad by any other Christian, because then what is a Christian? The Puritan and other settlers in the New World, escaping persecution at home in England and Europe, delighted in the slaughter of the natives who were seen as either sub-human animals or, if they had souls, potential converts, or even creatures of Satan, and the settlers gave thanks to God for thereby giving them the new land as well as killing their enemies by the smallpox and other diseases they had introduced themselves: does this then mean they were not true Christians? They would certainly say so. Were the priests and soldiers (blessed and joyously proclaiming they acted in the name of their God) who massacred the population of South America, or the people who executed Innocent III's campaign against the peaceful (and Christian) Albigensians, real Christians? I could also say that unlike all religious wars and persecution which are always in the name of God, Communism (or implementations such as Stalinism or Maoism) was not in the name of atheism but rather the name of a political regime or personal ambition.

But, having said all that, and before you blow a fuse :-), I think a good case could be made that people who are hateful or tyrannical will use any prevailing system, whether religious or political or cult-of-personality to justify what they do, claiming it is "for God" or "for Country" or "for the people" when all they are really interested in is uncontested power and absolute control of all aspects of their citizen's lives, and all use xenophobia to endorse pogroms and crusades and jihads to eliminate all possible dissenters and contrary opinions, in the aim of creating a 'pure' society. I think you'll agree with me when I say it is Humanity's sheer diversity that makes it so fascinating, and considering how long we currently live, though a massive improvement on a couple of centuries ago, is too short a time to be wasted in what, seen globally (or even in context of the solar system and beyond), are petty, parochial squabbles (not that I would ever endorse such things in the future when we live much longer than now).