Category Archives: Religion

Unveiling a Parallel

By Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant, published 1893.

Once again I find myself adding a book review to my Christian themed blog, before I add it to my book review blog. I add it here because of the comparisons Unveiling A Parallel draws with Christianity.

Unveiling A Parallel is billed as a romance. Some might say it is science fiction, as it is set on the planet Mars. Some would call it feminist literature, if the term “feminist” existed in 1893. I describe Unveiling A Parallel as social-science fiction, that just happens to be set on another planet.

Remember as you continue that Unveiling a Parallel was published more than a century ago. The society in which the protagonist finds himself is still a stratified society, in which there are rich and poor, servants and masters, characteristic of the era in which the story was written.

The reader is not told at any point the protagonist’s name, or how he comes to be on Mars. The story begins at his arrival on the red planet.  It goes on to recount his experiences with the “Marsians” whilst amongst the people.

The Marsian people are humans, who have evolved entirely independently of the humans of our planet Earth. The differences between the peoples are in intellects and social orders, not in any physical aspect that defines a human being.

The traveller’s male pre-conceptions, of how a society should function, based on his patriarchal Earth background in a male dominated society, are challenged from soon after his arrival on Mars.  As he begins to get to know Mars’ people, he finds an egalitarian, equal society where the female of the species is the equal of the male socially and morally, without needing legislation to achieve it.

It is also interesting to see the protagonist’s observations on religion, specifically Christianity, as he begins to come to terms with the “Marsian” society in which he finds himself.

Unveiling A Parallel is not SciFi in the form that readers of such as Asimov, E E Doc Smith or Larry Niven would probably appreciate. It is, to a greater extent, commentary on the differences between societies, that have evolved in different places, under different conditions and traditions.

“You worship the man – the God, if you will, –
instead of that for which he stood.”: – Severnius.

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Faith Without Thinking

But not unthinking faith.

Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant. 1893

I’ve been nominally a Christian since I was baptised as a baby. It’s in recent years that I’ve taken it seriously, trying to live by Christian principals. I’ve not done anything criminal or deliberately hurt anyone, nevertheless I’m probably not what you might call a good Christian.

I go to church each Sunday. I meet with Christian friends and discuss what being a Christian means. I read the Bible, sometimes. That might be part of what makes me Christian but not necessarily a good one.

Often on weekdays and when I’m not with my Christian friends, I am not thinking about behaving as a Christian. Of course it shouldn’t be necessary to be thinking about it all the time. Which is the point I probably need to explain a little more.

This post was inspired by a paragraph from a book, Unveiling A Parallel (To be reviewed later on Entertaining Angels Bookshelf). The passage is:

“Do you often hear an upright man professing his honesty? It is part of himself. He is so free of the law which enjoins honesty that he never gives it a thought. So with the man who is truly religious and no longer needs to guide himself bit by bit and rein, or measure his conduct by the written code.”
– From Unveiling a Parallel by Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant 1893.

The book is fiction. We can still learn something from it, just as we learn from Jesus’ parables which were fiction but contained a truth.

The person referred to in the quoted passage never thinks about his religion which, in the book, we are not told what it is. The point is that he doesn’t need to think about it. Its principals are so deeply ingrained within him, that he doesn’t need to think about them to live by them. It is, or has become, his natural way of living, of conducting himself.

As Christians, shouldn’t we be aiming to live by Jesus’ teaching, to the extent we do not need to constantly think about it?  I’m not suggesting we should not think about or discuss The Bible and God and Jesus, just that living by its principals ought to become second nature to us, or that we should aim that it does.

The Trinity

Mind you don’t get burned.

If you say trinity to a Christian there is a good chance that he or she would think of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three-in-one and one-in-three. Trinity in unity. But, what might a non christian think of?

There are many, many things that come in threes, some real, some fictional.

  • Three bones in an ear
  • Three wheels on a tricycle
  • Three legs on a tripod

If you remove one item from each of the groups of three, it becomes useless.

  • Take one bone from an ear, you cannot hear
  • Take one wheel from a tricycle, it cannot be ridden
  • Take one leg from a tripod, it falls over

In each case removing one of the three renders the remainder useless.

When I was at school, in the science lesson I remember being taught that fire requires three things to burn; fuel, heat and air (oxygen). Remove any one of these elements and the fire is extinguished.

Might fire be an, albeit very simplistic, analogy for the complexity of the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God the father being, perhaps, the oxygen (breath of God). God the Son providing the fuel (His word in the gospels). God the Holy Spirit being the heat (felt but unseen).

So if by taking away one element of fire it ceases to exist, what happens to God if one element of the trinity were missing?

As usual I have no answer but think it an interesting question to ponder.

Lost In Translation

Mind your language.

My native language is English. I can read sufficient Dutch to make sense of a lot of things, I write it a little, very poorly, and hardly speak it at all. Like many English people, I was, I suppose, quite arrogant for a long time about my language, with no knowledge of any other.

When we refer to language, we don’t always mean your language or mine where translation from one country’s language to another is necessary to understand one-another. Sometimes language can mean the form of words we use. For example when talking about someone’s manner of speaking I might say ‘he doesn’t beat about the bush’ . Someone else might say ‘he speaks his mind’ or ‘he has a direct manner’. Another person might simply say ‘he’s blunt’. It all means the same thing, expressed differently.

The same is equally true when we talk to someone about religion, for me Christianity but the language chosen is equally applicable to all religions. If you were not already A Christian, what would you think if I strolled up to you and said ‘can I talk to you about Jesus’ or Do you read the bible?’. Chances are, you would think me a bit odd and look for the first excuse to get away.

It’s not just what we say but also how we say something that can attract someone, or put them off entirely.I was put off The Bible early in my life by the, to me at that time, impenetrable, archaic language used in the King James Bible (given to me when I was 8 years old and which I still have). When we hope to introduce someone to Christianity, how we talk to them is important.

The same approach does not work for everyone, so be careful not just what you say, how you say it too. As usual I do not have answers, I just hope to get a bit of consideration started.

 

A Good Death?

Is there really any such thing?

IMG_0085How do we we deal, or don’t deal with the only sure thing in life; death. Well for the most part, here in our comfortable, prosperous west we do not. We leave it to someone else; the doctors, nurses, care workers and ultimately the undertakers, although most of them seem to prefer to be called funeral directors these days.

We sometimes hear about ‘a good death’ or giving someone who is dying their dignity. I suspect that much of the time what we really mean is, making it more palatable for the living who must deal with the dying person. Let us face it, the dying person almost certainly does not care about dignity and in some cases, just wants to be free of pain. In these situations death can be a kind of healing, although few people see it this way, especially those of no religious belief.

I am not afraid of my own death, I never have been. I might well be afraid of the manner of my death if, when it comes close and has become foreseeable, it is to be painful. And I am afraid for my wife if I should die before her. I would cope better alone than her but I am not afraid of death itself.

Having said I am not afraid to die, my next assertion is entirely my personal opinion for which I have no objective evidence and little anecdotal evidence; I think that more people of no religion are afraid of death than people who have a faith. Regular readers will know I am Christian, and this influences my opinions.

Both my parents died some years ago. Mum in her 90s after a stroke and Dad twenty years ago in his 60s, from pancreatic cancer. Both of their deaths were in hospital and I was not present at either, as I live 80 miles away.

After Dad’s death, I saw his body at the undertakers and immediately wished I had not. Although the undertakers had done a fine job on Dad, he was not as I wanted to remember him. That image haunted (no pun intended) me for a long time, before I was able to see him again as he was before the cancer took him. Consequently, I never went to see Mum after she was laid out, so I found it much easier to remember her as she was before the stroke.

Immediately after the stroke, Mum was admitted to the stroke recovery ward in the hospital and, for a while, seemed to make good progress even though she was over 90 years of age. One piece of news I gave her that seemed to perk her up was that, although I have no children and Mum had no grandchildren by my brother either, I was to become a Godfather. Sadly she did not survive to see that day.

Later, Mum was moved from stroke unit to the elderly care ward. It is my belief, though of course I’ll never know for sure, that once she was moved to elderly care, she lost hope and gave up. She died in the elderly care ward.

Perhaps there is no good death, but just maybe there is a good time to die. Mum passed away on her wedding anniversary to Dad. It seemed an appropriate day from which my brother and I took a little comfort. Knowing Dad’s punctuality, I never knew him to be late for anything, my brother and I could imagine our parents’ reunion, “About time too, where have you been, keeping me waiting for 20 years”.

To every thing there is a season, and a
time to every purpose under the heaven: 
A time to be born, and a time to die
– Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 2

Religion And Politics

How politics is influenced by religion.

From time to time there are calls that religion and politics in the UK should be separated. Historically they have always been combined and if we go back to biblical times they are inseparable. It is not possible to completely divorce religion from from politics.

It has been suggested that, like in America, there should be a separation between the church and the state in the UK but, also like in America, such separation does not keep religion out of politics. It is no barrier.

It impossible to totally remove the influence of religion from politics, when some of the peoples representatives, elected or appointed, have particular religious beliefs. An analogy might be a divorced marriage. Although the couple are separated, their actions still impact upon each other.

Some might argue that the only true separation that might be possible is an atheist state, but this is a spurious argument. Atheism is non belief in a deity, or put another way belief in no deity. Some atheism is more aggressive, deliberately acting against religions, it is; less tolerant to religions than some religions are to each other, though I realise there are intolerant extremists in every religion. This atheism too is political and cannot be dismissed.

By acting against religion, atheism is then itself acting like a religion. It is evangelising a belief system, albeit believing that there is no god. Any belief system might be called a religion.

Buddhism has no deity and is called a religion, so why not atheism too? Any belief system could be called a religion. So whilst not believing there is a god, is non-political and less likely to influence thinking, believing there is no god, i.e. atheism, still influences politics.

Is Religion Man Made?

Making sense of God -sort of.

The title was a question posed in a discussion forum for an online history course. It raised an interesting discussion, that will never be answered definitively but this is my fourpennyworth on the subject.

I think it is first necessary to separate religion and faith. Secondly, who or what do we mean by God? I know I’m treading on dangerous ground here, but I am excluding man made gods and idols whether that be a statue like a golden calf or things we ‘worship’ today, like fashion, football and technology. So what are we now left with for God? Again treading on dangerously controversial ground, I dare to suggest that all religions ‘gods’, at least of the monotheistic religions may all actually be One God, who is given different names by different peoples. And that probably gives a clue already to my thinking on the original question.

Before going any further, I will state an assumption I make that, any/all atheists would argue that religion is man made. As an interesting aside, that I will not pursue here, is it a faith to believe that God does not exist or, put another way, does that mean that atheists have a kind of faith, which is not provable?

Having already separated religion and faith, I can say that I believe firmly that faith is God made, or perhaps better expressed as made available to us by God. Whether we choose to accept it is another matter entirely, as God that I believe in does not force it on anyone. Man has, on many occasions throughout history, tried to though; or has he? Is it faith man has tried to force on man, or religion? Whilst the instances of man forcing religion on man is somewhat less prevalent today, it is clear from the news media that it still goes on. What also clearly goes on, and has been reported on in news, is attempts to prevent apostasy, leaving a religion.

So, whilst faith is made available by God, religion is, I think, man made and God inspired. The need to answer questions that such a vast universe suggests to mankind, has led at least some humans to conclude that something or someone greater than they has been responsible for the creation. Religion then is perhaps humankind’s way of trying to make some kind of sense of the unimaginable, to our imperfect human mind. Man, not God, albeit inspired by Him, wrote the books about Him and devised the practices and rituals used to worship and glorify him. God gave us free will and the ability, often poorly or selfishly used, to think for ourselves, so we come up with wrong or incomplete answers, which is probably why there are different religions and even different sects within the same religion.

“Sometimes I believe 6 impossible things before breakfast”
“This is impossible” said Alice …..
“Only if you think it is” replied the Mad Hatter.
– from Lewis Carroll’s, Alice In Wonderland.