Category Archives: Religion

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.

The Others

This post was originally my response to a question in Christianity Through Its Scriptures.
How are those who belong defined or viewed by the ways in which they view or define those who don’t belong?

OthersWithin the Church of England church there seems to be a general acceptance of the ‘other’, whether that be different religions/denominations or no religion, humanists and/or atheist (if there is a difference).

The atheists, by contrast, whilst generally benign, have a significant number of members who accept no view but their own, some being quite aggressive about it.

A quick look at humanism.co.uk definition , while not explicitly anti Christian or religious, is implicitly so in the wording of their opening statement. They say in the first section of their definition, “and is therefore an atheist or agnostic”. But, since both atheism and religion is a matter of belief, with no absolute proof either way, is this fair?

It goes on to say “makes their ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals”. Isn’t this what Christians do too, albeit that they express it differently?

Another preconception within the non-religious community of the UK seems to be how little the church gives to charity, and is in itself also a charity. Taking the second point first, it might be otherwise stated that it is supported by it’s members, just like the humanist society is, but is conveniently forgotten.

What the CofE gives to other charities, it runs into millions of pounds, but because it is often relatively small amounts here and there to different causes, it does not make news media like major charity initiatives such as Children In Need.

It seems that both the religious and non religious often perceive each other in an equally bad light. Christianity is a religion. At times, the non religious, in particular the humanist/atheist behave like their belief, for that’s what it is, a belief that there is no God, is a religion too.

Statistical God

The Probability That God Exists.

I have been reading Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, about which I will post in due course. This article is about a specific item in that book, where Dawkins quotes Stephen Unwin’s book, The Probability Of God. In fairness I will say that I have not read Unwin’s book (though I did subsequently check the quote), I based this post on what is quoted in Dawkins’ book. It is not a review of the book, only my thoughts on the particular risk management technique in relation to the subject.

Unwin is by profession a risk management consultant who used a branch of statistics, called Bayesian statistics, to try to demonstrate the existance of God. Bayes theorem is used in business as a risk management tool, as a way of combining estimated liklihoods to arrive at a final probability; note “estimated”. For once, I am on slightly familiar ground, though I claim no expertise in Bayesian statistics. I have used risk management techniques in my former employment, and have a rudimentary understanding of Bayesian theory. Even as a Christian believer in God, I have trouble agreeing Unwins’s verdict, as I don’t believe He can be subjected to a human derived method of analysis by estimation.

Unwin’s basis is to start with complete uncertainty, which he defines as 50/50, either way. 50% for the existence of God and 50% for non-existence. Then he states six facts that he believes bear on the matter, and this is where I disagree; his so called facts. He says:

1. People have a sense of goodness.
2. People do evil things (Hitler, Stalin, Hussein).
3. Nature does evil things (earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes).
4. There might be minor miracles.
5. There might be major miracles.
6. People have religious experiences.

Unfortunately, to me none of Unwin’s proposals stand on their own as an objective fact.

1. Some (perhaps most) people have a sense of goodness, is a fact. The original statement is not.
2. Some people do evil things is a fact, but again his original statement is not.
3. Nature does not do evil things. It sometimes does what humans think are bad, but nature is not evil. Nature has no malice or intent to harm. It is a sometimes localised way of trying to keep a wider balance.
4/5. Why separate these? There are or are not miracles, the perceived degree is irrelevant in this context.
6. Some people have spiritual experiences. Not everyone who does defines it as religious.

Unwin’s estimated probability of the existence of God, if you follow through his calculations, is 67% which he seems to think is not high enough. To push the probability up, in Dawkins’ words, “he takes the bizarre step of boosting it to 95% by an emergency injection of ‘faith'”.

Much as I hate to say it, and I still believe in God, I’ve found something I have to agree with Dawkins opinion on.

Is Religion Man Made?

Making sense of faith.

cloud2The title was a question posed in a discussion forum for a history course I followed. It raises an interesting discussion, one that will never be answered definitively but has prompted me to try to set out my own fourpennyworth on the subject, so here goes:

Firstly, I think it is 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 might nall actually be one God, 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 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 than that God does exist?

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 by God. Whether we choose to accept it is another matter entirely, as God does not force it on anyone. Man has, on many occasions throughout history, tried to.

Is it faith man has tried to force on man, or religion? Whilst the instances of man forcing religion on man is less prevalent today, and probably more secretive, it still goes on. What clearly does go 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 in such a vast universe, that we inhabit a tiny corner of, has lead at least some humans to conclude that something or someone greater than they, is responsible for the creation. Religion then is perhaps humankind’s way of trying to make some kind of sense of the unimaginable by our imperfect human mind. Man, not God, though perhaps inspired by Him, wrote the books about Him and devised the practices and rituals that we use to worship and glorify Him, Such practices are different for each religion.

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. That 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.
– Lewis Carroll’s, Alice In Wonderland.