Sunday, April 25, 2010

Apple butter on a biscuit

Have you ever come across an article, book, or video that resonates with you so deeply that it brings you close to tears, simply because it somehow manages to describe exactly how you feel or what you believe?

I've struggled so hard to describe on this blog, and so inadequately, my own beliefs regarding my place in this universe, and my reason for getting up in the morning despite not believing in a god. In just five minutes, the video below (I came across it here) does a far better job than I did in five years. It's a beautiful representation of how I view life.

If you watch this video, then you will gain some understanding of what it means to be a naturalist. But more than that, you will gain some understanding of the person named Kevin Parry.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Was Hitler an atheist?

I've heard a few Christians claim that Hitler was an atheist. I think this claim is made (see an example here, a comment on a previous post of mine) in an attempt to discredit atheism by associating it with something like the Holocaust.

The truth is, though, is that it is not really clear if Hitler was in fact an atheist, or even a Christian. Richard Dawkins, in the God Delusion (pg 272-78), lists specific examples where Hitler seems to be anti-atheist and pro-Christian. In a speech in 1933 Hitler declared a fight against the atheistic movement, and claims to have stamped it out. In another speech in 1922 he repeats several times that he is a Christian. Then there is his famous quote from Mein Kampf:

Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.

However, there are other references (see here) where Hitler expresses anti-Christian sentiment. For example, during a private conversation on the 19th October 1941, Hitler was recorded to have said the following:

The reason why the ancient world was so pure, light and serene was that it knew nothing of the two great scourges: the pox and Christianity.

Moreover, Hitler heavily persecuted members of the Confessing Church; the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for example, was hanged in a concentration camp in April 1945.

So Hitler's religious beliefs are not as certain as some apologists, or even some atheists, would have us believe. My own view on the matter is the same as the one put forward in this article: that Hitler's 'god' was not the Christian god, but rather the German national identity. This is what he worshiped, and he persecuted anyone, atheist or theist alike, who did not do the same.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Atheists within the clergy

When I left the faith, I was extremely lucky. When it came to my social circle, my family and friends took the news mildly. My work didn't suffer, as I was starting a career outside the ministry. The only real struggle, other than my own inner turmoil, concerned my relationship with my wife, Cori, who was my girlfriend at the time, and who is a Christian. But we both managed to make our relationship work.

Other ex-Christians, however, find themselves in tougher circumstances. Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola, from Tufts University, recently published a paper on practicing preachers who are also atheists (see here). Five members of the clergy, from various denominations, were confidentially interviewed to explore their reasons for walking away from faith and why they still remain in the ministry.

Although the authors rightly stress that the sample is too small to make reliable generalisations, there were some common issues raised by all (if not most) of the five subjects.

  • As believers, the primary reason why the subjects joined the ministry was to help others.
  • The road to doubt began during their years of study in seminary, when the 'truths' they were taught in Sunday School were suddenly challenged for the first time.
  • All five have kept their unbelief secret from their congregation, friends and even their families, and have struggled with feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  • One or two justify remaining in the ministry to encourage their congregation to think about ideals such as democracy and tolerance.
  • The main reason cited for not leaving the ministry, despite their unbelief, is that they feel that they won't be able to start another career to financially support their families.
  • There is a huge gulf between what is taught from the pulpit compared to what the clergy learn in seminary. The authors suggest that the clergy generally don't preach what they have learnt because they fear damaging their parishioners' beliefs.
It is easy to accuse these five, and many others who might be in the same situation, of hypocrisy. But when I remember how difficult my own faith struggle was, and when I consider the fact that I didn't have deal with the possible loss of a job, career, friends, or family, I feel a great deal of compassion for anyone who might be stuck in this position.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Post rapture pet care service?

Are you a Christian? If so, have you ever given any thought to the welfare of your pets who will be left behind if the rapture occurs tomorrow?

My friend Cobus mentioned the following site to me during the weekend. It's called Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, and involves a group of animal loving atheists who will, for a small fee, look after your pets in the event of the rapture occurring.

Our network of animal activists are committed to step in when you step up to Jesus.

I don't know what to make of it: is it a joke, or is it serious? Gave me a good laugh though.