Population Pressures (Part 2)

In the last post I discussed the problems that might arise due to the world’s ever growing population and looked at some of the discussion about what might be done about it. In this post I am going to explore the growth in population of different religious groups.

In recent times, there has been some heated discussion about Muslims having large families and taking over western countries through sheer numbers. But do the figures bear this out? A little exploration of the Australian Bureau of Statistics website shows some interesting facts. Below are a few trends projected for the growth of religious groups, firstly in the Australian population, and then in the world population. Please keep in mind that while statistics are fun, they can also lie quite easily, so one should take the predictions for the future below with some caution.

If there are any statisticians out there who have a better way of analysing the figures and making more sound predictions, I would love to hear from you! If you email me (“Contact Me” at the top of the page) I would be happy to share my spreadsheets with all the Bureau statistics and you can play around with them to your heart’s content. But please, do share your results.

My Results:

For 1996-2006, Hinduism (120%) and Buddhism (110%) have grown faster than Islam (69%) or Christianity (0.8%).

The percentage of children in Australia who are 0-14 years old has changed from 1996 to 2006 as follows:

Buddhist: 1% to 1.8%

Hindu: 0.4% to 0.7%

Islam: 1.7% to 2.6%

Christian: 65.3% to 58.2%

Growth is very hard to predict, and I am not a professional statistician. First I tried multiplying each population by the same growth factor that occurred from 1996-2006, but this produced some obviously ridiculous results by the year 2016. So I then tried just assuming that each population grows or declines by the same number of people every ten years. Obviously, this method too has its limitations, but using it, the big winners are going to be “No religion” and “Religious Affiliation not Stated” which together will grow by 2106 to be 49.5%of the population, compared to only 29.9% in 2006. In the same period, others will change thus:

Buddhist: 2.1% to 6.4%

Hindu: 0.7% to 2.3%

Islam: 1.7% to 4.2%

Christian: 63.9% to 33.6%

At current rates of decline, Churches of Christ would disappear by 2036; Uniting Church by 2066, Presbyterians by 2086 and sadly, the Salvation Army by2076. Of course, this is all unlikely as other factors will certainly come into play. Continue reading “Population Pressures (Part 2)”

Population Pressures (Part 1)

Apologies for the lack of posting recently – I was locked out by some technical glitch which now appears to have resolved itself!

Radio National’s Encounter program (30 October 2011) recently covered a very interesting yet little discussed topic. In the Bible, God commands Adam and Eve, and later Noah and his family, to go forth and multiply and to fill the earth. With our planet’s population having ticked over seven billion this year, and expected to reach nine billion by 2050, is it time to stop multiplying? Haven’t we now filled the earth?

Interestingly, there are arguments on both sides. On the one side is the fear that the earth cannot sustain too many more people. Its resources are limited after all. We have already experienced water shortages that were undreamed of when I was a child, and it is no longer unusual to hear that there is a famine somewhere in the world on any given day. Surely it is a straightforward matter of mathematics: limited resources cannot sustain an unlimited population. If we want to preserve our quality of life, we must take steps to limit the quantity of people alive.

Some have advocated a solution to overpopulation that sees wealthy countries helping developing countries to speed up their economic development. The poor, it is argued, have many children because they know some of them will die in childhood, and they want enough children to survive into adulthood to help on the farm and to look after them in their old age. But if they become financially secure and enjoy a raised standard of living, then they will have fewer children.

But does this solve the problem of the effects of overpopulation? A peasant family in India with 10 children may actually consume fewer resources than a high tech urban family in the USA with only two children! The amount of food the American family throws away each year might well feed the whole Indian family for a year! Perhaps sheer numbers are not the only problem: lifestyle may be an equally important factor.

A capitalistic society relies on growth for its prosperity. Today, a country’s success is unquestioningly measured by the annual growth of its GDP – Gross Domestic Product (although some have challenged this and produced measures of “national happiness” as alternatives). GDP growth means that you need a growing population to provide more consumers to buy more goods to create more jobs to put more money into people’s pockets. But I have often wondered, isn’t this something very like what a cancer does? Healthy body cells and organs grow to a certain limit and then just replace damaged or dead cells, maintaining a healthy, sustainable equilibrium of cell numbers. The whole problem with cancer cells is that they just don’t know when to stop multiplying. Eventually, they consume so much of the body’s resources that the rest of the body starves, and inevitably, dies. Our economic system is built upon exactly this unlimited growth principle!

Here it is important to point out something that the Christian living in the West needs to think about. Continue reading “Population Pressures (Part 1)”

Moallem Jirgis Al Jawhary

 

A 32 year old Protestant Iranian pastor with a young family is on trial in Iran for apostasy from the Muslim faith. He stands at grave risk of being executed, although he has been told that he would be a free man if only he would ‘repent’, renounce his Christian faith and return to Islam. Interestingly, a Muslim blogger, Hesham Hassaballa, has responded in the most powerful way possible: by proving from the very words of the Quran that such treatment is against the teachings of Islam. A sample: 

The evidence is overwhelming: Islam firmly upholds freedom of choice in matters of faith. Indeed, some Muslims do not, but their sins do not speak for the entire faith. Rather, their sins are an affront to the principles of Islam.

 The Iranian authorities must let Pastor Nadarkhani free. The choice of faith that he makes is his alone, and he will face the Lord in the end for his choice.

 Even if the head Shaikh of Al Azhar University converted to Catholicism, it would not diminish the truth of Islam’s message one iota. The Qur’an is quite confident in the truth it speaks, and so should it be with its adherents.

 When will Muslim fundamentalists in Egypt and all over the world understand that if they want to be true to their own religion, they need to accept freedom of religion?

 I think we will be waiting for a long time. This kind of fanaticism is nothing new for the Copt. An interesting historical article about important Coptic historical figure, Girgis El Gohary by Dioscorus Boles highlights some of the horrible circumstances Copts endured as recently as the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Surely we, as a human race, have moved on from such barbarism?

Egypt on the Brink

Hussein Tantawi 

Over the past nine months fanatic elements within the Egyptian Muslim community have stirred up civil unrest all over Egypt. Copts have been attacked, houses and shops looted, and churches burnt down. While it is true that a general degree of anarchy has prevailed in the country since the revolution, one expects that as the new order comes to fruition, such anarchy will quickly be brought under control. THis is to be expected when so drastic a revolution happens in any nation. But acts of violence along religious lines will divide the country and turn it into another Lebanon. As thousands of Egyptian Copts protested the lack of protection from the ruling Army since the revolution, the army opened fire killing dozens of civilians and injuring hundreds. The Army has blamed “unknown culprits” for the violence. Yet surely, there is no doubt as to who did the killing?

If Egypt is ever to become a modern country it has to embrace modern standards of integrity and accountability. Provocateurs are being blamed for inciting the violence, yet we have often seen armies in other countries counter such violence without killing anyone. Why can’t the Egyptian army do the same? Are they not well enough trained? It is simply not good enough to say “they started it”. You are the ones with the training and the weapons!

After this terrible incident any decent army command would very quickly find out who gave the orders to fire on civilians and make a public example of them so that the rest of the soldiers understand that this absolutely unacceptable. The Army showed admirable constraint and what seemed to be great wisdom in refusing to use violence against protesters during the January revolution. Why has that restraint disappeared now? Why does it disappear only against Christians?

If the army does not want to be seen as being selective in who it protects, Continue reading “Egypt on the Brink”

Pop Songs and Prayers

 

Warning: This entry is not for the traditionalist or the ascetic. If you belong to one of those categories, better to stop reading now.

It is for the sincere Christian striving to reconcile their life in the world with their faith in Christ. 

There are certain similarities between formal prayer to God and listening to a song you like. By formal prayer I mean a prayer that is written down somewhere, such as Agbia prayers, the liturgy and so on. By song I mean a song you listen to on the radio, or more likely nowadays, on your portable electronic thingummy. 

In both cases you are paying attention to someone else’s words. Ideas, thoughts, experiences and feelings that someone else has had are embodied in language an melody and thus communicated far beyond the immediate proximity of the author. Across the oceans or across the ages, in both song and formal prayers, we share something with someone we have never met and often know very little about. 

In both cases the words and melody are not the whole story. They are not like a mathematical equation Continue reading “Pop Songs and Prayers”

Why Christianity?

Why Christianity Poster 2011 IMPORTANT – CHANGE OF VENUE:
“Why Christianity?” will not be held at St Joseph’s
Instead it will be held at
St Abanoub Youth Centre
49 Fourth Ave, Blacktown
All other details remain the same.

You’re only a Christian because you were born a Christian. If you were born a Muslim, you’d be a Muslim today. So why should you think your faith is the right one? It’s purely a matter of chance.

I have discussed that challenge with many people over the years. On the face of it, it sounds pretty convincing. But that’s only on the face of it. When we dig a little deeper, you might be surprised at just how strong the case for Christianity against that of all other religions.

Now there are some who will say that we shouldn’t even be considering a question like this, that it is dangerous and might weaken the faith of some, or that it is disrespectful or blasphemous to even think about such things. But I follow the principle that if Christianity is true, then you should be able to throw anything at it, absolutely anything at all, and it should be able to stand up to it. If it can’t, then I want to know, by gum! That is, if I really care about Truth; and Truth is the very thing that Jesus not only promised would set us free, but even used as His own title (“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”).

But it turns out that those who worry need not do so. Christianity is unique in so many ways that it really does stand alone among all the religions of the world. I know that’s a politically incorrect thing to say nowadays, but I believe it is true.

Next Saturday, we hope to explore this topic in some depth. St Abanoub’s Church, Archangel Michael Church and the Coptic Apologetics Group are organising a day where we will examine the question: “Given that God exists, why should we believe that Christianity is the right faith in contrast with all the other faiths in the world?” Last year we had an Atheism Day where we looked at the arguments for and against the existence of God. The ‘Why Christianity’ Day is the logical follow up to that.

Just to whet your appetite, here are some of the reasons why I find Christianity to be quite worthy of the title, “The True Faith”. Continue reading “Why Christianity?”

Close Encounters of the Theological Kind.

 File:Fomalhaut with Disk Ring and extrasolar planet b.jpg

Sitting at home in bed with a nasty respiratory infection is not my ideal way of spending a Sunday morning. My groggy head makes it hard to focus, and I find my thoughts turning to the heavens above…

 A milestone was recently passed: the 555th extrasolar planet was confirmed. An extra solar planet is a planet orbiting a star other than our own sun. When I was growing up, there was a debate going on as to whether such planets even existed. Then in 1992 a few thousand years of wondering came to an end when the first extrasolar planet was discovered, whizzing around a pulsar. Since then, the discoveries have come thick and fast, with new methods for detecting the slippery little creatures being developed all the time. A few of the planets have even posed for a photo, like this one orbiting Fomalhaut (see picture), a star just 25 light years away in the constellation of the Southern Fish (Fomalhaut is Arabic for ‘mouth of the whale’). The Kepler space observatory is expected to take the figure into the thousands.

 How exciting! Imagine what it might be like to travel to one of these planets orbiting around an alien sun. What exotic landscapes would we see? What new science might we learn there? For all human existence, we have been limited to one little, tiny corner of the universe. Until a few decades ago, we had no direct physical access to anything except what we could find here on earth. And then, as we began to send robots to the moon, the planets, the asteroids and comets of our own solar system, we were constantly surprised by what we discovered. Our furthest explorers, the Viking probes launched in the 1980s, are only now approaching the edge of our solar system, and again, making unexpected discoveries. What might we discover in an alien solar system? 

Could there be life?

 The scientific answer to that question is an interesting one. Most scientists who think about it believe the chances are pretty good that life exists somewhere else in the universe, but that our chances of ever coming across it are pretty dismal. Much of this thinking can be traced back to the famous Drake equation that calculates the probability of life and compares it to the number of planets that might be capable of harbouring life. There is ample speculation out there on the scientific and social questions that are raised by the possibility of alien life, so I won’t go into them here. But there is another set of questions that is a little harder to find being discussed.

 The theological questions are no less interesting. I recall hearing HG Bishop Moussa commenting on this topic at a conference once: “If we find life on other planets, we’ll just tuck our Bibles under our arms and go and preach to the aliens” he said. A nice repost for an impromptu response, but perhaps there is more to the matter? Continue reading “Close Encounters of the Theological Kind.”

Gentlemen: Please be Gentlemen.

 

As a student at university in the 80s I had a traumatic experience. One day, as I was walking out of the library, I noticed a female student, a complete stranger, walking out right behind me. So I did the courteous thing and held the door open for her to go out first. What followed still haunts my nightmares! How dare I do such a thing! She launched into an aggressive tirade about how patronising I was being; did I think that she was incapable of opening a door for herself? Who did I think I was? Welcome to the world of late twentieth century feminism! I did the only the only thing I could: I apologised for my thoughtlessness and walked out the door. 

In a world where relationships have changed in so many ways, I find it sad that good old fashioned courtesy has been one of the casualties. It hasn’t been totally eradicated of course, but it has certainly decreased greatly in importance. There are some who argue that this is not such a bad thing. Courtesy can certainly be used a cloak for anger, insults or sarcasm. But that is misuse – it is not the courtesy’s fault, but the user’s. 

Others complain that courtesy encourages insincerity. Isn’t it better to just be honest about our feelings rather than hide them under a formal disguise of good manners? Again, one must distinguish between use and misuse. There is nothing inherent in courtesy to make us act insincerely. It should always be practiced from the heart, with feelings of love towards others. And that same love dictates that we must be honest with each other. All courtesy does is ensure that when we are honest, we do so with respect, kindness and consideration. 

For me, one of the images that epitomises the sublime nobility of courtesy is the famous 1500m race in 1956 where John Landy went back to help fellow runner Ron Clarke who had tripped over. Incredibly, Landy went on to catch up to the rest of the field and win the race! I wonder how many people today would do what he did? And what does that tell us about how we deal with each other?

Courtesy is Biblical. To love one another is the core command that Christ gave us, and again and again in the Bible we find that agape love expressed through courtesy. In that most famous of passages about love, we learn that among other things, “Love … is kind …  does not behave rudely, does not seek its own …” 1 Corinthians 13:4,5.

God is courteous towards even those who evil: Continue reading “Gentlemen: Please be Gentlemen.”

The Burden of Knowledge

 

Life today in a western society is very different to the life our parents and grandparents knew. As a result, our whole world view is quite different, and as such, I propose, our faith needs to also adapt to the new and ever changing circumstances.

 One important area where this applies is the relationship between faith and knowledge. Extremes often help to illustrate a point more conveniently: think of your ancestors of centuries ago, most likely living in rural village somewhere along the majestic Nile. Let us imagine Folla, your great, great, great grandmother. She has grown to be a young woman without the benefit of formal education, for very few Egyptians can afford a formal education, and the vast majority would not want it even if they could afford it. It would be a waste of time and would not in any way help in running the family farm. Thus she is blissfully unaware of any formal laws of nature, of anything but the most basic mathematics, she cannot read or write, so she has no access to books or newspapers, and the only history she knows is the local legends of her village and the stories she hears read out in Church from the Bible and the Synaxarion every Sunday. She does not understand what the priest prays in Church every Sunday, for he prays in Coptic while she only knows Arabic. Sunday School has not yet been introduced to Egypt and the priest has only slightly more education than her, so he does not give sermons or conduct Bible studies; in fact her chief source of religious knowledge is her mother, the kindly woman who would sit her on her lap when she was a young girl and tell her stories that she had heard from her mother before her.

 Folla’s faith is a very simple one. It is not based on outright reason so much as on trust. Continue reading “The Burden of Knowledge”

Egypt Rejoices, But What Comes Next?

 Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak

This is an historic moment. A few hours ago, President Hosni Mubarak resigned after thirtyyears of apparently untouchable rule. He took what was perhaps his last opportunity to depart with dignity. No one can deny that he has done much that is good for his people over the decades, regardless of the damage that he also presided over. Our Lord, who is the true judge of hearts, will no doubt deal with him with justice and mercy.

The great thing about this change in Egypt is that it took place largely peacefully and it was not engineered by foreigners, the army, Islamic radicals or any other narrow interest. It came about because the people of Egypt finally found their voice.

The 1952 Egyptian Revolution that ousted the monarchy began with great idealism. Opinion is divided as to how closely its leaders adhered to that idealism, although most would agree that Egypt has degenerated rather than improved over the past sixty years. This time, there are no obvious leaders like Gamal Abd El Nasser to garner the love and trust of the people and turn it into dictatorship. Perhaps this time Egypt will give birth to a system rather than a leader, a far more stable and beneficial state of affairs!

I cannot help feeling a deep thrill of joy today. Continue reading “Egypt Rejoices, But What Comes Next?”