Afraid to be Free


Most people take it for granted that each of us is free to choose in life. But some philosophers, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, claim that most people do not really want to be free. Choices have real consequences, and freedom brings with it responsibility. People do not want to be held responsible for the consequences of their actions. What if I make the wrong decision? What if the consequences are bad? I don’t want to be held to blame! I don’t want to feel guilty. And so people seek ways to shift the responsibility on to someone or something else, whether they know they are doing this or not.

One famous way of doing this is “the devil made me do it”. But a more subtle way of shifting responsibility is to lay it upon God, or upon His representatives on earth. Sartre points out that when a person adopts a faith, they surrender some of their freedom. They surrender the freedom to decide for themselves what is right and wrong, for by subscribing to their faith’s moral code, that decision is taken out of their hands. Of course, each person is still free to choose whether to obey their faith’s moral code or not – they are still quite free and quite responsible in that sense, but they are no longer responsible for the content of the moral code itself.

Now I do not see this as a bad thing in itself. We humans are, after all, quite fallible, and we have a disturbing tendency to try to cheat to make life comfortable for ourselves. If there is a genuinely objective right and wrong in the world (as most people would agree there is), then we are much more likely to find it when God tells us what it is than when are left to work it out for ourselves. Continue reading “Afraid to be Free”

Submission in Marriage

Is it sexist, outdated and even harmful to suggest that wives should submit to their husbands?

There has been some heated debate recently over the question of submission in marriage. It has been stirred up by the conservative Sydney Archdiocese of the Anglican Church introducing optional marriage vows for the bride that include the concept of submitting to her husband. This of course is something that has existed int he Coptic Orthodox rite since time immemorial. It is no novel invention, but derives from the words of St Paul:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Saviour of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22 NKJV)

Liberal Anglicans are outraged. They see this as huge step backwards for their Church, plunging it back into a discredited, patriarchal misogyny. St Paul wrote in the context of first century Greco-Roman society, where the inferiority of women was simply taken for granted. He and those to whom he wrote simply could not imagine a world where things were different, so he was simply giving advice on how to live as a Christian within that existing social structure. Compare slavery, the liberals say. St Paul encourages slaves to be obedient and submissive to their masters as to the Lord. But enlightened Christians in a more developed society in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries refused to accept slavery as an institution and changed the whole structure of their society, eliminating slavery altogether, rather than just telling slaves to accept their lot and be submissive. By analogy, they say, our even more enlightened society in the twentieth and twenty first centuries is now changing the very power structure of marriage and introducing the fullness of the equality before God that St Paul mentioned elsewhere:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 NKJV)

But both the liberal interpretation of St Paul and the objections to submission in marriage are based on a crucial misunderstanding of the Gospel of Christ, reflected in St Paul. Once clarified, submission falls into its proper place and becomes something beautiful. To identify this misconception, we shall go right back to the beginning of the problem… Continue reading “Submission in Marriage”

Facing the World…

Fr Zakaria Botros in his controversial satellite TV role. His engagement with Muslims has stirred great unrest. How do Copts engage with the western societies into which they have been transplanted?

As the Coptic Church has spread into the Diaspora of Western nations it has experienced an ever growing interaction with non-Copts. The sheer breadth of this interaction is rarely appreciated by Copts I think. To list just a few situations:

  • Employees and clients in Coptic organisations like Child Care Centres, Vacation Care Centres, Coptic Schools, Aged Care Facilities and the Theological Colleges.
  • Interested visitors to Coptic monasteries.
  • Marriages of Copts to non-Copts, or rather to converts to Coptic Orthodoxy.
  • Dialogues with other Churches and religions through organisations like the World Council of Churches and its branches and Interfaith events.
  • Participation in Government sponsored initiatives as well as those organised by civil society to deal with various pressing social issues.
  • Coptic sporting teams participating in local competitions.
  • Copts who run for political office.
  • Missionary and outreach services.
  • Services for the homeless and those in prison.
  • Apologetics dialogues with non-believers.
  • Kimi radio program and the Coptic satellite TV channels.
  • Visitors to Coptic websites of all kinds.
  • FOCUS – university campus societies.
  • Copts who volunteer to teach religion in public schools.
  • Interest from the media following the many massacres of Copts in Egypt and regarding the future of Christians in the Egypt of the Arab Spring.

All of these of course are in addition to the many thousands of commonplace interactions that take place daily in schools, tertiary institutions, workplaces and over the back fence with the neighbours.

In majority Muslim Egypt, there has often been strife, but relatively little actual theological debate or dialogue between the two Abrahamic faiths. One of the rare records of such debates Continue reading “Facing the World…”

Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus

There’s been a lot of discussion lately around a video by evangelist Jefferson Bethke that has gone viral called “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus”. You can see the video and read an excellent critique of it by an Eastern Orthodox priest here. There is not much left to be said on the topic, but of course, I must have my two cents’ worth!

As is the case with so many debates, problems arise because the words are not defined clearly. What does ‘religion‘ actually mean? What is it that this bloke hates, exactly? Anyone who loves Jesus is bound to also love ‘true religion’, a phrase used by St James in his epistle (1:26,27). He points out the difference between religion properly practiced and religion abused. I think what the bloke in the video is rebelling against is religion abused, but he just calls it ‘religion’, hence the controversy, since people think he is using ‘religion’ in the more general sense of the word, thus hating both true and abused religion together. Of course, that controversy is probably exactly what he was aiming at. What better way for an evangelist to get his message heard by millions?

The abuse of religiion is nothing new. It happened in the Jewish faith at the time of Christ, it happened in the early Christian Church in the time of the Apostles, and, surprise, surprise, it happens today. I fully join with Bethke in rejecting the abuse of religion.

But that doesn’t mean we should toss out religion altogether. As St James points out, Continue reading “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus”

Christianity Changed the World

As Xmas approaches, I present a really interesting guest blog from a member of Aletheia Coptic Apologetics Group. So few people today realise the incredible debt we owe to Christianity. Going on the words below, society today would be unimaginable had not that very special Baby been born two thousand years ago. Enjoy…

As often happens when one walks the streets of the Sydney CBD, I was once approached by a homeless woman who asked me for some money. In the conversation that followed, she commented on how irritated she was at the way city-goers would routinely snub her off and ignore her completely; “I mean,” she said, “I’m as human as everyone else.” I agreed with her of course. Who would deny as obvious a fact as that? Even those people who snubbed her and provoked the comment no doubt understood that although this woman was homeless, and lay considerably lower on whatever scale of social respectability we use to categorise ourselves nowadays, she was still as human as the richest person in Sydney. Her status as a member of the human race meant that she had a sort of inalienable value; she deserved exactly the same sort of basic respect and dignity as the richest and most successful members of our society, purely because she was a human being.

This might sound like a fact so obvious that it doesn’t really need to be said. All of us know perfectly well that a person’s social station does not reflect their value; we all understand that wealth and poverty, health and sickness don’t necessarily reflect any particular virtue or flaw in a person’s character, and that even if they did, we would be no less obliged to help any of our fellow human beings in need. How could we think otherwise? Isn’t that what it means to be human? In “Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies”, the Orthodox theologian and philosopher David Bentley Hart argues that if it weren’t for Christianity and its revolutionary re-imagining of what it means to be a human being, none of us might think that way at all. In the book’s introduction he says

“At a particular moment in history, I believe, something happened to Western humanity that changed it at the deepest levels of consciousness and at the highest levels of culture.”[1]

Living as we do, at the end of 2000 years of Christian history, in a culture that has been irrevocably shaped by the Christian view of the world, it is hard for us to appreciate just how revolutionary Christianity was when it first stepped onto the stage of history. Continue reading “Christianity Changed the World”

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)”

Diogenes Was Disturbed.


Diogenes was disturbed. It wasn’t really because he had lost his wares. It was frustrating to know that his carefully crafted ornaments were floating down the river for anyone to pick up, but that was not what disturbed him mostly now. It was not even the fact that he was wet and cold from having capsized as he crossed the river, nor even really because he had nearly drowned. No it was not the nearly drowning that disturbed him so much as the questions that nearly drowning had forced into his mind.

“If I had drowned, what difference would it have made?”

“Hello Diogenes,” a cheerful friendly voice hailed.

“Oh, it’s you Socrates.”

“Why so glum, then my friend? And why so damp? Have you been swimming in your clothes like an absent minded philosopher?”

“This is no time for jokes Socrates. I almost drowned. But that’s not the worst of it. My life has no meaning!”

“Oh, surely you are being too dramatic? Will you add the skills of the player to those of the philosopher?”

“What does my life amount to? What have I achieved? What mark shall I leave upon this world?”

“But surely, you are a master craftsman? Have you not created many a work of beauty and significance?”

“Bah, Socrates. In a few hundred years all my works will be dust or buried in the ground or forgotten in some dark corner. What difference does that make?”

“Ah, let us play this game then my friend. But surely you have made a good living from your craft, have you not? That is something to be proud of.”

“What is a good living but food for the stomach that will only be eaten by worthless worms one day?” Continue reading “Diogenes Was Disturbed.”

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”