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”

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”

Blood and Courage

SAM_4034
Getting Blood from a Rose

 

It was such a pleasure to watch them stressing.

 Our young Sunday School class, just turned sixteen years old, had bravely decided they wanted to celebrate this milestone by donating blood for the first time at the Red Cross Blood Bank. Sixteen of course is the minimum age for donating blood. Tasoni and I were there to join and encourage them.

 It may not sound like much to many people, but it took a lot for some of these youth to do this, and their determination to see it through tells me something very important about them: they are serious about living out the true message of the Gospel.

 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. John 15:13  

OK, they weren’t actually dying (though one or two seemed to come pretty close), but they were giving up their lifeblood in order to save the life of another.

What’s even nicer is that when you donate blood you have no idea who’s going to get it. It is not necessarily a ‘friend’. Continue reading “Blood and Courage”

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?”