So I came across this video of Justin Bieber and his pastor friends at a recent Hillsong conference. Hillsong, for those who don’t know, is a very trendy chain of churches, with a worship band that makes incredibly popular praise music. One of the men featured in the video is Carl Lentz, quite simply the hippest of the current crop of hip pastors, whose Hillsong campus has famously been visited by celebrities like Bieber, Selena Gomez, and Chris Pratt.
Now obviously the video is mocking them, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. However, I’ve shared it here because of the phrase Chad Veach, a pastor (and amateur drummer?), says again and again in various ways starting at 1:17: Read More
We have reached the anniversary of an important landmark on the road to equality for LGBTQ people. It has been fifty years this week since the Sexual Offences Act was passed, which partially decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales. Despite great leaps forward for LGBTQ people, the last five decades have sadly not been an unimpeded march of progress: Only this week, Trump announced via Twitter that trans folk are no longer welcome in the US military. Meanwhile, Russia is denying the torture and murder of LGBTQ people in Chechnya. Despite all the progress made in some nations, the big and small injustices and indignities endured by one of the world’s most misunderstood and beleaguered minorities, continue apace.
So in light of all this, I’ve been thinking about how my own views on homosexuality have changed over the years, and I’ve been meaning to write a post about it for a while now. I’ve been remembering back to the homophobic attitudes I not only encountered when I was a Christian, but even held myself. People of all religious persuasions and none can be homophobic, of course, but most of my firsthand experience of homophobic remarks, attitudes, and actions occurred when I was a Christian. Read More
A couple of months ago, my mum told me that a colleague had confided a shocking secret to her: a man they both knew, who was well-known and respected in our community, had sexually abused this colleague decades ago when she was a child. Although shocked, my mother had believed this woman’s account straight away, and had never doubted it.
I didn’t say so, but my horror at hearing that this man was a child abuser (thankfully now tried and found guilty) was mixed with my pride in my mum for believing the victim. I wasn’t proud of her just because she believed the woman, but also because of the reason she gave for believing: “She came across as a very bitter person.” It might sound odd to say that I’m proud of her for that, but it’s because too often, someone’s bitterness is used as a reason to dismiss them out of hand. An example that springs to mind is that of televangelist Lori Bakker insisting earlier this year that most of the women who participated in the Women’s March on Washington had been abused as children: Read More
My fiancé and I had a visit this weekend from my aunt. She stayed for three days, during which we took in a few of London’s finest museums. I rate the Imperial War Museum very highly, but the Natural History Museum has got to be my favourite. We managed to spend a couple of hours there, at the dinosaur exhibition and the human evolution exhibition. For reasons I can neither comprehend nor defend I hadn’t ever seen the human evolution exhibition before. It was wonderful. Human evolution blows my mind. I’m amazed by the thought of having a connection to something as familiar, yet alien, as another hominid species; I’m enthralled by the sense of looking something so physically and cognitively foreign, yet seeing so much of myself looking back at me. That feeling is the reason why, when people get to know about cephalopods, they become fascinated by them,and I think it’s also why I love having pets and love learning about animals. As thick with irony as this may be, that feeling is what I always imagine Adam experiencing when he saw Eve for the first time, and declared her to be “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone”.
Then there’s the great questions of us being here while the other hominid species aren’t. How did we survive and thrive so well while they died out? Should we be proud or ashamed? When and how will we go the same way?
Three days ago, the centre of my wonderful home city, London, became the scene of a terrorist attack in which four innocent people were murdered and many more were injured. The aim of the attacker was to incite terror, so it was immensely satisfying to visit the city centre the very next day and see for myself precisely how hard he’d failed. London is a huge and resilient city and, as always, the centre was jam-packed with shoppers and commuters, tourists and photographers, buskers and dancing Hare Krishnas. Walking the pavements from Regents Street down to Embankment, I didn’t for so much as a moment remember to feel afraid – that is, until I approached Trafalgar Square. A sliver of anxiety ran through me as I saw that dozens of police vans and personnel in high-viz vests had formed a formidable ring around the iconic plaza, where people had come together to remember the victims. The police kept a protective watch as the crowd observed silence, lit candles, and gave strength to one another.
I’m a fan of watching formal debate. One of my favourites is William Lane Craig and Shelly Kagan debating and discussing the question “Is God Necessary for Morality?”. I was struck by how poorly Craig argued his case in comparison to his usual performances, but then the loosey-goosey format didn’t seem to play to his strengths. I’d never heard of Shelly Kagan before but after hearing his passionate defence of animal welfare I’ve decided that I probably love him. Anyway, the discussion made me think about some things: Meaning and morality, the priorities we hold, and the different ways I thought about them both pre- and post-deconversion.
At the outset, I have to admit that I might have found Craig’s argument to be difficult to fully comprehend. Craig stressed that his argument wasn’t “life, if it is finite, is meaningless” but rather “life, however long it is, is meaningless if God doesn’t exist”. But he also kept on talking about how our existences are rendered meaningless by the eventual end of everything, and at the same time, he didn’t appear to make a very robust argument that only the existence of God can bring meaning to human actions. That being the case, I have dealt with his argument in much the same way I might have if he had based it in the idea that “human life is only meaningful if it is infinite” rather than “human life is only meaningful if God exists”. So if what I write appears to be a strawman, it’s unintentional. Listen to the debate yourself before deciding if my characterisation of Craig’s argument is fair. I certainly did intend it to be.
After I “came out” as an atheist, I started noticing something about the responses I got from Christians. Here’s the kinds of things people would say:
“How sad that you don’t believe anymore!”
“Doesn’t it make you miserable to think that your life doesn’t have any purpose?”
“Wouldn’t you like to believe that there’s a God who really, really loves you?”
“But Christians are happier than atheists!”
It’s a bit of a paradox: people don’t really change, yet we are capable of huge, life-altering changes in our beliefs. I’ve previously written about the change in my beliefs and moral perspective on abortion. The biggest area of change, though, has been in my beliefs about the supernatural.
On Saturday I joined 100,000 other people in London, and over 3 million people worldwide, for the Women’s March. Like a lot of other people who took part, I’ve never marched before or even held a sign in protest before. And I’m sure, if you asked us newbies, we would have a variety of explanations for what the orange man in the White House had done to rattle us into action. Judging by a lot of the signs declaring that “This Pussy Grabs Back!” or some variant thereof, a lot of people were just furious that an unrepentant, self-confessed sexual predator had been elected to such a globally significant office. Other signs, such as those bearing the CND logo, protested Trump’s apparent love of the bomb. And still other signs proclaimed no particular agenda other than a general anti-Trump sentiment, such as the banner that proclaimed only one word: “Dickhead”.
And OK, fine. Dickhead, bellend, Trump stinks. Trump’s done enough to deserve all of these and more. However, the march organisers said it wasn’t specifically an anti-Trump protest, and frankly, I wouldn’t have shown up if the agenda was simply a festival of hate directed at one particular “short-fingered vulgarian” – there are, after all, plenty of terrible leaders in the world who warrant tens of thousands of angry people in the streets.
I think, instead, that Trump was just a catalyst for protest at the kind of politics he embodies, and the kind of world he and his administration – and so many other administrations worldwide – seek to create. In particular, this was a global protest against the global phenomenon of misogyny.
Just some thoughts about moral struggles and such.
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A few evenings ago I stood frozen in the dairy aisle of the supermarket, my mind racing, torn between two different butters. These innocent -looking little packs of rich yellow dairy produce had triggered a moral dilemma as my various values clashed and fought for supremacy. Read More