Category Archives: prayer

For the glory of God

Many of the critics of the “New Atheist” books claim they attack a “straw-man” religion – that they describe an extremist, minor religious faction and then use this to characterise and attack all religion.

Bishop Randerson in New Zealand, for example, said that the beliefs criticised by Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) are not his (Randerson’s). Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, says: “Whenever believers pick up Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens we may feel as we turn the pages: ‘This is not it. Whatever the religion being attacked here, it’s not actually what I believe in’.” Many Christian spokesperson reject fundamentalist beliefs and biblical literalism and claim it is unfair to criticise religion for these beliefs.

A fair comment. But the problem I have with these sort of rebuttals is that actions and word often differ. Bishop Randerson may claim he believes in a god as the “God of love” rather than the biblical god. However, he then spoils it all by officiating at Christian ceremonies which do imply belief in a biblical god and goes so far as to hold conversations (prayer) with this god.

Continue reading

God’s not as popular as we thought

Religion trendsIn the 2006 Census 51% of New Zealanders described themselves as Christian. A total of 3.8% described themselves as Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim (the next three largest religions) and 32% declared no religion. It’s interesting to compare census results back to 1991. These show a continuing decline in the numbers of Christian and a continuing increase in the number of non-religious.

Census data are, however, not necessarily reliable indicators of belief. I discussed this my post Trends in religious belief in New Zealand. The problems arise from religion being a tradition rather than a belief. So there can be Christians, for example, who have no belief in a god but report themselves as having a religion because they were bought up in that tradition. On the other hand someone who doesn’t adhere to a specific region may still have belief in a god. Reliable data on religious belief really requires a different sort of survey.

Continue reading

Thank God or Thank Goodness?

There are many religious ceremonies and prayers giving thanks to a god. I often think these are rude on two grounds:

  • I many case these are imposed on people who don’t share the belief in a god (consider our parliamentary prayers, Christian prayers and “grace” in a mixed social situations);
  • Thanks are directed at a mythical being while the real people responsible for theDan Dennett goodness in the world are ignored.

The later point was made by Daniel C. Dennett in his article THANK GOODNESS! In this he expressed his thanks for recovery from nine hours of serious heart surgery. It’s worth reading the full article but consider this extract: Continue reading

Theology of the Emperor’s New Clothes

Atheists are often criticised for being ignorant of theology. Terry Eagleton’s angry review of Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion in the London review of Books, for example, starts with: “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.” Reviewers like this seem to be saying “How can you criticise the concept of God without a thorough understanding of the theory of God, of theology.” (David B. Hart takes a similar approach in his, also angry, review of Daniel C. Dennett’s book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon). It’s true, Dawkin’s doesn’t show theology any respect. He has said, “I have yet to see any good reason to suppose that theology (as opposed to biblical history, literature, etc.) is a subject at all.” He maintains that theologists are no more qualified to answer deep cosmological questions than are scientists (who freely admit that they can’t).

Continue reading

“Let us pray . . . “

I’ve heard this phrase a few times over the years. Sometimes it has been acceptable, sometimes offensive – it depends on the situation.

Continue reading