Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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When you criticise Christians, you criticise my Mum

Over the years that I have been involved with the blogosphere, I have often jumped to the defence of Christians – especially when when statements begin with “Christians believe…” or “Christians do…”. The last few weeks have given me cause to reflect on why I have jumped to their defence when in hindsight it would have been more prudent to “keep my mouth shut”.

My mother was a devout Christian who believed very much in the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. She had a very strong moral code, and nothing, absolutely nothing could ever allow her to break that code. I realise now that so much of the criticism of Christians is generalised to include or to imply inclusion of all Christians. And that would include my Mum. And those claims are so much not what my Mum was.

The observant reader will have noticed that in the previous paragraph my mother is referred to in the past tense. She died in the early hours of last Tuesday morning and her funeral was held last Thursday. On Monday my siblings and I, with our partners, will scatter her ashes and those of our father into the Whanganui River from the river bank that adjoined my parents’ home of forty years.

Unlike the rest of the whānau, I feel no sadness or loss at her passing. She was more than half way through her 97th year and had had a very good innings. Her death is as natural as the passing of the seasons and the blooming and fading of a flower. I do have some unease about the morality of the process of dying that modern medicine raises, and her death brought that into focus for me, but that’s a matter for discussion at another time.

I’ll confess that I don’t understand why friends, family, acquaintances, and complete strangers feel sadness or grief at Mum’s passing. What emotions I feel are sympathy for those who are experiencing that grief and not knowing what I can do in the circumstances. I feel somewhat helpless in this regard as I know my putting a rational slant on the event will only make things worse for them.

Getting back to the subject of this post: Generalisations can be both inaccurate and hurtful. “Christians are judgemental”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians think they are somehow better”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians believe homosexuality is a sin”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians proselytize”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians can’t distinguish beliefs from facts”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians believe atheists are unethical or untrustworthy”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians believe it’s okay to shame someone who holds different beliefs”, that’s not my Mum. “Christians believe other faiths are wrong”, that’s not my Mum.

So what was she like? As I mentioned, Mum had strong moral compass, but in all my years, I’d never heard her use the Bible or her religious beliefs as a justification of her views. She may well have got some (perhaps most?) of her values from her religious beliefs, but it was from her that I developed my own philosophy which loosely says “if the Bible is the only source of authority for a particular stance then it’s time to change the stance”.

As the most wayward of us siblings stated during the funeral service, Mum was his confidant, counsellor, adviser, moral guide and friend. Even today if he is unsure of whether he is doing the “right thing”, he considers what Mum might think about it. Of course, knowing what is the “right thing” doesn’t always mean that he will do it.

Mum’s method of guidance was by example. We were never judged, no matter what the transgression. We were encouraged to learn and discover for ourselves what values we should aspire to, even if those values were different from her own. For her, differences in the way we perceive the world were part of the rich tapestry of life.

For Mum, love was never conditional, and even though we were far from being a demonstrative family were all knew and felt that love. Punishment of any kind was virtually unknown. Justice was always restorative, never retributive. We were encouraged to discover for ourselves why something might be right or wrong. But for Mum, knowing the difference was not enough. It’s our duty, as far as we are able, to right wrongs and to fight injustice wherever we find it – even if that meant being on opposite sides from each other.

To me, my Mum exemplified what the Christian message is all about. Although I can’t say that theology was irrelevant to her (she had a firm belief in life after death, and Jesus was her Saviour, for example) it was the spirit, the broad brush strokes, of the message that were important to her.

If I were to believe in a deity, it would be modelled on my Mum and my Dad. Although they were poles apart on religious belief (one being Christian, the other having something close to agnostic atheism), they shared almost identical values and practices. Those values and practices I see as being prevalent in the Christian community here in Aotearoa New Zealand. Sure, there are exceptions, and the Destiny Church and Gloriavale are extreme examples, but on the whole, Christianity here, with varying degrees of success, preaches and practices those values that so clearly shone through my Mum.

The sense of justice and compassion that I learnt from my parents – especially my mother – causes the hair on the back of my neck to raise whenever I hear comments that tar all members of a particular group with a wildly inaccurate generalised brush that at best applies to a very small subgroup. I don’t care whether the group being generalised is religious, atheist, LGBTQ+, ethnic, cultural, or even Morris dancers. Don’t do it.

And when you include all Christians as being a horde of Bible-worshipping, homophobic, fundamentalist, Evangelical bullies, you’re including my Mum. Back off. She, like most Christians in this land, is anything but.

By all means, be critical of religious privilege, or attempts to impose belief on those who do not hold them. Be critical of bigotry and intolerance, be it religious or otherwise, but please don’t claim or imply all when you really mean some or a few.

Finally, if you care to comment on this post, please avoid offering your condolences or expressing sympathy/regret for my loss. I feel no loss, and while it was necessary to hide my irritation at such expressions in the neurotypical world in which I must live, this is my blog, my world, and that requirement does not apply here.


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The Last Western Heretic (Part 2)

In this first clip, Professor Lloyd Geering makes the point that since the Enlightenment, everyone is a heretic as we are all free to think for ourselves – we are all free thinkers – and make our own choices accordingly. As he points out “We are encouraged to think for ourselves” [3:08], but who are the “we” he’s referring to?

The nation of Aotearoa New Zealand had its formative years at the height of the Enlightenment, and this country has always had a significant number of individuals and leaders who were Free Thinkers, atheists and agnostics, as well as those of assorted religious traditions. Our isolation from the rest of the world meant we developed an individualistic attitude to living, with a very egalitarian attitude towards authority.  Certainly there’s no doubt that Professor Geering is referring to Kiwis when he says we are encouraged to think for ourselves, but to what extent can the same be applied to other nations – especially when it comes to religion.

From this relatively remote corner of the world, I see vast regions of the globe where people seem to be discouraged from thinking for themselves – especially in the way of religion. I blink in amazement when American bloggers, while confessing their atheism anonymously online, are extremely reluctant to come out to friends, family and community about their lack of faith for fear of a backlash. Reminds me of those being reluctant to come out as gay in the 1970s and early 80s. I would like to think their fears are more imaginary than real, but the stories told are too consistent  for that. Perhaps after the dark ages being brought on by the Trump administration, America will make a more rapid swing towards liberalism.

Early on on the clip, Professor Geering describes his understanding of God – not a supernatural being, but a set of values that include truth, justice, love and compassion. On that matter, he and I agree completely.


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Misunderstanding a message

Over on The Aspirational Agnostic Eva has posted what was essentially the testimony she made to her church about her conversion to Christianity: Hopefully this will be the last time I talk about being an atheist. The post has been criticised both in the comments section of the blog and also wider afield such as here and here.

There are assertions that her story is little more than a pack of lies: her story doesn’t fit the facts. Yet when I read her story I most certainly don’t see it that way. To me it’s a story of her experience of the journey from scepticism to faith designed for a specific audience (the congregation). It is not a historical document consisting of documented facts set out in strictly chronological order. And to assume such is to make a grave error in my opinion.

The posts by Makagutu and Tidleb, along with many of the subsequent comments assert some aspects of the story are deliberate fabrications and are patently false. Let’s look at some of those claims.

Tidleb claims Eva lied when she wrote “I was an angry opinionated atheist“, and that those words were a slur of all atheists. His claim is that Eva has almost always been polite and considerate to believers and non believers alike. Yet he has been following her blog for only a few years. Her story starts out around 30 years ago, as best I can ascertain, long before WordPress, and long before he knew of her existence. Tidleb has absolutely no way of knowing what she was like that long ago.

I get that Tidleb is anti-religious, but to assume that everything that a religious person says is a lie is going too far in my opinion. His comment on Eva’s blog (originally deleted, but since restored) is there for all to see. He calls her testimony a lie and ripe with deceit. Apparently this deceit is that Eva intentionally vilified and misrepresented her previous non belief. Can Tidleb or someone else point out where she actually does that?

As to his claim that it was a slur on all atheists, I fail to see it. All Eva said was the she was angry, opinionated and an atheist. She clearly excludes her husband, family, and practically everyone she knows, all of whom are atheists. She does not claim or even imply that atheists in general are either opinionated or angry. In fact I see no criticism of atheism at all in her story. At worst, one could say that for her, over time, atheism didn’t provide what she felt she needed. Where does she state otherwise? Can someone enlighten me.

I’m going to assume that Eva’s statement that The God Delusion was her atheists’ bible is what I would call “poetic licence”, particularly in the context in which it was used. Certainly there was time between when it was first published and her conversion to Christianity in 2014 for her to have obtained a copy. Regardless of whether she actually has read it, she probably would have agreed with much of what it says.

The fact that she didn’t know where to obtain a Bible has been ridiculed. Why? Eva does not live in the USA. If her Native Tasmania is anything like Aotearoa New Zealand, then exactly how should one know where to obtain one? Specifically for this post, I checked the three bookshops in the town where I live (population 14,000) and could not find a Bible on the shelves in any of them. I managed to overcome my embarrassment and asked in one shop, and they directed me to a Christian Bookshop in a nearby city (population 70,000).

Twenty years ago, Christian bookshops were less common, and probably the only readily available source of Bibles would have been through a church, particularly if outside of the four major cities. What non-Christian would be comfortable obtaining a Bible from a church? As for a library, first your town needs to have one (not all do) and secondly, where would the Bible be kept? in the fiction or non-fiction section? Perhaps the reference section, not able to be loaned out? I don’t know, and I wouldn’t want to appear clueless by asking. The simple fact is that Bibles don’t jump out at you. You have to know where to look.

The fact that Eva didn’t know any Christians has also been called a lie. Let’s see, twenty years ago I only knew one Christian (outside my Whānau) and one Moslem. I knew two atheists. Now before anyone comes to the conclusion I only knew four people who were not family members, let me rephrase that slightly. There was one person (a work mate) who I knew to be a Christian, one person who I knew to be a Moslem (another workmate), and two who I knew to be atheists (one also a work mate). For all the rest, I had/have no idea what their belief (or non-belief) was/is. I didn’t ask, nor did anyone tell me. Belief or non-belief was/is something that is not discussed in mixed company if one is polite. By “mixed” I’m not referring to gender but people of differing religious persuasions. That is invariably the norm here, so one’s own religion is never discussed, although religion in general, and particularly some of its excesses might be. I presume it is much the same in Australia.

Makagutu made the comment “Her agnosticism, if real, was poorly informed“. Let’s be real about this. Eva grew up in a family, in which, like most antipodean households, religion plays little part, even in those which are nominally Christian. The only people overtly Christian that one might meet are the occasional Mormon or Latter Day Saints missionary, or soapbox nutter in the town centre. It’s easy to make the assumption that the message they bring is unhealthy. Very little time is put into thinking about theism vs agnosticism vs atheism. It doesn’t affect us and there is little reason to consider it. As a consequence whether one has a religious belief or not, very little though goes into understanding why one has those beliefs.

I appreciate it might be different for those in other parts of the world, but here no-one really cares what their neighbour believes, so long as it doesn’t impinge on their own beliefs. Regardless of what one believes, the majority of the population look favourably on other beliefs as being valid and worthwhile for those holding them. Those that hold to believing that only their own beliefs are true are a very small minority, and it doesn’t matter whether we are referring to religion, politics, economics, or any other human endeavour. Such fundamentalism doesn’t go down too well around here.

On Makagutu’s post, John Zande makes the observation “Saying she’d never read the bible is a little suspect“. In heaven’s name why? She came from an Atheist family, therefore it’s quite likely there was no Bible in the house. So where else would she be able to read one? At school? I’m not sure what the situation is in Australia, but in NZ public education is secular and it’s unlikely that Bibles would be available there. I know from my own experience, the only bible I saw until I was around 13 was a family heirloom that was kept with other family treasures and never opened as far as I know. I did start reading it secretly at about age 8, but that’s a story for another time.

Robert A. Vella Questions Eva’s motive for mentioning Life of Brian. Yes it’s a satirical religious comedy, poking fun at religion in general and Christianity more specifically. Watching the film was mandatory for anyone who was a Monty Python fan, regardless of ones religiosity. And in these parts, that would include half the population. (The other half couldn’t stand them). By itself the film is unlikely to change one’s ideas on religion, but if one held a negative view, as I did at the time, then it could easily reinforce those ideas.

Robert makes the observation “Even the stupidest people on the face of the Earth don’t watch comedies to learn about the Bible“. True, but Eva didn’t state that she saw the film for that purpose. So why does Robert make that statement? Is he really trying to imply that is why she watched it?. I have no doubt that she watched it to be entertained, just as I did some 35 or more years ago. One can hold a particular view, be it religious, racist, political, humanist and even economic, simply by absorbing assumptions held by those around one, without giving much though to the validity of those assumptions. To have a negative view of those who are different from oneself is common, and one needs to be mindful of the fact that much of what we believe comes by the way of “osmosis”, and not by giving those beliefs much thought. Surely this is why she thought the way she did. I don’t know when she saw the film, but in all likelihood is was a decade or more before she bought the Bible. A lot can happen in that time. I see no contradiction between watching life of Brian and buying a Bible. Why can’t the two go together?

Then Robert states he believes that Eva is trying to “sway the Monty Python demographic towards Christianity“. Really? I don’t see that, and I’m a devoted Monty Python fan. She doesn’t mention what her current attitude to the film is so it’s presumptuous to to make that claim. Perhaps, like me, she sees it as an observation about some aspects of the human condition and is therefore a worthwhile commentary. Besides, the testimony was specifically for the members of her church, who I assume don’t require swaying towards Christianity.

I gather Robert questioning Eva’s statement of “I knew no Christians” to mean that she had yet to meet the “nice elderly volunteer woman got us to colour in pictures of Jesus every week“. Surely this is taking literalism too far. That’s something I might expect from fundamentalists, but not anyone else. Perhaps if she has said “I knew no Christians at that time” would Robert have understood better? Certainly the example set by that volunteer was not one to endear Christianity to a non-believer.

Let’s look at the use of the term rampant atheist used by Arielle in a comment on Eva’s post. Tildeb took exception to this as being a deliberate slight by her, not only against him, but against all atheists. In other words Arielle is as guilty as Eva of spreading misinformation about the nature of atheists. Why does he interpret it so? Quite clearly Arielle is referring specifically to Eva and no one else. What is interesting is that Tildeb assumed Arielle was another Christian, but as we all now know she is in fact an atheist. It doesn’t appear that Arielle was offended by Eva’s comments, and if there were any smear on atheists, surely she should be more offended than Tildeb. Could it be that Tildeb’s assumption caused him to read more into those words than were intended?

Why has Eva’s testimony to her church prompted me jump in and comment on it. Well it’s not her post per se, but Tildeb’s reaction to it and the subsequent storm it has caused. It was brought to my attention by Makagutu’s post, and curious, I hopped on over to Eva’s blog. I have little time for claims that atheist are immoral or otherwise flawed. No more in fact than claims that the religious lie and deceive for their faith or are otherwise flawed. I was expecting to see a post denigrating atheists, especially as the title of Makagutu’s post was “Lying for god“, but try as I might, I just don’t see that.

Although I frequently fail to “read between the lines”, I can usually do so if I’m pointed in the right direction. Either there is nothing actually between the lines, or I’m being given the wrong directions. I’ve gone over Eva’s post many times today, and I’m leaning towards the former option. Is this really a case of lying for god or is it a case wanting to believe a Christian lied “because that’s what Christians do”?