Saturday, April 18, 2009

The God Hypothesis?

I have been lent a copy of Richard Dawkins’ book, “The God Delusion?”, and in this last few days I have finally found a few moments to start reading it.

It will be interesting to see how strong his arguments are; Dawkins actually states in his preface to the book that if it works as he intends, “then religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”  He alludes to the fact that there will be some who warn against reading the book, but I reason that if my faith is true then I should have nothing to be scared of.  For the record, although my bookshelf now contains a copy of “The Dawkins Delusion?” by Alister McGrath I intend to refrain from reading it until after I have finished Dawkins’ book.  That way, I will minimise any accusation that my thoughts and response to Dawkins may have been indoctrinated or contaminated.

Well, so far, I have opened the book and put it down several times, and I am still not an atheist.  On some of those occasions I have actually read some of the text therein, but despite now being some way through the second chapter I haven’t even had so much as a mini crisis of faith.

To be fair, it is obviously still early days, but I may as well pen a few initial observations for those who are interested.

I have to say that I like Dawkins’ style, and have so far found the book to be eminently readable.  He makes some good points, and although he makes no bones about the fact that he is “attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural,” there are some things which I agree with.  The notion that “there is no such thing as a Christian/Muslim child”  because a child is too young to have made a decision about faith for themselves, for example.

However, I have noticed that the first two chapters do contain a lot which seems to be designed to subtly belittle the idea of believing in God or being ‘religious.’  

A lot is made of the fact that Einstein claimed to be “a deeply religious non-believer” and did not believe in a personal God.  It is a fair point, then, to say that Einstein’s famous “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind” might need quoting in context and religious people should not claim him to have been one of their own.  But does the fact that Einstein may have been an atheist mean that I should reconsider my faith?  Of course not.  The insinuation that lots of prominent scientists used the “religion” and “God” in ways meaning something different from what is conventionally meant may or may not have any truth behind it.  But I already know of several great minds who are or were atheists.  Adding a few more to that list is going to make no difference unless someone offers me proof that atheism is the only conclusion an educated person could ever reach.  We’ve been here before, of course, but the fact is, those famous adverts only say there is  *probably* no God…

Which brings me on to the famous Spagehetti Monster or Celestial Teapot idea.  Dawkins quotes Bertrand Russell’s idea that if he were to say that there was a teapot orbiting the sun, but which was too small to be seen by anyone, then no-one could prove otherwise.   That’s very true – if you were to tell me that you believed in an invisible Spaghetti Monster then I couldn’t 100% prove you wrong.

It means, of course, that I can’t tell you that there must be a God purely because you can’t prove otherwise.  The subtlety here is that Dawkins has lumped believers in God in with those who believe in celestial teapots and invisible spaghetti monsters.  The implication is that as a Christian I am on a par with someone we might generally think to be a lunatic. 

You might think that my faith in God is madness, but the difference between that and the celestial teapot claim is that I didn’t just pluck the idea of God out of thin air for no reason.  There may or may not be a teapot in orbit around the sun, but either way it has little bearing on anything.  On the other hand, the idea of God can be used to answer some questions (e.g. why are we here?) and there is a lot about my life and the world around me which fits in with the notion that there is a God.

Dawkins asks why such questions as “why are we here?” can’t be tackled by science.  Personally, I don’t think that science can’t attempt to tackle such questions; it’s just that I’ve yet to see any meaningful scientific answers.

Incidentally, I’ve noticed that Dawkins has little time for theologians.  There are frequent quips, such as “I’ve yet to see any good reason that theology (as opposed to biblical history etc.) is a subject at all.”  However, he seems to be embroiled in something of a circular argument.  It seems as though he belittles them because they believe in God, and then belittles the idea that they might have anything useful to say about God because he’s already discredited them.  So the wheel goes around…

Right.  That’s enough for one day.  I have lots to do, including some more reading, some sleeping and a bit of catching up with last week’s Apprentice.  So, without further ado, in the words of Bugs Bunny, “That’s all folks!”

 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

Jesus Christ Is Risen!

Halleluiah!

And for the Anglicans…

He Is Risen Indeed!  Halleluiah!

 

So what does this mean for you?

 

Friday, April 10, 2009

More on Hospital Chaplains

Following on from my earlier post, I have decided to write a more serious post about the funding of hospital chaplaincy.  I have already had a couple of comments on my views, and I’d like to justify my take on the matter.

I’ll start by making it clear that my reasoning for NHS funded chaplains stems from more than the fact that I am a Christian, and a churchgoer myself.  Judging by some of the comments I have picked up on (see, for example, the BBC Have Your Say), there are a lot of ignorant people out there and that, perhaps more than anything else, is what has annoyed me.

One of the arguments for cutting NHS funded chaplaincies is that ordinary vicars (and presumably leaders of other faiths) could go in to hospitals and visit members of their own communities and congregations instead.  I can’t give a definite viewpoint about other faith groups, but let me assure you that vicars already do that.  The majority of churchgoers will already have their own Christian pastoral support if they want it.

On that basis, I suppose you could argue that the chaplaincy role is completely superfluous.  Interestingly, however, I know a couple of people who have worked as hospital chaplains, and the impression I get is that the role is a far cry from having a tea and a chat with the odd religious patient.  The job of chaplain is very clearly a demanding and draining one, and the majority of people who go for pastoral support are not strongly religious, if indeed they are at all.

Some people evidently think that the NHS is paying for chaplains purely for the benefit of religious patients, or that where people without faith ask for support the role of chaplain is all about Bible Bashing.  What utter rubbish.

The role of chaplain might not have any bearing on the actual medical care offered by the NHS, but I firmly believe that it is an important role nonetheless.  Pastoral care is very important, and doctors and nurses themselves can only offer so much support in that area – perhaps even less these days than they used to be able to.   You might well be sitting here thinking that you wouldn’t need pastoral support in hospital, and I suspect that that’s the default position for many of us who’ve not had to suffer needing any sort of care from the NHS.  However, having known people who’ve struggled with time in hospital, and hearing what those who have worked as chaplains have to say, it can seemingly be a lot tougher when you’re actually there.  There are times when a listening ear is invaluable, and chaplains not only offer support to those dying from cancer or struggling in the middle of the night with a loss of a baby, but also to friends and family.

That’s not to say that if you do have to go through such an experience you will definitely need the support of a chaplain, but please understand that for many people such support is a vital part of the care offered by the NHS.  I have to say that I’m appalled by the selfish “I’m alright, Jack” attitude adopted by some people about this issue.

If you do believe that pastoral care is an important facet of the NHS then the Church of England, amongst other religious groups, is actually doing the NHS a favour.  Even though they may not pay for the job of chaplain itself, they do provide and pay for the basic training for clergy.  For many religious leadership roles, being good at listening and offering impartial pastoral care is part of the job – which is why they can be suited to the role of hospital chaplain.

Even if chaplains were provided purely for those of a particular religious persuasion, the argument about it not being fair to pay for other people’s “lifestyle choices” sets a dangerous precedent, as I parodied in my earlier post.  If you only want to pay for the treatment you need, then you may as well start a campaign to abolish the NHS.

The day after this issue hit the headlines, my local radio station ran a news item about a new scheme to give a grant of £190 to expectant mums – meant for “equipment, and staying fit and healthy.”   This scheme will doubtless be expensive, and ultimately will not help save lives either.   If you were that concerned about not wasting NHS money on ‘non essential care’ you should surely also be kicking up a fuss about this.   And let’s not get started on all the wastage in recent years resulting from headline grabbing gimmicks, bloated management and so on.

If you ask me, I don’t think that the National Secular Society’s motivation for complaining is a genuine concern about the NHS.  It’s just another attempt of theirs to malign religion – or, more specifically, Christianity.  I noticed that the main focus was on “the church” paying for chaplaincy posts, rather than religious groups in general. 

I’m not entirely sure why they get so riled about it, to be honest.  We live in an intelligent age, and if there is no God then they have got nothing to worry about.  Fair enough, street preachers enforcing hellfire and damnation are annoying, but remember that no-one is perfect, and don’t tarnish everyone with the same brush.  Of course, some atheists these days are also quite militant, which is a bit hypocritical.

Most of the reasons for people being sceptical and wary about Christianity stem from ignorance and misconceptions.  Ignorance and misconceptions which are only further fuelled by such NSS campaigns, ironically.

 

Thursday, April 09, 2009

JP goes Lite

As is often the case, I have just found myself with some time to kill
on a station platform. Not because the train was late (for once) but
because I was. Gutted.

Thankfully, the sun was shining (the weather was sweet, yeah) and
although there was no londonpaper to be found I did find a London
Lite. I never read the Lite, but every rule has the odd exception.

I was pleasantly surprised by what I found on the whole. I liked
reading Apprentice Candidate Maj's claim that Sir Alan fired him
because 'he had a better beard.' The text column made me smile, and I
am tempted to visit Sweden again after learning that Stockholm has a
hostel made from an old 747.

I did question one piece of journalism though. I found a headline which read

'G20 victim's cop clash hour BEFORE he died.'

Why the random emphasis on 'before?' In fact, why is the word 'before'
necessary at all in this case? Surely it would have been much more
newsworthy if the clash had occurred after his death...

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Should the NHS pay for hospital chaplains?

Personally, I don't think that the NHS should fund treatment for lung
cancer. It should be funded by smokers. After all, they are the ones
who will probably need it more than anyone else. If they choose to
smoke that's their choice, but why should I have to pay more in taxes
because of their lifestyle choices?

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