Last week, Cheryl Critchley, a journalist at the Herald Sun newspaper, and writer of a regular column about parenting, wrote an article, We Atheists are not all Godforsaken.
I cannot focus on just one point that Critchley made, so I will do my best to critique each one.
She began by stating that she was not surprised that the Global At heist Convention held in my city last weekend was sold out. “It’s time we non believers had a say.”, Critchley wrote.
I have to accept that in our pluralistic and democratic society, all are entitled to an opinion.
She mentions the Religious Education classes that her children have at their school, where they study Christianity, and asks why they don’t study atheism instead? She mentions the ‘fanciful notions’ of the Gospel accounts of Jesus Christ walking on water, and rising from the dead, and claims that they are confusing to kids because they are taught as fact.
Whether Critchley is making assumptions here, or has got hold of the RE curriculum at her children’s school, I don’t know. I have vague recollections of being told about Jesus walking on water as a small child in Sunday School, but I am sure that it was left up to us to decide whether to interpret this as true, or a story.
As an adult who has read commentaries on the Gospels written by respected authors, one thing that is apparent is that the Gospels that tell of Jesus’s life and ministry are regarded as reliable. They were equally confounded and amazed by the things that Jesus did, and said. For one thing, what did the Walters of have to gain by lying, since many of them eventually died for what they believed to be true?
Jesus could well have walked on water, and multiplied some loaves of bread and a few fish in order to feed thousands of people.
Critchley then goes on, “Religious Education should objectively teach what others believe, like we do with political and economic theories. It should also cover every faith.” Critchley’s children are in primary school, and learn about other faiths too. If their education was anything like mine, they will study, without any kind of bias, different faiths, and what they believe, in Humanities classes when reaching Secondary School.
Probably referring to the acts of terror committed by people invoking the name of God to justify what they do, Critchley wrote, “If all children understood all religions then the world would be a more tolerant - and hopefully peaceful - place.”
I am not going to even try to settle this debate here, but though some say that there have been many wars and other acts of inhumanity committed in religion’s name, I still feel that even if there was perfect understanding between people of differing faiths, people would still find other things to fight over, and divide into factions. How many died during the twentieth century in revolutions, or following a particular ideology inspired by the rhetoric of an individual?
I do not treat or regard people of other faiths with any kind of fear or suspicion anymore.
Critchley then goes on to describe how she went from belief, to unbelief in God. She describes how she could not relate to any religion, as she questioned whether Jesus could have performed the miracles recorded in the Gospels.
“Why didn’t Jesus come back and perform miracles like that in Africa?”, she writes. This is a valid question. It was the kind of thing I asked back in 1985, during the famine affecting Ethiopia. Then, I learned that much of this disaster had been caused by people who had cut down trees. Floods came, washing away the topsoil plants need to grow, and this lead to land that was fertile becoming unusable.
As for debates about which faith is right, since there are what Critchley calls “conflicting religions”, I can only write about my own experience of Jesus Christ, who has revealed to me a personal relationship with a very real God. This is in part a product of upbringing, but also because of a decision I made as a teenager to follow Him. There is also a supernatural aspect to this that I cannot really define here. However, I have discussed such experiences with people I trust, and this has validated to me that the experiences where I have felt God’s presence are very real, and not the product of imagination.
We once discussed such questions about different faiths in a Bible Study group. We decided that many faiths are man and womankind’s attempt to find God, but Christianity is where God reaches out to man through the person of Jesus Christ, to find us.
As for Critchley’s comments about religions that forbid women to drive, or become priests, there is evidence in the New Testament book of Acts , and in the letters of the Apostle Paul, that women in the early church did hold leadership positions. The church I attend does have woman ministers. My understanding of this issue, is that denominations where women are not allowed to be priests, is either based on tradition that have no basis in the Bible, or on fundamentalist interpretations of Bible passages.
It is good that as a parent, Critchley takes such a strong interest in her children’s education. I’m all for children being taught to think for themselves, and to respect what others believe, even if they may not agree with a point of view.
Yet, I wonder whether her view of religion, is all about rules that govern what one must or mustn’t do, rather than something that is based on a personal relationship with God? Based on my experience of conversation I have had with people who do not go to church over the years, I can make some guesses as to how and why Critchley got put off God.
Then, I realise that based on t he statistics, just how few journalists believe in God compared to the rest of the population. Journalists, who are taught to question everything, are sceptical of anything that cannot be proven.
She mentions that “..too often, religion oppresses people, causes war, instils guilt in those having consensual premarital sex, opposes condoms that prevent AIDS, denies human rights, and moralises to those who live upstanding but secular lives.”
I can only speculate that Critchley may have had bad experiences of church growing up, or that she has just picked random passages from the Bible to base her opinions on.
I won’t attempt to find excuses for the bad things that people have done, supposedly in the name of God, especially the events of nine and a half years ago that shocked and upset me so much.
What about the good that faith, and people of faith have done? The Bible mentions the importance of looking after widows and orphans. What about the radical, revolutionary teaching of Jesus to love those who treat us badly, instead of wanting to get revenge on them?
Further, I wonder whether Critchley knows that in the time when the Bible was written, women and children were often treated as property, and had no rights or status.
Does Critchley have issue with the stories of Jesus healing the sick and making blind people see, or other Bible teachings which have in part inspired others to set up the first hospitals, or reach out to the disabled to help them live more dignified lives?
In some societies, the disabled have little status and are still treated as a nuisance. Not all religious belief systems oppress people.
My experience of church teaching is not a legalistic THOU SHALT NOT approach where we are told how to live, or what to think.
She then goes onto to make a general statement about Christian leaders who are caught in situations contrary to what they preach. This seems like the kind of argument hat is rehashed constantly by those who want paint all Christians in a negative light.
As a Christian, I accept that it would be extremely unfair, and narrow minded to think that only t hose who believe in God have any morals or values, and have a monopoly on integrity in our society.
Critchley concludes with a list of ten things she would include in an atheist religion, if she were to start one. This seems like Critchley is having a swipe at the Ten Commandments from the Old Testament Book of Exodus. I will do my best to critique each one. Each of them is listed below in bold type.
ALL men and women are created equal.
I have no disagreement with this.
LIVE your life according to what is right, not what is written in a 2000 year-old book.
It is apparent that Critchley has no regard for The Bible,the ‘‘2000 year-old book’ Critchley refers to.
In western society, where did our ideas about what is right come fro? Even as a Christian, I understand how laws, morals, values and ethics come from. The Bible has shaped many of these things, as has the statutes of the civilisations of Ancient Greece and Rome.
This would appear to be an opinion based in part on a post-modern mindset, where people decide for themselves what is right, instead of God’s standards.
TREAT others as you want them to treat you.
It’s ironic that Critchley borrowed from a teaching of Jesus here.
RESPECT differences in others.
I have no issue with this, since I strive to respect everyone, whether they have different opinions or values to my own, or are of a different gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
Yet, such a statement is open to interpretation. This is speculation on my part, but perhaps Critchley’s experience of church have led her to feel that Christians do not respect such differences.
WATCH out for those less privileged.
This is interesting, since the Bible says much about looking after those who are worse off than ourselves. Yet, atheist thought would most likely say to look after less privileged people because this is right, not because some God admonishes us to do so.
NEVER judge people based on their religion, gender, race or sexuality.
Could such a statement be based on bad experiences within church? I don’t know. I just remember the teachings of Jesus, who said not to judge others, and he would not judge us.
How would Critchley respond to me, a heterosexual, a Christian, and a white male of Anglo Celtic background with some German blood as well?
RESPECT relationships between consenting adults that do not hurt others.
This comes from post-modern thinking that says individuals are free to live as they please, as long as this hurts no one else. Such thought is not just confined to relationships. Personally, I have to consider God’s standards, not just societies.
QUESTION authority if it unfairly oppresses you or others.
This is fair enough, but I would contend that many have been guilty of this, not just people within the church.
NEVER compromise what is right for money or promotion.
It is admirable that Critchley is teaching her children to have strong morals. Again,I will be humble here, and acknowledge that people with religious beliefs are not the only ones who are striving to live out their lives with integrity.
IF and when God shows him or herself in person, we will believe.
Christians believe that God has already revealed Himself through HIs son, Jesus Christ. As I have endeavoured to understand God, I have come to the understanding that there is plenty of evidence that God is real through the world I see around me, and because I can feel His presence with me each day.
This is a very personal thing that would be difficult for an atheist like Critchley to convince is real, and not just some product of imagination.
Again, I respect the right of people to gather and share ideas. I am curious to find out just what happened at the Atheist Convention. I wonder what was said, and if any religious people went along, how they would have been received?