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I’ve waited a long time for this – on Monday, Rev returns to our screens, probably for the last time. It’s one of my very favourite shows, but I’ve always found it hard to summarise its appeal for the benefit of those who haven’t watched it. It’s very frustrating to like something without being able to explain why, so it’s about time I had a proper go here.
First, it’s easiest to say what it isn’t. Rev isn’t really a sitcom, although it is funny, but nor is it a straight drama. It walks a delicate line, portraying the reality of inner-city church life as accurately as any series I’ve seen and allowing the humour to flow naturally from the absurdity of situations that many churchgoers will recognise – the plots and ideas are meticulously researched and typically based on real events, however unlikely that may seem. Read More…
Something I’ve been reading and enjoying a lot recently is Kids Without Religion, Deborah Mitchell’s blog. Today, she posted another excellent piece about a heroin addict being given some money and finding God. Really, it’s very good. But there’s just one short passage that fired something in my brain and inspired this post. It doesn’t really relate to the basic story – as Deborah says, the addict never explicitly identifies as an atheist – but it touches on something I was thinking about anyway.
This is what prompted me to respond:
It’s also frustrating to hear people say, “I was once an atheist, but then god blessed me with ________.” And it is always some sort of perceived good fortune that recently happened. However, it seems that these folks weren’t really atheists to begin with. How do you suddenly talk yourself into believing there’s a higher power simply because you silently prayed and a stranger gave you cash the next day? This fails any test of formal logic. The two events, in reality, have no correlation.
What makes me uncomfortable about this is that it sounds uncannily similar to the sort of thing I used to hear Christians say in the opposite direction: If you lose your faith, you were never really a Christian; it’s just a superficial reaction to bad things happening; your reasoning makes no sense.
Having dismantled Theos’s latest survey, I thought it would be productive to offer an alternative executive summary, a sort of executive minority report, pointing out all the interesting things they kept quiet about or played down because they didn’t fit their preferred narrative. I think these are far more revealing than the things they wanted to focus on, and my commentary, while cheeky and slightly biased, is only intended to be the flipside of Theos’s own spin. Read More…
Theos, a Christian think tank, have been in the news today with a survey on the subject of belief and spirituality. They claim that their report, “The Spirit of Things Unseen: belief in post-religious Britain”, which has been released to promote and coincide with a new podcast (telling you all you need to know about its objectivity), challenges a belief that Britain has become “more secular, or more sceptical, or more rational”. The very first paragraph of the executive summary reads in full:
For all that formalised religious belief and institutionalised religious belonging has declined over recent decades, the British have not become a nation of atheists or materialists. On the contrary, a spiritual current runs as, if not more, powerfully through the nation than it once did
This is where the first gaping chasm between responses and interpretation arises – despite claiming to challenge this idea of a trend, nowhere do they present any baseline data to compare these figures with earlier surveys to discern a direction of travel. Read More…
It all started with the best of intentions.
First, there were a lot of issues that were flying around my head. My previous beliefs were becoming ever less secure, but I’d been through this before. Most people find their beliefs wax and wane, so this wasn’t anything I was going to bring up out of nowhere to people who I wouldn’t normally be discussing my theological positions with. It was just business as usual.
Then I started to drift away, losing my fear of unbelief and increasingly exploring those areas and imagining a life without religion. It was different, but possibly no more than increased empathy and openness to different arguments. I stayed put in the church, and nothing really changed. Still nothing that was worth specifically mentioning to anyone. Read More…
If you haven’t heard this sort of apology much in the past, get used to it now, because you’re going to hear it a lot in the next few years. With same-sex marriage on the final stretch towards full legal approval in the UK, there are plenty of people who will be making excuses for their refusal to accept this fact, and particularly their contortions to avoid using the word “marriage” to describe any relationship they don’t approve of.
I’ve been in a similar position myself, and tried to apologise for my views while continuing to promote them and marginalise people as a result. I understand the explanation, and it’s superficially appealing, but it doesn’t really stand up. Read More…
Larry Taunton, director of the Fixed Point Foundation, recently wrote an article for The Atlantic about what young atheists think. It’s been doing the rounds of forums and social media since it was published a couple of weeks ago, and it’s still prompting a lot of discussion about what it means, with Christians poring over it and fretting about whether their own children might catch the dreadful disease of atheism. I read it with interest when I heard about it, but despite a superficial appearance of objectivity and insight, I was very disappointed.
Taunton’s “surprising” findings really aren’t that surprising – in fact, they’re astonishingly self-evident, mainly products of selection bias that he either hasn’t noticed or chooses not to acknowledge. Any degree of thoughtful reflection reduces them to laughable statements of the bleedin’ obvious.
He finds that most of the atheists surveyed were brought up within Christianity. (What’s that? Brought up Christian? In America? Hold the front page!) Read More…
I’ve just had a guest post published on the Ramblings of Sheldon blog. Please head on over there and have a look, leave some comments, and spend a while browsing around the other great stuff Sheldon writes on a regular basis. He’s followed a similar faith trajectory to mine, and always has interesting things to say.
Uh-oh, this looks like trouble!
I suppose it had to happen eventually. I thought I would have a bit longer to prepare for it, but it’s rolled around pretty quickly – last Sunday, elder son decided that he wanted to stay at home with Daddy.
This is where everything goes Bizarro World, through the looking glass and into the Twilight Zone, to mix a few metaphors. My wife doesn’t want to end up dragging him off to church when he doesn’t want to go, and she was prepared to let him stay with me. One week off, if he was feeling like it, wouldn’t be the end of the world, and was less of a risk than turning Sunday mornings into a battleground. Read More…
Cult or religion? The line between the two is often controversial, but the word “cult” is clearly understood to be pejorative. It often appears in the form of an irregular verb:
I have a personal relationship with the creator of the universe
You are religious
(S)he is in a cult
One of the more popular criteria for distinguishing between them is indoctrination, the idea being that cults indoctrinate, but religions are more respectable and allow people to believe without the coercion that word implies.
That seems like a pretty good working distinction, and it always seemed to fit with my experience. I’ve spent my life in the church, but I never felt that I was being coerced into any belief. Obviously, there was encouragement to believe this, or that, and I’ve been taught various doctrines, most of which I now reject, but I never felt that I’d been indoctrinated at any point. Except that looking back, it appears that I was. Read More…