Kevin Andrews suddenly learns that everyone else knows Catch The Fire are batshit #auspol

Minister for Putting Single Mums in Their Bloody Place Kevin Andrews, among other Team Australians, has recently learned that the people of Australia don’t particularly like that the “World Congress of Families” is run by well-known slavering extremist anti-choice homophobic bigots Catch The Fire Ministries and has decided not to open their adorable little Hatesturbate For Jesus for them after all.

Catch The Fire Ministries, whose head douche Danny Nalliah infamously linked Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires to that state’s abortion laws (and will now have to find other high-profile fundamentalist scenery-chewers to mix the green cordial [red is SINFUL!] and run the games of “pin Satan’s pitchfork on the eternally burning lesbortionist,”) have since thrown K-Drews under the bus for being a sad wuss. Because how dare any public official in a secular democracy respond to public outcry over lending explicit government support to a pack of fringe-dwelling cultists whose lunacy is only exceeded by their self-importance.

I suspect that, much like a pair of cling-wrap Y-fronts, this is a transparent arse-covering on the part of Kev and his fellow Tory wingnuts, Eric “I Am The Politican Every Sketch Show Bases Their Politicians On” Abetz and Cory “Looky, I Wrote A Book Just Like God Did” Bernardi, who would surely have gone along had the public not had something of a issue with members of our government explicitly validating the dark-ages lunacy of extremist evangelist hooligans.

Not Catch The Fire but close efuckingnough, amirite?

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It’s all part of The Plan II

God moves in mysterious ways.
God helps those who help themselves.
God has a plan!

I could list a few other excuses/rationalisations Christians use for when their prayers aren’t answered, but to me those are the top three. When you ask and receive not, it’s not because there’s noone listening, it’s not because if there is someone listening he’s ignoring you, it’s because your prayers don’t fit into his plans! It’s because you didn’t help yourself! You didn’t pray hard enough! You are stained with sin! Your prayer was answered – but you didn’t notice because God works in ways you or I or anyone can’t possibly comprehend, or because your heart wasn’t open to God!

As Christian children (I suppose I was one of those but, thankfully, not because of my parents, who have always remained neutral on the subject, except when poking fun at fundies) we are told that if we pray and mean it and if we’re good, our prayers will be answered. However, when they’re not there’s always a reason there isn’t a brand new slot-car set under the tree or that bully at school didn’t turn up in bits in a crocodile’s belly somewhere. OK, fair enough, asking for new toys and especially vengeful homicides aren’t really things you should trouble God with. How about when one grows up and cares not for such earthly pleasures? How do you know, for example, if God has actually granted you the wisdom to know the difference between things you can change and things you can’t? Hell, what if you’ve gained that wisdom through your own efforts – what if your prayer, as a vocalisation of an internal desire, flicked a switch in your subconscious that set you on the path to gaining a deeper wisdom all through your own efforts? That’s really the subject of its own post, though…

So, if God hears our prayers but doesn’t answer them because he moves in mysterious ways that we can’t comprehend, helps those who help themselves or has a Plan, what exactly are we asking for? Shouldn’t we just concentrate on helping ourselves? Should we look elsewhere for answers if the answers we can expect will arrive in a form we can’t understand – and who would answer you in a foreign language or with riddles or symbolism when you ask a direct question and expect a direct answer anyway? In the end, should we not focus on our own Plan?

Of course, your average Christian, apart from the standard apologetics, might say “Prayer doesn’t work that way, it’s not like tech support/a Santa wishlist and you can’t expect Answer B to Question A.” They may mention that if you pray with the expectation of having it answered that might work against you – you have to pray with a pure heart and the purest of motives and not be selfish. If that’s the case, why do so many evangelicals give so much money to TV preachers according to the prosperity gospel, which states that what you send out will return to you sevenfold, or tenfold, or threefold or some other biblical-sounding fold. That’s about as selfish as you can get – and pretty gullible, as the only person receiving any kind of fold is the damn preacher. If you’re meant to be pure with your question, why do so many people pray for the safe recovery of injured or sick loved ones? Surely if they’re dying they’re on their way to heaven and you shouldn’t ask God to deny them their journey home. It’s the height of selfishness to ask for that life to be spared. If they’re a good Christian they’re clearly going to a better place and you should be glad, even envious, but you’re not – you want them there on Earth with you. Some people ask God for help before a game, a race, a performance – I’ve seen many a backstage/locker-room prayer circle on behind-the-scenes TV shows. I’ve seen footage and photos of priests blessing soldiers and pilots and bombs before going into battle! Is that not the most arrogant, hateful thing you can ask for? Divine assistance in the slaughter of your enemies and preferential treatment of you and your comrades? Why should God spare your life at the expense of a soldier in a different uniform? What if that sniper drawing a bead on you is a better Christian than you? What if he’s a Muslim and his religion is actually the right one? Shit, what if he’s an atheist, a crack shot, there really is no God and he’s concentrating on compensating for the slight breeze that could divert his bullet rather than wasting his mental effort praying for a straight shot? You’re boned, soldier, that’s what.

My belaboured point here is obvious: for God to change things so YOU get a benefit, someone else – maybe lots of someone elses – may well have to suffer to make it happen. We’re familiar with the Butterfly Effect metaphor often used to describe ripples of causality (and to warn of meddling with anything when you travel back in time): a butterfly flapping its wings can start a chain reaction of events that can culminate in a cyclone on the other side of the world. For God to change just one thing to benefit you or your country or your freaking soccer team or dance troupe or platoon, whether he has a Plan or not, could – probably would – affect the rest of the world in ways we could never foresee.

Imagine the billion prayers God would hear a day, just from the various flavours of Christians. Add that to all the prayers from Muslims (who do it five times a day, which makes up for their relative lack of numbers), Jews, Ba’hais, Sikhs and many other monotheistic sects across the world. To grant just one of these would necessarily affect every other person in the world, if in no other way but simply rendering their entire religion utterly, irrevocably false. You’d think if God did exist, he’d make it abundantly and unambiguously clear which sect he’s listening to, if for no other reason than to cut down on prayer-spamming. Surely he wouldn’t entrust the spreading of the One True Word to pre-industrial Bronze-Age shepherds and fishermen and simply leave it at that for the next two thousand years. Would he? If he was deadly, godly serious about needing the world’s love, obedience and worship, would he not present himself in a clear and unmistakeable way to all of us and at regular intervals so as not to have his children constantly destroying each other over disagreements over his desires?

Final questions. First, assume that God (a) exists and (b) hears our prayers. Now, bearing in mind that apologetics such as “God moves/answers prayers in mysterious ways” or “God has a plan” or “noone can know the mind of God” will not cut it (especially that last one because most religions are pretty much based on knowing the mind, will & desires of God through their holy scrolls), riddle me these:

-Who’s God listening to? Whose prayers get heard in the first place rather than being dismissed out of hand and ignored? Naturally, if you’re religious, you’re going to say “Mine, you idiot! I have the Keys to The Kingdom!” That won’t cut it either – you have to show your work!

-Assuming, then, that you are of the Right Faith, what then are the criteria for having the prayer answered positively or denied?

-Are there prayers that God, like Aladdin’s genie, would never, ever answer? Things like “kill my enemy”, “make that girl love me”, “make me rich”? Which ones and why? If he’d help your troupe dance like they’ve never danced before, show where you left your keys, help you get out of Falluja alive or spare the life of your tumour-stricken child, why would anything be off the table?

-What if God hears everybody and grants NO wishes? What then of prayer? Would you continue to do it if that were the case?

-What if God hears everybody but cares not for the concerns of mortals at all and barely even notices our planet because he’s busy elsewhere? If he moves in mysterious ways and has a Plan – he could have a trillion planets worshipping him. Why stop at one planet if you’re capable of creating a whole universe in a week? He could have a trillion universes and we could just be a beta version, forgotten and alone.

-What if the whole concept of God is nothing but a fictional human construct, embodying all the knowledge, prejudices and ignorance of an ancient nomadic tribe attempting to record their mythology, codify their tribal laws and fix them all to a higher power in an effort to provide explanations of the natural world, keep their social order and establish a hierarchy?

Basically, obviously and finally: what if there’s no god and you’re all just talking to yourself?

That’s one question that answers itself.

Dawkins & Lennox, a conversation

I was listening to this conversation between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox the other day and was enthralled – not by Professor Dawkins’ usual succinctness and great ability to deconstruct theological arguments, but by the vapid theology and wishful thinking on display by Mr Lennox.

Lennox tells us he’s gone to great lengths to be a rational theologian and tells us of the years he’s spent verifying the historical claims of the bible and the “scientific evidence of God”. However, despite his self-professed dedication to verifiability (and, in a Cirque de Soleil-esque feat of mental contortion), he’s also a New Testament literalist and believes in the virgin conception, actual physical death & resurrection and divine nature of Jesus as well as Jesus’ many miracles, such as the water to wine trick, the resurrection of Lazarus, the loaves and fishes etc. Clearly Lennox believes the theory that Jesus was also God and, as his own only son, came to earth to be tortured and sacrificed so that we may be spared the wrath of eternal torment that would be inflicted upon us should we choose not to believe the aforementioned (the eternal torment inflicted on us as a result of Adam and Eve’s fall – the original sin we’re all apparently born stained with but had no part in. It’s a godfather-style offer you can’t refuse of the highest order: “I’m here to save you from something that I inflicted on you for a crime you didn’t personally commit and it you don’t accept that you can go to hell which, by the way, is run by a former employee of mine who I had to fire because he was asking too many questions.”).

It was a polite, reasonable discussion with both Dawkins & Lennox serving as an example of how freethinkers & theists can get along despite their differences in outlook and have a friendly discourse (despite my frequent yearning for Dawkins to slam the table and go “Look! You’re talking utter motherfucking BOLLOCKS, John!”). Lennox has the broad brogue of a kindly Irish uncle who’s really good at telling stories over a pint or two of Beamish and it was really quite pleasant to hear him talk. Despite that, it was a frustrating exercise as Lennox, with his gift o’ the gab and heartfelt conviction, completely monopolised the conversation and Dawkins only spoke for perhaps a quarter to a third of the entire hour. Lennox would make a lengthy, earnest, long-winded claim, Richard would ask how precisely he knew it to be true, Lennox would embark upon a lengthy, earnest, long-winded answer which was a more sophisticated version of the standard apologetics we’re all used to, mainly variations on such things as the bible as historical evidence, personal spiritual confirmation and the alleged “fine-tuning” of the universe. Yes, the same shit that’s always getting de-bunked by people like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens (who would’ve torn this gentle Irishman apart like a dinner roll). In hindsight it was probably a conscious decision on Dawkins’ part to simply pose a question and let Lennox run off at the mouth and make himself look foolish and desperate – to any rational listener, anyway. I think it would have allowed Dawkins to play the role of such a listener and allowed those rationalists among us to sit there and empathise with Dawkins as he sat there and basically listened to Lennox’s tripe for the best part of an hour.

To summarise Lennox’s entire argument, he long ago arrived at a decision that the bible was true and he’s spent many, many decades of his life proving to himself that he was right to make that decision. God made the universe, Jesus is God, God tinkers with the world occasionally, e.g. to impregnate virgins, Jesus could do the same thing and did so with bread and dead people. In other words, God can do magic. Because God created the universe and its laws, he can stick his nose in at any time, anywhere and tinker around and make stuff happens that he wants – made the rules, he can break them. Like a kid who starts a game of soldiers with his brother and suddenly makes it ok for tanks to fly in order to cross enemy lines and crush the enemy, despite strident protestations such “That couldn’t happen!” or “There’s no such thing as a flying tank!” (“They’re magic tanks, you idiot! I have wizards in my trenches!” or “You didn’t see my anti-gravity beam with your spyplanes because of my cloaking device, which is also cloaked, you complete idiot!” could be the response). In Lennox’s case, “God can do magic” is the sum total of his years of objective research.

All earnestness and likability aside, Lennox is actually quite overrated as an intellectual (which probably makes him a great theologian) and seems to rely more on blinding the listener (and, more than likely, himself) with polysyllables and scientific-sounding arguments mixed with appeals to emotion and personal experience than with consciously attempting a structured, convincing argument (much like his similarly allegedly intellectual but considerably more irritating colleague Alister McGrath). Naturally, Dawkins didn’t buy a bit of it and I just wish there was more time available so he could really go to town on the rubbish he was being served. If Lennox was, as he portrays himself, truly rational & objective & dispassionate about finding evidence to back up his long ago-made, faith-based decision regarding the bible’s veracity & divine inspiration, he would have absolutely no choice but to come to the decision that there was no such evidence. At the very least, he would have to concede that such evidence as there is is so tenuous and vague that it should not constitute a basis to make any kind of important decision, especially one that’s potentially life/afterlife-altering.