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My contempt for religious answers to psychological issues

Psychology1“We have the answer!”

“If you have any problem coping in any way, there is a quick and obvious fix. It is free. All you have to do, is just take it. Let it rule your life and you will be free. Compulsive thoughts? No problem, just pray. Depression? No problem, just fast and pray. Addictions? No problem, just learn a couple of New Testament letters off by heart. All the supernatural power outside the world is waiting for you. All you have to do is access it in this simple way. Of course, in former times we might have told you to flagellate yourself, but you don’t need to do that these days. We have moved on. And we do have the answer.”

There is a very interesting post by Lorena – Addiction Recovery: Can It Be Supernatural? – where she describes her contact with a Texan pastor who condemned her contact with a psychological counsellor for depression and recommended a behaviour modification program of prayer, fasting, and memorizing large chunks of the bible instead. Lorena explains her anger at this suggestion, and develops her reasons. So much of her experience and reasoning resonated with my own. It echoed my own anger at a religious faith which occasionally seems so blind to what it is encouraging people to believe and do.

Being a former evangelical church leader, and now a humanist and practising therapist, I think I can write about both of the worlds that Lorena describes with some insider knowledge…

Continue Reading February 28, 2008 at 5:17 pm 86 comments

Jesus Is The Weigh

If you want to slim for Him, there are now plenty of programs, books, and DVDs to help you. Christian diets are now part of a multi-million dollar industry. Many are claiming that faith is providing the ingredients missing from traditional diet programs that tend to be universally discredited as inevitably failing and even leading to weight increase.

scale 1Overeaters Victorious was founded by 248-pound Neva Coyle from Minnesota, who had failed at every commercial diet program she tried. She turned to the Bible and lost 100 pounds. The ingredients provided by faith are motivation, and power to do the impossible.

Faith can provide a positive and a negative motivation. First, there can be the positive desire to please a deity. Programs such as Praise Aerobics, or Praise Moves (the Christian alternative to Yoga) can tap into this motivation in two ways. On a surface level, you can participate in worship as you move to the worship tape that is played as you exercise. On a deeper level you can please ‘the Master’ by caring for your body (the body that he made and gave you as a gift) for him. And subliminally, of course, you are making yourself beautiful for him (Roman Catholic nuns don’t have the monopoly of being married to Jesus)…

Continue Reading January 20, 2008 at 11:03 pm 16 comments

Challenging Religious Myths 2: Atheism is just another Religion

Myth 2: Atheism is just another religion.

Atheist Out CampaignThis myth is being resurrected again by people ranging from academics trying to counter some of the influence of the recent spate of books challenging faith, to extremists wanting atheists banned from American schools by using the ruling that religion and state must be kept separate.

It was the good Catholic G.K.Chesterton who sought to tease atheists by saying ‘there are only two kinds of people; those who accept dogmas and know it, and those who accept dogmas and don’t know it’. Atheists would reject his categories and go on to argue that there are at least three kinds of people; the two that Chesterton mentioned and a third category who know an unhelpful and untrue dogma when they see it and are quite capable of rejecting it.

Atheism, of course, is not another religion. Although non-theistic religions such as Buddhism and Confucianism exist, most religions, are based on a belief in gods or a god, and atheists reject such a notion. Let me quote A.C.Grayling who makes the point so elegantly:…

Continue Reading December 16, 2007 at 8:11 pm 28 comments

Challenging Religious Myths 1: No Morality without Religion

Fireworks 1Myth 1: Without religion we would have no moral values and our society would be worse off.

Surely, the argument goes, the benefit of having a god in your life is that it gives you rules to live by. “If God does not exist then everything is permissible,” said Dostoyevsky, and indeed, without the threat of eternal toasting what’s to stop us? And without a moral backbone based on religion, our society would suffer.

Of course, there are plenty of things to stop us from behaving totally selfishly. With, or without religion, human beings have tremendous capacity for empathy and often modify their behaviour because they know of the pain that they might cause others. And although religion is good at shunning, society is good at disapproving of behaviour in order to protect itself too. We have survived in our present form because we are good at stopping those things which are threatening to our tribe. With, or without a god, we are capable of love and altruism and nobility because of choice, rather than the desire to avoid the ultimate, eternal, divine shunning. I am sure that both theist and atheist would agree that morality based on positive choice is preferable to one based on fear.

There is also growing evidence that religion appears to have little clear positive benefit on society, and there is a case to be made that it is, in fact, very detrimental…

Continue Reading December 7, 2007 at 1:10 am 49 comments

Respect, Religion, and the Teddy Bear

Readers outside the UK may be unaware of the teddy bear incident that has been one of the headline stories the UK press this week. For those of you who don’t know, Gillian Gibbons, a primary teacher from Liverpool, recently went to Sudan to work. She asked her class for ideas for what to call the class teddy bear. One pupil, named Muhammad, suggested “Muhammad”. Someone on the school’s administration staff reported the incident and Gillian was charged with insulting Islam – a crime which could have resulted in 40 lashes, a six month prison sentence, or a fine. Gillian, who protested that no insult was intended, was found guilty and given a 15 day prison sentence. Because of public demonstrations against the leniency of the sentence, she is being kept in close police custody for her own protection.

The philospher A.C.Grayling argues that no religious person is automatically worthy any more respect than any other person. In fact, if anything, the opposite is the case. Faith is a commitment to belief, contrary to evidence and reason. Therefore to believe something against evidence and against reason is irresponsible and ignorant and merits the opposite of respect…

Continue Reading December 1, 2007 at 1:34 pm 30 comments

Religion and Atheism: Cultures in Conflict

ConflictThe danger and the pain of the conflict between pre- and post-Enlightenment cultures were illustrated in a recent court ruling fining Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, Kansas, £5.2 million.

The church comprises around 70 members of the pastor’s (Fred Phelps) extended family. For years the church has denounced homosexuality and picketed the funerals of Aids victims. However, they later extended their pickets to the funerals of soldiers, who they say are being punished by God because of America’s tolerance of homosexuality. Last year, they caused outrage when they attended the funeral of Matthew Snyder with signs reading “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “You’re going to hell”.

Matthew’s father, Albert Snyder, wept when he heard the verdict. “I hope it’s enough to deter them from doing this to other families. It was not about the money. It was about getting them to stop.”

Daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper – co-defendant along with another daughter, Rebecca Phelps-Davis – vowed to continue picketing military funerals…

Continue Reading November 8, 2007 at 10:03 am 23 comments

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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