Hundreds of people sing "Silent Night" to the glow of candles at a Christmas Eve service at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in San Francisco. The song, lit strictly by the candles, is a traditional highlight of the early evening service. (San Francisco Chronicle picture from Christmas 2008)
In this video, the narrator uses the seven-stage model of psychological transition put forward by Sugarman in her book "Life-Span Development" to explore the emotional side of personal transition from Christian to Atheist. It is very useful for SafeHouse, a resting place and support group for people in transition of religious faith. The SafeHouse can watch this video and discuss.
這套 YouTube 短片以心理發展的七個階段模型理解由基督徒過渡到無神論者的情緒轉變。看來十分適合「心靈休息室」觀看及討論。（「心靈休息室」是一個為宗教信仰轉變者而設的互助小組。）
The world should be alerted about this unbelievably horrible reality. In Nigeria, thousands of children are believed, by evangelical Christians, to be demon-possessed "witches" and some of them are tortured to death (1). Rev Helen Ukpabio of the Liberty Gospel Church is an infamous witch hunter. She made films to educate people that child "witches" exist (2). Her church's supporters have invaded a child rights conference (3), during which a humanist anti-superstition educator Leo Igwere's belongings were stolen. Now, Ukpabio has filed a lawsuit in the Nigerian federal court against Igwere for "religious discrimination" (hearing on Dec 17) (4)! A superstition-spreader who most likely indirectly caused multiple child murders brings to court a humane worker who tried to stop those children from being murdered! What on earth can be more absurd!
This terrible thing forced me to reflect on religious faith, Christian faith in particular. Some Christians in Nigeria believed that certain children are demon-possessed witches, and tried to cast out demons to the point of murdering those children. Faith kills. Christians all over the world should reflect on the nature (and danger) of their own religious faith.
You might wonder how that bizarre thing in Nigeria can be related to the faith of Christians in the rest of the world. They are. At the heart of Christianity is a set of supernatural doctrines. A personal God created and is looking after this world. God hears and answers prayers. Bible being the Word of God. Original sin. Jesus is God. Virgin birth. Salvation by crucifixion. Resurrection. Second coming. Eternal life. Satan is real. Spiritual warfare between God and Satan. Satan can possess a human. And more.
If Christians believed these, it follows that a child can be possessed by Satan (demon). If a child is believed to be possessed, why not cast out the demon from the child? If the exorcism failed, why not "deliver" the poor child to "eternal life"? The line of thought is logical. More importantly, the concepts of "spiritual warfare" and demon possession are alive in Western Christians, most notably among charismatics and evangelicals. And Christian exorcism is still being practiced in the West, only not to the degree of murder.
Christianity, following Judaism, has been praising the faith of Abraham in intending to (though being stopped at the last moment) sacrifice his own son upon God's order. By praising Abraham, Christianity indirectly endorses human sacrifice. Abraham might have nothing to do with the situation in Nigeria, but seeing human life as less worthy than faith in God is the same common core value behind. Religious faiths, including Christianity, can be dangerous. The only safeguard is to put universal human rights standard above all religious faiths and all religious authorities, including the Holy Bible. Put it simply, to make the world safer, we must put human life above God.
The Bible says that Satan is real, demon possession is real. The Bible and the Church praise Abraham’s attempted child sacrifice. If you believe that a particular child is being possessed, will you endorse performing exorcism on him/her? Why or why not? If you believe that God demands you to sacrifice your own son, will you obey God out of faith? Why or why not? Is faith a virtue or a vice? Should a believer obey or be critical of religious authorities (Bible, Church, Pope, ministers, the Nigerian children-killing Christian leaders, etc)? These are important questions for all Christians to ask themselves.
1 Saving Africa’s Witch Children (Channel 4)
"In some of the poorest parts of Nigeria, where evangelical religious fervour is combined with a belief in sorcery and black magic, many thousands of children are being blamed for catastrophes, death and famine: and branded witches. Denounced as Satan made flesh by powerful pastors and prophetesses, these children are abandoned, tortured, starved and murdered: all in the name of Jesus Christ."
2 End Of The Wicked – Helen Ukpabio www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUeKBibBN0I
3 Helen Ukpabio supporters invade child rights conference in Calabar, Nigeria
4 Witch Hunter Takes Humanist to Court (from a CFI email)
In May 2009, the Center for Inquiry (CFI) launched an anti-superstition campaign to highlight and combat the abuse of alleged "child witches" throughout the African continent. Now "witch hunter" Helen Ukpabio, head of the Liberty Gospel Church in Nigeria, has filed a lawsuit in Nigerian federal court against Leo Igwe, CFI's representative in Nigeria.
The events were set into motion on July 29 when a mob of about 150 members from Ukpabio's Liberty Gospel Church attacked Igwe and others during a "Child Rights and Witchcraft" event in Calabar, Nigeria. Police finally broke up the mob and arrested one person. Igwe’s bag, phone, camera, and a copy of his planned speech were stolen and his eyeglasses were smashed.
The complaint filed by Ukpabio essentially alleges religious discrimination on the part of Igwe, who has been a tireless vocal critic of Ukpabio's claims that many of Nigeria's children and women are "witches". The suit, scheduled for a hearing on December 17, is seeking an injunction to prevent Igwe and other humanist groups from holding seminars or workshops aimed at raising awareness about the dangers associated with religious belief in witchcraft.
(The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.)
The day is November 24, 2009.
From the HUUmanists email list:
Remember that today is a holy day to Humanists, Unitarian Universalists, and all others who hold sacred our rapidly increasing knowledge of our own precious human nature, and especially its relation to the rest of the universe. One hundred fifty years ago today, on November 24, 1859, Charles Darwin opened the gates of heaven with his publication of "On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life," and suddenly a great light shone down upon us all. Our understanding of ourselves has grown rapidly ever since, is growing today, and will continue to grow forever. Humanity will never be the same again.
Amen and hallelujah!
Spinoza was born on this day in 1632.
Happy Birthday to you, Spinoza. Another reason for a Humanist celebration.
Spinoza is best known for his Ethics, a monumental work that presents an ethical vision unfolding out of a monistic metaphysics in which God and Nature are identified. God is no longer the transcendent creator of the universe who rules it via providence, but Nature itself, understood as an infinite, necessary, and fully deterministic system of which humans are a part. Humans find happiness only through a rational understanding of this system and their place within it.
King's God: The Unknown Faith of Dr Martin Luther King Jr
by Robert James "Be" Scofield
Although Martin Luther King served as a Baptist minister, this article from Tikkun shows that, as a young man in the liberal Crozer Theological Seminary (1948-1951), King rejected majority of the orthodox Christian doctrines, most central of which is perhaps the deity of Jesus. In The Humanity and Divinity of Jesus, a paper written for the class "Christian Theology Today," King clearly lays out his non-orthodox view on the deity of Jesus:
"The significance of the divinity of Christ lies in the fact that his achievement is prophetic and promissory for every other true son of man who is willing to submit his will to the will and spirit of God. Christ was to be only the prototype of one among many brothers. The appearance of such a person, more divine and more human than any other, and in closest unity at once with God and man, is the most significant and hopeful event in human history. This divine quality or this unity with God was not something thrust upon Jesus from above, but it was a definite achievement through the process of moral struggle and self-abnegation."
A few more King's liberal views on core Christian doctrines:
Virgin Birth. King is frank here: "We of this scientific age will not explain the birth of Jesus in such unscientific terms." Jesus's early disciples saw his "spiritual life so far beyond theirs," explains King, that they believed that Jesus's uniquesness could only be explained biologically.
Bodily Resurrection. Jesus's followers "had been captivated by the magnetic power of his personality," King writes, which led them to believe that he "could never die."
Second Coming. "It is obvious that most twentieth century Christians must frankly and flatly reject any view of a physical return of Christ," says King boldly. "The final doctrine of the Second Coming is that whenever we turn our lives to the highest and best there for us is the Christ."
Regarding heaven, King understands that it is located here on earth: "When we see social relationships controlled everywhere by the principles which Jesus illustrated in life--trust, love, mercy, and altruism--then we shall know that the kingdom of God is here."
The author, therefore, concludes: "It should not be surprising then that while Dr King served a Baptist church, his first choice of religion was Unitarian Christian (which later merged with Universalism). Coretta Scott had been attending Unitarian churches for years before she met and married Martin, and they both attended Unitarian services while in Boston."
眾所週知，馬丁路德金是浸信會牧師。但這篇在 Tikkun 刊登的文章說，從他在神學院時的學術論文顯示，年青時的馬丁路德金拒絕了很多正統的神學觀點，當中最核心的要數耶穌的神聖。以下的論文文字清楚解釋他對耶穌神聖的非傳統觀點：
所以，本文作者如此寫道：「這樣，我們便無需驚訝，雖然金博士在浸信會事奉，他的宗教首選是 Unitarian 基督教（它後來與 Universalism 合併）。他的夫人在認識馬丁之前，多年來都是上 Unitarian 教會的；他倆在波士頓的時候，都是參與 Unitarian 的主日崇拜的。」
Carl Sagan's book "The Varieties of Scientific Experience" (New York: Penguin, 2006) explains very well what Religious Naturalism is, although Carl has not identified himself or his religious view with this term. Religious Naturalism approaches religion and spirituality by the way of science. The words of Ann Druyan, Carl's wife and editor of the book, in "Editor's Introduction," are remarkably in-line with this position:
For Carl, Darwin's insight that life evolved over the eons through natural selection was not just better science than Genesis, it also afforded a deeper, more satisfying spiritual experience. (p. x)
He believed that the little we do know about nature suggests that we know even less about God. We had only just managed to get an inkling of the grandeur ofthe cosmos and its exquisite laws that guide the evolution of trillions if not infinite numbers of worlds. The newly acquired vision made the God who created the World seem hopelessly local and dated, bound to transparently human misconceptions and conceipts of the past. (p. x)
...he never understand why anyone wound want to separate science, which is just a way of searching for what is true, from what we hold sacred, which are those truths that inspire love and awe. (p. xi)
His argument was not with God but with those who believed that our understanding of the sacred had been completed. Science's premanently revolutionary conviction that the search for truth never ends seemed to him the only approach with sufficient humility to be worthy of the universe that it revealed. The methodology of science, with tis error-correcting mechanism for keeping us honest in spite of our chronic tendencies to project, to misunderstand, to deceive ourselves and others, seemed to him the height of spiritual discipline. If you are searching for sacred knowledge and not just a palliative for your fears, then you will train yourself to be a good skeptic. (p. xi)
The idea that the scientific method should be applied to the deepest of questions is frequently decried as "scientism." This charge is made by those who hold that religious beliefs whould be off-limits to scientific scrutiny---that beliefs (convictions without evidence that can be tested) are a sufficient way of knowing. Carl understood this feeling, but he insisted with Bertrand Russell that "what is wanted is not the will to believe, but the desire to find out, which is the exact opposite." (p. xi)
Until about five hundred years ago, there had been no such wall separating science and religion. Back then they were one and the same. It was only when a group of religious men who wished "to read God's mind" realized that science would be the most powerful means to do so that a wall was needed. These men---among them Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and, much later, Darwin---began to articulate and internalize the scientific method. Science took off for stars, and institutional religion, choosing to deny the new revelations, could do little more than build a protective wall around itself. (p. xi)
To him we were "starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of 10 billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose." For him science was, in part, a kind of "informed worship." (p. xiii)
(This is a Chinese post at the forum of the Hong Kong positivistic philosopher Lee Tin Ming. This excerpt from an article by Erich Fromm says that religions can be divided into totalitarian religions and humanistic religions. The God of the Old Testament is totalitarian. The original teachings of Jesus were humanistic, but Roman rulers later turned them into a totalitarian Christianity. This article is very inspiring. 在《李天命網上思考》，有人貼了這篇文章，甚具啟發性。)
獨裁宗教與人本宗教 (Totalitarian Religions and Humanistic Religions)
Psychoanalysis & Religion
By Erich Fromm
This is an interesting perspective from an Evolutionary Biologist. The emerging field of Evolutionary Religious Studies is fascinating too!
Science as a Religion that Worships Truth as its God
October 20, 2009
blog by David Sloan Wilson, Evolutionary Biologist
In short, the truth is regarded as sacred within science, more than within public life, with all the obedience commanded by the word sacred in religious life. Science can even be regarded as a religion that worships truth as its god. It might seem provocative to put it this way, but I find the comparison compelling and challenge my readers to show what's wrong with it.
Here are some insights that emerge from viewing science as a religion that worships truth as its god. First, being a scientist is not natural. We evolved to adopt beliefs when they are useful, not when then they are true, so being a scientist requires resisting temptation, just as religious believers must resist temptation to achieve the ideals of their faiths. Second, the ideals of science can only be achieved by an entire cultural system. Simply exhorting people to respect the truth is not good enough, just as exhorting people to do unto others isn't good enough. Third, science as practiced often falls short of the goals of science as idealized, just as religions as practiced fall short of the goals of religions as idealized.
The third point is especially important because it means that scientists must be vigilant about keeping their own house in order before preaching to others. Anyone familiar with science knows that it is a messy process, like making laws and sausages. If only it was as simple as hypothesis formation and testing leading straight to the truth! Often science is like a bloodhound having difficulty finding the scent or running off baying loudly in the wrong direction.
A special problem occurs when all scientists are biased in the same direction. Then there is no diversity of opinion that might cause them to disagree. Everyone knows that Darwin and his contemporaries were biased by the assumptions of Victorian culture, which they didn't know how to question but we can easily recognize with the passage of time. Everyone is prepared to admit that we are also biased by the assumptions of our own culture, but we seldom make a serious effort to examine and correct for them as part of the scientific process. We should.
The fallibility of science makes arrogance one of its sins and humility one of its virtues, just as for other religious faiths. Beware of scientific emperors. They might have no clothes and that's not a pretty sight.
Evolutionary Religious Studies
Symphony of Science – We Are All Connected
featuring Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye
A beautiful song synthesized from words of great popular scientists. This song reminds me of the beauty of Religious Naturalism—achieving spiritual depth from meditating on Nature herself as understood by science, without resorting to beliefs in the supernatural.
We are all connected;
To each other, biologically
To the earth, chemically
To the rest of the universe atomically
I think nature's imagination
Is so much greater than man's
She's never going to let us relax
We live in an in-between universe
Where things change all right
But according to patterns, rules,
Or as we call them, laws of nature
I'm this guy standing on a planet
Really I'm just a speck
Compared with a star, the planet is just another speck
To think about all of this
To think about the vast emptiness of space
There's billions and billions of stars
Billions and billions of specks
The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it
But the way those atoms are put together
The cosmos is also within us
We're made of star stuff
We are a way for the cosmos to know itself
Across the sea of space
The stars are other suns
We have traveled this way before
And there is much to be learned
I find it elevating and exhilarating
To discover that we live in a universe
Which permits the evolution of molecular machines
As intricate and subtle as we
I know that the molecules in my body are traceable
To phenomena in the cosmos
That makes me want to grab people in the street
And say, have you heard this??
(Richard Feynman on hand drums and chanting)
There's this tremendous mess
Of waves all over in space
Which is the light bouncing around the room
And going from one thing to the other
And it's all really there
But you gotta stop and think about it
About the complexity to really get the pleasure
And it's all really there
The inconceivable nature of nature
How do Religious Naturalists/Religious Humanists read the Bible and pray? 宗教自然主義者/宗教人文主義者如何讀《聖經》及祈禱？
How do Religious Naturalists read the Bible and pray? God = Nature
How do Religious Humanists read the Bible and pray? God = Love
I am turning from Christianity to Religious Naturalism and Religious Humanism. Naturalism believes that everything belongs to Nature as understood by science; Humanism believes that the final authority is in human. Both Naturalism and Humanism are non-theistic. The New Zealand Presbyterian theologian Lloyd Geering (whom our Progressive Christian Fellowship (PCF) is studying) points out that the term "God" is a symbol which has meaning only in the pre-scientific worldview: a personal highest being who has created and is taking care of the world, and loves human. Since Enlightenment, the Western worldview has drastically changed and now the Universe is understood to be impersonal, running according to physical laws. This causes the term "God" to lose its meaning for modern people.
I still go to Christian churches occasionally. Today, I go to my old church, an Anglican church. When the word "God" is uttered while reading the Bible or saying a prayer, I have difficulty in dealing with that word. Today, right during the worship, I figured out the following solution:
When a Religious Naturalist reads the Bible or says a prayer, when the term "God" is encountered, (s)he can replace it in his/her heart by the term "Nature." Then the integrity of intellectual conscience can be maintained. Naturalism understands the "God" of the Bible as follows. Human projects to an external being "God" his/her own feelings of praise, awe, and gratitude towards Nature. Human then personalizes "God" in order to make "Him" an appropriate subject for interpersonal relationship (a familiar mode of relationship since everyone's infancy) and worship (affirmation of worth).
When a Religious Humanist reads the Bible or says a prayer, when the term "God" is encountered, (s)he can replace it in his/her heart by the term "Love" or "benevolence." Then the integrity of intellectual conscience can be maintained. Humanism understands the "God" of the Bible as follows. Human projects to an external being "God" his/her own highest values and meaning of life. Human then personalizes "God" in order to make "Him" an appropriate subject for interpersonal relationship and worship. Christians often say that Jesus is "Son of God" or "God Incarnate." In fact, the core of Jesus is Love or benevolence. Jesus is really "Son of God' or "God Incarnate" in the sense that Jesus fully expresses Love in his life to the extent that Jesus is experienced as "Son of Love" or "Love Incarnate." "God is love" (1 Jn 4:8,16).
Which word to use, then? "Nature" or "Love"? Does this imply that Naturalism and Humanism are two conflicting theories, one worships Nature as God, the other worships Love as God? My present thought is that: In the realm of Nature, "God" symbolizes Nature; in the realm of human relationship, "God" symbolizes Love. I worship both Nature and Love.
Alex from UUHK