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Thought provoking questions that
we have received, with our responses

Part 3:

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Interesting Emails discussed in this essay:

bulletThis website is biased against Africa about Female Genital Mutilation
bulletWho is a Christian?
bulletScientists' beliefs about the theory of evolution
bulletHow Wiccans and other Neopagans identify themselves
bulletCause(s) of Multiple Personality Disorder
bulletEvolution is false
bulletWho is a Christian? (revisted)
bulletTolerance and truth are incompatible
bulletThe 9-11 terrorist attack
bulletMore to come later.

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This website is biased against African countries

Incoming Email: Your site discusses Female Genital Mutilation in many African countries. But you ignore countries in Europe, the Americas, the Pacific, etc. It seems that you are framing the people of Africa.

Our response: We do describe Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in many African countries, such as Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Sudan. We try to correct a common misunderstanding that FGM is a Muslim practice. In those countries where it is common, parents of all religions -- Animism, Christianity, and Islam -- mutilate their children.

We do not discuss FGM in Europe, North and South American and the Pacific region because it is not practiced there to any extent. The only North American cases that have been covered in the media have involved immigrants from one of the above countries who have returned with their daughters to their country of origin to have them mutilated.

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Who is a Christian?

Incoming Email: Throughout your website, why do you refer to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) as Christians? Both Catholic and Protestant churches are in agreement that Mormons are NOT Christians.

Our response: We get lots of Emails from people who say that a specific denomination is not Christian. For example:

bulletThe LDS/Mormons are often accused of being Gnostics.
bulletSome say that the Roman Catholic Church is Pagan.
bulletLiberal Christian churches are sometimes called non-Christian.
bulletMainline Christian churches are often characterized as being sub-Christian or quasi-Christian.

There are religious groups in America which regard themselves as Christian and all other denominations as un-Christian. They conclude that fewer than 0.1% of American adults are true Christians. Alternatively, there are public opinion pollsters who accept anyone who states that they are a Christian to be so. They conclude that about 76% of American adults are Christian.

When we started our website, you can see why it was important for us to decide on a definition of the term "Christian." We accept anyone as being a member of that faith if they thoughtfully, prayerfully, and sincerely believes that they and their faith group are following the teachings of Christ. This includes about three in every four American adults -- a percentage that is dropping almost one percentage point a year. Included in that definition are Mormons, members of Eastern Orthodox churches, Roman Catholics, Seven Day Adventists, members of the Unification Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and followers of about 1,000 other faith groups in the U.S.

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Scientists' beliefs about the theory of evolution:

Incoming Email: One of your essays on evolution and creation science mentions that the vast majority of scientists accept evolution. Since when does the majority of any group automatically make them right? Many centuries ago most "scientists"  believed that the earth was the center of the universe. They were wrong.

Our response: You are misquoting us:

bulletWe don't refer to the beliefs of an overwhelming percentage of scientists; we refer to the only nearly universal opinion among two sub-groups of scientists: those in the earth and biological areas. More details.

bulletWe don't say that the theory of evolution is correct because an overwhelming percentage of those scientists believe in it. We merely point out which groups believe in evolution, who believe in creation science, and who believe in some of the other religious belief systems. The overwhelming percentage of fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians believe in creation science. But this does not necessarily make them right either.

There are many conflicting theories of origins. One is the theory of evolution. Another is based on the literal interpretation of the Biblical creation stories in the biblical book of Genesis. There are also on the order of 500 additional religiously-based creation stories, all of whom conflict with each other and with the theory of evolution.

At most, only one of these belief systems origins can be correct. It is possible that the theory evolution is incorrect. Many scientists accept the theory of evolution as fact, because of what they regard as overwhelming evidence for its validity. At the same time, they admit that there are certainly errors in the details of the theory. There are also gaps in knowledge. In fact, all theories in science are neither absolutely true nor are they in their completed form. But they feel that the errors are gradually being corrected as new data emerges. The gaps are also being filled in. In doing so, the theory of evolution has guided earth and biological scientists into new directions that have been very fruitful. This is one indicator that has convinced these scientists that the theory of evolution is valid.

It is my belief that you are incorrect in stating that most scientists once believed that the earth was the center of the universe. That belief that was developed by early Judaism, Christianity, and other religions during pre-scientific times. People who believed in a geocentric universe were originally theologians, not scientists. It is only after the scientific method was developed that we can meaningfully refer to the work of scientists. Before then, there were only theologians and philosophers dabbling in attempts to understand the universe from their own faith group's perspective.

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How Wiccans and other Neopagans identify themselves:

Incoming Email: "...don't make recommendations that encourage ignorance. Pagans are real people and we shouldn't have to rename ourselves because of those who remain unaware and uneducated. Don't support close-mindedness. Making knowledge available is a great thing, but please leave your ADVICE out of it. Let people learn..."

Our response: The facts are that there are at least 17 different definitions for the term "witch" or "witchcraft." Most of them are negative. There are at least nine different definitions of the term "cult" -- some positive, some neutral, some very negative. There are at least six definitions to "pagan"-- all different. Even words like Atheist, Christian, homosexual, abortifacient, contraceptive, pregnancy, God, etc, have very different meanings to different people. In the newsgroup alt.usage.english, terms like this one are often called "skunk words." They have so many meanings that they often cause misunderstandings wherever they are used.

For example, the word "Pagan" can mean any one of at least six meanings:

  1. A Wiccan or other Neopagan -- a follower of an earth-centered religion.
  2. A generic term for a group to be hated. A number of Fundamentalist Christians, -- Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and, James Dobson -- seem to have used "Pagan" in this sense when discussing responsibility for the the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
  3. Followers of ancient polytheistic religions (e.g. followers of Baal in the Bible)
  4. An Aboriginal person -- one who follows an animistic religion.
  5. A person who is not a Christian, Muslim, Jew, or Baha'i (i.e. 47% of the human race).
  6. A generic term once commonly used by Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists and others to describe themselves. This usage is rare today.

People who use a particular definition of "witch" or "cult" or "pagan" are not ignorant, unaware or uneducated. They are simply using one of the many meanings which are in current circulation. Unfortunately, it is often not clear which meaning they assign to the term. You really have to figure this out from the context. Sometimes this is not possible.

A Wiccan or other Neopagan can certainly use the term "Witch" or "Pagan" to describe themselves. However, they have to realize that most people do not associate "Witch" with "Wiccan" or "Pagan" with "Neopagan." To most people, the terms have very negative connotations, related to evil, ignorant, and sometimes criminal behavior. These definitions have been with us for centuries. IMHO, these are not helpful terms to use to describe yourself.

OTOH, if a Pagan were to use the terms "Wiccan" or "Neopagan" then most North Americans will not be familiar with the term. They would not bring a lot of centuries-old baggage to the conversation.

The choice, of course, is up to the individual person.

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Cause(s) of Multiple Personality Disorder:

Incoming Email: "Is Child Abuse the only or main cause of MPD?"

Our response: Please read our MPD menu and its associated essays.

Ever since MPD became a popular diagnosis, most psychiatrists and psychologists have believed that it doesn't exist in nature. Most have believed that MPD symptoms are an iatrogenic disorder (physician induced) which is typlically created in a therapists' office by a therapist who believes in MPD and a client who is open to suggestion.

The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSD), was originally the professional association of MPD practitioners. It had a rapid growth in the 1980s, reached a peak in the early 1990s, and has been in steady decline ever since. Belief in MPD has followed a similar path to belief in Recovered Memories and Satanic Ritual Abuse, which are often linked to MPD. Few therapists believe in any of these today.

When clients ended therapy, their MPD symptoms gradually (sometimes suddenly) dissipated.

Since it is now generally acknowledged that MPD does not exist, then it has no causes.

However, child abuse can have some really bad effects when the children grow up. According to a massive longitudinal study in Ontario, Canada, even a minimal level of child spanking increases his or her chances of suffering from chronic anxiety, serious depression, or of becoming addicted to alcohol or other drugs later in life.

Another essay on this site talks about a New Zealand study which found that one boy out of three has a genetic predisposition that can cause criminal and serious anti-social behavior later in adulthood among 85% of those children. But that predisposition is only triggered if the child is abused.

Finally, studies have shown that the effects of sexual abuse of children vary over extremely wide limits. Some children seem to be not affected at all; others are devastated by the experience.

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Evolution is false:

Incoming Email:

  1. "I believe that evolution is a false theory because they base their "knowledge" on theories that are never really 100% true.

  2. I believe that...God created us like we are today, the way He wanted us to look like not some genetic mutation."

Our response:

  1. It is true that scientists do not know the full truth. This is true of all branches of science, like astronomy, cosmology, geology, biology, etc. Within each field, there is a certain body of knowledge that is accepted as basically true and accurate. But there are always areas of debate on the cutting edges of science where speculation leads to new concepts which are tested and compared with reality. Most of these ideas fail; some become accepted as theories; some theories become accepted as laws. But at any one given time, each branch of science is not 100% true; it will contain some errors. Also, scientists must be always ready to reject a well-established theory if new evidence arrives which proves it to be false. Over time, the scientific method is self correcting and eventually leads to increasing accuracy.

    Some people are not satisfied with the degree of uncertainty within science. They seek certainty. This is what hundreds of different religions offer. Even within conservative Christianity, there are many, conflicting beliefs about the origin of the species and of the rest of the universe. They all differ. But their adherents are quite confident that their belief system is true, that science is wrong, and that all of the other religiously-based belief systems are false.

  2. There are alternative interpretations of the creation stories than the one that you suggest. One is that God created Adam and Eve as proto-humans, not as modern-day homo sapiens. They were more animal than they were human in that they had no moral sense...no concept of right and wrong. Eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, symbolizes their development of a moral sense; they took one step away from animals towards God. They became fully human. Thus, the story of Genesis and the Garden of Eden is a story of the moral advancement of humanity, not the fall of humanity.

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Who is a Christian? (revisited):

Incoming Email: "You classify groups like Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Unificationists as Christian. But to be a Christian denotes being disciples of Christ and  following his teachings and the above referenced groups definitely do not even closely adhere to the doctrines set forth by Christ..."

Our response: Please have a look at our essay on "What is a Christian."

bulletConsider a Mormon. He/she has been taught that Jesus founded the Christian Church, and that his followers deviated greatly from his teachings in the 1st and 2nd century CE. They believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reconstructed that original church and is the only true Christian church today.

bulletConsider a Jehovah's Witness. She/he has been taught that their denomination is the only true Christian faith group among all of the Christian faith groups.

bulletConsider a member of the Unification Church. He/she has been taught that theirs is the "true" church and that all of the other Christian denominations are, more or less, false.

bulletConsider a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. She/he believes that his denomination has the truth and that all of the other 1,000 or so faith groups that consider themselves to be Christian are in error to a greater or lesser degree.

In each case -- Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, Unification Church member, and Southern Baptist -- their faith group is led by thoughtful, intelligent, devout, caring, studious, prayerful, devoted individuals. Each believes their own faith group to have the truth. Each believes that God, in essence, is a member of their denomination, and that their leaders have interpreted the Bible correctly.

Our position is the same as that taken by many census offices in countries around the world, and by public opinion pollsters: if a person devoutly, seriously, prayerfully, and with conviction believes themselves to be a Christian, then we count them as a Christian. Needless to say, this position generates a lot of angry Emails.

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Tolerance and truth are incompatible:

Incoming Email: "Your home pages states:

'You, and I, and everyone else have two options:
bulletReligious tolerance --to accept the right of other people to freely follow religions that are strange to us, without hindrance, or

bulletTo continue living in a world saturated with religious intolerance. We will then experience more religiously-based wars, terrorism, and civil disturbances.'

Does the mean we are to ignore truth?"

Our response: Tolerance has no direct connection to truth. Imagine a situation where you are a conservative Christian and know that you follow the only true religion. Your neighbor is a Muslim, and he also knows that he has the truth. You allow the Muslim to freely follow his religion without hindrance. You still regard him as being in error. He continues to regard you as being in error. But you both agree to coexist in peace. Tolerance does not mean that you have to accept other people's beliefs as true, valid, moral, reasonable, or good. It just means that you do not oppress them because they want to follow another religion.

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The 9-11 terrorist attack:

Incoming Email: "Do you realize that one of the reason America was attacked was because the Islamic world sees our country primarily as a Christian nation (that in itself shows how little they know our country)?"

Our response: New York City and the Pentagon were not attacked because the Muslim world sees America as a Christian nation. The general Muslim world had nothing to do with the attack. The attack was perpetrated by about 20 terrorists, mostly from Saudi Arabia. Granted, those terrorists had logistical, theological and ideological support from the Al Queda network. But that network represents only a very small percentage of Muslims -- specifically radical, extremist, and violent fundamentalist Muslims.

There are about 1.7 billion Muslims in the world. Many are fundamentalists. But of them, only a very few are radical, extremists, terrorists. If any good is to come out from this tragic loss of life, it may be that liberal Muslims, moderate Muslims, and those fundamentalist Muslims who are not radical, extremist terrorists will become more vocal in promoting their own beliefs and publicly rejecting terrorism.

If there is any single root cause for the terrorist attack it is that the people in predominately Muslim countries are (with the exception of Turkey) living under dictatorships with limited freedoms, great poverty, and few economic opportunities. Many view America as their enemy because the U.S. supports these corrupt, oppressive regimes.

The latest poll shows that 76% of adult Americans consider themselves to be Christian. That is rather good proof that the U.S. can be correctly viewed as a primarily Christian nation. Even though:

bulletThe U.S. is the most religiously diverse nation on Earth.

bulletThe number of Christians is decreasing almost one percentage point a year.

bulletPersons who personally reject a religious affiliation are increasing in number over a half percentage point a year.

bulletSome small religions like Wicca are doubling in size every 30 months.

as of 2011, the U.S. remains a mainly Christian nation, and should be viewed as such.

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Site navigation: Home page > Comments > Questions > here

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Copyright 2002 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-SEP-24
Latest update: 2011-FEB-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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