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Thought provoking questions that
we have received, with our responses

Part 5:

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This topic continues from the previous essay

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Interesting Emails discussed in this essay:

bulletThis web site 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

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This web site 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 major religions -- Animism, Christianity, and Islam -- mutilate their female 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 web site, 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 some religious groups in America which regard themselves as holding the fullness of Christian truth. They regard all other denominations as un-Christian, sub-Christian or even anti-Christian. Some conclude that fewer than 0.1% of American adults are true Christians. At the other extreme, there are public opinion pollsters who accept as Christian anyone who identifies themselves as a Christian. They conclude that about 76% of American adults are Christian.

The LDS Church, commonly referred to as Mormons, believe that when the apostles died, the leadership within the various Christian groups started to deviate significantly from the original teachings of Jesus and the apostles. This continued until 1830 when Joseph Smith founded the Mormon Church and taught what he believed to be these original teachings. Members of the LDS Church regard their denomination to be the only group in the world today that teaches the fullness of Christian truth. They believe that all other denominations are in error.

When we started our web site, 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 believe 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.

We do acknowledge that most North Americans and North American groups have a less inclusive definition of "Christian."

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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:

bullet Actually, we 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 naturalistic evolution, that species of life on earth evolved from a single common ancestor to the millions of species today without guidance from God.

  • Another is theistic evolution, that evolution of the species happened under the guidance and control of God.

  • A third is based on one literal interpretation of the Biblical creation stories in the biblical book of Genesis. There are multiple interpretations that result in very different interpretations. There are also on the order of 500 additional religiously-based creation stories taught by other religions. All of them 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 scientific theories 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 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. about 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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This topic continues in the next essay

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Copyright 2002 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-SEP-24
Latest update: 2014-OCT-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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