THOUGHT PROVOKING QUESTIONS THAT WE HAVE RECEIVED; WITH OUR RESPONSES
Interesting Emails discussed in this essay:
Incoming Email: You are missing the most important mass murder in
your list of genocides: that of the murder of
over a million American children every year, and a larger number of murders
of children elsewhere in the world.
Our response: Abortion involves the systematic killing of human
embryos and fetuses.
If a human embryo or fetus is a human person, as most religious
conservatives believe, then abortion would be a massive genocide. However,
most Americans do not consider a fetus or an embryo in the early stages of
gestation to be a human being; just a potential human being.
Medical science now defines death of a human being as occurring when the
higher functions of the brain cease and cannot be restarted. My personal
belief is that it makes sense to define the time at which a human begins to
exist as occurring when the higher functions of the fetal brain start up for
the first time. That is, when the fetus becomes aware of itself, becomes
aware of its surroundings, can begin to think, can feel pain, etc. Medical
researchers who are not religious conservatives generally believe that this
happens at about 26 weeks gestation. My belief is that intentional
termination of pregnancy after that time constitutes murder, and should only
be justified under very unusual circumstances. But that is just my opinion.
I fully recognize that others in our group and other people in North America
believe that human personhood starts at conception or at some other time
What religion should I follow?
Incoming Email: I am a teenager who was brought up in an Islamic
country. I have been exposed to both Judaism and Christianity in recent
years. All teach different beliefs about God, Jesus, the afterlife, etc. I
believe that a creator God lives in heaven. I want to please him. But I am
confused about which religion I should follow. Please help me decide.
Our response: You feel confused now. But your background places you
in a really good position. You understand more about Judaism, Christianity
and Islam than do most people. This understanding should lead you to be
tolerant of, and to understand, the beliefs of people of those different
Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all Abrahamic faiths, in that they
revere the patriarch Abraham. The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) are
respected by all three. But they also differ:
|Jews are still expecting the arrival of their Messiah. They believe
that God is a single entity. They feel that the Torah -- the first five
books of the Bible -- is adequate to inspire people to lead a good life.|
|Christians believe that Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) is the
Messiah, is God, is part of the Trinity, and has left us with the
Christian Scriptures (New Testament) which is sufficient to help people
lead a good life.|
|Muslims believe that Yeshua is one of the great Prophets, but is not
God. They believe that Muhammad is the greatest of all of the prophets,
and that he left us with the Qur'an which is all that people need to lead
a good life that honors God.|
According to one source, there are 16
additional large religions in the world. And the 19 major religions have a
total of 270 denominations or traditions. All teach different things.
In most cases, a person who follows a denomination or tradition believes
that their faith group is the only true one, that all the other 269 are
false, at least to some degree. Quite often they believe that God is, in
essence, a member of their denomination, and that their God will give them
preferential treatment after death. They often feel that the other 269
traditions were created by humans and are not inspired by God.
My personal belief is that all 270 of the world's faith groups are created
by humans in order to try to understand the nature of deity, humanity and
the rest of the universe. Each faith group has their own concept of the
Almost all religions can motivate people to lead better lives. But some
traditions within some religions motivate people to do evil deeds. For
example, Serbian Orthodox Christians committed massive genocide during the
1990s against Muslims. Muslims in the Sudan are committing massive genocide
there against Christian and Animists. Muslims and Hindus are fighting in
Kashmir. Hindus and Buddhists were fighting in Sri Lanka until a peace
agreement was recently signed.
My feeling is that if a person is unsure what religion that they should
follow, they should investigate different religions and pick one that they
feel comfortable with. But they should be aware that all religions,
including the one that they select, have an evil side. They should work
within their religion to promote peace, spirituality, understanding and
tolerance. They should work to rid their chosen religion from such evils as
racism, religious intolerance, sexism and homophobia.
God and the Bible are intolerant:
Incoming Email: Show me in the Bible where it
says to tolerate other religions. God said drive out other religions,
because when you live with them they will pull you away from HIM.
Our response: I'm glad that you asked. We have an essay on that
very topic at
http://religioustolerance.org/tol_bibl.htm We also have another
essay on intolerance in the Bible at
http://religioustolerance.org/intol_bibl.htm which is MUCH longer.
You have put your finger on the main problem with the world today. Some
Christians feel that it is their duty to wipe out non-Christians and their
religions. Some Muslims feel that it is their duty to wipe out non-Muslims
and their religions. Some Hindus feel the same way. Some Protestants and
Roman Catholics feel the same way towards each other. And so on, for many of
the world's approximately 300 major faith groups. The result is chaos, mass
killing and even genocide. Consider the past situation between Jews, Muslims
and Christians in Lebanon. Consider the past conflict between Serbian
Orthodox, Muslims and Roman Catholics in Bosnia. Consider Northern Ireland,
Cyprus, Kosovo, Macedonia, Sudan, Israel, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan,
Philippines, etc. These are all countries with segments of their population
believing that their religion is the only faith that is of God, and that all
other religions are to be suppressed.
We feel that the only way for the world to avoid complete disaster is
through religious tolerance. We define religious tolerance as existing when
persons of all spiritual and religious paths are able to follow their own
faiths freely, without discrimination and oppression. This does not mean
that you have to accept other religions as valid, correct or true. You
merely have to accept that other people have a right to believe as they
You may well define the term "religious tolerance" differently
from us. That is another problem with religion in the world: people often
assign very different meanings to common religious words.
Are you just a bunch of wackos?
Incoming Email: Are any of you people actually
Christians or just a bunch of wackos trying to please everyone?
Our response: It sounds like you are harboring a lot of hatred and
anger against us. That may well be bad for your health generally, and for
your heart in particular.
We are a group of five people, an Agnostic, Atheist, Christian, Wiccan and
Zen Buddhist. Obviously, we agree on almost no theological beliefs. But we
share a concern for the future of the world. We feel that the future looks
rather bleak until people learn to coexist with followers of other
We do not try to please everyone. In fact, our policy is to explain all
sides to each question. This means that we describe controversial questions
including abortion, homosexuality, the virgin birth, the resurrection, and
many other topics from the viewpoint of religious conservatives, religious
liberals and even the beliefs of 1st and 2nd century Christians. This means
that whatever your faith, you will be certain to see material on our web
site that you disagree with. We are trying to educate everyone; to please
everyone is impossible.
Can therapy change gays?
Incoming Email: In one of your essays, you write: "No therapy has
succeeded." But homosexuals can change and become heterosexual. A testimony of one such person is online at:
Our response: Before discussing changes of this sort, one has to define carefully what is meant by "homosexual"
|Some groups and individuals define "homosexual" as a person who has
engaged in sexual behavior with member(s) of the same gender in the recent
past. A "heterosexual" is a person who is not a homosexual.|
|Medical researchers, gays, lesbians, bisexual, religious liberals,
mental health professionals generally define "homosexual" in terms of
sexual orientation. A homosexual is a person who is sexually attracted
only to members of the same gender.|
The first definition describes homosexuals in terms of what they do; the
latter in terms of what they are. We use the latter definition in our web
The reference that you cite is a fairly typical one.
|At puberty, he had a bisexual orientation, and was sexually active with
women and perhaps with men.|
|At age 20, he continued to have a bisexual orientation. He was sexually
active with a male lover.|
|More recently, he continues to have a bisexual orientation. He is sexually
active with a female lover.|
|In all probability, he will be a bisexual until his death.|
Many people seem programmed to expect only two possibilities: abortion is
moral or immoral; a person is either male or female; a person has either a
homosexual or heterosexual sexual orientation. But life is not that simple.
Many people believe that an abortion is moral under some circumstances, but
is not a moral choice under others. Intersexual people exist -- persons who
are not obviously male or female. Finally, there are not two sexual
orientations, there are three:
|People can be only attracted to the
opposite gender; they are heterosexual.|
|Others are only attracted to the same
gender; they are are homosexuals|
|Bisexuals also exist; they are attracted to both
men and women.|
There are many testimonies on conservative Christian web sites that seem
to indicate that a person has changed from homosexual to heterosexual. But
it appears that all or almost all are bisexuals.
You have to stand for something or fall.
Incoming Email: "Tolerance is being used here just like the Trojan Horse. You have to
for something or fall."
Our response: The precise meaning of your comment is unclear.
I think that your concern is based on the precise definition of "religious tolerance."
You seem to assign a different meaning to this term than
|We define "religious intolerance" as discriminating or oppressing people on
the basis of their religion. This happens all over the world. The Muslim
government in the Sudan has been accused of literally crucifying some Christians.
Serbian Orthodox Christians in Bosnia were guilty of genocide against the
Muslims. These are particularly evil examples of religious intolerance. The
ultimate manifestation of religious intolerance is
9-11 where radical,
extremist, Fundamentalist Muslim terrorists killed thousands.
Religious tolerance is the state of
allowing persons of all religions to follow their faith tradition without
discrimination or oppression. Two examples, although
with some imperfections, are the U.S. and Canada.|
|I suspect that you define religious tolerance as accepting all of the
religious belief systems in the world as equally true. This is called
pluralism by most people, not religious tolerance.
We have noted that
conservative Protestants often assign a different definition to commonly
used words than others do. This makes dialog very difficult.
You said that we "have to stand for something or fall." You seem
to be implying that the staff at this web site have no firm religious beliefs.
In our group, we have five individuals with very strongly held beliefs: an Agnostic, Atheist, Christian, Wiccan and Zen
We differ on almost everything theologically. We have diverse beliefs about
the origins of the world, its life forms and the rest of the universe; about
the existence of God or deities; about when abortions should be legal; about
the nature and cause of homosexuality; and about dozens of other topics. But
are united in our drive to promote religious tolerance.
Perhaps we are biased. But we see the 21st century as a time of conflict
over religious tolerance on a national and international level. If religious
intolerance wins out, then we will see what has happened in Northern
Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Cyprus, Nigeria, Sudan, Middle East,
Iraq/Iran, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, etc. expanded to a
You know that God exists.
Incoming Email: "You know in your heart that God Is. Ask for
his help while there is still time."
Our response: Actually, I am an Agnostic, and thus
have been unable to decide about the existence of God. I
have been an Agnostic for over five decades and have invested a great deal
of effort in the study of God's existence or non-existence. Others in this
group are an Atheist,
Christian, Wiccan and
Zen Buddhist. Two have no belief in God; one believes in a Trinity; one
believes in a God and a Goddess. All five of us hold these beliefs firmly.
To say that I know that God exists would be equivalent to me saying that you
know that Krishna exists. Such a statement would denigrate your beliefs. It
would show a lack of respect for another person's deeply held beliefs.
I understand that your personal belief in the Judeo-Christian God is
strong and unshakable. However, please try to understand that there are
citizens in your country who believe in other deities, or in none. The U.S.
is the most religiously diverse country in the world. If you continue to
believe that everyone visualizes a supreme being identical to your own, then
you will have increasing difficulty functioning with the culture's
increasing religious diversity.
God says that abortion is murder, because life
begins at conception.
Incoming Email: "If we use God's standard, life begins at
conception, period. Thus, abortion is murder."
Our response: First, we have to define the key question. I suggest
that it is: under what conditions should the state step in and veto an
abortion decision that a woman has reached, perhaps with the support of her
advisor, family and friends. Whose standard do we use?
Your belief about the start of life is very common and shared by tens of
millions of Americans.
There are a number of problems with it, however:
|There appears to be no way to assess the will of God on theological,
personal, and social matters:|
|It seems that a person cannot assess the will of God through prayer
on any topic, as we found out in a pilot study. If we could assess the will of
God through prayer, society would be very different. A lot of conflicts,
whether about abortion access,
equal rights for gays and lesbians, whether
spanking children is a good or bad method of
discipline, whether infant baptism is OK, and a few hundred other
disputes would evaporate.|
|The Bible does not seem to give a clear indication about
the ethics of abortion access. A couple of passages seem to clearly say
that abortion is OK. Other passages -- particularly if you interpret
them in different ways -- seem to say the opposite. |
|Even if we could assess the will of the Judeo-Christian God, there is
still the problem that the Trinity is only one deity concept among many
thousands of Gods and Goddesses that humans have worshipped down through
the ages. These deities are mostly silent on abortion; a few give contrasting opinions about abortion access.
It is not clear which one of the thousands of deities, if any, is the "true" God.|
The problem is that many people believe that their own faith tradition,
whether it is Southern Baptist, Roman Catholic, Humanist, United Church, or
any one of tens of thousands of others, is
the only "true" religion and that their God (and/or Gods, Goddess,
Goddesses) are the only "true" deities. They view the other thousands of
religions in the world with their deity concepts as being false, and based
on man-made scribblings. Unfortunately, religions teach very different "truths." Thus
there will always be major conflicts among different faith traditions over
theological, moral, social, personal and other
Incidentally, the beliefs about one's own faith tradition
being the only "true" religion is precisely the cause of
Protestant-Roman Catholic conflict in Northern Ireland, Christian-Muslim
conflict in the Sudan, Bosnia, East Timor, etc, and other inter and
intra-religious disputes. If World War III erupts over
Iraq, and if terrorism continues at a high level, then the conflict among different faith traditions will be the
In a perfect world:
|If some deity existed, everyone would be able to
assess the will of that deity. Then, all religions would teach the same
beliefs and there would be little conflict. |
|If no deity existed, then people
would realize that religions are merely human constructs. They would realize that there is
little reason to die for one's religion or to attack other religions. |
is not a perfect world. Somehow we have to struggle with differences in
beliefs over abortion and hundreds of other topics, and find some sort of
On another matter, you say that God's standard is that "life begins at conception, period." I
would disagree with that point. Spermatozoa are obviously alive for many
conception. An ovum is also obviously alive well before conception.
Copyright © 2002 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2002-NOV-10
Latest update: 2005-NOV-04
Author: B.A. Robinson