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PART 4:

THOUGHT PROVOKING QUESTIONS THAT WE HAVE RECEIVED; WITH OUR RESPONSES

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Sponsored link.

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Interesting Emails discussed in this essay:

bulletAbortion in America is the greatest of all genocides.
bulletWhat religion should I follow?
bulletGod and the Bible are intolerant.
bulletAre you just a bunch of wackos?
bulletCan therapy change gays?
bulletYou have to stand for something or fall.
bulletYou know that God exists.
bulletGod says that abortion is murder, because life begins at conception.
bulletMore to come later.

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Abortion is the greatest genocide

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 during gestation.

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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 faiths.

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:

bulletJews 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.
bulletChristians 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.
bulletMuslims 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 truth.

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.

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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 wish.

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.

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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 religions.

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.

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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: http://www.newdirection.ca/research/shechter.htm 

Our response: Before discussing changes of this sort, one has to define carefully what is meant by "homosexual" and "heterosexual."

bulletSome 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.
bulletMedical 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 site.

The reference that you cite is a fairly typical one.

bulletAt puberty, he had a bisexual orientation, and was sexually active with women and perhaps with men.
bulletAt age 20, he continued to have a bisexual orientation. He was sexually active with a male lover.
bulletMore recently, he continues to have a bisexual orientation. He is sexually active with a female lover.
bulletIn 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:

bulletPeople can be only attracted to the opposite gender; they are heterosexual.
bulletOthers are only attracted to the same gender; they are are homosexuals
bulletBisexuals 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.

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You have to stand for something or fall.

Incoming Email: "Tolerance is being used here just like the Trojan Horse. You have to stand for something or fall."

Our response: The precise meaning of your comment is unclear. However, 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 do.

bulletWe 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. The 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.
bulletI 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 Buddhist. 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 world-wide phenomenon.

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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.

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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 physician, spiritual 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:

bulletThere appears to be no way to assess the will of God on theological, personal, and social matters:
bulletIt 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.
bulletThe 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.
bulletEven 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 matters.

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 prime cause.

In a perfect world:

bulletIf 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.
bulletIf 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.

But it 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 resolution.

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 weeks before conception. An ovum is also obviously alive well before conception.

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Copyright © 2002 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-NOV-10
Latest update: 2005-NOV-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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