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Thought provoking questions that
we have received, with our responses

Part 9:

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This topic continues from the previous essay

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Interesting Emails discussed in this essay:

bullet You know that God exists.

bullet God says that abortion is murder, because life begins at conception.

bullet How can you advertise spell kits on your web site?

bullet Does religion cause conflict or bring people together?

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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 no solid belief or unbelief in a deity. I have been an Agnostic for over six decades and have invested a great deal of effort in the study of the "proofs" that others have written about God's existence or non-existence. Perhaps because of my university training in physics, I have never found any of these "proofs" convincing. There are four others in this group: 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.

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 abortion 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."

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:

bullet There appears to be no way to assess the will of God on theological, personal, and social matters:

bullet We conducted a pilot study that seems to show that a person cannot assess the will of God through prayer. 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, same-sex marriage, whether spanking children is a good or bad method of discipline, whether infant baptism is appropriate, and a few hundred other disputes would evaporate.

bullet 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 seem to say the opposite. A lot depends on how one interprets the Bible.
bullet 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 conflicting opinions about abortion access. It is not clear which one of the thousands of deities, if any, is the "true" God.

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 as false the other thousands of religions in the world with their various concepts of deity concepts. Unfortunately, religions of the world teach very different "truths." Thus, as long as the deities remain unapproachable, 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 the past 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 eventually erupts over Middle East conflicts, and if terrorism continues at a high level, then the conflict among different faith traditions will be the prime cause.

In a perfect world either:

bullet Some deity would exist who establishes open communication with humanity. 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.

bullet No deity exists, 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 people who follow 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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How can you advertise spell kits on your web site?

Incoming Email: "How can you place such things on a spiritual site such as SPELL KITS? You will burn in Hell for what you are doing . It clearly states in the bible who will become a heretic and so teach the little one -- he is damned and its best that he kills himself before God's anger gets onto him."

Our response: The short answer is that we don't put these ads on our web site. What we do is to include banner ads supplied by Google and we have no control over their selection. This allows anyone to put their ad on our web site and on many other web sites. Somebody, somewhere in the world, decided to sell spell kits. They decided to place their ad on our web site.

Google reflects the same philosophy as the Internet itself. It allows complete freedom of speech -- something that we have great respect for. To prohibit spell kits would be a form of censorship of religious or spiritual activity of which we do not approve. We disagree with censorship.

We respect your view that God sends the vast majority of the human race to Hell to be eternally tortured. However, none of the five staff members in our inter-faith group share your beliefs. We also do not share your advocacy of suicide for persons who deviate from your religious beliefs. However, we feel that you should have full freedom to promote your beliefs. I hope that you will return the favor by giving others the opportunity to promote their beliefs.

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Does religion cause conflict or bring people together?

Incoming Email: "Does religion cause conflict or bring people together?"

Our response: The short answer, in my opinion, is that It does both. Organized religion both causes conflicts and adds to social cohesion. This question has been bugging me for over fifty years now: whether organized religion, on the whole, has had a positive or negative influence on society.

bullet It certainly gives a feeling of security and hope to people; it inspires people to do good deeds in order to meet what they perceive as God's expectations. Organized religion inspires billions of people to lead better, more spiritual lives than they would otherwise do. Some of the world's most highly regarded people were motivated by their religious faith. Albert Schweitzer and Martin Luther King, Jr. come immediately to mind.

bullet However, religion is also a prime cause for pain, inter-personal strife, assault, murder, mass murder and genocide. We have a section of our web site which lists some of the genocides committed in recent centuries. Almost all have a religious component. We also have essay about why religions can inspire so much evil.

My personal point of view is that there are three ways to increase religions' positive contributions and to decrease their negative contributions to society. However, they would all be difficult to implement:

  1. Religious groups might give greater emphasis to their Ethic of Reciprocity. This is the belief that people should treat others humanely and decently. In Christianity, the Ethic is usually referred to as the Golden Rule. Some faith groups over-emphasize a believer's responsibility to their God and do not sufficiently stress their responsibility towards fellow humans. Other religious groups interpret their Ethic of Reciprocity to apply mainly to the treatment of one's fellow believers. These religions need to stress decent treatment of all humans, including persons of other faiths. I hope that, in time, governments and believers will begin to pressure religious groups to do this.

  2. Religious groups might allow and even encourage doubt among their followers. Most of the evils done in the name of religion are linked to the "tyranny of the absolute" That is, people believing the absolute, unquestioned and complete truth of their belief systems, and the absolute error of all other faiths. This will be very difficult for religions to implement, because faith groups have tended to place great emphasis on the precision and accuracy of their own beliefs, and thus the lack of validity of other religions' beliefs. A good place to begin would be for each faith group to teach its adherents the history of its teachings over time.

  3. Faith groups need to develop techniques that will help them accommodate more rapid change to their belief systems. Many religious groups have resisted change in the past, and held back progress. For example, secular and some religious denominations promoted the abolition of slavery in the mid 19th century while other faith groups justified the maintenance of slavery on religious grounds with quotations from the Bible. Foot dragging by so many denominations over period of decades caused levels of pain and misery that are impossible to estimate. Today, some sexist and homophobic religious groups actively campaign for government legislation and their own internal regulations that oppress women and members of the LGBT community. Again, this is creating untold anguish among the victims that they have targeted. All trends seem to be pointing towards a future society in which there will be "liberty and justice for all" where "all" refers to persons of all races, genders, sexual orientations, gender identities, ages, degrees of ability, etc. Religious groups which resist these trends are causing unjustifiable pain.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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Copyright © 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-JAN-27
Latest update: 2014-OCT-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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