A Biblical Challenge
During a conversation with a Christian at our outreach booth in Steinbach, I cited Numbers 31 (in particular verses 7-11 and 17-18) as an example of Yahweh’s cruelty in the Old Testament. She informed me that the pastor at her church had explained away all the concerns about that chapter in a recent sermon. When I challenged her to help me understand the context in which such passages could be considered worthy of a loving god, she declined, stating that she could not remember the details of his sermon but that I should watch it on the church’s website and learn for myself.
So I did. It’s Sermon #5 of a series by Pastor Kris Duerksen of Southland Church in Steinbach, addressing “tough questions” in the Old Testament. I listened to all of it, and then the first section of Sermon #6. The Bible passages examined in this series of sermons used to be largely ignored by Christian churches, but that’s no longer possible because they are now being posted and discussed all over the internet.
In the introductions to these two sermons, Duerksen stated that certain Bible passages have become the subjects of “attacks on our faith” from people outside the church, and also, increasingly, the topics of struggles with their faith expressed by those inside the church. He mentioned that “if you look online you’ll find all kinds of stuff…”, and acknowledged that much of the OT is “disturbing”, but that non-believers are “taking it out of context”. He and other members of his congregation have heard people claim that the god of the Old Testament is genocidal, cruel, and misogynistic. (I wonder where they heard that?) He expressed the hope that after this sermon series, members of his church will have “total confidence” that their god is a good god, “even if it doesn’t convince an atheist”. Methinks Christians are becoming a little defensive.
Here are a few of the highlights of what I heard. My comments follow in italics. But it’s worth listening for yourself and forming your own judgements.
June 4th 2017 – Is the God of the Old Testament Genocidal?
Yup, it sure is. That’s why he’s now in the position of having to defend this horrible book.
He then stated “The OT does not in any way promote slavery.”
“…probably the most offensive passage in the entire OT… (is) Numbers chapter 31. I personally know of someone who has actually left the faith, and blamed Numbers 31.”
I would actually argue that Numbers 31 is only one of many offensive passages in the OT. How about the story of Jeptha’s daughter (Judges 11:29-40)? But OK, Numbers 31 is right up there.
Duerksen continued “God authored this book through his holy spirit and he wasn’t embarrassed to have these things in there…”. Then he began his defence, stating “there is no one-line answer for a passage like this… It is a piece of a much bigger story… If you take a piece out of the middle of a story, you can make it say anything you want.” He illustrated that with a humorous but irrelevant example, and then asked his audience to look at the arc of the storyline. “The main character is God – what’s his goal?”
The context of this story, according to Duerksen, is not just the chapter or the Book of Numbers, but the entire Bible. The story arc begins in Genesis 12 with God’s covenant with Abraham. Duerksen asserted that God created the nation of Israel because he wanted to bless and save all the families of the earth, and God’s promise including granting the Israelites the land of Canaan, so it had to be cleared to make way for them. He continued with “Through the nation of Israel will come Jesus, who will save all the people of the earth who accept his name.” He stated that “God is absolutely determined to make this promise come true.” Then he jumped ahead to the conclusion of the story in Revelation 7:9-10, with people from all nations standing before the Lord. Promise fulfilled. So obviously God loves every ethnic group and is committed to saving and blessing them.
Now that I see the context in which apologists view this story, it does make more sense to me. But that doesn’t make it any less violent or cruel. Duerksen is using the excuse that the end justifies the means. Really? That defence has been used by a lot of ambitious, ruthless, tyrants… like Yahweh. Who cares how many people you harm or kill in your quest for power and control? As long as you achieve your goal in the end, they are just ‘collateral damage’.
The thing is, the massacre described in Numbers 31 has nothing to do with God needing to clear the land of Canaan for the Israelites. Midian isn’t even part of Canaan. The bloodbath in this chapter is the result of Yahweh’s petty grievance against the Midianites described in Numbers 25. So Duerksen is creating a red herring in this sermon, directing his parishioners away from the real cause of the genocide.
Other troubling issues – Duerksen excuses the genocide of the Canaanites in the OT because at the end, in Revelation, they will be rewarded in the next life. As if their lives on this earth didn’t really matter – that’s sick. And did you catch that Jesus will save only those who accept his name? That sure leaves a lot of people out – not just those who reject him, but those who never heard of him and those who died before he arrived on earth.
Duerksen went on to explain the circumstances surrounding the genocide of the Canaanites. He claimed that Yahweh’s goal was to drive them out, not exterminate them. His goal was merely the destruction of their culture. According to Duerksen, none of the Canaanites actually had to leave – as long as they forsook their “debauched”, “demonic” gods.
Wow – assimilate or die. Forced religious conversion. That’s been tried a few times before. In fact, it’s well-documented here in North America. How well did Canada’s Indian residential schools work out?
The reason god did such big miracles/plagues in Egypt was so that the Canaanites would hear about him and either turn to him and recognize him as god, or be afraid and leave without fighting.
That’s just egotistical posturing. I’m not impressed. And anyway, why would an omnipotent, loving god need to resort to that?
The Israelites didn’t battle everybody and anybody. Yahweh just needed a parcel of land, not an empire. There were 7 specific nations (all Canaanite tribes) that God said they were supposed to conquer. (Deuteronomy 7:1) “They were never given a blank check – go and fight any nation you see.”
Oh, well – that makes it OK then. Those people were expendable. What’s a few children or families one way or another in the grand scheme of things?
God told the Israelites to make no covenant and show no mercy. The Canaanite culture had to be destroyed because it had become “utterly grotesque and vile”; they worshipped the demonic god Molech, and practiced child torture and sacrifice. “God wouldn’t tolerate it.” Duerksen then mentioned that Leviticus 18 lists other bad cultural practices that God doesn’t like.
Not that I’m condoning child sacrifice, but it was practiced in numerous other ancient cultures, and to the best of our knowledge, Yahweh didn’t intervene. Of course, he was only interested in that little parcel of land in the Middle East. I guess he didn’t care about those ‘other’ children. But hey, there’s plenty of other child abuse in the Bible, most of it endorsed or even commanded by Yahweh.
And Leviticus 18, with all those ‘bad cultural practices’ that God hates? They’re all about sex. How does that relate to today’s sermon topic? Why didn’t Duerksen cite some of God’s other dislikes, for example shellfish (Leviticus 11:9-12), or clothes made from mixed fibers (Leviticus 19:19)? Do we still need to observe those rules, too?
“Even with the Canaanites, god has always been merciful and patient and good.”… “God gave them a long time – until Canaanite culture became so corrupt that nothing else could be done.” Then Duerksen asked: What about cultural tolerance? “Us Canadians are already OK with them killing 100,000 babies a year. So we’re already big on ‘just be nice’, and let people do whatever they wanna do.” Maybe the Canaanites could’ve just moved next door and the Israelites could have tolerated them.
Whaddya mean, nothing could be done? Couldn’t an all-powerful God have helped the people without exterminating them? And how did a discussion of multiculturalism and tolerance suddenly become about abortion???
Moreover, if the Canaanites were really so bad that nothing could be done, the command to kill everyone might make sense – but then the instruction in verse 18 to the soldiers to keep all the virgins (or young women) for themselves would not. How could little baby boys be more corrupt than teenage girls? And what would the Israelites do with all those girls anyway? The implication is pretty obvious, and yet Duerksen never even mentioned this verse in his sermon.
“You will never solve things like terrorism with good legislation or wise behavior, because behind it are demonic principalities.”… “The reason there is evil in this world is not just because people are bad, it’s because there are powerful forces of evil at work.” Duerksen believes that Satan is trying to enslave mankind. He said that the reason Yahweh has to be so extreme is because Satan is working against him, trying to thwart his plan of salvation.
Duerksen concluded by claiming that we’ve lost our perspective on sin. “Niceness has become our god in Canada… We are not, at base, nice; we are, at base, wicked, and in desperately need of a savior.”
The only terrorist in this story is God – the entity Duerksen is defending! He’s justifying violence, terrorism, and genocide. My take home messages from this sermon –
- The end justifies the means.
- Cultural genocide is OK.
- It’s OK to kill people who don’t believe as you do.
- Invisible evil lurks everywhere, like a monster in the closet.
- We’re all wicked and broken.
June 11th 2017 – Does God Hate Women?
In the first 18 minutes of this sermon, Pastor Duerksen launched into a defense of Exodus 21, which discusses “the laws for selling your daughters as slaves”.
He began by noting that the passage was written in vastly different time and culture, and that one can’t look at in light of society in Canada in 2017. He went on to state that “slavery” as discussed here doesn’t really mean slavery the way we define it today; rather it meant voluntary, indentured servitude, and it was beneficial to those who were not able to provide for themselves. Further, he explained that the girl in this chapter was really being sold as a wife, not a slave; which was OK in that society because women couldn’t support themselves, and couldn’t own land, so their Dads need to marry them off to ensure that they were protected and cared for.
It seems that the people who claim that OT passages can’t be interpreted in 21st century terms are the same ones who claim that God’s word in other passages (like Leviticus 20:13) is immortal and unchanging. Sorry, one can’t have it both ways.
It’s pretty clear from other passages in the Bible that slavery wasn’t just ‘indentured servitude’. And why is it OK to sell your daughter as long as it’s only as a wife, not a slave? Couldn’t Yahweh have just acted to improve the status of women, instead of allowing them to be bought and sold?
Duerksen clarified that of course, this was not an ideal society; that “the system was broken” because of original sin. God was “forced” to work within the broken system, by introducing these laws to protect women. One of them, as he described it, was that “once you’ve paid for a woman”, if you don’t respect and provide for her, she may return home to her father and you will not get your money back (v 11). But it was the culture that treated women harshly, not god – and god therefore had to create laws to protect them within that culture.
Pastor Duerksen justifies the deplorable conditions of life and the treatment of women in Biblical times by claiming that society is ‘broken’ due to original sin. But is it fair for people to be punished for the sins of their ancestors? The Bible itself cannot even decide. Furthermore, if this were true, then society would still be broken – and yet for most of the world, conditions have improved significantly.
And even if a society was ‘broken’ and imperfect, why should that prevent God from healing or improving it? Why should an all-powerful, omnipotent deity be ‘forced’ to work within a broken system? (How could he be ‘forced’ to do anything?) Why couldn’t he just set things right?
The next portion of Duerksen’s sermon went on to discuss rape, as described in Deuteronomy 22. But I quit.
These two excerpts from this series of sermons don’t even begin to unpack all the evils of the OT. For example, the rest of Exodus 21 covers the rules for owning slaves and how to beat them. There was more about slavery in Sermon #2 if you want to hear Pastor Duerksen try to make his case for it. I might listen… but then again I might not. I’ve heard enough, and I’ve already read the entire Bible. (My notes about that experience are here.)
So much for a just and merciful god. There is just no end to the mental gymnastics that apologists will resort to in order to defend the indefensible. And it’s easy for pastors to get away with making misleading claims when they never allow themselves to be directly challenged. Sermons never include a Q and A, and the church’s website doesn’t allow online comments. I wonder why?
– Dorothy Stephens
June HAAM Events
HAAM and Eggs Breakfast
Sunday, June 4th, Smitty’s Restaurant, 580 Pembina Hwy (at Grant), 8:30 AM. Note the change of time.
Outreach at the Summer in the City Festival
Friday June 16th to Sunday June 18th, Steinbach, Manitoba.
Summer Solstice Party and BBQ
Saturday, June 24th, 5:30 PM, Assiniboine Park
There are MORE HAAM events coming up later this summer! See them all on our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar.
You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.
June Community (non-HAAM) Events
Winnipeg Pride Parade
Sunday June 4th Both the time (11 AM) and the route have changed this year.
For details on this and MORE upcoming community events this summer, visit our new Community Events page.
Coming this August – An Evening with Richard Carrier
Author and historian Richard Carrier will be touring Canada this summer, and HAAM is very excited to be hosting an evening with him on Saturday August 19th.
Richard has a Ph.D. in the history of philosophy from Columbia University, and is a published philosopher and historian, specializing in contemporary philosophy of naturalism, and in Greco-Roman philosophy, science, and religion, and the origins of Christianity. He blogs regularly, lectures for community groups worldwide, and teaches courses online. He is the author of many books including Sense and Goodness without God, On the Historicity of Jesus, Why I Am Not a Christian, Not the Impossible Faith, and Proving History, as well as chapters in several anthologies and articles in academic journals. For more about Dr. Carrier and his work see www.richardcarrier.info
Richard will be speaking to us on the topic Did Christianity Really Begin without a Jesus? At the Intersection of Skepticism and History. If you’ve heard or read his work before, you already know that Richard is not convinced that there ever was an actual historical person named Jesus. The whole of Christianity could be based on nothing more than myth! Come and hear him explain his position and ask questions about it.
If you want to check out some of Richard’s work before meeting him in person, you can borrow his book Sense and Goodness Without God from our HAAM library, or watch one of his many videos on YouTube.
This event is still in the planning stage. Further details will be announced as they are finalized. Check the event post on our website for updates.
Meet Another Humanist!
Pamela Johnson is the latest to add her profile to our Meet the Humanist web page. If you’ve been to one of our regular meetings, you’ll be familiar with the beautiful teapot that she painted for us.
The Meet the Humanist page is our opportunity to let the world know that non-believers are just regular people, and to let closeted atheists know that they are not alone. We’re always looking for more people to add their stories. (You can remain anonymous if you wish.) Contact us if you’d like to share your story.
Atheism in Canada Has a History? Who Knew?
I had the pleasure of driving out to Morden last week to hear Peter Cantelon and his Diversitas group host, as usual, another excellent talk. This month’s presentation was given by the University of Manitoba’s Dr. Elliot Hanowski on the history of non-belief in Canada. This was a very eye-opening and informative evening; I was taken aback by the incredibly rich and vibrant history of Canadian and Manitoban secular, atheist, and Humanist groups. It is a part of Canadian culture that I, and many others, are sorely unaware of!
Dr. Hanowski whisked us though the early history of non-belief, beginning with Greece, Rome, and the Middle Ages, but the main focus of his talk essentially began at the beginning of the Enlightenment Era. We learned about such famous figures as Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, and Denis Diderot. Of course the bulk of the time was spent addressing the title topic – non-belief in Canada. What I also found interesting was to learn that so many non-believers were at the vanguard of social changes like the liberalization of the abortion and contraception laws, and the introduction of universal healthcare.
Dr. Hanowski described the large migration of non-religious settlers to BC and the long history of secular/freethought groups in early and modern Quebec. In one nineteenth century case, the wife of a secularist and Catholic Church critic asked to have her husband buried in the graveyard of a local Catholic church. It took five years and multiple court cases, but in the end she won, and was allowed to bury him in the church yard. In attendance at the funeral were some 2500 British soldiers and police, to prevent a near riot! The church members were later able to make themselves feel better by having the bishop come out and de-consecrate the small bit of ground where the heretic was buried.
In Manitoba, we heard about early twentieth-century secular movements such as the Rationalist Society, and Winnipegger Marshall J. Gauvin, who would attend priests’ sermons one week then critique them the next. He routinely had 300-600 people attend his lectures, and once debated a fundamentalist preacher to an audience of 3000.
Dr. Hanowski is a member of ISHASH (The International Society for Historians of Atheism, Secularism, and Humanism). This organization is a collection of academics dedicated to learning more about the history of us – the non-believers, Humanists, atheists, and freethinkers.
I have just barely touched on Dr. Hanowski’s entertaining and enlightening talk here, and there’s a reason for that. If you missed it, have no fear. Details still need to be worked out, but Dr. Hanowski has agreed to join us for an evening in the fall. So keep your eyes open and your calendars clear as our new meeting season picks up again in September.
You won’t want to miss this one! – Pat Morrow
We’re Gearing Up for Summer Outreach
June marks the beginning of our summer outreach season. We’re all looking forward to Steinbach’s Summer in the City Festival, and we have will have a new banner at the booth to promote Humanism.
Last year was a challenging outreach, and this year we expect more of the same. But this time we will have help from some of the newly-formed Eastman Humanist Community. A few of their intrepid members will join us at the booth talking with believers and non-believers alike.
Summer in the City promises some great entertainment, with Tom Cochrane on the main stage Saturday evening. But Sunday’s performances will feature entirely Christian artists, since ‘Worship in the City’ will now become an all-day event.
Any way you slice it, this is going to be an interesting weekend! So please join us! If you’re a HAAM member, please consider helping out at the booth. Everyone who attends the festival is welcome to just pop by for a visit and say Hi.
See you out there!
Most of us read a lot of depressing news these days about issues that matter to us as Humanists. Do you get discouraged, or even avoid the news, because you feel like there’s nothing you can do about it?
Sometimes there are actions we can take, however small, to make our voices heard. Usually these involve writing to politicians or signing petitions. Please take the few minutes to make your opinion count!
Please help us stop government funding of anti-choice groups. Here is a sample letter that you can send to Manitoba government Ministers and the Leader of the Opposition. Opinion aside, it just doesn’t make sense for governments to fund organizations that oppose legal services. Let’s make our voices heard!
Update on Canada’s Blasphemy Law
The map below shows countries that still had penalties for blasphemy in 2016 (click to enlarge). Shamefully, Canada is still on the list.
A recent Call to Action asked HAAM supporters to write to their MP’s demanding the repeal of Canada’s outdated blasphemy law. A number of us did. Here is the response one of our members received from her MP:
Thank you for writing to me about Bill C-39 and changes to blasphemy laws. I apologize for the delay in my response.
As you know, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, is currently in the process of reforming our justice system to make it more fair, relevant and accessible. This reform involves modernizing the Criminal Code. Given that the last broad review of the criminal justice system occurred in the 1980s, an in-depth examination of how the system is currently working will assist in identifying gaps to ensure a comprehensive and modern justice system. To fulfil this commitment, the Minister is undertaking a program of consultation and engagement with stakeholders through a series of regional roundtables across the country.
While Bill C-39 does not touch on blasphemy laws specifically, I would like to note that the Minister has referred to Bill C-39 as a first step in a larger review that will span her entire mandate. To that end, the Minister continues to act on her mandate to review our criminal justice system in a comprehensive way.
Thank you again for writing to me about changes to blasphemy laws. If you have any further questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me again.
It’s not exactly a promise, but at least it’s an acknowledgement. Maybe it’s a start. At least her letter put the issue on one MP’s radar. We need to continue to urge the government to include the blasphemy law in that ‘larger review’ they mention.
It’s not too late to add your own voice to those who have already written. There’s more information and a link to a sample (pre-written) letter on the home page of our HAAM website. All you have to do is copy, paste, and send.
Current Calls to Action are always posted on the Home Page of our website. The only way we’ll ever make a difference is to stand up and be counted!
BOOK OF THE MONTH – Being Gay is Disgusting
Yes, that really is the title of the book. Actually, the full title is Being Gay is Disgusting – or, God Loves the Smell of Burning Fat. It’s been over 3 years since author Edward Falzon visited Winnipeg while on tour, promoting his book. So there are lots of new people in HAAM who may not have heard of it. Don’t let the title put you off – it’s intended for shock value. The book is really just an entertaining and painless way to become familiar with the first five books of the Old Testament. And yes, the well-known verses condemning homosexuality are in there, along with lots of other prohibitions that are probably less familiar.
I thought, when I first got this book, that it would be a severely abridged version of the ‘real’ Bible, but no. Edward has all the information in there, even the boring genealogies (but they’re in chart form instead of endless passages of ‘begats’). None of the sordid details are omitted, either; he only updated the language to make reading the Bible understandable and fun. It’s a great way for the ‘unchurched’, or those who have never read the Bible, to get to know what’s in there. I referred to it regularly when I read the Old Testament as part of HAAM’s Atheist Bible Study project. (Editor’s note: If you didn’t read along with us back then, you can still do it now – the reading guide and my notes are all posted at that link.) One of the best features of the book is Edward’s hilarious and insightful footnotes!
Here’s an excerpt from the book (with its corresponding footnote):
Genesis 14 – Big War, Abram Kicks Butt
So anyway, there were five kings, including the kings of both Sodom and Gomorrah, who had all been subject to a king called Kedorlaomer (“Ked” to his mates). After twelve years of this, they all rebelled. In the 14th year, King Ked teamed up with three other kings and destroyed no less than four territories, plus two more on the way home.
So the five other kings went down to the Dead Sea, which was full of slime pits, and waged war on Ked and his friends.28 They lost. Badly. When the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled to the hills, some of their men fell into the slime pits. The victors took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah and went home. They also took Abram’s nephew, Lot, who was living in Sodom at the time.
28You know, at this point in the Bible, only about 370 years have passed since Noah’s flood. I’ve always wondered how there can be nine kings and a Pharaoh, each with their own civilians, servants, slaves, and livestock, created from the eight people on the ark. I still haven’t worked it out – I’ll keep you posted.
The long days of summer are a great time to sit outside and read a book. Wouldn’t it be fun to be caught at the beach with a title like this? A sure conversation starter…
Diversitas is a series of community presentations held in Morden, Manitoba, designed to educate and inform people about the diversity of humanity. On March 22, the topic was “Can Faith and Science Coexist?”, and the guest speaker was Dr. Patrick Franklin (PhD, McMaster Divinity College), Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, and a member of an organization called the Canadian Scientific & Christian Affiliation.
The event was well attended, with most of the seats filled at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre’s Aquasaur Theatre. The title of Dr. Franklin’s presentation was: “Is Christian Faith Obsolete in a Scientific Age?” In his opening remarks, he added other questions, such as “Is God belief obsolete?“, and “Is religion obsolete?“. He mentioned that we would spend some time discussing the Old Testament, and presented a few verses which he thought best demonstrated that Christianity is not in conflict with science. A lot to cover in a 45-minute talk.
For those unfamiliar, the study of conflict between faith and science has a name – conflict thesis, which is a very old idea and well documented. First proposed in the early 1800’s, author and politician Andrew Dickson White took a mighty scholarly whack at it in his two volume set A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. It was published in 1896, and although a product of its time, is still a good read – especially in light of more than a hundred years of scientific advancement and the slow decline of churches’ power. (It’s available for free download from Project Gutenberg.)
Dr. Franklin began his talk with a quote from Richard Dawkins:
“One can’t be an intelligent, scientific thinker and still hold traditional religious beliefs.”
Although I have been unable to confirm that this as an actual quote from Dr. Dawkins, for the sake of argument we will assume that it is true.
Dr. Franklin described a study in which it was found that 35% of scientists believe religion is in conflict with science, and he then made the assertion that this means 65% scientists believe there is no conflict. Unless the question was asked directly (“Do you believe there is no conflict?“), this seems to be a false dichotomy to me. Another study, by sociologist Elaine Ecklund, in her book Science vs. Religion, showed that, of American scientists interviewed, 34% were atheist, 30% were agnostic, 28% had varying degrees of confidence in God, and 8% believed in some higher power. Ecklund then went on to postulate the reasons for this high percentage of atheism and agnosticism amongst scientists. These three reasons rose to the top:
Scientists who are not religious
- Were not raised in a religious home – children raised in a materialistic, non-religious households were more apt to be curious and gravitate to learning about the natural world
- Had a bad experience in church/religion or with a pastor/clergy member
- Disapprove of the idea of God
Dr. Franklin thought these reasons were interesting because they show that, by and large, the high number of atheists in the sciences is not due to science itself, but to many of the same reasons that other people are atheists. I would tend to agree; however, I have a different take on these points.
- Yes, children who grow up as freethinkers and not indoctrinated into religion will be more curious and gravitate to seeking out their own answers – but this is a good thing. Don’t indoctrinate your children and they will learn more.
- Yes, people have bad experiences in church and with clergy; not a week goes by that I don’t see a story in my newsfeed about another priest diddling little boys, or embezzling money; and of course there are those who need money to paint their private jets. I think this point says more about the authoritarian nature of religion, and how its true colours become exposed in a modern freethinking society. It’s a no-brainer that many people don’t want any part of it.
- As for disapproving of the idea of God – well of course, if you’re of a scientific-thinking mind, you seek out answers and explanations; ones that are demonstrably true and useful. The idea of God is “disliked” because it is none of these.
Dr. Franklin then went on to present a list of some 15 scientists, complete with mentions of what they do/did; all, of course, Christian. Everybody from Nicholaus Copernicus and Isaac Newton to Alister McGrath (and some he knows personally). It is worth noting here that even though professional scientists may be theists, this does not demonstrate the compatibility of science and religion, but simply that a person may hold contradictory beliefs. During that segment it was interesting to note that Dr. Franklin was quick to point out which scientists on his list were evangelicals (his denomination), which prompted a member of the United Church I spoke to later to say “the way he was talking, you would think all Christians who are scientists are evangelical”, which was exactly what I was thinking.
So where does that leave us so far? Dr. Franklin believes the evidence shows that the statement “One can’t be an intelligent scientific thinker and still hold traditional religious beliefs” is just wrong. On the surface it looks like he is correct; however, if we dig a little deeper we find that scientists who are religious or spiritual leave their religion or spirituality at the door when walking into the lab. In the lab they are not testing their hypotheses by faith, while in church they are not looking at religious claims using the scientific method. Some do attempt to test religious claims, but they often end up believing things that are not part of traditional religious beliefs.
Dr. Franklin believes the scientific evidence for climate change, genetics, geology, the age of the earth and what science can tell us about the natural world. He is very much a scientific thinker, and for this I give him great credit. But when it came to the Q & A portion of the talk, I asked him a question that went like this – “Through our understanding of genetics, paleontology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, geology, and other sciences, we know that at no time in the past was the human population down to just two. There was no genetic bottleneck that would show that there was an Adam or an Eve. If Adam and Eve aren’t possible, then there was no garden of Eden; no Original Sin; no need for Jesus, human sacrifice, or redemption; and essentially no need for Christianity. How do you make your scientific understanding comport with your supernatural Christian beliefs?” The question was sidestepped. Dr. Franklin did suggest a couple of books I could read (Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science, and The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins), and mentioned the possibility that Adam and Eve were some sort of king and queen of a tribe or population of about 10,000, many, many years ago (it was all very vague). The thing is, through the science of genetics, paleoclimatology, archeology, and geology, we know that our human population was reduced to about 10,000 individuals as early as 70,000 years ago. Due to climate change, humanity was almost wiped off the face of the planet, gone extinct like so many other species. What’s funny is that apparently, some of this information was discovered through Christian theology shortly after it was discovered by science… it’s a miracle!!!
In my view, Dr. Franklin is the embodiment of the Dawkins quote. He is a scientific thinker who is unable to hold onto traditional religious belief – in this case the traditional belief that one man named Adam and one woman named Eve started it all. The next day, I received a links from Dr. Franklin to his blog and ten more resources on the subject… I was hoping he would just answer the question.
The next section of his talk was about how science is limited, how the scientific world view can’t provide ‘comprehensive knowledge’, and how scientific reductionism is a harmful and vast oversimplification of reality. This is an argument that is usually trotted out by the slimiest of Christian apologists; unfortunately, it seems to have gone mainstream.
I think the reason this argument bothers me so much is that it’s an attempt to discredit science by faulting it for doing what it is designed to do. The perception of beauty is not a scientific question; nor is what music someone finds pleasing to the ear a scientific question. The concept of ‘comprehensive knowledge’ is just a smokescreen, as later, apologists will try to wedge God, Jesus, and spirituality into ‘comprehensive knowledge’. They will argue that science reduces concepts such as love and beauty to mere biochemical reactions (which they are). But that’s what science does – reduce concepts to their simplest form in order to better understand the whole. This process actually results in real knowledge, and for me, more knowledge increases the appreciation of beauty. As the great physicist Richard P. Feynman said, ”Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars – mere globs of gas atoms. I, too, can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more?…” (full quote here). See also Feynman’s Ode to the Flower.
Finally, near the end of his talk, Dr. Franklin spoke of God’s two books. One was, of course, scripture; the other was the metaphorical book of nature, or what we can learn from nature. To illustrate how these two books go hand-in-hand, he offered Psalm 19. These poetic lines in the Bible describe the beauty of the natural world, and Dr. Franklin believes that this Psalm tells Christians they should learn more about the natural world and how well science goes with Christianity. Admirable, but I listened carefully to see how he was going to juggle the verses. He read beautifully verse 1 through 5, skipped 6 (this was not an oversight, as he said “skipping ahead to 7”), and then moved onto 7, 8, and 9.
I, too, know Psalm 19, but for different reasons. This is verse that he skipped:
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
5 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth. (NIV)
Verse 6 clearly states that the sun orbits the earth (“makes its circuit”). It is one of many verses that was used by the Catholic Church to justify the charge of heresy against Galileo, his imprisonment, the re-canting of his scientific work, and his eventual house arrest. If you understand church history, this verse becomes one of the best examples of how Christianity has retarded scientific progress.
Unfortunately, the Q & A was dominated by a sizeable contingent of YEC’s (Young Earth Creationists). Dr. Franklin handled himself admirably as he explained why “creation science” is not science, and of course he answered the all-important question “If we evolved from apes, why are there still apes“? After it was all over, I was hoping to chat for a couple of minutes with Dr. Franklin; however that was not in the cards. I did thank him and shook his hand. As I left, I could see that he was surrounded by a whole lot of creationists and some United Church members, having a discussion about Adam and Eve’s kids, incest, and the origin of the human species. I didn’t hang around to listen.
Regarding the question from the start of the evening, Is Christian faith obsolete in a scientific age?, I would have to say yes – to everybody except, it seems, Christians. As for the conflict between religion and science, it will always be there. I will leave you with a quote from Joshua Cuevas’ excellent article in last years New Humanist:
“Ultimately, there is no conflict between religious claims and science. The conflict is in the mind of the theist who desperately attempts to preserve his or her belief system.”
– Pat Morrow
Former police officer Bob Russell served with the Winnipeg Police Service for 35 years, from 1976 to 2012. He served in uniform patrol divisions, the detective branch, and forensic identification section, retiring at the rank of Sergeant. Since retirement, he continues to follow current issues within the department. He is dead against the creep of evangelical Christianity into the Winnipeg police service, and he is passionate and vocal about it. Here are his thoughts about the chapel in the new police headquarters.
Recently the Winnipeg Free Press reported that the Winnipeg Police Service announced plans for a “chapel” within the new headquarters building. I submit that including a chapel is a bad idea. My thoughts on the chapel also extend to the existence of police chaplains. I speak both as a concerned private citizen and as a retired member of the service for which I retain considerable pride and loyalty.
The Winnipeg Police Service is publicly funded to enforce the law, maintain the peace, detect and apprehend offenders, and prevent crime in a multi-cultural, multi-faith city. It must serve everyone without bias or the perception of bias, including those people who do not believe. We know that not everyone, including the religiously faithful, agrees on the numerous and contradictory truth claims of the myriad of world religions, the nature of “spirituality”, or even on the actual existence of supernatural beings.
A chapel is traditionally a place of Christian worship. Here it is advertised as a “space for quiet reflection.” As you may know, quiet rooms already exist in all new police facilities, where space is made available for reflection, prayer, or just peace and quiet. Chaplaincy program coordinator Sgt. George Labossiere claims that chaplaincy promotes the “holistic health of officers regardless of their beliefs”, and sells the chapel as “more based on ensuring that our members have a place to go, can connect with people, can make sure that we don’t just ignore the fact that many people have spiritual needs that need to be addressed.” This is double-speak. What he is actually saying is that the service should promote religious or spiritual ideas even though some people don’t hold them. An excellent employee assistance program already exists, with access to professional counsellors who treat a wide range of physical, mental, and spiritual health issues.
The Police Service should not be in the business of promoting religious or spiritual notions, regardless of how many or few people believe or disbelieve them. Churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, covens, etc. currently exist in large numbers to look after the needs of those who believe. Police employees have plenty of off-duty time to visit them – frequently if desired. If religion and spirituality is the business of the police service, then chaplains should be employed full time and in far greater numbers, services and prayer should be compulsory and numerous, and there should be spiritual mediums on staff. But the police service doesn’t have full time chaplains, mandatory prayer services, or spiritualists on staff. If not, then why not?
Will the chapel be made available for fringe religions? Satanists? Scientologists? Neo-Pagans? If not, then why not? What sort of imagery and icons will the chapel contain? All? None? Or will this be an absurd attempt at being “non-denominational”, like the Calgary Police Chapel, which contains only the icon of the Archangel St. Michael, the supposed patron saint of police officers. Is it not odd that some people consider a Roman Catholic saint non-denominational? Many police vehicles in the United States now display Christian crosses. Shall the WPS do the same? If not, then why not? Will the service fly a Christian Flag? Any other religious flag? If not, then why not?
A chapel and chaplains encourage unprofessional, unwanted, and unethical proselytization. This has and still does occur. Church Parades were held in the past. Gideon New Testaments have been supplied by the WPS to new recruits, off and on for years, most recently in 2014. A leadership training course, produced and marketed by Christian evangelist John C. Maxwell, was, until recently, taught to newly promoted supervisors. This material contains blatant religiously-themed material suggesting that future leaders should be growing closer to God. It also recommends that future leaders be without personal problems – which are undefined. To many believers, non-belief in the supernatural is a personal problem. Will they be given a fair shake by a supervisor who is assessing a non-believing employee? Maxwell’s goal is clearly stated on his websites. It is to ensure that more Christian leaders are in place throughout the world. Both of these issues were addressed by HAAM, and Chief of Police Clunis assured us that bible distribution would cease, and the inappropriate course would be dropped. He followed through with his commitment on those two issues. However, the planned chapel is another insertion of a faith-based worldview in what should be secular organization.
In the last 20 years or so, WPS Awards Days have been held at Grant Memorial Baptist Church, and training sessions for employees have been held at Springs Church. Springs Church is of particular concern because employees of the WPS have been handed church membership information on entering the building. Did Springs offer their facility, complete with many volunteers, and free coffee, snacks and lunches, at a highly discounted rate? I have heard that this was the case. Even if not, Springs took full advantage of the opportunity to try to recruit WPS staff who only wished to – or were obliged to – attend a work-related seminar. That these seminars were organized by a wellness officer who was also a police chaplain makes it doubly suspicious. Police chaplains are always front and center at awards days and graduation ceremonies, offering prayers and benedictions and assuming that everyone agrees with them. Chaplains have always had a privileged place at these events, and this is unwarranted and undeserved.
Private fundamentalist Christian police organizations exist with the purpose of evangelizing other police employees, the general public, and persons in custody. The Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers – Canada, with 1,200 members across Canada, is one. I have no idea how many, if any, WPS officers are members. There are probably a few, and they have the unquestionable right to belong. However, the FCPO-Canada has produced advertising and recruitment videos which include an FCPO-Canada member in uniform, seated in what appears to be the executive boardroom of the Woodstock (Ontario) Police Service, and an officer in the uniform of the Toronto Police Service standing next to a TPS police car. The apparent intended impression is clear and convincing – that this fundamentalist private club has official recognition and the support of the police agencies involved.
In 2016, FCPO-Canada and the Canadian Bible Society have partnered to distribute evangelical books to police employees across the country. Such groups will no doubt take advantage of a religious chapel wedged in the police service. It will be used for bible studies, prayer meetings, and speakers aimed at recruiting other employees. The service will surely then be in the business of proselytization to a membership who represent all religious persuasions and no religious beliefs at all. Is this an agreeable situation? Will the service allow other faith groups or clubs to come in as guests to pitch their religion to employees? If not, why not? The potential for strife, internal and external, is obvious, high and dangerous.
Will alternate rooms be made available for those faith groups or persons who choose not to share? Some mainstream religious groups are diametrically and violently opposed to each other. All religious faiths are, at their core, convinced that all others are wrong. They are all certainly convinced that non-believers are wrong, many believe that non-believers will be eventually punished, and some would like that to happen sooner rather than later. This is why ecumenicalism and religious pluralism are like a greased pig – very difficult to grasp and more difficult to hold on to.
I have heard the argument that chapels exist in hospitals, airports, and many other institutions outside of traditional religious buildings. These arguments are irrelevant because these institutions do not have the same responsibility as a police service. People who are sick or visiting a sick person in hospital, or who are travelling and desire the facility of a religious room should have easy access to one. This is completely benign. But the police are different in very important ways. Firstly, police represent the front line of authority of the state and its institutions which govern us all. Secondly, police have the ability and duty to lawfully deprive people of their liberty. And lastly and most importantly, police have the ability and duty to lawfully use physical or deadly violence on citizens. The police service must not be seen to be favouring or privileging any group – religious or otherwise. As Sir Robert Peel stated, a civilian police must retain the trust and confidence of its citizens. Simply put, the best stance for the WPS is to be officially neutral with respect to religious belief.
I therefore propose the following changes to ensure that the Winnipeg Police Service becomes a truly secular agency. One that serves the increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-religious people of our city without any actual or perceived religious favouritism or privilege.
- The chapel should be cancelled immediately.
- No religious facilities should be installed in any police building. This does not prohibit any memorial to fallen officers consistent with the values of a completely secular service.
- No WPS facility, uniform, equipment or logos should be used by any religious organisation for any of their activities or advertisements.
- The blatant proselytization of any religious belief, while on duty and/or within a police facility or vehicle, to employees, civilians, or persons in custody, must be prohibited.
- No religious literature of any kind may be offered or supplied, while on duty or within a WPS facility or vehicle, by employees to other WPS employees or to any other persons.
- No religious literature of any kind may be offered or supplied by the WPS to any employees with the exception of approved information used in official cross-cultural training programs.
- All official WPS functions, ceremonies, graduations, etc., must be entirely secular.
- Only facilities that are not of a religious nature or purpose may be rented or used for any functions of the WPS.
- The position of Police Chaplain should be eliminated, and matters of religious faith and spirituality should be left up to the individual.
- The WPS should announce these changes and its secular commitment to the general public.
- The City of Winnipeg Act and the WPS Rules and Regulations should be amended to codify the above changes.
Nothing prevents individual employees from carrying personal copies of religious texts while working, praying in a non-disruptive manner, or forming off-duty groups of like-minded people. Accommodations have been made for changes to the police uniform for practicing Sikhs. This is reasonable, but even these types of religious accommodations have the potential for problems arising out of historic conflicts. No doubt, other challenging and controversial situations will arise that will make future accommodations more problematic. But in these cases it is individual religious rights, not organisational rights, that are considered and addressed. The Winnipeg Police Service itself has no religious rights; it has only duties and responsibilities. Its duty and responsibility regarding religious faith and spirituality is to be neutral. Its duty and responsibility to the health and wellness of its officers is already met by its current employee assistance program. The religious beliefs of employees and the public need only be individually respected. The furtherance or alteration of these beliefs are private matters which are best left to the individual. Nothing suggested here prevents the WPS from meeting with community religious or non-religious groups as part of its overall duties to serve the entire community.
Sergeant Labossiere says the WPS follows the lead of many agencies in North America. Follows? Why not lead? The Winnipeg Police Service should become the leader in establishing and maintaining a completely impartial and secular service organization.
– Bob Russell
- Our Atheist Bible Study wraps up
- We Stand With Planned Parenthood
- Reactions to the Refugee Crisis
- and more…
- Our Charity of the Month program goes international
- Hospital chaplains
- Outreach report from a bible belt school
- Member reaction to our meeting about Aboriginal issues
- and more…
Addendum: For more on hospital chaplains and an update on the article in this newsletter, see Privacy Issues in Spiritual Care.
- We welcome Niigaan Sinclair to our next meeting to discuss aboriginal issues and concerns
- Photos of River City Reasonfest
- What do lard and warm socks have in common? Our Charity of the Month needs both items
- HAAM welcomes the Centre for Inquiry to Manitoba
- The niqab – yes or no? One of our members weighs in
In August we were busy with our big annual Outreach event. Read all about it, as well as the final preparations and latest updates on Reasonfest!
In this issue:
- We’re gearing up for our Summer Outreach in Morden and River City Reasonfest in September
- An apologist responds to Dr Arthur Schafer’s speech about the ethics of religion, and HAAM provides a rebuttal
- Updates on Outreach and Religion in Schools
- and more…
- HAAM members display their Pride and celebrate the Summer Solstice – lots of photos!
- We will begin reading the New Testament and get together to discuss the historicity of Jesus
- Was Hitler an atheist?
- and more news and updates
- Updates on the stories we’ve been following on religion in our public institutions,
- Details about all our upcoming events (including speakers who will be appearing at our River City Reasonfest conference in September), and
- A link to view the presentation on the Ethics of Religion if you missed it at our May meeting.
April can bring daffodils or blizzards and just about everything in between! But don`t miss out on the latest news. In this month`s newsletter we get details on our April meeting, learn about a call to action here in Winnipeg regarding the Child Evangelism Fellowship in local schools, and learn which book we`re recommending this month.
We’re busier than a hive of bees this March. We’re got a book club, our regular monthly meeting, and a secular parenting group meeting.
So, don’t miss out on a single word!
We’re busy – you’re busy. We’re cold – you’re cold. But it’s Winnipeg and we’re used to the winter weather, right? Find out what’s happening with the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba by reading our latest newsletter. Cheers!
As we finish celebrating one solstice, we look forward to the next (which will be nice and warm, just like in the picture of the Duck Pond in Winnipeg)
The newsletter may be a trifle late, but the year started right on time! If 2015 is anything like 2014 was, we’re in for a busy year! So get reading….
Get up to date with all the HAAM comings and goings…
Click and read!