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Stardate 10.014

Ascent out of Darkness ~ Armchair Philosophy from the 'Silly Beliefs' Team

Skeptic

An Atheist on 'Family Guy'
Family Guy I watched a favourite program of mine on Sunday night, 'Family Guy', where one of the main characters identified himself as an atheist. He was consequently vilified by the townspeople, his photo being shown on the local TV news with the caption, 'Worse then Hitler!' underneath it.

I'm not naive enough to think that this particular 'Family Guy' episode will cause some confused believers to reject their faith, nor do I believe it was designed to. But hopefully it will be the start of seeing popular, intelligent, positive TV characters openly and proudly announcing that they are atheists, rather than the scriptwriter have them fudge their answer to avoid offence to those of faith. I'm sick of seeing scientists, philosophers, political leaders etc in TV shows, who based on their previous actions and conversations are obviously atheists, still being forced to mouth a vague belief in God so as not to offend religious viewers. You don't see Jewish or Muslim TV characters feigning a belief in the Christian God to avoid offending American Christian viewers. Jews and Muslims proudly proclaim that they believe in Yahweh or Allah rather than Jesus. I suspect they allow this blasphemy for two reasons. Firstly, both Jews and Muslims have powerful lobby groups in the US, and secondly, as was implied in 'Family Guy', "At least they believe in a god." US TV networks don't fear the wrath of atheists, and surveys have demonstrated that most Americans prefer those with a religion, any religion, over those without, who they often identify as immoral and evil.

More on this shortly, but first, for those not familiar with 'Family Guy', it's a cartoon series for adults, featuring the Griffin family who live in modern day America. And yes, it is silly, ridiculous and zany, and certainly won't tickle everybody's sense of humour. It's an over-the-top comedy that features story lines, characters and antics that could probably only be accepted in a cartoon context. Like many cartoons of this nature, eg 'South Park', things happen that are often completely forgotten in the next episode and characters perform actions that are impossible in the real world. To enjoy these shows, one must look past the silliness of the characters and look for the joke or message behind their actions. Unfortunately many people, often including the TV broadcasters themselves, think all cartoons are made for children and are mystified as to why some adults choose to watch them. But it is an ability of cartoons to be able to take extreme views on any particular story line and thus more effectively get their point across, whereas if real-life actors did these things we would probably quickly lose patience with the show. For example, we blindly accept that Wile E Coyote won't be killed when he falls off a cliff chasing the Roadrunner and we never worry how he might pay for all those kit sets he orders from the ACME company. Nor do we concern ourselves over why he doesn't just order takeaway meals rather than kit sets. Likewise in 'Family Guy' the Griffins have a dog called Brian. The strange thing is that Brian can talk, and no one finds this surprising. Everyone, the family and complete strangers, treat him as if he were human, and Brian, for the most part, acts completely human, eating with family, reading books and driving his own car with personalised number plates. I say it's strange that no one is surprised that Brian can talk because all the other animals we see on the show do act like real life animals. The baby in the family, Stewie, is another strange character. He is an evil genius that speaks with an adult intellect, but strangely only Brian can understand him, the family just seem to hear baby talk. Also the father Peter has numerous short flashbacks each episode, usually signalled by him saying something like, 'That reminds me of when I worked for... '. But these flashbacks almost never have anything to do with the storyline, they are simply a device to include an extra joke into the show. This apparently annoys some new viewers. They also make numerous veiled references to other TV shows and movies. To enjoy 'Family Guy', and other cartoons like 'South Park', 'American Dad', 'Aqua Teen Hunger Force', 'Drawn Together', 'Futurama' etc, one must look at them as pure escapism, where utterly ridiculous and impossible things will happen. They are not documentaries or normal TV shows featuring real actors acting out stories based on real life. Unlike 'Shortland Street', 'Outrageous Fortune' or 'Desperate Housewives', cartoons have no rules that they have to follow, and accepting this fact is essential for enjoying them. But unlike the old Roadrunner and Daffy Duck cartoons, these modern adult cartoons require intelligence and knowledge of social issues, science, history etc to fully appreciate them. You mustn't use your intelligence and knowledge to analyse their silly and often impossible antics, but to think of the message behind their actions. Often these cartoons are just for pure enjoyment and unbridled laughter, with no hidden messages. But every now and then they, especially 'South Park', do make intelligent comments on important social issues, whether it be racism, genetic engineering, global warming, Aids, alternative medicines, evolution vs creationism, psychics or sexual abuse by priests. It's absolutely brilliant when one can reduce stress through laughter and actually learn something at the same time. Few adults that I know watch these cartoons, most labelling them silly, and yet I can honestly say that some of the topics that they have tackled have influenced or articulated my thinking far more than mainstream shows with real actors and true-to-life storylines. Of course, like all shows, some episodes are mediocre and some jokes fail to hit the mark, but the jokes and topics that do succeed make the odd failure unimportant. They definitely deserve a greater adult audience than they presently receive.

Now, to return to 'Family Guy' and atheism. Brian, even though he is a dog, is arguably the most intelligent and erudite member of the Griffin family. He is certainly the most normal and well-adjusted character, although of course he does have faults. In this episode entitled 'Not all dogs go to heaven', Meg, the 17 year of daughter of Peter and Lois Griffin is confined to bed with the mumps. Because of her insensitive and idiotic father she is only able to watch a religious channel on an old TV featuring evangelist Kirk Cameron, and consequently becomes a born-again Christian. When Meg tries to force her family to watch the religious channel, her mother Lois intervenes:

Lois: "Aww... again Meg? You know I think it's wonderful you found something to have faith in, but there's such a thing as moderation."
Meg: "Aww Mom, you sound like a non-believer. Brian, you're a thoughtful person, are you willing to open yourself up to God's truth?"
Brian: "Oh, you're barking up the wrong tree Meg, I'm an atheist."
The entire family — Lois, Meg, Peter and son Chris — all gasp at Brian's admission of being an atheist.
Peter: "What's that?"
Brian: "I don't believe in God."
Lois: "What!! Brian!! How can you say that?"
Brian: "Why... I just thought you knew, I mean I never go to church. You know how I feel about that."
Lois: "Brian, it's one thing to bash organised religion, but we believe in God in this house. I mean an atheist, that's just about the worst thing a person can be."
Chris: "You're not going to get anything for Xmas Brian."
Brian: "Guys, I'm just trying to say... "
Peter [shouting]: "Shut up beast! I have dominion over you and I command you to believe in God."
Brian: "I'm sorry, I just don't see any evidence. I mean, look at the Hubble Telescope. It's discovered untold wonders of a vast unexplored universe, but not one picture of a guy with a beard sitting around on a cloud. I mean, what's he doing up there?"
Peter: "You know, you keep talking like that, God's going to get you Brian."
But Meg doesn't give up and over the coming days tries to convert Brian to Christianity, until finally Brian snaps.
Brian: "Look, Meg, I've had enough of this, you're not going to convert me."
Meg: "But Brian, I just want you to feel the joy that I feel. I mean the church makes me feel accepted and safe, and part of something bigger than myself."
Brian: "But Meg you don't need an outside voice to feel those feelings, they're inside you. What you call God is inside you, all of us, and I just hate to see people hating and killing each other over their own interpretation of what they're not smart enough to understand. You see what I'm saying?"
But Meg doesn't see it at all and takes more drastic steps.
Family Guy TV announcer #1: "Good evening, I'm Tom Tucker. Our top story tonight, just when you thought the world couldn't be any more dangerous, Channel Five News has discovered that there is an atheist among us."
TV announcer #2: "Local churchgoer and junior Christian soldier Meg Griffin has identified the atheist as Brian Griffin of Spooner Street. Here's the reaction from City Hall."
Mayor West: "Ahh... shocking to say the least. I'd rather have a terrorist living in our mist, at least they believe in a god, even if it's a smelly, brown god."
Consequently Brian becomes the most hated person in town and is unable to shop or even go outside. However, eventually Brian is able to make Meg realise that her life would be completely different if there was a loving God that cared for her.
Meg: "You're right Brian, you're right. But what is there to believe in without God? Where do the answers come from?"
Brian: "Well, that's all part of the human experience, it's what we're here to find out. And I betcha that the real answer to the nature of our existence is more unimaginably amazing than we could possibly conceive."
'Family Guy' has gained a reputation for commenting on things that other American shows wouldn't dare tackle. Sure some other shows have mentioned atheism or doubts about God, but usually in a very wishy-washy, ambiguous, non-threatening way. This would be one of the first high-rating shows to have a popular main character unambiguously affirm that he is an atheist. He didn't say he was an agnostic or was having doubts, he said, "I'm an atheist... I don't believe in God." Not only that, he was the one character that viewers would realise was the mostly likely to understand the scientific and philosophical arguments regarding God's existence. Even Meg realised this and attempted to convince the family by directing her argument at him with, "Brian, you're a thoughtful person... ". More importantly, he wasn't shown backing down or compromising on his view at the show's conclusion, and even convinced Meg the Born-Again-Christian to reject her new-found faith in God. It's what I see as ground breaking for an American TV show. Of course I've read comments from offended Christians that insist that the show's creator — Seth MacFarlane — who is an atheist, should keep his religious views to himself and poke fun at other things instead. This is no different from 'South Park' actor Isaac Hayes who had no problem with his show making fun of Jews, Christians and Muslims but got horribly upset and resigned when they commented on his religion, Scientology. They're just hypocrites.

Thus it was extremely refreshing to see an atheist viewpoint being clearly expressed and maintained, and expressed not by the villain or mad scientist of the show, but by a popular, respected main character. Some other shows, especially science fiction series like 'Stargate' and 'Star Trek', obviously have many story lines that promote atheism if viewers really think about them, but even here scriptwriters fudge the dialogue of their characters when the topic turns to religion in America. Unlike Brian in 'Family Guy', these characters are not yet allowed to clearly say they don't believe in God. Of course Brian's comments were made in a comedy, which was a cartoon, and he was a dog, but I think they mark a new phase in American TV. Some British TV shows have already made this move into positively acknowledging atheism. I remember watching Ricky Gervais' character in his show 'Extras' clearly mention he was an atheist.

This 'Family Guy' episode didn't present a convincing case for atheism — no detailed arguments or informed debate — but it did positively showcase a character professing to be an atheist who had reached this position through careful consideration of the facts. And the reason he gave for not believing is possibly the best short answer one can give — 'I just don't see any evidence'.

PS: 'Family Guy' can presently be seen on Four, weekdays @ 7:00pm.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 23 Jun, 2009 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by Keri, 23 Jun, 2009

    Ahhh!
    As someone who truly relishes "Family Guy", "American Dad," at least some of "Futurama" and pretty well all of "South Park" (*and* "The Simpsons"!") — but who generally catches up with them on season-ful dvds — this article is meat & drink to me!
    a) I now have tv listings for new episodes
    b) 'Family Guy' — and the named other animations — are waaay more intelligent than 99% of tv USA — tv, full stop.
    c) Oh? Is it obvious I don't watch soaps, reality shows, or celeb dreck?
    Pardon me —

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 24 Jun, 2009

    Keri, we are obviously of like mind when it comes to recognising quality TV programs. ;-) Now we just need to open the eyes of those mesmerised by their crappy soaps and reality shows. You're probably getting the best of these shows by watching them on DVD. I watched the special two episode 'Family Guy' spoof of 'Star Wars' ('Harvest Moon') on TV, then watched it again on a flight to Oz and discovered that the TV version had a considerable amount cut from it, obviously to fit all the adverts in. I wonder if the regular episodes are shortened as well? You're right of course, I should have also mentioned 'The Simpsons'. I'm a little disappointed with the latest series but the earlier series were brilliant, and no doubt their references to old movies influenced 'Family Guy'. Regarding 'South Park' on DVD, they evidently backed down and decided not to include the infamous 'Bloody Mary' episode on the DVD, which is a shame. But overall, I'm very impressed with the intellect, knowledge and skills that the creators and writers of these shows obviously possess. As I said, not all the episodes hit their mark, but those that do definitely deserve a greater audience. Adults need to get over this hurdle that all cartoons are just for kids. Of course a lot are, but the shows that we've mentioned are made for adults, and while kids may laugh at some of the visual humour, most of the humour and insights that they contain is beyond them. Unfortunately, I think that for many adults who have spent their life watching only soaps and reality shows, the humour and insights contained in these shows is now beyond them as well. Thankfully, for some reason a minority still exists with the skills and desire to make these shows and a few of us scattered around the planet still have the ability to recognise these TV gems.

Horoscopes and the media
Station surfing on the radio this morning I came across another DJ reading out a daily horoscope for his listeners. This particular reading was on The Breeze, but I've heard other stations doing the same thing, spouting this astrology bullshit just for the benefit of the intellectually challenged out there in society. Many people will of course reply that it's just for fun, that no one takes it seriously. They are just as deluded as those that really do take it seriously. I mean, if it's just for fun, why don't they alternate their weekly reading with other forms of divination, such as crystal ball gazing, palmistry, tea leaf reading and consulting chicken entrails? Surely they would be just as entertaining, perhaps more so? Since there are morons out there that would prefer to get an insight into their future through the likes of palmistry rather than astrology, why don't radio stations, newspapers and magazines, alternate their prediction methods, or even include several of them? Why aren't those that prefer their predictions to come from chicken entrails demanding equal time? I suggest that it is because not many people believe in each of these other methods, and thus wouldn't tune into radio stations or subscribe to newspapers and magazines that featured them. This means of course, that a large proportion of the population do actually believe in astrology, and that's why it's still prominent and the others aren't. That's why media companies think it's worth their while to continue to push horoscopes, because regardless of what people claim, a hell of a lot of people do believe that astrology is the real deal. That the movement of distant planets and stars can influence your actions, dictate your personality and predict your future. Of course this belief is just as silly as putting your trust in the positioning of chicken entrails, although less messy, and the only thing that reading a horoscope can accurately indicate is the extreme gullibility of the reader.

As long as people that don't believe in astrology continue to defend its publication in our newspapers and magazines etc, on the grounds that it's just harmless fun, then all those that do believe in horoscopes will see some justification in continuing to do so. They'll reason that the likes of newspapers wouldn't print items that they knew or suspected to be false. Every time the mainstream media publish a horoscope they damage their integrity and bolster continued belief in a pseudoscience that should have died out centuries ago. Because of blatant media greed astrology survives to seduce more ignorant believers, and even some skeptics throw it a lifeline, assisting its continued publication by naively maintaining that no one takes it seriously. Yeah right!

If you know someone who thinks there might be something to astrology, here are three articles that effectively debunk it:

'Astrology: FACT or FICTION?' by Michael E. Bakich
'Astrology' @ Bad Astronomy
'Your Astrology Defense Kit' @ The Astronomical Society of the Pacific

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 12 Jun, 2009 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by Bob, 13 Jun, 2009

    If we can take it seriously both President Reagan and Nancy believed in astrology. Adolf Hitler was supposed to believe in it. British psychological war experts were supposed to have tried to pass false horoscopes onto him to get him to alter his plans. The secret of success is to tell people what they want to hear. l'd love to make up horoscopes and say that people born under Leo are dumber than those born under any other sign, that Virgos are unlucky in love because most are unattractive to the opposite sex. I don't think I would make a very successful astrologer.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 13 Jun, 2009

    Yes it's rather scary to think of the hold astrology had on Nancy Reagan and her influence on the President. I always like to point out to people that no matter what star sign they think they belong to they are all one month out. For example, if you think you are a Gemini you are really a Taurus. Even knowledgeable astrologers agree that the stars no longer match the months but they still publish their predictions as if they did. A true scam.

Abortionist murdered — let's rejoice
Yesterday, Dr George Tiller was murdered as he attended church in Wichita, Kansas. The police have detained a 51-year-old male suspect for the fatal shooting. It is assumed that Dr Tiller was murdered because he performed late-term abortions from his health clinic. His was only one of three clinics in the US that legally permitted pregnancy termination after the 21st week. They are evidently allowed to perform these late-term abortions if tests show 'severe fetal abnormalities' and the mother requests an abortion. These fetuses are malformed and they would, if they survived their birth, become severely handicapped children.

Anti-abortionist protesters have targeted Dr Tiller since the 1970s. His fortified clinic has been bombed and Dr Tiller was shot in both arms in another attack in 1993. One woman interviewed on TV seemed more upset that Dr Tiller was killed inside a church, rather than the fact that he was killed. A man indicated that he was not surprised with the murder considering what Dr Tiller did — "It's retribution I guess". Pro-life groups have publicly condemned the killing, one calling it 'cowardly', but then they would take this stance even if they were involved or secretly approved of the action. A devoutly religious state, I doubt if many in Kansas will lose much sleep over the death of an abortionist. I wouldn't be surprised if the killer is found to belong to one of the anti-abortionist protest groups. These people are so offended, disgusted and shocked that someone could — in their view — kill another human being, that they turn into the very thing that horrifies them — a killer of another human being. Yet they don't see their action as murder, but rather as a good deed that their God wanted them to perform. Why their God couldn't get off his arse and do it himself is never revealed. Like a feared mob boss, God gets his stooges to commit the murders and do the prison time. Of course it wasn't always this way, in the Bible God kills innumerable unborn babies. As we argued in our 'Ian Wishart' article, "it would appear that the most prolific abortionist of all time is God himself". Obviously I am pro-choice when it comes to abortion, and thus I must live in fear of Christians with access to weapons. I guess the next time a Christian knocks on my door I should run a metal detector over him before expressing a view on abortion. Thankfully the actual risk is low in NZ, but for those in the US promoting pro-choice and/or involved in abortions, the threat of physical violence is all too real. Some followers of a loving Jesus are not as meek, as forgiving or as willing to turn the other cheek as they make out.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 02 Jun, 2009 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Kelvin Cruickshank's fantasy world
Cruickshank Kelvin Cruickshank, one of the deluded psychics from the silly TV show 'Sensing Murder', has just released a book called 'Walking in Light'. In it he describes how as a kid he thought everyone saw ghosts and how after a mental breakdown he finally decided to acknowledge his skill at fooling others and become a full time scam artist, or in his words, become a professional psychic/medium. He has also just done a nation wide tour performing his scam to equally deluded morons. Both the book and tour are no doubt designed to take advantage of his 15 minutes of fame.

I haven't read his book, but on flicking through it in a book shop I noticed a section entitled 'FAQs'. In one question he was asked what 'orbs' were, those dots of light sometimes caught on camera. He claimed that they were spirits and that it was only with the invention of digital cameras that we could now see them. According to Cruickshank the shutter speeds on older film cameras was far too slow to capture these images. This implies that orbs are very high-speed objects, rather than low light objects. This answer simply demonstrates Cruickshank's ignorance. It shows how uneducated, low IQ people often just make up answers that fit what they want to be true. And regarding Cruickshank's education and intellect, remember that he told us on 'Sensing Murder' that, "I didn't get School C, I'm not the brightest, I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed man, OK? I can tell you that I'm dyslexic, I'm colour blind, I'm not a very good reader, in fact I don't read books. I'm not that sort of person." I believe him. The fact is that the shutter speed on your typical digital camera is no different than on older film cameras. The main difference between digital and film cameras is the way they store the image, using an electronic image sensor and film respectively. A typical digital camera used by most people that think they have accidentally captured a daytime 'spirit' probably used a shutter speed of around 1/125 or 1/250 second. If it's at night using a flash, it's more like 1/60 second, since the exposure depends more on the length of the flash rather than the shutter speed. This is no different than older film cameras. Anyone that has taken photos at night knows that you need slower shutter speeds, not faster ones, since there is much less light available. As for film SLR cameras, most had shutter speeds at least as fast as 1/1000 or 1/2000 second, much faster than a typical digital camera set on automatic. Then you have professional high-speed cameras which have captured explosions and bullets bursting balloons. Cruickshank's claim that only new digital cameras can capture high-speed events is simple ignorance. It's a minor point but it demonstrates how these idiots simply dredge up scientific sounding explanations they may have heard on 'Dr Who' or 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and think they apply to the real world. Whenever they encounter something strange, rather than ask an expert or even read a book, they simply combine scientific or technological phrases they've heard — but failed to understand — to invent a silly explanation that fits in with their superstitious and childlike view of the universe. I guess it's like peasants living in the Middle Ages who saw something strange, and having heard of demons or witches, reached the false conclusion that these beings were the cause of their sighting. But we no longer live in the Middle Ages, so why do morons like Cruickshank and those that form his fan club still act as if they did? Peasants had an excuse, they didn't have access to the real answers, but these modern peasants do. They may be scientifically illiterate but they are still vastly more knowledgeable than a medieval peasant, and yet still they invent explanations that promote superstition rather science. Obviously many have a view of the world that a medieval peasant would find familiar, a view that is supported by religion and bolstered by fantasy TV shows featuring ghosts, psychics and witches, yet equally they are exposed to what science and technology can explain and achieve. I suspect with many it is their inability to understand science that pushes them down the much simpler superstition and paranormal path. Also I suspect that many fear an impersonal universe, a universe that doesn't care about their well-being and where humans aren't the reason for its existence. Failing to understand what can be complex scientific explanations and unwilling to accept their independence they simply utter, 'That can't be right!', and blindly adopt silly beliefs that even they can understand and which give them the fantasy world that they desire.

Cruickshank's inability to understand orbs, digital cameras and shutter speeds and the bogus conclusions he concocts are indicative of his entire grasp of what he thinks he does. His 'occupation' or scam is based on a fantasy woven around numerous simplistic and erroneous explanations like that of digital cameras and orbs, and even his publishers and proof readers are unable — or unwilling — to prick his bubble of ignorance. The foolish groupies that worship Cruickshank and will eagerly buy his book will be equally unable to see it for the fiction that it is. Cruickshank's mental breakdown and his acknowledged low IQ are both true, but his belief that he talks with dead people is clearly false. Rather than recovering from his mental problems, I suspect he is still experiencing them. But what excuse can the purchasers of his book give? If not mental illness, is it merely poor education and its associated ignorance?

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 28 May, 2009 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by Stuart, 30 May, 2009

    I went to a Kelvin Cruickshank show a couple of weeks ago. He was worse than I could have expected. The fun thing was that by an incredible chance, he actually picked on both my wife and I. The following is an account of the day we were nearly lynched in Wanaka!

    On the 12th May, 2009, Kelvin Cruickshank of 'Sensing Murder' fame came to Wanaka to wow the locals with a one night show in the local town hall. It sounded like an interesting educational night out for Coleen and I, so we booked a couple of tickets.
    Now, at this stage I better inform you that both Coleen and I are very skeptical about the psychic art, and I should also inform you that I do operate the tourist attraction at Wanaka called: 'Stuart Landsborough's Puzzling World'. It is designed to be a fun place; 160,000 visitors a year will vouch for that. One very small part of the attraction is my $100,000 challenge to psychics to find two hidden promissory notes. This challenge is highly visible in the entrance hallway to the business. Seven people who obviously believed in their own psychic abilities have tried, and seven have failed. There is a $1,000 participation fee for the psychics, this is to make sure that we are not over-loaded with thousands of other people just annoying us with guesses. Actually, until the last challenger, all the deposits were given back. The last one was partly refunded and the balance given to a local play-centre group.
    During the last year, I have also established another challenge, this time specifically to the psychics of the programme Sensing Murder and its director. The challenge is to join with me in scientifically-based experiments that will prove or disprove their abilities. The challenge has a total of $300,000 in prize money. Although I have had a response from the 'Sensing Murder' director, they have refrained from participating.
    Now, to continue with our interesting night out, it is often said of skeptics that they are closed-minded and should go along to psychic demonstrations that would then certainly change their minds. We decided to go for a good night out and to be educated, one way or another!
    When we entered the hall, we purposely headed for the middle to be less conspicuous. We were there to sit, listen and learn. We were surrounded by some two to three hundred people.
    Kelvin Cruickshank came onto the stage to a round of applause. He started to relax himself and the audience with a few jokes (he shouldn't give up his day job to become a comedian). He came across as a nice cuddly young man that mothers would be happy to have as a son-in-law. Later, we were to see the other side of him!
    After about fifteen minutes of warming us up, he suddenly got into the real purpose of his visit. He gave a microphone to a woman in the front row; we could see her well in a close-up shot of her on a big screen on the stage. He then turned to the middle of the crowd, looked straight at my wife Coleen, and asked for another microphone to be handed to 'the woman in a red top' (Coleen). She was mortified!
    But then he seemed to ignore Coleen and carried on with the first woman in the front row. While he was doing this, he drew an upright line on a whiteboard and at the top of the line placed eight to ten stars. He then turned to the audience and stated that each of these stars represented a spirit, most of which related to Coleen. Going through our minds was that surely he must know who we are and must be setting us up for a big fall.
    Again ignoring Coleen, he moved on to another woman in the front row, with less success than the mediocre reading of the first woman. He then talked to yet another woman in the front row and stated that someone in her life had suffered from a brain hemorrhage. The woman said no. Kelvin then turned to the woman next to her, and asked her the same question, saying that it must be coming from her and it was in her family; the response was again negative. Finally, in utter desperation, he asked the whole of the fifteen people in the front row if that illness was in their family. Absolute silence! What an embarrassing failure. How psychic did that sound? He gave up on the hemorrhage. Before we went into the hall, my wife and I had discussed how we would react to any of his questions in the very unlikely event we were picked on. Obviously, we were to respond honestly, however, we were to give him nothing else other than the words 'yes' and 'no', either in words or body language.
    At last, he turned to my wife. Coleen was now a head-and-shoulders picture on the big screen for all the audience to see. First, he asked Coleen if a woman's first name (we can't remember it now) meant anything to her. Coleen said 'No', He then added the surname of 'Stokes'. Again it meant absolutely nothing to her. While he was saying this, he dramatically wrote the names on the whiteboard. 'Your father has passed over' he said. This was news to Coleen as she had only talked to him a few days previously (would it be possible for us to sue him for creating unnecessary stress?) In fact, Coleen is one of those truly lucky people that has got to her mid-fifties and has not had a single person important to her die. Where were all those stars coming from?
    'You are the reader in the family' (what is that to do with connecting with spirits?) he stated. 'No' said Coleen, 'my husband is'. He ended up asking a total of four questions and not obtaining a single hit. 'Could you pass the microphone to the woman beside you'? Coleen breathed a successful sigh of relief. Curiously, during the whole evening, that was the only time he used the whiteboard. Why? What did he think he knew?
    Kelvin asked the lady next to Coleen just one question- the same name that she had asked Coleen. The woman failed to recognise it as someone she knew. He then asked for the Mic to be passed over to ME! 'There must be a god up there' I thought! Did Kelvin really know what a skeptic he was talking too? If he did, then was he savoring that moment too? There was an audible murmur from the crowd as some of them recognised me. Was this to be a battle of the Titans?
    His first question/statement was that my parents were dead. Looking at my white hair, he could obviously tell that they would be in their mid-nineties now, so that was a reasonably safe guess, rather than a psychic connection. He fired off two or three statements about my mother including that she had a hard side to her. That was the furthest from the truth about my mum! (Since then, I asked my ex-wife about it, she just laughed). He then said that she had died before I could get back to see her. I stated that this was correct. (I suppose by now he would have heard my English accent and taken a guess that she died in England). He then stated that she had unfinished business with me. I said that I doubted that this was true. (I had only seen her a few months before; she knew she was dying then, so, no doubt expressed all that was needed). He wasn't getting very far with me so must have decided to give me away. However, before he could move on, I stated in a loud voice to him that apart from one of the guesses, that otherwise he hadn't got much right! There was an audible gasp from around the hall.
    'I think it is time for a break' he said, and unhappily walked off the stage. Immediately, the woman beside Coleen, leant in front of her and starting abusing me! 'Why did you come here if you don't believe, why did you come, you are spoiling it for everyone' she said. Then, in front of me another woman turned around and abused me too. I was astonished at the vehemence in their voices.
    We lived through the short break with no more abuse. Kelvin came back onto the stage with applause from the audience. No smiles; he focused on me, 'I know who you are' he pouted. 'You are the person that has The Puzzle Place (actually 'Puzzling World'), well that is certainly one place I won't be going to'. A round of applause exploded from the audience at this childish outburst. Somebody must have told him about me in the break. 'You have a challenge for $100,000 that is like finding a needle in a haystack — why don't you just give it to charity? We have given $26,000 to charity, I challenge you to do the same' he hissed. An even louder round of applause came from the audience, they were really getting into the mood and he was working on it. Then he mumbled something else, then said something like 'you expect people to pay twenty thousand dollars to try this challenge'. This shows how he was muddling up the information he had; this $20,000 challenge is by Tony Andrews, another Sensing Murder challenger, nothing to do with me. Actually, it is prize money, whether they succeed OR LOOSE! Not a participation fee. (There is yet another challenge to these psychics in New Zealand for a massive prize money of TWO MILLION DOLLARS — the biggest reward in the world). I couldn't let this all go by, so with a strong voice I broadcast to the hall that some of the things he was saying were not completely true. Before I could say any more, I was shouted down by what seemed a roar from his adoring fans, it felt that a large minority of the audience were involved. They shouted out things like: shut up, get out, and other stuff. For the first time in my adult life, I felt intimidated by public aggression against me. It made me uneasy. I thought we may be thrown out! Kelvin continued to scowl but said no more. Where had that cuddly young man gone? It was time for me to say no more, so that is what I did.
    Kelvin then 'interviewed' a couple more people but did not achieve many reasonable 'hits'. He then tried to find a person that owned a 'Suzuki Vitara'. A woman behind us owned up to having one. He stated it was parked in a lean-to against the house. With an enigmatic 'Mona Lisa' kind of smile she said 'no'. He asked her three more questions and got the same single word negative reply and same smile. Maybe she was a fellow skeptic.
    Finally, he turned to an elderly woman at the back of the hall, who happened to be wearing a red top. He played her like the master that he is supposed to be and she gave him all the help he could ever desire. For Kelvin's fans this was absolute proof that he had special powers. For him it was a great ending to finish off these one-to-one sessions. It was then that Coleen pointed out to me that whilst most of the audience were wearing wintry dull colours, there was only three women wearing a red top; one was Coleen and one was the last lady to be interviewed, or, whatever you call what he was doing. Could it be that one of Kelvin's 'spies' had mingled with the crowd before they entered the hall and picked out the woman in a distinctively red top with whom he set up a casual conversation and therefore found out some useful information? Could it be that Kelvin was given that information and was told to pick on a woman in red? Could it be that by an incredible piece of bad luck (for him) he picked the wrong woman in red? What an amazing piece of bad luck to pick on my skeptic wife, then worse luck to transfer his attentions to me, one of a very few people in New Zealand that has a challenge to him and Sensing Murder?
    Kelvin then asked for a few questions from the audience. The show drew to an end and was rounded off by an amazingly loud round of applause from the audience.
    Were Coleen and I the only skeptical people in the audience? I doubt it; I just think they were safely keeping their mouths shut. Coleen and I saw it as just a farcical manipulative show, couldn't others see it too, or was it that we were just typical 'closed-minded skeptics'? Why didn't the believers wonder why Kelvin not only got so much wrong, but also, wondered what happened to all the spirits that were marked on the white-board that wished to communicate with Coleen? Kelvin soon conveniently forgot about them.
    We thoroughly enjoyed our unusual night out.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 30 May, 2009

    Thanks Stuart for your account of your revealing night with Kelvin. Like you and Coleen I'm also amazed that the audiences of these silly performances can't see all the mistakes these idiots make. Like a good magician they seem to be good at misdirecting people's attention, and like a magic show, these people want to believe and happily go along with the illusion.

    Kelvin's 'childish outburst' when he was told who you were seems typical. Ages he ago he sent me a short, abusive email. It was unsigned and he obviously thought I wouldn't know it was from him, however I recognized his old email address from a time before he became famous. I replied with 'Hi Kelvin... ', and he then replied with his friendly, cuddly persona wishing me all the best. I guess he didn't have the audience to hide behind.

    Of course abusive audiences are just as bad. These people challenge skeptics to attend these shows and then get abusive when we do. What does it matter that you don't believe? Your skepticism shouldn't cause Kelvin to fail miserably. They wrongly call us 'close-minded' when they are in fact describing themselves.

    I couldn't be bothered forking out cash to see Cruickshank's show, although it's always revealing to see these idiots struggle to make connections. You could be right about Coleen being picked in error, and you were brave to speak out. It can be intimidating being surrounded by true believers, especially those whose only argument is mindless abuse. While some are prepared to rationally and calmly discuss the psychic's performance, they are normally sidelined by a vocal minority who refuse to accept dissent and no doubt wish their god would throw down a few lightning bolts.

  3. Comment by Bob, 12 Jun, 2009

    Orbs are nothing more than suspensions in the air such as dust particles, small insects etc. It is amazing how much dust there is in the air as can be seen in bright sunbeams coming in through the window. It amazes me how people want to make something out of nothing. Perhaps their lives are too boring to bear. We only hear of Cruickshank and the others because someone with money is pushing them. The same with reality shows where people are supposed to be doing something extraordinary all on their own. The only thing they are doing on their own is acting and not getting paid for it. A man is pushing himself to the limit climbing a difficult mountain. Yet a cameraman is right beside him. If any medals are given out the cameraman should get them. He's carting awkward, heavy gear. The media manipulators must think we are all dumb. Television producers are going for the cheapest easiest to make programmes so they can to make the maximum money. Good quality programmes are too expensive.

  4. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 13 Jun, 2009

    Bob, you mention that if medals are given out for reality TV performances they should often go to the cameraman. EXACTLY!! I was beginning to think I was the only one that realised this. I am utterly dumbfounded to discover that many, many viewers don't reach the realisation that when a person is seen climbing or tramping or camping alone on a desert island they aren't really alone. There is at the very least a cameraman, and often an entire film crew with several cameramen, soundmen, director, advisors, caterers etc. And as you say, the person being filmed is often carrying nothing and can look where he is going, whereas the cameraman is lugging heavy equipment that he has to keep steady, level, focused and zoom it in and out. He also has to focus on the 'actor' rather than where he is walking. Yet these reality TV shows really do delude viewers into believing that these scenes are playing out with just the people we see on screen. It should be blatantly obvious that they're not alone, but to many people it's not. It's quite depressing really.

Did Jesus live in Nazareth?
I've just read that the Pope is to visit Nazareth this week, the hometown of Jesus. The locals are quite excited, hoping that his visit will boost future tourist numbers. Seemingly Christian pilgrims still treat Nazareth as a bit of a backwater destination compared to the likes of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

The more knowledgeable Christians can tell you that while Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he grew up in Nazareth. The Romans supposedly forced everyone to return to the hometown of their ancestors for a census, which in itself is a ridiculous notion, and thus Joseph and a pregnant Mary took a shuttle from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Neglecting to book some accommodation they were forced to bunk down in a stable, and while waiting for the census forms to arrive, Mary gave birth to baby Jesus. After receiving some over-the-top charitable gifts for the kid and taking an overseas holiday in Egypt, no doubt spending some of that gold, Joseph, Mary and toddler Jesus returned to Nazareth in Galilee. We know almost nothing about Jesus and his upbringing, except that he evidently entered a carpentry apprenticeship. We know nothing of his schooling, whether he had any friends or owned a Playstation.

Most Christians may quibble over whether Jesus had a Playstation, although surely a god that could make the universe in a few days could knock up a simple Playstation for his son's entertainment? But Christians don't have a problem with the claim that Jesus grew up in Nazareth. Yet surprisingly, it seems that there are good reasons to believe that the town of Nazareth never existed when Jesus was allegedly born or growing up. There was no Nazareth houses for Joseph and family to live in, no Nazareth synagogue, no Nazareth town square, no Nazareth 'Joseph & Son' carpentry business, and no Nazareth KFC.

Of course there is a Nazareth now, but just as Paris and New York exist now, none existed when Jesus was cutting down on catering costs by turning water into wine at a mate's wedding.

It seems that the area around Nazareth was occupied until around 730 BCE, but between that time until around 70 CE there was no one living there in a town called Nazareth. Unfortunately for Christianity this extends through the time that Jesus was supposed to be making outdoor furniture there. The Biblical town of Nazareth is an invention.

So what are the good reasons for not believing in Nazareth? Well, I'll quickly summarise the main points, but I suggest you read this article by Frank Zindler called 'Where Jesus Never Walked' and 'The Myth Of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus' (a PDF file) by RenÚ Salm for the full story. Basically, archaeology shows that the area where modern Nazareth is now was unoccupied during the time of Jesus. It also shows that the sites now considered sacred in modern Nazareth are actually built on graveyards, and Jews were forbidden by Jewish law to live in the vicinity of tombs. There is no chance that Nazareth and Joseph and Mary's house was built over tombs. Apart from a mention in the Gospels and Acts of the New Testament, Nazareth is never mentioned in the Old Testament — the Jewish Bible — nor is it mentioned by any Jewish or pagan geographer and historian of the time. It seems no one knew it existed. Also the geography of modern Nazareth does not match that of the Nazareth described in the Gospels. Quite simply, Nazareth was unknown during the time Jesus was doing the speaking circuits and it wasn't until long after his alleged death that curious Christians started to wonder where this Nazareth was. And what you can't find you have to fabricate.

But read the above articles to get a more detailed and convincing argument. You'll also learn that important Biblical places like Bethany, Bethphage, Ănon, Magdala and Capernaum probably didn't exist in the time of Jesus either. They were all invented and tagged to real places by devious Christians so that ignorant pilgrims could have somewhere to visit, somewhere to pray and wail.

If you find the above idea thought provoking, then on the same theme, if the hometown of Jesus didn't exist, maybe he didn't either? Frank Zindler has also written an interesting article entitled 'Did Jesus Exist?' and another article looking at 'The Twelve Apostles' of Jesus. It seems that there is no secular record that they existed either. Most Christians would be tearing their hair out if the only realised how poorly supported their silly Bible really is.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 16 May, 2009 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by Bob, 17 May, 2009

    I have felt that purely on logical grounds the story of Jesus' birth can't possibly be right. First there is apparently no record of the Romans ever requiring people to travel back to their birth places for a census. What a disruption to life that would have been. It makes no sense either. A census then would have been the same as now just the answering of a few questions. Going purely by the modern map Nazareth and Bethlehem are approximately 100 Kms apart. What an arduous journey that must have been in those days. A man, his pregnant wife and a donkey had to travel that far on foot carrying food and camping gear. How long would it take to get there - 5 days?

    Now when they arrived in Bethlehem there was no accommodation. But Joseph was going home. Where were his family and extended family? Most people lived their lives close to where they were born in those days. Presumably Joseph was going back to family, friends and neighbours. Surely one of those would have given him room especially when they knew his wife was pregnant. Why would he have had to look for public accommodation? Perhaps he wasn't welcome. Then of course Jesus had to be born in the lowliest circumstances in a stable to fulfil the myth of humility.

    Now we come to the Star of Bethlehem and the Maggi. The star could have been anything or nothing. It could have been a bright spot from a conjunction of stars. It could have been Venus when it is closest to earth. At that time it is far larger than any other star and is interesting to see. Many UFO reports have simply been a large Venus. How could a spectacle in the sky which could be seen over a large area bring the Maggi, who were astrologers, to one small spot?

    There is no corroboration of all the babies being killed by Herod so why would Joseph cross over into Egypt then go back home? What about that arduous journey again? Now with a baby what did they live on? The bible doesn't have to give practical details. A vague outline of a story is all that is needed for belief.

    I feel Jesus was a true character but was blown out of all proportion by his followers at a time when superstition and the supernatural reigned supreme. Bolstering a story with myths was considered acceptable in order to get an underlying message across. Factual truth was not given high priority. Imagine what black Americans might have done to the image of Martin Luther King if they weren't circumscribed by modern recording keeping and a prying media.

    The only thing which keeps the bible going is the lack of independent evidence. Believers can go on insisting it is all true.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 17 May, 2009

    I agree Bob. There are just too many things about Jesus' birth that don't make sense. The silly requirements of the census, no record of Herod killing all those babies and the problem that Herod had already died when Jesus was supposedly born. I hadn't thought about the family of Joseph, but you're right, he should have had plenty of sofas he could have crashed on in Bethlehem. And don't get me started on the virgin birth bit, or why two gospels insist that Jesus was a descendent of David through the line of Joseph. Even though Joseph supposedly wasn't his father and therefore no relation.

    As for the Star of Bethlehem, if it was a real astronomical object, people obviously don't understand that you can't "follow" a star. Most stars, planets etc appear to move due the rotation of the Earth. Think of riding towards the Sun. In the morning you would be going east, at noon you'd be going north and in the late afternoon you would now be going west. Following the Sun or a star or planet is not a good idea for navigation. I know some people have suggested that the Star of Bethlehem might have been a conjunction of planets, but you still couldn't follow this object in the way that most people believe the Maggi did. And as you say, it most definitely couldn't direct them to a stable. If it was a supernatural beacon that moved like a modern cruise missile, then the Maggi could have followed it to the stable. But since this unusually bright object was noticeable all over the Middle East and travelling in a way that no other astronomical object moved, why did no civilisation, including the Hebrews, most of which had priests that had an intense interest in the sky, mention it in their historical documents? Even the civilisation that the Maggi came from didn't mention it.

    I suspect that Jesus of Nazareth never existed, but personally I don't care whether a real man called Jesus existed or not. However I don't for a moment believe that a character called Jesus that looked like a man but was actually a god existed.

    If a real man called Jesus did exist, a man that had a natural birth, that couldn't turn water into wine, that couldn't walk on water, resurrect the dead or cure the blind, then believing in this man would be little different to believing in the possible existence of any long dead carpenter. Perhaps he did have some philosophical differences with the local rabbis and political differences with the Romans, but this would have been nothing unusual. If he didn't say and do the amazing things claimed in the gospels then he wasn't JESUS CHRIST, he was simply Jesus of Nazareth, carpenter and small time activist. I can't understand people like Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and many atheists that refuse to believe in Jesus as described in the Bible, stripping him of all his supernatural abilities and miraculous feats, yet still heap upon him this enormous respect that derives only from the stories they refuse to believe. Without the Bible Jesus is a nobody. Whether he existed or not is immaterial. It's like people saying that there must have been a person or event that inspired the stories of Robin Hood or King Arthur. It's possible, but they certainly weren't the people we now think of as Robin Hood or King Arthur. Someone no doubt offered the inspiration of Harry Potter for J K Rowling, but there is no real Harry Potter, minus the wand and broomstick, out there. A myriad of real character traits and events have been combined to make fictional characters and fictional events acting in the real world.

    Many people insist that a real Jesus must have existed because a religion simply could not have arisen around a myth. Yet every other religion known to man, the religion of the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Babylonians, Aztecs etc all arose around myths, around beings like Ra, Osiris, Apollo, Jupiter etc that never existed. Why should Christianity be any different? The only reason non-Christians say that Jesus may have existed is because he looked and acted (most of the time) like a man. Yet many gods of other religions also appear human at times, so why aren't people saying that there was probably a real man called Apollo or Jupiter that inspired their religious stories?

    The idea that caused Christianity to growth was Jesus as the Son of God, not Jesus the carpenter. Once you deny the Son of God bit, then still wanting to defend the existence of a real Jesus seems to me to be pointless. I agree with you that Jesus the man may have existed, but I don't understand those that want to go further. They reject Christianity but still want to treat this possible human Jesus that inspired a religion as being almost god-like. They agree that all the amazing physical stuff that he supposedly did was made up, and that merely leaves his philosophical statements. Yet much of this is contradictory, some being good advice and some truly disgusting. And much of his sage advice was hardly original, having been around long before he was "born". Why would non-believers accept that the gospel authors would lie about every miracle attributed to Jesus but were scrupulously honest regarding every statement he made? I suspect that most simply believe that Jesus was one of the wisest philosophers that ever lived, even he wasn't the Son of God. They hold this opinion through ignorance and apathy.

    After first reading Frank Zindler's article 'Did Jesus Exist?' a few years ago, and offering it to people who argued that Jesus the man most definitely did exist — especially when everyone wanted to talk about 'The Da Vinci Code' — not one person, NOT ONE, expressed an interest in reading it. It's almost as if they had finally, but reluctantly, accepted that Jesus wasn't the Son of God, but they didn't want Jesus as a man to be ripped out from under them as well, as if they still needed some remnant of their upbringing to be true.

    As you say, modern records do limit what stories people can tell about their modern heroes, but as I've I griped about before, movies and many documentaries feel little compulsion to tell the truth. The truth can be found, it is out there as The X-Files used to say, but like the truth behind the Jesus story, most can't be bothered looking for it.

Are 'Alpha Courses' worthwhile?
Alpha Yesterday I passed a large billboard (photo right) with the query, "If God did exist, what would you ask?". Text below it indicated it was advertising something known as 'The Alpha Course'. These courses are run worldwide by numerous Christian churches and denominations and according to their website have had over 11 million participants. I've since been told that many atheists have attended Alpha Courses. Yet as I see it these courses are simply a means of getting lapsed Christians, wishy-washy believers and fearful agnostics back into the church. They target people who already believe in God, or at least are close to believing, even though this belief may have had little impact on their lives to date. I liken these people to those that know that they should have some insurance or be saving for their retirement, but they just haven't got around to it. These courses are designed to give them that push to make that commitment to God that they keep putting off. But this not quite how they advertise their courses.

Take the question on the billboard. They appear to take the stance, 'Of course God might not exist, but let's just assume for the sake of argument, 'if God did exist... '. It all sounds very philosophical, very non-committal. They want to give the appearance that they, like potential course participants, are undecided on the matter of God's existence, that they're honestly trying to find the truth of the matter and that the outcome of their course discussions is not set in concrete. They want to give potential course participants the impression that this will not be a course that simply preaches Christian dogma. This will be a course where participants — believers, agnostics and even atheists — can investigate, discuss and debate big questions like whether God exists, the origin of the universe and life, morals, the presence of evil, the meaning of life and life after death.

Their website tells us that, "The Alpha course is designed primarily for people who aren't churchgoers... Guests attend for a wide variety of reasons - some want to investigate whether God exists; others are concerned about what happens after death. Some people have particular questions that they would like to discuss; others want to understand other peoples' beliefs or would like to explore what the purpose of life is. Many guests have never been to church, others may have attended church occasionally but feel they have never really understood the basics of the Christian faith."

Yet to seriously "investigate whether God exists" and "what happens after death" requires one to study and discuss religion, history, science and philosophy. To "understand other peoples' beliefs" or "what the purpose of life is" requires studying other religions, psychology, anthropology and philosophy. Yet on their website they state the true purpose of their course: "Alpha is an opportunity for anyone to explore the Christian faith". It seems it's not actually about exploring the best evidence of whether god exists or whether there is life after death, and if we look at the titles of the 15 talks given on a Alpha course, it appears that there is one and only one subject discussed on the course — Christianity.

Is there more to life than this? (previously 'Christianity: Boring, Untrue and Irrelevant?')
Who is Jesus?
Why did Jesus die?
How can we have faith?
Why and how do I pray?
Why and how should I read the Bible?
How does God guide us?
Who is the Holy Spirit?
What does the Holy Spirit do?
How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?
How can I resist evil?
Why and how should I tell others?
Does God heal today?
What about the church?
How can I make the most of the rest of my Life?
Far from a course revolving around open "discussion, exploration and discovery", this is just another religious brainwashing exercise masquerading as open, rational inquiry. Look at the above topics. "Who is Jesus" and "Why did Jesus die?", rather than, 'Is there evidence that Jesus was a real person that died and rose from the dead?' Rather than reach these conclusions through investigation and discussion, their talks are based on the unwarranted assumption that God and Jesus actually exist. They talk about "How can we have faith?", "Why and how do I pray?" and "Why and how should I read the Bible?", rather than, 'Is faith rational?, Why would prayer work?' and 'Isn't the Bible fictional?' They discuss "How does God guide us?" and "How can I resist evil?", rather than, 'Is there such things as god and evil?'. As for "Why and how should I tell others?", it should be, 'Why should I annoy others with my delusion?'

They try and attract course participants by dressing the course up as an investigation and discussion into the big questions surrounding god and science and morality. Yet they have already decided on the very questions they pretend to consider.

On another page on their website we are told that "There is... a short talk, which looks at a different aspect of the Christian faith each week. This is followed by a time of discussion in the small groups, where everyone is welcome to contribute their opinion, ask questions and discuss with the rest of the group. The emphasis is upon exploration and discovery in a relaxed and informal environment."

Here at least they acknowledge that their course talks only cover "a different aspect of the Christian faith each week", and by implication don't include talks about science, history, philosophy or other religions. You're encouraged to ask questions, but which of these lecturers on the Christian faith could reliably answer questions on cosmology, evolution, genetics, philosophy, ethics, atheism, history and other religions such as Islam and Hinduism? How much true "exploration and discovery" can be expected when your hosts, facilitators and lecturers are devout Christians that are attempting to convince you that Christianity is the only true religion and you need to get on board before it's too late?

My annoyance with this course is that their advertising appears to suggest that they are genuinely interested in the big questions involving god, religion and the meaning of life, when in fact they are no different than those annoying door to door evangelists. They are reading from one book and their only goal is to bring you into the fold. They may mention science and philosophy, but only to demonstrate how reliance on their theories have caused our present ills. All they want to discus is the Bible, what's in it and how it is our salvation. It's not a course about the big questions, it's just a course to renew your vows to Jesus. It's just a shame that they feel they have to trick participants into attending by misrepresenting their course with bogus questions like "If God did exist...". They should be honest and tell us that their courses are most definitely not about serious debate whether god exists. God exists, that is a given as far as they're concerned, and the course is designed to increase your knowledge of God, and your obligations to him. The Alpha course is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Rather than being about open, honest inquiry, it's nothing but pure evangelism.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 13 May, 2009 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by Bill, 09 Jun, 2009

    As the mind is fundamentally prone to the generation of illusions, we must try to visualize in a realistic manner, the birth & ramose nature of Religiosity. Everyone is infected with an imaginative 'spiritual' tendency, sentimentally induced, that is 'merely' the natural wonderment of our existence & surroundings. Elemental reasoning must be employed to give all 'fantasial' thoughts a true perspective.

    'Heavenly' visions need to be truly assessed & not allowed to sabotage the prevalent common sense & research that seeks to counter Life's ongoing problems. Unrealistic 'beliefs', a cause of so much mayhem & mortality of past & present, are all very basic Man-made creations, devious proclamations of a false & tedious nature, incessantly filling shallow minds with absurd religious dogma.

    Unease can result in the mind having a very tormented view of one's situation, with an urge to look skywards for help. In order to form a valid judgement on 'figmentary' Gods & 'Heavenly' matters, a reasonably healthy state of mind is essential. Nearing the end of a long life, not without bother, the need to rely on any absurd belief has never entered my consciousness. It's all too apparent that religious Faiths are pure humbug, blessed with existence by Impostors & their largely naive followers. A prime source of amusement to any level-headed person!

    A rational response to the 'standard' questions posed by Alpha & similar organisations:

    >>>>> What is the point of life? <<<<<

    Need there be a 'point'? Nature instructs all of life to reproduce; to what end, we just don't know & it's almost 100% certain that we never will. We can speculate but are infinitely short of the necessary knowledge to form a valid judgement! Certainly, life's purpose cannot be identified by any ancient decrepit 'Belief'!

    Nature, red in tooth & claw, is pitilessly indifferent to an individual's quality of life; the fittest for any environment prospers. Individual quality of life is a lottery. We have arrived & must make the best of it. Self-deceivers pray for Ethereal help; none is discernible — Quite definitely a DIY job!

    We live, utilising facts that the experience of life plus research, provides! The paralogism of early religious charlatans can't match the knowledge we now possess, scant tho it be. Mystical Theosophy is drivel of the first order.

    >>>>> What happens when we die? <<<<<

    Starkly, when the brain ceases to function, that 'being' ceases to 'be'. The motivation driving that unique combination of elements is no more. A 'Spiritual Future'? — Pure self-indulgent fantasy!

    The chemo-electrical activity of the brain — the mind — is naturally prone to generate any illusive mirage. If that imagery is not backed up by factual proof, it remains a fantasy. To give any credence to life after death, one must be round the bend, if not well up the straight! Natural cognition (common sense), affirms Life's future as solely dependent on reproduction!

    >>>>> Is forgiveness possible? <<<<<

    With almost limitless mutations possible, the evolutionary process can be expected to produce individuals with characteristics of an exceedingly complex gradation, in a myriad of aspects — eg Brilliant to Thick — Jovial to Morose — Benign to Sadistic — Hetero to Homo — ad inf.

    Religions provide a very accessible dump for the perceived guilt generated by the various indiscretions to which all humans must, in some respect, be victim. The evolution of Life cannot be fault-free. We learn as we live. Forgiveness from on high is a concept that is, quite evidently, ludicrous in the extreme! Do not kid thyself. No one is immaculate!

    Those gifted with conscience & a degree of 'normalcy' just have to bear with the ill-starred & scallywags that abound; amongst the latter, religious 'Con Men', enjoying a very comfortable living with their pretentious 'Divine' prognostications!

    >>>>> Further thoughts <<<<<

    With the barbarous & brutal acts of differing factions, the multiplicity of silly 'Beliefs' has always been a handicap that Humanity could well have done without. As the sponge-like mind of an infant readily absorbs info, authentic or fallacious, in teaching the necessary basics of life, the follies of illogical & delusory religions should be emphasised — Strongly! Offspring should be reared from birth unprimed with needless pestilential 'beliefs' — Glaringly Obvious!

    Preachers pontificate on a subject so 'Holey', it is artlessly transparent. Visualise it's benighted origins & it's quite obvious that the early human mind was bound to generate mythological imagery of an Elysian nature & from there, receptive, fanciful & predacious minds took over. 'Beliefs' were surely born of ignorance & fear of the unknown! With this realization, why can't we all recognize simple basic facts & treat all 'Faiths' of today as ever they really were — Dogmatic preservations of irrational early thought! — Pure Phantasmic Godswallop.

    The Rt Rev Fred Flintstone & his equally-misguided confederates of other 'Faiths' should have dug themselves out of the Stone-age long, long ago! The Past is unveiled thro Time! Of necessity, we must Profit from it! — Not Perpetuate it! — Amen

    Further essays on this topic can be found on this site.

  2. Comment by Anonymous, 27 Nov, 2015

    https://alphacoursereview.wordpress.com/

    Thought you'd appreciate this. This reporter went to the entire 11 week course, brought a tape recorder (to accurately convey conversations), and transcribed them.

    He's friendly and open, but so easily and exasperatedly puts their points in their place, showing them just how silly they can be. Here's just a small excerpt for tone (from the LAST day mind you the rest are worth the read):

    Long-Standing Male Member: "God talks about us reigning, but what we're going to reign over I don't know [again?]. Other planets, maybe, but I don't know. If there's a new heaven and a new earth then what's to stop us going to other planets?"
    My Fellow Sceptic: "So basically all of you are saying that you have no idea what it's going to be like, no idea where its going to be, no idea what's going to happen, no idea who'll be there, yet Christianity is all geared up towards "Lets get to heaven!""

    My fellow sceptic is on to something. These people are obsessed with heaven, but, when asked to tell us about it, they know little (or nothing) at all. Yet we non-believers must be absolutely certain of such a place, and long to go there, or be doomed to an eternity of torture in hell. Strange?

    Long-Standing Male Member: "Jesus loves us and he doesn't want us to end up in Hell"
    Me: "I asked this to [Lady Two] last week, so I'll ask you too if you don't mind: Could you live an eternity of happiness in heaven knowing that people were being fried and tortured in hell? And that they were suffering these torments because of nothing more than them having had a different opinion on religion whilst on earth."
    Long-Standing Male Member: "This is how I understand it: I won't know about what's happening to them. That's something that God deals with as the Almighty. When I get to heaven there will be no sadness, I won't even be thinking about people in hell"
    Me: "So you'll just forget about them?"
    Long-Standing Male Member: "That part of my memory will be gone"
    Me: "It all sounds rather sinister to me"
    Long-Standing Male Member: "Sinister?"

    Lady Two jumps in:

    Lady Two: "I believe it's not the father's will to lose one child. I think he wants to save everybody. I think he's trying to save us by using Christians and the Holy Spirit, and things like that. We as Christians are trying to witness, we're trying to get everyone saved. We're trying to get everyone nice and peaceful with him [God] before they die, so that it's a safe passage through for them"
    Me: "Well, I've said this before but he could have created a system where everyone was peaceful with him from the beginning."
    Long-Standing Male Member: "But then we'd have been robots, Stephen"

    Oh dear, here we go again. So much for me keeping quiet for the remainder of the evening...

    Me: "I don't understand your line of thinking at all, sorry. Using that kind of reasoning we're all going to be robots in heaven, then."
    Long-Standing Male Member: "What God has done is this: In the Old Testament he used one nation — Israel — to say, "Look, here's the laws. You try and live by them". And they tried time and time again but failed time and time again. They just couldn't do it"
    Me: "But God knew that in advance"
    Long-Standing Male Member: "Yes, he knew that"
    Me: "So why bother?"
    Long-Standing Male Member: "So that they couldn't come to him and say "You never gave us a chance to come to you with our own free will. You made us robots""
    Me: "So why would he get upset with them if he knew exactly what they were going to do before he even created them?"
    Long-Standing Male Member: "Because as a father you know what you want your kids to do. Are you a dad, Steve?"
    Me: "No, I don't have any children. Not yet anyway." [EDIT: My first child, a beautiful baby boy, was born on the 23rd of January 2010]
    Long-Standing Male Member: "With my kids if there's something they should do and they don't do it, and they hurt themselves, I get very cross. That's how I picture God. He sees the nation of Israel the same way I see my kids. If my kids are messing about at the top of the stairs I'll shout "Don't do that, you might fall!""
    Me: "Your analogy might work if God wasn't omniscient. But he is, so it doesn't. You don't know every event — past, present and future. God does. You may have an inkling that your kids may hurt themselves, but then again they may not. God knows precisely what each person will do before it even happens. Would you place your kids at the top of a flight of very steep and hazardous steps knowing in advance that they would fall and kill themselves? You'd get locked up for that, wouldn't you? But this is what God has done. He's put mankind on earth knowing in advance that they would fall. knowing in advance that millions of kids would be tortured and raped, that billions would starve to death, and so on"
    Long-Standing Male Member: "God is looking at the end game"
    Me: "And if you knew that the "end game" would be that your kids fell to their deaths down the steep steps, would you place them there?"
    Long-Standing Male Member: [Long pause] "It's like stopping your kids from putting their hands close to a coal fire. You teach your kids not to go near the coal fire"
    Me: "That's not what I'm asking."
    Long-Standing Male Member: [Long pause] "Ask again"
    Me: "If you knew in advance that by placing your kids at the top of some steep, hazardous steps they would fall to their deaths, would you place them there?"
    Long-Standing Male Member: [Long pause] "It depends what my goal is."
    Lady Three: [Turns to me] "You're saying that what God has done to us is like him putting some kids at the top of some stairs knowing they would fall. That's how you see it. But I don't see it like that. I see that God has made a perfect place and he's placed his ultimate creation — which is a man and a woman — in a perfect garden with just a guideline"
    Me: "Yes, he placed them in the garden knowing in advance exactly what was going to happen"
    Lady Three: "Its not like he's left them at the top of some dangerous stairs. He's left them in a safe environment with instructions that would keep them safe"
    Me: "But it wasn't a safe environment. He placed them in a garden with a tree bearing fruit that would ruin the future of mankind, if eaten. This is a "safe environment"? Was a garden that contained Satan himself, who was on the prowl looking for a couple of human victims, a "safe environment"? God put them there knowing in advance what would happen."
    Long-Standing Male Member: "He did that because of love. It was because of love. Because he loves us he gives us free will. You're struggling with the free will bit"
    Me: "No, I'm struggling with the fact that God could have created a system where pain, agony, torture and death weren't necessary."
    Long-Standing Male Member: "If he didn't give us free will he'd always be controlling us. If we didn't have free will we couldn't do wrong even if we wanted to do wrong"
    Me: "Supposedly we have free will in heaven, yet never do any wrong. If this sort of free will is possible then God could have given us it in the first place. No kids tortured, no innocent people murdered, no rapes, no muggings, no assaults, nothing like that need ever happen. But God didn't give us that sort of free will. He gave us the kind where people WILL commit all the atrocities I just mentioned. And, worst of all, he knew it all in advance. And you honestly want us to believe that he loves and cares for us?"
    Lady Two: "God wants us to do his will. He wants a relationship with us. That's the point. He wants the relationship to be lovely and happy. He knows that if we keep in his will we'll be happy and safe"

    The pastor joins in:

    Pastor: "You're looking at this from a completely human point of view, Steve. I gave you a scripture the other day about God's ways being higher than our ways. The reason why God has done it is beyond our comprehension"
    Me: "But that doesn't answer the question. All you're saying, basically, is that you've no idea [again?] why God set it up the way he did, with him knowing that billions of people would live short, sad, tortuous lives, but that we shouldn't question God because he knows best, so we should just leave it at that. It's not good enough. Sorry"
    Pastor: [In a tone that suggests he's just about had enough] "You're not satisfied with our answers. Fine. But we have an answer that satisfies us"
    Me: "Throwing your hands up in the air and saying "God knows best" is hardly an answer likely to be deemed satisfactory by any non-Christian"

    Lady Three gets back in the mix:

    Lady Three: "What you're saying is that God should have made us robots"
    Long-Standing Male Member: [Turns to Lady Three] "Yes, that's how I'm seeing what Steve is saying, too."

    Hammer and chisel anyone?

    Long-Standing Male Member: [Turns to me] If you were God how would you do it?"
    Me: "I'd create a paradise where people have the sort of free will that they will supposedly have in your idea of heaven. Where the only things they want to do are good things. No rape, murder, assault, and heartache. Just a wondrous place where everyone shows immense love for one another, and where everyone gets along. An eternity of peace, happiness and well-being. That's how I'd do it. So what I'm asking you is this: Could God create a system where people have a version of free will where the possibility of raping and abusing children is not there? If you say, "Yes" then I'd like for you to explain to me why God didn't create such a system in the first place."
    Long-Standing Male Member: "Because God is after perfect holiness, perfect righteousness. Not a watered down version"
    Me: "So in order for a select few to achieve this state of holiness they must go through a system where the majority of God's creations are nothing more than collateral damage, as they starve to death, are raped, abused, tortured, and so on?"
    Long-Standing Male Member: "Yes"
    Me: "I don't think there's anything further to add"

    Lady Three thinks she has a solution to the problem:

    Lady Three: "The reason why kids are raped is because Satan has influenced people. It's not because God created it like that."
    Me: "You're missing the point altogether. God created Satan, knowing in advance what he would do. God could have created a system without Satan, without pain and suffering, and without gratuitous evil. But he didn't. Ultimately the buck stops with God"

    The discussion suddenly turns into a heated free-for-all. Everyone in the group is trying to get their point across to me, and it becomes somewhat of an inaudible jumble. I sit for a moment shaking my head. Lady Three can see that things are getting out of control and tries to shush the baying crowd. The most vociferous of them all is the new Christian male, who's doing his best to shout over the top of everybody else. As they say, there is none so passionate as a new convert.

    Lady Three manages to quieten everyone down and asks me to carry on with what I was saying. I'm thankful to Lady Three. Once again she proves to me that she is the best of the bunch. I ask the question once again:

    Me: "God could have created a system where humans live in paradise from the very beginning, just like how you all believe you will live in heaven. If God is so concerned for human welfare, and for us all to worship him, why didn't he just do that in the first place?"
    Pastor: "Well, we've answered that question. That was God's choice and his ways are better than our ways."

    I'm beginning to think that someone should nominate me for the Queen's Honours List, for my sustained and dedicated services to patience, of course.

    The pastor continues:

    Pastor: "You just want to blame God. You just want robots. I'm telling you that God didn't want robots."
    Me: "You've told me that heaven is going to be perfect. We're all going to get along and we're all going to love each other"
    Long-Standing Male Member: "Yeah"
    Me: "But God could have made it that way from the off. We don't need billions of innocent casualties in order to achieve complete happiness."

    The new Christian male then goes into a tirade about how Satan (in the guise of a "smooth talking serpent") deceived Eve into eating from the tree of knowledge. Satan is to blame for all the world's ills.

    "And who created a garden with such a serpent in it?" asks my fellow sceptic.

    Pastor: "I understand your argument. You want to blame God"
    Me: "God created the system, did he not?"
    Pastor: "I can only give the answer that I've given to you. It doesn't satisfy you, and I can't change that. But I've answered your question"
    Me: "With respect, you haven't really. All you've said is God knows best. It doesn't answer anything"
    Pastor: "I accept your argument that it would have been nice to get to heaven without all the raping and the killing. I agree with you on that, but that's not the way God has chosen. He's chosen it to be like this instead. I don't know why."
    Me: "If God chooses it to be like this — a system where innocent people are victims — what, then, makes you so convinced that God is all good, and that he has even the slightest interest in our welfare?"
    Pastor: "The fact that God is holy. And because he is so holy no other created being has the right, however good they may be, to be in his presence because that created being is not holy. We are not worthy of being in his presence. Until you perceive the holiness of God, and the miracle of anything else standing in his presence, you have no understanding of the miracle of grace. Until you recognise the holiness and that God is God is God is God [huh?] then human argument and reason can never understand why this dilemma has happened"
    Me: "I admire your attempt to explain the situation, but, with respect, and try as I may, it doesn't make a great deal of sense to me, to be honest."

    The long-standing male member is still keen to press the issue. He tells me that God gave us free will because he wanted us to choose whether or not we loved him. He continues:

    Long-Standing Male Member: "The argument I could make is that we'd be robots if it were any different. If we HAD to love God then we wouldn't be free."
    Me: "Are you free in heaven not to love him?"
    Long-Standing Male Member: "I'm choosing IN THIS LIFE to love God. I make the choice HERE"
    Me: "Oh, so there's no choice in heaven? I gather from that that we aren't free in heaven, then"
    New Christian Male: "I think if you didn't love God he would kick you out of heaven until you said sorry to him"
    Long-Standing Male Member: "I'm dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. I've just got to make sure that I listen to Jesus and obey what God's word says. It's living that Christian life. I'm preparing myself NOW for when I get to heaven. So when you ask if I have the choice not to love God when I get to heaven the answer is no, because I'm making the choice now."
    Me: "No choice in heaven? So you're a robot in heaven, then"
    Long-Standing Male Member: "No, because I've made the choice here."

    The words, "This", "Is", "Like", "Talking", "To", "A", "Brick", and "Wall" spring to mind, possibly in that order, too.

    Long-Standing Male Member: "Would you murder someone?"
    Me: "No, of course not"
    Long-Standing Male Member: "Not loving God is the same way, it's like murder. So I'm not going to do it."
    Me: "We're going round in circles".
    Long-Standing Male Member: "God doesn't want murder. He doesn't even want white lies. When you use the example of children being raped you're using a very emotional topic."
    Me: "Because it's probably the worst thing I can think of. The simple fact of the matter is that God created a system where such atrocious things can and will occur. And he knew all of this in advance."
    Long-Standing Male Member: "God wants relationships to be pure and holy"
    Me: "As I keep saying, God could have made it so that we had pure and holy relationships without anyone ever raping a defenceless, innocent child. But he didn't."
    Long-Standing Male Member: "Yeah, he didn't"
    Me: "Yet you cling to the belief that this God character is all-loving and wants no one to come to harm. I don't know how you can reconcile that belief with the evidence we have around us in the world"
    Long-Standing Male Member: "The reason he didn't make it without all those nasty things is because he's given us the free choice. We surrender our lives to God. Being a Christian is not easy. Some people don't want to be Christians because they don't want to change their lifestyle."
    Me: "I'd be willing to change if I knew of some evidence in favour of what you've had to say. But genuinely I know of none."
    Long-Standing Male Member: "The only way to please God is by faith"

    Brilliant this, isn't it? As I'm typing up this transcript I'm sure I've headbutted the wall at least twice, and sprouted a dozen or so more grey hairs.

  3. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 30 Nov, 2015

    Thanks for the link to that very interesting transcript from an Alpha Course. I'm slowly working my way through it. I'm truly surprised that Stephen had the patience to last the entire course, and that the pastor and some of the other devout Christians put up with his skepticism. Especially since they knew they were being recorded and that their answers would no doubt be analysed later and written about, as indeed they were. Of course acceptance would depend greatly on the attitudes of those attending any particular course. I'm still of the opinion that these courses are really for true believers, and most would not appreciate an annoying skeptic in their midst. Stephen did amazingly well to expose their nonsense without being lynched.

Christians — ignorant or deceptive?
The ODT recently published an article titled 'Religion's terrifying capacity for unquestioning faith' by Victor Billot. As we've already noted in another post, compared to the ODT's normal fare of crap supporting religion, this article was a breath of fresh air, well-written, full of reason and empty of silly arguments based on faith. This article would have infuriated no end of Christians and has resulted in a number of negative letters to the editor. Reading the bogus arguments put forward in these letters made me wonder whether these outspoken Christians are deliberately deceptive or simply ignorant. Or perhaps a bit of both?

Are they so cocooned in their faith, so confident in its truthfulness, so ignorant of alternative explanations, so uninformed that they can't see the flaws in their arguments to believe? Or have they dipped a toe into the real word of science and reason and realised that their religion might be nothing but a superstitious fantasy? Reaching this frightening realisation have they decided to hide this truth from their ignorant flock, electing to deceive in order that their God will survive, at least in the imagination of others? Might some "Christians" believe that a false religious belief held by the general public is preferable to the alternative, a world full of atheists?

So I thought we'd take a look at some of the arguments in these letters and see whether they were any different from what a child might offer.

In one letter Lynne Baab argued that contrary to Billot's claim, we need God so that we can treat others with compassion and respect. She stated, "I became a Christian in part because I realised that on my own, without God's help, I did a poor job of showing compassion and respect. After more than three decades of drawing nearer to God, the people who know me well agree that my critical spirit and selfish bossiness are less evident than they used to be... ". Amazing! She believes in God simply because she's less of a bitch than she used to be. And yet after more than 30 years of trying, an all-powerful god still hasn't managed to cure her, only made her "selfish bossiness... less evident". Obviously her personality problems require more work and effort than creating an entire universe, including life, in a mere six days. What arrogance to assume that since she can't behave well to others without believing in the guiding hand of an imaginary friend, no one else can either. She agrees with Billot that without a belief in God people "might" pursue "mindless consumerism or ego-driven selfishness". Yet anyone that has walked through the likes of the Vatican soon realises that you don't have to be an atheist to surround yourself with pretentious displays of obscene wealth and decadence, with centuries of mindless, greedy consumerism at the expense of your followers. As for "ego-driven selfishness", who could have a more exaggerated sense of self-importance than God or his son Jesus? They demand that everyone worship them, they claim to have created anything and everything, they have angels singing their praise 24/7and they hold our future in their hands. God describes himself as a jealous god and threatens all mankind with eternal damnation if we don't do things his way. In a fit of rage he's selfishly destroyed most life on the planet once already because it wasn't going his way. Everything revolves around him, and I doubt if one can be more selfish, egocentric, self-centred or self-absorbed than God. Does Ms Baab not realise what a control freak her God is or like a battered wife, does she just want to keep it secret? Is it ignorance or deception?

In another letter, Jennifer Haig makes a similar claim that Christianity is necessary for good behaviour since the "values of compassion, fairness and equality come from the teachings of Jesus Christ". If this were true, then everyone featured in the Old Testament, including the likes of Adam and Eve, Moses and God himself must have lacked these qualities. Mind you, judging by many of the barbaric, disgusting and shameful stories in the Old Testament, she might have a point. These qualities seldom came to the fore. God threatening to punish the children for the sins of the fathers is hardly fair. God favouring one tribe of people over all others doesn't demonstrate equality. God turning Lot's wife into a pillar of salt simply because she took a peak at him slaughtering all her friends and neighbours is hardly compassionate. Still, ignoring the Bible which is simply not a good example of ethical behaviour, we have many examples of these qualities of compassion, fairness and equality existing long before the alleged appearance of Jesus. The ancient Greeks are a good example, with philosophers discussing these concepts in depth. Likewise individuals from numerous other cultures from Romans and Egyptians to Indians and Chinese all showed examples of compassion, fairness and equality. This is not say that there wasn't inequality or injustice, there was, in spades, but to suggest that these ethical qualities were unknown prior to Jesus is utter bullshit. Many of the so-called sayings of Jesus were known long before anonymous writers attributed them to him. Even in modern times this claim to morality deriving from God's son runs into an obvious problem. Since the majority of humankind — two thirds — aren't Christians, and thus don't receive "the teachings of Jesus Christ", then all non-Christians should lack any concept of compassion, fairness and equality, and we certainly shouldn't display any of these traits in our day to day lives. Obviously this can be clearly seen to be false by even the most blinkered Christian. Examples of Muslims, Hindus and atheists acting with genuine compassion, fairness and equality abound, yet Christians arguing for their religion ignore them. Is it ignorance or deception?

She goes on to say that a world free of religion would be a "dreary prospect - no Christmas, no Easter, no flowers and candles, no Diwali, no Chinese New Year, no Ramadan, no Passover, no ghost stories and the list goes on". What rubbish. The really important elements of many of these events would survive. Santa, gift giving and Xmas trees would continue, so too the Easter Bunny and chocolate eggs, and you have to be pretty ignorant to believe that "flowers and candles" only exist while we believe in sky fairies. Chinese New Year, like our new year celebration, is now first and foremost about the passing of time, not a religious event. Ramadan is a period of hardship, and no sane person would regret its passing. Even events like Passover and Diwali are to many that celebrate them more about tradition and community than religion, and even if they disappeared, why should a Christian care? Most will have never attended those ceremonies or were even aware that they were being held. Their disappearance wouldn't concern them one bit. And you don't have to be religious to believe in ghosts. Unfortunately.

She tells us that "people are hardwired to believe in someone, or something, greater than themselves". Rubbish. Atheists don't have this compulsion, and are we not still "people"? Just because religious people feel inferior and lack the confidence or ability to lead an independent life, thus handing the reins to some unseen god, they insist that everyone else must feel the way they do. People certainly have an innate curiosity about the world around them, even extending to wondering whether there might be someone greater than themselves, but this isn't a hardwired, immutable belief. This claim is as silly as saying the Irish are hardwired to believe in leprechauns.

She claims that after death, "surely there must be another life, another stage in our existence?", and that even Mr Billot's rationalism can't obliterate this hope. But "hopes" are just wishes, with no basis in reality. Hoping that there is an afterlife is just as empty as me hoping that the Nigerian Bank financial deal I've just entered into isn't a scam. Why do Christians appear to confuse statements about what they hope might be the case and statements of fact? Is it ignorance or deception?

Regarding this forlorn hope for a "better hereafter", Ms Haig states that "The wisest solution is for us is to stick with the religion that best suits our culture and traditions, and whose beliefs and practices do least harm". Call me a silly atheist, but I would have thought the best religion to stick with was the one that was actually true, not simply the one that best suits your lifestyle and hopes for the future? I get the impression that she sees choosing a religion as little different from choosing a new fashion outfit, both have to harmonise with your "culture and traditions", impressing others but not offending them.

We now move to a letter by J O Wardle, who makes the most erroneous claims. He quotes the Bible, Job 38:22, as God saying "Have you entered into the treasures of the snow?" According to Wardle, from this question Job now knew that snowflakes are "unique" and "built on a perfect hexagon with a marvellous symmetry of design". Noting that this "treasure" of knowledge can't be discerned without a microscope, Wardle concludes that only God could have revealed it to Job. In fact the writers that wrote Job created one of the most scientifically inaccurate books in the Bible. Let's look at what these idiots really said. The old King James Bible is similar to Wardle's quote:

Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? Or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail (JOB 37:22)
Note that the full verse includes a similar comment about the nature of hail, a comment that Wardle omitted. From that statement, can you tell what shape hail is, whether each piece is unique or similar to snow? If you can't discover any hidden information about hail from that simple statement, how can Wardle learn so much about snow from a near identical question? It gets worse. The popular, modern NIV Bible translates the verse as:
"Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? (JOB 37:22-23)
It's now obvious that God's questions to Job are not referring to the microscopic shape of snowflakes at all, but where primitive man thought God supposedly stored the snow and hail, and that it would be brought out in times of war. Only by omitting much of the verse and by using an ambiguous translation can Wardle weave such a bogus claim about ancient knowledge.

Next he attempts a similar snow job on fingerprints, quoting Job 37:7, "He seals up the hand of every man". Wardle claims that "seal" refers to the unique human fingerprint "seal" that we have only discovered in modern times, again asserting that only God could have revealed this advanced knowledge to Job. But again he attempts this subterfuge by using an archaic translation and omitting crucial text. The old King James Bible is similar to Wardle's quote:

He sealeth up the hand of every man; that all men may know his work. (JOB 37:7)
The piece of text that Wardle has omitted immediately makes the fingerprint idea unlikely. The modern NIV Bible translation puts it all in context:
God's voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding. He says to the snow, 'Fall on the earth', and to the rain shower, 'Be a mighty downpour'. So that all men he has made may know his work, he stops every man from his labor. The animals take cover; they remain in their dens. (JOB 37:5-8)
It's now clear that "seals" does not mean identifying mark or fingerprint, but actually "stop" or "halt". Megalomaniac that he is, God stops every man from working so that they may look up and marvel at his power. Only if we falsely give a word a modern meaning rather that its intended archaic meaning, can we even begin to think that this verse might be talking about fingerprints, Scotland Yard and forensic science as Wardle claims.

Wardle concludes his letter with the question, "If there is no god, who is this person who knew all the answers thousands of years ago?" It should now be obvious that the person who wrote Job didn't know squat. A complete reading of Job reveals embarrassing claim after embarrassing claim. Only by applying modern scientific knowledge to badly translated text quoted out of context can Christians pretend to find scientific knowledge in the Bible. Unfortunately both these bogus fingerprint and snowflake claims, along with many others, are found on numerous Christian internet websites. Why does Wardle repeat them? Is it ignorance or deception?

Next we have a letter from Nicholas Keene, who says he "has sympathy for philosophical atheism and secular humanism", but that it is "depressing to see atheist humanists rehashing the same Richard Dawkins-esque arguments". By "philosophical atheism" does he mean he doesn't mind philosophers discussing atheism, but let's not start talking about it in public using arguments that non-philosophers might grasp? To me his statement of sympathy for atheism sounds like the old claim, 'I'm not racist, but... ', where the speaker immediately contradicts themselves. Keene goes on to claim that many religious believers don't believe in a "supreme being", or that religion explains reality, or that it tells us how to live. He doesn't give us any examples of these religions, but he certainly isn't describing any of the world's major religions. In fact I'm not sure he's even describing a real religion. Keene has diluted and sidelined religion to such an extent that atheists would almost call its followers brothers.

Mr Keene's main point seems to be that "there is no inherent, inevitable conflict between religion and science, or between faith and reason". He tells us that Isaac Newton knew that along with many other "fervent believers" from history who made great scientific discoveries. The fact is that these people made discoveries in spite of their religion, not because of it. They were forced to come up with their own explanations as to how the world worked because the Bible was so lacking in details, and the vague answers it did offer were increasing being shown by other scientists to be false. A recent survey in the US showed that only 7% of their top scientists were religious, that is, believed in God, and in a similar survey in Britain it was only 3%. Saying that scientists in the past were religious is as empty as saying they were mostly men, lived in Europe and wore clothes. Religion was simply a part of the society they lived in, and just as we've discovered that you don't have to be male or live in Europe to do science, we've also discovered that religion isn't needed either, in fact it's a major handicap. To claim that there is no conflict between religion and science, or faith and reason, is to demonstrate complete ignorance as to what those words actually mean. It is deceptively pretending to a gullible flock of religious believers that religion and science are both the best of mates, uniting to reveal the truth. It's like one prefers Fords and the other Holdens, but in all honesty, which ever you choose both are equally good. Bullshit. While that argument is true for cars, religion and science are not different tools doing the same job. Science is intelligent, honest and resourceful, searching for the truth, what ever it might be, while religion is a gullible, superstitious, reason-hating scam that believes it already has all the answers, and threatens you with external torment if you don't believe them.

Keene concludes with "Mr Billot may find believers terrifying; I find atheist fundamentalists pretty scary, too". In fact Mr Billot didn't say that. He found people's willingness to believe things with unquestioning faith terrifying. He was not terrified of believers per se, but of their blind faith and the barbaric deeds some have proven themselves capable of in the past. I also don't accept that there is really such a thing as an atheist fundamentalist. Often what I think people really mean is "outspoken atheist". I honestly can't see what Mr Keene would have to fear from an atheist, apart from the realisation that his religion was a fantasy. It annoys me when religious people try and portray atheists like Prof. Richard Dawkins as scary, threatening and dangerous. It reminds me of a bumper sticker I've seen: 'Atheists fly rockets to the moon. Religious believers fly planes into buildings.'

A final letter from Trevor Shaw also fits this theme of ignorance or deception. Attacking evolution he claims that "Darwin remained a believer in the Christian faith all of his life" and then quoted part of his death bed confession where he says he only made suggestions and queries and was "astounded" that "people made a religion of them". There is no doubt that these claims that he attributes to Darwin are pure fabrication and can be traced to the lies of a devout Christian named Lady Hope. Even thought this myth has been convincingly exposed many Christian internet sites still continue to claim it is true. It's takes little research to prove this for yourself, so why do Christians keep spreading the lies? Is it ignorance again, blindly believing what they read or are told by other equally ignorant Christians, or have they realised it's all untrue but still elect to spread the myth to keep other believers ignorant?

From experience, I think many people that one meets "on the street" so to speak, that offer these silly arguments are more likely than not to be truly ignorant of the facts. They have blindly accepted on faith what others have told them and either lack the motivation to look deeper or are actually afraid to question things, afraid of what they might find. Many people so dearly want religion to be true, fearful of the alternative, that they wouldn't think of challenging its claims. Many devout believers only read one book to learn about the world, their holy book, be it the Bible or Koran or whatever. These believers can maintain their faith through ignorance, but what of those that research and propagate these bogus arguments? Once you become informed, educated and aware of alternative arguments ignorance is no longer an excuse. Continuing to push these bogus arguments requires deception. These people chose translations that offer a word or phrase that they can misinterpret. They publish only the text that serves their argument and omit that which would expose their error. On discovering evidence that their interpretation is false, they suppress it. Why do they push lies and falsehoods? For some it is no doubt pure greed, fleecing the gullible flock by keeping them ignorant. Many others seem to believe that a world without religion would be an immoral, corrupt, dangerous, dog eat dog existence, and that having the gullible masses submit to a false religion is preferable over the alternative. (Of course these people never reveal how they personally, on discovering that their god is false, can still maintain a moral lifestyle. They fail to realise that they are now choosing to be moral, like atheists, rather than having it forced onto them by some god.) Amazingly some Christians even have the view that apparently convincing arguments against religion must be the work of the Devil. Even though they can't understand why they are flawed, they believe they must be. To them any evidence that shows God doesn't exist must be wrong, even though they can't yet see why. Publishing these arguments for disbelief would just be doing the Devil's work and thus must be suppressed. In their view, being deceptive is no doubt seen as a good thing. You can never convince someone like this that their view is false, no evidence or argument could ever work on them. All you can do is expose their ignorance and deception to others and hope that they rely on reason rather than faith. Hope that they are a rational, informed citizen of the 21st century and not an ignorant, superstitious one of the Middle Ages.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 05 May, 2009 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by Bob, 07 May, 2009

    Religion in many cases is more than a system of beliefs. Catholics , Anglicans, Presbyterians etc. belong to social groups based on religion. If you get one to think about and question their beliefs they are in danger of losing their friends and contacts. It would not just be a case of altering their thinking but to have to change their lives. They might still keep personal friendships but find themselves losing what they had in common with those friends. Repressive religions like the Jehovahs Witnesses play on this by ostracising anybody who walks away. If they have no friends outside of the Jehovahs they are left socially stranded. I had a neighbour at one time who was a Catholic. He used to call in at the Catholic Club on Friday nights for a beer with his Catholic friends. He was steeped in Roman Catholicism. A man I worked with belonged to a small fellowship group which is another name for bible fundamentalists. He went to church on Sunday and had a regular meeting of members each Tuesday night. The group socialised together hiring a bus and going away for the weekend. Other neighbours at one time were Baptists and strong bible believers. The wife spent a lot of her time baking for her women's meetings. She spent hours at church and side meetings. Now the fellowship man had a marriage breakup then remarried. The Baptist lady had a daughter whose marriage broke up after she told her husband to leave. It appears being a good Christian doesn't insulate people from the pitfalls of life which we all meet.

    Many people believe simply because some authority convinces them to. Many have been shown not to know much about the bible. Bishop Spong, an Episcopalian priest came to the realisation that most of what he had believed and taught was untenable. He started telling his congregation the truth as he saw it, that the bible was full of myths and not to be taken literally. Half his congregation walked out. They wanted the comfort of the old stories. Mind you Spong never became an atheist. He still believed in God but doubted most of the bible stories. People such as Catholics believe what they are told because of the power of their church and the persuasiveness of the clergy. The priests are well educated and versed in how to talk to their members. Even if the members do not understand the reason for the rules they go along with them. They are comfortable with their religion and don't want to give it up so they don't want to question their beliefs. Believers and even intelligent clergy don't always sound so convincing when they have to defend their faith in front of skeptics.

    What is heartening is that as time goes on and people are given a modern education they gradually reject religion. This is happening among European peoples. The European countries have been warring with each other for centuries. Now at a time when religion is declining those countries are cooperating as never before for their mutual benefit with peace in the region. China and the US are coming together for their mutual benefit. There is no religious antagonism between them and now they have gotten over their childish capitalism versus communist attitude of 40 years ago. Yet religion seems doomed to keep Israelis and Palestinians at each others throats forever.

    You can't argue with rabid believers because the last thing they want is logic. We will have to let time do it.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 10 May, 2009

    You're right Bob that many people stay with religion because it's the only life they know, and speaking out against it could destroy relationships with family, friends, associates and perhaps the whole community. For those that develop disbelief, I find it amazing that religion has brainwashed them to the extent that they would prefer to live a lie and keep their "friends", rather than venture forth into the "evil" world of non-believers. Many that are still believers, but perhaps only lukewarm, will no doubt refuse to look too closely at claims made by their religion for fear that they might become heretics. And society seems to look kindly on those that maintain their church connections by living a lie. Would we be so understanding if our neighbour, who had come to realise that racism was wrong, still continued his Ku Klux Klan involvement, attending rallies, raising funds and assaulting blacks just so that he could maintain his social contacts? Personally I think these people have lost track of what is important, their own integrity or the continuation of a shallow relationship with someone they believe is deluded? And it will be a shallow relationship because they are lying to them regarding a belief they think is of paramount importance. If I hid my atheism and skepticism I'm sure I would have many more "friends" than I do now, but I would be forever acting, nodding and smiling politely every time they said something a disagreed with, agreeing with their delusions or prejudices just to make them think I was one of them. Personally I'd rather have few friends and my integrity than many "false" friends and no self-respect.

    You're right in that many religious people don't know much about the Bible (or Koran etc), and simply believe what they're told by their priests. They don't want anyone complicating their belief in the simple stories. It seems to be these na´ve believers that write these letters to the papers. I doubt that anyone that had become a closet agnostic or atheist, and wanted to remain so, would risk opening his or her mouth. They would be fearful that their religious rhetoric might expose their true views. Most letters arguing for religion come from ignorance I believe. I think most church goers would be horrified to discover that many theologians, Bible scholars, bishops, priests and ministers have much less conviction about what is actually true in their religion than they do. Like you, I agree that modern education is the key to making religion inconsequential. We'll never eliminate it. Just like fairies and witchcraft, there will always be people that believe in it.

Can we believe documentaries?
In the weekend I watched a couple of TV documentaries, one looking at the alleged crash of a flying saucer at Roswell in 1947, the other investigating the "mysterious" Bermuda Triangle (or Devil's Triangle). The first doco, The Roswell Incident, was part of a series called Best Evidence, and actually gave skeptics much greater input than they usually get in these types of shows. That said, it still wasn't a balanced reporting of the event, leaning heavily towards the belief that aliens really crashed near Roswell. The other doco was entitled The Bermuda Triangle ~ Startling New Secrets and unashamedly made no real attempt to include any skeptical, rational or scientific explanations. It was entirely typical of many of these so-called documentaries that purport to examine topics involving pseudoscience, the paranormal, the supernatural, conspiracies etc. They don't tell us what really happened, they tell us what they think we want to hear. If we believe aliens were involved at Roswell and in the Bermuda Triangle, that ghosts are real, that Bigfoot is really out there, that miracles are real, that psychic healers can cure us, then these pseudo-documentaries certainly aren't going to deflate our fantasies.

My dictionary defines a documentary as:

Presenting facts objectively without editorializing or inserting fictional matter, as in a book or film.

A work, such as a film or television program, presenting political, social, or historical subject matter in a factual and informative manner and often consisting of actual news films or interviews accompanied by narration.

The media often tout their mission as "the public's right to know", that the public has a right to the truth and to factual information. And sometimes they do manage this, informing us as to what really happened, or least as best as modern knowledge and research can determine. Some excellent documentaries have been made over the years, myths have been exposed and history rewritten. Yet when it comes to esoteric topics such as aliens, ghosts, monsters, psychic healing and miracles, this requirement of "presenting facts objectively without editorializing" is ignored more often than not. It's almost as if the makers of these pseudo-documentaries think that the subject matter is so trivial that fudging the truth and stroking the fantasies of viewers is little different and no more harmful than lying to children about Santa and the Tooth Fairy. So why do they do it? Eventually when children become more skeptical we elect to tell them the truth about Santa and Peter Rabbit, so why do many documentary makers try and maintain many of our adult fantasies? Why won't they use their skills to inform and educate us? Simple really. They make far more money by lying to us.

TV channels make money in one of two ways. They either sell advertising spots to companies, allowing them to place information about their product within TV programs, or they have no advertising but charge a subscription fee, ie pay-TV such as Sky. Some are starting to have both forms of revenue. Advertisers only hand over their money if it can be shown that large numbers of viewers are watching the programs that contain their ads, hoping of course that most viewers do watch their ads rather than going to make a cup of tea. Likewise pay-TV companies only purchase programs that they believe will attract large numbers of viewers, and happy viewers continue to pay their subscription. That is the key element in both cases, screening programs that attract large numbers of viewers. Neither care what that program is. They would both screen an old fashioned test pattern if they thought viewers would watch it. They would screen pornography if the law allowed them to, since evidently the sale of pornographic movies makes far more money than all other movies combined. One cable TV channel in the US actually broadcast 24/7 a static camera aimed at an aquarium. It gave your TV the appearance of containing an aquarium. It's amazing what some people will pay for. TV channels will screen any program that attracts viewers, no matter how mundane, how unsophisticated, how childish, and in the case of documentaries, how credulous, erroneous and misleading. TV programmers know that many people will watch documentaries on esoteric topics that either supports their beliefs or at the very least leaves the mystery unsolved. They even know that often skeptics like myself will watch them. They also know that few will watch or remain watching a documentary that debunks a strongly held belief. Thus the TV programmers that purchase these pseudo-documentaries and the people that actually produce them know the formula they must follow if they want to make money. If their audience believes in aliens or ghosts or government conspiracies then they must do nothing to seriously shake that belief. Their goal is to vacuum up the viewers' money, not educate them. They are running a business, not a school. That they are helping maintain their viewers' ignorance doesn't worry their conscience for a nanosecond.

Unfortunately many people wrongly assume that any program that looks like a documentary must therefore be a real documentary. That is, they're presenting facts objectively and that they can believe what they're being told. The program producers deliberately take advantage of this gullibility, copying the documentary format, blurring the line between fact and fiction. And often many of these pseudo-documentaries never tell outright fictions. It's not what the say, it's more often what they don't say, of what they omit. They fill the programs with the testimonies of witnesses of strange sights who waffle on at length, usually completely misinterpreting science and often insisting that science can't explain what they experienced. The program's producers make fanciful re-enactments of what the witnesses believe they saw — aliens, flying saucers, wormholes, ghosts, monsters and ancient civilisations. And they screen these images over and over and over again, almost never revealing that these are fakes and not real footage. What you usually don't see is a scientist or skeptic explaining why the witnesses are mistaken, why their understanding of science is badly flawed and what the real explanation is. Because viewers only see one side of the debate, many reach the view that science is unable to challenge the claims of the witnesses. The reality is that scientists can answer their questions but the program's producers won't let them. There are many examples where scientists and skeptics have provided proof of a false claim or piece of evidence only to have the segment deleted from the finished program. It's understandable that some viewers reach the conclusion that the lack of input from skeptics or scientists in these programs is simply because they have no rational answers to offer. Viewers reach a conclusion based on the information the program presents them with, testimonies from mostly honest but deluded witnesses reinforced with highly misleading graphic re-enactments. Denied any real information from skeptics and lacking scientific knowledge they accept the conclusion that the program's producers have forced on them. Very often it is the conclusion they want to believe is true, so they seldom feel as though they haven't been given the entire story. The program simply reinforced their belief and thus they are unlikely to view it critically. They retire to bed unaware that devious, unscrupulous, unethical, arrogant TV producers, programmers and management have delivered an hour or so of fantasy and passed it off as a factual documentary. Rather than inform they have taken the path of greed and chosen to deceive instead. Another silly belief has gained a reprieve and lives to corrupt the minds of another generation. The ignorance, gullibility and scientific illiteracy of a large section of the public remains intact, ready to na´vely believe the next fantasy masquerading as a documentary that a TV channel chooses to screen.

We live during a time in history when the majority of society could possess the knowledge and scientific literacy that was previously available only to an elite class. And yet a depressingly large number of us still hold on to beliefs that wouldn't be out of place in medieval times. Belief in gods, ghosts, magic spells, communication with the dead, healing with crystals and diluted water and strange beings abducting us from our beds and in the Devil's Triangle. Rather than living in the 21st century and all that entails, embracing knowledge and a naturalistic world, they choose instead to be ignorant, superstitious peasants, albeit with fancy cell phones and GPS. But they don't know how they work, maybe it's magic? And the scum that produce and screen pseudo-documentaries only serve to maintain this sorry state of affairs. All because numerous programs peddling ignorance makes them more money than a one-off program offering enlightenment.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 21 Apr, 2009 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Witch opens Invercargill store
Witch Need a new cauldron, broomstick or magic wand? Do you need to attract love or are you worried about psychic vampires? Do you need to banish negative energies and spirits? Then fear not, as a new enterprise called Wytch Haven specialising in all things witchy has materialised in Invercargill. It can also be accessed online for those living elsewhere and who aren't willing to ride their broomstick this far south or haven't yet perfected their telepathic communication powers.

Stating that they are "New Zealand's southern most New Age store", Selene tells us she has long had a "fascination with all things supernatural, paranormal, psychic, spiritual, pagan and wiccan" and has had "experiences of hearing voices and seeing "things"".

That may be true, but simply being interested in primitive superstitions and experiencing delusions doesn't mean you can brew something magical out of eye of newt and wing of bat. What sorcery qualifications does she possess you might wonder? Did she attend Hogwarts perhaps? Has she successfully completed Spell Casting 101? Well she doesn't mention any magical degrees or apprenticeship under any well known witch or wizard, but she does state that "I believe that I am possibly from a line of witches, although, family will not confirm this." No kidding! I wouldn't be surprised if they aren't even willing to confirm you're their daughter!

At Wytch Haven you can upgrade your old magic wand, perhaps choosing one made of quartz since it's "the most powerful healing and energy amplifier on the planet". Or perhaps you'd prefer an apophylite wand, apophylite being "an efficient conductor of energy and a carrier of the Akashic Record (the esoteric record of all that has occurred and will occur, including past life information)". Strangely enough historians never approach witches to consult this Akashic Record, nor do witches ever volunteer information from it. For example, just who was Jack the Ripper, did Jesus really exist and what happened to the Mary Celeste? Like psychics and mediums, witches claim to have access to amazing knowledge but refuse to produce any evidence of it. Nor do they even seem to benefit from it themselves, suffering misfortune, ill health and surprise at future events just like the rest of us. Supposedly with the power to radically alter the world around them and how events unfold, most witches usually struggle to even stay off the unemployment or sickness benefit. Merlin, the wizard of King Arthur fame, would be shocked at how ineffectual witches have become, no longer having the great influence on worldly affairs they once did.

Selene will sell you a small bag of roots which will attract love, herbs to banish negative energies and spirits or perhaps a chunk of amethyst which is an "extremely powerful and protective stone with a high spiritual vibration". You can buy spell kits, crystal balls and replenish your goatskin parchment. You can get healing "Help from the Fairies", receive "guidance from the Magical Unicorns" and "deter psychic vampires" by purchasing some garlic for $5 - $10. I guess cheap store-bought garlic hasn't had the correct incantations spoken over it during a full moon by a naked, prancing witch waving a chicken's foot.

Selene says that "I believe in the power of the magic of the soul, and that things around us are not always as they seem". Like most believers in this nonsense she's confused over what the cause of witchcraft is. One minute it's old-fashioned magic spells, the next minute it's New Age religion, talking of the soul and the "power of the Divine Spirit or God and Goddess". In the next instance she's explaining things with scientific sounding phrases such as "energy amplifier, high spiritual vibration" and "efficient conductor of energy", then she's proposing mythical beings from children's books such as fairies and unicorns and vampires from the horror genre. She also offers the services of in-store Mediums, Clairvoyants and Healers, apparently acknowledging that there are many things witches can't do. This eclectic collection of elements from different beliefs, often contradictory and all known to be bogus, demonstrates ignorance, gullibility and a willingness to retreat into a childhood fantasy. Unfortunately she is supported in this fantasy, stating that "in New Zealand, I have met some fantastic like minded people". All this means is that she has met other nutters while mixing up a witch's brew at the monthly coven, or attending the local psychic fair. As for believing that "things around us are not always as they seem", Selene has described her own delusion without recognising it. She believes she is surrounded by witchcraft and "all things supernatural, paranormal, psychic, spiritual". She is certainly correct in that the world does not operate in the way it seems to her.

Do people really believe in all this rubbish, in witches and magic spells, in vampires, fairies and unicorns, in crystal balls, magic wands and magic charms to ward off evil and attract love? To a degree I believe some do. They don't believe they can fly or turn people into frogs, but this might simply be because they don't know the right spells, or that they aren't experienced enough, not that it can't be done. However they do believe that many of their trivial spells and potions really do work. Think of how psychics can make educated guesses about what might happen in the future, and if it comes true, they delude themselves into believing some voice from the "other side" must have provided this information. Likewise these wannabe witches provide spells and magic charms to attract love or repel vampires, and if love does appear and vampires don't, then they attribute this state of affairs to their magic. They delude themselves in thinking they had some hand in events that would have happened anyway. Their ignorance of 'cause and effect', of probability and coincidence, of how the real world works leads them to believe that wearing a pointed hat and cackling over a bubbling cauldron lets them influence the lives of others through magical incantations. Perhaps unable to understand science or unwilling to accept that the world is not under supernatural control, they flee modern knowledge and wrap themselves in primitive superstition.

However even the most stupid witch is confronted by the annoying fact that more often than not, most of their magic doesn't seem to work. No doubt they can rationalise this away by their inexperience, the lack of good quality bat's wing and the less than full commitment by the spell's end user. But what happens when you attempt to sell this crap in a world of 'Fair Trading Acts' and 'fit for the purpose' clauses? How can you sell a useless piece of rock imbued with magic and be able to refuse a refund when it turns out to be just a useless piece of rock? Simple, you place the blame on the customer, and since they're usually as deluded as the seller, they accept this blame. After all, they've been trying spells and potions for years and none have worked, so obviously they must be doing something wrong.

The real sign of a true scam is when the legal system forces them to reveal that they have little or no confidence in their product. In the case of Wytch Haven, this disclaimer is hidden under a link entitled: MAGICAL INTENT. Clicking on this reveals the following text:

Many of the items we stock, such as spell poppets and pouches, require a certain amount of belief on the behalf of the customer. If a spell does not work, we cannot be held responsible for this. YOU the customer must have a belief in yourself and your abilities.
Magic is a bit haphazard especially when you are first starting out.
All of our magical properties have been imbibed with our magical intent, they need yours as well to enable them to be taken to another level.
If all else fails, the relaxation therapy is fantastic.
In other words, if all this crap I'm selling you doesn't work — and I have no good reason or evidence to support that it will — then it's all your fault. Don't even think of asking for a refund. The magic was working when it left our premises. You must have done something wrong or exhibited some doubt. You're not a novice are you? Did you sacrifice the goat inside a pentagram as detailed in the Book of Shadows? It's the old catch-22 situation. Only when you truly believe and are experienced in witchcraft will magic work for you, but then you can't truly believe and become experienced until the magic starts working.

But that's not how magic supposedly works. Throughout history we read about people obtaining spells, potions and charms from witches, and there was never the requirement that these people had to become witches themselves for the magic to work. All the books featuring witchcraft indicate that anyone can do magic as long as they say the spell correctly or have obtained a real magic potion.

Any stupid witch that places the failure of magic onto the customer is either deluded, having being forced to reach this false conclusion to explain why nothing works, or else is knowingly selling worthless products and is relying on the gullibility of her customers. I suspect that for most who do this type of work, their business is made up of both self-delusion and outright fraud.

Either way, the only one that profits is the make believe witch selling worthless crap at inflated prices. You don't need to seek out the spells of a witch to shield yourself from the likes of psychic vampires. I've never employed the services of a witch and yet I've never been troubled by vampires. Am I just lucky? Or is the best defence against vampires — and witches — simply not to believe in them?

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 15 Apr, 2009 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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  1. Comment by Wytch Haven, 22 May, 2009

    In response to the blog [about] me, I would just like to say, that like any religion, there are believers and there are non believers. Just because you do not believe in what I sell, or what I myself believe in, does not mean that there are not plenty of people out there who do believe in witches, wizards and the spirit world.

    Yes I have to charge for what I sell, who doesn't in this day and age, you cannot get anything for free. What I do not do is overly inflate my prices.

    Perhaps you would also like to comment on the other shops in town that supply similar products and services, The Karming Light (website is available), Yaks and Yetis and also The Woodshed.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 24 May, 2009

    I am not denying that there are lots of people that believe in witchcraft and spirits, I'm merely pointing out that this belief is delusional. Strength in numbers does not make your belief true. Remember that many more people believe in Santa Claus than in witches. Does this fact mean Santa is real too?

    As for writing a blog that criticises your competitors, if you look at our website it is quite clear where we stand on psychics, mediums, clairvoyants etc. You were merely our first comment on someone who claims to practise European style witchcraft. And furthermore, belief in witchcraft is not a religion.

  3. Comment by Bob, 01 Jun, 2009

    To Wytch Haven — nonsense is nonsense no matter how many people believe in it. In fact one can laugh at the candles and crystals and voodoo dolls until we see a girl's relatives pouring water down her throat and drowning her to drive out an evil spirit. Anyone seeing anti-witchcraft rituals used on young children in The Congo as shown on Sunday TV1, Sunday night, must realise belief in witchcraft is not only nonsense but is dangerous. Close your shop down and stop pandering to ignorance.

  4. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 02 Jun, 2009

    Good point Bob. These idiots may call themselves white witches or Wicca or whatever, but by insisting that 'positive' or white magic exists, they leave the door open to the "fact" that therefore 'negative' or black magic must exist also. Anyone that is gullible enough to believe magic exists at all might easily believe that in times of strife or misfortune that black magic has been employed. Then people get harmed and as history has shown, even recent history, innocent people are killed. The activities of so-called white witches may be laughable, but belief in magic of any description is dangerous because it lends support to those that go on to commit atrocities in the name of witchcraft. Every time we see abuse and deaths caused by those that believe in witches, self claimed witches like Selene of Wytch Haven must shoulder some of the blame. It is their activities that keep the silly belief in witchcraft alive.

Kiwis rejecting God
This week we learnt that a survey reveals NZers are becoming less religious. We can't say we're surprised by this revelation, we think it's quite obvious, but as usual, it's always good to actually demonstrate that what one believes to be true actually is.

Here's one media report in its entirety:

NZers becoming less religious: Survey
There has been a sharp rise in the number of New Zealanders with no religious affiliation, new research shows. In a study of 1000 people by Massey University, 40 per cent said they had no religious affiliation compared to 29 per cent 17 years ago. Just over a third of New Zealanders described themselves as religious. Fifty-three per cent said they believed in God (although half of those said they had doubts), 20 per cent believed in some form of higher power and about third said they didn't believe or didn't know. However, 60 per cent said they would prefer children to have religious education in state primary schools, with strongest support for teaching about all faiths. Professor Philip Gendall, who led the Department of Communication, Journalism and Marketing research team, said the view that New Zealand was a very secular country was supported by the relatively low levels of active involvement in religion. "The survey shows that God is not dead, but religion may be dying," he said."
- NZPA
However I always take these surveys with a pinch of salt. I believe they certainly do document a real trend but the actual figures are rough estimates only. The problem with all surveys is that there is no guarantee that those taking part interpret the questions in the way that the survey designer intended. What does having "no religious affiliation" really mean? Some would take it to mean that they don't believe in god or gods while others would say that they do believe in a god but don't class themselves as a member of any recognised church or organised religion. I know many people who live their lives as if god and religion didn't exist. They never go to any church or pray or do anything remotely religious. They are mystified by the gullibility of their religious friends. But if pushed, they still concede that some sort of god must have created the universe and life. They admit to complete ignorance as to the details of this creation, but fall back on that old assertion, "Well, there's got to be something out there. Something had to start it all off". Devout Christians or Muslims etc would be reluctant to call these people religious, yet they definitely aren't atheists either. Many of these people with "no religious affiliation" live their lives no differently than me, an atheist, yet as absent as religion is in their lives, they are very reluctant to call themselves an atheist. Although they aren't prepared to accept any of the main religions as being relevant or even true, they still have religious belief, that is, a belief that gods of some description are or were involved with our universe. It's the same with agnostics, someone who says, "Well, gods might exist, we can't say for sure either way". I see this attitude as no different from someone who says, "Well, leprechauns might exist, we can't say for sure either way". Continuing to assert that magical beings of any description might exist demonstrates that they aren't yet prepared to view the universe as it really is. They aren't yet brave enough to throw out that old moth eaten security blanket that is religion.

So even when the majority of Kiwis have "no religious affiliation", which can't be far away, we still won't have a religion free society. But it will be a far more rational society than we have now and as we add to our knowledge of how the universe really works, more and more people will eventually throw off their security blanket. Star Trek's vision of a future free of religion is something we should strive for.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 04 Apr, 2009 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend
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Comments:

  1. Comment by Bob, 04 Apr, 2009

    It looks like religion is fading out in this country. No doubt the situation in Australia is the same while religion has been fading in Europe for some time. I predict by the end of this century the Vatican will be little more than a museum of a bygone religious culture. It is interesting to see the intelligent well educated members of the clergy beginning to have doubts about their beliefs.

  2. Comment by Matthew, 06 Apr, 2009

    Being one of the increasing number who started out their lives being brought up religious but came to reject it by the time I was old enough to think for myself, I am always curious as to whether there is a 'belief cycle' that cultures and countries go through. And if so, why? I believe that religion and belief in god is on the down turn here because it is openly questioned now more than ever (in a world of free, available information), exposing the cracks and because we are a relatively wealthy country with good living standards (when you've got nothing it must be easier to convince somebody that prayer will provide!). I get worried that the church, in a global quest for more numbers will increasingly turn to prey on the poor and less educated. I look at the churches here in NZ and they are full of pacific islanders and ever diminishing numbers of old people — the group that can least afford to fill the collection plate.
    It's also worth getting your hands on the latest National Geographic that has an article on the massive increase of Orthodox religion in Russia; a country with severe poverty problems. Just wondering, has anybody ever seen a study or article on circumstances around the growth and reduction in religious belief? I suppose it would pretty hard to draw any real conclusions when its only been the last 50 — 100 years that you could openly say you were an atheist. Let's just hope that the churches aren't secretly rubbing their hands together as countries economies crumble, knowing that a suffering audience is probably more pliable than a happy one.

  3. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 06 Apr, 2009

    I think you've made some correct observations Matthew. It becomes increasingly difficult to believe in religious explanations when science so effectively shows that angels don't lie around on the clouds, that god doesn't cause earthquakes and that the world isn't 6,000 years old. Free and easy access to knowledge — education — is the death knell for religion. You and I were both brought up in a religious society, yet centuries ago we would have grown up believing in leprechauns, fairies and taniwhas as well. Knowledge is slowly relegating silly things to history.

    I believe that the ignorant, uneducated and oppressed have always been more open to religion, especially Christianity. For many religion is all about begging. Praying that your god or gods will give you a better life, whether it be increased prosperity, success in battle, safety from attack, good health for yourself and your family, successful crops or world peace. If you live in a society where you're already well off, free and with a good standard of living then you have no need to beg for these things. You're less attracted to religion, especially one that promises you improvements, not in this life, but in your next life.

    Alexander Waugh in his book "GOD" wrote:

    Celsus, author of the earliest surviving attack on Christianity which dates from around 178 CE, criticised the new religion as a lure for dim-wits: 'Taking its root in the lower classes,' he complained, 'the religion continues to spread because of its vulgarity and the illiteracy of its adherents. It thrives in its purer form among the ignorant.' 'According to Celsus deliberate targeting of ignorami was the only way that Christianity could survive, accusing its leaders of recruiting morons to their cult with the line: 'Let no one educated, no one wise, no one sensible draw near. For these abilities are thought by us to be evils. But for anyone ignorant, anyone stupid, anyone uneducated, anyone childish, let him come boldly.'
    Religion has always concentrated its focus on the poor and uneducated, hence today it is focusing on Pacific Island communities in NZ, uneducated Maori in the Destiny Church and third world countries. As you say, the people least able to afford the collection plate or knowledgeable enough to realise it's a con. Christianity is quite revealing when it calls its followers 'sheep'.

    There have been some studies done, although I can't find the info I had on them, that show that as education and standard of living increases religion reduces. Look at Western Europe and Aussie and NZ. The USA is the odd man out, with religious observance actually increasing since colonisation as knowledge increased, although even there atheism is now on the increase.

  4. Comment by Bob, 12 Jun, 2009

    Regarding your comments to the effect that it is the poor and not well educated who seem to be targeted by the religions. You mentioned Pacific Islanders here. They are in the grip of their churches. It is difficult for them to escape because their religion is tied to their families and culture. David Lange had a documentary on Mangere which was his electorate in which he was scathing of the churches. The area has large numbers of low income people living in state houses but also has multi million dollar flash churches. Members of the congregations are expected to contribute a fixed amount of their incomes to church funds. The names of the members are listed on a board hung in the church for all to see. When a payment is made it is marked against the name including the amount. It is then easy to see who has paid and how much. Members are easily embarrassed into paying even when they can't afford it. Some were left with insufficient money to keep their families. It was the reason one lady gave for shop lifting. Others got in the clutches of loan sharks. Since that documentary was made at least 10 years ago I hope by now the churches have been shamed out of such practices.

    It was reported also from these same churches that Island students were told to study evolution in order to get their qualifications but then to forget it because it wasn't true. Thank heavens no one can go to a court here to force a school to teach creationism.

  5. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 13 Jun, 2009

    Regarding those churches and their tithes Bob, I suspect it is still going on in one form or another. I know the Destiny Church was accused of debiting the bank accounts of some parishioners for their donations a few years ago, and a woman that used to belong to Destiny, but had transferred to following Benny Hinn I think, said to me that everyone was expected to tithe and she supported it. Brian Tamaki had just gone on an ultra-expensive Mediterranean cruise courtesy of Church funds and I challenged her that didn't she think it was wrong that the poorest people in society were paying for one of the richest to go on a cruise? Shouldn't the church be giving money and support to the poor instead? I asked her if she thought Jesus would behave the way Tamaki does, taking from the poor and living the high life? She pretended not to understand my point.

  6. Comment by Bob, 14 Jun, 2009

    After the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami I looked up the Destiny website to see what they had to say about it. If they were true Christians I expected them to say something like pray for the people. I was surprised to see there was no mention of it. There was however a mention of Tamaki's family business, a Maori tourist village at Rotorua, exhorting people to call in there. I emailed them asking why they didn't mention the catastrophe with it's great loss of life instead of plugging a money making business. They didn't reply. I consider Tamaki to be a con man. Benny Hinn is the same on a bigger scale. I was doing some casual work at one stage. I was working with a lady who was a Benny Hinn fan. She assured me Hinn had miracles performed at his meetings. I was sceptical but she assured me it was true. It was useless arguing with her — the deliberately blind I call them.

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Last Updated Jun 2009