Did the exodus really happen?

The exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and their travel to the Promised Land is one of the key events in Jewish religious history, and, therefore, in christian belief as well.

But did it actually happen? Did something like 2 million people cross the Red Sea and through the Sinai, aided and guided by miraculous interventions by God?

Scholars from various disciplines have argued about the facts for years now, but perhaps there is some sort of consensus emerging. Perhaps.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Disturbing thoughts about christians and politics

Have you ever wondered how christians, who believe more or less the same things about Jesus and God, believe widely divergent things about politics and public morality?

Specifically, if you are more conservative politically, do you wonder how more liberal christians can possibly think and vote as they do? And if you are more liberal in your politics, are you amazed at the way conservative christians vote?

A 2011 paper (which I have just come across) has examined these issues and come up with some disturbing conclusions.

In this post, unless specifically stated otherwise, conservative and liberal refer to political views, not necessarily religious views (though there is strong correlation).

Continue reading

Do conservative churches grow more than liberal ones?

country-church

For years, more progressive or liberal christians have been saying the churches need to change to meet the challenges of modern (or postmodern) society. More conservative christians have argued that we should remain faithful to traditional understandings and practices.

Both sides can tend to welcome studies and surveys that show their approach is working better. And so we have a new report, that Liberal churches are dying. But conservative churches are thriving.

Depending on your viewpoint, you are probably already keen to read this report or already looking for reasons why it isn’t right. So what is the latest?

Continue reading

Did the Catholic church invent Jesus, write the gospels in the 4th century and suppress the truth?

catholic-procession

This page in brief

Did the Catholic Church invent Jesus, create legends about his life, write the New Testament which is more fiction than fact, and suppress the truth about the origins of christianity?

Claims like these have been made in comments on this blog and elsewhere, but is there any historical basis to them?

It turns out that the claims made recently in comments on this blog are almost all based on the writings of Tony Bushby. Tony is not a historian, and as far as I could investigate, it seems that the claims were almost totally invented – nothing less than outright lies and deception. He has invented books and authors, fabricated quotes, and misapplied genuine quotes so they are no longer accurate.

People who believe these claims are unwittingly being taken in. If you are interested in the details, please read on. (Otherwise, this may be a good place to stop!)

Continue reading

Red letter christians?

red-letter-christians

We are visiting family in the US right now, and the recent Presidential election is on everyone’s minds here.

Reports are coming in that apparent white supremacists have been attacking, verbally or physically, people who belong to minorities such as blacks, Muslims and Latinos. Right wing christians are expressing relief that Hilary Clinton, who they vehemently oppose because she is seen to be pro-abortion, pro gay marriage, pro political correctness, anti freedom of religion, and dishonest, didn’t get elected.

Meanwhile the people I have moved amongst have the opposite reaction. Shocked by Donald Trump’s victory, critical of his many obvious flaws and failures, concerned for the safety and wellbeing of people from minorities, including women, and feeling let down by the right wing christians overwhelmingly voting for Trump.

The nation is divided, and so is the christian church, though Trump appears to have the majority in each case. How should christians who fear the worst react?

Continue reading

Three views on hell and judgment

reading-bible

So far I have looked at two doctrinal issues in this series – Three different views of the Bible and three different ways to read it and Three different views of social justice and the gospel – and each time I have concluded that the truth lies between the two more polarised views.

It probably won’t surprise you, then, to find that I think it is the same with the vexed subject of hell and judgment.

Continue reading

Does religion do you harm or good?

Wellbeing

Famous atheists have said that religion is harmful to the believer and to society. Religious belief is “poisonous”, making believers “delusional” and anti-social. And internet sceptics have followed them in repeating the allegations until they have some sort of authority.

These accusations may trouble some christians. But the thing is, the scientific evidence shows otherwise.

The science of religion and wellbeing

You may not be aware of it but the study of the neurophysiology, sociology and psychology of religion is a scientific discipline. There have also been many scientific studies of health and wellbeing, including many on the contribution religious belief or attendance makes. These studies make no assumptions about the truth or otherwise of religious belief, but look at how such belief is experienced and how it affects people and society.

I have listed almost 40 studies on religion and wellbeing in Studies of medicine and religion and outlined the conclusions of these studies in The health and wellbeing benefits of active and positive christian belief.

Religion, wellbeing and prosociality

The results are not black and white, sometimes different aspects of religion have different effects, but the overall conclusions are very clear. Religious belief and religious practice are associated with higher than average levels of physical and mental health and wellbeing, and higher levels of prosociality (prosociality is a term for “voluntary behavior intended to benefit another”). Sometimes religion is found to be a significant cause.

So religious belief and or practice has been found to help people under stress, assist recovery from physical and mental illnesses, and reduce the incidence of depression, suicide, substance abuse and anti-social behaviour. Believers are generally happier and more likely to donate to charity and volunteer in the community.

Some summary quotes

  • “our brain-scan research, which we document in our new book, How God Changes Your Brain, led us to the conclusion that faith is the most important thing a person needs to maintain a neurologically healthy brain. Indeed, we believe that faith is more essential than exercise, especially in light of the cumulative research showing how doubt and pessimism can shorten your life by years.” (Neuroscientists Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman.)
  • “the data that religion has social and individual benefits is so overwhelming that saying that religion has no benefits is active science denial.” (Connor Woods, PhD student in Science and Religion.)
  • “the data consistently point to a negative association between religiosity and criminal behavior and a positive association between religiosity and prosocial behavior. Both relations are modest in magnitude and ambiguous with respect to causation.” (Scott O. Lilienfeld and Rachel Ammirati, university researchers and atheists.)
  • “There‚Äôs no shortage of research on religion and health. Most of it suggests that the religious not only live longer, but are also likely to live better.” (Jonathan Morgan on the Science on Religion blog.)

Take-home messages

1. This question can be settled by properly designed medical studies carried out by competent medical and psychological researchers and reported in respected scientific journals.

2. The overwhelming evidence is that religious belief and practice, overall and with many exceptions, lead to better than average health and wellbeing and a higher than average degree of prosociality.

3. The causation and mechanisms are not always clear. Possible explanations have been proposed but in most cases the jury is still out.

4. None of this “proves” God exists, and I haven’t seen any researchers would claim that. But it is consistent with belief in God.

5. This evidence is broadly contrary to the claims of some atheists that religion causes great harm.

6. Christians should not be concerned about scientific studies of religion. Scientists may often treat them as an explanation of religion, but we can just as reasonably see them as how God is experienced by human beings.

Further reading

Photo Credit: realize_photo via Compfight cc