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Whereas Christianity is in decline in Europe, in Africa it is still very strong.
Speaking as a rationalist and freethinker who believes he has objectively assessed the available data and has come to the conclusion that:
Its hard to take faith-healing seriously anymore.
Its hard to take stories of ‘demon-possession’ seriously anymore.
Its hard to take pastors seriously anymore.
Its hard to take bible-thumping politicians seriously anymore.
Its hard to take the Gospels seriously anymore
Its hard to take the fear of hell seriously anymore
… I wonder, does Christianity as a worldview still have anything to offer anybody besides the kind of subjective personal validation that one could also derive by subscribing to any number of passions, hobbies, or interests? Further, there exist today many avenues for seeking motivation for life and healthy living that do not require belief in Jesus or even a ‘God’ – and yet there are many for whom this belief is their reason for living on a day to day basis.
Atheists like myself view this dependency as a crutch.
But is there more to it?
And even if it is a crutch – what’s wrong with that, considering the dire situation the majority of Ugandans live in?
Matthew Parris an atheist, and journalist, wrote the following in his defense of Evangelical Christianity in Africa in the Times:
But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.
Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.
I used to avoid this truth by applauding – as you can – the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It’s a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith. But this doesn’t fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.
The hospitals, the schools, the charity work, the encouragement, the world view the belief system of Christianity contributes to Africa – all these are things Parris feels Africa cannot do without at this present time.
Anxiety – fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things – strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won’t take the initiative, won’t take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.
How can I, as someone with a foot in both camps, explain? When the philosophical tourist moves from one world view to another he finds – at the very moment of passing into the new – that he loses the language to describe the landscape to the old. But let me try an example: the answer given by Sir Edmund Hillary to the question: Why climb the mountain? “Because it’s there,” he said.
To the rural African mind, this is an explanation of why one would not climb the mountain. It’s… well, there. Just there. Why interfere? Nothing to be done about it, or with it. Hillary’s further explanation – that nobody else had climbed it – would stand as a second reason for passivity.
Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.
And I’m afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.”
It seems to me that Parris is saying Christianity is somehow necessary to fill the philosophical and metaphysical vacuum left by the erosion of traditional beliefs that have previously given Africans a cohesive albeit irrational worldview – because such a vacuum would leave Africans at the mercy of undesirable influences such as those things he mentions (though his selection criteria for those things is not clear).
It would not surprise me if some feel such sentiments to be patronizing in nature. I could see how one might accuse Parris of trying to imply that Africans are currently incapable of handling rationality and reason – and so at present need Christianity to save them from themselves. But even then, rather than infantilise Africans by replacing one crutch with another, why not give them the chance to learn how to walk on their own? The fact that there exists a growing number of atheists on the continent seems to challenge the implication that we are somehow unable to deal with reality without having Christianity as a crutch. Today, many Africans are increasingly looking at the world around them through a rational lens and are coming to the conclusion that one need not subscribe to religion to be moral, and charitable. Many of us have also realised that mysticism is not required as a foundation for a cohesive view of reality.
Norm Allen, the former executive director of African Americans for Humanism, wrote in his response to Parris:
I readily admit that missionaries have done some great work in Africa—building roads, clinics, schools, etc. However, missionaries in recent years have also enriched themselves while exploiting the masses, discouraged millions of Africans from using condoms, thereby increasing unwanted pregnancies and the spread of Aids, promoted sexism, contributed greatly to the persecution and deaths of alleged witches, etc. Indeed, Africa provides the perfect example of what Robert Ingersoll said about the historic role of the Catholic Church: “In one hand she carried the alms dish, in the other, the dagger.” The same could be said of organized religion in general.
In Rwanda, Christians were complicit in the genocide that occurred there in the 1990s. Many people were brutally murdered in churches. In Nigeria, Christians and Muslims have been killing each other by the thousands. Throughout Uganda, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and many other African nations, Bible-based homophobia plays a major role in the persecution, and in some cases, murders, of LGBTs.
What Africa needs is what Ingersoll called “a caring rationalism.” The Bible simply contains too many ultra-reactionary and inhumane messages to be blindly embraced by believers. Christian ideas of tolerance are inconsistent with the biblical notion that acceptance of Christ is the only way to reach heaven. The Prince of Peace said he came to bring not peace, but a sword. It is no wonder that there are so many different conceptions of Christianity, not all of them benign.
A humanistic life-stance is the best way to approach the many divisive religious and ethnic conflicts that plague Africa. Human-centered thought and action offer much more for African uplift than piety and prayers ever could. Christian charity is, indeed, commendable. However our appreciation of the missionaries’ alms dish must never blind us to the dagger that so often accompanies it.
What do YOU think? Are you a believer? Then you probably disagree with atheists on this. Perhaps to you Christianity is real and is indeed the only path to one’s salvation – relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago.
This Freethinkers’ Night we are asking – Is Christianity Still Relevant in Africa?
We will be joined by several members of Mavuno Church, Kampala, who have expressed interest in participating in this discussion, with us.
The January 2013 Freethinkers’ Night will take place on Thursday, 31st January, at SPICE GARDEN (formerly 4 Points Bar & Restaurant), Centenary Park, Kampala, starting 6PM. Entrance is FREE.
If you are an open minded person whose opinions are formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason and are interested in meeting like-minded individuals – you are more than welcome to join us.
UPDATE: We attempted to record the discussion. The sound is inconsistent in the beginning but it gets better as it progresses. The recorder kept going off so there are breaks in just a few places, and it ends rather abruptly. That said, it is a fairly good recording – it sounds surprisingly much better than I thought it would, considering I recorded it using just my cellphone’s in-built recorder. Download.
Dear Believers in God,
You and I know that, the belief in the existence of God is not down to how many times he has showed up in his physical form or how often we have been able to communicate with him. The belief in God is down to a summation of various events, lessons and experiences that have led to the maintenance of the notion that there is a God after all. This however, does not take away the rather sad fact that there are many of us who have grown to believe that God exists, not out of our own freewill but because of circumstances. The trouble is not in the process through which one gets to believe that God exists but in the eventual refusal to actually validate the existence of God to oneself. Many of us believers have grown up believing God exists and we even appear to pray to him unaware that we are simply following in the footsteps of others and we are not exactly curving out our own reasons for belief.
It is all well and good that many of us believers have been blessed to grow up in God-fearing families with our parents teaching us the values of believing in and praying to God. However, it would be more beneficial if we made the personal realization and discovery that God does exists having set aside all traditional or enforced beliefs handed down to us from authorities and families.
Very many people claim to believe in God having been pushed by circumstances, history, acquaintances, the environment, troubles, hearsay and all sorts of reasons. Very few have actually taken the time to conceptualize and create a basis for their belief in God. If I believe in God because my father is a Church elder, then I may as well be regarded a non-believer because after all, my belief is channelled through and is dependant upon my father. In the event that he is no more or for some reason unavailable to keep holding my hand, my belief will be shaken or even shattered without a doubt. However, if my belief in God emerges from conclusions I have personally drawn and observations I have made on my own, my faith will probably be rock solid. True, my faith may and will often be put to test but the chances that I can weather the storm are higher if my faith is founded on principles that I personally visualize and not on principles that someone else set up for me.
It is my hope that believers in the existence of God (irrespective of their faiths i.e, Muslims, Orthodox, Protestants, Born Agains e.t.c) begin to have belief in God and defend their positions based on personal conclusions. Each person does have the ability to analyse the question of God’s existence on their own; after all, I believe God did not create us with powerful minds just to have these minds believe without questioning. Having belief that is independently rooted in some other people or authority can be very dangerous especially since others are susceptible to changing goal posts or even twisting issues to suit their own needs. This probably explains why some people use faith based arguments to front their desire for terrorism and other inhuman activities carried out in the name of God. Aside from the fact that it tarnishes one’s faith in the eyes of the rest of the world, it also creates a huge problem for such a believer in case they were asked to present a logical and well thought out argument for their belief in God. They would start scampering around looking for arguments previously presented by other people and this lends credence to the argument that they probably believe in a God they do not even know personally.
I may not be able provide physical evidence that God exists or to offer some sort of script documenting the conversations me and my God have had, however, I know well enough not to use my emotions and sentiments when arguing or debating with atheists. Besides, when I stand on my two feet and say I believe in the existence of God, I offer my argument based on what I have personally experienced or what I think is my reason for belief. I do not offer arguments based on what some other person or authority says. Every once in a while I may reference or quote someone else but overall, I offer my argument based on my own conclusion and not someone else’s conclusion on my behalf. This principle, I imagine, is what belief in God should be founded on because only then shall we be able to talk to atheists with level-headedness and only then shall we appreciate and cherish our own belief in God.
One of the problems that atheists tend to have with us believers (and I totally understand them here) is that many believers tend to argue as if we own exclusive rights to the deity that is God. Maybe we do, because after all, we are the custodians of the argument for the existence of God, are we not? However, many a time, our arguments are half baked, botched and extremely shallow. Sometimes I see or hear my fellow believers offering arguments to atheists and I almost hide my face in shame. We as believers are fond of making submissions with the anticipation that the other person should (must) understand and agree with our stand point right away and without much question. And this probably explains why atheists are quick to claim that many of us believers are arrogant, perpetually in denial and somewhat aloof. Many times, this degenerates into a worthless argument …
…more often than not, we even end up exchanging words that tend to feel like (and in many cases turn into) actual blows.
When holding an argument with an atheist, instead of conceding that we may be short on valid arguments at certain moments, we as believers instead go ahead to explode into a series of uncoordinated responses that often lead one to conclude that maybe, after all, the believer’s arguments are unworthy of audience.
I have had the honour of debating and arguing with several atheists about the question of the existence of God but one thing that I have noticed over time is that the more you present a calm, collected and well articulated argument, the better your chances of putting your point across (if any). I may not be able to make the atheist convert and start believing in the existence of God but I will give them reason to agree that maybe even as a believer, my thinking cap is not lost or misplaced. True, I am often offended that my God is being belittled and treated as some illusion but I understand that if someone does not believe in my God, they are likely to use the most demeaning words – that I know and try not to kill anyone over it. Therefore the chances that I will lose my temper are minimal because the key to holding a logical argument or debate is to allow oneself to understand the other person’s argument no matter how divergent their views may seem.
Over the years, there have been fundamental issues raised by both the atheists and theists pertaining to the question of the existence of God. And it is these fundamental issues that have given rise to continued debate between the atheists and theists. However on more occasions than I can remember, I have come across an atheist and a believer failing to respect each other and instead have their argument degenerate into some kind of argument about who is sharper or more intelligent than the other…
…its almost as if they are trying to see whose brain is more superior.
I therefore have two simple appeals to make to believers. The first and probably most important is that you ought to believe in God not because your parents pushed you to or because you studied in a school that was run by believers and so the belief in God was taught to you by teachers. Belief in God is supposed to be felt, experienced and lived voluntarily and not taught or enforced. It may be true that freethinking calls for one to be inclined to forms one’s own opinions rather than depend upon authority, especially about social and religious issues; exhibiting boldness of speculation. However I believe this should work for the believer as well. The traditional freethinker will probably question my application of freethinking to the belief in God but I am insistent that the two can and should be married together because only then will believers start to be more logical and in turn benefit from their belief in God.
My second and final appeal is that when we are arguing with atheists or even doing the bare minimums of spreading the word, let us desist from condemning the non-believers. Let us try to keep calm heads and offer arguments with level headedness. That way, not only shall we attempt to live by example, we shall also end up appearing organised and well grounded in our belief (never mind the fact that we may have our own personal doubts and insufficiencies). Do not lose your temper as you talk about or put up a case for your belief in God …
…If you do not get a grip on your anger and temper, you could wind up turning into a savage warrior.
I end this letter with a quote from one of my favourite playwrights of all time; a namesake as well – George Bernard Shaw
The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it ~ George Bernard Shaw
Chew on that fellow theists; otherwise, God Bless all of you.
Yours in belief,
The Talkative Rocker
The Talkative Rocker is a member of the Freethought Kampala Facebook group. He is a Christian.
[Originally posted at: The WORKZINE]
Born Again in the United States of Uganda is the name of a documentary being produced and directed by Samantha Asumadu, who describes herself as a “documentary filmmaker, campaigner & sometime DJ”:
There is a web of entanglement between U.S. evangelicals, fundamentalists, conservatives and African clergy that exists to maintain a power structure and a severe homophobic agenda that serves the hard-core religious groups. This documentary will be the definitive film that shows that the American evangelical right invests heavily in financial and advocacy effort in influencing religious Africans to shun gay rights and that the Ugandan Anti-Gay Bill was an import from the West. Uganda is the test bed for Texas.
In the documentary, Samantha follows the religious fervor surrounding the push to get the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 passed:
She also captures a debate about the bill by members of Freethought Kampala, who believe that people should not be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. This was taped almost 2 years ago:
She hopes to complete the documentary soon. Looks interesting so far!
Samantha Asumadu’s e-mail: email@example.com
Anyone familiar with charismatic expressions of Christian belief in Uganda (mainly through Pentecostal/Balokole/Born-Again/Evangelical churches) knows that emotions and fanfare play a large part in the proceedings.
Typically struggling with everyday problems and desperate for divine intervention, every week (and sometimes more frequently) millions of believers flock to these churches in search for their ‘miracle’. Problems such as unemployment, marital trouble, poverty, and illness are deferred to Jesus Christ who they believe will solve those problems, or give them the strength to persevere through them.
In Charismatic Christianity in Uganda (Part 1 – Introduction) I wrote that:
The popularity of this form of Christianity has exploded over the last few decades because the doctrine promises poor, under-educated believers miraculous solutions to their everyday problems. Understandably, on an impoverished continent like this one, a religion that offers quick fixes to all the pressing problems in life will be immensely popular, and that is exactly what we see happening. Among charismatic Christians, things like unemployment, failure of business, failure of marriage, sickness, corruption in government… all the problems an individual or society could possibly face… are attributed to Satan, demons and other evil spirits – and Jesus is presented as the antidote.
Such an iteration of Christianity fits perfectly well with the mindset of most native Africans, most of whom have, since time immemorial, taken seriously the perceived threat of curses inflicted upon them by spirits and other bad omens. This is probably why charismatic Christianity has proven to be a raging success in sub-Saharan Africa.
This has literally created a cottage industry of make-shift balokole churches all over the country, typically run by unscrupulous, opportunistic individuals looking to earn a living from the lucrative business of ‘selling’ Jesus.
Competition is fierce among pastors of rival local balokole churches, after all, having more worshippers usually means bigger collections.
Indeed, this competition for ever bigger collections has produced a crop of what can best be described as showmen, rather than clergymen – evangelists, who, using their knowledge of human psychology are able to enthrall the masses with charismatic styles of preaching. By also knowing which emotional buttons to press, they are able to compel hordes of their desperate followers to part with their meager earnings in exchange for the promise of a miracle. Many of them are now also televangelists, recording their sermons and broadcasting them on television to broaden their reach.
It is difficult to tell who among these characters actually believes in the things they teach, and who are just doing it as a business. What we are seeing is probably a combination of both. Perhaps they see themselves as providing encouragement to their desperate flock, and feel that the ends justify the means. So whatever it takes to get the the people excited and motivated, is what they will do. People want spectacle – and the evangelists supply it by the truckload. Speaking in tongues, casting out demons, slaying the spirit, shouting, yelling, ‘healing’ and singing – all of it working up the flock into a frenzy, almost to the point of hysteria.
These kind of evangelists are not unique to Uganda, or Africa.
Evangelists like these have been in business in the United States for years, and many of the successful ones are even well known to Ugandans. Lighthouse Television, which is the local Trinity Broadcasting Network affiliate, on a daily basis broadcasts sermons and crusades by such televangelists as Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, T.D Jakes, Creflo Dollar and others.
Ever stopped to ask yourself how they pull it off?
This Freethinkers’ Night, we will be screening the Academy Award winning 1972 documentary titled Marjoe:
Part documentary, part expose, this film follows one-time child evangelist Marjoe Gortner on the "church tent" Revivalist circuit, commenting on the showmanship of Evangelism and "the religion business", prior to the start of "televangelism".
In this film, Marjoe Gortner (his real name) takes us behind the scenes to show us the ‘tricks of the trade’ in modern evangelism. After watching this, you’ll never look at a church service or revival the same again.
The February 2012 Freethinkers’ Night will take place on Thursday, 23rd February, at 4 Points Bar & Restaurant, Centenary Park, Kampala, starting 6PM. Entrance is FREE.
If you are an open minded person whose opinions are formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason and are interested in meeting like-minded individuals – you are more than welcome to join us.
I work at Sanyu FM, a radio station catering to the the 18-35 English-speaking urban middle-class male/female demographic, as host of the morning show.
Our news department had the idea of doing some kind of ‘special’ for Christmas during their news bulletins – where they’d present some background to the origins of Christmas, analyse its significance for Christians, and ask various people how they plan on celebrating it.
Today they aired the first in this series of specials, and their first interviewee was an atheist you might know. He talks about his understanding of the origins of Christmas, and why he plans on joining in the celebrations, even though he is a non-believer.
I’m in the mood for sharing; it’s Christmas, after all, right? So here’s the audio, just for you 🙂 .
My criticisms of religion specifically center around what I think are dangerous beliefs they promote. Beliefs, when taken seriously, have deleterious effects upon society.
My recent talks in the UK focused particularly on the dangerous beliefs that were being promoted by the charismatic Christian belief system (Born-Again/Pentecostalism/etc).
I have always contended that charismatic Christianity plays an IMPORTANT role in promoting and reinforcing beliefs about the efficacy of witchcraft in this country. In this post, I am interested in presenting direct evidence of this contention. I will look at two widely read charismatic Christian books in Uganda (and sub-Saharan Africa).
Snatched from Satan’s Claws:
The book, “Snatched from Satan’s Claws”, was given to me by my mother two years ago. She felt that, being an atheist, I needed to be reminded of the threats we face as humans in this demon haunted world. Being reminded of these threats, she thought, might make me think twice about not accepting Christianity. She implored me to take seriously what was written in it.
Reading this book, I concluded that the authors of this book must either be deliberate liars or fraudsters; or they are insane and in need of psychiatric help. There is simply no other way to make sense of the blatant and outrageous assault on rationality that emanates from this book.
The book, co-written by Pastor D. D. Kaniaki and Evangelist Mukendi (from the Democratic Republic of Congo), is about Mukendi’s alleged ordeal as a former sorcerer, who later converted to Christianity.
Here is an excerpt from the first chapter:
In early October 2011, I engaged in a tour of the UK and Ireland to give talks on the topic: The Rise of Skepticism in Uganda.
An atheist talkshow host and 12 "like-minded people" are attempting to tackle superstition, mysticism and witchcraft in Uganda. James "Fat Boy" Onen is an on-air presenter for Sanyu FM and a co-founder of Freethought Kampala. Through Facebook campaigns, newspaper articles and regular monthly meetings, Onen believes Freethought Kampala is providing the only rational platform for tackling superistition in Uganda.
This month, Onen has been speaking at events around the UK after being invited by the British Humanist Association (BHA). Addressing small gatherings, he said everyday Ugandans were over-reliant on a "mixed bag" of belief in black magic and Pentecostal Christianity.
Cresswell also talked to a researcher called Joanna Sadgrove, who expressed her doubts about my portrayal of religion in Uganda:
Commenting on the talks, Joanna Sadgrove, a specialist in African Christianity who has researched in Uganda for 15 years, said Onen did not capture the diversity of expression of religion in Africa. "There are religious leaders who capitalise on people who don’t have control over their lives. There are also Christians who are doing good works in Ugandan society and being part of a community of faith."
I wish to respond to Joanna Sadgrove’s comments.
Eddie Ssemakula’s article yesterday, titled “When Your Lover Yawns” (from the Sunday Monitor of 19th June) was an interesting one.
In it, he speculates about what might have caused the abandonment of faith by a person who he once knew to be highly religious.
When I sit now to reflect on what could have driven my brother from his Christian convictions, I suspect one to be his lover(s). his girlfriend(s) must have yawned at him. Yes. Yawned. They must have yawned at his faith. They must have yawned at him every other morning he opened the scriptures.
They must have yawned everytime he picked the remote control and turned on a sermon. They must have yawned every time he showed them his sexual purity pledge card. They must have yawned. And he must have given up.
Ssemakula decides that it could have been the young man’s girlfriends that led him astray. One after the other, they purportedly kept “yawning” every time the young man turned on religious programmes on TV, read the bible, or declared his sexual purity – leading to this man’s apparent deconversion. He then goes on to quote various scathing utterances of Paul in the New Testament such as “do not be yoked together with unbelievers” to remind Christians that they should not associate too much with those that do not share their beliefs.
Apostle Paul called this whole obsession “yoking with unbelievers” and warned us “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and non-belief?
In the case of the young man Ssemakula speaks of, these would be the alleged yawning girlfriends.
What I did find odd about the article was that no mention was made of WHY these girlfriends might have been yawning. I will therefore propose some likely explanations, because I too have found myself “yawning” (or more accurately, express disinterest), when confronted by someone trying to preach to me:
Perhaps his girlfriends have seen that the most pious among their flock are also the most hypocritical. They have seen the Catholic Church’s gross mishandling of the notorious child sexual abuse scandals, and how many of the prominent anti-gay pastors in the US have turned out the be gay themselves. They have also seen local bishops in Uganda receive brown envelopes from presidents, they have seen the most respected local pastors involved in financial fraud and sex scandals, they have seen choir girls at their local church get pregnant one after the other. In short, in their experience, the more ‘godly’ one has claimed to be, the more ‘immoral’ they have often tended to be – and we’ve all met people like that, haven’t we?
Perhaps his girlfriends have come to realise that Christianity is one among thousands of other religions that have existed in the past. They see that all religions make mutually contradictory claims about truth, none of whose claims are falsifiable, or empirically verifiable, so there is no way to tell which religion is true, and which is false.
Perhaps his girlfriends know that the bible, just like any other ‘holy’ book, was written by, and inspired by man. (Why should we take seriously what somebody called Paul wrote in the bible? He is a human being like anyone else, prone to the same faults and delusions as the next person. Not to mention the fact that almost half of the epistles attributed to him were not written by him but by anonymous authors). They may have also noticed the bible’s many factual errors, as well as its contradictions. They might also be aware that a council of bishops met and decided by voting what books would or would not be excluded from it.
Perhaps they know that purported accounts of alleged miracle healing are reducible to fraud, exaggeration, misreporting, or the placebo effect.
Perhaps they know that religion is not necessary for morality, fulfilment or purpose in life – and see that many people are living happy lives without it. The world’s two biggest philanthropists, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are, in fact, non-believers. Perhaps those ladies are even familiar with the volumes of actual research in existence that show a negative correlation between religiosity in societies and societal health, when measured based on indicators such as respect for human rights, democracy, level of employment, access to education and medical care.
And these are all facts.
If, in the face of all this, some self righteous person went about saying that all who do not abide by the religious doctrine he holds to are wicked, damned or evil – then one cannot be blamed for yawning, can they?
So rather than point fingers at non-believers when one of their own loses their faith, believers like Eddie Ssemakula need to start pointing the finger at themselves and ask why it is that they believe what they believe – and why others are increasingly not compelled to believe the same.
Fortunately, many believers are reasonable people. They realise that a lot of what they believe cannot be proven so they take it on faith, and so will not try to impose their beliefs on others. They recognise that believers in all manner of differing religions will inevitably find themselves interacting with those from other religions, or those with none, as they go about their everyday business – whether at office, school, hospital, their neighbourhoods and now even on the Internet. They also recognize that piety does not equal morality, and so prefer to judge people on the basis of the content of their character, rather than on a person’s self-professed religious beliefs. For this reason, Paul’s calls in the bible for believers not to be ‘equally yoked’ with non-believers (i.e. non-Christians) are not only impractical but also unnecessarily divisive. Thomas Jefferson was indeed right when he said: “Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one-half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites.”
Our level of human interaction and cooperation has today come to transcend religious (and of course, ethnic) differences – which any sensible person would contend is a wonderful thing – regardless of what anyone’s religious book says.
By the way Eddie Ssemakula is the same guy who one time wrote an article in about me, also in the Monitor, called “Onen Needs to Experience Jesus”.
Petitionary prayer, put simply, is a type of prayer where a believer specifically asks ‘God’ to intervene in a situation and change the course of events.
Here is a nice response by a person called Wilstar in the comments section of the article “Governors Urged to Observe National Day of Prayer, Ignore Threats” appearing the Christian Post online, with regards to the apparent futility of petitionary prayer:
Petitionary prayer can’t work anyway and I can prove it. Not by relying on empirical evidence, which also shows that prayer doesn’t work, but by the bible itself. It goes like this: Christians claim that God has a divine plan. The bible also says that the will of God will be done. His divine plan is consistent with his will. So if you pray for something that is already God’s will, the prayer will be answered, but even if you had not prayed for it it would be done if it is the will of God, Regardless of your prayer, God’s will will be done, so why pray? Does prayer change God’s mind? It can’t if God has a divine plan, unless he changes His divine plan, and if he does that for prayer, then his plan is totally capricious. Therefore, prayer doesn’t work by the rules of the bible.
The notion of petitionary prayer does indeed contradict any idea of the omniscience of ‘God’. It is strange that most Christians do not realise this. Their philosophers, however, do recognise that there are serious problems with it:
There is certainly something very strange about the idea of God changing his mind. As God is omniscient, every decision that he makes he makes in light of all of the facts; there cannot arise any new information that God failed to take into account that might cause him to revise his decision. God, then, should never change his mind.
This means that telling God of our needs and asking him to meet them is a waste of time; God is fully aware both of our needs and of our desires, and will have taken them into account in making his original decision. Whatever decision he has made, whether it is in our favour or not, we should not question; our judgement as to what God should do will surely be inferior to his, and so we should let him get on with doing what he is going to do.
It therefore seems that Christians ought not to pray petitionary prayers. Prayers of worship and adoration are understandable, of course, but requests for divine intervention seem to be futile; whatever God is going to do he will do, whatever he is not he will not. Our prayers won’t change that.
So petitionary prayer is a waste of time!
…not that there’s any good reason to think a ‘God’ even exists, in the first place.
This blog post is part of the ‘The Resurrection of Jesus’ series. In this series, evidence that has been put forward by Christian apologists in support of the idea that Jesus was resurrected will be explored and critically examined. As we shall see, most of this evidence isn’t even good evidence in the first place, and they are insufficient to justify the conclusion that the story of the resurrection of Jesus is true.
Christian apologists are known for arguing for the authenticity and reliability of the bible based on the existence of alleged prophecy fulfilments – that is, that things predicted in the bible have come to pass. We are often asked to accept Jesus as the divine ‘Messiah’ on account of numerous prophecies and predictions in the Old Testament that purportedly attained fulfilment in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Such prophecies are called Messianic Prophecies.
The Septuagint as Reference:
One fact that is not in dispute by biblical historians is that the writers of the New Testament all had access to the SEPTUAGINT (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, translated in stages between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE).
The gospels were all originally written in Greek, and the writers of the canonical gospels used the Septuagint as their point of reference for the old Jewish writings, and were thus able to‘manufacture’ prophecy fulfilments, as they composed their accounts of the life of Jesus. Having the Septuagint at their disposal, they were free to pick and choose what messianic prophecies they could from the Old Testament, and mould their accounts of Jesus to fit the archetype of the anticipated Jewish Messiah.
The writer of the gospel according to Matthew, as with all the others, often exploited old scripture to authenticate his ‘Jesus’. Scholars agree that Matthew’s gospel was targeted at a Jewish audience, which is why he, more than any other gospel author, repeatedly goes to great lengths to prove the messiahship of Jesus by attempting to demonstrate parallels between the old messianic prophecies and his account of the life of Jesus.
He begins is gospel with a highly suspicious, and highly disputed genealogy of Jesus (which contradicts Luke’s), attempting to prove to his Jewish audience that Jesus was in fact descended from King David (the Jewish Messiah was expected to be descended from the line of King David, after all).
He can also be seen employing such phrases as:
Matthew’s technique, as is apparent, was to look for messianic prophecies in the Septuagint, and create events in his account of the life of Jesus that could demonstrate fulfilments of these same prophecies. He could then turn to the Jews, whom his gospel was written for, point to the ‘prophecy fulfilments’ in his narrative and make a case for why the Messiah had to be Jesus. Anyone with a copy of the Hebrew Old Testament for reference, and a bit of imagination, can just as easily compose such stories and attempt to authenticate them using this same technique.
There is nothing supernatural going on here.
The writer of Matthew does this throughout his gospel, even to the extent of cutting and pasting from Psalms 22:1 in order to show prophecy fulfilment in his account of Jesus’ famous last words in which he says, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Never mind that this makes no sense whatsoever; for if Jesus is ‘God’, why is he pleading with himself? And since he was aware of the divine plan, and kept telling his disciples he was going to die and be raised from the dead, what was he complaining about? By trying to beef up his gospel with manufactured ‘prophecy fulfilments’ such as these, he sacrificed the internal logic of his account of Jesus’ death.
Incidentally, it is also possible that this character called Jesus, if he actually existed, modelled his life to match the messianic prophecies well known in his day by anyone familiar with the Jewish scriptures.
But since the only accounts of the life of this character are found in the gospels, we can’t know for sure that the events described in them even happened. Corroboration from neutral, contemporaneous, third-party sources would be required to lend credence to these stories. Such corroboration, however, does not exist.
The Isaiah Prophecy:
On what is regarded by Christians to be the most significant messianic prophecy in the Old Testament, Matthew writes in his first chapter (KJV):
(20) But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
(21) And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
(22) Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
(23) Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
Here, the prophet that Matthew was quoting from was Isaiah. Isaiah wrote in Chapter 7 Verse 14:
(14) Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
The word virgin, as it appears in the King James Version of Isaiah 7:14, is a mistranslation of the word ‘almah’, which appears in the original Hebrew texts. The Greek translators mis-translated almah, which in Hebrew means ‘young woman’ or ‘maiden’, as ‘parthenos’, which literally means ‘virgin’ in Greek. The writer of Matthew then applied this mistranslation in his gospel to imply prophetic fulfilment in Jesus being born of a virgin. [This mistranslation remains in many older versions of the Bible, such as the King James Version. However it has since been corrected in later Bible versions such as the Revised Standard Version, and the Good News Bible, where it ‘almah’ has been correctly translated as‘young woman’]
Had Isaiah intended to say ‘virgin’, he would have used, instead of almah, the word ‘betulah’ which is the Hebrew word for ‘virgin’. It can be seen in several other Old Testament passages where when the writers, including Isaiah, intended to refer to a virgin, they used the word betulah:
Genesis 24:16, Exodus 22:15, Exodus 22:16, Lev. 21:3, Lev. 21:13 & 14, Deut. 22:19, Deut. 22:23, Deut. 22:28, Deut. 32:25, Judges 19:24, Judges 21:12 , 2 Samuel 13:2, 2 Samuel 13:18, 1 Kings 1:2, 2 Kings 19:21, Isaiah 23:4, Isaiah 23:12, Isaiah 37:22, Isaiah 47:1,Isaiah 62:5, Jer. 14:17, Jer. 18:13, Jer. 31:3, Jer. 31:12, Jer. 31:20,Jer. 46:11, Ezekiel 44:22, Joel 1:8, Amos 5:2, Amos 8:13, Psalms 45:15, Psalms 78:63, Lam. 1:4, Lam. 1:15, Lam. 1:18, Lam. 2:10,Lam. 2:13, Lam. 2:21, Esther 2:2, Esther 2:3, Esther 2:17, Esther 2:19.
Matthew’s reference to the Isaiah prophecy was therefore erroneous. When you look at the correct Hebrew translation of the text, the woman Isaiah was referring to in his prophecy was not a virgin, but a young woman.
Furthermore, this specific prophecy made in Isaiah 7:14 was, according to the bible, fulfilled during the life time of King Ahaz, for whom the prophecy was originally intended.
To understand this, we must first look at the passages before and after Isaiah 7:14 to appreciate the context in which the prophecy was made:
(1) When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.
(2) Now the house of David was told, “Aram has allied itself with[a] Ephraim”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.
(3) Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub,[b] to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer’s Field.
(4) Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood—because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah.
(5) Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying,
(6) “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.”
(7) Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “‘It will not take place, it will not happen,
(8) for the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is only Rezin. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.
(9) The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son. If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.’”
(10) Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz,
(11) “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”
(12) But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.”
(13) Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also?
THEN you get the famous Isaiah 7:14 passage:
(14) Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The young woman will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
But the prophecy does not stop there. It continues into the next several verses; Isaiah 7:15-25:
(15) He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right,
(16) for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.
(17) The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria.”
(18) In that day the LORD will whistle for flies from the Nile delta in Egypt and for bees from the land of Assyria.
(19) They will all come and settle in the steep ravines and in the crevices in the rocks, on all the thornbushes and at all the water holes.
(20) In that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the Euphrates River—the king of Assyria—to shave your head and private parts, and to cut off your beard also.
(21) In that day, a person will keep alive a young cow and two goats.
(22) And because of the abundance of the milk they give, there will be curds to eat. All who remain in the land will eat curds and honey.
(23) In that day, in every place where there were a thousand vines worth a thousand silver shekels, there will be only briers and thorns.
(24) Hunters will go there with bow and arrow, for the land will be covered with briers and thorns.
(25) As for all the hills once cultivated by the hoe, you will no longer go there for fear of the briers and thorns; they will become places where cattle are turned loose and where sheep run.
It is quite obvious that the prophecy was directed at King Ahaz, and was pertinent to his situation at the time, not some kind of prediction about a future ‘messiah’. This is further demonstrated by the fact that the ‘prophecy’ appears to have been fulfilled in the lifetime of King Ahaz, according to the bible itself:
(29) In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, and took Ijon, and Abelbethmaachah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria.
(30) And Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah, and smote him, and slew him, and reigned in his stead, in the twentieth year of Jotham the son of Uzziah.
(5) Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to war: and they besieged Ahaz, but could not overcome him.
(6) At that time Rezin king of Syria recovered Elath to Syria, and drave the Jews from Elath: and the Syrians came to Elath, and dwelt there unto this day.
(7) So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, saying, I am thy servant and thy son: come up, and save me out of the hand of the king of Syria, and out of the hand of the king of Israel, which rise up against me.
(8) And Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the LORD, and in the treasures of the king’s house, and sent it for a present to the king of Assyria.
(9) And the king of Assyria hearkened unto him: for the king of Assyria went up against Damascus, and took it, and carried the people of it captive to Kir, and slew Rezin.
Interestingly, in order to explain this anomaly, some Christian apologists argue that this was double prophecy, foreshadowing both the fate of Israel against its hostile neighbours during the rein of King Ahaz, and also the birth of the messiah. In making this claim, however, apologists unfortunately create another dilemma for themselves – for if it was a double prophecy:
were there TWO virgin births?
did the Messiah eat curds and honey when he knew enough to reject the wrong and choose the right? Or did he not know enough to reject the wrong and choose the right prior to the time the land of whichever two kinds were laid to waste? (As per the continuation of the prophecy in Isaiah 7:15-16)
By invoking double prophecy to escape the fact that the prophecy was already fulfilled in the time of Ahaz, apologists will end up having to cherry-pick verses in the Isaiah prophecy they imagine support the gospel narrative while neglecting the ones that would result in absurdities if accepted as having been fulfilled. For if they were to accept the notion that there was a time that Jesus did not know enough to reject the wrong and right (which would be the result if double prophecy is to be applied consistently) then that would render the omniscience or the eternal divine nature of Jesus refuted.
And that is exactly what apologists do – cherry-pick Isaiah 7:14, declare that a prophecy fulfilled only in as far as a virgin birth is concerned, and then pretend the rest of the chapter is non-existent or irrelevant.
So then did Isaiah’s prophecy partly come true, at least as far as Ahaz was concerned?
Throughout this post I’ve been analyzing the bible for its own internal consistency – that is, to see if the bible is consistent within itself. We have seen that even accepting, for the sake of argument, that Isaiah really made that prophecy, it cannot be said to have been about Jesus, because according the bible’s own narrative, that prophecy fulfilment occurred in the life time of King Ahaz, approximately 700 years before Jesus was born.
As it is, there is no extra-biblical evidence that the prophecy fulfilments described in the second book of Kings actually happened.
To make things even more interesting, the book of Chronicles tells us the opposite of what Isaiah prophesied is what actually happened:
(1) was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem: but he did not that which was right in the sight of the LORD, like David his father:
(2) For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made also molten images for Baalim.
(3) Moreover he burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel.
(4) He sacrificed also and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree.
(5) Wherefore the LORD his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria; and they smote him, and carried away a great multitude of them captives, and brought them to Damascus. And he was also delivered into the hand of the king of Israel, who smote him with a great slaughter.
(6) For Pekah the son of Remaliah slew in Judah an hundred and twenty thousand in one day, which were all valiant men; because they had forsaken the LORD God of their fathers.
So, as opposed to the second book of kings that says…
Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to war: and they besieged Ahaz, but could not overcome him.… 2 Kings 16:5
…we are told in Chronicles that…
…Wherefore the LORD his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria; and they smote him, and carried away a great multitude of them captives, and brought them to Damascus. And he was also delivered into the hand of the king of Israel, who smote him with a great slaughter.For Pekah the son of Remaliah slew in Judah an hundred and twenty thousand in one day, which were all valiant men; because they had forsaken the LORD God of their fathers.… 2 Chronicles 28:5-6
…which is a clear contradiction.
So not only do we lack extra-biblical evidence in support of the events described in the prophecies of Isaiah and their ‘fulfilments’ as described in the second book of Kings – we also have the bible flatly contradicting itself in its description of these same events that Christian apologists claim is a fulfilment of one half of a ‘double prophecy’.
As far as the Jesus story is concerned, the book of Isaiah, and its (failed) prophecy is completely irrelevant. It has simply been distorted to suit the needs of Christian propagandists – starting with the author of the gospel according to Matthew, to your modern-day apologist.