Dialogue with Atheists

I love my atheist friends. Not only do they brighten up my work days with interesting emails, the also get me thinking quite a bit about what we do right and wrong as Christians.

The Internet Monk has entered into his own little dialogue with an atheist – it’s interesting reading.

That old “morality” chestnut comes up. One of the things atheists seem to find profoundly annoying (apart from being generalised and slandered as a bunch, and references to Hitler) is the idea that you can’t be a moral person without God.

This is a communication breakdown. When I say “you can’t be good without God” it’s because I believe in God, believe humanity to be totally and naturally sinful, and believe that God graciously allows sinful people to act morally. Other people mean something different – they mean that you can’t be moral without “believing” in God. They’re different. And I think we need to be careful to express the difference in meaning. Non-theists are capable of moral behaviour. Theists believe that’s because God lets them, atheists don’t feel that compulsion because they don’t believe God is there to do it.

The internetmonk article also brings up the question of indoctrinating children and whether or not this constitutes “child abuse” – which it can’t possibly, if God is there. And I believe he is.

10 further reflections on atheism

Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook (and you’ll find a link to add me on the right hand column of this site) will know that my status yesterday was “is looking for a fight”. Well, I found one, a bit, over at the FriendlyAtheist. 

It’s an interesting site. I have some reflections from my discussions there that I think are worthwhile. 

  1. The vast majority of atheists come out of some form of theism – many of the commenters on that blog are former church goers from a range of denominations – there are also a bunch of Mormons. They see their atheism as a natural progression towards enlightenment. 
  2. American culture must be harder on atheists – they all seem so bitter and I suspect that’s largely because the culture of American Christendom is difficult. 
  3. “Good” and moral are different – Christians have made a mistake because of a semantic difference on the definition of good. While Christianity teaches that nobody – not even Christians – is capable of “good” behaviour – this generally means “behaviour that counts towards salvation” – for an atheist it means anything that would be considered selfless or moral. Atheists, as a general rule, seem very angry at the idea they are incapable of moral behaviour because they don’t have God. Which leads them to ask if it’s only God preventing Christians from living immoral lives. (Which was well considered in Andrew’s recent post…)
  4. “Strong Atheists” (those who believe “Absolutely, positively, there is no god.”) are apparently being taught to argue as though they are “Weak Atheists” (those who believe “I don’t believe in God because no one has provided me with any credible evidence that God exists.”) in order to shift the burden of proof to Christianity. 
  5. Thanks to Dawkins and co atheists continue to argue with a caricature of Christianity – and also put forward issues or challenges to Christianity that are considered and covered by the Bible as if they’re compelling evidence – and refuse to accept belief in the Bible on the basis of a history of bad translations, poor doctrine and bad application. For example – David Attenborough, the prominent nature documentary maker – argues that the existence of “evil” in nature (specifically a worm whose only purpose is to burrow into the human brain) is proof that God isn’t loving and doesn’t exist. This dismisses any theological thought put into areas like this – and in fact the basic Christian teaching of the Fall’s impact on God’s creation. 
  6. As a further point on that last one – when the Bible does speak to a “logical” problem atheists have with Christianity it’s rejected on the basis that “the Bible would say that wouldn’t it…” as though considering the issue is part of a grand scheme to dupe us. 
  7. Faith is seem to be a “superstitious logical jump” in the face of conflicting evidence rather than a conviction of truth without all the  evidence.
  8. Atheists hate being compared to Mao – but love comparing Christians to the Crusaders (or in fact any nasty people carrying out nasty acts in the name of Jesus). When you suggest that these Christians weren’t being Christian you’re guilty of breaching the “no true Scotsman” fallacy – when you suggest that their anger at the Mao analogy is similarly a “no true Scotsman” fallacy you’re told that Mao was not motivated by his atheism… is it just me seeing this as contradictory?
  9. A whole lot of bad teaching is coming home to roost – doctrinal clarity is important. Ideas like “God is love” that don’t speak to God’s wrath, holiness, or judgement have caused more harm than good. This is what happens when only part of the gospel is considered with another part swept under the carpet. 
  10. At the end of the day – my staunch “Reformed” understanding of evangelism and election means that I’m not in any position to convince those whose hearts are hardened to the gospel. The parable of the sower would tend to suggest that the standard atheist experience of a choked faith is natural and to be expected for many “converts”…  
  11. And a bonus point – “evidence” is seen to be some sort of magic bullet for atheists – but naturalism presupposes the supernatural – and as soon as something supernatural is demonstrably tested it’s no longer supernatural but just an undiscovered natural entity – God is, by definition, supernatural. He can not possibly be tested in this manner, because we can’t expect him to conform to our “testing” and act the same way over and over again… There are biblical examples of God being tested – Ezekiel and Gideon spring to mind – but these are of no value to this argument… because of point six. This link should take you to what I think is a nice little evidence analogy in one of my comments.

These reflections come from my experience and discussions on these posts. Feel free to critique my arguments or approach in the comments.

The Friendly Atheist

I’ve been reading a bit of the back catalogue of the Friendly Atheist, who is in fact a friendly atheist – it’s a same about his lunatic band of followers who deface every moderate post with comments about why Christianity should not exist… I’ve been doing this because I think engaging with just one or two posts from this sort of blog and getting all preachy in the comments is harmful. I like to understand context before I go off disagreeing (yes my specific atheist friends this is important to Christians…).

The Friendly Atheist, Hermant Mehta, achieved some fame ebaying off his time with a promise to visit churches identified by the winning bidder. He turned it into a book – which would no doubt be informative reading for anybody wanting to look at church practices from the outside. He also used his experience to write a couple of reflective posts – one about things about church that are annoying (and I agree with most of them) – as do many Christian commenters on the post (which is still getting comments almost 2 years later)… and this one – ten things Christians do better than atheists – which is a bit less friendly. I guess because both target the fringe parts of Christianity that I personally have struggles with… Which in itself is interesting. I think the “rational” evangelical arm of Christianity probably spends a lot of time agreeing with atheists and throwing stones at Christian brothers rather than focusing on the unity we have with our “irrational” fellow Christians. Which is pretty challenging. Especially in the light of passages like 1 Corinthians 1 (incidentally if you google the phrase: 1 Corinthians 1 biblegateway esv – the third result down is a page on the MPC website (dad’s church for the uninitiated))…

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The more I grapple with, and try to convince my atheist friends of the rationality of the gospel the more I am convinced that this is the case – they’re going to read this and tell me I’m copping out for falling back on a proof text written in order to justify just this criticism – but that’s where I guess our “doctrine” of Scripture disagrees. If it’s a true representation of God’s intentions why wouldn’t the Bible say it?

Craig linked to the article from the Friendly Atheist I posted the other day, with a wise disclaimer encouraging Christians to be sensitive when posting – advice I perhaps failed to heed with my own comments – lest we give more ammunition to the disdain these atheists show for Christianity. It’s particularly pertinent advice given some of the “drive by” evangelism that happens in the comments on that blog – evangelism without relationship is pretty futile. As perhaps best expressed by this Friendly Atheist post of advice for Christians as they evangelise to atheists

Courage under fire

Saudi Arabia is not a nice place to be if you’re a Muslim looking to become a Christian.

Anyone who wants to preach the message that Islam is a religion of love and tolerance should consider the punishment dished out on anybody who wants to leave the fold.

In Christianity we call communities that shun or excommunicate those who leave cults. It’s one of the criterion a cult must meet.

According to Islamic rules – as stated in the Hadith of Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 84, Number 57, which is authoritative for all Muslims:

“Some Zanadiqa (atheists) were brought to ‘Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn ‘Abbas who said, “If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah’s Apostle forbade it, saying, ‘Do not punish anybody with Allah’s punishment (fire).’ I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah’s Apostle, ‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.’”

A Christian convert in Saudi Arabia, a young girl, wrote this poem (and posted it online) shortly before her family killed her for apostasy. Here’s an excerpt:

There are tears on my cheek, and Oh! the heart is sad
To those who become Christians, how you are so cruel!
And the Messiah says, “Blessed are the Persecuted”
And we for the sake of Christ all things bear

What is it to you that we are infidels?
You do not enter our graves, as if with us buried

Enough – your swords do not concern me, not evil nor disgrace
Your threats do not trouble me, and we are not afraid
And by God, I am unto death a Christian—Verily
I cry for what passed by, of a sad life

Talk about courage under fire.

There are three things this episode prompts me to think.

  1. I’m glad I live in a tolerant country.
  2. Atheists should be glad we live in a country with a nominally Judeo-Christian background because they have the philosophical freedom to hold their beliefs.
  3. Showing that kind of conviction is a rare thing indeed – how many of us would kill our siblings for holding contrary views – and how many of us would hold a view that would cause that sort of family reaction?

This is a more serious tone than I like to put here – but this story is just overwhelmingly sad. And this sort of insight into martyrdom is rare. This lady’s entire poem is well worth a read. Do it.

Doubt fired

While introducing myself to the iMonk website I came across this great essay on doubt. Particularly Christian doubt. It’s helpful, I think.
A couple of quotes:

These doubts have made me respect my honest, unbelieving friends. To many of them, it isn’t so much the content of Christianity that is ridiculous. It’s the idea that Christians are so certain; so doubtless. They find it untenable that anyone could bury their own doubts so deep that you are as certain as Christians appear to be. Our television and radio preachers, our musicians and booksellers, the glowing testimonial at church, the zealous fanatic at the break table at work–they all say that Christians no longer have the doubts and questions of other people. Only certainties. And for many thoughtful unbelievers, that appears to be lying or delusion, and they would prefer to avoid both.

So do I. I profoundly dislike the unspoken requirement among Christians that we either bury all our doubts out in back of the church, or we restrict them to a list of specific religious questions that can be handled in polite conversations dispensing tidy, palatable answers. Mega-doubts. Nightmarish doubts. “I’m wasting my whole life” doubts are signs one may not be a Christian, and you’ve just made it to the prayer list.

My doubts exist alongside my appetite for God. I believe no one has put forward a more cogent and persuasive critique of theism than Sigmund Freud. Freud’s contention that human beings create a God in the sky out of their longings for a perfect father and their fear of death has the virtue of common sense and realism. As a Christian, I do not doubt that vast tracts of human religiosity can be explained by Freud’s analysis. Yet, Freud is wrong. The Biblical God is not wishful thinking, but the center of the spiritual “appetite” of human beings. Billions of human beings would prefer no God exist. Billions of human beings would like to make God in the image of Santa or Oprah. Yet, Christianity, Judaism (and even Islam) persistently put forward a God who is terrifying to who we are. A just, holy God of judgment. A God of heaven and hell. Not the God of the wishful thinkers, but the God who is a consuming fire.

And it is this God that we long to know. This God who repulses us and damns us. This God who demands the purity of thought and action. A God who demands that we love Him with all that we are and love our fellow persons as His creations. It is this God that we long to know in intimacy. It is this God we long to be accepted by, to trust and to praise. This God is the source of all the notions of beauty, truth and goodness that we find in this universe. C.S. Lewis said that appetite could not prove the existence of food, but I don’t think that speaks for the experience of the starving person.

Apologetics accepted

One of the things I do in order to increase my levels of frustration is read annoying things written by atheists who feel intellectually superior to us “unenlightened Christians”.

I spend a lot of time arguing with three of my friends – two of whom are declared atheists – one is a notorious fence sitter. 

I often ask myself why I bother. They’re smart guys and as set in their beliefs as I am in mine. I don’t think we’re going to change each other’s minds. I guess there are a few reasons. I like them – so I’d like to see them change their minds – believing as I do that hell is real. I would like to not be scoffed at for having “an imaginary friend”. And I guess there’s the fact that I love an argument. But I think one of the key reasons I do it is to refine and define my thoughts on the criticisms atheism throws at any form of theism – but particularly Christianity. It’s an exercise in apologetics – in defending the faith. 

I guess in the face of militant atheism, being championed as it is by leaders with evangelistic zeal, Christians need to make sure they’re putting up a fight for the hearts, minds and souls of the great unreached – the agnostics. Those who haven’t picked a side yet. Those people are being bombarded with teachings from both sides – and I feel like I need to mount a compelling, rational defence of Christianity. 

That was all a pretty long preamble to a great reminder that the real “apologetic” winner is relational not rational. The reminder comes courtesy of Tim Chester at the Resurgence.

Philosophical Death Match: Science v Religion

“Nonsense. There are so many phenomena that would raise the specter of God or other supernatural forces: faith healers could restore lost vision, the cancers of only good people could go into remission, the dead could return to life, we could find meaningful DNA sequences that could have been placed in our genome only by an intelligent agent, angels could appear in the sky. The fact that no such things have ever been scientifically documented gives us added confidence that we are right to stick with natural explanations for nature.”

From this article arguing that religion and science are essentially mutually exclusive. It makes some interesting points.

But I wonder why the observations of objective witnesses to the life of Jesus who independently confirm four of his five “miracles” don’t count as “scientific documentation”.

“Many religious beliefs can be scientifically tested, at least in principle. Faith-based healing is particularly suited to these tests. Yet time after time it has failed them. After seeing the objects cast off by visitors to Lourdes, Anatole France is said to have remarked, “All those canes, braces and crutches, and not a single glass eye, wooden leg, or toupee!” If God can cure cancer, why is He impotent before missing eyes and limbs? Recent scientific studies of intercessory prayer–when the sick do not know whether they are being prayed for–have not shown the slightest evidence that it works”

The other thing that often annoys me about atheists is this idea that we can somehow fabricate a miracle to test God. That’s not logical. God would, by the very nature of being God, be the one who sets the rules and the tests. Not the other way around.

It’s analogous to the scenario in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy where there’s the final revelation that mice are conducting experiments on humans. That idea is preposterous. That’s why it’s funny. We are in no position to demand that a God – a being by nature superior to us – comply to our testing parameters. I can understand how the lack of regular miracles would be frustrating to those wishing to observe God. But I don’t see how it’s a reason to rule out the idea of God.

The other problem with this guy is that he’s trying to accommodate pluralism and religion and religion and science at the same time. He almost rules out the possibility of religion on the basis that more than one religious idea exists. He should perhaps first pull the log out of his own eye before going for that one.

Scientific consensus is less likely than religious – and scientific positions are much more likely to be influenced by an external factor (like funding).

Science allows you to set whatever hypothesis and testing methodology you choose. It has great freedom. This is the problem with science though – you can’t set methodology when you don’t have the authority to do so.

The idea of testing God also falls over because “science” (or its advocates) insist on operating in a closed system – ruling out God and anything supernatural. So you get a statement like this:

“That alleged synthesis requires that with one part of your brain you accept only those things that are tested and supported by agreed-upon evidence, logic, and reason, while with the other part of your brain you accept things that are unsupportable or even falsified. In other words, the price of philosophical harmony is cognitive dissonance. Accepting both science and conventional faith leaves you with a double standard: rational on the origin of blood clotting, irrational on the Resurrection; rational on dinosaurs, irrational on virgin births. Without good cause.”

And this:

“Secular reason includes science, but also embraces moral and political philosophy, mathematics, logic, history, journalism, and social science–every area that requires us to have good reasons for what we believe. Now I am not claiming that all faith is incompatible with science and secular reason–only those faiths whose claims about the nature of the universe flatly contradict scientific observations. Pantheism and some forms of Buddhism seem to pass the test. But the vast majority of the faithful–those 90 percent of Americans who believe in a personal God, most Muslims, Jews, and Hindus, and adherents to hundreds of other faiths–fall into the “incompatible” category.”

Bookmarks for January 4th

These are my links for January 4th through February 4th:

Continue reading

Daily bread

The bread of life

The bread of life

This unleavened (probably kosher) pita bread Jesus is on sale via New Zealand auction site TradeMe. The story is here at the SMH. There are plenty of good bread puns to be made with a story like this. But I won’t. They wouldn’t be in good taste, and would likely be stale.

This bread immediately reminded me of this Museum of Idolatory that keeps track of modern Christianity’s dalliance with commercialism.

iJesus

iJesus

Robyn and I failed miserably in our attempt to read the bible in a year last year. Largely because I’m slack when it comes to personal motivation to chew through the boring bits of the Old Testament. Chronicles anyone? Maybe this year will be different – perhaps Jesus shaped toast is the motivation we’ve been missing.

False Teachers

I’ve been taking part in a couple of discussions (and reading others) around the net on “false teachers” lately. Basically, my position is that I think “false teachers” as described in the bible have a particular intention – while wrong teachers are just confused, like we all can be sometimes.

They were largely prompted by this post on the solapanel by Gordon Cheng, who followed up with a pointer to that post on his blog.

“Just to be clear, let me say that I think Brian Houston, Rowan Williams, NT Wright and Karl Barth are false teachers.

I’m angry at people who treat their teaching seriously, in the same way that a few years ago, there was a sense of outrage that racist politician Pauline Hanson got any thoughtful attention at all from political leaders.”

Now Michael Jensen has weighed in with his views on the matter.

A follow up comment on that post gave his position on the issue with some clarity. I’d have to say that’s where I sit on things – but all those other posts (and I think, my comments) are well worth reading if you’re at all interested in a somewhat contentious issue.

It’s the end of the world as we know it…

So the large Hadron Collider has been turned on. While I may have spent yesterday running around yelling “Panic Panic!!!” and singing Muse’s Supermassive Black Hole… they’re not actually colliding any serious particles until later this year.  

The idea, for the unconcerned among you, is to recreate the conditions of the big bang by colliding particles travelling at close to the speed of light. The intention is to find the Higgs Boson or the “God Particle” – how Mr Peter Higgs name became synonymous with God is beyond me.

When you perform a task of this magnitude a lot of nut cases come out of the wood works – there’s a group convinced the experiment will create black holes which will destroy the world. They made a youtube video – which I haven’t seen so won’t link to. There are crazy Christians who seem a little concerned this will somehow “disprove God” or help atheists in their thinking. And then there are the stupid, ignorant atheists – perhaps my favourite group in this situation who provide comments like this on the news.com.au forum:

“I love how 99% of the negative comments about the LHC are all from Christians. I’ll Believe Physics, thats been proven, over christianity, which hasnt been proven, anyday…Christians: Look at it from a ignorant christian perspective. They are spending 11billion to prove that God created the earth. Meanwhile i dont see Christians spending money to prove that Science didnt create the earth..” – Alex from Adelaide.

Thanks Alex for your valuable insight.

Christians do not argue that science didn’t create the earth because to do so would elevate science from a study of observable phenomena to a sentient being able to perform the act of “creation”.

My other favourite was this one:

“The church must be soiling itself waiting for the day that scientists proove there is no god and that we were created from the big bang and they have the hard and fast proof. The biggest business in the world “the church” will be bankrupted. Unless of course religion can actually proove god exists. Science will have the hard and fast proof very soon. Posted by: Andrew of Australia

Andrew is obviously pretty angry at the church – angry enough to make a claim about science’s ability to prove or disprove the metaphysical.

Atheists, in the main, are a fairly ignorant lot, often influenced by militant atheists to “believe in science” as some form of religion. Here’s the thing Alex, and other atheists out there, us Christians also believe in science. Some Christians even engage science as a weapon (think Creation Science Ministries or whatever those guys call themselves). Scientific outcomes are driven by starting hypotheses – and these are driven by the organisations funding the research. Science is not an objective entity. Science is a broad church. The reality is that science is now driven by ideology and commercial imperatives more than any church I know. Throw money into the mix and see what sort of “scientific findings” we can come up with. Most churches are driven by a goal to spread the gospel – for free. Most churches I know are “not for profits” and their “wealth” is tied up in physical assets used for the cause. Would you have churches meet in our “public” school buildings Andrew?

Not if the Sydney Morning Herald has its way. I’m no Hillsong apologist – in fact I have massive problems with their “prosperity” theology and their music, and and endless list of other gripes that I won’t go into. But this article on public schools as secular institutions being no place for any form of religion is dangerous and stupid. It’s also the worst piece of ideologically driven journalism I’ve seen for a long time, and it belongs in the opinion pages – not the news.

Quotes from the article below:

“A teacher at one public school said students had returned to class after an Exo day concert complaining about attempts to convert them, while the Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Associations says it is an attempt to sneak evangelism into schools and reveals the need for new laws.”

“The NSW Education Act says that “instruction” at public schools must be non-sectarian and secular except in designated religious education classes.”

“A spokeswoman for the Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Association said religious recruitment in schools was inappropriate. “We need to ensure that children when they go to school aren’t exposed to discreet evangelism,” she said.”

I would think that an opt in program clearly run by a church group openly trying to promote the bible is hardly “discreet evangelism” or “instruction” or an attempt to “sneak” evangelize.

God will be God and you will know it

God has been getting a bit of publicity lately – and not much of it is good. This is likely to continue as long as his representatives (the church) keep screwing up their key messages. Public Relations strategy centres on sticking to a key message – and not straying to the peripherals. Andrew Denton’s balanced “God on My Side” was screened on the ABC last night and showed the American Religious Right for what it is – a mixture of crazy zealots hoping to bring about Armageddon through war in Israel and a group of well intentioned Christians keen to spread the gospel through whatever mean necessary. As Christians we are called to preach Christ crucified. To proclaim the “good news” that Jesus is the key to forgiveness for our inability and refusal to live life God’s way, using puppets is fine for that. We are not called to get on TV and promise new pancreases to diabetics. While the concept of judgement is a pillar of Christianity there is no biblical text to support the idea that we should be acting to hasten judgement – instead we’re called to make hay while the sun shines (John 4:35). The church’s inability to stay on message sees it getting bogged down in debates it doesn’t belong in. Obscure theological debates (premillenialism v postmillenialism etc) should be played out in bible colleges and published journals – not fought out in public between churches or Christians. The issues of sexuality and sin – which the bible is quite clear on – need to be presented in the light of the gospel – yes, the bible clearly says God is against homosexuality, but he’s also against lying, any sex outside of marriage, pornography and any form of theft. People who indulge in any of these areas are unfit for ministry – but are more than acceptable to God if they repent. There is no sin that God won’t forgive (except final and absolute rejection of him). When the church publicly condemns sexual sin it opens itself up for accusations of hypocrisy. It is not the church’s place to judge – or condemn anyone – there but for the grace of God we all go. While a belief in Christianity fundamentally (and logically) renders every other religion false – that does not mean that we should hate – or want to nuke – followers of other religions.
The intersection of Christianity and politics is one that has raised the ire of many over the years – and interestingly the separation of church and state is not really constitutionally enshrined – the role of Christians in parliament is something Ben and I have fiercely debated all year. Non-Christians should not be worried that Christians will impose their system of morals and beliefs onto everybody as law – Christians are called to be counter cultural – not to set the culture. We should be lights to the world – we can’t do that if everybody is doing the same thing.
The scary reality is that God is real, he’s in control. If God is God – we can not dictate how he should rule, or make him in our own image. We can’t stand here and shake our fists at perceived injustices.That’s not how the philosophical concept of God works – nor is it how the God of the Bible works. People who have problems with God have a problem. People who have a problem with the behaviour of the church I can sympathise with. There have been terrible atrocities committed in God’s name. There are people around with a terrible understanding of how the Bible fits together. But I can’t help but lack tolerance for this guy. Dawkins is the pin up boy for atheists. He has written a number of books criticising belief in God. He is to atheism what terrorists are to Islam and what the crazy eyed fundamentalists from the American far right are to Christianity. But he’s also widely respected as a scholar and an intellectual. Dawkin’s extremes make his fellow atheists so uncomfortable they feel compelled to explain his statements – in the same way that Muslims dealt with the uncovered meat statements from Hilaly. While I’m not sure I completely agree with the idea of persuading people based on the odds – Pascal had a logical argument or wager supporting belief in God.
Being a Christian isn’t the latest intellectual trend – but the church does itself a disservice whenever it strays from its calling and into the murk and mire of stupid debates. Let God worry about when the world is going to end. Let God worry about bringing punishment to sinners. The more we focus on what divides the church, and what divides society, the less people are inclined to listen to what we’re saying and the more likely we are to do something stupid like invading the Middle East under the pretext of a holy war. In conclusion – Dawkins is an idiot but then the wider church is full of them.

Rugby cuts off Grothe

If I had written the HTML programming language it would have included a “rant” tagline.

Robyn won’t like this post. For all her great qualities she is, somewhat unfortunately, a fan of Rugby Union. Many fans of Rugby Union will tell you that it is the game they play in heaven – and if that’s the case I’d seriously think about trading in Christianity for Buddhism (ok, well I wouldn’t really do that it was more a piece of poetic license). They’ll argue that “at its best” it’s a flowing game full of skilled attacking forays and deft passing, and that it’s driven by tactics and nuance… Rugby, in my experience, is played “at its best” about once every four years, in the early rounds of the world cup when professional teams put the minnows to the sword. Rugby is typically a slow game marred by stoppages, incessant scrums, tiresome rucking and mauling, and ridiculous nonsensical penalties. My main gripe with Rugby stems not from the superiority complex it suffers from, my problem is their inability to develop talent capable of playing at the highest level. Rugby fans will cite the crowds at Super 14 games and test matches as evidence that it’s a popular game – television ratings tell another story. Rugby is unwatchable for the layperson and numbers don’t lie – Rugby League continues to be the most successful televised sport in New South Wales and Queensland. Club rugby can not hope to compete with club League – so they try to compare apples and oranges by taking a representative competition (Super 14) and comparing it with a national club competition – of course a NSW team should pack out a stadium… but they should also be able to win the odd game or two. Rugby Union likes to sign league players as PR stunts. These players will inevitably be picked for state teams at the expense of properly trained junior rugby union stars – and will possibly be contractually guaranteed the opportunity to play for Australia. The list of League to Union converts is a long one, the list of success stories is markedly shorter. From a list including talented athletes Mat Rogers, Lote Tuquiri, Wendell Sailor, Brad Thorn, Andrew Walker, Clinton Shifcofske – only Tuqiri is still playing international rugby – and this isn’t due to a lack of quality on the field. Rogers, Thorn and Walker got sick of union and went back to league – Walker and Sailor were both busted for cocaine use. Shifcofske should never ever play for Australia (he was once a drug cheat too – which suggests Union isn’t picky when it comes to their desperation to get one up on their league counterparts). Tuquiri recently re-signed with the Waratahs in a massive deal, and they followed that signing with a million dollar deal to lure Timana Tahu across the chasm. League players (particularly backs) get notoriously bored in the 15 man code so they have to pay them heaps more to keep them. Paying league players this much to cross over is a foolish ploy to win a battle that rugby can not afford to be engaged in, and one that they’ll never win. Their game is too inaccessible to people not brought up on a staple diet of union. Those in the know (ie economist Michael Pascoe) suggest the ARU is in danger of sending itself broke, particularly with gate receipts plummeting as Australian teams fail and falter on the field. Eric Grothe Jr, son of the “Guru” has had an interestingly patchy league career including years in the “wilderness” spent “discovering” himself and playing guitar. He’s big and mobile and he’s a gifted athlete – but the ARU has decided enough is enough and they’re going to invest their money in development – hopefuly that comes too late and union dies the slow and painful death it deserves.

Fraud Squad member needed

My business transaction with Edward NKanga is entering the final stages. I’ve decided that I’m going to need to be investigated for fraud – then sent to jail for a lengthy prison term. I need someone who is willing to pose as the fraud squad – potentially requiring a new email address to be set up using hotmail or gmail. If you feel suitably creative let me know and I’ll collaborate with you to bring Tobias Walther Schranner to justice, along with his nefarious companion Mr E NKanga. I may also have a Damascus road moment and tell Edward that I’ve converted to Christianity and no longer feel prepared to go through with this deception – I could tell him that I’m praying for his soul.

Without wishing to bore you too much with lengthy quotes from emails, here are some of the highlights from the last two emails I received, and my responses:

Thank you very much for your response.I do not mind a mobile phone.I will be
vetry happy to get the details from you regarding the investment plans you have
for this funds. I want you to also understand that the most pressing thing at the moment is to get the funds transfered into any of your nominated bank account.I am presently working on procuring the legal document that will present you as the legal beneficiary to this funds.By God’s grace this document will be ready before the end of today.I want you to know that the charges involved in procuring this document will be taken care by me but please note that once i get this documents i will send it to you along with the full contact information of the bank. Further note that once i do this i will be counting on you to seal this transaction because from my calculation this funds should be in your account within seven bank days of you contacting the bank.Before i forget my full name is Edward
Nkanga,i am married with four lovely daugthers.I am presently living in
rue 22 by 39 medina dakar senegal.I was born on july 8th 1964.I will get
back to you with further details and instructions.
Remain
blessed,
Edward Nkanga


He followed that email up with the bank details as promised – and a form letter that I could fill in to send to the bank making my claim.

Dear Tobias,

I am very pleased to inform you that i have been able to procure the legal document which will present you as the next of kin to Adreas Schranner.This document is attached to this mail for your perusal.I want you to now proceed and contact the bank and request for the immediate transfer of your inheritance to your nominated bank account.Below is the full contact information of the bank:

National Credit Services
Tel: +44 704 010 8962
Tel: +44 795 525 8663
Fax: +44 709 287 5848
Email:thomas.wood.ncs@hotmail.com
Contact: Mr Thomas Wood, Director of operation

I complied to his request, adding a lengthy preamble to the letter and making a couple of changes in order to keep any real information out of the correspondence.

Mr Thomas Wood,

I have recently been contacted by a Mr E Nkanga, former assistant to my late cousin Mr Andreas Schranner. He informed me of the untimely passing of my cousin in an accident some years ago. I was unaware of the untimely demise of my relative until very recently. I have spent many years living in isolated wilderness penning my memoirs which I believe contain a story that must be told to the world. The story of my life is an interesting one, and a story which I will share in part with you.
I was born in an Australian grotto called Gundegai, a poverty stricken village famous for its love of canines. Dogs are revered as Gods in this town and villagers often go without food so that the town’s dog population remains well fed and honoured. You may be familiar with the nursery rhyme “This old man” in which Nick Nack Paddy Whack gives a dog a bone before rolling home. This rhyme tells the story of my uncle Nick, (Andreas’ father) who quite literally had to roll home after a dog consumed his leg while he stood – giving him no leg to stand on. This is
just an interesting extract from my memoirs and one that serves to show the closeness of my relationship with my departed cousin.
I no longer choose to conduct my business by pen and paper, instead relying solely on digital technology. I have attached an electronically verified version of my signature which I assure you is the normal business practice within my industry.
I send this email from my off shore assistant’s (Mr Nathan Campbell) account as I do not want the tax authorities to discover the extent of my inheritance until I declare it. Government corruption makes doing business in my country a double edged sword – there are benefits, and problems – for those wishing to work as
entrepreneurs. However, all this is as we say, by the by.


The lengthy cover letter followed an included a section for my details at the bottom:

FULL NAME:Tobias Walther Schraenner
ADDRESS:1 Wadinga Ct
Coonabarabran
TEL NO:+61 132 221
FAX NO: n/a
PROFESSION: Venture Capitalist
DATE
OF BIRTH: 29 Feb 1976
SEX: Not till marriage
MARITAL STATUS: Unmarried
DATE: 12 Feb 2007
SIGNATURE:
TWSfile101.jpg

And to conclude I sent a follow up email to Edward (I should point out that I have never given him my mobile number and I expect him to follow that up – I’ll say the email was obviously lost in the internet’s black hole or something.

Edward,

As you will see I have contacted the bank – and included you in a blind carbon copy – unfortunately due to my accounting procedures I have had to request a bank cheque, I hope this causes you no further inconvenience. I can not have the amount in question appear in my account without going through necessary procedures for taxation purposes.

Edward, I thank you for your partnership in this deal and look forward to a continued arrangement. I am a little worried about the financial institution we are dealing with because I note that the banker in question uses a hotmail account. I have grave concerns that we are both set to be seriously taken to the cleaners (a metaphor for thievery in my country). I do trust that you have conducted necessary enquiries into this situation. Please contact me on the mobile number previously provided to alay my concerns.
Edward, your family sounds happy and lovely, I wish you all the best in your future and pray that your daughters find husbands who will love the lord and provide for them with the same grace and ability that you yourself have.

Senegal is a nation dear to my heart. Your national football team brings me great joy – and also did during the World Cup. I must ask, who is your favourite player? For me it is Pappa Babba “Smurf” Diop. He is a goal scoring wunderkid who will bring great glory to your marvellous nation.

I wait with baited breath for further correspondence from yourself addressing these questions and concerns.

Tobias