Where did Jesus get his DNA?: a dispute between Catholics and Evangelical Christians

January 16, 2023 • 9:30 am

A reader’s comment in a recent post brought this issue to my attention. Lots of fun!

I should have figured that once genetics became established, theologians would realize that they had a problem. Two big problems, actually. The first, which I’ve discussed before, is that we’re all supposed to be descended from a man and a woman who were a couple living at the same time and place (Adam and Eve, of course).  Because this is not possible, scientifically inclined theologians have tried to save the Original Sin Couple for well over a decade. I won’t describe their solutions, but they are the subject of constant argument at the moribund BioLogos site (see here for a FAQ on Adam and Eve).

A bigger question, discussed at tedious length at the Evangelical Christian website below, is this: if Jesus was part human and part divine, but was born of a human mother (Mary), what was his genetic constitution? Clearly Joseph didn’t have a part in inseminating Mary, and if Jesus was a human, with 23 pairs of chromosome and a Y, did one set of chromosomes, containing an X, come from Mary, and the rest from God? That is, did God contribute half of Jesus’s genome, or did he create Jesus’s genome entirely?

Given the lack of evidence that a divine Jesus existed, or that even a Jesus person existed (some, like Bart Ehrman ,see Jesus as a real person but not divine: a messianic apocalyptic Jewish preacher), this argument would seem superfluous. Or trivial–like the number of angels waltzing on a pinhead. But Christians need answers, and so Finding Hope Ministries (FHM) supplies us with theirs.

Click below to read:

FHM first lists all the possibilities—eliminating the possibility Jesus was haploid, containing only 23 chromosomes from Mary, which would make the Savior inviable (and not male), but would explain the middle initial in “Jesus H. Christ”):

It seems there are only 3 options for considering the composition of Jesus’ DNA:

  1. Jesus has 100% Mary’s DNA with a divinely created Y chromosome to make Him male. [JAC: But did God take out one of Mary’s two X chromosomes, or was he XXY, a male with Klinefelter syndrome?]
  2. Jesus has 50% DNA from a human female (Mary) and 50% DNA from God, to replace that of a human male.
  3. Jesus has DNA created entirely by God at the time of His conception.

Several have proposed God supplied a Y chromosome to add to the X chromosome of Mary’s egg cell (ovum), which programmed for the male gender of Jesus.  In so doing God bypassed defective genetic weaknesses of the Adamic (male) genome.  However, this is a fallacious argument, as 22 other chromosomes must be contributed to match the other 22 chromosomes Mary produced in her ovum cell.

God, of course, could have done anything.

FHM then analyzes the Catholic position, which they ultimately reject (their bolding):

The Roman Catholic Church embraces the second option: Jesus has 50% DNA from a human female (Mary’s) and 50% DNA from God (to replace that of a sinful human male).  This enabled Mary to supply Jesus’ humanity.  God the Holy Spirit miraculously encapsulated the Divine nature in Jesus human body.  Mary and the Holy Spirit each contributed 50% to the end result.  But doesn’t Mary fall under the category of all humans who are born sinners? Catholic theologians cite Mary’s “Immaculate conception” as contributing a sinless human nature to Jesus.  Catholics believe Mary was without sin when she bore God’s Son.  Mary is considered the “Holy Mother of God.” She remained a virgin after delivering Jesus (according to the Catholic church). Therefore, Roman Catholicism insists Jesus’ other brothers and sister mentioned in Scripture (James, Jude, etc) were not siblings but cousins—not birthed by the Virgin Mary. The Holy Scriptures teach Jesus’ siblings were born of Mary, who did not stay a virgin after Jesus’ birth.  But the question about whether they share Jesus’ DNA remains unanswered.  Let us further examine the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church.

To ensure that Jesus was without Original Sin given that he had a human mother, Catholics adopted (in 1854!) the dogma of the Immaculate Conception: that Mary was sinless from the moment of her own conception—as sinless as the pre-serpent Adam. If so, then her offspring, Jesus, was also born without Original Sin.  To ensure that Jesus’s brothers and sisters remained sinful, it was proposed that they were not the result of Mary’s insemination by God. Instead, they were “cousins,” which I presume means fathered by Joseph with another woman. Adultery!

The Catholic solution is thus this, as stated by FHM:

Catholics teach Mary was sinless and conceived in perfection. They therefore propose Mary contributed Jesus sinless human nature. Jesus’ DNA would then consist of 50% contribution from Mary, and perhaps more if God only added the ‘Y’ chromosome.

Catholic theologians admit the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, as defined by Pope Pius IX was not overtly taught prior to the 12th century. They also agree Biblical Scripture can’t prove this teaching. But they claim the doctrine is implicitly contained in the teaching of the church Fathers.

The church Fathers, of course, didn’t know anything about heredity, much less about the Y chromosome, so I’m not sure how that solution is “implicit” in their teaching. BUT to evangelical Christians such as those from FHM, this doesn’t solve the problem. Why? For two reasons. First, as they note:

Most Protestants reject the doctrine of Immaculate Conception. They do not consider the teaching authoritative because it is not supported by Biblical Scriptures.

Indeed. The Immaculate Conception was just made up to solve the problem of getting a sinless part-human Jesus—to save the Trinity. But if you reject this construction, then you face another problem: if Jesus really did contain some of Mary’s genome, and she still had Original Sin, then Jesus would also bear Original Sin. But he couldn’t have, for then he wouldn’t be Jesus.  Thus the Christians are forcd to accept the third solution—God created the entire embryo of Jesus:

It is more likely Mary nourished and “made” the infant Jesus from a single cell being conceived (created) only by God.  She gave it a virgin birth, protecting it from any sinful genetic contribution from the ‘seed of man.’  But God the Holy Spirit conceived and created the initial cell of Jesus that ultimately grew into the baby child born nine months later.  This was God’s miraculous conception without a man and without a woman.

. . . The Biblical record supports God intervened only once in human genealogy when Jesus became man. God picked Mary as the woman who would birth His Son because of His grace, not because He needed a sinless vessel to pass purity onto His son.  Mary provided nourishment and protection for God’s Son as He developed in her uterus. The virgin birth confirmed the purity of Jesus at childbirth.  So God the Holy Spirit placed a God-designed conception in the womb of Mary and she functioned as a surrogate mother.  God created His human nature.  Jesus existed eternally as Deity.  His God nature was never created, contrary to the teaching of Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses.

They cite scripture to support this (read the article), but of course Catholics cite scripture to support their own view. The thing is, if God can create a fertilized egg containing no human genome, and then make Mary bear it for nine months, why couldn’t he have created Jesus de novo without a pregnancy? That’s another question that I’ll leave to the readers, but I suppose pregnancy is part of the story that Jesus had at least some humanlike origin.

It gets even funnier when FHM explains why Mary could not have been without sin (remember, they reject the Immaculate Conception). It involves her having mutations in her DNA, mutations caused by SIN:

Inherent sin in the human genome produces inherited physical mutations. Over many generations, the human population has experienced myriads of genetic mutations, and these defects have been incorporated into the common human gene pool, affecting every infant ever born.  This is why the lifespan of men has declined from 900+ years in the pre-Flood world to 200+ years of Abraham’s contemporaries and ultimately to 70-80 years today.  Mary did not live to be 900 years old.  She was not martyred at a young age.  Her body suffered the ravages of imperfection.  She had a defective human genome and died a normal age (approximately 60) for a woman of that time.

Why sin produces mutations is unresolved, of course, and not all mutations are “defects”. But this solves the problem of a sinless Jesus born of a human mother, and kills another bird as well: the remarkable decline in human longevity since Biblical days.  No more Methuselahs! How clever these theologians are!  And it solves the problem of Jesus being both human and divine: the “human” bit wasn’t based on DNA, but on looking like a human and having been gestated in a human womb:

His body was truly “in the flesh,” but only “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” Jesus grew in the Mary’s womb like any other baby, yet he was different from all others. He was not genetically related to either Mary or Joseph, for both had an inherited sin nature. Jesus was sinless and without genetic flaw.  He was the spotless and sacrificial Lamb of God who offered Himself as a perfect propitiation (payment satisfactory to God) for the sins of mankind.

. . .But the most amazing miracle God performed was His creation of the “second Adam” at conception.  He fashioned the first Adam on the sixth day of creation as a full-grown man without sin and in God’s image.  Adam was not born of a woman. He received no human DNA from earthly parents.  Yet he was fully human.  God created Jesus at conception in His image without any DNA contribution from earthly parents.  Jesus said to his disciples:

“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him” (John 14: 7).

Problem solved! Oh, those clever Christians! They then summarize if the readers weren’t able to follow the argument:

However, the church has always taught Jesus is 100% human and 100% Deity (preexisting His incarnation as the Son of God -“the Word”).  The third option presented earlier satisfies all these requirements: Jesus has DNA created entirely by God at the time of His conception.  His Divine nature did not need to be created, as it was eternally present prior to His birth. God the Holy Spirit provided a human body untainted by the fallen sin-nature of Adam at conception and placed it in the uterus of a virgin, Mary.  She carried this child for the nine months of a normal pregnancy as a surrogate mother.  This infant had no mutations or defects because Jesus was truly created the “second Adam” in the image of God—like the “first Adam.”  God created the first Adam and Eve without sin as perfect adults.  Sin entered both of them at the fall, and subsequently infected the entire human race.  God similarly created Jesus’s human body at conception, so He could experience everything human from the beginning to the end of a human life. Hebrews 4:15 explains: “He was at all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” 2 Cor. 5:21 states: ” For He made him who had no sin to be sin for us. ”  God became man to sacrifice Himself for the sins of mankind.  The name “Jesus” means “God saves.”

Clearly the Catholics got it wrong! The clever theologians at Finding Hope Ministries have not only been able to show up those duplicitous Catholics, but found a way that Jesus can still be 100% human AND 100% divine and yet free of those sin-caused mutations. And it also explains the evolutionary reduction in human lifespan over the last two millennia! I am dumbfounded with admiration.

Can you believe that people get paid to ponder stuff like this? What’s even more incredible is that people believe these solutions.

Source

Queen Mary University professor rejects evolution and promotes the New Testament in his inaugural lecture

December 12, 2022 • 9:15 am

Here we have an hourlong talk by Richard Buggs, Senior Research Leader (Plant Health & Adaptation) at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, and Professor of Evolutionary Genomics at Queen Mary University of London. We met Dr. Buggs on this site in 2021 as “a creationist professor of evolutionary biology in England,” where he touted Intelligent Design;  I included a shorter video in which Buggs mixed his God with his science. Now he’s doing it again in his Inaugural Lecture at Queen Mary University (below).

His personal webpage gives his bona fides:

Professor Richard Buggs is an evolutionary biologist and molecular ecologist. His research group analyses DNA sequences to understand how plants, especially trees, adapt in response to climate change and new pests and pathogens. Richard has published on a variety of evolutionary processes including: natural selection, speciation, hybridisation and whole genome duplication. The birch species Betula buggsii is named after him. Richard is a Christian, and sometimes blogs on issues where biology and Christianity intersect.

He’s also author of the 2007 Guardian article below (click if you want to read):

A quote from the article:

But, whatever the limitations of Darwinism, isn’t the intelligent design alternative an “intellectual dead end”? No. If true, ID is a profound insight into the natural world and a motivator to scientific inquiry. The pioneers of modern science, who were convinced that nature is designed, consequently held that it could be understood by human intellects. This confidence helped to drive the scientific revolution. More recently, proponents of ID predicted that some “junk” DNA must have a function well before this view became mainstream among Darwinists.

But, according to Randerson, ID is not a science because “there is no evidence that could in principle disprove ID”. Remind me, what is claimed of Darwinism? If, as an explanation for organised complexity, Darwinism had a more convincing evidential basis, then many of us would give up on ID

Back to the talk. This is a very bizarre lecture. In the first half he denies the existence of branching evolutionary trees, arguing that this invalidates both Darwinism and natural selection (note: although evolution is required for such trees, natural selection is not).

To do this, he cherry-picks data in which a few independent trees, derived from both morphological and DNA data, are not concordant. But that does happen under evolution, for sometimes genes are transferred horizontally, or via hybridization, or we have “incomplete lineage sorting”, in which segregating ancestral genetic variation is distributed among descendants. Further, if you use only a few genes—and note that Buggs’s trees are based on only a few genes—you may get a “gene tree” that’s discordant with the “species tree”—the actual history of new lineage formation via splitting. Allen Orr and I discuss this discordance in the Appendix of our book Speciation. The upshot is that you don’t expect every gene to give the same tree, but if evolution and evolutionary splitting occurred, you would expect the preponderance of genes to give the same tree. And they do, save in the rare case when there’s been pervasive hybridization between groups, and the species involved are fairly closely related.

Buggs also dwells at length on the relatively sudden appearance of angiosperms, almost implying that it supports sudden creation, though he ignores the fact that monocot plants appear far earlier than angiospemrs in the fossil record, so the data don’t support the evidence of any creation. (Note: Buggs implies that the fossil record and molecular data support a religious scenario rather than an evolutionary one, but is very canny about mentioning Biblical creationism or Intelligent Design.)

Buggs’s denigration of evolutionary trees constitutes, he claims, evidence for a Designer (aka God/Jesus). AT 30:00. for example, he argues that the NON-existence of evolutionary trees supports a Designer, for if a system were designed rather than evolved, you wouldn’t expect concordant trees; you’d get “a bit of a mess”.)

At 39:38, Buggs shifts gears and tells the baffled audience (listen to the tepid applause is at the end!) that well, maybe the evolutionary “tree of life” doesn’t exist, but the BIBLICAL tree of life does! This “tree of life” stands for eternity and all the claims of Christianity, for the words “tree of life” appears in Revelation (2:7 and 22:1-3).  Here’s a summary of Buggs’s “evidence” for the Bible:

In other words, because many people believed in Christianity, and John had a revelation, Christianity must be true (his words are “we should not lightly dismiss John’s claims”).  How little it takes to convince Buggs of the New Testament’s truth, and how much it would take to convince him of evolution! (Remember, he concentrates ONLY on the existence of trees as evidence for evolution, ignoring things like development, the fossil record, biogeography, observations of natural selection in action, and all the stuff I adduce in Why Evolution is True.)

I’d urge you to at least listen to the last 20 minutes so you can see how a scientist can be so credulous that he’s persuaded that Christianity is true based on the thinnest evidence you can imagine.

Finally, BUGGS goes woke at the end, promoting “inclusion” in STEM, but he apparently does as a way to promote religion. For, as the sweating Dr. Buggs shows, Christianity is most pervasive in “countries of color”: those in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America (also the U.S., but he ignores that). His conclusion? We need to include RELIGION more in the sciences, and be nicer to believers, because that will attract more “non diverse” people into STEM. This is a very weaselly proposal for sneaking religion into the sciences!

In the end, Buggs distorts and misrepresents what science has told us, ignores the pervasive evidence for evolution besides evolutionary trees, and gives an embarrassingly thin account of “evidence” for Christianity.

Yet this man is a professor of evolutionary biology and molecular ecology! His presence at Queen Mary University of London, much less his promotion to Professor, reflects very poorly on his university. I’m not urging his dismissal, though if he were teaching this guff at a public university in America he’d be violating the First Amendment and should be told to leave the religion out of his teaching. Now it’s possible that Buggs doesn’t mention Jesus or the Bible in his classes, and that would be great. But I truly doubt that he gives a good account of the evidence for evolution, either. (After all, he accept Intelligent Design, not evolution.) That is, I suspect Buggs’s students are being shortchanged, and if that’s the case, I feel sorry for them. As for Queen Mary University, I’d merely suggest that they check if Buggs is dragging religion into his teachings.

h/t: Gerdien

More fiction and superstition fed to NYT readers

December 11, 2022 • 11:40 am

The quote below is one of the sanest things I’ve seen on Facebook lately, though I can’t remember who posted it. Dag Søras is a Norwegian comedian:

Why I bring this up is because every Sunday, like today, the New York Times pretends that God and Jesus exist, and they do so by giving op-ed space to Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren. Every week Warren produces a page of bromides (usually along the lines of “why can’t we all love each other, even if we’re different?), all of which take for granted that her Christian beliefs are correct.

This week Reverend Warren interviews another Anglican priest who happens to be a poet, Malcolm Guite, described by Wikipedia this way:

. . . an English poet, singer-songwriter, Anglican priest, and academic. Born in Nigeria to British expatriate parents, Guite earned degrees from Cambridge and Durham universities. His research interests include the intersection of religion and the arts, and the examination of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and British poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He was a Bye-Fellow and chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge and associate chaplain of St Edward King and Martyr in Cambridge. On several occasions, he has taught as visiting faculty at several colleges and universities in England and North America.

It always puzzles me when somebody with brains and academic training is also deeply religious, and I’ve started seeing that as a character flaw: an inability to accept that you’re staking your life and much of your time on stuff for which there’s no evidence. That is, you’re believing in the modern equivalent of Thor and Allah. In this column—and I’ll try to be brief—we have one Anglican priest (Warren) interviewing another (Guite), and together they manage to fob off a bunch of hooey on the readers of the NYT.

Click to read:

The subject is both poetry and Advent: the month of preparation for celebrating the birth of a baby who may or may not have existed, but is thought, wrongly, to be both God and the Son of God.  Guite explains its significance. In all that follows I’ve put the hooey in bold except for Warren’s questions, which the NYT put in bold.  Excerpts are indented.

I think the first thing to understand is the wisdom that is embedded in the liturgical calendar and that way of sacralizing time. Advent is meant to be to Christmas what Lent is to Easter. It’s always been the wisdom of the church to have a fast before a feast, to have this time of holding back and restraint so that you really appreciate and understand the reasons for the joy and the feasting when it comes.

The word Advent means “arrival” or “coming.” The church saw that preparing for the coming of Christ at Christmas could also be a way of looking to that larger hope, which is the final coming of Jesus, the day when, at last, the earth will be filled with the glory of God. And in my book I said, well, I think there’s a third “coming,” a kind of continuous coming. We all experience a series of Advents. My prayer life and spirituality is very much focused on the Eucharist. So for me, every time I hold out my hands and the wafer is placed there and I receive him, that’s an advent. And in fact, that’s actually also Christmas. It’s an incarnation. He chooses the humble form of the bread as he chose the humble form of the baby to be his body.

Guite bangs on about the commercialization of Christmas and how we really have to avoid pre-Christmas parties and shopping, for it’s a time to reflect on the coming of baby Jesus.

Instead of being quieter and more reflective, then finally experiencing what G.K. Chesterton called the “submerged sunrise of wonder” at the birth of the Christ Child, we were suddenly assailed on all sides by commercial pressures.

There’s a tedious discussion of antiphons, but then Guite gets onto my territory: “ways of knowing”. And religion is one of them.

WARREN: You have said that imagination is “a truth-bearing faculty.” What do you mean by that?

GUITE: There’s a hierarchy between information, knowledge and wisdom. And reason is very good at finding and categorizing information. But reason has almost no access to wisdom at all. Counter to that are much earlier insights probably best expressed by Shakespeare in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” He says: “The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven; And as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.”

That suggests that imagination is a way of knowing. And it’s a way of knowing and intuiting and feeling we might have missed entirely if the poet or the artist or the painter or the musician hadn’t bodied it forth.

Imagination came to be considered, strictly speaking, made up. The presupposition was that all the things that we care about that have now been relegated to so-called subjectivity, like love and passion and beauty, somehow don’t exist in the same way that the atoms in a cup exist.

Earlier philosophers and some of those philosophers in Enlightenment who tried to resist this had a different notion. They said imagination is not simply about making things up. It’s about synthesizing everything. It’s about seeing the whole. C.S. Lewis, much later in his life, said that reason is the natural organ of truth, but imagination is the organ of meaning.

I don’t think we have to choose between reason and imagination. I don’t think we have to choose between science and religion. I don’t think we have to choose between serious intellectual inquiry and deeply held faith. I think these things are enfolded aspects, each depending on primal ways of knowing. To do theology well, we must bring the poets to the table along with the theologians and listen to what they say.

The first quote from Shakespeare sounds good, but really proves nothing. All it says is that when a poet imagines something, it somehow becomes “knowledge.”  Well, knowledge only in the sense that Shakespeare—or any poet—made stuff up.  Note how Guite conflates imagination and knowledge to somehow prove that what we can imagine to be true really is true. If that is the case, then when Guite and Warren imagine that Baby Jesus was born as God in human form, and performed many miracles before he was died and resurrected (he’ll be back!), why is that “knowledge”, while those who imagine that Allah, or John Frum, or Zeus, or Thor, or Shiva are real gods are wrong? When different people believe in different divinities, who, if anyone, is right?

There’s no way of knowing, and that’s why we have to choose between science and religion. Science has a way of distinguishing between competing explanations, although sometimes it’s hard to do (e.g. is string theory right?), but religion has no way of knowing whether its “knowledge” is real, genuine, true knowledge. (I’m taking “knowledge” to mean “truth that is nearly universally accepted” by those qualified to judge, but don’t hold me to a definition I made up on the fly.)

I won’t reprise Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible; let’s just say that Guite needs to read that book. Religion is not “enfolded” in science, nor is faith a “primal way of knowing” (note the word “primal”, which serves only to sound good but doesn’t move Guite’s argument forward).

That’s about it. One more exchange in which, I think, Warren is turning into the Anglican Krista Tippett:

WARREN: There is something about truth that is paradoxical. And poets — in a way that I don’t see with theologians or scientists sometimes — are very comfortable in that tension. Can you talk about the paradox of Advent?

GUITE: Advent is paradoxical in itself. It’s a season of waiting and anticipation in which the waiting is strangely rich and fulfilling. And it’s a season that looks back to the first coming, but only in order to look now at the other comings and also forward at the last coming.

What, exactly, is paradoxical about truth? Given that Advent is celebrating something that we don’t think really happened, is she referring to the “tension” of a celebrating something thatis likely a fiction? I don’t think so. The only truths I know that are paradoxical are the provisional truths of quantum mechanics, since they defy our ability to imagine what’s happening to particles on the physical level.

But enough. I am starting to wonder if the NYT continues to publish the numinous lucubrations of Pastor Warren because the paper in fact supports them—or at least supports the view, often pushed by The New Yorker, that science is only one of several “ways of knowing.” (As evidenced by my dialogue with Adam Gopnik, and other articles, the NYer apparently thinks that literature is also a “way of knowing”.) Since the sophisticated readers of the New York Times want to have their science and also their faith, this kind of twaddle with Guite and Warren buttresses the readers in their dissonance.

Well, that’s the only reason I can see to publish Christian dogma, week after week after week. . .

 

Guardian readers explain why they’re no longer Christians

December 4, 2022 • 1:30 pm

I doubt that many readers went to church today, but they will find good company in this Guardian article, inspired by the recent census showing that fewer than half of people in England and Wales are Christian. Secularism is on the rise (note, though: so is Islam in the UK), and the paper found four people willing to explain why they gave up their Christianity.

Click to read the heartening tales of deep-sixing superstition:

I’ll summarize the four people who spoke publicly (last names not given); their quotes are indented, and my take is flush left.

Diana, 44, a retail worker from Yorkshire:

“Losing my faith was a process of gradual disengagement,” she says. “At some point, I didn’t think that I, as a woman, was made to submit to a man. But the final straw was watching my father die of cancer and trying to do so without pain relief as it was ‘God’s will’, while waiting to be healed. I finally admitted to myself that I didn’t believe in a supernatural being, and couldn’t pretend any more.”

Horrible deaths of the innocent are really a God-killer. As I always say, theodicy is the Achilles heel of faith.

James, a programme manager from Birmingham:

“I was raised as a Christian: church every Sunday, C of E [Church of England] school, taught to say grace before dinner.

“At some point in my late teens the stuff that provided comfort, such as the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient god, suddenly started to feel more like a fairytale you tell kids to help them sleep, and posed questions. And then I thought: ‘If God knows exactly what I’m going to do, and lets it happen, then I no longer have a free will’,” the 44-year-old says.

Well, James, I have some bad news for you. . . . .

Pauline, 54, retired and lives in Bristol:

“I probably stopped calling myself a Christian in my 30s. I was brought up as a strict Roman Catholic with Irish parents. We always went to church on Sunday, and for most of my childhood it was a ritual that was nice and comforting,” she says.

But as she got older she began to have doubts. “I felt that if God made everyone in his image, then why were people who were gay so hated by the church? It felt as if they were saying: ‘Jesus loves everybody but only if they’re like us’. The church was peddling a form of hate, and it didn’t sit right with me.

“All of the hell and damnation stuff as well, plus the amount of money the Catholic church has, it led me to be totally disillusioned by the whole thing.”

Not surprising. I’m amazed that there are people who can think but also remain Catholic (e.g., Andrew Sullivan).

Stephen Hunsaker, raised as a Mormon:

“I had been very devout my entire life, but when lockdown happened and I just stepped back, that made me realise there was so much that I no longer identified with. I felt like I had to justify it at every turn and it was bringing me an immense amount of guilt and hurt,” Hunsaker says, explaining that he also felt alienated by some Christians’ treatment of minorities and LGBTQ+ people. “Religion is meant to help you be a better person, but I felt like it was holding me back.”

Hunsaker says leaving his faith was the hardest decision he ever made. “I was very fearful that my relationship with my family and friends would be affected – my world was so wrapped up in it. [But] it went better than I thought.

“Guilt is an incredibly powerful emotion,” he says. “But as I lived without religion and found other people in solidarity it allowed for me to figure out who I am. I feel a lot more at peace.”

He’s a gutsy guy, as Mormons who leave the church are virtual apostates, and are often shunned, though he apparently wasn’t.

I admire all these people: they are true “freethinkers.”  Imagine no religion!  And imagine the Guardian publishing the “confessions” of four atheists—I wouldn’t expect that even in a Leftist paper.

h/t: Nicole

It’s official: England and Wales are no longer Christian countries

November 29, 2022 • 11:30 am

Thanks to the many readers (probably atheist Brits) who sent me the links to these articles.

Of course England and Wales will still consider themselves Christian countries, but they have to do some fast stepping to justify it, for the 2021 government census (conducted once per decade) shows that people who identify as Christian no longer form a majority of the populations. They’re “Christian” only in the sense that Christianity is the faith of a plurality of people. (Scotland apparently wasn’t part of this survey.)

The decline in Christianity, which has been breathtakingly fast over the last decade, is the good news.  More good news is that, as expected, the proportion of people saying they had “no religion” has risen as steeply as Christianity has fallen.

The bad news is that Islam is growing, though that’s probably via immigration, not, like Christianity, via (de) conversion or death. And it’s still a tiny fraction of British faith.

Here are two articles; quotes from both are indented below with “G” for the Guardian and “B” for the BBC. Click on the screenshots to read.  The articles also discuss the growth in England’s ethnic minority population, but I’m dwelling on religion here.

From the Guardian:

And the BBC:

G:

The census revealed a 5.5 million (17%) fall in the number of people who describe themselves as Christian and a 1.2 million (43%) rise in the number of people who say they follow Islam, bringing the Muslim population to 3.9 million. In percentage-point terms, the number of Christians has dropped by 13.1, and the number of Muslims has risen by 1.7.

It is the first time in a census of England and Wales that fewer than half of the population have described themselves as Christian.

Meanwhile, 37.2% of people – 22.2 million – declared they had “no religion”, the second most common response after Christian. It means that over the past 20 years the proportion of people reporting no religion has soared from 14.8% – a rise of more than 22 percentage points.

B:

The proportion of people who said they were Christian was 46.2%, down from 59.3% in the last census in 2011.

Note that the 13% fall in the proportion of Christians (these include Catholics, Anglicans, and assorted followers of Jesus) took place in only a decade. Likewise the 22.4% increase in those espousing “no religion” also occurred within the last decade. If this goes on, in the next census more than 50% of Welsh and English will be nonbelievers, and the proportion of Christians will be about 33%. As you can see from the BBC graph below, the decrease in faith and increase in unbelief over two decades have followed a nearly straight-line plot, making extrapolation easy (and probably unreliable).

Muslims are still a small minority of the population, so we don’t have to worry about a big increase of Islam in the UK.

More data from the Beeb.

The hotspots for nonbelief from the Guardian:

The places with the highest numbers of people saying they had no religion were Caerphilly, Blaenau Gwent and Rhondda Cynon Taf, all in south Wales, and Brighton and Hove and Norwich in England. They were among 11 areas where more than half the population are not religious, including Bristol, Hastings in East Sussex and Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, most of which had relatively low ethnic minority populations.

The places with the lowest number of non-believers were Harrow, Redbridge and Slough, where close to two-thirds of the populations are from minority ethnic backgrounds.

There is a correlation, with areas having the highest minority populations also being the most religious, surely because ethnic minorities are more religious than Indigenous Welsh and Brits.

Below you can see hotspots of nonbelief—the darker ones. Ceiling Cat bless the Welsh! London is a hotbed of Christianity, possibly because it has a high proportion of minorities (are they less frequent in the tony area of Islington?):

And while the atheists and humanists are making hay, the distressed Archbishops are kvetching hard (G):

The archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said the census result “throws down a challenge to us not only to trust that God will build his kingdom on Earth but also to play our part in making Christ known”.

He added: “We have left behind the era when many people almost automatically identified as Christian but other surveys consistently show how the same people still seek spiritual truth and wisdom and a set of values to live by.”

But why do humans have to make Christ known when Christ could make himself known—simply by returning? He won’t return, of course, because a divine Jesus (and perhaps no Jesus person) ever existed.

The good folk weigh in:

The chief executive of Humanists UK, Andrew Copson, said: “One of the most striking things about these census results is how at odds the population is from the state itself. No state in Europe has such a religious setup as we do in terms of law and public policy, while at the same time having such a non-religious population.”

. . .Humanists and secularists seized on the figures as proof of the need for an overhaul of religion’s role in a society that has bishops of the established Church of England voting on laws and compulsory Christian worship in all schools that are not of a designated religious character.

“It’s official – we are no longer a Christian country,” said Stephen Evans, the chief executive of the National Secular Society. “The census figures paint a picture of a population that has dramatically moved away from Christianity – and from religion as a whole. The current status quo, in which the Church of England is deeply embedded in the UK state, is unfair and undemocratic – and looking increasingly absurd and unsustainable.”

I didn’t know about that “compulsory Christian worship” in non-religious schools, but it’s ridiculous. (I presume that Jews, Muslims, and nonbelievers can opt out.) Remember that the Church of England is the official National Church, and the King is the head of the Church. That has to go, too. It’s time for England to join Scandinavia in pervasive nonbelief.

Finally, Adam Rutherford said the obvious, but it needs repeated saying:

Dr Adam Rutherford, the president of Humanists UK, said people should not think a decline in religion equated to an “absence in values”.

“We might be living in a more values-driven society than ever before,” he said. “Surveys show, for example, that around three in 10 British adults have humanist beliefs and values, and it’s a trend we’ve seen growing in recent years.”

Humanists say they trust science over the supernatural, base their ethics around reason, empathy and concern for humans and other sentient animals and that in the absence of an afterlife, “human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same”.

Two religions collide: Cambridge student preacher causes row by suggesting that Jesus was a transsexual male

November 27, 2022 • 12:00 pm

You can thank reader Pyers for the links to two—count them, two—articles about how a student at Cambridge claims that Jesus was a transsexual male, which of course caused a huge fracas. Pyers added this to his links:

And this one must be for the 5* treatment as being idiotic on just so so many levels.  When I read it I just, to use a piece of internet shorthand, PML. [JAC: inquiry reveals that this stands for “pissed myself laughing”]. It is the craziest of the crazy, looniest of loons …Just do what I was tempted to do and bash your head against a wall. It is at moments like this that you thank God you are an atheist! (Big grin for that one.)

It’s widely reported in the UK media:

The first article’s from the Torygraph:

A quote and picture (bolding is mine):

Jesus could have been transgender, according to a University of Cambridge dean.

Dr Michael Banner, the dean of Trinity College, said such a view was “legitimate” after a row over a sermon by a Cambridge research student that claimed Christ had a “trans body”, The Telegraph can disclose.

The “truly shocking” address at last Sunday’s evensong at Trinity College chapel, saw Joshua Heath, a junior research fellow, display Renaissance and Medieval paintings of the crucifixion that depicted a side wound that the guest preacher likened to a vagina.

Worshippers told The Telegraph they were left “in tears” and felt excluded from the church, with one shouting “heresy” at the Dean upon leaving.

The sermon displayed three paintings, including Jean Malouel’s 1400 work Pietà, with Mr Heath pointing out Jesus’s side wound and blood flowing to the groin. The order of service also showed French artist Henri Maccheroni’s 1990 work “Christs”.

Heath, whose PhD was supervised by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, also told worshippers that in the Prayer Book of Bonne of Luxembourg, from the 14th century, this side wound was isolated and “takes on a decidedly vaginal appearance”.

Heath also drew on non-erotic depictions of Christ’s penis in historical art, which “urge a welcoming rather than hostile response towards the raised voices of trans people”.

“In Christ’s simultaneously masculine and feminine body in these works, if the body of Christ as these works suggest the body of all bodies, then his body is also the trans body,” the sermon concluded.

A congregation member, who wished to remain anonymous, told Dr Banner in a complaint letter: “I left the service in tears. You offered to speak with me afterwards, but I was too distressed. I am contemptuous of the idea that by cutting a hole in a man, through which he can be penetrated, he can become a woman.

“I am especially contemptuous of such imagery when it is applied to our Lord, from the pulpit, at Evensong. I am contemptuous of the notion that we should be invited to contemplate the martyrdom of a ‘trans Christ’, a new heresy for our age.”

Here is PROOF—one of the pictures shown during Heath’s sermon. You have to do a really logical stretch to see that as a vagina. It’s not even in the right place!

And here’s how Dean Banner defended the claim. Note that he often gives BBC Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day”, which is usually a religious homily. Dawkins did it once, and that was the last time they used an atheist!

Dr Banner’s response to the complaint, seen by The Telegraph, defended how the sermon “suggested that we might think about these images of Christ’s male/female body as providing us with ways of thinking about issues around transgender questions today”.

“For myself, I think that speculation was legitimate, whether or not you or I or anyone else disagrees with the interpretation, says something else about that artistic tradition, or resists its application to contemporary questions around transsexualism,” Dr Banner added.

Dr Banner, who frequents BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, said that while the views were the speaker’s own, he “would not issue an invitation to someone who I thought would deliberately seek to shock or offend a congregation or who could be expected to speak against the Christian faith”.

Click to read the more heated piece from the Daily Fail:

The Fail doesn’t add much to the above, but does give an official quote form the Uni:

A spokesperson for Trinity College said: The College would like to make clear the following:

‘Neither the Dean of Trinity College nor the researcher giving the sermon suggested Jesus was transgender.

‘The sermon addressed the image of Christ depicted in art and various interpretations of those artistic portrayals.

‘The sermon’s exploration of the nature of religious art, in the spirit of thought-provoking academic inquiry, was in keeping with open debate and dialogue at the University of Cambridge.’

Now it’s barely possible that some randy medieval artist deliberately painted Jesus’s wound to resemble a vagina. But since I’m not convinced that Jesus really existed as any real person, much less as a divine human/son of God/part of God, I can’t be bothered worrying about his gender. The whole fracas is simply hilarious, instantiating what happens when one religion, Christianity, collides with another—wokeness.

Today’s sermon from Tish Harrison Warren: we may get dementia, but God always remembers us

September 18, 2022 • 11:30 am

In her latest sermon which the New York Times commissioned from Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren for our edification, she describes the travails of living with a mother who has mid-stage Alzheimer’s.  I am very sad for both the Reverend and her mother: I can’t imagine watching someone you love gradually forget you, then everything else, and then slide slowly into the hinterlands of death. But then Warren manages to turn her grief into a lesson about God. (It’s assumed that we all think this god exists.) Click to read. (I have to say that the title makes me cringe.)

The peroration:

In his book on dementia, the Scottish pastor and theologian John Swinton wrote that we as a culture have a bias toward what he called “cortextualism”— a bias toward fusing our understanding of personhood with higher-order thinking and reasoning that leads us to depreciate the humanity of those not capable of typical cognition, including dementia patients.

But dementia cannot erase our inherent dignity or value. It does not erase the image of God in us. Cortextualism fails to see the intrinsic glory and beauty in each human life. It also strikes me as profoundly arrogant and self-deceived, rooted in the notion that with enough privilege, health and power, we can make ourselves strong; we can white-knuckle our way to the good life. But all of us, and every one of our strengths, are made of flimsy material.

Many of the biblical writers seem to understand that humans are innately forgetful creatures, so they constantly call us back to the hard work of recollection. In Deuteronomy, Moses urges his people, “Never forget the day when you stood before the Lord your God at Mount Sinai,” and later says, “Be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt.”

Even now, believers gather to worship and collectively remember the stories we live by. Each Sunday in my church, when I take the Eucharist, the priest repeats Jesus’ words: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Yet each week, through confession, we acknowledge that all of us, in the words of Isaiah, “have forgotten the God” of our salvation.

But Isaiah also tells us that while we may be forgetful, God is not. Isaiah 49 contains perhaps the most poignant statement about God’s memory. In it, God speaks: “Can a mother forget her nursing child?” The verse continues: “But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.”

My mother may eventually forget me, her daughter whom she deeply loves. But God will not forget my mother. “At the heart of God’s intimate knowing of human beings,” writes Swinton, “lies God’s remembering of us.” He explains that the scriptures suggest that all things are eternally present to God, who is outside of and unbeholden to time. For God to remember someone, then, means that they are present to God, and therefore their existence and worth are safe, fixed and undiminished.

I do not and cannot know what lies ahead for my mom, or for me, or for anyone I love. I do not know what I will remember and what I will not. I do not know if everything I’ve ever said and written and done will be lost and forgotten. But my hope is that we are held fast, even now, in the eternal memory of God.

What I find strange about this, beyond Warren’s unwavering assurance that God exists, is that she uses dementia as an example of normal forgetfulness as mentioned in the Bible. Like her her mom, we humans are both made in God’s image but also “forgetful creatures.” But her mom has a neurological illness, and what does that have to do with the Reverend’s musings on how faith constantly asks us to remember stuff? Moses’s call to the Jews to remember God has nothing—nothing—to do with her mother’s forgetfulness, and it seems to me even a bit tackhy to use a neurological illness to draw lessons about faith and about God.

At the end, Warren says that God won’t forget her mother. But what, exactly does this remembering mean?  Warren characterizes God’s remembrance as “someone being present to God,” assuring that “their existence and worth are safe, fixed, and undiminished”? Is Warren trying to say that in the afterlife her mother will be there with God? If so, why didn’t she say it.  I suspect that liberal Christians get uncomfortable being straightforward with their views on Heaven, the Resurrection, and other tenets of their faith.

Warrens train of theological reasoning seems to be this:

a. My mom has a disease that makes her forget (and will kill her eventually)

b. My mom is made in the image of God and so her worth is not diminished.

c. Even non-afflicted humans are forgetful, but the Bible reminds us not to be.

d. And even if her mom forgets, God does not, and when her mother dies, God will gather her up in the afterlife.

I suppose it’s some kind of extended simile, but it goes nowhere. The real message is this: “God exists and some day we will all be with him in heaven.” (I’d like to know if we Jews and apostates will get there, too.)

In her customary way, Reverend Warren ignores the existence of these physical evils. (She’s always shied away from the Problem of Physical Evil, the Achilles Heel of Abrahamic religion.) Why did God give her mother such a horrible disease in the first place? Now that’s something I’d like to see Warren tackle.

I suppose it’s customary for the faithful to use horrible happenings as a way to reaffirm their faith in God, but I find it sad. And I also find it incomprehensible that what is supposed to be the best newspaper in America deluges us with a Christian sermon every Sunday. Yes, my subscription dues go to pay for Ross Douthat, too, but at least I can argue about his views. Who but a petulant secular atheis would take issue with the weekly lucubrations of an Anglican priest?

In which I meet a woman at Botany Pond

August 26, 2022 • 9:15 am

Yesterday I had a strange encounter at Botany Pond. Two of us were giving the ducks their breakfast (we’re cutting down the food, preparing for the mallards’ departure), when a middle-aged woman and two young children came by, pulled out some crackers, and were about to feed the ducks and turtles.

I told her that crackers were bad for the animals, and, as I often do in these cases, offered her and the children—they turned out to be her grandchildren—a handful of duck food so they could feed them the good stuff.

She asked me if I worked at the University, and I said “yes” but that taking care of the ducks was an avocation, not a job. I then asked her if she was affiliated with the U of C, and she said no, that she had driven several hours to visit her husband in the hospital. I won’t reveal his ailment, but let me say that it wasn’t a good one, and when I asked her if he was okay, she shook her head “no” in an immensely saddening gesture.  (I’ve met several people who come to the pond to seek respite when they have relatives in the nearby hospital.)

I then showed her and her grandchildren one duck that we were taking special care of, G. G. (“Gritty Gertie”), a hen that had a badly injured leg and couldn’t walk or swim well when she flew in about two weeks ago. (The good news is that extra feeding has gotten her and her leg in better shape, though she still limps when she walks.)

I’ll try to reconstruct the conversation from there:

Woman: What do you teach?

Me:  I’m retired, but I taught biology—evolution.

Woman: Well, I don’t believe in evolution.

Me (stifling myself since there was no point in arguing) It’s not really a matter of believing in it, but accepting it. You know, I wrote a book about the evidence for evolution, which did pretty well. It’s called “Why Evolution is True.”  If you read it and still reject evolution, well. . . .

Woman: No, I’m just a good old-fashioned creationist.

At that point I decided to let matters be, But she continued:

Woman: You know, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in creation or evolution. What’s important is that you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior. That’s the only way you’ll get to Heaven.

Me: Well, I was brought up Jewish, so I’m doubly damned. No, actually, now I’m an atheist, so I guess I’m triply damned.

This was all conducted civilly, like a normal conversation. Then the woman came out with a line I’ll remember until I die:

Woman: Well, you know we love our Jews, which is why we don’t want them to burn in hell.

At that point I went back to the ducks. The phrase “our Jews” made me feel like these evangelicals regard Jews as pets. And they love us, but they think we’ll bake for eternity if we don’t choose the right Savior.

I told her and her kids goodbye (her daughter was sitting nearby in a stroller), and they all left. All day I thought about this conversation, and wondered if her husband would find solace in his religion as he neared the end. I also wondered if the kids would grow up to be creationists, which would probably be the case.

But the one thing that lingers is that last sentence: “Well, you know we love our Jews, which is why we don’t want them to burn in hell.”

Tish Harrison Warren on why the best morality rests on the words and deeds of Jesus

June 20, 2022 • 12:30 pm

The weekly New York Times lucubrations of Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren are anodyne and sometimes off-putting, yet I cannot resist reading them—for the same reason that you smell the milk when you know it’s gone bad.  This week, Warren interviews Rachael Denhollander, the first gymnast to publicly accuse team doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. Denhollander is also going after the Southern Baptist Church because, it turns out, they’re as bad as Catholics regarding the sexual abuse by preachers.

Denhollander has done and is doing good stuff; my objection is that she seems to recognize sexual predation and its immorality only because Jesus says it’s bad (though I’m not sure he even deals with that issue in the Bible). Harrison and Denhollander seem to agree, in the end, that we must draw our morality from God because there’s something wrong with secular-based morality.

First, a small nit to pick. Warren’s questions are in bold; Denhollander’s responses in plain type:

Some brass tacks related to churches generally: If there is an abuse allegation in a church, what is the right response?

I think there are really two important parts to that question.

There is the policy question: On a very practical level, what am I to do? You need to report that allegation to the police if it is child abuse. As soon as the police have been notified and the alleged perpetrator knows that the police have been notified, you need to notify the church and protect the identity of the survivors.

One beef: in the U.S. we’re presumed innocent until we’ve been convicted by a judge or jury. (That’s why Denhollander says “alleged perpetrator”.) But she then goes on to mention the “survivors”, who really can’t be counted as “survivors” of a crime that hasn’t yet been established.  Using the very word “survivors” assumes that the people who are bringing charges in fact were victims of a crime. Sometimes that obvious, but sometimes it’s not, as the existence of a crime can rest solely on allegations.

But we needn’t dwell on that, for the main point comes at the end—about sources of morality.

You have been working alongside survivors in church settings for many years now. Why do you stay in the church with all the evil that you see there?

How do I know that the authority I’m seeing isn’t a good use of authority? How do I know that sexual abuse really is wicked and it ought to be treated that way? You can’t know a line is crooked unless you have some idea of a straight line. That is a paraphrase of a quote by C.S. Lewis, and it has really been a linchpin for me.

The reason I remain a Christian is because my faith is what allows me to say that what I’m watching right now is broken. These institutions and these responses to survivors aren’t right. And I know they’re not right because I have a perfect picture of what these things are supposed to be.

And so my allegiance is not to a church. My allegiance is not to a denomination. It’s not to a country. It’s not to a convention. My allegiance is to Christ. And when I look at my faith and when I look at the principles of Scripture, it gives me the ability to look at what’s happening and say, “This is not right,” and I know it’s not right because there really is a moral lawgiver, and there really is absolute truth. Because every other belief system outside of God leaves us essentially dependent on societal and cultural response to define right and wrong.

There are several things to “unpack” here, one being Denhollander’s claim that she’s a Christian because “her faith allows her to say what she’s watching is broken.” First of all, that’s just not true. Sexual abuse by clerics looks broken because it’s immoral by any standards: the use of one’s authority as a basis for sexual assault.  Do you need Christianity to see that? After all, the whole world (except for the Church itself) was horrified when the scandals of Catholic sexual abuse became public. You don’t have to be a Christian to see what’s “broken”!

Second, if Hollander had been a Christian several centuries ago, her faith would have told her that it’s the right thing to do to torture and burn heretics, engage in all kinds of acts that we’d find immoral today (using the Bible to condone slavery, for example), and perhaps ban books.

What has changed? Not Jesus or his words, but the secular world, whose morality evolves as Christian morality scurries behind to keep up. This alone show the verity of Socrates’s Euthyphro Argument: we don’t think something is right or wrong simply because God (or Jesus) tells us that it’s right or wrong, but because you’re using a social or secular morality to which one’s idea of God conforms.

An example of this is God telling Abraham to kill Isaac. Abraham, who apparently conformed to “divine command theory,” was about to do in his son, just because God said so. Most rational people find this horrible; they’d say “God wouldn’t order that” because he’s a good God. But God did order that, and our revulsion comes from the conflict between secular and “God-based” morality.

Religious “morality” changes from year to year not because we understand God’s or Jesus’s will better—the Bible is still the same—but because that we interpret theology in each era in a way that comports with our present morality.

Yes, Denhollander says that her allegiance is not to the law, or to a secular code of morality, but to Jesus, for the words of Jesus will show you what’s right and what’s wrong. This is the same Jesus who tacitly approved of slavery and told his followers to neglect their home and family and follow him. Of course nobody thinks that’s right any more.

The last sentence is assertive, but its thesis is dumb:

Because every other belief system outside of God leaves us essentially dependent on societal and cultural response to define right and wrong.

And what, exactly, is wrong with that? Should morality be absolutely constant as mores and facts change? With Jesus you get the former, with secular morality the latter? I know which one I prefer.

Does Uvalde need prayers? Tish Harrison Warren says, “Definitely”

May 30, 2022 • 9:20 am

Tish Harrison Warren may be the lowest-hanging fruit in the New York Times op-ed section, but what I wonder is why the paper wants low-hanging fruit. At some point, a NYT executive must have thought, “Hey, we need religion to draw more readers—but not that old-timey, fundamentalist religion. We need a more Sophisticated form of faith from someone who can offer balm to our readers without making explicit and foolish statements about faith and its verities.”

And so they hired Anglican Priest Tish Harrison Warren. She surely fills the bill, doling out bromides and anodyne sermons every Sunday. In fact, her tendency to equivocate about her beliefs while trying to console semi-secular readers often gets her into the marshy hinterlands of theology. Her column this week is about why Uvalde, Texas, site of the latest mass school shooting, must have its prayers. 

The answer to Tish Harrison Warren’s question below is “Definitely!” What is maddening is her absolute refusal to discuss whether prayers actually work. That is, are they heard and acted on by God, or do they simply act as an aid to comfort and meditation?  I’m pretty sure, knowing what she’s written previously, that she thinks God really is Up There with an ear cocked, and heeds the importuning of his flock. But that raises a second question, which she also ignores: “Why did God let Salvador Ramos kill 19 innocent people and two good teachers?” Was this necessary to allow Ramos to have free will? (She’d probably say “God’s ways are mysterious”, in which case I’d respond, “Well, if you know so little about God, shouldn’t you stop extolling Him?”)

Read for yourself by clicking on the screenshot:

Warren and sixteen other clergy convened in Uvalde soon after the murders, though it’s not clear whether they were invited or simply hied themselves to the town to offer their spiritual wares.

After paying proper lip service to the fact that the “thoughts and prayers” trope is foolish, Warren nevertheless goes on to clearly imply that prayers are more than just helpful aids to meditation, but serve as a form of social glue. And indeed, I have no objection to people believing foolish things if it offers them group comfort—so long as they don’t impose that view on others. As Christopher Hitchens said (see below).

“[Religion] is their favorite toy. . . . I’m perfectly happy for people to have these toys, and to play with them at home and hug them to themselves and so on, and share them with other people who come round and play with the toys; and that’s absolutely fine. They are not to make me play with these toys. I will not play with the toys. Don’t bring the toys to my house; don’t say, ‘My children must play with these toys’. . . I’m not going to have any of that.”

This short clip is well worth watching.

Now Hitchens is talking more about clerical “bullying and intervention” than peace and the solace of the tribe, but Warren’s columns in the NYT are surely intended to proselytize and intervene, promulgating the falsity of religious faith.  She doesn’t write just for herself! And indoctrinating children in that faith—even urging them to participate in prayer—is surely a form of child abuse.

In fact, Harrison definitely implies that prayers for the dead in Ulvade are somehow helpful in fixing stuff. She quotes other pastors:

Sam Garza, a pastor and youth worker at First United Methodist Church, told me, “If people just say ‘thoughts and prayers’ or put something like that in their Facebook” profile and then don’t give another thought to Uvalde, then, he said, “that’s not helpful.” But he says, prayer spurs action. “In prayer, we find needs,” he said. If people pray that “Aunt Tilly’s transmission” needs to be repaired, he prays for that, but then, he said, “we also need to help her with her transmission”: to find and pay for a mechanic.

Yes, but does prayer really spur action among those (even believers) who don’t pray, or is the act itself form an impediment to action? It may well be that those who pray indeed do more to help control guns than those who don’t (I find that unlikely; the opposite is probably the case), but there’s an uncontrolled factor here: the personal qualities of those who pray. At any rate, given that the biggest opponents of gun control in the U.S. are those most likely to pray, I find the discussion disingenuous.

Here’s an experiment: for a group whose transmissions have crapped out, have four groups of people as an experiment (this is similar to the heart study described here):

  • One group doesn’t pray for the transmission repair, and the car isn’t taken to a mechanic
  • One group does pray for the transmission repair (presumably through blind intercessory prayer), and the car isn’t taken to a mechanic.
  • The third group prays for the transmission and it’s taken to a mechanic for repair
  • The last group is taken to a mechanic and there is NO prayer.

I’m guessing that the results of the third and fourth group would not only be the sole efficacious ones, but wouldn’t differ in the rate of fixed transmissions. After all, experiments show that intercessory prayer simply doesn’t work in accomplishing what’s prayed for, though it acts as a form of solace and a source of community for many. It also, as we see clearly in America right now, acts as a form of division and an inspiration to hate and ostracize others. Prayer is a psychological technique, not a way to ask for divine help.

And this is another problem with Warren’s latest screed: she echoes another pastor from Texas who says, “The church should stay out of politics.” Well, yes, it must if it’s to reap its tax advantages, but what happened in Texas won’t be fixed—or helped—by a bunch of prayers. Political will and action is what is needed. Which would you prefer: a bunch of liberal Christians praying for the shootings to end, or a bunch of liberal citizens working on gun reform? I guarantee that the latter will work just as well without the former.

Here’s what the Texas group prayed about, which brings up the last question:

Then [local Baptist preacher] Gruben opened the floor for anyone to pray. The prayers kept coming and coming. The pastors prayed together for around 40 minutes, many weeping. They prayed for comfort. They prayed to be filled “with love, compassion and grace.” One prayed, “Let us know when to speak and when to be silent.” Many chimed in, “Yes, Lord.” “We pray for the peace of our city.” “Comfort the brokenhearted.” “There is not one thing that has happened that has shaken your throne.”

WHAT?  Not shaken his throne? The throne is not only shaken, it’s battered to pieces! What has happened is that God allowed 21 people (19 of them morally innocent children) to be butchered by a shooter.  Does this not raise questions about the nature and beneficence of God? Of course it does, but the cognitively impaired ignore them. The solution, say the believers, is not gun control, but Jesus—presumably a prerequisite for gun control. As Warren writes:

I asked Barboza, “Do we need better gun control?” He replied, “We need Jesus.” It is “the presence of God that changes hearts,” he said.

. . .Right after we talked, a couple named Pam and David Wong approached the police line, holding a large green wooden cross. They wove their way through throngs of media people, trying to find a spot to place it. A law enforcement officer took the cross and laid it in front of the school sign.

The Wongs are volunteers at a church in Conroe, a town five hours away. Their church works with homeless people, giving them dorm space in the church building. They told me that formerly homeless men made the cross. On the back was a message for the community of Uvalde, explaining that the cross was meant to be “a reminder that Jesus cares and loves you all very much. We are all praying for you.” Pam Wong told me they had driven to the school because “we wanted them to know that they are not alone.”

Now that’s very strange. It is the very people who tout their God most strongly who impede moral reform: the people who stalled the Civil Rights Movement and gay liberation (and now abortion, which Warren opposes). God was there the whole time since the 1960s, but hearts were changed not by an imperceptible deity, but but secular realization that equal treatment of people mandates civil and gay rights. (See Steve Pinker’s last two big books.) And didn’t God start effecting this change before slavery? Why did God allow millions of Africans to be dragged into horrible servitude? Was that his divine plan?

Well, if you’re open-minded, the evidence at hand suggests that God does not “love you very much”. After all, by not lifting his hand, he brought unspeakable tragedy to 21 people and unspeakable grief to their loved ones. Not to mention the unvoiced grief of millions of enslaved people.

I needn’t go on, for the low-hanging fruit has been plucked. At the end of Warren’s confusing and poorly written but well intended piece, she reaffirms that although many things are contradictory and confusing, the power of prayer is not:

Uvalde is grieving and heartbroken. Some want a revival. Some want mental health services. Some want gun control. But every single person I talked to agreed on one thing: They could use your thoughts and prayers.

I don’t think she talked to everyone in Uvalde.