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Archive for October, 2009

Prayer

Q: I read an article the other day about a survey someone had done on prayer. It concluded that it didn’t do any good to pray when we’re sick, because people who didn’t pray got well just about as often as people who did pray. What would you say about this? — F.M.

A: A large number of studies have shown the inefficacy of prayer. Many people believe prayer is effective because of their personal experiences. These people will tell you that something good happened after they prayed about it. Our human brains excel at pattern recognition, and anytime a correlation is noticed (prayer and good things occurring), we make a point of remembering it. However, these same believers will probably not tell you about the many, many things they prayed for that did not come to pass. If questioned about it, they would probably say something along the lines of “God works in mysterious ways”. However, according to the Christian bible, god will give believers anything they ask for. That obviously does not happen. If it did, the advantages of believing in the Christian god would be apparent, and a vast majority of people in the world would do so.

Billy Graham’s answer.

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Reincarnation

Q: I don’t believe we go to Heaven when we die. Instead I believe that we come back to earth (or perhaps go to another planet) and live another life, and we keep coming back until we finally reach perfection. You’re free to believe what you want to, but this is what I believe. — B.K.

A: This process you describe is commonly known as reincarnation and is a belief associated with many religions such as Hinduism and Jainism. As someone who was raised as a Christian and believed in the Christian god for 30+ years, I am not very familiar with these other religions. However, I am fairly confident that they are also based on myth and superstition. There is no rational reason to believe that reincarnation has ever occurred.

Of course, we (Americans and much of the industrialized world) are free to have whatever religious beliefs we want as long as these beliefs do not preclude the rights of others. However, this right does not validate any one’s religious beliefs. Your belief in reincarnation is just as unproven and irrational as the beliefs of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, etc.

Billy Graham’s answer.

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Stepmother

Q: Two years after our mother died our father remarried (someone he’d known in high school). But he never discussed it with us, and he just can’t seem to understand why my sisters and I are having such a hard time accepting her as part of our families. Are we wrong to feel this way? — J.H.

A: You are not necessarily wrong to feel this way. However, if you love your father and value your relationship with him, you should explain your feelings to him and let him do the same. The loss of your mother was probably as hard for him as it was for you. If his new wife brings him happiness, you should try to appreciate that. If you have not taken the effort to establish an amiable relationship with your stepmother, I would urge you to try. If you still have a hard time accepting her as part of your family and if you love your father, you should consider making some sort of compromise between having a loving relationship with your father and avoiding a relationship with your stepmother. The amount of compromise you make is entirely your choice.

Billy Graham’s answer.

Feel free to leave your answer to this question in the comments.

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Love God?

Q: I fear God (which is what the Bible says we ought to do, doesn’t it?). But I can’t say that I love God. After all, how can you love someone if you’re afraid of what they might do to you? — J.D.

A: This is a great question, and there is not a logical or satisfactory answer to it. If an all-powerful, loving god exists (as described in the Christian bible) then it would be absurd for it to create a universe that contains evil or intelligent creatures that must worship and fear it. That god is either malevolent or a product of human imagination. The latter case is by far the most probable. This is just one example of the many absurdities of belief in a supernatural god. I hope that you continue to ask rational questions about your faith. If you cannot discover rational answers to these, you are likely to come to the conclusion all of the gods that humans have ever worshiped were/are products of human fabrication. If you would like to explore this topic further see my recommended Reading List and my previous posts in the Rejecting Belief and Absurdity categories.

Billy Graham’s answer.

Feel free to leave your answer to this question in the comments.

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Q: I’m a student from a country that has only a few Christians. I’d like to learn more about Christianity, but I’m confused because you have so many different churches here. Someone said to write you for suggestions. — V.Z.

A: Christianity is based on the belief that Jesus was the son of the Hebrew God, that he became a man about 2,000 years ago in the Middle East, and that he was crucified in order to forgive our sins. This story is recounted in the New Testament of the Christian bible. Many Christians believe they will live an eternal life in Heaven if they simply believe this story to be true. I say “many” because there are other Christians that believe they will go to this same Heaven if they lead good lives and help their fellow humans when the need arises. Others still believe that both belief in Jesus and good works are necessary to reach Heaven after death. These differences in opinion stem from the ambiguities that exist in the bible. Many people have interpreted the writings in the bible differently and this has led to many different denominations (churches) of Christianity.

However, there are many reasons to believe the stories in the Christian bible are not credible, including:

  1. A vast majority of the stories and themes in the bible are recycled from older cultures and religions.
  2. There is no credible historical account of Jesus’ life outside of the bible.
  3. The Gospels of the New Testament were written at least 35 years after the supposed death of Jesus and their true authorship is not known.
  4. There is nothing in the bible that was not known to mankind at the time.
  5. The bible contains a very large number of internal inconsistencies.
  6. The bible contains many absurdities that modern Christians ignore.
  7. The god described in the bible is misogynistic, cruel, and racist.

If you would like to read about more good reasons for doubting the veracity of the bible, see my recommended Reading List.

The many denominations of Christianity have arisen due to differences in which the bible is interpreted and in the ways that the failings mentioned above are dealt with. I hope that you do not choose to follow the teachings of Christianity which are based on nothing more than a myth. If you are looking for a community of people to associate with, you may wish to investigate one of the following organizations.
Secular Student Alliance
American Humanist Association
Humanism Meetup Groups
Grassroots Skeptics

Billy Graham’s answer.

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Lending a Hand

Q: It seems like every time I try to help someone it turns out badly. Am I a fool for trying to help people when they’re down on their luck and need a helping hand? I’d like to think it’s the right thing to do, but then when they just take advantage of you, it’s hard to keep on doing it. — M.C.

A: If you think that helping others is the right thing for you to do, then it probably is. The people who have needed your help may have had problems such as mental illness or addiction that resulted in their hardship. If this is the case, any aid that you give may help them temporarily, but ultimately they will need assistance with these problems before they can get back on their feet. You may want to modify the way in which you help others by trying to determine if they have any underlying problems that need to be addressed, and then assist them in seeking treatment or therapy. Your aid could let them feel that someone cares for them, and could provide support in their efforts to modify their behavior.

On the other hand, some of these people may be lazy or greedy. In this case, they make take advantage of you and your attempts to help them may be wasted . However, if you have the means to continue helping others, I hope that you do so while trying harder to determine if these people need a different type of assistance (e.g. therapy) or are trying to take advantage of your generosity.

Billy Graham’s answer.

Feel free to leave your answer to this question in the comments.

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Faith

Q: I grew up as a “P.K.” (a “Preacher’s Kid”), but when I reached my teens I got tired of all that and went in a much different direction. That was over 40 years ago, and now I’m wondering if I went too far. How can I find a faith that’s right for me, and isn’t just my parents’ faith? — W.R.

A: You should ask yourself why you need to find a faith at all. Many people have no faith in supernatural gods and live happy, rewarding lives. You may have rejected your parents faith because you were able to see that it is irrational. Whatever the reason was, I hope that you explore it further. You may come to the conclusion (as many others are doing) that faith in any type of god does not make sense. For further reading, see my posts in the Rejecting Belief category and my recommended Reading List.

Billy Graham’s answer.

Feel free to leave your answer to this question in the comments.

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