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Archive for December, 2009

Devil Music

Q: I used to listen to a lot of music when I was younger without paying much attention to the words, but the other day I was downloading a song and suddenly realized that it talks a lot about the devil. Will this hurt me spiritually, do you think? I’ve only been a Christian about a year. — M.H.

A: This song will not cause you any harm. Art (including all kinds of music) is, in part, a reflection of our experiences. There are many undesirable aspects of our society such as murder, rape, slavery, and war that have been used as inspiration for countless works of art. These works, in most cases, do not advocate these atrocities, but recount them and reflect on their implications. In fact, these piece are art are often indented to draw attention to these horrible events so that we can learn from past mistakes. Even if these did advocate these atrocities, most people will not be harmed in any way by consuming (viewing or listening to) them. The same could be said for this particular song that talks about a devil. Even if you believe in a devil (which is irrational and without factual basis) that performs evil deeds and tempts humans to do likewise, the subject of this song is not important. What is important is your personal moral code and how you act upon new information and thoughts.

Billy Graham’s answer.

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Q: What do you think is the greatest social problem in the world today? Some friends and I were talking about this recently, but we didn’t come to any agreement. Whatever it is, do you think churches should be doing anything about it, or is it best left to governments? — M.F.

A: I think the greatest problem is the lack of free societies and open government in all countries. Where these are not in place, people are not free to pursue their lives and express themselves as they wish. In totalitarian countries, especially, citizens are forced to act in very strict ways. They are often forced to practice certain religions, work in dictated jobs, and subjected to arbitrary arrest without judiciary recourse. They have no right to vote and, hence, no mechanism to change their plight. Freedoms of speech, press, and assembly are highly restricted. These people will not be able to develop to their full potential or even live happy, fulfilling lives under these conditions.

I think efforts to force these countries to change must come from countries which already enjoy free society and open government. Organized churches are often operated in a totalitarian manner. While they may not oppress their members the extreme way in which the leaders of Libya and North Korea do, their strict adherence to dogma and lack of democratic processes make them poor agents for this type of change. The world has seen great improvements in political rights and civil liberties over the last 40 years, and I hope this continues until all peoples of the world are free.

Billy Graham’s answer.

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Feeling Guilty

Q: Both my parents were atheists, and they taught me not to feel guilty over anything I did because there wasn’t any such thing as absolute right and wrong. But now that I’m older, I feel a vague sense of guilt anyway. I’m still not sure I believe in God, but why do I feel this way? — Mrs. C.L.

A: Your depiction of your atheist parents is not representative of atheists in general. In fact, the only thing that atheists have in common is their lack of a belief in a god. In the areas of politics, economics, social justice, etc. there are no unified positions. I am an atheist, and I certainly believe there are some things that are absolutely right (e.g., feeding the hungry, saving someone from drowning) or wrong (e.g., rape, torture). I believe your parents were wrong to teach you not to feel guilt about any of your actions. Everyone has a personal moral code, and for most of us that prevents us from harming others (physically, emotionally, financially) or breaking the law. Guilt is our way of analyzing our actions that violated our personal moral code. I often feel guilty after arguing with my wife, and this causes me to want to listen to her better and show her ideas more respect in the future. The sense of guilt you feel may be due to the development of your personal moral code. This may have been delayed due to the poor parenting you received. You can read more about my thoughts on developing a personal moral code here.

A vast majority of atheists lead very respectable, highly ethical lives. In fact, an argument can be made that atheists as a whole lead more upstanding lives that Christians as a whole. Compared to the general population, Christians comprise a disproportionately higher fraction of US prison populations, while the opposite is true for atheists. There is also evidence to suggest that divorce rates and teen pregnancies are higher among Christians than among atheists. (I am not one to judge divorce or teen pregnancy as being immoral, but I know that many Christian do.) I think that atheists are incarcerated, divorced, and become pregnant as teens at a lower rate than religious people for the same reasons they do not believe in supernatural beings: education, reason, and rational thinking. These attributes allow people to question the dogma of faith and see through the delusion of supernatural belief. These people are also much more likely to make decisions that enhance their life and cause fewer problems in the future.

Billy Graham’s answer.

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Questions

Q: Is it wrong to have questions about God? I am a Christian, but sometimes things happen to me that make me doubt my faith, and I begin to wonder whether or not I’m really on the right track. — F.G.

A: No, it certainly is not wrong to question your faith. I would suggest that you question everything around you. In most cases you will probably determine that our knowledge, policies, and practices are sound, rational, and fair. However, there are certainly some aspects of your life and society that could be improved or that are based on improper assumptions. In order to improve your life and that of others, I would urge you to work to affect change where you see fit. Because you have doubts about your faith, I think you may be on the right track. I would advise you to research your faith in more detail starting with the text of the bible itself, the authorship of the New Testament, and the origin of the Christianity movement. To get started on this endeavor, you could review other posts in my Rejecting Belief category.

Billy Graham’s answer.

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Rehab

Q: I’ve been in a drug rehab program for six months, and they just told me I can go home for a few days at Christmas. I suppose I ought to be glad, but I’m actually scared because I’ll see all my old friends and they’ll try to drag me down. What can I do? — K.R.

A: I think it’s very important that you NOT see any of your old friends when you visit your home for Christmas. Assuming your family is supportive of your efforts to manage and overcome your addiction, you should spend time with them and them only. If you do not think you can avoid your old friends, you should consider visiting family in another city or staying at the program facility for the holidays. If you opt for these latter choices, you could ask your members of your family to visit you.

Billy Graham’s answer.

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Son-in-Law

Q: We don’t understand our son-in-law. We had a close relationship at first (especially since he and our daughter live nearby), but now he tells our daughter that we irritate him and he wishes we’d just back off. What have we done wrong? We pray about this every day, but nothing changes. — N.W.

A: As I’ve pointed our before, prayer is ineffectual and useless. If you want to resolve this situation, I suggest that you attempt to have a very direct conversation with your son-in-law to determine why your relationship has changed. It may be something as simple as a misunderstanding or it could be due to fundamental differences in opinion about politics, religion etc. Whatever the reason, once both parties understand each other, you may be able to reach a compromise and establish at least an amiable relationship (for your daughter’s sake if nothing else).

Billy Graham’s answer.

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Truthiness

Q: Why should I believe that Christianity is any truer than other religions? I’m not sure any religion can claim to have the truth (and in fact, I’m not even sure God exists), but I’m open to changing my mind.— S.L.

A: I’m not sure that any gods exist either, and I’m pretty sure that the Christian god and Jesus are only human inventions. The stories and themes of the Christian bible were borrowed from older religions and cultures (see here, here, and here). They are inconsistent and often flat-out wrong about the natural world. The New Testament stories were written decades after the supposed death of Jesus and their authorship is unknown. This book has no credibility. It’s good for us to keep an open mind about our universe, but for now there is no good reason or evidence that I have seen to believe that any supernatural beings exist. If credible evidence or a plausible reason are found, then I will reassess my conclusion.

Billy Graham’s answer.

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