Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Mercy Ministries has changed it’s name in New Zealand to A Girl Called Hope but it’s still the same old Mercy.

I can’t see any reason they would do this other than to try and hide from the negative publicity now associated with the name Mercy Ministries in Australia.

As the official A Girl Called Hope website states this ministry still has “strong ties” to Mercy Ministries and Nancy Alcorn. Clearly this is just Mercy Ministries with a different name. Perhaps Mercy thought that simply rebranding their product would be enough to silence it’s critics? The official website goes on to say:

“A Girl Called Hope is based on the work of Mercy Ministries which was founded by Nancy Alcorn in America in 1983. Having worked with troubled youth for eight years; Nancy gained insight into the reasons why social problems exist, particularly in young women.

The first home was opened in Monroe, Louisiana, this then extended to Nashville, St. Louis and Sacremento, California in the United States. Mercy Ministries has expanded internationally with homes in England, Canada and here in New Zealand.”

There is no mention at all of the Australian homes they’ve opened and then closed; no mention of the compensation payout; the lies they told the media; the thousands of women who’s lives were damaged; or the fact they only changed the name after the Australian home closed.

I’m sure any woman turning to A Girl Called Hope for help would like to know these important facts.

Firstly I’d like to apologise for the lack of updates recently. Various situations in my family life have interfered with the time I usually give to my blog.

The Guardian today reported that the Advertising Standards Authority recently saw a 10% rise in complaints.

Near the top of their complaints list were the advertising campaigns from both the British Humanist Association and the Christian Party.

The Christian Party’s ads, which arrogantly stated “There definitely is a God – So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life” were a response to the British Humanist Association’s “There probably is no God – So stop worrying and enjoy your life”.

Not the difference there: probably. I’m constantly amazed at the level of delusion and arrogance from the religious; that they believe they know there definitely is a God. I don’t believe there is a God and I’ll gladly explain why but I know I can never say there definitely is not.

What is interesting is the vigour at which the Christian campaigners tried to stop the original atheist campaign. They tried to argue that the claims broke advertising code and could not be substantiated. Thankfully the ASA told them where to go and said they couldn’t intervene without being required to decide on the existence of God.

The Christians then, when faced with defeat, retaliated by making claims that are even more difficult to substantiate: that God “definitely” exists. Funny how one minute they’re complaining and the next they’re going even further than those they were complaining about. It’s significant that the Christian ad topped the list while the atheism ad came sixth. Maybe they shouldn’t have said “definitely”.

The fact both of these ads came high on the list shows that in this country we really don’t like talking about religion. We want to keep it private and don’t want to think about the realities of the universe. These realities clearly show us that all the main religions are human creations with no basis in fact and this raises uncomfortable questions for many. We definitely don’t like being reminded when we look at a bus.

I hope more of these ads emerge. They raise consciousness and get people talking. I have no doubt that if both camps do advertise more the atheists will continue their respectful stance in acknowledging there is no definite answer; and the religious loons will continue proclaiming they absolutely, totally, utterly, definitely know that God exists and the sooner we join their religion the happier we’ll be.

To many Christians Benny Hinn is an ‘annointed’ healer with the ability to perform miracles. To those capable of logical thinking he is a fraudster and a cheat.

Above: Toufik Benedictus “Benny” Hinn

Many people in history have defrauded the innocent. Recently we were shocked by the extent at which Bernard Madoff defrauded so many people out of $65 billion. Benny Hinn is no different. Whilst he may not have stolen as much as Madoff he is no less deceptive as far as I am concerned and I believe the total amount stolen by Hinn is closer to that of Madoff than people think.

Many will be familiar with Benny Hinn, if you are I apologise for the lesson, but still many are not, especially in the UK. So some background: Since the 1980’s Hinn has been running ‘Miracle Crusades’, large gatherings in stadium sized venues where tens of thousands, and sometimes millions, of hungry miracle seekers gather hoping to be healed. He is a loud and vocal advocate of the ‘word of faith’ teaching which claims that God wants his followers to have material wealth and this can be achieved by giving financially to the church.

Hinn, born in Israel, started his ministry after moving to the US and quickly created a name for himself as one of the most successful televangelists in the world. He has likely ‘ministered’ to tens of millions of people in person and possibly been watched on TV by billions more.

In case you are not aware, Benny Hinn’s ‘crusades’ go something like this: they are held in stadiums where audience numbers are in the thousands; Hinn usually emerges (donned in a pure white suit) to a powerful chorus sung by a massive choir; he ‘preaches’ his version of the Bible; then he asks God to heal the sick (accompanied by powerful emotional music) and invites those who think they’ve been healed onto the stage; then he tells the audience how God has healed the people on stage before pushing them over onto the floor and claiming it is the ‘holy spirit’. During these services he asks attendees to ‘sow a seed’ into the ministry so they can continue to ‘do God’s work’. Not surprisingly many of them do.

Benny Hinn is now a fabulously wealthy man. We’re not talking just a little bit wealthy, I mean filthy rich wealthy. This had led many to accuse him and his family of profiting from the donations of the public. To those of us with any experience of the evangelical Christian movement (and I count myself amongst those) this personal profiting is no surprise. I spent many years in a church that, compared to Benny Hinn’s, is small fry and I saw for myself how the poor members of the church gave faithfully and the pastor drove a brand new Porsche. This is not something new. The scale of Benny Hinn’s luxurious life is, however, a little shocking.

To put this into perspective let me give you some numbers. This information is available to anyone willing to search for it, I haven’t cited sources simply because I’ve had to dig around in lots of places to pull all of this together and it wouldn’t be feasible, but you are free to check yourself and should I be wrong let me know! So yeah, the numbers:

  • Benny Hinn Ministries has an annual turnover  in the region of $100 million, add this up over years and the scale of this fraud starts to become apparent
  • Benny Hinn has use of a private jet purchased for an estimated $30 million which costs around $100,000 a month to run
  • Benny Hinn was given, free of charge, a 7,000 sq ft, 7 bedroom, 8 bathroom mansion overlooking the Pacific valued at over $10 million
  • Ex staff members have spoken of lavish shopping trips in designer stores like Versace and Louis Vuitton
  • Over 4 weeks in 2003 Hinn charged $6,000 worth of clothes to the ministry
  • Hinn has run up restaurant bills in the thousands whilst travelling
  • Hinn regularly books himself and his entourage into the presidential suites of hotels whilst travelling
  • On one trip to Italy recently receipts were submitted totalling $6,000 for “transportation”
  • At the same hotel in Italy he stayed in the presidential suite which the hotel lists as costing $10,000 a night.
  • Hinn hired the presidential suite of the Lanesborough Hotel in London at a cost of $3,000 per night
  • He submitted receipts totalling $6,000 for “incidentals including chauffeur services and ‘In Room Tea’ on the same trip to London
  • Hinn tipped hotel staff a total of $4,500 with the largest individual tips being for $1,000 (this appears to be common practice and has happened at other hotels)
  • Petty cash receipts show gifts exceeding $1,000 being given to Hinn’s daughter with no reasons specified
  • Hinn paid his daughter’s fiance $2,550 to babysit his daughter
  • Over a month in 2003 petty cash receipts totalling $23,000 were paid to Benny Hinn and his wife
  • A further $25,000 “to accompany Pastor Benny Hinn for anaheim crusade” is also detailed in receipts.

Much of this information came to light following a CBS program about Benny Hinn’s financial habits. He was invited to take part but couldn’t because God told him not to, apparently. These are just some of the figures that people have been able to gather on Benny Hinn’s ministry and thanks is owed to ex-staff who have ‘leaked’ them. This is all we have to go on as at every opportunity Benny Hinn resists being open about his finances.

It is pretty clear to me that he is living the high life off the back of donations. How else does he have all this money? He freely spends ministry money as if it is his own.

Not surprisingly all of this lavish piss-taking has raised some concerns with the powers that be. Senator Grassley, of the United States Senate Committee On Finance, wrote to Hinn a few years ago demanding he be honest about how he was spending ministry money. As a religious organisation Benny Hinn Ministries gets massive tax breaks, doesn’t have to publish its financial records, and therefore shouldn’t allow someone to personally profit to such a degree as Benny Hinn has.

It should be noted here that Benny Hinn is not alone in this. His lifestyle mirrors that of many other well known Christian personalities and Senator Grassley raised concerns with some of others too.

  • Bishop Eddie Long receives a salary of an estimated $1 million, lives in a 9 bathroom mansion set in 20 acres and drives a Bentley
  • Rev. Creflo Dollar owns 2 Rolls Royce’s and has a $1 million home in Atlanta and a $2.5 million New York apartment
  • Joyce Meyer Ministries allegedly spent $23,000 on a piece of furniture (she has denied this claiming it was a mistake on the receipt), $11,000 on a french clock and $19,000 on a pair of vases for the Ministry HQ.
  • Kenneth Copeland has his own plane and airport

Aside from the obvious financial wealth Benny Hinn has accumulated and the questions this raises about how charity money should be spent there is yet another issue which presses me.

Benny’s miraculous claims have never been verified. Nobody has ever examined and confirmed any of the miracles and many people who claimed to have been healed have subsequently discovered they’re still ill. To me and my atheist mind it seems pretty obvious that all this is fake, but it is an inescapable fact that many people believe Benny is the real deal. He has made a whole host of shockingly incorrect ‘prophecies’, whilst in a trance-like state supposedly connected directly to God, which add yet more weight to the proof that he is a fraud. Some of these include:

  • In 1989 Benny prophesied that in the next few years a short man would emerge as a dictator and take over the world, that he would be the anti-christ and then Jesus would return
  • 1990’s Benny predicts that America would get its first female president and she’d destroy the country
  • 1995 God will destroy America’s homosexual community with fire
  • He predicted that Fidel Castro would die in the 90’s
  • That earthquakes would destroy much of the east cost of the US in the 90’s

These are not the only stupid prophesies he’s made but I need not list any more, you get the picture.

I’m avoiding getting into Biblical theology but will go so far as to say the overwhelming majority of the Christian world reject most of Benny’s teaching. He is obsessed with demonstrating the most visually impressive ‘signs and wonders’ and it is all part of his show (he waves his arms about screaming and shouting for God’s “fire” to reign down. Benny has never performed a miracle in front of anybody: he’s never caused an arm to grow or a dead man to wake up. All of his miracles rely on human interpretation: “I couldn’t hear properly and now I can”; “my sight wasn’t very good and now it’s great”; “I had a pain, now it’s gone” etc. It’s easy to apply logic and watch this show fall apart.

I am reminded of the travelling ‘doctors’ of times gone by. Men would tour around setting up stages in towns and telling the locals they had miracle potions. They would make massive claims about their abilities and say they could cure anything! They’d place insiders in the crowd to ‘test’ the potions and having demonstrated the miracle the locals would flock to get their bottle! Benny Hinn is exactly the same.

The people in the audience go expecting a miracle. They don’t need to see a dead man get up to be convinced. They trust the power of God and they trust the testimony of others. This, coupled with the emotional atmosphere created at the meeting contributes to what can only be described as religious hysteria.

People go see Benny because they are desperate, many of them live in poor countries where healthcare is basic. They go because they need a miracle and they believe he can give it to them. When they get there he asks them to give him money. He even goes so far as to tell them God is more likely to “bless” them if they “sow” into his ministry. So they give up the little money they have in the hope they’ll be healed, and off Benny runs into the horizon a little bit wealthier, the people no healthier.

Some would say Benny Hinn was just clever, that he’s seen an opportunity and seized it, but I cannot accept this. Regardless of how gullible his followers are, and I must say they are as gullible as it gets, they are still being conned. They give their money believing that Benny is trying to do good when in reality he knows exactly what he’s doing and his motivation is greed. His conscience clearly doesn’t keep him up at night and for that he is evil.

If we allow Benny Hinn to continue for another 20 years lying and conning people then I have no doubt he will become the most successful con-artist of all time (with the exception of Jesus).

Today saw a major victory for common sense and about bloody time. Gary McFarlane was told in no uncertain terms that he could not appeal any further in his fight to have his sacking overturned.

Gary is a Christian who, not surprisingly, thinks it’s evil to be gay. He was a counsellor for Relate until he was sacked for refusing to counsel gay couples. Relate has a pledge where they promise to provide equal access to their services regardless of sexuality, a pledge Gary had previously agreed to. He was also bound by the terms of his employment contract which stated he had to treat all clients equally. This, Gary wasn’t prepared to do.

Gary believed he was a special case, that he was exempt from the laws the rest of us are bound by. He thought he was so special that he should be allowed to discriminate against gay people for no other reason than he’d decided he didn’t agree with their behaviour. He tried to argue that to force him to counsel gay couples would be to discriminate against him because of his religion, he went on to say that to sack him for refusing to comply was to sack him because of his religion and therefore unfair.

Gary and his legal team misunderstood the law however. The judge found that Relate would have acted in the same way had a non-Christian member of staff wished to discriminate in the way Gary did, and thus it wasn’t discrimination. Lord Justice Laws explained to the court that in a free and equal society we must offer 2 levels of religious protection: firstly the protection to choose a religion and secondly that no particular religious view is given preferential treatment. He pointed out to Gary that while the law rightly provides the protection to believe in a particular religion it cannot be used to protect the ‘content’ of a particular religious belief:

So it is that the law must firmly safeguard the right to hold and express religious belief; equally firmly, it must eschew any protection of such a belief’s content in the name only of its religious credentials. Both principles are necessary conditions of a free and rational regime

Gary McFarlane is a bigoted Christian who thinks that because he chooses to base his life on a fictional text from thousands of years ago he should have the right to ignore discrimination laws. I’m thankful the court has ruled that the rights of innocent gay people are more important than the rights of someone who’s made a personal choice to believe bollocks.

Today’s post is part 4 of a series on the arguments for the existence of God.

The First Cause

I’ve often heard the religious bring up the subject of cause and effect. Everything that moves is moved by something, they say. Everything that happens is the effect of an earlier cause.

In its simplest logical form this argument states that everything which exists has a cause and because the Universe exists it must also have a cause. Therefore the cause must be God. The argument is an example of infinite regress. With every effect having a prior cause the ‘chain’ continues backwards forever. The religious argue that only God can break that regress and so must be the first cause.

The flawed logic is immediately obvious to me and it raises more questions than it answers. To claim God breaks the infinite regress makes the assumption God himself is immune to having a cause. We have nothing to suggest this and so it is an example of special pleading.

Even if it could be said that the Universe did have a cause, to assign responsibility of that to a ‘God’ is another jump in logic. God is not the only available explanation; the big bang provides a much more likely explanation.

“God exists because the Bible says He does”

Anybody who bases their belief in God on nothing more than because of what a book says clearly has some mental issues. I’ll just get that out the way first. There is no helping these people, they’re completely devoid of any ability to process thoughts logically so don’t waste your time with them. I wasn’t even going to comment on this argument because it’s so stupid.
So this is here purely for the sake of it. I mean come on, is it even worth wasting my time on people who make the above statement? I don’t think so but I guess I have to justify what I’m saying. Having to justify my belief these books are full of shit is like having to justify my belief the Sun exists. I am referring to every single religious text here not just the Bible.

Still there appear to be many of these people. Most deny evolution because the book says, some murder people because the book says and all base their entire life on what the book says.

It’s quite clear that all the religious texts cannot be correct. They all contradict each other too much for that to be true. This then throws plenty of doubt over all of them. While aspects of them have been historically verified the vast majority of the scriptures are the writings of some pretty confused people thousands of years ago.

The single biggest problem with all the religious books is that they were written by humans. In the 23 years I’ve been alive I’ve learned that some humans are totally fucked in the head and some have a tendency to think and believe complete rubbish. I’ve especially learned to keep well away from people who believe God has revealed something wonderful to them and only them. A man two thousand years ago who believed God was speaking to him is likely to be even more untrustworthy than the crazy nuts now. These people lived in a time when they thought the Earth was flat and the centre of everything. They thought the stars were the ‘heavens’ and that hell was under the ground. They had no knowledge of the billions of planets and stars or the detail of DNA. But yet some wish us to believe them? Given the track record of total bullshit in the Bible, Qu’ran, Book Of Morman and all the rest, I think we can safely say their authors were definitely a bit off the mark.

It saddens me occasionally when I think of the misery and death caused by religion. I have met so many who’ve experienced unnecessary turmoil as a result of conflicts between their religion and their life. Right now the single biggest cause of instability on the planet is religion. Religion can be found somewhere in every major war. For me personally the biggest problem I have with religion is that it turns our eyes upwards. It makes us look for favour with God and forget that we have a short time on this Earth. If we could rid the world of religion maybe we could realise we are all the same species and must rely on each other for survival. Perhaps we would stop obsessing about an imaginary ‘after life’ and make the most of our only life on Earth.

At times I think this is an impossible dream and that religion is too deeply seated. But it is important to remember we are only 150 years from the publication of The Origin Of Species. We are witnessing “New Atheism” in its infancy. Every day science discovers new things and our knowledge of the Universe increases. I do genuinely believe it is possible for the Earth to sort itself out although I don’t expect to see it in my life time.

One thing I do know is that time will tell. History will vindicate today’s ‘sceptics’.

Over the past couple of days I have been sharing my opinion on the arguments for the existence of God and today I continue by looking at religious experiences.

“I Experienced God So He Must Exist”

This is perhaps one of the most convincing arguments for the existence of God. There are many people who believe they have had some sort of spiritual experience. They range from direct ‘supernatural’ experiences where people say they’ve witnessed miracles or angels, to circumstantial experiences where prayers have seemingly been answered. They include ‘out of body’ experiences of people believing they have met God or seen their life ‘flash before’ them. When presented to us by people who otherwise seem totally logical and ‘normal’ they can be convincing and when accompanied by events that seem unexplainable they are strengthened further.

The argument in its logical form states that it is only possible to experience something which exists and therefore if someone experiences God, then God must exist.

To test this I thought about whether it was possible to experience something that doesn’t exist. There are many examples of humans experiencing something that doesn’t exist. Dreams are situations where the brain completely believes the dream is real. It is not until you wake up you realise you’re dreaming; you never realise while you’re actually dreaming. A hallucination is the same thing except you are awake. Some drugs can alter our minds so that we believe we are experiencing something that isn’t happening. Drugs add no new capabilities to our brain they merely interfere with the normal processing occurring within the brain. Drugs have the ability to allow incredibly realistic yet non existent experiences. Some mental illnesses provide evidence of the brains ability to do this without chemical help. Schizophrenic people sometimes have very different perceptions of reality. Some people recall in the most detailed way how they were abducted by aliens and what happened to them. The world is full of examples of the human’s ability to experience something that doesn’t exist.

This concept is pretty easy to understand when you understand how the brain actually works and what an ‘experience’ is. Your eyes let in light which in turn is detected by optical sensors. These send constant signals to your brain which arranges them into an image. Your ears do the same with sound. You are not listening to an audio feed, you are hearing your brain’s construction of a constant supply of sound vibrations. It is easy to fool the brain with simple optical illusions where things appear to be completely different to how they actually are. 3D films appear 3D but are actually on a flat screen.

Sometimes we don’t receive enough information to construct a truly accurate picture and our brain calls on information it already has stored. An example of this is when a person lying in bed may hear what sounds like someone breaking into their car. On closer inspection it turns out to be a fox poking around in the bins. When the person heard the noise they thought it was a thief. Their brain was given nothing but the actual sound waves but it immediately used its pre-stored memory of what it expected a car thief to sound like. Indeed the very fact that the person suspected a car thief is evidence of knowledge previously stored in the brain. I make this example merely to demonstrate that a particular experience comprises of different factors. The brain can easily create an experience which is not actually occurring.

It is quite clear then that the argument’s main premise is false and that it is in fact possible to experience something which does not exist.

It is entirely plausible that a person with pre-determined beliefs in angels and miracles could be in a situation where they experienced what they thought was an angel. I have no logical reason to not extend the same to miracles. There are more examples of the effect pre-determined beliefs have on what we can experience. I have witnessed plenty of avid ghost hunters speak of the ‘spirits’ and ‘presences’ they have experienced.

Some religious people say God speaks to them, they say they know it’s God and so he must exist. Despite the obvious comedy value in this belief I will address it none the less. I worry about the sanity of someone who genuinely believes that the random thoughts that pop into their head are God but yet millions of people do believe it. It is more than clear that God tells them whatever they already believe God would say. Humans consistently apply characteristics they have invented to God.

I could go on with more examples; people who claim to have met Elvis after he had died, people who say God has told them to murder and rape, suicide bombers who say God told them to blow up buildings. It is more than obvious that it is possible to see, hear and experience things that aren’t actually happening and don’t really exist.

Yesterday I began this article on why I believe there is no God. I looked at the argument from design and gave my opinion on why the Universe appears to be designed. Today I continue by looking at morality and whether it comes from God.

Without God We Have No Morals

Morality is concerned with right and wrong. To many it is an impulse, they say they just know what is right and what is wrong. It seems true to me that our sense of right and wrong is not entirely learned. We are not directly taught what to do in a given situation, yet we appear to make similar moral decisions. These decisions are sometimes found universally, spanning many cultures and nationalities. It might even be said that their are certain moral ‘laws’. People appear to feel compelled to act in a morally good way. This raises the question of why we would often act in a selfless manner, sometimes helping others at our own expense.

This argument states that morals appear to exist objectively and that they have authority beyond what society dictates. That as humans act morally right when they’re not always required to by society there must be a reason why they do so; that as morals are transcendental and not ‘within’ us they must come from God.

I have a major problem with this argument. It is, quite frankly, ridiculous. In its most basic form it says that without God people would not do good. I personally do good because of the benefits to the world not because I think God wants me to. It’s a strange argument because I don’t see how the existence of God shows us what is right and wrong. If the religious mean they get their morals from religious texts then their argument falls down. They were written by humans, and as such the moral concepts they wrote about clearly already existed in their minds. One doesn’t have to delve far into the world of most major religions to find a wonderful array of hideous ‘morals’ and ‘rules’. Islam scores maximum points here.

In addition to all of this the evolutionary advantage of doing good to our kin is plainly obvious. We can observe how most other species co-operate with their kin, watching out for each other. They stay in groups and clean each other. More intelligent species display similar social structures to us. It’s impossible to ignore the striking similarities between ourselves and primates. Not just in appearance but in behaviour also. Brothers defend their young sisters and mothers nurse their babies. Partners hug, kiss and clean each others backs and parents mourn the death of their young. It is clear to me that altruism is found at all levels of the living world. It is not unique to humans and it does not have its basis in religion or God. A species who work together for survival are much more likely to survive than a species who spend all their time doing bad to each other. It is observed in humans that when you do good to others you live a better life and it’s not difficult to see the benefit to our survival.

If the argument that morality has to come from God were true, then it should be so that the moral laws are universal. That is they are non-negotiable and apply always. If the laws don’t originate in us we can’t have the ability to alter them for different situations. Clearly if we were expected to do this it would defeat the object of having the laws in the first place as they would then become subjective not objective.

I have no option but to reject this as never in my life have I observed morality to be a set of concrete laws. There are trends consistent across the globe, however in every situation people judge what is right and wrong based on many variables. It cannot be said that to kill is always wrong, as there are many situations where taking life has been justified. Morals can also be observed to change over time. Most of society has adopted changes in morals regarding human rights over recent history. Religion has taught us it is immoral to be gay, modern knowledge and understanding has taught us it is immoral to hate something which happens naturally.

In my opinion the existence of morality and altruism is easily explained through natural selection and observed in the individual benefits we get from doing good to each other. God is not required to explain it.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about personal religious encounters and how they are easily explained.