The weather this last week has been appalling for anything related to getting and seeing stuff, so another post on local religious activity. I was horrified, although in retrospect not entirely surprised, to find out recently that there are people running the so-called alpha course in Bishopthorpe.

Worse than that, someone we are reasonably friendly with has actually been on it. For those of you who don’t know, this is a course designed to increase the number of Christians, and it has a distinct evangelical flavour. I have to admit to not having been on this course, but I have read/watched several eye-witness accounts of it, and it strikes me as, well, evil through ignorance really. Here are a couple of reviews: here and here. If you’re worried that I’ve chosen biased reviews, because both are by atheists, then my reasoning is that sceptics are the kinds of people you want to review anything as they are likely to find faults that exist; that’s why we want our scientists to be sceptics, right? And the people involved seem emminently reasonable rational people. I’m a bit hesitant  to fork up for the course myself to experience it first hand, as I do feel it would be a bit like putting money into the wrong hands.  

Anyway, I thought I’d put a few uninformed opinions on the basic content of the course and how it might be changed to become genuinely informative:

The current course content is the following: 

  • Week 1 Who is Jesus?

I think this should actually come much much later on. Sure, it’s useful to examine, but I think you need some reassurance that participants are not being subjected to propaganda, so I’d be recruiting some consensus by a group of highly regarded objective Biblical scholars, probably from state funded universities. I think my first week would be something general about critical thinking and techniques for discerning the truth about the nature of the universe: you know, evidence, repeatability, basically the balony detection kit.

  • Week 2 Why did Jesus Die?

Interesting one this. I think I’d need two levels to be explored here: first the veracity of the story itself (see above), and then exploring what can be extracted from it assuming that the literal interpretation(s) (note the plural there) are factual. But if I were in charge week two would probably consist of what we know about the beginning of the universe, it’s extent, it’s immense longevity, the wierdness of matter and the cosmos as seen from ordinary human eyes, and how we know all this. I might contrast all this with the creation story in the bible and other creation stories. I think a bit of evolution wouldn’t go amiss as well as some stuff on how basic human morality may have evolved.

Week 3 How can we have Faith?

Interesting one. I’d be telling people about why blind faith is one of the worst enemies of humanity; how it misinforms, conceals the truth, restricts freedom, leads ordinary people to contradict basic humanist morals. I think this would also be the place to outline the basic problems with the assumption of God; its lack of evidence, the extent of suffering in the universe, it’s poorly defined substance, comparisons with fairies, unicorns, and mention of the extent of other religions and why everyone is atheist about most gods thathave ever been proposed.

Week 4 Why and how do I Pray?

Silent contemplation is something I do a lot of, often sitting next to my mini-meadow, or my telescope eyepiece. It’s a great thing. But I guess here would be the place to advocate action to make the world a better place rather than praying to a non-existent deity. I might outline the work of secular charitable organizations and outline a list of ways to get involved.

  • Week 5 Why and how should I read the Bible?

Easy: covered in week one.

  • Week 6 How does God Guide us?

Uh-oh. How to lead a moral life without God: see below.

  • Week 7 How can I Resist Evil?

Conscience first (see evolution of morality, above), facing the consequences of your actions, empathy, and then if that doesn’t work perhaps fear of the law. How science can inform us on difficult moral questions like abortion, euthanasia, animal cruelty etc.

  • Week 8 Why and how should I tell Others?

Truth should definitely be conveyed as widely as possible. Trouble is, you need your balony detection kit to recognize it, and I think it’s just as important to point out what we do not know. You could contrast this with the certainty displayed in the Bible over metaphysical and historic events.

  • Week 9 Does God Heal Today?

Interesting. How science makes people’s lives better, why alternative medicines should not be available on the NHS, and perhaps some warnings on how religious groups may attempt to rob you with a false prospectus. Tricks con artists regularly use and how to be aware of them.

  • Week 10 What about the Church?

Exellent question: removal of state funding, banning of faith schools, enormous handover of land and resources for secular purposes.