MONKEY BUSINESS On September 12th 2007, an unknown individual hung a sign on a mahogany tree in a modern suburban street in Singapore. Written in Chinese, it drew the readers attention to some strange shapes formed by calluses in the bark of the tree. The shapes looked a bit like monkeys. But to some, these were not any old monkeys: Variously they saw in the twisted contours of that old bark Hanuman the Hindu monkey-god or Sun Wukong the King Monkey and central figure of the classic Chinese epic Journey to the West. Indeed, the writing on the sign detailed the recent incident of a car hitting this tree, splitting it and thus releasing the spirit of the monkey god. Subsequently, the crowds gathered and grew, incense was offered, prayers were prayed and vigils held. Ultimately, the ‘monkey tree’ was joined by two neighbouring trees representing Ganesha (the Hindu elephant deity) and Guanyin (the bodhisattva of compassion) to form a kind of roadside pantheon. SEEING THINGS
by Roy Davey
The title: Conversion: experience vs relationship could lead to the thinking that it has to be one or the other, that there is some kind of foetal tussling going on between the twins “either” and “or”. Of course it's both. I feel we have to broaden our thinking, take the blinkers off, to see the wider picture which alone is the true one. This will be the thrust of this little blog: to give a more adequate breadth to this issue of conversion than that usually given by those of an atheistic heartset. Simon and Edward, who have written the two preceding posts on this subject (click here and here), have already started to do that and may I carry on the good work.
Last week, Simon Field explored the question as to whether Christian conversion is simply an emotional experience, and concluded that, while this is sometimes the case, not all conversions (even where they involve strong emotions) can be reduced merely to feelings. This week, I will briefly explore the other side of the argument, that Christian conversion is just a change of thinking. At the outset, it is worth pointing out that conversions are diverse things. I have been a Christian now for about a quarter of a century and have heard many accounts of people's conversions, and they are not all reducible to a single pattern. Some people experience something dramatic (and often, though not always, emotional), others, like me, gradually come to faith over a longer period. One commonality is that all of them (if genuine) involve lasting change. Genuine conversion is distinguishable from a passing fad or a phase that someone might "go through" for a while.
In this episode of his series Fear and Faith, Derren sets out to give a participant named Natalie a ‘religious experience’ in order to show that ‘these beliefs come from us and not from the divine’. Derren goes on to assume that conversion experiences are usually felt as a result of either powerful preaching found ‘at a big religious rally’ or a change in thinking to help us deal with life’s problems: ‘Usually in the case of a conversion Natalie would be looking for some sort of answer to life’s problems, but she’s quite happy with her life so I won’t have that advantage’
Derren - ‘Once we believe in a supernatural presence it’s a very small step to start believing he can think, that he holds power, and possibly that he has a plan for our lives. And if we look for it our brains are wired to find it. We apply what’s called a ‘Theory of Minds’, it’s the ability to step inside other peoples heads. And the core of religious belief comes down to our belief that God has a mind and therefore plan for us. We create the idea of an agency, that God takes an interest in us and is pulling strings in our lives’
This is the second article responding to Derren Brown’s recent programme Fear and Faith (here), in which Derren said the following: Derren: ‘Once the idea is sown that there could be some kind of presence in the room, something happens, hardly anyone cheats (referring to an experiment he conducted) . . . if people are lead to imagine a supernatural presence then they will act in a more moral way. And this reaction comes from deep within us, not from the force itself . . . there is a likely evolutionary reason for this. Baring suggests when our ancestors developed language, it also meant that they could gossip. And through gossip your reputation could be damaged, which meant you could be outcaste because others would discuss your misdeeds. And that makes you someone to be avoided, which puts you in danger, and more importantly it makes you less likely to reproduce.
This series will seek to address some of the pertinent questions raised by the popular entertainer and magician Derren Brown in his TV series Fear and Faith (view here) which is enjoyed by many (including by many of the writers on this blog) and which we believe to be one of the best presented and most influential programmes out there arguing against the objective existence of the supernatural (and therefore, of God). In this first post, we shall be looking at the claim, made by Derren Brown near the beginning of the show, that we are all hard-wired through in-built psychological tendencies to believe instinctively in the supernatural, a claim which he sought to demonstrate by means of two experiments.
by Roy DaveyCategories: Mission, Culture, Convertion, Missionary
The question is somewhat loaded of course and highly negative: missionaries are seen as demolition workers and the chief enemies of that which they consider jerry-built. By “missionaries”, I take it that the reference is to the Christian variety. All religions have their “emissaries” sent with a definite message and resultant goal in mind. And yes, many a destructive sermon has abused the airways of our city streets, and the aim, only thinly veiled if veiled at all, has been to chip away at a culture highly repugnant to the preacher. Thinking specifically of Christian missionaries; are they primarily bulldozer drivers or construction workers? Are they concerned only with ways of life and manners of self-expression or with the people themselves and central concerns? This is the real issue and that which the question doesn’t address.
by Edward Rhodes
My response to this exclamation depends what is meant by the statement "trying to convert someone"? If it means "attempting to coerce or manipulate someone into belief" then I would disagree with the statement on the grounds that it is too feeble an expression of disgust at such abuse. Trying to convert someone, in this sense, is not merely "rude" but deeply immoral, in many cases illegal, and, moreover, ultimately utterly futile, since a person "converted" to faith, in this sense, would not genuinely have changed their mind. I believe that only God can truly convert somebody at a heart level. From the perspective of those who, like myself, do wish to see people converted to Christ, such abuses achieve nothing except to harden people against a genuine change of heart.
by Ruth PrestonCategories: Bible, Jesus
We have probably all been reading in the news about a Mayan/New Age belief that the world is going to end on 21st December 2012 – Today. Many of us sneer at the seemingly ridiculous, never ending and insistent predictions that the world is going to end on one day or another. But the news tells us (to my surprise) that there are many people who are worried, even if they won’t say they truly believe that the world is going to end, the possibility of it concerns them. See the BBC News Magazine article here for more details. Therefore, I think it worth writing this article, if only for the sake of those who feel worried . . . and, of course, for everyone else’s general interest.