Dennis Prince refuses to let atheist convention go unchallenged

Rupert Murdoch has been hailed as an entrepreneurial risk-taker in launching a Sunday tabloid into the “mature and declining” market of printed newspapers with his launch of the Sun on Sunday.

This has not deterred Dennis Prince from launching The Regal Standard, as a direct challenge to the second Global Atheist Convention to be held in Melbourne from April 13 to 15.

The semi-retired pastor co-founder of Kingston City Church and long-time publisher of Resource Christian Music has produced a (presumably) one-off 12 page tabloid to counter the convention being held “in our backyard – on our watch”.

“If this event were to be held in, say, New York, we would expect Christians there to unite boldly and decisively to honour God and proclaim his greatness. That lot has instead fallen on us,” Dennis says on The Regal Standard’s website.

Dennis told Fairfax Media that he “has a tiger by the tail” by creating the Regal Standard, designed to counter atheist arguments. Fairfax reports that there are already orders for 25,000 copies of the 12-page tabloid, which will be distributed to churches, dropped in letter boxes, given to the curious, and sent to convention speakers.

‘Mr Prince… felt God telling him that the convention was happening on his watch, and he had to respond. He has spent $5000 and some 300 hours producing the paper, and needs to sell 45,000 at an average of 20¢ each to recover his costs.’

Dennis advocated for a positive but energetic response to the convention that would stimulate thought and conversation but could see the gullible “led down the garden path”.

Speakers at the convention include Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Peter Singer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and, perhaps somewhat in the “den”, Marion Maddox, who with a PhD in Theology will participate in panel discussions. (Marion and my paths crossed when we were both children living in and around the Uniting Church’s old Leigh College in South Strathfield…).

Christopher Hitchens is also pictured on the speakers page for the convention, perhaps a sign that the atheist’s are slightly enamoured with the idea of life after death…

PDF sample of The Regal Standard
Atheist Convention 2012

Some Utterance encounters with atheism…

Atheists sick of atheists
Atheism led me to faith
Ethic classes new atheism in slim disguise

Or search the tag atheism

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Oh little town of Bideford… where prayer has been over-ruled

Debates over prayers in Parliament or council meetings periodically emerge as another place where institutional secularism seeks to usurp institutional religion.

The latest has been the English town of Bideford where a former councillor took Bideford Council to court over official prayers during meetings.

The High Court ruled in his favour on what it described as a narrow point of law that it was not legal for councils to make prayer part of official business.

Some are seeing the ruling as having wider ramifications as secularism continues to reframe the nature of our societies.

Bideford may yet become a byword for a nation and nations loss of spiritual identity.

Read The Guardian’s report

Would the real Jesus please not wear a robe?

SMH.TV has brought us another amazing documentary, this time about a man claiming to be the Messiah and living in the wilds of Siberia.

Vissarion, the Teacher, Jesus… wearing a flowing white robe, sitting on the side of a hill and teaching his followers, who also are wearing flowing white garments.

Vissarion’s real name is Sergey Anatolyevitch Torop who was born in 1961, served in the Russian Army, became a traffic policeman, before losing his job and becoming Christ.

In many ways Vissarion is reminiscent of our very own North Queensland Jesus, Allan John Miller who also lives in a remote location and is busy gathering followers and building utopia. Although Siberia looked quite warm in the video, I can only imagine Miller would be a better choice in winter…

It is interesting to see the faith of many who follow, and there is a certain sense of harmony apparent in the documentary, produced by a combination of the community’s music and the beautiful scenery.

But with the benefit of distance, there is also strong sense of religiosity, stifling spiritual deception and a shallow confusion of thought.

One thing we know, both Miller and Torop can’t be right – one of them is an imposter, or more obviously both.

Jesus, of the New Testament, warned that many would claim to be him, but not to run after them. He can be found, right where you are.

Watch Jesus of Siberia
Wikipedia’s bio of Vissarion

Christmas speaks to the messy, bloody birth waters of our soul

Birth of Jesus by RembrandtChristmas as we know it has been culturally crafted over thousands of years around a base narrative concerning a family in Roman-occupied Israel.

Each December various scientists, atheists and pot-shotters are trotted out with their latest theories debunking Christmas and erstwhile Christian intellectuals and apologists bravely rally to defend the seasonal ground. Others argue over various cultural accoutrements to Christmas such as dates and customs and commercialistation. They act as if the average person is not intelligent enough to distinguish between later attempts to mark something significant and the significant thing itself.

Certainly the habitual attacks on the historical origins of Christmas or Easter or any Christian belief along with the confusing but largely irrelevant criticisms of the cultural artefacts that accompany those traditions, have a gradual, destabilising effect on the faith of the wavering or nominal who are probably the majority of believers in our nation. Around the globe however the effect is infinitesimal and Christian faith continues to thrive and multiply in amazing diversity with scant disregard for broadsheet column centimetres.

That is because at the heart of it, the Christmas story – to quote myself – ‘a base narrative concerning a family in Roman-occupied Israel’ is so shockingly familiar to our own human experience it reaches us where the debunkers and apologists never could, in the messy, bloody birth waters of our soul.

Here are just a few examples, in no particular order: Continue reading

Off with the moustache and up with the Christmas tree

December 1 tomorrow and a traditional date for many to put up their Christmas tree while listening to carols and eating cherries – in the land down under at least.

But increasingly it is also the day when bathrooms across the nation are littered with much-loved or much-maligned facial hair as it is removed to mark the end of Movember.

The moustaches, including my own, are somewhere in the range of impromptu, uncalled for, optimistic, unrealistic, threatening, questionably bushy, occasionally beautiful and down-right awful but regardless, most of them will go.

To give the many readers of Utterance (he says hopefully) an opportunity to give to the worthy cause of men’s health – prostate cancer, depression – I’m posting this final-hours photo of my Movember mo (with Oscar N in the background) and whilst wearing my Mr Mo shirt. Continue reading

In a digital world, hackers are the new guerilla warriors

If something strange happens to Utterance in the next few days, it has been probably been hacked. If it can happen to a French magazine, a Mexican drug cartel and Iranian nuclear facilities, it can happen to anyone.

With so much of life, business, industry and finance heavily reliant on computer and digital processes, it make sense that groups of hackers would begin to use their skills for a cause, not just to create havoc. Some have government backing while others are loose networks of computer geniuses but either way, they are emerging as powerful new players in the world’s political, religious, criminal and even national conflicts. Consider the following three examples. Continue reading

Aboriginal standing stones could pre-date Stonehenge

The cultures of Aboriginal Australia have not been well respected or understood by those of us who have arrived in this great land more recently. So many opportunities to learn, understand and work together were missed, and continue to be.

Little by little this is changing, in part to the gradual emergence of research and discovery that is filling in some of the many gaps. One example is research into a standing-stone arrangement in Victoria that may even date Stonehenge. The BBC report begins:

“An egg-shaped ring of standing stones in Australia could prove to be older than Britain’s Stonehenge – and it may show that ancient Aboriginal cultures had a deep understanding of the movements of the stars.

Fifty metres wide and containing more than 100 basalt boulders, the site of Wurdi Youang in Victoria was noted by European settlers two centuries ago, and charted by archaeologists in 1977, but only now is its purpose being rediscovered.

It is thought the site was built by the Wadda Wurrung people – the traditional inhabitants of the area. All understanding of the rocks’ significance was lost, however, when traditional language and practices were banned at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Now a team of archaeologists, astronomers and Aboriginal advisers is reclaiming that knowledge.”

Read more.

Repentance baffles secular Australians

Repentance is a world rarely heard outside of a Christian or other religious gatherings and so it is no wonder Australian journalists have matched it with terms like ‘puzzling’, ‘scratching their heads’ and ‘bolt from the blue’ when reporting Papua New Guinea’s first Day of Repentance held today.

True, the public holiday for Repentance Day was announced in PNG with little fanfare or explanation and this has baffled reporters and some (mainly ex-pat) business owners.

But there is no doubt the very large majority of Christians in PNG know exactly what it’s about and many will have participated in prayer events held across PNG today.

Even the small Muslim sector of PNG society was in favour, with their leader’s only caution being that people should not think repentance is for only one day of the year.

One PNG blogger was pleased with the introduction of repentance day and discusses why it could be so useful on the basis that repentance means a change of mind. Nothing new can be done unless there is first a change in our thinking… good advice for any nation.

It’s interesting to consider that increasingly secular Australia is surrounded by many strongly religious nations. PNG, East Timor, Indonesia and many of the Pacific nations have strongly religious orientations.

An overflow of this has been seen in the prayers, songs of praise and statements of faith that have mixed with the outpouring of grief outside the home where 11 Tongan family members were killed  by a fire earlier this week.

Our prayers are with them.

 

 

 

Perry perched on precipice of prayer

Rick Perry

Rick Perry

You’ll hear more and more about Rick Perry in coming days and most of it will be bad. Not to say that he is bad, but being a conservative Christian who is demonstrative about his faith and running for US president ensures he’ll get plenty of bad press. Maybe he deserves it, but don’t believe everything you read.

American politics is complex, polarised and confrontational with far less political correctness than is present in Australia. Australians would find it hard to even imagine a character like Perry surviving anywhere except on the very fringes of Australian politics, and yet he is emerging as a genuine presidential contender. It would be like Fred Nile being a strong contender for Australian Prime Minister… not likely, no hard feelings Fred.

But is his faith genuine, heartfelt, intelligent – giving genuine moral and spiritual impetus to his personal and public life? The secular media won’t even consider such questions. They’ve already stereotyped him as someone to dismiss. Perhaps we’ll join them, but there could be more to him than that.

I’m going to keep an eye on him, and to begin with, check out this thoughtful article from Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in The Atlantic.

Is Rick Perry as Christian as he thinks he is?

And while you’re at it, you might want to think about this call to prayer Perry sent to other governors before his controversial August 6 prayer breakfast:

“I sincerely hope you’ll join me in Houston on August 6th and take your place in Reliant Stadium with praying people asking God’s forgiveness, wisdom and provision for our state and nation. There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees.

Right now, America is in crisis: we have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy.”

What do you think?

Coffee czar bucks Hybel’s global summit

It’s not only Bert and Ernie who have been caught up in the gay marriage debate. One of Amercia’s biggest churches, Willow Creek, led by Ps Bill Hybels, found itself in the eye of the gay-lobby storm during its Global Leadership Summit.

Australian minister, researcher and author, John Dickson, is one of the speakers for the event and has been tweeting about his experience. Another speaker was to be Starbucks chief executive, Howard Schultz, but he cancelled after an online petition condemned Willow Creek as anti-gay – a charge the church denies.

Bill Hybels and Willow Creek have a large following in Australia and have done a great deal to help Christians think about how churches might be more accessible to the un-churched while retaining their core Christian values. Hybels is particularly influential in encouraging church leaders to develop their leadership skills.

In explaining the withdrawal of Schultz, Hybels denied that Willow Creek persecuted gays, as the online petition alleged.

The SMH reports: ‘Mr Hybels said that Willow Creek did expect its members to follow biblical ethics and reserve sex for marriage between a man and a woman, but welcomed worshippers of all backgrounds.

“To suggest that we check sexual orientation or any other kind of issue at our doors is simply not true,” Mr Hybels said. “Just ask the hundreds of people with same-sex attraction who attend our church every week.”

Mr Hybels asked members of the audience to write to Mr Schultz “with genuine Christian love” and say he would be welcome at any future summit.

And in a strange mega-church-Starbucks cross-fertilisation, Starbucks has been printing on its coffee mugs segments from Rick Warren’s best-selling book, A Purpose Driven Life. Warren is the pastor that other well-known American mega-church, Saddleback Community Church in California. Holding very similar beliefs to Willow Creek, it seems Starbucks may be at cross-purposes…

Bert and Ernie just friends, just puppets

Oh, and as for Bert and Ernie of Sesame Street fame? A online petition has been launched calling on the creators of Sesame Street, the Children’s Television Foundation, to allow the two muppets to marry. This follow new laws in New York allowing gay couples to marry.

CTF released this statement in response: “Bert and Ernie are best friends. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street muppets do), they remain puppets and do not have a sexual orientation.”

On ABC radio in Sydney this morning, Adam Spencer came out in support of the marriage of Bert and Ernie using as his justification Miss Piggy’s relentless pursuit of Kermit. In a stunning loss of logic for the mathematical Spencer, he seemed to overlook the fact that Bert and Ernie are Sesame Street characters created entirely for the benefit of children while Miss Piggy is a Jim Henson creation, made for programs aimed at adults more than children. As well, it doesn’t follow that every same-sex relationship – such as life-long friends – has to be, in anyway, homosexual. Or sexualised in any way…

The debate goes on…