Archive for the ‘Mum’ Category

Critique of a Christian pamphlet

December 14, 2015

Most Friday nights, Christian street preachers and pamphleteers inhabit Adelaide’s Rundle Mall. One pamphlet offered to me recently had the title The Final Flicker.


In summary, the pamphlet makes the following assertions:

  1. Everyone will die.
  2. The time of our death is unknown.
  3. The sudden death of a loved one shocks and distresses.
  4. The Bible can provide answers to the questions about life, but Science cannot. Neither can friends or doctors.
  5. Our time here and now is only a space in which to prepare for after death, according to the Bible.
  6. The Bible is clear that after death we go to one of two places, Heaven or Hell, and it’s your choice.
  7. God never created man for Hell, but…
  8. God is holy and just and cannot live in the presence of sin, so…
  9. Heaven is only for those who have had their sins forgiven, those who have been made righteous.
  10. Hell is the sad and necessary place of those who refuse God’s mercy.
  11. The Bible says that whoever believes in God’s son will not perish but have everlasting life.
  12. God is just, so must punish sins.
  13. God loves each of us, despite of our sin.
  14. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.
  15. Jesus was the son of God, holy, pure, and sinless.
  16. The sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross took away our sins.
  17. He was the only one who was able to do this.
  18. Death could not hold him. On the third day he rose.
  19. He now sits at the right hand of God.
  20. All you have to do is repent, turn from your sin, trust Him as your Saviour and you will be saved.

The first two are self-evident: we’re going to die but we don’t know when. For anyone who has lost someone close, the third is not hard to fathom either. Actually, it’s patronising and pedantic. Everyone dies. Welcome to Life.

Point 4 says that the Bible has all the answers about life and that friends and scientists don’t. This is a bold claim indeed and needs to be justified.

That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. (Christopher Hitchens)

The fifth point declares that the purpose of life is only to prepare for death. Really? How depressing. Another unjustified claim unworthy of further attention. Nothing to see here. Move along…

Hmm. Wait. If these people really believed what they said, namely that the purpose of life is only to prepare for death, then why wait? Why not just end their lives now? I suppose the counter claim will be that suicide is a sin. Phew!

EDIT: After reading this post, a friend pointed out that since all sins should be forgiven, even this is not really an objection.

Another objection a Christian apologist may raise is: time is needed for such preparation. But how much preparation and of what kind? If it’s just a matter of believing something, well, anyone can do that, at anytime. If life is a moral training ground, and salvation comes from good works, then sure, that would take time. But, skipping to the end, point 20 says:

All you have to do is repent, turn from your sin, trust Him as your Saviour and you will be saved.

So no good works are required, just turning away from sin and having faith.

Higher up the list again: point 6 says that the Bible is clear that after death we go to Heaven or Hell.

Crystal clear?

What biblical verse declares this so unambiguously? The pamphlet is keen to point to specific verses to “back up” other points. Why not this one, given its obvious importance?

Perhaps it should quote Matthew 25:41. Want to see what that would mean in practice? Read points 7 to 10 again, view as much of  the The Thinking Atheist’s video Burn Victims as you can and then ask yourself whether any aspect of a god who would send one of its own creatures to such an unimaginably hideous place could ever be considered good, just or righteous in any meaningful sense.

Point 11 brings us to John 3:16, the idea that if we just believe in God, we won’t be punished for our sins eternally but will have, a better, eternal life. That brings us back to the question I raised above: how much preparation is necessary and of what kind? Well, if we just have to believe, then we can end it all at any time! Right?

Surely this is all just too much like a game…

God could simply declare that everyone can come to the eternal party. Apparently this god requires the attention and adoration of its creatures. But an all powerful god should want for nothing. Right?

Point 12 declares that “God is just, so must punish sins”. That’s like me saying that I have a strong sense of morality, so I should punish those who don’t, or at least those who do “wrong”. Oh, I forgot. I’m not a god… Apparently, you need to have created a universe to be able to call yourself “just”.

All other points (12 to 17) are in need of evidence, not the least of which:

  • that Jesus was the only one who could atone for our sins;
    • including weak “supporting” Old Testament prophecy fulfilment claims such as referred to in the pamphlet: Isaiah 53:5;
    • that there were any sins in need of atonement in the first place;
  • that Jesus rose from the dead and…
  • now lives with God;
  • that salvation (if necessary at all), is attained by faith alone and not by works;
    • i.e. that in order to be saved, you don’t have to be good, just gullible.
The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species.
(Christopher Hitchens)

In the end, the essence of the pamphlet is this:

  • We will all die.
  • All of us have sinned and fallen short of God (Romans 3:23).
  • Jesus sacrificed himself for our sins.
  • Belief in Jesus leads to eternal life rather than eternal punishment.

The only positive thing I can say about any of this is that at least the pamphleteers are being consistent regarding core Christian claims, rather than adhering to some watered down theology consisting of only a vague notion of god, like many liberal denominations. That’s not to say anything about the veracity of the fundamentalist’s claims of course.

One particularly obnoxious idea that emerged in antiquity is Pascal’s wager, the “argument” that it is in our best interest to assume that God (but which?; there are so many to choose from) exists, to avoid the possibility of eternal punishment.

If God does not exist, the thinking goes, nothing has been lost, right?

Wrong! A life of pointless servitude can been avoided if a person recognises the distinct possibility that monotheism is an off-by-one error, i.e. that there is no evidence that any god exists, some version of the Judaeo-Christian god or any other, so that the correct number of gods is not one but zero.

Based upon the available evidence, this is all an atheist claims. My son noted this short animation recently, which makes a pretty compelling case for the off-by-one error.

In fact, “atheism” is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a “non-astrologer” or a “non-alchemist.”… Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.
(Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation)

The Universe revealed by Science is rich enough. We don’t need to add our own unfounded complexity. Science and engineering have created the modern world that so many of us are fortunate to live in and is, along with critical thinking more generally, the only hope for solving our biggest problems.

If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world.
(Christopher Hitchens)

I get that people are afraid to die and find the idea of losing those they care about difficult to bear. The deep-felt desire for an afterlife is, I think, at the heart of most religions, whether openly acknowledged or not.

However, given the challenges to our way of life from climate change and dogmatic thinking, it’s not okay to retreat into The Dark like frightened children.

Come on people, grow up! We are not at the centre of things.

I’ll end with another quote from Hitchens, who has said it all better than I ever could:

The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.



Shifting gears

July 13, 2013

I have two fond memories concerning my mother and shifting (car) gears.

As a teenager in the passenger seat of my family’s manual Toyota Corolla, if my Mum was driving she would often let me change gears, especially if we were driving down a long road. She would put her foot on the clutch pedal and I would change gears. At the time I thought it was just a bit of fun. Upon reflection as an adult, it has occurred to me that this required a certain amount of trust on her part. That says something important about her.

The second memory involved something we both found pretty funny at the time. I bought a Commodore 4016 (PET) computer in the early 80s. At that time I was about 18 and lived in Adelaide where I was training as a General Nurse going “home” to Mallala (a small farming town less than an hour north of Adelaide) most weekends to spend time with my parents and others in the town. Mum and Dad had moved there when I finished high school. Dad was a Uniting Church minister in Mallala and I usually went to church with them as well (I was still a Christian at the time). So anyway, I bought this Commodore PET in the city, took it to the train station, booked it into freight and sat with it in the freight carriage all the way to Mallala. As an aside, two things are interesting about that:

  1. They let me sit in the freight carriage with my boxed up Commodore PET! Imagine that being allowed today.
  2. The passenger+freight train from Adelaide to Mallala no longer runs and has not for many years. I loved that train. It was called the Bluebird.

At that time Mum had a small Mini as a second car and she met me at the Mallala train station in that car. The PET was built like a Sherman Tank and was in a large box that just fit through the passenger side front (and only) door. The only problem was that we couldn’t get it over onto the back seat so it had to occupy the space between us. The long gear shift stick was unable to be moved with the box in place, so we travelled home in first gear! Luckily it was only a few minutes drive.

That amusing ride home is associated in my mind with the fact that I learned so much from the PET and had fun writing extended-ASCII based games with lots of BASIC PEEK and POKE commands.

A heart that “fell apart”, and a fallen astronaut.

August 26, 2012

Mum’s heart “fell apart” during heart valve replacement surgery. At least that’s what the surgeon told us in the hospital waiting room when Mum was coming out of the operating room. It’s the kind of simplistic explanation a medical person gives someone they don’t think understands the messy realities. I haven’t seen open heart surgery, but I’ve seen most other types of surgery. TV hospital shows and simple explanations are no substitute for Actually Being There.

The functioning of the human heart is pretty amazing (the mammalian heart in general really) and it’s impressive that it generally works well for as long as it does.

This surgery involved the (anatomical) left side of the heart (see figure below), around the region of the left atrium, left ventricle and the aorta. Oxygenated blood from the lungs is received into the left atrium via the pulmonary veins. The aorta is a big artery into which oxygenated blood is pumped by the left ventricle, to be distributed out to tributary arteries and onto the rest of the body.

Before I’d finished writing this, I heard the news that Neil Armstrong had died subsequent to cardiac bypass surgery. In his case, blocked coronary arteries supplying the heart muscle had to be bypassed. I remember being sent home from school before I could get through the gate to watch the grainy images of the Apollo 11 moon landing on our Black & White TV at the age of 5.


Quite apart from being a reluctant hero for the amazing feat of landing Eagle with about 20 seconds worth of fuel left, and being the first human to step onto the Moon, Neil Armstrong was a loved one, like my mother:

We are heartbroken to share the news that Neil Armstrong has passed away following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.

Neil was our loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend.

Soon after she died, Dad and I visited the cardiologist who referred Mum to the surgeon. He provided some details to us about what happened during the operation. Of course, that was a second-hand account related to him by the surgeon. As told to us, the sequence of events during the operation went something like this:

  • The first valve was sewn in.
  • The aorta split!
  • The first valve was replaced with a second smaller valve.

The fact  that the aorta split implies, purely from a mechanical viewpoint, that the first valve replacement somehow resulted in a pressure increase inside the aorta. Presumably the smaller second valve was intended to reduce the pressure in the aorta. Assuming a smaller valve implies a smaller opening, that ought to be the case due to the Venturi effect.

There is nothing in my notes about what was done about the split aorta. But no matter how you look at it, that’s a pretty dire thing to happen.


  • Cardio-pulmonary (?) artery blockage.
  • First cardio-pulmonary (?) graft.
  • Some semblance of stability (exactly what this means is unclear).
  • Off the cardiac bypass machine.
  • Poor cardiac function.
  • Internal heart massage.
  • Back on the bypass machine.
  • Second cardio-pulmonary (?) graft.

The use of “cardio-pulmonary” above makes no sense to me looking at it now. This may be a transcription error from the notes I took during the visit to the cardiologist in 2002. I don’t know whether this should be a reference to “coronary artery” (left and right, along with others, that supply the heart muscle with oxygen; related to Neil Armstrong’s problem) or whether it refers to a tributary of the pulmonary artery. The latter seems unlikely; could that have become blocked? But if it does refer to the left coronary artery, that still seems odd because we’re now saying that we have a coronary artery blockage as well! How did that happen during a heart valve replacement operation? To sort out my confusion, I really must ask about this aspect of things again.

The final point in the sequence as I recorded it was:

  • Left atrio-ventricular “tear”.

Since the mitral valve sits between the left atrium and left ventricle, I assume this was directly related to the second valve replacement referred to earlier. The surgeon said the heart tissue was friable. Perhaps this was also related to whatever caused the aorta to split, e.g. a pressure increase event, but I don’t have that information.

When Mum was coming out of surgery, we were told that she was “gravely ill” and might not survive. Thinking about the messy details above helps to shed light on why this was the case.

In the Intensive Care Unit, she was on a ventilator, a cocktail of intravenous drugs and a balloon pump (inserted into her aorta) to assist her cardiac function. There was a great deal of fluid pooling, leading to her face becoming very bloated.

After a few days, it all failed. I would like to be able to say that she died with dignity. At least she was sedated. When I saw her before the funeral, they had tried to make her appear as dignified as possible.

Being a pall bearer, then watching the hearse depart for the cremation with a lone piper piping Amazing Grace opened the floodgates, as it should have done.

A mother’s mother

August 17, 2012

Mum’s plaque at Centennial Park Cemetery includes the understated words “devoted mother” and “loving grandmother”.

One of my earliest memories (in the late 1960s at the age of 3 or 4) was of poking a piece of paper into a bar heater,  and of my mother running toward me, snatching the burning paper and running out the back door of our Port Pirie house with it, throwing it into an empty metal bin.

More than 40 years later in 2002, my 2 year old son Nicholas was running from our front yard, too close to the road. Mum, having only just recovered from a major lower leg fracture, did her best to run after him, even before anyone else reacted. No thought for herself.

That’s who she was. She was so child-centric, thinking of others before herself was as natural to her as breathing. Selfless. A mother’s mother.

I only wish she could have watched Nicholas grow up and that she could have known my daughter, Heather. She would have had a wonderful influence on both and seen them as often as she could.

The kindest, wisest, sanest of us all. Gone.

August 17, 2012

She was the kindest, wisest, sanest of us all. But she’s gone. Not in a better place. Just Gone.

It’s ten years ago today that my Mother died after failed heart valve replacement surgery. Four days later on August 21, the date of her funeral, she would have been 74.

I have started to write about this several times before. Each time I have felt inadequate to the task and stopped.

Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars. (Gustave Flaubert)

Today, I felt compelled to write, couldn’t delay longer.

Along with family members, I was at Mum’s bedside when she died, when the ventilator was turned off; I watched the electrical activity of her heart fade on the monitor. In the days that followed, it seemed to me that some fundamental law of nature had altered, as if the universal law of gravitation had changed, or that a new parallel universe had forked from the old, leaving those in the new one behind, forever disconnected from the old.

Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself In dark woods, the right road lost. (Dante)

If even the most deeply religious amongst us were brutally honest, they might admit that a large part of the reason we grieve when someone we love dies is because there is at least the suspicion, deep inside, that they are Just Gone. The extent to which I embraced this, given the lack of evidence to the contrary, was I think directly related to the depth and duration of my grief.

Only someone who has lost a parent (or partner or child or…) can have a hope of understanding what that feels like, just as only a woman can understand what it feels like to give birth.

Even after a decade, although I’ve accepted Mum’s death, she is still in my thoughts at some point of every day. I try to recapture the sound of her voice, her facial expressions, kind, caring, at times whimsical. And yes, I still miss her. The sense of loss reduces over time, but doesn’t leave. Not that I want it to entirely.

I want to tell you about my Mum. In future posts, I will use this space to reflect upon her life and death, but mostly who she was, what she meant to me and to others.