On a wing and no prayer, Good, Tue, Feb 19 2013 #(1919)

Feb 19, 2013

Dear Sir and fellow rationalists
If I had a more fanciful bent, I would say that i was inspired to read ‘The God Delusion’ by a sign in the heavens. I was out walking one day recently when I noticed an exquisitely beautiful Cirrus cloud shaped like an great wing. This lovely sight started me on a thought cascade which made me laugh out loud at the absurdity of religion. Surely any deity worth his/her/its salt, whose goals were worship, obedience to a set of rules and and a divinely ordered universe, would understand that it pays to advertise. Angels would be on the scale of my immense celestial cloud wing, not appearing to premenstrual school girls or hiding in the cloak and dagger mysticism of most religions. An effective God would be blindingly obvious.
I went home that day via the local bookshop and took home your book as further logical inspiration and I am thoroughly enjoying it.
Religion and its relevance in modern society is a hotly debated subject in the city in which I live. Christchurch, New Zealand has suffered a series of devastating earthquakes over the past 2 and 1/2 years. We have lost thousands of homes and hundreds of commercial and civic buildings ( and 189 lives). Among the lost buildings were most of our churches, including the city’s two cathedrals, both of minor architectural significance on a european scale, but lovely and much admired locally. Both are significantly underinsured for replacement and neither is likely to be salvageable, except perhaps in the style of Coventry Cathedral. What could be built, what should be built and who will pay for it, have occupied many letters and articles in our local and national press for much of the past 2 years.
New Zealand is largely a secular society, with roughly 70% of the population choosing “no religion” on the census form, but the issue of the damaged churches has brought god botherers out of the woodwork to harrass the City Council and the government appointed rebuild body about the need for assistance to recreate their houses of worship. As you can imagine, in our broken city, they have a daunting number of other calls on these resources, so the debate about the relevance of church buildings continues to be fierce.
I would have thought that the demonstration of the arbitrary nature of geological forces would have dented the faith of some believers, when their churches were toppled like skittles and their friends were killed in collapsing buildings. (Three men were killed when they went back into a badly damaged church to rescue the pipe organ and an aftershock brought the roof down on them. I have often wondered whether they believed themselves protected by the sanctity of their mission or whether they were just demonstrating a triumph of testosterone over common sense.)
But many continue to insist that religion is relevant and worth funding from the public purse, including our very pompus anglican bishop who offends everyone with her condescension and proselytising. At least as many argue that the buildings have no relevance to the great majority of citizens and should not be rebuilt unless the churches find the money.
Happily, religion here is generally personal rather than public and the social influence of belonging to a particular religious grouping is no more significant than that of going to the same prestigious school as your potential employer.
I have had little exposure to the rabid religiosity common in America, although I was informed recently that it is important to make sure that children are exposed to the huge body of scientific evidence for christianity before they go to university where their minds will be poisoned by the lies of evolutionists. I informed the woman who told me this that I was not a believer and, as a medical practitioner, felt bound to leave a conversation I could not stomach. Undeterred, she started badgering me about the manifest wonders of the human body as an argument for intelligent design and I had to just walk away, grateful that attitudes like hers are regarded as being from the lunatic fringe rather than the mainstream in my part of the world.
The last time I came across anything so rabid was 30 years ago as a university student. It was during the Reagan years and the heyday of the ultra conservative “born again” movement. I was an agnostic with some religious aspirations in those days and joined the “cell group” in my student hostel. I was appalled to find that the groups were cells for minds and they put me off religion for life. My friend Belinda (a dental student with an enquiring mind) and I were marginalised and then banned for asking too many questions and for not buying into the dominance of a few charismatic young men who used the groups to influence a collection of followers, mostly women, who hung off their every word.
Some of these girls took their beliefs to extraordinary levels, refusing to lock their rooms because God would keep their possessions safe. Their beliefs encompassed an all powerful, all knowing God who had the time and inclination to look after their knickers and pens. They didn’t study because God would get them through their exams. A church school education equipped me to challenge their naivety by citing the Parable of the Talents, but I got no traction. I presume they suffered a crisis of faith when they all failed the highly competitive exams to get into medical school, but I wasn’t around to see it. I never understood how these intelligent women could fall for such hokum. Your book has given me some insights.
Thank you for being a shining a light of intelligence, rationality and humour.

Dr Rose Laing

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