Does the terrorist threat scare you? Here’s why you don’t need to worry.

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Terrorism has been dominating the news lately. There are terrorist attacks happening daily worldwide which go largely unreported, but the latest brutal string of attacks in France, Germany and Belgium have brought the threat much closer to home.

The British government warns that the threat of a terrorist attack in the UK is currently ‘severe’. (Incidentally, since this alert system was initiated in 2006, the threat has been mostly either ‘severe’ or ‘critical’, and has never been lower than ‘substantial’.)

When bombarded daily with doom-laden headlines and tragic accounts of attacks, the threat seems ominous and imminent and it is very easy to get scared.

Shock, outrage and grief are good responses which move us to address the global issues and show support to those who are suffering. Fear makes us selfish and insular, steals our joy and causes us to make irrational decisions fuelled by a desire to protect ourselves and those close to us.

So let’s step back, take a deep breath and regain a little perspective.


In the past year (28 July 2015-28 July 2016), 217 people were killed in terrorist attacks in France. That’s a horrific and heartbreaking number, although still far lower than many countries in other parts of the world. Let’s just say for the sake of argument that Britain was to suffer that same number of fatalities in terrorist attacks over the next year.

There are 65 million people in Britain, so that would make your chances of dying in a terrorist attack 1 in 300,000.*

In other words, even if Britain was hit with the same disastrous level of terror attacks as France, you would still be really, really, really unlikely to die in one.


Let’s put that number into context.

You have approximately a 1 in 398 chance of dying of cancer†, and a 1 in 419 chance of dying of a cardiovascular disease‡ in a given year (not taking into account risk factors such as age and lifestyle).

That means you are 1,467 times more likely to die of a cardiovascular disease or cancer than in a terrorist attack.

You also have approximately a:

  • 1 in 36,620 chance of dying in a transport accident**
  • 1 in 99,237 chance of dying in a step or stairs-related accident
  • 1 in 205,696 chance of choking to death
  • 1 in 274,262 chance of dying in a fire††
  • 1 in 299,539 chance of accidentally drowning (almost exactly the same risk as dying in a terrorist attack)

So you are 8 times more likely to die in a transport accident than in a terrorist attack.

And you are 3 times more likely to die falling down the stairs.

To add to the morbid list, you also have approximately a:

  • 1 in 2,241,379 chance of dying in the bath
  • 1 in 7,222,222 chance of falling off a cliff
  • 1 in 13,000,000 chance of being killed by a cow
  • 1 in 21,666,667 chance of being killed by a dog

At some point, it’s fairly safe to say, you will die of something. If the cause of your death is something you feel the need to worry about, there are far more pressing issues to consider than terrorism.

Alternatively, you could focus on the fact that in 2015, 64,470,435 people in Britain managed to avoid death altogether, meaning that in a given year you have more than 99% chance of not dying at all!

Our society is one of the safest and most presperous the world has ever seen. Let’s be grateful for the many privileges we have that so many do not.

Let’s not allow fear to cloud our vision and distract us from the good we can do in the world.


*Rounded up from 299,539
†Based on Cancer Research statistics from 2014
‡Based on BHF statistics from 2015
**Based on transport mortality statistics from 2014
††Based on 2010 mortality statistics


References
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UK_Threat_Levels http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/mortality
https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths
https://www.bhf.org.uk/publications/statistics/cvd-stats-2015
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/467465/rrcgb-2014.pdf
https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2011/oct/28/mortality-statistics-causes-death-england-wales-2010
https://www.theguardian.com/uk/dangerous-dogs https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2011/oct/28/mortality-statistics-causes-death-england-wales-2010
http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/uk-population/


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Love, Love, Love: the painfully misunderstood, profoundly simple, earth-shattering message of Jesus

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If someone was to ask me to sum up the message of Jesus in a few words, I would probably quote the Beatles.

All you need is love.

Love. 

Not just shallow, gooey, fluffy, romantic love.

The kind of love that sets people free.

Love that gives of itself endlessly and asks for nothing in return.

Love that fights tirelessly for the needs and rights of strangers.

Love that breaks down barriers, crosses borders, and shatters social constructs and expectations.

Love that sees the beauty in all life and seeks to honour, treasure and nurture it.

Love that treats the outcasts of society as if they were worth more than all the diamonds, gold and oil in the world combined.

Love that brings tangible hope to those who are suffering physical or emotional pain… those who are lonely, lost or terrified… those whose hearts ache with grief… those who long for deeper meaning and significance.

Love that points to a greater reality, a greater purpose and a greater future for the whole of creation.

Love that never, ever, ever gives up.

That is the kind of love that brings transformation.


This is not a sideline to the main Gospel message in the Bible, an optional ad-on that helps to make life more bearable but is ultimately pointless.

This is the point.


Over the centuries, we ‘Christians’ have complicated and distorted this message.

We have added conditions, built walls, piled on guilt. We have embarked upon great, well-meaning excursions in entirely the wrong direction, and fought battles in the name of Jesus without realising it is Jesus himself we are fighting.

In particular, we are still obsessed with the idea of “purity”. We have this deeply ingrained idea that our job is to be the Morality Police, to keep everyone in check and keep standards up. The church’s preoccupation with sexuality makes this all too clear.

Our job is not to make sure everyone meets all of our moral ideals. Our job is to love. That is what we should be known for.

This is far from a wishy-washy, watered-down, ‘easy’ version of the Gospel.

Love is as fierce as a mother defending her children in a war zone. It is as powerful as a tsunami and illuminates even the darkest, most hopeless places.

Love speaks out against the powers of this world that crush those on the underside. It cries out on behalf of those who have no voice. It swims against the tides of culture and refuses to participate in systems and structures that breed inequality and injustice.

Love is transforming this world.

One day love will win.

And in the meantime, Jesus tells us to get on with the dirty, dangerous work of loving against all odds.


There are many things we cannot understand and will never be able to fully explain.

But just imagine what could happen if we ‘Christians’ accepted this mystery, and channeled all the energy we spend arguing about moral issues into unconditionally, selflessly and tirelessly loving our world.

(Note: Moral issues are important but secondary. I suspect if love truly was our compass and our driving force, the moral issues would start to resolve themselves or at least pale into insignificance.)


Love. No ifs, no buts.

Profoundly simple yet radically counter-cultural and earth-shattering.

I wonder if the Beatles knew how right they were.

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Homosexuality and the Bible: An Epic Conversation with my Anti-theist Brother

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My brother, Simon, is a year-and-a-half younger than me and, like me, had a happy Christian upbringing. Through his teens he was fully immersed in our church youth group, (which included being literally fully immersed when he was baptised at 16), played bass in the worship band, and went to Soul Survivor every year. In his gap year before university he went on a mission trip to Nigeria with the Christian charity, Tearfund.

We, along with our parents, have since been through a dramatic deconstruction of our faith. A decade on, I have reconstructed enough that I am still calling myself a Christian, although this has a very different meaning to me now. My brother now calls himself an “atheist verging on anti-theist” (meaning not only that he believes God doesn’t exist, but also that religion and belief in God actually have a harmful effect on the world).

This makes for some pretty mind-boggling family discussions, particularly as we usually somehow end up agreeing on most things.

The following conversation about homosexuality and the Bible took place a few months ago when Simon commented on my post, ‘I Think God Makes People Gay (Part 3): The Way Forward’.

I found it pretty interesting, I hope you do too. Feel free to chip in with your own comments.


Simon:

Hey Sis, apologies but I have just got around to reading your post and I have a bone to pick with all this.

Whilst I admire greatly your attempts to interpret the bible in such a way that conforms and supports your rightly liberal and inclusive beliefs, I just can’t help thinking whilst reading this that you are trying to carve and mould the bible round your own beliefs, rather than as you say, genuinely following the teaching that is within. It appears to me as an outsider, that you and others are desperately trying to modernise the bible to catch up with modern progressive thought, but I struggle to see it as being as malleable as you do.

From my point of view, the bible is a text which overtly condemns homosexuality in a number of places and there’s no way of getting round that! This is alongside the passages condoning slavery, mysogeny, violence and other less-than-humanistic activities.

History is unfortunately on my side: since the adoption of Christianity by the ageing Roman Empire in the 4th century, up until the 1960s (in the UK at least) being gay has been outlawed, punishable for most of that time, by death (burned alive in public being a favoured punishment by early Christian Roman leaders). Prior to the Christianisation of Europe, homosexuality was almost completely accepted and widespread, there are many examples of gay leaders (Alexander the Great being the most famous) and great artists across the Hellenistic world and Roman world.

In short, being gay only became a crime because of Christianity, was a sin punishable by death for over 1500 years, and only became legal because of the rise of modern, secular liberalism (the Catholics are still largely against equal rights for homosexuals, but luckily our secular leaders couldn’t give a crap what the Pope thinks).

So why did God let this happen? Surely if he thought that being gay was alright, why did he allow it to be written in his book, quite explicitly, that it wasn’t? If he genuinely cared for all his children, then why not interfere in some way, rather than let (probably millions of) people over 1500 years suffer, get repressed and sometimes get killed for it?

Sorry, but from my point of view it’s impossible to reconcile this, and Christianity takes most of the blame for anti-gay sentiment across the world today. I truly do admire your attempts to be inclusive, but since the bible isn’t ever going to change, these passages will never disappear, and people are always going to read them and interpret them.

If you want absolute equality, inclusivity and compassion, which you evidently do, I believe the only way forward is modern, secular, rationalism. The church has always been behind in progressive thought (Quakers notwithstanding) so I think it always will be (if you don’t believe me, ask the pope what he thinks of homosexuality, women’s rights to be in positions of power in the church, and contraceptives!).


Emma:

Hey bro! You’re so right, and yet I still don’t end up at the same conclusion as you.

You are approaching the Bible in the same problematic way as many Christians still do: that is to assume it is God’s word written directly to us, an instruction manual for life. I don’t think that’s what it was ever meant to be, and this is where I part ways with many evangelicals.

I see the Bible more as a family history, a library of stories, poetry, folklore, eyewitness accounts. It was written by people over a period of thousands of years, telling of their experiences of God. The writings all reflect the cultures they are from, so of course we now see much of it as backwards and even barbaric. But the overarching theme is God pulling people forwards into greater ways of being human, step by step becoming more loving, more inclusive, more equal, and with a more expansive worldview.

Am I throwing the Bible out? As a rule book from God’s lips to my life – yes. But as a story of God relating to humanity it is infinitely fascinating and useful. This is scary for Christians because it opens up the possibility for change, development beyond the words of the Bible. I think God is revealed in the Bible, and speaks to people today through it, but is not confined to the Bible. And I totally think the Bible gets it wrong sometimes – it was written by people after all.

I think the pattern of ever expanding love, peace and unity was meant to continue, evolving with culture. And I think the literal reading of the Bible is another example of people trying to put God in a cage.


Simon:

OK so we can both agree that we can dismiss the bible as fallible, partly fictional and in no way the direct voice of a divine being, that’s good!

Your explanation doesn’t really answer my fundamental problem with your assertion that god, if real, cares about people who are gay, or if he is, that he is capable of any intervention in human affairs. Simple question: if being gay is OK with god, why did he let all of Jesus’ followers, all following his teaching, oppress gay people for almost the entire history of Christianity? Why only now is he telling a select few that actually, it’s OK?

 To me this can only be resolved by one of three premises:

1) God does not exist and therefore things happen through natural means

2) God does exist and cares about what humans are doing, but is incapable, weak or impotent and is not able to intervene (thus begging the question – what is he for?), or

3) God does exist and can intervene, but is the unpleasant, vengeful, spiteful god of the old testament who doesn’t like gay people and wants them to be punished.

Regardless of the reliability of the bible, there’s no way I could ever respect a being that allows so much suffering in his name, yet does nothing.

Variations on this problem are the main reason why I am an atheist verging on anti-theist.


Emma:

I’d say this is exactly the right response to the claims of Christianity as we were both taught it. You are among many, many people (myself included) for whom the language, concepts and interpretations handed to us from the church simply don’t work anymore. We’ve both had this deconstruction experience; as a result you have embraced humanism and abandoned any sort of faith, and I clung to the few parts of Christianity that still made sense to me, dismantling many unhelpful constructs and worldviews and then reconstructing to the point where I now have a strong and vibrant faith which doesn’t crumble so easily when faced with tough questions.

So your first question: “If being gay is OK with god, why did he let all of Jesus’ followers, all following his teaching, oppress gay people for almost the entire history of Christianity? Why only now is he telling a select few that actually, it’s OK?”

Well, quite. An excellent question, and you can ask the same for all the other horrible things Christians have done and continue to do, using the Bible to justify their actions. To put it simply, I don’t think Christians own God. I think many people who call themselves Christians are not following Jesus, in fact they are often working against him. So equally I think you can be following the way of Jesus, being inspired and led by the spirit of God, whilst not calling yourself a Christian or in fact knowing anything about Jesus. So in the case of the oppression of gay people, I see God at work in the growing acceptance and love despite Christians working against it. The Bible has of course contributed massively to homophobia, but I’m not convinced that it wouldn’t have occurred anyway. God’s spirit has pulled us a long, long way since Biblical times, the problem has been with people clinging to a few culturally-soaked verses as timeless laws to be enforced, and in the process missing the larger point (and crushing people).

The second massive point is about how we see God. In Biblical times as you will know people saw the universe as three-tiered – heaven was literally above the Earth and that is where God lived, and the “underworld” was the place of death and darkness. So all throughout the Bible this is reflected in language – Jesus coming down from heaven, going down to the depths…etc. etc. Even though we now obviously know that is not how things are, we still very often have a view of God which comes from this “three-tiered” worldview. God is up there, we are down here, God sometimes pokes his finger down and intervenes. This understanding raises a ton of difficult questions, one of which you have raised here: if God is good, why doesn’t he intervene and stop bad things happening in his name?

Of course I don’t actually know the answer to this. But I don’t think of God that way anymore. I see God as the breath within us – the life force that creates, sustains, inspires. Language fails of course, but this language works better than a lot of the churchy language I grew up with. Many people have a sense that there must be something more to life – there is some deeper meaning and significance – I call that God. So I agree that things happen by natural means, but I think God is the energy behind it all.

So how do I know this ‘God’ is a conscious, personal being, let alone good? Well I don’t know, but personally when I choose to believe that reality is fundamentally good, that every human being contains a divine ‘spark’ and has infinite worth, and that we are part of a bigger, greater story, life just makes so much more sense. Things click into place and I feel a real sense of peace.

And if you read the Bible without trying to interpret it literally and thus losing the whole point of it, it becomes fascinating and really compelling. Historically the Jesus story is pretty hard to deny – based on the evidence it’s actually quite likely that he lived, died and was raised from the dead – it’s just that believing that has pretty massive implications.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s not a silly thing to believe. The major themes in the Bible (that we largely miss when treating it as a scientific textbook) are things like challenging domination and power structures which oppress people, working against injustice and inequality, non-violence, working towards peace and unity…the Bible is full of stories of God turning upside-down people’s understanding of how things are and showing them a better way. Which makes it massively relevant today.

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