Why, when talking of religion, do people appeal to science and objective thinking, but when talking about gender, people appeal to feelings and subjectivity?

People will appeal to whatever that they think will aid their argument.

Ironically, science owes much to the Aristotelian methods employed by the Roman Catholic Church to prove religious doctrine and principles, in the western world, at least. And there’s plenty of science to support gender issues, rather than relying on subjective arguments.


Who do Protestants in the Republic of Ireland usually vote for?

Historically, not Fianna Fáil. Never.

The last Protestant TD that I know of was James White of Fine Gael, and Fine Gael generally seemed to be the party that attracted Protestant votes in Donegal, at least up to around 1990.

Elsewhere in Ireland, and more recently, I couldn’t say.

ETA: Adding information from comments

Shane Ross, current Minister for Transport is a CoI member.

Minister for Arts, Heritage, Rural, Regional and Gaeltacht affairs, Heather Humphreys is a Protestant.

Seymour Crawford was a Fine Gael TD from 1992 to 2011 and is a Presbyterian.

During the troubles in Northern Ireland, were Jehovah Witnesses safe?

My grandfather-in-law (just turned 92) converted to the Jesus Christ Church of Latter-Day Saints (Mormonism) specifically to get away from the green and orange conflict in Northern Ireland.

JW and LDS were not specifically targeted, unless they were also police, UDR, etc. They could, however, get caught up in the violence, just as any civilian could.

They could also be ‘profiled’ in social circumstances. That old joke referenced before – are you a Protestant JW or a Catholic JW – is only the teensiest smidge of a tiddly wee snippet of an exaggeration: you wouldn’t be asked outright, but you would be asked your name, and where you went to school, which amounted to the same thing. A JW with a name like Martin who went to school at St Michael’s Enniskillen? Catholic. Sharon who went to Ballyclare High? Prod – doesn’t matter how many copies of the Watchtower she’s got on her.

What is the name of the Christians’ God?

Christians acknowledge a number of names for God: Jehovah is probably the most common, coming from Yahweh, a form of the Hebraic JHWH both of which are also used. I AM is also used (Genesis 3:14).

Another name is El (or Il). This, and its cognomen, Elohim, are not often used, for a variety of reasons:

  1. It means ‘god’, so it’s no more a name than ‘God’ is;
  2. Elohim is the plural – ‘gods’, so there’s at least tacit admission that God is not the only god (there’s a lot of interesting theological debate here, if you’re interested);
  3. When it is used, it’s often to contrast the hardline floods-and-plagues God of the early bible with the kinder and more loving God of the Covenant who revealed that his name was JHWH.
  4. ‘El’ is where ‘Allah’ comes from: Al-Ilah, meaning The God.

Supposedly, the injunction against taking the Lord’s name in vain (swearing or blaspheming) refers to not using JHWH for any other reason than discussing God, or praying to God. I was told as a child that this is the reason JHWH has no vowels – to make it impossible to pronounce so that you couldn’t use it as a swearword even if you wanted to: however, written Hebrew, like written Arabic, doesn’t need vowels*, so I think that might be an old wives’ tale.

* – they do use dots and diacritics to represent vowels sometimes, but not in all written works.

Why was God created?

Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer. – Voltaire.

“If God did not exist, we would have to invent him.”

This koan-like statement sums up much of my take on God. An initial gloss simply assumes that God does exist, but in the unlikely event that he didn’t, we would have to invent him. However, it begs the question, does he exist now because we invented him? So, he doesn’t really exist at all? This theme is explored at a less brain-frying level in Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods.

I’ve had a chequered history with the divine (as I’ll refer to God, gods, goddesses and pantheons from now on. Slap everyone or get out of the fight) and have come out atheist. However, I don’t necessarily think the divine is a bad, or an unnecessary thing. Karen Armstrong (ex-nun, atheist theologian – excellent, readable books on a range of religious topics) suggests that it was a sense of the ineffable ignited the spark of inquiry and creativity that led to our humanity – that a belief in the divine, or at least an apprehension of ‘something greater’ is what made us human in the first place, the ape that first looked at a lightning strike with curiosity instead of fear. The divine was probably our first effort at ascribing causality to things we could not figure out ourselves.

So why did, why do we continue to believe, even as our knowledge and understanding grew? I think there are several reasons.

  • The personal: That sense of ineffability, the numinous, exists in even the most committed atheist. I’m a scientist, and when I think of something like evolution, or the human brain, I’m almost overwhelmed with awe by how amazing they are. Tears come to my eyes, my heart beats faster, and my brain feels like it’ll explode at the glorious beauty of them: I experience what saints have called ‘ecstasy’. It doesn’t matter that I can understand and explain scientific phenomena, that the processes and parts are more or less clear to me – they remain astounding, astonishing, and awesome. It really is so stupendously wonderful that it is tempting to believe in divinity, just to have something to thank for that wonderful feeling.


  • Social engineering. This sounds like tinfoil hat territory, but bear with me. It is a fact that people will do for a god (or a political ideal, etc.) what they would not do for their nearest and dearest. Kill, for example. Most of us would sacrifice ourselves to save a loved one, but we would not necessarily kill to do so even in extreme circumstances. But people almost routinely do kill for their god, and not just the likes of Daesh. “For God, and King Harry!”, “For God and Ulster!”, “In God We Trust!” have all been rallying cries for battle. This willingness to do the unthinkable for the divine, and the promise of divine reward, is extremely useful to our leaders. So, too, is the fact that religions, as codified laws for achieving and retaining divine approval, provide a mechanism for building cohesive societies. Of course, you can do that with a political ideal, too – but politics change, consensus falls apart, divisions creep in, and turmoil ensues. It happens with religion, too, but (at least until relatively recently) usually between different communities, not within them – in the village on the other side of the mountains, or the country across the sea – so, it’s a good thing you can get people to kill for God, isn’t it, with that lot over there crossing themselves right-to-left instead of the One True Way, or adding a bit extra onto the Lord’s Prayer, the soulless heathens…


In short, we invented God to explain the big questions of life, and continue to use God as a kind of touchstone or guide for civilisation. While it’s no longer necessary, I believe there is a role for God and religion as a kind of allegory, for morality, decency, and kindness, rather as Little Red Riding Hood is an allegory for Stranger Danger and the importance of not wandering off the main path. We could just be nice to each other because it’s the right thing to do, but a story does help it stick in your mind.

How common are friendships between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland?


Very common, and always have been.

My grandfather belonged to a religious organisation on one side of the community. His neighbour belonged to a religious organisation on the other side. When my grandfather had to go to parades, his neighbour milked my grandfather’s cows, and did whatever other farm work that needed doing. When he had to go to parades, my grandfather did his farm work. Later, when the neighbour and most of his family died of TB, my grandfather fostered the surviving children and raised them in their own faith. This was over the early part of the 20th century, covering significant unrest on what became Northern Ireland, the Easter Rising, partition, and the Civil War.

Most of us outside the big-city ghettos mixed together, befriending or at least respecting each other – while not necessarily giving up our core religious belief that the other side was going to hell. But it is (and was) no more polite to bring that up in conversation than it would be to speculate on each others’ bowel movements.

Can a Christian who believes in god, get along with a Jew who questions the existence of god?

This happened to me, although technically the Muslim was also the Christian (daughter of a Hindu and a Muslim who sent her to Catholic school).

The absolute core of all religions, when you take away all the mythology and ritual and othering, is that people should try to get along together. Same in atheism, although they come at it from the opposite direction.

Be like my friends. Don’t be an ass.

What would you do if God appeared in front of you?

Oh, the answers…

Let’s just assume for the sake of it that it’s JHWH, the great I AM.

  • I would explode, vaporise, disappear into my constituent atoms, because the sight of JHWH is one that not even the angels can look upon safely.


  • I would piss myself, because, well, stuff doesn’t just appear out of nowhere and it would be terrifying. Even if my big, soft, stupid cat were to suddenly appear out of nowhere in front of me, it would scare the crap out of me.


  • I would be rather taken aback, as I don’t believe in the supernatural.
    • I would call the police and/or an ambulance to take David Icke or similar mentally-ill person off my lawn.


  • I would be extremely angry and start taking him to task about war, starvation, poverty, Donald Trump, Firefly being cancelled, etc., etc.


I think that about covers it.

How can faith be a path to truth when faith leads different people to different inconsistent conclusions?

You’re confusing faith with religion.

Simply put, religion is social engineering. Its function is to show us how to get along together, and how to deal with the bad stuff. Unfortunately, that’s a bit boring. We all know that we should be nice to each other, and we know we should have rules to deal with the not-nice people and things. Apes, lions, dolphins, and other animals have highly-ritualised behaviours that do the same things. The difference is, humans have some spare cognitive capacity over and above ritual, and quite often, that spare capacity gets used for being mean and doing bad things. If we tried to rely on those simple ritualised principles to survive, we’d have died out millennia ago, because we’d muck about and subvert them.

So, some very smart people – not necessarily the famous prophets – at various times and in various places codified those basic principles as religions. The difference was, religions usually had a god or a pantheon who demanded you follow these principles on pain of roasting for eternity, being cast into the beyond, or reincarnating as a dung beetle. They also handed out rewards for good behaviour, mostly after you died. Amazingly, despite – or maybe because of – our arrogance and superiority, we were okay with there being an even more powerful entity than us. Even more amazingly, we’d do things for the approval of these entities that we’d never do for our leaders or loved ones.

And that’s faith. Not the rules, but the belief in the rules.

Ultimately, simple rules are seen as too simplistic. Sure, you can be nice to everyone, BUT what if you’ve only got a single coin for alms, but two people in need ask for your coin. Who do you choose to give the coin to? How do you decide whose need is greater, person A, person B – or you, since you’ve only got this one coin? Suddenly the principle isn’t enough, and you have to introduce codicils and judgements. And the more complicated and vague the rules got, the more we clung to them.

That’s where faith starts going down different roads, tracking the same basic principles through to differing conclusions.