Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A personal view

I’m fascinated by the term “Atheist”, defined by the Wictionary as “A person who believes that no deities exist”. There is a subtlety to that definition that bothers me. It rather implies that “normal” people know there are deities but that Atheists, for some peculiar reason, don’t accept this. I think it should be written the other way around. I don’t think we should define the term “Atheist”, or use it. I think we need a term “Theist”, defined as “A person who believes that deities exist”. I would then simply describe myself as “not a Theist”. 

Why do I not believe in the existence of deities? Simple. I don’t need to. Belief in a God or Gods is all about making the world make sense. This happens, or that doesn’t happen, because God has a purpose and it’s all about his will. I don’t accept that. Things just happen. Nobody makes them happen; they just do. A volcano erupts or an earthquake occurs because of physical processes. No God made it happen to teach his people anything (like how to suffer, for example?) We weren’t “put on this earth” to achieve some destiny; we’re here because our parents had sex. You can no more change the world by praying than King Canute could stop the tide.

 If you accept that the world becomes a far better place to live! No more do you need to fret about whether you have achieved your divine purpose. Nobody is watching you when you misbehave. There won’t be some great celestial reckoning at the end of your life where it will be decided if you succeeded or failed. Just live your life as you see fit and ignore anyone who tells you otherwise.

So, if not from a holy book, where do I get my morality from? Well it strikes me that you don’t have to have more than two brain cells to work out that killing people and stealing their property is a bad idea. And quite a few religious observers have fought in wars, where killing is a natural consequence, so that particular morality seems to be rather selectively applied anyway. I’m not faithful to my wife because some God tells me to be, I do it because it’s how we agreed our marriage. In fact I actually keep to the Ten Commandments (well, except the ones about God, of course), but not because some prophet told me to. I do it because they make sense for living, and for that reason only.

How can I speak about religion, if I’ve never tried it? Oh but I have! Twice! Both times it failed me. Try as I might I just couldn’t believe it. I listened hard to all that was said but in the end my head told me otherwise. Religion, Gods and the rest of it just don’t make sense.

Some religious people look on me with pity, thinking that lack of a deity makes me somehow incomplete. I look on them with sadness, wondering what they would make of the world if their firmly held beliefs were found to be false. Maybe they need those beliefs to prevent them from having to think about how the world really is, and for that reason I would never try to shake their faith; it’s their life and they’re entitled to lead it however they wish. (It would be good if they would apply that maxim to me.)

So if you are religious, here’s a deal. If you don’t try to convert me to your beliefs, I won’t try to divert you from yours. I won’t point out the manifest stupidity of the story of creation. Or the obvious flaws in the Bible (or any other holy book you give me to study). Or the complete nonsense that is the belief in a God who created a vast, varied and complex universe, governed by laws so complicated our best minds can’t fully understand them, and then fiddles with it randomly in response to your little prayer to make a person nicer to you at work today.

I really won’t.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Show of hands - How many people here are going to Hell?

More interesting reading . . .

How much Reality do you want?

By David Fitzgerald
Show of hands - How many people here are going to Hell?

(That was to be my opening, but I decided against it when I gave this speech to my Toastmasters group in San Francisco.  Instead, I opened with a confession: that “How much Reality do you want” was NOT the real title of my speech, that I was uncertain that the actual topic was 100% appropriate for this particular venue, and that I was afraid I might offend some people. In fact, I admitted part of me was HOPING to step on people’s toes.  “How was that for an opener?” I asked.  By now the audience was riveted, and I said “Well now that I’m out on that limb, I might as well go for it.  The actual title of my speech is “Why I Am an Atheist.”  And I went on to give the best speech I ever gave in my life (so far).  Here it is:

Like everyone, I was born an Atheist…

However, as I continued to grow, something happened to that young Atheist. I was raised as a Southern Baptist.  Now there are a lot of things about being raised a Southern Baptist (or any kind of Baptist, I suppose) that are really nice: You have an entire community to protect & shelter you, an extended family really. And above that you have an omnipotent all-knowing God who loves you, has got it all under control, and has a plan. A special plan --just for YOU! You just can’t beat that kind of certainty.  Oh yeah, and you have ALL the answers – to everything - in this wonderful book, the Bible (King James Version only, natch)  that (most of) the Protestants know how to interpret correctly to get God’s say-so on any topic you want.

There IS a down side, however.  For one thing, sometimes it seemed the whole world didn’t always fit so nicely in the Baptist paradigm.  Armed as we were with the truth (the Gospel truth!), it became very easy – necessary, even - to view anyone & anything outside the little Baptist box with suspicion and scorn.  This is because Satan, the master of THIS world (for now) was pretty much everywhere, and was always targeting YOU especially, trying to tempt you into sin.  Sin was separation from God’s tender love – the kind of separation that could land you in a lake of fire & accompanying eternal torment.

And did I mention that we are all sinners? Oh yes, we are ALL a bunch of miserable sinners from birth; and even after we’ve accepted Jesus as our Personal Savior™ we still will continue to sin, no matter how hard we try, because no Christian is perfect, and in fact it’s only by the grace of God Almighty himself that we are saved, unlike the overwhelmingly vast majority of people created by him in his image of perfect love who are going straight to an everlasting Hell of constant torment after death.

But I digress. We were also scornful of Science.  Not so much the good kind, like that of Doctors & Astronauts, but those arrogant, misguided Biologists who ignored the plain facts laid out in the book of Genesis and poisoned people’s minds with their godless E-vo-lution nonsense.

You may be surprised to learn I had some struggles with conformity. But for the most part, I managed to keep myself in a heightened state of close-minded religiosity throughout my youth, and the times I did have serious doctrinal difficulties I managed to pull through with some simple re-interpretation of scripture.  And that’s how things stayed up until The Day It All Changed.

Like all of the defining moments of my life, there was a woman involved. On The Day It All Changed, that woman was my friend Wendy the Pagan.  Wendy the Pagan was the perfect foil to an uptight Baptist boy.  A funky groovy Renaissance-Faire type who smoked, frequented new age occult stores, read tarot cards and believed in all manner of interesting and contradictory beliefs.  The way we liked to flirt with each best was to argue Theology.  Which is what we were doing on The Day It All Changed.

We were in the middle of a juicy deliberation one afternoon. I had just come up with some brilliant and biblically-approved point, when Wendy came up with a saucy rejoinder: “Well, Dave,” this with a raised eyebrow, ”you KNOW the Hindu religion is like, 4000 years older than Christianity.”  Well, this line of reasoning of course had no merit whatsoever, and I started to counter with “No, it’s not-“

But I never finished the sentence.  That was when it hit me…That I had no idea whether the next thing to leave my mouth was true or not.

Let me say that again: I had

No idea

Whether the next thing to leave my mouth

Was True


And it hit me like a bolt from the blue: I was giving a knee–jerk Pavlovian dog reaction – I was just as bad as those Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses!!  I swear, in my mind I could literally hear that Talking Heads song:

Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...

And you may ask yourself:
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway lead to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?...or am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
The debate was over.  I was in a stunned daze for the rest of the day. And that was just the beginning.

I never looked at anything the same way.  I began to question everything. In hindsight, losing my virginity was a breeze. Losing my religion took me a whole year to get over!

I felt like a trap door had fallen out beneath me, and instead of plummeting to the ground I was suspended in midair 10,000 feet up with the clouds going by beneath me. For a year I kept wondering “what’s keeping me up?”  All those years I thought there was an all-powerful invisible god protecting me, and suddenly that was gone… What was keeping me safe?

Well, somehow I survived…

And not only that, but things actually got better!

I began to look at people completely differently; I stopped seeing people as Catholics, as Christians, as Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. etc. and just saw them as People. People just like me, with their own dreams, problems, and thoughts on the universe.  Most importantly, I stopped automatically categorizing people as “Saved” and “Hellbound”!

Suddenly Evolution made a lot more sense.

The Universe seemed much bigger, and at the same time closer and more connected to me than it ever did before.

Cue the upbeat music for the closing credits: Now I’m astounded that I could ever have believed all the ridiculous & hateful nonsense even for a minute.  Life is free, really free when your mind is free. Even though Life can be an unpredictable all-bets-are-off scary place sometimes, I couldn’t and wouldn’t go back to the spun-sugar sickly-sweet illusionary comforts of Christianity, or any other religion lurking around for that matter either.

I want to tell every religious person out there that when they have doubts, when what they are being told doesn’t seem fair or make sense, to respect that part of them that gives them that gut feeling.

I’m alive. We’re all alive.  Go out there and enjoy Life & Love.

Why I am an Atheist, Part II: Common Reactions

(with apologies to the many, many freethinkers whose ideas are presented here)

Today it’s interesting to come across the ideas & stereotypes people have about Atheists. People aren’t upset because I’ve lost my religion, they’re upset because I’ve lost THEIR religion.  Here are some of the more common reactions:

1. You don’t believe in anything?

You don’t think Buddha or Allah or Vishnu are real, do you?

 Well, I only believe in one less of those imaginary gods than you do…

2. But you’re so happy!

Well, yeah!  People think we’re all gloomy, black beret-wearing Jean-Paul Sarte-reading existentialist types leading gray, empty, meaningless lives… But how happy can you be always kissing up to an angry god?

3. Where do you get your morals from?

Do you really need anyone else to tell you the killing, stealing, and hurting people is wrong?  It’s really not that hard to figure out.

4. But look at all the good Religion has done?

To that, I would say really look at what religion has done.

It took 300 years for the Roman Catholic Church to pardon Gallileo and longer than that to apologize for burning heretics at the stake. Billy Graham (who it turns out is a rabid anti-Semite) has taken in over $35 million from his ministries and refuses to disclose how it is being spent.  And he is very respected – not like most of the more infamous televangelists who have been uncovered as out-and-out scoundrels.

Throughout history, more people have been tortured or killed in the name of religion than any other conflict -hands down. Look what it did on 9-11.  Look what it’s doing in Bethlehem this morning.  If no one challenged religious authority & the scriptures, there would not be democracies, public education, women’s rights, science & medicine, or the abolition of slavery.

5. Atheists are angry at God!

It’s hard to be angry at someone who you think doesn’t exist.  But I admit, I do get angry with the Religious Right when they try to force creationism in schools. I get mad when the Roman Catholic Church spends more energy in protecting pedophile priests than in protecting their victims. I get mad when I see how women are treated in Islamic countries. And I get mad when the Israelis treat the Muslims like it was pre-apartheid South Africa.

6. Why take the chance of going to hell – be a Christian just to be safe

What kind of god would want that kind of follower? What kind of god would create hell for that matter.  And what if you go to heaven and everyone there is speaking Arabic or Chinese?  Who’s going to hell now, smart guy?

7. Atheists are Arrogant / Communists / Tools of Satan / There are no Atheists in foxholes/

Too ridiculous to even go there, though I will say there’s women, crossdressers, homosexuals, and yes, Atheists in foxholes.  Always have been.

8. Well, there’s just too much that’s unexplainable…

There’s always going to be the unexplainable; as Einstein said

"One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike -- and yet it is the most precious thing we have."
9. Well, I know God is real because I have a personal relationship with Jesus and he has done this in my life….
I’m happy for you, I really am.  But if I told you what a difference Scientology or Allah or Falun Gong has done in my life, would you believe me?

10. But what happens when you die? Is that it?

Death IS big and scary, and it’s natural to be afraid of it.  If we didn’t, our species wouldn’t have survived for millions of years. That’s why the idea is so strong.  But honestly, I believe that when we die, we go back to where we came from.  There was an eternity before you were born when you didn’t exist, if there’s another is it really so bad?

      · If there’s one thing to learn from Atheism, it’s Live Now.

Here’s more:

  • Hands that help are better than lips that pray.
  • It’s nice, but is it true? How much reality do you choose to accept?
  • We’re all in the same boat together.
  • Science says we’re all related, even the plants and animals.
  • I heard Peter Ustinov once say something like: “Our firm beliefs divide us. It’s our doubts that bring us together.”
  • Don’t take my word for it.  Don’t take anybody’s word for it.  Think for yourself.  Don’t stop asking questions.

(Interesting website as a whole - check it out!)

Ricky Gervais on why he doesn't believe in a God

Makes interesting reading . . . .

Why don’t you believe in God? I get that question all the time. I always try to give a sensitive, reasoned answer. This is usually awkward, time consuming and pointless. People who believe in God don’t need proof of his existence, and they certainly don’t want evidence to the contrary. They are happy with their belief. They even say things like “it’s true to me” and “it’s faith.” I still give my logical answer because I feel that not being honest would be patronizing and impolite. It is ironic therefore that “I don’t believe in God because there is absolutely no scientific evidence for his existence and from what I’ve heard the very definition is a logical impossibility in this known universe,” comes across as both patronizing and impolite.

Arrogance is another accusation. Which seems particularly unfair. Science seeks the truth. And it does not discriminate. For better or worse it finds things out. Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn’t know. It bases its conclusions and beliefs on hard evidence -­- evidence that is constantly updated and upgraded. It doesn’t get offended when new facts come along. It embraces the body of knowledge. It doesn’t hold on to medieval practices because they are tradition. If it did, you wouldn’t get a shot of penicillin, you’d pop a leach down your trousers and pray. Whatever you “believe,” this is not as effective as medicine. Again you can say, “It works for me,” but so do placebos. My point being, I’m saying God doesn’t exist. I’m not saying faith doesn’t exist. I know faith exists. I see it all the time. But believing in something doesn’t make it true. Hoping that something is true doesn’t make it true. The existence of God is not subjective. He either exists or he doesn’t. It’s not a matter of opinion. You can have your own opinions. But you can’t have your own facts.

Why don’t I believe in God? No, no no, why do YOU believe in God? Surely the burden of proof is on the believer. You started all this. If I came up to you and said, “Why don’t you believe I can fly?” You’d say, “Why would I?” I’d reply, “Because it’s a matter of faith.” If I then said, “Prove I can’t fly. Prove I can’t fly see, see, you can’t prove it can you?” You’d probably either walk away, call security or throw me out of the window and shout, ‘’F—ing fly then you lunatic.”

This, is of course a spirituality issue, religion is a different matter. As an atheist, I see nothing “wrong” in believing in a god. I don’t think there is a god, but belief in him does no harm. If it helps you in any way, then that’s fine with me. It’s when belief starts infringing on other people’s rights when it worries me. I would never deny your right to believe in a god. I would just rather you didn’t kill people who believe in a different god, say. Or stone someone to death because your rulebook says their sexuality is immoral. It’s strange that anyone who believes that an all-powerful all-knowing, omniscient power responsible for everything that happens, would also want to judge and punish people for what they are. From what I can gather, pretty much the worst type of person you can be is an atheist. The first four commandments hammer this point home. There is a god, I’m him, no one else is, you’re not as good and don’t forget it. (Don’t murder anyone, doesn’t get a mention till number 6.)

When confronted with anyone who holds my lack of religious faith in such contempt, I say, “It’s the way God made me.”

But what are atheists really being accused of?

The dictionary definition of God is “a supernatural creator and overseer of the universe.” Included in this definition are all deities, goddesses and supernatural beings. Since the beginning of recorded history, which is defined by the invention of writing by the Sumerians around 6,000 years ago, historians have cataloged over 3700 supernatural beings, of which 2870 can be considered deities.

So next time someone tells me they believe in God, I’ll say “Oh which one? Zeus? Hades? Jupiter? Mars? Odin? Thor? Krishna? Vishnu? Ra?…” If they say “Just God. I only believe in the one God,” I’ll point out that they are nearly as atheistic as me. I don’t believe in 2,870 gods, and they don’t believe in 2,869.

I used to believe in God. The Christian one that is.

I loved Jesus. He was my hero. More than pop stars. More than footballers. More than God. God was by definition omnipotent and perfect. Jesus was a man. He had to work at it. He had temptation but defeated sin. He had integrity and courage. But He was my hero because He was kind. And He was kind to everyone. He didn’t bow to peer pressure or tyranny or cruelty. He didn’t care who you were. He loved you. What a guy. I wanted to be just like Him.

One day when I was about 8 years old, I was drawing the crucifixion as part of my Bible studies homework. I loved art too. And nature. I loved how God made all the animals. They were also perfect. Unconditionally beautiful. It was an amazing world.

I lived in a very poor, working-class estate in an urban sprawl called Reading, about 40 miles west of London. My father was a laborer and my mother was a housewife. I was never ashamed of poverty. It was almost noble. Also, everyone I knew was in the same situation, and I had everything I needed. School was free. My clothes were cheap and always clean and ironed. And mum was always cooking. She was cooking the day I was drawing on the cross.

I was sitting at the kitchen table when my brother came home. He was 11 years older than me, so he would have been 19. He was as smart as anyone I knew, but he was too cheeky. He would answer back and get into trouble. I was a good boy. I went to church and believed in God -– what a relief for a working-class mother. You see, growing up where I did, mums didn’t hope as high as their kids growing up to be doctors; they just hoped their kids didn’t go to jail. So bring them up believing in God and they’ll be good and law abiding. It’s a perfect system. Well, nearly. 75 percent of Americans are God-­‐fearing Christians; 75 percent of prisoners are God-­‐fearing Christians. 10 percent of Americans are atheists; 0.2 percent of prisoners are atheists.

But anyway, there I was happily drawing my hero when my big brother Bob asked, “Why do you believe in God?” Just a simple question. But my mum panicked. “Bob,” she said in a tone that I knew meant, “Shut up.” Why was that a bad thing to ask? If there was a God and my faith was strong it didn’t matter what people said.

Oh…hang on. There is no God. He knows it, and she knows it deep down. It was as simple as that. I started thinking about it and asking more questions, and within an hour, I was an atheist.

Wow. No God. If mum had lied to me about God, had she also lied to me about Santa? Yes, of course, but who cares? The gifts kept coming. And so did the gifts of my new found atheism. The gifts of truth, science, nature. The real beauty of this world. I learned of evolution -– a theory so simple that only England’s greatest genius could have come up with it. Evolution of plants, animals and us –- with imagination, free will, love, humor. I no longer needed a reason for my existence, just a reason to live. And imagination, free will, love, humor, fun, music, sports, beer and pizza are all good enough reasons for living.

But living an honest life -– for that you need the truth. That’s the other thing I learned that day, that the truth, however shocking or uncomfortable, in the end leads to liberation and dignity.

So what does the question “Why don’t you believe in God?” really mean. I think when someone asks that they are really questioning their own belief. In a way they are asking “what makes you so special? “How come you weren’t brainwashed with the rest of us?” “How dare you say I’m a fool and I’m not going to heaven, f— you!” Let’s be honest, if one person believed in God he would be considered pretty strange. But because it’s a very popular view it’s accepted. And why is it such a popular view? That’s obvious. It’s an attractive proposition. Believe in me and live forever. Again if it was just a case of spirituality this would be fine.

“Do unto others…” is a good rule of thumb. I live by that. Forgiveness is probably the greatest virtue there is. But that’s exactly what it is -­‐ a virtue. Not just a Christian virtue. No one owns being good. I’m good. I just don’t believe I’ll be rewarded for it in heaven. My reward is here and now. It’s knowing that I try to do the right thing. That I lived a good life. And that’s where spirituality really lost its way. When it became a stick to beat people with. “Do this or you’ll burn in hell.”

You won’t burn in hell. But be nice anyway.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Missionary Position

Once upon a time there was a tribe who lived in the forest.  They rarely had any contact with outsiders, except for the two neighbouring tribes with whom they exchanged food, women and occasionally had ‘wars’ – ritual skirmishes in which a cut or a graze was the most serious injury expected.  They were born, grew up, married and had children of their own and then retired to being elders who sat around the fire and talked about how much better things were when they were young.  They farmed the local land and foraged for roots and plants, always producing enough food so that nobody went hungry.
Occasionally the men would go out hunting and bring back a pig, which the women would ceremonially roast and all would have a great feast, washed down with a drink they made from a forest vine.  They’d drink, dance, drink more, dance more, drink even more, fall down and sleep.  Next day they’d wake up and carry on just as before. 
When someone became too old or too sick they said goodbye to their close relatives and walked off into the forest.  They never came back.  They were mourned for a day and then life carried on.
They respected the spirits of the forest but if you asked them where they came from or why they were there they would have shrugged and said the question was irrelevant.  They were happy, though they wouldn’t have known what the term meant.
Then one day two missionaries arrived in the village. 
The tribe welcomed them, as they did any visitors.  The missionaries, it seemed, wanted to stay, so the tribe found them a hut and settled them in, sharing their food with them and making sure they joined in all the village life as best they could, not sharing a common language.  They even offered them girls as bedfellows, and when these were politely refused they offered them boys instead.  These, too, were refused, which puzzled the tribe, but they did not fret about it, knowing that outsiders had strange ways.
Slowly the missionaries learned to communicate.  And when they did they told the tribe that a person called Jesus had died for their sins.  The tribe had difficulties with this, not knowing what Sins were, so the missionaries tried to explain.
Sin, they said, was stealing something.  This caused great puzzlement because the tribe held everything they owned in common.  Nobody owned anything, not even the (few) clothes they wore.  If you needed something and it was available you just helped yourself.  So how could you steal? 
The missionaries tried again.  Sin was telling lies.  But again, the tribe were much puzzled because nobody ever told anything other than the truth.  They had no concept of deceit.  They didn’t even tell white lies.  If you re-fashioned your hair or put leaves on your head and it made you look stupid everybody just laughed at you.
Finally the missionaries said that God had set rules for how people should live and that Sin was disobeying these rules.  So the tribe asked to be told about these rules, and the missionaries explained. 
They said that everyone should set time aside every day to speak to this God and ask him for help with things.  They said that everything must have an owner and nobody should take what belonged to anybody else.  They said that there should be no more of the drink made from forest vines that made you happy and then fall down.  They said that sex should be restricted to one man and one woman who were joined together by something called a marriage.  And they said that everyone in the village, without exception, had to come together one day in every seven to sing songs to this God and thank him for all the things he had provided for them.
The tribe were amazed by this.  It all seemed so strange.  They thought the things they had were the fruits of their hard work, but now they were told they were all given to them by this God?  They couldn’t see why everything needed an owner because surely that meant that those that needed the thing might not have it?  And what was wrong with the forest vine drink, which made you happy and then fall down?  And surely it couldn’t be right that a man and a woman had to restrict themselves to each other when there were so many other men and women to have fun with?
But as they thought about it they decided that the missionaries must be telling them the truth because why otherwise would they have come into the forest to pass on the message?  After much deliberation this view held sway and they resolved to commit to this ‘Christ’ and follow the rules of God. 
The men and the women paired up as best they could, even though this meant severing some long held relationships, and underwent a mass marriage ceremony.  They would have celebrated this occasion with lots of the forest vine drink, but now they just drank water and fruit juice, which seemed a bit flat but they knew it was God’s will.  And they hunted and killed a pig, and stopped afterwards to thank God for providing it for them, and then cooked and ate the meat but didn’t feast or celebrate because that wasn’t God’s will.  Instead the missionaries led them in prayer and preached to them about how terrible their sins were and how much they needed the help of Jesus to get better.  And they all listened and tried to understand.
One day a young man of the tribe decided he should no longer be naked so he went into the missionaries’ hut and put on a pair of their trousers.  The missionaries saw him wearing the trousers and called a meeting of the tribe.  They said the young man had committed a ‘crime’ by stealing the trousers.  The missionaries had to explain again the concept of ownership and possession, and this time the tribe understood, and from that moment all the items in the village were assigned to somebody and became theirs.  Most took just what they needed but a few took much more than they needed and thus became wealthy.  And when the wealthy were asked for use of their possessions because somebody else needed them they demanded food or work in return and thus had more food than they needed and didn’t need to work themselves.
Within a few weeks, helped by the missionaries, the tribe had an economy in operation, with goods and services being bought and sold.  The wealthy got wealthier and the others had to work hard from dawn to dusk to get enough to eat.  The elderly and the sick suffered most because they couldn’t work.  A few of the wealthy gave food to these, and the missionaries said it was called Charity and was a good thing to do.
And every seventh day they all met in a special hut and praised God for all the good things he had given them and were told what terrible sinners they still were.  And they all listened and tried to understand.
Forced by hunger the poorest people began stealing small amounts of food.  Ashamed by their nakedness when others now wore fine clothes, the poorest began stealing clothes too.  They were brought before the missionaries and punishments were assigned – more work for no pay, which made them even poorer, but this was God’s way and everyone accepted it.
Also a few of the men and women who had been separated by the new marriage rules found they could not keep apart.  They began seeing each other behind the backs of their respective wives and husbands.  Extreme secrecy was needed in a community where everyone pretty-much knew everything, and inevitably one couple were caught.  They were brought before the missionaries and lectured about what awful sinners they were, and then publicly flogged with creeper-vines to teach them to behave.
Soon it became necessary to build a special hut with a secure door and windows where people could be put for a few days to punish them for their sins.
It was enlarged a few weeks later.
For the wealthy few, life was good.  They did little work, using their wealth to buy what they needed and wanted.  They enlarged their huts and spent their days relaxing and playing games.  For the rest the day began before dawn and ended well after dark, using flaming torches to work the farms well into the night.  They prayed to the God for relief from their life, but when they asked the missionaries why no answer came and nothing changed they were chastised for their impatience and told that their reward would come after they died, in a place called Heaven, where you went after death if you had worked hard and stayed faithful to God’s laws in your life. 
One day one of the women, destitute because she could not work and nobody would give her charity because she had been caught having sex with another woman’s husband, walked out into the forest and, with a rope made from twisted vine, hanged herself.  When her body was found the villagers sadly brought it back, not knowing what to do next.  The missionaries said that taking one’s own life was the biggest of sins, and that the woman’s body must be taken far into the forest and thrown into the river for the Crocodiles to eat.  The missionaries explained that life was sacred and that nobody could take their own life for fear of eternal punishment – they would not go to Heaven and would be consigned to Hell for eternity, which was a very long time.  And from then on, however destitute or sick people became, they could not take their own lives and had to live on in misery until God decided it was time for them to die.  Some of the scarce farmland was given over to a ‘cemetery’ and the bodies of the dead were buried there.
And every seventh day everyone, (wealthy and poor alike, though the wealthy sat at the front on stools fashioned from wood, while the others sat on the floor at the back), met in the special hut, which had been greatly enlarged and decorated, and praised God for all the good things he had given them and were told what terrible sinners they all remained.  And they all listened and tried to understand.
Too soon, their work done, it became time for the missionaries to move on.  The tribe were concerned that there would be nobody to keep them on God’s right path, but the missionaries had thought of this.  They trained up a few members of the tribe to lead the weekly services and watch out to make sure people kept to the rules of God.  They called these people ‘priests’ and they had special large huts and did no work, being fed and finely clothed by small donations from the wealthy and larger forced contributions from the workers (it was called ‘tax’).
There was a big prayer meeting with much singing and praising of God and then the missionaries left the tribe.
The missionaries moved on through the forest and after walking for many days they came across another tribe, very much like the first in culture and behaviour.  The elders welcomed them in and sat them by the fire to hear what they had to say.  The language of the new tribe was also very similar to that of the first, so the missionaries were able to communicate immediately.  As they sat around the fire they told the new tribe about Jesus and God and his rules and were listened to intently. 
When they had finished they looked to the tribal leader for his decision, and he smiled at them.  Then he made a signal.  Immediately the missionaries were tied up, beheaded and put into the cooking pot.  The tribe had a great feast, drank copious quantities of the forest vine drink, danced and fell down.  When they woke up again the next morning they carried on exactly as before.