Frequently asked questions

Who's this site geared towards?

This site is for people of faith- the sort of faith that requires a commitment to God, regardless of what arguments of logic and scientific reasoning are levied against it.
Whether you’re Christian, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, Sikh, Jewish, or member of any other religion, this site has something for you if:

  • You've questions, but no one has given you entirely straightforward, convincing answers;

  • You’ve doubts and issues on your mind, but don't know what exactly to ask;

  • You’re afraid to ask, don't know who to ask, and are unsure that you even want to hear the answers.
First things first: You’re not alone!

Secondly: No need for stress. You can gather your thoughts, puzzle over them, explore, ask questions, and find answers, at your own pace. We'll help you along- that’s what this site's for!

What do you mean by the statement, 'You're not alone'? Isn't that a rather presumptuous statement to make about someone you don't even know?

We're all unique, with divergent personalities and separate lives. Of course we're all physically alone from time to time, facing difficulties that no one else can fully understand, characteristed by subtle differences that make us who we are. I'm not trying to downplay your uniqueness.

What I mean to say is that, despite numerous differences in our individual personalities, situations and backgrounds, the collective experiences of humanity are so vast, that the problems we face are not unique to any one individual. Maybe the people immediately around you behave, look, and feel differently from yourself. But somewhere out there, you can be sure that there're others who are able and willing to empathise with you, just as there're certainly strangers with whom you can empathise.

What are some beliefs held by people of faith?

Some quick examples:

  • God has the power to affect physical reality and help those in distress.

  • God hears my prayers and is pleased by worship.

  • God’s design is inherent in everything. Thus, all events that take place in the world, including those that seem unjustifiable from our human perspective, such as suffering, come about for good reason.

  • God knows, and has always known, what is best for me.
What sort of questions are asked on this site? Do you address topics such as evolution, marriage, and gender orientation?

This primary purpose of this site is not to shock or offend anyone gratuitously. It does, however, try hard to promote a sense of openness, and take on issues that may be hard to ask openly in the non-digital world.

Here’s a list of issues to get us started:

  1. Does God exist?

  2. Does God really send non-believers to hell?

  3. Why do I feel a profound sense of peace when I focus on God, one which is not matched by other experiences in life? Does it really come from God?

  4. Why is it so cathartic to forgive someone and let go of the past?

  5. Where does my religious text come from? It's God-inspired, and written by people, isn’t it? Its words of wisdom are beyond what any human being could have conceived on his or her own.

  6. My religious text is my direct connection to God. Isn't it incredible how I sometimes turn to the exact page just when it's needed?

  7. All human knowledge that’s been achieved through science and technological advancement arises indirectly through God's divine inspiration, right? Which means that things that are not explicitly mentioned in my religious text, including recent 'human' inventions, are still attributable to God?

  8. How do I reconcile differences between religious beliefs held by my family and friends, and my own? Why're there so many variants in the way people practise my particular religion?

  9. When I experience doubts about my faith, I always draw inspiration from a fellow brother or sister, whose faith seems unshakeable. Where do they get this incredible stability from?

  10. My religious leaders are truly men and women of God. Their words flow with confidence, yet they're so humble and approachable. How do they do it?

  11. My religious services are amazing- the music, the settings, the atmosphere. And my fellow believers have extraordinary talent. How does God decide to whom He confers His spiritual gifts?

  12. Why does God allow suffering and unhappiness in the world?

  13. I was introduced to religion during a truly difficult period in my life. Why did God choose to wait till that time to save me?

  14. People have said that the existence of evil is God’s way to ‘test’ our faith. But I've seen people who’ve struggled with their faith, labouring to prove themselves, their entire life, without ever finding an answer. What sort of a test is that?

  15. My faith and trust in God is frequently challenged. Sometimes I feel as if I'm back-sliding and getting nowhere, no matter how hard I try. Why do things have to be this difficult?

  16. Why should I attend religious services? I'm tired of the usual answers- about deriving great benefits from the teaching, being part of a community, and being held accountable- they're not sufficient!

  17. Why's it so hard to get satisfactory answers from fellow believers? Or at least, to get ones that sound as convincing the next day as they did at the time?

  18. Is God male? Why can't God be asexual/ bi-gender/ transexual, or whatever we chose to believe? Is it possible to assign a gender to God?

  19. I disagree about the sanctity of marriage- if I had my way, I'd divorce my spouse and marry someone else.

  20. Is sex before marriage abnormal or wrong? How about homosexuality?
Help Shed the Faith focuses on the topic of religion. By necessity, however, it covers a range of issues that, to some readers, may not initially seem directly related to religion- we have sections devoted to the characteristics of logical thinking, the process of scientific enquiry, and various aspects of human psychology, biology, and social behaviour.

Religion, and our perception of it, does not exist in a vacuum. Our understanding of religion is influenced by past experiences, prior knowledge, social, historical, and geographical factors- essentially everything that describes the particular position we occupy in space and time. To understand religion, we have to understand ourselves, and the context in which we establish our beliefs.
Is it wrong to ask these things?

You may feel bad about asking certain questions- it's as if your asking constitutes an act of betrayal, or reveals a deplorable lack of faith in God.

You may also be fearful of invoking God’s wrath, or have unpleasant memories of times when you elicited disapproval because your questions probed too far and touched on taboo topics.

Here’s our answer: If you believe that God exists, or may exist, and that God is omniscient and reigns supreme, then you should also realise the following-

  • God has listened to the thoughts of billions of human beings over the centuries. Scores of other people (probably the vast majority of fellow believers) have had exactly the same thoughts, questions, and doubts as you. Do you really think God is shocked at the things that run through your mortal mind? God has seen way worse.

  • One might expect a fellow human being- a religious leader, a figure of authority, a relative, a friend- to take offence at your lack of faith, or glower at your audacity. But people are not God, and can't possibly possess the levels of insight, wisdom, and experience that we expect of God. In fact, there must exist an infinite number of far more provocative topics, of which you could never even conceive, and none of which faze God in the least.

  • God knows where your thoughts are headed, even if they’re buried in the depths of your subconsciousness and you’re trying your best to suppress them. By going into denial, you're just temporarily deceiving yourself into thinking that all is well and good between you and God, and your faith will hold steadfast forever.

  • Finally, be warned- by suppressing you doubts (however small), you’re leaving these thoughts to fester. There’s a good chance they could bubble up and overwhelm you one day. And this typically happens right after a crisis strikes, when you’re feeling particularly vulnerable.

So do yourself a favour and try to relax. While humans may be small-minded, petty, and defensive when it comes to issues that we perceive as volatile or difficult, God (presumably) should be the exact opposite.

You’re responsible for the state of your beliefs. The sooner you begin looking for answers to your questions, the better- it leaves more time for mental development and spiritual maturation, so don't stop!

Why should I question beliefs that I’ve held dear for so long? What good would that do?

Once you’ve had the opportunity to take a step back and question cherished beliefs, your esteem of them may change. Would you rather spend your whole life believing something that’s unproven, or attempt to broaden your knowledge by asking some searching questions? If you have doubts, confront them by reading and asking questions. That’s what we’re here for.

Are you against religion? Why're you criticising it when it brings huge benefits to so many people?
People often justify the continuation of religious practices which they feel do the believers no harm and some good. This argument in defence of religion is given when no others are left standing- when attempts at logic and reasoning are exhausted, and believers state that when it comes down to basic principles, they rely on blind faith. The idea that religious beliefs are harmless, and there’s simply ‘nothing to lose’ by believing, for example, that Jesus is God’s son and one can go to heaven by believing in doctrines of the church, is profoundly destructive and damaging.
Why destructive and damaging?
Because it causes people to believe things that are untrue. People act on their beliefs, and these actions have consequences.

If, during a telephone conversation, you believe that your friend is listening attentively to you, then when you launch into a lengthy monologue, your time has been well spent.

If, however, your friend was distracted by something and did not hear a word you said, then you’ve effectively squandered some time and energy. Another example: If you took a short vacation and asked a neighbour to look after your pet while you were away, then as long as your neighbour acted responsibly, you had little to worry about. During those few days, you were freed from the task of feeding and cleaning your pet, because you trusted your neighbour to do that for you. If, however, the neighbour failed to do as you asked, and neither of you looked after your pet, then the animal suffered. You wouldn’t have left home in the first place unless you trusted your neighbour.

What's your take on God?
If someone were to ask, ‘Do you believe in God?’ my reply would be to ask what that person’s definition of ‘God’ and ‘belief’ are- without these pieces of information, any attempt of mine to give a decisive, yes-or-no answer would be half-baked, misleading, and fairly meaningless, because it would be valid within one context, but not another.

If that person thought that there was only one way to define ‘God’ and ‘belief,’ and it encompassed every possible definition of the terms, then my shortest reply would be ‘Yes no maybe perhaps certainly of course not.’ A question that addresses a wide spectrum of contexts is only satisfactorily answered by an equally all-encompassing reply.

Let’s say you narrow the context down such that ‘God’ refers to the hypothetical entity that is a combination of gods described by all religions known to humanity. This definition of God contains elements of Allah, the Holy Trinity, all the Hindu deities, the gods of Greek mythology, the spirits that inhabit inanimate objects, and many more. Do I believe that this amalgamated version of God exists, and is able to execute tangible interventions on the physical environment independently of humans, in the manner proposed by all these religions? My answer is no, that I do not believe that such an entity, comprising all the characteristics specified by these religions, and these characteristics only, exists.

What if we narrow the context down further, and refer to God as a combination of Gods from religions that are known to derive from similar roots (e.g. the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions)? A God that exists independently of human thoughts and actions, is not embodied in the physical world, and inhabits a spiritual realm that is distinct from ours. Again, my answer is no, I do not believe that the entity proffered by these religions exists.

And how about if we narrow the scope further, to just one of these main religions, or to a particular denomination, or subdivision, of one religion? My answer is no, no, no- there is no omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God who resides in a domain that is separate from ours and remains largely unknown to us.

Do I believe in any version of God at all, then? Could I, under any imaginable circumstance, using any conceivable definitions of ‘God’ and ‘believe,’ give a reply in the affirmative?

Oh, absolutely yes. If your definition of God is along the lines of:
  • ‘An imaginary concept that resides in the minds of human beings,

  • that is imbued with all kinds of non-existent causational powers and abilities,

  • to which is attributed all kinds of phenomena even though no relationship between this imaginary entity and those events exists,

  • that does not occupy some intangible, elusive spiritual realm independently of that which we inhabit,

  • that is embodied in the networks of neurons that generate and sustain this imaginary concept in our brains, and in the chemicals and biological molecules that compose and course through our bodies, which contribute to the maintenance of this concept in our minds,’
Then yes, this is a definition of ‘God’ that I'm comfortable with, the existence of which I feel at liberty to vouch for.

Let’s say that your definition of God is, for instance, a doll that you place in front of me, made of cloth and buttons, and that you have chosen to call this doll ‘God.’ Within the scope of this particular conversation, I may be willing to accept this working definition and cooperate with you by referring to the doll as ‘God,’ in the same way that I would obligingly refer to the doll as if it were a living person when talking to a child who thinks of it as a friend.

Thus, I don't believe in the existence of God as advocated by the vast majority of religions- what I believe in is the existence of other people’s belief in the existence of God, and I only believe in God to the extent that your definition of ‘God’ means a belief in the existence of other people’s beliefs. To most religious followers, this definition of God is quite unacceptable and does not meet the requirement for faith under the definitions adopted by most religions, and thus disqualifies me from being considered a ‘true’ believer.
In some sections, you describe the perspectives and experiences of both believers and non-believers. Why not just stick to one or the other?
A few reasons.

Firstly, I try to avoid putting labels on people, and that includes myself. Much of the time, it simply reinforces our apparent differences and de-emphasises our similarities- not perhaps creating the optimal environment for constructive, compassionate, respectful discussion.

Secondly, and more importantly, I don’t subscribe to the notion that all of us are either one or the other, and that all humanity can be categorised neatly into two distinct, non-overlapping groups. Based on personal experience and numerous discussions with others, I’ve realised that we’re distributed along a continuous faith spectrum, and furthermore, that each individual shifts up and down that along range, over the course of his or her life.

Thirdly, rather than indulge in generalisations that pinion us to the superficial surface of discussion, I enjoy delving into details, defining terms precisely within a specified context, and furthering my understanding and knowledge. I do refer to people as ‘atheists’ or ‘believers’ in a broad sense when, for the purposes of the discussion at hand, that suffices. It all depends on the context- sometimes a more complex and nuanced working definition is called for, and I’m happy to take the effort to do so. It’s the difference between looking at a beloved child and saying, “He likes bedtime stories,” and looking at the same person who has grown into an adult and saying, “This is a person who likes bedtime stories.” It’d be more useful to say, “As a child, he really liked bedtime stories. Maybe he still does now, but I’m not sure.”

Fourthly, there’re lots of real-world situations where things are not clear-cut- people don’t know how they feel; they need some time to deliberate; they may feel pushed to arrive at a premature decision; they may never, in fact, ever fully commit one way or another. The fact is that ambiguity, uncertainty, and controversy are inherent in life- and I specialise in helping people feel comfortable with that, to take the complex bundle of cognition and play with it. The key thing is not to close up, shut off, and remain stagnant- I’m cheering on those who want to talk and challenge their beliefs, irrespective of where they’re coming from.

In summary, people are far more than just ‘atheists’ or ‘believers’- my focus is on making a real connection with those who recognise in themselves a bit of both.
Why are you so devoted to finding common ground between ‘believers, non-believers, and everyone in between’?
Here’s an analogy:

Imagine that you’re working out a math problem by hand, figuring out the scope of the question and plugging numbers into equations to calculate an answer. Let’s say that at one stage, you get the formulas mixed up and accidentally plug the numbers into the wrong equation, and end up with an answer that’s somewhat off. This has happened, in one way or another, to virtually all of us in school, and happens to us every so often in life.

A crappy maths teacher comes along and says, “The answer’s wrong, you’re an idiot,” marks a big cross, and walks away. A good maths teacher, on the other hand, would unhesitatingly sit down, work out the solution together with the student, and offer encouragement and valuable guidance.

What I’m saying is, regardless of whether the answer the student arrived at was truly right or wrong, the teacher had reason to believe that the student made an error in the calculations. The crucial difference is in the approach taken by the teacher- either to engage, build rapport, and move things forward, or to criticize, cut off communication, and fuel discouragement and frustration.

If I were to take up a career in teaching, there’s no question that I’d like to be an understanding, patient, useful mentor, rather than the opposite. So to all the folks out there whose strategy tends towards making snap judgments, applying generic labels, placing others into uncompromising pigeon holes, and declaring that the most efficient and effective approach is to tell others that they are wrong, wrong, wrong, without explaining why, why, why- I disagree and prefer to go about things differently.

And remember, teachers make mistakes too- another good reason for multiple parties to sit down together!
What’s wrong with allowing people to believe in things that are false? Why not abide by a policy of non-intervention, and allow people to believe whatever they want?

In reply, I could pose the question, ‘Why would it be wrong for a society that has developed effective vaccines for a disease to stand by while other societies, lacking modern medicine, continue to send their sick to witch doctors?’

Enough of theoretical examples! In the real world, what harmful effects could possibly result from the fact that I harbour religious beliefs?
  1. You may believe that God exercises control over events, and causes or allows things to happen as He sees fit. Thus, in some situations, you fail to intervene, because you believe that God will take care of things.

  2. You believe that there is a spiritual reason and purpose behind everything. Thus, no matter how bad a situation is, there must be an upside, because God ordained it. This encourages you to downplay the negative aspects, and overemphasise the positive aspects, of any situation, no matter how dire.

  3. You derive numerous benefits from your religious beliefs- that’s great. However, you end up attributing these benefits to the wrong sources. That’s confusing when you’re trying to understand yourself better- your mental state, internal psychology, motivations and aspirations. It promotes cloudy thinking.
I’ve come across something on this site that made me very annoyed/ angry/ confused. Why are you making these upsetting/ provocative statements?

If there were sections of this site that upset you, our advice is to not take it too personally. We’ve tried to err on the side of being upfront with our opinions rather than being blandly polite- you can be sure you’re not the only one of our readers feeling ruffled! Striking the right note isn't easy- we strive to maintain our straight-talking, direct attitude and concern for people’s long-term interests, while handling feelings as sensitively as we're able, but sometimes miss the target. We'll keep trying!

Here’s another analogy:

When we ask people their opinion about something, we notice how there're different types of friends. Some people may flatter us and constantly tell us what we like to hear, even if it’s to our own detriment. Others state what they genuinely feel and tell us things that we need to hear- even if that makes us angry and turn on them. These are the people we consider to be real friends- those who care enough to share their real selves, feelings, and ideas, to be willing to face a backlash.

This website aims to be similar to the truthful and real, yet understanding and respectful type of friend- open, provocative, and persuasive, and minimally abrasive and judgmental all at once. In turn, we expect the best from our readers- we hope that you approach this with an open mind, and remember that after all, nobody’s perfect or all-knowing.

I’m an atheist, and I find much of what you say obvious and intuitive- why do you bother to reach people through this site?

To speakers of English, the fact that A, B and C are the first three letters of the alphabet seems obvious. To those who are acquainted with basic mathematical conventions, the formula 1 + 1 = 2 seems obvious. But what if you speak and write in a language that uses different symbols? Probably not so intuitive.

While the statements made on this site may be largely acceptable and logical to people who are used to thinking along similar lines, the vital fact is that for many of us, these concepts aren’t that self-evident or obvious at all! It all depends on your background and life experiences. And it takes some time and experience to develop the skills required to evaluate religious beliefs and to examine them critically and thoroughly, especially if they've been ingrained since childhood.

Some people hold onto them for life, whereas others eventually decide to discard them once and for all. Those who let go of religion tend to do so because their understanding of the world has expanded. Many never look back. They no longer have a desire to nurture prior beliefs, neither do they seek continued involvement in religious activities- indeed, many dissociate themselves from religion as much as possible.

If what you’re claiming is true, then why haven’t I heard the same messages from other sources (e.g. other non-believers)?

This is partly because of the desire to avoid boredom. As stated in the previous question, once an individual has understood and internalised an idea, the novelty of the discovery wears off, and the concept becomes so obvious and apparent that it’s a drag to keep thinking about it- it just feels intuitive and not worthy of constant review! In other words, a non-believer has little more incentive to promote his or her beliefs, than to spread the news that 1 + 1 = 2. Plus, people hate sounding repetitive and naggy.

Furthermore, many non-believers want to avoid creating waves and ruining personal relationships with friends and family who are believers, by dwelling on differences in their beliefs. Most non-believers tend to avoid the subject of religion, or to cease hanging out with believers altogether.

This creates a communication barrier between believers and non-believers. People on either side may care deeply about their loved ones, regardless of their belief systems, but would rather remain silent about their beliefs than risk hurting their friends’ feelings. Yet, the suppression of one’s true opinion and avoidance of tricky but important subjects can be draining and depressing, and lead to unhealthy relationships where much is left unspoken and difficult issues fester.

Sharing one’s opinion about religion is often boring at best, and provocative and confrontational at worst. All the same, I’d like to point out that facing such issues doesn’t necessarily have to be boring or difficult. I derive inspiration from many avenues.

Here’s a quote from an article published by the Skeptic magazine which sums up my feelings:

“People have no less need to hear the message
just because we grew tired of saying it.”

How do you feel about making openly provocative statements and potentially offending your readers? Are you apologetic about that?
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a bit bad. After all, I like popularity as much as anyone. But you can’t please everybody, and if I didn’t state my true opinions, I’d just be disappointing myself. So in some ways I’m apologetic, but not for my beliefs- mainly for causing discomfort to a subset of readers- and hopefully untimately in a good way.
Why don't you include more examples, case studies, and scientific references on this site?
There are lots of resources- sites and books on religion, atheism, and the existence of God, all packed with details and evidence that debunk religious beliefs, which do a way better job than I ever could, at presenting fascinating details and substantiating each claim with a real-life example. That's excellent, and I'm really glad they exist.

But people who have questions about God and go online in search of answers are looking for straightforward, well-presented arguments that they can glean insights from immediately. There are people with the patience to delve deep into some long drawn-out argument and read the full list of references, and check that the sources are reliable and accurate. Is this really the most effective approach for most viewers, and is it even necessary?

A site like this deals with issues that are very broad. This isn't a book, where you can sit down with readers and explain concepts chapter by chapter and enthrall them with complex details. People get enough exposure to detail in their everyday lives, believers have questions that can't be answered, and are confronted by facts that don't seem to fit in with the views offered by their religion.

Often, intricate details are most convincing when you're already quite familiar with the overarching logic behind an argument- when you have an existent framework into which you can fit such knowledge. Otherwise, it doesn't stick- you don't know what to believe, because even if the facts are accurate, you don't know whether you're being presented with a good sampling of facts. Readers end up rejecting the argument, because it doesn't address the topic at a high-enough scale. The level of scientific detail offered on many other sites is impressive in its own way, but it tends to bog people down.

(Refer to the section on Partial Truths for a description of circumstances under which the provision of details does little to advance a discussion.)

Help Shed the Faith knows that while you're happy to invest time in worthwhile research, you don't have all day- neither do we- so we focus on the key points, using arguments that can be applied to any situation, not just to specific cases, in quick simple words that anyone can understand.

People who want it all summarised cleanly in one place can come here for the facts, and if they need more detail eventually, they can branch out from here, to those other resources.

Top priorities:
  1. Valuable content

  2. Clear organisation of content, and

  3. Clean, simple presentation.
The menu contains a single list of topics, descriptive summaries of what each section is about, and examples of questions that are addressed in each section. All displayed in a clean, clutter-free environment.
As I read, I see your point, to a certain extent. Yet when I read materials issued by my religion, or visit my organisation's web site, I forget all the things you've mentioned and my sceptism sort of fades away. Why is this?
That’s because popular books and websites of religious organisations hardly dwell on these controversial issues at all. With a bit of thought, you realise that the majority concentrate on dispensing useful advice about how to live life. They may include several feel-good stories about people overcoming difficulties and giving the glory to God. These might be absolutely wonderful people- genuine believers- and it’s great that we gain inspiration from these anecdotes, but it doesn’t change the fact that they distract and thereby prevent you from questioning the underlying assumption, which is that God exists.

Religion is valuable because of all its tangible benefits, of which there are many, and it’s these benefits that religious institutions focus on. When you enter your place of worship, visit your organisation’s web page, or peruse best-selling books by religious leaders, it all feels true and comfortable and accepting- because it is all those things. Religion can be fantastic for people and I absolutely agree about that.

What I don't like is the fact that believers have to suppress the parts that don't make sense or are harmful, in order to sustain these beliefs, when they could simply live without these convoluted mind games and reap the benefits of understanding without the disadvantages of false beliefs. (Read the section on Unspoken Maxims for more about 'don't ask don't tell' policies in religious settings, and the section on Partial Truths for more one how books and web sites focus their attention on the positive aspects of religion and avoid the downsides.)
I know lots of really smart people who are believers. Doesn't this prove that there must be some compelling reason for their faith?
Lots of us are born into religious environments and have been raised to think about the world from a certain point of view. Many believers have little reason to fundamentally alter their way of thinking, and get through life without challenging its assumptions.

It doesn't really matter how smart and well-educated you are- if you're not placed in a position where your beliefs require reevaluating, then there's little need to change things. This does not prove in any way that your beliefs are accurate. It simply shows that with this set of beleifs (or in spite of them), you're able to do ok.

Besides, just because someone is smart doesn't mean that he or she is right about everything. Lots of smart people get into arguments because they believe in conflicting things- they can't all be right simultaneously.

background image