Archive for the ‘jews’ Category

Be it Unresolved

February 24, 2012

Introduction

What follows is a debate over email about a variety of religious topics, mostly in the context of Christianity. There was no formal declaration of what the debate would be about, and the debate arose organically and only late in the discussion did it begin to fully take shape.

Some of the topics:

  • What does it mean to keep two sets of books?
  • Can religion be treated like philosophy, or is religion primarily concerned with one’s personal relationship with God?
  • Is Christ’s failure to specifically condemn certain acts (slavery, rape, etc) count against him?
  • Is the sectarian nature of religion overwhelmingly negative and superflous, or simply necessary for some to explore spirituality?
  • Do the words and actions of Jesus Christ translate to a set of laws?

Background

In the middle of February 2012, I stumbled across a thread on Facebook inspired by this image. Hardly a profound or original assault on religious thinking, but nonetheless a difficult and altogether cogent criticism of Biblical reasoning. Participating in the thread (excerpts to follow) was one Ben Waymark, with whom I have had various and relatively short discussions on all manner of topics religious. I was immediately struck by what I saw as some rather extreme religious views expressed in the thread, and Ben’s support of those views struck me as not in keeping with the worldview he presented in our religious talks. So, I wrote to him, and (gently) accused him of keeping to sets of books:

Robin Lindsay

Hey Ben,

I read that thread you and Mary et al were commenting on, and I am curious about something.

In previous discussions, you didn’t use similar language to what Mary (who strikes as a borderline Christian extremist) was using, and I am curious if you are keeping two sets of books i.e. will you avoid certain kinds of reasoning with people like me, and yet praise them when others use them?

I am not trying to “ahah gotcha,”  am just fascinated by certain kinds of compartmentalizing some religious people do (like Francis Collins) and am wondering if I have spotted a case in you.

R.


Ben Waymark

Always happy to debate religion.

Personally, I try to stay away from classical Christian language, as well as use of upper cases when talking about Him and that type of thing, mostly because I think it hides meanings and often obscures things rather than explain them. There is no point going on about the bounty of God’s grace if the person you are talking to doesn’t share your understanding of grace. Is that what you are getting at? If not, give me a specific example and I’ll try to address it.

Mary is indeed a border-line extremist in a lot of what she believes, but she does have a very reasoned arguments. When I started arguing with her about religion (back when I was 13 and knew it all) I enjoyed talking to her because despite totally disagreeing with her, I found that we could have fun exploring the subject and she does speak from experience and from her relationship and undestanding of God. So if I said things like “God is a vengfull asshole” she wouldn’t get all offended or defensive, but she would argue why she thought differently (much like she did with chappy on Facebook) ….

B.

And we were off.


Robin Lindsay

“There is no point going on about the bounty of God’s grace if the person you are talking to doesn’t share your understanding of grace. Is that what you are getting at?” – Ben

That is what I am getting at. I find the reinforcing of religious ideas amongst religious people, most often in specifically religious settings like church or bible study or sunday school in, as you put it, “classically Christian language” a bit exasperating. In other words, while a bishop might speak about religious stories of good and evil in terms of metaphor and allegory when speaking to an inquiring secularist, the bishop doesn’t do the same thing during mass. He is keeping two sets of books, and it seems a bit cynical.

You know, I find an unsophisticated or boorish brand of atheism as uninteresting as the next guy, and that guy who posted the circular reasoning photo not only posted a very old criticism, he did a pretty poor job of defending it. But Mary never really challenged the basic premise. She wrote:

“It’s just as circular if you replace the words with “My reasoning is my god”, “Because my reasoning tells me so”, and “My reasoning is infallible”. One’s god is who/what one puts his faith and trust in. For myself, I put my faith in God who created the universe and loves me (and everyone else, BTW). The word of God is Jesus. The Bible may be “infallible” (which means different things to different people), but it still has to be interpreted by fallible humans, which can be the source of a whole lot of misunderstanding and misuse.”

The above is simply hogwash. Mary is using her own mind, intellect, experience, and intutions, and even feelings, to reason her way to god. She is putting her faith in her own instincts as much as I am, and the conclusion she comes to is: god, where I come to, not god. So, in both our cases “our reasoning is our god.” So, the parallel she tries to make in order to poke holes in the (absolutely correct) accusation of circular reasoning by the OP (original poster)is just not on.

Does Mary share your “understanding of the grace of god?” I am not so sure she does, though I can’t speak for you. Perhaps if religious people spoke about their religious experience in non classically religious terms they might find they have less in common then they thought.

Ben Waymark

Mary and I share of the same core belief (that there is an all powerful loving God that we can have a relationship with). She is more convinced of the sanctity of the Bible than I am. I see it as a book comprising of stories and letters that record the combined religious experience of  the first three or four hundred years of Christdom, and attempts to explain the experience of Jesus and what he taught. Mary is more fundamentalist and is convinced that the Bible is the word of the God while I see it as people’s best understanding of the word of God in the written form.

I am also a lot more ‘pan-religious’ believing that, while Christianity is a good and complete way of knowing God there is no reason why other religions couldn’t do the same. For many that makes me simply ‘wishie-washie’, but I’ve always found God is a lot more an experience than a philosophy. I’d have thought that both Mary and I agree on this: that Christianity is not a philosophy or a dogma, but at its real base is a relationship with God. Churches, doctrine, communities, Bibles etc are all tools that help us with this relationship and try to help avoid the many pitfalls that can result in people becoming fundamentalists nut-jobs, Jonestown cool-aiders and the rest of it.

I think we can both agree that God, whether real or imagined, is a powerful force and can lead people to do some pretty extreme things. In some cases that power is sickening (a la Taliban) and sometimes it is inspirational (like the priests that were sent off to the gas chambers because they refused to kowtow to fascism and did things like Hide jews). Many mystics/religious types through the ages find that communities help to keep people in check (St. Benedict founded the first monastic order because he found the hermits that lived alone often fell into insanity and an intense sense of egoism as a result of their solitude, so he attempted to build a community for them).

So I see Mary and I as sharing the same community in that sense, although we belong to different churches and have conflicting beliefs on some things (she is anti-abortion, where I am pro-choice for example, she is also anti-capital punishment where I am a bit more undecided).

Robin Lindsay

What you have written is interesting, and addresses some of what I was getting at, but can you speak to my accusation (that is not meant as a pejorative) of holding “two sets of books?”

a) do you think you do?

b) if you do, do you think it a problem or maybe unfortunate?

c) if you don’t, do you think it a problem that others do or might?

Ben Waymark

I hope I don’t read from two sets of books. While the way I will try to get a point across will change depending on who I am talking to, my central thesis, I hope, doesn’t.

I do think reading from two books is both a problem and unfortunate. It sounds to me like your bishop was simply trying hard not to lose a ‘member’ and trying to find the best arguments to convince you to stay, and that is something that I’ve never liked about many churches. I’ve never liked ‘cultural Christianity’ (as is often referred to in the UK people who think we in the UK should maintain the religion as a matter of national heritage) and I’ve always thought that people should be part of a church because they want to be part of a Christianity community, not because its expected of all ‘right thinking’ people. I also don’t like churches who thinks its numbers are important.

I’ve never been much of an evangelist and its never been my intention to convert you in our arguments (or anyone else for that matter), but at the same time I try not to be all “oh, look at me, I’ve got something special that you can’t have” (which I think I was a bit with pagan stuff). My main goal is both to educate myself and hopefully at the same help you understand why it is that people are religious.

It is deeply unsettling that the likes of the American right have so completely claimed Christianity as their own that many people see Christianity as being the same as American conservatism, which simply isn’t fair. I am not saying the two are mutually exclusive, but then neither is Christianity and Socialism or Christanity and Monarchism or any other ism. We understand God through our understanding of Christ and form communities to help is grow in this understanding.

I certainly think a bishop telling you that its ‘all allegory’ doesn’t help much, although I suspect he was simply making an argument not very well (or perhaps that is what he thought, that it was all just allegory). Certainly being a priest is different from being a theologian and as you may have noticed there are plenty of priests, ministers, preachers etc who aren’t great intelectuals, but then religion isn’t an intelectual exercise (although that is part of it). Fundamentally, it should be about a relationship between you and your God and you and your fellow humans beings.

Does that make sense and answer your question?

Robin Lindsay

It makes sense, but only partly answers my question.

Take, for example, Francis Collins, former head of the human genome project, not only a brilliant geneticist but talented organizer and current director of the Institute of Health under Obama. He is a believer in the “god of the gaps” theory of evolution (a, frankly, unscientific theory, that attempts to insert god where there are evolutionary questions) and a variety of other faith informed scientific mumbo jumbo. Yet, Collins is a brilliant scientist. However, if he applied the same faith informed type of reasoning to sequencing the human genome, that project would never have been completed. There can be only one explanation: he keeps two sets of books. One in the lab, and another at home.

I just now finished watching a talk with Lawrence Krauss – physicist. A colleague of Krauss’ is a mathematician and physicist, who holds the private belief that the Earth is 6000 years old. However, when he writes and publishes scientific papers at Cambridge he writes them under the assumption that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. In other words, he believes in his bones one thing, and yet leads his professional life according to a different set of facts. Two books.

Ben Waymark wrote in the thread yesterday: “Well Said Mary.”

Really? Well said? I mean, everything I have seen you write directed at me about your personal religious views and on religion in general, while I hold almost polar views on them, have nonetheless come across as not crazy and entirely lucid.

However I’d think you’d want to distance yourself from Mary, not personally, because she is your friend and maybe doesn’t come off as nuts in most other contexts, but in the context of a religious discussion. You say that you share with her a similar belief in a personal god, but do not share a belief in the divinity of the bible. Fair enough, there is some common ground. However, her bizarre and circular reasoning, and to your and my mind, extremism, is intellectually indefensible, and gives religion as a whole a bad name. Someone who’s viewpoint is worth distancing yourself from.

Again: Well said? Do you really think that? Or, are you caught up in a case of conflicting loyalties? One, in the case of having respect or admiration for the obviously profoundly felt faith of a friend, and your own intellect, that (presumably) cannot possibly reconcile that complete fantasy world that woman lives in.

Ben Waymark
There are a few things that Mary says that I don’t agree with, but I mostly do agree with her. In the specific content of that discussion, she said:

“Jesus simply wants relationship, not religion. Do you know what he said about homosexuality? ” “. Nothing. But he had plenty to say against religious rulers that were hypocrites and led the people astray. He saved the prostitute from a stoning by telling the crowd, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. There’s a HUGE difference between speaking out against religion and speaking out against God. Just don’t confuse the two. The fourth “commandment” is about people who speak for God but don’t reflect who He really is. So keep on speaking against any teaching that doesn’t do the love of God justice, but don’t get so distracted doing that that you stop trying to really find out who the real God is.”

I particularly like what she said about “So keep on speaking against any teaching that doesn’t do the love of God justice” because I think that is a good thing to do, and people who speak as an authority God, and then go around condemning homosexuals, flying around in private jets, preaching hate etc should be condemned. I also think that questioning God’s existence is an integral part of faith and should be encouraged by everyone (one of the reasons I love debating such subjects).

She takes the Bible a bit more seriously than I do, but she doesn’t (as far as I know) subscribe to any theories about intelligent design or the earth being 6,000 years old etc (you can ask her if you want, she can talk about these things publicly or privately and length … we carried on regular monthly epistles to each from around when I was 15 and moved away from Vancouver up until my late twenties (when I got to busy with life) . I don’t believe that, for example, believing in Adam and Eve and the Noah and the flood as literal truths is necessary to be a Christian or believe that the teachings of Christ reflect a good starting pointing to building a relationship with God.

I’d be lying if I said I’d researched a lot into the subjects of evolution or the age of the earth, but I’ve always taken it as read the general scientific view and find it immensely irritating when people want to teach religious views as science. In High School there was a Baptist chap who was all anti-evolution and tried to convince me but I never really found his arguments very strong.

I think its weird that Cambridge scientist would ‘feel’ that the world was 6,000 years old, but then the beauty of the scientific method is that one should be able to test these theories without letting feelings get in the way.

Robin Lindsay

I don’t want to get too far afield here, but I want to make one point about the flawed, or should I say, naive biblical scholarship displayed by Mary in the case of Jesus and homosexuality.

First off, Mary is completely correct in saying Jesus did not have anything to say about homosexaulity. He didn’t address it. Neither did he specifically repudiate rape, for example. In other words, there are a whole host of things Jesus did not specifically address in the context of sin. However, he did address the Old Testament and Mosaic Law.

When challenged with any moral questions by his opponents (“What do you say about _______?”) Jesus almost always started with the following sentence:

“What does it say in the Law? How do you read it?”

So, while there is no specific instance of Jesus saying “don’t have sex with men” the default position of Jesus is to uphold the values of the culture of his time. In other words, the most natural inference to make is: Jesus would have disaproved.

Ben Waymark

In the First Covenant, made with the Jews, God gave his people a law to follow. These are the laws that include not eating pork, not touching dishes touched by menstruating women, etc. In the second covenant, God came to earth in the form of Jesus (not through a prophet as before) and instead of giving rules he gave an example, setting up a paradigm that we should all try to follow, but then stating that we won’t be able to follow this paradigm, so he taught a message of forgiveness and tasked the apostles with spreading the word and setting up a church.

That Jesus didn’t hand down rules is paramount to understanding Christianity. Christians are Christians because they feel they know Jesus, and the love of Jesus. This love and this relationship with Jesus is the centre point of the whole religion. The good deeds and ethics that arise from Christianity arise not from a fear of hell or a sense of duty, but out of a love for our God which makes us want to do good things that will please them. Much in the same way a child will want to do things that will please their parents and desire the approval of their parents. And to continue with the analogy, Children can’t always do all the things necessary to please their parents (because their own desires get in the way, so while a child may want to have a clean room to make their parents happy, then won’t necessarily want to actually clean their room because playing is more fun). For this Jesus taught that no matter what we do, no matter how many times we scream, fight, yell, make a fuss and do things that we shouldn’t we can always say sorry and everything will be okay again.

As to the specific of what Jesus said we can and cannot do, he taught very little. The apostles in the early days had more to say, but if you read through all the letters (and I’ll admit it doesn’t always make the most stimulating of reading) what you get is a picture of a diverse group of people from various different social, religious, and economic backgrounds who tried to impart some guidance to the generations to come. However they weren’t writing laws. They preserved their arguments about whether everyone should follow Jewish law, whether it was better to be celibate or get married, and that type of thing. What they did write included things like the whole argument over whether non-Jewish Christians should be circumcised and should follow abrahamic law, with conclusion being that, no, Christians didn’t have to be Jewish (and thus opening the doors for Christianity to be able to incorporate Christmas, Easter, and all sorts of non-Jewish and non-Roman traditions).

Things things have been passed down over time, and a lot of the traditions have developed, changed and morphed over time. Before the 12th century the church mostly had a very minor role or in regards to marriage, with the role of the priest mostly being the guy that listened to the oath, a bit like a notary might do today, and often the marriage didn’t even happen inside the church, but on the church steps. Overtime this changed and morphed into the sacrament we have today. However, there is nothing that is particularly paramount to marriage and Christianity, it is a tradition and part of the church (and a good one at that in my opinion) but its a tradition that has changed and there is no reason why it shouldn’t continue to change. Laws are written down and irreversible, Jesus taught that there is one law, which is to love God with all your heart, mind, body and soul and to love your neighbour as you’d love yourself. Everything else is just window dressing.

So in the case of homosexuality in particular, the fundamental question has to be asked “can someone love someone of the same gender and follow the law of loving god and your neighbour?” and “Is telling your gay neighbour they can’t have a relationship with someone they love loving them as yourself?” Those two questions are paramount. Interesting book on the matter, if you want to explore in more detail, although a bit dated now: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Church-Homosexual-John-J-McNeill/dp/0807079316

Jesus lived as a human on earth in a specific time and place, and what he taught was in the context of his time, but that doesn’t mean we should all subscribe to ancient Roman ethics. Indeed, Jesus’ legacy was exactly the opposite, his message of love, compassion, and forgiveness is the opposite. So when an adulteress was brought before him, and people asked ‘shall we stone her’ he stuck to the law and said “yes, stone her” then invited anyone who wasn’t guilty of some legal transgression or other to cast the first stone.

Understanding the non-legal nature of Christianity is paramout to understanding the teaching of Jesus. The New Testament isn’t a legal treatise, and while the Catholic church in particular tries to make laws out of it , with thick treatised on catechism and a whole discipline of cannon law, it has also always had its own tradition of mystics, Jesuits, monks, nuns and others who have continued to point to the non-legal nature of the religion.

It is very tempting, particularly as a non-believer in any religion to try and read it like a philosophy and understand it as system or a structure, but religion really is first and foremost about relationships and not law or philosophy.

People don’t need God to tell them its wrong to rape, or to bugger defeated soldiers, or get pissed every night and ignore everyone around you. We are, and have always been, quite capable of making or own ethical choices (or not). What religion can do is offer people help in making the right ethical choices (if you are an alcoholic and are getting pissed everything night, it helps to believe in a ‘higher power’ –to quote the AA– and to have a spiritual context to your life).

Does that make sense?

Robin Lindsay

The idea of reading the bible “always with Jesus in mind” is something I already familiar with. As I understand it, it’s a means of allowing the reader to disown certain passages they might think obviously wicked, and to embrace anything they think in accordance with Jesus the man and his teachings. I understand that viewpoint as the contemporary Christian, mainstream, means of avoiding accusations of cherry picking. For that reason, I tend to avoid trotting out passages of leviticus or deuteronomy, or pointing out how truly nasty god was for ordering the Jews to slaughter the Amalekites, rape their women, and enslave their children.

My criticism of Christianity will virtually always be squarely aimed at Christ – whom I think, and this is not meant ad hominem, a mad preacher and a moral peon.

Before I continue, i’d like to ask if you have conceded my points about Mary displaying very flakey reasoning. Especially her rebuttal of circular reasoning, and the fact their her biblical world view clouds everything else she says like a poison.

****

Going to take your points in reverse order:

“What religion can do is offer people help making the right ethical choices (if you are an alcoholic and are getting pissed everything night, it helps to believe in a ‘higher power’ – to quote the AA– and to have a spiritual context to your life).” – Ben

As Stephen Weinberg said:

“With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

I don’t dismiss the good things that religion can do, but there is a very simple point to be made here. While wicked actions have been taken because of religion, the same is not true of the reverse. In other words, we can tie a specific wicked action to scripture (in the case of, say, a suicide bomber or crusader) or the sectarian nature of religion (like in the case of Northern Ireland – they just wouldn’t have anything to fight about if there was no such thing as Protestants and Catholics) we cannot tie wicked actions to non belief. Yes, atheists (like Stalin and Mao) have done wicked things, but because of their non belief? I don’t think so, and I think you agree, as you said:

“People don’t need God to tell them its wrong to rape, or to bugger defeated soldiers, or get pissed every night and ignore everyone around you.” – Ben

****

“It is very tempting, particularly as a non-believer in any religion to try and read it like a philosophy and understand it as system or a structure, but religion really is first and foremost about relationships and not law or philosophy.” – Ben

I have a hard time accepting that. I do accept that a personal relationship with god may be the most compelling reason why someone turns to scripture to make sense of their faith, but as soon as they do, it has to matter what the books say. I’d also think a fair case can be made for thinking of the Old testament, New testament, and the Koran, as amongst our earliest cracks at philosophy i.e. attempts at making sense of the world around us, and what it means to live a good life. That’s philosophy, no?

“Understanding the non-legal nature of Christianity is paramout to understanding the teaching of Jesus.” – Ben

Do you accept there is a logical inconsistency here? How else, other than by the bible, can we know what Jesus said or did? If we need to rely solely on the bible and certain faith-based assumptions about Christ, than interpreting the bible is everything to understanding the teaching of Jesus. And what other way do we have other than by scrutinizing it? Mary has a way: it is the perfect word of god, and with that assumption, make it fit. Others, treat it like philosophy. I can’t think of a cogent third way.

****

“Jesus lived as a human on earth in a specific time and place, and what he taught was in the context of his time.” – Ben 

Was he a human or the son of god? Did he perform miracles or didn’t he? Was he born of a virgin, or not? Did he perform an act of sorcery when he cast out the demons of the people and into the Gerasene pigs?

Do those questions matter to you? Don’t at least some of the miracles have to be true for religion to be religion and not merely moral philosophy? Was he just a man, or god?

****

I’d like to address something you said earlier about being able to live a similar sort of spiritual life but in the context of different faiths. That, in other words, the specific tenets of the major Abrahamic faiths (and perhaps others) are not so important, as they simply facilitate one’s personal relationship with god.

Three points:

1. They can’t all be true in a metaphysical sense. That might be unimportant to you, but for those that it is, the Koran, for example, says that Christ was ‘just a prophet, and not the son of god.’ Christians say and think the opposite.

2. There must be a deeper principle at work. If people can come to know god in various ways, then the sectarian culture created by people believing in competing mythologies is almost certainly a negative, and superfluous. That if people could only jettison certain books, and have a discussion of spirituality outside of the context of their religions, we would be better off for it.

3. Not all religions are equal. Some religions, because of scripture, do some things well, and others, not so well. Muslims, for instance, have no problem with harvesting stem cells from 5 day old eggs for instance. They don’t because according to their faith it takes 40 days for a soul to enter into the mother’s womb. Christians, believe that life begins at conception, and hence the extreme difficulty of passing stem cell research in The States, but essentially zero objections from the Islamic community, native or abroad.

It matters what faith you belong to, and what it preaches, and why. You simply cannot leave it at “its all about your personal relationship with god.” That ignores how people behave, and how they think.

Ben Waymark

All bold below is Robin.

My criticism of christianity will virtually always be squarely aimed at christ – whom i think, and this is not meant ad hominem, a mad preacher and a moral peon. 

Is this based on the gospels? What makes you think he was a moral peon?

Before I continue, I’d like to ask if you have conceded my points about Mary displaying very flakey reasoning. Especially her rebuttal of circular reasoning, and the fact their her biblical world view clouds everything else she says like a poison.

Haven’t got to that point yet, but if you think you understand what I am saying below then maybe we can move on to the other points.

“With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

Mary bases a lot of her ethics on Biblical texts. For example, the sanctity of life is paramount to her Christian belief and I know from past arguments with her that as a result she anti-death penalty and anti-abortion (I assume she is anti-stem cell but we haven’t discussed it so I may be wrong). But her view on abortion, for example, is based on two things: the sanctity of life which she gets through her faith/the Bible and the biological principle that life begins at conception. There is a quote somewhere or another in the Bible which I am reliably told the Lord says ‘I knew from when you were in the womb’ … this is often used by fundamentalist to suggest life begins at conception and therefore all abortion is tantamount to murder. We discussed this in the past and both agree that quote like that, taken out of context, doesn’t make a good argument about anything.

…a  fair case can be made for thinking of the old testament, new testament, and the koran, as amongst our earliest cracks at philosophy i.e. attempts at making sense of the world around us, and what it means to live a good life. That’s philosophy, no?

There is a philosophic system that comes from scripture (theology) and its probably fair to say that these where is a philosophic element, but taking scripture as a philosophy (just as taking it as a law) would (and does) make for a poor system.

Do you accept there is a logical inconsistency here? How else, other than the bible, can we know what Jesus said or did? 

We know what Jesus said and did through the Bible, but along with scripture we also have experience, tradition and reason to guide us. However, the Bible is paramount to understanding the teachings of Jesus and scrutinizing and understanding it is integral to having a relationship with Jesus. However, this doesn’t mean that saying “I knew you from when you were in the womb” is the same as “Abortion is always a sin and doctor’s who perform abortions are all murders and should be killed by the pious if the state won’t do it for them.

Was Jesus human or the son of god? Did he perform miracles or didn’t he? Was he born of a virgin, or not? Did he perform an act of sorcery when he cast out the demons of the people and into the Gerasene Pigs?  Do those questions matter to you? Don’t at least some of the miracles have to be true for religion to be religion and not merely moral philosophy? Was he just a man, or god?

It seems me that, yes, Jesus was the son of God, yes, he did perform miracles, and yes, he was born of a virgin, and performed supernatural sorcery and cast out demons and the like. I can’t prove this, and may well be wrong. As I’ve said before, its not an exact science, and it’s a hunch.


 They can’t all be true in a metaphysical sense. 

My knowledge of metaphysics and how God works is incomplete and imperfect, so I can’t really address this point very well. We don’t live outside of time and space and trying to understand is, I imagine, outside of physical capabilities, even if we can get some insites through mathmatics and other abstractions.

Assumably, Jesus was the son of God and the last and only son of God and there were no other profits after him, but maybe that is wrong. I don’t know. My interaction with Islam has been minimal, so it is hard to speak to Islam specifically, but I have a reasonable amount of interactions with Buddhist and Sihks which has lead to believe that practitioners from both seem to have some very valuable in-site into spiritual matters. It isn’t really for me to judge whether someone’s religion is ‘true’ or not, although I am quite comfortable judging it by the same moral standards that you would as a humanist (ie: Westborough Baptists that go around protesting people’s funerals are arseholes, Japanese officers who tortured their subordinates and the citizens of countries they invades are arseholes, as are people who decapitate school girls. Doesn’t really matter whether they are doing this in the name of Jesus, because Buddha says all life is a delusion, or because Allah hates educated women.

There must be a deeper principle at work. If people could only jettison certain books, and have a discussion of spirituality outside of the context of their religions, we would be better off for it.

Quite possibly some books should be burnt or we’d be better off without, but then I am not huge on censorship. I’ve often wondered what benefit the visions in Revelations add to the New Testament. My own spiritual journey that has lead me through various religions to where I am now. Indeed, it started with an interest in anarchist politics that lead ecological and then Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Bible then the whole neo-pagan thing then from moved into Christianity in the Church of England and now Methodism (both are quite similar, but in North Devon the Methodists have a sunday school). I’ve read a fair bit about Buddhism (one of my favourite religions), a little bit about Jeudaism and Islam, had many a good chin-wags with a few Sihks (I have a soft spot for Sihkism too). I’ve been to Baptists churches and Catholic churches and have tried hard to understand both. I’ve also read books like Dawkin’s God Delusion and listen to various debates from Hitchens and others (many supplied by you, others by Ted). The faith I follow is the one that makes most sense to me. Rather that ditch some books, I we each need to find our own path. Sounds flakey I know, but that doesn’t make it less true. We also need to refine our skills of literacy and understanding.

It matters what faith you belong to, and what it thinks, and why.  You cannot leave it at “its all about your personal relationship with god.” That ignores how people behave, and how they think.

I don’t deny that what people believe is important, and I am quite comfortable condemning funadamentalism or assholism in any form, anyone who subscribes fanatically and unquestionally to this faith or that faith, to libertarianism, communism or Marxism or Anarchism or Fascism is an idiot. That doesn’t mean that Marxism didn’t do a good job of feeding a starving China back in the early days of revolution, or that free market economy hasn’t benefited various nations at stages of history, but nor does the Soviet Union and modern day Russia prove that neither communism nor free market economies ‘work’. I wouldn’t discount either despite the evil that has been done in their name.

In the history of Islam its has had a lot of bad ideas (like Taliban, Burka’s, suicide bombers) and a lots of good ideas (algebra, and all the advances of philosophy, poetry, literature, medicine, and the preservation of Greek and Roman literature). Throwing out the Koran won’t stop sexism, anymore than throwing out the Bible will end homophobia. Bigots generally don’t give a shit if science, philosophy, or religion supports their views or not.

Ultimately, its a good liberal education is what is going to get rid of bad ideas, not banning (or just agreeing to ignore) religions or philosophies that have been hijacked by fuckwits or poorly interpreted by well meaning people who for whatever reason don’t have the tools to reason very well.

 Robin Lindsay
I am going to address two answers you made to questions I put forth, and answer one direct question.
 Not all religions are equal. Some religions, because of scripture, do some things well, and others, not so well. – Robin

I don’t deny that what people believe is important, and I am quite comfortable condemning funadamentalism or assholism in any form, anyone who subscribes fanatically and unquestionally to this faith or that faith, to libertarianism, communism or Marxism or Anarchism or Fascism is an idiot. – Ben


I begin here, because I think we are now hitting some bedrock, and coming to a point where we can start challenging each other’s assumptions about a) how the world works and b) what we think the other thinks.
 
I would like to first propose not a definition of fanaticism, but a part of it. For a view to be “fanatic” it need not be held by a minority of people, only that the view held be extreme when contrasted against a spectrum of competing views. In other words, even if everyone in world lived strictly by the mandates of the Old Testament, they would be fanatics. However, despite their fanaticism, their view would be mainstream and by definition.
 
I think you paid my point about stem cell research disservice by reducing it to a facet of fanaticism. Yes, as you said earlier, it is unfortunate that the American Christian Right (ACR) is often held up as some kind of “standard” for Christian beliefs. That there are many others kinds of mainstream Christianity out there that would seem very foreign to a southern Baptist. However, the same can be said for the radicalisation of Islam in Europe when compared to Islam in America – which is considerably non radicalized by comparison. I bring all of this up, because regardless of his particular stripe, it takes a Christian to vote against stem cell research, and a Muslim, regardless of his kind, will just not care either way (in the context of Islam).
 
However, despite the ACR being fanatical, they are mainstream. Their viewpoint, for being mainstream, is given weight politically: they vote. Hence stuff like gay marriage and stem cell research become religiously informed political issues, instead of scientifically informed secular issues of little controversy for the obvious answers they admit of. I would like to point to what I think are the two major culprits for the state of affairs regarding gay marriage and stem cell research: Religious Moderates & Secular Religious Apologists.
 
Religious moderates lend validity to the beliefs of religious fanatics. Church, religious values, traditions, faith, etc, are all seen as basic cultural norms, and immune from criticism. My side of our little discussion here has a germ of taboo about it, and it maintains that taboo for the embrace of religious traditions by moderates. That taboo, the inability of even the so called and often derided by the ACR liberal media to call people out on their bullshit religious assumptions, profoundly influences our ability to have an open dialogue about gay marriage, stem cell research, abortion, divorce, contraception, pre martial sex, teen sex, animal rights, etc. We, secular society, have to respect their religious beliefs, because we have to respect religious beliefs in general.
 
What are the chances of a publicly atheist person becoming President of the United States? Zero. The very fact that Obama got that madman Rick Warren to speak at his commencement speaks volumes about the influence of religion in general in their politick. A very recent poll showed 68% of Americans consider atheists “basically untrustworthy.”
 
So, while I agree with you that Fascism or Communism can get just as out of control as religion (though, since they are all ideologies, they are essentially the same deal, unlike science or humanism, which aren’t, and by definition) I think it entirely plain that religious moderates lend validity to all kinds of extremism – where otherwise, we could simply dismiss from the argument anyone who thinks destroying a 5 day old stem cell is worse than, say, denying a five year old burn victim a treatment realized by such research.
 
One last point on this subject. No, I do not think the little old lady who attends the United Church once a week and bakes cookies for the church sale is directly, or even indirectly, responsible for the actions of someone who might shoot an abortion doctor. However, as soon as she walks into the voting booth, and votes for someone because of a perceived commonality of religious values, I want to shake some sense into her. Her, the moderate. Her, the unphilosophical. Her, the basically cultural Christian.
****
There must be a deeper principle at work. If people can come to know god in various ways, then the sectarian culture created by people believing in competing iron age mythologies is almost certainly a negative, and superfluous. That if people could only jettison certain books, and have a discussion of spirituality outside of the context of their religions, we would be better off for it. – Robin 

Quite possibly some books should be burnt or we’d be better off without, but then I am not huge on censorship. I’ve often wondered what benefit the visions in Revelations add to the New Testament. My own spiritual journey that has lead me through various religions to where I am now. – Ben

Rather that ditch some books, I we each need to find our own path. Sounds flakey I know, but that doesn’t make it less true.  We also need to refine our skills of literacy and understanding. – Ben

 Judging by your response, my point seems to have been lost. In no way am I advocating censorship, or forcing anyone’s hand off religion. I agree completely that people need to “find their own path” but at the same time, and I think we agree on this, not all paths are born equal.
 
My point, if I may state it again: if there are all these religions that can lead to God, all valid, essentially the same sort of stuff, and mostly culturally different, there must be a deeper principle at play. That if the differences are largely unimportant, then religious people around the world could start a discussion in their churches/mosques/temples, to abandon their differences, to remove what is sectarian, and simply live a life of spirituality and community, and abandon the divisive trappings of tradition.
 
Now, is that a fantasy? Yes, certainly. However, my point is only that should people look at their holy books in the same way they can read other inspiring literature, full of insight into the human condition, and to treat their books in the same way they would Shakespeare, then the sectarian divide vanishes. That the ability to “find one’s own path” is hampered by the cultural force that is religion that insists on specific books being more holy than others. That to abandon those books for a conversation about spirituality outside the specific tenets of a faith, is a far more worthy and brotherly occupation.
****
Why do I think Christ is a moral nitwit?
 
Both you and I know more about ethics and morality than the biblical Jesus. All you, and other Christians, seem to be able to offer me on the subject of morality and Jesus is some rather vague notion of Jesus is the son of God, God is love, if something doesn’t promote that, then Jesus wouldn’t have approved. I can accept that whole heartedly, even though I may disagree with the assumptions that Jesus is supernatural, or that the biblical God is loving. However, Jesus was pretty light on specifics, as you have said yourself. When I encounter someone today who claims to know something about something, and yet doesn’t seem schooled in the details, I see a red flag.
 
Did Jesus say some things that we can all agree with about morality? Do some of the things Jesus said about morality seem ahead of their time? Yes, I agree to both of those points, and they are often made by Christians and their apologists. But what about what he left out? Obvious stuff life slavery. No specific repudiation on the concept of owning people, at a time when that was common and unthinkingly condoned.
 
“That Jesus didn’t hand down rules is paramount to understanding Christianity. Christians are Christians because they feel they know Jesus, and the love of Jesus. This love and this relationship with Jesus is the centre point of the whole religion.” – Ben

He may have not handed down rules, but the biblical Jesus (who is the only Jesus you and I both can know) seems to have missed out on a bunch of stuff. If we are going to praise Jesus Christ for the things he did say and do, then we can equally condemn him for the stuff he failed to, but so obviously should have. Slavery. The rights of women. Animal rights. etc.
 
Do we have an incomplete picture of him? No doubt, but if one wants to point to an incomplete picture of Jesus as a means of defending him, one can equally say that one should therefore reserve their praise as well.
 
Note that as a secularist, I don’t have to jump through any hoops when it comes to talking about Jesus. I see him as a mammal, a minor prophet who punched above his weight, and someone who claimed more for himself in terms of parentage than what is possible.
***
Thanks very much again for engaging me in this. I find discussing these matters with intelligent true believers like yourself considerably more interesting than with secular apologists, or most of my rather unsophisticated atheist sympathizers.
Ben Waymark

 We, secular society, have to respect their religious beliefs, because we have to respect religious beliefs in general. – Robin

I disagree that religious views have to be respected in and of their own right, and also don’t like the concept  that  seems to weigh religious views over non-religious views.  Why it is that some people think that it is wrong to smoke a spliff because you want to, but perfectly okay if you do it for your Rasta religious views is a bit beyond me, except perhaps for the simple political point that religious people (or anyone uniting around an ideology) tend to me more politically organised that those that don’t.  Whether for religious reasons or not, smoking a spliff has been directly linked to hippi-ism and for that reason alone will always be morally wrong.  The same goes for wearing sandals or patchouli oil.

It does behoove anyone to understand why it is that religious people, of any stripe and whether fanatical or not, or for that matter communists, anarchists and other ideaologs, why they hold the beliefs they hold and not dismiss them out of hand, and in the same way it is important to understand how beholden we are to cultural norms and traditions.  If one pushes asides cultural beliefs too quickly (and much of the religious ‘bad ideas’ we have discussed are as much cultural as they are religious) we end up with what are getting:  a push back by traditionalists, fundamentalists and jihadists supported by people who feel disenfranchised by the process (if you haven’t read it yet, there was an excellent book on the subject in 1992:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jihad_vs._McWorld).  While we aren’t beholden to tradition forever, it can’t just be brushed aside casually either.

We need to understand that people disagree with us, and hopefully try to understand what it is that ‘makes them tick’ (for our own sake of understanding) but this shouldn’t mean that we have to kowtow to their bullshit, particularly when they want to impose their religious views on people outside of their faith a la Gay Marriage, Stem Cell Research etc.

What are the chances of a publicly atheist person becoming President of the United States? Zero. The very fact that Obama got that madman Rick Warren to speak at his commencement speaks volumes about the influence of religion in general in their politick. A very recent poll showed 68% of Americans consider atheists “basically untrustworthy.” – Robin

The rise theocracy of America is worrying indeed and a bit foreign to me.  I’d be curious to know what the result of a similar poll taken in the UK would be.  I’d suspect that a similar percentage would view religious people as being ‘basically untrustworthy’.  In America church going seems to still be part “what good people do” rather than anything else.  Having said that, there has been heated debated recently over whether Britain is a ‘Christian country’ (started off, perhaps ironically, by a female Tory MP and I believe the only Muslim in the cabinet who laments the ‘secularisation’ of the UK).  Strangely, something like 75% of Britons identify themselves as Christians while 15% attend church regularly.  I am not saying that regular Church attendance is prerequisite for being Christian, but there is something wrong with that statistic.  It is probably here where secularisation will benefit Christians and secular humanists alike.  Last census there was a campaign encouraging people to put ‘no religion’ on the census if they didn’t attend a church, which I thought was a brilliant idea.

No, I do not think the little old lady who attends the United Church once a week and bakes cookies for the church sale is directly, or even indirectly, responsible for the actions of someone who might shoot an abortion doctor. However, as soon as she walks into the voting booth, and votes for someone because of a perceived commonality of religious values, I want to shake some sense into her. Her, the moderate. Her, the unphilosophical. Her, the basically cultural Christian. – Robin

If you divide the world into religious v. non-religious, then I can see how it seems that a liberal minded person like myself is lending credence to the fanatics like the Westborough Baptists.

However, dividing the world thusly is unfair. Along with the ACR that dominates the political scene  in America, there are historical figures like Wilberforce who fought slavery because he saw it was his Christian duty.  There are missionaries who fought hard to stop the genocide of various native group around the world because they saw it as an expression of their love of Jesus.  In the 1980s in Central America Jesuits priests were often the only people standing between Marxists and American funded anti-communist militias, and the only people earnestly trying to look out for those caught in the conflict (and were routinely caught, tortured and killed as a result).   Am not trying to say that good deeds only come from people who are religious, what I am trying to say that is that bad things come from Christians, both intentionally and un-intetentionally, but then so does good things.

Little old lady in the United Church bake-sale is as likely to support the Non-Nukes Campaign, Peace March, and Gay Pride Day as she is to vote the Harper Government, oppose stem cell research, and shoot abortionists.

Perhaps if the whole world was given a liberal education, a good background in science and philosophy, people wouldn’t have knee jerk reactions against stem-cell research and the like.  However, even with a liberal education, people still do cling to religious belief.  And this is where I think its important to understand religiosity:  people will not always take the most logical view, bigotry will prevail eventually, and knee-jerk reactions will happen anyway.  The right religion will hopefully install a view of love and compassion that will break away the bigotry rather than re-enforce it.

While the ACR may have hoodwinked a certain aspect of Christianity and chosen to in-still itself as the spokesman for the religion, it has inherited a time bomb.  The problem with the teachings of Christ, from the prospective of the ACR, is that it doesn’t hand down laws and it doesn’t promote blind obedience to human masters.  It can, and very often is, used by people to do just that, but when people start reading the Bible and understanding the stories and the letters, when they are encouraged to think and ‘find their own path’, which is very much what Jesus taught his disciples to do, and they are very much taught to search their own hearts and come up with their own answers about what is right and wrong, and worse of all, for the Westborough Baptists types, they are taught that above all else doing what is compassionate is most important.  One of the distinguishing features of Christianity is that explains both the cause and the cure for poor interpretation (the cause being human frailty, the cure being a relationship with a  loving God).

I knew a chap that was an on-again-off-again Dominican monk, Canon lawyers, and flaming homosexual.  He was raised by very liberal, easy-going parents and surrounded by liberal, easy-going friends and somehow managed to decide that his homosexuality was a sin, so he joined the monastic order hoping, by his own admission, to find someone who share his disgust at his own sexuality.  After years of struggling with sexual urges and his sexuality and putting himself through much misery, the Abbott of his dominican order called him and told him bluntly that it was time for him to leave the order, find a boyfriend, and decide whether he was happier living as a gay man or a monk.  The Abbott, despite being part of a very conservative monastic order, could see how this chap’s choices and his struggle was tearing him apart, he could see how his attempt to be ‘sin free’ was failing, and ultimately could see the most compassionate view was to bless his sexuality.  There are not a few stories of conservative preachers, priests, monks and whatever from all dominations who have been confronted with a similar situation when they find someone they love in their family or just someone they know.  Homosexuality, despite there being a body of superficial evidence suggesting that it is just plain wrong, has been gaining accepting with the Christian community because Christians have recognised that in the real world of here and now homosexual romantic love has a much a place in church and society than anywhere else.  Christianity is not a theoretical religion, it is a practical religion that needs to be practiced, and this is the fundamental message of Jesus (to love and to practice love) and why he did not make laws or rules against slavery, or rape, internet porn, and whaling, or most other things.  In its practice, Christianity was not able to sustain slavery.  In its practice Christianity wasn’t able to allow genocide to continue.  This doesn’t mean that these things didn’t happen under Christianity, or they wouldn’t necessarily stop without Christianity, but the teachings of Christ were instrumental the movement that fought to stop these things from happening.  Christianity is the belief that love will ultimately conquer all and without looking through the world through compassionate eyes everything really is just shit and distorted;  in so far as this is a guiding principle, whether we understand the world through superstition or empiricism, we will get to the right place.

My point, if I may state it again: if there are all these religions that can lead to God, all valid, essentially the same sort of stuff, and mostly culturally different, there must be a deeper principle at play. That if the differences are largely unimportant, then religious people around the world could start a discussion in their churches/mosques/temples, to abandon their differences, to remove what is sectarian, and simply live a life of spirituality and community, and abandon the divisive trappings of tradition. – Robin

Agreed, and perhaps one day we will be able to do just that.  But for now we are bound in cultural traditions and these traditions aren’t easy to abandon.

Now, is that a fantasy? Yes, certainly. However, my point is only that should people look at their holy books in the same way they can read other inspiring literature, full of insight into the human condition, and to treat their books in the same way they would Shakespeare, then the sectarian divide vanishes. That the ability to “find one’s own path” is hampered by the cultural force that is religion, that insists on specific books being more holy than others. That to abandon those books for a conversation about spirituality outside the specific tenets of a faith, is a far more worthy and brotherly occupation. – Robin

Agreed, except that that trying to come to faith outside of a tradition is very difficult indeed.  I know this because I have tried.  The danger is when you abandon tradition is that you ‘become so open minded your brains fall out’ (to yourself).  There are also some fundamental truths of Christianity that I simply believe in:

1.  The message that you should love God and your neighbour.

2.  The message that it is better to forgive someone than hate them forever

3.  Our relationship with God is a growing and changing experience

4.  Outside of time, space and physics there is an all powerful being who, despite our not be able to understand them, loves us.

Also underpinning this ‘nice message’ above is a very real and sincere belief that, while, totally unprovable, there is actually a being that calls out through time and space and wants to have a relationship with us.

If I was to invent a religion, I certainly would do it different, and laws against slavery, rape, and battery farms would be included in that (as would laws against wearing sandals or refeer smoking), but not being a God myself, I don’t think the religion would get very far.

Both you and I know more about ethics and morality than the biblical Jesus. – Robin

I hope I addressed this point above, but where I disagree with you is that I don’t think Jesus ‘missed out’ a bunch of stuff.  He simply didn’t really tell people what to do, he said “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”, follow the laws of the time (which is to say that they should follow the laws of their time, not all people should follow Roman/Jewish rules of that time) unless doing so would be un-compassionate (for example, he healed on the Sabbath day, despite rules against such things).  What made Jesus different from prophets before him is didn’t prophecise about the future, or preach the rules or laws of God, he came and renegotiated the terms of contracts and so doing said, not quite “fuck the law all together” but no laws make sense unless they are followed in the spirit of love.

Been an interesting conversation so far.  It is difficult debate to have, particular with Internet Trolls,  without getting into distractions like endless debates about “was Hitler an atheist”.  Thanking you! 😀

Closing Remarks
Robin Lindsay
 

There are few things in your last post I take issue with, and even a fair amount of stuff in older posts I never got to that I can imagine myself arguing about in the future, but I think now that we are pretty much reduced to point:counterpoint it is probably ok to stop this conversation in a formal sense.

 
When I started this conversation, I wasn’t hung up on trying to convince you of anything, though there are a few points that I hoped I would. I began with I hope a gentle accusation of you keeping two sets of books. Judging by your simultaneously held unproven or even empirically suggested beliefs about god, and what I think is probably a largely pragmatic and rational world view outside of the religious question, I think you are keeping two sets of books. In other words, I think you are living with an intellectually indefensible contradiction. Do I think that a big deal? No, not really. You seem to be trucking along nicely.
 
Secondly, I wanted to convince you that Mary’s biblical views were so nutty that they should be seen as an embarrassment. You seem to agree that they are extreme, but not that they are embarrassing or really any kind of problem. Yet, you imagine that her biblically informed views on conception would likely translate to her voting against something like stem cell research, something you think indefensible by the ACR. I know that it is just a guess of yours, but I nonetheless hoped for some sort of concession that her viewpoints as a whole were batty, and largely because of her relationship with religion.
 
My point about trans religious spirituality indicating a normative fact about human beings and their relationship with the divine (or numinous, or supernatural, or whatever) seems to have been well taken by you. You nonetheless dismiss it for pragmatic reasons. One of which I share, in that it aint happening anytime soon. The second, the difficulty (felt by some) to address their spiritual life outside of the context of a religious tradition, I also accept even though I can’t possibly empathize with such a need (in fact, it gives me the shudders even imagining having to seek out some specific community and set of traditions to explore what it is I value about the numinous).
 
Lastly, I found something vaguely unfortunate in the repetition in your last note of the concept of “religion does some good, and does some bad.” I think it a point not worth making again. I think we agree on that point, but from where I stand the negatives outweigh the good, and from where you stand, you think the opposite true. (I am sure the biblical Jesus would approve of my stance, an honest to goodness heart felt belief that in the end, the love of Jesus does not promote love – an irony I am sure is lost on most religious people when faced with criticism).
 
Sam Harris once said something to the effect of “people do not change their minds in real time.” By that he meant that while discussions like these don’t generally result in people abandoning or adopting faith at the speed points are absorbed, over time they might wiggle their way in and result in just that. So, while I can’t say there have been any specific points you have made that have caused me any real pause, I did find the discussion at a minimum stimulating, and perhaps at some point in the future, mind altering.
 
I’ll leave the last word to you.
 
Ben Waymark
Our argument seems to centre primarily on law-vs-spirit, which is an important discussion to have.  Having long thought that Christianity was a load of rubbish design for prudish old Ladies and racists from the American Deep South, mostly from not getting the ‘this is not a rule book’ principle, I get why it is difficult concept to understand, especially given the prudish do-as-I-say way Christians often come across.  I am not entirely convinced you understood this point yet, I think you get the general concept but you still think that Christians really ought to round up unbelievers and ‘slay then before me’ because the Bible says so, and can’t help but try to understand religion as a set of rules.  Perhaps I am wrong or perhaps it just needs time to sink in more.
 
There are two separate debates I think I may be worth having at some point, or at least I’d like to explore.  One, which we touched on, is whether one religion, when boiled down to its underpinning philosophy has better ideas than another (judged from humanist/modern perspective) and two whether religion, or perhaps more to the point, Christianity does more harm than good.  I know there was a debate a while back on TED (I think) which was mildly interesting, but I didn’t think the Christian’s put their point across very well.  While the atheists where well versed in the Christians arguments, I didn’t get the feeling the Christians understood, or addressed, where the atheists were coming from.
 
I am still convinced that Mary’s views aren’t as batty as you think they are, but never got to addressing her specific points.  It may well be worth taking up with her directly to maybe get her to expand what she said so you can evaluate the details and see if she is as batty as you think her beliefs are.
 
Been an interesting conversation, perhaps when time allows we can take it or something similar up.  It is useful to get a more personal view of the secular humanist perspective.

Hitch Slap the Lefties

March 16, 2011

I can ask the question 50 times as well as you can, and answer it 50 times as comprehensively

My social group consists mainly of lefty and guilt ridden white people. Eager to recognize the crimes of the west, the sun had not yet set on Sept 11th 2001 when I heard my first what part did we play to bring this upon ourselves? The Americans had spread empire and, if I may be permitted to borrow an apposite if tired idiom to describe the attitude, their chickens were coming home to roost.

I can’t do better than Christopher (in fact, I can’t do it half as well) in dispelling the self hating fantasy of educated liberals. However, perhaps I can add something to the picture. Let’s start with the most common fallacy:

Poverty and cultural imperialism breeds terrorists. Access to education and the prospects of a decent standard of living are the way to fight terrorism.

The Sept 11th hijackers were university educated to the man, and many had PHDs. They came from wealthy Saudi families, traveled abroad and experienced the west first hand. They came from a land that can be safely described as isolated – money flows in and oil flows out being the extent of the cultural interchange between Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world. A disenfranchised young man with no future may describe the typical Palestinian suicide bomber, but does not describe the sophisticated Al-Qaeda terrorist, or inform his motivations.

Islamofascism is a neologism born of not wanting to have to say “Fascism with an Islamic face” every time. Still, its a perfect description of the world’s most dangerous death cult. Religiously motivated (what else?) and desiring to return the world to some infantilized 7th century Islamic paradise and restore the caliphate. Well funded and armed, and peopled not by the down trodden, but by well fed Saudis raised believing there is only one book.

“…we need to establish true Islamic states, implement sharia, and rid the Muslim world of any non-Muslim influences, such as concepts like socialism and nationalism.  “…we need to rid the world of treacherous Orientalists and world Jewry who plot conspiracies and wickedly oppose Islam.”

Speaking above is the founder of Qutbism and father of the Islamic revival of the 1970s, Sayyid Qutb. His writings and teachings are the philosophical backbone of Al-Qaeda. Sayyid doesn’t make mention of downtrodden Muslims needing to fight back against corporate America lest their cultural identity be squashed, but the monolithic method and goal of  “armed Jihad in the advance of Islam.”

Let’s end with this simple point. Islamic terrorism is not a response to American foreign policy. It is a response to Islam, however twisted.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

On The Divine Right of Kings

February 10, 2011

Atheism is an empty word. A word so completely devoid of content that it implies nothing more than it’s most basic claim: I am unconvinced.

Characterizing a worldview in the negative is fraught with unfortunate and unnecessary problems. How often do we take up a position by stating what we do not believe? It requires of the listener to make a host of assumptions and inferences in order to finally arrive at whatever the speaker is getting at – and all of this easily avoided if only the speaker had spoken in the positive.

I do not believe in the divine right of kings to rule. On the surface, such a statement seems reasonable enough, but is unfortunate in its wording for failing to imply whatever alternative system of government the speaker does support. The speaker could be a democrat, communist, anarchist, oligarchical theocrat, or simply indifferent to all forms of government other than monarchies. It should be plain, that by stating what one does believe, such as “I believe in democracy” allows for both natural and highly accurate assumptions about the balance of the speaker’s worldview. If one is a democrat, one does not believe in having a king.

I am an atheist is an unfortunate sentence construction. It spreads confusion for being a statement in the positive that contains a word which is an assertion in the negative. By claiming to be an atheist, one says very little beyond: I do not believe in God. One could possess a litany of reasons and supporting logic that lead to atheism, or one could have thought very little about the subject and simply think atheism perfectly natural. Yet again, someone could be an atheist for all sorts of very poorly thought out reasons, or for no reason whatsoever, and be an atheist arbitrarily. Finally, one may not have even been exposed to the concept of God, and might be an atheist by default.

An atheist might be a racist, astrologer, communist, utterly incapable of rational thought or a supremely talented logician. An atheist might be anything. Unlike a self identified democrat, who must reject and embrace a host of concepts in order to meaningfully call themselves a democrat. The same can be said for a Christian, Muslim, or Jew.

I believe in rational inquiry. In fact, when it comes to what I can honestly say I believe in, I only believe in rational inquiry and the natural inferences (a respect for logic, evidence, etc). Because there is no proof that one should have respect for rational inquiry (rationality cannot justify itself) I think it appropriate to call my respect a belief, much like a Christian believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ. However, what is also true, is that the Christian’s belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ, and my respect for rational inquiry are at odds, and there the conflict lies.

So, while I am an atheist, my atheism is simply a tiny component of a worldview that is rooted in a respect for rational inquiry. I reject a biblical (et al) god because such a belief does not mesh with the one leap of faith I do take. Much like a democrat probably believes in a secret ballot, I reject God. No biggie.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

The Blair Hitch Project

November 29, 2010

Former Prime Minister and Catholic convert Tony Blair exchanged fire with famed scribbler and atheist Christopher Hitchens over: Be it resolved, religion is a force for good in the world.

Before the start of hostilities, an audience poll was taken to determine how the interested public felt about the topic at hand:

PRE-DEBATE
PRO: 22%  CON:57%
UNDECIDED:21%

A further relevant question come statistic also proved enlightening – the percentage of those open to changing their minds based on what they might hear over the next 90 minutes: 75%

I have watched many a religious debate featuring Hitch, and felt going in that Tony Blair was the open question. The PM may have a towering intellect, a fine capacity for public speaking and thinking on his feet, and would obviously come prepared or not at all. However, across from him is the preeminent professional atheist. Yes, Hitchens has his ladle in many broths, from Iraq War apologetics to literary criticism, but nobody argues faith with such style as our ailing child of Portsmouth. Years spent traveling from town to town arguing with the parties of God puts a fine edge on a debaters tongue, so I feared Blair would come off as less than fully committed to the subject.

To a limited degree my fears proved to be reality, as Tony perpetrated a (unintentional) falsehood, one often made by those who wish to make known that atheism is dangerous as well. Tony pointed to the first half of the 20th century and the role Hitler and Stalin played in spreading misery from a fascist and secular helm. Due to time constraints Hitch let that go, so I will do my best to pick up the gauntlet.

Above is the standard issue belt buckle for the German armed forces in WW2. Gott Mit Uns translates to God With Us. Say what you want about perversions of faith or the cynical application of religion for propaganda, but neither the German military nor The Nazi Party were secular.

Further evidence against claims that the Nazis were secular fascists is provided by an Austrian corporal by the name of Adolf Hitler. From Mein Kampf:

“Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

“My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice… And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.”

Again, a perverse and bizarre faith held by a man also aptly characterized by those adjectives, and in no way can one make the claim that religious faith was responsible for the European horror of the 30s and 40s. However, what also must be accepted as plain, is that Adolf Hitler and the doctrine of the Nazi Party were not secular.

So Tony, that’s one.

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

Tony’s second mistake was claiming Einstein for the faithful, so lets see what else our favourite megabrain had to say on the subject.

“… the man who is thoroughly convinced of the universal operation of the law of causation cannot for a moment entertain the idea of a being who interferes in the course of events.”

At most, Einstein can be considered a deist, although even then…

“The miracle is that it all works, that there are no miracles.”

So, that’s two Tony, but we forgive you, ’cause you are a bit new at this, and many a very smart fellow falls into the Nazis were atheists and Einstein believed in God pit.

The result? People changed their minds:

Post-Debate

Pro: 32%  Con: 68%

Watch it

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

Oy Vey! Not Another One!

August 24, 2010

Below is a heavily reworked piece, originally titled Antisemitism Remixed.

Originally published, October 2009.

Antisemitism is boring and unoriginal. It manifests in many forms, from rabid to casual, and from genuine hatred to deluded Semitic embrace. The antisemitic spectrum is interesting only for its history and persistence, and that it is a kind of racism unique from the ill feelings towards other groups, as it is expressed worldwide and by people who have no direct knowledge or experience with the Jewish question.

The Jews of 13th century England were the money lenders, for money lending was prohibited to Christians. Edward the I, practical anti-Semite that he was, borrowed extensively so as to build England into a major power, and at the same time enacted laws to marginalize English Jews. He proclaimed that all the Jews in England  must wear a yellow Star of David so they may be readily identified  (the you-know-whos thought that a brilliant idea as well).

Edward’s penchant for simple solutions to complex problems turned ugly when instead of inching England into the black with deft economic wielding, he simply banished the Jews, and with them went debts both public and private. A very popular decision at the time, and as the Jews were forced to migrate at their own expense, gentile ship owners doubly benefited. One enterprising ship’s captain thought to cut down on expenses by depositing his cargo of Jews on an island at low tide in the English Channel – resulting in the group drowning when the tide came rolling in a few hours later.

Antisemitism is no invention of the Nazis is hardly an original observation. Anyone with the slightest clue knows that Jewish persecution is an ancient phenomenon, and common throughout Europe during the first half of the 20th century. Be that as it may, that caveat is often forgotten when discussing the influence of the Nazi propaganda machine. The story often goes like this: Germany, under the spell of the magnetic Adolf Hiter and hoodwinked by the agitprop of Goebbels, is transformed into frenzied mass of hatred and resentment toward those who stabbed Germany in the back, costing them the last great European war.

But how to measure the effect of propaganda? Surely, the germ of hatred is already present in Germany and antisemitism is mainstream, and while the leap from casual distaste to state-sponsored genocide may be a long one, to assume the result of evangelical racism is substantial rather than a mild reinforcement of preexisting  prejudice, is to see humanity as little more than fleshy robots – downloading whatever is fed to them and incapable of thought.

What is plain, and what is made plain by the Wansee Conference (brilliantly retold in the film Conspiracy, starring Kenneth Braughnaugh) is the sophisticated brand of hatred practiced by all levels of German society. Some desired the Jews to be deported (perhaps to Madagascar). Others saw sterilization as the superior solution. Others still, saw any form of mercy too good for the Jews. What wasn’t in question, amongst the officer class, lawyers, politicians, old and young alike, was that the Jews were the enemy. No propaganda is that effective, and no form of advertising yet discovered is sufficient explanation for the frightening conviction held by such a literate and educated people.

Stories of a hypnotized populace are easier to live with than the difficult yet adult conclusion that vile hatred lingers near the surface, ready to make itself known whenever things take a turn. Fairytales constructed by well meaning historians so we may all sleep better.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com


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