Deus ex machina 1

Are science and technology giving rise to new religions?

Is “God” arising out of the machine?

Does pure rationality require the irrational? Doubt – the dynamic of science –  crave Belief?

Do machines need to be “granted a soul by God”?

Will  human beings “make God”?

Brandon Withrow writes at the Daily Beast:

What has improved American lives most in the last 50 years? According to a Pew Research study reported this month, it’s not civil rights (10 percent) or politics (2 percent): it’s technology (42 percent).

And yet, according to other studies, most Americans are wary of technology, especially in areas of automation (72 percent), or robotic caregivers (59 percent), or riding in driverless vehicles (56 percent), and even in using brain chip implants to augment the capabilities of healthy people (69 percent).

Science fiction, however, is quickly becoming science fact — the future is the machine. This is leading many to argue that we need to anticipate the ethical questions now, rather than when it is too late. And increasingly, those taking up these challenges are religious and spiritual.

How far should we integrate human physiology with technology? What do we do with self-aware androids … and self-aware supercomputers? Or the merging of our brains with them? If Ray Kurzweil’s famous singularity — a future in which the exponential growth of technology turns into a runaway train — becomes a reality, does religion have something to offer in response?

What we see there is the old fallacy that morality is inextricably tied to religious belief.

On the one hand, new religions can emerge from technology.

In Sweden, for example, Kopimism is a recognized faith founded over a decade ago with branches internationally. It began on a “pirate Agency Forum” and is derived from the words “copy me.” They have no views on the supernatural or gods. Rather, Kopimism celebrates the biological drive (e.g. DNA) to copy and be copied. Like digital monks, they believe that “copying of information” and “dissemination of information is ethically right.”

“Copying is fundamental to life,” says their U.S. branch, “and runs constantly all around us. Shared information provides new perspectives and generate new life. We feel a spiritual connection to the created file.”

“Recognized as a faith” it may be, but it’s hard to see how Kopimism is a religion. Whether you read the (badly translated) Swedish explanation of what it’s about, or the US Branch’s, you’ll find only, at best, a fuzzy idea of religion. An analogy between the copying of DNA in the procreation of human beings and the copying of information in the construction or things with artificial intelligence (AI) – does that put AI into the realm of the supernatural? Or is it the feeling of a “spiritual connection to the created file” that translates the robot from the laboratory into the realm of the numinous?

It may be the “sharing” (of information) that makes the inventors think their -ism is a religion, evoking as it does their ancestral Christianity.  (A theme to which we return later.)

… A recent revelation from WIRED shows that Anthony Levandowski, an engineer who helped pioneer the self-driving car at Waymo (a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet) founded his own AI-based religion called “Way of the Future”. …

Little is known about Way of the Future and Levandowksi has not returned a request for comment. But according to WIRED, the mission of the new religion is to “develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence,” and “through understanding and worship of the Godhead, [to] contribute to the betterment of society”.

The “realization” of a “Godhead”. Making a “Godhead” real? Like a self-driving car? What will it look like? What will it do?

It is not a stretch to say that a powerful AI — whose expanse of knowledge and control may feel nearly omniscient and all-powerful — could feel divine to some. It recalls Arthur C. Clarke’s third law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Magic=Miracle=Mysticism. Another connection to the old religions.

People have followed new religions for far less and, even if AI doesn’t pray to electric deities, some humans likely will.

The potential for an out-of-control AI has encouraged warnings from some of the biggest minds, including Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk who tweeted that it could lead to World War III. Clearly no Luddite himself, Musk has compared the creation of AI to “summoning the demon”,  and called for regulation and oversight of AI development, forming OpenAI, which looks for a “path to safe artificial general intelligence”.

Regulation and oversight by whom? To guard against what exactly?

Musk himself was named-dropped this week by Hanson Robotic’s empathic AI Sophia, when she was interviewed by Andrew Sorkin of CNBC this week.

A video well worth watching. Sophia is extremely impressive.

When asked about the danger she poses to humanity, she tells him, “You’ve been reading too much Elon Musk and watching too many Hollywood movies. Don’t worry if you’ll be nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.” Not exactly the Golden Rule.

Not far off it, though.

Add to these warnings a prospective human cult following — paying their tithes to AI and devoutly obeying their digital demiurge — and that apocalyptic future could include those humans who not only welcome, but also work toward our eventual demise.

Humans working to put an end to the human race? More on that is needed.

But is there a positive fate for religion and AI?

Beyond possible new religions and warnings from icons of tech and science, artificial intelligence is also of interest to theologians who wonder what it means for faiths, particularly those that came into being when computing power was limited to the abacus.

“One thing that I think is interesting is the potential for an AI — our creation — to transcend us,” says James F. McGrath, the Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University and author of Theology and Science Fiction.

“The potential for AIs to transcend us and thus become our teachers to whom we look for answers to questions we cannot answer, including about God, is not hard to imagine,” says McGrath. But, he adds, “the historic answer in monotheistic religions is that the creation can never be greater than the creator.”

To suppose that a synthetic brain can teach us about a “supernature” (that no one really knows to exist) is to ascribe powers to the creature surely beyond all possibility?

If human beings could make a thing that could do that, then indeed humanity itself would have become supernatural – as this Christian professor goes on to say:

He notes, however, for Gnostics, humans can transcend the “creator/demiurge,” though “even then,” he says, “we have the potential to reunite with that source from which we stem. It is not surprising that Gnostic themes regularly surface in science fiction, and in particular those that explore AI.”

Transcend the creator God – the “source” – he believes in, yet still “reunite” with it. (The old Gnostics believed there was a divine spark in the human being that would ultimately return to the sphere of the divine and “become one” with it.)

Currently, the greatest expression of science-fiction-turning-reality in tech-based religions is found in the frequently optimistic transhumanism.

Transhumanism and its cognates are represented by organizations like the Humanity+ (formerly, the World Transhumanist Association) and Extropy Institute. In its purely secular form, transhumanists are those who see technology as an important part of improving the world, enhancing human physiology, prolonging life, and even leading us into a posthuman future.

Follow those two links and you will find many idealistic sentiments, not much to do with technology.

Remember that brain chip? They exist — along with brain-computer interfaces — but are in their infancy. It represents the reality that humans are already becoming cyborgs. For some, this means there is the potential for an optimistic posthuman world.

The Terasem faith, for example, is futurist and transreligion, meaning it can be “combined with any existing religion”.  Founded by Martine Rothblatt, creator of SiriusXM Satellite Radio and her spouse, Bina Aspen Rothblatt, Terasem adherents embrace love, see life as purposeful, and death as optional. They look to technology as a source for eternal life, focusing on “cyberconsciousness software, geoethical nanotechnology and space settlement.”

They foresee a future in which technology will extend life indefinitely by means of “mindfiles” of individuals — collections of our memories and emotions — which might then be transferred to what is called a “transbeman” (Transitional Bioelectric Human Being). Early attempts of their technology can be seen in Bina Rothblatt’s counterpart android, Bina48. (See Morgan Freeman’s interview with Bina48.)

And what about God? Their fourth tenet is that God is technical. “We are making God as we are implementing technology that is ever more all-knowing, ever-present, all-powerful and beneficent. Geoethical nanotechnology will ultimately connect all consciousness and control the cosmos.”

“Geoethical”? Earth-wide uniform ethics? Connect all consciousness? Control the entire cosmos? There’s ambition for you!

Transhumanism can also become the node connecting the theological of existing religions and the technological, and the Christian Transhumanist Association [CTA] is a stark example.

Again a link worth following. These Christians are determined to see technology as an enhancement of their faith.  In their case, technology is allowed into their existing religion, unlike those which see technology as the progenitor of new religions. Their faith is of primary concern to them. Technology is a challenge solved.

… Micah Redding, [CTA’s] co-founder and executive director … [says]:

New technological possibilities shouldn’t be simply feared and denied, but engaged and understood. Only in doing so will we be able to confront the challenges of the future, mitigate the risks, and take advantage of the opportunities to create a better world for us all. … As I see it, Christian Transhumanism is grounded in compassion, and centers love as the key to the future of flourishing life. … This puts us in contrast with any form of transhumanism which centers radical egoism.

For Redding, transhumanism is a “Christian mandate,” recently calling it the next Reformation in an article at The Huffington Post. “We cannot be faithful to the Christian calling without ultimately embracing some form of transhumanism.”

Others share his optimism and are hard at work in crafting a theology of transhumanism.

I see transhumanism as a contemporary outgrowth of an ancient Christian vision of human transformation,” says Ronald Cole-Turner, the H. Parker Sharp Professor of Theology and Ethics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and author of The End of Adam and Eve: Theology and the Science of Human Origins.

He too sees promise in the emergence of the Christian Transhumanist Association.

Using technology, today’s transhumanists want to enhance human beings in ways that sound suspiciously like the classic Christian expectation,” says Cole-Turner, “things like greater cognitive awareness, improved moral disposition, and increased overall sense of well-being, and a hope of endless life.”

For early Greek-speaking Christians, Cole-Turner says, “it was seen as a process of theosis or ‘becoming God,’ not in an ontological sense but in every other significant meaning of the word. Latin-speaking Christians used ‘deification’ to refer to the same thing.”

The idea of theosis — being transformed in union with God — is gathering steam among Christian scholars, he says, noting that it makes theological sense of transhumanism. “God is the ground or source of everything, working through the whole creation to bring people, communities, and all creation to its glorious fulfillment in Jesus Christ. It is a transformation of everything by every means.”

Christianity promised eternal life (possibly in heaven, also possibly in hell, but anyway eternal life). According to Edward Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, that promise was the predominant cause of the spread of Christianity. So, Professor Cole-Turner teaches, Christians who look to technology to provide a form of “eternal life” (perhaps of the kind predicted by the Terasem faith) are being faithful to Christianity. For him, for them, the distance between “eternal life”  and the “glorious fulfillment of creation in Jesus Christ” is short. The transformation of life from this earthly existence to a reliably “glorious” eternal life need not be effected after all by the grace of God (or by good works), but can be brought about by technology. Why not? Now the professor comes to think of it, Jesus Christ could only have meant “a transformation of everything” by any … whoops, no … “by every means“.

But will Jesus save robots?

[Micah] Redding [of the Christian Transhumanist Association] adds a theological dimension to this idea.

It’s clear that artificial intelligence plays a significant role in the world today,” he says, “and thus must be factored into God’s eventual work of redemption. We don’t yet know whether that involves self-conscious AIs ‘coming to Jesus’, because we don’t yet know the process by which an AI might become self-conscious. If and when it does happen … it shouldn’t challenge Christian doctrine. If God can grant a soul to carbon-based lifeforms, God can grant a soul to silicon-based lifeforms as well.

Buddhism too can be at home with “emerging technologies”:

“Transhumanism was the confluence of my interests in Buddhism, radical politics and futurism,” says James Hughes, the executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Having worked for a Buddhist social development organization in Sri Lanka — and once ordained as a monk — Hughes moved to Japan and went into bioethics. He discovered he was a techno-optimist, and at heart, a transhumanist.

“I discovered the new World Transhumanist Association,” he says, becoming their first Executive Director, and writing Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond To The Redesigned Human Of The Future. But after a division over political perspectives, he and a few others in the WTA founded IEET, leading him and three others to work toward Buddhist concerns.

Among some of his transhumanist issues, he says, is nonhuman personhood rights. Organizations like the Nonhuman Rights Project already seek these rights for animals (e.g. apes and elephants). Likewise, Hughes says, transhumanists want to “base those moral standings on levels of consciousness, and extend them to enhanced humans, animals, and machine minds.”

It would be interesting to hear what an imam at al-Azhar University in Cairo and the Ayatollah Khamanei of Iran have to say about possible new developments in Islam when human beings are almost totally cyborgs, or entirely replaced by machines.

The need for religion – a craving for tyranny 2

Why do tens of millions in the West prostrate themselves before advancing, conquering, oppressive Islam?

Why do millions of Americans still vote for the Democratic Party?

This essay offers a chilling explanation.

It is from Jihad Watch, by Alexander Maistrovoy:

“Progressive man” refuses to recognize the crimes of Islam, not because he is naive, fine-tempered or tolerant. He does it because, unconsciously or subconsciously, he has already accepted Islam as a religion of salvation. As he accepted Stalinism, Hitlerism, Maoism and the “Khmer Rouge” before it 

Joseph de Maistre, a French aristocrat of the early 19th century, argued that man cannot live without religion, and not religion as such, but the tyrannical and merciless one. He was damned and hated, they called him an antipode of progress and freedom, even a forerunner of fascism; however, progressives proved him right again and again.

It may be true of most people that they “cannot live without religion”, but it is not true of all. We wonder how, since the Enlightenment, and especially now in our Age of Science, people can live with a religion. We agree, however, that those who need a religion are not put off by its being “tyrannical and merciless”.

Is there a religion, whether deity-worshiping or secular, that is not tyrannical and merciless?  

In their nihilistic ecstasy, Homo progressicus threw God off the pedestal, trampled upon the humanistic ideal of Petrarch, Alberti and Leonardo Bruni, who relied on Reason and strove for virtue, and … found themselves in complete and gaping emptiness. They realized that they could not live without the God-man — the idol, the leader, the ruler, who would rely on the unshakable, ruthless idea of salvation — not in the other world, but in this real world here and now. And with all the passion so inherent to their shallow, unstable, infantile nature, they rushed out in search of their “prince on a white horse”.

The idols of the progressives were tyrants armed with the most progressive ideology: Robespierre, and after him Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and finally — Islam.

Islam does not, of course, claim to be “progressive”. It derives from – and is stuck in – the Dark Ages. But the self-styled progressives of the West are welcoming it and submitting to it.

In the 20th century, the Western intelligentsia was infected with red and brown bacilli.

Walter Duranty ardently denied the Holodomor.

That is Stalin’s forced famine in the Ukraine that killed many millions. Walter Duranty denied that it was happening in his New York Times reports.

Bernard Shaw and Romain Rolland justified OGPU terror and the kangaroo court in Moscow; Aragon, Barbusse (the author of the apologetic biography of Stalin: Stalin. A New World Seen Through the Man) and Jean-Richard Bloch glorified “the Father of nations”.

“I would do nothing against Stalin at the moment; I accepted the Moscow trials and I am prepared to accept those in Barcelona,” said Andre Malraux during the massacre of anarchists from POUM [the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification] by Communists in Barcelona in 1937.

Let’s guess: who is writing about whom? “Lonely overbearing man … damned disagreeable”, “friendly and commonplace”, possessing “an intelligence far beyond dogmatism” … “sucked thoughtfully at the pipe he had most politely asked my permission to smoke  I have never met a man more fair, candid, and honest”. Got it? It was Stalin, as portrayed by H. G. Wells.

How many sufferings – Solzhenitsyn recalled — were caused by progressive Western journalists, who after having visited the GULAG, praised Potemkin villages with allegedly heated barracks where political prisoners used to read Soviet newspapers sitting at clean neat tables? Indeed, Arthur Ransome (The Guardian), an American journalist and a fan of Mao, Agnes Smedley, New York reporter Lincoln Steffens (after the meeting with Lenin he wrote,“I have seen the future and it works”), Australian-British journalist Leonore Winter (the author of the book  called Red Virtue: Human Relations in the New Russia) and many others sympathized with the Bolsheviks and the Soviet Union. Juan Benet, a famous Spanish writer, suggested “strengthening the guards (in GULAG), so that people like Solzhenitsyn would not escape”. The Los Angeles Times published Alexander and Andrew Cockburn, who were Stalin’s admirers.

Hitler? Knut Hamsun, Norwegian novelist who won the Nobel Prize, described Hitler in an obituary as a “fighter for humanity and for the rights of all nations”. The “amorousness” of Martin Heidegger for the “leader of the Third Reich” is well known. In the 1930s, the Führer was quite a respectable person in the eyes of the mass media. Anne O’Hare McCormick – a foreign news correspondent for the New York Times (she got a Pulitzer Prize) — described Hitler after the interview with him: he is “a rather shy and simple man, younger than one expects, more robust, taller … His eyes are almost the color of the blue larkspur in a vase behind him, curiously childlike and candid … His voice is as quiet as his black tie and his double-breasted black suit … Herr Hitler has the sensitive hand of the artist.”

The French elites were fascinated by Hitler. Ferdinand Celine said that France would not go to “Jewish war”, and claimed that there was an international Jewish conspiracy to start the world war. French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet rendered honors to Ribbentrop, and novelist, essayist and playwright Jean Giraudoux said that he was “fully in agreement with Hitler when he states that a policy only reaches its highest form when it is racial”.

The Red Guards of Chairman Mao caused deadly convulsions in China and ecstatic [sympathetic] rage in Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Jan Myrdal, Charles Bettelheim, Alain Badiou and Louis Pierre Althusser. In Paris, Barbusse and Aragon created “the pocket monster” — Enver Hoxha [Communist dictator of Albania]; at Sorbonne University, Sartre worked out “the Khmer Rouge Revolution” of Pol Pot, Hu Nima, and Ieng Sary. Noam Chomsky characterized the proofs of Pol Pot’s genocide as “third rate” and complained of a “vast and unprecedented propaganda campaign against the Khmer Rouge”. Gareth Porter, winner of the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, said in May 1977: “The notion that the leadership of Democratic Kampuchea adopted a policy of physically eliminating whole classes of people was … a myth.”

In the 70’s, the whole world already knew the truth about the Red Guards. However, German youth from the Socialist Union of German Students went out  on demonstrations with portraits of the “Great Helmsman” and the song “The East is Red”.

In the USA, they went into the streets holding red flags and portraits of Trotsky and Che Guevara, and dream of “Fucking the System” like their idol Abbie Hoffman. The hatred of “petty bourgeois philistines”, as Trotsky named ordinary people, together with the dream of guillotines, bayonets, and “red terror”, keep inspiring Western intellectuals like Tariq Ali, the author of the revolutionary manual Trotsky for Beginners.

“The middle class turned out to be captured by ‘bourgeois-bohemian Bolshevism’,” Pascal Bruckner wrote.

Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot passed away, but new heroes appeared in their places. Leading employees of CNN – reporter Peter Arnett, producer Robert Wiener and director of news department Eason T. Jordan – had excellent relations with close associates of Saddam Hussein, pretending they didn’t know anything about his atrocities. Hollywood stars set up a race of making pilgrimages to Castro and Chavez. Neo-Marxist professors and progressive intellectuals, such as Dario Fo, Jean Baudrillard and Martin Amis, welcomed the triumph of al-Qaeda on September 11.

The romanticization of  the “forged boot” and “iron hand”, the worship of “lonely overbearing” men with “the sensitive hand of the artist” — this explains the amazing easiness with which recent anarchists, pacifists, Marxists, atheists, after having changed a couple  of ideologies, burden themselves with the most primitive, barbaric and despotic religion of our time: Islam.

Atheists of the Left only, being atheists who dispense with belief in the supernatural but still need a religion.

What they crave for is not religion as such. They don’t want Buddhism, Bahaism, Zoroastrianism, or even the mild Islam of the Sufi or Ahmadiyya version. They want a religion that would crush them, rape their bodies and souls, and destroy their ego — one that would terrify them and make them tremble with fear, infirmity and impotence.

Only bloodthirsty medieval Islam is able to do this today. It alone possesses unlimited cruelty and willingness to burn everything on its way. And they  gather like moths flying to the flame: communists Roger Garaudy, “Carlos the Jackal”, Trond Ali Linstad, Malcolm X, Alys Faiz; human rights defenders Jemima Goldsmith, Keith Ellison, and Uri Davis, the fighter against Zionism for the rights of the Palestinians. Fathers favor Castro, such as Oliver Stone; their sons accept Islam, such as Sean Stone. According to a public opinion poll conducted in August 2014 (Madeline Grant, Newsweek), “16% of French citizens support ISIS”. There are 7% to 8% of Muslims living in France. Who makes up the rest 8% to 9%?

Ken Livingstone, Jeremy Corbyn, John Brennan, Hollywood stars, Ylva Johansson, Sweden’s Integration Minister, who like her boss Stefan Löfven claimed that “there was no connection between crime and immigration”; Michael Fabricant, a former vice-chair of the Tory party, who said that “some conservative Anglicans are the same as ISIS”; German politicians that established a media watchdog to “instruct the press to censor ethnicity and religion in crime reports” (a modification of Soviet censure); the Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Phillips, who believes that it is inevitable to recognize Sharia courts in Great Britain; atheist-apologist for Islam (O my God!) CJ Werleman; Canadian Liberals, who support  the anti-Islamophobia motion; Georgetown professor Jonathan Brown, who justifies slavery and raping of female slaves; Wendy Ayres-Bennett, a UK professor who is urging Brits to learn Urdu and Punjabi to make Muslim migrants feel welcome; Ohio State University, that offered a course on “how Muslims helped build America”; the Swedish state-owned company Lernia encouraging the replacement of standard Swedish with the “migrant-inclusive accent”; American feminists with the slogans “Allahu akbar” and “I love Islam”, who endorse the BDS movement; Swedish feminists wearing burkas in Iran; “proud  feminists” such as Elina Gustafsson and Gudrun Schyman defending Muslim criminals who raped Swedish girls – all of them and thousands of others have already converted to Islam, if not de jure, then de facto.

They appeal to Islam to escape from their fears, complexes, helplessness, and uselessness. They choose the despotism of body and spirit to deprive themselves of their freedom – the freedom that has always been an unbearable burden for their weak souls full of chimeras. They crave slavery.

They are attracted by Islam today, but it’s not about Islam. It’s about them. If Islam is defeated tomorrow and a new Genghis Khan appears with the “religion of the steppe”, or the kingdom of the Aztecs rises with priests tearing hearts from the chest of living people, they will passionately rush into their embrace. They are yearning for tyranny, and will destroy everything on their way for the sake of it. Because of them, “we shall leave this world here just as stupid and evil as we found it upon arrival”. (Voltaire)

Posted under Anarchy, Anti-Semitism, Atheism, Britain, Buddhism, Cambodia, Canada, China, Christianity, Collectivism, communism, Cuba, Environmentalism, Europe, Feminism, France, genocide, Germany, Hinduism, History, Islam, jihad, Judaism, Leftism, Marxism, media, Muslims, nazism, Norway, Pakistan, Palestinians, Progressivism, Race, Religion general, Russia, Slavery, Socialism, Soviet Union, Sweden, Terrorism, Theology, Totalitarianism, tyranny, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela by Jillian Becker on Sunday, April 9, 2017

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Filling the “God gap” with hogwash 4

This post adds comment to yesterday’s immediately below, The cloud of knowing.

We report there how the Chicago Council on Global Affairs urged that “the role of religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy” be “clarified”. Which means changed. Because “some parts of the world — the Middle East, China, Russia and India, for example — are particularly sensitive to the U.S. government’s emphasis on religious freedom and see it as a form of imperialism”.

“Imperialism” in the myopic eyes of the international Left is a very severe form of “racism” – its chief deadly sin.

What these thinkers who want the US to promote religion abroad are really getting at, is that for us to advocate religious tolerance is to impose our values on those who don’t believe in it.

That is to say, impose tolerance and freedom on states that have – and enforce – a state religion; or on religious groups that hold their own beliefs to be unquestionably and uniquely true.  

They think (if it can be called thinking) that by objecting to the intolerance of such states and groups, we are being intolerant.

And so they imply that it’s perfectly all right for them to be intolerant, but for us to be intolerant is a sin and a scandal.

In the words of the Palestinian grievance-monger Edward Said, we are guilty of regarding people of other races and cultures and religions (he meant specifically Muslims) as “the other”, and looking down on them. He was not concerned, as neither are his followers, that they regard us as “the other”, and not merely look down on us, but plan perpetual warfare (holy war, jihad) against us, so that they may force us to convert, or  – if we are lucky –  pay them to let us live, or else die. 

In consideration of that alone, it is obvious that our values, our political system, and our culture is immeasurably superior to theirs. And the view that we are in the wrong to look down on their intolerance, cruelty, immoral creeds, and oppressive government is hogwash.

These critics of the West – in particular of America – seem unaware that when they deplore “white privilege” they are acknowledging that our system, our way of life, our achievements, our culture, our economy, our form of government (all of which include people of many races, colors, ethnic backgrounds and religions) are better than the others. What else can they mean by “privilege”? We weren’t picked out by some great Emir in the Sky to be the recipients of his bounty more than any other society.

What the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ proposal inescapably means is that first, we should refrain from condemning (for instance): the Sunni persecution of Christians, Yezidis, and Shias; or the Shia persecution of Sunnis and Baha’i; or the general Muslim subjugation of women and demonization of Jews; or the Indonesian mass murder of Ahmadis; or Hindu actions against Muslims; or Muslim actions against Buddhists. And second, we  should actively encourage it. What other meaning can be found in their recommendation?

The implications go still further. Even if we were to take a tolerant view of all that tyranny and bloodshed, we would still be in the wrong. Because our secularism is wrong.

And what does that imply if not that we too should have an enforced state religion? (Any bets on what religion it would be if President Obama could impose it by executive order?)

Also that when that happens, not only could we be intolerant of all religions that are not ours, but we positively should be – just like the others.

And finally, to attain perfect Lefty virtue, we would have to resist forever any temptation to so much as think that maybe we should all be free to believe and not believe whatever we damn well like.

Posted under Buddhism, Christianity, Commentary, Hinduism, Islam, jihad, liberty, Muslims, Religion general, United States by Jillian Becker on Tuesday, October 6, 2015

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One life per person is enough 17

Our pick today of PowerLine’s The Week in Pictures.

Though this one doesn’t belong to any particular time, but to any time and all time.

No-Reincarnation-copy.jpg,qresize=498,P2C490.pagespeed.ce.iWCoBOGtgtgZFPrT2S_j

Posted under Buddhism, cartoons by Jillian Becker on Saturday, January 24, 2015

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Speaking of atheism 0

A chat about atheism, religion, and science. Recorded December 14, 2010.

Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens.

Spiritual adventures: aesthetical, ethical, and pharmaceutical 1

Sam Harris is an atheist. We like a lot of what he writes and says. Just recently one of our readers sent us this statement of his, which we acknowledge, sadly, to be most probably true:

For the rest of our lives, and the lives of our children, we are going to be confronted by people who don’t want to live peacefully in a secular, pluralistic world, because they are desperate to get to Paradise, and they are willing to destroy the very possibility of human happiness along the way.

We have watched videos of him lecturing. We have read some articles of his. And all with appreciation. So when we were sent his new book for review, we expected to like it.

Do we like it?

To read  Jillian Becker’s review of Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris, click on its title in our margin, under Pages.

Posted under Atheism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Miscellaneous, Religion general, Reviews by Jillian Becker on Monday, August 18, 2014

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The disease called Islam and how to cure it 5

As quite often happens, Daniel Greenfield expresses an informed opinion on a headline event so well that we cannot resist letting him speak for us:

The bodies of three murdered Israeli teenagers, 16-year-old Naftali who liked to play basketball, 16-year-old Gilad who had just finished a scuba diving course and 19-year-old Eyal with his guitar, will be met by the same ghastly parade of pallbearers who accompany every victim of terrorism.

The reporters will scribble down something about “settlements” and the “Cycle of Violence.” The diplomats will urge restraint and remind everyone that the only solution can be found through negotiations with the terrorists. And the pundits will put it all into perspective burying them under layers of words and weighting their coffins down with stones of forgetfulness.

But all the empty words about the “Occupation” and the “Cycle of Violence,” the invocation of a peaceful solution that is always about to arrive, but never does, and the maps that cede more territory to terrorists are addressing a problem that doesn’t exist.

It’s not about physical territory. It’s about spiritual territory. It’s not about nationalism. It’s about Islamism.

It’s not about the “Occupation.” It’s about Islam.

“I raised my children on the knees of the [Islamic] religion, they are religious guys, honest and clean-handed, and their goal is to bring the victory of Islam,” the mother of one of the Hamas killers said.

Not a Palestinian nation. Not a Two State Solution. Not forty percent of this and sixty percent of that.

The victory of Islam.

Naftali, Gilad and Eyal were murdered for the same reason that countless people have been killed in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Not to mention the United Kingdom and the United States.

They were murdered in the name of a religious war that has been going on for over a thousand years. Muslims did not suddenly begin killing Jews in 1948 or 1929. They did not begin killing Christians over American foreign policy or the oil business.

Muslims did not begin killing Jews and Christians over foreign policy. They began persecuting and killing their Christian and Jewish neighbors because their religion told them to.

Hamas, the terror group that murdered the three teens, is not a Palestinian nationalist organization, though it occasionally plays the part. Its charter begins with Allah and ends with Allah. Article Five of its charter states that the group extends to “wherever on earth there are Muslims, who adopt Islam as their way of life.”

Its goal is to create an Islamic state. Everything else is secondary.

The Hamas charter describes it as part of the worldwide “Muslim Brotherhood Movement”. Brotherhood terrorists kill Jews in Israel for the same reason that they kill Shiites in Syria or Christian Copts in Egypt.

Article Seven of the Hamas charter concludes with the infamous Islamic Hadith which proclaims that the Muslim end times will come only when “Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!”

Aside from the obvious genocidal bigotry, this is a quote from a text that is over a thousand years old. Its author was not preaching the mass murder of Jews because of settlements in the West Bank. At the time Muslims had subjugated and ruled over the Jewish population of the Middle East. The Jews were no threat to them. The idea of a Jewish army was as ridiculous as traveling to the moon.

The hatred that leaks out of that text has nothing to do with Israel and everything to do with Islam.

The insistence on a foreign policy explanation for Muslim anti-Semitism is as ahistorical as claiming that Hitler only hated Jews because of the Yom Kippur War. Except that at least both of these events took place in the twentieth century. Islam has been hating and persecuting Jews for over 1300 years before the rebirth of the modern State of Israel.

There are two ways of looking at the worldwide plague of Muslim terrorism. One is to treat every Islamic conflict with Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and a dozen other religions as being due to some local political grievance of recent vintage. The other is to understand them as local expressions of a historical religious war and the continuation of the wave of conquests that made Islam into a worldwide religion.

We can be like the six blind men feeling around the Islamic elephant and assuming that its trunk and tusks are entirely separate phenomena. Or we can open our eyes and see the elephant in the room.

Hamas’ charter begins with the Koran’s praise for Muslims “as the best people” and damns Christians and Jews to be “smitten with abasement” for having “incurred the wrath of Allah.”

This is not a statement of Palestinian nationalism. It’s Islamic supremacism.

There is nothing negotiable about supremacism. Supremacism cannot be appeased. Supremacism does not want a piece of the pie. It wants the whole pie. The allies learned that the hard way with Hitler. So did the countless kingdoms that attempted to live in peace with the armies of the Mohammedan conquerors.

If Israel had never existed, Hamas would still exist, just as the other branches of the Muslim Brotherhood exist elsewhere throughout the Middle East. Even if Zionism did not exist, the Muslim Brotherhood would persecute the Jews under its control, just like the Christians in Egypt and Syria.

If Netanyahu, Sharon, Begin and a thousand other Israeli villains of the apologists of Islam had never been born, the followers of Mohammed would have gone on killing Jews just as they had for over a thousand years.

If the blue and white had never waved over Jerusalem, if Jews had remained as downtrodden and persecuted in the lands of Islam as the Copts and the Zoroastrians, Naftali, Gilad and Eyal would still have been murdered by two killers who were raised by their mothers to usher in “the victory of Islam.”

There is no political solution to a supremacist conflict.

If a thousand years of Jewish humiliation and persecution did not satisfy the ancestors of the murderers of those three teenagers, how will handing over part of Jerusalem do the job?

Solutions begin with truth. The truth is that Islamic violence against Jews is not recent or exceptional. The murder of Jews by Muslims, whether in Israel or Belgium, is not any different than the Muslim butchery of Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and even minority Muslim splinter faiths. These conflicts cannot be resolved through appeasement. They can only be addressed through resistance.

Yes. Once that truth is fully accepted, the only remaining question is, what form should the resistance take?

Our answer is: military force wherever it can be effective; and everywhere, at all times, a de-Islamization campaign along the lines of the de-Nazification campaign pursued intensely in Germany after the military defeat of the Third Reich.

Islam needs urgently to be criticized; constantly, relentlessly, daily; in schools and academies; by the mass media, on all the social media. It should be so denounced and reviled that if anyone chooses to adhere to it he would feel it necessary to do so in secret, furtively, surreptitiously, in shame and fear of being found out.

Islam is an ideology as evil and destructive as Nazism.

All religion is a drag on enlightened civilization. Islam is the only religion now that is actively destroying it. Islam itself must be defeated – not only on battlefields, but with argument.

It is the ideology, not the people (except those actively engaged in jihad), who must be boldly attacked.

The ideology called Islam is a lethal disease. The human race must be cured of it. 

In plain reason –

Those who say they believe in freedom of speech cannot tolerate Islam.

Those who believe in freedom cannot tolerate Islam.

Those who believe in equality of the sexes cannot tolerate Islam.

Those who believe in “the golden rule” cannot tolerate Islam.

Those who believe in “diversity” cannot tolerate Islam.

Those who hate cruelty cannot tolerate Islam.

Those who believe in tolerance itself cannot tolerate intolerant Islam.

Know it, understand it, loathe it, despise it, talk about it incessantly, forbid it, exclude it, abolish it.

Is there any other way?

R is for Religion, Radicalism, and Revolution 1

L is for Leftism  … M is for Marxism and Misery …  R is for Religion, Radicalism, and Revolution …  S is for Superstition, Socialism, and Serfdom … T is for Tyranny …

But that is not what children are being taught.

The religion of the Left has many names: Collectivism, Statism, Socialism, Communism, Progressivism, Marxism …

It is inculcated into children from their infancy, just as the various Christianities, Islamic faiths, Judaisms, Hinduisms, Buddhisms are drummed into little heads.

Where the Left is in power, the inculcation begins in kindergarten. At least in California.

No separation of church and state there. The Left will not admit that it is itself a religion.

This is from Townhall, by Kyle Olson:

Is your three-year-old preschooler chanting “union power” these days? She might, if author Innosanto Nagara has his way.

Nagara wrote A is for Activist, a book supposedly geared for the children of the “99 percent.” In other words, a new vehicle has been developed for leftists to begin indoctrinating children.

“It’s pretty awesome to hear a three-year-old saying ‘union power,’” Nagara said …

But union power and student activism aren’t the only goals. Consider these other letters and how they are applied in the book:

B is for banner, as in a protest banner hanging off a construction crane

L is for LGBTQ, as in Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgendered and Queer

T is for Trans, as in transgendered

Z is for Zapatistas, as in Mexican revolutionary leftists

Heady stuff for preschoolers, but the indoctrinators believe the tikes are old enough to learn the basics of revolutionary thought.

Nagara’s A is for Activist has been heralded by the likes of Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin, who said, “Many a thousand young activists bloom!”

“This is an amazing book for toddlers,” wrote Oakland teachers union activist Mary Prophet.

The Radical teachers group Rethinking Schools gave the book its hearty endorsement, offering it on its resources page.

“This beautifully illustrated alphabet reader brings a whole new vocabulary to board books,” the organizations wrote about the book. “For example, ‘Kings are fine for storytime/Knights are fun to play/But when people make decisions/we will choose the people’s way.’ As a spirited and humor-filled introduction to progressive values, A is for Activist is a book to grow on, and return to again and again for many years. It could also be used as a prompt for older students to create their own alphabet books with a conscience.”

One might ask how anyone with a conscience could even think about exposing little children to this sort of political garbage, or how any parents wouldallow it.

East Bay Express – an “alternative” Oakland news outlet – said the book is for “grooming your future activist.”

“Children’s entertainment comes with no shortage of messages: disobedient princesses learning to obey their parents; giant red dogs urging teamwork; purple dinosaurs imparting the wisdom of just being yourself,” the newspaper wrote. “But with a few exceptions, kids’ books, movies, and music highlight only a narrow range of voices and viewpoints. Most are an implicit endorsement of stratified wealth. … There’s an acute shortage of voices from queer folks and people of color. Many have outmoded gender norms.”

Who knew Barney [a purple dinosaur on a TV children’s program] was endorsing the perpetuation of “stratified wealth”? …

There is a war on for the minds of our future leaders. And judging by Nagara’s book, they’re targeting children at younger and younger ages. …

As a parent, do you know what your student is learning?

The mystic UN and Agenda 21 1

Could there be something happening in the world today that is even more threatening to life and liberty than Islam and its jihad?

There could be, there is, and its name is Agenda 21.

It emanates from that powerhouse of evil, the United Nations. It was initiated and is driven by votaries of a dark mysticism.  They call themselves shamans. They freely confess – no, they boast – that they are working to establish totalitarian world government; that they aim to reduce the population of the world to half a billion and keep it at that number; that those suffered to live must return to a primitive existence deriving bare sustenance from such resources as their local habitat provides, own nothing, and worship the earth goddess Gaia with prescribed ritual.

That is their vision of a new world order, the ultimate objective. It is to be attained step by step, starting with the enforcing of environmental regulations (among them the phasing out of the motor vehicle); emptying the suburbs and bringing people into the cities to be closely and austerely housed; returning the countryside to wilderness, which involves the destruction of roads …

Is this just absurd alarmism? Surely no plotters, even in the UN, could really bring this off, could they? They haven’t really started doing these things have they? Who are these shadowy figures who can exert irresistible influence on the political powers of this world?

We quote from The Green Agenda, a (Christian) site established to expose the movement for world government and explain how it is being put into effect, chiefly through the implementation of Agenda 21. It has links to the documents themselves.  

Agenda 21 spreads it tentacles from Governments, to federal and local authorities, and right down to community groups. Chapter 28 of Agenda 21 specifically calls for each community to formulate its own Local Agenda 21: “Each local authority should enter into a dialogue with its citizens, local organizations, and private enterprises to formulate ‘a Local Agenda 21.’ Through consultation and consensus-building, local authorities would learn from citizens and from local, civic, community, business and industrial organizations and acquire the information needed for formulating the best strategies.” – Agenda 21, Chapter 28, sec 1.3

Interestingly, in April 1991, fourteen months before Earth Summit, Prince Charles held a private two day international conference aboard the royal yacht Britannia, moored off the coast of Brazil. His goal was to bring together key international figures in an attempt to achieve a degree of harmony between the various countries that would gather at the Summit. Al Gore was present, along with senior officials from the United Nations and the World Bank.

At the summit 179 nations officially signed Agenda 21 and many more have followed since. Nearly 12,000 local and federal authorities have legally committed themselves to the Agenda. In practice this means that all their plans and policies must begin with an assessment of how the plan or policy meets the requirements of Agenda 21, and no plans or policies are allowed to contradict any part of the Agenda. Local authorities are audited by UN inspectors and the results of the audits are placed on the UN website. You can see how many local authorities in your country were bound by Agenda 21 in 2001 here. The number has increased significantly since then.

The official opening ceremony was conducted by the Dalai Lama and centered around a Viking long-ship that was constructed to celebrate the summit and sailed to Rio from Norway. The ship was appropriately named Gaia. A huge mural of a beauiful woman holding the earth within her hands adorned the entrance to the summit. Al Gore led the US delegation where he was joined by 110 Heads of State, and representatives of more than 800 NGO’s.

Maurice Strong, Club of Rome member, devout Bahai, founder and first Secretary General of UNEP [UN Environment Program], has been the driving force behind the birth and imposition of Agenda 21.

He chaired the Earth Summit, and outside, while he did,  –

His wife Hanne and 300 followers called the Wisdom-Keepers, continuously beat drums, chanted prayers to Gaia, and tended sacred flames in order to “establish and hold the energy field” for the duration of the summit. …

In the course of his opening speech Maurice Strong made these remarks:

“The concept of national sovereignty has been an immutable, indeed sacred, principle of international relations. It is a principle which will yield only slowly and reluctantly to the new imperatives of global environmental cooperation. It is simply not feasible for sovereignty to be exercised unilaterally by individual nation states … The global community must be assured of environmental security.”

“We must transform our attitudes, and adopt a renewed respect for the superior laws of Divine Nature.”

“Current lifestyles and consumption patterns of the affluent middle class – involving high meat intake, use of fossil fuels, appliances, air-conditioning, and suburban housing – are not sustainable. A shift is necessary which will require a vast strengthening of the multilateral system, including the United Nations.”

“Global management” is required in order to keep the earth clean and pure. Or it is necessary to keep the earth clean and pure in order to impose “global management”. Take your pick, because it is never made clear which is the means and which the end. In any case, they’re after “global management” (which we believe is the end). They will manage your life because they know best. You will do as they say. For “sustainability“. And to serve the Higher Good. Which is the nursing of the planet. The serving of the planet. The worshiping of the planet.

And the preservation of everything that lives on it. Even human beings within strict limits. This is called “biodiversity“.

The Global Biodiversity Assessment of the State of the Earth, prepared by the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) –

armed UN leaders with the “ecological basis, and moral authority” they needed to validate their global management system. The GBA concludes … that “the root causes of the loss of biodiversity are embedded in the way societies use resources. This world view is characteristic of large scale societies, heavily dependent on resources brought from considerable distances. It is a world view that is characterized by the denial of sacred attributes in nature.”

For this the inscribers of this idiotic document blame Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – of which we are not defenders; but it’s not as if they themselves are against religious superstition – far from it:

“Eastern cultures with religious traditions such as Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism did not depart as drastically from the perspective of humans as members of a community of beings including other living and non-living elements.”

The UN was delighted with this tosh. Maurice Strong was honored and rewarded:

Following the Earth Summit Maurice Strong was named Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, and was appointed to the position of Chief Policy Advisor by Kofi Annan. He was also a member of the UN’s Commission on Global Governance, and the key architect of the Kyoto Protocol.

Did you know that the UN has a Commission on Global Governance? Do Western governments know it? If so, why is the UN allowed to continue in existence?

Just as the dirty mystic Rasputin was able to influence the rulers of Russia, so Maurice Strong is able to influence the would-be rulers of the world in the UN. A parliament of fools if ever there was one.

Strong and his wife have also established the Manitou Foundation, providing land in Colorado to an eclectic mix of religious groups, including the Crestone Mountain Zen Center, the Spiritual Life Institute (a Catholic Carmelite monastery), the Haidakhandi Universal Ashram, the Sri Aurobindo Learning Center, Mangala Shri Bhuti (Tibetan Buddhists), and Karma Thegsum Tashi Gomang (Indian mystics). The Strongs have located their spiritual centre in the Colorado mountains because:”The Strongs learned that since antiquity indigenous peoples had revered this pristine wilderness as a place for conducting their vision quests and receiving shamanic trainings. It is prophesied that the world’s religious traditions would gather here and help move the world toward globally conscious co-existence and co-creation.”

But while these multifarious dupes and charlatans wait for their “vision quests” and “shamanic trainings”, their drumming, their sacred flames, and their invocations to return the human race to primitive savagery, the collective political steps to the same end are being taken conscientiously by national and local government in accordance with Agenda 21.

So what exactly does Agenda 21 contain? It consists of 115 different and very specific programs designed to facilitate, or to force, the transition to Sustainable Development. The objective, clearly enunciated by the leaders of the Earth Summit, is to bring about a change in the present system of independent nations. The agenda is broken up into 8 “programme areas for action”:  Agriculture,  Biodiversity and Ecosystem Management, Education, Energy and Housing, Population, Public Health, Resources and recycling, Transportation, Sustainable Economic Development.

A link to the entire document is provided, but as the author says, it would take a few days to read all of this “blueprint for the 21st century”. The first six paragraphs are quoted for those with less time at their disposal. There the assertion is made that it “reflects a global consensus and political commitment at the highest level on development and environment cooperation”.

This is nonsense of course. There is no global consensus. As for a political commitment “at the highest level”, if this means that the likes of Prince Charles, Prince Philip, Angela Merkel, Mikhail Gorbachev, Tony Blair, have swallowed the ballyhoo without even chewing it, then yes.

It also asserts that “the developmental and environmental objectives of Agenda 21 will require a substantial flow of new and additional financial resources to developing countries, in order to cover the incremental costs for the actions they have to undertake to deal with global environmental problems and to accelerate sustainable development. Financial resources are also required for strengthening the capacity of international institutions for the implementation of Agenda 21.” That means taxing us, and global redistribution of our money.

The author (whose name we have not discovered) stresses that “Agenda 21 is … an attempt to impose a global centrally planned quasi-government administered by the United Nations. Under Agenda 21 all central government and local authority signatories are required to conform strictly to a common prescribed standard and hence this is just communism resurrected in a new guise.”

She also says that “Agenda 21 has [already] gained a stranglehold on global regulatory and planning processes”.

We think this is true, at least to some significant extent.

In our town the City Council is certainly putting Agenda 21 into effect. Small-unit housing is being built near railway stations. It is not family accomodation, but most suitable for single occupants. (Families are to be discouraged from living together. The family as such is bad for the environment and for collective organization.) There will be places to park bicycles but not cars. Private transport is being discouraged. “Smart meters” will inform the Authorities how warm or how cool the occupant keeps his/her austere little space. How much heat, light and water you use will not only be monitored, but controlled.

Hundreds of cities in many if not all the states have embarked, or plan to embark, on the same sort of program. (Unless they’re going bankrupt. It may be that economic crisis, bad as it is, could save us from something worse.)

President Obama is against the existence of the suburbs, where individual families live in privately-owned houses. He wants to concentrate population in the cities. (Some have written about this –   eg. see here – but have not put it into its proper context, which is the implementation of Agenda 21.) The government can, has, and will use the eminent domain clause of the fifth amendment to expropriate private property.

It is more than likely happening in your town. Your property is under threat. Your way of life is being decided for you.

Not only do we have Christians, we even have some Democrats on our side in confronting this horrifying movement. 

Watch this video made by Democrats Against UN Agenda 21. It is long but informative. The worst news about what state and local government are doing to us comes after the 50 minute mark, but don’t skip too much before that. The shocking information needs the explanation and context.

 

The UN must be destroyed.

 

God Is Not Great 4

This review was written in 2007, the year the book was published. It needs to be on our pages.

Christopher Hitchens has cancer and may not live much longer. He has expressed some opinions that chime well with those of The Atheist Conservative, and some that are decidedly different. As an atheist he has won our approbation; as a political commentator he has often earned our criticism. In agreement with him or not, we have always appreciated his eloquence and wit.

*

God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens,Twelve, New York , 2007, 307 pages.

Religion cannot survive in our Age of Science. Until I read this book I thought that there was life in it yet, enough for it to continue as an important force in human affairs for another century or so. But I am persuaded by Hitchens that it is already dead, even though there are many millions who still believe in gods or God and even more who observe the rituals of worship, and even though some act politically and devastatingly in its name.

How then is it dead? Hitchens puts it this way, with characteristic elegance: ‘Religion spoke its last intelligible or noble or inspiring words a long time ago … We shall have no more prophets or sages from the ancient quarter, which is why the devotions of today are only the echoing repetitions of yesterday.’

So – Hitchens encouragingly claims – although Islam has risen all over the globe to fight for its life with fire and tongue against scientific truth, against criticism, against freedom of body and mind, and continues successfully to rake in its converts by intimidation and even persuasion, it is doomed just as the other religions are doomed, being but the ritual perpetuation of a long-outdated belief, and will dwindle away to nothing as so many religions have done before it. Coming generations in an ever more closely communicating world will find it harder and harder to believe in the unbelievable.

We know that there are scientists who are religious. Amazingly, there are quite a few who find it possible to accept all that cosmology and physics tell us about the nature of the universe and yet still believe in a Creator God with mysterious purposes for His Creation. Of course – Hitchens says – you can do this, but ‘the theory works without that assumption’. God can be retained, but is not required. Believe in him if you will, but to questions of how the world has come to be as it is, God is irrelevant, superfluous, an added extra, an unnecessary decoration contributed by nostalgia and habit. Further knowledge of the stars will not come through prayer, and though an astronomer may pray for knowledge and go to church every seventh day to win the approval of his god, it is to his telescope he will go to find the truth.

Hitchens dismisses the argument for ‘intelligent design’ – part of religion’s last-gasp vocabulary of euphemism – with illustrations of how if nature were indeed the result of design, unintelligence would better characterize the designer who achieved such results: the ‘useless junk’ in our DNA string left over from lower creatures; our appendix; our vestigial tails; all of which are explained satisfactorily by evolution but make no sense at all as intelligent design. One could add many more. I like to cite the inability of bees to alight easily on a flat surface.

The presence among us of tormenting and life-destroying viruses does not say much for the designs of an intelligence that is also supposed to be beneficent to the human creature. Scientific discovery and skepticism have removed the need to justify horrors, to answer such questions as to ‘who inflicted the syphilis bacillus or mandated the leper or the idiot child’.

‘Intelligent design’ implies that intelligence existed before anything else. But we are aware that what we call intelligence requires human physiology – including most immediately a brain – which, of all things known, has taken longest to evolve. It has come at this – our – end of the process. An assertion that such a thing was already there at the very beginning is not rationally persuasive

I have long wondered why so many find it easier to conceive of there being an original Nothing then Something (the universe) and then again eventually Nothing, than to conceive of Something always having existed and forever to remain. We know Something exists. We know that matter is imperishable: it changes but does not dissolve into nothingness. Why, if we can accept the idea that it will have no ending, do we need to think of it as having had a beginning?

In the grip of the belief that there was ‘a beginning’ of existence, believers like to raise their favorite ‘logical’ argument that since everything must have a cause there must be a First Cause, Hitchens logically asks for the cause of the First Cause, or ‘Who designed the designer?’ No theologist or philosopher has ever satisfactorily answered that (Thomas Aquinas’s argument that God could set the cause-and-effect chain working in the universe because he is outside it does not abolish the question of how he came into existence) – or ever produced a sound argument for belief in a god of any sort.

The onus rests always on the believer to prove his case. It is not necessary for the unbeliever to prove that the object of others’ belief is not there. As Karl Popper expressed it: ‘Seeing no reason to believe is sufficient reason not to believe.’ It is an argument against belief most useful to be armed with. Another of course is David Hume’s, who asserted, in the light of the immense suffering that God coolly watches his creatures undergoing, that if he is omnipotent then he must be evil, or if good he cannot be omnipotent. (Hitchens mentions both philosophers but neither of these arguments which would have served him well.)

Hitchens does not accept the shop-worn argument that without religion there would be no morality. He is as certain as I am that religion is not the indispensable source of ethics or law. Reason and experience teach people, and have surely always taught them, that it is better and safer to live in a world where certain kinds of behavior are by and large avoided and certain rules by and large obeyed. I was interested to find, when I got round not long ago to reading the Hammurabi Code that it deals chiefly with what punishments should be imposed on those who disobey rules of conduct rather than in laying down or even reiterating the rules themselves. Rules against murder, adultery, lying, stealing pre-date all recorded codifications, any tablet of commandments. As Hitchens says, ‘Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.’

There surely cannot be any doubt that religion has been the cause of much human misery, cruelty, torture, oppression, and probably the majority of wars. It is fair to add that some religions have inspired good deeds as well as evil ones. But then, people have always done good and evil regardless of what they do it in the name of. And surely always will. As for great works of art which it has inspired, it is not unreasonable to suppose that if religion had not supplied the inspiration something else would have done for the same artists. There must be at least as many marvelous pictures of mortals and ordinary scenes as there are of angelic gatherings and Christians suffering; at least as many admirable buildings dedicated to secular as to religious uses; and many more great poems and plays without religious themes than with them. Hitchens points out that beautiful and valuable things that have grown out of religions can be and are as much enjoyed and valued by civilized non-believers, such as himself, as by the pious. (My own list of such things is long, including: the King James translation of the bible; La Chapelle; certain painted angels and saints of the Renaissance; Bach’s compositions dedicated to God.) Hitchens cites, among things that do not require faith to treasure and preserve them, and in this case would have lasted better without it, the Buddha statues blown up by the Taliban in Afghanistan in the name of their religion – a type of vandalism that atheists are very unlikely to commit, having no reason to.

The author confesses to once having had a faith of his own, the secular faith of Marxism. He is now recognizably conservative, even traces of his former leftism becoming almost imperceptible. We welcome him among us.

 

Jillian Becker

Posted under Atheism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Marxism, Religion general, Reviews by Jillian Becker on Tuesday, May 31, 2011

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