A chat about atheism, religion, and science. Recorded December 14, 2010.
Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
In a recent article, the Townhall columnist Jeff Jacoby discusses the proposition, put forward by the American Humanist Association in a series of TV and press ads, that people “can be good without God”.
Jacoby concedes that “people can be decent and moral without believing in a God who commands us to be good”. However, he argues, that is not because they reason their way to ethical behavior but because they “reflect the moral expectations of the society in which they were raised”.
In our culture, even the most passionate atheist cannot help having been influenced by the Judeo-Christian worldview that shaped Western civilization. …
In a world without God, there is no obvious difference between good and evil. There is no way to prove that murder is wrong if there is no Creator who decrees “Thou shalt not murder.’’ It certainly cannot be proved wrong by reason alone.
Now then, now then (as British policemen used to say when approaching an area of rising excitement). Every moral law ever taught, whether or not as a divine injunction, came out of the heads of human beings. They may have claimed that a god inspired them, or instructed them, addressed them in dreams, or snatched them up for a brief sojourn in heaven and “revealed” the message to them, but what they were actually doing was thinking.
Jewish sages bade people to obey the moral laws because, they warned, it was God’s will that they should. Disobey and you offend a terrible power! The Christian churches promised everlasting reward in paradise to those who obeyed and eternal punishment in the flames of hell to those who didn’t. The hope and the dread probably kept a lot of people behaving decorously a lot of the time.
The more sensible moral laws of Judaism and Christianity – do not kill, do not steal, do not lie (“bear false witness”) – are sound principles and are to be found in other cultures which do not claim that they were issued by a deity. They are precepts of Buddhism, for instance. It’s more than probable that many a forgotten tribe, whose gods were not of a kind to be drafted into law enforcement, penalized murder and theft and deception.
As for “doing unto others as you would be done by”, or refraining from doing to them what you wouldn’t like done to you – “the Golden Rule” that many religions preach -, was divine inspiration necessary for its conception? Common sense prompts it, experience teaches it, and reason approves it. It’s an excellent example of a moral idea arising out of intelligent self-interest.
Yet Jacoby opines:
Reason is not enough. Only if there is a God who forbids murder is murder definitively evil. Otherwise its wrongfulness is a matter of opinion. …
Atheists may believe — and spend a small fortune advertising — that we can all be “good without God.’’ History tells a very different story.
The story that history tells is that religion has been the greatest source of human suffering next to bacteria, viruses, and natural disasters. And until quite recently, Christianity in all its major branches inflicted more agony on human bodies and minds than any other religion since Baal required babies to be thrown into the iron furnace of Moloch’s belly.
Jacoby is right that “in our culture, even the most passionate atheist cannot help having been influenced by the Judeo-Christian worldview that shaped Western civilization”. For good or ill, that must be the case. But there have been far better influences.
To men of reason since the dawn of the Enlightenment, to their skepticism, their enquiry, their science, their commerce, their exploration and invention we owe what is best in our civilization.
Jillian Becker November 17, 2010
Bertrand Russell wrote of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (who preached the Second Crusade) that “his sanctity did not suffice to make him intelligent”. No doubt the same could be said of all religious leaders.
Tenzin Gyatsu is the present (14th) Dalai Lama, exiled from Tibet by China. “His Holiness” has been in New York this week, “giving teachings” as his website puts it. Thousands of Americans waited in line to learn wisdom from him.
He declares himself to be a Marxist because he thinks Marxism “has moral ethics”, though he’s noticed that capitalism makes people better off and “brings freedoms”.
Funny that he fell out with the rulers of China.
This comes from First Things:
No wonder the American left loves him.
The Dalai Lama admits to being a Marxist.
He should have told Obama. Maybe he wouldn’t have been forced to leave the White House through the trash door following their meeting in February.
TIBETAN spiritual leader the Dalai Lama says he’s a Marxist, yet credits capitalism for bringing new freedoms to China, the communist country that exiled him.
“Still I am a Marxist,” the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader said in New York, where he arrived today with an entourage of robed monks and a heavy security detail to give a series of paid public lectures.
“(Marxism has) moral ethics, whereas capitalism is only how to make profits,” the Dalai Lama, 74, said.
“(Capitalism) brought a lot of positive to China. Millions of people’s living standards improved,” he said.
According to Fox News he himself doesn’t get a penny of profit from his lecture tour:
During a press conference this week, the Dalai Lama said Marxism remains “the only economy system expressing concern of equal distribution (of wealth); that is moral ethics.”
He takes no payment for his appearances and asks that proceeds from ticket sales go for hunger relief and other charities. But he admits he doesn’t keep track of where the money goes. “This is up to the organizer,” he says. “I have no connection.”
In 2001 the Taliban destroyed two ancient Buddhist statues. In Western eyes it was an unforgivable act of vandalism. It was widely reported, and the perpetrators were angrily denounced.
Even an archaeologist, K. Kris Hirst, could not keep a cool professional view of the deed entirely free of moral judgment, having this to say about it:
In March 2001, six months before the September 11th bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City, the Taliban destroyed two ancient statues of the Buddha called Bamiyan in an attempt to cleanse the country of Afghanistan of what they perceived as Hindu heresy.
To be perfectly blunt, this is an old story. New landowners of a country move in and do their best to obliterate all traces of the conquered and now minority population. Former cultural monuments, particularly if they are of a religious nature, are pulled down, and monuments for the new group built, frequently right on the top of the foundations of the old. The old languages are forbidden or limited, along with other cultural phenomena such as marriage customs, rites of initiation, even food taboos.
The reasons the conquerors give for this trashing of the old ways and structures are varied, and include everything from modernization to saving the souls of the recently conquered. But the purpose is the same: to destroy the remnants of a culture which represents a threat to the new dominance. It happened in 16th century AD in the New World civilizations; it happened in Caesar’s Rome; it happened in the dynasties of Egypt and China. It’s what we as humans do when we are afraid. Destroy things.
So, it shouldn’t have been as shocking as it was, to see the Taliban in Afghanistan blast two enormous 3rd and 5th century AD statues of Buddha to powder with anti-aircraft guns. … It is … an ominous forewarning of the Taliban’s distaste of anything other than their own set of extremist Islamic values.
When it comes to the destruction of Buddhists themselves by Muslims, there is less interest. Virtually none at all. But news of it crops up in obscure places.
This report comes (via Creeping Sharia) from the Hindi weekly, Organiser:
Brutal killings of hapless Chakma Buddhists living for centuries in Chittagong hill tract and burning of their houses and pagodas by powerful gangs of Muslim land mafias in Bangladesh on February 19-20 …
Apart from killings of 10 poor Chakmas, at least 200 houses in 11 Chakma villages were burnt to ashes by marauding goons on the night of February 19. At one point during the clash, the military personnel started firing indiscriminately on fleeing Chakma villagers only to help encourage attacking Muslim settlers. Chittagong is Bangladesh’s only district having a significant Buddhist population. Army was called in after a pagoda and an office of a UN-funded project were set on fire. A statue of Lord Buddha installed at the Banani Buddhist Monastery was damaged and another statue was looted… Chakmas demanded immediate withdrawal of 400 army camps from Chitagong hills alleging that Bangladesh army personnel are actually helping outsiders to settle in Chakma villages by grabbing their land…
There have been many attacks on Buddhist and Hindu villages since 1997 in Bangladesh which have now become occupied by Muslim villagers and landowners…
We are waiting patiently for the denunciation of the Muslim murderers in the United Nations. Can one doubt that the UN Human Rights Council will be taking vigorous action over the matter in the very near future? (Or maybe when they’ve finished condemning Israel for renovating the Hurva synagogue in Jerusalem, or the site of Rachel’s Tomb on the West Bank.)
To be a political conservative and also an atheist in America may be uncommon but it isn’t difficult.
Our conservative principles are: individual freedom, small government, strong defense, free market economics, rule of law. Belief in them doesn’t need belief in God as well.
We find it perfectly easy to agree with the political opinions of religious conservatives. We just don’t share their faith in the existence of the supernatural.
We don’t take offense when one of our fellow conservatives talks about his or her religion, though we may be embarrassed for them if they become mawkish. We are thinking of courageous, principled, competent Sarah Palin, witty Ann Coulter, vigorous defender of freedom Glenn Beck, and above all Brit Hume, whom we have long listened to on Fox News with respect and gratitude for his political knowledge, insight, and judicious wisdom.
Actually, so unmawkish is Brit Hume, so seldom does he say anything about himself, that we didn’t even know he was a devout Christian. Then, on Fox News Sunday, speaking about the disgrace of poly-adulterous Tiger Woods with kindness and sympathy, and intending only to suggest a source of comfort for the great golfer, he said:
The extent to which he can recover, it seems to me, depends on his faith. He is said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So, my message to Tiger would be: Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.
To this, we hear, the ‘secular left’ took exception. Some of them absurdly spoke of a Constitutional requirement that ‘church and state’ be kept separate as a reason why it was wrong for someone to recommend his religion when appearing on television.
Conservatives leapt to Hume’s defense, and the defense of Christianity. –
Here’s Cal Thomas:
That is a message shared for 2,000 years by those who follow Jesus of Nazareth. It apparently continues to escape the secular left that Christians feel compelled to share their faith out of gratitude for what Jesus has done for them (dying in their place on a cross and offering a new life to those who repent and receive Him as savior). In a day when some extremists employ violence to advance their religion, it is curious that many would save their criticism for a truly peace-bringing message such as the one broadcast by Brit Hume.
And here’s Ann Coulter:
Hume’s words, being 100 percent factually correct, sent liberals into a tizzy of sputtering rage, once again illustrating liberals’ copious ignorance of Christianity.
On MSNBC, David Shuster invoked the “separation of church and television” (a phrase that also doesn’t appear in the Constitution), bitterly complaining that Hume had brought up Christianity “out-of-the-blue” on “a political talk show.”
Why on earth would Hume mention religion while discussing a public figure who had fallen from grace and was in need of redemption and forgiveness? Boy, talk about coming out of left field!
What religion — what topic — induces this sort of babbling idiocy? (If liberals really want to keep people from hearing about God, they should give Him his own show on MSNBC.)
Most perplexing was columnist Dan Savage’s indignant accusation that Hume was claiming that Christianity “offers the best deal — it gives you the get-out-of-adultery-free card that other religions just can’t.”
In fact, that’s exactly what Christianity does. It’s the best deal in the universe. (I know it seems strange that a self-described atheist and “radical sex advice columnist f*****” like Savage would miss the central point of Christianity, but there it is.)
God sent his only son to get the crap beaten out of him, die for our sins and rise from the dead. If you believe that, you’re in. Your sins are washed away from you — sins even worse than adultery! — because of the cross. …
With Christianity, your sins are forgiven, the slate is wiped clean and your eternal life is guaranteed through nothing you did yourself, even though you don’t deserve it. It’s the best deal in the universe.
We cannot understand how any intelligent person can believe in God. We are baffled that even unintelligent people can believe in the immaculate birth of Jesus, or that he came alive again after dying (what does ‘death’ mean if not the end of life, what does ‘life’ mean if not that which can die?), or that a certain Jew born in the time of Augustus Caesar was divine. We wonder at (inter alia) the way Christians can overlook inconvenient passages in their scripture, such as (Matt 10.34) ‘I come not to bring peace but to bring a sword’; ignore the fact that Christianity invented Hell (for whose eternal torment if Christ is forgiving and if his crucifixion saved mankind?); bluff themselves that you have only to believe that Christ died for you and your sins are ‘washed away’.
Whatever wrong you’ve done you’ve done, people: live with it, try to learn from it and try not to do it again. It can never be ‘washed away’ from you. Tough for Tiger, tough for all of us. But when you die you won’t go to hell, you’ll be dead.
As Omar Khayyam, an atheist apostate from Islam (or his translator Edward Fitzgerald) wrote, being, to use Ann Coulter’s words, 100 per cent correct:
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
For once we dislike something Brit Hume has said, but we defend – if not quite to the death – his right to say it.