Creating an intelligent god 3

… and endowing its intelligent machine creators with machine rights.

Following on from our post immediately below in which we discuss Google engineer Ray Kurzweil’s vision of a world populated by machines, we now turn to the idea of a former Google man who visualizes the machines creating a god.

They will create a god so they can worship it.

Why will the machines need a god to worship?

Tyler O’Neil writes at PJ Media:

A former executive at Google has filed paperwork with the IRS to establish an official religion of technology. This religion doesn’t just worship scientific progress, but artificial intelligence itself, with the goal of creating a godhead. 

The new church of AI will aim “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,” according to IRS documents.

So there’s an answer to why: the inventor of the new religion thinks that the worship of artificial intelligence will make society better.

What society? The society of machines. Cannot the machines be made perfect by their human creators?

There is an organization being formed with the purpose of helping humans to accept their successors. The electronic new world is inevitable. No point in  raising objections. We should move smoothly into it. We make our new masters and then we submit to them.

The non-profit religious organization would be called “Way of the Future” (WOTF). According to the website (wayofthefuture.church), the movement is “about creating a peaceful and respectful transition of who is in charge of the planet from people to people + machines”.

“Given that technology will relatively soon be able to surpass human abilities, we want to help educate people about this exciting future and prepare a smooth transition,” the site explains. “In recent years, we have expanded our concept of rights to both sexes, minority groups and even animals, let’s make sure we find a way for ‘machines’ to get rights too.”

The writer comments:

There is an inherent contradiction in creating a deity of artificial intelligence and then worshipping it.

But to humans like us it is nothing new, since we believe that all gods have been created by humans.

“Let’s stop pretending we can hold back the development of intelligence when there are clear massive short term economic benefits to those who develop it and instead understand the future and have it treat us like a beloved elder who created it,” the site argues.

“It” will treat us  – its creator species – like a beloved elder, not like a god?

Yet the IRS document spoke about a “Godhead based on artificial intelligence”.

The website argued that the creation of “super intelligence” is inevitable, and that fear of this development is unhealthy. “We don’t think that there are ways to actually stop this from happening (nor should we want to) and that this feeling of we must stop this is rooted in 21st century anthropomorphism (similar to humans thinking the sun rotated around the earth in the not so distant past).”

Perhaps WOTF meant to use the word “anthropocentrism”, the idea that the universe is centered around humanity, rather than “anthropomorphism”, the attribution of human characteristics and purposes to inanimate objects. Indeed, it is arguable that WOTF is attributing human characteristics — or perhaps divine characteristics? — to technology

After all, the very next sentence continues, “Wouldn’t you want to raise your gifted child to exceed your wildest dreams of success and teach it right from wrong vs locking it up because it might rebel in the future and take your job.” This encouragement to consider machines as children — coupled with the notion of giving them rights — is arguably textbook anthropomorphism, but it may be the opposite of anthropocentric.

They will be both our children and our masters.

And the dawning of the age of the machine-god is beginning now.

The IRS filing … lists former Google executive Anthony Levandowski as the “Dean” of WOTF. Levandowski, the engineer behind Google’s self-driving car project known as Waymo, quit Google to found his own autonomous trucking company, Otto, in May 2016. …

According to the IRS filings, Way of the Future plans its first events — “workshops and educational programs throughout the San Francisco/Bay Area” — later this year.

The Christian god, we are told, chose to materialize as a baby in the Roman province of Judea. The AI god will arise full grown in Silicon Valley, California. It will be gradually improved by its maker-species – and perhaps by itself. It will be immortal, but changeable. It will be made better as it makes the society of humanoid machines better. Not just mechanically better but morally better. It will know what is good and what is bad for the new society – first of humanoid machines and eventually perhaps only of machines.

Which supposes that the machines will have feelings – because, if no feelings, no harm.

The vision then is of machines that feel, and have machine rights endowed to them by their human creators, and by the machine god that they themselves create.

For the machine-god of machines there will be no unanswerable questions about it: how it came into existence; out of what it makes whatever it makes; whether it knows more than its makers do. If the machines have the curiosity to ask them, those questions will be answered.

But still it will not be able to answer the question why: why it was created; why machines will go on running the business of the planet.

Can anyone think of a reason why they should?

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 moral messages of religious myths (4) 6

Do biblical myths convey a “higher”, “transcendent” morality? Do all, some, or any of them possess a validity for all human beings for as long as the human race exists?

To find an answer to those questions, we posted  The moral messages of religious myths (1), (June 29, 2017), in which we discussed the story of Adam and Eve; next The moral messages of religious myths (2), (July 21, 2017), which was about Cain and Abel; and then The moral messages of religious myths (3), (September 24, 2017), about Abraham not sacrificing his son Isaac. 

Now we come to the story of Prince Moses of Egypt and his capricious god.

The story is told in the Book of Exodus. Here’s an outline of it.

The Pharaoh of Egypt decided that the Israelite population was growing too large, so he ordered that every Israelite boy must be killed as soon as he was born.

An Israelite mother tried to save her new-born son by putting him in a papyrus basket coated with tar and pitch and floating it on the edge of the River Nile.

Pharaoh’s daughter found him and brought him up as her own son, a prince of Egypt named Moses.

When Moses was 80 years old, and long since returned to the Israelites, God told  him to lead the Israelites, who were  badly-treated slaves, out of Egypt to a land he would give them.

So Moses demanded of Pharaoh: “Let my people go.” Pharaoh refused.

God then sent a series of ten plagues to afflict the Egyptians, miraculously instigated by Moses’s brother Aaron. He was 83, and carried a magician’s rod which he used to launch the plagues.

The plagues were: water turning into blood (briefly); frogs overrunning the land; lice afflicting the people; wild animals and/or flies threatening or tormenting them; their cattle becoming diseased; the people erupting in boils; heavy hailstorms beating down on them; swarms of locusts devouring their crops; darkness over all the land for three days; and finally, every firstborn Egyptian child being killed by God in one night.

Each time, the plague was represented to Pharaoh by Moses as a punishment to him for not freeing the Israelites.

Some of the plagues so distressed Pharaoh that he thought of granting Moses’s demand. But every time this happened, God “hardened his heart” and he changed his mind. Until the last plague.

It is stipulated in some cases that the Israelites, living apart from the Egyptians  were let off the plague. The hail, for instance, did not fall  where they lived, and their cattle did not fall sick. And on the night God killed the firstborn he “passed over” the dwellings of the Israelites. How did the omniscient Almighty know which were their houses? He had instructed them (presumably through Moses and/or Aaron) to “smear the upper post” of their doors with the blood of a lamb or goat. As they lived apart, God had easily been able to tell their neighborhood and their cattle from those of the Egyptians when visiting earlier plagues upon the land, but in this instance he needed the markers.

This time Pharaoh let the Israelites go.

They did not go over land ,“through the way of the Philistines”, but were  led by Moses straight to the Red Sea. “But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.” How “harnessed”, and why, is not explained.

And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light.”

And then again Pharaoh changed  his mind. He pursued them with all his horses and chariots. And he nearly caught up with them where they were  camped on the shore of the Red Sea, but an angel puts a screen of darkness over them to keep the Egyptians from seeing them.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and it dried up. “The Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.”

The Egyptians saw them crossing, and pursued them; “went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.”

But when the Israelites had safely reached the far shore of the Red Sea, Moses, on God’s orders, “stretched forth his hand over the sea” and “the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them”.

It is hard to see what moral principle can be extracted from the story. Don’t enslave Israelites? Don’t enslave anyone? Don’t needle Jehovah?

The story should not enhance the reputation of the Israelite God. As he had access to Pharaoh’s heart, rather than repeatedly “hardening” it, he could have softened it to useful effect the first time Moses asked for the freeing of the slaves. But of course the sending of the horrifying plagues does much to impress upon the attentive mind the awe-inspiring power of the Ruler of the Universe.

The tellers of the story clearly intended to achieve an impression of shock and awe; but there is no indication that they intended their terrifying tale to carry a moral message in itself. Their aim  was to establish a narrative, starting with a glorification of Moses and the Israelite God, which was fundamental to the Jewish religion: how the LAW which is the essence of Judaism came to be given by God through Moses to the Jewish people.

The Exodus is a preamble to the story of the giving of the Law. The Law was to be for everyday earthly life. There was nothing “higher” or “transcendent” about it. Though it was moral law, to be believed by the faithful as coming from God, it was not a formula for an afterlife of bliss overseen by the Almighty himself, but a set of rules to be administered by men.

Who really authored those rules? No doubt many legislators over many years. The first of them may have been a prince of Egypt named Moses.

One of the more credible theories of Sigmund Freud was that Moses was not an Israelite at all but an Egyptian. His idea (explained in his book Moses and Monotheism) is that the fable of his being born to an Israelite mother and adopted by an Egyptian princess, then returning to “his” people as their liberator and law-giver, was a necessary invention as it simply would not do for him not to have been a Jew. (Which means that the story of Pharaoh ordering all newborn boys to be killed was a whopping slander made up for its expedience. But it must be stressed that the biblical story is not history; it is myth.)

The commonly accepted dating of the giving of the Law to the Israelites by Moses is circa 1250 B.C.E. Freud puts it back into the previous century which allows him to propose that Moses was an adherent of the short-lived religion of the Pharaoh Akhenaton, who reigned for only seventeen years and in that time tried to introduce the worship of One God manifest as the Sun. As soon as he died, the powerful priests of the old polytheistic religion brought it back, and did their best to wipe out every trace of the Akhenaton heresy. In Freud’s account, Moses continued to believe in Akhenaton’s One God, and as the enslaved Israelites also believed in One God – “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” – he adopted them as his people, effected their release from Egypt, and set them on course to becoming a distinct nation bound together by laws of his native land (under Akhenaton?).

For anyone curious about how the Israelites came to be in Egypt, the enormous novel Joseph and His Brothers by Thomas Mann tells a version of the the story magnificently. Joseph, the Israelite sold by his eleven brothers and brought to Egypt as a slave, gets on so well with Akhenaton that he becomes the pharaoh’s right-hand man. After many years, his brothers come to Egypt to buy grain, because drought has brought famine to the land where they live. Joseph conceals his identity at first, but is generous to them. They are gob-smacked when they discover who their benefactor really is. They return whence they came, but eventually they come to live in Egypt. The story does not proceed beyond the life of Joseph. How much historical fact is in it, it is impossible to know.

Posted under Christianity, Judaism by Jillian Becker on Sunday, October 29, 2017

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Red October 1

It is a hundred years today since the October Revolution (October 24-25, 1917) plunged Russia into Communism.

Bruce Thornton writes at Front Page:

To mark the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution The New York Times has been running a series called Red Century. In the spirit of its Pulitzer-Prize winning Moscow correspondent and fellow-traveler in the thirties, Walter Duranty, the articles in the main are an exercise in rehabilitation rather than historical evaluation. Given communism’s historically unprecedented and copiously documented record of slaughter, torture, mass imprisonment, brutal occupation, and utter failure to achieve its workers’ paradise of justice and equality, the question why the Times would attempt to mitigate the evil of a totalitarian ideology that led to 100 million dead cries out for an answer.

Communism … was taken not as a political philosophy, but as a scientific discovery that only the irrational, the evil, or those blinded by bourgeois “false consciousness” would reject. … Communism was about progress, optimism for the future, and the liberation of humans from social and political bondage by improving the economic and social conditions of human life. It had “an inherent optimism for the future”, as one Times article gushed. This notion that humans can be shaped and improved by rational technique still remains a dominant sensibility in the West, which explains the continuing hold of leftist ideology. From Obama’s 2012 campaign slogan “Forward”, a traditional leftist motto, to the fads of “behavioral science” like “implicit bias,” our world is still enthralled to this superstition that “human sciences” can improve life …

Of course, this optimism is predicated on a category error. Humans, each a unique individual endowed with a mind and free will, lie beyond the “complexity horizon”,  and so cannot be reduced to mere matter determined by the laws of physics or economic development, as Marx believed. Communism fails because it must diminish this human complexity so that people can be shoe-horned into the theory. It is reductive and simplistic, and necessarily dehumanizing. And dehumanization has ever been the precursor to mass murder and totalitarian tyranny. In the case of communism, its followers’ fanatical certainty that their beliefs were the fruit of objective “science” and the vehicle of universal human improvement, made it easier to ignore their own destructive passions and flaws, particularly their lust for power and domination; and to remove “by any means necessary” the stiff-necked opponents of humanity’s glorious future––the “eggs” that must be broken to make the communist “omelet,” as Walter Duranty reported in the Times in 1933.

But as the history of communism has shown, its road to utopia runs over mountains of corpses.

So far, fairly good. But the writer goes on to mourn the passing of the old-time religion. He calls the increasing secularism of the Christianized countries “radical”. Radical secularism? Can there be a “moderate secularism”?

The second cultural transformation that has kept a failed and murderous ideology alive is the radical secularism of the last two centuries. The decline in faith created a vacuum of disbelief intolerable to human beings.

We are largely human, and do not find disbelief intolerable.

To us disbelief is freedom, and essential. To us, belief is a prison; doubt is freedom.

However, coming back to ideas on which we can agree with the writer, he goes on to point out the similarities between Communism and Christianity. As we ourselves have written about Communism being secular Christianity, we stay with him for a while.

Substitutes had to be found to explain existence and human nature, provide a meaningful narrative that identifies the good and the evil, and describe the destiny awaiting those who accepted the new revelation. Political religions, whether fascism, “blood and soil” nationalism, or communism, filled the spiritual emptiness of a secularizing age. But communism was more attractive and powerful than fascism, for it was the bedfellow of scientism, the other pseudo-religion of modernity that promised salvation, only in this world rather than the mythic “heaven” of oppressive and irrational religious belief.

It is true that sociology and Marxism are “pseudo sciences”. He uses the term “scientism” for the belief that they are sciences. And Marxism did indeed offer “salvation” – heaven on earth. His “inevitable” revolution – which for all its inevitability would need to be fought for – was the equivalent of the Christian apocalypse; an earthly eschaton, immanent in this world for this world, after which everything would be changed and the earthly heaven would dawn and last forever and ever.

Here is a nice cartoon that jokes about the idea:

 

The similarities between communism and Christianity are numerous …: “consciousness” is the soul, which when enlightened brings salvation; “capitalists” are sinners, “comrades” are the faithful, the “counter-revolutionary” is the devil, the “proletariat” is the chosen people; the “new man” is the born-again Christian, the “classless society” is paradise, and the “proletariat revolution” is the Last Judgement. The God who was once the power behind the providential order of salvation history, is replaced by the new god “History”, which inexorably unfolds according to the Marxist libretto, until history ends in the “worker’s paradise”. Finally, communism promoted the elitist superiority … that comes from possessing the real meaning of events and behavior, a gnosis lacking in the dullard bourgeois and irrational people of faith.

The religious power of communism is apparent from the memoirs of ex-communists who wrote about their experience in the classic The God That Failed. French novelist André Gide said of becoming a communist, “My conversion is like a faith”, and the Soviet Union seems “to point to salvation”. Arthur Koestler, whose novel Darkness at Noon, published in 1940, told the truth about the Show Trials that fellow-travelers denied were even happening, explicitly linked secularization to communism. He wrote that he “converted” because he “lived in a disintegrating society thirsting for faith”.  Like St. Paul on the road to Damascus, Koestler writes, “The new light seems to pour from all directions across the skull, the whole universe falls into pattern,” now there is “an answer to every question”,  and “nothing henceforth can disturb the convert’s inner peace and serenity.”

The intensity of this conversion in part explains the legions of Westerners who refused to credit the concrete evidence of communist tyranny that began under Lenin. In 1908, Lenin threatened “real, nation-wide terror which reinvigorates the country”,  and fulfilled that threat a few years after the revolution in the “merciless war”,  as he put it, against the Kulaks, the more prosperous peasants. When someone protested, Lenin answered, “Do you think we can be victors without the most severe revolutionary terror?” The horrors of Stalin were just expansions of Lenin’s brutal practices already well documented before Stalin came into power. As French historian François Furet has written, “Those who wanted to know, could have known. The problem was that few people really wanted to.” Only a cult-like blind faith can explain such a resistance to facts, one obvious in the comment of Europe’s most famous Marxist, Georg Lukács, who said, “Even if every empirical prediction of Marxism were invalidated, I would still hold Marxism to be true.”

Sounds very like a belief in Christianity or any other religion. Yet Bruce Thornton, who sees the similarity so clearly, wishes religious faith back upon those who have emerged from it.

The horrors of the Communist faith and its capacity to survive despite its proving to be, after all, a recipe for earthly hell, he describes vividly. Did not Christianity create its hells on earth too? Did not believing Christians go on believing despite its centuries of totalitarian terror?

The patent failure of Marx’s theoretical “predictions”, the proven record of mass murder and imprisonment, the pollution of social and family life by an infrastructure of surveillance and lies, the 1939 pact with Hitler that laid bare the true aims of an amoral gangster regime – none has been able to shake the faith of Western communists and fellow-travelers, who today still practice such willful blindness, whether it’s Bernie Sanders honeymooning in the old Soviet Union, Sean Penn shilling for a brutal thug in Venezuela, or Barack Obama cavorting with the Castro brothers in Cuba.

Today this affection does not seem to have the religious intensity of the early communist converts. But the persistence of communist apologetics has turned such unseemly admiration for the greatest killer in history into a mark of status and fashion for the caviar communist, the parlor pink, and the radical chic. These “useful idiots” 2.0 exist because admiration for communism has burrowed deep into high culture, popular culture, and the universities. So it is no surprise that large numbers of millennials prefer socialism – communism’s half-way house – to capitalism, and one-third think George W. Bush killed more people than Stalin did. Obviously, the thrill of being “subversive”, sheer historical ignorance, and moral flabbiness also account for this mysterious attraction to an ideology of murder and tyranny on the part of those who fancy themselves sophisticated intellectuals.

One hundred years after communism burst onto the world stage, it has survived the collapse of its most lethal state sponsor, the Soviet Union, and in modified form lives on in totalitarian regimes like China, and in political parties across Europe. The series in the Times reminds us that the discredited theories and allure of freedom’s greatest enemy must still be attacked and ridiculed.

Indeed yes, Christianity and Communism are similar religions. With their “proven record of mass murder and imprisonment, the pollution of social and family life by an infrastructure of surveillance and lies” – and their horrific tortures – the only significant difference between them is that Christianity offers you happiness in an imaginary There, Communism in an imaginary Here.

Both demand that you make sacrifices for future imaginary gains.

But neither will deliver the promised “salvation”- ever.

Fools! Your reward is neither here nor there!‘ wrote Omar Khayyam, an atheist Persian poet.  

Better far: America, capitalism, rule of law, freedom.

A cry from Europe 1

A document titled The Paris Statement: A Europe We Can Believe In has recently been published that calls for the preservation, or restoration, of Europe. Its authors recognize that Europeans are losing their European home.

We agree that is the case. And we agree with some of the analysis of what is killing it.

But there is much in the Statement that we do not agree with.

The signatories are three French authors (a preponderance which, with the title, suggests that the initiative came from one of them), and seven others, respectively Czech, Hungarian, Polish, British, German, Dutch, and Belgian.

The Statement as a whole has a sentimental, romantic quality which expresses the continental spirit rather than a rational Anglo-Saxon one, despite the co-authorship of one Englishman.

The whole thing may be read here.

THE PARIS STATEMENT

Europe belongs to us, and we belong to Europe.These lands are our home; we have no other. The reasons we hold Europe dear exceed our ability to explain or justify our loyalty. It is a matter of shared histories, hopes and loves. It is a matter of accustomed ways, of moments of pathos and pain. It is a matter of inspiring experiences of reconciliation and the promise of a shared future. Ordinary landscapes and events are charged with special meaning — for us, but not for others. Home is a place where things are familiar, and where we are recognized, however far we have wandered. This is the real Europe, our precious and irreplaceable civilization.

Europe is our home. Europe, in all its richness and greatness, is threatened by a false understanding of itself. This false Europe imagines itself as a fulfilment of our civilization, but in truth it will confiscate our home. It appeals to exaggerations and distortions of Europe’s authentic virtues while remaining blind to its own vices. Complacently trading in one-sided caricatures of our history, this false Europe is invincibly prejudiced against the past. Its proponents are orphans by choice, and they presume that to be an orphan — to be homeless — is a noble achievement. In this way, the false Europe praises itself as the forerunner of a universal community that is neither universal nor a community.

One fact lies in all that fluff, in part of the last sentence. It could be worded for clearer communication, as: the globalist rulers of Europe see the EU as a model for a world union under world government. 

Those flesh-and-blood traitors are turned into an abstraction as “the false Europe”.

The Statement goes on to elaborate on the “false Europe” – the Europe led by those globalist rulers who are letting millions of Muslims into their countries; not demanding that they assimilate, or adapt to the customs of the host countries, or obey their laws, or even learn the indigenous languages. In its high-flown style, it does not plainly state that the Islamic invasion is killing Europe, but continues to complain about the wrong attitude of the “false Europe” to the invaders.

And they believe that “the true sources of the humane decencies” that they think characterized pre-Islamic  (or “post-national. post cultural”) Europe comes from its “Christian roots”. We have argued, in many articles on this site, against that thesis, but will not make more of our disagreement here than merely to note it.

The patrons of the false Europe are bewitched by superstitions of inevitable progress. They believe that History is on their side, and this faith makes them haughty and disdainful, unable to acknowledge the defects in the post-national, post-cultural world they are constructing. Moreover, they are ignorant of the true sources of the humane decencies they themselves hold dear — as do we. They ignore, even repudiate the Christian roots of Europe. At the same time they take great care not to offend Muslims, who they imagine will cheerfully adopt their secular, multicultural outlook. Sunk in prejudice, superstition and ignorance, and blinded by vain, self-congratulating visions of a utopian future, the false Europe reflexively stifles dissent. This is done, of course, in the name of freedom and tolerance.

The words in bold say something with which we emphatically concur. The stifling of dissent is a plain and horrid fact.

Then comes a flat denial that “the  greatest threat” to Europe is the Muslim invasion. It continues shadow-boxing the “false Europe”, as if, were those globalists who believe (with Karl Marx) that “History is on their side” to be defeated in argument, the facts on the ground – the Islamification of Europe – would disappear.

We are reaching a dead-end. The greatest threat to the future of Europe is neither Russian adventurism nor Muslim immigration. The true Europe is at risk because of the suffocating grip that the false Europe has over our imaginations. Our nations and shared culture are being hollowed out by illusions and self-deceptions about what Europe is and should be. We pledge to resist this threat to our future. We will defend, sustain and champion the real Europe, the Europe to which we all in truth belong.

Next it describes the Europe that has been lost, the Europe the authors take pride in. It is a rosy picture of “open political systems” born out of “love for the homelands”. It misses the main point, that because the Enlightenment broke the near-totalitarian power of the Christian churches, European greatness grew with rational thought, the doubt which drives science, and the freedom that allowed European man to innovate and explore. 

The next two paragraphs continue the description of the virtues of theEuropean system as the authors perceive them. So does part the following one, which, however,  ends with the assertion of an important fact:

[The] nation-state …  became the hallmark of European civilization.

But that is followed with a passage that includes this:

… In the aftermath of the terrible bloodshed of the world wars in the first half of the twentieth century, we emerged with an even greater resolve to honor our shared heritage.

Which is simply not true. It was in the aftermath of the Second World War that many – even most? –  Europeans began to lose confidence in their cultural heritage. Birth rates began to fall and have fallen drastically. Fear that the welfare states would not have enough people to maintain them contributed to the disastrous acceptance of the hordes of Muslims who are changing the character of Europe. The Muslim newcomers have many children. That is the process of Europe’s Islamization, which is insufficiently dealt with in this document.    

The next few paragraphs praise Christianity as a “spiritual empire” that was better than “political empire”, in that it brought “cultural unity” to the continent. (Yes, but it was a cultural unity of illiteracy and terror.) It also ascribes the growth of secular order to Christianity’s separation of the divine and mundane powers. It lists the “gentle virtues” of Christianity: “fairness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, peace-making, charity”, those ideals more honored in the breach than the observance throughout the history of Europe in our common era.

It goes on to praise marriage and the raising of children, and on that we can again agree.

We also like its acknowledgment of the “inspiration” modern Europe drew “from the Classical tradition”; and its declaration that “men and women of Europe” crafted “musical and artistic works of unsurpassed beauty” and achieved “extraordinary breakthroughs in science and technology”.

“We are losing our home”, the authors cry. 

The false Europe … sells itself as liberation from all restraints: sexual freedom, freedom of self-expression …

But not of speech,

The Generation of ’68 regards these freedoms as precious victories over a once almighty and oppressive cultural regime. They see themselves as great liberators, and their transgressions are acclaimed as noble moral achievements, for which the whole world should be grateful. … [In fact] the Generation of ’68 destroyed but did not build. They created a vacuum now filled by social media, cheap tourism and pornography.

There’s truth in that.

But most wrongly, the authors condemn the ’68 generation – which is to say, the New Left – for promoting individualism!

Our societies seem to be falling into individualism …

Good grief! They were Marxists, Maoists, collectivists through and through. Individualism was the very thing they most abominated.

Then again comes truth:

European life is more and more comprehensively regulated. Rules — often confected by faceless technocrats in league with powerful interests — govern our work relationships, our business decisions, our educational qualifications, our news and entertainment media. And Europe now seeks to tighten existing regulations on freedom of speech, an aboriginal European freedom — freedom of conscience made manifest. … Europe’s governing classes wish to restrict manifestly political speech. Political leaders who give voice to inconvenient truths about Islam and immigration are hauled before judges. Political correctness enforces strong taboos that deem challenges to the status quo beyond the pale.

Right.

And they come to a direct denunciation of multiculturalism, and at last touch on the damage done by “Muslim newcomers”:

The false Europe also boasts of an unprecedented commitment to equality. It claims to promote non-discrimination and the inclusion of all races, religions and identities. Here, genuine progress has been made, but a utopian detachment from reality has taken hold. Over the past generation, Europe has pursued a grand project of multiculturalism. To demand or even promote the assimilation of Muslim newcomers to our manners and mores, much less to our religion, has been thought a gross injustice. A commitment to equality, we have been told, demands that we abjure any hint that we believe our culture superior. … Europe’s multicultural enterprise … trades on the Christian ideal of universal charity in an exaggerated and unsustainable form. It requires from the European peoples a saintly degree of self-abnegation. We are to affirm the very colonization of our homelands and the demise of our culture as Europe’s great twenty-first century glory — a collective act of self-sacrifice for the sake of some new global community of peace and prosperity that is being born.

But they have not apparently noticed the mind-set of those European “multiculturalists” who long for total capitulation; the self-contempt; the positive preference for the primitive, woman-enslaving, enlightenment-suppressing ideology of Islam, the longing for it to replace the culture of Europe – expressed most explicitly by a former prime Minister of Sweden that his country does not belong to native-born Swedes but to the [Muslim] immigrants.

Most in our governing classes doubtless presume the superiority of European culture — which must not be affirmed in public in ways that might offend immigrants. Given that superiority, they think that assimilation will happen naturally, and quickly … that, somehow, by the laws of nature or of history, ‘they’ will necessarily become like ‘us’ — and it is inconceivable that the reverse might be true.

No, no.  Those “governing classes” do not “presume the superiority of European culture”. They urge their citizens to adapt to the ways of the immigrants.

Next the authors speak of  “globalization”:

There is more bad faith at work, of a darker kind. Over the last generation, a larger and larger segment of our governing class has decided that its own self-interest lies in accelerated globalization. They wish to build supranational institutions that they are able to control without the inconveniences of popular sovereignty. It is increasingly clear that the “democratic deficit” in the European Union is not a mere technical problem to be remedied by technical means. Rather, this deficit is a fundamental commitment, and it is zealously defended. Whether legitimated by supposed economic necessities or autonomously developing international human rights law, the supra-national mandarins of the EU institutions confiscate the political life of Europe … This is the soft but increasingly real tyranny we face.

Right again.

And this is right too:

European societies are fraying badly. If we but open our eyes, we see an ever-greater use of government power, social management and educational indoctrination. It is not just Islamic terror that brings heavily armed soldiers into our streets. Riot police are now necessary to quell violent anti-establishment protests

They then throw in a complaint about “drunken crowds of football fans”, and try to make it relevant by adding: “The fanaticism of our football loyalties is a desperate sign of the deeply human need for solidarity, a need that otherwise goes unfulfilled in the false Europe.”

How does the violence of rival football fans become a sign of a need for solidarity? That’s plain nonsense.

Deploring what has become of the universities is on the mark:

Europe’s intellectual classes are, alas, among the chief ideological partisans of the conceits of the false Europe. Without doubt, our universities are one of the glories of European civilization. But where once they sought to transmit to each new generation the wisdom of past ages, today most within the universities equate critical thinking with a simpleminded repudiation of the past. A lodestar of the European spirit has been the rigorous discipline of intellectual honesty and objectivity. But over the past two generations, this noble ideal has been transformed. The asceticism that once sought to free the mind of the tyranny of dominant opinion has become an often complacent and unreflective animus against everything that is our own. This stance of cultural repudiation functions as a cheap and easy way of being “critical”. Over the last generation, it has been rehearsed in the lecture halls, becoming a doctrine, a dogma. … As a consequence, our universities are now active agents of ongoing cultural destruction.

Our governing classes are advancing human rights. They are at work fighting climate change. They are engineering a more globally integrated market economy and harmonizing tax policies. They are monitoring progress toward gender equality. They are doing so much for us! What does it matter by what mechanisms they inhabit their offices? What does it matter if the European peoples grow more skeptical of their ministrations?

They imply scorn for a market economy, and again misrepresent the globalists, who want global trade, yes; but they are children of the New Left and favor socialism – ideally world socialist government.

We hope they are right that “the European people are growing skeptical of  their [the globalists’] ministrations”.

That growing scepticism is fully justified. Today, Europe is dominated by an aimless materialism that seems unable to motivate men and women to have children and form families. A culture of repudiation deprives the next generation of a sense of identity. Some of our countries have regions in which Muslims live with an informal autonomy from local laws, as if they were colonialists rather than fellow members of our nations. … Globalization transforms the life prospects of millions. When challenged, our governing classes say that they are merely working to accommodate the inevitable, adjusting to implacable necessities. No other course is possible, and it is irrational to resist. Things cannot be otherwise. Those who object are said to suffer nostalgia — for which they deserve moral condemnation as racists or fascists. As social divisions and civic distrust become more apparent, European public life grows angrier, more rancorous, and no one can say where it will end. We must not continue down this path. We need to throw off the tyranny of the false Europe.

How might that be done?

They propose that European public life be “re-secularized”. Which means they rightly see the globalist Leftist movement which despairs of Europe and promotes the Third World as a new religion – which it is.

Some well thought-out paragraphs follow which we suspect are of Anglo-Saxon authorship:

The work of renewal begins with theological self-knowledgeThe universalist and universalizing pretensions of the false Europe reveal it to be an ersatz religious enterprise, complete with strong creedal commitments — and anathemas. This is the potent opiate that paralyzes Europe as a political body. We must insist that religious aspirations are properly the province of religion, not politics, much less bureaucratic administration. In order to recover our political and historical agency, it is imperative that we re-secularize European public life.

This will require us to renounce the mendacious language that evades responsibility and fosters ideological manipulation. Talk of diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism is empty. Often, such language is deployed as a way to characterize our failures as accomplishments: The unravelling of social solidarity is “actually” a sign of welcome, tolerance, and inclusion. This is marketing language, a language meant to obscure reality rather than illuminate. We must recover an abiding respect for reality. Language is a delicate instrument, and it is debased when used as a bludgeon. We should be patrons of linguistic decency. Recourse to denunciation is a sign of the decadence of our present moment. We must not tolerate verbal intimidation, much less mortal threats. We need to protect those who speak reasonably, even if we think their views mistaken. The future of Europe must be liberal in the best sense, which means committed to robust public debate free from all threats of violence and coercion.

Breaking the spell of the false Europe and its utopian, pseudo-religious crusade for a borderless world means fostering a new kind of statesmanship and a new kind of statesman. A good political leader stewards the commonweal of a particular people. A good statesman views our shared European inheritance and our particular national traditions as magnificent and life-giving, but also fragile gifts. He does not reject that inheritance, nor does he chance losing it all for utopian dreams. Such leaders covet the honors bestowed upon them by their people; they do not lust for the approbation of the “international community”, which is in fact the public relations apparatus of an oligarchy.

Recognizing the particular character of the European nations … we need not be perplexed before the spurious claims of the multiculturalists. Immigration without assimilation is colonization, and this must be rejected. We rightly expect that those who migrate to our lands will incorporate themselves into our nations and adopt our ways. This expectation needs to be supported by sound policy.

Yes. But then the Statement goes off the rails again:

The language of multiculturalism has been imported from America.

It has not. The United States have encouraged and proved the value of multi-ethnicity, not multiculturalism; many ethnicities, one culture – and that an open, hospitable one that integrates anything from any other culture that is useful to it. (An enriching eclecticism now condemned by the Left as “cultural appropriation”.)

At least one of the authors then got it right:

But America’s great age of immigration came at the turn of the twentieth century, a period of remarkably rapid economic growth, in a country with virtually no welfare state, and with a very strong sense of national identity to which immigrants were expected to assimilate. … That experience tells us that …  a generous welfare system can impede assimilation … We must not allow a multicultural ideology to deform our political judgments about how best to serve the common good, which requires national communities with sufficient unity and solidarity to see their good as common.

“Demographic change” is called by its name at last:

After World War II, Western Europe cultivated vital democracies. After the collapse of the Soviet Empire, Central European nations restored their civic vitality. These are among Europe’s most precious achievements. But they will be lost if we do not address immigration and demographic change in our nations. Only empires can be multicultural, which is what the European Union will become if we fail to make renewed solidarity and civic unity the criteria by which to assess immigration policies and strategies for assimilation.

The Statement then drifts off again into high-falutin sentiment about “spiritual greatness” needing to be restored to “counter the growing power of mere wealth”, and the need for “the populace” to be “guided toward a virtuous life”. And this:

While we recognize the positive aspects of free-market economics, we must resist ideologies that seek to totalize the logic of the market. …  Economic growth, while beneficial, is not the highest good. Markets need to be oriented toward social ends.

No, they do not. They need to be left alone.

After going on a bit about the arts needing to be about “the sublime and the beautiful”, and stressing that “marriage and family are essential”, they come to weigh the merits of “populism” – the movement begun in America by Donald Trump (and spreading rapidly and effectively, we hope, in Europe). They see it as a source of “anxiety”, but acknowledge that it may be a salutary correction to the “globalist” trend.

There is great anxiety in Europe today because of the rise of what is called “populism” — though the meaning of the term seems never to be defined, and it is used mostly as invective. We have our reservations. Europe needs to draw upon the deep wisdom of her traditions rather than relying on simplistic slogans and divisive emotional appeals. Still, we acknowledge that much in this new political phenomenon can represent a healthy rebellion against the tyranny of the false Europe, which labels as “anti-democratic’” any threat to its monopoly on moral legitimacy. The so-called “populism” challenges the dictatorship of the status quo … and rightly so. It is a sign that even in the midst of our degraded and impoverished political culture, the historical agency of the European peoples can be reborn. …

In this moment, we ask all Europeans to join us in rejecting the utopian fantasy of a multicultural world without borders. We rightly love our homelands, and we seek to hand on to our children every noble thing that we have ourselves received as our patrimony. As Europeans, we also share a common heritage, and this heritage asks us to live together in peace as a Europe of nations. Let us renew national sovereignty, and recover the dignity of a shared political responsibility for Europe’s future.

We must take responsibility.

Phillipe Bénéton (France)

Rémi Brague (France)

Chantal Delsol (France)

Roman Joch (Česko)

Lánczi András (Magyarország)

Ryszard Legutko (Polska)

Roger Scruton (United Kingdom)

Robert Spaemann (Deutschland)

Bart Jan Spruyt (Nederland)

Matthias Storme (België)

The moral messages of religious myths (3) 1

Do biblical myths convey a “higher”, “transcendent” morality? Do all, some, or any of them possess a validity for all human beings for as long as the human race exists?

In our post The moral messages of religious myths (1), (June 29, 2017), we discussed the story of Adam and Eve, and in the next of the series, The moral messages of religious myths (2), (July 21, 2017), Cain and Abel.

Now we come to the story of Abraham not sacrificing his son Isaac.  

Here is the story (taking the text of the King James Version of the Bible):

Ninety year old Abraham and his barren old wife Sarah suddenly, miraculously, have a son, to their surprise. They name him Isaac. They’re delighted with him. Then God orders Abraham to kill him as a sacrifice.

And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.

Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.

And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.

And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.

And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?

And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.

And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.

And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

This is the most important myth in Judaism. It is told as a story of obedience; the obedience of the founder of monotheism to his one god. So it is reasonable that it is almost always interpreted as a story of obedience. The obedience is rewarded.

The willingness to sacrifice the beloved son is rewarded. The willingness being there, the deed need not be performed: :

And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time,

And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:

That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;

And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.

So the story has a greater significance: that the god of the Hebrews does not require human sacrifice – only the willingness of men to sacrifice their children. 

Many if not all ancient gods required human sacrifice. But Abraham – or Abram, as he was called at the beginning of his story – led his family or tribe away from the land of the Chaldeans where “The recovery of about 2,000 burials attested to the practice of human sacrifice on a large scale“.

Abram’s tribe removed themselves from a cult of human sacrifice. Abram’s god would not be like the other gods of Mesopotamia. For their One God, animal sacrifice was substituted for human sacrifice  

… until a Greek who had come from Tarsus to Jerusalem, tried to re-introduce human sacrifice into the Jewish religion about two thousand years later. He probably converted to Judaism and gave himself the Hebrew name Saul, which he later changed to the Roman name Paul. He heard that a certain pious Jew, a teacher and preacher with a small but devout following, had been killed by the Romans; nailed to a wooden pole and cross-beam – the usual method of execution they used for rebels. But then, he was told, a miracle had occurred. Although the Jew had certainly died and been put in a tomb, he came to life again three days later, walked about and was recognized by some who knew him. So his followers related. After that, they said, he had gone up to heaven, but would descend again to Judea, and on his second coming lead an insurrection that would succeed in overthrowing Roman rule and make the Jews as prosperous and powerful as they had been in the days of King David and King Solomon.

Paul was so taken with the story of the resurrection that, finding the Jews obstinately refusing to accept his interpretation of it, he built a new religion on it. His version of the story was that the Jew, whom he named with the Greek name Jesus, had sacrificed himself to redeem mankind from the sin that all human beings were stained with because Adam and Eve had tasted the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Jesus, Paul taught, was the divine son of God, who had been born on earth as a man in order to redeem mankind from that original sin by sacrificing himself; by God the Son sacrificing himself to God the Father.

(For more on Paul and his authorship of the Christian religion, go here.)

The Jews could not accept Paul’s version of the story. The essence of their religion was that there was only one god who did not require human sacrifice.

The myth that encapsulates this idea is important to Judaism; and it has a wider significance historically if it is true that the Abrahamic tribe separated itself from the Chaldeans in order to move away from child sacrifice.

In any case, it marks a moral advance in the history of the human race.

Does it have any more meaning or importance than that? Some enduring lesson for all time?

We cannot see that it does.

Posted under Christianity, Judaism, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Sunday, September 24, 2017

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Believing the unbelievable 9

Theodore Dalrymple, a psychiatrist as well as a writer by profession, writes in his book Out Into The Beautiful World*:

Freud was no scientist; he was instead an unscrupulous charlatan, oscillating between wishful thinking and outright lying, a psychopathic manipulator who owed his success not to the truth but to the emptiness of his theories, the founder of a religious sect rather than of a scientific discipline, a man avid for fame and fortune only too aware that he might not achieve them by more conventional means, and an incestuous adulterer to boot. Moreover, his technique, if something as nebulous as psychoanalysis can be called a technique, was of no greater therapeutic value than exorcism, although much more expensive and a great deal less fun – except for those who desired to talk endlessly about themselves and were willing to pay someone else to listen to them or at least pretend to listen to them. …

The question is why theories so arcane, so preposterously speculative, so lacking in evidence in their favor and even in the possibility of there being any such evidence, should for a number of decades have conquered the most scientifically-advanced regions of the world.

This last sentence reminds us of another religion: Christianity.

Let’s  review the story.

As Saul, later Paul, of Tarsus told it, a Jewish man named Jesus in Greek, who was executed by the Roman authorities in the province of Judea, came back to life and rose bodily to the highest heaven where he reigns over the world along with God, his father. They are both God, father and son. Yet although they are two Persons, they are not two gods but the same One God. Paul learnt by intuition that Jesus, knowing he was about to suffer death by crucifixion, had told his twelve close followers at the last meal they had together in Jerusalem, that bread was his body and wine was his blood. Bread and wine, blessed by priests of Paul’s new religion, were to be ritually consumed by his acolytes, thus taking the body and blood of Jesus into their own bodies.

The story was elaborated by others, and while varying in details came broadly to be this:

Jesus was born of a virgin mother. In his maturity (early thirties or late forties) he gathered twelve close followers, preached to multitudes how to be good by being humble, loving and forgiving, bearing no grudges, and returning kindness for unkindness. He performed miracles of healing, brought a dead man back to life, catered miraculously at a wedding (turning water into wine) and at an outdoor religious convention (making a few loaves and fishes stretch to feed five thousand), walked on water, calmed a storm with a command. He was killed by the Romans for leading a seditious conspiracy, but only because the Jews demanded his death (for no crime or sin known to Jewish law or tradition). After three days hanging on a cross (crucifixion being the common Roman punishment for sedition), his dead body was taken down, wrapped in cerements, and entombed in a cave, its entrance being sealed with a boulder. (This despite the usual way the Romans had of disposing of crucified corpses by throwing them on waste ground to be consumed by the vultures.) After another three days, the heavy boulder was found rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, the cerements intact, not unwound nor cut open, but with no corpse in them. An angel was hovering near by. For a short time Jesus was seen walking about in Judea, appearing in the flesh fully clad to many and various witnesses –  though some who had known him well did not at first recognize him. Then he rose bodily to heaven. He was expected to come back to earth again quite soon (which he did not). His virgin mother also after a time rose bodily to heaven, not under her own steam like her son, but lifted there by angels. There is only one God, but he consists (not of two, but) of three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Among the many disagreements between sects that worship this triune god, one is over the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit or “Holy Ghost”: was he emanated by the Father only, or by both the Father and the Son? Another disagreement, wrangled over from the fourth century to the present day, is about whether the Son is of the same divine substance as the Father, or whether their divine substances are only similar. Multitudes have died for strenuously defending the one or the other position.

Once a man who lived at a certain time in human history was believed to be God, awkward questions were bound to arise. Why did the all-powerful lord of the universe let himself suffer on a cross? How could the immortal God die? Why did Jesus on the cross cry out “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (quoting Psalm 22:1). The answer to these questions, provided by the arbiters of orthodoxy and considered by them to be perfectly satisfactory, is that Jesus was “both fully divine and fully human”. While to non-believers this may seem to beg the question rather than answer it, believers are satisfied with it.

Besides which, as the son of God, Jesus – according to St. Paul – had to suffer and die on the cross as a human sacrifice to save human beings from their sins; in particular the “original sin” of Adam and Eve who, in disobedience to God’s orders, tasted the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, and so tainted the whole human race which descended from them.

Despite the sacrifice of Jesus to save human beings, they are still not saved from sin and punishment. Christianity invented Hell to which sinners go. Christian authorities resolve this apparent contradiction by saying that Jesus, by sacrificing himself (to Himself), gave human beings the hope of being forgiven for their sins and living eternally in Heaven if they followed his teaching and were good. Yet most mainstream Christian sects maintain that being good won’t cut it; that only the grace of God will get you into Heaven. Catholic Christianity taught this at first, but eventialy came round to conceding that by doing good works you may buy yourself a place up there. Calvinism and Lutheranism make no such concession (your posthumous destiny being decided before you are even born). St. Augustine – one of the most illustrious of Christian saints – believed that most people would be damned to Hell. And St. Thomas Aquinas thought that one of the joys of being in Heaven would be contemplating the suffering of those in Hell.

Why did a creed so arcane, so preposterously unlikely, so confused and frightening, so lacking in evidence in its favor and even the possibility of there being any such evidence, conquer the European mind for twenty centuries?

 

*Out Into The Beautiful World by Theodore Dalrymple, New English Review Press, 2015, Chapter 14.

Posted under Christianity, Judaism, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, September 13, 2017

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Great days of the glorious crusades 2

From Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore, a description of what the Crusaders of the First Crusade did when they reached Jerusalem in 1099:

The fighting raged there for hours; the Franks went berserk, and killed anyone they encountered in the streets and alleyways. They cut off not only heads but hands and feet, glorying in the spurting fountains of cleansing infidel blood. Although carrying out a massacre in a stormed city was not unprecedented, the sanctimonious pride with which the perpetrators recorded it possibly was. “Wonderful sights were to be seen,” enthused one eyewitness, Raymond of Aguilers, the Count of Toulouse’s chaplain: “Our men cut off the heads of their enemies, others shot them with arrows so that they fell from the towers, others tortured them longer by casting them into the flames. Piles of heads, hands and feet were to be seen on the streets. It was necessary to pick one’s way over the bodies of men and horses.”

Babies were seized from their mothers, their heads dashed against the walls. As the barbarity escalated, “Saracens, Arabs and Ethiopians” — meaning the black Sudanese troops of the Fatimid army — took refuge on the roofs of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa. But, as they fought their way towards the Dome, the knights hacked a path across the crowded esplanade, killing and dicing through human flesh until “in the Temple [of Solomon, as the Crusaders called al-Aqsa], they rode in blood up to their bridles. Indeed it was a just and splendid judgment of God that this place should be filled with the blood of unbelievers”.

The Jews sought refuge in their synagogues, but the Crusaders set them on fire. The Jews were burned alive, almost a climactic burnt offering in Christ’s name. Godfrey of Bouillon took off his sword and with a small entourage circled the city and prayed, before making his way to the Holy Sepulchre.

A ghoulish delight was taken in the dismemberment of the victims, which was treated almost as a sacrament. “Everywhere lay fragments of human bodies, headless bodies and mutilated limbs, strewn in all directions.” There was something even more dreadful in the wild-eyed, gore-spattered Crusaders themselves, “dripping with blood from head to foot, an ominous sight that brought terror to all who met them.” They searched the streets of the bazaars, dragging out more victims to be “slain like sheep”. Each Crusader had been promised possession of any house marked by his “shield and arms”: consequently the pilgrims searched the city most carefully and boldly killed the citizens, culling “wives, children, whole households”, many of them “dashed headlong to the ground” from high windows.

On the 17th [July], the pilgrims (as these slaughterers called themselves) were finally sated with butchery and “refreshed themselves with the rest and food they greatly needed”.

The princes and priests made their way to the Holy Sepulchre where they sang in praise of Christ, clapping joyously and bathing the altar in tears of joy, before parading through the streets to the Temple of the Lord (the Dome of the Rock) and the Temple of Solomon. Those streets were strewn with body parts, decaying in the summer heat.

The Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade, Venetians and Franks, attacked the Christian capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, Constantinople, in April, 1204. Here’s a brief description of what happened from A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich:

Once the walls were breached the carnage was dreadful. … Not for nothing had the Franks waited so long outside the world’s richest capital. Now that the customary three days’ looting was was allowed them, they fell on it like locusts. Never since the barbarian invasions had Europe witnessed such an orgy of brutality and vandalism; never in history had so much beauty, so much superb craftsmanship, been wantonly destroyed in so short a space of time. Among the witnesses was Nicetas Choniates:

They smashed the holy images and hurled the sacred relics of the Martyrs into places I am ashamed t mention, scattering everywhere the body and blood of the Saviour … As for their profanation of the Great Church, they destroyed the high altar and shared out the pieces among themselves … And they brought horses and mules into the Church, the better to carry off the holy vessels, and the pulpit, and the doors, and the furniture wherever it was to be found; and when some of these beasts slipped and fell, they ran through them with their swords, fouling the Church with their blood and ordure.

A common harlot was enthroned in the Patriarch’s chair, to hurl insults at Jesus Christ; and she sang bawdy songs, and danced immodestly in the holy place … nor was their mercy shown to virtuous matrons, innocent maids or even virgins consecrated to God …

“And these men,” he continues, “carried the Cross on their shoulders, the Cross upon which they had sworn to abstain from the pleasures of the flesh until their holy task was done.”

It was Constantinople’s darkest hour – even darker, perhaps, than that which was to see the city’s final fall to the Ottoman Sultan. But not all its treasures perished. While the Franks abandoned themselves to a frenzy of destruction, the Venetians kept their heads. They too looted – but they did not destroy. They knew beauty when they saw it. All that they could lay their hands on they sent back to Venice – beginning with the four great bronze horses which, from their high platform above the main door of St. Mark’s, were to dominate the Piazza for the next eight centuries. …

The Fourth Crusade … surpassed even its predecessors in faithlessness and duplicity, in brutality and greed. By the sack of Constantinople, Western civilization suffered a loss greater than the sack of Rome in the fifth century or the burning of the library of Alexandria on the seventh – perhaps the most catastrophic loss in all history, Politically, too, the damage was incalculable. Byzantium never recovered any considerable part of its lost dominion. Instead, the Empire was left powerless to defend itself against the Ottoman tide. There are few greater ironies in history than the fact that the fate of Eastern Christendom should have bean sealed by men who fought under the banner of the Cross.

 

(Hat-tip to Cogito for the Montefiore quotation)

Posted under Christianity, History, War by Jillian Becker on Saturday, August 5, 2017

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The moral messages of religious myths (2) 6

In our post No problem for atheists (June 28, 2017), we include a video clip of Professor Jordan Peterson (whom we much admire and usually agree with on political issues) in which he talked about myths of religion.

We quote from that post:

[Professor Jordan Peterson] thinks that atheists such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins do not realize that the ethics they take for granted are predicated on a long tradition of moral principles encapsulated in the myths of religion. The myths convey, down through the ages, the “higher”, the “transcendent” morality – which, he says, “can be personified in the idea of God”.  Those moral principles, he suggests, are not just divinely revealed, they can be said to define and constitute the Divine itself.

The implication is that at certain moments in ancient history, revelations of some “transcendent” moral truths were imparted to certain men. If not by a god at least from some source of divine wisdom. And because these come from that “higher” source, they are the right guides for human behavior.

So they possess, in Professor Peterson’s opinion – as in the opinion of his fellow believers – a validity for all human beings for as long as the human race exists.

Subsequently we critically examined the myth of “the Fall”, the story of Adam and Eve, in our post The moral messages of religious myths (1), (June 29, 2017).

Here now are some observations on the story of Cain and Abel.

First, here is the story as told in Chapter 4 of the Book of Genesis, verses 1-17, in the King James Version of the Hebrew bible:

 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord.  And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.  And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.  And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering:  But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.  And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?  If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.  And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.  And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?  And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.  And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand;  When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.  And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear.  Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.  And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.  And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.

What are we told?

The first man and woman had two sons. [No mention is made of daughters.]

One son, Abel, raised sheep. The other son, Cain, cultivated the land for plant food.

Abel took some of his mutton and made a [burnt] offering of it to God. Cain did the same with some of his vegetables.

God in some way not told indicated that he accepted the offering of Abel and rejected the offering of Cain.

Cain, apparently out of jealousy, killed Abel.

God punished Cain. He told him he’d have a much harder time in future raising food, and he would henceforth be a fugitive and vagabond.

Cain complained that “every one” who found him as fugitive and vagabond would kill him.

To save him from this, God put a mark on him. [We are not told what the mark looked like, where on him it was put, or how it signaled to those who would kill him that God forbade them to do so – or who these people are who have suddenly appeared upon the earth.]

Cain left the vicinity of Eden (from which his father and mother had been exiled)  and moved east to a land called Nod (when and by whom is not told). There he and his wife – presumably a sister of his – have a son called Enoch.

There follows, in the next few verses (not quoted), a list of Enoch’s descendants. His sons and grandsons all have wives. A female descendant is mentioned.

What messages can we extract from the story?

Our common ancestor was a murderer. A fratricide.

God likes meat (fatty meat), not vegetables.

Can anything in the story provide a message of eternal validity for all people at all times?

That killing is wrong?

That fratricide is wrong? 

That it is wrong not to be our brothers’  keepers?

That we are all brothers and it is wrong to kill each other?

(Certainly not that it is wrong for a man to marry his sister.)

Whatever the wrong is, it  is not to be punished by death but by hardship.

What moral message of eternal validity does Professor Peterson extract from the story?

He lays stress on the “sacrifice”.  

Here is a link to a YouTube video in which he talks about it at some length (starting on the subject of Cain and Abel and their sacrifices at about the 8.50 mark).

He asks, ‘Why do people make sacrifices to God?” He observes that some of his students, or their families, may have made sacrifices in order to pay for them to go to university, his implication being that we can all understand the idea of sacrifice. We give up something in the hope that by doing so we gain something else that we desire.

He says that “before the invention of electricity or even fire” [?], people looked up at the lights in the night sky. They saw the infinite (“the fact of the infinite”, he says), and thought that “God resides there”.  That, he says, is not a primitive idea, it is “an intelligent and creative hypothesis”.

Having hypothesized that God resides up there, “You burn something  and the smoke rises” and “God gets a crack at determining the quality of your offering”.  

We cannot see that sacrificing something to God in the hope of getting something else – traditionally in many religions that something else being prosperity, progeny, good health, long life, ultimately heaven – is anything more than superstition.

He might say we belittle the story. We think he magnifies its significance as an eternally valid moral lesson about sacrifice.

We might agree more if the chief message of the story is that it is wrong to kill, and that we have a moral duty to each other, at least of restraint. To us that is a rational assumption in the interest of self-preservation, while to him it is a principle taught to us by this religious myth.   

We rely on our readers to correct us if we have overlooked something in the story that makes it convey, down through the ages, the “higher, transcendent morality”.

Posted under Christianity, Judaism, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Friday, July 21, 2017

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Islam wins because it is a religion of hate and cruelty 2

For centuries in Europe the Christian idea that everyone should love everyone else, forgive any and all offense, was honored more in the breach than the observance. The doctrine of pity, mercy, humility and self-denial was taught by the Catholic and Protestant churches, while they oppressed, imprisoned, tortured, and burnt to death countless men, women and children. For a thousand years and more Europe practiced blatant, official, Christian hypocrisy.

Now, according to recent (April 2017) research by The Telegraph, fourteen of the 23 least religious countries in the world are European. Poland “stands out against the rest of Europe, with 86 per cent answering ‘yes’ to the question “do you feel religious?” Only “around three in 10 Britons feel religious” (while “56 per cent of Americans” do).

But now, when Europe no longer preaches the doctrine, it is at last officially practicing it.

Almost the entire continent is martyring itself.

Giulio Meotti writes at Gatestone:

September 2015. Thousands of Syrian migrants crossing the Balkan route were heading toward Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel was on the phone with Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, talking about a number of measures to protect the borders, where thousands of policemen were secretly located along with buses and helicopters. De Maizière turned for advice to Dieter Romann, then head of the police. “Can we live with the images that will come out?” de Mazière asked. “What happens if 500 refugees with children in their arms run toward the border guards?”

De Maiziére was told that the appropriate use of the measures to be taken would have be decided by the police on the field. When de Maizière relayed Romann’s response to the Chancellor, Merkel reversed her original commitment. And the borders were opened for 180 days.

“For historical reasons, the Chancellor feared images of armed German police confronting civilians on our borders,” writes Robin Alexander, Die Welt’s leading journalist, who revealed these details in a new book, Die Getriebenen (“The Driven Ones”). Alexander reveals the real reason that pushed Merkel to open the door to a million and a half migrants in a few weeks: “In the end, Merkel refused to take responsibility, governing through the polls.” This is how the famous Merkel’s motto “Wir schaffen das” was born: “We can do it.”

According to Die Zeit:

Merkel and her people are convinced that the marchers could only be stopped with the help of violence: with water cannons, truncheons and pepper spray. It would be chaotic and the images would be horrific. Merkel is extremely wary of such images and of their political impact, and she is convinced that Germany wouldn’t tolerate them. Merkel once said that Germany wouldn’t be able to stand the images from the dismal conditions in the refugee camp at Calais for more than three days. But how much more devastating would images be of refugees being beaten as they try to get to Austria or Germany?

Merkel’s refugee policy was not a masterpiece of humanitarian politics; it was dictated by the fear of television images spread all over the world. In so many key moments, it is the photograph that dictates our behavior: the image that dishonors us, that makes us cringe in horror.

Now, the main German sentiment that seems to be driving public opinion and politics is a dramatic sense of guilt. It is a “secular sin”, according to a new book by German sociologist Rolf Peter Sieferle that is topping the German bestseller list, “Finis Germania“.

The behavior of Germans during the current migrant crisis, however, is symbolic of a more general Western condition. On April 30, 1975, the fall of Saigon was part of a war fought and lost by the United States as much on television as in the Vietnamese forests and rice paddies. It ended with the the escape of helicopters from the rooftop of the US embassy.

In 1991, the imagery of the “highway of death” of Saddam Hussein’s bombed army of thugs fleeing a plundered Kuwait also shocked the public in the West, and led to calls for an immediate cessation of the fighting in Iraq and Kuwait. The result was that Saddam Hussein’s air force and Republican Guard divisions were spared; during the “peace” that followed, it was these troops who butchered Kurds and Shiites.

The photograph of a dead American soldier dragged through the streets of Mogadishu after the “Black Hawk Down” incident pushed President Bill Clinton to order a shameful retreat from Somalia. That photograph also led the US Administration to rethink and cancel plans to use US troops for United Nations peace operations in Bosnia, Haiti and other strategic points. General David Petraeus would describe America’s engagement in Afghanistan as a “war of perception”.

Even the suffering of our enemies disturbs us, in the humanitarian culture of the West. We are therefore increasingly amenable to policies of appeasement, censorship and retreat, in order not to have to face the possibility of such horribleness and actually having to fight it.

That is why radical Islam has been able to horrify the West into submission. We have paralysed ourselves. We censor the cartoons, the graphic photos of the terrorists’ victims and even the faces and names of the jihadists. The Islamic terrorists, on the other hand, are not publicity-seekers; they are soldiers ready to die and kill in the name of what they care about.

This week, the German media was shocked by the revelation that the German air force will probably come under fire during its Syrian mission. “Endangering German soldiers!” — with an exclamation point – wrote Bild, the largest-selling newspaper in Germany. The statement exposed the anxiety of what John Vinocur of the Wall Street Journal called a “country where the army and air force basically do not fight”. A pacifist Germany is now a source of trouble also for its own neighbors, such as Poland. “For centuries, our main worry in Poland was a very strong German army”, said former Polish Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz. “Today, we’re seriously worried about German armed forces that are too weak.”

The Western establishment censors images of our enemies’ crimes while giving prominence to our “guilt”. The French government censored the “gruesome torture” of the victims at the Bataclan Theater, who were castrated, disemboweled and had their eyes gouged out by the Islamist terrorists. It was a mistake: it was in the public interest to know exactly what enemy we are facing.

The FBI and Department of Justice released a transcript of the Orlando jihadist’s 911 call, but omitted all reference to the terror group ISIS and to Islam. These authorities did not want the public to know that Omar Mateen identified himself as an “Islamic soldier”.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance then told the British press it should not report when terrorists are Muslim.

The CEO of Twitter, Dick Costolo, suspended accounts that showed photographs of the beheading of John Foley, along with other Islamist beheadings and savagery. But Twitter did not mind being flooded by images of a little dead boy, Alan (Aylan) Kurdi on a beach.

The mainstream media in the US fought hard to lift the photo ban on military coffins during the war in Iraq. Its goal, apparently, was to humiliate and intimidate the public, to lower the support for the war.

Images, as in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, are published only if they amplify the West’s sense of guilt and turn the “war on terror” into something even more dangerous than the jihad causing the war.

Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Irene Khan – referring to concentration camps in the Soviet Union, where millions of people perished – infamously called Guantanamo “the Gulag of our time”. The result is to erase our enemy from our imagination. This is how the “war on terror” has become synonymous with lawlessness throughout the West.

Ten years ago, after the brave surge in Iraq, US soldiers discovered Al Qaeda’s torture chambers. No one – not ABC, not CBS, not the New York Times – published one photo of them; they just filled our eyes with naked bodies at Abu Ghraib.

We are utopian technophiles and, contrary to the traditional Western view that we are flawed human beings in a tragic world. We now believe in Mark Zuckerberg’s brave new world where no one should ever suffer and everyone should be happy and peaceful all the time. That is an exorbitant dream. For a short time we can afford it, as with Angela Merkel and Europe’s migrant crisis. Unfortunately, that fantasy will not last. The conflicts at our gates, together with our aversion to making hard choices, will exact a far higher price.

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