Sunday. The day of rest throughout the Christianized world. Throughout the West.
A day for rumination.
Some of our fellow atheists say that we ought to respect people’s religious beliefs.
But what religious belief deserves respect?
It is obviously wise to treat other people with respect, whatever their beliefs (unless they prove themselves unworthy of it). Politeness is the oil of social relations. And enlightened self-interest tells us that it is intelligent policy.
But beliefs are a different matter. All ideas need to be critically examined. And none so thoroughly as a dogma.
Are there aspects of the three so-called moral religions that can be respected?
Judaism holds justice (or “righteousness”) to be its highest value. That can be respected. (The most sacred thing of Judaism, secluded in the innermost sanctum of the Temple,”the Holy of Holies” where only the High Priest could enter, was nothing but the written law.) But what the old Jewish scriptures declare to be just does not always – or often – seem just to us now. And Jehovah commanded an awful lot of mass murder, even the merciless slaying of little children.
Christianity’s revolution against Judaism lay in new moral commandments: to love everybody, which is not in itself evil, of course, but by ignoring the emotional range of human nature can only promote hypocrisy; and unstinting forgiveness, which is the opposite of justice.
And Islam? Islam forbids and punishes critical examination of its doctrine. That alone makes it entirely unacceptable. It is right and just to abhor and reject it.
Here’s Christopher Hitchens on religion as the source of immorality:
Dennis Prager writes at Townhall:
One of the many remarkable traits of the progressives is their lack of self-awareness.
This trait was on display last week in the media and Democratic Party’s characterization of Donald Trump’s acceptance speech – and the entire Republican National Convention – as “dark”.
For the left to dismiss other Americans as having a dark view of America is preposterous.
Because no one – not Trump, not the Republican Party, not any conservative – has nearly as dark a view of America as does the left.
Across the board – from the universities to the media to the Democratic Party – the left, around the world and in America, has an unremittingly dark view of the United States.
Here’s a brief glimpse.
- Racism “is part of our (American) DNA”, President Barack Obama said in 2015. Is there anything Trump said in his acceptance speech that is as dark about America as that?
- On July Fourth weekend, Vox published a long column arguing “3 reasons the American Revolution was a mistake”.
- The most widely read historian in American high schools and colleges, the late left-wing professor Howard Zinn, was asked (by me) whether he thought the United States had done more good or more bad in the world. “Probably more bad than good,” he answered.
- The left regularly characterizes the United States as a sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, racist and bigoted country.
- Our wars are wars for imperialist expansion, driven by material greed.
- The top 1 percent relentlessly exploits the other 99 percent.
- America is rigged against blacks, Hispanics and the 99 percent.
- Cops kill unarmed blacks proportionately more than they kill unarmed whites because so many cops are racist.
- About 1 in 5 female college students are sexually assaulted on campus.
Is there anything in Trump’s speech that can match any of those left-wing views of the United States for “darkness”?
Moreover, every one of those leftist critiques of America is false.
Nevertheless, we are in a dark time in America. In fact, Trump didn’t make the case for America’s darkness nearly effectively enough.
- Our universities – outside of the natural sciences – are being destroyed as learning institutions. They close minds, censor speech and indoctrinate rather than educate.
- Blacks have more anger toward whites and America than at any time since the civil rights era.
- American students are learning less while being indoctrinated more. They graduate high school barely able to write a coherent essay with proper sentence structure, grammar and spelling. But they know all about the existential threat allegedly posed by fossil fuels.
- According to a recent Gallup Poll, fewer young Americans than at any time since polling began are proud to be Americans.
- A greater percentage of Americans are dependent upon government for their income and even for food than at any time in American history.
- The American national debt is the highest it has ever been. And it is increasing at a rate that can only lead to an economic implosion.
- A smaller percentage of Americans are married than at any time in American history.
- Americans are having fewer children than ever.
- Fewer businesses in proportion to the general population are being started than ever before.
- Sectors of major American cities are essentially killing zones.
Is that dark enough?
And the list is only a partial one.
Moreover, every one of those dark facts is the result of left-wing policies, left-wing politicians, left-wing writers, left-wing professors and the left-wing party, the Democratic Party.
If all Donald Trump did between now and November were to delineate the darkness created by the left and the Democrats, he could potentially win in a landslide. But, for reasons that elude me, he won’t, just as no Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan has. In the same way that Democrats won’t identify America’s international enemy – Islamic terror – Republicans won’t identify America’s domestic enemy, the left.
And until Republicans do, the darkness won’t recede.
We agree with his diagnosis – except for one item we removed from his own list of truly dark facts about contemporary America. We removed it because it is not a dark fact at all.
It is this:
Fewer Americans than ever before believe in God, go to church or affirm Judeo-Christian values, the basic moral code of America’s founding and of Western civilization.
The basic moral code of America’s founding was NOT that two-headed chimera “Judeo-Christian values”. The Constitution of the United States embodies the values of the Enlightenment.
Jewish values and Christian values are essentially different. Judaism holds justice to be the highest value. (Which was a good idea; only exactly what those men of old who wrote the Bible considered just was often not good at all.)
Christianity holds love to be the highest value. Love granted unconditionally. Even to the sinner; even to those who do evil to others; so mandating hypocrisy – which provides cover for every imaginable cruelty. And it is the opposite of justice.
Furthermore, Christianity brought a thousand years of darkness down on Europe; a darkness that was only finally dispelled by the Enlightenment.
The Enlightenment set reason above faith, and enshrined liberty as the highest value. Protecting the freedom of each individual became the duty of the state. Under the rule of law, “justice” applied to the individual; only to the individual.
It is real progress if “fewer Americans than ever before believe in God and go to church”.
The churches did a terrible job when they had power. Let’s have no more priests ordering our lives. How about electing a businessman to lead us?
No matter what he says for political convenience – Donald Trump is not a religious man. And for us that is a definite plus.
He believes in his own ability to bring new opportunity for wealth and joy to all Americans.
He is a capitalist. Wherever true free-market capitalism flourishes, freedom flowers and happiness becomes visible.
His speech was not dark. It was a promise of a new dawn.
A promise he might fulfill if he becomes the next president of the United States.
In this video, published on May 28, 2016, Colonel Richard Kemp – former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, and an expert on Middle East conflicts – discusses what the Palestinian leadership really wants.
Bernie Sanders, whether he likes it or not, is a Jew. And as he is a man of the Left, he doesn’t like it.
The Jews – UNIQUELY – are both a nation and a religion. Yet it is not only possible but common for Jews to be one OR the other. Converts to Judaism are obviously of the religion but not of the nation. Many Jews – probably a majority of Western Jews – who are of the nation by birth, are not religious.
Perhaps it would be better to speak of the Jews being “a people” rather than a nation, as a Jew’s legal nationality might be American, or British, or French etcetera.
Bernie Sanders is of the Jewish people. And for two millennia his people were despised, humiliated, robbed, tortured, murdered individually and en masse by the Christian powers – longest and most atrociously by the Catholic Church. (Except in America.)
For a while, between the early 19th century and the mid-to-late twentieth century, many of the educated Jews of Europe and Russia put their hopes for relief from persecution in the new religion of Communism, in which (its theorists claimed) there would be neither Jew nor Gentile, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female, neither rich nor poor: for all would be one in the utopia of the Communist state.
But where Communist utopias were established in the twentieth century, Jews found they were not welcome. That should have told them that Communism would not save them. But many Jews who realized that the Lenins and Stalins of the Communist faith could not be relied on to treat them much better than had the Christians, were yet unwilling to give up the utopian Communist dream. Some Jews had realized this early on, so tried forming their own Communist party – the Bund. But as a separate group what could it achieve? A society in which there would be neither regrettably-still-sort-of -Jewish Jew nor absolutely-no-longer-Jewish Jew, neither bond Jew nor free Jew, neither male Jew nor female Jew, neither rich Jew nor poor Jew: for all would be one in the utopia of a Jewish Communist … What? Where?
Other Jews, who could think better, decided to work to regain the ancient Jewish homeland in the Eastern Mediterranean region of the Ottoman Empire, and establish an actual state on real territory. They were the Zionists. In 1948 they achieved their state, their safe haven at last, on real territory that had been part of their ancient homeland.
Those Jews who, despite being unwanted, remained faithful to the Communism imposed on Russia and Eastern Europe, stuck to their abjuration of their Jewishness, the peoplehood as well as the religion. So did – and do – most of the Communists of Jewish descent everywhere in the free world.
As Communists often object to being called Communists since the Leninist-Stalinist utopias of Russia and Eastern Europe collapsed in poverty and criminality, we will call them Leftists for the rest of this article. Bernie Sanders is a Leftist.
Meanwhile, the Jews’ ancient persecutor, the Catholic Church, has selected a leader, Pope Francis, who is also a Leftist. He has found it possible to join the new religion without leaving his old one. He owes this achievement to his fellow Latin American priests, who spun the antithetical dogmas of secular Communism and Triune-God-worshiping Catholicism together in such a whirl of words that they came out of the Synthesizer as one substance, inseparable. And the stuff, the thing, was named “Liberation Theology”.
It is Leftism. The Pope is a Leftist, like Bernie Sanders.
For Leftists, their Leftism trumps all. No appeal to loyalty, history, precedent, reason, logic, decency, or common sense can move them. They want there to be neither black man nor white man, neither civilized nor savage, neither citizen nor illegal alien, neither CEO nor minimum-wage-earner, neither one sex nor any of the others, but all to be one in the global Communist mystic egalitarian low-carbon-emission utopia ruled by themselves.
To acknowledge and strengthen their brotherhood in the Kingdom of Means-Justifying-Ends, Bernie Sanders and Pope Francis shook hands on April 16, 2016.
… not the solution.
As if the world were not being rocked by a war of religion, Dennis Prager writes at Townhall that there is not enough religion in America:
The most profound thinkers in America are conservative. There are, of course, bright liberal and leftist thinkers, but I can’t think of one who approaches the depth and wisdom of the best conservative writers and thinkers. What liberal historian, for example, approaches the understanding of life and history that author Paul Johnson has exhibited in his many works of history? Who on the left matches psychiatrist/writer Theodore Dalrymple’s insight into the underclass? What left-wing columnists understand human nature, the state of mankind, or contemporary America as do George Will, Charles Krauthammer and Thomas Sowell, or many of the leading columnists at publications such as National Review, City Journal, Commentary Magazine or the Wall Street Journal?
I write this to make it clear that my admiration for the leading conservative writers, columnists and thinkers is deep and abiding.
Ours too. We have no quarrel with anything he has said so far (though we admire the Catholic writer, Paul Johnson, with a little less enthusiasm than he does).
There is, however, a “but.”
The vast majority of leading conservative writers, just like their liberal colleagues, have a secular outlook on life. With few exceptions, the conservative political and intellectual worlds are oblivious to the consequences of secularism. They are unaware of the disaster that godlessness in the West has led to.
Maybe because it is not “godlessness” that has led us to disaster, but godfulness – most obviously the godfulness of Islam.
Most leading Republicans and most of the wealthy donors to the Republican Party — in addition to virtually all libertarian politicians and think tank scholars — are either uninterested in the death of Judeo-Christian religions and values in America and the West, or they’re OK with it. They think that America can survive the death of God and religion, that fiscal and other forms of conservatism without social conservatism can preserve America.
First, to use the hyphenated term “Judeo-Christian” is to link two things together that are opposed to each other; an ideology of justice and an ideology of anti-justice.
Judaism’s highest value is justice, usually called “righteousness” in its bible. Unfortunately, many an instance of what the pious men of old considered to be “righteous” or “just”, is not easy to reconcile with the idea of justice that we, the heirs of the Enlightenment, understand it to be. But as an ideal it could not be bettered, or even matched – except by the ideal of freedom.
Christianity was a revolt against Judaism. It substituted love for justice as the highest ideal. It commanded “Resist not evil”. It preached forgiveness, self-sacrifice, self-abasement. It condemned “the sin” but “not the sinner” – absolving him of responsibility and rewarding him with love and forgiveness. Anti-justice. Anti-Judaism.
Our ideals – freedom, reason, justice – were bequeathed to us by the Enlightenment; that brilliant dawn that dispelled the terrifying intolerant rule of religion. Why do Christians pretend that Christianity does not have a cruel and bloody past?
Dennis Prager seems to think of those old religions as really nice, sensible, polite, well-dressed, well-spoken, well-washed, well-exercised, clean-cut, all-American, common-sensical codes of morals. They are not, and they never were.
It shows how effective the secular indoctrination in our schools and media has been, that even the majority of conservative thinkers are not only secular themselves, but seem to have no idea how much of the American civilization rests on religious foundations.
We wish we could believe him that “the majority of conservative thinkers are secular”. Maybe the majority of the best of them are, but there are dozens of opinion writers in the conservative ranks who write continually about God. This Christian Conservative website, Townhall, provides endless examples. (We read it every day and find sound conservative views in it too.)
They don’t seem to understand that the only solution to many – perhaps most – of the social problems ailing America and the West is some expression of Judeo-Christian faith.
Which expression would that be?
He finds one.
Do the inner-city kids who study the Bible and go to church each week lead wasted lives, join gangs, bear children out of wedlock or commit murder? …
Probably not most of them. Which is good, of course. But the implication that there is no way other than by religious instruction they they could be raised to live their lives well, is not defensible.
And why do secular conservatives think so many affluent and well-educated Americans have adopted left-wing dogmas, such as feminism, socialism, environmentalism and egalitarianism as their religions? Because people want to – have to – believe in something. And if it’s not God and Christianity or Judaism, it’s going to be some form of Leftism. Why are evangelical Protestants, theologically conservative Catholics, Orthodox Jews and practicing Mormons almost all conservative? Because they already have a religion and therefore don’t need the alternate gods of leftist faiths, and also because Judeo-Christian religions have different values than leftist religions.
We agree that “feminism, socialism, environmentalism and egalitarianism” are religions. But not that “if it’s not God and Christianity or Judaism, it’s going to be some form of Leftism”.
It doesn’t have to be. We are living proof that one can be an atheist and believe in all the values of conservatism: individual freedom, the rule of law, small government, a free market economy, strong defense, and the political wisdom of the Constitution. But freedom to us means freedom from the tyranny of any orthodoxy – which excludes every church. And we add reason to our high values – and that excludes every religion.
When these conservatives – people who revere the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence – read the founders’ assertion that all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”, do they believe what the founders wrote? Or were they just echoing the irrational religious beliefs of their time, as people on the left believe?
Although on this point we might be in agreement with something the left believes, yes, we do think they were “just echoing the irrational religious beliefs of their time”. Well, not exactly echoing them – more modifying them. They were (at least some of them) skeptical men, men of the Enlightenment, who thought that though a god must have created the universe, he thereafter declined to have anything more to do with it (which is what “deism” means – and they described themselves as “deists”).
When these conservatives see the components of what I call the American Trinity – the words “liberty,” “In God We Trust” and “e pluribus unum” inscribed on every American coin – do they regard “In God We Trust” as no longer necessary?
President John Adams warned: “Because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion … our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Do secular conservatives think he was right or wrong?
Partly right, partly wrong. Moral, yes. Religious, not necessarily at all.
The problem is not that most leading conservative thinkers are secular; it is that they don’t seem to understand that a godless and Judeo-Christian-free America means the end of America, just as a godless and Judeo-Christian-free Europe has meant the end of Europe.
If Europe had not been marinaded in the self-destructive morality of Christianity for two millennia, would it now be letting in hordes of its worst enemies in the name of “compassion”? Would it be accepting the prospect of its subjugation by Islam without resistance? Would it let its young girls be turned into sex slaves by Muslim criminals without objecting for fear of hurting the Muslim criminals’ feelings? Would it be abandoning freedom of speech (an Enlightenment value) out of deference to a dogmatic, intolerant, savage religion?
No. Europe is dying of Religion, not of Reason.
And yes, America could too.
After the First World War, most intellectuals were Socialists of one shade or another, the spectrum ranging from pale pink Fabianism (the equal-sharing classless society must gently evolve) to blood-red Marxism-Leninism (the inevitable victory of the proletariat must be achieved by violent revolution).
As a great many Jews were intellectuals, there were a great many Jewish Socialists. Quite a lot of them lived in the lower-rent parts of New York. They were the children and grandchildren of immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe. Because America was an open society where it was possible for free enterprise to be rewarded with prosperity, many did well enough to afford a college education for their sons. Yet they (not all of them, but the ones we’re concerned with here, who were probably the majority) did not approve of the open free-enterprise society which gave them the opportunities they had seized successfully. Not at all. They and their sons had an ideal, and they clung to it: an equal-sharing classless Socialist society – like, if not necessarily exactly like, the Russians had under Stalin.
Strange “cognitive dissonance”? Yes. But that’s how it was.
Bernie Sanders is one of those sons. To read about his family, his early life, his education, his political opinions is to read about thousands like him.
Now that he is a candidate for the presidency of the United States, he expresses opinions that belong to the pink end of the spectrum; but those he has expressed in the past would place him at the blood-red end – and he has never repudiated them.
Daniel Greenfield writes at Front Page that when Bernie Sanders was mayor of Burlington, Vermont, between 1981 and 1989, …
[He] enumerated detailed — and radical — foreign-policy positions and explained his brand of socialism.
[He believed that] “the basic truth of politics is primarily class struggle”; that “democracy means public ownership of the major means of production”. …
Politics is primarily class struggle is classic Marx. Government control of the means of production, think Communism. … Bernie Sanders is still touting the support of Marxist economists. …
Sanders was a big fan of the Sandinistas … [He] marveled that he was, “believe it or not, the highest ranking American official” to attend a parade celebrating the Sandinista seizure of power.
It’s quite easy to believe, actually, when one wonders what elected American official would knowingly join a group of largely unelected officials of various “fraternal” Soviet dictatorships while, just a few feet away, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega bellows into a microphone that the United States is governed by a criminal band of terrorists.
And Sanders vocally defended the Marxist murderers.
The lesson Sanders saw in Nicaragua could have been plagiarized from an editorial in Barricada, the oafish Sandinista propaganda organ.
“Is [the Sandinistas’] crime that they have built new health clinics, schools, and distributed land to the peasants? Is their crime that they have given equal rights to women? Or that they are moving forward to wipe out illiteracy? No, their crime in Mr. Reagan’s eyes and the eyes of the corporations and billionaires that determine American foreign policy is that they have refused to be a puppet and banana republic to American corporate interests.”
President Reagan had deplored an atrocity committed by the Sandinistas: forcing Indians into a church and setting fire to it. He had also objected to their driving the Jews out of the country. The Sandinistas’ henchmen attacked a synagogue with firebombs while shouting “Death to the Jews”, “Jewish Pigs” and “What Hitler started we will finish”. And …
The president of the synagogue that the Sandinistas had attacked was forced to sweep the streets, a scene reminiscent of Nazi behavior in occupied Europe, before being forced to leave the country with [nothing but] the clothes on his back.
The synagogue was seized and transformed into a Sandinista youth center decorated with Anti-Zionist posters.
The Jewish community of Nicaragua fled to Miami and Costa Rica.
But that is …
Nothing Bernie Sanders cares about. …
All of which re-raises a question often asked: Why do a majority of American Jews go on voting for the Democratic Party when it has become openly anti-Israel and is sliding ever nearer to the blood-red end of the Socialist spectrum?
Answer: Because their Leftism is their religion.
The great ex-Communist authority on Communism, Sidney Hook, writes interestingly on this question:*
The political fortunes of the Communist Party in the United States began to decline precipitously as the war continued. It took another nose dive after the Soviet Union invaded Finland … Meanwhile the the details of the close collaboration between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were beginning to percolate to the West. Even radical circles critical of the Kremlin’s duplicity were stunned by the news that Stalin handed over to the Gestapo scores of German-Jewish Communists. …
The comparatively large following the Communists had among the Jews gradually dried up, but a sizable segment remained [who were] professionals, especially teachers. One who found this phenomenon puzzling was John Dewey. I remember him once asking me to explain how after the Nazi-Stalin Pact so many Jews could still be numbered among the Communist faithful. I explained it in part as an expression of their idealism. Most of them did not identify themselves as Jews. They were citizens of the world – the ideal Communist world of the future. To them what was happening to the Jews as a consequence of policies adopted by the Kremlin for raison d’état was part of the cost of historical progress.
There were other reasons why so many Jewish Communists remained faithful to the Communist Party line despite Stalin’s willingness to placate and appease the author of Mein Kampf. The political life of the Communist faithful was their whole life. It defined not only their intellectual allegiance but a network of social, emotional, and personal relationships that constituted a vibrant community. To break with the Party was tantamount to a self-imposed exile from its sustaining warmth into a cold, hostile world, in which they could hardly be integrated.
For many of the older generation of Jewish Communists, there was perhaps a deeper reason. Most of them had been reared in the orthodox Jewish religious faith, in which the whole of life from rising to retiring at night is organized around its central dogmas. These determine a complex pattern of prayers and ritual pervaded by a spirit of piety and unquestioning acceptance of the Divine Presence. Emancipation from this mode of life meant at first a gradual and then ultimately a total rupture, culminating in a conversion to the atheism of Marxism and a total rejection of Judaism as a parochial and confining creed. Yet psychologically those who still remained faithful to some of the ideals of prophetic Judaism were drawn to a movement that, despite its militant secularism, provided a mode of life every whit as integrated and sustaining as the religion they had abandoned. They could feel themselves once more, even if persecuted, a chosen people not of God but of history, a vanguard, liberated from the exclusionist and chauvinist prejudices of their forefathers, preaching a salvation open to all mankind.These Jews were naturally reluctant to break their ties with the Communist movement, hoping against hope that the Kremlin would mend its imperial, totalitarian, and racist ways. When at last they were compelled to disavow the Soviet Union, they were for a long time bereft, psychologically akin to to those who after a crisis of belief surrender their religion. At the time of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, despite the shock, many of the faithful could not yet make the excruciating wrench with their past.
Sidney Hook may be right. Those may be the (emotional) “reasons” why Jews cling to the Left even as Jews are ever more abused by their fellow Leftists. Because it’s their religion. Because, as their religion, it’s their whole life. Because it would be painful to break with it.
But we are talking about intellectuals. People who are supposed to be devoted to Reason. How would it really hurt them to switch their votes to the side where every candidate has emphatically declared his and her support for Israel?
Those “reasons” look more like excuses. And at this point in history, they are unacceptable.
It is a simple matter for anyone who can think to see the way the wind blows, how the land lies … and change his mind.
Bernie Sanders is a relic of a bygone age. How nice it will be when everyone can see that so is the far-left Democratic Party, and the entire ideology of Socialism, in all its shades of red.
*Out of Step by Sidney Hook, Harper and Row, New York, 1987, pp.306-307.
(Hat-tip for the Hook quotation to Robert Kantor)
Afterword: We have written that Communism is Secular Christianity (see under Pages in our margin). Now we declare it to be the The other Jewish religion. We deny that there is any contradiction between the two statements. Communism is secular Christianity, and it is the other Jewish religion. Only neither Christians nor Jews (as far as we know) are generally aware that it is both those things.
Many stories like this one (dated April 19, 2012) can be found on the Internet:
A Sri Lankan woman is currently facing decapitation by sword on a witchcraft charge in Saudi Arabia …
Who brought the charge, and why?
A Saudi man complained that in a shopping mall his 13-year-old daughter “suddenly started acting in an abnormal way, which happened after she came close to the Sri Lankan woman,” reports the daily Okaz.
After the local man denounced the Sri Lankan for casting a spell on his daughter, police in the port city of Jeddah found it sufficient cause to arrest the woman.
She was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death by decapitation.
Witchcraft and sorcery imply only one measure in Saudi Arabia – beheading. And it works this way in practice: last year in the kingdom at least two people – a woman in her 60s and a Sudanese man – were beheaded on witchcraft charges.
Hugh Fitzgerald writes today at Front Page:
From Saudi Arabia comes the news that the mutaween, the feared religious police under the control of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, who patrol the streets and regulate the daily life of the populace, are now being given five-day courses in how to recognize, and then how to neutralize, a small army of wizards, witches, ghosts, demons, fortunetellers in the Magic Kingdom. Apparently it’s a big problem. Why, there have even been reports of leprechaun-like creatures – possibly they’ve wandered down from the Old Sod to end up in the Empty Quarter – who find it great fun to persuade innocent Saudis to break the rules of Sharia. All these dealers in the magical and supernatural will be hunted down, and dealt with sternly, by the Saudi religious police — “sternly” can mean anything from long prison sentences to decapitation.
Such worries are not new to the Saudis, however — the official anti-witchcraft unit within the Ministry of the Interior was first formed in May 2009.
The reason the Saudis are so worried about wizards and witches is that the Saudi people, like other Muslims, are especially vulnerable to the appeal of the occult. Muslims learn from the Qur’an that there exists an intelligent creature (the only other intelligent creature in the universe, according to Islamic doctrine, aside from humans and angels), called the Djinn (or Jinn), whose meddling with humans explains Evil, as well as health and illness, wealth and poverty, that Man as a creature of fate – where everything may be inshallah but is not necessarily hunky-dory — may enjoy or endure.
Evil djinn — not all djinn in Islam are bad – can take possession of people and cause them to behave in wicked ways.
This is not foreign to, but part of, orthodox Islam. Fortunately, there are those who, after appropriate training, can become qualified exorcisers of the evil djinn, using special Qur’anically-approved healing methods. There are also those who have not undergone training to be exorcists and who use methods which have not been approved, and this gets them into trouble with officials even if their methods prove effective. The Saudi witchcraft-hunt offers us a glimpse of the Bizarro-World that we enter whenever we penetrate the world of Islam.
In the West, we hardly bother to denounce those who claim to be witches and wizards, exorcists and fortunetellers, that is, all who lay claim to supernatural powers, because we know, as rational creatures, that they are frauds and fakes, they cannot possibly have these powers. And because we don’t believe any of that stuff, we don’t worry about them in this, our Western world, the dutiful child of the Enlightenment and rationalism. If we punish any fortunetellers or magicians at all, it’s only because they have charged for services we know are worthless and we want them to disgorge their ill-gotten gains. Witchcraft has not been taken seriously, i.e. as effective, since Salem, when outside it was 1692.
But in the Islamic world, magic (bad or black magic and good magic) is everywhere and taken very seriously – i.e., thought to be effective – indeed. In the Islamic world, belief in witchcraft, magic, sorcery of all kinds, is widespread. Fear of black magic is pervasive. Fortunetellers, witches and wizards, exorcists of bad djinn are to be found everywhere. And this is because Magic and the Occult are very much a part of Muslim teachings and Muslim life.
The Occult – the Djinn – transmitted by the Qur’an, helps to explain the widespread belief in other kinds of sorcery and magic in the Muslim world. But it is not the whole explanation for that belief. The heightened vulnerability of Muslims to the promise and threat of assorted wizards, fortunetellers, sorcerers, and exorcists, as compared to the sturdy resistance of rational Western man, is to be explained also by the more general effect of Islam’s encouragement of the habit of mental submission, and its punishment of skepticism. A good Muslim never questions any of the teachings of Islam, and the observant Muslim state (as Saudi Arabia certainly is) punishes those Muslims who dare to demonstrate the least display of skepticism (the end-point of that skepticism is apostasy, punishable by death). The result is that Muslims, even without the whole business of the Djinn, inhabit a mental universe of encouraged credulity.
Well, not all of that is true. While it is important to remember that the Enlightenment was confined to the West – and that it did not touch Islam – it did not abolish Western superstition. Christians continue to believe the impossible. They believe that a virgin gave birth; that God is both One and Three, and all-human at the same time as being all-divine; that “Jesus” walked on water, brought a dead person back to life, and performed various other impossible feats; that he himself came back to life after being dead for three days; that he now lives eternally in a physical heaven … The list of magic events and conditions in which Christians believe could be very long.
In addition to which, many Christian denominations, including Catholics, do practice exorcisms. So do most of the organized religions. Commonly, a ritual is performed, a priest says this and that, and at the end of it a claim is made (often if not always ) that “an evil spirit” has been expelled from a person who was “possessed” by it.
Christianity and Judaism draw a firm distinction between “magic” and “miracles”.
We fail to see the difference.
For Valentine’s Day we choose this video, in which Christopher Hitchens comments on Christian “love”.
He also tells a good joke about a Buddhist and a hot-dog vendor.
Today in our Pages section (see the top of our margin), we post a review by Jillian Becker of How Jesus Became God by Bart D. Ehrman.
Here is part of it.
Bart D. Ehrman’s book How Jesus Became God is a formidable challenge to Christian belief. It stands to his credit that he pursued his researches to the point where he changed from a believing Christian into an “agnostic”. (I put the word in quotation marks because I think the word as applied to religious belief is a cop-out, an intellectual bromide. If you do not believe there is a god, whether your unbelief is weak or strong, you are an atheist.)
An enormous amount of what he says fits with what is known and makes good sense. But in one vital area he goes wrong. He goes wrong because his perspective is Christian – even though he no longer thought of himself as a Christian when he came to write the book. He was not able to free himself sufficiently from the Christian viewpoint because he could not totally shrug off his Christian indoctrination.
Where is it that he goes wrong? ? He traces the vital beginning of the process of Jesus becoming God to the first, Jewish, followers of Jesus. That is the core of his thesis. And, interesting as his book is, generally well-researched as it is, it fails to make its case; because the author has not understood who the earliest followers of Jesus were and what they believed about him.
There is convincing evidence that the man whose Greek biographers called by the name Jesus (and we must call him that for want of knowing what his birth name was) did exist in the province of Judea between the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius, and that he was a rabbi with a burning (fanatical, even insanely fanatical) desire to bring about a new Kingdom of God, like the one he and his nation believed had been the free and glorious kingdom of David and Solomon. He prophesied that the “Son of Man” – or the Messiah, the Annointed One – would come and effect this wonder, and he even came to believe that he was that “Son of Man”, that Messiah, himself.
Now let’s look at more of the probable story from a non-Christian (and unbelieving) standpoint.
Jesus’s gesture of attacking some Roman soldiers, along with a couple of his followers armed with two swords – one of them used to slice off a Roman’s ear – did not bring the result he expected. He had convinced himself such a move on his part would be the signal to God to start the series of earth-transforming miracles that would destroy the Roman Empire and bring back the freedom and glory of the Jewish people. The Romans arrested him, brought him to a cursory trial, and condemned him to death by crucifixion – the punishment prescribed for insurrection by Roman law. The punishment was duly carried out. (As Ehrman says, the body was probably flung on the ground somewhere to be devoured by birds and worms and scavenging beasts.)
His little circle of close followers, shocked, terrified, and grieving, fled from Jerusalem to save their own lives, but returned after a while and were to be found among the numerous sects and factions of perfectly orthodox Jews who lived there and carried out their obligations under the law in and to the Temple. They could not bear to give up their idea that Jesus was the Messiah. And as he had not succeeded in doing what a Messiah had to do, they trusted that he would soon return and complete his task. They even sent out missionaries to preach to dispersed communities of Jews and their hangers-on of “God fearers” that Jesus was the risen Messiah and he would return in glory to save the Jewish nation.
Now we come to the tricky bit. Did they then believe that Jesus had come back to life after his execution? Yes. So to them he was still alive? Yes. Did they believe that he had suspired not just in spirit, but in his body? Seems very likely that they did. And this would not have been strange among the Jews of the time. Every sect and party, every faction and movement, religious and political, except one – the Sadducees, the party of the royal priests – believed in the bodily resurrection of the dead. The general resurrection (the dogma ran) would occur at the end of days. But Jesus’s resurrection, his disciples believed, would be sooner than that – very soon. And they might well have pictured him returning in clouds of glory, descending from the sky and instantly causing the political liberation and resultant spiritual renewal of Israel.
Did they then believe that he was, or became after his death, or perhaps had always been God, or a god, or “the [unique] Son of God” – no. If they had believed any of that they would no longer have been Jews. But doesn’t the idea of his return in clouds of glory and descending from the sky imply divinity? Yes. And Ehrman argues well that there was precedent in the Jewish religious annals for an orthodox belief that (a) there were beings other than God himself in the divine sphere who were thus themselves divine – angels, seraphim, cherubim; and (b) that men had been raised to the sphere of divinity and – it could be argued – shared in the aura of the divine. It is even true that the Hebrew word for God – Elohim – is a plural. And that Psalm 82 speaks of creatures on earth being “gods”. He cites the (apocryphal) books of Enoch and The Wisdom of Solomon for the strongest evidence to support his contention that, while Jehovah was believed by the Jews to be the chief God, there were many lesser gods in Jewish scriptures.
Fine. But now we come back to what the followers of Jesus believed. First of all, who were they? At one point Ehrman calls them “illiterate peasants”. Well there he is probably wrong. For one thing, Jewish boys (most if not absolutely all) were taught to read so that they could read aloud a portion of the law when they turned thirteen. Secondly, there is nothing to say that either Jesus or his followers were uneducated men or even poor men. (The Christian tradition that Jesus was a carpenter and the apparent son of a carpenter has no basis in any discoverable historical fact. The family could have been well-to-do. There were means to support him as a rabbi – a voluntary teacher of the law – in his last year or two.) The disciple Matthew (not to be confused with the name attached to one of the gospels) was certainly literate, being a tax collector.
If Ehrman is right that they were mostly illiterate peasants, then the chance that they would have known anything of the apocryphal books of Enoch are remote, and virtually nil that they could have known of The Wisdom of Solomon – written in Greek – or the works of their contemporary Philo of Alexandria in Egypt.
And even if they were literate, as they almost certainly were, they were not scholars or theologians. There is no way they would have been able to argue for the existence of lesser gods, even if they knew Psalm 82 off by heart. They would have been taught that “God is One” – the central tenet of Judaism. So Ehrman’s sophisticated arguments from esoteric and academic sources for the possibility that they could believe Jesus was or became a god, are inapplicable to them. …
In this 2011 video, Christopher Hitchens talks aboout the immorality of Christianity, and the absurdity of religion in general.