The organizers of an important Conservative conference have banned an atheist organization from attending it and setting out its stall.
The Conservative Political Action Committee, the largest and oldest gathering of conservatives, is run by the American Conservative Union and will be held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland’s National Harbor from March 6 to 8. Last year, the event brought together thousands of activists to listen to dozens of Republican leaders speak about everything from economics and foreign policy to social issues. The event has long been considered a required stop for Republican presidential hopefuls.
That and what follows we quote from CNN’s “belief blog”.
Organizers for the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference will not allow American Atheists to have an exhibition booth …
The decision comes just hours after American Atheists, the outspoken organization that advocates for atheists nationwide, announced that it would have a booth at the event. David Silverman, president of American Atheists, tells CNN that a groundswell of opposition from high-ranking members of CPAC compelled the group to pull the invite.
Meghan Snyder, a spokeswoman for CPAC, said in a statement to CNN that “American Atheists misrepresented itself about their willingness to engage in positive dialogue and work together to promote limited government.”
“I’m surprised and I’m saddened,” Silverman said in response to the announcement. “I think this is a very disappointing turn of events. I was really looking forward to going … It is very obvious to me they were looking for a reason to say no,” Silverman added. “Christianity is bad for conservatism and they did not want that message out there.” …
Silverman said his group [had] planned to use the booth to bring conservative atheists “out of the closet” and said he was not worried about making the Christian right angry because “the Christian right should be threatened by us.”
Snyder said CPAC spoke to Silverman about his divisive and inappropriate language.
He pledged that he will attack the very idea that Christianity is an important element of conservatism. People of any faith tradition should not be attacked for their beliefs, especially at our conference. …
But yes, Ms Snyder, it is precisely beliefs that ought to be attacked. Continually. Forever.
The critical examination of ideas is the essential task of civilized humankind.
When [earlier] Snyder had confirmed to CNN that American Atheists would be at CPAC, she said in a statement that they were allowed to display at the confab because “conservatives have always stood for freedom of religion and freedom of expression.”
“The folks we have been working with stand for many of the same liberty-oriented policies and principles we stand for,” Snyder said. …
And so, she had thought, did American Atheists. But the decision to include them had outraged some conservatives.
Tony Perkins, president of the Christian conservative think-tank Family Research Council, expressed outrage at the decision, stating that the American Atheists did “not seek to add their voice to the chorus of freedom”. [He said] “CPAC’s mission is to be an umbrella for conservative organizations that advance liberty, traditional values and our national defense.”
Does the American Conservative Union really think the liberties and values they seek to preserve can be maintained when they partner with individuals and organizations that are undermining the understanding that our liberties come from God? Thomas Jefferson warned against such nonsense. If this is where the ACU is headed, they will have to pack up and put away the “C”‘ in CPAC!” …
The first “C” for “Conservative” we suppose is the one he meant. But why would it need to be packed away if atheists are allowed to have their say? Perhaps Perkins thinks it stands for “Christian”.
American Atheist is well known for its controversial billboards and media campaigns and is considered the in-your-face contingent in the world of atheist activists. The group’s members pride themselves as being the “Marines” of the atheist movement. …
In explaining why the group decided to join CPAC on Monday, Silverman cited a 2012 Pew Research study that found 20% of self-identified conservatives consider themselves religiously unaffiliated. While that does not mean they are atheists, Silverman believes learning more about atheism will make it more likely conservatives will choose to identify with those who believe there is no God.
Just as there are many closeted atheists in the church pews, I am extremely confident that there are many closeted atheists in the ranks of conservatives. This is really a serious outreach effort, and I am very pleased to be embarking on it.
The group has long targeted Republican lawmakers, although Silverman considers the organization nonpartisan.
In 2013, American Atheists launched a billboard campaign against three Republican politicians: former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. All three Republicans have spoken at CPAC in the past.
On one billboard, Santorum is pictured to the left of a quote attributed to him. “Our civil laws have to comport with a higher law. God’s law,” the quote reads. Underneath the graphic is a tagline: “GO GODLESS INSTEAD.”
Comment on this affair comes from National Review, by Charles C. W. Cooke: :
Yesterday, in response to one of the many brouhahas that CPAC seems always to invite, Brent Bozell issued the following statement:
The invitation extended by the ACU, Al Cardenas and CPAC to American Atheists to have a booth is more than an attack on conservative principles. It is an attack on God Himself. American Atheists is an organization devoted to the hatred of God. How on earth could CPAC, or the ACU and its board of directors, and Al Cardenas condone such an atrocity?
So Brent Bozell thinks that issuing the invitation was an attack on conservative principles. More, it was “an attack on God Himself”. As such, it was a veritable “atrocity“!
The particular merits of the American Atheists group to one side, this is a rather astounding thing for Bozell to have said. In just 63 words, he confuses disbelief in God for “hatred” for God — a mistake that not only begs the question but is inherently absurd (one cannot very well hate what one does not believe is there); he condemns an entire conference on the basis of one participant — not a good look for a struggling movement, I’m afraid; and, most alarmingly perhaps, he insinuates that one cannot simultaneously be a conservative and an atheist. I reject this idea — and with force.
If atheism and conservatism are incompatible, then I am not a conservative. And nor, I am given to understand, are George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Anthony Daniels, Walter Olson, Heather Mac Donald, James Taranto, Allahpundit, or S. E. Cupp. There is no getting around this — no splitting the difference: I don’t believe there is a God. It’s not that I’m “not sure” or that I haven’t ever bothered to think about it; it’s that I actively think there isn’t a God — much as I think there are no fairies or unicorns or elves. The degree to which I’m confident in this view works on a scale, certainly: I’m much surer, for example, that the claims of particular religions are untrue and that there is no power intervening in the affairs of man than I am that there was no prime mover of any sort.
Rrrreally, Mr Cooke?
But, when it comes down to it, I don’t believe in any of those propositions.
Am I to be excommunicated from the Right?
One of the problems we have when thinking about atheism in the modern era is that the word has been hijacked and turned into a political position when it is no such thing. The Oxford English Dictionary defines an “atheist” as someone who exhibits “disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a god.” That’s me right there — and that really is the extent of it.
Okay, you can have a booth at any conference we ever organize.
Or have we spoken too soon? Repeat what you were mumbling, please?
No, I don’t dislike anyone who does believe that there is a God; no, with a few obvious exceptions, I am not angry at the religious; and no, I do not believe the devout to be in any way worse or less intelligent than myself. Insofar as the question inspires irritation in me at all it is largely reserved for the sneering, smarmy, and incomprehensibly self-satisfied New Atheist movement, which has turned the worthwhile writings of some extremely smart people into an organized means by which a cabal of semi-educated twentysomethings might berate the vast majority of the human population and then congratulate one another as to how clever they are.
What New Atheist movement? If it exists, we want to join it. What is incomprehensible about it? What suggests that “it” is self-satisifed? What worthwhile writings would those be? Who are these beraters? And are they not - in that they are atheists – cleverer than “the vast majority of the human population”?
Which is to say that, philosophically speaking, I couldn’t really care less … and practically speaking I am actually pretty warm toward religion — at least as it is practiced in America. True or false, American religion plays a vital and welcome role in civil society, has provided a number of indispensable insights into the human condition, acts as a remarkably effective and necessary check on the ambitions of government and central social-planners, is worthy of respect and measured inquiry on the Burkean grounds that it has endured for this long and been adopted by so many, and has been instrumental in making the United States what it is today.…
We would dispute almost every one of those propositions, especially that religion is “worthy of respect” – though of “measured inquiry”, yes, it is worthy, and should be subjected to it mercilessly.
We like most of what he goes on to say next. And he provides some interesting information:
None of this, however, excuses the manner in which conservatives often treat atheists such as myself. George H. W. Bush, who was more usually reticent on such topics, is reported to have said that he didn’t “know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic[because] this is one nation under God”.
Whether Bush ever uttered these words or not, this sentiment has been expressed by others elsewhere. It is a significant mistake. What “this nation” is, in fact, is one nation under the Constitution — a document that precedes the “under God” reference in the Gettysburg Address by more than seven decades and the inclusion of the phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance by 165 years. (“In God We Trust,” too, was a modern addition, replacing “E Pluribus Unum” as the national motto in 1956 after 174 years.)
Indeed, given the troubled waters into which American religious liberty has of late been pushed, it strikes me that conservatives ought to be courting atheists — not shunning them. I will happily take to the barricades for religious conscience rights, not least because my own security as a heretic is bound up with that of those who differ from me, and because a truly free country seeks to leave alone as many people as possible — however eccentric I might find their views or they might find mine. In my experience at least, it is Progressivism and not conservatism that is eternally hostile to variation and to individual belief, and, while we are constantly told that the opposite is the case, it is those [leftists] who pride themselves on being secular who seem more likely and more keen to abridge my liberties than those who pride themselves on being religious. That I do not share the convictions of the religious by no means implies that I wish for the state to reach into their lives. Nevertheless, religious conservatives will find themselves without many friends if they allow figures such as Mr. Bozell to shoo away the few atheists who are sympathetic to their broader cause.
As it happens, not only do I reject the claim that the two positions are antagonistic, but I’d venture that much of what informs my atheism informs my conservatism also. I am possessed of a latent skepticism of pretty much everything, a hostility toward the notion that one should believe things because they are a nice idea, a fear of holistic philosophies, a dislike of authority and of dogma, a strong belief in the Enlightenment as interpreted and experienced by the British and not the French, and a rather tenacious refusal to join groups.
Yes, a conservative should logically be skeptical of ideology as such. And impatient with the irrational. And religions are among the most irrational of ideologies.
Occasionally, I’m asked why I “believe there is no God,” which is a reasonable question in a vacuum but which nonetheless rather seems to invert the traditional order of things. After all, that’s not typically how we make our inquiries on the right, is it? Instead, we ask what evidence there is that something is true. …
A great deal of the friction between atheists and conservatives seems to derive from a reasonable question. “If you don’t consider that human beings are entitled to ‘God given’ liberties,” I am often asked, “don’t you believe that the unalienable rights that you spend your days defending are merely the product of ancient legal accidents or of the one-time whims of transient majorities?” Well, no, not really. As far as I can see, the American settlement can thrive perfectly well within my worldview. God or no God, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence are all built upon centuries of English law, human experience, and British and European philosophy, and the natural-law case for them stands nicely on its own.
And he then turns to Thomas Jefferson, who penned the Declaration, and, far from “warning against undermining the understanding that our liberties come from God” as Tony Perkins claims …
… rejected revealed religion because revealed religion suggests a violation of the laws of nature. For revelation or any miracle to occur, the laws of nature would necessarily be broken. Jefferson did not accept this violation of natural laws. He attributed to God only such qualities as reason suggested.
Which, as the quoted passage goes on to explain, are none:
“Of the nature of this being,” Jefferson wrote to John Adams in 1817, “we know nothing.”
Logically then, not even its existence, though Jefferson is not recorded as ever having said so.
The war 5
Among the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls there is one titled The War of the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness.
It is a perpetual war: Good against Evil.
It is fought in most of the world’s mythologies, and in almost all of them Good will win in the end. (The exception is that of the Norsemen. They foresaw the triumph of Evil.)
Dennis Prager, writing at Townhall, describes how the two sides of the conflict appear to him now:
In both personal and public life, you can know a great deal about a person or a group if you know what most bothers them – and what doesn’t bother them.
A news item this past week made this point with glaring clarity. It reported a meeting that the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights had on Friday. Before revealing the subject of that meeting, let’s review for a moment what is happening in the world …
North Korea continues to be an affront to the human species. That North Korea, whether or not it had nuclear weapons, is not a central concern is an indictment of humanity.
That the West, with the noble exception of Canada under Stephen Harper, is appeasing the dictators of Iran, is an indictment of the West.
Add to this list the U.N.’s and the world’s ignoring of the Chinese government’s continuing suppression of all dissent and its decades-long violent eradication of Tibet’s unique and ancient culture.
Then add the slaughter of millions in Congo over the last decade, the 100,000-plus killed in Syria just last year, most of them civilians killed by their own government, and the blowing up, burning alive, and throat-cutting of untold numbers of innocent people by violent Islamists on a daily basis.
In other words, if what bothers you most is evil – the deliberate infliction of cruelty on people by people – North Korea, Congo, China, Syria and radical Islam will bother you more than anything else on the world scene.
So, then, what was the subject of the meeting convened Friday by the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights?
The alleged racism of the name of the National Football League’s Washington team, the Redskins.
That’s right. All these horrific evils are happening as you read this, and … the United Nations had a meeting about the name Washington Redskins.
The U.N. is not alone in paying undue attention to the Redskins’ name. The left in the United States is nearly obsessed with it. President Barack Obama has spoken out against it. The Washington Post editorial board has demanded that the team drop the name. In the herd-like way that governs media, innumerable columnists and sports writers have written passionate columns against the name, and increasing numbers of sports writers have vowed to never again write or speak the name.
This left-wing obsession with a non-evil exemplifies the left’s moral universe. That universe is preoccupied with lesser evils while nearly always ignoring the greatest evils.
Preoccupation with real evil is the greatest difference between right and left. The right was preoccupied with fighting Communism while the left … was preoccupied with fighting anti-Communists.
The right today is preoccupied with fighting Islamism; the left is preoccupied with fighting “Islamophobia.”
One way of putting it is that the right is preoccupied with fighting evil and the left is preoccupied with fighting those who fight evil.
The right is preoccupied with defending Israel against those who wish to annihilate it. The left is preoccupied with Israeli apartments on the West Bank.
This difference was made manifest last week in the address given by the one world leader to exemplify the right’s preoccupation with evil, Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper. Talking about all the condemnations of Israel, Harper said:
“Think about the twisted logic and outright malice behind that: a state, based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law, that was founded so Jews can flourish as Jews, and seek shelter from the shadow of the worst racist experiment in history, that is condemned, and that condemnation is masked in the language of anti-racism. It is nothing short of sickening.”
Yes, but the writer does not go nearly far enough. The Left is not merely preoccupied with fighting those who fight evil, it is occupied with doing evil. The Left is in alliance with Islam. Its (bewilderingly unintelligent) intelligentsia invent a fake need to “save the planet” from “climate change” as an excuse to advance their own tyrannical rule, reduce population, and impoverish and destroy civilization.
And where are our warriors of the Right to stop them? Let’s see: there’s Stephen Harper and … Well, a few more names may spring to mind. And we do have the immense power of Reason on our side.
Which side is winning, would you say?
For a change, some cheerful news from Britain:
This is from the Telegraph:
A young Afghan man who became an atheist after coming to Britain has been granted asylum on the grounds that the threat to his life for having no faith would amount to “religious” persecution.
In what is thought to be the first case of its kind in the UK, the Home Office accepted that sending the man back to his country of birth could put him in danger specifically because of his lack of religious beliefs.
The man, who is not being named for safety reasons, was born a Muslim but abandoned his faith after coming to the UK as a teenager around five years ago. …
In the latest case the man’s lawyers argued that as someone of no religious faith he could face even greater danger in Afghanistan than a member of a minority religion such as Christianity.
It comes just weeks after Supreme Court effectively recognised Scientology as a religion in a landmark judgment which established that it is not necessary to worship a god or gods to constitute a religion.
Of course atheism is not a religion; but if Britain is going to recognize that an ideology does not have to include a god to be a religion, then at last it may be accepted in some official quarters that Communism is a religion.
In the asylum case lawyers did not have to establish atheism as a “religion” because it was clear that any risk he faced would be of a religious nature.
But his solicitor, Sheona York, said it nonetheless underlined the significance of atheism as a distinct “philosophical position”.
The man’s case to the Home Office was prepared by Claire Splawn, a second year law student at the University of Kent, under the supervision of Ms York, through the Kent Law Clinic, a partnership between students, academics and solicitors and local lawyers.
She said: “We argued that an atheist should be entitled to protection from persecution on the grounds of their belief in the same way as a religious person is protected. … We believe that this is the first time that a person has been granted asylum in this country on the basis of their atheism. The decision represents an important recognition that a lack of religious belief is in itself a thoughtful and seriously-held philosophical position.”
In the submission they explained that having lived in Britain for several years and adopted western customs and dress, the young man feared that even were he to disguise his atheism in Afghanistan it would quickly be discovered.
It says that the application was made on the basis that: “As an atheist, if returned to Afghanistan, he will face persecution for a Convention reason, namely (lack of) religion; or alternatively that he faces a substantial risk of serious harm on account of his lack of religious belief. … Afghanistan is a Muslim dominated country where religion underpins every aspect of everyday life. Furthermore, in Afghanistan, and even in Kabul, life is lived in such a way that everyone is connected with everyone else. There is no sense of privacy and his lack of beliefs would become very quickly known. It is clear hat the applicant fears for his life in Afghanistan where he is not only non-Muslim but does not in fact believe in any religion.”
It goes on to explain how the man had recently made a visit to another predominantly Muslim country, to visit friends, and had been “shocked” by how his lack of belief made him stand out.
“He was shocked by how everyone talked as if life meant nothing to them,” it says.
“People said ‘this is not the only world’ and that you have to believe. People said ‘you cannot sit and eat with people who are not Muslim’.
“He noticed that to the people he met, this life meant nothing to them and all their expectations were focused on the other world, life after death.”
We hate to concede anything to the Left, but it seems that on one subject there are more sensible Democrats than Republicans.
This comes from Pew Research:
Six-in-ten Americans (60%) say that “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while a third (33%) reject the idea of evolution, saying that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.” The share of the general public that says that humans have evolved over time is about the same as it was in 2009, when Pew Research last asked the question.
About half of those who express a belief in human evolution take the view that evolution is “due to natural processes such as natural selection” (32% of the American public overall). But many Americans believe that God or a supreme being played a role in the process of evolution. Indeed, roughly a quarter of adults (24%) say that “a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.”
These beliefs differ strongly by religious group. White evangelical Protestants are particularly likely to believe that humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. Roughly two-thirds (64%) express this view, as do half of black Protestants (50%). By comparison, only 15% of white mainline Protestants share this opinion.
There also are sizable differences by party affiliation in beliefs about evolution, and the gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown. In 2009, 54% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats said humans have evolved over time, a difference of 10 percentage points. Today, 43% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats say humans have evolved, a 24-point gap.
Views About Evolution by Party Affiliation
There are sizable differences among partisan groups in beliefs about evolution. Republicans are less inclined than either Democrats or political independents to say that humans have evolved over time. Roughly two-thirds of Democrats (67%) and independents (65%) say that humans have evolved over time, compared with less than half of Republicans (43%).
The size of the gap between partisan groups has grown since 2009. Republicans are less inclined today than they were in 2009 to say that humans have evolved over time (43% today vs. 54% in 2009), while opinion among both Democrats and independents has remained about the same.
Differences in the racial and ethnic composition of Democrats and Republicans or differences in their levels of religious commitment do not wholly explain partisan differences in beliefs about evolution. Indeed, the partisan differences remain even when taking these other characteristics into account.
Differences by Religious Group
A majority of white evangelical Protestants (64%) and half of black Protestants (50%) say that humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. But in other large religious groups, a minority holds this view. In fact, nearly eight-in-ten white mainline Protestants (78%) say that humans and other living things have evolved over time. Three-quarters of the religiously unaffiliated (76%) and 68% of white non-Hispanic Catholics say the same. About half of Hispanic Catholics (53%) believe that humans have evolved over time, while 31% reject that idea.
Just as religious groups differ in their views about evolution in general, they also tend to differ in their views on the processes responsible for human evolution. For instance, while fully 78% of white mainline Protestants say that humans and other living things have evolved over time, the group is divided over whether evolution is due to natural processes or whether it was guided by a supreme being (36% each). White non-Hispanic Catholics also are divided equally on the question (33% each). The religiously unaffiliated predominantly hold the view that evolution stems from natural processes (57%), while 13% of this group says evolution was guided by a supreme being. Of the white evangelical Protestants and black Protestants who believe that humans have evolved over time, most believe that a supreme being guided evolution.
Do people tell the truth to pollsters? Pew explains how the poll was conducted. The methods are well-tested. The margin of error is small (+/-3.0 percentage points.) Still, we can doubt the accuracy of the figures. Especially on subjects touching on religion, some might say what they believe listeners around them expect them to say rather than honestly give their opinion.
Nevertheless, we have to accept that millions of Americans don’t believe in evolution. And even among those who do, there are millions who believe that it’s “guided” by a supernatural agency.
And the percentage of Republicans who believe in evolution has actually dropped since 2009, from 54% to 43% – while the number of Democrats who believe in it has risen from 64% to 67%, if the poll is to be trusted.
To be religious, to believe in a creator god or divine being of any description, is not intellectually respectable.
Far from deserving respect, religions deserve scorn. And worse. The histories of most of them warrant intense abhorrence.
What prompts us now to utter such blunt, unqualified, hard assertions on this “sensitive” subject? This report, which tells how Muslims are trying to make the whole world a reason-free zone.
We quote from the website of Jonathan Turley:
The effort by Muslim countries to curtail free speech in the name of their religion continues. While the Obama Administration has sought to appease these countries in developing an international blasphemy standard, this case shows how even the more modern Islamic countries (as well as Western countries) are finding blasphemy to be a useful vehicle to control speech and silence critics.
The latest attack comes from Qatar which has proposed a ban that would allow for the prosecution of people in other countries. That’s right, our allies are creating laws to allow them to prosecute people for insulting religion outside their own countries.
The use of the term “defamation” is a new twist to satisfy Western sensibilities and make it sound like this is a recognized form of legal action. However, it is the old blasphemy law in a new and more menacing form. The law would actually be broader than blasphemy which already exists on the books of many Muslim countries. This law would allow for the prosecution of people for all forms of defamation. Derision or denigration of religions and prophets will be considered crimes.
The selling point of the new law was explained by Ebrahim Mousa Al Hitmi, the Qatari justice ministry assistant undersecretary for legal affairs,“The main feature of the draft is that it gives every state the right to put on trial those who abuse and hold in contempt religions even if they are outside the country.”
However this “legal expert” assured people that there is no danger at all to free speech because insulting religion is not protected speech:
The law does not interfere in any way with the freedom of opinion and expression which is well protected and guaranteed. All penal laws in Arab countries criminalize defamation of religions but there are no specific sanctions when an abuser is outside the country. Therefore, the main goal of this law is to deter all forms of defamation of religions and give each country that ratifies it the right to file lawsuits against those who offend religions, even if they are not residents.
See how simple it is? You first declare denigrating religion as outside of the scope of permitted speech and then when you prosecute people for writing or speaking about religion it is by definition not a question of free speech.
These laws reflect an inherent insecurity among religious extremists running these countries that free speech represents a serious threat to orthodoxy. It is not enough that they prosecute and even execute people for apostasy. They are determined to cut off alternative views being spoken about religion on the Internet or in other countries. …
There can be no compromise between free speech and blasphemy. These nations stand against the most basic right of all men and women to speak freely and worship (or not worship) as their values dictate.
Of course the Muslims mean that only their own religion must not be criticized. They will continue to “defame” all other religions – and atheism – and obey their own doctrinal commandment to convert, subdue, or kill non-Muslims whenever they can.
And it may be impractical for them to enforce this decision outside their own areas of jurisdiction. But Europe is already complying with it. The Obama administration is sympathetic to it. And some US judges have already decided cases in accordance with sharia law, and a supreme court judge has argued in favor of doing so.
Those who hold the conviction that all ideas – including and especially religious ideas – should be continually and forever examined in the the light of reason, beware!
And stand your ground.
(Hat-tip for the report, our reader Frank)
Yesterday we discussed the dying out of the indigenous European peoples as their numbers halve with each generation. We asked why they are letting this happen, why fewer and fewer children are being born. We argued that it is hard to make a case that Socialism as an economic system is responsible for the death of Europe, or that materialism is responsible for it, or that the lost influence of the old-time religions account for it. But today we argue that Socialism as an ideology may have a lot to do with it.
As far as we can discover, the idea that a person should care less for himself than for anybody and everybody else, was introduced into history by the author of Christianity, St Paul.* It is not an injunction of Judaism, which does require its followers to “love [respect?] your neighbor as yourself” but not more than yourself. It has no precedent in Greek philosophy, nor in any of the Far Eastern religions which are intensely concerned with personal benefit. None of them are moral religions. True, Buddhism teaches tolerance, but in order to do yourself good, to help you personally on your way to bliss.
Christianity might seem to do that when it promises heaven to those who do good works. But “redemption” by good works was not St Paul’s idea. It was introduced into the Catholic faith later. St Paul taught that only the grace of Christ Jesus could save you. (And that was Luther’s and Calvin’s doctrine too.) So you must do good works, put others before and above yourself without expecting any reward on earth or in heaven. You must accept that your life is to be hard, and that your afterlife may be even worse. But at least for the afterlife there is hope. Heaven is the aim. If you attain it, whether by grace or good works, there – only there – you as an individual being will find joy. This life is not to be valued.
It is a ruinous idea. It can mean, if taken to heart, that you should not strive for happiness, or even survival. It can mean that every time you supply a want of your own, however basic and essential – food, clothing, protection, information, healing – you will feel self-reproach. As total selflessness is impossible, it’s a recipe for failure and consequent shame, guilt, self-contempt, even self- hatred. It is against not just human but animal nature, since if you do not eat and protect yourself you will not survive. If human beings were not innately selfish the race would have died out long ago. Indeed, it would never have arisen.
Christians might say that it’s okay, of course, to see to your own survival needs. Some might even grant you the moral right to supply them amply – just so long as you are also attentive to the needs of others. You only have to consider them more than yourself – liberal Christians might tell you – when that choice inescapably presents itself.
No doubt, in the everyday life of Christians, the injunction to care more for others than for yourself is honored more in the breach than the observance. But the principle remains. It is the essence of Christian morality.
Over some centuries it became the ideal of multitudes and persisted for generations. What follows logically from it? Nobody is judged according to his individual merits. Everyone is more important than you are not because of what he is or does, but simply because he is part of the mass.
To think like that is to think sociologically. And from the notion that the individual is of less account than the mass arises another: that the individual is of no account at all, and only the mass, the “community”, matters.
But the mass, the community, has no identity. It has no personhood. It has no aspirations. Where only the many matter, nobody matters.
The spread of Christianity had a lot to do with the fall of the Christianized Roman Empire. Just how much is voluminously debated. At the very least, the Christian doctrines of universal love and not resisting evil mitigated against vigorous defense when enemies struck. And for a thousand years, from the time Rome fell in the late fifth century, Christianity with its impossible injunctions and its terrors of Hell lay heavy on the peoples of Europe.
As the dominant ideology, Christianity faded with the fading power of the Church. The Renaissance and then the Enlightenment shifted the center of human concern from heaven back to earth. Once again, as in pre-Christian times, the proper business of men was with men. This life mattered again. The individual mattered again.
But the Idea – that terrible, misery-making, destructive idea that you must sacrifice yourself for the rest - did not completely fade away. It changed its host. It became the central idea of Socialism.
Socialism is the child of Christianity. Yes: the secular religion of Socialism, though it has no God, no heaven, is – in its DNA so to speak – Christian. As an ideology it received its central Idea from Christianity: the Idea that only the mass, the many, the community matters, not the individual and his personal life.
Christians may deny it – do deny it – but the Christian Idea is the Socialist Idea. We frequently read Christian apologetics claiming that Christianity created “the individual”, and by doing so made Europe great. Europe’s greatness, however, only began – for the second time since the fall of the Roman Empire – with the dispersal of the darkness that Christianity had spread over it. But then Socialism was born, and came into its inheritance. In its turn it became the dominant ideology of Europe.
Because the mass has no identity, no personhood, no aims or aspirations, Socialism is as anti-human as its mother. While its goal is not beyond and above the earth, it is in the equally abstract, equally unknown, equally phantasmagorical Future.
Now the Europeans are dying out. Multitudes of them care nothing for their national culture and history. Some positively hate all that, and are happy to let Muslims take over their countries and govern them under a different, ancient, cruel law.
Can their death as a mass, as communities, be the end result of Christianity-Socialism? If they are no longer deceived that paradise awaits them either on or above this earth, for what should they live? Are the nations dying out simply because people can see no reason why they should go on existing?
* For the many substantiating quotations from the letters of St Paul, and the source references, see our post Tread on me: the making of Christian morality, December 22, 2011.
Jillian Becker August 12, 2013
This essay continues our series on obscure and lost religions, Gnostic cults in particular. It follows on these: Thus, more or less, spake Zarathustra, May 26, 2009 (on Zoroastrianism); How a rich shipowner affected Christianity, January 2, 2010 (on Marcion); Erotic religion, January 24, 2010 (on Carpocrates and Epiphanes); The father of all heresy, February 23, 2010 (on Simon Magus, and Menander); Yezidis and Mandeans, April 4, 2010; Mani and Manicheism, May 9, 2010; Hot in the land of Hum, October 14, 2010 (on the Bugomils); Valentinus, February 14, 2011; The heretics of Languedoc, May 1, 2011 (on the Cathars); Gnosticism: what is it?, March 3, 2013; Holy snakes, March 24, 2013 (on the Ophites).
Chronologically and ideologically, Basilides and his son Isadorus followed Simon Magus – whom the Catholic Church Fathers called “the father of all heresy” – and Simon’s disciple and successor Menander. Our short account of Menander and his sect was added recently to the post titled “The father of all heresy”.
Basilides and Isadorus
Simon Magus, his disciple Menander, and their respective sects came to their ends. But the Gnosis of Simon Magus survived and developed as the 2nd century CE wore on. Menander was succeeded by his disciple Basilides, who, in his turn, improved the mystic vision of his master into something richer and stranger, and with it won a large and enthusiastic following in North Africa, Spain, and even – it has been contended – in Britain. It is probable that he was the first thinker to propound a theory of the Big Bang – though he did not call it that. He might also have been the first to propound a theory of the causes of what nowadays is called “anti-Semitism”. And, uniquely, he proposed that Jesus sinned.
Basilides was born in Antioch (Syria) and began teaching in 117 CE. Jewish by birth, he was won over by the Gnosis of Menander. When he was ready to lead a following of his own, he went abroad – perhaps because it is always hard to be a prophet in one’s own land. He established his name as a Gnostic leader in Alexandria.
There are many and various scandalous stories about the beliefs and practices of Basilides recorded by the Church Fathers – Origen and Clement of Alexandria among others – and for the most part they are not consistent with each other. They broadly agree, however, on the Gnostic type of the Basilidean teachings, and they are all startling, elaborate, fantastic (in the true meaning of the word), and preposterous. We cannot know which of them is accurately attributed, for not one of Basilides’s own books has survived. There were many of them, including 24 volumes of commentaries on the four canonical gospels – although in public he deplored book-learning, and preached the value of being without it. Practicing in secret what he outspokenly preached against, he wrote under a number of pseudonyms, among them Cham, Barcabbas, Barcoph and Parchor. A certain treatise was attributed to him titled On the Additional Soul. Christian critics who read it before they had it destroyed, say that it expounded the idea that men have, in addition to a First Soul that is the gift of the supreme Father, another with which they have been cursed by a lower power. The second soul is manifest in the passions which drag men down into sin.
By some accounts, Basilides was himself a man of high moral principle, and it was his followers who turned, against his teaching, to libertinism. Some stated that libertinism was permitted or even enjoined by Basilides for those who attained perfection, because a Perfect (or Pneumatic) cannot sin no matter what he does. They say his sect was not exclusive. All men and women were welcome to join it, even those who came from the cloddish majority called the Hylics. An initiate had to prove his seriousness of intent by not uttering a word for five years (a practice derived perhaps from the school of Pythagoras). A successful candidate might then, by striving to find and strengthen the spark of gnosis within him, particularly by participating in the sacramental rites, or orgies, for which uninhibited sexual self-indulgence was prescribed, rise to join the Psychics, in whom the light of Gnosis was kindled if yet but dimly; and a Psychic, with luck and spiritual labour, conscientious ritual defiance of all common sexual taboos, and presumably some manifest conviction that the Gnosis was strong within him, rise to be accepted among the Pneumatics, who alone were the true Gnostics. Basilides spoke of the “faith” of the Psychics, the “gnosis” of the Pneumatics. He also used the word Noesis – derived from Nous – to explain what the Gnosis was: an intuitive certainty of understanding. All who did not achieve or were not gifted with the experience of Gnosis were tied to the earth by their passions, literally their “attachments”, and each was destined to be reborn again and again (an idea which might have come, by many a winding path, from India), until in some eventual incarnation the true light of Gnosis broke within him.
Others say Basilides was himself a libertine and charlatan in the style of Simon Magus: that he practised the magic arts, used drugs to assist his promiscuous seductions, and prescribed sexual licentiousness. He was adept at Numerology – finding magical significance in words and names according to numbers held to be the equivalent of letters. Far from welcoming all who would join him, he was an extreme elitist, regarding only those gifted with the Gnosis as “true human beings”; the rest of humankind as “of no more worth than pigs or dogs”. This version of his nature is improbable, if he really did acquire the vast following that many historians grant him.
By all accounts Basilides propounded an elaborate and voluminous theogony, but there are differing accounts of it. Broadly speaking, it was along these lines: At the top was the First Principle, the Source, who was God the Father and the Ultimate Truth. He had another, secret name, imparted only to the Pneumatics, who alone were enlightened enough by the inner spark of Gnosis to recognise the truth and endure the implication of so terrible a revelation: for this secret name of God was – Nothing.
Something comes out of nothing: the most insubstantial of things, but something. A thought, the archetype of a thought, Thought itself. It emanated from Nothing. Nothing was a thought-emanator by its nature, though it was a negative, a not-nature. So Nous was the First Emanation – or (according to other early researchers) the Logos. Volumes have been written about the meaning of Nous and Logos in Greek philosophy. In the New Testament, the Logos is translated as “the Word”. Nous or Logos, either will do for our outline if they’re both taken to mean “the Intellectual Principle”.
Then comes the Second Emanation. Not from Nothing, but from the First Emanation. Thus, Nous or Logos emanated Phronesis (Prudence). And Phronesis emanated two beings, Sophia (Wisdom) and Dynamis (Power). Sophia was the feminine, passive, conceiving principle; Dynamis the masculine, active, effecting principle. Sophia and Dynamis generated lesser Powers, Principalities, and Angels – the hosts of heaven collectively called the Aeons – who themselves made the First Heaven and generated more Aeons, who made the Second Heaven and generated yet more Aeons, who made the Third Heaven … and so on through 365 heavens, and then a last generation of Aeons made this world and created mankind.
By some accounts, not only Sophia and Dynamis, but every Aeon had its anti-type, as male and female are anti-types. As in many other Gnostic theogonies, Aeon and anti-Aeon descend from their begetters in pairs which are called szyzygies.
To the mystics who described such visions of the beginning of things, there was an important difference between emanating – explained by the analogy of the sun giving out its light, which light was not the same thing as the sun though inseparable from it – and generating, by which immaterial offspring were spiritually begotten as separate beings. Creating was different again, it being the means by which the first human pair were made. The lowest Aeons could create material things, including human bodies, but the human spirit had to come from much higher in the hierarchy of spiritual beings. In the Basilidean scheme – some say – it came directly from God the Father himself. Others assert that Basilides abhorred the idea that God emanated anything, preferring rather to say “God spoke and it was”.
An alternative account of the Basilidean creation myth starts the same way but introduces a new idea. Before time began there was Nothing, which was absolutely nothing, nothing whatsoever. Even to call it nothing is to assert something about it that is too positive. It was an absence. It was God Non-Existent. It was God Non-Existent, without thought, without impulse, without desire. Yet because we must tell with words what words are inadequate to tell, we must say that this Nothing had or ‘spoke’ a thought without willing to do so, and the thought was to make a world. What was made in that first instant was a world-seed (analogous to the infinitesimally small, infinitely dense something which, in the “Big Bang” theory, expanded to become the universe). Thus the Non-Existent God made a Not-Yet-Existing-World from non-existence, by bringing into being a single seed which contained all of which the universe consists: not only this material World and everything in it, but also the heavens and the Divine.
The implication of this account is that matter, having the same origin as the Divine, is not evil in the theory of Basilides as it is in most other Gnostic theories. Basilides and his son Isadorus were both reputed to “love nature”, unlike the Gnostic teachers in whose schemata nature is the creation of an evil god. And as Basilides had a son, and as he did not consider all things material including human flesh to be evil, it would be reasonable to suppose that he was not ideologically against marriage, reproductive copulation, and the begetting of children as were other Gnostics.
Evil does exist in the Basilidean schema, however, in the lower heavens. Among the Aeons there are two Lesser Rulers of the spheres of the fixed stars and the 7 planets, but neither of them made or rules this world (which came into existence when the world-seed expanded). The Higher Ruler (not to be identified with the highest god Nothing) abides in an upper heaven, the Ogdoad (meaning “the eightfold”); the Lower Ruler beneath him in the Hebdomad (“the sevenfold”). The Lower Ruler is a Bad Angel. He has the power to inflict suffering on mankind, and this he does.
In time this World became peopled, and the peoples divided into nations. Then each of the lowest Aeons chose a nation for his own. The chief Aeon among them, the Lower Ruler, Lord of the Hebdoad, chose the Jews, and wished to subject all other nations to them, but the other Aeons opposed him, so all nations are opposed to his nation: all are opposed to the Jews.
International strife was only one of the afflictions visited on mankind by this Lord. It was he who sent the Law to the Jews through Moses. All the prophets before the Christ believed – mistakenly, as did Moses himself – that the Law came from God the Father. The Law was a heavy burden on suffering mankind (the whole of which at this point becomes oddly identified with the Jews, the bad nation who alone were subject to the Law of Moses). After long ages the true God took pity on the human race, and to salve the sufferings of all mankind sent down the First Aeon, Nous, or the Logos, or the Christ, who for a certain time was united with the person of a man, Jesus of Nazareth. The Christ did not suffer crucifixion in the person of Jesus. Some say this was because the Christ parted from Jesus before the crucifixion; others because the man Jesus himself was not crucified. The latter taught that Simon of Cyrene, who carried the cross for him, died on it in his stead, and Jesus with the Christ still in him took the form of this Simon and laughed at the Christians for believing that it was he who had died on the Cross. For this reason Basilides taught that the Crucified must not be worshipped, nor the Cross held holy.
Whether from the body of Jesus or the body of Simon of Cyrene, the Christ rose again to the highest heaven. Yet it seems that he returned home without having fulfilled his mission on earth. Mankind was not saved by the Christ from the misfortunes visited upon it by the Lord of the Lower Heavens. Now only the Gnosis can save them.
A wonderful variation of this story propounds that when the Divine issued from the world-seed, it released a threefold ‘Sonship’, a Sonship of light which reaches God the Father immediately; a less pure Sonship which needs the aid of the Holy Spirit to reach the Father, and a coarse Sonship. The first two Sons are the Lords of the Highest and Middle Heavens, the third, Lord of the Lower Heavens. Also from the Divine issued the Gospel, not at once to be bestowed upon earth, but whole and ready in the highest sphere. Each of the two higher Lords has a son who “surpasses his father in wisdom and beauty”. These glorious sons “catch” the Gospel “as naphta catches fire from a great distance”, and they declare it to their fathers. It fills the High Lords (all of them, even the highest) with terror and they “repent” – though of what is not disclosed, or the disclosure is lost.
The Lord of the Lower Heavens knew nothing of the Gospel until the coming of the Christ to earth. Then in our world it enlightened Jesus the son of Mary (so the Gospel came before Jesus was of an age to be enlightened), and (yet) everything happened as is related in the (canonical) gospels. According to Clement of Alexandria, the Basilideans taught that when Jesus died (whether on the cross or later in the body of Simon of Cyrene) he was the first man to “have his parts saved in three ways according to the three Sonships, the impure, the coarse, and the fine-pure”. He was Hylic, Psychic, and Pneumatic all in one. “His sufferings befell his impure bodily parts, his mind returned to the (psychic) Sphere of the Seven, a coarse sphere only in comparison to the highest sphere, to which his soul departed and was saved”. Clement infers from this complicated doctrine that Basilides said that Jesus had sinned, since he needed refining and saving.
Basilides’s son Isadorus wrote a number of volumes, among them one titled On the Grown Soul. It argued against his father’s thesis of the two souls. It is a dangerous idea, he pointed out, to propose that the soul is not one; that by another force, the attachments or passions, it is tempted to do evil things, because it gives the evil man an excuse for doing evil, allowing him to claim that it is “not I, my own soul, that sinned”, but that “I was forced against my will to do it” by another power within me that was not sent by God.
This gives substance to reports that Isadorus upheld the virtues of responsibility, self-control and sexual continence. He seems also to have been gifted with some wisdom, recommending that his followers “pray not that you may do right, but that you may do no wrong”. A high ethical tenor was attributed to his books. This might suggest that the view of his father, Basilides, as an estimable man of upright character had some truth in it, since presumably the father was the teacher of the son. Indeed, old commentaries assert that Isadorus’s beliefs were similar to those of his father, including the sinning Jesus and the laughing Christ. So we must assume that there was this other, less admirable, matter in Isadorus’s books, for otherwise the good Church Fathers would surely have allowed them to survive – wouldn’t they?
Jillian Becker April 7, 2013
Theodore Shoebat has an article at Front Page making an important point: that Islam and Environmentalism are both collectivist ideologies, both of them anti-humanist and both of them deplorable. With most of what he says I agree.
Where I disagree with him is in his conclusion: that it is therefore better to be Christian.
Christianity has been a collectivist, totalitarian movement, and (I suspect) would be again if it could. While it is less oppressive than other ideologies in our time, its doctrines are no more true. And its morality, if not inhumane, is inhuman; if not anti-humanist, anti-human. Who can love everyone else? Does everyone deserve to be loved? Is forgiveness just? Was it perhaps the setting of unrealistic ethical goals that made the churches, both Catholic and Protestant, so cruel in their powerful past?
I expressed my opinions and quite a few disagreed with me, some so strongly that they condemned me to Hell.
The argument can be found in the Comments on the Shoebat article here.
Perhaps some of our readers may feel moved to join in – preferably on our own Comments page, but if under the Shoebat article, please let us know and give us the link.
Jillian Becker January 20, 2013
We cannot let Dennis Prager’s column at Townhall today go unanswered.
Last week the New York Times published an opinion piece that offered atheism’s response to the evil/tragedy in which 20 children and six adults were murdered at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut.
What prompted Susan Jacoby to write her piece was a colleague telling her that atheism “has nothing to offer when people are suffering.”
She wrote the piece, “The Blessings of Atheism” (“It is Here and It is Now!” screams the subhead) to prove her colleague wrong by offering a consoling atheist alternative to religion’s consoling belief in an afterlife. Atheists cannot believe that there is any existence other than this life. But, Jacoby insists, atheists can still offer consolation to people who lose loved ones, such as the parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook.
It is meant as no disrespect to this well regarded writer that her piece provides one of the finest illustrations of the intellectual and emotional emptiness at the heart of atheism. Jacoby’s piece actually confirms her colleague’s assessment.
Jacoby offers a quote from Robert Green Ingersoll, who died in 1899. He “was one of the most famous orators of his generation, [and] personified this combination of passion and rationality. Called ‘The Great Agnostic ‘… he also frequently delivered secular eulogies at funerals and offered consolation that he clearly considered an important part of his mission. In 1882, at the graveside of a friend’s child, he declared: “They who stand with breaking hearts around this little grave, need have no fear. The larger and the nobler faith in all that is, and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest … The dead do not suffer.”
I read this quote at least a half dozen times, convinced that I had somehow missed its consoling message. But, alas, there was no consoling message.
“The dead do not suffer” is atheism’s consolation to the parents of murdered children? This sentiment can provide some consolation — though still nothing comparable to the affirmation of an afterlife — to those who lose a loved one who had been suffering from a debilitating disease. But it not only offers the parents of Sandy Hook no consolation, it actually (unintentionally) insults them: Were these children suffering before their lives were taken? Would they have suffered if they had lived on?
At this point we start our exegesis.
Yes, those children were suffering. Not greatly perhaps, not constantly, but yes they were suffering. Every living person from the start of life to its end, suffers – and inflicts suffering. To live is to suffer. The longer we live the more we suffer, and the more we inflict suffering. Robert Ingersoll’s declaration is the consolation, the only consolation of our mortality – that suffering ceases when we die. Everything ceases when we die. As Ayn Rand said, “when I die the world ends”. True, happiness ends too. That is why we need consolation. Most of us would say we would rather have a long life, with all the suffering it contains, than a short one. And certainly for our children we wish long life, for their sakes and for our own. There can be consolation for ourselves in the painlessness of oblivion, but that thought will not console us for the loss of those we love, especially children. For the parents of the murdered children there is no consolation.
Dennis Prager goes on:
Moreover, it is the parents who are suffering, so the fact that their child isn’t suffering while decomposing in the grave is of no relevance. And, most germane to our subject, this atheist message offers no consolation at all when compared to the religious message that we humans are not just matter but possess eternal souls.
Though I am intellectually convinced that only an Intelligence (i.e., God) could have created intelligence, I understand atheism. Anyone observing the terrible amount of unjust human suffering understands the atheist. But even atheists — indeed, especially atheists, since they claim that, unlike believers, they are guided solely by reason and intellect — have to be intellectually honest. They would have to acknowledge that, in terms of consolation, there is no comparison between “The dead do not suffer” and “Your child lives on, and you will be reunited with her.”
No comparison between the truth and a lie? The parents of dead children will never be “reunited” with their children. To say that the murdered child is “in heaven’ and “looking down at you” and “you will be together again ” in “an afterlife” is a tale you can tell a child, but what sane adult can really believe such utter nonsense?
What we have here is an intellectual unwillingness or a psychological inability on the part of Susan Jacoby and just about all atheist activists (including the New York Times, which featured, not just published, her column) to confront the consequences of their atheism.
If they did, they would have to say something like this to the parents of the murdered children of Sandy Hook:
“As atheists, we truly feel awful for you. And we promise to work for more gun control. …
We atheists promise no such thing. Government control of gun-ownership will do nothing to stop evil people killing other people.
… But the truth is we don’t have a single consoling thing to say to you because we atheists recognize that the human being is nothing more than matter, no different from all other matter in the universe except for having self-consciousness.
Having self-consciousness is the huge difference. We are matter plus intelligence. And intelligence evolved, occurring at this end of evolution, not before it all started.
Therefore, when we die, that’s it. Moreover, within a tiny speck of time in terms of the universe’s history, nearly every one of us, including your child, will be completely forgotten, as if we never even existed. Life is a random crapshoot. Our birth and existence are flukes. And you will never see your child again.”
That is what must be accepted by grieving parents – not said to them.
An atheist with the courage of her convictions would have written that. But the New York Times would not have published it.
We are seldom on the same side as the New York Times, but we approve its publication of Susan Jacoby’s piece.
All this column did for me was reconfirm this insight of the Bible: “Wisdom begins with reverence for God.”
No God, no wisdom … And certainly no consolation.
Wisdom begins with believing the unbelievable?
It is manifestly absurd to believe in a “life after death”. A thing is alive if it can die. Life and death define each other. Only the non-living cannot die. Which is why we call ourselves mortals.
It is strengthening to face the truth. How can mystic fantasies and vague notions of souls finding each other in some unknown and indescribable life-after-life console any sane, rational adult? If some find consolation in bluffing themselves that something of them will survive death, it can only be by abandonment of reason and sanity.
There is no consolation for the loss of those we love. There is no consolation for our mortality but the knowledge, as Ingersoll said, that death ends suffering. For each one of us it ends everything.
The horrible piercing is real, but the Muslims doing it are Sufi Dervishes, not Shias.
(Hat tip to our reader and commenter Steve M Cardon)