Against God and Socialism (repeat) 1

This is a repeat of an essay by Jillian Becker, first posted on April 29, 2011.

The rise of enthusiasm for Socialism in America, demonstrated by the great numbers of enthusiasts flocking to hear Bernie Sanders, the Democratic candidate for the presidency, preaching it, prompts us to post the essay again.

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It is human nature to be selfish. If we weren’t selfish we wouldn’t survive. If we didn’t eat when we were hungry, warm ourselves when we were cold, seek cures for our illnesses, defend ourselves (and our children and our life-sustaining property), we’d die out pretty damn quick. Or rather, we would never have come into existence as a species at all.

We are most of us capable of sympathy with others, and we often willingly give away a thing we own to another person. Some are altruistic. A few will even give up their lives to save the lives of others. Nevertheless, we are all naturally and necessarily selfish.

Christianity and Communism require human nature to change. As it can’t, Christianity’s commandments to love our enemies and forgive those who do us harm turn many a person of good will and high aspiration into a hypocrite if not a corpse. Communist theorists have never settled the question of whether human nature must change so that the Revolution can take place, or whether the Revolution must take place in order for human nature to change. Of course it will never change, but there’s no stopping the collectivist dolts arguing about it.

Capitalism works well because it is in tune with our nature. Adam Smith called it “the natural order of liberty”. Everyone selfishly desires to provide for his needs. To pay for what he wants from others – services and goods – he has to provide something that others will pay him for. Millions do it, and the result is prosperity. Capitalism is an abstract machine most beautiful to behold in the wonder of its workings. When individuals have the incentive to achieve, acquire, and enjoy something for themselves, they’ll go to great lengths to afford it. They’ll compete with each other to provide what others want, toil to make it the better product, and set the price of it lower. The best is made available at the least cost. Everyone is both a taker and a giver, and everyone benefits. True, not everyone’s effort always succeeds, but nothing stops anyone from trying again.

Of course capitalism isn’t a remedy for every ill and discontent. But a capitalist society offers the best chance to an individual to make the best of his condition – being alive – which presents him with a tough challenge – to stay alive for a few score years, and make those years as good as his energy, cunning, and adaptability to conditions outside of his control (plus his statistically likely share of luck), can help them to be.

In a capitalist society no one has a fixed place, whether below, in the middle, or on top. A person can rise, sink, or stay. A truly capitalist society is necessarily a free society in which no one is prevented, by some ruler or ruling clique, from bettering his lot, striving, succeeding, or failing.

Capitalism is the enemy of that God of whom all the children in the British Empire used to sing at morning prayers in school assemblies before the Second World War:

All things bright and beautiful,

All creatures great and small;

All things wise and wonderful,

The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,

Each little bird that sings,

He made their glowing colors,

He made their tiny wings.

The rich man in his castle,

The poor man at his gate,

He made them high and lowly,

He ordered their estate.

The children were being taught to be content with everything as it was, trusting that God the ruler up there, all wise, permanent and unchallengeable had ordained how everyone had his fixed place and should stay in it, and because He had ordained it, it must be perfect. The recognition that such a God was an indefensible authoritarian, a whim-driven cosmic dictator, an unjust and arrogant tyrant, came – perhaps unconsciously – to the choosers of Anglican hymns only after a few of the earth’s dictators had been trounced in a prolonged and terrible blood-letting.

But then Socialists took over from God. They decided what was best for humanity. They established the Welfare State. No rich men in castles, no poor men at gates. The State would provide every citizen with depressing accommodation, dull food, health care if he were judged worthy of being kept alive, indoctrination in schools. Though the Socialist State is a slave society, the citizens are not called slaves but Social Security Recipients, National Health Patients, Students, Workers. The belief of their rulers is that they’ll be content because the State provides them with “everything”; they’ll be grateful for the food however poor, the unit in the tower block however depressing, the bed in the hospital however filthy, the indoctrination however boring. The great thing about it, to the collectivist mind, is they won’t have to strive to keep alive. And no one will have cause to pity or envy anyone else, since no one will have less or worse, or more or better – except of course the rulers up there, all wise, permanent and unchallengeable who ordain that everyone else has his fixed place. They reserve plenty, choice, comfort, luxury, information, and power to themselves.

The recognition that such a State is counter to the human instinct for freedom – call it “selfishness “ if you will – should have come to every sane adult the world over when the Soviet Empire crashed. The idea of Socialism should have died then. But if it did, it was only for a short time. Like the Christian God, it rose again, and lives now in the White House, an administration indefensibly authoritarian, whim-driven, unjust, and arrogant.

Selfish human nature with its instinct for liberty, its impelling desire to possess what is good for it materially and mentally, is the force that can and must defeat it.

Another massacre of Yazidis by the religion of peace 1

Western Journalism reports:

Last week, CNN reported that a new mass grave filled with the bodies of mainly Yazidi women and children has been discovered in the city of Sinjar in northern Iraq. Mayor Mahama al-Shangali showed CNN reporter Nima Elgabir the new mass grave that contained the remains of 130 young men, women, and children. The Yazidis were murdered after they refused to convert to Islam or to cooperate with the Islamic State. The Iraqi Minister for Human Rights Affairs [sic!], Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, claims that ISIS terrorists buried more than 500 Yazidis alive in Sinjar.

Breitbart recalls:

On August 3 2014, Islamic State jihadists overran and captured the town of Sinjar, in northern Iraq’s Nineveh province, sending tens of thousands of Yazidis fleeing before them to the supposed safety of Mount Sinjar.

Kurdish forces managed to retake the town in November 2015. The liberators found one grave filled with 78 elderly women and another with at least 50 people.

Who are the Yazidis? What do they believe?

Here is a slightly re-edited version of our April 4, 2010 post on this obscure religion:

The Yazidis worship  The Peacock Angel, Malak Taus. He’s identified by Muslims and Christians with Shaitan/Satan, so the Yazidis are held to be devil-worshipers.

They are ethnic Kurds, most of them  settled in Mosul, Iraq. There are some in Iran, Kurdistan, Armenia, and the Caucuses. In all, it’s estimated, there are [were] about half a million of them. Their cult is in part an offshoot of Sufism, with various accretions.

They build small temples, shrines with conical white spires, and they keep sacred snakes. They practice circumcision. The eating of lettuce is forbidden.

They have an hereditary  priesthood under a High Priest, and sacred books.

There is no need, they believe, to worship the Supreme God, because he is all good and so will never do you harm. The Peacock Angel, on the other hand, must be propitiated. He is capable of doing harm or good, and so must be won over to doing you good. Eventually he will be reconciled with the Supreme God, and that eventuality could come about at any moment.

In their cosmogony, the Supreme God created the world, which is watched over by 7 lesser divinities or “mysteries”, chief among whom is the Peacock Angel, Malak Taus. God created him first, out of his own light, and ordered him never to bow to other beings. Then God created the other six angels, and ordered them to make Adam out of the dust of the earth. God took the inanimate body of Adam and breathed life into him, and instructed the angels to bow down to him. Of course Malak Taus did not bow. “I cannot submit to him because,” he reminded God, “I am made of  your own light, while he is made of dust.” This pleased God who then appointed him his vicar on earth.

As its ruler, Malak Taus visits the earth on the first Wednesday of Nisan (March/April – roughly the same time as Easter), which is the Yazidi New Year’s Day, and the anniversary of the day on which God made the Peacock Angel. On that day they feast, make music, dance, and decorate eggs.

God made the earth by first making a pearl, which remained very small for some forty thousand years, and was then expanded and reworked into its present state. From time to time the 7 angels are incarnated in human form and dwell among the living on earth. Their main annual festival is a week-long pilgrimage to the tomb of Sheikh Adi, their founder, who they say was the incarnation of one of the 7 angels. The tomb is at Lalish, north of Mosul.

All Yazidis are descended directly from Adam, not through Eve. At first the sexual roles of Adam and Eve were not fixed. Each produced a seed which was was sealed in a jar. Eve’s seed bred creepy-crawly things, but Adam’s developed into a boy-child who grew up, married a houri [no word on who made her- ed], and fathered the Yazidis.

As Adam’s seed, they are different from all other peoples. They permit marriage only within the sect, and members of each caste of their social and religious hierarchy can only marry among themselves.

They pray five times a day facing the sun. Their holy day is Wednesday, but their day of rest is Saturday.

In 2007,  al-Qaeda suicide bombers drove oil tankers into two Yazidi communities near Mosul which they exploded, killing more than 500 and injuring about 1,000 more. This sent thousands of Yazidis to the Syrian border to seek asylum.

They are safe nowhere in the region. It is unlikely that the sect will survive the current wars and persecutions in the Middle East.

Dionysos and Orpheus 1

Today we have posted under Pages (see the top of our margin), an Appendix to the series of essays by Jillian Becker, titled The Darkness of This World.

It is a short account of the ancient Greek cults of Dionysos and Orpheus.

It is provided in particular to explain why a contemporary “Action” artist of Austria, Hermann Nitsch – the subject of one of the essays – declared his rituals to be “Dionysian”. In general it amplifies the analogies drawn throughout the series between the rebellious pursuit of evil in post-Enlightenment European cultures and ancient Gnostic cults.

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Dionysos and Orpheus

The worship of the Greek god Dionysos was a primitive mystery religion. He was the god of wine. He had many names, one of them Bacchus – the name the Romans used for him. Because the celebrants at Dionysian festivals performed passionate choral “dithyrambic” hymns out of which Greek drama developed, he became also the god of drama, music, and poetry.

“Dionysos” means twice born. In a Thracian and Theban myth, he is first born when Zeus begets him upon a mortal maiden named Semele. In a Cretan myth, Zeus, in the form of a snake, impregnates his own daughter Persephone – born to him by Demeter, the goddess of agriculture – and Persephone begets Dionysus-Zagreus, who has the horns of a bull. In both, he is abducted soon after his birth by the Titans, the sons of Earth. (In the Semele myth, they are prompted to do so by Hera, Zeus’s consort, the Queen of Heaven, because she is jealous of Semele.) They tear the babe limb from limb, and eat him. But the goddess Athene retrieves his heart in the nick of time and brings it to Zeus, who swallows it whole. Then Dionysos is born again from his father’s thigh. Zeus punished the Titans by burning them up in a flash of lightning. From their ashes, humankind arose.

In the rituals of the worship of Dionysos, bulls and goats were sacrificed, both beasts being held sacred to him. Celebrants became intensely inebriated and danced wildly to the loud music of pipes, drums and cymbals, until the “god entered into them”, a mystic condition for which the Greek word was Enthusiasm. With the god inside them, they were freed from all restrictions of law and reason and, transcending even the supposed limits set by nature, would tear an animal or human being apart with their bare hands and feast on the raw flesh. Bands of drunken men and woman (but in The Bacchae by Euripides, only bands of women called the Maenads), ran and danced, naked or partially clad in the skins of fawns, and smeared with the blood of the animal or human prey, night-long, in wild places, leaping over earth and grass and stone, and indulging every erotic desire.

The story clearly signals that the Dionysian Mysteries involved human sacrifice.

To be initiated into the Mysteries, a man would perform a “re-enactment” of the god’s birth, death and re-birth in order to “become one with the god”. The rite included a simulated Descent into the Underworld (the Katabasis) – the initiate probably going into deep dark caves – to seek the God; or perhaps to find Persephone who spent six months of the year down there; and symbolically bring him or her back up from Hades to the light. The initiate would then be let into the secret of the Liknon, or Arc – that it contained a goat’s penis, or (most likely when the ceremony was performed in temples rather than in the wild), a wooden phallus. He would then be invested with an oak or ash wand, the Thyrsus, and bear it in procession to a celebration with his fellow initiates, all of them communing with the god by imbibing lavish quantities of his good wine.

A woman too could be inducted into the religion. She would be called “an Ariadne”. Adorned as a bride of Dionysos, she would first undergo ceremonial flagellation, and be hanged on a tree, possibly to the point of near asphyxiation. She would then “descend into the Underworld to meet the god”, and on her return the Liknon would be opened, and she would publicly consummate her union with Dionysos by using the sacred phallus as his representative. She would then join the god’s love-fest with the drinking of wine.

The Dionysos cult was already somewhat tamed by the time – no one knows when, but certainly not later than the early 6th century BCE – when Orpheus came along and reformed it. He may have been a living man, a priest of Thrace (modern European Turkey), or a Cretan. But then again, he could be entirely mythical. Man or myth, legends surround his name. He was the musician who (Shakespeare wrote in Henry VIII) “with his lute made trees/ And the mountain tops that freeze/ Bow themselves when he did sing”; and who, by his musical charms, gained passage into the underworld of the dead to fetch back his wife, Eurydice – a mission which tragically failed when he looked back at her before they regained the land of the living.

Whether he was man or myth, to him is attributed a development that did happen – the transformation of the savage cult of Dionysos into a moral religion. (By no means the first – both Zoroastrianism and Judaism preceded it – but the first among the Greeks.)

The Orphics taught that human beings had a double nature, of earth and of heaven, mundane and divine, as did Dionysos, child of the King of Heaven and a mortal woman. Thus man was mortal, but had an immortal soul. He could liberate his soul from his base earthly nature through moral practices, so that when he died, it would rise to its real home in heaven where it would live eternally. A good soul would rise immediately upon the death of the body. A bad soul would be punished by being confined in another body, again and again until it learnt to be good.

For men and women to purify their souls (the Orphic religion held that women were equal to men in the eyes of the gods), they had first to be ritually cleansed in the blood of beasts. After that ceremony, he or she wore only white garments and abstained from drinking wine or eating meat, except as a sacrament. Many pleasures of the flesh were renounced. Right living was commanded, and the continual observance of the Orphic religious rules. The ideal way of everyday life for the Orphic was ascetic. Only by following this path would they find spiritual redemption, and their souls, rescued from all earthly strife and pain, be united eternally with the divine.

Did the Orphics perform the sacrament of Enthusiasm as the Dionysian celebrants had done? That is to say, did they gather in crowds for the drinking of wine, for blood-sacrifice, and the devouring of freshly killed raw meat; did they run naked through the countryside and dance wildly and have violent sexual intercourse? Were willing “victims” flagellated, and hung on a tree until they were near death, then “reborn” in imitation of the god? In a word, did the Orphics indulge in a Dionysian “orgion” – an orgy?  The word was the name of this sacrament. But it has come to mean a wild party of many intoxicated people abandoning themselves promiscuously to the pleasures of the flesh.

Or was the Orphic orgion less savage than the older Dionysian rite? One might expect so, but we do not know. Legend has it that their ideal was, yes, to become enthused and steadily augment the divine element in them as the Dionysians had done, only not with wine, but by striving for a profound understanding of esoteric Orphic teaching – which could hardly have been done in the course of one wild night. They drank wine only as a sacrament (as later the Christians did in the ceremony of the Eucharist).

One might suppose that the Orphics, with their morality and respect for all life, would balk at the sacrifice of human beings. But it’s not known if they did. And the legend of Orpheus’s death suggests that human sacrifice retained a place in their mythology if not also in their rites. For in the story Orpheus himself, the good priest, the beautiful enchanting musician, was torn to pieces and devoured by orthodox worshipers of Dionysos.

His innovations, however, survived him. The Orphic bloodwashing ritual was carried over into the Roman cult of Mithras, the majority religion of the Roman army. The initiate would stand naked under a grid, upon which a bull was slain, so that its blood poured over him. More significantly, Orphism introduced the idea of an immortal soul into Greek religion and philosophy. For the Greeks, that idea had its beginnings in the Enthusiasm of the Dionysian Mysteries. (In the Hebrew scriptures, the belief that the individual soul rises to God after the body dies may be far older. In the book of Ecclesiastes, attributed to King Solomon who died in 931 BCE, “the Preacher” writes: “The earth shall return to the earth as it was, and the spirit unto God who gave it.” And even older, by perhaps as much as five centuries, are the Zoroastrian tales of the individual soul’s adventures immediately after escaping from its dead body.)

Pythagoras (born 571 BCE) embraced Orphism, and his school of thought held that the individual soul, though it migrated from body to body, had knowledge of the god. Plato (5th into 4th century BCE) believed that the soul, or spirit, was immortal. Plotinus (204-270 CE), and his followers the Neoplatonists, believed that the soul was eternal and indestructible, not born with any particular person it may inhabit, and not ending with him either, only moving on forever into bodies new.

Christianity, which may have initially derived the idea of the individual soul or spirit either from Judaism or Orphic-influenced Greek philosophy (or possibly both), teaches several contradictory doctrines about the individual soul: that it bears the record of the person’s life, is responsible for what that person did, and will be judged by God according to its record; but also that regardless of what the soul made the body do in life, whatever good and whatever evil, it was predestined for heaven or hell before it was born in a body. And whether the saving or condemning to its eternal fate will occur immediately after the death of the body or at the end of time, when all souls will convene before the divine Judgement Seat, remains unsettled. Parts of Christian mysticism and some of its ritual could plausibly be traced to the Orphics (though for most of them other sources cannot be ruled out). Obvious examples are: the idea of the immortal soul; the infant god being the son of a divine father and a mortal woman; the infant god being hunted by men who would kill him; a dying and resurrecting god; the god’s descent into an underworld and his return from it; his performance of miracles (notably the turning of water into wine which was also told of Dionysos); the ideal of spiritual purity, to attain which morally clean living is commanded; the rite of baptism (though in water not blood); the sacrament of the Eucharist.

The religions most evidently descended from the Orphics were the Gnostic cults. Their theogonies and rituals – but not morality – were closely similar. All the Gnostic sects that arose and proliferated from the 1st to the 13th century CE, taught that the inner self, or soul, had what one might call “godness” – a spark from the true godhead. Those who were gifted with the gnosis – ie. with intuitive knowledge of the divine spark within and of the deity who bestowed it – would rise in the spirit to become one with that deity, who dwelt in the highest heaven, far above the Creator god who made this base world of filthy matter.

Although the Orphics did not regard this world as entirely evil, their idea that the soul should be purified so as to rise to the absolutely clean spiritual sphere could easily be understood to imply that this world is filthy and bad. And the Orphics taught that the earthly body is the tomb of the heavenly soul. This was also a Gnostic doctrine, almost certainly derived from the Orphic Mysteries.

But there was a difference between Orphic and Gnostic doctrines about the destiny of the soul. In Orphic doctrine, death does not often release a soul to start its ascension to heaven immediately, but more often traps it in body after body that lives and suffers and dies on this earth, unless and until its redemption is won (an idea probably drawn from far eastern religions, such as Buddhism). In most Gnostic teachings, those who know they have divinity within them, rise in the divine spirit from the dead base filthy body immediately after death, and soar upward to the highest height. They know the passwords to speak to the powers and principalities that guard the way to the godhead, so they might be allowed to proceed on their upward way, until they reach the Pleroma, there to dwell eternally with the mystic godhead, the source of all existence.

Finally – and most infamously in the judgment of the Catholic Church Fathers – the Gnostics kept the Orphic sacrament, the orgion. They kept it in the Dionysian tradition: drugged, drunk, naked and lewd. But not as a summoning of the God to enter their bodies, take over their will, and force them to indulge their appetites and lusts. The Gnostic orgy was a rite of deliberate sinning. Because they believed that this world was entirely bad, anything that was done in opposition to it was good. Because Christian and Jewish morality forbade adulterous sex, homosexuality, sodomy, pederasty and bestiality, those were the very acts that it was incumbent on the Gnostics to perform – for what they held to be the immeasurably Higher Good.

Posted under Christianity, Gnosticism, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Saturday, January 9, 2016

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Atheists who do as Christians do 11

Atheists of the Left – “Humanists” some call themselves – often reveal with unconscious irony how close Leftism is to Christianity: the same moral myopia, hubris, and sentimentality.

In order to enjoy the cheap emotional satisfaction of feeling they are “good people”, they go in for this sort of thing.

We quote from the Friendly Atheist at Patheos:

After the Daily Caller News Foundation posted a map of supposed “radical mosques” in the U.S., it wasn’t long before threats were made against them.

But in a wonderful gesture on Monday, the Humanists of the Palouse reached out to the Muslims, sending them a letter of concern and offering whatever help they could:

To our Muslim friends in the Moscow/Pullman area,

Recently, we have been made aware of threats to our community, centered on the Pullman Islamic Center and it and many other Mosques being mis-reported as “radical”. In today’s climate, these threats should not be taken lightly, and we certainly do not. We fully support your right to practice religion free from harm and harassment.

We recognize your members as valued residents of the Palouse. The Humanists of the Palouse want you to know that we will always defend religious freedom and cultural diversity, and threats against these are threats against our very way of life. We stand with you, and offer our support.

If you feel threatened, please do not hesitate to contact us. We would be happy to accompany anyone who feels that their safety is at risk (e.g. grocery shopping, on a walk around town, or just for someone to talk to). If we can advocate for you in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us, and know that you have friends and allies amongst The Humanists of the Palouse.

The Center’s Board of Trustees soon issued this heartfelt response:

The entire Board of Trustees of the Pullman Islamic Association joins me in thanking you and the Humanists of the Palouse generally for this powerful statement affirming civil rights in this country. We are especially moved that a humanist group so completely supports the local Muslim group, since Islam is the most disrespected group in this country. We have noticed that the correct way to define and appreciate humanist groups in general and yours in particular is as lovers and defenders of civil rights, individual and group democratic dignities and freedom of thought, not as haters of religion. Your group’s neighborly defense of freedom of religion in the Palouse demonstrates your focus on freedom and social justice. We are impressed by and thankful for your firm support and offer of assistance and solidarity.

One of our Board of Trustees members is meeting with an FBI agent today, which demonstrates that the federal police are taking this threat seriously. Given this sobering reality of threatened arson and violence your support will always be appreciated by the leaders and membership of the Pullman Islamic Association. We hope we will not need to ask for your offered assistance, but if we do need or want such support, we will indeed reach out to Humanists of the Palouse.

That’s how you do it, friends.

You can disagree on theological issues, but I’d hope local atheist groups around the country would be willing to reach out to Muslims who are actually being persecuted by overzealous conservatives eager to shut them down.

If they lose their religious freedoms, we all do.

Can they possibly not know that sharia law – inseparable from the ideology of Islam – condemns apostasy, which is what atheism is deemed to be? And prescribes death as the punishment for atheists? (Atheist men; women not always.) In some Islamic lands they are imprisoned rather than executed. But all risk their lives, and such freedom as anyone has in a Muslim majority country.

These are reports of atheists, apostates, free thinkers who have been sentenced to prison, and/or flogging, and/or death in Islamic countries recently – the crime of atheism often being euphemized into something else in court. And some who have been killed by their Muslim compatriots.

1. From the Economist, on Alexander Aan in Indonesia:

A MOB attacked Alexander Aan even before an Indonesian court in June jailed him for two and a half years for “inciting religious hatred”.

His crime was to write “God does not exist” on a Facebook group he had founded for atheists in Minang, a province of the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Like most non-believers in Islamic regions, he was brought up as a Muslim. And like many who profess godlessness openly, he has been punished. …

Sharia law, which covers only Muslims unless incorporated into national law, assumes people are born into their parents’ religion. Thus ex-Muslim atheists are guilty of apostasy—a hudud crime against God, like adultery and drinking alcohol. Potential sanctions can be severe: eight states, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Sudan have the death penalty on their statute books for such offences. …

Most atheists are prosecuted for blasphemy or for inciting hatred. (Atheists born to non-Muslim families are not considered apostates, but they can still be prosecuted for other crimes against religion.) Even in places where laws are lenient, religious authorities and social attitudes can be harsh, with vigilantes inflicting beatings or beheadings.

Many, like Kacem el-Ghazzali, a Moroccan, reckon the only solution is to escape abroad. The 23-year-old was granted asylum in Switzerland after people found out he was the author of an anonymous blog, Atheistica.com. …

Nahla Mahmoud, a 25-year-old Sudanese atheist … fled to Britain in 2010. …

Ibn Warraq, the pseudonymous Indian-born author of “Leaving Islam”, a collection of essays by ex-believers, … lives in exile and has received death threats for campaigning on the behalf of apostates. … Arguments for the death penalty [he says] are usually based on a Hadith, one of the sayings which, along with the Koran, form the basis of Islamic law: “The Prophet said: whoever discards his religion, kill him.” …

Ibn Warraq says that the nub of the problem is that sharia makes atheism the number one sin, ahead of murder.  …

2. From the Guardian, on Ashraf Fayadh in Saudi Arabia:

A Palestinian poet and leading member of Saudi Arabia’s nascent contemporary art scene has been sentenced to death for renouncing Islam.

A Saudi court on Tuesday ordered the execution of Ashraf Fayadh, who has curated art shows in Jeddah and at the Venice Biennale. The poet, who said he did not have legal representation, was given 30 days to appeal against the ruling.

Fayadh, 35, a key member of the British-Saudi art organisation Edge of Arabia, was originally sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes by the general court in Abha, a city in the south-west of the ultraconservative kingdom, in May 2014. But after his appeal was dismissed he was retried earlier this month and a new panel of judges ruled that his repentance did not prevent his execution.

3. From Patheos, the Friendly Atheist itself, on Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia:

December 26, 2013 by Paul Fidalgo [who is admirably scathing in his disgust – ed).

Saudi blogger and religious dissident Raif Badawi has been cruelly punished and toyed with by the Saudi legal system for about a year now, and things have taken a darker turn. According to Badawi’s wife, now living in Lebanon, the high court will try Badawi on the charge of apostasy. If convicted, Badawi could be executed.

This comes after a court opted not to charge him with apostasy in January, but did put him up on charges of “insulting Islam and showing disobedience”. How did they come to this decision? Badawi is the co-founder of a website called the Liberal Saudi Network, which is bad enough, but imagine the horror that washed over Saudi society with this kind of action:

The evidence against him included the fact that he pressed the “Like” button on a Facebook page for Arab Christians.

As a result of this heinous behavior, in July, Badawi was sentenced to 600 lashes and seven years in prison.

Which was horrifying enough. But now it looks like Badawi is being brought up on apostasy charges in earnest. Badawi’s case is one of many being watched by the Office of Public Policy at the Center for Inquiry, where I work, and our Campaign for Free Expression. Browse the cases we have listed there, and you’ll see that, sadly, Badawi’s case is hardly unique.

Cases like this need more international attention, and those who position themselves as “allies” of Saudi Arabia, such as the United States, need to discover their consciences. How can the civilized world refer to itself as such when an ally practices such barbarism, it looks the other way?

The judge in Badawi’s subsequent appeal stiffened the original 2013 sentence – seven years in prison and 600 lashes – to 1000 lashes, ten years in prison and a fine of $266,000. See our post, The punishment of reason, January 12, 2015, where there is an eyewitness description of the first of the series of lashings Badawi is being subjected to.

Badawi had written, “My commitment is… to reject any repression in the name of religion… a goal that we will reach in a peaceful, law-abiding way.”

This was interpreted by the judge as “insulting Islam”.

Badawi’s health is now frail. He is unlikely to survive the lashings.

4. From Poetry Foundation, on Hashem Shaabani in Iran:

We were saddened and horrified today to learn of the death of Hashem Shaabani, who was executed on January 27th by the order of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

From Radio Free Europe:

An Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal reportedly had sentenced the poet to death, along with 14 others, last July on charges that included “waging war on God”. 

Press reports said Shaabani was hanged after his sentence was approved by President Hassan Rohani.

In a statement on February 5, Freedom House said Shaabani was subjected to severe torture and interrogation during his three years in prison.

Human Rights Voices also reports on the execution, writing:

To those who knew him, was a man of peace and understanding struggling to extend spaces of individual freedom within the despotic Khomeinist system … In one of his letters from prison, made available to use through his family, Shaabani says  … I have tried to defend the legitimate right that every people in this world should have which is the right to live freely with full civil rights. With all these miseries and tragedies, I have never used a weapon to fight these atrocious crimes except the pen.” 

5. From the Guardian on Avijit Roy and Rafida Bonya Ahmed in Pakistan:

No one could have predicted that the Bangladeshi writer Rafida Bonya Ahmed would make it to London last week. …  In February, Islamist fanatics hacked her husband, Avijit Roy, to death with meat cleavers as the couple left a book fair in Dhaka. They nearly killed Ahmed too: slicing off her thumb and covering her body with wounds. …

Together, Ahmed and Roy ran a secular blog that promoted the writings of young liberal Bangladeshis They wrote on evolution and humanism; they condemned extremism fearlessly, as the title of Roy’s 2014 book The Virus of Faith makes clear. Seeing and fearing a courageous opponent, the enemies of free thought killed him for his ideas. …

6. From a Reuters report on Ananta Bijoy Das and others in Bangladesh:

Third Atheist blogger killed in Bangladesh.

A blogger was hacked to death by machete-wielding attackers in Bangladesh on Tuesday (May 12), the third killing of a critic of religious extremism in the Muslim-majority nation in less than three months.

Ananta Bijoy Das, a blogger who advocated secularism, was attacked by four masked assailants in the northeastern district of Sylhet on Tuesday morning, senior police official Mohammad Rahamatullah told Reuters.

Rahamatullah said Das was a 33-year-old banker.

He was also editor of science magazine “Jukti,” which means “logic,” and on the advisory board of “Mukto Mona” (Free Mind), a website propagating rationalism and opposing fundamentalism …

According to the monitoring service SITE Intelligence Group, Islamist militant group Ansar al-Islam Bangladesh said al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) had claimed responsibility for the attack. …

Imran Sarker, the head of a network of activists and bloggers in Bangladesh, said Das was “a progressive free thinker and a good human being”. …

Militants have targeted secularist writers in Bangladesh in recent years …

On March 30, Washiqur Rahman, another secular blogger who aired his outrage over [Avijit] Roy’s death on social media, was killed in similar fashion on a busy street in the capital, Dhaka.

Their deaths followed the killing in 2013 of Ahmed Rajib Haider, who backed calls to impose the death penalty on Islamist leaders accused of atrocities in Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence.

Why do our fellow atheists – of the leftist “Humanist” persuasion – not burn with anger against the ideology that persecutes atheism, secularism, rationalism, and shun the company of its devotees?

If they think they are earning the goodwill and tolerance of the Muslims towards whom they’re making this gesture, they’re pathetically deluded. Their nice little letter is not going to change sharia law, or the minds of those who want to impose it on us all.

They seem simply not to believe that the Muslims they contacted might be members of “radicalizing” mosques – which is to say, mosques with imams who urge them to support terrorist groups or join ISIS. There’s no hint that they explored the possibility. In their minds, the accusation must be wholly unjustified.

And one more thing. When those poor persecuted Muslims “in the Moscow/Pullman area” whimpered that “Islam is the most disrespected group in this country”, they are lying. The president of the United States is the son of a Muslim and an Islam lover who has brought Muslim Brotherhood advisers into his administration – and has clearly formed policies on their advice..

At the time of this writing there have been 27,322 deadly attacks carried out by Muslims since 9/11. (See the tally in our margin, taken from The Religion of Peace.) Muslim terrorists do all they can to terrify non-Muslims, and then cynically accuse them of an irrational fear of Islam, calling it “Islamophobia”.

Muslims are the target of few “hate crimes” in the US. But they perpetrate more than any others do.

We quote from an article by David J. Rusin at Islamist Watch. His staistics come from a December 2014 report of 2013 figures. (We await the 2014 report this coming December):

New FBI Hate Crime Stats: Another Blow to Islamist Fictions

There were 1,031 incidents inspired by religion last year, 625 (60.6 percent) of which were anti-Jewish. Anti-Islamic ones constituted just 13.1 percent.

On April 15, 2013, Muslim terrorists murdered three and injured hundreds at the Boston Marathon, prompting familiar warnings about an imminent anti-Muslim backlash. The FBI’s findings are proof that such collective punishment did not materialize — as it almost never does.

How have Islamist groups greeted the FBI data? With silence. It is the sound of disappointment on the part of radicals who need Muslim victims, preferably real ones, to serve as human shields for the Islamist agenda. Bad news for Islamists is once again good news for the rest of us.

Jesus’s very bad sermon 1

This is an interesting take on the advice “Jesus Christ” is reputed to have given in “the sermon on the mount”.

Matt Dillahunty is the (atheist) speaker. He posted this video on October 31, 2015.

(Note: the technical quality of the video is not good.)

Posted under Atheism, Christianity, Commentary, Religion general, Videos by Jillian Becker on Tuesday, November 10, 2015

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Atheism, science, and the law 9

Any idea that needs a law to protect it from criticism is ipso facto a bad idea.

That is our own maxim. We repeat it often. It cannot be repeated often enough.

There used to be laws, in Western secular states, protecting religious ideas; usually the ideas of a particular religion favored by the state. The crime was called “blasphemy”.

Such a crime, carrying severe punishment, including the death sentence, still exists in Islamic countries.

And the crime still exists in Communist countries. As Communists do not acknowledge their ideology to be a religion, they do not call it blasphemy. It is called an offense against the state, or “dissidence”. It was often treated as a mental illness in the Soviet Union. It was also often punished by execution, not only in Russia but wherever the iron fist of the Soviet regime was the law.

In America the First Amendment to the Constituion, as everybody knows, enshrined freedom of belief and freedom of speech. Yet there lingers in the mores of the American people, generation after generation, the notion that religious beliefs should not be publicly criticized. Such criticism is felt to be a discourtesy at best, and at worst an actual defiance of the First Amendment itself!

Even some scientists respect this social taboo.

We quote a good article on the subject from the New Yorker, by Lawrence M. Krauss:

As a physicist, I do a lot of writing and public speaking about the remarkable nature of our cosmos, primarily because I think science is a key part of our cultural heritage and needs to be shared more broadly. Sometimes, I refer to the fact that religion and science are often in conflict; from time to time, I ridicule religious dogma. When I do, I sometimes get accused in public of being a “militant atheist”. Even a surprising number of my colleagues politely ask if it wouldn’t be better to avoid alienating religious people. Shouldn’t we respect religious sensibilities, masking potential conflicts and building common ground with religious groups so as to create a better, more equitable world?

I found myself thinking about those questions this week as I followed the story of Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who directly disobeyed a federal judge’s order to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, and, as a result, was jailed for contempt of court. Davis’s supporters, including the Kentucky senator and Presidential candidate Rand Paul, are protesting what they believe to be an affront to her religious freedom. It is “absurd to put someone in jail for exercising their religious liberties”, Paul said, on CNN.

The Kim Davis story raises a basic question: To what extent should we allow people to break the law if their religious views are in conflict with it? It’s possible to take that question to an extreme that even Senator Paul might find absurd: imagine, for example, a jihadist whose interpretation of the Koran suggested that he should be allowed to behead infidels and apostates. Should he be allowed to break the law? Or — to consider a less extreme case — imagine an Islamic-fundamentalist county clerk who would not let unmarried men and women enter the courthouse together, or grant marriage licenses to unveiled women. For Rand Paul, what separates these cases from Kim Davis’s? The biggest difference, I suspect, is that Senator Paul agrees with Kim Davis’s religious views but disagrees with those of the hypothetical Islamic fundamentalist.

The problem, obviously, is that what is sacred to one person can be meaningless (or repugnant) to another. That’s one of the reasons why a modern secular society generally legislates against actions, not ideas. No idea or belief should be illegal; conversely, no idea should be so sacred that it legally justifies actions that would otherwise be illegal. Davis is free to believe whatever she wants, just as the jihadist is free to believe whatever he wants; in both cases, the law constrains not what they believe but what they do.

In recent years, this territory has grown murkier. Under the banner of religious freedom, individuals, states, and even — in the case of Hobby Lobby — corporations have been arguing that they should be exempt from the law on religious grounds. (The laws from which they wish to claim exemption do not focus on religion; instead, they have to do with social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage.) The government has a compelling interest in insuring that all citizens are treated equally. But “religious freedom” advocates argue that religious ideals should be elevated above all others as a rationale for action. In a secular society, this is inappropriate.

The Kim Davis controversy exists because, as a culture, we have elevated respect for religious sensibilities to an inappropriate level that makes society less free, not more. Religious liberty should mean that no set of religious ideals are treated differently from other ideals. Laws should not be enacted whose sole purpose is to denigrate them, but, by the same token, the law shouldn’t elevate them, either.

In science, of course, the very word “sacred” is profane. No ideas, religious or otherwise, get a free pass. The notion that some idea or concept is beyond question or attack is anathema to the entire scientific undertaking. This commitment to open questioning is deeply tied to the fact that science is an atheistic enterprise. “My practice as a scientist is atheistic,” the biologist J.B.S. Haldane wrote, in 1934. “That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career.” It’s ironic, really, that so many people are fixated on the relationship between science and religion: basically, there isn’t one. In my more than thirty years as a practicing physicist, I have never heard the word “God” mentioned in a scientific meeting. Belief or nonbelief in God is irrelevant to our understanding of the workings of nature—just as it’s irrelevant to the question of whether or not citizens are obligated to follow the law.

Because science holds that no idea is sacred, it’s inevitable that it draws people away from religion. The more we learn about the workings of the universe, the more purposeless it seems. Scientists have an obligation not to lie about the natural world. Even so, to avoid offense, they sometimes misleadingly imply that today’s discoveries exist in easy harmony with preëxisting religious doctrines, or remain silent rather than pointing out contradictions between science and religious doctrine. It’s a strange inconsistency, since scientists often happily disagree with other kinds of beliefs. Astronomers have no problem ridiculing the claims of astrologists, even though a significant fraction of the public believes these claims. Doctors have no problem condemning the actions of anti-vaccine activists who endanger children. And yet, for reasons of decorum, many scientists worry that ridiculing certain religious claims alienates the public from science. When they do so, they are being condescending at best and hypocritical at worst.

Ultimately, when we hesitate to openly question beliefs because we don’t want to risk offense, questioning itself becomes taboo. It is here that the imperative for scientists to speak out seems to me to be most urgent. As a result of speaking out on issues of science and religion, I have heard from many young people about the shame and ostracism they experience after merely questioning their family’s faith. Sometimes, they find themselves denied rights and privileges because their actions confront the faith of others. Scientists need to be prepared to demonstrate by example that questioning perceived truth, especially “sacred truth”, is an essential part of living in a free country.

I see a direct link, in short, between the ethics that guide science and those that guide civic life. Cosmology, my specialty, may appear to be far removed from Kim Davis’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, but in fact the same values apply in both realms. Whenever scientific claims are presented as unquestionable, they undermine science. Similarly, when religious actions or claims about sanctity can be made with impunity in our society, we undermine the very basis of modern secular democracy. We owe it to ourselves and to our children not to give a free pass to governments — totalitarian, theocratic, or democratic — that endorse, encourage, enforce, or otherwise legitimize the suppression of open questioning in order to protect ideas that are considered “sacred”. Five hundred years of science have liberated humanity from the shackles of enforced ignorance. We should celebrate this openly and enthusiastically, regardless of whom it may offend.

If that is what causes someone to be called a militant atheist, then no scientist should be ashamed of the label.

We have said it is a good article. And what we have quoted, we heartily agree with.

But we left out one paragraph (where the dots are).

Here it is:

This reticence can have significant consequences. Consider the example of Planned Parenthood. Lawmakers are calling for a government shutdown unless federal funds for Planned Parenthood are stripped from spending bills for the fiscal year starting October 1st. Why? Because Planned Parenthood provides fetal tissue samples from abortions to scientific researchers hoping to cure diseases, from Alzheimer’s to cancer. (Storing and safeguarding that tissue requires resources, and Planned Parenthood charges researchers for the costs.) It’s clear that many of the people protesting Planned Parenthood are opposed to abortion on religious grounds and are, to varying degrees, anti-science. Should this cause scientists to clam up at the risk of further offending or alienating them? Or should we speak out loudly to point out that, independent of one’s beliefs about what is sacred, this tissue would otherwise be thrown away, even though it could help improve and save lives?

Either the author did not watch the videos that recorded Planned Parnethood personnel talking about their trade in the body parts of aborted fetuses, or he did not hear, or chose to forget, some statements they made. The videos make it perfecty clear that the organization was not just selling the parts in order to cover costs, but carryng on the trade for profit.

Now we have nothing against trade for profit. On the contrary, we think the making of profit is the morally best and most socially useful reason for selling anything and providing any service.

But it happens that the selling of the body parts of aborted fetuses for profit is against the law.  So exactly the same objection that Lawrence Krauss makes to Kim Davis’s action – that she broke the law – applies to Planned Parenthood’s action.

What seems to cloud his judgment in the case of Planned Parenthood – if he did watch the videos and take in what was said –  is the fact that the body parts went to scientists for the great cause (and we do think it is a great cause) of scientific research.

But however good the cause that the illegal trade was serving, it was still illegal.

In fact, what emerges from those videos is criminal action more morally outrageous than just selling the parts of aborted fetuses. (Note, please, that we are calling them fetuses, not “babies”, in order not to use controversial language.) It is revealed, in an interview with an employee of a firm that bought the body parts, that Planned Parenthood was urging pregnant women to have an abortion – even when they were uncertain that they wanted one, and even in one case when the woman was inclined NOT to have one – so that Planned Parenthood could sell the fetus’s body parts and so make a profit. 

That is iniquity.

Now scientists like Lawrence Krauss might argue persuasively that there should not be a law forbidding the selling of fetuses, whole or in parts, for profit. Just as Kim Davis might argue that there should not be a law that compels her to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. But there are such laws. And if it is wrong for Kim Davis to break the law on the grounds that it does a disservice to her idea of a higher good, so it is wrong for Planned Parenthood to break the law even if by doing so it is serving the genuinely higher good of science.

We have said that Lawrence Krauss’s judgment may be clouded by his belief in the supreme goodness of scientific research. We will not go so far as to say that he holds that end to be “sacred”, because we agree with him that the word has no place in the vocabulary of atheism. So we toss the accusation aside.

It could be said that our moral judgment of Planned Parenthood – accurate though our allegation is that the organization broke the law – may be clouded by our extreme distaste for their abortion services. (Note that we call them “services”, firmly resisting the temptation to call them “abuses”.) It  is true that we have an arguably irrational prejudice in favor of human life. We very much dislike abortion – while acknowledging that there are reasonable grounds for it in certain cases, and on no account arguing for it to be made wholly illegal. But obviously our objection to it is not on religious grounds. We do not believe that it frustrates “God’s purposes”. We are against it because we are against the deliberate destruction of human life  unless the human in question has forfeited his or her life by taking someone else’s.

Those who are for abortion on demand accuse those of us who are against it of being inconsistent when we call ourselves “pro-life”, because many of us are for the death penalty. By the same token, we can accuse them of inconsistency when they are for the destruction of life in the womb, but against putting convicted murderers to death. We are for saving the innocent and punishing the guilty, while they are for destroying the innocent and saving the guilty.

 

(Hat-tip for the article to our reader, Stephen)

Separation of Church and State 3

The great idea of individual freedom is what the Founders of the USA intended the new nation to embody – not Christianity.

We have selected passages on this theme from an article by Rob Boston in Church and State, denying “10 myths” about the First Amendment and its implications:

Myth One: Separation of church and state isn’t found in the U.S. Constitution.

Separation of church and state came about in America because during the colonial period there often was no separation, and this violated fundamental liberties. The system the Religious Right favors – church-state union – was tried in many colonies and found wanting.

Throughout the article, the author ascribes the myths exclusively to the “Religious Right”. In our experience, Christians of both Right and Left repeat these same fallacies.

Virginia led the way. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison worked together to disestablish the Anglican Church and pass legislation that extended true religious freedom to all. Some years later, it was Jefferson who penned the metaphor of the First Amendment erecting a “wall of separation between church and state”. Jefferson’s metaphor resonated with the public and the courts. Thus, the phrase “separation of church and state” came into being as a short-hand way of describing the First Amendment’s religion clauses. As the eminent church-state scholar Leo Pfeffer once wrote, “[I]t was inevitable that some convenient term should come into existence to verbalize a principle so widely held by the American people.”

Key Founders backed the concept. Madison, known as the “Father of the Constitution” and a primary drafter of the Bill of Rights, used similar language. In Virginia, Madison noted that he and Jefferson had created the “total separation of the church from the state”. As president, Madison was a strict advocate of this principle. He vetoed legislation that would have given a church in Washington, D.C., a symbolic charter to care for the poor, and he vetoed legislation giving a federal land grant to a church. In both cases, Madison issued veto messages citing the First Amendment.

Myth Two: The United States was founded to be a Christian nation.

This claim is easily debunked by referring to the text of the U.S. Constitution. If an officially Christian nation had been the Founders’ intent, the Constitution would say that explicitly. It doesn’t. In fact, it says the opposite.

Religion is referred to twice in the Constitution. The First Amendment bars laws “respecting an establishment of religion” and prohibiting “the free exercise thereof.” The first portion of this statement, which scholars call the Establishment Clause, cuts strongly against the notion of an officially Christian nation.

The second reference is often overlooked but is very important. Article VI contains language stating that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” What the Founders did here was ban religious qualifications for federal office – that is, they made it illegal to require that a person hold certain religious beliefs as a qualification for public office. Article VI ensures that all people – Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, etc. – can hold office at the federal level. It is impossible to square this language with the “Christian nation” concept.

Many conservative pastors of the post-Revolution era were well aware of the secular nature of the Constitution. They knew that the document did not establish an officially Christian nation. This angered them and led to a round of pulpit attacks on the “godless” Constitution.

Myth Three: Separation of church and state was originally intended to merely bar the creation of a national church.

The text of the First Amendment goes way beyond simply banning a national church. The amendment prohibits all laws “respecting an establishment of religion”. James Madison, one of the chief drafters of the amendment, interpreted it broadly. Madison believed that tax funding of churches was unconstitutional and even concluded, later in his life, that official White House proclamations calling for days of prayer were a violation.

It is true that some colonies had official churches. But it’s worth noting that the religion enshrined in law varied from colony to colony. … This “multiplicity of sects,” as Thomas Jefferson called it, ensured an effective check on an officially established national church.

Myth Four: Most of the Founders were evangelical Christians and supported government promulgation of that mode of faith.

Evangelicalism did take hold in the colonies in the post-Revolutionary era, but it was never embraced by key Founders. Rather, they tended to align with a rival school that sought to merge certain ethical principles of Christianity with the tenets of the Enlightenment, which stressed the primacy of science and reason.

Many Founders are identified as Deists, a theological school of thought that is less popular today. Deists believed in God but didn’t interpret the Bible in a literal fashion. They were skeptical of miraculous claims and sought to find a way to bring religion into alignment with the emerging scientific view of the world.

Yes, many Founders were Deists, but here a correction is needed. As theological terms, Deism means belief that a divine being made the universe but had nothing more to do with it; Theism. in contrast, means belief in a creator who continues to concern himself with human affairs.

Some of the signers of the Constitution did undoubtedly hold traditional Christian beliefs. But this does not mean they supported merging church and state.

Myth Five: Mottos like “In God We Trust” on currency and “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance are evidence that separation of church and state was never intended.

Both of these phrases are of much more recent origin than many people believe.

“In God We Trust” is familiar to most Americans because it appears on U.S. currency. But early American money did not carry this phrase. The Fugio cent, a penny authorized by Congress in 1787 and reportedly designed by Benjamin Franklin, contained the mottos “Mind Your Business” and “We Are One” – a reference to the 13 colonies.

In God We Trust” didn’t appear on coins until the Civil War, when it was authorized for use on some coins minted in the North. The use of the phrase was sporadic on currency and was not codified until the 1950s. Around the same time, the phrase was adopted as the national motto. (“E Pluribus Unum” had been serving as an unofficial motto until then.) Many scholars believe that the adoption of these religious phrases was a reaction to the fight against “godless communism” during the Cold War.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a minister and a socialist. Bellamy wrote the Pledge to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the voyage of Christopher Columbus. Bellamy’s Pledge, which did not include the phrase “under God,” appeared in a magazine called Youth’s Companion. After a lobbying campaign by the magazine … it was adopted for use in public schools as part of a daily flag-salute ritual. Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge in 1954, again as a reaction to the fight against communism.

In short, the Founders had nothing to do with these religious mottos or their adoption.

Myth Six: Thanks to separation of church and state, kids can’t pray in public schools.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1962 and 1963 banned programs of government-sponsored, compulsory prayer and Bible reading in public schools. The high court did not invalidate truly voluntary prayer and hasn’t done so since then. …  Young people in public schools today may pray and read religious books in a non-disruptive way – but the choice is now theirs. No students can be compelled to take part in religious worship in a public school or singled out for refusing to do so. …

In addition, the Supreme Court has made it clear that public schools can teach about religion in an objective manner. Religion can be discussed in classes like history, art, literature and others. The Bible and other religious texts can even be read as part of a comparative religion course. As long as the approach has legitimate educational goals, public school officials will not get into trouble for teaching about religion. …

Myth Seven: Separation of church and state fosters secularism, which drains religion of its vitality.

Official government secularism is not the enemy of faith; it is the defender of it. A secular state is one that is neutral on matters of theology. An official policy of government neutrality toward religion is a positive thing for faith communities.

The United States is a perfect example of how an official doctrine of secularism helps religion. In this country, the government long ago adopted a hands-off attitude toward religion. As a result, hundreds (if not thousands) of specific faith groups have sprung up on our shores. Religious groups remain vital, and most Americans claim a religious affiliation.

Other Western nations have either established churches or some form of government aid to religion. Ironically, it is in these nations where religion is withering away. It would seem that the official tie between church and state and the rejection of secularism as a legal principle sap faith of its vitality. In the end, religion becomes a mere creature of the state and a tool for promoting whatever policies government leaders decide are appropriate. This is not what people want, and they turn away from religion.

A thought, perhaps even a fact, that does not seem a happy one to us. If separation of church and state has actually encouraged religiosness and multiplied religions, it is not an unmitigated virtue of the Constituion after all. But it may be that freedom alone is responsible for the hundreds or thousands of churches in the US. And there is no consequence of freedom that can make it regrettable.

Myth Eight: Separation of church and state means that government must be hostile to religion.

In some countries, houses of worship are shuttered by government mandate, and religious people are persecuted. Nothing like that has occurred in the United States, which operates under the separation of church and state.

The separation principle contains two key parts: The government is to refrain from promoting, sponsoring or advocating for any faith. Yet at the same time, the government is required not to meddle in the internal affairs of religious groups or impose undue regulations and oversight on them. Church-state separation protects religion by placing it beyond the reach of government. …

Not quite “beyond the reach of government”. Government’s interfering hand has held out offerings:

Religious groups in America receive many benefits. They are wholly tax exempt and are often free from the regulatory oversight that is imposed on similarly situated secular groups. They are free to lobby and speak out on political issues. They often receive special exemptions and preferential treatment in secular law. Far from experiencing hostility, the place of religion in this nation where we separate church and state is in many ways exalted.

Myth Nine: Most religious leaders don’t support separation of church and state.

Some of the earliest proponents of separation of church and state were religious leaders. Roger Williams, a Puritan clergyman and the founder of Rhode Island, strongly advocated for separation during the colonial era. Years later, clerics like John Leland and Isaac Backus demanded separation as the best vehicle to protect the right of conscience for all.

In colonial Virginia and elsewhere, clergy from Baptist, Presbyterian and other traditions worked alongside Enlightenment thinkers like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to secure church-state separation. These religious leaders knew that only separation could protect their faith and enable it to prosper.

In the modern era, many members of the clergy … [and] religious denominations are on record as officially sup­porting the concept.

Myth Ten: Separation of church and state stifles the public voice and presence of religion.

Anyone who believes this hasn’t been paying attention. The United States operates under separation of church and state, yet religious groups have a loud and robust public voice. They speak out – from the left, right and center – on any number of political issues. As tax-exempt entities, houses of worship are not permitted under federal law to endorse or oppose candidates for public office, but there is nothing to stop them from addressing issues. … Nor does separation of church and state result in what one foe of the principle called a “naked public square”. It’s true that government may not post or erect religious symbols, but private religious groups are often able to use public space to display them with their own money and on their own time. All that is required is that the government must treat all religious and secular groups equally; if access to public space is extended to one group, it must be extended to all.

To sum up: the Constitution does require the separation of church and state, even though the phrase itself does not appear in it.

 

(Hat-tip Frank)

Filling the “God gap” with hogwash 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The cloud of knowing (revisited) 1

President Obama openly promotes Islam both within the United States and abroad.

It seems that at first the plan to do this (or call it a conspiracy, since we are likely to have someone tell us that we are propounding a conspiracy theory), was being cunningly disguised as a plan to promote religion generally –  or at least those religions and religious organizations that “promote peace and human rights”.  As the World Council of Churches did, perhaps – when it had been penetrated, taken over, and manipulated by the USSR?

Did the Chicago Council on Global Affairs assist the plan?

In 2010, after a two year study, that institution found that “Western secularism feeds religious extremism“.

Is it still doing that? Did ISIS, for instance, arise as result of Western secularism?

Or has Western secularism become less “narrow, ill-informed and uncompromising”?

This article of ours was first posted February 24, 2010.

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Traces of some very abstruse reasoning emerge tantalizingly from the Cloud of Knowing – the thinkers who influence current US foreign policy. Secretive ends are being pursued. Can we discern what they are, or guess what they might be, from the clues dropped by the press?

The Washington Post reports:

American foreign policy is handicapped by a narrow, ill-informed and “uncompromising Western secularism” that feeds religious extremism, threatens traditional cultures and fails to encourage religious groups that promote peace and human rights, according to a two-year study by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

So, according to a body that calls itself the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, secularism “feeds” religious extremism. Presumably that means it nourishes it, energizes it, makes it stronger than it would otherwise be.

Now how could it do that? Does it drive the religious mad by simply being non-religious? And if so, is it to blame for that, or are the religious perhaps over-reacting?

Wait. It’s not any old secularism that is guilty of annoying the religious; it is specifically Western secularism. Other sorts – if there are sorts of secularism – are not bad, or not as bad.

Why? Apparently because Western secularism, in contrast to, say, Eastern secularism if it exists, is “uncompromising”. But how should not-being-religious compromise? Should it be a little bit religious? If so, how much? And would it then still be secularism?

One may begin to suspect that here is another formulation of the now familiar accusation from the left that the West has only itself to blame for being attacked by religious extremists – aka Muslim terrorists – because it is not Muslim. Or is that leaping too quickly to an as yet unwarranted conclusion?

Let’s proceed cautiously. As well as “feeding” religious extremism, this Western secularism also “threatens traditional cultures”. How? Does it proselytize non-belief? Not that anyone’s heard. Does it try to force non-belief on believers? Again, no, not noticeably. Then does its mere existence raise questions that endanger the belief of “traditional cultures” – in which case what would the Chicago Council on Global Affairs have it do to lift the threat from those intimidated folk?

Wait again – the list of accusations against this dangerous force called secularism is not yet exhausted. It also “fails to encourage religious groups that promote peace and human rights”.

Which groups would those be – could we have some names, please? And why can they only carry out their noble mission if they are encouraged?

Answers to these questions cannot be found in the Washington Post story.

What it does tell us is that it took this body two years to reach its conclusion. So we  should not brush it off as nonsense: in two years it is possible to go very deeply into grievances.

What’s more, the conclusion requires, and will elicit, action by the government of the United States.

The council’s 32-member task force, which included former government officials and scholars representing all major faiths, delivered its report to the White House on Tuesday. The report warns of a serious “capabilities gap” and recommends that President Obama make religion “an integral part of our foreign policy”. 

A serious capabilities gap? Not a mere pothole in the diplomatic road to perfect global accord? And it could be filled in by – what exactly? A state religion? No – that could not be the recommendation of 32 officials and scholars representing all major faiths.

Just a generalized religiosity then?

But how is religion, whether specific or a mere aura of sanctity assumed by the State Department, going to improve American foreign policy, soothe the extremists of foreign creeds, reassure traditional cultures,  and stiffen the backbone of groups (presumably different from the religious extremists) intent on virtuously promoting peace  and human rights?

We are not told, and can only hope that the Chicago Council’s report to the White House provides answers to these difficult questions.

Thomas Wright, the council’s executive director of studies, said task force members met Tuesday with Joshua DuBois, head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and State Department officials. “They were very receptive, and they said that there is a lot of overlap between the task force’s report and the work they have been doing on this same issue,” Wright said.

Something is already being done by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships [and the State Department] to make religion in some way an integral part of US foreign policy? It would be most interesting to know what exactly.

DuBois declined to comment on the report but wrote on his White House blog Tuesday: “The Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership and the National Security Staff are working with agencies across government to analyze the ways the U.S. government engages key non-governmental actors, including religious institutions, around the globe.”

Ah! He’s not being exact, but there’s a clue in here somewhere.

The Chicago Council isn’t as influential as the Council on Foreign Relations or some other Washington-based think tanks, but it does have a long-standing relationship with the president. Obama spoke to the council once as a state senator and twice as a U.S. senator, including his first major foreign policy speech as a presidential candidate in April 2007.

It could depend on his sympathy then, with whatever it is they want done.

Michelle Obama is on the council’s board.

Again, ah!

Now we learn that the problem, however obcure it may seem to the public, has been troubling smart people for quite some time.

American foreign policy’s “God gap”has been noted in recent years by others, including former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright.

Well, she has been associated with a few faiths in her time – Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism. So perhaps she would be especially aware of a shortage of religious belief in the State Department. Could have struck her forcibly when she assumed office.

“It’s a hot topic,” said Chris Seiple [read something very politically correct that he’s written here], president of the Institute for Global Engagement in Arlington County and a Council on Foreign Relations member. “It’s the elephant in the room. You’re taught not to talk about religion and politics, but the bummer is that it’s at the nexus of national security. The truth is the academy has been run by secular fundamentalists for a long time, people who believe religion is not a legitimate component of realpolitik.

Come now, politics can hardly be avoided by a Council of Foreign Relations. But you say that religion is “the elephant in the room”? And it is “at the nexus of national security” ?

The Chicago Council’s task force was led by R. Scott Appleby of the University of Notre Dame and Richard Cizik of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.

Who is Richard Cizik, and what is the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good? According to Newsweek he was the Washington lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals for nearly 30 years, and then, towards the end of 2008, he announced “the formation of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, a group devoted to developing Christian responses to global and political issues such as environmentalism, nuclear disarmament, human rights, and dialogue with the Muslim world”.

Hmm.

“Religion,” the task force says, “is pivotal to the fate” of such nations as Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria and Yemen, all vital to U.S. national and global security.

So the particular religion they have in mind is Islam?

Not necessarily … don’t jump to conclusions …  it could also be  .. hmmm-mmm … Hinduism and …  Christianity and … who knows what?:

“Despite a world abuzz with religious fervor,” the task force says, “the U.S. government has been slow to respond effectively to situations where religion plays a global role.” Those include the growing influence of Pentecostalism in Latin America, evangelical Christianity in Africa and religious minorities in the Far East.

All of which feel threatened by Western secularism? Are crying out for it to compromise a little?

But okay, mostly Islam:

U.S. officials have made efforts to address the God gap, especially in dealings with Islamic nations and groups. The CIA established an office of political Islam in the mid-1980s. … During the second Bush administration, the Defense Department rewrote the Army’s counter-insurgency manual to take account of cultural factors, including religion.

Could that have had something to do with the shooting of soldiers by an “extremist” Muslim officer at Fort Hood? Just wondering.

The Obama administration has stepped up the government’s outreach to a wider range of religious groups and individuals overseas

… even, say, the Dalai Lama if he’ll use the back door

…  trying to connect with people beyond governments, said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Very hush-hush stuff this.

The effort, he said, is more deliberate than in the past: “This issue has senior-level attention.”

He noted that Obama appointed a special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference …

The envoy being a Muslim and a terrorist sympathizer [see our post The trusted envoy, February 20, 2010], and the Organization of the Islamic Conference being a major instrument of the Ummah for the conquest of the non-Muslim world, chiefly by methods of “soft jihad” in Europe …

… and created a new Muslim outreach position in the State Department. In the past year, he said, embassies in Muslim-majority countries have held hundreds of meetings with a broad range of people not involved in government.

Huh? Muslim-majority countries have had hundreds of meetings with individual people not involved with government? What people? Why? To what end? How does the government know about them?

Whatever was going on with that, it was apparently too “episodic and uncoordinated”. Now there must be something more programmatic, more official, more formal, more defined, and definitely involving government:

To end the “episodic and uncoordinated nature of U.S. engagement of religion in the world,” the task force recommended:

— Adding religion to the training and continuing educationofall foreign service officers, diplomats and other key diplomatic, military and economic officials. …

— Empowering government departments and agencies to engage local and regional religious communities where they are central players in the promotion of human rights and peace, as well as the delivery of health care and other forms of assistance.

Leaving aside the code words “human rights” and “peace” which in such a context as this usually mean “leftism” and “Islam” – diplomats, and military and even economic officials should deliver health care?

But here comes the stunner. (Remember that “clarify” in diplomatic talk always means “take it back and say something more to our liking”.)

– Address and clarify the role of religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy.

Cizik said some parts of the world — the Middle East, China, Russia and India, for example — are particularly sensitive to the U.S. government’s emphasis on religious freedom and see it as a form of imperialism.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IS A FORM OF IMPERIALISM?

We give up. Such nuanced thought is beyond our grasp.

The need to knock Islam (repeat) 12

This post,  first published on September 3, 2011, needs to be repeated from time to time, and this is one of those times.

It could be retitled The need to knock religion

The greatness of the West began with doubting. The idea that every belief, every assumption, should be critically examined started the might of Europe. When those old Greek thinkers who founded our civilization learnt and taught that no one has a monopoly of truth or ever will have, they launched the intellectual adventure that has carried the human race – not without a long interval in the doldrums – literally to the skies.

Socrates taught the utility of suspicion. He is reputed to have said, “The highest form of human excellence is to question oneself and others.” He was not, however, the first to use doubt for discovery. Thales of Miletos, who was born 155 years before Socrates, dared to doubt that religion’s explanatory tales about how the world came to be as it is were to be trusted, and he began exploring natural phenomena in a way that we recognize as scientific. He is often called the Father of Science. With him and his contemporary, Anaximander, who argued with him by advancing alternative ideas, came the notion – for the first time as far as we know – that reason could fathom and describe how the universe worked.

Science is one of the main achievements of the West, but it is not the only product of constructive doubt that made for its greatness. Doubt as a habit of mind or tradition of thinking meant that new, foreign, even counter-intuitive ideas were not dismissed. Europe, before and after it stagnated in the doldrums of the long Catholic Christian night (and even to some extent during those dark centuries), was hospitable to ideas wherever they came from.

Totally opposed to this intellectual openness were the churches with their dogma. Those who claim that the achievements of our civilization are to be credited to Christianity (or in the currently fashionable phrase to “the Judeo-Christian tradition”) have a hard case to make. It was the rediscovery of the Greek legacy in the Renaissance in the teeth of Christian dogmatism, and the new freedom from religious persecution exploited by the philosophers of the Enlightenment that re-launched the West on its intellectual progress, to become the world’s nursery of innovation and its chief factory of ideas.

Our civilization cannot survive without this openness. Critical examination is the breath that keeps it alive. But it is in danger of suffocation. It is more threatened now than it has been for the last four hundred years by dogmatisms: Marxism, environmentalism, religion – above all Islam which absolutely forbids criticism.

The Founding Fathers of the United States perfectly understood the necessity for an open market of ideas. Every citizen of the republic, they laid down, must be free to declare his beliefs, to argue his case, to speak his mind, to examine ideas as publicly as he chose without fear of being silenced.

No longer?

This warning comes from Nina Shea, writing in the National Review:

An unprecedented collaboration between the Obama administration and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC, formerly called the Organization of the Islamic Conference) to combat “Islamophobia” may soon result in the delegitimization of freedom of expression as a human right.

The administration is taking the lead in an international effort to “implement” a U.N. resolution against religious “stereotyping,” specifically as applied to Islam. To be sure, it argues that the effort should not result in free-speech curbs. However, its partners in the collaboration, the 56 member states of the OIC, have no such qualms. Many of them police private speech through Islamic blasphemy laws and the OIC has long worked to see such codes applied universally. Under Muslim pressure, Western Europe now has laws against religious hate speech that serve as proxies for Islamic blasphemy codes.

Last March, U.S. diplomats maneuvered the adoption of Resolution 16/18 within the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC). Non-binding, this resolution, inter alia, expresses concern about religious “stereotyping” and “negative profiling” but does not limit free speech. It was intended to — and did — replace the OIC’s decidedly dangerous resolution against “defamation of religions,” which protected religious institutions instead of individual freedoms.

But thanks to a puzzling U.S. diplomatic initiative that was unveiled in July, Resolution 16/18 is poised to become a springboard for a greatly reinvigorated international effort to criminalize speech against Islam, the very thing it was designed to quash.

Citing a need to “move to implementation” of Resolution 16/18, the Obama administration has inexplicably [not if Obama’s Islamophilia is remembered – ed] decided to launch a major international effort against Islamophobia in partnership with the Saudi-based OIC. This is being voluntarily assumed at American expense, outside the U.N. framework, and is not required by the resolution itself.

On July 15, a few days after the Norway massacre, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton co-chaired an OIC session in Istanbul on religious intolerance. It was there that she announced the initiative, inviting the OIC member-states’ foreign ministers and representatives to the inaugural meeting of the effort that the U.S. government would host this fall in Washington. She envisions it as the first in a series of meetings to decide how best to implement Resolution 16/18.

In making the announcement, Clinton was firm in asserting that the U.S. does not want to see speech restrictions: “The resolution calls upon states to ‘counter offensive expression through education, interfaith dialogue, and public debate . . . but not to criminalize speech unless there is an incitement to imminent violence.’” (This is the First Amendment standard set forth in the 1969 Supreme Court case of Brandenburg v. Ohio.)

With the United States providing this new world stage for presenting grievances of “Islamophobia” against the West, the OIC rallied around the initiative as the propaganda windfall that it is. It promptly reasserted its demands for global blasphemy laws, once again sounding the call of its failed U.N. campaign for international laws against the so-called defamation of Islam. It has made plain its aim to use the upcoming conference to further pressure Western governments to regulate speech on behalf of Islam.

The aim of the OIC is to criminalize criticism of Islam, though it might go along with banning the criticism of religion in general as an interim step. It will reserve to itself the right to condemn all other religions and beliefs, but allege that any criticism of Islam is incitement to violence – and call angry crowds on to the streets to prove it. 

Islam is now the major threat to the West. Its ideas are the very opposite of those on which the USA was founded. It is an ideology of intolerance and cruelty. It forbids the free expression of thought. By its very nature, even if it were not now on a mission of world conquest (which it is), it is the enemy of the West.

The best way to defeat it is by criticizing it, constantly and persistently, in speech and writing, on the big screen and the small screen, in the schools and academies, in all the media of information and comment, in national and international assemblies.

If the weapon of words is forbidden, the only alternative will be guns. 

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