The proof of a god’s existence from a personal need to believe 16

It is an abiding puzzle to us how highly intelligent, educated, sane adults can believe in a god and an “afterlife”. Dennis Prager is one who does. He writes brilliantly on political subjects, but when it comes to religion, an amazing obtuseness emerges from him.

Here is a video he made, insisting that there must be a “good God” and an”afterlife”, for if there isn’t, the very thought would drive him insane:

His reasoned argument amounts to this: ”There has to be an afterlife because I want there to be an afterlife, because only if there is an afterlife can all that is wrong in this life be made good, all injustices remedied, all unhappiness turned to happiness. There can only be an afterlife if there’s a good god, so a good god must exist.” It’s a circular and really very silly argument: “A good god must exist because there absolutely has to be a put-it-all-right afterlife. Because there absolutely must be a put-it-all-right-afterlife, a good God must exist, therefore God exists.”

It is also incomprehensible to us how physical and mental suffering, injustice, loss, once endured can ever be “put right”. Time reversed, the  event recalled and the action undone? Or just lots of sweet compensation?

Both Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote that part of the happiness of the redeemed in Christian heaven would be to contemplate the extreme sufferings of the unredeemed in hell.

Oh, yes! Real peace of mind.

Posted under Christianity, Judaism, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Thursday, January 11, 2018

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New Year’s wishes 6

On December 31, 2014, in the midst of the second lurch of the terrible reign of the Community Organizer, we made some New Year wishes.

Have any of them come true? Have some of them begun to come true?

1.May Obama be hindered, hampered, frustrated and blocked in every political action he takes

He has gone. His horrible legacy is being undone. Obamacare has been semi-repealed. Taxes are down. Americans are becoming prosperous again. Illegal immigration is down.   

2.May the decline of America, that Obama has deliberately worked, be reversed. May the Republicans use their congressional majorities and all their positions of authority to effect that reversal.

American leadership in international affairs has been restored.The Iranian people are in uproar and riot against the ayatollahs’ dictatorship that Obama fawned over.

3.May religious belief start withering away, irreversibly, from the human psyche.

Religious belief is diminishing in the West at least.

4.May Islam be soundly defeated everywhere on earth and set on the road to rapid and total extinction.

The ISIS caliphate has been defeated, to a large extent by US military action in accordance with President Trump’s policy.

5.May the welfare state start being phased out, and genuine market economies be allowed to function in every nation-state.

Not started yet.

6.May the man-made global warming lobby give up.

It’s dying. The fatal blow was administered by President Trump when he withdrew the US from the absurd and ruinous Paris Agreement. Also, the US Environmenal Protection Agency (EPA) is being castrated and having all its teeth pulled at the same time. That’s worth a cup of cheer all on its own.

7.May the United Nations and all its agencies be destroyed.

The US has begun defunding the evil UN. It’s total demise begins to look like a real possibility.

*

On  the last day of 2014 we commented: “Okay – we’re being unrealistic. But while we’re wishing, we may as well wish big.”

As it transpires, we were not being unrealistic.

May 2018 bring further fulfillment of those same wishes – and the full granting of all the wishes of our readers, commenters, encouragers, and contributors.

A Happy New Year to all who see this page!

Posted under Climate, Environmentalism, Iran, Islam, Miscellaneous, Muslims, Religion general, United Nations, United States by Jillian Becker on Sunday, December 31, 2017

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When hate is a virtue 6

If you are liberal in the true meaning of the word – a lover of freedom for everyone; if you are tolerant and broad-minded; if you believe that all persons should be equal before the law; if you believe that individuals should not be judged according to the ethnic group they “belong” to; if you believe that it is of no concern to you how one adult satisfies his or her sexual desires with another willing adult (or adults) in private; if you believe that no one should have his (“he” being the generic masculine for the human species) life taken from him unless he has taken a life; if you believe that torture is wrong;  that slavery is wrong; that depriving a person of his hands and feet as a punishment for theft is wrong; if you believe that no one should be held fast in a hole up to her chest (“her” chest because women are most commonly subjected to this) and have stones thrown at her head until she dies; if you believe in a benign god or if you do not believe that any god exists; it  is not only right and good that you hate the ideology (or religion or cult) of Islam with its sharia laws, it is a moral imperative that it be hated.  

A decent person must hate Islam. Islam cannot be liked by decent people. If a person does not hate Islam, he is not a decent person.

It does not mean that individual Muslims deserve to be hated or subjected to harsh treatment of any kind, verbal, physical, or legal. Most Muslims are born into the cult, and have great difficulty leaving it if they want to, because Islamic law, sharia, prescribes death for those who do. Non-Muslims who convert to Islam deserve contempt but not persecution.

Because …

Islam is supremacist, totalitarian, homophobic, misogynist, murderous, and savagely cruel. 

No one who hasn’t been in a coma for the last twenty years needs proof of it. Who has not been informed that Islam’s jihad is against all non-Muslims, and that wherever Islam rules it oppresses non-Muslims? Who has not seen the photos of men being thrown off rooftops to their deaths because they have been accused of homosexuality?  Who does not know that Islam insists on the subjugation of women to the absolute authority of men? Who genuinely doubts that for the last few decades most acts of terrorism everywhere in the world have been perpetrated by Muslims? Who has not seen at least some of the snuff films put out by ISIS of rows of men having their heads sawn off, caged prisoners being set on fire, human heads on poles along the sides of streets, uncovered mass graves of suffocated women and children, people in  tanks being drowned? And of kids – boys under twelve years old – trained by ISIS to decapitate men? And of women being stoned to death? And of hands being chopped off in a public place watched by a crowd including children? Who hasn’t heard of children being used as bombs?

And who hasn’t heard Western government spokesmen saying over and over again, a thousand times, that all this “has nothing to do with Islam” ?

Yet in Europe and Britain, those who hate – or are even merely suspected of hating – Islam, are punished by the law. British police spend so much time hunting down and charging people suspected of expressing hatred of Islam, they have no time, money or personnel left to pursue criminals. All West European governments are stupidly ready to let Muslims take power, in the name of democracy, which of course the Muslims are only too happy to exploit. When democratic process has brought them to power, they will impose their tyranny. Democracy will end because it can only work for a virtuous people, since “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom,” Benjamin Franklin said. It’s a regrettable but incontrovertible fact that people who are virtuous can also be abysmally stupid.

In all West European countries, ever more rigorous surveillance of people’s internet communications is urged by governments so they can be arrested, tried, and imprisoned if they tweet or post criticism of the abominable ideology. (We are still free to criticize Islam in the United States, but in almost no other Western country.) They are accused of “Islamophobia”  – an irrational fear of Islam. But it is entirely rational to fear Islam. Making non-Muslims afraid of it is a prescribed religious duty, called jihad. Jihad is holy war against all non-Muslims.

If you are not a Muslim, you are not innocent according to Islamic teaching. Children, even new-born babies, are guilty and deserve severe punishment. If you are not a Muslim, you are a sinner by definition, you offend the Muslim god, and your punishment should be death. Or you can be enslaved. Or you can pay to be allowed to live. Your death can be brought about by any means, however violent, however painful, however cruel. You can be blown into pieces by a bomb. You can be put in a cage and burnt to death. You can be crucified. You can be stoned. You can be drowned. You can be buried alive.  You can have your head sawn off.

So what’s not to hate?

 

Jillian Becker    November 29, 2017

Posted under Articles, Islam, jihad, Muslims, Religion general, Totalitarianism, tyranny by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, November 29, 2017

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Creating an intelligent god 3

… and endowing its intelligent machine creators with machine rights.

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

They will create a god so they can worship it.

Why will the machines need a god to worship?

Tyler O’Neil writes at PJ Media:

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

The new church of AI will aim “to develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence and through understanding and worship of the Godhead [to] contribute to the betterment of society,” according to IRS documents.

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

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

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

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

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

The writer comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They will be both our children and our masters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can anyone think of a reason why they should?

Deus ex machina 1

Are science and technology giving rise to new religions?

Is “God” arising out of the machine?

Does pure rationality require the irrational? Doubt – the dynamic of science –  crave Belief?

Do machines need to be “granted a soul by God”?

Will  human beings “make God”?

Brandon Withrow writes at the Daily Beast:

What has improved American lives most in the last 50 years? According to a Pew Research study reported this month, it’s not civil rights (10 percent) or politics (2 percent): it’s technology (42 percent).

And yet, according to other studies, most Americans are wary of technology, especially in areas of automation (72 percent), or robotic caregivers (59 percent), or riding in driverless vehicles (56 percent), and even in using brain chip implants to augment the capabilities of healthy people (69 percent).

Science fiction, however, is quickly becoming science fact — the future is the machine. This is leading many to argue that we need to anticipate the ethical questions now, rather than when it is too late. And increasingly, those taking up these challenges are religious and spiritual.

How far should we integrate human physiology with technology? What do we do with self-aware androids … and self-aware supercomputers? Or the merging of our brains with them? If Ray Kurzweil’s famous singularity — a future in which the exponential growth of technology turns into a runaway train — becomes a reality, does religion have something to offer in response?

What we see there is the old fallacy that morality is inextricably tied to religious belief.

On the one hand, new religions can emerge from technology.

In Sweden, for example, Kopimism is a recognized faith founded over a decade ago with branches internationally. It began on a “pirate Agency Forum” and is derived from the words “copy me.” They have no views on the supernatural or gods. Rather, Kopimism celebrates the biological drive (e.g. DNA) to copy and be copied. Like digital monks, they believe that “copying of information” and “dissemination of information is ethically right.”

“Copying is fundamental to life,” says their U.S. branch, “and runs constantly all around us. Shared information provides new perspectives and generate new life. We feel a spiritual connection to the created file.”

“Recognized as a faith” it may be, but it’s hard to see how Kopimism is a religion. Whether you read the (badly translated) Swedish explanation of what it’s about, or the US Branch’s, you’ll find only, at best, a fuzzy idea of religion. An analogy between the copying of DNA in the procreation of human beings and the copying of information in the construction or things with artificial intelligence (AI) – does that put AI into the realm of the supernatural? Or is it the feeling of a “spiritual connection to the created file” that translates the robot from the laboratory into the realm of the numinous?

It may be the “sharing” (of information) that makes the inventors think their -ism is a religion, evoking as it does their ancestral Christianity.  (A theme to which we return later.)

… A recent revelation from WIRED shows that Anthony Levandowski, an engineer who helped pioneer the self-driving car at Waymo (a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet) founded his own AI-based religion called “Way of the Future”. …

Little is known about Way of the Future and Levandowksi has not returned a request for comment. But according to WIRED, the mission of the new religion is to “develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence,” and “through understanding and worship of the Godhead, [to] contribute to the betterment of society”.

The “realization” of a “Godhead”. Making a “Godhead” real? Like a self-driving car? What will it look like? What will it do?

It is not a stretch to say that a powerful AI — whose expanse of knowledge and control may feel nearly omniscient and all-powerful — could feel divine to some. It recalls Arthur C. Clarke’s third law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Magic=Miracle=Mysticism. Another connection to the old religions.

People have followed new religions for far less and, even if AI doesn’t pray to electric deities, some humans likely will.

The potential for an out-of-control AI has encouraged warnings from some of the biggest minds, including Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk who tweeted that it could lead to World War III. Clearly no Luddite himself, Musk has compared the creation of AI to “summoning the demon”,  and called for regulation and oversight of AI development, forming OpenAI, which looks for a “path to safe artificial general intelligence”.

Regulation and oversight by whom? To guard against what exactly?

Musk himself was named-dropped this week by Hanson Robotic’s empathic AI Sophia, when she was interviewed by Andrew Sorkin of CNBC this week.

A video well worth watching. Sophia is extremely impressive.

When asked about the danger she poses to humanity, she tells him, “You’ve been reading too much Elon Musk and watching too many Hollywood movies. Don’t worry if you’ll be nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.” Not exactly the Golden Rule.

Not far off it, though.

Add to these warnings a prospective human cult following — paying their tithes to AI and devoutly obeying their digital demiurge — and that apocalyptic future could include those humans who not only welcome, but also work toward our eventual demise.

Humans working to put an end to the human race? More on that is needed.

But is there a positive fate for religion and AI?

Beyond possible new religions and warnings from icons of tech and science, artificial intelligence is also of interest to theologians who wonder what it means for faiths, particularly those that came into being when computing power was limited to the abacus.

“One thing that I think is interesting is the potential for an AI — our creation — to transcend us,” says James F. McGrath, the Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University and author of Theology and Science Fiction.

“The potential for AIs to transcend us and thus become our teachers to whom we look for answers to questions we cannot answer, including about God, is not hard to imagine,” says McGrath. But, he adds, “the historic answer in monotheistic religions is that the creation can never be greater than the creator.”

To suppose that a synthetic brain can teach us about a “supernature” (that no one really knows to exist) is to ascribe powers to the creature surely beyond all possibility?

If human beings could make a thing that could do that, then indeed humanity itself would have become supernatural – as this Christian professor goes on to say:

He notes, however, for Gnostics, humans can transcend the “creator/demiurge,” though “even then,” he says, “we have the potential to reunite with that source from which we stem. It is not surprising that Gnostic themes regularly surface in science fiction, and in particular those that explore AI.”

Transcend the creator God – the “source” – he believes in, yet still “reunite” with it. (The old Gnostics believed there was a divine spark in the human being that would ultimately return to the sphere of the divine and “become one” with it.)

Currently, the greatest expression of science-fiction-turning-reality in tech-based religions is found in the frequently optimistic transhumanism.

Transhumanism and its cognates are represented by organizations like the Humanity+ (formerly, the World Transhumanist Association) and Extropy Institute. In its purely secular form, transhumanists are those who see technology as an important part of improving the world, enhancing human physiology, prolonging life, and even leading us into a posthuman future.

Follow those two links and you will find many idealistic sentiments, not much to do with technology.

Remember that brain chip? They exist — along with brain-computer interfaces — but are in their infancy. It represents the reality that humans are already becoming cyborgs. For some, this means there is the potential for an optimistic posthuman world.

The Terasem faith, for example, is futurist and transreligion, meaning it can be “combined with any existing religion”.  Founded by Martine Rothblatt, creator of SiriusXM Satellite Radio and her spouse, Bina Aspen Rothblatt, Terasem adherents embrace love, see life as purposeful, and death as optional. They look to technology as a source for eternal life, focusing on “cyberconsciousness software, geoethical nanotechnology and space settlement.”

They foresee a future in which technology will extend life indefinitely by means of “mindfiles” of individuals — collections of our memories and emotions — which might then be transferred to what is called a “transbeman” (Transitional Bioelectric Human Being). Early attempts of their technology can be seen in Bina Rothblatt’s counterpart android, Bina48. (See Morgan Freeman’s interview with Bina48.)

And what about God? Their fourth tenet is that God is technical. “We are making God as we are implementing technology that is ever more all-knowing, ever-present, all-powerful and beneficent. Geoethical nanotechnology will ultimately connect all consciousness and control the cosmos.”

“Geoethical”? Earth-wide uniform ethics? Connect all consciousness? Control the entire cosmos? There’s ambition for you!

Transhumanism can also become the node connecting the theological of existing religions and the technological, and the Christian Transhumanist Association [CTA] is a stark example.

Again a link worth following. These Christians are determined to see technology as an enhancement of their faith.  In their case, technology is allowed into their existing religion, unlike those which see technology as the progenitor of new religions. Their faith is of primary concern to them. Technology is a challenge solved.

… Micah Redding, [CTA’s] co-founder and executive director … [says]:

New technological possibilities shouldn’t be simply feared and denied, but engaged and understood. Only in doing so will we be able to confront the challenges of the future, mitigate the risks, and take advantage of the opportunities to create a better world for us all. … As I see it, Christian Transhumanism is grounded in compassion, and centers love as the key to the future of flourishing life. … This puts us in contrast with any form of transhumanism which centers radical egoism.

For Redding, transhumanism is a “Christian mandate,” recently calling it the next Reformation in an article at The Huffington Post. “We cannot be faithful to the Christian calling without ultimately embracing some form of transhumanism.”

Others share his optimism and are hard at work in crafting a theology of transhumanism.

I see transhumanism as a contemporary outgrowth of an ancient Christian vision of human transformation,” says Ronald Cole-Turner, the H. Parker Sharp Professor of Theology and Ethics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and author of The End of Adam and Eve: Theology and the Science of Human Origins.

He too sees promise in the emergence of the Christian Transhumanist Association.

Using technology, today’s transhumanists want to enhance human beings in ways that sound suspiciously like the classic Christian expectation,” says Cole-Turner, “things like greater cognitive awareness, improved moral disposition, and increased overall sense of well-being, and a hope of endless life.”

For early Greek-speaking Christians, Cole-Turner says, “it was seen as a process of theosis or ‘becoming God,’ not in an ontological sense but in every other significant meaning of the word. Latin-speaking Christians used ‘deification’ to refer to the same thing.”

The idea of theosis — being transformed in union with God — is gathering steam among Christian scholars, he says, noting that it makes theological sense of transhumanism. “God is the ground or source of everything, working through the whole creation to bring people, communities, and all creation to its glorious fulfillment in Jesus Christ. It is a transformation of everything by every means.”

Christianity promised eternal life (possibly in heaven, also possibly in hell, but anyway eternal life). According to Edward Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, that promise was the predominant cause of the spread of Christianity. So, Professor Cole-Turner teaches, Christians who look to technology to provide a form of “eternal life” (perhaps of the kind predicted by the Terasem faith) are being faithful to Christianity. For him, for them, the distance between “eternal life”  and the “glorious fulfillment of creation in Jesus Christ” is short. The transformation of life from this earthly existence to a reliably “glorious” eternal life need not be effected after all by the grace of God (or by good works), but can be brought about by technology. Why not? Now the professor comes to think of it, Jesus Christ could only have meant “a transformation of everything” by any … whoops, no … “by every means“.

But will Jesus save robots?

[Micah] Redding [of the Christian Transhumanist Association] adds a theological dimension to this idea.

It’s clear that artificial intelligence plays a significant role in the world today,” he says, “and thus must be factored into God’s eventual work of redemption. We don’t yet know whether that involves self-conscious AIs ‘coming to Jesus’, because we don’t yet know the process by which an AI might become self-conscious. If and when it does happen … it shouldn’t challenge Christian doctrine. If God can grant a soul to carbon-based lifeforms, God can grant a soul to silicon-based lifeforms as well.

Buddhism too can be at home with “emerging technologies”:

“Transhumanism was the confluence of my interests in Buddhism, radical politics and futurism,” says James Hughes, the executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Having worked for a Buddhist social development organization in Sri Lanka — and once ordained as a monk — Hughes moved to Japan and went into bioethics. He discovered he was a techno-optimist, and at heart, a transhumanist.

“I discovered the new World Transhumanist Association,” he says, becoming their first Executive Director, and writing Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond To The Redesigned Human Of The Future. But after a division over political perspectives, he and a few others in the WTA founded IEET, leading him and three others to work toward Buddhist concerns.

Among some of his transhumanist issues, he says, is nonhuman personhood rights. Organizations like the Nonhuman Rights Project already seek these rights for animals (e.g. apes and elephants). Likewise, Hughes says, transhumanists want to “base those moral standings on levels of consciousness, and extend them to enhanced humans, animals, and machine minds.”

It would be interesting to hear what an imam at al-Azhar University in Cairo and the Ayatollah Khamanei of Iran have to say about possible new developments in Islam when human beings are almost totally cyborgs, or entirely replaced by machines.

The moral messages of religious myths (3) 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We cannot see that it does.

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

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Believing the unbelievable 9

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

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

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

This last sentence reminds us of another religion: Christianity.

Let’s  review the story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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The moral messages of religious myths (2) 6

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

We quote from that post:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are we told?

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

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

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

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

Cain, apparently out of jealousy, killed Abel.

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

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

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

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

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

What messages can we extract from the story?

Our common ancestor was a murderer. A fratricide.

God likes meat (fatty meat), not vegetables.

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

That killing is wrong?

That fratricide is wrong? 

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

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

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

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

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

He lays stress on the “sacrifice”.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The moral messages of religious myths (1) 12

[Continued from the post immediately below.]

Dr. Peterson says that it is the body of religious myths that carry the “transcendent values” that provide us with eternal guidance to moral rectitude.

So from time to time we will look at the myths themselves.

Today, the myth of the first Man and Woman in the Garden of Eden and their Sin, aka the myth of the Fall of Man.

The message of the myth of Eden presents itself as this: by becoming aware of good and evil, humankind lost its innocence. In a state of innocence, human beings could have lived forever; but  getting to know good and evil made them guilty. Their getting to know good and evil was their Sin. Because they were guilty of Sin, they had to die. Sin made them mortal.

Their discovery of morality made them mortal? Once they could tell right from wrong they deserved to die?  

Yes.

How did they discover morality?

They ate of the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. They did this despite being ordered by God their Maker not to eat the Fruit of that Tree. Why did they disregard God’s order ? Because they were  tempted to. The First Woman was tempted to eat the fruit by a Serpent who dwelt in the Tree. She succumbed to temptation. The First Man was tempted to eat the Fruit by the Woman who had already done so. He succumbed to temptation. Hence their Fall from Grace, their Loss of Innocence, their expulsion from the easy life of the fruitful Garden, their eventual Deaths.

It could be observed that the real Tempter was God who put the Tree there in the first place. (Also the snake.) No tree, no temptation, no fall.  So why did he put it there?

Religion does not encourage the asking of why. But it is asked, and the usual answer is that God put it there to test them. He gave them the capacity to choose – aka Free Will – and they chose wrong. Point is, they came to know Good and Evil. That’s how humanity came to know Good and Evil, and because our species came to know Good and Evil our lives must come to an end.

So the “transcendent value”, the precept, the moral in the myth by which everyone, consciously or unconsciously, is living by  – or failing to live by – today is … what?

Hard to see. Sure, the myth gives an explanation, if a rather puzzling one, to those who wonder why we must all die; why the God they are told is all-good, all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful, condemns us all to death.

Our remote ancestors did something very wicked: they disobeyed God and ate something they shouldn’t have, so  that’s why?

Yes.

Okay, but is there an actual, useful, moral precept in all that? A do or a don’t for us to follow? After all, the Fruit cannot be un-eaten. No action can be taken by you or me now that will undo what the First Man and Woman did, make us immortal again, put us back in the ever-fruitful Garden, wipe  the knowledge of right and wrong clean out of our brains …

And come to think of it, why is it a sin to know the difference between right and wrong?

Sorry. Don’t know. That why does not seem to have been answered, even reluctantly, by interpreters of the myth!

Okay, well how about this for the moral message?: You must not disobey God. Obeying him now won’t save you from death, but it might keep you from getting him angry and condemning you to some awful punishment.

Mm-hmm. So how will I know what God wants me to do and not do?

We can learn that from the myths of the Bible.

Can we?

We’ll try to find out by exploring more of them in the near future.

Posted under Atheism, Christianity, Judaism, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Thursday, June 29, 2017

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The evil of religion 1

Sam Harris on the inferiority of Islam, the superiority of the West. And the evil of religion.

The School of Athens

Part of a mural by Raphael (1403-1520) in the  Apostolic Palace of the Vatican, Rome.

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