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.

Let them stab slice gash slash tear rip scrape hack off little girls’ genitals 11

… and don’t be so bigoted and intolerant as to call it mutilation.

It is purification for Allah’s sake.

Here’s a video clip of Tucker Carlson on Fox News interviewing a woman convert to Islam who defends the practice.

But in a column at Fox News Opinion, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was forced to suffer female genital mutilation herself, explains and deplores the rite, which is observed by Muslims (though not only by Muslims and not by all Muslims), in Africa (though not only in Africa). (See a list of countries here and religious groups here.)

Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes:

The recent news that a grand jury in Michigan has indicted three people, including two doctors, for female genital mutilation is a welcome development. As the first ever prosecutions of this crime in the United States, the case shines much needed light on an underground human rights abuse that has been going on for too long. Female genital mutilation has been deliberately covered up by those practicing it here or sending their daughters overseas during summer break to be mutilated outside of the law.

Yet, ham-fisted attempts to appear culturally sensitive by the likes of the New York Times reporting on this story will push these issues underground once more. The newspaper’s Health and Science Editor wrote that referring to female genital mutilation as ‘genital cutting’ is less ‘culturally loaded’ and will help to bridge a gap between those who practice FGM and those who campaign against it. In her eyes it’s a case of Africa vs. the West.

As an African who was subjected to FGM, now living in the West, allow me to help bridge that gap by explaining what we’re really talking about beneath the weasel words ‘genital cutting’.

There are five types of female genital mutilation performed on girls from as young as five years of age. Four of them are unarguably mutilation, and the other is designed to symbolize mutilation. I will start with the mildest.

  1. The ‘nick’: The girl is held down, her legs pushed apart and a needle is used to prick her clitoris. The incision is similar to a finger prick test for diabetes, blood comes out and the girl is considered ‘cleansed’. Often there is a ritual with a little party to celebrate the procedure.
  2. ‘Female circumcision’:The second method in terms of severity is often compared to male circumcision. The hood of the clitoris is cut off, in some cases the tip of the clitoris is cut off, known as clitoridectomy. In this form, an otherwise normally functioning body part is sliced off and thrown out. Disfiguring a little girl’s genitals in this way cannot rationally be considered anything but mutilation.
  3. Intermediate infibulation:In the third form of FGM, as much of the clitoris as possible is dug out and removed. The inner labia are cut off and the outer labia are sewn together leaving two small holes for urination and menstruation. In places where this is done without ‘medical intervention’ girls have been known to bleed to death. After infibulation is done it is imperceptible what has taken place when the girl stands up with her legs together, but in the obstetrician’s position it is clearly visible that parts of her genitals have been removed and sewn up. Sadly, we are only just past half way and female genital mutilation gets worse. No doubt setting out these practices in detail is disturbing but it is crucial that we speak openly about what is taking place rather than shroud it in euphemism so as not to cause offense.
  4. Total infibulation:In the fourth type of FGM the clitoris and inner labia are cut off and the outer labia are cut or scraped off too, then sewn up. When the girl stands, even with her legs closed, her genitals clearly look different.
  5.  Vaginal fusing:In the fifth type of FGM, which is rarely discussed, all of the fourth type is done and then the inner walls of the vagina are scratched to cause bleeding and the sewing is again done. The girl’s feet are tied together in an effort to fuse the two sides of the vagina with scar tissue to close it up. Children can die undergoing this.

It is hard for people outside of communities practicing FGM to understand what is taking place. One example that has stayed with me over the years was a woman in the Netherlands that I translated for. I accompanied her to visit an obstetrician as she was having great difficulty with urination and menstruation. She showed the doctor her genitals after being subjected to the fifth and most severe type of FGM with her genitals completely removed. The stunned doctor asked if she had been burned. He could not believe that what had been done to her was deliberate, he assumed it must have been a horrific accident. But, it was no accident.

It’s for women like her that I started the AHA Foundation as a resource to help women and girls who are truly bridging the gap between worlds and cultures. They are living in the United States under the protection of our laws and Constitution but suffering human rights abuses imported from overseas.

The aim of FGM in all its forms is to control female sexuality. The clitoris is removed to take physical pleasure from sex and reduce the libido. In its more severe forms, involving sewing the genitals up, the aim is to ensure the girl is a virgin on her wedding night. Many women must be surgically re-opened (or simply with a pen knife or razor blade) in order to consummate their marriage.  The consequences of FGM are ongoing psychological and physical harms from infections to fistulas and even death.

Even in its most mild form, the ‘nick’ procedure involves a young girl being held down by her loved ones and a needle poked into one of her most sensitive body parts. The moment this is done the child becomes sexually aware, she can now be a temptation to men, she can destroy her family’s so-called ‘honor’ and must now behave in certain ways around boys to demonstrate her modesty.

The debate around nicking, which had been previously settled, was revived again last year by an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics. The authors argued that nicking the vulva or cutting out the hood of the clitoris (FGM forms 1 and 2 above) are less harmful and should be tolerated by liberal societies. These practices, they suggest, are ethically acceptable and not contraventions of girls’ human rights.

Indeed, like the New York Times, these academics argue that referring to modest forms of FGM ‘mutilation’ is culturally insensitive and demonizes ‘important cultural practices’. Yet the meaning of those ‘important cultural practices’ is not examined beneath their ‘ethical lens’. Notoriously academics and politically correct apologists like them assume any claim of ‘culture’ is by rights a good thing and trumps other considerations.

Seeing as they are so reluctant to critique cultural practices, other than those of ‘powerful, white men,’ I will do it for them. The ‘nick’ symbolizes and communicates to little girls that their natural state is unclean and that pain must be inflicted on their genitals to make them acceptable to their communities.

Will the two Muslim doctors due to be tried in Michigan for performing FGM procedures be given a severe enough sentence to deter others from ever doing it in the United States?

Or will “cultural sensitivity”, respect for religion, and above all fear of being labeled racist and “Islamophobic”, keep jury and judge from condemning them at all?

We wait to see.

Posted under Africa, Islam, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, May 3, 2017

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The universe wants to kill us 1

Enjoy!

We have strong differences of opinion with both Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Maher on political issues, but not on religion. They are atheists. (Go here for a video of Bill Maher condemning Islam.)

Posted under Atheism, Religion general, Superstition, Theology, Videos by Jillian Becker on Sunday, April 23, 2017

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The need for religion – a craving for tyranny 2

Why do tens of millions in the West prostrate themselves before advancing, conquering, oppressive Islam?

Why do millions of Americans still vote for the Democratic Party?

This essay offers a chilling explanation.

It is from Jihad Watch, by Alexander Maistrovoy:

“Progressive man” refuses to recognize the crimes of Islam, not because he is naive, fine-tempered or tolerant. He does it because, unconsciously or subconsciously, he has already accepted Islam as a religion of salvation. As he accepted Stalinism, Hitlerism, Maoism and the “Khmer Rouge” before it 

Joseph de Maistre, a French aristocrat of the early 19th century, argued that man cannot live without religion, and not religion as such, but the tyrannical and merciless one. He was damned and hated, they called him an antipode of progress and freedom, even a forerunner of fascism; however, progressives proved him right again and again.

It may be true of most people that they “cannot live without religion”, but it is not true of all. We wonder how, since the Enlightenment, and especially now in our Age of Science, people can live with a religion. We agree, however, that those who need a religion are not put off by its being “tyrannical and merciless”.

Is there a religion, whether deity-worshiping or secular, that is not tyrannical and merciless?  

In their nihilistic ecstasy, Homo progressicus threw God off the pedestal, trampled upon the humanistic ideal of Petrarch, Alberti and Leonardo Bruni, who relied on Reason and strove for virtue, and … found themselves in complete and gaping emptiness. They realized that they could not live without the God-man — the idol, the leader, the ruler, who would rely on the unshakable, ruthless idea of salvation — not in the other world, but in this real world here and now. And with all the passion so inherent to their shallow, unstable, infantile nature, they rushed out in search of their “prince on a white horse”.

The idols of the progressives were tyrants armed with the most progressive ideology: Robespierre, and after him Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and finally — Islam.

Islam does not, of course, claim to be “progressive”. It derives from – and is stuck in – the Dark Ages. But the self-styled progressives of the West are welcoming it and submitting to it.

In the 20th century, the Western intelligentsia was infected with red and brown bacilli.

Walter Duranty ardently denied the Holodomor.

That is Stalin’s forced famine in the Ukraine that killed many millions. Walter Duranty denied that it was happening in his New York Times reports.

Bernard Shaw and Romain Rolland justified OGPU terror and the kangaroo court in Moscow; Aragon, Barbusse (the author of the apologetic biography of Stalin: Stalin. A New World Seen Through the Man) and Jean-Richard Bloch glorified “the Father of nations”.

“I would do nothing against Stalin at the moment; I accepted the Moscow trials and I am prepared to accept those in Barcelona,” said Andre Malraux during the massacre of anarchists from POUM [the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification] by Communists in Barcelona in 1937.

Let’s guess: who is writing about whom? “Lonely overbearing man … damned disagreeable”, “friendly and commonplace”, possessing “an intelligence far beyond dogmatism” … “sucked thoughtfully at the pipe he had most politely asked my permission to smoke  I have never met a man more fair, candid, and honest”. Got it? It was Stalin, as portrayed by H. G. Wells.

How many sufferings – Solzhenitsyn recalled — were caused by progressive Western journalists, who after having visited the GULAG, praised Potemkin villages with allegedly heated barracks where political prisoners used to read Soviet newspapers sitting at clean neat tables? Indeed, Arthur Ransome (The Guardian), an American journalist and a fan of Mao, Agnes Smedley, New York reporter Lincoln Steffens (after the meeting with Lenin he wrote,“I have seen the future and it works”), Australian-British journalist Leonore Winter (the author of the book  called Red Virtue: Human Relations in the New Russia) and many others sympathized with the Bolsheviks and the Soviet Union. Juan Benet, a famous Spanish writer, suggested “strengthening the guards (in GULAG), so that people like Solzhenitsyn would not escape”. The Los Angeles Times published Alexander and Andrew Cockburn, who were Stalin’s admirers.

Hitler? Knut Hamsun, Norwegian novelist who won the Nobel Prize, described Hitler in an obituary as a “fighter for humanity and for the rights of all nations”. The “amorousness” of Martin Heidegger for the “leader of the Third Reich” is well known. In the 1930s, the Führer was quite a respectable person in the eyes of the mass media. Anne O’Hare McCormick – a foreign news correspondent for the New York Times (she got a Pulitzer Prize) — described Hitler after the interview with him: he is “a rather shy and simple man, younger than one expects, more robust, taller … His eyes are almost the color of the blue larkspur in a vase behind him, curiously childlike and candid … His voice is as quiet as his black tie and his double-breasted black suit … Herr Hitler has the sensitive hand of the artist.”

The French elites were fascinated by Hitler. Ferdinand Celine said that France would not go to “Jewish war”, and claimed that there was an international Jewish conspiracy to start the world war. French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet rendered honors to Ribbentrop, and novelist, essayist and playwright Jean Giraudoux said that he was “fully in agreement with Hitler when he states that a policy only reaches its highest form when it is racial”.

The Red Guards of Chairman Mao caused deadly convulsions in China and ecstatic [sympathetic] rage in Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Jan Myrdal, Charles Bettelheim, Alain Badiou and Louis Pierre Althusser. In Paris, Barbusse and Aragon created “the pocket monster” — Enver Hoxha [Communist dictator of Albania]; at Sorbonne University, Sartre worked out “the Khmer Rouge Revolution” of Pol Pot, Hu Nima, and Ieng Sary. Noam Chomsky characterized the proofs of Pol Pot’s genocide as “third rate” and complained of a “vast and unprecedented propaganda campaign against the Khmer Rouge”. Gareth Porter, winner of the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, said in May 1977: “The notion that the leadership of Democratic Kampuchea adopted a policy of physically eliminating whole classes of people was … a myth.”

In the 70’s, the whole world already knew the truth about the Red Guards. However, German youth from the Socialist Union of German Students went out  on demonstrations with portraits of the “Great Helmsman” and the song “The East is Red”.

In the USA, they went into the streets holding red flags and portraits of Trotsky and Che Guevara, and dream of “Fucking the System” like their idol Abbie Hoffman. The hatred of “petty bourgeois philistines”, as Trotsky named ordinary people, together with the dream of guillotines, bayonets, and “red terror”, keep inspiring Western intellectuals like Tariq Ali, the author of the revolutionary manual Trotsky for Beginners.

“The middle class turned out to be captured by ‘bourgeois-bohemian Bolshevism’,” Pascal Bruckner wrote.

Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot passed away, but new heroes appeared in their places. Leading employees of CNN – reporter Peter Arnett, producer Robert Wiener and director of news department Eason T. Jordan – had excellent relations with close associates of Saddam Hussein, pretending they didn’t know anything about his atrocities. Hollywood stars set up a race of making pilgrimages to Castro and Chavez. Neo-Marxist professors and progressive intellectuals, such as Dario Fo, Jean Baudrillard and Martin Amis, welcomed the triumph of al-Qaeda on September 11.

The romanticization of  the “forged boot” and “iron hand”, the worship of “lonely overbearing” men with “the sensitive hand of the artist” — this explains the amazing easiness with which recent anarchists, pacifists, Marxists, atheists, after having changed a couple  of ideologies, burden themselves with the most primitive, barbaric and despotic religion of our time: Islam.

Atheists of the Left only, being atheists who dispense with belief in the supernatural but still need a religion.

What they crave for is not religion as such. They don’t want Buddhism, Bahaism, Zoroastrianism, or even the mild Islam of the Sufi or Ahmadiyya version. They want a religion that would crush them, rape their bodies and souls, and destroy their ego — one that would terrify them and make them tremble with fear, infirmity and impotence.

Only bloodthirsty medieval Islam is able to do this today. It alone possesses unlimited cruelty and willingness to burn everything on its way. And they  gather like moths flying to the flame: communists Roger Garaudy, “Carlos the Jackal”, Trond Ali Linstad, Malcolm X, Alys Faiz; human rights defenders Jemima Goldsmith, Keith Ellison, and Uri Davis, the fighter against Zionism for the rights of the Palestinians. Fathers favor Castro, such as Oliver Stone; their sons accept Islam, such as Sean Stone. According to a public opinion poll conducted in August 2014 (Madeline Grant, Newsweek), “16% of French citizens support ISIS”. There are 7% to 8% of Muslims living in France. Who makes up the rest 8% to 9%?

Ken Livingstone, Jeremy Corbyn, John Brennan, Hollywood stars, Ylva Johansson, Sweden’s Integration Minister, who like her boss Stefan Löfven claimed that “there was no connection between crime and immigration”; Michael Fabricant, a former vice-chair of the Tory party, who said that “some conservative Anglicans are the same as ISIS”; German politicians that established a media watchdog to “instruct the press to censor ethnicity and religion in crime reports” (a modification of Soviet censure); the Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Phillips, who believes that it is inevitable to recognize Sharia courts in Great Britain; atheist-apologist for Islam (O my God!) CJ Werleman; Canadian Liberals, who support  the anti-Islamophobia motion; Georgetown professor Jonathan Brown, who justifies slavery and raping of female slaves; Wendy Ayres-Bennett, a UK professor who is urging Brits to learn Urdu and Punjabi to make Muslim migrants feel welcome; Ohio State University, that offered a course on “how Muslims helped build America”; the Swedish state-owned company Lernia encouraging the replacement of standard Swedish with the “migrant-inclusive accent”; American feminists with the slogans “Allahu akbar” and “I love Islam”, who endorse the BDS movement; Swedish feminists wearing burkas in Iran; “proud  feminists” such as Elina Gustafsson and Gudrun Schyman defending Muslim criminals who raped Swedish girls – all of them and thousands of others have already converted to Islam, if not de jure, then de facto.

They appeal to Islam to escape from their fears, complexes, helplessness, and uselessness. They choose the despotism of body and spirit to deprive themselves of their freedom – the freedom that has always been an unbearable burden for their weak souls full of chimeras. They crave slavery.

They are attracted by Islam today, but it’s not about Islam. It’s about them. If Islam is defeated tomorrow and a new Genghis Khan appears with the “religion of the steppe”, or the kingdom of the Aztecs rises with priests tearing hearts from the chest of living people, they will passionately rush into their embrace. They are yearning for tyranny, and will destroy everything on their way for the sake of it. Because of them, “we shall leave this world here just as stupid and evil as we found it upon arrival”. (Voltaire)

Posted under Anarchy, Anti-Semitism, Atheism, Britain, Buddhism, Cambodia, Canada, China, Christianity, Collectivism, communism, Cuba, Environmentalism, Europe, Feminism, France, genocide, Germany, Hinduism, History, Islam, jihad, Judaism, Leftism, Marxism, media, Muslims, nazism, Norway, Pakistan, Palestinians, Progressivism, Race, Religion general, Russia, Slavery, Socialism, Soviet Union, Sweden, Terrorism, Theology, Totalitarianism, tyranny, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela by Jillian Becker on Sunday, April 9, 2017

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“God” remains superfluous 1

Today we add a new book review to our Pages list.

We also post it here.

*

Confessions of a Born-Again Pagan by Anthony T. Kronman, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2016, 1161 pages.

Notified of the existence of this book by its publisher, I undertook to review it. When it reached me I knew immediately that my review would be short, for out of its bruised packaging, which had barely contained its load through the mail, thudded an enormous volume that would surely daunt a professional theologian sentenced to life imprisonment. One thousand one hundred and sixty-one pages! One thousand and seventy-six without the notes and the index. The use of so many words could only mean one thing to me – that the writer had little or nothing to say.

About what then has he so little, or so much, to say? Nothing useful like Nuclear Physics for Dummies. Just one man’s religious meditations, plastered thick on an armature of historical and cultural exposition. In such cases, the weight of the physical book is almost always in inverse proportion to the weight of its message. In this case, the title is a sufficient miniaturization of the contents. My advice to a browser who comes upon it is, look no further than the title; what you’ve got is what you’d get, without growing old over it.

It would be amazing if it were not typical that an opus so physically heavy is composed of pronouncements as light as these that I now quote. (I choose them from page 1074 because the author himself says that they re-state the idea that his immense labors were exerted to express.)

We are awash in eternity. God is present in every thing and every moment. In this sense, the atheist has it backward. The real challenge is not to disabuse ourselves of the idea of eternity. It is to open our eyes to it; to see how fully present it is even in the least of things.

The fundamentalist has it wrong too. There is no God beyond the world. The world itself is divine. To reach eternity, it is not necessary to go outside the world; indeed, this cannot be done. …

Our encounter with eternity is brief. Death comes all too soon. But it cannot cut us off from the everlasting and divine because we are already in it. We are born to disappointment but not to despair. Our condition is one of joy, however long it lasts.

There opines a lucky man!

As for the world itself being divine: the world itself IS. Call it divine if you will, delight in it, wonder at it, but it remains literally mundane. And astrophysicists tell us it is doomed to extinction.

If out of intellectual generosity you are tempted to grant Professor Kronman a point for echoing Spinoza’s idea – declared by him in an age when atheism was punishable in Europe – that nature is God, it is still to be remembered that giving nature an additional name adds nothing to it. God remains superfluous to all requirements.

 

Jillian Backer    March 2, 2017

Posted under Religion general, Reviews by Jillian Becker on Tuesday, April 4, 2017

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