Muhammad the Prophet of Islam is fictitious.
In his new book Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry into Islam’s Obscure Origins, Robert Spencer demonstrates, with an impressive mass of detailed evidence and close logical reasoning, that Muhammad was invented, and that the Koran – in all its versions – was written over a long stretch of time starting many decades after the imaginary life of the fictitious prophet ended (according to the fable) in 632 C.E.
At a joint meeting of the Middle East Forum and Gatestone Institute in New York City on April 24, 2012, the author spoke about his intentions in writing the book.
We quote from a report of his address by Tommaso Virgili of the Middle East Forum:
Did the Prophet Muhammad really exist, or was he a sacred myth fashioned by the Koran decades after his purported death? Robert Spencer has addressed this thorny question with a dual intent:
To serve the interests of freedom of expression as a rebellion against the tyranny of censorship by the likes of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation and the leftist idolatry for political correctness, which attempt to silence any debate on Islamic issues.
To play in the Islamic world the same positive role that non-religious, scientific research played in Judaism and Christianity, triggering a rational debate that can lead to the rejection of strict literalism.
There is, he said “an abundance of historical evidence supporting this thesis” that Muhammad is a myth.
Particularly intriguing is the absolute absence of a mention whatsoever of Muhammad, Islam or the Koran, either by the Arab conquerors or the conquered, in written records, inscriptions, coins, etc. during 630-690, i.e. to the period of Muslim conquests following the (alleged) death of Muhammad.
Furthermore, the life of Muhammad is shrouded in mystery given that the first biographies were written no sooner than 125 years after his death, and it is well acknowledged by Muslim scholars, among others, that many of the hadiths which hand down sayings and actions of the Prophet are false, artfully created for political reasons.
Nor is the Koran itself a more reliable source: it is supposed to have been collected and distributed in its standard edition no later than in 653, but one cannot find any mention of it until the 690s, and the traces of Aramaic and Christian traditions inside the text indicate a well established contact with the conquered territories.
Indeed Robert Spencer demonstrates that there are plentiful and convincing signs of Christian and Jewish sources – deliberately distorted or misunderstood or both – for much of the Koran. In particular, a Syriac Christian document was plundered or plagiarized by the authors of the Koran – and in our opinion dumbed down even from the low standard of Christian documents. Dumb and dumber, one might say.
In conclusion, historical evidence tells a very different story from the traditional one, namely that of political and military events which occurred at a time when some Arabian tribes expanded at the expense of the “sick men” – the Persian and Byzantine empires – and which necessitated a glue to bind them together and to form a central focus of identification. And what could offer a better nucleus for the nascent Arab empire than religion?
We strongly recommend Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry into Islam’s Obscure Origins by Robert Spencer because, as he said, it is “a rebellion against the tyranny of censorship”. But also for reasons of our own. Islam is a revolting ideology and this meticulously researched and well reasoned study, by putting its lies and nonsense under the microscope of scholarship, is a serious blow against it. Wounding certainly. Crippling we hope. Death-dealing – time will tell.
Footnote; There is only one thing in the book we would take issue with: the theory that it is not a promise of 72 virgins that lures Muslim terrorists to paradise, but 72 raisins. We do not believe even a Muslim would kill himself for 72 raisins.
The Last Testament: A Memoir by God (with David Javerbaum), Simon and Schuster, New York, 383 pages
God is a happily married divinity. He and his wife, Ruth (yes, she of the Book) have three children, Zach, Jesus, and Kathy.
Zach’s nickname is “the Holy Ghost”, H.G. for short.
Kathy begged for a sojourn on earth to enjoy some martyrdom, so God sent her to be Joan of Arc.
Jesus is “a classic middle child”. His frequent weeping irritates his father (“the kid was a pussy”). When Jesus wanted to be born as a human being, God was strongly against it.
“My son, a person?” I screamed at him.
However, after much cajoling by Ruth (“It might just be the best thing that’s ever happened to our little Jeez. Would you think about it, dear? For me?” ), God “softened somewhat”. He explains to the human reader:
At least insofar as accepting that Jesus was my son; and that as his father it was my duty to support him in whatever career path he chose to follow; even one as patently silly as dying for thy sins.
So for his sake, and Ruth’s, I swallowed my fury; and told him that whatever help he needed, I would provide; and whatever trials and tribulations he would face on his mission, I would help see him through. So that when it was all over, if Jesus’s time on earth ended (as I was sure it would) in some kind of nightmarish ordeal,
At least he could not accuse me of forsaking him, or leaving him hanging.
As we know from a previous Testament, he didn’t keep that promise. By his own account – confirming the information provided in two previous Testaments – he is a mischievous deceiver.
Far worse, he is a sadist. He candidly admits that he likes watching human beings suffer.
For lo, I had destroyed the world in a Flood; I had razed the Tower of Babel; I had leveled Sodom and Gomorrah [not for being gay-friendly cities but for being “the twin hubs of a massive international money-laundering operation”]; all manner of catastrophe had I already visited upon you, in the name of righteousness;
Yet it was only then – after finding myself enthralled by the slow silent agony of one I greatly loved [Abraham as he prepared to sacrifice his son];
I say, it was only then, that I first began to consider the possibility, that there was something seriously wrong with me.
He confesses the “real reason” why he allowed Job “to be so horribly afflicted”.
“It was not to test Job, but to test me.
I wanted to see if I could watch him endure his agonies without experiencing any of that same unnameable thrill I had derived from watching the binding of Isaac … and the countless other atrocities and tragedies that I had over the centuries allowed – or, sometimes, caused – to happen.
Such as the Crusades:
For pure spiritual entertainment, nothing compared to the Crusades …
There is nothing more gratifying than watching tens of thousands of people express their undying love for thee by running through tens of thousands of other people who possess equally undying love for thee with a pike.
(Especially knowing that in the end, the theological problems of two great faiths amounteth not to a hill of beans in thy crazy world.)
He’s also politically correct, and like any lefty he will boast of his compassion without minding that his deeds contradict his words.
How he feels for Goliath! The giant had to be killed by David - God guided the killing stone himself - but the poor guy’s death caused the King of the Universe more than a pang or two. “Never have I felt more sadness about ending a life,” he says, because:
Goliath was a faithful husband; Goliath was a trusted friend; Goliath was a community activist; Goliath worked with troubled youth in inner-city Gaza; Goliath was cofounder of the Philistine Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
He’s no deep thinker. He offers no profound analysis of why he created the universe or the way he’s run it. His tastes are not refined.
“No anecdote or commentary I provide [of the story of Joseph in Egypt] could ever improve upon Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
And when he effects, with difficulty, the conception of Jesus through a “miraculous act of asexual reproduction”, in order to show the world “from the start that he was both Word and flesh; Man and God; a subtle concept we knew would be difficult of comprehension”, he adds: “Indeed, I myself have never really figured it out.”
His Testament is a tell-all book that doesn’t quite tell all. He will not divulge the secrets of the afterlife. He doesn’t offer the least illumination of his “mysterious ways”. In fact, he couldn’t do that if he wanted to:
I move in mysterious ways; and my reason for doing so is even more mysterious; and the reason for that reason’s mysteriousness is so mysterious, even I forget what it is.
Yet he craves understanding and sympathy (in addition to burnt offerings). After much boasting and gloating and wisecracking, a cri de coeur of existential doubt bursts from him:
For 6,000 years I have tried to be the kind of God people could believe in; but recently I have come to question the very nature of my divinity. …
What is wrong with me, me? …
I feel useless.
I feel like there’s no point in going on.
Maybe humanity would be better off without me …
So I’m turning to me.
I’m putting it all in my hands.
Yea, I made the universe; I made mankind; out of me spools the totality of all that ever was and is and ever will be.
But who am I?
Why am I here?
Do I even exist?
I am the Lord everyone’s God, King of the Universe. …
I am he to whom people turn for comfort after being devastated by acts of me.
And I am he in whose name hundreds of millions of people have given their lives, or taken others’; and they would not do that for just anybody. …
But I am the entity without whose constant presence all of humanity would plummet into reason. …
And I … am … back!!!!
Still he needs to go into rehab, spending “a few months in a secluded fractal of the tenth dimension getting my head together”.
He returns with “a new self-acceptance”, in time for the run-up to Armageddon which he and H.G. and Jesus have definitely scheduled for December 21, 2012 – unless The Last Testament sells well enough to justify “a little wiggle room to leave time for a sequel”.
Unaccountably, he cannot foretell if his book will be a success.
He fears it may cause offense to Muslims, although he treats Muhammad gingerly, feeling “great apprehension concerning the writing of this section”.
I am Allah, the Wise, the All-Powerful, yet these days even I get a little nervous talking about Islam.
He indemnifies his publishers “from any and all outrage, fatwa, or all-out jihad that may result from the contents of the portions of this book pertaining to Islam.”
No doubt the old rogue savors the irony that the most appreciative readers of his Last Testament are likely to be atheists. He might even have written it specially for them.
Jillian Becker November 1, 2011
Note to our readers: The publishers of The Last Testament have let us know that “God could not be more thrilled” with our review.
God, No! by Penn Jillette, Simon & Schuster, 231 pages (published today)
Penn Jillette is half the comedy-magic act, Penn & Teller.
God, No! is full of real-life stories, some of them exuberantly pornographic. It doesn’t tell you how the magic tricks are done, or even describe any, but it does tell you a lot about Penn Jillette.
In the entertainment industry there may be many atheists, but few say they are. Penn Jillette does, and for that we applaud him.
We know there are very few stars of stage, screen and television who are not lefties. Penn Jillette is one of the few, and for that too we applaud him.
He states plainly and emphatically what he means.
Reading the Bible is the fast track to atheism.
There is no god and that’s the simple truth.
You have to make it clear to everyone, including your children, that there is no god.
It’s amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government take money by force through taxes to give poor people money is compassion.
Atheism was a real comfort to me when my mother and sister died. … I could never have understood suffering as part of an all-powerful god’s “plan”.
There is a world of safety in doubt. The respect for faith, the celebration of faith, is dangerous. It’s faith itself that’s wrong.
One of the stories is about an orthodox Jew who loses his faith. With Penn’s assistance he orders, and much enjoys, his first non-kosher meal. But not yet being comfortable with his atheism he asks himself, “Who will take care of me?”
Another new atheist says: “For me the biggest part of letting go of god was holding myself accountable for my own actions… It felt safer to be a passenger in my own life than to take the wheel.”
Perhaps with time, experience, and Penn’s influence, those two came to feel as excited as Penn himself clearly is to be responsible for themselves, as happy as he is to be free.
This review was written in 2007, the year the book was published. It needs to be on our pages.
Christopher Hitchens has cancer and may not live much longer. He has expressed some opinions that chime well with those of The Atheist Conservative, and some that are decidedly different. As an atheist he has won our approbation; as a political commentator he has often earned our criticism. In agreement with him or not, we have always appreciated his eloquence and wit.
God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens,Twelve, New York , 2007, 307 pages.
Religion cannot survive in our Age of Science. Until I read this book I thought that there was life in it yet, enough for it to continue as an important force in human affairs for another century or so. But I am persuaded by Hitchens that it is already dead, even though there are many millions who still believe in gods or God and even more who observe the rituals of worship, and even though some act politically and devastatingly in its name.
How then is it dead? Hitchens puts it this way, with characteristic elegance: ‘Religion spoke its last intelligible or noble or inspiring words a long time ago … We shall have no more prophets or sages from the ancient quarter, which is why the devotions of today are only the echoing repetitions of yesterday.’
So – Hitchens encouragingly claims – although Islam has risen all over the globe to fight for its life with fire and tongue against scientific truth, against criticism, against freedom of body and mind, and continues successfully to rake in its converts by intimidation and even persuasion, it is doomed just as the other religions are doomed, being but the ritual perpetuation of a long-outdated belief, and will dwindle away to nothing as so many religions have done before it. Coming generations in an ever more closely communicating world will find it harder and harder to believe in the unbelievable.
We know that there are scientists who are religious. Amazingly, there are quite a few who find it possible to accept all that cosmology and physics tell us about the nature of the universe and yet still believe in a Creator God with mysterious purposes for His Creation. Of course – Hitchens says – you can do this, but ‘the theory works without that assumption’. God can be retained, but is not required. Believe in him if you will, but to questions of how the world has come to be as it is, God is irrelevant, superfluous, an added extra, an unnecessary decoration contributed by nostalgia and habit. Further knowledge of the stars will not come through prayer, and though an astronomer may pray for knowledge and go to church every seventh day to win the approval of his god, it is to his telescope he will go to find the truth.
Hitchens dismisses the argument for ‘intelligent design’ – part of religion’s last-gasp vocabulary of euphemism – with illustrations of how if nature were indeed the result of design, unintelligence would better characterize the designer who achieved such results: the ‘useless junk’ in our DNA string left over from lower creatures; our appendix; our vestigial tails; all of which are explained satisfactorily by evolution but make no sense at all as intelligent design. One could add many more. I like to cite the inability of bees to alight easily on a flat surface.
The presence among us of tormenting and life-destroying viruses does not say much for the designs of an intelligence that is also supposed to be beneficent to the human creature. Scientific discovery and skepticism have removed the need to justify horrors, to answer such questions as to ‘who inflicted the syphilis bacillus or mandated the leper or the idiot child’.
‘Intelligent design’ implies that intelligence existed before anything else. But we are aware that what we call intelligence requires human physiology – including most immediately a brain – which, of all things known, has taken longest to evolve. It has come at this – our – end of the process. An assertion that such a thing was already there at the very beginning is not rationally persuasive
I have long wondered why so many find it easier to conceive of there being an original Nothing then Something (the universe) and then again eventually Nothing, than to conceive of Something always having existed and forever to remain. We know Something exists. We know that matter is imperishable: it changes but does not dissolve into nothingness. Why, if we can accept the idea that it will have no ending, do we need to think of it as having had a beginning?
In the grip of the belief that there was ‘a beginning’ of existence, believers like to raise their favorite ‘logical’ argument that since everything must have a cause there must be a First Cause, Hitchens logically asks for the cause of the First Cause, or ‘Who designed the designer?’ No theologist or philosopher has ever satisfactorily answered that (Thomas Aquinas’s argument that God could set the cause-and-effect chain working in the universe because he is outside it does not abolish the question of how he came into existence) – or ever produced a sound argument for belief in a god of any sort.
The onus rests always on the believer to prove his case. It is not necessary for the unbeliever to prove that the object of others’ belief is not there. As Karl Popper expressed it: ‘Seeing no reason to believe is sufficient reason not to believe.’ It is an argument against belief most useful to be armed with. Another of course is David Hume’s, who asserted, in the light of the immense suffering that God coolly watches his creatures undergoing, that if he is omnipotent then he must be evil, or if good he cannot be omnipotent. (Hitchens mentions both philosophers but neither of these arguments which would have served him well.)
Hitchens does not accept the shop-worn argument that without religion there would be no morality. He is as certain as I am that religion is not the indispensable source of ethics or law. Reason and experience teach people, and have surely always taught them, that it is better and safer to live in a world where certain kinds of behavior are by and large avoided and certain rules by and large obeyed. I was interested to find, when I got round not long ago to reading the Hammurabi Code that it deals chiefly with what punishments should be imposed on those who disobey rules of conduct rather than in laying down or even reiterating the rules themselves. Rules against murder, adultery, lying, stealing pre-date all recorded codifications, any tablet of commandments. As Hitchens says, ‘Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.’
There surely cannot be any doubt that religion has been the cause of much human misery, cruelty, torture, oppression, and probably the majority of wars. It is fair to add that some religions have inspired good deeds as well as evil ones. But then, people have always done good and evil regardless of what they do it in the name of. And surely always will. As for great works of art which it has inspired, it is not unreasonable to suppose that if religion had not supplied the inspiration something else would have done for the same artists. There must be at least as many marvelous pictures of mortals and ordinary scenes as there are of angelic gatherings and Christians suffering; at least as many admirable buildings dedicated to secular as to religious uses; and many more great poems and plays without religious themes than with them. Hitchens points out that beautiful and valuable things that have grown out of religions can be and are as much enjoyed and valued by civilized non-believers, such as himself, as by the pious. (My own list of such things is long, including: the King James translation of the bible; La Chapelle; certain painted angels and saints of the Renaissance; Bach’s compositions dedicated to God.) Hitchens cites, among things that do not require faith to treasure and preserve them, and in this case would have lasted better without it, the Buddha statues blown up by the Taliban in Afghanistan in the name of their religion – a type of vandalism that atheists are very unlikely to commit, having no reason to.
The author confesses to once having had a faith of his own, the secular faith of Marxism. He is now recognizably conservative, even traces of his former leftism becoming almost imperceptible. We welcome him among us.
Atheism The Case Against God by George H. Smith Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 1989
This is not a new book, but it was only recently brought to our attention (by our reader, JDBlues, for which we thank him).
Its author, George H. Smith, makes plain what atheism is and is not, demolishes the most common arguments against it, and exposes the absurdities and inner contradictions of religious belief in general and Christianity in particular. He sets out the essential arguments of the case and discusses classic works on the subject. His book is both thorough and concise enough to be used as a textbook on atheism.
Where brevity and exactness are required, he is admirably succinct:
Atheism is the absence of a belief in a god, nothing more.
These are the basic beliefs of theism: the belief in the supernatural and the belief in the inherently unknowable.
Eventually, in the final chapter on “the sins of Christianity”, the author gives his personal opinions of the ethics of Jesus, and becomes most entertaining.
Contrary to the opinion of Christian theologians who “unanimously agree that Jesus was the greatest moral teacher in history”, Smith argues that:
– “Point for point, there is nothing in the teaching of Jesus [as the Christian bible records it , there being no other source] which cannot be found in the Old Testament or in the rabbinical teaching.”
– If we consider what Jesus said about morality, “he emerges as predominantly status quo. This poses a problem for Christian liberals. Strip Jesus of his [putative] divinity – as many liberals wish to do – and, at best, he becomes a mediocre preacher who held mistaken beliefs about practically everything, including himself; and, at worst, he becomes a pretentious fraud.”
– However, his precepts “intermingled with threats of gnashing teeth and eternal torment, contain a strong current of harshness and cruelty.”
– “Considered in themselves, the moral precepts of Jesus are sometimes interesting, sometimes poetic, sometimes benevolent, sometimes confusing, sometimes pernicious, and sometimes devastatingly harmful psychologically. None, however, are especially profound.”
Smith explains: “My sole purpose in this discussion is to examine the effects and wider implications of Jesus’ major doctrines, not to lend them the undeserved respect of a counter-argument”.
The effects and wider implications are harmful. They include the demand for obedience and conformity. “When Jesus says ‘believe’, he means ‘obey’.” And what results from that obedience and conformity?
The sacrifice of truth. One can be committed to conformity or one can be committed to truth, but not both. The pursuit of truth requires the unrestricted use of one’s mind – the moral freedom to question, to examine evidence, to consider opposing viewpoints, to criticize, to accept as true only that which can be demonstrated – regardless of whether one’s conclusions conform to a particular creed. … [It is] a fundamental and viciously destructive teaching of Christianity: that some beliefs lie beyond the scope of criticism and that to question them is sinful … By placing a moral restriction on what one is permitted to believe, Christianity declares itself an enemy of truth and of the faculty by which man arrives at truth – reason.
This “monstrous doctrine that one is morally obligated to accept as true religious beliefs that cannot be comprehended or demonstrated [is] the belief that ‘justified’ the slaughter of dissenters and heretics in the name of morality, and its philosophical consequence may be described as the inversion – or, more precisely, the perversion – of morality.” The doctrine is “devastating”. It’s effect is to “divorce morality from truth” and to “turn man’s reason against himself … Reason becomes a vice, something to be feared, and man finds that his worst enemy is his own capacity to think…”
Not only thoughts, but involuntary feelings can take one to hell in Christian belief. And “evil emotions … often consist of … sexual desire”. So to be an obedient Christian is to be inescapably guilty: “one must view oneself fundamentally as a ‘sinner’.”
Commenting on the injunction reported in Luke (6:27-28): “Do not resist evil”, Smith rightly points out that this is a prescription for the toleration of injustice ( which is where the morality of Christianity parts company decisively with the morality of Judaism, though Smith does not raise this point).
Smith succeeds in making the case against God. In doing so, he makes an impassioned plea for reason rather than faith as a guide to happiness for individuals and the human race as a whole. Reason is equatable with freedom, faith with bondage. For not to believe in a god commits one to no other beliefs whatsoever. An atheist as such is not compelled to apply his reason to any other issue: he is free to make his choices, wise or foolish. But the believer, in search of certainty where it is not to be found, commits himself to a lie, and binds himself in its inextricable confusion. As Spinoza – quoted by Smith – puts it, “the concept of god is an asylum of ignorance”.
Jillian Becker August 28, 2010
Of extraordinary interest, we think, is an essay by Anthony Daniels in The New Criterion, titled Ayn Rand: engineer of souls. (We cannot link to it, but it’s easy to find.)
We are admirers of Ayn Rand, but not uncritically. We believe, as she does, that capitalism is the only creator and sustainer of prosperity. We despise religion as she does. Like her we value reason. Her enormous novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead have probably won more believers in capitalism and devotees of personal liberty than any other book in any language, even surpassing Hayek’s essential text The Road to Serfdom; and for that she deserves lasting honor.
But her vision of humanity has a comic-book hyperbole about it which keeps her out of the rank of great writers. Her heroes are too big, too superior to us and everyone we’ll ever meet, to be likable. They inspire awe but not affection. We can be sure they’d look down on us if they knew us. We cannot emulate them, we can only wonder at them. They are like gods. They are intensely romantic, and romanticism is the enemy of reason.
Anthony Daniels lists her virtues and vices:
Rand’s virtues were as follows: she was highly intelligent; she was brave and uncompromising in defense of her ideas; she had a kind of iron integrity; and, though a fierce defender of capitalism, she was by no means avid for money herself. The propagation of truth as she saw it was far more important to her than her own material ease. Her vices, of course, were the mirror-image of her virtues, but, in my opinion, the mirror was a magnifying one. Her intelligence was narrow rather than broad. Though in theory a defender of freedom of thought and action, she was dogmatic, inflexible, and intolerant, not only in opinion but in behavior, and it led her to personal cruelty. In the name of her ideas, she was prepared to be deeply unpleasant. She hardened her ideas into ideology. Her integrity led to a lack of self-criticism; she frequently wrote twenty thousand words where one would do. …
A passionate hater of religion, Rand founded a cult around her own person, complete with rituals of excommunication; a passionate believer in rationality and logic, she was incapable of seeing the contradictions in her own work. She was a rationalist who was not entirely rational …
He goes on to paragraphs of stronger condemnation. He finds “horrible” cruelty in her. He perceives that though she was fanatically anti-collectivist, and though she had fled from Soviet Russia to the freedom of America, Stalin’s Russia remained within her.
Her unequivocal admiration bordering on worship of industrialization and the size of human construction as a mark of progress is profoundly Stalinist. Where Stalinist iconography would plant a giant chimney belching black smoke, Randian iconography would plant a skyscraper. (At the end of The Fountainhead, Roark receives a commission to build the tallest skyscraper in New York, its height being the guarantor of its moral grandeur. According to this scale of values, the Burj Dubai would be man’s crowning achievement so far.) Industrialists are to Rand what Stakhanovites were to Stalin: Both saw nature as an enemy, something to be beaten into submission. One doesn’t have to be an adherent of the Gaia hypothesis to know where this hatred of nature led.
Finally, Rand’s treasured theory of literature, what she called Romantic Realism, is virtually indistinguishable from Socialist Realism …
Rand’s heroes are not American but Soviet. The fact that they supposedly embody capitalist values makes no difference. Rand fulfilled Stalin’s criterion for the ideal writer: she tried to be an engineer of souls.
The analysis is not unjust.
But the recruiting sergeant to the Army of Light does not have to be the best exponent of the cause for which it fights.
While acknowledging and regretting all her faults, we keep, for her success as a dedicated recruiting sergeant, an abstract monument to Ayn Rand in our personal Hall of the Defenders of Individual Freedom.
Jillian Becker June 19, 2010
We often quote Melanie Phillips, chiefly her columns in the Spectator, because we often think she is right. We also admire and are grateful for her courageous writing against – among other controversial subjects – the Islamic conquest of Europe, most notably in her book Londonistan.
In her new book, The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle Over God, Truth, and Power, she expresses opinions on religion and science that we do not agree with, though we find quite a lot of other ideas in it that we like.
She writes of “the climate of unreason”. Unfortunately, with this book she is contributing to it.
Here is what she writes about ‘Islamism’ - a concept invented by non-Muslims to avoid offending Muslims, or their own sense of fairness, or both, when they’re speaking critically of what Muslims do and believe:
I have used the word “Islamist” to denote those who wish to impose Islam upon unbelievers and to extinguish individual freedom and human rights among Muslims. There are, however, scholars who hold that Islam is an inherently coercive ideology and that therefore “Islamist” is a meaningless word that creates a false distinction. It is not my purpose here to enter that particular argument. I use the term “Islamist” not to make a theological point but to allow for the acknowledgment of those Muslims who support freedom and human rights and who threaten no one – and who are themselves principal victims of the jihad. I believe it is very important to acknowledge the existence of such Muslims who have a peaceable interpretation of their religion, just as its is very important not to sanitize and thus misrepresent the doctrines and history of Islam as a religion of conquest.”
While we welcome her plain assertion that Islam is a religion of conquest, we can only wonder who these Muslims can be who embrace the religion but not its ideology of conquest and forced submission, since that is what it is about and all that it is about.
She goes on:
The book explores the remarkable links and correspondences between left-wing “progressives” and Islamists, environmentalists and fascists, militant atheists and fanatical religious believers. All are united by the common desire to bring about through human agency the perfection of the world, an agenda which history teaches us leads invariably – and paradoxically – to tyranny, terror and crimes against humanity.
Again we are largely in agreement with her, but are surprised by the inclusion of atheists in her list. “Militant” atheists, she says. Perhaps on the model of “Islamists” she could have constructed the word “atheism-ists” to distinguish them from those atheists “who support freedom and human rights and who threaten no one”.
Who are these militant atheists? Where are they placing their bombs? We know that there are atheist progressives, atheist fascists, and atheist environmentalists (just as there are atheist conservatives, atheist libertarians, atheists altruists), but we had not noticed that it is atheism they are trying to impose on the rest of the world. Collectivism, yes. Poverty, yes. World government, yes. But atheism – who says so, when and where, and above all, how? Her book, though it deals with some left-wing atheists whose political views we strongly disagree with, does not tell us.
[Photo: John Lawrence]
Antony Flew, the philosopher, atheist, and defender of freedom, died on April 8, 2010, at his home in Reading, England. I knew him, to my pride and delight, for many years. We would meet a few times a year (we both served on the Council of the Freedom Association, as I still do), and wrote to each other frequently about books, events, issues, campaigns, tactics. On politics and religion we saw eye to eye. We were both atheist conservatives. He was a classical scholar, more widely and deeply erudite than anyone else I’ve ever known. And he had the humility of true greatness. When I asked him to write the introduction to a new edition of a book I was editing on, and against, Karl Marx (The Red Prussian, by Leopold Schwarzschild) he told me that he was not the best person for the task, and gave me a short list of experts who, he insisted, knew more than he did and whose names would better grace the book. Only when they’d all declared themselves unable or unwilling, Antony said he would “do his best” to write a good introduction – and a very good introduction it is.
Obituaries on both sides of the Atlantic say that Antony Flew was the world’s most famous atheist, and that he suddenly changed his mind and declared that God exists after all.
It is true that he did say this. But he never said it when he was in his right mind.
It would have been unkind of me to write what I am about to write while he was alive. Yet I think it is absolutely right that I say it now, because it’s necessary to do him justice. So I declare that the reasoning by which he arrived at his certainty that God does not exist was never cancelled or reversed by the sloppy arguments of his senility.
Of his many books, the one that matters most for his reputation as an atheist is God & Philosophy. It was first published in 1966. Later editions appeared at intervals, the last in 2005. To judge by the new introduction he wrote, he was as sure of his atheism then as he had been in 1966.
In 2007 a new book appeared under his name titled There is a God. The subtitle crows: How the world’s most notorious [sic] atheist changed his mind. The authorship is ascribed to Antony Flew “with Roy Abraham Varghese”. But no one who has read God & Philosophy with attention could possible believe that There is a God was a product of the same intelligence. Either the powers of Antony Flew had faded away, or some other mind engendered this work. In fact, both those things happened. It has emerged that he did not write it. He had spoken, and other hands had written. He could not even remember what was in it. And of that failure of memory and general weakening of his mental faculties, the actual writers had taken advantage.
There is a God is distinctly written for an American readership. It refers, for instance, to the Red Sox. I’d have bet a mint that my friend Tony Flew had no idea who the Red Sox are – Chinese school-boys, he may have supposed.
According to Dr Richard Carrier, who tried to ascertain from Professor Flew himself whether he had really “found God”, the authors of There is a God are Roy Abraham Varghese who is known for his work on “the interface between science and religion”, and Pastor Bob Hostetler – two people with a big blunt axe to grind.
Carrier’s detailed account of how Flew claimed he was, but then again was not, converted to belief in a creator-God when certain scientific facts were brought to his attention, makes the whole sorry story plain. Carrier records that the philosopher admitted to finding the subject “too hard” to deal with; that he failed to remember anything about There is a God; that he repeatedly contradicted himself. He tells us about the bewildered old man being awarded a prize by an Evangelical Christian University. (The Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth, bestowed on him by the university of Biola at la Mirada, California.) The prodigal son returned! Much rejoicing in Christian circles. As if the willingness of a senile man to concede – on and off – the existence of a creator-God, were all the proof they needed to shout in the face of atheists and sceptics: “There, you see? If even he can see it now, you should not have the hubris to think you know better and continue to deny it!”
How insecure these believers must be in their belief!
Carrier writes: “It is certainly possible that Flew looked at ten drafts [of There is a God]. I see no reason to believe Flew was able to understand or even recall what he read.” Flew admitted to having “a nominal aphasia”. But it was more than “nominal”. “Flew could not even recall the arguments of the book , not just who made them or what his sources were.”
Carrier found that whenever Professor Flew himself stated his position, it was always to reaffirm his atheism. Statements to the contrary were never made by him directly, though one at least, firmly insistent that he really had changed his mind, was put out by the publisher on his behalf.
However, I know it was not a total scam. I know that at times he did think he had changed his mind.
I saw him soon after the book appeared and asked him was it true he now believed in God.
“Yes,” he replied, “but not the Monster”.
I understood of course what he meant by “the Monster”. He had rejected the Christian God while still in his teens because he could not reconcile the evil in the world and hell after it with a beneficent deity. Such a deity could only be a Monster. His father, a Methodist minister, was distressed by young Antony’s rejection of his faith, but Antony said, as he was to repeat throughout his life, that he had to go “where the evidence leads”. Now he told me, only the existence of “an intelligence” can explain the nature of the universe. This intelligence, this non-monstrous god, made the laws of nature and then had nothing more to do with his creation – the theological position known as deism.
In God & Philosophy, there is a section on “Order and Design”, in which the author asks the question: “Does order in nature itself presuppose an Orderer?” Elegantly and fully he reasons over a few pages that it does not. (This is not the place to quote his reasons, but I hope to whet some appetites for seeking them in the book.) “So we conclude that order in the universe by itself provides no warrant whatsoever for trying to identify an Orderer.”
The meticulous arguments are abandoned as though they had never been made, in the later book There is a God. The reason given there for belief in a creator God, is that the author has learnt about DNA, about its “enormous complexity”, and sees that there must have been an Orderer who made the universe! He also sets out the “fine-tuning” argument. Both the arguments, from “irreducible complexity” and “fine-tuning” have been thoroughly refuted.
Then there is the “Stratonician presumption”, as Flew himself named it after the Greek philosopher Strato of Lampsacus, the third head of Aristotle’s Lyceum, who formulated it. The presumption is that in explaining the world you can do without entities that are not necessary for the completeness of the explanation. In God & Philosophy, Antony Flew does not find it necessary to call in God or gods.
But suddenly, in There is a God, such a supernatural being becomes essential to explain the world’s existence. *
From Antony’s point of view these pressing believers had not done him a disservice. He told me that there was to be a TV documentary about him and his conversion. He was innocently surprised at the attention he was getting, and the unexpected windfall it brought with it. He was paid what seemed to him a very large sum of money. He had never been a rich man, and he was happy for his wife and daughters that they would have this fund at their disposal. (This most generous-hearted of men was painstakingly frugal: every letter he posted was in a re-used envelope with a label stuck over the old address.)
So there’s the picture. A pair (or more?) of American Christian Evangelicals (and a Jewish theologian and physicist, Gerald Schroeder) had worked on him rather than with him, when he had become mentally frail, to produce this cancellation of a lifetime’s thought. In his dotage, these Evangelicals battened on to him, dazzled him with science that was utterly new to him – the big bang, DNA – and rewarded him like a Pavlov’s dog when he gave the response their spin elicited. He was subjected to intellectual seduction, much as Bertrand Russell was by Communists in his senile years.
What seems to me intolerably sad and wrong is that the reputation Antony Flew ought to have, as an atheist philosopher who brilliantly defended atheism throughout his long and distinguished professional life, is now to be replaced by a phony story that he who had been a convinced atheist changed his mind. Is the man who defended atheism better than anyone since David Hume, to be remembered as a deist?
Is this to be allowed to happen – that he be remembered as a man who saw the error of his atheist ways and became persuaded that there was a God – simply because he suffered a softening of the brain in his last years? The truth is that the Antony Flew who conceded the existence of a “creator-intelligence” was not “the Flew” – as he liked to allude to himself – that he had been at the peak of his powers. His faculties were deteriorating, his memory came and went unreliably, he was confused, bewildered and – because he was in a state of decline – taken advantage of.
His handwriting became shakier. He put letters to other people in envelopes that he addressed to me. (They probably got the letters I was supposed to receive.) When I sent him the print-out of an article I had written deploring the Islamization of Britain, he sent it back to me a few weeks later as an article of his own that he would like me to comment on. When he was to meet me and a few colleagues at a certain old club on Pall Mall (the famous street of clubs in the heart of London) which he must have visited dozens or even hundreds of times, he couldn’t find it. A search party rescued him and brought him to the meeting. He had become unsure of himself. He did not always remember, or possibly even grasp, points put to him in a discussion.
But what an enthusiast he forever was for ideas! His face would light up, his voice grow urgent with excitement. A passionate intellectual who was always gentle, always courteous even in the heat of argument, Antony Flew was the epitome of a reasonable man. Or I should say that is what he had been, and that is the way he should be remembered, this great philosopher and atheist. (His country bestowed no honors on him. I think he should have been made Companion of Honour, which is in the sole gift of the sovereign. England deserves her great men ever less!) Even those who disagree with his atheism must surely acknowledge in the name of justice and decency that his achievements, not his late and lamentable capitulations which seemed to cancel them, should be what he is remembered for.
Jillian Becker April 18, 2010
*Here is a sample of the “reasoning” of these Christian ghosts, writing in the name of Professor Flew:
“I put to my former fellow-atheists the simple central question: ‘What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a reason to at least consider the existence of a superior Mind?’
Easy reply: manifest purpose.
They state in his name that the immaterial, ie mind, cannot come out of the material.
Reply: How can the material come out of the immaterial – ie matter out of “Mind” or “God”?
We strongly recommend a book on life in North Korea: Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick .
Her highly credible account shows that most of the population goes hungry most of the time.
Here is a quotation, describing, as a common event, the death of a prisoner who has been worked and slowly starved to death. Prisoners are needed to work as slaves in the mines and other industries, so people are arrested on flimsy excuses:
[The prisoners were] mostly “economic criminals” who’d gotten in trouble at the border or the market. The actual thieves among them had stolen nothing more than food. One of them was a forty-year old rancher who had worked on a collective farm raising cattle. His crime was that he had failed to report the birth of a dead calf, instead taking the stillborn home to feed his wife and two young children. By the time Hyuck [who relates this story to the author] met him, he had served five years of a ten-year term. … The rancher was gentle and soft-spoken, but one of the senior guards took a strong dislike to him. His wife and children came twice to visit, but were not allowed in to see him or to send gifts of food, privileges allowed some of the more favored prisoners.
The rancher died of starvation. It happened quietly; he went to sleep and didn’t wake up. It was a common occurrence that somebody would die in the night. Often it was obvious in the close sleeping-quarters, because the dying man would evacuate his bladder and tiny bubbles would appear on his lips as fluid seeped out of the body.
As in all collectivist systems, the community of North Korea is organized for slavery, want, and death.
Is the world entering a post-American era? Will the 21st century be dominated by some other power, or several others?
In the splendid speech that John Bolton delivered at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February 2010, he said of Obama, “He is the first post-American president.”
In Obama’s eyes, American superpower status is already over. The decline is happening. There’s no reason to regret it, and it would be pointless and unnecessary to try to halt or reverse it. Obama is content to let America be a nation among the nations, no different in any important respect, and certainly no better. “He sees American decline as a kind of natural phenomenon,” Bolton said.
In Bolton’s own view, however, America is still exceptional and still the one and only superpower. If its status as such is under threat, that threat proceeds from Obama himself, who, almost casually – not caring very much, as John Bolton remarked, about foreign and national security policy – is himself weakening it.
What Obama does care about is domestic policy. To achieve his redistributionist goals he has put America into crushing debt; and being determined, it seems, to turn America into a European-style socialist state, he can only make the debt vaster and heavier. That alone weakens America.
China is America’s chief creditor, but that does not mean China is now a second superpower. A China growing in wealth and confidence, and becoming an increasingly significant world actor, may pose an economic threat to America but is not, or not yet, a rival world power. Militarily it is far from a match. Militarily, America is still far and away the most powerful nation.
But there again, if Obama has his way, it won’t be for much longer. He has, in Bolton’s words, an “incredibly naïve idea” that if the US would get rid of its own nuclear weapons, other countries would give up theirs; those that do not have them but want them – such as Iran and North Korea – would abandon their intense efforts to obtain them; and the world would live at peace forever after. This belief or ambition represents, as John Bolton put it, “a pretty deep-seated strain in the left wing of the Democratic Party.” Obama will soon negotiate an arms control agreement with Russia by which he will undertake substantially to reduce America’s nuclear capability. America will not develop new nuclear weapons, or arms in outer space, or even keep its existing arsenal battle-ready by testing for safety and reliability. It is as if America had no enemies; as if America were not under attack; as if 9/11 had never happened; and as if Iran and North Korea would not drop nuclear bombs on America and its allies if they could do it and get away with it.
Furthermore, with the rest of the dreaming Left both at home and internationally, he aspires to another vision of a new earth: one that is not only sweetly irenic but held forcibly in union by a supreme governing authority. Those proposals for world taxes that we hear of; the intricate business of trading in carbon indulgences in the name of saving the earth from being consumed by fire or ice; international treaty regulations that would result in banning the private ownership of guns – all these are measures to realize the tremendous objective of “world governance”. It would mean the end of American independence, the end of national sovereignty. It would mean that the Revolution was lost, as Bolton said.
In a sense it would be the end of America, because America is an idea of liberty. And it is an idea that the world needs. Its loss would be a colossal disaster, a tragedy for the whole human race.
Can America be saved?
In his book titled The Post-American World, Fareed Zakaria asserts that “America is closing down”, but allows that it “won’t be demoted from its superpower position in the foreseeable future” because “it’s not that the United States has been doing badly over the last two decades. It’s that, all of a sudden, everyone else is playing the game.”
America can “remain a vital, vibrant economy, at the forefront of the next revolutions in science, technology and industry, as long as it can embrace and adjust to the challenges confronting it”.
“The challenges” come from other nations, now rising, which he groups together as “the rest”.
China is the first of them because it is becoming an economic giant. The 21st century, he considers, may be the Chinese century.
What if [China ] quietly positions itself as the alternative to a hectoring and arrogant America? How will America cope with such a scenario – a kind of Cold War, but this time with a vibrant market economy, a nation that is not showing a hopeless model of state socialism, or squandering its power in pointless military interventions? This is a new challenge for the United States, one it has not tackled before, and for which it is largely unprepared.
Next in line is India. Poorer but democratic, India is “the ally”. Then come Brazil and Chile (plausibly); South Africa (less plausibly); and (implausibly) Russia. (Russia is a demographic basket case.)
Ironically, Zakaria says, these nations are rising because they learnt from America:
For sixty years, American politicians and diplomats have traveled around the world pushing countries to open their markets, free up their politics, and embrace trade and technology. … We counseled them to be unafraid of change and learn the secrets of our success. And it worked: the natives have gotten good at capitalism.
America, then, has not been a malign power, or not always. In Roosevelt’s day other countries believed that “America’s mammoth power was not to be feared”. It was after it had won the Cold War, when it became the only superpower, that it began to go to the bad. “Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has walked the world like a colossus, unrivaled and unchecked”, and this “has made Washington arrogant, careless, and lazy.” Furthermore, he tell us, “people round the world worry about living in a world in which one country has so much power.”
To relieve that worry, America “must reduce its weaponry and work towards a non-nuclear world.” It is hypocritical for the US to insist that other countries should not have nuclear weapons while it is hoarding a nuclear arsenal of its own. By giving them up it would “gain credibility”, an end he apparently considers so desirable that it would be worth risking the nation’s very survival to achieve it.
The summer of 2002, Zakaria says, was “the high water-mark of unipolarity”. The world felt sympathy for America after 9/11. America went to war in Afghanistan, which was not good but not too bad. But then it invaded Iraq, which was very bad, and the world’s sympathy dried up. America was being too “unilateral”, too “imperial and imperious”.
George W Bush and “the nefarious neoconservative conspiracy” antagonized the world. He and his conspirators “disdained treaties, multilateral organizations, international public opinion, and anything that suggested a conciliatory approach to world politics.”
So the world’s dislike, contempt, and fear of America were justified, or at least understandable, in the light of the foreign policies of the “arrogant” Bush administration. Zakaria even claims that the animosity filled the Republicans – already full of “chest-thumping machismo” – with pride.
Can Washington adjust and adapt to a world in which others have moved up? Can it respond to shift in economic and political power? … Can Washington truly embrace a world with a diversity of voices and viewpoints? Can it thrive in a world it cannot dominate?
The advice he gives to “Washington” for success in adjusting, adapting, responding, embracing, and thriving is to be conciliatory, apologetic. It must listen more; proclaim universal values”, but “phrase its positions carefully”; be like the chair of a board gently guiding a group of independent directors. America must “learn from the rest”. The president must meet more non-government people, have smaller entourages, rely more on diplomacy. Consultation, cooperation, compromise are the key words. He objects to such accomodations being called appeasement. Consult and cooperate, he urges, with Russia, and with “multilateral institutions” such as the UN, NATO, AFRICOM, OAS, and the International Criminal Court. (Even internally, the US legal system “should take note of transnational standards”.)
The federal government has been “too narrow-minded” about terrorism. When bin Laden got America to “come racing out to fight” him (in response to 9/11) this was “over-reaction.” Zakaria’s advice: “take it on the chin” and “bounce back”. The government must stop thinking of terrorism as a national security issue, and think of it as criminal activity carried out by “small groups of misfits”. Although Democrats were on the whole “more sensible” about terrorism, both parties, he says, spoke “in language entirely designed for a domestic audience with no concern for the poisonous effect it has everywhere else.” His solution is better airport control round the world. The more urgent problem in his view is that American Muslims have become victims of over-reaction to terrorist attacks. Instead of being “questioned, harassed, and detained” they should, he urges, “be enlisted in the effort to understand the appeal of Islamic fundamentalism.”
Zakaria does not consider himself anti-American. He does not even see himself as a man of the left. He reiterates that he is a free marketeer. It is because America became “suspicious of free markets”, he says, that partly explains its “closing down”.
He wrote his book before the economic crisis. He saw a globalized economy bringing about an increasingly prosperous world in which the poorest nations were rising strongly enough for him to declare that “the world is swimming in capital”, and “there really isn’t a Third World any more “. But even then the dollar was sliding, and America was showing signs of being “enfeebled”.
At a military-political level America still dominates the world, but the larger structure of unipolarity – economic, financial, cultural – is weakening… every year it becomes weaker and other nations and actors grow in strength.
For all its military might, its chest-thumping phase is over and now it is “cowering in fear”. It must, he says, “recover its confidence.” ‘It must stop being “a nation consumed by anxiety”, with a tendency to “hunker down”, unreasonably “worried about unreal threats” such as terrorism, and rogue nations like North Korea and Iran. (Iran, he explains, has good reason to fear the United States, with its armies on two of its borders. It’s only to be expected that Iran would try to arm itself with nuclear bombs and missile delivery systems. He does not explain why America should not fear this as a real threat.)
He is certain about what America needs to do to propitiate and serve the world it has alienated. It should ‘‘build broad rules by which the world will be bound’’, rather than pursue “narrow interests”.
What the world really wants from America is … that it affirm its own ideals. That role, as the country that will define universal ideals, remains one that only America can play.
We know Obama has read Zakaria’s book, or at least looked into it, because there is a photograph of him holding it, one finger marking his place. Obama is doing much that Zakaria advises in foreign affairs. But that’s less likely to be because the writer has impressed the president with his arguments than because they have both drunk from the same ideological well.
Obama’s foreign policy lets us see if Zakaria’s theory works. So far it has not.
So is America’s decline beyond all remedy?
It’s a relief to turn from Zakaria’s dull and weakly reasoned book with its uncongenial credo to an article titled The Seductions of Decline (February 2, 2010) by brilliantly witty and insightful Mark Steyn. If America believes it is in decline, he says, it will be. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The view that America has been too arrogant a power; that it is not and should not be exceptional; that humility and apology are required of it; that only endlessly patient negotiation in a spirit of compromise will improve foreign relations and dissuade states like North Korea and Iran from acquiring nuclear arms; that Islamic terrorism should be treated as crime and not as the jihad its perpetrators declare it to be; that Russia should be consulted on, say, the deployment of American missile defense; and that the US should reduce its nuclear arsenal and work towards a non-nuclear world – will bring about the decline.
National decline is psychological – and therefore what matters is accepting the psychology of decline.
His answer to the question “is America set for decline?” is yes, because of the policies of Obama and the Democrats, which arise from their acceptance of decline.
Strictly on the numbers, the United States is in the express lane to Declinistan: Unsustainable entitlements, the remorseless governmentalization of the American economy and individual liberty, and a centralization of power that will cripple a nation of this size. Decline is the way to bet.
American decline, he says, “will be steeper, faster and more devastating than Britain’s – and something far closer to Rome’s.” It will not be like France’s, or Austria’s.
Why did decline prove so pleasant in Europe? Because it was cushioned by American power. The United States is such a perversely non-imperial power that it garrisons not ramshackle colonies but its wealthiest “allies”, from Germany to Japan. For most of its members, “the free world” has been a free ride.
And after “Washington’s retreat from la gloire” as hegemon of the world, when America “becomes Europe in its domestic disposition and geopolitical decline, then who will be America?”
Of the many competing schools of declinism, perhaps the most gleeful are those who salivate over the rise of China. For years, Sinophiles have been penning orgasmic fantasies of mid-century when China will bestride the world and America will be consigned to the garbage heap of history. It will never happen: As I’ve been saying for years, China has profound structural problems. It will get old before it gets rich.
Not China then. Russia?
The demographic deformation of Tsar Putin’s new empire is even more severe than Beijing’s. Russia is a global power only to the extent of the mischief it can make on its acceleration into a death spiral.
Not Russia. How about the Caliphate that the terrorist war is being fought to establish?
Even if every dimestore jihadist’s dreams came true, almost by definition an Islamic imperium will be in decline from Day One.
So what might the post-American world look like? Mark Steyn’s answer is deeply depressing:
The most likely future is not a world under a new order but a world with no order – in which pipsqueak states go nuclear while the planet’s wealthiest nations, from New Zealand to Norway, are unable to defend their own borders and are forced to adjust to the post-American era as they can. Yet, in such a geopolitical scene, the United States will still remain the most inviting target – first, because it’s big, and secondly, because, as Britain knows, the durbar moves on but imperial resentments linger long after imperial grandeur.
But nothing is inevitable, and Mark Steyn offers a last hope. Though “decline is the way to bet”, the only thing that will ensure it is “if the American people accept decline as a price worth paying for European social democracy.”
When in 2008 a majority of the American electorate voted for Barack Obama to be president of the United States, it seemed that the deal had been made. But now Obama is failing, the Democratic majority is under threat, and the Tea Party movement is reclaiming the Revolution.
This could be another American century after all.
Jillian Becker March 1, 2010