The French pandemonium 3

Today we post under Pages (listed at the top of our margin) the next essay in the series by Jillian Becker titled The Darkness of This World (Part Two).

The title of the new essay is The French Pandemonium (One).

It continues a discussion of the Romantic movement which – the series argues – arises from the same need in the human psyche that requires religion. In France, the most influential poets, novelists, essayists and philosophers have been those who have cultivated rebellion against what they call “bourgeois society”. Some of the most eminent of them bluntly declare that their rebellion is a choice of Evil.

Of course not all the French writers of the post-Enlightenment centuries have been Romantics or conscious advocates of Evil. But those who “chose Evil” stoked the fires of destructive rebellion in generations of European intellectuals and have had by far the greater effect on history. In the twentieth century they became so popular and powerful that they helped create the New Left; incited seasons of violent protest demonstrations on city streets throughout Europe and even on other continents; inspired the formation of European terrorist gangs; and implanted their anti-civilization ideology as a new dogma in schools and academies throughout the Western world, including America. As the series continues it will explain how the anti-Americanism of the Left, even in America itself, springs from the European intellectual movement against our civilization.

Here is the first part of the essay:

A pandemonium is a gathering of all the demons or devils. Devils are expected to be noisy, so the word has come to mean a deafening cacophony of shrieking voices.

What the voices of this pandemonium clamor for, is “Evil”. It is not an insult to call them demons; it is an acknowledgment of their choice. They choose Evil, they call for Evil, they acclaim Evil, they are for Evil.

And what are they against? They are against What Is. They are against our civilization. They are against the bourgeois, whom they hold responsible for everything that’s wrong with our civilization: free enterprise industrialization; liberal democracy; parliamentarianism; conservatism.

It was in France that the clamor was loudest among certain poets and novelists and philosophers to épater le bourgeois – shock the bourgeoisin the nineteenth century, reaching a crescendo between the world wars of the twentieth century, rising again after the end of the second. A racket of foaming hate; a literary hue and cry after the middle-class citizen.

As you may have noticed, the bourgeoisie is, in fact, the all-achieving class. Almost everything of value since the Enlightenment, including the Enlightenment itself, has issued from the middle-class; every invention, every discovery, every advance, with so few exceptions they can be counted on a few of your fingers. But to the demons of poetry and philosophy and revolution, the bourgeois was everything that was wrong with Life: the bourgeois with his politesse, his prudence, his order and cleanliness, his comfortable house, his good-quality clothes, his well-stocked larder, his prosperity, his faithfulness to duty, his thrifty habits … “No, no,” the scornful voices yell, interrupting me. “Its not just that, it’s … it’s … it’s his complacency, his bad taste, his narrow-mindedness, his privilege, his exploitation of underdogs, his obsession with material things – and his stupid sexual inhibition. Those, don’t you see, are the unbearable traits that make him a worthy target of our artistic fury. He does not, cannot feel as we do. Down with him! Grind him into the dust! ”

But it is the againstness itself that characterizes the demons. If every one of those despicable things about the bourgeois were overcome or destroyed (as every one of them was in Communist Russia), and civilization wholly laid to waste, the urge would rage on, its hunger unappeased, hunting its everlasting prey: What Is. To them, as to the Gnostics of old, everything that is here is bad; the good lies beyond.

Whatever words have been used to describe the Paris fashions in scorn – modernism, post-modernism, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction – they are all expressions of rebellion. To be a rebel is to be heroic. Despised and rejected by the bourgeois herd, the rebel is a martyr to his deep passion for art, his higher vision of a better world.

To protest against the bourgeois idea of what is good, the demons advocated doing whatever the bourgeois considered evil. They placed themselves in a French counter-tradition, a line that runs from Rousseau with his belief in the primacy of feeling and sentiment, through Robespierre with his Terror, the Marquis de Sade with his penchant for sexual torture, the nineteenth century poets Charles Baudelaire with his Flowers of Evil and Arthur Rimbaud with his Season in Hell, and on through the intellectual trend-setters – whom we will come to – of twentieth century French literature and their continuing effects. There are still reigning French demons in the twenty-first century. It is a dynasty of the defiant. …

You can find all of it here.

Speaking of atheism 0

A chat about atheism, religion, and science. Recorded December 14, 2010.

Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens.

The vanishing god 18

His only existence was in the superstitions of human beings.

Now even that dim identity is fading away.

We have watched the religious retreating until their backs are to the wall.

Once firm beliefs – in the name of which believers would put disbelievers to torture and death – have quietly been abandoned within the stretch of living memory.

It’s not long since Christians believed in a physical Heaven and Hell. After all, a bodily resurrected Jesus Christ has to have a physical dwelling place. The Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ was physically hauled up into  Heaven – the hauling job by angels is called her Assumption – so there had to be some solid ground to put her on once they got her up there. And if sinners were to suffer in hell, they needed nerves and a brain to suffer pain from being burnt with actual fire.

What theologians speak of that now – or of the Trinity? Only simpletons do. Many among the laity do go on believing in an old bearded man named God, somewhere in the sky, dressed in a kind of nightshirt, with his son, a pretty young man – golden curly hair, blue eyes, also in nightwear – seated beside him on something-or-other, among billowing clouds in a rosy dawn. But that’s all for the commonalty in this twenty-first century since the chosen birthdate of the putative Savior Christ; not the great thinkers.

Science has done what it was bound to do: show up religious accounts of how the universe came into being, and how mankind arose, to be nonsense. Highly imaginative  nonsense. In some aspects, highly ingenious nonsense. But nonsense all the same.

Theological defense of the existence of “God” has steadily dwindled. It came all the way down to the dogma of “intelligent design”. And that’s also manifest nonsense. Whom does it deceive (not counting the gulls and simpletons)? Our universe is so obviously not designed. A design is for a purpose, and the propounders of the idea can point to no purpose. And where is the evidence of intelligence, when life forms fail, hideous deformities occur, animal survives by devouring animal …. the list of natural events that are easily explained by evolution but not by the idea of intelligent design could be very long.

Proponents of “intelligent design” at least had the sense to drop the notion that the supernatural Designer was benevolent. It must finally come home to even a dull mind that the Designer, or god, who made (for example) Ebola, is not a source of unqualified benefit to humankind.

The defense is worn down to the wire. The result is utter confusion.

The Catholic Church cannot allow the “intelligent designer” to take God’s place; cannot have God reduced to an architect who could shout “Hey presto!” at his drawing board and have his design spring into existence. Or don a robe decorated with moons and stars and meteors, and a tall pointed hat, and take a wand in his hand, and wave it about in some medium of ultra-space and so fill an infinite void with galaxies – and prepare Jesus Christ to be born from the womb of a virgin on the little planet Earth.

But how then can it cope with the challenge of science?

To see its best effort, witness this crap, this stew of anachronistic notions thrown into the pot with gobs of scientific truth. It shows how Roman Catholicism does not know what to say, and can only dither vague denials and assertions that add up to nothing – like these, gabbled just the other day by Pope Francis, head of that once powerful and terrible, tyrannical and cruel institution, the Catholic Church (a relic of the darkest centuries of human history):

Delivering an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope Francis continued his habit of making provocative, seemingly progressive statements. The pontiff appeared to endorse the theory of the Big Bang and told the gathering at the Vatican that there was no contradiction between believing in God as well as the prevailing scientific theories regarding the expansion of our universe.

He said:

When we read about creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so. He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.

The pope avoids gesturing at the thorny issue (at least for some Christians) of whether humans descended from apes. Atheists argue, moreover, that understanding the Big Bang and what emerged from that cosmic moment obviates a need to believe in a deity. On that count, Francis obviously disagrees. He repeated the idea of God not being a “magician,” an entity that conjured all into being.

“God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life,” Francis said. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

In other words … God is more a clockmaker than a conjurer of miracles.

Could anything be less like a clock designed to work in a fixed unchanging manner for a particular purpose than this universe of ever-changing matter?*

Such thinking is not new for the Catholic Church, which for six decades — since the reforms of Pope Pius XII — has espoused belief in theistic evolution. That hinges, of course, on the fundamental acceptance of a higher power.

A 2006 article in the Vatican’s main newspaper also distanced the Catholic Church from the idea of “intelligent design,” which it said should not be taught in schools as science. …

What the church does insist upon is that the emergence of the human supposes a willful act of God, and that man cannot be seen as only the product of evolutionary processes, it said. The spiritual element of man is not something that could have developed from natural selection but required an “ontological leap”.

Francis’s more conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, espoused this view and found the American debate between creationists and those who backed evolution “absurd’. He asked in 2007 why “those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God”. And then went on:

This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favor of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? I believe this is of the utmost importance.

Skeptics and atheists, though, may agree with the importance of those questions. But they’re still looking for very different answers.

We sure are, bro!

The intellectually beleaguered theologians of the Catholic Church saw that some interpretation, some clarification of this garbage was needed. So they’ve come up with this, from the Catholic News Service, by John Thavis:

Intelligent design not science, says Vatican newspaper article

Intelligent design is not science and should not be taught as a scientific theory in schools alongside Darwinian evolution, an article in the Vatican newspaper said.

The article said that in pushing intelligent design some groups were improperly seeking miraculous explanations in a way that creates confusion between religious and scientific fields.

At the same time, scientists should recognize that evolutionary theory does not exclude an overall purpose in creation – a “superior design” that may be realized through secondary causes like natural selection, it said.

What overall purpose?

The article, published in the Jan. 17 edition of L’Osservatore Romano, was written by Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna in Italy.

The article noted that the debate over intelligent design – the idea that certain features of life and the universe are best explained by an intelligent designer rather than adaptive evolution – has spread from the United States to Europe.

The problem with intelligent design is that it turns to a “superior cause” – understood though not necessarily named as God – to explain supposed shortcomings of evolutionary science. But that’s not how science should work, the article said.

If the model proposed by Darwin is held to be inadequate, one should look for another model. But it is not correct methodology to stray from the field of science pretending to do science.

The article said a Pennsylvania judge had acted properly when he ruled in December that intelligent design could not be taught as science in schools. [The judge said:]

Intelligent design does not belong to science and there is no justification for the pretext that it be taught as a scientific theory alongside the Darwinian explanation.

From the church’s point of view, Catholic teaching says God created all things from nothing, but doesn’t say how, the article said. That leaves open the possibilities of evolutionary mechanisms like random mutation and natural selection.

God’s project of creation can be carried out through secondary causes in the natural course of events, without having to think of miraculous interventions that point in this or that direction.

What the church does insist upon is that the emergence of the human supposes a willful act of God, and that man cannot be seen as only the product of evolutionary processes .. The spiritual element of man is not something that could have developed from natural selection but required an “ontological leap’ … 

The article said that, unfortunately, what has helped fuel the intelligent design debate is a tendency among some Darwinian scientists to view evolution in absolute and ideological terms, as if everything — including first causes — can be attributed to chance.

Science as such, with its methods, can neither demonstrate nor exclude that a superior design has been carried out.

From a religious viewpoint, it said, there is no doubt that the human story “has a sense and a direction that is marked by a superior design”.

What direction? Going where? Why?

So if God may not be boiled down to an “intelligent designer”, then what is he? What is this new orthodoxy of the Catholic Church? He’s still “the creator of all things from nothing”. But he didn’t create things exactly as we know them at this passing moment. He launched evolution. By a special “willful” act he had humankind “emerge”. (Whether from earlier ape-like Hominoidea or not is left an open question.) Man’s unique “spiritual element” could not have developed through evolution. So it must have been put in him by God. Man’s spiritual element, it may be inferred, proves the existence of God.

God is a launcher of evolution, into which process he uniquely intervened to create humankind, to which he gave something new in the universe, a “spiritual element”.

This new Catholic God is not very different from the old Catholic God, but he seems to have shed his son and the Holy Ghost. At least neither the Professor of evolutionary biology nor the befuddled Pope says what’s happened to them.

So even the “intelligent designer” fades out. The old Creator is glimpsed as the launcher of a process through billions of years which finally did not result in the creation of humankind. That was a special new creation. For what purpose is still not said.

He is very frail, that being. Very thin, transparent, ghost-like. Going, going … almost gone.

 

* We do, however, accept Karl Popper’s splendidly explicated thesis that “all clouds are clocks and all clocks are clouds” in his lecture “Of Clouds and Clocks”. In his sense only, having nothing to do with theological “intelligent design”, organic things may be said to be clock-like. You can find the lecture here, or in the collection of Popper’s essays titled Objective Knowledge.

Causing and exploiting the suffering of children 3

We repeat here our Facebook summary of an article by Sultan Knish on the exploitation of children’s suffering for pro-Islam, and especially pro-Hamas, propaganda.

Our summaries largely use the author’s own words. Sometimes we add comment of our own, as we do here in an introductory paragraph.

Some of the Yezidis trapped on Sinjar mountain by the Islamic State (IS formerly ISIS) – who want to shoot, decapitate, or crucify them – have been throwing their children off the mountain for a quick death rather than let them die slowly of thirst – though that is what some dozens have already died of.

The dead Yezidi children won’t inspire any protests or much in the way of outrage. The hysterical rallies for Gaza won’t suddenly turn into anti-ISIS rallies. If any of the angry white hipsters with dead baby posters are asked about it, they will offer some variation on, “It’s Bush’s fault” or “It’s Tony Blair’s fault”. And they had been out there in the early part of the century denouncing any move to remove Saddam Hussein from power. The dead children gassed by Saddam, along with the children in his prisons, were unfortunately created less equal than the photogenic, oddly blonde children of Gaza’s Hamaswood. Anna, a two-year-old girl whose feet were crushed by Saddam’s torturers, never mattered to them. It isn’t the children that they care about, not the dying Yezidi children in Iraq, or the tortured children in Saddam Hussein’s prisons, or even the dead children of Gaza used as human shields by Hamas in life and then brandished at rallies after their deaths as cardboard propaganda shields by raging Marxists. When they thought that Israel had bombed a playground near the al-Shati refugee camp killing nine children, they went into murderous paroxysm of outrage. When it turned out that a misfired Hamas rocket was responsible, they fell silent. They have equally little interest in the 3-year-old Gazan girl killed by a Hamas rocket in the early days of the war. The same thing had happened in 2012 when a dead 11-month old baby, formerly an iconic front page photo, vanished into obscurity once the death turned out to have been caused by a Hamas rocket. The same thing happened to Hadil al-Haddad, a 2-year-old girl in Gaza, who went from iconic photo to yesterday’s news once it turned out that a Hamas rocket had been responsible for her death. However the photos of those dead and wounded children, along with the dead children of Syria and perhaps soon the dead children of the Yezidi, will go on showing up as victims of Israel at spitefully angry anti-Israel rallies. If it was the children that they cared about, then the death of an Israeli child or a Muslim child at the hands of Hamas would matter as much to them as the ones on the bloody placards they now brandish. But they don’t and they never did. For Hamas and its supporters screaming “Free Gaza” at the top of their lungs, children, dead or alive, are just another propaganda weapon in the arsenal of terrorist theocracy.

 

(Put “Yezidis” into our search slot to read about their religion.)

 

Getting heated over hell 15

Now about our enemy on the Right …

This is from Wall of Separation, a web page belonging to Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

US Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) saw fit to hold an impromptu inquisition on Capitol Hill yesterday.

Gohmert and his colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice were supposed to be discussing the state of religious liberty in America. But Gohmert, a staunch Religious Right ally who has said that his faith guides his political activities, used his allotted five minutes to grill Americans United [for Separation of Church and State] Executive Director Barry W. Lynn on his personal theological views.

“I’m curious, in your Christian beliefs, do you believe in sharing the good news that will keep people from going to hell, consistent with the Christian belief?” Gohmert asked.

We will not pause now to unpack all the nonsense in that question. It speaks sufficiently for itself to all but Gohmert’s fellow bigots.

Lynn responded: “I wouldn’t agree with your construction of what hell is like or why one gets there.”

So Barry Lynn believes in some sort of hell consistent with his Christian belief.

Lynn, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, was invited by subcommittee Democrats. He spoke on behalf of religious minorities and non-believers who are so often oppressed by fundamentalist Christians in this country.

He spoke for us non-believers? No. We think not. But what we are most concerned with here is this Republican, Louie Gohmert and his sort.

And yet he was attacked on a personal level by Gohmert, who decided an official hearing was an appropriate place to drag Lynn into the theological weeds.

Gohmert continued to press Lynn: “So, you don’t believe somebody would go to hell if they do not believe Jesus is the way, the truth, the life?”

Another portmanteau of nonsense which we will pass for the present with no more than a grimace of distaste.

Lynn explained that someone’s failure to embrace “a specific set of ideas in Christianity” did not guarantee a ticket to hell. Gohmert didn’t much care for that answer, so he pushed on with his surprising line of questioning.

“No, not a set of ideas,” he said. “Either you believe as a Christian that Jesus is the way, the truth, [and] life or you don’t.” …

The hearing was designed primarily by Republicans to give right-wing Christians an opportunity to ask for more special treatment from the government

O-oh! Red light flashing.

At least Lynn is insisting on the wall of separation. Or we hope he is.

Lynn and Gohmert … may soon sit down to hammer out their differences.

Christians have been trying to do that among themselves ever since their St. Paul invented Christianity, with very little success. What end can there be to arguments over fictions? It’s not as if an experiment can be designed to establish the truth.

At least they don’t kill each other over their differences of opinion as often as they used to.

After the hearing, the two talked about the possibility of getting together to discuss theology sometime. Lynn said he’s up for it.

Whether or not that discussion ever takes place, Gohmert has already proved why church and state must remain separate. Lynn and Gohmert’s disagreement over what hell is and how one ends up there is one of many, many ideological divides that exist within Christianity.

“Many, many” indeed. As many a “many” as would cover a mile would not be sufficient to indicate the number of disputes that Christianity has given rise to within itself.

But then comes this:

Other groups have similar disagreements, be they believers or non-believers.

Again, and emphatically, no. There are no shades or degrees of non-existence. There can be no disagreement about non-belief among non-believers. 

But then questions are asked which makes sense:

The US  government could never accommodate all faiths and belief systems through policies that favor [any particular] religion. Who would be accommodated? Who would decide? It would be an absolute mess that would surely result in oppression.

That’s why church-state separation is best for everyone – even Gohmert.

(Hat-tip Frank)

The darkness of this world (9) 1

Today we have posted essay number 9, Faust (Two), in the series titled The Darkness of This World. (Find it under Pages in our margin.)

Here is part of it. We hope you won’t neglect the footnotes (not added here). They are laden with information –  colored by the authors’ personal judgments and prejudices.

Faust (Two)

To understand what happened in Europe in the twentieth century, the wars, the barbaric cruelty, the murder of tens of millions in cold blood; to diagnose the sickness that beset every country on the mainland of the continent, Germany most severely; to know why European man is dying a long slow death on his own heath, it is helpful to read the great German writer Thomas Mann.

In his novel Doctor Faustus, first published in 1947, the Faust figure is a German musician named Adrian Leverkühn. On leaving school in the early 20th century, young Adrian enrolls at the University of Halle as a theology student, but soon abandons his studies to devote himself to composing music.

Fearing that he is not gifted enough to fulfill his ambition, he conceives a terrible plan. He deliberately catches syphilis by insisting on having intercourse with a prostitute who has the disease, in the hope and faith that he will catch it and so become insane – because he believes madness is necessary to genius. This is his conscious bargain with evil, the selling of his soul to the Devil, in exchange for power to compose great music. When in due course the disease does reach his brain, he imagines he has a conversation with the Devil by which the contract is confirmed. The Devil will grant him twenty-four years from the day of their dialogue, years of “great time, mad time”, to create the astonishing works he can produce now that his faculty of reason has become deranged. He will know “the heights and the depths” of life, and so be filled with knowledge of the truth – the “truth” of subjective experience.

Thought and reason, the Devil explains, are impediments to the creation of great Art. Leverkühn’s art will be intuitive, “Dionysian”; springing from the instincts, from feeling, from the heart, not from the rational mind. The Devil assures him that all genius is demonic. “There is no ingenium that has nothing to do with hell,” he says. What makes Art great is “enthusiasm unparalysed by thought or reason”.[5] Art is “made genuine by disease”, and “creative, genius-giving disease [is] a thousand times dearer to life than plodding healthiness”. Art, instinctive art – so the Devil instructs the mind he is corrupting – is anti-bourgeois, anti-civilization. It is a religion – a demonic religion. (What used to be religion, the Prince of Darkness says, “is over except for the Devil. The bourgeoisie dispenses with it.” And elsewhere the fictional narrator of the story – a Catholic – observes: ‘Theology, confronted with that spirit of the philosophy of life which is irrationalism, is in danger, by its very nature, of becoming demonology.”)

So art is a disease of the artist, and of civilization. As both it is highly valuable, this dark force many times declares or insinuates, speaking either as himself when he chats with the brain-sick Leverkühn, or through the mouths of certain persons among the composer’s teachers, friends and acquaintances. These persons, more devilish than Adrian Leverkühn himself ever becomes, are weak men, erudite sensitive aesthetes, sickly or deformed, one of them “slightly” consumptive. They consciously “elevate culture as a substitute for religion”. Most of them are admirers of Leverkühn’s works – and also of National Socialism, with which they soon become passionately enamored. What they call “the blood and beauty” of brutal mass murder excites them intensely. A poet among them praises “obedience, violence, blood, and world-plunder”. To listen to them is to understand how Hitler’s Reich was made possible and why it quite easily became a reality.  …

Posted under Articles, Ethics, Germany, Gnosticism, History, Literature, Philosophy, Religion general, Theology by Jillian Becker on Sunday, April 27, 2014

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The darkness of this world (8) 1

Today we have posted essay number 8, Faust (One), in the series titled The Darkness of This World. (Find it under Pages in our margin.)

Here are some extracts from it:

Post-Enlightenment Romanticism was an escape from the reality of “this world”, and a belief that there could be a better world realized in Art, or in a future brought about by political action. …

The Romantic Movement was seeded in France with the revolutionary idealism of Rousseau, and flowered first in England as resistance to the iron reality of the Industrial Revolution, but found its natural home in Germany. There God died, but the Devil lived on.

The death of God was announced by the German philosopher Nietzsche in 1882, but when had it occurred? God was still alive, tussling with the Devil for the souls of men when the first part of Goethe’s play Faust was published in 1808, so the event must have come about, quietly, sometime in the intervening seventy-four years.

The legend of Faust and his pact with the Devil had arisen in Germany soon after the Reformation began there [in 1517], and about two hundred years before the Enlightenment seriously weakened the power of the Churches. …

The legendary Faust is a man who chooses to sell his soul to the Devil in exchange for power, honor, wealth, fame; delight of the senses and satisfaction of the appetites, especially lust; and knowledge (of both the scientific and the intuitive sorts), for the duration of his life on earth, usually twenty-four years from the day of the compact. As his splendid life goes on, he wonders at moments if he could repent and be saved. He is exhorted by well-wishers to turn to God for mercy. But he chooses to renew his fatal pact. When he dies he goes to hell …

There was a real historical Dr Faust, “magician, necromancer, sodomist, astrologer and palm reader”, living in Germany in the early sixteenth century, and it was on his character, skills and escapades that the legend was based.

His birth name was Georgius Sabellicus. In 1505 he was helped by a certain Franz von Sickengen – who interested himself in mysticism and the magic arts – to obtain the post of schoolmaster in the Rhineland-Palatinate town of Kreuznach. Exposed as having forced boys of his classroom to perform “acts of lewdness”, Sabellicus disappeared from the school and the town. Two years later, as “Johannes Faust”, he was granted the degree of Bachelor of Arts in Theology by the University of Heidelberg. He came top of his class of fifteen, so either he was a brainy fellow, or he had already sold his soul to the Devil.

The graduate called himself “the Second Magus”, signaling that he was the successor to Simon Magus, the 1st century Gnostic teacher of St Paul’s day, written about scornfully in the New Testament and condemned by the Catholic Church as “the father of all heresies”.  (See our post, The father of all heresies, February 21, 2010.)

He stayed in Heidelberg for some years and acquired a dubious reputation as a man of extraordinary powers.

While most commentary on him both in his lifetime and for a few years after his death (which was probably in or about 1540) portrayed him as no more than a braggart, a fraud, and a petty thief, some took him more seriously. An agreement made between himself and the Devil soon became an essential ingredient of his legend. It was related in tones of thrilled horror that he had referred to Satan as his “Schwäger”, his brother-in-law. A demon spirit who takes the form of Helen of Troy occurs in almost all the versions of the story. (She had been Simon Magus’s consort. Though he had found her in a brothel in Tyre, he taught that she had been incarnated in one of her lives as Helen, “the most beautiful woman in the world”, and had descended again from the highest heaven to help him with his mission of redeeming mankind.)

The idea that supernatural powers could be bestowed on a man by the Devil, but had to be paid for with the man’s soul, probably arose from the anathematizing accounts by the Catholic church fathers of the Gnostic cults. Because the Gnostics did not worship the Creator God of the bible but another god whom they “knew” by the gift of intuitive knowledge (the Gnosis); because many of them declared the Creator God to be evil; and because the worship of their god took the form of drugged orgies, perverted sex (anal and oral in order to avoid conception), and the deliberate flouting of biblical commandments, they were considered by Catholics to be devil-worshippers, and their rites Satanic. Their doctrines and practices were deplored in the pulpits of Christendom, embellished with fearful details and scary myths, not only to condemn them and warn the awestruck laity against them, but because the clergy was genuinely full of superstitious terror of the Devil. For centuries Gnostic ritual was considered by Christian theologians to be devil-worship. The Catholic Church succeeded in wiping out Gnosticism in the Middle Ages, using the instrument of the Inquisition. (See our post The heretics of Languedoc, May 1, 2011.)

When the centuries of Church power were brought to an end by the Enlightenment, and Christianity itself took a beating, Faust and the Devil not only survived but flourished.

The Industrial Revolution made it possible as never before for individuals not born to riches and power to acquire them. To those who understood economics it was not an inexplicable phenomenon. But to those who wanted as little to do with the racket and dirt of industry as possible, who were nostalgic for the past, and who continued to believe in the supernatural though the priests had been shouted down by Reason, it was uncanny, magical; and ever-present envy had no trouble diagnosing the cause as demonic. So with the Devil living on in the psyche of Christian Europe long after God had died, Dr. Faust had a new lease of life. …

Posted under Articles, Christianity, education, Ethics, Europe, Germany, Gnosticism, History, Literature, Religion general, Theology by Jillian Becker on Sunday, April 20, 2014

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Atheism and freedom 25

The right theory of individual freedom came from an understanding of the spontaneous evolution of civil institutions and traditions. A free society no more needed an intelligent designer than did the human species.  

The similarity of process in the development of social and biological life is brilliantly explained by one of the great defenders of freedom:

Though freedom is not a state of nature but an artifact of civilization, it did not arise from design. …

[The] development of a theory of liberty took place mainly in the eighteenth century. It began in two countries, England and Fance. The first of these knew liberty, the second did not. As a result, we have had to the present day two different traditions in the theory of liberty … the first based on an interpretation of traditions and institutions which had spontaneously grown up … the second aiming at the construction of a utopia, which has often been tried but never successfully. …

What we have called the “British tradition” was made explicit mainly by a group of Scottish moral philosophers led by David Hume, Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson, seconded by their English contemporaries Josiah Tucker, Edmund Burke, and William Paley … drawing largely on a tradition rooted in the jurisprudence of the common law. Opposed to them was the tradition of the French Enlightenment … : the Encyclopedists and Rousseau, the Physiocrats and Condorcet, are their best known representatives. …

[T]here is hardly a greater contrast imaginable between their respective conceptions of the evolution and functioning of a social order and the role played in it by liberty. …

[T]he British philosophers laid the foundations of a profound and essentially valid theory, while the [French] school was simply and completely wrong. …

Those British philosophers have given us an interpretation of of the growth of civilization that is still the indispensable foundation of the argument for liberty. They find the origin of institutions, not in contrivance or design, but in the survival of the successful. …

This demonstration … represented in some ways an even greater challenge to all design theories than even the later theory of biological evolution. For the first time it was shown that that an evident order which was not the product of a designing human intelligence need not therefore be ascribed to the design of a higher, supernatural intelligence, but that there was a third possibility – the emergence of order as the result of adaptive evolution.

-From The Constitution of Liberty by F. A. Hayek , Chapter Four: Freedom, Reason, and Tradition.

Atheists and conservatives stir up a brouhaha 4

The organizers of an important Conservative conference have banned an atheist organization from attending it and setting out its stall.

The Conservative Political Action Committee, the largest and oldest gathering of conservatives, is run by the American Conservative Union and will be held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland’s National Harbor from March 6 to 8. Last year, the event brought together thousands of activists to listen to dozens of Republican leaders speak about everything from economics and foreign policy to social issues. The event has long been considered a required stop for Republican presidential hopefuls.

That and what follows we quote from CNN’s “belief blog”.

Organizers for the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference will not allow American Atheists to have an exhibition booth …

The decision comes just hours after American Atheists, the outspoken organization that advocates for atheists nationwide, announced that it would have a booth at the event. David Silverman, president of American Atheists, tells CNN that a groundswell of opposition from high-ranking members of CPAC compelled the group to pull the invite.

Meghan Snyder, a spokeswoman for CPAC, said in a statement to CNN that “American Atheists misrepresented itself about their willingness to engage in positive dialogue and work together to promote limited government.”

“I’m surprised and I’m saddened,” Silverman said in response to the announcement. “I think this is a very disappointing turn of events. I was really looking forward to going … It is very obvious to me they were looking for a reason to say no,” Silverman added. “Christianity is bad for conservatism and they did not want that message out there.” …

Silverman said his group [had] planned to use the booth to bring conservative atheists “out of the closet” and said he was not worried about making the Christian right angry because “the Christian right should be threatened by us.”

Snyder said CPAC spoke to Silverman about his divisive and inappropriate language.

He pledged that he will attack the very idea that Christianity is an important element of conservatism. People of any faith tradition should not be attacked for their beliefs, especially at our conference. …

But yes, Ms Snyder, it is precisely beliefs that ought to be attacked. Continually. Forever.

The critical examination of ideas is the essential task of civilized humankind. 

When [earlier] Snyder had confirmed to CNN that American Atheists would be at CPAC, she said in a statement that they were allowed to display at the confab because “conservatives have always stood for freedom of religion and freedom of expression.”

“The folks we have been working with stand for many of the same liberty-oriented policies and principles we stand for,” Snyder said. …

And so, she had thought, did American Atheists. But the decision to include them had outraged some conservatives.

Tony Perkins, president of the Christian conservative think-tank Family Research Council, expressed outrage at the decision, stating that the American Atheists did “not seek to add their voice to the chorus of freedom”. [He said] “CPAC’s mission is to be an umbrella for conservative organizations that advance liberty, traditional values and our national defense.” 

But –

Does the American Conservative Union really think the liberties and values they seek to preserve can be maintained when they partner with individuals and organizations that are undermining the understanding that our liberties come from God? Thomas Jefferson warned against such nonsense. If this is where the ACU is headed, they will have to pack up and put away the “C”‘ in CPAC!” …

The first “C” for “Conservative” we suppose is the one he meant. But why would it need to be packed away if atheists are allowed to have their say? Perhaps Perkins thinks it stands for “Christian”.

American Atheist is well known for its controversial billboards and media campaigns and is considered the in-your-face contingent in the world of atheist activists. The group’s members pride themselves as being the “Marines” of the atheist movement. …

In explaining why the group decided to join CPAC on Monday, Silverman cited a 2012 Pew Research study that found 20% of self-identified conservatives consider themselves religiously unaffiliated. While that does not mean they are atheists, Silverman believes learning more about atheism will make it more likely conservatives will choose to identify with those who believe there is no God.

Just as there are many closeted atheists in the church pews, I am extremely confident that there are many closeted atheists in the ranks of conservatives. This is really a serious outreach effort, and I am very pleased to be embarking on it.

The group has long targeted Republican lawmakers, although Silverman considers the organization nonpartisan.

In 2013, American Atheists launched a billboard campaign against three Republican politicians: former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. All three Republicans have spoken at CPAC in the past.

On one billboard, Santorum is pictured to the left of a quote attributed to him. “Our civil laws have to comport with a higher law. God’s law,” the quote reads. Underneath the graphic is a tagline: “GO GODLESS INSTEAD.”

Comment on this affair comes from National Review, by Charles C. W. Cooke: :

Yesterday, in response to one of the many brouhahas that CPAC seems always to invite, Brent Bozell issued the following statement:

The invitation extended by the ACU, Al Cardenas and CPAC to American Atheists to have a booth is more than an attack on conservative principles. It is an attack on God Himself. American Atheists is an organization devoted to the hatred of God. How on earth could CPAC, or the ACU and its board of directors, and Al Cardenas condone such an atrocity?

So Brent Bozell thinks that issuing the invitation was an attack on conservative principles. More, it was “an attack on God Himself”.  As such, it was a veritable “atrocity“!

The particular merits of the American Atheists group to one side, this is a rather astounding thing for Bozell to have said. In just 63 words, he confuses disbelief in God for “hatred” for God — a mistake that not only begs the question but is inherently absurd (one cannot very well hate what one does not believe is there); he condemns an entire conference on the basis of one participant — not a good look for a struggling movement, I’m afraid; and, most alarmingly perhaps, he insinuates that one cannot simultaneously be a conservative and an atheist. I reject this idea — and with force.

If atheism and conservatism are incompatible, then I am not a conservative. And nor, I am given to understand, are George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Anthony Daniels, Walter Olson, Heather Mac Donald, James Taranto, Allahpundit, or S. E. Cupp. There is no getting around this — no splitting the difference: I don’t believe there is a God. It’s not that I’m “not sure” or that I haven’t ever bothered to think about it; it’s that I actively think there isn’t a God — much as I think there are no fairies or unicorns or elves. The degree to which I’m confident in this view works on a scale, certainly: I’m much surer, for example, that the claims of particular religions are untrue and that there is no power intervening in the affairs of man than I am that there was no prime mover of any sort.

Rrrreally, Mr Cooke?

But, when it comes down to it, I don’t believe in any of those propositions.

Tha-at’s better!

Am I to be excommunicated from the Right?

One of the problems we have when thinking about atheism in the modern era is that the word has been hijacked and turned into a political position when it is no such thing. The Oxford English Dictionary defines an “atheist” as someone who exhibits “disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a god.” That’s me right there — and that really is the extent of it.

Okay, you can have a booth at any conference we ever organize.

Or have we spoken too soon? Repeat what you were mumbling, please?

No, I don’t dislike anyone who does believe that there is a God; no, with a few obvious exceptions, I am not angry at the religious; and no, I do not believe the devout to be in any way worse or less intelligent than myself. Insofar as the question inspires irritation in me at all it is largely reserved for the sneering, smarmy, and incomprehensibly self-satisfied New Atheist movement, which has turned the worthwhile writings of some extremely smart people into an organized means by which a cabal of semi-educated twentysomethings might berate the vast majority of the human population and then congratulate one another as to how clever they are.

What New Atheist movement? If it exists, we want to join it. What is incomprehensible about it? What suggests that “it” is self-satisifed? What worthwhile writings would those be? Who are these beraters? And are they not - in that they are atheists – cleverer than “the vast majority of the human population”?

Which is to say that, philosophically speaking,  I couldn’t really care less … and practically speaking I am actually pretty warm toward religion — at least as it is practiced in America. True or false, American religion plays a vital and welcome role in civil society, has provided a number of indispensable insights into the human condition, acts as a remarkably effective and necessary check on the ambitions of government and central social-planners, is worthy of respect and measured inquiry on the Burkean grounds that it has endured for this long and been adopted by so many, and has been instrumental in making the United States what it is today.

We would dispute almost every one of those propositions, especially that religion is “worthy of respect” – though of “measured inquiry”, yes, it is worthy, and should be subjected to it mercilessly.

We like most of what he goes on to say next. And he provides some interesting information:

None of this, however, excuses the manner in which conservatives often treat atheists such as myself. George H. W. Bush, who was more usually reticent on such topics, is reported to have said that he didn’t “know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic[because] this is one nation under God”.

Whether Bush ever uttered these words or not, this sentiment has been expressed by others elsewhere. It is a significant mistake. What “this nation” is, in fact, is one nation under the Constitution — a document that precedes the “under God” reference in the Gettysburg Address by more than seven decades and the inclusion of the phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance by 165 years. (“In God We Trust,” too, was a modern addition, replacing “E Pluribus Unum” as the national motto in 1956 after 174 years.)

Indeed, given the troubled waters into which American religious liberty has of late been pushed, it strikes me that conservatives ought to be courting atheists — not shunning them. I will happily take to the barricades for religious conscience rights, not least because my own security as a heretic is bound up with that of those who differ from me, and because a truly free country seeks to leave alone as many people as possible — however eccentric I might find their views or they might find mine. In my experience at least, it is Progressivism and not conservatism that is eternally hostile to variation and to individual belief, and, while we are constantly told that the opposite is the case, it is those [leftists] who pride themselves on being secular who seem more likely and more keen to abridge my liberties than those who pride themselves on being religious. That I do not share the convictions of the religious by no means implies that I wish for the state to reach into their lives. Nevertheless, religious conservatives will find themselves without many friends if they allow figures such as Mr. Bozell to shoo away the few atheists who are sympathetic to their broader cause.

As it happens, not only do I reject the claim that the two positions are antagonistic, but I’d venture that much of what informs my atheism informs my conservatism also. I am possessed of a latent skepticism of pretty much everything, a hostility toward the notion that one should believe things because they are a nice idea, a fear of holistic philosophies, a dislike of authority and of dogma, a strong belief in the Enlightenment as interpreted and experienced by the British and not the French, and a rather tenacious refusal to join groups.

Yes, a conservative should logically be skeptical of ideology as such. And impatient with the irrational. And religions are among the most irrational of ideologies.

Occasionally, I’m asked why I “believe there is no God,” which is a reasonable question in a vacuum but which nonetheless rather seems to invert the traditional order of things. After all, that’s not typically how we make our inquiries on the right, is it? Instead, we ask what evidence there is that something is true. …

A great deal of the friction between atheists and conservatives seems to derive from a reasonable question. “If you don’t consider that human beings are entitled to ‘God given’ liberties,” I am often asked, “don’t you believe that the unalienable rights that you spend your days defending are merely the product of ancient legal accidents or of the one-time whims of transient majorities?” Well, no, not really. As far as I can see, the American settlement can thrive perfectly well within my worldview. God or no God, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence are all built upon centuries of English law, human experience, and British and European philosophy, and the natural-law case for them stands nicely on its own.

And he then turns to Thomas Jefferson, who penned the Declaration, and, far from “warning against undermining the understanding that our liberties come from God” as Tony Perkins claims …

… rejected revealed religion because revealed religion suggests a violation of the laws of nature. For revelation or any miracle to occur, the laws of nature would necessarily be broken. Jefferson did not accept this violation of natural laws. He attributed to God only such qualities as reason suggested.

Which, as the quoted passage goes on to explain, are none:

“Of the nature of this being,” Jefferson wrote to John Adams in 1817, “we know nothing.”

Logically then, not even its existence, though Jefferson is not recorded as ever having said so.

The war 5

Among the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls there is one titled The War of the Children of Light  and the Children of Darkness.

It is a perpetual war: Good against Evil.

It is fought in most of the world’s mythologies, and in almost all of them Good will win in the end. (The exception is that of the Norsemen. They foresaw the triumph of Evil.)

Dennis Prager, writing at Townhall, describes how the two sides of the conflict appear to him now:

In both personal and public life, you can know a great deal about a person or a group if you know what most bothers them – and what doesn’t bother them.

A news item this past week made this point with glaring clarity. It reported a meeting that the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights had on Friday. Before revealing the subject of that meeting, let’s review for a moment what is happening in the world …

North Korea continues to be an affront to the human species. That North Korea, whether or not it had nuclear weapons, is not a central concern is an indictment of humanity.

That the West, with the noble exception of Canada under Stephen Harper, is appeasing the dictators of Iran, is an indictment of the West.

Add to this list the U.N.’s and the world’s ignoring of the Chinese government’s continuing suppression of all dissent and its decades-long violent eradication of Tibet’s unique and ancient culture.

Then add the slaughter of millions in Congo over the last decade, the 100,000-plus killed in Syria just last year, most of them civilians killed by their own government, and the blowing up, burning alive, and throat-cutting of untold numbers of innocent people by violent Islamists on a daily basis.

In other words, if what bothers you most is evil – the deliberate infliction of cruelty on people by people – North Korea, Congo, China, Syria and radical Islam will bother you more than anything else on the world scene.

So, then, what was the subject of the meeting convened Friday by the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights?

The alleged racism of the name of the National Football League’s Washington team, the Redskins.

That’s right. All these horrific evils are happening as you read this, and … the United Nations had a meeting about the name Washington Redskins.

The U.N. is not alone in paying undue attention to the Redskins’ name. The left in the United States is nearly obsessed with it. President Barack Obama has spoken out against it. The Washington Post editorial board has demanded that the team drop the name. In the herd-like way that governs media, innumerable columnists and sports writers have written passionate columns against the name, and increasing numbers of sports writers have vowed to never again write or speak the name.

This left-wing obsession with a non-evil exemplifies the left’s moral universe. That universe is preoccupied with lesser evils while nearly always ignoring the greatest evils.

Preoccupation with real evil is the greatest difference between right and left. The right was preoccupied with fighting Communism while the left … was preoccupied with fighting anti-Communists.

The right today is preoccupied with fighting Islamism; the left is preoccupied with fighting “Islamophobia.”

One way of putting it is that the right is preoccupied with fighting evil and the left is preoccupied with fighting those who fight evil.

The right is preoccupied with defending Israel against those who wish to annihilate it. The left is preoccupied with Israeli apartments on the West Bank.

This difference was made manifest last week in the address given by the one world leader to exemplify the right’s preoccupation with evil, Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper. Talking about all the condemnations of Israel, Harper said:

“Think about the twisted logic and outright malice behind that: a state, based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law, that was founded so Jews can flourish as Jews, and seek shelter from the shadow of the worst racist experiment in history, that is condemned, and that condemnation is masked in the language of anti-racism. It is nothing short of sickening.”

Yes, but the writer does not go nearly far enough. The Left is not merely preoccupied with fighting those who fight evil, it is occupied with doing evil. The Left  is in alliance with Islam. Its (bewilderingly unintelligent) intelligentsia invent a fake need to “save the planet” from “climate change” as an excuse to advance their own tyrannical rule, reduce population, and impoverish and destroy civilization.

And where are our warriors of the Right to stop them? Let’s see: there’s Stephen Harper and … Well, a few more names may spring to mind. And we do have the immense power of Reason on our side.

Which side is winning, would you say?

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