The evil of religion 1

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

The School of Athens

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

War is the answer 1

In his recently published #43 of a series of podcasts with the overall title of Waking Up, Sam Harris talks about the ISIS magazine Dabiq and reads chilling extracts from it.

All religions, he emphasizes, are bad, dangerous. Religiousness as such has done great harm to humankind. But one religion is worse, more dangerous than any other, and that religion is Islam.

It needs to be fought. ISIS needs to be destroyed in a real all-out war.

The whole lecture is good except for one statement that we find incongruous and even rather absurd in its improbability: that it would be best if “Muslim armies” were to fight “this death cult” of jihadism. Up to that point he has made it brilliantly clear that jihadism is what Islam is all about!

It is long, but thoroughly worth hearing all the way through.

Posted under Atheism, Islam, jihad, Muslims, War by Jillian Becker on Monday, August 22, 2016

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Holy smoke 9

No god, or supernatural messenger of a god, ever wrote a single word or dictated anything to any human being.

Persons who set down “God’s word” may have thought that a god told them what to write; felt that a god told them what to write; believed that a god told them what to write, but they themselves, mortal inhabitants of this natural world, wrote every line, every sentence, every law, every commandment, every story, every poem, every prophecy, every proverb in every “holy book” that ever was. If those who wrote were not the same as those who composed what they wrote, it is certain that the composers were also mortal men.

This must seem so obvious to atheists as to be hardly worth saying. It is so clearly a fact. Incontrovertible.

But billions of people do not accept the fact. And among the billions are thousands, possibly millions, of intelligent, erudite, and even reasonable people!

One such intelligent, erudite, and reasonable man is Maajid Nawaz, a Muslim and reformed “Islamist”, who founded Quilliam, “a London-based think tank that focuses on ‘counter-extremism’, specifically against Islamism, which it argues represents a desire to impose any given interpretation of Islam on society”.

In conversation with atheist Sam Harris,[1] Nawaz argues for a reformation of Islam through constructive interpretations of its “holy scripture”. [We are concerned here only with Nawaz’s side of the discussion. What Sam Harris says is well worth reading.]

The chief “holy book” of Islam is the Koran. Muslims believe it is “God’s final revelation to humanity”. They believe it was dictated to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel, who first appeared to him when he was forty years old as he lay in the Cave of Hira in the year 609, and that the full “revelation” was delivered at intervals through the rest of his life, a period of 23 years. Muhammad was illiterate. He recited to his companions what he said the angel Gabriel recited to him, and they wrote it down.

Nawaz asserts – for which we applaud him: “Islam is, after all, an idea; we cannot expect its merits or demerits to be accepted if we cannot openly debate it.”[2]

And he argues: “Any given subject has multiple interpretations, which demonstrates that there is no correct one. [His emphasis.] If we can understand that, then we arrive at a respect for difference, which leads us to tolerance and then pluralism, which in turn leads to democracy, secularism, and human rights.”[3] And: “My organization … [takes]  the unequivocal view that no place on earth should seek to impose any given interpretation of religion over the rest of society.”[4]

He sums up his mission thus:

A complete overhaul of cultural identity patterns and a reformed scriptural approach is required. … Such scriptural reform must involve denying those who approach texts vacuously … from absolute certainty that theirs is the correct view …[5]

The greater part of his contribution to the discussion is concerned with differences of interpretation of the “holy scripture” by the learned men of Islam: his point being that the Islamic texts have been and still can be subject to interpretation; and that new interpretations can assist a reform of Islam for this age, when bad interpretations are inspiring or causing evil actions by large numbers of Muslims banded together in terrorist organizations.

Maajid Nawaz has bravely assumed “the responsibility to counter” the “scriptural justification” for Islamic “extremism”.[6] He sees this as a way to make Islam compatible with the values of the West. We take his word for it that such interpretations are possible, and that spreading them through the Islamic world may help to bring about his obviously meritorious ends.

Let us assume – wishing him well with his project – that his interpretations of Islamic “holy scripture” (the hadith as well as the Koran) are enormously and wonderfully attractive and persuasive; that hundreds of millions Muslims come to accept them, perhaps even a majority of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world today. The very case he demonstrates, that the texts are forever open to interpretation cannot but mean that there will still be bad interpretations, still likely to inspire evil actions. 

How likely is it that a reformed Islam will become so prevalent that “extremist” interpretations inspiring “Islamism” will be completely and forever abandoned, totally superseded, obliterated? If likely, then that would be, of course, a good result of Maajid Nawaz’s movement. But if unlikely, then his proposed remedy for the savagery, the cruelty and mass murder being carried out by such organizations as al-Qaeda and ISIS, is no remedy at all. It is worth trying. It may lessen the effects of Islamic “extremism”. But it is no remedy.

As long as there are multitudes who believe that they are in possession of “the word of God”, and that God tells them to harm others who do not believe the same as they believe, there will be no remedy.

In time, perhaps, religion will die out as a motivating force of human activity. We long for that to happen. But we cannot see that it will happen any time soon.

 

NOTES

1. Islam: A Dialogue, Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz, Harvard University Press, 2015.

2. page 88

3. page 105

4. page 109

5. pages 116,117

6. page 121

Posted under Islam, jihad, Muslims, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Saturday, March 26, 2016

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Speaking of atheism 0

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

Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens.

Spiritual adventures: aesthetical, ethical, and pharmaceutical 1

Sam Harris is an atheist. We like a lot of what he writes and says. Just recently one of our readers sent us this statement of his, which we acknowledge, sadly, to be most probably true:

For the rest of our lives, and the lives of our children, we are going to be confronted by people who don’t want to live peacefully in a secular, pluralistic world, because they are desperate to get to Paradise, and they are willing to destroy the very possibility of human happiness along the way.

We have watched videos of him lecturing. We have read some articles of his. And all with appreciation. So when we were sent his new book for review, we expected to like it.

Do we like it?

To read  Jillian Becker’s review of Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris, click on its title in our margin, under Pages.

Posted under Atheism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Miscellaneous, Religion general, Reviews by Jillian Becker on Monday, August 18, 2014

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The war between Reason and Unreason 8

Every day one can find reports that dozens, on some days hundreds, of men women and children have been slaughtered, in hideous ways, as they were going about their daily business. Strangers throw bombs into their homes, mow them down with automatic fire, blow them up in buses and schools and shopping-malls, at street markets and on the roads. The killers are Muslims, the majority of the victims are also Muslims though many are Christians. Why? Had the victims committed a crime? Had they harmed their killers, or threatened them? No. The killers killed because they were instructed to do so by a warlord who reputedly lived some fourteen hundred years ago. His sole grounds for giving the order to murder was that his god desired it. (He discouraged the killing of fellow Muslims, but that part of his inspiring doctrine is not obeyed.)

The Religion of Peace collects the reports and provides links to them. It keeps count of the killings. Today’s tally of  lethal attacks carried out by Islamic terrorists since the massacres of 9/11/2001, is 21,800. (The figures are displayed daily in our margin.)

Where is the outrage? Where is the moral condemnation? That’s much harder to find.

Sam Harris wrote about the violent protests that were whipped up throughout the Muslim world when cartoons of Muhammad (the warlord) were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on 30 September 2005:

Let us take stock of the moral intuitions now on display in the House of Islam: On Aug. 17, 2005, an Iraqi insurgent helped collect the injured survivors of a car bombing, rushed them to a hospital and then detonated his own bomb, murdering those who were already mortally wounded as well as the doctors and nurses struggling to save their lives. Where were the cries of outrage from the Muslim world? Religious sociopaths kill innocents by the hundreds in the capitols of Europe, blow up the offices of the U.N. and the Red Cross, purposefully annihilate crowds of children gathered to collect candy from U.S. soldiers on the streets of Baghdad, kidnap journalists, behead them, and the videos of their butchery become the most popular form of pornography in the Muslim world, and no one utters a word of protest because these atrocities have been perpetrated “in defense of Islam.” But draw a picture of the Prophet, and pious mobs convulse with pious rage. One could hardly ask for a better example of religious dogmatism and its pseudo-morality eclipsing basic, human goodness. …

Islam is the fastest growing religion in Europe. The demographic trends are ominous: Given current birthrates, France could be a majority Muslim country in 25 years, and that is if immigration were to stop tomorrow. Throughout Western Europe, Muslim immigrants show little inclination to acquire the secular and civil values of their host countries, and yet exploit these values to the utmost — demanding tolerance for their backwardness, their misogyny, their anti-Semitism, and the genocidal hatred that is regularly preached in their mosques.

Political correctness and fears of [being accused of] racism have rendered many secular Europeans incapable of opposing the terrifying religious commitments of the extremists in their midst. In an effort to appease the lunatic furor arising in the Muslim world in response to the publication of the Danish cartoons, many Western leaders have offered apologies for exercising the very freedoms that are constitutive of civil society in the 21st century. The U.S. and British governments have chastised Denmark and the other countries that published the cartoons for privileging freedom of speech over religious sensitivity. It is not often that one sees the most powerful countries on Earth achieve new depths of weakness, moral exhaustion and geopolitical stupidity with a single gesture. This was appeasement at its most abject. …

Our press should report on the terrifying state of discourse in the Arab press, exposing the degree to which it is a tissue of lies, conspiracy theories and exhortations to recapture the glories of the seventh century. All civilized nations must unite in condemnation of a theology that now threatens to destabilize much of the Earth. … Otherwise, we will have to win some very terrible wars in the future.

Or lose them, which looks more probable in the light of the moral failure that Harris rightly diagnoses.

It is time we realized that the endgame for civilization is not political correctness.

It is not respect for the abject religious certainties of the mob.

It is reason.

It should be. But those of us who fight or stand for reason one way or another, have lost all the important battles of the last twenty years – almost all since the end of the Cold War. The Communist ideology we thought had been defeated with the collapse of the Soviet Union reigns in Western schools and universities, drives most of the political parties of Europe, and is in power in America. Islam continues to advance steadily as Sam Harris foresaw it would. We have lost many battles. Have we already lost the war?

Why not be cruel? 8

Why do believers ache to argue with atheists? Why does it bother them that others do not believe what they believe? Especially if they have radio shows and can propound their beliefs to their hearts’ content.

Although Dennis Prager is religious (an observing Jew), there was a time when we considered him intelligent – which is a way of saying, he agreed by and large with our political views. Not so lately. And today he has produced an article which has us laughing aloud.

He calls it a response  to Richard Dawkins, to statements the scientist made in an interview with CNN. He also intends to make a general answer to atheism. His theme is that “God” is necessary to humankind, because without belief in such a being we would not know good from bad.

We greatly respect Richard Dawkins as a proponent of atheism who is listened to by millions. He has probably convinced many believers that they were wrong. We enormously enjoy his highly readable books on evolution. We do, however, have our reservations about him. We disagree with his ill-thought-out political views – fuzzy leftist notions. We excuse these to some extent on the grounds that he is concentrating on science and so hasn’t bothered to inform himself adequately about political issues. Whether that’s true or not, of course we don’t know. We also think he is under-informed on the religions he has written about. But that doesn’t much matter. (We review his book The God Delusion here.)

Prager complains that Dawkins will not debate with him. Since what follows is Prager’s argument, we can see why. Prager makes no good case to answer. But we will comment on what he says to show what’s wrong with it.

This past Friday CNN conducted an interview with Richard Dawkins, the British biologist most widely known for his polemics against religion and on behalf of atheism.

Asked “whether an absence of religion would leave us without a moral compass,” Dawkins responded: “The very idea that we get a moral compass from religion is horrible.”

This is the crux of the issue for Dawkins and other anti-religion activists – that not only do we not need religion or God for morality, but we would have a considerably more moral world without them.

This argument is so wrong – both rationally and empirically – that its appeal can only be explained by a) a desire to believe it and b) an ignorance of history.

That’s when we started laughing. Prager the believer, accusing atheists of believing what they do or do not only because they want to believe it!

But on we go:

First, the rational argument.

If there is no God, the labels “good” and “evil” are merely opinions. They are substitutes for “I like it” and “I don’t like it.” They are not objective realities.

That’s the rational argument? It implies that at some point  in history – or perhaps at many points – a god has issued definitions of good and evil. Or launched them as forces among us, so they are “objective realities” outside of the human mind.

The religious claim that Jehovah dictated laws, in words, to Moses; that God the Father, through Jesus, gave instructions on moral behavior; that Allah told Muhammad through the Archangel Gabriel all that has been recorded as his will and law in the Koran. What sane adult can believe that such events actually happened? The plain fact must be that, since we have the written laws of Judaism, the records of Jesus Christ’s sayings,  and the Koran, at some points in time human beings formulated those statements of morals and law, and wrote them down. To believe otherwise is laughable.

Laws against murder, theft, the breaking of oaths, adultery, defaulting on contract were common around the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor long before the period of Moses. The Hammurabi Code predated the Hebrews’ putative law-giver by at least five hundred years, and while it chiefly deals with punishments for crimes and how disputes should be settled, it assumes the existence of laws on the same moral principles as underlie the laws of Moses. And they were not issued as the commandments of a god. Not to know that is ignorance of history.

Prager persists:

Every atheist philosopher I have debated has acknowledged this. For example, at Oxford University I debated Professor Jonathan Glover, the British philosopher and ethicist, who said: “Dennis started by saying that I hadn’t denied his central contention that if there isn’t a God, there is only subjective morality. And that’s absolutely true.”

The ethicist should get out more. If he hasn’t yet become aware of the power of social conventions, cultural pressures, public opinion –  all in addition to enlightened self-interest, which very much needs to take account of how other people react to one’s self-will –  he has spent too much time closeted in his ivory tower.

And the eminent Princeton philosopher Richard Rorty admitted that for secular liberals such as himself, “there is no answer to the question, ‘Why not be cruel?‘”

Because you may be punched on the nose, Richard.  And if someone is cruel to you, you may understand why cruelty is so widely abhorred as to be kept in most societies as punishment for crime or treatment for enemies.

And why do eminent philosophers choose to forget the moral philosophies that owe nothing to religion? The Stoics. The Epicureans. True, some of them were religious, but few were adherents of a moral religion, and their ethics were not ascribed to a revelation from a god. The religion of ancient Greece was not a moral religion. Nor was that of Rome until the 4th century. Marcus Aurelius (121-180 C.E.) was not a Christian. He was a Stoic. Yet Christians admire him as a good man and a good emperor.

Hear Prager again:

Atheists like Dawkins who refuse to acknowledge that without God there are only opinions about good and evil are not being intellectually honest.

None of this means that only believers in God can be good or that atheists cannot be good. There are bad believers and there are good atheists. But this fact is irrelevant to whether good and evil are real.

To put this as clearly as possible: If there is no God who says, “Do not murder,” murder is not wrong. Many people or societies may agree that it is wrong. But so what? Morality does not derive from the opinion of the masses. If it did, then apartheid was right; murdering Jews in Nazi Germany was right; the history of slavery throughout the world was right; and clitoridectomies and honor killings are right in various Muslims societies.

The Afrikaner nationalists who imposed apartheid on South Africa, justified themselves with reference to their bible. “The sons of Ham must be the hewers of wood and the drawers of water.” They were most of them devout members of one or another of the Calvinist churches.

The Germans who carried out the will of the Hitlerian regime were almost to a man and woman raised in the faith of either Protestant or Catholic Christianity.

The slave traders and slave owners of Europe and America were Christians. The present slave traders and owners in North Africa and Asia are almost all Muslims, as are honor killers everywhere.

So, then, without God, why is murder wrong?

Is it, as Dawkins argues, because reason says so?

My reason says murder is wrong, just as Dawkins’s reason does. But, again, so what? The pre-Christian Germanic tribes of Europe regarded the Church’s teaching that murder was wrong as preposterous. They reasoned that killing innocent people was acceptable and normal because the strong should do whatever they wanted.

Just as Islamic terrorists do now, shouting “Allahu Akbar!”

And those old tribes were not without their gods. Most gods in those bad old days required human sacrifices.

In addition, reason alone without God is pretty weak in leading to moral behavior. When self-interest and reason collide, reason usually loses. That’s why we have the word “rationalize” — to use reason to argue for what is wrong.

What would reason argue to a non-Jew asked by Jews to hide them when the penalty for hiding a Jew was death? It would argue not to hide those Jews.

In that regard, let’s go to the empirical argument.

Years ago, I interviewed Pearl and Sam Oliner, two professors of sociology at California State University at Humboldt and the authors of one of the most highly-regarded works on altruism, The Altruistic Personality. The book was the product of the Oliners’ lifetime of study of non-Jewish rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust.

The Oliners, it should be noted, are secular, not religious, Jews; they had no religious agenda.

I asked Samuel Oliner, “Knowing all you now know about who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, if you had to return as a Jew to Poland and you could knock on the door of only one person in the hope that they would rescue you, would you knock on the door of a Polish lawyer, a Polish doctor, a Polish artist or a Polish priest?”

Without hesitation, he said, “a Polish priest.” And his wife immediately added, “I would prefer a Polish nun.”

That alone should be enough to negate the pernicious nonsense that God is not only unnecessary for a moral world, but is detrimental to one.

At this point one might smile, for the irony of it – but it is no joke. Yes, among the Poles who sheltered Jews during the Nazi occupation there were priests and nuns. But has Prager forgotten that for 2ooo years Christianity has been persecuting Jews? That Poland was a land of pogroms? Does he imagine that priests and monks took no part in them? Is this just forgetfulness or – yet again – ignorance of history?

And what of the Papal and Spanish Inquisitions? Has he forgotten that in exactly the same way “God” tells men anything, he told the Inquisitors that burning people at the stake was good? 

But if that isn’t enough, how about the record of the godless 20th century, the cruelest, bloodiest, most murderous century on record? [?] Every genocide of the last century — except for the Turkish mass murder of the Armenians and the Pakistani mass murder of Hindus in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was committed by a secular anti-Jewish and anti-Christian regime. And as the two exceptions were Muslim, they are not relevant to my argument. I am arguing for the God and Bible of Judeo-Christian religions.

Only now he tells us that he discounts Islam. Though why he believes the words of Allah are necessarily less true than the words of Jehovah or Jesus he does not say. Nor does he seem aware that much of the moral law putatively taught by Jehovah was discounted or even contradicted by the Christians’ triune God.  

And we repeat: the Third Reich was not anti-Christian. And Hitler himself was raised a Catholic. As for Stalin, he was thoroughly instructed in the morality of Christianity when he attended a Russian Orthodox seminary.

Perhaps the most powerful proof of the moral decay that follows the death of God is the Western university and its secular intellectuals. Their moral record has been loathsome. Nowhere were Stalin and Mao as venerated as they were at the most anti-religious and secular institutions in Western society, the universities. Nowhere in the West today is anti-Americanism and Israel-hatred as widespread as it is at universities. And Princeton University awarded its first tenured professorship in bioethics to Peter Singer, an atheist who has argued, among other things, that that “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog or a chimpanzee” and that bestiality is not immoral.

At last we can agree with Prager! Western universities have become moral cesspools. Not because they are secular, but because they teach socialism, collectivism, egalitarianism, political correctness, environmentalism; and because they deliberately misapply the principle of diversity to race and gender and not to ideas.

Dawkins and his supporters have a right to their atheism. They do not have a right to intellectual dishonesty about atheism.

No charge of intellectual dishonesty has been proved against Dawkins with these shallow arguments.

I have debated the best known atheists, including the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss (“A Universe from Nothing”) and Daniel Dennett. Only Richard Dawkins has refused to come on my radio show.

If four smart atheists were unable to reason you out of your irrational beliefs, Dennis, why should another have a go? We don’t expect that you would be persuaded by our arguments even if you read them, which you probably will not. But we want to share our amusement with fellow non-believers.

The extreme immorality of Christian doctrine 2

Here is Sam Harris on Christian morality. (The video shows part of a 2012 debate he had with Professor William Lane Craig, a Christian apologist.)

Posted under Christianity, Commentary, Videos by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, August 14, 2013

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America’s most formidable enemy – it’s president 4

From Canada, David Solway surveys what Barack Obama has done and is doing, and sees a multitude of reasons to fear for the United States. He writes:

I have been suspicious of Obama from the very beginning of his meteoric national career. I could not understand how a man with so obscure a dossier, very few salient records disclosed to the public; with little or no executive or working experience; and affiliated with a host of decidedly shady characters — communist poet and activist Frank Marshall Davis, former PLO spokesman Rashid Khalidi, unrepentant former terrorist Bill Ayers, America-and-Jew bashing Jeremiah Wright, corrupt financier Tony Rezko, racist leader of the Nation of Islam Louis Farrakhan, to name only a few — could captivate the media, bask in the glow of an adoring public, receive the Democratic nomination, and then be elected to the presidency of the United States.

We too were astonished and bewildered. And distressed.

My suspicion of the man’s bona fides deepened even more after the Honduras affair in July 2009, in which Obama (and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton) sided with leftwing strongman Manuel Zelaya, implicated in a conspiracy to overturn the civil Constitution of the country, and against the democratic legislature that had deposed him.

The historically invalid and politically tendentious Cairo speech, the evident shilling for the Palestinians and their flagrantly concocted narrative of ancestral title, the clear animus against Israel and the outrageous treatment meted out to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu only confirmed my misgivings concerning the president’s political agenda.

That an American president should cozy up to the Venezuelan leftist dictator and bow from the waist to the Saudi monarch was beyond my comprehension. (And more recently, his hearting of Turkish autocrat and neo-Ottoman jihadist Recep Tayyip Erdogan as his personal “friend and colleague” is only a further indication of Obama’s troubling and discreditable policies.)

That he should see to the massive increase of the American debt within only a few years and apply himself, in the words of Victor Davis Hanson, to “tun[ing] a properly moribund economy,”—i.e., “ensuring 50 million on food stamps, putting over 80,000 a month on Social Security disability insurance, and extending unemployment insurance to tens of millions”—was another sign that something was profoundly amiss.

His bruited release of criminal illegals from American prisons defies common sense, as does his refusal to patrol and seal the incendiary border with Mexico.

And that he should eagerly adopt the lifestyle of a Hollywood playboy and the jet-setting 1% … while the country was foundering economically and absorbing one setback after another in the international theater, should have earned him the distrust of every sentient American citizen.

Another stain on this dismal record of political degeneracy is his abandonment of the American ambassador and his entourage in Libya, leading to the death of four Americans.

That, we think, is one of the worst stains on his not merely dismal but shocking record.

… At the same time that ordinary Americans may be deprived of their guns, or forced to scale back on legitimate ownership of certain models and magazine capacities, the Department of Homeland Security has ordered millions of weapons and over a billion rounds of hollow-point bullets (banned internationally), as well as riot gear and other military equipment. The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has followed suit, putting in an order for 46,000 rounds of .40-caliber hollow-point bullets. Why, we may wonder, is a weather service being armed to the teeth? Are U.S. citizens now at risk from their own government? …

The National Defense Authorization Act provides for indefinite detention without warrant or probable cause. … The bill does not apply exclusively to terrorists or terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay …  As Senator Rand Paul objected, “Saying that new language somehow ensures the right to habeas corpus … is both questionable and not enough. Citizens must not only be formally charged but also receive jury trials and the other protections our Constitution guarantees. Habeas corpus is simply the beginning of due process. It is by no means the whole.”

Some patriots are profoundly apprehensive over these developments, fearing something like a “hostile takeover” of civil society by a growing state apparatus.

Reason piles on reason to fear Obama.

…  This is a president who has presided over an imploding economy, a ballooning deficit, a deteriorating international situation, an out-of-control Department of Justice, a diminished military, political and racial divisions that are tearing the nation apart, the specter of restrictions on freedom of expression, the appointment of indisputable incompetents and highly dubious characters to sensitive positions of authority (read: Lew, Hagel, Brennan and Kerry, who are only the most recent), and a de facto alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood whose self-admitted project is the destruction of the United States   

This is a president who traffics in blatant lies, cover-ups and misdirections at the cost of American interests and consequently merits being suspected of nefarious designs. …

I say this to my American readers: One way or another, your trophy president is going to bring down your country.

All the evidence points to the likelihood that he is not only an enemy of the United States of America, but its most formidable enemy in the world today. …

I am scared to death of Obama.

You should be too.

*

From the first 6 minutes of this video we learn about an adviser to Obama who condones the oppressive treatment of women in Afghanistan and would have no objection to the blinding of children if it fulfilled a religious obligation.

(Hat-tip Frank for the video)

The hiss of religious obscurantism 18

Has anything caused as much human suffering as religion? You might say disease, but religion itself is a disease, of the human race and of individual minds. Persecution, war, torture, terror, bodily pain, mental anguish, profound misery, wasted lives are the chief products of religion.

Religion should have been wrecked beyond repair by science. If science were properly taught to children, and all god-stories classed with fairy-tales as they should be, religion as a force in public life would soon come to an end. We doubt there is an innate need in the human psyche to believe in the supernatural. We doubt that religion arises naturally, fulfilling some evolutionary function. It arose in history because it is natural to homo sapiens to seek knowledge of his world. Religious answers were guesses. Science now provides real answers, more than enough of them to expose the old religious explanations as childish fantasy. It is past time for humanity to give up its religions.

Yesterday we posted an essay on the man whose death inspired the invention of Christianity which argues that he was a lunatic. A reader, Troy, commented that the Christian writer C. S. Lewis “famously said Jesus was either the Son of God or a lunatic”. C. S. Lewis himself apparently weighed up these alternatives – surely with some organ other than his brain – and came to the conclusion that he was the Son of God. In our book that makes C. S. Lewis a lunatic too. In most believers, religious belief is a compartmentalized lunacy. Millions of people continue to believe in the mad ideas of ancient religions while remaining sane in all other respects.

There are even scientists who believe in a supernatural creator of nature. Some scientists who are themselves atheists maintain that there is “something feckless and foolhardy, even indecent, about criticizing religious belief”, as Sam Harris writes in his book The Moral Landscape. He heard some of them “ give voice to the alien hiss of religious obscurantism at the slightest prodding.”

Many scientists and public intellectuals … believe that the great masses of humanity are best kept sedated by pious delusions.  Many assert that … most human beings will always need to believe in God. … People holding this opinion never seem to notice how condescending, unimaginative, and pessimistic a view it is of the rest of humanity – and of generations to come.

He analyses the arguments of scientists who try – and fail – to reconcile science and religion in a chapter titled Religion which he concludes with this:

It can be difficult to think like a scientist (even, we have begun to see, when one is a scientist). But it would seem that few things make thinking like a scientist more difficult than an attachment to religion.

And we continue to be astonished that any sane, adult, educated, intelligent person can believe in the supernatural.

*

Concerning religious belief and lunacy, here’s another quotation from The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris. It’s a horrifying story.

The boundary between mental illness and respectable religious belief can be difficult to discern. This was made especially vivid in a recent court case involving a small group of very committed Christians accused of murdering an eighteen-month-old infant. The trouble began when the boy ceased to say “Amen” before meals. Believing that he had developed “a spirit of rebellion”, the group, which included the boy’s mother, deprived him of food and water until he died. Upon being indicted, the mother accepted an unusual plea agreement: she vowed to cooperate in the prosecution of her codefendants under the condition that all charges be dropped if her son were resurrected. The prosecutor accepted the plea provided that that resurrection was “Jesus-like” and did not include reincarnation as another person or animal. Despite the fact that this band of lunatics carried the boy’s corpse around in a green suitcase for over a year, awaiting his reanimation, there is no [other] reason to believe that any of them suffer from mental illness. It is obvious, however, that they suffer from religion.

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