The American Enlightenment 6

John Adams said:

The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.

Thomas Paine said:

The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on nothing; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing and admits of no conclusion.

The Bible: a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalise mankind.

The Christian system of religion is an outrage on common sense.

The Church was resolved to have a New Testament, and out of the loads of rubbish that were presented it voted four to be Gospels, and others to be Epistles, as we now find them arranged.

This is the rubbish called Revealed Religion!

Thomas Jefferson said:

I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.

Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies.

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.

In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.

Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.

George Washington said:

Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause. I had hoped that liberal and enlightened thought would have reconciled the Christians so that their religious fights would not endanger the peace of Society.

James Madison said:

During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.

In no instance have the churches been guardians of the liberties of the people.

Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.

Benjamin Franklin said:

I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life, I absented myself from Christian assemblies.

Theodore Roosevelt said:

To discriminate against a thoroughly upright citizen because he belongs to some particular church, or because, like Abraham Lincoln, he has not avowed his allegiance to any church, is an outrage against that liberty of conscience which is one of the foundations of American life.

On religion 5

One of our readers and commenters, bornagainpagan, sent us a link to this American Thinker article. We thank bornagainpagan. It is well worth reading. But on several points we take issue with the author. (Please read it all, as we are only quoting the parts we particularly want to comment on, and do not wish to give a distorted impression of the whole.)

We want to reply to, not quarrel with, a fellow atheist. We would be foolish to deny the historical importance of religion, especially of Christianity and Judaism to the West (and we greatly value the Bible as literature). But we do not think that religion as such, or any particular religion of any particular culture, has ever been, or ever could be, a force for good, even though good people might feel motivated by it.

Rational thought may provide better answers to many of life’s riddles than does faith alone. However, it is rational to conclude that religious faith has made possible the advancement of Western civilization. That is, the glue that has held Western civilization together over the centuries is the Judeo-Christian tradition. To the extent that the West loses its religious faith in favor of non-judgmental secularism, then to the same extent, it loses that which holds all else together.

We strongly disagree. First: By “the Judeo-Christian tradition” is always meant Christianity, and we think – as Edward Gibbon demonstrates in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – that Christianity brought a thousand years of darkness down on Europe. Next: Secularism does not have to be non-judgmental. It is actually  impossible to be non-judgmental. Even to choose to be what a person thinks is non-judgmental is to make a judgment. Third: We believe it was the Enlightenment (starting with the Renaissance) – ie the bursting out of the confining Christian world-view – that made possible the real progress of the Western world, towards ever more scientific knowledge and, with luck, a continual shrinking (though never of course to the total vanishing) of superstition.

Arguably the two most defining and influential Christian concepts are summarized in two verses of the New Testament. Those verses are Romans 14:10 and John 8:32.

Romans 14:10, says: “Remember, each of us must stand alone before the judgment seat of God.” That verse explicitly recognizes not only each man’s uniqueness, but, of necessity, implies that man has free will — that individual acts do result in consequences, and that those acts will be judged against objective standards. It is but a step from the habit of accepting individual accountability before God to thinking of individual accountability in secular things. It thus follows that personal and political freedom is premised upon the Christian concept of the unique individual exercising accountable free will.

Did not the Athenians of pre-Christian antiquity, the fathers of philosophy and science, recognize the importance of the individual? Was not Greek democracy based on the counting of individual choices? One does not have to be accountable “to God” to live in civil society, treat others respectfully, and obey objective law.

John 8:32 says: “And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Whatever the theological meanings that have been imputed to that verse, its implicit secular meaning is that the search for truth is in and of itself praiseworthy.

No, that is not the implicit meaning. The very particular meaning is that the truth is the Jesus cult. And it isn’t, of course.

Although I am a secularist (atheist, if you will), I accept that the great majority of people would be morally and spiritually lost without religion. Can anyone seriously argue that crime and debauchery are not held in check by religion? Is it not comforting to live in a community where the rule of law and fairness are respected? Would such be likely if Christianity were not there to provide a moral compass to the great majority? Do we secularists not benefit out of all proportion from a morally responsible society?

An orderly society is dependent on a generally accepted morality. There can be no such morality without religion.

We don’t know what is meant by “spiritually”. Morality need not depend on religion. In fact, no religion has a history or a literature that fits with the morality any of the so-called “moral religions” preach, certainly not those “moral religions” themselves. Enlightened self-interest and the practical requirements of civilized existence are strong regulators of human behavior.

Has there ever been a more perfect and concise moral code than the one Moses brought down from the mountain?

Some of the ten commandments are indeed concise. (Moses did not of course “bring them down from the mountain” except in a symbolic sense.) But the concise ones are the same as far more ancient laws. The crimes “Moses”  forbids were held to be crimes by the time Hammurabi had the punishments for them codified.

Those who doubt the effect of religion on morality should seriously ask the question: Just what are the immutable moral laws of secularism? Be prepared to answer, if you are honest, that such laws simply do not exist! …

The secular laws are the laws of the state. They are intended to be moral. They are not immutable. The values of a culture that underlie law may seem immutable, but in our time many “Western values” have been turned upside down or inside out. Liberty? Justice? Loyalty? Modesty? Chastity? Decency? Erudition? Profundity? Bravery? Self-reliance? – to name but a few – are they now, consciously or unconsciously, valued by most people in Western societies?  Most Americans may agree intellectually that they ought to be: Europeans are more likely to deride them.

For the majority of a culture’s population, religious tradition is inextricably woven into their self-awareness. It gives them their identity. It is why those of religious faith are more socially stable and experience less difficulty in forming and maintaining binding attachments than do we secularists.

Are they and do they? It may be the case, but we haven’t observed it.

To the extent that Western elites distance themselves from their Judeo-Christian cultural heritage in favor of secular constructs, and as they give deference to a multicultural acceptance that all beliefs are of equal validity, they lose their will to defend against a determined attack from another culture, such as from militant Islam. For having destroyed the ancient faith of their people, they will have found themselves with nothing to defend.

We cannot see how an irrationality like Islam can be fought by another irrationality like Christianity. Religion as such is and always has been a common cause of war, persecution, massacre, cruelty, oppression, and waste of human potential.

What we really need to defend, especially now under the onslaught of Islam, is our culture of reason. We need to teach it to our children. What any individual does with the gifts and burdens his culture bequeaths him is inescapably a choice that he must make.

How a rich ship owner affected Christianity 10

From time to time, for the entertainment of our atheist readers, and also (being lovers of argument) to stimulate the indignation of any believers who may visit our website, we provide notes on a religion.

The following is about Marcion and his doctrine.

*

There was a time when the followers of Marcion were as numerous as those of the Pauline Christian church, and the importance of his movement is that it had an impact on the direction in which Catholic Christianity was to develop.

Marcion, son of the bishop of Sinope, a Black Sea port in Asia Minor  (modern Anatolia, Turkey), was a very rich owner of ships, a shipping magnate – the Aristotle Onassis, one might say, of his time.

He established himself as a religious leader and theologian circa 142 C.E. in Rome, which remained the centre of eventually widespread Marcosian Christianity, though he himself returned to Asia Minor where he died. Tradition has it that he started off as a Pauline Christian, but then found himself drawn by the Gnostic teachings of Cerdon, one of the many teachers who followed and diverged from Simonian Gnosticism (the teaching of Simon Magus). Cerdon preached – in Rome and elsewhere in the Empire – that the God of the Jews was not the Father of Jesus Christ. But he did not, as many other Gnostics did, anathematise the Jewish God or replace him with an evil Demiurge. While he did not hold Jehovah to be good, he did not go so far as to say that he was evil; the trouble with him was that he was merely just, and Justice was not good enough, being hard and often harsh. He was the Creator of this world, and did not know that far above him was the True Father, unknown and unknowable except by the spark of the Gnosis (the Knowledge) deep within individual souls. Only the True Father was good.

Marcion became convinced that Cerdon was right in the belief that the supreme unknown God was separate and distinct from the ‘known’ Creator and Legislator who was ‘just but not good’. Marcion named this lesser God, the God of the Jews, ‘the Cosmocrator’.

In Marcion’s system there are three planes of the universe: The highest plane or third heaven, home of the Unknown God, who could only be known to mankind after the revelations of Pauline Christianity. This is a point particularly worth noticing as very rarely has St Paul’s teaching been connected with a remote Unknown God, though he did claim that he ‘knew a man in Christ’ who was  ‘caught up to the third heaven’ (II Corinthians 12.2).

Next down was the plane of the Cosmocrator, God of Genesis and the Law, whose ‘visage is like the Devil’s’ – distorted, as it were, by an insatiable appetite for justice.

The lowest plane contains the Earth and its visible heaven, where dwells the (female) Power of Matter – in Greek, Hyle.

In Marcion’s cosmogony, the Cosmocrator creates the World along the lines told in the Book of Genesis, except that he does it in partnership with Hyle. It is she who, when he has fabricated Adam out of dust, breathes a living spirit into him. God, in fear that Adam might worship Hyle, forbids his creature to worship any other gods but himself on pain of death. But Hyle distracts Adam by multiplying gods innumerably about him, and as he cannot recognize which one of them is his Master whom he dare not fail to worship as commanded, has no choice but to worship them all. By this device, Hyle leads Man astray from obedience to the Cosmocrator, and draws him instead to herself. The Cosmocrator, angered by the defection of humankind, punitively thrusts the souls of all men into Hell – indiscriminately, in contradiction to his just character – as soon as their earthly lives come to an end, condemning them to remain there for 29 ages. But the good unknown God, the remote Stranger, sends down his Son, the Christ, to ‘take on the likeness of death’ (ie seem to die as Jesus) in order to descend into Hell, rescue all the souls of men – also indiscriminately – and take them up to the third heaven.

It was because his way to Hell lay downwards through this world, this life, that Christ came to earth. While he sojourned here, he did good. As the Good Stranger’s representative he was instructed to ‘heal lepers, raise the newly dead, and open the eyes of the blind, so that the Lord of Creatures will see thee and bring thee to a Cross. Then, at thy death, descend to Hell and bring them hence.’

When the Cosmocrator, the ‘Lord of Creatures’, realised that this was what was happening at the crucifixion, his wrath was great. ‘He tore his garment, rent in twain the veil of the Temple, and covered the sun with darkness.’ But he was helpless to intervene, and Christ emptied Hell.

Christ descended a second time, and appeared in his divine form before the Cosmocrator, and charged him with the shedding of innocent blood, the blood of Jesus. He demanded justice from him ‘for the death I suffered’. Only then did the Lord of Creatures realise the divinity of Jesus and that there was another God above himself who had sent his Son to redeem mankind. When he had fully comprehended this revelation, he supplicated Christ, confessed that he had sinned, but pleaded that he had killed him in the person of Jesus unwittingly, ‘not knowing he was a god’. Wanting to make recompense, he bid Christ ‘take all where thou wilt, until all believe in thee.’ Then Christ decreed that all who believe in him would be saved. To Paul he revealed the conditions and price (ie the blood of Jesus Christ) for mankind’s salvation, and Christ himself sent Paul to preach the redemption. So, Marcion taught, ‘the Good has purchased us with a purchase price from the God of Creatures.’ Therefore the God of Creatures, who was the God of the Law, should no longer be worshipped, his laws no longer obeyed, and the books of his Law, which had been given to his chosen people the Jews, no longer held holy.

There has been much debate as to whether Marcion should be classed as a Gnostic. The only significant difference between his teaching and that of Pauline Christianity, it has been argued by those who disregard or deny the influence of Cerdon, is that Marcion rejected the Law of Moses and the Jewish scriptures in their entirety, whereas the ‘Pauline Church’, against the wishes of Paul himself, adopted the Jewish Bible into its canon as the pre-history of Christianity, and held that the moral law it enshrined remained valid, even though the Jewish faith had been superseded – or ‘fulfilled’ – by the new revelation, only its ritual requirements being no longer in force. As it was the putative author of the Epistles himself who first proclaimed the message that the Law was abolished by the sacrifice of ‘Christ Jesus’, that the Christ had always existed since the beginning and had come to earth to save mankind; and as he sometimes used the same vocabulary, and sounded the same notes of rejection and hope that is found in the Gnostic creeds, it might be nearer the truth to class Paul as a Gnostic, rather than insist that Marcion was not.

It is not implausible to suppose that the Christian Church, beginning with Paul’s innovative ideas, was one among many emerging Gnostic creeds. That it had shed almost every discernible thread of Gnostic theogony, with its layers of heavens full of mystic Powers, by the time it came to assemble its canon for a New Testament towards the end of the 2nd century, was at least partly due to the failed efforts of Marcion to establish a purer Pauline church, according to his interpretation of the message of Paul.

Some distinctly Gnostic passages remain in the Christian canon, such as this from the Epistle to the Ephesians (6:12):

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

But the Church-approved New Testament revised, diluted,  contradicted, reinterpreted, and to a large extent transformed the Paulinism which Marcion knew and loved, until such exciting and beautiful passages of Gnostic poetry that lie like nuggets of gold in the leaden texts have lost the meaning they once had.

The Catholic Church, carefully developing internal order by means of a structured hierarchical system, made the decision to retain the Jewish scriptures and reaffirm the commandments engraved in the stones of Sinai precisely because its leaders could see in the rival church of Marcion what happened to a new religion if its adherents clung to antinomianism and depended on inspiration alone for continuance. The Marcionite church steadfastly refused to take on a structure, so it could not last. As the centuries of our common era wore on, it gradually dissolved before the eyes and – to the relief of the Catholic Church – lost itself in the opacity of an esoteric mythology, and slowly faded away. In the West it lasted for some three hundred years, longer in the Byzantine empire.

Before it disappeared, it taught the Church a lesson, by means of which it contributed to the history of Catholicism and all the faiths that sprang from it in heresy or rebellion or reformation in later ages. What happened was that Marcion put together a New Testament (Apostolicon). The Church Fathers did not approve of all his choices, but realised that a body of scripture was vitally necessary to the validation and spread of doctrine, and could be as important to the survival of the Church as a constitution. Marcion’s New Testament was not sufficient in itself to keep Marcosianism alive, but Christianity, however well organized and established and governed, found it could not do without the written word. Of course it might very well have come to the same conclusion had Marcion not given it the idea, but it was in reaction to Marcion’s compilation of Christian scriptures that the Church decided to do the same thing. The Church compiled a New Testament after Marcion had done so. There are similarities and differences between the two sets of gospels. What Marcion started the Church built on, and the eventual result was the much redacted New Testament that the ages have inherited.

Jillian Becker  January 2, 2010

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Lessons of the fall 0

Melanie Phillips writes:

Twenty years ago today, supporters of freedom and human rights cheered and wept for joy as the Berlin Wall was torn down by jubilant young Germans.

To so many, that heady day seemed to herald the emergence of a better world. The spectre of communism had finally been laid to rest. Liberty had triumphed over tyranny.

The end of the Cold War even led some to proclaim that this was ‘the end of history’ — which was to say that liberal democracy was now the dominant and unchallengeable force in the world. However, the 9/11 attacks on America tragically proved this to be absurdly over-optimistic. The eruption of radical Islamism revealed that, while the West may have been rid of one enemy in the Soviet Union, another deadly foe had risen to take its place.

So much is, sadly, all too evident. But what is perhaps less obvious is that communism did not just vanish in a puff of historical smoke.

The Soviet Union was defeated and fell apart, for sure. But the communist ideology that fuelled it did not so much disintegrate as reconstitute itself into another, even more deadly form as the active enemy of western freedom.

Soviet Communism was a belief system whose goal was to overturn the structures of society through the control of economic and political life. This mutated into a post-communist ideology of the Left, whose no-less ambitious aim was to overturn western society through a subversive transformation of its culture. …

The collapse of communism was actually a slow-burning process. Its moral and political bankruptcy became obvious decades before that glorious Berlin day in November 1989. … But as communism slowly crumbled, those on the far-Left who remained hostile towards western civilisation found another way to realise their goal of bringing it down. This was what might be called ‘cultural Marxism’. It was based on the understanding that what holds a society together are the pillars of its culture: the structures and institutions of education, family, law, media and religion. Transform the principles that these embody and you can thus destroy the society they have shaped.

This key insight was developed in particular by an Italian Marxist philosopher called Antonio Gramsci. His thinking was taken up by Sixties radicals — who are, of course, the generation that holds power in the West today.

Gramsci understood that the working class would never rise up to seize the levers of ‘production, distribution and exchange’ as communism had prophesied. Economics was not the path to revolution. He believed instead that society could be overthrown if the values underpinning it could be turned into their antithesis: if its core principles were replaced by those of groups who were considered to be outsiders or who actively transgressed the moral codes of that society.

So he advocated a ‘long march through the institutions’ to capture the citadels of the culture and turn them into a collective fifth column, undermining from within and turning all the core values of society upside-down and inside-out. This strategy has been carried out to the letter.

The nuclear family has been widely shattered. Illegitimacy was transformed from a stigma into a ‘right’. The tragic disadvantage of fatherlessness was redefined as a neutrally-viewed ‘lifestyle choice’.

Education was wrecked, with its core tenet of transmitting a culture to successive generations replaced by the idea that what children already knew was of superior value to anything the adult world might foist upon them. The outcome … has been widespread illiteracy and ignorance and an eroded capacity for independent thought.

Law and order were similarly undermined, with criminals deemed to be beyond punishment since they were ‘victims’ of society …

The ‘rights’ agenda — commonly known as ‘political correctness’ — turned morality inside out by excusing any misdeeds by self-designated ‘victim’ groups on the grounds that such ‘victims’ could never be held responsible for what they did. …

This mindset also led to the belief that a sense of nationhood was the cause of all the ills in the world, precisely because western nations embodied western values. So transnational institutions or doctrines such as the EU, UN, international law or human rights law came to trump national laws and values.

But the truth is that to be hostile to the western nation is to be hostile to democracy. And indeed, with the development of the EU superstate we can see that the victory over one anti-democratic regime within Europe — the Soviet Union — has been followed by surrender to another.

For the republic of Euroland puts loyalty to itself higher than that to individual nations and their values. It refused to commit itself in its constitution to uphold Christianity, the foundation of western morality. …

We agree with most of what she says, but not with the value she places on the Christian religion and Christian morality. We do not believe that the greatness of Europe is due to Christianity. We share with Edward Gibbon the opinion that Christianity brought a thousand years of darkness down on Europe. What made Europe great was the Renaissance and the Enlightenment: the rediscovery of Greco-Roman civilization, the displacement of a deocentric by an anthropocentric world-view, the rise of scientific enquiry, the revival of the Socratean questioning of ideas in general, the ideal of personal liberty, the triumph of rationality. In other words, by the loosening and finally the casting off of the shackles of religion, even though Christianity, in proliferating variety, continued to exert a malign influence on Europe’s history for some centuries after Spinoza and Hume crippled it.

The dark ideologies of Leftism and  Islam cannot be overcome by the darkness of another religion, but only by reason. Physical force may be necessary, and should not be shirked when it is. But victory in war – as victory in the Cold War demonstrated – is not sufficient if the ideology lives on, whether openly or incognito under new names. It is the argument that must be won, however hard it is to change by reason a view that has not been arrived at by reason. Reason’s victory is enormously aided by its practical achievements in science and technology. Even the dark-age Muslims extant in our world want vaccinations, organ-transplants, aircraft, telephones, television, computers, the internet, refrigerators  – and also, ever more determinedly and dangerously, nuclear weapons. The West failed to keep those out of the hands of Communist and Muslim states, which is why war may be necessary again quite soon. Our side, the side of reason, demands that our weaponry should always be more advanced than the enemy’s. As long as we can innovate, we can win. Innovation is the child of freedom and rationality.

Against all gods 2

A. C. Grayling, Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, writes in his book Against All Gods (Oberon Books, London, 2007):

It is time to reverse the prevailing notion that religious commitment is intrinsically deserving of respect, and that it should be handled with kid gloves and protected by custom and in some cases law against criticism and ridicule. It is time to refuse to tiptoe around people who claim respect, consideration, special treatment, or any other kind of immunity, on the grounds that they have a religious faith, as if having faith were a privilege-endowing virtue, as if it were noble to believe in unsupported claims and ancient superstitions. It is neither. Faith is a commitment to belief contrary to evidence and reason… [T]o believe something in the face of evidence and against reason – to believe something by faith – is ignoble, irresponsible and ignorant, and merits the opposite of respect.

He further asserts that ‘it is the business of all religious doctrines to keep their votaries in a state of intellectual infancy’, and that ‘inculcating [any one of] the various competing falsehoods of the major [or minor, for that matter] faiths into small children is a form of child abuse, and a scandal’.

With these opinions we agree.

But we are not  sure that he is right when he  declares in the same book that religion is on the decline, and ‘as a factor in public and international affairs it is having what might be its last – characteristically bloody – fling’.

If he is alluding to the jihad being waged by Islam on the rest of the world – as he surely is – it is certainly bloody. But whether it will prove to be religion’s last act on the world stage, or  fail in its aim to spread Islam as the predominant faith and only system of law on earth, is uncertain. A belief that mankind as a whole is continually progressing towards an ever more reason-directed future, can only be held on faith. Grayling seems to have that belief, that faith. But we do not.

With the spread of Islam through Europe, and the election of Obama in America, there is a double threat  to individual liberty, and so to the triumph of reason; because reason can flourish, create, and persuade, only where individuals are free.

Posted under Atheism, Christianity, Commentary, Europe, Islam, jihad, Judaism, Religion general, Socialism, United States, War by Jillian Becker on Friday, August 28, 2009

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Judaism and the Jews: a draft for an obituary? 6

The founding myth of the monotheistic faith that evolved into Judaism, is the story of Abraham and Isaac, in which Abraham sacrifices to his god not his son but an animal. The story is often interpreted as an hortatory tale about having to obey God. But that is not its significance.

Its essential message is that the God of Abraham, the one and only God, does not require human sacrifice.

The idea of a god who did not want human beings sacrificed to him was a great leap forward for mankind. The other gods of ancient times were all given human flesh to eat and human blood to drink. The huge statue of the god Moloch was a hollow bronze image, a human body with a bull’s head, in which his worshippers, the Canaanites, made a fire and heated the metal until it glowed red-hot, and then they fed their first-born babies into the furnace through the gaping mouth.

Such gods, it was believed, needed propitiation with human flesh and blood, suffering and death, so that they’d allow the tribe to survive and prosper.

The Chaldees, whose god Ba’al was the counterpart of Moloch, similarly sacrificed living people. It was from them that Abraham and his tribe broke away, both in a physical-geographical sense, and in a moral-religious sense.

One of the four main reasons why Jews faithful to their religion could not possibly accept Christianity was because Christ was held by Christians to be a human sacrifice. No idea could be further from Judaism (and would certainly have been absent from the mind of an orthodox Jew like Jesus of Nazareth). The other reasons were: God cannot be incarnate; God is One, and cannot be Three as Christianity holds its triune divinity to be; and Judaism requires obedience to the Law. The Jews were set free physically when they left Egypt where they had been slaves, and became a free civilization when they were granted and accepted the law – traditionally fifty days after the accomplishment of the exodus. Law protects and guarantees freedom. Freedom is only possible in practice under the rule of law.

St Paul, the author of the Christian religion, was willing and eager to abandon the Law. The Catholic Church did not after all do this, and accepted Judaism’s moral law though not its rituals.

As a people, the Jews’ first great gift to humanity was the idea that God, an abstract being, was a moral authority who required people to treat each other justly, and did not himself require them to suffer or die for him.

When the center of their religion, the Temple, was destroyed by the Romans in the first century CE, and they were exiled from Jerusalem and dispersed from their land, the Jews clung to their religion, adapting such rituals as it was possible for them to observe in the absence of a Temple and a priesthood; and their faith held them together for two millennia as a people though they were physically scattered through the world.

With the coming of the Enlightenment in Europe, and then the Age of Science, belief in the supernatural began to die in the Western world generally. But the Jews still needed to adhere to their religious tradition. Only since the land of Israel has been restored to them, has the Jews’ need for religion as a kind of abstract glue to hold them together become less compelling.

It is true that orthodox Jews still observe the religion as it has long been observed. But orthodoxy has spawned a crowd of rivals, some of which have become such broad churches that traditional Judaism is hardly discernible in them. Rabbis (male and female) in Reform synagogues now call God ‘he or she’, and even speak of a plurality of gods. What is left of Judaism there? And if the answer is nothing, does it matter? For ever-increasing numbers (even in America), all religions have passed their use-by date.

If the State of Israel were again to be destroyed – a tragedy that looks all too possible now – would the religion revive to bind the Jews together again?

Just possibly, but much more probably not. The only thing that could and should bind the Jews together in this age is loyalty to their peoplehood in the light of their history. But that is a nationalist kind of idea, and nationalism is despised by the loudest intellectuals of our time. Many of those loud voices are Jewish voices. Treasonously they decry Zionism – the nationalism of the Jews – and raise moral objections to the existence of the Jewish state. If the State of Israel is destroyed, brought to political extinction, can the Jews continue to exist, either as a religion or as a people?

Jillian Becker  June 3, 2009

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Religion now 0

 AP reports

A wide-ranging study on American religious life found that … the percentage of Christians in the nation has declined and more people say they have no religion at all. Fifteen percent of respondents said they had no religion, an increase from 14.2 percent in 2001 and 8.2 percent in 1990, according to the American Religious Identification Survey. Northern New England surpassed the Pacific Northwest as the least religious region, with Vermont reporting the highest share of those claiming no religion, at 34 percent. Still, the study found that the numbers of Americans with no religion rose in every state. "No other religious bloc has kept such a pace in every state," the study’s authors said.

This means that 85% of the people of the United States are religious. But does ‘being religious’ necessarily mean ‘believing in God’? Many attend church out of habit, as part of the pattern of their social lives, and feel no need to question philosophically the beliefs that their church is founded on. Some do question them, and are convinced if secret atheists, but still adhere to this or that ancestral religion for the sake of continuity. This is charade rather than hypocrisy, and if it makes for goodwill, neighborliness, and a general pleasantness of life, it cannot be a bad thing.

It is the new religion of Environmentalism, the belief in Anthropogenic Global Warming, that is the dangerous one now. Its devotees strive for totalitarian power to change the way we live, to make us poorer and take away our freedom.

Posted under Christianity, Commentary by Jillian Becker on Monday, March 9, 2009

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If I saw an angel or if man was made of brass 3

Jerry A Coyne, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, reviews two books – Saving Darwinism: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, by Karl W Giberson; and Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul, by Kenneth R Miller – which try to reconcile science and religion, and fail of course. 

Read the whole review in The New Republic.

An extract:

The most common way to harmonize science and religion is to contend that they are different but complementary ways of understanding the world. That is, there are different "truths" offered by science and by religion that, taken together, answer every question about ourselves and the universe. Giberson explains:

 

I worry that scientific progress has bewitched us into thinking that there is nothing more to the world than what we can understand…. Science has perhaps gotten as much from the materialistic paradigm as it is going to get. Matter in motion, so elegantly described by Newton and those who followed him, may not be the best way to understand the world…. I think there are ways, though, that we can begin to look at the creation and understand that the scientific view is not all-encompassing. Science provides a partial set of insights that, though powerful, don’t answer all the questions.

 

Usually the questions said to fall outside science include those of meaning, purpose, and morality. In one of his last books, Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, Stephen Jay Gould called this reconciliation NOMA, for "non-overlapping magisteria": "Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings and values–subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve." Gould offered this not as a utopian vision, but as an actual description of why the realms of science and religion do not overlap. As a solution to our perplexity, this is no good. In a spirit of pluralism it ignores the obvious conflicts between them. Gould salvaged his idea by redefining his terms–the old trick, again–writing off creationism as "improper religion" and defining secular sources of ethics, meanings and values as being "fundamentally religious."

The NOMA solution falls apart for other reasons. Despite Gould’s claims to the contrary, supernatural phenomena are not completely beyond the realm of science. All scientists can think of certain observations that would convince them of the existence of God or supernatural forces. In a letter to the American biologist Asa Gray, Darwin noted:

 

Your question what would convince me of Design is a poser. If I saw an angel come down to teach us good, and I was convinced from others seeing him that I was not mad, I should believe in design. If I could be convinced thoroughly that life and mind was in an unknown way a function of other imponderable force, I should be convinced. If man was made of brass or iron and no way connected with any other organism which had ever lived, I should perhaps be convinced. But this is childish writing.

Posted under Christianity, Commentary, Judaism by Jillian Becker on Thursday, January 29, 2009

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