The Real Purpose of the Church?
“You can’t just go around fucking boys in the street. People get mad”
(for those on FB, here’s a link to the video.)
Daily Show reruns are dancing in my head! Thanks for the link, Bri.
Here’s a good chance. Just have a listen to Evolutionary Biologist Richard Dawkins, author most recently of the God Delusion. I caught the tail end of his appearance on City Arts & Lectures on my way home from work, but sadly, they don’t post their audio online. You can hear some of his other recent appearances here:
To me, Dawkins is the quintessential voice of reason, who breaks down religiosity with the cold, methodical logic that it deserves. He debunks myths about the nature of morality and the idea that nobie acts by humans cannot exist without the framework of organized religion. He debunks the myth that atheism is a religion. He’s not wild-eyed. He’s not crazed. He’s the personfiication of cooly analtyical. Most importantly, he tries to raise awareness of the dangers of not just harboring irrational beliefs in systems of myth, but using those beliefs to make decisions about how we govern our world.
Very much like Sam Harris, he comes in for a lot of criticism for “rocking the boat” or lending aid and comfort to the creationsists, but that doesn’t matter. It’s all just noise. Dawkins is more concerned about being focused on what’s true, what can be proved, rather than engaging in tactical, political battles to score points with irrational thinkers.
He’s fascinating and worth a listen even if you find his ideas repugnant.
Here are two videos, the first a reading of The God Delusion and the second the accompanying Q&A. These are from the Philip Thayer Memorial Lecture at Randoph-Macon Women’s College in Lynchburg, VA.
Part 1: Reading
Part 2: Q & A
Why they deny the Holocaust
On top of nearly constant anti-Semitic propaganda, much of the Muslim world hasn’t even heard of it.
By Ayaan Hirsi Ali
AYAAN HIRSI ALI, a Somali immigrant who served in the parliament of the Netherlands until earlier this year, is the author of “Infidel,” an autobiography to be published in February.
ONE DAY IN 1994, when I was living in Ede, a small town in Holland, I got a visit from my half-sister. She and I were both immigrants from Somalia and had both applied for asylum in Holland. I was granted it; she was denied. The fact that I got asylum gave me the opportunity to study. My half-sister couldn’t.
In order for me to be admitted to the university I wanted to attend, I needed to pass three courses: a language course, a civics course and a history course. It was in the preparatory history course that I, for the first time, heard of the Holocaust. I was 24 years old at that time, and my half-sister was 21.
In those days, the daily news was filled with the Rwandan genocide and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. On the day that my half-sister visited me, my head was reeling from what happened to 6 million Jews in Germany, Holland, France and Eastern Europe.
I learned that innocent men, women and children were separated from each other. Stars pinned to their shoulders, transported by train to camps, they were gassed for no other reason than for being Jewish.
I saw pictures of masses of skeletons, even of kids. I heard horrifying accounts of some of the people who had survived the terror of Auschwitz and Sobibor. I told my half-sister all this and showed her the pictures in my history book. What she said was as awful as the information in my book.
With great conviction, my half-sister cried: “It’s a lie! Jews have a way of blinding people. They were not killed, gassed or massacred. But I pray to Allah that one day all the Jews in the world will be destroyed.”
She was not saying anything new. As a child growing up in Saudi Arabia, I remember my teachers, my mom and our neighbors telling us practically on a daily basis that Jews are evil, the sworn enemies of Muslims, and that their only goal was to destroy Islam. We were never informed about the Holocaust.
Later, as a teenager in Kenya, when Saudi and other Persian Gulf philanthropy reached us, I remember that the building of mosques and donations to hospitals and the poor went hand in hand with the cursing of Jews. Jews were said to be responsible for the deaths of babies and for epidemics such as AIDS, and they were believed to be the cause of wars. They were greedy and would do absolutely anything to kill us Muslims. If we ever wanted to know peace and stability, and if we didn’t want to be wiped out, we would have to destroy the Jews. For those of us who were not in a position to take up arms against them, it was enough for us to cup our hands, raise our eyes heavenward and pray to Allah to destroy them.
Western leaders today who say they are shocked by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s conference this week denying the Holocaust need to wake up to that reality. For the majority of Muslims in the world, the Holocaust is not a major historical event that they deny. We simply do not know it ever happened because we were never informed of it.
The total number of Jews in the world today is estimated to be about 15 million, certainly no more than 20 million. On the other hand, the world’s Muslim population is estimated to be between 1.2 billion and 1.5 billion. And not only is this population rapidly growing, it is also very young.
What’s striking about Ahmadinejad’s conference is the (silent) acquiescence of mainstream Muslims. I cannot help but wonder: Why is there no counter-conference in Riyadh, Cairo, Lahore, Khartoum or Jakarta condemning Ahmadinejad? Why are the 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference silent on this?
Could the answer be as simple as it is horrifying: For generations, the leaders of these so-called Muslim countries have been spoon-feeding their populations a constant diet of propaganda similar to the one that generations of Germans (and other Europeans) were fed — that Jews are vermin and should be dealt with as such? In Europe, the logical conclusion was the Holocaust. If Ahmadinejad has his way, he shall not want for compliant Muslims ready to act on his wish.
The world needs to be informed again and again about the Holocaust — not only in the interest of the Jews who survived and their offspring but in the interest of humanity.
This is very instructive to help understand why the deniers deny. There’s no real excuse for it, but if you going to have one, I suppose ignorance is as good as any as a starting point to being to understand the roots of this problem
Hirsi Ali is a fascinating individual. Her Wikipedia entry makes an interesting read.
thanks to Jason for sending this to me.
*Ignorance is not bliss
More than 50% of Americans have a “negative” or “highly negative” view of people who don’t believe in God. 70% think it important for presidential candidates to be “strongly religious.”
“A person who believes that Elvis is still alive is very unlikely to get promoted to a position of great power and responsibility in our society. Neither will a person who believes that the holocaust was a hoax. But people who believe equally irrational things about God and the bible are now running our country. This is genuinely terrifying.”
44% of Americans think Jesus Christ will return in the next 50 years. (22% are “certain” that he will, another 22% think he “probably” will.)
“According to the most common interpretation of biblical prophecy, Jesus will return only after things have gone horribly awry. Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the U.S. government believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be glorious. The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency.”
Only 28% of Americans believe in evolution (and two-thirds of these believe evolution was “guided by God”). 53% are actually creationists.
“Despite a full century of scientific insights attesting to the antiquity of the earth, more than half of our neighbors believe that the entire cosmos was created six thousand years ago. This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue.”
87% of Americans say they “never doubt the existence of God.”
“Had the residents of New Orleans been content to rely on the beneficence of the Lord, they wouldn’t have known that a killer hurricane was bearing down upon them until they felt the first gusts of wind on their faces, but a poll conducted by The Washington Post found that 80% of Katrina survivors claim that the event has only strengthened their faith in God.”
28% of Americans believe that every word of the Bible is literally true. 49% believe that it is the “inspired word” of God.
“We read the Golden Rule and judge it to be a brilliant distillation of many of our ethical impulses. And then we come across another of God’s teachings on morality: if a man discovers on his wedding night that his bride is not a virgin, he must stone her to death on her father’s doorstep (Deuteronomy 22:13-21).”
80% of Americans expect to be called before God on Judgment Day to answer for their sins. 90% believe in heaven. 77% rate their chances of going to heaven as “excellent” or “good.”
“In the year 2006, a person can have sufficient intellectual and material resources to build a nuclear bomb and still believe that he will get seventy-two virgins in Paradise. Western secularists, liberals, and moderates have been very slow to understand this. The cause of their confusion is simple: they don’t know what is like to really believe in God.”
65% of Americans believe in the literal existence of Satan. 73% believe in Hell.
“It is terrible that we all die and lose everything we love; it is doubly terrible that so many human beings suffer needlessly while alive. That so much of this suffering can be directly attributed to religion-to religious hatreds, religious wars, religious delusions and religious diversions of scarce resources-is what makes atheism a moral and intellectual necessity.”
83% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. (11% disbelieve. 6% don’t know.)
“The president of the United States has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said that he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive.”
These are quotes from Sam Harris’ new book, Letter to a Christian Nation, written in response to feedback he received following the publication of his first book The End of Faith. I read the former over the weekend (it’s quite concise) and finished the latter last week. Both are at the same time frightening and heartening.
They are frightening because Sam Harris in his brilliant points out the quite obvious problem that many of the most important decisions being made in the world today are being made by people who firmly believe their holy books are the literal word of god. They are heartening because Sam Harris is articulating what many people like me who live in a reality based world where evidence trumps faith is leading the charge against the dark age thinking that drives this country and much of the rest of the world.
One of the main problems with faith, and there are so many, is that the underlying beliefs are used to justify some of the most egregious affronts to humanity–the Crusades, the Holocaust, the Inquisition, suicide bombing. Each of these has a single common thread–they have been justifyed in the mind of the perpetrators by a firm belief that they were doing god’s will.
Mr. Harris writes with far more eloquence and intelligence on this topic than I will ever be able to muster. I urge you to Check is books out of the library, go down to you local book monger or buy them from Amazon today.
And to the 50% of Americans have a “negative” or “highly negative” of my atheism, I say, wholeheartedly, FUCK YOU. My faith that your belief system is irrational and dangerous will never kill a single human being. FUCK YOU. FUCK YOU. FUCK YOU.
My buddy Peter writes:
So, in an effort to reach out to new constituencies and bridge the growing divide between Catholic fundametalists and everyone else, the Vatican cardinals have elected… a hard-liner former Nazi. Nicely done, fellows.
It seems more like they were reaching out to John Stewart, David Letterman and Jay Leno. Anyway, he’s an old guy so it looks like we might be do this all over again in the not too distant future.
A new pope has been elected. I’m listening to the coverage on NPR. The white smoke went up and the bells of St. Peter’s started ringing about 50 minutes ago. The curtain on the balcony has opened. Three men are up there announcing the new pope. (Habemus Papum – We have a pope!) The crowd is going nuts. Still no one outside the College of Cardinals knows who the new pope is.
Update 9:44. The name of the new pope is the 78 year old Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany named Benedict XVI. The front runner, slighty boring, a little bit of a disappointment. Oh, well. There’s always the next conclave. Congratulations and best wishes to all my Catholic friends.
Want to get some action on the conclave? Just head over to paddypower.com, check out the odds, the candidates, fill yourself in on the process and the history of papal elections.
Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria is the front runner, but I suspect this is mostly wishful thinking. As cool as it would be to have an African or Latin American pope, I suspect when the voting is all done, we’ll find a return to traditional Western European, if not Italian, pontiff.
As a Jewish atheist, I shouldn’t find this all that interesting, but I can’t help but be fascinated. The papacy is such a huge part of our world culture. There’s even a genre of fiction devoted to the topic. The secrecy, the pomp and circumstance, the rituals of burning the ballots, the visuals of crimson robed cardinals congregating beneath Michaelangelo’s Last Judgment. It’s all so intriguing.
There have been several votes so far and only plumes of black smoke have arisen from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel to signify a lack of consensus on a new pontiff. Eventually the Papal Interregnum will end and we can get on with our lives, but in the meantime, the world waits as a few old men chose a new leader and decide on the future path of the Catholic church.
Here are the odds for you punters who are thinking of placing a bet or putting together an office pool.
|Francis Arinze (Nigeria)||7/2|
|Joseph Ratzinger (Germany)||11/2|
|Claudio Hummes (Brazil)||7/1|
|Dionigi Tettamanzi (Italy)||7/1|
|Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga (Honduras)||9/1|
|Jean-Marie Lustiger (France)||9/1|
|Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini (Italy)||12/1|
|Cardinal Angelo Scola (Venice)||20/1|
|Cardinal Walter Kasper (Germany)||20/1|
|Count Christoph von Schoenborn (Austria)||25/1|
|Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Argentina)||25/1|
|Jose Da Cruz Policarpo (Portugal)||25/1|
|Cardianl Ruini (Italy)||33/1|
|Cardinal Amigo Vallejo (Spain)||33/1|
|Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa (Chile)||33/1|
|Giovanni Battista Re (Italy)||33/1|
|Ivan Dias (India)||33/1|
|Keith O Brien (Scotland)||33/1|
|Cardinal Dario Castrillion Hoyos (Colombia)||40/1|
|Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (Italy)||40/1|
|Geraldo Majella Agnelo (Brazil)||40/1|
|Godfried Daneels (Belgium)||40/1|
|Angelo Sodano (Italy)||50/1|
|Attilio Cardinal Nicora (Roman Curia)||50/1|
|Cardinal Karl Lehnmann (Germany)||50/1|
|Cardinal Marc Ouellet (Canada)||50/1|
|Cardinal Marco Ce (Italy)||50/1|
|Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil (India)||50/1|
|Cormac Murphy-OConnor (UK)||50/1|
|Ennio Antonelli (Italy)||50/1|
|Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino (Cuba)||50/1|
|Norberto Rivera Carrera (Mexico)||50/1|
|Wilfred Napier (South Africa)||50/1|
|Cardinal George Pell (Australia)||66/1|
|Cardinal Severino Poletto (Italy)||80/1|
|Crescenzio Sepe (Italy)||80/1|
|Lopez Rodriguez (Dominican Republic)||80/1|
|Silvano Piovanelli (Italy)||80/1|
|Aloysius Ambrozic (Canada)||100/1|
|Archbishop Andre Vingt-Trois (France)||100/1|
|Archbishop Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo (Venezuela)||100/1|
|Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz (Russia)||100/1|
|Bernadin Cardinal Gantin (Benin)||100/1|
|Cardinal Desmond Connell (Ireland)||100/1|
|Cardinal Edward Cassidy (Australia)||100/1|
|Cardinal Edward Clancy (Australia)||100/1|
|Cardinal James Francis Stafford (Roman Curia)||100/1|
|Cardinal Joachim Meisner (Germany)||100/1|
|Cardinal Jorge Medina (Roman Curia)||100/1|
|Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins (Roman Curia)||100/1|
|Cardinal Julian Herranz (Roman Curia)||100/1|
|Cardinal Justin Rigali (USA)||100/1|
|Cardinal Keeler (USA)||100/1|
|Cardinal Lubomyr Husar (Ukraine)||100/1|
|Cardinal Peter Turkson (Ghana)||100/1|
|Cardinal Renato Martino (Italy)||100/1|
|Cardinal Ricardo Maria Carles Gordo (Spain)||100/1|
|Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruno (Guatemala||100/1|
|Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi (Italy)||100/1|
|Cardinal Sergio Sebastiani (Roman Curia)||100/1|
|Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo (India)||100/1|
|Cardinal Thomas Williams (NZ)||100/1|
|Cardinal Turcotte (Canada)||100/1|
|Diarmuid Martin (Ireland)||100/1|
|Emmanuel Milingo (Zambia)||100/1|
|Giacomo Biffi (Italy)||100/1|
|Ignace Cardinal Daoud, (Roman Curia)||100/1|
|Jean Louis Pierre Tauran (Roman Curia)||100/1|
|Jose María Rouco Varela (Spain)||100/1|
|Josip Bozanic (Croatia)||100/1|
|Juan Luis Cipriani (Peru)||100/1|
|Michele Giordano (Italy)||100/1|
|Miloslav Vlk (Czech Republic)||100/1|
|Philippe Barbarin (France)||100/1|
|Sean Patrick OMalley (USA)||100/1|
|Theodore McCarrick (US)||100/1|
|Vinko Puljic (Bosnia and Herzogovina)||100/1|
|Agostino Cacciavillan (Italy)||125/1|
|Bishop John Magee (Ireland)||125/1|
|Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun (China)||125/1|
|Cardinal Armand G. Razafindratandra (Madagascar)||125/1|
|Cardinal Audrys Juozas Backis (Lithuania)||125/1|
|Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala (Uganda)||125/1|
|Cardinal Francis Eugene George (USA)||125/1|
|Cardinal Ghattas (Egypt)||125/1|
|Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man (Vietnam)||125/1|
|Cardinal Julio Terrazas Sandoval (Bolivia)||125/1|
|Cardinal Michael Michai Kitbunchu (Thailand)||125/1|
|Cardinal Polycarp Pengo (Tanzania)||125/1|
|Cardinal Roger Etchegaray (Italy)||125/1|
|Pierre Cardinal Sfeir (Lebanon)||125/1|
You know how the ancient Greeks believed in the pantheon of gods? Zeus, Hera. Apollo. Athena. et al. For thousands of years, people built temples and worshipped at the altar of polytheism. And not just the Greeks. The Romans. The Vikings. Many other civilizations, too. Nowadays we look at that on their beliefs s quaint “mythology”. We read their stories as children. And some of them are great. Not just because they are great literature, but because they impart certain values and reflect upon human behavior. But make no mistake, this is just mythology.
I believe that the same will be said of these generations of monotheists. Christianity is just mythology writ large and in your face. The greatest story ever told? Maybe. But just a story. That’s it. It’s becoming problem at the moment because the people who believe that that New Testament is not just a story, but rather the unaltered word of god are emboldened by the current political climate. It’s becoming a problem because these people are trying to take this mythology and force their mores on the rest of this country and the world. It’s not just Christianity, by the way. Militant Islam is doing the exact same thing, just using different methodology.
What makes the story of Jesus so insidious is that he was actually alive. He is an historical figure. Of that I have there can be no doubt. He was a rabbi, a carpenter. He preached in Jerusalem. You can go to Israel. You can visit his birthplace. You see where he lived. You can see, roughly, where he was crucified. I did. I cycled around the Sea of Galilee. I visited Capernaum where he lived. I stopped at the Church of the Beatitudes where he supposedly gave the sermon on the mount. I explored the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. I saw the faithful carrying crosses up the Via Dolorosa. It’s all amazing. There’s no doubt about it.
However, and this is a big however, I believe that the man in reality bears little resemblance to the man in the gospels. I don’t know whether the teachings of Jesus actually happened. I do believe that they are generally good things. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Do under others… And if most people followed even those two basic tenets of the Jesus’ philosophy, the world would be a far better place, but they can’t even manage that.
I believe that the apostles, in their zealous drive to legitimize Christianity developed stories about Jesus, such as the resurrection, so recently celebrated, and the walking on water business, and the loaves and the fishes, amongst others so that potential converts would be drawn to the new religion by the apparent divinity. It was a far easier sell and they were great salesmen. Maybe the best ever.
Their message might not have been received right away, but it’s being heard loud and clear right now. I’d love to see what their reaction would be to all they wrought. I doubt in their wildest imaginations could they have believed the extent to which the word of Jesus which they largely fabricated has spread. I think Samoa would knock them for a loop let alone South America, the Philippines or most of the rest of the world. Anyway, I digress, but I think you see the point I’m driving at.
America is going through a dark age at the moment where reason is losing ground to religion. As someone who is sitting on the sidelines, I can only hope that what I see going on is only a short term trend and that the backlash that whips us back to the sanity of reason will be sharp and harsh.
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