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Tuesday, October 3, 2006
 Understanding and Appreciating Christianity

Topic: Semi-random Thoughts
Christianity was a movement of, by, and for the poor and oppressed within the Roman empire. It began as a Jewish movement, among the poor and oppressed immigrant Jews who lived throughout the empire, but it struck a chord with others as well.

Christianity was not the first or only movement for the poor and oppressed in the Roman empire, but it was one of the first that combined this type of movement with religion and sacred texts. The Jews had a history of revering texts as sacred and using those texts as a grounding for their beliefs and their culture. This was not the case with most other cultures, whose beliefs were more fluid and more open to change. There is no Greek or Roman equivalent to the Pentateuch, no "official" text that defines their beliefs. This tradition of sacred texts helped to cement the Christian message in ways that were uncommon among the "gentile" cultures.

It would be too much to call Christianity be beginning of class consciousness among the poor, because there was class consciousness among the poor before Christianity, but Christianity is perhaps the first merger of class consciousness among the poor with a significant written framework that was used to universalize the movement and spread it throughout the empire.

Christianity represents a step in the evolution of class consciousness and class warfare, which was specifically produced by a merger of Greek and Jewish tradition. Christianity gives us a look at the ancient world from the perspective of the outsiders, and in doing this it is one of the the most significant ancient examples that we have of the views of the oppressed in their own words.

This is in part because we had a class of people, immigrant Jews, who were at the same time non-citizens who opposed the status quo, and educated enough to read and write in Greek.

This is both a virtue of Christianity and also its problem.

The rise of Christianity in Rome is what it would have been like if a movement among southern slaves in America had overturned the government and scholarship of the United States.

Would there have been some justice to this? Yes, there would have been.

Would the views, beliefs, and teachings of slaves have been representative of the most well educated and enlightened individuals of the day, or indeed even of the average freeman? No, of course not.

Both the early Christians and the American slaves had very valid moral platforms, but moral platforms don't provide knowledge, education, and an understanding of how the world works, etc.

Christianity was a morally virtuous movement of the uneducated masses, who, like American slaves, used the words of respected thinkers of the time to point out the hypocrisy of the times.

The so-called words of "Jesus" are like American slaves quoting the Declaration of Independence, which they did in their writings, and using them to show the hypocrisy of the times, to rub the words of the respected thinkers in the eyes of the citizenry and in the eyes of their oppressed brothers and sisters to show that the words are good, but meaningless because they are empty in their application.

Christianity puts the words of Plato in the mouth of God. Christianity cursed this world because the Christians saw the hypocrisy of the earthy systems.

From a scholarly perspective, however, it is just as wrong to take the writings of American slaves, where they roughly quote Jefferson, and claim that these were original ideas of the slaves, as it is to take the words of the Jesus character where he roughly quotes Plato and claim that they are "his" original ideas.

They weren't original ideas, but they were, perhaps, original applications.

This is where I believe having a scholarly understanding and appreciation of Christianity and the Jesus myth affords a greater respect for the religion than actually believing in the religion itself.

Christianity isn't the teachings of one "man", some otherworldly leader; it is a collective expression of class consciousness, and the work of many different writers and thinkers among a class of oppressed people. To take the words of these people, these real human beings who were struggling for justice, and put them in the mouth of a god is an insult to humanity.

That these people themselves did this, however, is nothing more than a reflection of how stories were told at that time, and a reflection of their own abused lack of self worth.

These people had to create a god to say the things that they felt too powerless to say themselves.

This is why the gospels, indeed almost all of the writings in the Bible, are anonymous. They are anonymous both out of practical concern and out of a lack of self worth, which is very clear in the New Testament writings.

To take a moralistic movement of the uneducated underclass of ancient Rome, no matter how deserving of respect the movement might have originally been, and elevate it to the status of the most sacred set of beliefs and a paragon of both virtue and knowledge, however, is absurd, blind, foolish, self-destructive, and, I would argue, irreverent!

The poor and the oppressed and the disadvantaged deserve our respect. We should be working to help these people and to put an end to the institutions and social structures that contribute to the conditions of poverty, ignorance, and discrimination. However, the poor, oppressed, and disadvantaged, while they can teach us things about respect and human dignity, are not sources of education, knowledge, governance, and institutions.

The problems created by the rise of Christianity are the same problems that we have seen with the movements of the poor and oppressed in recent history, most notably the Communist movements. Christianity and Communism are very similar, both historically and ideologically. Both were movements of poor and oppressed people, who despised the existing social systems and sought to overturn them. The problem is that when people who have been oppressed come to power they tend to undermine and destroy the fruits that had been created by their oppression. A certain amount of social, cultural, intellectual, artistic, and material wealth is created by empowered members of society at the expense of the exploitation of others, however these creations themselves are good and valuable.

Greek scholars were able to study and investigate nature and understand how it worked because of the system of slavery that afforded them the luxury of being able to spend time and resources on investigation and education.

The under classes were deprived of this education, and indeed some of them came to despise it. Unfortunately, when underclasses or underclass ideas come to power, as in both the rise of Christianity and Communism, wealth (of all kinds), though perhaps ill-gotten originally, is destroyed and lost.

Yes, Christianity represented the hopes and dreams of oppressed people, but it never did, and never has, represented the knowledge and tools of enlightened people. The challenge is, and has been, to unite these principles, but this can only been done by bringing the oppressed up into a wealth of knowledge, not by bringing knowledge into the poverty of the oppressed.


Posted by rationalrevolution.net at 6:20 AM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, October 3, 2006 7:06 AM EDT
Monday, October 2, 2006
 Regarding State of Denial

Topic: Commentary

I have not yet read State of Denial, but I have seen the Woodward interview on 60 minutes and read some reviews of the book.

 See: Secrets, and the obvious, revealed

 All I can say is that the overall picture it paints does not surprise me at all, but some of the details are very illuminating and fill in the the questions of "how" and "why" for me.

As you know if you are a long time visitor to this website, this website began with the paper This War Is About So Much More, which was written in opposition to the war in Iraq, in opposition to the Bush administration, and, perhaps most importantly, to explain how it was that the American people were mislead into supporting the Bush administration and its war campaign.

Significantly, I began writing my exposition on the Bush administration and the march to war starting on the first day of official conflict in Iraq, and I had the core of it completed within a month's time. Since that time I feel that my major premises have been proven correct. Bob Woodward's new book, State of Denial, is yet one more piece of supporting evidence.

What else is significant about This War Is About So Much More, is that, unlike Woodward, I am not a reporter and I had no inside connections or any information other than what could be gained from public sources, yet I was able to, based on purely public information, develop a reasonable assessment of the Bush administration and the Iraqi situation, which was contrary to the accessment given by every major news network in America.

The questions that I have continued to explore and continued to try to answer on this website, which the Woodward book does not address, are why did the American people support this war, why did the American people believe the Bush administration, why does the American public continue to struggle so much politically?

Every article on this website, either directly or indirectly, seeks to answer these questions and seeks to explore these issues.

I believe that the America of today will be looked back upon and studied by sociologists in a way very similar to the study of Nazi Germany. I believe that America today, as a whole, despite the relative availability of information, is one of the most mislead, manipulated, and delusional societies in history, and I think that the presidency of George W. Bush proves this fact. The discrediting information about the Bush administration and the Iraq war were present before the official war in Iraq ever started, and it has been present all along ever since. All that you have to do is look and you can find the needed information to completely refute the claims, beliefs, and assessments of the Bush administration and the entire so-called "conservative" movement in America, but people aren't doing it in meaningful numbers.

Regardless of the availability of information, the majority of people in America are still manipulated by propaganda. I am indeed reminded of a quote by Julia Sweeney about her introduction to Bible study. Her statement was something to the effect that the proof that Christianity is not an inspired religion is not hidden away in some secret tome, but rather it is displayed in the most popularly published book of all time, which almost every American owns, The Bible.

I believe that religion and capitalism are really at the core of the problems in America. The American public is overwhelming ignorant of history, science, and cultures. This ignorance is due in part to poor education and in part to a culture entrenched in commercialism.

The poor education in America in relation to social studies, history, and science is due to the fact that conservative and religious parents will not tolerate schools teaching their children things that contrdict their beliefs. As a result, ignorance and misperception are passed on from generation to generation. Children in America are also not given the proper critical thinking tools or material understanding of reality that are needed to form intelligent views of the world because this also contradicts the religious sentiments of American parents.

Furthermore, the commercial culture in America, a product of our style of capitalism, appeals to lowest common denominator mentality, it promotes distraction, it tells everyone that "they are right and need not worry about others", and, most importantly, it inculcates our population into a culture of deception and manipulation from the earliest of youth. Marketing is a form of propaganda, it uses deception, manipulation, and behavior modification techniques at an unprecedented scale in human history, and it permeates our entire lives. In fact, it is so ubiquitous in our culture that most people don't even recognize it or acknowledge that it is a problem, but indeed it is, even at a physiological level. Our culture of marketing actually impacts the physical development of the brain.

So, we live in a culture that is conditioned from birth, both through religion and marketing, to be manipulated and to "have faith".

That is why the American public fell for the Bush administration. Now the question is, can we change our society? Getting George Bush out of office, or even getting the Republicans out of power, won't really change anything. These are just symptoms, they are not causes.

State of Denial  shows us what Americans have been in denial of these past few years, but it doesn't address why Americans are in a state of denial, which, actually, is the real issue...


Posted by rationalrevolution.net at 11:58 AM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, October 2, 2006 12:27 PM EDT
Sunday, October 1, 2006
 Commentary on Pope Benedict XVI's Speech (Part III)

Topic: Commentary

As promised, I am including further analysis of Pope Benedict's speech on "faith and reason", which he gave on September 12th.

In addition to pointing out the violent history of Islam while misrepresenting the history of the Catholic Church as peaceful, the Pope engaged in a quite typical framing of history in which he portrayed the Catholic faith as "founded on reason", and as the rightful inheritor of "Greek philosophy".

Firstly it must be stated that this is actually quite an old argument coming from the Catholic Church, and secondly, it was very likely presented here in this context because of the Catholic Church's attempts to get God into the constitution of EU. The Catholic Church, as usual, tries to present itself as the "mind", "body", and "soul" of Europe, without which, we are to believe, all of Europe would be lost to barbarism.

Let us specifically address the statements made by the Pope. The Pope begins his approach to the subject of reason and philosophy with this statement:

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor [Manuel II Palaiologos], as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident.

By the 14th century, when Palaiologos was emperor, the Western world had already long been converted to the Catholic faith by the sword and by destruction, so, of course, at this time, there was not much need for conversion of any kind and "reason" had already been completly subjugated to the faith as well, such that "reason" which contradicted the faith was simply not considered.

At this point, as far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we are faced with an unavoidable dilemma. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?

It is certain that this is a Platonic idea, and it is indeed true that Christianity, from the very beginning, was influenced by certain elements of Greek philosophy. Indeed the Christian concept of God has much more in common with Platonic philosophy than it does with Judaism.

I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the Word".

Much is implied with the phrase "Greek in the best sense". By this the Pope undoubtedly means the non-materialist branches of Greek thought. The introduction of the Gospel of John is clearly patterned on the works of Philo and the neo-Platonic Greek philosophers, this is true, and shows the earthly, rather than "divine", origin of the work.

Thus, despite the bitter conflict with those Hellenistic rulers who sought to accommodate it forcibly to the customs and idolatrous cult of the Greeks, biblical faith, in the Hellenistic period, encountered the best of Greek thought at a deep level, resulting in a mutual enrichment evident especially in the later wisdom literature.

This certainly can be disputed. The early Christians, while using some of the language of the idealistic philosophers, denounce philosophy and "earthly knowledge", they did not embrace the use of philosophy to examine the world around them, they instead required believers to "have faith" and "not listen to the philosophers". The early Christians mimicked the language of what was at that time the products of established and respected forms of thought in order to try and gain legitimacy.

Today we know that the Greek translation of the Old Testament produced at Alexandria - the Septuagint - is more than a simple (and in that sense really less than satisfactory) translation of the Hebrew text: it is an independent textual witness and a distinct and important step in the history of revelation, one which brought about this encounter in a way that was decisive for the birth and spread of Christianity.

The Septuagint is indeed important, but not in any way as a "step in the history of revelation", it is important in understanding how Jews who had integrated into Greek culture began mixing the ideas and culture of Judaism and Greek Hellenism to produce Christianity, showing that it came out of a cultural context, and indeed is not a product of "revelation" at all.

God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love, as Saint Paul says, "transcends" knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Eph 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is Logos. Consequently, Christian worship is, again to quote Paul [text unclear] worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Rom 12:1).

Here, of course, the Pope has gone far out on a limb. "Love", the Pope claims, transcends knowledge, and is capable of "perceiving more than thought alone". Clearly now, we are not only leaving the realm of Greek philosophy, but of reason in general. Claiming that an emotion transcends knowledge and logic is not, in any way, keeping with the traditions of philosophy. To claim that "love" can reveal truths that "logic" cannot is not, in any way, in accordance with "reason".

But, let's take a closer look at the words of Paul in relation to reason and philosophy:

2 Corinthians 10: 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 6 And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

Colossians 2: 2 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. 5 For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

Paul was hardly a friend to philosophy or reason. Paul encouraged people not to trust their own reason or to trust the arguments given by others, but instead to blindly follow faith. Indeed Romans 12:1, which the Pope cited in his speech, tells people to offer themselves as living sacrifices to God, it says nothing about reason:

Romans 12: 1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Paul's words here do not sound reasonable at all, but rather like the words of a cult leader madman.

Moving on with the Pope's speech, we see that he begins his sell on the idea that the Catholic Church is an integral part of the European Union, which should be formally recognized.

This inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history - it is an event which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: this convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.

First of all, the Christians did not in any way incorporate Greek philosophical inquiry, they shut it down. What they did do was incorporate a small selection of Greek philosophical concepts and constructs, which they used to give legitimacy to their religion, since this was required to gain some measure of acceptance with the existing culture, by claiming that their beliefs had points in common with existing views.

It is true that Europe today is a product of both the pre-Christian Roman world and the post-Christian world, it can be no other way, but clearly the greatest advances in Western culture have come from the rejection of Christian dogma and the rediscovery and re-embrace of pre-Christian knowledge and thought.

The thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a dehellenization of Christianity - a call which has more and more dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age

This is true. This occurred when the "inmates took over the asylum". With the Protestant Reformation there was a desire to push the Christian system, which was already only nominally rooted in philosophy, completely over the edge and away from reason for two reasons. In the first place because, with the re-embrace of reason it became clear that the Christian faith was not reasonable, and secondly, there was the view that the religion was supposed to be a product of divine revelation, not human thought.

What it is able to say critically about Jesus is, so to speak, an expression of practical reason and consequently it can take its rightful place within the university. Behind this thinking lies the modern self-limitation of reason, classically expressed in Kant's "Critiques", but in the meantime further radicalized by the impact of the natural sciences.

This modern concept of reason is based, to put it briefly, on a synthesis between Platonism (Cartesianism) and empiricism, a synthesis confirmed by the success of technology.

On the one hand it presupposes the mathematical structure of matter, its intrinsic rationality, which makes it possible to understand how matter works and use it efficiently: this basic premise is, so to speak, the Platonic element in the modern understanding of nature.

This is a highly confused, and indeed incorrect statement. Modern science and the modern understanding of nature have nothing to do with Plato, indeed they are anti-Platonic. Modern science is rooted in a merger of Aristotelian philosophy and the philosophical materialism of the atomists such as Democritus and Epicurus, which the Christians opposed from the very first days, whose works they destroyed, and whose ideas that completely denounced.

On the other hand, there is nature's capacity to be exploited for our purposes, and here only the possibility of verification or falsification through experimentation can yield ultimate certainty. The weight between the two poles can, depending on the circumstances, shift from one side to the other. As strongly positivistic a thinker as J Monod has declared himself a convinced Platonist/Cartesian.

This gives rise to two principles which are crucial for the issue we have raised. First, only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. Hence the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity.

A second point, which is important for our reflections, is that by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question. Consequently, we are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and reason, one which needs to be questioned.

 Actually, this is false. The early "scientists" and natural philosophers, such as Newton and Galileo did believe that God fell under the purview of objective verifiable experience. Indeed there was an extended effort during the 14th, 15th, 16th, and even 17th centuries to "prove" the existence and qualities of God through the use of mathematics and evidence. Indeed this effort still goes on to a lesser degree. What we have found, however, is that there is no evidence that supports the existence of the Christian god. So, scientists did not exclude "God" from their framework, the lack of evidence for the God that the looked to find resulted in the conclusion that God cannot be verified to exist.

Continued below due to length... 


Posted by rationalrevolution.net at 7:35 PM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, October 4, 2006 10:42 AM EDT
 Commentary on Pope Benedict XVI's Speech (Part IV)

Topic: Commentary
(Continued from previous post)
I will return to this problem later. In the meantime, it must be observed that from this standpoint any attempt to maintain theology's claim to be "scientific" would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self.

Indeed, which is exactly what was happening and exactly why Christians themselves changed their entire worldview, which had existed for over 1,500 years, and took their religious claims out of the purview of science on their own. When Christians realized that their faith was unsupportable by empirical science, they withdrew their faith further from the empirical world, which, during the time that Christianity was an unchallenged imperial dictate, backed by the force of arms, they denied. When Christianity had monopoly power in the world, the religion was presented as "empirically true", and a real physical description of how the world works.

But we must say more: if science as a whole is this and this alone, then it is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by "science", so understood, and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective.

This is absolutely false. The materialist philosophers of Greece were contemplating these issues over 500 years before Christianity even existed, so to claim that these are "religious questions", is plain and outright false. Furthermore, the materialist view does not treat these as "subjective" at all, but rather as objective. Indeed the materialist view, which the Christians have fought and lamented from the beginning, is the only truly objective view that there is. The Christian view, while claiming to be objective, is really a subjective attempt by people to try and imagine the perspective of a God which they have never seen and cannot possibly know.

In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.

More false statements. It is indeed true that religion is a social construct, and not a "personal matter", and it is indeed true that the Protestant Reformation and the liberal revolutions of the Enlightenment era relegated religion to a "personal matter", but it is also true that it is indeed science and sociology, etc., that view religion as an objective social construct, which can be defined, studied, and classified in an objective and material manner. So no, science does not make religion subjective, the religionists have made religion subjective in their attempts to retreat from objective science.

Before I draw the conclusions to which all this has been leading, I must briefly refer to the third stage of dehellenization, which is now in progress. In the light of our experience with cultural pluralism, it is often said nowadays that the synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church was a preliminary inculturation which ought not to be binding on other cultures.

The latter are said to have the right to return to the simple message of the New Testament prior to that inculturation, in order to inculturate it anew in their own particular milieux. This thesis is not only false; it is coarse and lacking in precision. The New Testament was written in Greek and bears the imprint of the Greek spirit, which had already come to maturity as the Old Testament developed.

The Pope is correct here. To try and separate Christianity from Greek influence is futile, since from the very beginning it is a product of Greek influence. The mythology of a god-man born of a virgin, the twelve apostles, the allusions to tasks and trials, the tragic hero figure of Christ, who nevertheless triumphs in the end after death, are all distinctly Greek elements of mythology. If you remove the Greek influence from Christianity, then you have Judaism.

The scientific ethos, moreover, is - as you yourself mentioned, Magnificent Rector - the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which belongs to the essential decisions of the Christian spirit.

This is typical Catholic connivance, seeking to place their religion as the fountainhead of the things which we can all plainly see are good. The Church fought science every step of the way, had no history of intellectual honesty, but instead constantly revised everything in order to make it agree with scripture, and yet now the Pope wants to claim that "seeking the objective truth" is a product of Christianity, when indeed it existed in Greece long before the Christians did, and it was the Christians who exterminated it until it was finally born again after the secular re-embrace Greek philosophy.

The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons.

In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.

Attempting, once again, to put faith on equal footing with empirical science. I for one would welcome the opportunity, if this were going to be a level playing field, but history tells us that the religionists will scream for special pleading when the evidences against their faith start to mount. We will then, once again, be between the position of abandoning reason to faith, or rejecting faith in the name of reason. We have been through this all before, but I welcome the opportunity to do it again.

A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures. At the same time, as I have attempted to show, modern scientific reason with its intrinsically Platonic element bears within itself a question which points beyond itself and beyond the possibilities of its methodology.

Modern science is not intrinsically Platonic, it is anti-Platonic. It is intrinsically materialist, the school of philosophy that both Plato and the Christians sought to undermine and destroy.

Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought - to philosophy and theology.

For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding.

This is false. Nothing needs to be remanded by science to other "planes of thought". Other planes of thought need to prove that they have any validity. This was already attempted in the West several hundred years ago. Religion failed the validity test, and thus withdrew itself from the field of play. Now, after having forgotten that religion shrank from the view of science itself, the religionists try to pretend that science has "unfairly" kept religion out of the discussion, but this is not the case. When you can prove one single facet of religious thought to be true or valid, then please do, its up to you Pope, to prove that you have something to offer, other than pulling at people's heart strings.

The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur - this is the programme with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time. "Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God", said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor.

It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.

The real fact of the matter is that Christians will not accept any materialist discussion or basis. Christians continue to play this game saying that "there are questions that science cannot answer", which they support as true by taking the a priori position that there is some "supernatural" existence and a god. When you start from the position that there is no god, and there is no supernatural existence, and you proceed from that point to answer every question that the religionist has, they then cry foul, say that you are a bad person, throw all kinds of names at you, and denounce you and materialism as responsible for every bad thing in the world, etc., etc.

The religionists are content with a discussion of science as long as the starting assumption is that God exists and there are things that science is fundamentally incapable of addressing. If you refuse that premise, they refuse to enter the dialog and so does this Pope.


Posted by rationalrevolution.net at 7:35 PM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, October 4, 2006 10:55 AM EDT
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
 Commentary on Pope Benedict XVI's Speech (Part I)

Topic: Commentary

Full transcript of the Pope's speech:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/pope/story/0,,1873277,00.html

With all of the media attention paid to the Pope's remarks about Mohammad being a spreader of evil, many of the points of the Pope's speech were actually missed. Aside from the Pope's comments on Mohammad, however, the rest of the speech follows the typical Catholic line of argument, and things that have all been heard before by those who are familiar with such speeches, so perhaps the ignoring of the rest of the speech is to be expected. As is typical, the rest of the speech, titled Faith, reason and the university: memories and reflections, made the argument that, or course, the Catholic faith is the rock upon with reason rests, that Platonism is a part of the foundation of both Christianity and the scientific worldview, etc.

Aside from the statements about spreading faith by violence, which the Pope began his speech with, the rest of the speech makes the argument that religion should be spread by reason, and that lack of faith, is, indeed “unreasonable”. As is usual, the Church here misportrays reality, and twists the discussion to first their own agenda.

There are two issues to address here, which I will address in separate posts, first is the issue of spreading the faith by violence.

While the Pope was correct to point out the fact that Islam is a religion whose faith has been spread by violence, he was wrong to ignore the fact that both Judaism and Christianity were also spread by violence. In fact, all three of these religions have the same violent roots. Both Christianity and Islam are based on Judaism, from which they inherit their violent nature.

For the Pope to point out the violent past of Islam and then try to portray the Catholic Church as an institution of “reason and peace” is really quite a twisting of reality. Specifically, this is what the Pope had to say:

“Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".

The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably ... is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".”

Here the Pope has portrayed violence as the Islamic was, and peaceful reason as the Catholic way, yet in reality Catholicism was spread and enforced upon the Roman Empire with many times more violence than has even been seen in the Islamic world. One of the most violent and destructive acts in human history prior to World War I and World War II was the establishment of Catholicism in the Roman world. The destruction in Greece was particularly appalling.

But, the problem is that the Catholic Church today has the seemingly impossible task of reforming itself into a “tolerant and pluralistic” faith. This is really a complete impossibility for any of the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam).

All of these religions are founded on violence, intolerance, and exclusion. These are not faiths that were ever intended for an open pluralistic society, they are, in fact, designed to be just the opposite, they are faiths designed to conquer, subdue, and bring everyone under the same institutions.

Indeed the rise of Christianity marked the destruction of the previously existing open pluralistic and tolerant culture of the Roman Empire, where thousands of different religions existed, alongside many non-religious schools of philosophy. The reason that the Romans persecuted Christianity at first was because they feared its intolerance and single minded objective of the conversion and conquest of all people. They could see plainly that it stood for the end of their pluralistic way of life, and so they fought against it, resulting eventually in many civil wars that helped to bring destruction and ruin to the empire.

The same thing happened in Persia with the rise of Islam. Persia was once one of the most open, tolerant, and scientifically advanced cultures in the world, some 2,000+ years ago. With the rise of Islam, however, those things changed.

Let us take a look at the roots of violence in these imperialist religions:

Judaism (Old Testament):

Anyone arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the judge or of the priest who represents the LORD your God must be put to death. Such evil must be purged from Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:12 NLT)

Whoever sacrifices to any god, except the Lord alone, shall be doomed. (Exodus 22:19 NAB)

They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. (2 Chronicles 15:12-13 NAB)

If a man still prophesies, his parents, father and mother, shall say to him, "You shall not live, because you have spoken a lie in the name of the Lord." When he prophesies, his parents, father and mother, shall thrust him through. (Zechariah 13:3 NAB)

Suppose you hear in one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you that some worthless rabble among you have led their fellow citizens astray by encouraging them to worship foreign gods. In such cases, you must examine the facts carefully. If you find it is true and can prove that such a detestable act has occurred among you, you must attack that town and completely destroy all its inhabitants, as well as all the livestock. Then you must pile all the plunder in the middle of the street and burn it. Put the entire town to the torch as a burnt offering to the LORD your God. That town must remain a ruin forever; it may never be rebuilt. Keep none of the plunder that has been set apart for destruction. Then the LORD will turn from his fierce anger and be merciful to you. He will have compassion on you and make you a great nation, just as he solemnly promised your ancestors. "The LORD your God will be merciful only if you obey him and keep all the commands I am giving you today, doing what is pleasing to him." (Deuteronomy 13:13-19 NLT)

If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him. Your hand shall be the first raised to slay him; the rest of the people shall join in with you. You shall stone him to death, because he sought to lead you astray from the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. And all Israel, hearing of this, shall fear and never do such evil as this in your midst. (Deuteronomy 13:7-12 NAB)

Suppose a man or woman among you, in one of your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, has done evil in the sight of the LORD your God and has violated the covenant by serving other gods or by worshiping the sun, the moon, or any of the forces of heaven, which I have strictly forbidden. When you hear about it, investigate the matter thoroughly. If it is true that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, then that man or woman must be taken to the gates of the town and stoned to death. (Deuteronomy 17:2-5 NLT)

One day a man who had an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father got into a fight with one of the Israelite men. During the fight, this son of an Israelite woman blasphemed the LORD's name. So the man was brought to Moses for judgment. His mother's name was Shelomith. She was the daughter of Dibri of the tribe of Dan. They put the man in custody until the LORD's will in the matter should become clear. Then the LORD said to Moses, "Take the blasphemer outside the camp, and tell all those who heard him to lay their hands on his head. Then let the entire community stone him to death. Say to the people of Israel: Those who blaspheme God will suffer the consequences of their guilt and be punished. Anyone who blasphemes the LORD's name must be stoned to death by the whole community of Israel. Any Israelite or foreigner among you who blasphemes the LORD's name will surely die. (Leviticus 24:10-16 NLT)

Suppose there are prophets among you, or those who have dreams about the future, and they promise you signs or miracles, and the predicted signs or miracles take place. If the prophets then say, 'Come, let us worship the gods of foreign nations,' do not listen to them. The LORD your God is testing you to see if you love him with all your heart and soul. Serve only the LORD your God and fear him alone. Obey his commands, listen to his voice, and cling to him. The false prophets or dreamers who try to lead you astray must be put to death, for they encourage rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of slavery in the land of Egypt. Since they try to keep you from following the LORD your God, you must execute them to remove the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 13:1-5 NLT)

But any prophet who claims to give a message from another god or who falsely claims to speak for me must die.' You may wonder, 'How will we know whether the prophecy is from the LORD or not?' If the prophet predicts something in the LORD's name and it does not happen, the LORD did not give the message. That prophet has spoken on his own and need not be feared. (Deuteronomy 18:20-22 NLT)

Cursed be he who does the Lords work remissly, cursed he who holds back his sword from blood. (Jeremiah 48:10 NAB)

While the Israelites were camped at Acacia, some of the men defiled themselves by sleeping with the local Moabite women.  These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, and soon the Israelites were feasting with them and worshiping the gods of Moab.  Before long Israel was joining in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the LORD's anger to blaze against his people.  The LORD issued the following command to Moses: "Seize all the ringleaders and execute them before the LORD in broad daylight, so his fierce anger will turn away from the people of Israel."  So Moses ordered Israel's judges to execute everyone who had joined in worshiping Baal of Peor.  Just then one of the Israelite men brought a Midianite woman into the camp, right before the eyes of Moses and all the people, as they were weeping at the entrance of the Tabernacle.  When Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the priest saw this, he jumped up and left the assembly.  Then he took a spear and rushed after the man into his tent. Phinehas thrust the spear all the way through the man's body and into the woman's stomach.  So the plague against the Israelites was stopped, but not before 24,000 people had died.  (Numbers 25:1-9 NLT)

Stand in silence in the presence of the Sovereign LORD, for the awesome day of the LORD's judgment has come.  The LORD has prepared his people for a great slaughter and has chosen their executioners.  "On that day of judgment," says the LORD, "I will punish the leaders and princes of Judah and all those following pagan customs.  Yes, I will punish those who participate in pagan worship ceremonies, and those who steal and kill to fill their masters' homes with loot.  "On that day," says the LORD, "a cry of alarm will come from the Fish Gate and echo throughout the newer Mishneh section of the city. And a great crashing sound will come from the surrounding hills.  Wail in sorrow, all you who live in the market area, for all who buy and sell there will die.  "I will search with lanterns in Jerusalem's darkest corners to find and punish those who sit contented in their sins, indifferent to the LORD, thinking he will do nothing at all to them.  They are the very ones whose property will be plundered by the enemy, whose homes will be ransacked.  They will never have a chance to live in the new homes they have built.  They will never drink wine from the vineyards they have planted.  "That terrible day of the LORD is near.  Swiftly it comes – a day when strong men will cry bitterly.  It is a day when the LORD's anger will be poured out.  It is a day of terrible distress and anguish, a day of ruin and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, of clouds, blackness, trumpet calls, and battle cries. Down go the walled cities and strongest battlements!  "Because you have sinned against the LORD, I will make you as helpless as a blind man searching for a path.  Your blood will be poured out into the dust, and your bodies will lie there rotting on the ground."  Your silver and gold will be of no use to you on that day of the LORD's anger.  For the whole land will be devoured by the fire of his jealousy.  He will make a terrifying end of all the people on earth.   (Zephaniah 1:7:18 NLT)

Continued below... 


Posted by rationalrevolution.net at 11:55 AM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, September 20, 2006 5:11 PM EDT
 Commentary on Pope Benedict XVI's Speech (Partt II)

Topic: Commentary

Christianity (New Testament):

21"Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10)

32 "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

34 "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to turn

   " 'a man against his father,

      a daughter against her mother,

   a daughter-in-law against her motherinlaw—

    36 a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'

 37 "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10)

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Ephesians 6)

Islam (The Qur'an):

2:193: And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah) and (all and every kind of) worship is for Allah (Alone). But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against Az-Zalimun (the polytheists, and wrong-doers, etc.)

9: 12: But if they violate their oaths after their covenant, and attack your religion with disapproval and criticism then fight (you) the leaders of disbelief (chiefs of Quraish - pagans of Makkah) - for surely their oaths are nothing to them - so that they may stop (evil actions).

9: 13: Will you not fight a people who have violated their oaths (pagans of Makkah) and intended to expel the Messenger, while they did attack you first? Do you fear them? Allah has more right that you should fear Him, if you are believers.

9:14: Fight against them so that Allah will punish them by your hands and disgrace them and give you victory over them and heal the breasts of a believing people,

9:26: Then Allah did send down His Sakinah (calmness, tranquillity and reassurance, etc.) on the Messenger (Muhammad), and on the believers, and sent down forces (angels) which you saw not, and punished the disbelievers. Such is the recompense of disbelievers.

9:29: Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allah, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.

47:4 So, when you meet (in fight Jihad in Allah's Cause), those who disbelieve smite at their necks till when you have killed and wounded many of them, then bind a bond firmly (on them, i.e. take them as captives). Thereafter (is the time) either for generosity (i.e. free them without ransom), or ransom (according to what benefits Islam), until the war lays down its burden. Thus [you are ordered by Allah to continue in carrying out Jihad against the disbelievers till they embrace Islam (i.e. are saved from the punishment in the Hell-fire) or at least come under your protection], but if it had been Allah's Will, He Himself could certainly have punished them (without you). But (He lets you fight), in order to test you, some with others. But those who are killed in the Way of Allah, He will never let their deeds be lost,

47:5: He will guide them and set right their state.

47: 9: But those who disbelieve (in the Oneness of Allah Islamic Monotheism), for them is destruction, and (Allah) will make their deeds vain.

47:10: That is because they hate that which Allah has sent down (this Qur'an and Islamic laws, etc.), so He has made their deeds fruitless.

47:11: Have they not travelled through the earth, and seen what was the end of those before them? Allah destroyed them completely and a similar (fate awaits) the disbelievers.

There is less overt violence or calls for the killing of others in the New Testament than in the Old Testament or the Qur'an, however the message of the New Testament is still that there is only one true god, and everyone should follow that god. The New Testament is still filled with violent imagery, end of the world doomsday prophesies, and calls to “spread the faith at any cost”. Moreover, the actions of the Christians themselves, both prior to coming to power, and especially after they had gained control in Rome, speak to the relentless violence brought about by the religion.

CONCERNING THE MOST EXALTED TRINITY AND THE CATHOLIC FAITH, AND PROVIDING THAT NO ONE SHALL DARE TO PUBLICLY OPPOSE THEM.

1. The Emperors Gratian, Valentinian, and Theodosius to the people of the City of Constantinople.

We desire that all peoples subject to Our benign Empire shall live under the same religion that the Divine Peter, the Apostle, gave to the Romans, and which the said religion declares was introduced by himself, and which it is well known that the Pontiff Damasus, and Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic sanctity, embraced; that is to say, in accordance with the rules of apostolic discipline and the evangelical doctrine, we should believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit constitute a single Deity, endowed with equal majesty, and united in the Holy Trinity.

(1) We order all those who follow this law to assume the name of Catholic Christians, and considering others as demented and insane, We order that they shall bear the infamy of heresy; and when the Divine vengeance which they merit has been appeased, they shall afterwards be punished in accordance with Our resentment, which we have acquired from the judgment of Heaven.

Dated at Thessalonica, on the third of the Kalends of March, during the Consulate of Gratian, Consul for the fifth time, and Theodosius.

2. The Same Emperors to Eutropius, Prætorian Prefect.

Let no place be afforded to heretics for the conduct of their ceremonies, and let no occasion be offered for them to display the insanity of their obstinate minds. Let all persons know that if any privilege has been fraudulently obtained by means of any rescript whatsoever, by persons of this kind, it will not be valid. Let all bodies of heretics be prevented from holding unlawful assemblies, and let the name of the only and the greatest God be celebrated everywhere, and let the observance of the Nicene Creed, recently transmitted by Our ancestors, and firmly established by the testimony and practice of Divine Religion, always remain secure.

(1) Moreover, he who is an adherent of the Nicene Faith, and a true believer in the Catholic religion, should be understood to be one who believes that Almighty God and Christ, the Son of God, are one person, God of God, Light of Light; and let no one, by rejection, dishonor the Holy Spirit, whom we expect, and have received from the Supreme Parent of all things, in whom the sentiment of a pure and undefiled faith flourishes, as well as the belief in the undivided substance of a Holy Trinity, which true believers indicate by the Greek word .... These things, indeed, do not require further proof, and should be respected.

(2) Let those who do not accept these doctrines cease to apply the name of true religion to their fraudulent belief; and let them be branded with their open crimes, and, having been removed from the threshhold of all churches, be utterly excluded from them, as We forbid all heretics to hold unlawful assemblies within cities. If, however, any seditious outbreak should be attempted, We order them to be driven outside the walls of the City, with relentless violence, and We direct that all Catholic churches, throughout the entire world, shall be placed under the control of the orthodox bishops who have embraced the Nicene Creed.

Given at Constantinople, on the fourth of the Ides of January, under the Consulate of Flavius Eucharius and Flavius Syagrius.
- The Code of Justinian; 529-534 CE

Pluralism and tolerance are simply incompatible with these religions. Countless people come to the defense of these religions, and Rabbis, Popes, Preachers, and Imams go to pains to continuously say that “our religion is a religion of peace”, “violence is not a part of our faith”, etc., but the problem is that violence is a part of these faiths, and it doesn't matter how many times people try to claim otherwise, those people who actually believe in these religions, and believe that these religions “are true”, are going to study them for themselves and they are going to see, plain and simple, that all of these religions endorse a worldview of violence, exclusion, and intolerance.

People who want a peaceful world, yet also believe in these faiths, will try as they might to twist and turn the words in order to dismiss them and interpret them in “the true way”, which just mean their own way, but you can't say that a religion “is formed from the true Word and Will of God”, and then try to edit that same “word” and “will”. The will of the god of these religions is violent destruction of all those who oppose the faith.

These are imperialist religions, how else do you think it is that they came to be so dominant?

While the Pope was right to point out the history of violence associated with Islam, he was wrong to ignore the history of violence associated with Christianity, most of which the Catholic Church itself is responsible for. Those who believe that these religions are “religions of peace” are simply fooling themselves. They are religions of peace just like Nazism was an ideology of peace. The Nazis preached peace too, the same kind of peace, the peace that would come after the whole world was converted to their way and under their authority.

Of all these nations God our Lord gave charge to one man, called St. Peter, that he should be Lord and Superior of all the men in the world, that all should obey him, and that he should be the head of the whole human race, wherever men should live, and under whatever law, sect, or belief they should be; and he gave him the world for his kingdom and jurisdiction.

And he [The Lord] commanded him to place his seat in Rome, as the spot most fitting to rule the world from; but also he permitted him to have his seat in any other part of the world, and to judge and govern all Christians, Moors, Jews, Gentiles, and all other sects. This man was called Pope, as if to say, Admirable Great Father and Governor of men. The men who lived in that time obeyed that St. Peter, and took him for Lord, King, and Superior of the universe; so also they have regarded the others who after him have been elected to the pontificate, and so has it been continued even till now, and will continue till the end of the world.

...

Wherefore, as best we can, we ask and require you that you consider what we have said to you, and that you take the time that shall be necessary to understand and deliberate upon it, and that you acknowledge the Church as the Ruler and Superior of the whole world, and the high priest called Pope, and in his name the King and Queen Doña Juana our lords, in his place, as superiors and lords and kings of these islands and this Tierra-firme by virtue of the said donation, and that you consent and give place that these religious fathers should declare and preach to you the aforesaid.

...

But, if you do not do this, and maliciously make delay in it, I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their Highnesses; we shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their Highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him; and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their Highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us. And that we have said this to you and made this Requisition, we request the notary here present to give us his testimony in writing, and we ask the rest who are present that they should be witnesses of this Requisition.
- Requerimiento, (Issued by the Catholic Church in1510)

These religions neither preach nor offer peace, the only peace that they offer is peace after death. Religions that preach eternal reward and bliss after death are never going to be conducive to peace and happiness on earth, and this applies equally to the religion of the Pope and to Islam.


Posted by rationalrevolution.net at 11:55 AM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, September 20, 2006 5:08 PM EDT
Friday, September 1, 2006
 Why I Support Israel

Topic: Commentary

Due to the recent firing of Air America radio host Mike Malloy, there has been much discussion about the role his criticism of Israel may have played in his firing. As a part of this discussion, more criticism of Israel has come up.

It seems that many people "on the left" feel that they should be anti-Israeli or at least heavily critical of Israel, and some even feel that they should be supporting Palestinian and Lebanese "resistance groups".

I must say that this is a completely reprehensible and backwards situation.

First of all, a lot of this has to do with several factors.

  1.  Noam Chomsky, who is idolized by many "leftists", is pro-Islamic resistance, because he is pro any kind of resistance to America.
  2. The Palestinian liberation movement was originally a leftist, even a Marxist, movement... 20 years ago.
  3. People like the underdogs and they hate the dominant groups. Israel is seen as dominant and they have the support of America.
  4. In the past 10 or 15 years many American Fundamentalists have become rabid supporters" of Israel.

This is a very unfortunate situation, because the issues are complex and many people are confused.

First, Noam Chomsky, while he does have his legitimate points, and has made many contributions to leftist political scholarship in the last 30 years, is simply wrong on so many points. He is wrong as a linguist about the nature of language and the propensity of animals to acquire language. He is wrong in his post-modernist views about there not being any meaningful reality and that "all values are equal", etc. He is wrong in his belief that "democracy makes right". He is wrong in his attitude towards America, that essentially whatever is bad for America must be good, which is utter nonsense.

The fact of the matter is that, overall, in the big scheme of things, America is still a relatively liberal place, and America is still one of the primary bastions of civilization in the world, as is Israel. Yes, some countries are indeed better than others, some values are better than others, some ways of life are better than others. America is far from perfect, but neither America nor Israel deserve to be sacrificed to religious fundamentalist barbarians, either internal ones or external ones. Secular liberals have a hard enough time fighitng against internal religious fundamentalists in both America and Israel, we don't need more problems by fighting against the external ones too. Opposition to religious extremism requires a united front, we can't have a large porition of the so-called "leftists" supporting radical Islamic fundamentalists in a war against Israel, that's just insane.

Secondly, yes, the Palestinian liberation movement of the 1970s and 1980s was led by Marxists and other leftists groups, but in case you didn't notice, those guys are no longer in the picture. They have been replaced by ultra-right-wing Islamo-fascists, to use a phrase from President Bush. Again, just because Bush calls them Islamo-fascists doesn't mean that they aren't. I don't like Bush, but I'm not going to spite Bush by supporting radical Islamic terrorists either.

Thirdly, being an underdog doesn't make you right and isn't a de facto endowment of moral authority. Yes, in the United States we have a major history of oppressed underdogs who were right, and who had to fight in the face of oppression by people who were wrong, but real life is not Hollywood and it doesn't follow scripts. Neither being the underdog nor the dominant force makes you right or makes your cause just. In addition to that, the Israelis are really the underdogs anyway, they are the ones surrounded by enemies who have publicly stated for the past 50 years that they want to eliminate them.

Just because you are opposed to US imperialism, which I am, does not mean that you should automatically be opposed to every ally of the United States, that's nonsense. Yes, the US has had some very unsavory allies in the past, and still does, but just being a US ally does not make you unsavory.

Fourthly, just because American Fundamentalist Christians have begun supporting Israel for delusionary reasons is not the fault of Israelis and its not a reason not to like and support Israel. I do believe that the recent support of Israel by Christian Fundamentalists is part of a larger political ploy, dare I say "conspiracy" to get that block of easily manipulated people to support a military agenda and foreign policy of aggression in the Middle East. I completely agree with that and think that the manipulation of American fundamentalists is part of a large network of political movers who use religious leaders to do their bidding, but, again, I'm not going to blame Israel for the policies of the United States, even if there are Israeli leaders who are "coconspirators", because a handful of leaders doesn't represent a nation.

The idea, also, that just because Hamas was democratically elected it means that we should somehow support them and play nice with them is also absurd. Why do American leftists say that we should support Hamas because they were democratically elected, yet they don't support President Bush? Forget 2000, and forget the 2004 conspiracy theories, Bush was democratically elected. That doesn't make him right or good. Nor does it make Hama right or good. All it means is that a growing number of Palestinians are moving towards radicalism and fundamentalism and in support of terrorism. Democracy does not define morality.

Having said all that, lets look at reality. Israel has one of the most progressive cultures in the world, a great scientific community, liberal laws, and a relatively open society, much more open than the Islamic societies that surround them, and they would be even more open if they weren't under constant threat. The Israeli culture is a fine and good culture that has a lot in common with Western culture. Israel is by far the most liberal nation in the Middle East. Israel is indeed a largely leftist country, with a strong history of leftism and progressive political and social policy.

It makes no sense at all for American leftists to support right-wing neo-Nazi thugs, i.e. Hezbollah and Hamas, who are opposed to women's rights, gay rights, freedom of speech, secularism, etc. in opposition to Israel, which is a progressive country as much as it can be in the face of constant aggression. Israel has historically been one of the most leftist countries in the world, and still has one of the largest and most influential leftist political groups of any nation. The fact that the international left has abondoned Israel, and the American right is courting Israel is only hurting leftism in Israel, so when American leftists are in opposition to Israel all they do is make things worse.

I really think that many American so-called "leftists" (many of which are really just conspiracy theorists or disgruntled people who don't have any solid basis of political or ideological grounding) need to seriously reconsider their positions on the Middle East. The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. Yes, I am an enemy of American military aggression in the Middle East, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to support Islamic terrorists and people who literally espouse Nazi ideology and have it written into their charter (Hamas).

There are many extremely oppressive regimes in the Middle East today. Yes, to a large extent they are products of failed Western policy over the past 100 years, I agree, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to support them. Irainian leadership, the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, and many others, are seriously oppressive, religious fundamentalist groups. Just because, in some cases, they are "fighting for the poor", or they are fighting in opposition to US occupation, doesn't make them just people, and does make them right, and doesn't make them worthy of support. It seems that some people among the "American left" (and what a fractious bunch that is) haven't figured this out.


Posted by rationalrevolution.net at 8:46 AM EDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Friday, September 1, 2006 9:02 AM EDT
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
 The American Right trying to lead a global Liberal Revolution?

Topic: Commentary

With the on-going violence between Israel and Lebanon, the war in Iraq, the upcoming elections, and the foiled terror plot in England, everyone is talking about the foreign policy of "Bush and Blair".

It is quite unfortunate that Tony Blair got tied up with George Bush, I can't help but think that if Tony Blair were really leading the initiative in the Middle East that it might be a little more successful, because I think that Tony Blair is a little more genuine and would be seen as a little more authentic leader for a progressive democratic movement. After all, Blair is the head of the Center Left party in the UK, not a conservative like Bush.

This is the crux of the matter. What exactly is the Bush administration's supposed foreign policy objective? They claim that their objective is to "spread secular democracy around the world".

Sounds great, the only problem is that the people around the world who have to buy into this and support it are the secular liberal progressives and this foreign policy is being pushed by right-wing nationalist conservatives, whom none of the secular progressive community in the world trusts.

That's the problem, Bush's supposed "campaign for global democracy" is really a "liberal progressive" movement. It is impossible, however, for a right-wing, nationalist, theocratic, conservative to lead a global movement for liberal secular democracy.

The only way that Bush's espoused foreign policy goals (which almost no one actually believes are true) could be achieved would be if that foreign policy were led by a trusted liberal leader and administration.

The only thing that can make American foreign policy work today is to get the buy-in and support of progressives around the world, especially in the Middle East, yet these are the very people that the Bush administration is at odds with.

Who do we need by our side in the Middle East to actually help bring democracy to the Middle East and win a "war on terror"? We need the women's rights coalitions, we need the pro-democracy coalitions, we need the pro-secular coalitions, we need the human rights coalitions. We need the support of all the people who hate President Bush in order to actually win the "war on terror" and bring democracy to the Middle East. There is simply no way that a right-wing nationalist administration can bring a liberal democratic revolution to the world, yet this is exactly what American foreign policy is based on today, which is why America has lost credibility and why our foreign policy is a failure and will continue to fail.

There is only one way for American foreign policy to succeed, and that is under the leadership of a truly internationally respected internationalist and promoter of liberalism, secularism, humans rights, and fair trade. Only such a leader, and such an agenda, can garner the support of the people around the world that the United Stated needs support from. There are millions of people throughout the Middle East who despise Islamic fundamentalism, and who are ready, willing and able to fight for secular democracy, true free trade, and opening up their countries to the West, but these people are never going to cooperate with the likes of the Bush administration. Progress in the Middle East require true altruism and humanitarianism on the part of the West, and no right-wing nationalist administration will ever convince the progressives of the Middle East that they are the altruistic leaders of global democracy and cooperation, therefore, right-wing American leadership is doomed to continued failure in foreign policy.

Only true secular liberal progressives can lead the world into a new era of cooperation, integration, and democracy.


Posted by rationalrevolution.net at 6:58 AM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, September 1, 2006 8:50 AM EDT
Saturday, July 8, 2006
 Speaking event Sunday July 23rd

Topic: Announcements

The Origins of Christianity and the Jesus Myth
Sunday July 23 at 1:30 pm

This presentation will explore the evolution of Christianity from its early origins to an institution that dominated the failing Roman Empire. Who were the early Christians? What influences did the so-called "pagan" cultures have on Christianity? What do we really know about Jesus? How did Christianity become the exclusive religion of the Roman world? These issues and more will be addressed in this multi-media speaking presentation.

Additional Information:

Broward Community College North Campus Library - Room 226

(just west of Exit 67 on Turnpike on Coconut Creek Parkway)

http://www.centerforinquiry.net/fll/


Posted by rationalrevolution.net at 8:48 AM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Friday, June 30, 2006
 Regarding CEO Paycheck: $42,000 a day

Topic: Commentary

The well intentioned Jeanne Sahadi of CNN, who typically tries to provide "working class" oriented economic assessments, proves once against just how biased and skewed our economic language is in America.

In a recent CNN Money piece on executive pay, where she was trying to point out the flaws of CEO compensation, she still used the same flawed language that all "mainstream media" economists use, despite the fact that it actually undermined her own points.

http://money.cnn.com/2006/06/21/news/companies/ceo_pay_epi/index.htm?cnn=yes

What I'm talking about here is the use of the words "earn" and "make" when discussing incomes. These words have become ubiquitous in economics today, but they are completely biased terms that completely misrepresent the truth. The most accurate and unbiased way to describe a person's income is "receive". Receive always works, is always accurate, and is always correct. The very problem with our economy is that we don't really know if people "earn" their incomes, we don't really know how much a person actually "makes". We do know how much they are paid, and that is an objective value that we can discuss, but whether or not someone has actually "earned" that compensation or actually "created" that value, is subjective.

Money transforms something subjective into something objective. The use of the terms "earn" and "make" in popular economic lexicon misportrays something that is subjective as something objective. If I say that the CEO of XYZ company "earned" $20,000,000 last year, then I am telling you that he does deserve the money, and he did actually personally create $20,000,000 worth of value. That's an inaccurate statement though. You don't know if he personally created $20,000,000 worth of value, or if he really earned it or not. We do know that he received it, but that's all we know.

In fact, the problem with our economy is the fact that incomes do not match contributions. People are not receiving what they earn. Executives tend to receive more than the value that they create and average workers tend to receive less value than they create.

The value created by the workers is redistributed to the executives, who are receiving money that was earned by the workers below then in the company, as well as money that is a product of socially created value from public infrastructure and resources. Value created by other people is realized by corporate executives, which is why they are getting these insane compensation packages.

There can be no problem with income disparity if indeed the incomes are truly earned. If one person is actually creating 300 times more value a year than someone else, then that person deserves to keep that value, but the fact is that this is not happening. One person isn't creating 300 times more value than another person. One person is maybe creating 5 times or perhaps even 10 times more value than another person, but through social institutions the contributions of the various members of society are redirected, using various aspects of property rights to redirect value that is created by common workers to a few executives and property holders.

This is the problem that people have when they think about capitalism. People still think in terms of pre-capitalist production. For example:

We have 10 people who make bricks. They are paid $1 per brick that they make. Each individual makes their own bricks. Tom makes 50 bricks a day, Bill makes 80 bricks a day, Susan makes 100 bricks a day, Bob makes 30 bricks a day, etc. There is absolutely no reason to redistribute any of the income of these people. They each make as many bricks as they can or choose to do, and they get what they "earned". That's fine.

Now let's see this same process in a capitalist system.

We have 10 people, who work at making bricks. 5 of them are brick makers, 2 are middle managers, 1 is a book keeper, 1 is a salesman, and 1 is an executive. The 5 people make a total of 250 bricks a day and the company is able to sell all of them each day. Those 250 bricks a day produce the $250 a day revenuestream for the company. The $250 a day is then divided up among the various members of the company. How do we decide who gets how much? How do we know how much value each member of the company is contributing? In truth we really don't. Its subjective. Right now, in our capitalist system, many factors come into play, including the market demand/supply of the various types of workers, social pressures and customs, the personal persuasive ability of the workers and executives involved to advocate their self-interest, the knowledge or lack of knowledge about the revenue of the company, outside social perceptions, how people are educated to think about compensation and self-worth, overall social conceptions about the economic impact of compensation, etc.

To put it another way, consider a luxury car company, that makes $42,000 cars, where the people who build the cars get paid $42,000 a year, and the CEO gets paid $42,000 a day. What this means is that compensation is telling us that is the workers create 1 car a year each, while the CEO makes 1 car a day. Is this correct? This would mean that all of the work done by the worker would amount to building 1 car in a years time, while the CEO personally builds 260 cars a year. Does anyone really believe that this is true? I sure don't.

Compensation in our system is anything but straight forward. We must really admit that we have no idea how much each worker in society is really "earning" or really "making", all we know is what they are receiving.

Below is a copy of Jeanne Sahadi's article, with all of the words "earn" and "make" replaced with receive. As you can see, if you read the original first, it completely changes the impression given by the article, and it is also more accurate.

The top dogs at large companies received big bucks, no surprise. But it's always a little jolting to see just how big those bucks are relative to the paycheck of the average Joe.

Last year, the average CEO of a company with at least $1 billion in annual revenue received $10,982,000, or 262 times what the average worker received, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released Wednesday.

Put another way, the average worker -- who received $41,861 in 2005 -- received about $400 less last year than what the average large-company CEO received  in one day. That assumes 260 days of pay (52 weeks x 5 days a week).

The CEO-to-worker pay differential in 2005 was the second highest on record. The highest was 2000, when the average CEO received 300 times what the average worker received.

In 2002, the differential fell to 143 as the bear market took its toll on stock-related compensation. Nevertheless, between 2000 and 2005, median CEO pay rose 84 percent to $6.05 million on an inflation-adjusted basis, according to EPI.

Median worker pay during the same period fell an estimated 0.3 percent to $33,852, based on BLS weekly compensation data.

Critics of CEO pay contend that the compensation committees of publicly traded companies too often fail to tie pay to performance.


Posted by rationalrevolution.net at 8:36 AM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, July 2, 2006 9:58 AM EDT

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