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Thoughts on Religion

New Page -- 21 April 2006

 

Religion has recently (and/or once again) become a topic of numerous critical essays. It is in fact difficult to find current media coverage which does not include the latest news of the many and varied conflicts arising from religious views, both pro and con.

 

This spurt in popularity should not come as a big surprise inasmuch as religion and politics have again become the strangest of bedfellows; an alliance whereby various fudamentalist (aka orthodox) believers of one sect have waged or threatened to wage all out war against believers of one or more other fundamentalist sects. The separation of church and state has -- once again -- been losing ground to various religious groups who are attempting to use the powers and military might of governments in order to impose their religious beliefs on other religious and/or secular societies.

 

There are seemingly no limits to this religious fever with everything from attempts to insert creationism into science teachings in education (even when science and religion seldom mix) to attempts by neo-cons in the Bush Administration to utilize religious fanatism to impose democracy (despite its inherent perils) on Middle East countries. Then there are the counter efforts by such governments as Iran to impose a theocracy on their people, while simultaneously threatening the world -- once again -- with weapons of mass destruction.

 

All of this media emphasis has led to comments on religion and its impact on society from a broad array of religious practitioners, critical observers, and anyone else who may find their lives impacted by religious impositions -- which of course includes just about everybody.

 

This webpage has been created in order to provide a wide array of views about religion -- from those who have dedicated their lives to religion to others who see nothing but danger and horror in religion. These include priests (defrocked and otherwise), bishops, Nobel laureates, politicians, true believers who have had their worlds turned upside down by religious activities, and more than a few journalists (who know a good story when they see it).

 

This collection of thoughts below may not be viewed as even-handed or fair to all sides (and there are far more than two sides) of the argument(s). There is in fact a lack of truly orthodox and fundamentalist views -- but whose views haven't changed in eons, and are thus not something we haven't heard before. What is different is the degree to which so many people -- both religious and secular -- have seen the necessity for religion to change, to reinterpret its most sacred writings, and to lighten up on the hellfire and brimstone approach. In essence, how can religion evolve into a more enlightened state?

 

And so, without further ado...

Thoughts on Religion by its Practitioners and/or Critical Observers

***** Paulo Coelho is the Brazilian author of many bestsellers, including The Alchemist, Warrior of the Light and Eleven Minutes. In his article,"What is the Meaning of Faith?", [Ode Magazine, November 2005] he writes:

"A Tale of Two Gods

"There are two gods. The god our teachers teach us about, and the God who teaches us. The god about whom people usually talk, and the God who talks to us. The god we learn to fear, and the God who speaks to us of mercy. The god who is somewhere upon on high, and the God who is here in our daily lives. The god who demands punishment, and the God who forgives us our trespasses. The god who threatens us with the torments of Hell, and the God who shows us the true path. There are two gods. A god who casts us off because of our sins, and a God who calls to us with His love."

[Editor's Note: Shades of Enki and Enlil, perhaps?]

 

***** Leonardo Boff, a Brazilian Catholic leader noted for his advocacy of liberation theology, has been attributed in the article, "Jesus meets the free market," [Ode Magazine, November 2005] the following story, wherein he recalled "a remarkable incident that happened in 1985 during the Pope's visit to Bolivia."

"Ramiro Reynaga, chief of a local Indian tribe, presented the Pope with a Bible and a letter bearing words to the following effect: 'We, native Indians of the Andes and of America, decide to take this occasion to give back to you your Bible because in five centuries it gave us neither love, nor peace, nor justice.'"

"Boff considers Christianity partially responsible for the current crisis in the world, because its doctrines have propagated the idea that humans are lords and masters of all creation. This, he says, lies at the root of many contemporary problems: the depletion of natural resources, global inequity, contempt for anyone who think differently and a tendency for all people to adopt the values of the dominant culture." [emphasis added]

"...In 1992, he incurred the wrath of bigwigs in the Catholic Church once again by challenging the Vatican's claim that the church represented the one and only truth in his book, Church: Charism and Power. Boff was defrocked. He says, 'I changed trenches to continue the same fight.'"

 

***** Bishop John Shelby Spong is an Episcopal Bishop (retired), who currently writes for his own website, entitled, A New Christianity for a New World.

"Religious fundamentalism is built on the assumption that the truth of God has been captured for all time. It comes in many forms including inerrancy for the words of scripture, ex cathedra utterances of a religious leader and the conviction that the ultimate truth of God has been captured in one's developed creeds. Fundamentalism is found in both Catholic and Protestant Christianity, in Islam and in Judaism.

"When any religious system believes it speaks with the 'Voice of God' it inevitably turns demonic. Fundamentalism has supported slavery, condemned homosexuals and killed those it defined as 'God's enemies.'" "When people are repulsed by... Jewish fundamentalism they just might be [led] to be equally aware of and thus equally repulsed by the counter claims of Islamic fundamentalism and begin to see that the claims made by Christian fundamentalists about our nation and its role in the world are also repulsive." [emphasis added]

Bishop John Shelby Spong, "Jewish Fundamentalism," A New Christianity for a New World, Internet newsletter, 9/21/2005.

 

***** U2 lead singer Bono has taken a part-time job as a world ambassador for the DATA organization (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa - but also Democracy, Accountability and Transparency for Africa). His concerts include the symbols of Islam, Judaism and Christianity in a sign of CoeXisT.

"...People who are open spiritually are open to being manipulated more easily, are very vulnerable. The religious instinct is a very pure one in my opinion. But unless it's met with a lot of rigor, it's very hard to control." "There is always a corruption of some holy thesis, whether it's the Koran or the Bible."

"Religion can be the enemy of God. It's often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. A list of instructions where there was once conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship. But the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma." "I really believe we've moved out of the realm of Karma into one of Grace. You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics - in physical laws - every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It's clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the Universe. I'm absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to up end all that 'As you reap, so will you sow' stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff.: "...I'd be in big trouble if Karma was going to be my final judge. I'd be in deep shit. It's doesn't excuse my mistakes, but I'm holding out for Grace. I'm holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don't have to depend on my own religiosity."

Michka Assayas, "I'm not a wide-eyed idealist," (an interview with U2 lead singer, Bono), Ode Magazine, November 2005.

 

***** Turker Alkan, writes for Istanbul's Radikal , a Turkish publication.

"If Arab countries want democracy, they'll have to abandon Islamic Law."

"'Is there a theocracy which is administered with democracy anywhere in the world?' Of course not, and that's because the two are mutually exclusive. A constitution based on 'divine law' can't be changed - yet it is the people's ability to change their laws that defines democracy."

Turker Alkan, as reported in "Best Columns: Europe," The Week, April 14, 2006.

 

***** Alan Tacca writes for the Kampala Monitor , a Ugandan publication.

"The time has come to abolish Christianity." "Religion is doing little these days but provide fuel for conflicts: Muslims against Christians, Hindus against Buddhists, and everyone against the Jews." "References to God should be removed from currencies and national anthems, sand-blasted off government buildings. Only after faith in the supernatural is gone can people take responsibility for generating 'virtue and beauty' in 'the human realm'."

Alan Tacca, as reported in "Best Columns: International," The Week, April 14, 2006.

 

***** Neale Donald Walsch is the author of the international bestseller, Conversations with God.

"God speaks to everyone all the time. 'The question is not 'To whom does God speak?' The question is 'Who listens?''"

"The idea that there are only a handful of exclusive messengers is outdated: 'There are no 'exclusive messengers.' All the doctrines of all the religions which claim that their messenger is the 'exclusive' messenger of God are in error. They are mistaken. You are a messenger of God. Everyone of you.'" "All of us are having a conversation with God all of the time."

"'The irony of all this is that it is often religions themselves which tell us that we do not and cannot have a direct connection with God. They must tell us this, or they cannot in any way attract or command our allegiance. We must believe that these religions are our doorway to God. Otherwise we would abandon them. Given the way many of them are acting, we are ready to abandon them anyway.'"

"'Religion has brought us more grief than happiness, more war than peace and more hate than love for our fellow man that we'd like to admit.'" "'Nearly all institutional religions based on exclusion speak repeatedly of an angry, jealous and harsh God who uses violence and death, and who forgives the use of violence and death as a means of solving religious conflicts.'" "'According to the Bible alone, over a million people were destroyed by the hand of God or on His authority.'"

"'Imagine that scientists thought along the same lines as religious leaders and one day they declared, 'OK people, we have all the information. The final words have been spoken. Starting now we won't think for ourselves anymore, we won't ask any complicated questions and we'll rely on just one source.'"

"'If God wants nothing from us, then the responsibility for happiness and sadness, poverty and wealth, pollution or sustainability - in short, heaven and hell - rests firmly where it belongs: with us.'"

Tijn Touber, "God speaks to everyone all the time," an interview with Neale Donald Walsch, Ode Magazine, March 2006.

 

***** Texas student, Shelby Knox, made a concentrated effort to have sex education taught in public schools in Lubbox, Texas. She failed, but her efforts became the subject of a documentary - in part because she was a Christian and had taken a vow to remain a virgin until after her marriage vows.

Knox: "I think there's something about religion and the human psyche that makes some people think that everyone needs to be the same. It's the message that culture takes from it; it's a human desire, people want to think, 'I'm special, my way of doing things is right, and other people should be like me."

"It is dangerous that it is now a political liability not to be of the Christian faith." "Some people feel they are being oppressed or persecuted if they can't make other people pray to their god, if they can't force their Christianity on others." "...when [religious leaders] talk about morals, they want only their morals to be pushed on others." "I don't think I have the right or authority to tell other people what to believe or to pass judgment on others."

"A 2004 study of 12,000 adolescents presented at the National STD Prevention Conference found that teens who pledge to remain virgins until marriage have the same rates of sexually transmitted diseases as those who don't, and that 88 percent of pledgers have sex before marriage."

Benjamin Radford, "The Education of Shelby Knox," Free Inquiry, April/May 2006.

 

***** Nurit Peled-Elhanan lost her daughter to a suicide bomber.

"These leaders know all they have to do to draw more young, enthusiastic soldiers is to find a God to ordain this killing." "People have always used God as an excuse for their crimes. Our children, from a very early age, learn about Joshua, the glorified leader who murdered the whole population of Jericho in the name of God. Then they learn about the prophet Eliyahu, who killed the 450 priests of the Baal, because they practiced a different religion, and then they learn about Elisha, who brought death, with the help of God, upon 42 children who mocked him by calling him bald. Not to mention the adored King David and his terrible deeds."

"For me, Saddam Hussein, Ariel Sharon and George Bush, father and son, are the same, for all have inflicted pain and death upon innocent populations. If we don't tell our children that these people are unscrupulous murderers, we shall never have leaders who rule out killing as a solution to social and political problems."

Nurit Peled-Elhanan, "A Mother's Plea," Ode Magazine, October 2005.

 

***** Kenneth W. Chalker is a long term Methodist minister, a strong believer in the spirituality of religion, and an exacting critic of "institutional religion".

"I have been a parish pastor in the United Methodist Church for 31 years. This calling continues to be a marvelous, enriching and energizing spiritual experience. Among other things, it has made me deeply spiritual and leads me to pray daily for the demise of religion."

"Religion, however, is what Satan devises as a way of confusing faithful people. Holy wars, suicide bombings and other religiously motivated killings prove the point. Those of us who exercise our spirituality by attempting to follow in the footsteps of Jesus are very much aware that when Jesus was around religious people it made him nauseated. I believe that is why Jesus always enjoyed eating with sinners. It was the only way he could keep his lunch."

"...institutional religion continues to be a mind-numbing reality. In all cultures, it preserves the status quo in ice. That is why religious folks often seem to be the "frozen chosen" rather than ones warmed by the fire of the Spirit with tolerance, acceptance and love, and set ablaze with a passion for justice."

Rev. Kenneth W. Chalker, http://www.cleveland.com/plaindealer and/or

http://www.commondreams.org/views05/1212-34/htm 12/12/2005.

 

***** Jim Wallis is the editor-in-chief of Sojourners , www.sojo.net , a magazine of "faith, politics, and culture", whose mission "is a Christian ministry whose mission is to proclaim and practice the biblical call to integrate spiritual renewal and social justice." It was founded in 1971 (A.D.).

"Religion is the most dangerous energy source known to humankind. The moment a person (or government or religion or organization) is convinced that God is either ordering or sanctioning a cause or project, anything goes. The history, worldwide, of religion-fueled hate, killing, and oppression is staggering." [Quoting Eugene Peterson (from the introduction to the Book of Amos in the Bible paraphrase The Message).]

"William Kristol, editor of the influential Weekly Standard, admits the aspiration to empire." According to Kristol, "Europe was now unfit to lead because it was 'corrupted by secularism,' as was the developing world, which was 'corrupted by poverty.' Only the United States could provide the 'moral framework' to govern a new world order, according to Kristol, who recently and candidly wrote, 'Well, what is wrong with dominance, in the service of sound principles and high ideals?' [Wallis then asks,] Whose ideals? The American right wing's definition of 'American ideals,' presumably."

Jim Wallis, "Dangerous Religion; George W. Bush's theology of empire, Sojourners, September- October 2003.

 

***** Jim Wallis continues with his article,"The Religious Right is Losing Control," [Sojourners, 3/22/06]:

"For more than a decade, a series of environmental initiatives have been coming from an unexpected source - a new generation of young evangelical activists." "...more establishment evangelical groups, especially the National Association of Evangelicals, also began to speak up on the issue of creation care." "In 2004, the NAE adopted a new policy statement, "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility," which included a principle titled "We labor to protect God's creation."

"Laurie Goodstein [New York Times, March 2005] noted that when, "A core group of influential evangelical leaders put its considerable political power behind a cause that has barely registered on the evangelical agenda, fighting global warming," the politics of global warming changed overnight in Washington, D.C." "The next year saw NAE participation at many major climate change and environmental meetings - both domestically and internationally - and a series of press stories about the new evangelical environmentalists."

"In January, the Religious Right reared its head. In a letter addressed to the NAE - signed by 22 of the Right's prominent leaders"-- they said, 'We respectfully request... that the NAE not adopt any official position on the issue of global climate change. Global warming is not a consensus issue.' It was a clear effort to prevent the NAE from taking a stand on environmental issues and even to veto the whole effort. Stick to our core issues they implied - meaning abortion and gay marriage. Five years ago, so powerful a group of conservative Christian leaders probably could have tamped down this new evangelical effort that served to broaden the range of moral values and issues of biblical concern. But not this time."

"A month later, on Feb. 9, a full page ad appeared in The New York Times with the headline: ' Our commitment to Jesus Christ compels us to solve the global warming crisis.' The striking ad announced the Evangelical Climate Initiative, and was signed by 86 prominent evangelical leaders, including the presidents of 39 Christian colleges."

"The Evangelical Climate Initiative is of enormous importance and could be a tipping point in the climate change debate... But of even wider importance, these events signal a sea change [pardon the pun] in evangelical Christian politics: The Religious Right is losing control. They have now lost control on the environmental issue - caring for God's creation is now a mainstream evangelical issue, especially for a new generation of evangelicals. But now so is sex trafficking, the genocide in Darfur, the pandemic of HIV/AIDS and, of course, global and domestic poverty. The call to overcome extreme poverty abroad and at home, in the world's richest nation, is becoming a new altar call around the world - a principal way Christians are deciding to put their faith into practice."

"The sacredness of life and family values are deeply important to these Christians as well - yet too important to be used as partisan wedge issues that call for single issue voting patterns that ignore other critical biblical matters. The Religious Right has been able to win when they have been able to maintain and control a monologue on the relationship between faith and politics. But when a dialogue begins about the extent of moral values issues and what biblically-faithful Christians should care about, the Religious Right begins to lose. The best news of all for the American church and society is this: The monologue of the Religious Right is over, and a new dialogue has just begun."

See http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=sojomail.display&issue=060322#4 for the full article.

 

*****Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith [W.W.Norton & Company, New York, 2004], is becoming established as a strong supporter of science and simultaneously a severe critic of religion and religious hierarchies. Many of his essays now appear in Free Inquiry, a decidedly secular magazine.

"If a book like the Bible were the only reliable blueprint for human decency that we had, it would be impossible (both practically and logically) to criticize it in moral terms. But it is extraordinarily easy to criticize the morality one finds in the Bible, as most of it is simply odious and incompatible with a civil society. The notion that the Bible is a perfect guide to morality is really quite amazing, given the contents of the book. Human sacrifice, genocide, slaveholding, and misogyny are consistently celebrated."

"Of course, God's counsel to parents is refreshingly straightforward: whenever children get out of line, we should beat them with a rod (Proverbs 13:24, 20:30, and 23)13-14). If they are shameless enough to talk back to us, we should kill them (Exodus 21:15, Leviticus 20:9, Deuteronomy 21:18-21, Mark 7:9-13, and Matthew 15:4-7). We must also stone people to death for heresy, adultery, homosexuality, working on the Sabbath, worshipping graven images, practicing sorcery, and a wide variety of other imaginary crimes."

"Most Christians imagine that Jesus did away with all this barbarism and delivered a doctrine of pure love and toleration. He didn't. (See Matthew 5:18-19, Luke 16:17, 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 20-21, John 7:19.)" "As a source of objective morality, the Bible is one of the worst books we have. It might be the worst, in fact - if we didn't also happen to have the Qur'an."

"If religion were necessary for morality, there should be some evidence that atheists are less moral than believers." "According to the United Nations Human Development Report (2005), the most atheistic societies - countries like Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom - are actually the healthiest, as indicated by measures of life expectancy, adult literacy, per-capita income, educational attainment, gender equality, homicide rate, and infant mortality. Conversely, the fifty nations now ranked lowest by the UN in terms of human development are unwaveringly religious." Causality? But obviously "religious fath does nothing to ensure a society's health."

Sam Harris, "The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos," Free Inquiry, April/May 2006.

 

*****Sam Harris, again.

"People of faith fall on a continuum. Some draw solace and inspiration from a spiritual tradition yet remain fully committed to tolerance and diversity, while others would burn the earth to cinders if it would put an end to heresy. There are, in other words, religious moderates and religious extremists, and their various passions and projects should not be confused. That said, religious moderates are themselves the bearers of a terrible dogma: They imagine that the path to peace will be paved once each of us has learned to respect the unjustified beliefs of others. But the very ideal of religious tolerance - born of the notion that all human beings should be free to believe whatever they want about God - is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss. One problem is that religious moderation does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism."

"Moderates ask that we relax our standards of adherence to ancient superstitions and taboos while otherwise maintaining a belief system that was passed down to us from men and women whose lives were simply ravaged by their basic ignorance of the world. In what other sphere of life is such subservience to tradition acceptable?"

"Religion, being the mere maintenance of dogma, is one area of discourse that does not admit of progress." "If religious war is ever to become as unthinkable to us as slavery and cannibalism, we will first have to dispense with the dogma of faith."

Sam Harris, "The Problem with Faith", Utne, March-April 2005.

 

*****And Sam, yet once again.

"40 percent of scientists "still believe that reason and faith are compatible. Science, we are often told, 'cannot prove that God does not exist'; religion and science 'address different questions"... and "they do not overlap."

"Faith is nothing more than the license religious people give themselves to keep believing when reasons fail. In a world that has been shattered - uttlerly - by mutually incompatible religious beliefs... in a nation that is growing increasingly beholden to Iron Age conceptions of God, the end of history, the return of Jesus, and the immortality of the soul... this lazy partitioning of our discourse into matters of reason and matters of faith is unconsciousable."

"There are no ethical or intellectual reasons to be 'intensely conflicted' over [such things as] stem-cell research; there are only theological reasons, and they are bad ones. Anyone who feels that the interests of a three day old blastocyst just might trump those of a child with full body burns has had his ethical intuitions blinded by religious metaphysics. The link between religion and 'morality' - so regularly proclaimed and so seldom demonstrated - is fully belied here, as it is wherever religious dogma replaces genuine ethical reasoning and genuine compassion."

"Like science, every religion makes claims about the way the world is. Faith consists in accepting these claims on insufficient grounds." "The appropriate response of scientists to the deplorable ascendancy of religions in the United States is to criticize it, not conform to it." "What we need is a science that incorporates first-person experience (emotions, ethical intuitions, contemplative insights, etc.) into the charmed circle of rigorous theory and experiment."

Sam Harris, "Selling Out Science," Free Inquiry, December 2005/January 2006.

 

***** Keith Thompson writes a review of Sam Harris' book in Shift, a magazine put out by the Institute of Noetic Sciences (which had in turn been founded by Edgar Mitchell, former Apollo astronaut).

"Precisely because religious moderates have already discarded elements of their faith that don't stand up to reason or experience, they have a special responsibility to bear witness to the dangers posed by warring fundamentalisms of different varieties. Failing to do so in the name of 'tolerance', Harris insists, only paves the way for fundamentalism to flourish."

"'Our world is fast succumbing to the activities of men and women who would stake the future of our species on beliefs that should not survive an elementary school education. That so many of us are still dying on account of ancient myths is as bewildering as it is horrible, and our own attachment to these myths, whether moderate or extreme, has kept us silent in the face of developments that could ultimately destroy us. We can no longer afford the luxury of such political correctness. We must finally recognize the price we are paying to maintain the iconography of our ignorance.'"

"Not all cultures are morally equal, cultures pass through stages of moral and ethical development every bit as substantial as accepted stages of material and economic development. Concerning more than one million Tibetan deaths as a result of Chinese occupation of Tibet, the author asks, Where are the Tibetan suicide bombers?"

"'This universe is shot through with mystery. The very fact of its being, and of our own, is a mystery absolute, and the only miracle worthy of the name.'" "'The days of our religious identities are clearly numbered. Whether the days of civilization itself are numbered would seem to depend, rather too much, on how soon we realize this.'"

Keith Thompson, a Review of the Book by Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, "Multimedia Reviews", Shift at the Frontiers of Consciousness, June-August 2005.

 

***** Karen Armstrong, author of The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness, is interviewed by Michael Valpy in Utne, a relatively liberal magazine.

"Skeptics and believers are wrestling with whether faith is our only hope or a human flaw that keeps us shackled to a violent past."

"'Misbegotten U. S. foreign policy is pushing Islamic fundamentalists closer and closer to the use of weapons of mass destruction. Time is running out. The American administration and its allies have ignited a conflict that will last a generation... and Pollyanniash optimism about its outcome is a sin.'" "'Even to call it a war on terrorism is a mistake.' It is a religious war, launched in an era of mushrooming worldwide religious fundamentalist revolt against modernity and secularism. Fundamentatlism... is an emormous problem that must be addressed. It is splitting countries like Egypt, Israel, and the United States in two, and the lessons from history are unequivocal: Religious fundamentalists, always and everywhere, become more violent under attack." [emphasis added] "Whenever religion is allowed to enter political debate, positions become more rigid and absolute."

"God has been invented and reinvented through the centuries by the three monotheistic, Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam." "Fundamentalism must be acknowledged and addressed. ...human religiosity is not dead but good religion is in danger of being engulfed by bad religion. Bad religion... is the suffocation of the sacred by dogma, by man-made rules." "Carl Jung famously noted, so much religious practice seems designed precisely to prevent people from having a truly religious experience."

"Compassion is the key to religion, the key to spirituality." "When you dethrone yourself from the center of your world and put another there, you achieve extasis, you go beyond yourself." "To every [secular advance] in society, there is a fundamentalist riposte. We have to grow up about it. All major social change is contested. It always has been, and whenever you try to suppress a fundamentalist movement, you drive it to extremity." "Whenever religion enters political debate, the willingness to compromise erodes. To fundamentalists, tolerance of the 'other' is a sin."

"A recent Gallup Poll suggests that a third of Americans believe the Bible to be literally true." Bill Moyers has said, "One of the biggest challenges in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the Oval Office and in Congress." From a doomsday perspective, a Tibetan Buddhist classic "foresees a global conflict against barbarian hordes in the year 2424 that leads to a golden age." Zoroaster saw a "3,000 year countdown to world ruin began with his birth around 628 B.C.E." "the Mayans figured an era lasting 5,125 years would expire on the winter solstice in 2012."

Michael Valpy, "God Alert" (discussions with Karen Armstrong, author of The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness, Utne (quoting from Shambhala Sun), March-April 2005.

 

***** The Atlantic Monthly periodically weighs in on the topic of religion.

"We perceive the world of objects as essentially separate from the world of minds, making it possible for us to envision soulless bodies and bodiless souls. This helps explain why we believe in gods and an afterlife. Second... our system of social understanding overshoots, inferring goals and desires where none exist. This makes us animists and creationists." "We don't feel that we are our bodies. Rather, we feel that we occupy them, we possess them, we own them." A 6 year old's view: The brain is involved in perception - in seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling - and it's responsible for thinking. But the brain was not essential for dreaming, for feeling sad, or for loving. "The soul survives. And children believe this more than adults do ."

[Evolution?] "We have what the anthropologist Pascal Boyer has called a hypertrophy of social cognition. We see purpose, intention, design, even when it is not there." "Our quickness to over-read purpose into things extends to the perception of intentional design." Richard Dawkins has noted, "Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose." He goes on to suggest "that anyone before Darwin who did not believe in God was simply not paying attention." The theory of natural selection "is an intellectually satisfying and empirically supported account of our own existence," according to Dawkins. "But almost nobody believes it." "The real problem with natural selection is that it makes no intuitive sense." "Our gut feeling is that design requires a designer - a fact that is understandably exploited by those who argue against Darwin."

Paul Bloom, "Is God an Accident?" Atlantic Monthly, December 2005.

 

***** On another, but related subject:

"The central fact of the papacy in the modern age is the gap between the pope's growing power in the Church and his diminishing influence on the religious lives of believers. Under Benedict the gap is wide open." "To hope that the papacy will bring out some hidden side of its present occupant is to look for change in the wrong place, and to misunderstand both the man and the office. Together John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger carried what Ratzinger declared the 'authentic interpretation' of Vatican II. As a result, in Rome today all the great Catholic controversies of the past half century - about women, sexuality, politics, and authority in the Church - are considered settled, and settled in the conservatives' favor."

"It leaves him with less to do than the popes who preceded him." "The popes of our era - John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, and John Paul II - were all worldly men." "Paul [VI] formed a committee of experts to reconsider the Church's ban on artificial birth control, and when he upheld the ban over their recommendation, Catholic couples felt personally cheated out of a papal blessing on their sexuality." "Benedict is different." "He is suspicious of popularity." "In Benedict's view, change in the Church is brought about by what the sculptor [Michelangelo] called ablatio, or removal - 'the removal of what is not really part of the sculpture." "The new Pope's critics might say that this essentially negative approach to the office will make him a scourge bent on removing signs of life from the Church." "The pope, for half a century as familiar as the parish priest, will once again be a fairly distant figure in Rome, a man from a far country." "The clarity of his world view will turn some Catholics away from the Church altogether."

"Consider Pope Pius XII, the now vilified wartime pope. It was Pius' pretensions to be a statesman, not a fisher of men, that led him to calculate about the fate of European Jews rather than telling his Church to stand up and do the right thing."

Paul Elie, "The Year of Two Popes," Atlantic Monthly , January-February 2006.

 

***** Free Inquiry is a decidedly non-religious magazine, and advocates instead "secular humanism".

"Contrary to the simplistic view that suicide terrorism is the tainted fruit of 'Wahhabism', I would argue that the new, virulent strain of Islamist fundamentalism that fuels suicide terrorism is made up not of people who are Wahhabis but people whom I suggest we should consider calling 'Qutbists.'" "Sayyid Qutb, the most influential philosopher of radical Islam, incorporated into his thinking... ideas and inspiration not from the Qur'an but from the main themes of thinkers such as Nietzsche, Heidigger and, perhaps most significantly Kierkegaard [Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard: "Without risk there is no faith, and the greater the risk the greater the faith']."

"To Kierkegaard, religiosity is not going to church, paying alms, making the appropriate noises and gestures. It is not even enough to believe. One must believe and then act on that belief. And one's acts must be such acts that one experiences 'fear and trembling' at the enormity of what one is about to do. 'There is no room for vacillation or ambiguity of the sort one commonly experiences elsewhere.'" "This fear and trembling in the face of the requirment to act is the hallmark of freely choosing the absurd act. 'He whose eye chances to look down into the yawning abyss becomes dizzy... dread is the dizziness of freedom. In this dizziness freedom succumbs. Further than this, psychology cannot go and will not. That very instant, everything is changed, and when freedom rises again, it sees that it is guilty. Between these two instants lies the leap, which no science has explained or can explain."

"As Kierkegaard tells us, religion, real religion, quite simply does not make sense. It wants us to believe that 2+2=5. Is it plausible that God actually wants me to take my son out into the desert and bend him over a crude altar and slit his throat? Is it plausible that God actually wants me to slam a bomb-laden truck into a hotel, or a fuel-laden jetliner into a skyscraper? Of course, it isn't plausible - which is why it is an object of unshakable belief . It only looks absurd because we are outside; we are not a part of it."

"In place to today's limp, easy religiosity, Kierkegaard leaps clear over the whole of Western ethics and says, Do what God commands! 'The misfortune of our age - in the political as well as the religious sphere, and in all things - is disobedience, unwillingness to obey... it is not doubt of religious truth but insubordination against religious authority which is the fault in our misfortune and the cause of it.' Being a religious fanatic is, at bottom, a choice . A choice to fix everything in one fell swoop, in one absurd act that is embraced, not in spite of being absurd, but precisely because it is absurd. At this point, at the moment when the unequivocal and absurd act takes place, the feeling must be almost one of relief. Survivors of suicide bombings have reported seeing the bomber smile just before pushing the button. This makes perfect sense. All ambiguities are resolved, all problems solved, and all questions answered. No anxiety anymore. No despair anymore. No fear anymore. Nothing left to decide."

] "Given Kierkegaard's seminal influence in the genealogy of Qutbism, the suicide bombers and all the rest are inevitable." "This forces us to confront once again an ugly truth that the West has worked so assiduously to ignore for too many years: religious ideas have consequences ."

Stephen Gallagher, "The Suicide Bomber and the Leap of Faith," Free Inquiry, December 2005 / January 2006.

 

***** Another thought:

"The growing Islamic minorities in Europe have aroused xenophobic fears among extreme nationalists. ...Liberal majorities in Western Europe are coming to question their earlier multicultural assumption that all cultures are equal in value - the code of Sharia, which assigns women a lesser station in society, is surely not morally equivalent to the ethics of contemporary democracy, which defends all human rights, including those of women."

"There is considerable contextual support for violence and mayhem within these 'sacred texts'; through history, this has frequently motivated passionate hatred of those who resist Islam. This is quite similar to the literal reading of the ancient Hebrew Bible and the New Testament that was used centuries ago to justify the Inquisition and the Crusades."

"...there needs to be public discussion of the convictions of fundamentalist religions, including Islam, which teach that they alone possess the absolute truth and the only guaranteed road to salvation and that they can impose their will on all others by violence and slaughter." "Contrary to the Muslim conviction that the Qur'an is the most unitary and consistent of all scriptures, there are many versions of the Qur'an, not just one. Scientific, scholarly, and historical investigations of how the Qur'an was compiled may weaken Muslim convictions as to its inerrancy." "what is taken as the revealed word of Allah was influenced by writings from traditions other than those extant in Arab cultures, including extensive borrowings from Christian, Judaic, and Syriac sources." "Sacred texts should not be held immune to intelligent examination."

"The Best Antidote for Religious Fanaticism," Free Inquiry, February/March 2006.

 

***** As a point of clarification:

"Secularism... means that people do not refer to religion to make decisions, to adopt policies, to run their lives, to order their relationships, or to impel their activities." " Secularism has always meant more than just separating church and state."

Tom Flynn, "Secularism... Plus," Free Inquiry, February-March 2006.

 

*****Herbert Hauptman, Nobel Laureate (Chemistry, 1985, for his work on the structure of crystals), is also a Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism.

"...belief in God is incompatible with begin a good scientist and is 'damaging to the well-being of the human race.'" "Consider the beating of the professor in Kansas who was attacked for announcing he was going to teach a course on evolution versus Intelligent Design, or Bernard Slepian, the doctor who was slain for conducting abortions. Whenever you hear of these horrible acts of violence, you can be pretty sure they are not done because of someone's lack of belief in God but out of a fervent religious belief." "What are religions based on? They are not based on evidence but on faith." "When will religions no longer be an issue of importance to the majority of the people in our society?"

Free Inquiry Magazine.

 

***** Lawrence Krauss writes regularly for Free Inquiry magazine.

"Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay... once argued that the Columbine school shootings happened 'because our school systems teach our children that they are nothing but glorified apes who have evolutionized out of some primordial mud.' That's in the Congressional Record ." That's scary.

"In a 2001 National Science Foundation (NSF) survey of scientific literacy, 53 percent of American adults were unaware that the last dinosaur died before the first human arose. [not true; there's still that reptilian political dinosaur, Tom DeLay!] Just 50 percent of American adults knew that the earth orbits the sun and takes a year to do it." "In 2001, 53 percent of adults knew that human beings as we know them today developed from earlier species of animals." "In one 2004 survey, 45 percent of American adults agreed that God created humans in their present form less than ten thousand years ago."

But this science promoter notes:

"...the very thing that makes science unique and wonderful is that, in most scientific controversies, one side is simply wrong." [obviously your side!] "The existence of God simply isn't a scientifically testable proposition." [Why not? Science not yet up to the task?] "There are grounds of compromise, which is also not true." [science is not negotiable] "In my own field of physics, the material in today's textbooks is easily thirty to forty years out of date - as it should be, because that's how science works." [that's how his science doesn't work!] "Science itself is not fair - and that very fact may be science's greatest legacy." [True for abstract science, but should not be true for scientists!} ID proponents complain "they won't let us get the stuff into the literature." This is true, because science/tists refuse to consider the idea that ID might have anything worth debating. Catch 22!

Lawrence M. Krauss, "Science vs. Religion in the ID Debate", Free Inquiry, April/May 2006.

 

***** Rupert Sheldrake is a internationally known biologist and author of A New Science of Life, in which he proposed a theory of 'morphic resonance' - a complicated framework of ideas proposing that nature relies upon its own set of memories, which are transmitted through time and space via 'morphic fields..." "The theory holds that these fields, which operate much like electrical or magnetic fields, shape out entire world."

Sheldrake notes that "'Science is the last unreformed institution in the modern world today,' he adds in a matter-of-fact rather than a harsh tone. 'It's like the church before the Reformation. All decisions are made by a small, powerful group of people. They're authoritarian, entrenched, well-funded and see themselves as a priesthood.'"

"The implications of morphic resonance are staggering, opening up among other things new ways to think about evolution. 'Science has this mixed view of evolution right now,' Sheldrake says. 'Accepting it, but also hanging on to the old clockwork view of the universe as one where things are all fixed. Morphic resonance would mean that all of nature, including its laws, are evolving. It means a shift from the idea that the universe is mechanistic to one that it's really an organism.'"

Jay Walljasper, "A heretic for our times," Ode Magazine, November 2005.

 

***** One reader of Halexandria, Andrew, noted that:

The first chapter and the first few verses of the second chapter of the book of Genesis described the creation of the heaven and the earth by God. Andrew goes on to note that the words: create, form , and make are far different when it comes to the commonly perceived idea of "the creation." "Creation is what an architect does, the design and enumeration of parts with the materials which comprise the 'creation'." "Forming is a different process. Forming is what the general contractor does." "Creation and forming are two different operations."

Clearly, there is a major distinction between creating the heavens and manipulating the creation to specific ends. Furthermore, there is the matter of intention. There may be no hint of why God created the heaven and the earth, but when it came to forming man, it was because the Lord God needed (or wanted) someone to till the earth. The Lord God, apparently, had reasons which were communicated for what he formed. God, on the other hand, has not clued humans into his reasons for creation.

Andrew, Private Communication, 16 August 2005.

 

***** Other authors with their own specific thoughts:

"In Nigeria, the women's team is a national treasure and source of intense pride. It is ranked among the top in the world. But in the Muslim north of the country, men are against it because they feel the sport draws maidens into depravity. In the end they accept it though, because football is a sin that can bring them fame and save their families from poverty. Were it not for the gold promised by professional football, fathers would prohibit their daughters from wearing these indecent outfits required by a satanic sport that they claim leaves women sterile - because of the game itself or as a punishment of Allah."

Eduardo Galeano, "Soccer is everything," Ode Magazine, December 2005.

 

According to a 1996 poll, belief in a real biblical God, "one believers could pray to and actually get an answer from" [amounted to] about 40 percent of scientists. This is "about the same percentage found in a similar poll in 1916. Only when we look at the most elite scientists - members of the National Academy of Sciences - do we find a strong majority of atheists and agnostics."

Paul Bloom, "Is God an Accident?" Atlantic Monthly, December 2005.

 

"Scientists have begun to study others who seem able to literally change their minds [physically] - Buddhist monks who chant mantras and do visualization practices to develop what appears to be an indelible sense of compassion." "Contemplatives of all traditions have long claimed that meditation can prime the pump of compassion. Now researchers are starting to wonder if some religious disciplines are not just articles of faith, but ancient methods of neural transformation." "Ultimately, compassion is simply seeing the connection between everyone and everything.."

Marc Ian Barasch, "Scanning the Monk," Utne, March-April 2005.

 

"The principal revelation of this reality is that religions control our minds with magical, fictional lies, and if we choose to believe them, we become susceptible to authoritarian propaganda that also is all lies." "Here's another recurring nightmare, one that you, dear reader, have experienced all too frequently in recent years. It it, an angelic being, majestically robed in sacred rainments, benevolently beams down at you and says, in the most soothing voice imaginable, 'My God is better than yours...'"

John Kaminski, "Recipe for Extinction", www.johnkaminski.com, July 17, 2005.

 

"The Vatican acknowledges that the church's moral authority was badly damaged by revelations that hundreds of American priests have molested teenagers and children. But the bishops draw a different lesson from that scandal that do the church's critics, who contend that the celibacy requirement attracts sexually stunted men to the priesthood. The church thinks celibacy has nothing to do with the stunning number of abuse cases; the real problem, the bishops believe, is homosexuality."

"Roman Catholic priests weren't always required to be celibate. St. Peter, the first pope, was a married man, and for 1,100 years the church allowed priests to marry. But in 1139 the Second Lateran Council declared clerical marriages invalid, primarily in order to keep the children of priests from inheriting church property. Melkite Catholics and other Eastern Rite churches - who follow Eastern Orthodox liturgical traditions but are still loyal to the pope - allow priests to marry. Gregorios III Laham, patriarch of the Melkite Catholics, attended an October gathering at the Vatican, and urged the rest of the world's bishops to turn back the clock to bring new life to the priesthood. 'Celibacy,' he said, 'has no theological foundation.'"

"A Shortage of Priests," The Week, November 25, 2005.

 

"An Afghan man who converted to Christianity is subject to the death penalty, a judge ruled this week. Abdul Rahman, 42, who converted during a nine-year stay in Germany, faces execution under Afghanistan's Islamic law if he refuses to become a Muslim again. 'We are not against any particular religion in the world,' the judge said. 'But in Afghanistan, this sort of thing is against the law.' The Afghan legal system is more moderate than it was under the Taliban, when criminals' hands were chopped off and women were stoned if their faces were not covered. But it still follows a strict form of sharia."

"The World at a glance...", The Week, March 31, 2006.

 

"There is a very good reason why the religionists and their powerful materialistic allies are fighting like tigers to destroy the secular scientific case for survival after death. This is because whenever we speak to people who once lived on Earth and are now living in the normally invisible part of the universe, the message is always the same via mediums, it never varies: 'There is no place here just reserved for Christians or anybody else, we all survive the death of our physical bodies.' This is desperately bad news for the professional priests, they know only too well that they will lose their power over the minds of people if the scientific proof of survival ever reaches mainstream media and educational outlets. All the crazy religious killing will come to an end when people eventually find out they are fighting over nothing whatsoever apart from mythology gone completely mad."

Michael Roll, Rense.com, http://www.rense.com/general67/BBCboarddletslife.htm

 

"When Christians eat hamburgers, Hindus do not threaten to kill them. When nonbelievers tell jokes about Jesus and Moses playing golf, Catholics [these days!] and Jews do not burn down buildings. But if anyone 'offends' Islam, said Christopher Hitchens in Slate.com, they risk a death sentence." All on account of "some supposedly blasphemous editorial cartoons" printed in a Danish newspaper.

"Obviously, we should avoid offending people's religions arbitrarily, said Andrew Sullivan in Time. 'But the Danish cartoons were not arbitrarily offensive. They were designed specifically to reveal Islamic intolerance - and they have now done so, in abundance.' What the rioters are saying is that it's not enough that they follow the dictates of their faith; the rest of the world must do so, too, on pain of death. That's why this incident, absurd as it is, constitutes a true clash of civilizations, said Kathleen Parker in the Orlando Sentinel . 'Until Muslim peoples get the idea that free expression means freedom to offend as well as to be offended, we have a problem.' This is a war of ideas, and it promises to be a long one."

"Controversy of the Week, Political Cartoons: The perils of mocking the Prophet," The Week, February 17, 2006.

 

Melinda Coyle has suggested that anything which becomes organized is ultimately "devastating for the world and every living thing on it." Inasmuch as order (aka organization) tends to become disorder in accordance with the Second Law of Thermodynamics- without energy being put into the system as a means of maintaining the order (aka organization) - this view may be extraordinarily valid. In any case, she has proposed the following definition:

"Organized, adj. 1 - having a top down structure which would be diagrammed similar to a Ponzi Scheme, with the bottom layer doing all the work and the top layers receiving all the rewards. This is especially true of the ones that people are born into such as religions, countries, and ethnicity. It includes almost all governments, corporations, businesses, fraternal organizations and especially religions. 2 - Cults so insidiously pervasive that they are accepted as 'that's just the way it is' especially religions and governments. 3 - A brainwashing system so effective that the majority of people will not question when heinous crimes are committed in their name by their organization even when members of the group are the victims. Recent examples are Hitler's Germany and the genocide of one group, Pearl Harbor when we had our entire fleet in one port when we knew the Japanese were threatening, Nagasaki, Tokyo, the process of the formation of the USSR, the demolition of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, [and] the use of DU [Depleted Uranium] weapons that are spreading radioactive particles around the entire Earth. 4 - Hierarchical groups which have secret ballots, especially democratic governments."

Melinda Coyle, Private Communication, 8 March 2006.

 

Nina Fulford has written an excellent article on "The Nature of a Creator God" and the "Bible Retold": http://www.geocities.con/nina_fulford/thenatureofgod.html?200520

 

"Vatican scholars said last week they were considering absolving Judas of blame for Jesus' death, after 2,000 years of near-universal condemnation. It's about time. The story of Judas as the disciple-turned traitor simply doesn't 'add up"." "...that very word 'betray' is a mistranslation." [more likely 'deliver' or 'hand over'] "Judas was simply 'an innocent victim of religious persecution, racial prejudice,' and 'willful mistranslation.'"

Ben Macintyre, "Why Judas deserves a new trial," The Times (London), quoted in The Week, January 17, 2006.

 

"Televangelist Pat Robertson has warned the city of Dover, Pa. To expect divine retribution for voting out members of a school board that ordered the teaching of 'intelligent design' as an alternative to evolution. 'I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover, if there's a disaster in your area, don't turn to God,' said Robertson. 'You just voted God out of your city.' Robertson, who has a daily audience of 1 million, once warned Orlando that its friendliness to gay groups would lead to earthquakes, hurricanes, and terrorism."

"Controversy of the Week," The Week, November 25, 2005.

 

From Wiley'sNon Sequitur 2005 Calendar:

"Wait a minute... Both sides claim God is on their side and will make them victorious?"

"Uh, huh."

"But doesn't such blatant, self-serving pandering undermine the spiritual foundation of their faith?"

"Yep."

"Good thing this is just a basketball game we're talking about and not war..."

"Yeah, good thing."

And...

"No, the earth isn't flat, Danae."

"BIGOT!"

"Come again?"

"You've disparaged my belief system by disagreeing with it. That makes you an anti-flat earth bigot! What's next on your bigoted agenda? To refute the Gospel of Feng Shui?"

"Uh... what? But that's so... so... where do I start? Dogma... stupid... brain freezing up..."

"I was born for this era."

Finally...

"The Universal Language of Religious Leadership: 'The gods must be appeased by the sacrifice of someone other than me!"

 

***** Finally, there's: http://www.geocities.com/sevenstarhand/?200530, "Revelations from the Apocalypse" where is it written:

"Here is irrefutable and verifiable proof that:

"The Christian Book of Revelation is a fraudulent modification of an earlier Hebrew symbolic wisdom text authored by the Teacher of Righteousness

"Christianity, the New Testament, and Jesus Christ are Blatant Lies, Strong Delusion, and False Prophecy perpetrated by Rome

"The Vatican is the evil and mysterious remnant of the Babylonian and Roman Empires described by The Apocalypse and Book of Daniel

"The Vatican rules Planet Earth through secret control of international banking, currencies, secret societies, and leading politicians

"The Vatican secretly exploits all three faiths of Abraham and causes conflicts and terrorism for religious, political, and financial gain

"The author of this book is the long-prophesied Messiah, Lion of the Tribe of Juda, Teacher of Righteousness, and Melchizedek"

[Editor's Note: If this sounds just a bit like total garbage, how is it different from those religious doctrines which say pretty use the same sort of logic and rationale in order to promulgate their views?]

Discrimination         Thinking         Religion

 

Pro Life Choice

Or forward to:

 

Thoughts on Religion

 

Fiddling with Tradition

 

Education         Language         Groupies

 

               

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