I In the June/July 2007 issue of Free Inquiry there was a short note from Paul Kurtz to say that he is recuperating at home from open-heart surgery in March 07. An aortic aneurysm was repaired and the aortic valve was replaced. Paul says this operation might have been unthinkable not many years ago. The incredible progress that medical science and, in particular, cardiology has made in the past decade has made such repair work possible.
July monthly meeting: Monday 2 July. Kent Stevens discusses:
Letter to a Christian Nation
by Sam Harris
In this international best-seller, Harris uses rational argument and offers a measured refutation of the beliefs that form the core of fundamentalist Christianity. In the course of his argument he addresses current topics ranging from intelligent design and stem cell research to the connections between religion and violence. Richard Dawkins says about Letter to a Christian Nation: “I dare you to read this book… it will not leave you unchanged. Read it if it is the last thing you do.”
Venue: Turnbull House, Wellington. We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.00 pm. We would love to see you at the meeting, but if you are unable to attend you may wish to convey your thoughts on this subject to Kent at [email protected]
Previous meeting: Peter Clemerson talked to us about Evolutionary Psychology. Our ancestors in Pre-historic times lived in smallish groups, perhaps 50 – 150 people. The hunter/gatherer/scavenging existence was relentlessly harsh. There was danger from predators, little protection from disease, constant resource shortage, internal competition for best mates, competition for territory. We did cooperate for hunting/scavenging and trading. From this, altruism developed. Strong altruism consists of the “Do…..” precepts. Weak altruism consists of the “Do not…..” precepts. For most people “Doing wrong” is breaking these Weak altruism precepts. “EVIL” is the deliberate and purposeful breaking of the weak altruism precepts on a large scale. We have an IN-GROUP (family and friends) with whom we practise strong and weak altruisms. We create an OUT-GROUP (strangers or people who are different for arbitrary reasons) to whom we tend not to apply our strong and weak altruism. Emotions have a role in our altruistic transactions which ultimately produce a benefit to ourselves. Philosophies have been woven over the centuries to suggest a basis for morality, but in 4,000 years of law/philosophy no one has identified any objective basis. As much as we would like to promote the welfare of all humanity, we have evolved not to do so. We do not naturally include or easily choose to include all humans or sentient creatures within our IN-GROUP.
Winter Solstice Celebration: Again a relaxing evening, and after a shared meal we watched a “60 Minutes programme” where Michael Shermer disputed the claims of a person who claims the ability to speak with the spirits of the dead and several Penn and Teller episodes of interest to Humanists. These dealt with “Creationism”, “Signs from Heaven” (weeping statues and pictures of Jesus or the Virgin Mary that may appear anywhere, such as in the grain on a wooden door or on a cheese sandwich) and “Holier than Thou” that took another look at Mahatma Ghandi and Mother Theresa. A discussion on the often rather dubious behaviour of Mother Theresa and her organisation followed.
Radio Access: 11 am 783 kHz Sunday 1 July. Radio broadcasts are every four weeks. Remember that outside the Wellington area this programme can be listened to via streaming on the Internet. The internet site is www.accessradio.org.nz. Click on Wellington Access Radio. At the home page click on the talk/link icon. Then on the Menu on the left hand side of the screen click on Radio, and with your sound up the radio is very audible. Broadband is not required to listen.
You can now listen to past broadcasts (From February this year only) or down load them as podcasts by going to: http://www.accessradio.org.nz/Humanist_Outlook.html
In the June broadcast Jeff and Joan spoke about Matariki, the Maori New Year celebration. The Maori New Year begins with the first new moon after Matariki’s reappearance in the dawn skies. This year this happened on June 17. Matariki is the Pleiades star cluster in Northern Hemisphere terminology. Maori contend that if these stars are clear and bright the year ahead will be warm and productive. If they are hazy and shimmering, a cold winter lies ahead. The appearance of the Matariki cluster is the signal for the planting of crops and so another seasonal round begins.
Knows and Knows Not — a Persian Proverb
He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool….avoid him
He who knows not and knows that he knows not is a student….teach him
He who knows and knows not that he knows is asleep….wake him
He who knows and knows that he knows is a wise man….follow him
SHADIA B. DRURY
Biblical Religion and Deadly Wars
WE are living in the midst of a resurgence of biblical religion. This means that we are probably in for some very bad times, because biblical religion inspires the deadliest wars. There are at least four reasons for this tribalism, gratuitous evil, collective punishment, and infantilism.
If we examine the God of the Old Testament, we cannot help but be struck by the fact that he is a very tribal god, despite his claim to be the god of the whole world. His claims of grandeur notwithstanding, he is little more than the god of the Israelites. He tells them that he is leading them to the Promised Land – a land flowing with milk and honey. But, after trudging through the desert for forty years, the Israelites finally reach Canaan only to discover that the Promised Land is already heavily populated. This was not so bad, because the Israelites liked the Canaanite women as much as the Canaanite women liked them. But their tribal god would have none of this cavorting with Canaanite women. He ordered the Israelites to kill all the Canaanites and take over their land. When the battles began, the god who pretended to be the god of the world turned out to be just the god of Israel and a very tribal god indeed. He got so engaged in the battle that he cast down great stones from heaven, so that more died from his hailstones than from the swords of the Israelites (Joshua 10:11).
Today, little has changed: the Promised Land is still heavily populated, and the Israelites are still not satisfied to live among the inhabitants and are still trying to evacuate them all from land hence the occupied territories that Israel has conquered but not yet ethnically cleansed of its original inhabitants so that it can be part of Israel proper.
The same tribalism prevents the Palestinians from demanding a one-state solution in their current dispute with Israel a solution that would make Israel a state for all its people; it could still be a Jewish state, but not an exclusively Jewish state. Instead, the Palestinians have elected a radical government whose foolish rhetoric proclaims the total destruction of Israel. The result is a genocidal war that will only end with the total annihilation of one of the antagonists. The biblical god set the example.
This is a distinctively Christian idea. It has its source in the attitude that human beings are innately wicked and that this wickedness is totally unfathomable and gratuitous. This assumption is at the heart of the idea of original sin. It presupposes that human beings do evil for the sheer pleasure of it. This idea of evil is in marked contrast to the pagan one, according to which evil is the by-product of the blind and inordinate pursuit of some good or other. The pagan view rightly implies that evil is not appealing but is merely a means to something good or desirable.
In the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah (the Lebanese militia), both parties were imitating the biblical god.
The Christian perception of evil is the key to the radical and warmongering nature of American politics in the neoconservative era. It explains why Americans are unable to ask, let alone answer, the question: “Why do they hate us?” The only acceptable answer is the unfathomable wickedness of Americaâs enemies, who hate everything good and wholesome in just the same way that Lucifer hated God and his good angels. Any effort to understand the motivations of our enemies or why they hate America is denounced as treason as sympathizing with or apologizing for the terrorists. The assumption is that America is hated not because of anything that it has done such as supporting brutal dictators, selling weapons of mass destruction to tyrants, and bombing innocent civilians but just because it is good. Those who hate America hate all good things such as freedom, democracy peace, and life itself. That is the nature of gratuitous evil.
When our enemies are inscrutable and irrational villains, there is nothing we can do but destroy them. Compromise, negotiation, or coexistence with such an enemy is out of the question. This is why the United States will not negotiate with Iran or Syria. The alliance of the neoconservatives with the Christian Right explains why diplomacy and negotiation have been replaced with military “solutions.”
Time and time again, the biblical god punishes all of Israel for the transgressions of the few The anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel (Joshua 7:1). He delivered Israel to its enemies because of Ashanâ’s transgression against his covenant (Joshua 7:1 12). And he brought a famine on Israel because Saul disobeyed the unusual order of sparing the Gibeonites (2 Samuel 21:2). In the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah (the Lebanese militia), both parties were imitating the biblical god. Hezbollah was firing rockets at Israel indiscriminately because its goal was punishment of the Israelis in general. By the same token, Israel was targeting civilians in Lebanon, despite its claims to the contrary The Israeli air force was bombing not only the civilians who supported and aided Hezbollah in the south but all of Lebanon, including Christian and Sunni neighborhoods where Hezbollah is abhorred. Again, the biblical god set the example.
All three Abrahamic religionsâJudaism, Islam, and Christianityâencourage infantile expectations of life either in this world or in the next. They lead people to believe in the possibility of a perfectly just world where the good are rewarded and the evil are punished. They inspire the expectation that a life free from all earthly troubles is possible. They encourage people to think that a complete triumph over evil, defined as a triumph over all enemies, is attainable. In theory this miraculous transformation of life is supposed to be accomplished by divine intervention. But waiting around for God to do something in a timely fashion is a bore, SO believers are invariably tempted to take matters into their own hands. Their first task is to exterminate their enemies, whom they define as evil incarnate.
The “War on Terror” is a war against evil, against all those who oppose American global dominance. Neoconservative insiders in the Bush administration such as David Frum and Richard Perle have seriously contemplated this in An End to Evil: How to Win, the War on Terror. When a terrorist plot to blow up American planes over the Atlantic was uncovered by Pakistani and British intelligence in August 2006, George W Bush declared, “We are still not totally safe.” The implication was that it is possible to be totally safe and that we will be totally safe when he wins the “War on Terror” and ends evil by wiping out all of America’s enemies.
In the Middle East, American foreign policy has pushed Israeli infantilism to new heights. Israel imagines that a world without any resistance to its predatory tactics is within its grasp. It imagines that it can bulldoze the homes of innocent Palestinians, imprison their children indefinitely without trial or charge, conduct targeted assassinations of elected politicians, and build Jewish-only roads and settlements in the âoccupied territoriesâ without any opposition. The hallmark of biblical infantilism is the belief that anyone who thwarts our plans, including unjust plans, is wicked; that it is possible to live in a world totally free of all wickednessâa world totally free of any obstacles to our plans.
These four elements explain why biblical religion inspires wars that are ruthless, genocidal, puerile, and conducted with the utmost stupidity – a stupidity that surpasses what is observed in the animal kingdom. Among animals, females tend to fight to the death in order to protect the den. In contrast, males forage beyond the den for food, territory or females. When defeat looks imminent, they withdraw.
The Iraq War is a classic case of metaphorically foraging beyond the den for the control of resources. Yet withdrawal is not seen as an option for the Bush administration. Stay the course, show resolve, and fight to the bitter end. That is the motto of the Bush administration as well as Al Qaeda.
The religious infantilism that fuels the antagonists makes humans more stupid than other animals are wont to he. The vigor of biblical religion in the Islamic world, the United States, and Israel indicates the continued reign of infantile politics, implacable enmity and endless war.
Shadia B. Drury is Canada Research Chair in Social Justice at the University of Regina in Canada. Her most recent books are Terror and Civilization: Christianity Politics, and the Western Psyche (paperback, 2006,) and The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss, Updated Edition (2005,), both with Palgrave Macmillan.
Reproduced From Free Inquiry June/July 2007 http://www.secularhumanism.org
Free inquiry June/July 2007