Category Archives: Religion

Are the Three Bearded Men Still on Their Pedestals?

Three men dominated the intellectual world of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. They were not scientists. Not one of them spent any time in a research lab or conducted any scientific experiments; yet each in his own way altered the existing cultural landscape.

I also think that each one of them was noticeably wrong about some of the things he believed.

 

Karl Marx

Karl Marx (1818-1883) believed in the existence of a class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and thought this struggle was intrinsic to the capitalist industrial world. One group controlled the means of economic production and profit, the other provided the labor. The conflict between them was that of oppressor against oppressed and revolution was the only means by which this situation could be reversed.

This was to be a communist revolution on the model of the French Commune uprising of 1871 in which the Paris commune rose against the French Government after the French defeat by the Germans in the Franco Prussian War.

The Revolution did occur, but it happened not in the capitalist industrial world but in an agrarian Russia in 1917. It quickly lost its focus and created a new set of oppressors. The labor theory of value has since been discredited. The idea of an inevitable overthrow of the dominant class turned out to be too rigid and somewhat naïve.

 

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud (1856-1039) was the inventor of psychoanalysis and the interpretation of dreams and delved into the unconscious for an explanation of human behavior. Freud said: “Human beings can keep no secrets. They reveal their innermost selves with their unconscious mannerisms. Whatever we do we are expressing things about ourselves to people who have ears and eyes to see.”

Freud coined the concepts of the id, ego and superego and explained their working within the human being. His concepts are still hotly discussed though they have fallen out of favor in the scientific community. But popular culture appropriated many of his insights. “Freudian slips”, “the subconscious”, “cathartic release”, and “defense mechanisms” are now part of our vocabulary.

Freud, like Marx, stimulated others to think about new topics even though both men were often not entirely correct in how they viewed these topics.

 

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin (1809-1882).
In “On the Origin of Species” in 1851 Darwin outlined his theory of natural selection, which states that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small variations that increase their ability to compete, survive and reproduce. He believed that species changed and mutated over time and gave rise to new species that shared a common ancestor. Each mutation created a more complex and efficient organism.
Here are some of the arguments that critics advance to question some of his thinking:

Darwin does not explain how life originated in the first place.

There is a lack of fossil evidence to support the ideas of a “tree of life”

Natural selection is too slow to spread traits.

Some also question whether evolution is directional and has a specific aim or is blind and random.

Earth is much older than Darwin states.

Some new traits do not increase survival chances.

These interesting criticisms do not delve into religion and “creationism” which is a separate controversy.
It is interesting how some thinkers can be so wrong in important ways and yet stimulate so much change, influence so many thinkers, and propel us towards new ideas.



The Adventures of Bibi in Africa

Bibi Netanyahu

Bibi Netanyahu

Flag of Uganda

Flag of Uganda

Flag of Kenya

 

Flag of Rwanda

Flag of Rwanda

Flag of Ethiopia

Flag of Ethiopia

Benjamin Netanyahu (known as Bibi to his friends) recently completed a four-nation visit to Sub-Saharan Africa, the first such visit by an Israeli Prime Minister in 29 years. The trip included Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia. Netanyahu was accompanied by a delegation of some 70 business executives.

Israel was already active in Africa, sharing its know-how in irrigation, technology, clean water, crop production, solar panels, lighting and refrigeration. Nowadays its expertise in security is also in demand as terrorism is rising everywhere.

For most of its history, Israel has been a Western country living in an Eastern environment. This balancing act is now in peril. Relations with Europe have been steadily unraveling since the 1967 war. And anti-Israeli and anti- semitic rhetoric keeps growing. In the Middle East Israel is surrounded by countries overtly dedicated to its eradication. In America too, support is eroding. Everywhere guilt about the Holocaust is fading and the slogan Zionism = Racism has become pervasive. Israel is now the new South Africa, and more and more European countries are boycotting Israeli products. In Africa too relations were terminated and ties cut after the Arab oil embargo which followed the 1973 Middle East wars.

Current global danger is making African countries reassess their position. Africa has 54 countries, Many of them are exposed to Jihadist groups such as Boko Haram and Al Shabaab which uses child soldiers to conduct attacks in Kenya, Somalia and other East African countries.

Netanyahu was well greeted in all four countries he visited. When he arrived at Uganda’s Entebbe airport Netanyahu recalled Israel’s raid to end the hostage crisis of 40 years earlier. The Entebbe rescue of hostages who had been captured by Palestinian terrorists on a flight from Tel Aviv was a daring operation. It was one of Israel’s greatest successes . The only victim was Netanyahu’s older brother Yonatan, head of the commando team. This, said Netanyahu, changed the course of his whole life.

In Kenya Israel showed interest in increasing bilateral economic cooperation, boosting exports and technology sharing. The President, Uhuru Kenyatta, will also back Israel’s bid to regain observer status in the African Union.

Rwanda, in addition to needing help in farming, is also exploring tourism opportunities and military cooperation. In Rwanda, Netanyahu visited the Genocide Memorial commemorating the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Later, he was welcomed to the National Palace of Ethiopia by Prime Minister Haitemarian Desalegn. In the Palace Garden he was also greeted by a life size stuffed Lion. In his speech Netanyahu alluded to King Solomon’s visit to the Queen of Sheba many thousand years ago He promised to reinstate the law-of-return program. This concerns Ethiopian Jews who, if they are able to prove Jewish identity, are accepted as Israeli citizens. This program was halted in 2013 and resulted in separated families.

In all four countries visited, the problem of how to stem illegal immigration was raised. All in all this could be called a successful endeavor by Israel to establish a foothold on the African continent.



Burkini, France, God, Man, Power

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Editors note: Just wanted to encourage you to open this posting. I think it’s one of Simone’s Best!

This summer the burkini (a bathing costume which covers all of a woman’s body except for the face) made a brief appearance on French beaches and an almost instant disappearance. The mayor of Cannes, quickly followed by mayors in other resort cities, simply banned it. He cited a city ordinance prohibiting swimming in street clothes.

This, of course, is about much more than safety measures. The French Prime Minister has called full body swim suits archaic, anachronistic and a symbol of the enslavement of women. The French aversion to any ostentatious religious fervor goes back to a law of 1905, itself based on principles first enunciated in the French Revolution, which established the separation of Church and State. The law forbids any display of religious symbols in public places. The French call this “laicity.”

So this is about what it means to be French.The French are a secular nation. Religion is to be confined to to the place of worship and is not to encroach on civic life. For instance, head coverings are not allowed outside the house. Unlike the United States which calls itself “One Nation under God” and where Presidents routinely call on God to bless America, the French are literal about separating the two realms. (The reaction against the burkini was, of course, exacerbated by the July 14 events in Nice when a religious fanatic simply mowed down families with children who were celebrating the holiday.)

In the 1970s nude Swedish women began to appear on the beaches of The Gambia in Africa. The local population was shocked and nudity was banned. The French are just as averse to full clothing when swimming. In both cases, local sensibilities must be taken into account.

The Koran, I am told, makes no mention of hijabs, niqabs or burkas. It simply enjoins women to dress modestly. When I lived in Lebanon which has a sizable Muslim population, women wore Western clothing and were not always veiled. It is only recently that Muslim men invoke the Sharia to force women to cover themselves completely.

In Iran before the revolution, women also wore western clothes. Now the mullahs have decreed that women who do not wear the hijab on the street must be arrested. I even notice that in current Iranian films women and even little girls are shown wearing shawls and head covering inside their own homes. Iranian men are not allowed to see womens’ hair, even in films.

It is supposedly the need to protect women against men’s lust that motivates this dress code but what about the 72 virgins promised to martyrs in Paradise? Who is protecting them against lust? Or are the laws different in Paradise? So it is only natural that the French people feel that this controlling behavior represents a threat to hard-won women’s equality rights and a regression to more primitive times when religions ruled the world.



ISIS and Soup

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Our problem in tackling ISIS is that it is not just a piece of land inhabited by enemies of the Western World but an ideology willing to die for its belief that the West must be annihilated.

Recently Avigdor Lieberman, (former Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs) called for a full scale rooting out of ISIS…by NATO. Well, Turkey might not be so keen to help.

And as our military experts remind us, taking territory is so much easier than holding it. As Americans well know, it is very hard to know when it is “mission accomplished.” Is it ever? Lieberman’s Trumpian proposal has very real problems.

But how do we deal with a large scale ideological conflict? Didn’t we do that already when we defeated the Communist World? True it took a very long time to achieve and exacted a high price. In addition, although Communism started as an ideal it was quickly transformed into a “pretend” ideology. Its leaders stopped believing in it and used it principally to consolidate their power.

But Communism, though it stirred many people, did not generate the fervor that ISIS has achieved. Did anyone hear of any young communists blowing themselves up shouting “Marx is Great?”

ISIS, in contrast, is attracting and brainwashing young, ignorant, disaffected recruits with promises of a better life in Paradise where they will be greeted and wooed by 72 beautiful virgins. (Young women who become martyrs are not offered an equivalent benefit.)

It seems that we are dealing with a mutation to a new species of humanoids devoid of many of the traits of empathy, generosity and tolerance that mankind has slowly developed.

And so it is difficult not to be pessimistic about our ability to deal with this scourge. What can we offer in response? The imperfections of democratic rule? The greed of capitalism? Nobody has yet invented an anti-jihadist vaccine, and some of these addicts are too far gone for us to reach.

We can only start at the bottom with the very young. See to it that we give them the proper environment to thrive, a good basic education, role models to emulate, opportunities for jobs and social integration. We must make sure that they do not inhabit a parallel world, and live in enclaves where they nurse grievances that evolve into hatred.

We also need to keep stirring the melting pot of the world. It makes a pretty good soup.

Editor’s Note: Simone thrives on your comments. We encourage you to contribute your thoughts.



Bring them Back? Safe Return?

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Two years ago in April the extremist group Boko Haram stormed a girls’ secondary school in the town of Chibok, Nigeria and seized 276 girls. At the time, this massive kidnapping created an enormous worldwide reaction. People “prayed” and “demanded ” that the girls be returned home. At the White House, Michelle Obama tweeted: “Our prayers are with the missing Nigerian girls and their families. It is time to #Bring Back Our Girls.” Through social media, millions closely watched all developments.

Whom are they addressing these demands and prayers to? A remorseful Boko Haram suddenly contrite? An efficient and competent Nigerian Government? Or an attentively listening God eager to grant wishes?

Now two years later crowds are marching in the streets of Abuja again chanting and “demanding” the return of the girls. Do they think that the girls who most probably were promptly dispersed into neighboring countries will magically reappear looking just as they did when they were violently snatched by vicious intruders? Boko Haram has killed and kidnapped thousands in a campaign of violence as it (like ISIS ) seeks to establish a caliphate in Africa’s most populous nation. It coerces men to become fighters and girls to be slaves or even suicide bombers.
I recently saw a television interview with a Nigerian girl who had been abducted on another occasion (these raids are a regular occurrence) and who had somehow managed to escape. She had been 13 when she was snatched and was now 17 . She told of girls forcibly married or used as slaves by many of the warriors.

The girl had returned, but with a baby. Instead of being comforted and embraced by her family, she was brutally rejected. Her family wanted to kill the baby. He died later without their help. The girl had “dishonored” the family. She was now a pariah. Throughout the interview the girl played nervously with her shawl. She looked beautiful but her eyes had no expression. She told the interviewer she wanted to return and join Boko Haram and become a suicide bomber. As long as such pernicious attitudes continue to exist in the population, and when a perverted code of honor is invoked, there will never be a safe return for these very unlucky girls.



A Very Popular Pope

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Pope Francis recently swept across the United States in his custom made Popemobile and drew adoring crowds everywhere he appeared. People waited in line all day to catch a glimpse of him and went into ecstasy at every sighting. This fan frenzy reminded me of the Beatlemania phenomenon of the ‘60s and of the hysterical Princess Diana cult of the ‘90s. People must have a need to worship someone. They seem to like to follow a crowd, lose their individuality and become part of something bigger than themselves.

The Pope certainly attracts this kind of popularity. “Authentic” is the favorite adjective used to describe him. He is obviously a “good” person, really cares for the disadvantaged, has a benevolent smile for everyone and radiates good will. People feel that he speaks for them and project their hopes onto him. And yet I cannot help asking myself these questions: What is so wonderful about finally recognizing that we are adversely affecting our environment and are the prime cause of global warming? We are like cancer cells destroying their own habitat. This is now a safe topic to tackle except perhaps if you live in West Virginia and believe that it is still debatable.

Population explosion is a big cause of the environmental problem. The total number of people on the planet is moving us toward Armageddon. The Vatican which is the richest organization in the world could do much to slow this event and to end poverty by endorsing birth control. It refuses to do so and opposes the use of condoms which would also help prevent AIDS.
Pope Francis has often stated that he would save homosexuals who repent. Save them from what? If they have done nothing wrong, why do they need to repent? Says Bill Maher of the papacy: “I think it is the easiest job in the world. You have tenure and you are selling an invisible product you don’t have to prove exists.” And Pope Francis would also allow atheists to go to Heaven. I think this is really funny since atheists don’t care about or believe in Heaven. It is also a pretty safe promise because no one has ever come back from Heaven to describe what it is like.

Further questions. Why can’t priests marry? Wouldn’t it solve the problem of priests abusing children? Why can’t women be priests? Women don’t want to be patronized. They don’t want to be patted on the head and told that they are wonderful creatures. What they want is equality.
The Pope apparently met with Kim Davis, the Kentucky official who refuses to marry gay people. Andy Borowitz of the New Yorker says: “Reporting every day to a job one has no intention of doing can only fill one with anguish. The pope wanted to show compassion.” It turned out that the Pope did not in fact deliver words of encouragement to Davis, but was in fact pranked into this by an American Bishop who had his own agenda.

And now we come to the Pope’s action which perturbs me the most: The beatification of Father Junipero Serra. Serra was a Franciscan priest who founded the California Missions, which were the first settlements in the area. In doing so he eradicated the culture, religion and language of the indigenous people and violently converted them. Entire populations were also wiped out by disease. The whole concept of sainthood is an archaic one. It is based on the belief in miracles and the supernatural which we should have outgrown by now. A miracle is an event which cannot be explained by scientific laws. Belief in the supernatural closes the mind against questioning and the search for a real explanation. So no matter how “liberal” and benevolent Pope Francis appears to be, he represents the Catholic Church which is based on dogma and is therefore incompatible with many of the positions he claims to support.

Editor’s note: Your comments of any character are strongly encouraged and will become part of this conversation.



A Muslim Woman of Valor

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Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1969. As a 5-year-old she was subjected to genital mutilation. Her family moved to Saudi Arabia, then Ethiopia and Kenya. Throughout this time she was a fervent Muslim. In 1982, refusing to submit to a forced marriage, she fled to the Netherlands escaping from her family. In 1992 she was granted asylum. She learned Dutch, went to University and became a member of Parliament. She then began to speak publicly against the repression of women under Islam.

In 2004 she collaborated with Theo Van Gogh on the film “Submission” based on the book she had written about the suffering of women, including honor killing in the Muslim world. Van Gogh was assassinated by a radical Islamist who left a letter threatening Hirsi Ali pinned to his chest with a butcher’s knife. Aayan then went into hiding (like Salman Rushdie). The Dutch Government, in an effort to placate its Muslim community, refused to grant her protection.

Eventually she moved to the United States. Here, no liberal institution wanted anything to do with her because of her outspoken criticism of Islam as a whole. She is now a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
In her book Heretic, Hirsi Ali says that Islam is ready for a major overhaul and that it needs to find a way for its vast majority (more than a billion people all over the world) to express their condemnation of a murderous minority.

Because of such utterances, she has been accused of Islamophobia. She says: “If Islam is like any other religion, why can’t people criticize it or leave it? Is it controversial to say that women and men should be equal? Most of the suffering attributable to the religion is visited on Muslims themselves. If you say, for instance, that Mormonism has some ridiculous beliefs, no one will try to kill you. Moderate Muslims hate me because I make them feel uncomfortable.”

Other religions have shed the most barbaric aspects of their creed and have been weathered by humanism, reformation, science and secularism. Ayaan Hirsi Ali believes that Islam, unreformed, when put into practice leads to dystopia.

She has found an admirer in Sam Harris, the author and bio scientist. He says: Ayaan has surveyed every inch of the path leading out of the moral and intellectual wasteland that is traditional Islam. Christopher Cadwell writes in the New York Times: “Voltaire, who spoke out against religion in the 18th century, did not risk his life with every utterance, making a billion enemies who recognized his face and could, via the Internet, share information instantly with people who aspired to assassinate him”. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a brave woman and deserves the support of all thinking individuals.



Is the Two-State Solution in Palestine Still Alive?

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Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1970’s

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Benajamin Netanyahu Today

What does Netanyahu’s big election win mean for the future of Arab-Israeli coexistence? It is a right-wing success, a challenge to liberals and a victory of fear over hope. There is fear of Hamas militants in Gaza, fear of Iran’s nuclear potential, and fear of Obama’s utopian objectives and his lack of understanding of Middle East realities.

Netanyahu is convinced that Mahmoud Abbas is not capable of heading a viable Palestinian state. So is the two-state solution dead and buried? It certainly seems to be, even as Netanyahu is now soft-pedaling his earlier pessimistic statements. This has been a masterful performance on his part, a skillful tap dance while juggling many balls in the air. This fancy footwork means that he has had to convince the Israeli people that he alone could provide security while at the same time trying not to alienate the rest of the world by adopting a hard line stance.

How can there be a Palestinian state when Jewish settlers are occupying much of the land that was to be part of that state? How can there be a Palestinian state as long as Israel will not consent to the division of Jerusalem? How can there be a Palestinian state when the Palestinian Authority is threatened by Hamas militants? How can there be a Palestinian state when Iran-supported Hezbollah continues to fire missiles at Israel or when ISIS (which calls itself DAESH) is only waiting for an opportunity to march into Jerusalem?

The disintegration of the Middle East as a whole is posing a threat to Jordan, Egypt and Israel and certainly to any future emerging state. A Palestinian state would end up being governed by groups who have sworn enmity to Israel. This common threat has brought Israel closer to Jordan and to Egypt.

At the same time, the risk of Israel finding itself isolated from the European Community and at the mercy of sanctions adopted by the U.N. Security Council is very real.

That is why Netanyahu has had to tread carefully to appease the United States. It alone can veto any anti-Israel resolutions. It is also the United States that contributes to Israel’s safety by helping finance the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Now Netanyahu needs to make things easier for both the Arabs in the occupied territories and Israel’s own Arab minority population (about 20%) which is suffering from discrimination, marginalization and restrictions. They need more work opportunities, easier check-point crossings, help in rebuilding Gaza after the recent war and in general a softening of the harshness of their daily existence. Will he do that?



Where Have All The Daughters Gone?

Where have all the daughters gone
Long time missing
Where have all the daughters gone
Long time ago
Where have all the daughters gone
People killed them one by one
Oh when will they ever learn
Oh when will they ever learn

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In Hunan Province an elderly woman placed the following ad:

Wanted: Kind-hearted daughter under 40 to take care of me in my old age, if satisfactory will inherit my fortune.
What exquisite poetic justice! China introduced the one-child policy about 30 years ago. It was a population control measure and it worked so well that China now has a nightmarish gender imbalance. That is because girl infanticide was a long established custom in China for centuries. Killing baby girls or allowing them to starve to death was commonplace. Drowning was another favorite method. Girls were expendable. Girls were more expensive to raise than boys and eventually left the family. It is hard to imagine such callousness but it was universally accepted.

In 2003 the one child policy was relaxed and families were allowed to apply for the right to have 2 children if one of the parents was an only child. It is too early to tell how effective this will prove to be.
In many early civilizations the same male bias existed. In Greece of 2000 BC the murder of female infants was so common that no more than 1% of families had two daughters. In India the custom of getting rid of girls is also embedded in the culture, especially in poor families who cannot afford dowries and lavish weddings. Sons on the other hand, are insurance. I read that in Karachi, Pakistan, nine out of ten newborns thrown on the dump are girls. Aborting female fetuses occurs regularly in India.

A few years ago I saw a film by Deepa Mehta called Water. It tells the story of young Indian widows rejected by both the husband’s families and their own who live in an ashram in Benares are made to shave their hair and are forced into prostitution to provide money for the temple. One of the widows was seven years old.

I have read that we should not force our own moral values on other cultures. I think this is called cultural relativism. I believe this is wrong. Some concepts are universal and if some societies have cruel traditions that cause suffering and death this should not be excused on the grounds that we should show tolerance toward cultures that are different from ours.



The Persistence of Pseudoscience

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For a long time, from the days of the ancient Greeks to the advent of modern medicine in the early 19th century, physicians believed in the four humors that governed the human body: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood. Medical cures, so mocked by Moliere in his comedies, consisted mostly in purging and bloodletting. This was not based on any evidence and we know now that it did more harm than good. With advances in chemistry, alchemy disappeared completely. In other areas we have not moved ahead at the same rate. Astronomy has made great strides with the perfection of the telescope and remarkably sensitive electronic image sensors and yet astrology is flourishing also. People read their horoscopes which rely on the position of the sun and stars in the Zodiac and many believe in them. (Ronald Reagan was a devotee during his Presidency)

Psychology has emerged as a distinct experiment-based discipline divorced from philosophy. Yet parapsychology persists. It concerns itself with clairvoyance, precognition, telepathy and near-death experiences. To return to medicine, homeopathy is the belief that the substance that causes the symptoms can be used to cure the symptoms. But then it argues that diluting that substance reinforces its potency.

Often pseudoscience hides behind scientific sounding names. Deepak Chopra’s “quantum healing” relies on the body’s self-correcting and self-healing capacities. It sounds impressive but also a little arcane. The explanation is vague like that of the Delphic Oracles that can apply to many situations, depending on personal interpretation.

The most recent manifestation of the anti-scientific attitude is the mobilization against the vaccination of children. Some parents suddenly decided that vaccination was harmful and are putting their children at risk of illnesses that were thought to have been conquered. At the same time they are endangering the health of other children. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey affirms that parents’ rights allow them to do this. And now Rand Paul has jumped into the fray announcing that he “has heard of children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.” Are they vying for the know-nothings’ vote or could it be that they sincerely adhere to these notions?

Some people believe in numerology or creatures like the Yeti or Loch Ness monster. It all depends on your suggestibility. Rational reasons are mixed with superstition and they are often hard to disentangle. I know many persons who believe in Qi, the Chinese concept that says that vital energy circulates around the body. Jeopardy contestants often bring lucky charms to the contest. It probably boosts their confidence and allows them to perform better. Auto-suggestion and self-hypnosis may be at work here and may account for any benefits derived from belief.

Science however, relies on experiments that can be replicated and verified and on peer evaluation. It starts with a hypothesis and if that hypothesis cannot be independently confirmed, then no matter how alluring and beguiling it appears it needs to be modified or discarded.