Category Archives: Religion

To Me, This Is Total Evil

Female Palestinian suicide bombers attend a news conference in Gaza

On our television screens we have recently seen ordinary looking individuals matter-of- factly informing us that they will behead persons they do not even know. Their faces are covered in black. Their eyes are vacant. But these are not deformed monsters or extraterrestrials. Such persons live among us. Most recently, these messengers of Allah plunged us several centuries down into the Middle Ages when heretics were burned at the stake.

This is not killing out of fear or necessity or for profit. To me this is total evil. Fanatics are ruthlessly enforcing religious doctrines like blasphemy and apostasy. This is behavior that intelligent human beings abandoned and left behind long ago. This heinous ideology is spreading and metastasizing like an epidemic, infecting more and more people and we do not seem to know how to counter it.

I believe we were wrong in not more widely publishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons for which journalists have died. We should have published these cartoons en masse to present a united front against this creeping ideology but we seem to have lost our moorings when it comes to what should be tolerated and what should not. In the name of tolerance we accept behavior that should be condemned.

We are retreating from asserting our beliefs and convictions just as Galileo was forced to retreat from his scientific observations because the Church ordered him to do so.

Some people like Sam Harris go even further in defending freedom of speech. He believes that Germany should not have enacted laws against holocaust denial because such statements should be answered by discourse not by legislation.

Some disenchanted Western recruits to Jihadism have started to preach a message of integration and are trying to dissuade young people who feel rejected and marginalized from falling prey to brainwashing and alluring promises of a noble martyrdom It is a good beginning. We should find more ways to persuade these young people that there are better goals to achieve. For an interesting example of this, take a look at Average Mohamed.

Your comments are encouraged and greatly appreciated.



How Civilized Are We?

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We sometimes think we are now civilized and no longer prone to cataclysmic upheavals. We no longer subject people to tortures like being drawn and quartered or being burned alive. We don’t bring our children to picnics to watch beheadings; we no longer use crucifixion as a punishment. We vehemently condemn Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. After World War I, World War II and the Holocaust we swore “Never again.” So are we finally progressing?

Progress happens but it is not in a straight line and not continuous. It is more like a spiral, going up and then down. It reverts back. It regresses. Summer Solstice is followed by Winter Solstice. Civilization is fragile and easily shattered.

In Lord of The Flies, young people left to themselves without a moral structure gradually revert to savagery. In the 1930’s, after centuries of civilization, Germany dramatically reached bottom. And now, night is descending rapidly over some parts of Islam. In Somalia, Al Shahab (The Youth Movement) is terrorizing the “enemies of Islam.” It attacks Western aid workers and humanitarian groups. It follows the “right path,” cutting off hands for theft and stoning for apostasy.

Boko Haram (Western education is a Sin) based in Northeastern Nigeria is also a Western hating organism, grounded in ignorance. And finally Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, founder of the Islamic State, is reverting back to the Sharia and its cruel and unusual punishments. He is embracing a great wave of regression. In his belief system, a woman is considered to be half of a man and violence against women is legitimized.

What reduces people to this state of brutality and viciousness and allows them to proudly publicize the beheading of “the other?” Is it fear, loss of power, rejection, alienation, a belief in their own righteousness?
Whatever the cause, this is very frightening to watch.
We have to remember, however, that this virulent rage is by no means new and is not the privilege of the religious only. Extreme ideologies of any kind rationalize their beliefs while resorting to extreme savagery.

During the 1787 French Revolution, the goal of the rebels was the destruction of Catholicism and of religion itself. During the Reign of Terror under Robespierre, priests were imprisoned and deported. And during the French Commune of 1871 all religions were banned. In one of the ugliest episodes of this movement, The Archbishop of Paris was seized and then killed in cold blood.
This is not very different from the killing in cold blood of French cartoonists whose irreverent pens “blaspheme” sacred cows.



Is Israel A Jewish State?

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Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is promoting a law which would declare Israel to be a Jewish State. At the same time he affirms that it will also be a democratic state. This is a step in the wrong direction and a contradiction because a democratic state cannot grant favored status to one part of its citizens.

Twenty percent of the Israeli population consists of Palestinian Arabs. They are already marginalized and such a law would codify their status as pariahs. Israel is de facto a Jewish State. The “Law of Return” guarantees that every Jewish person will be accepted and welcomed wherever he or she comes from. Israel’s Declaration of Independence also defines it as a Jewish State, but also pledges to ensure complete equality of political rights to all its citizens.

The proposed law would enshrine the rights of the majority over those of the minority. Currently the status of the Arabs is murky and ambiguous, but as long as it is uncodified there remains room for maneuvering and a possibility of gradual reform. The passage of this law would slam the door on reform and encourage those who view Israel as an Apartheid State.

Imagine this happening in the U.S. with Barack Obama asking Congress to declare the U.S. as a Christian State. His rationale could be that the majority of this country is inhabited by Christians and that it was founded by Christians fleeing persecution in Europe. Unthinkable, right?

In practice Israel already is a Jewish State. In Israeli homes there is a mezuzah on the doorpost which designates the home as Jewish. Woe to the family who does not observe Yom Kippur or Passover. No buses or elevators run on the Sabbath and Kashrut (religious food laws) is observed in public institutions. A bar mitzvah is the norm for every Jewish boy. Religious tribunals control marriages, divorces, circumcision, funerals and burials. How much more Jewish can you get?

Religion is already playing a disruptive role in Israeli life. The ultra-religious settlers provoke the Palestinians and cause most of the current bloody confrontations. Because Netanyahu needs the support of the Orthodox parties to hold his government together, he is beholden to their wishes and the State suffers.

Israel has already lost much of the international political and moral support it has historically enjoyed. It is time to stop alienating the remaining people who still love Israel.



Spinoza Knows

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During George W. Bush’s first Presidential campaign, an interviewer asked him which great men he most admired. The reply was “Jesus Christ.”

I thought at the time… Here is a man who obviously does not read if he can only come up with such a limited answer. My diagnosis was intellectual penury.

Then I wondered… What if someone were to ask me the same question? I would choose Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). Spinoza believed in “a universe ruled by the cause and effect of natural laws without purpose or design.” In his ethical system, reason is the supreme value. This is a truly down-to-earth philosophy without esoteric principles. Because he did not believe in the conventional God but equated God with Nature itself, he was expelled from the Jewish Community of Amsterdam by a “cherem” which translates into excommunication. It’s something like a Muslim fatwa.

Was Spinoza a deist, a pantheist or an atheist? I don’t think it matters what label you attach to him. He was just an early secular thinker, totally unencumbered by preconceived ideas. But unlike another 17th century thinker, Rene Descartes, he did not believe in the duality of body and soul or that “the soul” survived after death.

When Einstein was asked whether he believed in God he replied, “I believe in Spinoza’s God.” There are, of course other great thinkers who strike a responsive chord in me. They think what I think, only they express it so much better.



It Ain’t Necessarily So

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It ain ‘t necessarily so
It ain’t necessarily so
The things that you’re liable
To read in the Bible
It ain’t necessarily so

From Porgy and Bess by George and Ira Gershwin

According to a recent Gallup Poll three in four Americans say they believe the Bible is the word of God. Belief in God in European countries is much smaller. In France it is slightly over 23%. Religion is almost non-existent in Denmark and Sweden. I know that statistics can be misleading but these findings echo my own observations. Since my family and I arrived in the United States in the late forties religiosity has gotten much more pervasive. It seems to have spread like volcanic lava. Presidents Roosevelt and Truman did not end every speech with “God bless America”. According to the Huffington Post Richard Nixon was the first president to use that phrase. Ronald Reagan extended it to every phase of American life. Now Presidents also offer prayers to victims of catastrophes like floods and hurricanes and wherever and whenever misfortune strikes. Barack Obama has embraced this habit with a particular fervor.

It was not until 1954 that the phrase “One nation under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance. “In God We Trust” only appeared on our currency in 1956.
Our early Presidents had a very different attitude to religion. They were deists. They believed in the existence of a Supreme Being, a creator who does not interfere in the universe. Deism rejects the belief in a supernatural deity who interacts with humankind. The words Christianity, God, or Bible do not show up at all in our Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson said: It does me no injury for my neighbor to say that there are twenty gods or no god.
Benjamin Franklin was thought to be an atheist although some people dispute this. In Poor Richard’s Almanack he wrote: The way to see by faith is to shut the eyes of reason. And here is what Abraham Lincoln had to say: “The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession.”
Woodrow Wilson wrote that like every intelligent man he believed in evolution.
So it seems that America has regressed to a more primitive attitude and I think that this should disturb every thinking person.



Some Thoughts About Hair

Hairdress girl head4

Why are religions so concerned with hair?

Devout Muslims grow beards even though it is not specifically mentioned in the Koran and Arab women cover their hair at the onset of puberty. Religion commands Jewish men not to cut the hair on the side of the head, hence the dreadlocks called payot sported by the ultra-Orthodox. Pious Jewish women cover their heads or wear wigs over their own hair. They are not supposed to be attractive to men other than their husbands. In the Catholic Church, men and women have their hair cut when they enter a monastery or convent. For men it is a tonsure and women also cover their hair with a wimple. Apparently hair is associated with eroticism and sexuality and so has to be left behind when you devote your life to God .

I remember the movie “A Nun’s Story” where Audrey Hepburn’s long hair is savaged and falls slowly to the floor. I was thinking: Why must one abandon beauty in order to tend to the lepers in the Congo? Hair makes a huge difference to one’s appearance. In another film Cate Blanchette shaves her head and wears men clothes as a disguise because she is on the run for a crime. She is immediately unrecognizable.

For two centuries, royals and nobles wore elaborate powdered wigs which became a status symbol. But actually it was to hide the ravages to their own hair caused by poor hygiene and various illnesses. This custom was thrown out, as so many other traditions during the French Revolution.

The word “hair” is usually a plural in other languages, presumably because one has more than one hair on one’s head:

Les cheveux in French
Volossy in Russian
Saarot in Hebrew.
Capelli in Italian

The word for “hairdresser” also has a funny journey emigrating from one language to another:
In Russian it is “parikmacher” which comes from the German and means wig maker. The Germans however no longer use it. They have imported the word “Friseur” from the French where it meant “one who curls your hair”. The English word “barber” comes from the French word barbe which means beard. But the French now say “coiffeur”.

You may have heard that Man is the only animal who empathizes, mourns, reasons, experiences consciousness, makes tools etc. It turns out that other animals do these things too, but there is one area at least where man is still distinct from beast:

Man is the only animal who wears clothes because his body is no longer covered with hair.



Arab Winter & Islamic Terrorists

snowstorm in the steppe

Much has been written on the current Islamic/Jihadist menace but that does not mean that I cannot also reflect on it. How quickly the Arab Spring has been succeeded by an Arab Winter without ever going through Summer and Autumn!

In Egypt a 360 degree revolution has occurred which came to rest on Abdul Fatah al Sisi. So what was the point of overthrowing Hosni Mubarak? Even he only outlawed the Muslim Brothers and did not condemn them to death. Al Jazeera journalists who were reporting on events objectively have been jailed. Democracy never emerged. Destroying is easy but without rebuilding different edifices it is pointless.

The aftermath of the Libyan uprising created chaos and is destabilizing many parts of Africa which is now awash with arms and military equipment. Syria is being destroyed by civil war. Only in Tunisia where the turmoil started with a self-immolation is there a slight glimmer of hope. Tunisia’s Islamic Government has built alliances, forged consensus with other groups and drafted a constitution.

And now a new threat has appeared on the horizon and is marching steadily across Iraq. It calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL although also known as ISIS). It is partially an offshoot of Al Qaeda and its objective is to create a new Caliphate on the model of the original Islamic state of the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th Century. It consists
of disenfranchised and rebellious Sunnis who were marginalized by the Shia government of Nuri al Maliki. After Sadam Hussein’s fall, his Bath Party was banned from political participation and is now taking its revenge. According to Thomas Friedman, in the 21st Century, the Shia and Sunnis are still fighting over who is the rightful heir to Muhammad. This new movement was battle-tested in Syria and is now spilling over the entire Middle East. The Levant is the ancient name for the whole eastern Mediterranean world and includes Syria, Lebanon, Israel and part of Turkey.

ISIL/ISIS is a Western hating group and is dedicated to our destruction. We are facing a direct threat of epidemic proportions. This new virulent outbreak of Islam is like a virus which has become immune to simple antibiotics and needs to be countered by new methods.
What President Obama is doing with drones is killing a few mosquitoes at a time but leaving whole swarms intact.

In the short run we perhaps need to reexamine our opposition to Iran and Syria and forge temporary new alliances. Sometimes one is forced to sup with the devil. There are no good guys in this fight so which bad guys do we choose?

In the long run, what is needed is to uproot the teachings of the Madrassas to which ignorant and alienated youths are flocking. It is not for nothing that Boko Haram is calling itself “Western teaching is a Sin” . They know that it threatens them directly.

We must become missionaries again and provide people with other solutions to their misery.



Artist at work

Cartoons: A Laughing Matter?

Plastic surgeon to patient: Why would you want a new face? You look just fine.

Patient: I am the guy who drew the Muhammad cartoons.

In 2005, a Danish paper published 12 cartoon caricatures of the prophet Muhammad which were quickly reproduced around the globe. Violent protests erupted; cartoonists received death threats; offices of newspapers were attacked. The Great Mosque of Paris sued but did not prevail.

If you are a cartoonist for the New Yorker, your greatest fear might be that of rejection. In other parts of the world, the fear of losing your job, your freedom or even your life is very real. There is no liberty of expression in places like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia or even Tunisia where Islam cannot be attacked with impunity. Still cartoonists continue to take risks every time their irreverent pens put them in direct conflict with the objects of their defiant wit.

The Association “Reporters without Borders” was created to promote freedom of the press and has often taken aim at such retribution. Continue reading



Holy-Phoners

HOLY PHONERS

[Phone ringing…]
Good morning you have reached the former KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, now DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF HEAVEN. Please listen to our menu carefully as some options are no longer available. To pray to Allah press 1; for God press 2; for Jehovah press 3. For all other religions please stay on the line and the Deity on Duty will listen to your jeremiads.

While you are waiting we would like to update you on some of our services. If you are an unrepentant sinner, please dial H to talk to a representative in the LOWER REPUBLIC. Please note that we have a half price special on repentance coupons. Place your order now as supplies are limited….[Music plays Nearer my God to thee…]

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Smashing The Tablets

SOME THOUGHTS ON ETHICS AND RELIGION

“If God does not exist, everything is permitted” is attributed to Dostoyevsky’s Ivan Karamazov. Did he mean that it is impossible to have a moral code of conduct without believing in God? In fact, one could argue the opposite. True ethics exist only in the absence of an authoritarian and watchful God. For of what value is good behavior if it stems from fear of punishment or hope of heavenly rewards?

Ethics evolve when people have emancipated themselves from external diktats and internalized the values they have absorbed from their parents, teachers, mentors and other influential individuals in their life. That is what is meant by leaving childhood and becoming adults.

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