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No Angels of Darkness and Light

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Karl Barth

The East-West question has accompanied and shadowed us all since the end of World War II. On this question I cannot agree with the great majority of those around me. Not that I have any inclination toward Eastern communism, in view of the face it presents to the world. I decidedly prefer not to live within its sphere and do not wish anyone else to be forced to do so. But I do not comprehend how either politics or Christianity require or even permit such a disinclination to lead to the conclusions which the West has drawn with increasing sharpness in the past 15 years. I regard anticommunism as a matter of principle an evil even greater than communism itself.

Can one overlook the fact that communism is the unwelcomed yet—in all its belligerence—natural result of Western developments? Has not its total, inhuman compulsion which we complain of so much haunted from remotest times in another form our avowedly free Western societies and states? And was it then something suddenly new and worthy of special horror when communism presented itself as a doctrine of salvation blessing all men and nations and therefore one to be spread over the whole world? Are there not other systems of this kind and tendency?

Further, could we really intend to help the peoples governed by communism and the world threatened by it, or even one individual among those suffering under its effects, by proclaiming and seeking to practice toward it a relationship exclusively that of enemies? Have we forgotten that what is at stake in this “absolute enemy” relationship, to which every brave man in the West is now obligated and for which he would give his all, is a typical invention of (and a heritage from) our defunct dictators—and that only the “Hitler in us” can be an anticommunist on principle?

Who in the West has even once taken the trouble to think through from the Eastern and particularly from the Russian standpoint the painful situation which has arisen since 1945? Were we not rather happy, and with good reason, over the Soviet contribution to the conquest of the National Socialist danger? Was it not the leaders of the West who toward the end of the war conceded and guaranteed the Soviet Union a determining influence in eastern Europe? Taking into consideration all that had happened since 1914, was the undoubtedly exaggerated need for security by which the Soviet Union tried to fortify itself and to hold the things offered it so completely incomprehensible? With what right did we begin after 1945 to speak forthwith of a necessary “roll back”? When the communists on their part took measures against such a roll back, was it inevitable to view this as an offensive military threat to the rest of the world?

Did we give the Eastern partner any choice? Did we not provoke him by erecting a massive Western defense alliance, by encircling him with artillery, by establishing the German Federal Republic—which seemed to him like a clenched fist pushed under his nose—and by rearming this republic and equipping it with nuclear missiles? Did we not challenge our former partner to corresponding countermeasures of power display and thus in no small measure strengthen him in his peculiar malice? Did the West finally know no better counsel than to put its trust in its infamous A- and H-bombs? And did it not serve the West right to have to realize that the other side had not remained idle in regard to such weapons? Was there no better diplomacy for the West than the one which now maneuvers the world into what seems a blind alley?

Moreover, what kind of Western philosophy and political ethics—and unfortunately even theology—was it whose wisdom consisted of recasting the Eastern collective man into an angel of darkness and the Western “organization man” into an angel of light? And then with the help of such metaphysics and mythology (the fact of an Eastern counterpart is no excuse!) bestowing on the absurd “cold war” struggle its needed higher consecration? Were we so unsure of the goodness of the Western cause and of the power of resistance of Western man that we could bring ourselves to admit only senselessly unequal alternatives—freedom and the dignity of man as against mutual atomic annihilation—then venture to pass off just this latter alternative as a work of true Christian love?

To the madness (I cannot call it anything else) outlined above I have been unable to accommodate myself in any way in all these years. I think that out of fear of fire we are irresponsibly playing with fire. I think that the West, which should know better, must seek and find a better approach to the necessary confrontation with the power and ideology of the communist East. Possibilities of a worthily, circumspectly and firmly guided policy of coexistence and neutrality were more than once offered to the West in past years. More honor would have accrued to the name of the “free world” had it taken up these possibilities; also, more useful and more promising results would have been achieved than those which stand before us today.

In particular I think that the Western press and literature instead of meeting the inhuman with inhumanity should have put to the test the vaunted humanity of the West by quietly observing and understanding Eastern individuals and relationships in their dialectical reality.

And I think above all that the Christian churches should have considered it their commission to influence by superior witness to the peace and hope of the kingdom of God both public opinion and the leaders who are politically responsible. The churches have injured the cause of the gospel by the manner, to a great extent thoughtless, in which they have identified the gospel (in this Rome is no better than Geneva and Geneva no better than Rome!) with the badly planned and ineptly guided cause of the West. The cause of the gospel cannot from the human perspective be healed for a long time by even the best ecumenical and missionary efforts. The churches have provided Eastern godlessness with new arguments difficult to overcome instead of refuting it by practical action.

Karl Barth, The Christian Century, 1960

Written by mikemagee

29 August, 2014 at 9:10 pm

How the Christian Teutonic Knights Civilized the Baltic Pagans

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Stanford Assistant Professor, Krish Seetah, and researchers from Reading University studied the archaeology of the Baltic region—a region that includes modern Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus and parts of Sweden and Russia—in the years from the 12th century to the 16th century, when the Teutonic Order, a Germanic brotherhood of Christian knights, waged war against the last indigenous Pagan societies in Europe.

Fighting under the guise of religion, the warriors exploited the Baltic’s pristine forests and rich fauna to foist an urban, Christian way of life on Pagan tribes that viewed many elements of Nature as sacred. Within a few centuries, the Teutonic warriors led a major ecological and cultural transformation that snatched the Pagan Baltic tribes into the fold of European Christendom. Professor Seetah said:

Pagan groups did it differently from the Germanic Teutonic Order.

The team found evidence that the Baltic Pagans ate dogs, but they abruptly stopped doing so after the Teutonic invasion, one assumes because the western European Christian knights had no taste for dogs as food, and imposed their will on the natives.

The Teutonic Order owed much of its success in conquest to their horses, whose strength and stature allowed them to bear armor and weaponry, unlike the Pagans’ smaller horses. In the Southern Crusades in the Middle East, it was the Arabian horse, stronger and swifter than the European breed, that led ultimately to the Islamic crusaders’ victory.

Increased reliance on local animals for supplies inevitably led to the extinction of some species, including the aurochs, an ancestor of modern cattle. The relatively rapid disappearance of species marks a dramatic shift in how the indigenous Baltic culture perceived the natural world. A belief in the interconnectedness of the land’s flora and fauna gave way to the more exploitative, Christian view of nature.

The research team compared Teutonic castles—massive forts whose construction required the clearing of vast expanses of forest—to the less intrusive, more organic pagan settlements. Medieval castles formed the backbone of the new Christian states because they were for the security of the class that had conquered in the period of tribal movement around Europe that lasted a millennium from the fall of the western Roman empire. Today they appear as crumbling, moss-grown relics resembling modern urban centers which flourish then fall into dereliction, as an inspection of many of our inner cities will show.

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Written by mikemagee

1 January, 2013 at 3:20 am

Religious Interest Falls in the USA. Voters Do Not Know Romney is a Mormon Not a Christian

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I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I.

Joseph Smith

 

Mitt Romney has to Face Questions about His Religion in the USA Elections

A Pew study released found that many Americans do not know the religious faiths of President Obama or presumptive Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. A third of Americans do not know that Romney is a Latter Day Saint, a Mormon! The Mormons have conservative views, especially on gender and homosexuality, and are intolerant of members’ questioning official teachings.

The United Church of Christ, President Obama’s church of choice, is more liberal on these issues. Unlike the Mormons, the UCC is not centralized to the extent that the Mormon sect is. It is not uniform across congregations because doctrinal issues in the UCC are left to the congregations, not to a central institute as is the case with the Mormons.

17 percent of Americans say Obama is a Moslem. In 2008, Americans were likely to correctly identify his religion as Christian. Political opposition to Obama as president aimed to remind voters of his pastor, Jeremiah Wright. But Pastor Wright’s supposedly racist remarks actually showed them Obama was Christian.

The separate Pew Research Center “American Values Survey”, which polled more than 3,000 adults nationwide, found that approximately one in five Americans don’t have a religious affiliation at all—the most ever documented. It also found that 32 percent of the latest adult generation have doubted the existence of God—double the number of those who felt the same way just five years ago.

This survey found increased tolerance for difference in every age, religious preference and political group. The new generation is known for wanting to distinguish itself from its peers—to stand out so to speak—by adopting unorthodox ideas.

Criticisms of Mormonism

The doctrine of the Mormon Church separates it from Christianity according to the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant religions, all of which descended from Jesus Christ and his apostles. Mormons had no apostolic succession by which the holy Spirit is passed from priest to priest from the original apostles, could not have been involved in the Nicene Creed, and Mormon cosmology with its plan of salvation including pre-mortal life, baptism of the dead, three degrees of heaven, and exaltation by which humans may become gods and goddesses on a par with Jesus is alien to Christian thought.

Critics have questioned the legitimacy of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of LDS, as a prophet as well as the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon, and include claims of historical revisionism, homophobia, racism, and sexism and paedophilia. Evangelical Christians argue that Smith was either a fraud or deluded.

Written by mikemagee

11 October, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Which Bits of Scripture are Literal and which Allegorical?

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Richard Dawkins and Jonathan SacksProminent atheist Richard Dawkins and Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks met in an hour-long debate on science and religion, as part of the Re:Think Festival in Salford.

“How do you decide which bits [of scripture] are symbolic and which bits are not?” asked Prof Dawkins at one point during the discussion.

“Very simple,” replied the Chief Rabbi.

“The rabbis in the 10th century laid down the following principle: if a biblical narrative is incompatible with established scientific fact, it is not to be read literally.”

Christians take note. The Old Testament is the scripture of Jews. Maybe the Rabbis can be expected to know it better than TV evangelicals.

Written by mikemagee

16 September, 2012 at 5:27 pm

No Relationship Between the Level of Sacrificial Behaviour and Religiosity

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Sacrificing to God Game

Physorg.com reports that Professor Paul Frijters and World Bank economist Juan Baron, economists at the University of Queensland (UQ) and the World Bank in Washington found a pervading and persistent “default belief” among believers and nonbelievers in bargaining with the unknown, and it was greater in times of uncertainty. Professor Frijters said:

There seems to be a default belief that people can bargain with the unknown, and they need a lot of evidence to the contrary before it fades away. Much like some cultures dance for their gods in order to get rain, Western participants will spend money on problems even when that expenditure has no demonstrable effect. Even when witnessing hundreds of occasions where it made no difference, they keep sacrificing large portions of their income to the perceived source of the problem. Only if they personally experience dozens of disappointments will they slowly stop sacrificing.

Professor Frijters said the study was an important stepping stone towards a general theory of human behaviour that will be revealed in a book due later this year called An Economic Theory of Greed, Love, Groups, and Networks, to be published by Cambridge University Press.

In it, 500 participants played a game in which the price for the goods they “produced” was determined by a source of uncertainty called Theoi. Although the price was set completely at random for each of 20 rounds, the participants had the option of contributing some of their produced goods to Theoi. At the start, the average participant donated half of all production towards Theoi, even when there was no relationship between the level of sacrifice and the market price. Professor Frijters said:

Even after 20 rounds, the average participant still donated a quarter of all production. There were no participants who didn’t donate anything for all 20 rounds, and there were very few who didn’t donate anything the last 10 rounds. The wish to sacrifice was very strong. In an experiment where the level of sacrifice was set initially at 10 per cent, nearly all participants changed the level to much higher. Aggregate sacrifices were over 30 per cent of all takings in the main experiments, and only slightly lower if we didn’t use a human name for the uncertainty in price (like Theoi) or if we allowed participants to see what others experienced. Sacrifices only really dropped when the level of uncertainty was lower.

General findings were:

  • there was no relationship between the level of sacrificial behaviour and whether participants belonged to a recognised religion
  • engineering students donated more than economics students
  • participants who were selfish towards others were also less likely to sacrifice to Theoi.

The authors conclude that “any important source of uncertainty” will witness the development of a religion around it in which people sacrifice towards its perceived source.

While this is only a summary by an online agency of the paper, if it is at all accurate, the findings are terrible. The authors totally lack any scientific credibility on this evidence. Their choice of the word Theoi (Gods) suggests they had already a conclusion in their minds when they chose that as the name of this mysterious agent.

It seems the subjects’ knowledge of the mechanics of the game was simply that they could donate some of their money to Theoi (“a sacrifice”) before it decided upon their winnings. To be told that is to imply that the “sacrifice” might influence the outcome. It is therefore quite natural to any inquisitive human being to conduct a series of experiments to determine what the optimum “sacrifice” is. For most people it would simply be a matter of “suck it and see”, and in only 20 tries there is little chance for anything more sophisticated, anything approaching a scientific method. So, on the information provided in the summary, Professor Frijters and Juan Baron have presupposed an outcome—everyone believes in a supernatural agent, so must be at heart religious—and have not even been clever enough to disguise it, by using words like gods and sacrifice that give away their thinking. The subjects, whether atheists or believers are simply trying to get a clue about what strategy will give the best rewards in the game. The superimposition of gods and sacrifice are simply in the minds of the experimenter. One would hazard a guess that they are themselves religious believers!

Written by mikemagee

4 September, 2012 at 12:42 am

The Meaning of the Spiritual

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Spiritual Intelligence?

Mark Vernon is a journalist with an interesting website about science, religion and human sociabilility, which has in it a test called the “spiritual intelligence test”, bizarrely called the SQ test, not the SIQ test, leaving you wondering where the “intelligence”, the “I”, went! IQ is the abbreviation for intelligence quotient, because it is the mental age divided by the actual age, and so shows whether anyone is ahead or behind the average in mental or intellectual development. It was meant as an educational aid, for testing people as they developed, and so becomes a fixed value in adults simply showing whether they are above or below average intelligence.

The SQ or SIQ test is not a quotient, and so there is no need for the Q at all, and it seems to be meant simply to draw attention to the supposed parallel with IQ. When you have done the test, you discover that it is really a test of humility, the scores of 0-100 apparently being on a scale from humble to overweening arrogance. My own score, answered as honestly as possible, which meant several answers could not be given because none of the three choices were adequate, was 45. Answering them all in what I thought was an obsessively scientific way gave me a score of 52, and answering in the way I thought religious believers would answer gave me a score of 72.

Doubtless, it is all meant as a bit of fun, and not seriously, but such bits of fun have a way of being taken seriously by half the population, probably the half with IQs below 100. Whether that is so or not, it is true that a large number of people think that spiritual is a meaningful word, and Mark Vernon seems to be among them. It is a word that everyone wants to use, largely to show their anti-reductionist credentials, but few can agree upon when it comes to discussing meaning. A definition from a dictionary has it that spiritual means pertaining to the human spirit as opposed to the material or physical.

So, it seems to be equivalent to imaginary, for what is not material or physical other than thoughts in the mind? It is a certain bet that most religious people would not count spiritual as meaning imaginary. No, religious people, think spiritual things are somehow real, even though they are not physical or material. In other words what is spiritual is somehow supernatural. Spirituality, to the believer, is supernaturality. Those who claim not to be religious but nevertheless believe that spiritual things are real in some such supernatural way are secretly religious.

There is a feeling, often described as awe, not meaning pure fear as it once meant, but a frightening sense of wonder, that people sometimes get and often when they see something entirely wonderful in nature, such as a stunning vista or spectacle, or a wonderful event, such as the birth of a child, a ferocious storm, and so on. The same feeling can come about unexpectedly, when it is called mystical, and is attributed, for no sound reason, as signifying the nearness of God. The feeling is utterly natural, and most people have had it in its milder form. According to surveys, even about a third of people have had the mystical experience itself. There is absolutely no reason why God or spirituality should be associated with this feeling. It merits attention, certainly, but is much more likely to be the sense of unity suddenly felt of ourselves with the world we live in.

Usually, we think purely selfishly. Self is a characteristic which has evolved to help us survive. If we did not have it, we would be much more altruistic if simply because we would realize how unimportant each of us individually is in the vast scheme of things. Self makes us seem more important than anything else, and therefore worth preserving. That is what spirituality is. It is a moment in which the sense of self dissolves leaving us knowing how wonderful the totality of Nature is. It is related in a sense to schizophrenia, when the self breaks down pathologically leaving us unable to even function as ourselves!

In a temporary, or better still, if it is possible, in a controlled, way it is a marvellous feeling that makes us appreciate God in the purely Einsteinian sense of the wonder of Nature. We are truly humbled before this purely natural interpretation of the divine. The opposite is to put yourself, or your beliefs, which are simply part of yourself, before it. Spirituality, then, is the sense humans have of kinunity. The whole world is kin. That being so, the spiritual person is the one who does least to harm the world we live in. It is the basis of Adelphiasophism. To harm it is to harm ourselves.

Updated from the original post on 27 November, 2006.

Written by mikemagee

8 July, 2012 at 3:38 pm

The Religion of Sensible Men

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The historian, J A Froude, told this story in his essay, A Plea for Free Discussion (1863):

“What religion are you, Mr Rogers?”, asked a lady once.
“What religion, madam? I am of the religion of all sensible men.”
“And what is that?” she persisted.
“All sensible men, madam, keep that to themselves.”

Would that Christians were sensible men, like Mr Rogers.

Written by mikemagee

8 July, 2012 at 12:53 am