Why are we here?

Posted in Religion at 1:58 am by rhanrott

“Our dream dashes itself against the great mystery like a wasp against a window pane.  Less merciful than man, God never opens the window”.  Jules Renard, Journal 1906


Epicurus on religion

Posted in Religion, The teachings of Epicurus at 1:33 am by rhanrott

Not all the activities of religion are harmful, e.g raising money for charity, Sunday schools and teaching children consideration and love. If the Sermon on the Mount were the sum of Christianity no one could argue. It is fear of death, indeed, everything to do with fear and support of the establishment, that is dangerous. If Jesus of Nazareth were shorn of his supernatural accretions given him by church tradition, he would be a fine model, a guru not unlike Buddha.


Creation of the gods

Posted in Religion at 11:44 pm by rhanrott

“That fear first created the gods is perhaps as true as anything so brief could be on so great a subject”. Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905-06


Defining anti-semitism

Posted in Public policy, Religion at 1:58 am by rhanrott

These are the words of Rabbi Alissa Wise of Jewish Voice for Peace (lightly edited):

Anti-Semitism is real – that’s not up for debate. Wherever anti-Semitism exists, we need to stamp it out. But criticizing Israel isn’t anti-Semitic. Nor is speaking out against the occupation of Palestine.

Unfortunately, the State Department doesn’t see it that way. Their definition of anti-Semitism includes “demonizing,” “delegitimizing,” or creating a “double-standard” for Israel. These definitions are intentionally vague, and are already being used by colleges and others to silence those of us — Jews and non-Jews — who speak out against Israel’s human rights abuses.

Labeling legitimate criticism of Israeli aggression as anti-Semitism does not just stifle debate. It trivializes the real struggles of those who are being persecuted because of who they are. This isn’t an abstract issue. This State Department definition is having real ramifications, across the U.S. and around the world. All too often, Jewish Voice for Peace chapters and members are slandered for organizing boycotts of companies profiting from injustice in Israel. All too often, Palestinian students on campus are punished for sharing their stories of oppression and occupation.”

We need to end all forms of hate and prejudice, wherever they exist. But we won’t do that by muzzling activists. The State Department should revise its definition of anti-Semitism.


Are Christians more healthy than non- religious people?

Posted in Enjoying your life, Religion at 1:25 am by rhanrott

An article in the Daily Telegraph in Britain, written by Sean Thomas, listed some of the reports that link religious belief with health: in 2006, researchers at the University of Texas (it would be, wouldn’t it?) found that the more often people went to church, the longer they tended to live; a Duke University study found churchgoers tend to have lower blood pressure and stronger immune systems. Other recent studies show that believers recover faster from surgery than their “heathen peers”, and have better outcomes from breast cancer and coronary disease, even after adjusting for the fact that they tend to smoke and drink less, and take fewer drugs. They enjoy better mental health, too, as a UCLA study of college students has found. Mr. Thomas ended with a clincher: believers give more to charity than atheists, “who, according to the very latest survey, are the meanest of all”. (reported in The Week).

I think writer misses the point. The point is to avoid mindless consumerism and have something in your life of consuming interest, something that exercises your mind, allows you to keep learning, that gives you feelings of pleasure, excitement and achievment. An objective, a mission in life, these also lower the blood pressure and the stress and strengthen the immune system. Speaking personally, I love creating things: a piece of music that works, a successful drawing, a poem. The lasting pleasure is enhanced if my wife looks at what I’ve done and exclaims, “I love it!”.

But this is only one person’s take. I can see that believing in a physical heaven with angels, where you are reunited with your loved ones, could be a great comfort in this life, even if one wouldn’t necessarily want bet ones last penny on it actually happening. Even devotion to astrology or a Druid cult is better than endless television. Corporations want us to be devoted to spending, a particularly stupid preoccupation in life. As for not being generous and charitable, what the article doesn’t say is that increasingly non-believers are young and have less disposable cash to give to charity. But their wish to help the poor and disadvantaged is undoubted.


Is the writing on the wall for the Saudis?

Posted in Public policy, Religion at 7:17 am by rhanrott

A blogger has been publicly flogged for encouraging free speech in Saudi Arabia. Raif Badawi, 30, who set up the Free Saudi Liberals website, was arrested in 2012, and charged with offences including insulting Islam. On his conviction last May, Badawi was fined 1m riyals (£175,000, $280,000) and sentenced to ten years in jail and 50 lashes every week for 20 weeks in a public square in Jeddah.

One of the only good things about fracking (no, this is not a non-sequitur) is that it promises to make the US a bigger source of oil than Saudi Arabia*. If that happy eventuality arises, we can hopefully stop pandering to those cruel barbarians in Saudi Arabia, halt the armament sales, and let the nasty regime fall. And good riddance. Enough of supporting these antiquated regimes, their beliefs as arid as the desert around them.

* That is, if a majority of frackers (who are apparently over-borrowed and expected oil prices to be close to $100 a barrel, not $50-60) survive.


Exaggerating anti- semitism in Europe

Posted in Public policy, Religion at 5:50 am by rhanrott

There seems to be an idea gaining ground that racism and xenophobia have become a German nationwide problem, and that endless mistakes have been made by politicians dealing with social policy towards asylum seekers.

This is nonsense. The problem isn’t Germany’s social policy, it’s right-wing extremists, who can’t be reasoned with because they’re not rational. The municipality around Tröglitz, a community of 185,000 where neo-nazi thugs a while ago caused problems, contains just 47 foreigners, while what the local authority spends on housing refugees is a fraction of the €273m spent on social welfare for existing residents. So much for the “foreign infiltration” the extremists bemoan, and its “intolerable” burden on social security. The vast majority of Germans aren’t “filled with hate” against refugees. We don’t need expensive social and educational programs: we just need to deal firmly with the hooligans”. (The Week)

Regrettably, similar isolated incidents aimed at the Jewish community are being used to alarm liberal Jews in America. I had a long and pleasant conversation with a Jewish lady, who seemed convinced that European Jews would soon have to leave Europe and go to Israel. This is just the result AIPAC and some extreme Zionists want and exploit. There are thugs everywhere, but they have to be sat on – hard. I can only speak from what I know, but anti-semitism these days is insignificant (anti-moslemism is a different matter). Who knew that leader of the UK Labour Party, who has just resigned, was Jewish? I didn’t, nor do I care or think it relevant to his job. Most people would agree. There is a problem with people who refuse to integrate, and somehow we need to change their minds. But they are not Jewish and we should not tolerate thuggery against them or anyone else.


Fundamentalism (apologies for length, but this is fun)

Posted in Religion at 5:36 am by rhanrott

The following is the suggested notice to be posted at the entrances of businesses owned by by fundamentalist American Christians, such as wedding cake makers, who like to choose their customers – and their bible texts:

“Dear Valued Patrons.
Owing to my sincerely held religious beliefs, we will no longer be doing business with the following persons, nor permit them in our establishment:

1. Divorcees. Matthew 19:9: “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.”

2. Anyone who has ever read their horoscope or called a psychic hotline. Leviticus 20:6: “As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.”

3. Anyone with a tattoo. Leviticus 19:28 “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.”

4. Anyone born illegitimately. Also, anyone who, back to ten generations, is descended from someone born illegitimately. If you can not PROVE, using appropriate church sources, that ten generations of your family were born in wedlock, I will have to err on the side of caution and not serve you. Deuteronomy 23:2 “No one of illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the LORD; none of his descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall enter the assembly of the LORD.”

5. Anyone who makes a practice of praying aloud, or in public. Matthew 6:5-6 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

6. Any woman with braided hair or gold jewelry. Just to be on the safe side, NO jewelry at all. 1 Timothy 2:9 “Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments.”

7. Please don’t bring your kids in if they have a bowl haircut. Leviticus 19:27 reads “You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard.”

I refer you to Matthew 5:17-19, where Our Savior himself says: “…Not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law (of the Prophets and the Old Testament) until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven”

Again, I am sorry for the inconvenience. It’s nothing personal, “love the sinner but hate the sin,” and all, but I simply can’t serve anyone who would blatantly disregard God’s sacred law in such a fashion”. (Published first in Daily Cos)

Were Epicurus alive today he would be disappointed to note that mankind is still cherry- picking the bits of the law it feels inclined to pick. If Jesus could dine with prostitutes and tax collectors, why cannot fundamentalists take the money of gays and put it in the bank. It is as good as anyone else’s money, and once on the bank statement is indistinguishable from other money.


Gay marriage

Posted in Enjoying your life, Religion at 6:35 am by rhanrott

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments on same-sex marriage, which is now legal in about three dozen states. But it’s also legal in most states to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodation. So, an LGBT person can get legally married in most states, but then be evicted from an apartment and denied a home loan. Gay-rights activists are urging state lawmakers to change anti-discrimination laws — which already include things such as race, age, religion and disability — to include LGBT people. Religious groups opposed to gay marriage, on the other hand, argue that the public accommodation element would unfairly require business owners to serve same-sex couples, even if they have a moral or religious objection. Should you as a society force them to do that out of principle? (precis of an NPR item May, 2015)

Everyone, regardless, should be covered by the anti-discrimination laws. This shouldnn’t even need to be debated; it is just that the law hasn’t caught up with public opinion. Gay couples should enjoy the same legal rights as heterosexual couples.

I personally don’t object to the use of the word “marriage” for gay couples if that produces a happier and more pleasant life for them (basic Epicureanism), as opposed to using the term “civil union” which should in any case entail all the legal priviledges of marriage. There is insufficient love in the world as it is. But I respect the point of view that says that the word “marriage”, introduced as a sacrament by the Christian church in 1184, is freighted with tradition and religious and reproductive significance and changing the meaning can make even liberal and open-minded people uncomfortable. If the Supreme Court rules against extending the term “marriage” to LGBT couples, it may be that it was “too far, too quickly”. Moral: bide your time, do what’s practical, i.e. extend the legal priviledges first, and don’t provoke excessive push-back.


Religions are not the exclusive arbiters of morality

Posted in Religion at 6:16 am by rhanrott

Morality is a pragmatic code of human conduct, devised from human experience, that allows us all to get on together with as little strife as possible. There are no rules except those agreed to from time to time for our safety and happiness. Do unto others as you would they would do unto you may have been put into the mouth of Jesus, but it is simply a piece of common sense. Self-interest and self-preservation ensure that, with exceptions, we all (most of the time) act morally and reasonably. Thus, one can be a moral person without being religious or subscribing to any one of the dozens of Christian, Moslem or other interpretations. We must rescue morality from the exclusive clutches of priests and pastors, muftis, mullahs and preachers. But having done that we have to teach our children right and wrong; they don’t spring from the womb immediately knowing how to behave. How are we dooing in this regard?


Beliefs: is he right?

Posted in Religion at 6:21 am by rhanrott

To The Daily Telegraph
Max Jalil draws a parallel between the cartoons in Jyllands-Posten and those depicting Jews in 1930s Germany. The former ridicule beliefs, the latter demonise people. David Culm (Letters, 10 January) states that we “should observe sensitivity and respect for other cultures’ beliefs”. This is wrong. We should show respect for other people, not their beliefs. These should be fully open to criticism, ridicule and opposition; especially those that justify murder as a response to mockery.  (Mike Mahoney, Tetbury, Gloucestershire)

Some cock-eyed beliefs can be ignored as doing little damage.  With others that is not true. Mr. Mahoney is referring mainly to religion, but there are dangerous beliefs about race, science and politics as well (“Obama is a moslem”, for instance) that are the result of deliberately malicious propaganda. The people concerned denigrate both people and ideas, and get away with it because so much of the public is poorly educated, doesn’t think for itself and makes no attempt to be informed. Are we supposed to respect both rabble rouser and those who believe every word they say? That would mean be respectful of the majority of individual Hitler/Nazi supporters, who happily absorbed his messages. “Nothing is so firmly believed as what we least know”. (Montaigne)


Credulity and greed

Posted in Religion at 5:36 am by rhanrott

Creflo Dollar, suitably named,  is a so-called prosperity preacher.  His “church” is  called World Changers Church International and is in Atlanta.   Prosperity churches promise wealth and health to those who tithe 10% of their income to the “church”.

Creflo Dollar has been seeking “200,000 people committed to sow $300 or more (to) help achieve our goal to purchase  Gulfstream G650 jet “.  Such a plane costs only $65 million.  It would transport Pastors Creflo and Taffi Dollar and members of the Dollars’ church around the globe to help them “spread the gospel” (with some good meals thrown in) .  The Gulstream seats up to 14 passengers with berthing for six, according to gulfstream.com. It is luxurious, and gets you from New York to Los Angeles in two and a half hours.

In soliciting the donations, Dollar’s site states, “We need your help to continue reaching a lost and dying world for the Lord Jesus Christ. Your love gift of any amount will be greatly appreciated”.   The request was contained in a video which included advocacy by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, of all people.  Sirleaf at one time worked for the World Bank. This truly makes you wonder  about human beings.  (adapted a bit heavily from a piece by CNN).

Of all the American religious organizations the “prosperity” people are one of the most objectionable, and their flocks the most gullible.  One can be taken in once in your life by a snake-oil salesman, but not continually.  On the other hand, Dollar and his like clearly serve a need ( for money, in this instance) among very poor people for whom just having a little bit of hope in their lives (in this case, having enough money to be comfortable) is foremost in their minds.  Abolish poverty and maybe the Dollars of the world would have to work for their living.


Jihadi frustrations

Posted in Religion at 7:17 am by rhanrott

A series of leaked letters, written by some of the 376 young French jihadis fighting in Syria to their parents back in France, has been published by Le Figaro. Most express deep disillusion with the experience of fighting for Isis and other Islamist militant groups, and many beg their parents for advice on how to return home. Others complain that they are not so much warriors as dogsbodies. “I’ve basically done nothing except hand out clothes and food,” writes one jihadi, keen to return home from Aleppo. “I also help clean weapons and transport dead bodies from the front. Winter has arrived here. It has begun to get really hard.” Another complains: “I’m fed up. They make me do the washing up.” And a third moans that “my iPod doesn’t work any more. I have to come back.”

There was a king called Stanislas 1st.  He is quoted as saying that “Religion has nothing more to fear than not being sufficiently understood”.  These young hotheads are now understanding it very sufficiently.  Perhaps we should send more people out to Syria so that disillusionment will become more general?  The Thirty Years War lasted, well, Thirty Years.  This one may be over in a shorter time.  Let’s hope so.


Same-sex marriage in Finland

Posted in Religion at 5:27 am by rhanrott

Thousands of Christians have resigned en masse from the Lutheran Church in Finland – the country’s national church – in response to its archbishop welcoming “with my whole heart” a parliamentary vote to allow same-sex marriage. Finland is set to become the final Nordic country (and the 12th in Europe) to enshrine marriage rights for same-sex couples. The bill, which originated as a citizen’s initiative, passed by a narrow margin. However, many Finnish Christians remain resolutely opposed to the move; within a day of Archbishop Kari Mäkinen’s comments, 7,800 people had formally resigned from the church, relieving them of their obligation to pay church taxes.

The archbishop did the right thing. Sometimes the right thing comes at a cost, but so be it.  This old-fashioned idea that homosexuality is “lifestyle choice” should be buried and consigned to history. If same-sex marriage brings even a small bit of extra happiness into the world it can only be a good thing. You cannot be an Epicurean and support discrimination of any sort. Epicurus stood for a “live and let live” way of looking at life.


Montaigne on religion

Posted in Religion at 8:16 am by rhanrott

Man is certainly stark mad. He cannot make a flea, and yet he will be making gods by the dozen.”

Michel de Montaigne



God in their own image

Posted in Religion at 5:58 am by rhanrott

The Ethiopians say that their gods are snub-nosed and black, the Thracians that theirs have blue eyes and red hair.   Xenophanes, Fragment 15, 5th Century BC

Organised religion at work.

Posted in Religion at 5:18 am by rhanrott

Almost 18,000 people died in terrorist attacks around the world last year – an increase of 60% from the previous year. Four Islamist groups were responsible for most of the deaths: Isis, Boko Haram, al-Qa’eda and the Taliban. (The Global Terrorism Index)

Most of this is done specifically in the name of God and his Prophet. Is this not a good moment for God to come and put a stop to it? Or at least to comment? Send a sign? Any sign? Approval? Disapproval?

But there is a great silence, and few are listening to it.


An interesting little insight

Posted in Religion at 6:54 am by rhanrott

“Why does our government let the Saudi royals do what they like with this country. Bad enough that last year Saudi Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz was given a licence to hunt the endangered houbara bustards, a bird on the brink of extinction. Even worse was that instead of killing his allotted 100, he slaughtered 2,100 – a “jaw-dropping” violation that felt like an open insult. This year the government gave the the Saudi princes blank licences to kill to their hearts’ content. It seems that as long as the Saudis keep funnelling cash their way, Pakistan’s elite lets the sheikhs do whatever they want – be it destroying our environment or poisoning our youths’ minds “with their petro-funded madrasahs”. The cash isn’t even used to fund infrastructure or jobs; it all ends up in our officials’ pockets. How wonderful it must be for the Saudis and their Pakistani accomplices to be members of an unaccountable elite that knows the law is only applied ‘to the common man’”. (published under the heading, “The licence we give the Saudis – the bustards”, by Gul Bukhari, The Nation, Lahore).

The Saudis are constantly buying sophisticated weaponry, yet are doing little or nothing to fight ISIS, because they can’t rely on the loyalty of their own military. It’s reassuring to see a Pakistani writer opposing the Saudi-funded madrasahs, which help ensure another un-educated generation that countries like Pakistan can ill afford, and which are doing their bit to radicalize Sunni youth everywhere they operate. But as for the attitude of Pakistani politicians towards the Saudis, European and American politicians and arms manufacturers behave in the same toadying manner towards this arrogant crowd of princelings, who contribute so little that is positive to the world.


Respect must be earned. Is he right?

Posted in Religion at 5:57 am by rhanrott

To The Daily Telegraph
Your correspondents who think that one is duty-bound to respect other people’s religious views are mistaken. With religion, as with anything else, respect has to be earned. Many would find it difficult to respect a religion which regards women and gay people as inherently inferior; which believes that any questioning of its tenets is at best something that needs to be closed down, and at worst tantamount to blasphemy and deserving of the death penalty. This, of course, used to be a fair characterisation of Christianity. Fortunately this is, on the whole, no longer the case.
Roger White, London 


The French Department of Narrow Outlooks

Posted in Religion at 6:34 am by rhanrott

The French government has unveiled new measures to promote both secular values and religious tolerance in its schools. Children will now be taught about the separation of church and state, the differences and similarities between the major religions, and asked to sign a charter banning racist and sexist behaviour, and disrespect “for any religion (sic) or symbol of democracy”. They will also learn about objective news gathering, propaganda and conspiracy theorising. The plan was formulated partly in response to complaints from dozens of schools that some Muslim pupils had refused to observe a nationwide minute’s silence for the victims of the Paris attacks.

This sounds open-minded and over-due. But what it will inevitably come down to is a discussion of Catholicism and Mohammedanism, with barely a mention of other important beliefs and philosophies of life, not to mention non-beliefs, that children should be exposed to. Lack of time will be given as the reason. What the French government should be doing is stressing the need for children to think for themselves – and that means giving them a choice. French education is not famous for encouraging children to think for themselves. In this case they may learn only the “what” and not the “why”.


Oh, dear! Oh Malley!

Posted in Religion at 4:36 pm by rhanrott

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston is head of the commission created to advise Pope Francis on how to tackle clerical sex abuse of minors and make bishops accountable for cover-ups and failure to prevent abuse.

“Obviously,” he said, “there has to be consequences and there needs to be procedures that will allow these cases to be dealt with in an expeditious way.”(sic) (as reported on the NPR website)

If he is in fact reported correctly, then I hope his recommendations are couched in better English than his preliminary remarks! At the risk of seeming to be a pedant, these is bad English for the larst 500 years.

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We shouldn’t put up with barbarism

Posted in Religion, Science and rationality at 7:17 am by rhanrott

463 cases of female genital mutilation are identified in English hospitals every month. (The Sunday Times)

Despite the fact that it is illegal, it has been estimated that over 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the UK each year, and that 66,000 women in the UK are living with the consequences of it, although the true extent of the practice is unknown.

The procedure is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15, most commonly before puberty starts. It is traditionally carried out by a woman with no medical training. Anaesthetics and antiseptic treatments are not used, and knives, scissors, scalpels, pieces of glass or razor blades are typically used. Girls may have to be forcibly restrained.

Disgust dissuades me from discussing the various methods of female genital mutilation, but the National Health Service states that it interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies. The pain is severe. It is likely to produce shock, bleeding, infections, including tetanus and gangrene, as well as blood-borne viruses such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, along with other effects, such, yes, death. One can imagine the terrible, lifelong psychological effects of this traumatic experience.

This is an excellent example of the failure to integrate. And it is carried out by women! It is ancient tribal nonsense masquerading as some sort of religious tradition, a brutal physical assault on innocent young women. As such it should be punished with a long prison sentence. In addition, the passports of the parents responsible should be confiscated, frequent visits to premodern homelands only encouraging the practice. Enough of the pussy-footing political correctness that “tolerates” such cruelty.


Statistics to ponder

Posted in Religion at 7:39 am by rhanrott

38% of British women believe in God, compared to just 24% of men. 61% of women and 35% of men think there is an afterlife.
(1970 British Cohort Study/The Daily Telegraph)


Virginity testing in Indonesia

Posted in Religion, The way we live now at 8:42 am by rhanrott

Human Rights Watch is calling on Indonesia to scrap “virginity tests” given to female police recruits. Apparently, female recruits are subjected to the “two-finger test” to determine if they are virgins. Unsurprisingly, it is described it as painful and traumatic.

Senior police officials have claimed the practice has been discontinued. But the test is listed as a requirement for women applicants on the official police recruitment website, and Human Rights Watch interviews suggest it is still being widely applied.

Note that the tests were aimed at ensuring that recruits don’t have sexually transmitted diseases. So why are men not tested as well? Human Rights Watch say “virginity tests” are also used by police in other countries, including Afghanistan, Egypt and India. They are a violation of human rights and point to the sexism and gender inequality still rampant in some countries, which by now should know better.


Epicurus redux

Posted in Religion at 7:04 am by rhanrott

All the Gods are dead except the god of war. (Eldridge Cleaver)


The dismal job of the Christian fundamentalist college professor

Posted in Religion at 7:17 am by rhanrott

If you are of Epicurean persuasion you have to have sympathy with the fundamentalist pastors and professors in Christian colleges and churches in America. All their lives they have believed in the literal words of the old testament. They have preached it from the pulpit or have taught it in class (I am not saying that all teachers in dedicated Christian colleges have fundamentalist beliefs – clearly that would be untrue).

By now it is clear that the Earth was not created in seven days, that it is not six thousand years old and that the old testament is an anthropamorphic, self-contradictory collection of folklore, some of it very violent, that seeks to explain the world to a collection of iron age wandering tribes. Even given that the scriptures are thought to have been written ages after the events depicted (while the Hebrews were in captivity in Babylon), it is remarkable that they survived. But they are the work of man, with all the fallibility of his memory.

What do you do in the middle of a sermon or a semester? Suddenly announce that after all the Earth is 13 billion years old, that life on the planet derives from sea creatures, and that human beings gradually evolved from apes over a million years? Imagine the uproar! For a start, you would be shunned in the community, and possibly lose your job. No. In the face of overwhelming evidence you have to continue to be consistent or lose credibility and livelihood. You continue with the old discredited explanation of life on Earth. Truth is too troubling.

Thus, young people in 2015 are still being taught that Darwin was some sort of misguided devil and that some obscure and complicated part of the human body proves that human beings were put on Earth by an intelligent creator (must be male and white) only six thousand years ago. Thus, ignorance is perpetuated and may never be eliminated. All this has nothing to do with science – it is to do with tribal belief and inertia. It is frowned upon by modern Catholics for bringing religion into disrepute and by other Christian denominations for not being Christian anyway.

The malaise afflicting much of America is one of poor education.


A light bulb went off

Posted in Enjoying your life, Religion, The way we live now at 6:01 am by rhanrott

Howard Becker is a major figure in American sociology (and also a star jazz player) He is the subject of an article in the New Yorker (January 12) by Adam Gopnik. What particularly drew my attention was his contention that “any social group, insider or outsider, ends up by divorcing itself from the group it supposed to be serving”. Everyone has an ideal student or audience in mind and never gets them. Thus, teachers end up disliking their pupils, jazz players despise their audiences, and doctors and nurses hate their patients.

I had to go to a hospital Emergency Department the other day, and was attended by a very personable young nurse. I had been reading this article about Becker while I waited. I told her about it and asked her whether she thought it was true that doctors and nurses end up hating their patients. She thought a bit and replied, “You know, I never thought about it, but I think it’s absolutely right. I went into nursing because I wanted to help sick people, but now I only feel good about the job when someone charming, cheerful and grateful comes in, which isn’t very often (her smile allowed me to assume she was feeling good about her job at that moment!).

Then I recalled how, when I ran my company, most of the staff would decamp on a Friday evening to the pub and drink beer, recalling the events of the day, and yes, laughing at the stupid customers. It was a very effective way to bond and produced a happy atmosphere, but I remember ending up feeling very impatient with customers myself, and dreading having to go out and chat them up. Towards the end I didn’t, probably to the company’s detriment.

So there you are. We Epicureans must beware of looking down on and despising those who
disagree with us, or those we serve. You can now be sure that they dislike and despise us. Conservatives hate liberals and liberals loathe conservatives and so on. But we have to be more tolerant and understanding than they are. Cue the debate about Moslems!


The “fight” for the soul of Islam

Posted in Religion at 6:56 am by rhanrott

The authorities in Egypt have closed down a café in Cairo they claimed was a meeting place for atheists, and (confusingly) a “den of satanic rituals” (that’s what draws me to Epicureanism. Ed.) The closure came days after the government warned of a worrying rise in the number of atheists, to the suspiciously precise figure of 866. “The number is not big but it is still the highest in the Arab region,” said a spokesman for the grand mufti, Shawqi Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam. He said the next biggest hotbeds of atheism were Morocco and Tunisia, with 325 and 320 atheists respectively (WoW! But it looks like you can control them, Allam. Ed)

Meanwhile, just to show that not everyone in the Middle East lives in the spirit of the 7th Century A.D, Sheik Ahmad Al-Hamdi, a prominent Saudi cleric, who once headed the religious police in Mecca, appeared on national TV with his wife alongside him. Her face was uncovered and she wore make-up. “The Prophet did not order women to cover their faces,” he said. “Wearing make-up is allowed.” Other scholars have agreed with him. But our friends the hardliners responded by calling Al-Ghamdi a “filthy pimp” on Twitter, and threatening him with a lawsuit for encouraging immodesty (charming, aren’t they?) Being Saudi Arabia he has also had death threats.

This argument reminds me somewhat of the medieval argument in Christendom about the number of angels who can fit on a pinhead. Ridiculous. In the right-hand corner the old-timers, so lacking self-control and common sense that they think a female face on television is going to drive men into some sort of irrational frenzy. On the left is someone who is doing his best to help modernise a country dominated by Wahabists. If being the former kind of Moslem gives you the right to threaten other peoples lives then it is not a religion, it is a cult. Were they to subscribe to the quiet and elegant ideas of Epicurus and try getting on with everyone else, regardless of gender, race or class, foregoing the control they lust after, it would be a happier world.

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Part of a letter from Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Posted in Politics and war, Religion at 6:55 am by rhanrott

“Dear Robert,

My greatest anguish is beholding what the Israelis are doing to themselves.

We saw what apartheid did to the white people, making it possible for them to commit horrendous atrocities. In dehumanising others, they were themselves dehumanised in the process.

I saw it in the callousness of young Israeli soldiers at checkpoints when they could decide to let an expectant mother desperately needing a hospital to deliver her baby go through, or not, as the whim struck them.

I saw it when they bombed schools and hospitals in Gaza. I saw it when settlers uprooted hundreds-year-old Palestinian olive trees. And it pains me to no end, especially when I see this dehumanisation happen to a people that has suffered for millennia.

What gave us strength to rebuild after apartheid in South Africa was believing in every person’s capacity to turn pain into healing, and fear into love.”

There is no need for a comment from me. It was what all religions ought to be saying.


Voltaire on God

Posted in Religion at 6:27 am by rhanrott

“If God created us in his own image we have more than reciprocated”. Voltaire (Le Sottisier)


ISIS: a challenge to the readers, Part 2

Posted in Politics and war, Public policy, Religion at 6:39 am by rhanrott

A reader made the following observation yesterday: “The Epicurean solution (to the turmoil in the Middle East) would be: DON’T INTERVENE. Epicurus was against involvement in politics, especially geopolitics, and for good reason – life is too short to make yourself miserable solving other people’s problems. The reader was talking about Britain, but I entirely agree with him when it comes to America and the West in general.

One way of looking at the turmoil in the Middle East is to look at The Thirty Years War in 17th Century Europe. This was a vicious, deadly war of religion, like the current one with highly complex political overtones. Eventually it stopped when everyone was exhausted. That was a civil war and so is this, and conventional wisdom says that outsiders should not intervene in a civil war. It is not clear that our intervention would result in fewer people being killed.

It is in the interest of the other Arab countries to get together and crush ISIS, a brutal and uncivilised bunch. But the fact is that their populations are ambivalent; fighting fellow Moslems devoted to the Prophet makes them uneasy. But Shouldn’t they be shouldering the burden and taking responsibility for their own futures?

What can we do? Are we too late to address the complaints Al Queda made about the West and America in particular?
– Crusader troops in the Middle East (we can fix that; just withdraw)
– The export to Moslem countries of unacceptable movies, porn and images of scantily dressed ladies, sexy pop music and other similar creations in dubious taste, according to Al Queda (probably impossible to stop for reasons of freedom of speech).
– the issue of Israel and the Palestinians (it is already too late to do anything sensible about this. The Israelis have most of what they want and Congress will never agree to any change while Congressmen have to raise their own campaign funds).

When one contemplates the difficulties of dealing with totally unreasonable people, whether Jewish or Arab, in the Middle East, you have to conclude that the ideal option for action is to put the region out of bounds to all Western citizens (to at least save their lives) and let the region ferment at its own pace. But not even this is practical. And then you have to reckon with the US military industrial complex and the flag-waving American nationalists, who sincerely believe in American exceptionalism (despite torture, Iraq and Afghanistan, rendition etc). You realise that there is, regrettably, little hope of consensus even in America, and little we can do that doesn’t make matters even worse.

This has to be the most intractible issue. I am sorry that President Obama has been drawn into the dreadful business with bombs and drones and trainers. This was the objective behind the ISIS beheadings in the first place, and he fell for it. I am so very sorry about the slaughter of innocent women and children; no one can easily contemplate that. But what we badly need is concentration on our own national interests to avoid another Iraq catastrophe. Where are you, Machiavelli, when we most want you?


1. Understanding ISIS: a challenge to the readers. Long, but important!

Posted in Politics and war, Religion, The way we live now at 6:18 am by rhanrott

General Nagata is a top US General. He is quoted as saying, “We do not understand ISIS, and until we do, we are not going to defeat it. We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea.” About 1,000 foreign fighters flock to Iraq and Syria every month. How and why does ISIS maintain control over territory and its people, and why do its “psychological tactics such as terrorizing populations, religious and sectarian narratives, and economic controls” seem to attract, rather than deter, young people, especially young men? “What makes ISIS so magnetic, inspirational?” The General has asked for a searching debate, involving everyone who is interested, about why ISIS is being successful and what to do about it. (NPR website)

Whether you speak Arabic, have visited Moslem countries, or are an expert in the Middle Esat doesn’t matter. Your ideas are as good as those of the Establishment, whose contribution so far is mainly to call ISIS supporters cowardly, barbaric, murderous, outrageous, shocking, etc. Not helpful, actually, and makes the young extremists yelp for joy. Here is a contribution from me, to be torn to shreds by anyone who might know better:

1. This is a delayed and violent reaction to the meddling of the Western powers since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. We carved the Middle East up to serve our own interests, ignoring Turkish arrangements and tribal boundaries. Latterly, the US has supported every nasty dictator that has come along in the interests of stability and a secure flow of oil. The final straw was the invasion of Iraq and the gross incompetence of the Western politicians, who thought they could rebuild Iraq as a democratic nation. It has never, ever been democratic and seldom a nation in our sense of the word. Maliki lit the fuse paper and stood back, corrupt and vengeful.

2. The gripes that al-Queda has with the West (shared with the followers of ISIS) are that:

– There are infidel troops on Arab soil and the drones of infidels flying the skies, killing innocent women and children.
– The ‘culture” forthcoming from the West (they mean mainly the US) is coarse, vulgar, bad taste, over-sexualized or pornographic. This is perceived as a standing insult to ascetic followers of the Prophet. Free speech is all very well, but it is abused.
– The policy adopted by Israel of stealing land, “mowing the lawn” (otherwise known as killing off as many Palestinians as possible on the flimsiest of pretexts), and creating an apartheid system where Palestinians have virtually no human rights left has infuriated Westerners, let alone Arabs.

Not only did we fail to engage with Moslems about these complaints, but we told them, “You are either for us or against us”, as if we were the only people who could possibly be right – a total lack of empathy and of an ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes. We invaded Afghanistan, engaged in torture, and imprisoned people for years without trial in Guantanamo and elsewhere. We have lost our credibility by the way we have behaved, by abandoning what we thought we stood for, and who we have supported.

3. Young Moslems are leaving France, Germeny, Britain and other countries to risk their lives for ISIS. Why? Because they do not feel valued in their West European lives. Their parents have failed to integrate in many cases, and the old ways survive in moslem lagers- men in control, women in the kitchen. This “old country” culture is not unsurprisingly appealing to young men as well as their fathers. Young Moslem women seem, by and large, to adapt well, but many young men can’t seem to do so. In parts of the UK, for instance, “tolerance” of non-Western values of male dominance has defied common sense, and it is high time some backbone is used and the “old country” values are challenged. Meanwhile, young muslims see the behaviour of young women as often indecent and respond with violence and abuse. They see their countries mistreating other moslems – joining ISIS is a way of turning back the clock, to ancient ways of organising society and giving one in the eye to Western society while they are about it.

Tomorrow I will try to suggest what we should now do. It will be from an Epicurean perspective. If there was ever a need for an Epicurean approach this the the moment. Please contribute!



Posted in Religion at 5:50 am by rhanrott

Do you seriously need a God to tell you not to kill one another, not to steal, not not bear false witness?  


Christianity and nationalism

Posted in Politics and war, Religion at 6:24 am by rhanrott

Christianity and nationalism are incompatible.  Why would an all-seeing, all-loving god pick Americans to favor above all others.  And yet huge numbers of Americans regard their country as God’s most favoured nation. “It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars” (Arthur C. Clarke). And yet survive it does, and it has caused the deaths of millions.


Violent faiths

Posted in Religion at 6:30 am by rhanrott

To The Times
Desmond Swayne’s analysis of the comparative records of violence between Muslims and Christians is flawed. Humans are capable of unlimited violence, but Christianity restrains them. Its dominant ethic is that of “turning the other cheek”. Islam’s dominant texts, in the post-Medina part of the Koran, sanction violence, and they take precedence over other texts that do not. It is for this reason that we do not hear moderating Muslim voices raised in theological dispute – and urging restraint – with what the media call “radical Muslims”.
From the Rev Canon Dr Gavin Ashenden, chaplain to the Queen, vicar of St Martin de Gouray, Jersey)

If someone advertises himself as chaplain to the Queen then he is assumed to speak with authority, indeed is thought to be right. So perhaps the Reverend Canon can explain the Crusades (and especially the fourth), the massacre on behalf of Jesus of tens of thousands of harmless (Latin) American subjects of the Spanish king. Perhaps he can explain the Inquisition, the burning of heretics and the brutal, religious Thirty Years War?

Piffle, your Canonship! In the hands of religious extremists and control freaks most religions can be as bad as each other. Never allow Epicureans to have any political power because they too are human, and there will inevitably be some chancer who wants to lead and dominate. Thus, we intelligently remain in small groups of friends and try to have a peaceful, enjoyable life. We neither wish to control or be controlled.