Moral Behaviour Vs. Religious People

In the London Review of Books, reader Anthony Buckley (“God and Human Behaviour”, Letters, LRB, 30 June 2011) wonders what “would constitute evidence” for or against the statement that “religious people…are more likely to behave in virtuous ways than non-religious people“.

That is an interesting question. And it can be easily answered in Christianity. The Gospel of Luke (chapter 5, verses 30-32) says:

“But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples,saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

It seems logical to conclude that, according to the Messiah Himself, “people who have [Christian] religious convictions” will be “on the whole morally worse than people who lack them“.

The Mind That Is Catholic

A truly extraordinary interview to Jesuit Father James Schall on the Vatican’s Zenit, about his book “The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays“, that “explores the habits of being that allow one to use the tools of faith and reason to explore all things seen and unseen“.

Somehow, there’s lots of me in that interview. A few extracts follow:

ZENIT: What does it mean to have a mind that is Catholic? What are its key elements?
Father Schall: The mind that is Catholic is open to all sources of information, including what comes from Revelation [...] It is characteristic of the Catholic mind to insist that all that is knowable is available and considered by us in our reflections on reality.

[...] We think, in the end, that what is peculiar in Catholicism is not opposed to reason but rather constitutes a completion of it. It was Aristotle who warned us that the reason we do not accept the truth even when it is presented to us is because we do not really want to know it. Knowing it would force us to change our ways. If we do not want to change our ways, we will invent a “theory” whereby we can live without the truth. The “primary” source of the Catholic mind is reality itself, including the reality of revelation.

[...] Why do these and many other thinkers “embody a mind that is Catholic?” I think it is because they take everything into account. What is peculiar to Catholicism, I have always thought, is its refusal to leave anything out. In my short book, “The Regensburg Lecture,” I was constantly astonished at the enormous range of the mind of the present Holy Father. There is simply no mind in any university or public office that can match his. He is a humble man, in fact. It is embarrassing to the world, and often to Catholic “intellectuals,” to find that its most intelligent mind is on the Chair of Peter. I have always considered this papal intellectual profundity to be God’s little joke to the modern mind.

[...] Catholicism knows that all sorts and sources of knowledge flow into its mind, one of which — the primary one that makes it unique — is revelation. But it is a revelation, in its own terms, addressed to active reason. That too is the mind that is Catholic.

What Makes A Roman Catholic?

I have enough experience in debating with non-Catholics to be surprised not at all when people start dictating what makes and doesn’t make a Roman Catholic. Most of the time, especially avowed atheists state their illusion that a Roman Catholic is a person that follows the precepts of the Catholic Church, and agrees with anything and everything the Pope says.

Simply, the above is not true.

There is nobody, not even an Archbishop or a Pope, that can declare who is, and who is not a Roman Catholic. The RC Church is not a cultural association, or a political party. There is no membership card, no entry exam, and no expulsion procedure. At most, one can find oneself at one or the other degree of “excommunication”, that by itself is a confirmation that one is of course a Roman Catholic.

Simply, a Roman Catholic is whoever (sincerely…) believes to be a Roman Catholic. And the RC Church is the community of people who (sincerely…) believe to be Roman Catholics.

Of course it could be argued who is and who isn’t a good Roman Catholic. The Pope and most Cardinals will agree on that definition, but at the same time one or more among the Faithful may have a different view on the same topic.  But at the end of the day, the struggle towards being a good person is just that: a struggle. We’re no angels.

For Christmas, A Little Respect

Merry Christmas to everybody.

With the full notion that there’s still a lot to do before Christmas becomes Christian enough to be Christmas…

A little respect by Abubakar N. Kasim Monday, December 22, 2008

If Santa Claus were ever to pay me a visit and grant me a wish, I would reply with one word: respect.

I would wish that society at large would show some respect toward me and my faith.

I am judged negatively whenever someone of my faith is accused of committing a crime.

I am viewed as an enemy within, a home-grown fanatic whom everyone should guard against.

I am harassed at the boarding gate when I leave the country, as if I was going to an Al Qaeda convention.

I am also bullied by the customs and immigration officers when I come back home, as if I don’t belong here.

I am pulled aside for extra inspections, as if I was carrying instructions on making weapons of mass destruction.

I am told repeatedly to tell the real truth about what I am bringing with me that I have not declared.

When a crime occurs where a Muslim is the primary suspect, I am asked to issue a statement in the strongest possible terms against terrorism and to dissociate myself from the crime. Whatever language I use in my denunciation, I am told is not enough and I must do more.

On the day after the crime, the headline reads: “Moderate Muslims Fail To Speak Up,” even though I have spoken and have condemned the crime.

When I try to access my own money, the bank teller reminds me of the seriousness of money laundering.

A bank supervisor recently alleged that my signature did not match the signature they had in my file. I emptied my wallet and showed all my identifications, to no avail.

Although I have lived in Canada for more than a decade and have been working hard to pay taxes and make ends meet, I am still viewed as a foreigner who belongs somewhere else.

A colleague at the airport where I work asked me recently, “Why did you choose Canada, a Christian country, and did not go to your own people instead?”

Another coworker said the other day that she cannot tolerate seeing Muslim women covering up. “I feel the urge to remove the piece of rag by force,” she said. “Why in the world would she hide her beauty?” she added.

Another airline employee suggested that we should stop Muslim women from entering the country if they choose to wear the hijab.

I cried like a child when a friend said that the only way the world can solve the problem of terrorism is to nuke the Muslim world. Only then will the planet live in real peace, he said.

It is deeply troubling to see how Muslims are treated in society. While I was having dinner at work, my colleagues next to me were discussing the shooting death right after the Sept. 11 tragedy of a Sikh man in the United States who was thought to be a Muslim. One of the people involved in the conversation blamed the murderer for not doing his homework in making sure that the person he was targeting was a real Muslim. The people in the cafeteria did not find the statement troubling and they all laughed approvingly.

We are reminded – again and again – that freedom of expression has limits. But when the same freedom involves the dehumanization of Muslims, it has no limit.

I don’t think I am asking too much if I expect some respect from my fellow countrymen.

I might have some lunatics in my midst but who doesn’t? If Christians are not held responsible for the death and destruction their co-religionist George W. Bush caused in Iraq, why should I be held responsible for the acts of a few mad men who might create mayhem in the name of my faith?

Abubakar N. Kasim is a freelance writer based in Toronto, working as a customer service representative for a major airline.

The Christian Roots of Marxism (and Secular Thought)

It turns out, Pope Benedict was not so wrong after all.

Excerpts from “A Rescue of Religion” by John Gray, The New York Review of Books, Volume 55, Number 15 · October 9, 2008 – reviewing “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?: 23 Questions from Great Philosophers” by Leszek Kolakowski, Basic Books:

It is part of Kolakowski’s achievement as the greatest living intellectual historian to have tracked the ways in which religion has shaped Western thought. His work is, in effect, a sustained argument for the irreducible presence of religion in intellectual life and in society. In Kolakowski’s view the secular movements of the last century, such as communism, [...] deployed categories of thought, including a view of history as a narrative having a consummation or end-point, which are inheritances from Western monotheism. [...] Religion was not in truth superseded, either in Marx’s thought or in the movements Marx inspired. Instead, the promise of salvation reemerged as a project of universal emancipation.

The renewal of religious categories of thinking in avowedly secular systems of ideas [...] continued in the ideology of neoconservatism. The notion of the end of history [...] derives from religious traditions of apocalyptic myth. [...] Presupposing as they do a teleological view of history that cannot be stated in empirical terms, all such theories are religious narratives translated into secular language. [...]

Religion has had a formative influence on our categories of thought, which it is the task of philosophy to examine. Excavating the archaeology of our concepts is a part of philosophical inquiry. For us, that inescapably involves tracing their debts to Judaism and Christianity. Any way of doing philosophy that neglects these traditions is unhistorical and impoverished.

There are some philosophers for whom the only place for religion in philosophical inquiry is that of a bogey, a specter of irrationality that must be exposed and expelled so that philosophy can be an entirely secular discipline. As Kolakowski has argued, however, a good deal of secular thought has been shaped by Western religion. Exorcising religion is harder than it seems.

Richard Dawkins where art thou?

On Abortion, A Perfectly Reasonable Christian Stance

Personally I find the following statements bordering on the obvious. For some reason, many people think otherwise, in one sense or another…and unbelievably, abortion is still somehow an issue in US politics.

From the Methodist Church’s “Abortion and Contraception” web page:

  • abortion is always an evil
  • there will be circumstances where the termination of pregnancy may be the lesser of evils

And in particular:

  • the mother should be told clearly of the alternatives to termination
  • abortion should be avoided if at all possible by offering care to single mothers during pregnancy, and the adoption of their children if, at full term, the mother cannot offer a home
  • the result of the coming together of human sperm and ovum is obviously human
  • the right of the embryo to full respect [...] increases throughout a pregnancy
  • it would be strongly preferable that, through advances in medical science and social welfare, all abortions should become unnecessary
  • late abortions should be very rare exceptions
  • if abortion were made a criminal offence again, there would be increased risks of ill-health and death as a result of botched ‘back-street’ abortions
  • to refuse to countenance abortion in any circumstances is to condemn some women and their babies to gross suffering and a cruel death in the name of an absolutism which nature itself does not observe

Muslims vs the West: History Is Not As We Have Been Told

History is never pure chronicles, rather always an interpretation. And so with double skepticism we should confront all “Arguments from History” that elicit hatred and separation: because they are likely to be unmasked as simplistic manipulations.

Excerpts from Peter Brown’s “The Voice of the Stones“, The New York Review of Books, Volume 55, Number 6 · April 17, 2008 – reviewing G.W. Bowersock’s new book “Mosaics as History: The Near East from Late Antiquity to Islam“, Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 146 pp., $22.95 (article on the web for subscribers only):

[...] The second-to-last chapter of Mosaics as History—entitled “Iconoclasms”—shows that [the] descendants [(Jews, Christians, and pagans in the Middle East] were still [commissioning figurative mosaics] after well over a century of Muslim rule. Only in the year 723 did the local Christians find themselves forced to remove some of the figures from the exuberant mosaics in their churches, at the bidding of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid II. They did so with care. As Bowersock shows, this first premonitory tremor of Muslim iconophobia was limited in its extent, and it was Christians themselves who undertook to respond to it.

Far from showing a Muslim fundamentalist state flexing its muscles against religious minorities, the decree of Yazid II arose from a surprising situation. Up to that time, Muslims had often worshiped in Christian churches. They did not like all that they saw there. Some found themselves increasingly disquieted by the exuberant animal and human life that they saw on the pavements. (Put briefly: to attempt to create living beings through art began to awake fears in them that were like those stirred up, in recent years, by experiments in cloning.)

But they did not descend upon the Christians from outside, to inflict random destruction on all Christian images. Rather, the Muslims who advised Yazid II seem to have acted like partners who had already been taken into a firm. They slowly bought out their colleagues and imposed their own policies, by tweaking the image that the company was supposed to project. Eventually (as we all know) the policy of avoiding images would win out. But it only did so (and only to a certain degree) in Muslim circles, and never among the large Christian populations of the Near East, many of whose images have survived (icons, frescoes, mosaics, and all) up to this day.

[...] Altogether, Mosaics as History offers little support to inert stereotypes. Here is no abrupt end of the ancient world, brought about by Arab invaders from the desert. Here are no Christians trembling under the shadow of an intolerant Muslim empire. It is not as we had been told. But then, we are seldom told as much as we should be told about the non-Western shores of the Mediterranean and even less about the complex strands that linked the world of late antiquity to that of early Islam. We need to listen to Bowersock:

Late antiquity and early Islam are full of challenges to old easy dichotomies, such as Orient oder Rom [East or Rome—with nothing in between], that have so long dominated historical interpretation.

[...] Only the sharp tang of scholarship like Bowersock’s, devoted to a seemingly distant past, can clean our eyes, a little, of the itch of modern pseudohistory, of modern stereotypes, and of modern hatreds, so that we can view the present, if not with comfort, then at least with clarity.

Fitna: Anti-Koranic Freedom of Expression It Ain’t

What to say about Fitna, the anti-Koran movie by far-rightist Dutch MP Gert Wilders who’s enjoying his spot in the limelight in these days?

First of all, the fact that it has had a difficult time getting published is not a serious matter of censorship and/or an attack on freedom of expression. Freedom of expression doesn’t mean playing up polemic for the sake of polemic: I’ll defend Rushdie’s right to write literature that some may find offensive, but I won’t waste a second to defend the author of Fitna or anybody that publishes something with the one and only intent of causing offense.

On the other hand it is simple historical truth that Christians and Jews have been able to prosper in Islamic states: the opposite, unfortunately, is much harder to argue (just think at the Armenian genocide, that follows the de-islamization of the Ottoman State).

The Qu’ran is quite explicit about this:

2,62: Those who believe (in the Qur’an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.

5,69: Those who believe (in the Qur’an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians and the Christians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness,- on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.

22,17: Those who believe (in the Qur’an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians, Christians, Magians, and Polytheists,- Allah will judge between them on the Day of Judgment: for Allah is witness of all things.

One should compare that for example to Roman Catholic exclusivity: at least until the Second Vatican Council, there was no path to Heaven to anyone that was not a RC. All sort of Christians have managed to kill each other (and others) for centuries, on the basis of some sort exclusivity. Compared to that, the Qu’ranic text verges on the ecumenical:

2,135: They say: “Become Jews or Christians if ye would be guided (To salvation).” Say thou: “Nay! (I would rather) the Religion of Abraham the True, and he joined not gods with Allah.”
2,136: Say ye: “We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Isma’il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) prophets from their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them: And we bow to Allah (in Islam).”
2,137: So if they believe as ye believe, they are indeed on the right path; but if they turn back, it is they who are in schism; but Allah will suffice thee as against them, and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.
2,138: (Our religion is) the Baptism of Allah: And who can baptize better than Allah? And it is He Whom we worship.
2,139: Say: Will ye dispute with us about Allah, seeing that He is our Lord and your Lord; that we are responsible for our doings and ye for yours; and that We are sincere (in our faith) in Him?
2,140: Or do ye say that Abraham, Isma’il Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes were Jews or Christians? Say: Do ye know better than Allah? Ah! who is more unjust than those who conceal the testimony they have from Allah? but Allah is not unmindful of what ye do!

To anybody talking about Islam as “intrinsically fascist” I can then only answer that as far as I am concerned they can write that on the surface of the Moon, but all they’ll show is ignorance (and unwillingness to learn).

St. Paul Against the Christian Churches’ Secular Activities

2 Corinthians 9, 7: “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

It is a pity that so many Christian religious leaders, from Episcopalians to Roman Catholics, have decided to forget St. Paul’s message: one is saved by Grace, and not by (Divine) Law, let alone by human law. All their struggles to make politics follow their ethical rules, don’t really sound like something to be expected from people of Faith.

Gandhi, Jesus and the Vatican

Excerpts from an interesting article published in Italian weekly newspaper supplement “Domenicale del Sole24Ore” (“A Hindu Saint at the Vatican“, by Gianfranco Zizola, February 3, 2008), about the Mahatma’s presence in Rome at the end of 1931:

[... ] the opportunity arises for a unique meeting between the Roman Church and the Nonviolent movement. Gandhi is encouraged by an article published in the front page of the Osservatore Romano on November 27: “The Way Gandhi Speaks Of God“.

Signed “X”, the Vatican newspaper talks with surprising warmth of Gandhi’s speech at the Columbia Gramophone Company and traces in its language “memories of Aristotle and St Thomas“, hoping that “the voice of Christ may succeed in being listened also by this exceptional man, who shows so much love for the truth that makes free“.

However, Gandhi had met Jesus long time before. On the wall of his mud hut there was a black-and-white print with the image of Christ and the writing “He is our peace“. Reading the New testament, Gandhi felt attracted by the Sermon of the Mountain. “It’s the Sermon that made me love Jesus. Reading the story of his life in that light, it seems to me that Christianity hasn’t been realized yet. As long as we will not uproot violence from our civilization, it will be as if Christ had not been born. It’s the Sermon of the Mountain that revealed me the value of passive resistance. I was overflowing with joy reading `Love your enemy, pray for those who persecute you` “.

In a meeting in Losanna Gandhi confirmed of feeling attracted towards the figure of Jesus Christ, but of finding it difficult to embrace the Christianity distorted by Paul’s Greek mind and then recycled in the West. Once he asked: “What brotherly love can be given by people that believe they possess the absolute truth?

The meeting at the Vatican, unfortunately, does not materialize:

According to reports by the fascist Police the Vatican refusal could have depended on banal issues of clothing… because Gandhi “did not want to submit himself to a more decent attire“. Mussolini, he found the time to receive Gandhi at Palazzo Venezia. Another explanation is that the Pope feared, by receiving the “rebel“, to offend England. One third hypothesis will be formulated years later by Jawaharial Nehru: the refusal would have been motivated by the fact that “the Catholic Church does not approve of saints and mahatmas outside of its own jurisdiction“.

Gandhi obtains in any case the opportunity to visit the Vatican palaces

[... ] he walks several times around [the great Crucifix of the XV century above the altar of the Sistine Chapel], as if executing the Indian ritual of the circumambulation of a cult object. “It is not possible to avoid being touched [by this experience] to the point of tears“.

The idyll between Gandhi and the Vatican abruptly terminates after the Mahatma’s departure, as the forces of spiritual close-mindedness take the upper hand:

Less than two months after the meeting that did not happen, the “Catholic Civilization” magazine publishes two long articles about the pacifist leader, on February 6 and 20, 1932, without signature, as customary when coming from High Authority [... ] the first one explores the main elements of the “nationalist Indian agitator”’s biography and of his “Satyagraha” theory (“firmness in truth“), whose comparison also by some catholics to St Francis is seen as a “deplorable profanation“, while his independence program is defined “nefarious”. The second article criticizes Gandhi’s religious universalism, accusing him of trying to bring Hindu elements in Christianity in order to subordinate it to his nationalist goals, or at best to to dilute the Christian sense in a sea of indifferent sincretism.

Thirty-seven years had to pass to read, in the same “Catholic Civilization” (I, 1969) an article “Gandhi and Nonviolence” that acknowledges that “many of his ideas and methods have been adopted all over the world, becoming part of modern man’s common inheritance, and inspiring the fight for human freedom“. “It’s strange – it’s the conclusion – that while Christian nations resort to violence in order to achieve their goals, and try then to justify the violence, it had to be a Hindu, faithful and convinced, to discover the link between truth and nonviolence in the realization of social change“.

Unfortunately, that’s not strange at all, if the “Christian” nations have followed the example made by the Vatican when it avoided the “Indian nationalist agitator“.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, or How Much Can the Media Distort Opinions

So what is Roman Catholic Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s opinion on the “Sharia Law” brouhaha around the Archbishop of Canterbury?

Who knows? Because from a look around the internet, it’s hard to tell…

(a) BBC News
(a1) Carey weighs into Sharia law row
Last Updated: Sunday, 10 February 2008, 08:11 GMT

Catholic leader Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor said he was “saddened” by the way the archbishop’s comments had been misunderstood. “I think he did raise a point of considerable interest and concern at the moment, namely, the rights of a religious groups within secular state. “Everyone in Britain must obey the law and therefore the question of how one can be a loyal British citizen and a faithful member of a religious group is a very pertinent question,” he told BBC Radio 4′s Sunday programme.

(a2) Sharia row persists for Williams
Last Updated: Sunday, 10 February 2008, 18:53 GMT

Catholic leader Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor is one of the many to come out in defence of Dr Williams. “I feel he may fear that people with a Christian conscience will be put to the sidelines and not allowed to say what they believe to be true for the common good,” he told the BBC.

(b) AFP
Anglican leader ‘horrified’ by Sharia law row: predecessor
6AM Sunday

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the leader of the 4.5 million Catholics in England and Wales, weighed into the debate, saying there were aspects of sharia that were not wanted in Britain. “I don’t believe in a multi-cultural society,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. “When people come to this country, they have to obey the laws of the land,” said the son of Irish immigrants.

(c) The Independent (Ireland)
Sharia law comments leave bishop in hot water

In an interview, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said that government promotion of multiculturalism has destroyed the unity that used to hold British society together. Immigrants must “obey the laws of this country”, he said

(d) Sunday Telegraph
(d1) ENGLAND: Sharia law may result in ‘legal apartheid’
By Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Religious Affairs Correspondent
9/02/2008

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, said that the Government’s promotion of multiculturalism had destroyed the unity that used to hold society together. Immigrants must “obey the laws of this country“.

(d2) People here ‘must obey the laws of the land’
Last Updated: 1:16am GMT 10/02/2008

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, leader of the 4.5 million Catholics in England and Wales, begs to differ. He is adamant that such a move would only make segregation even more entrenched. “I don’t believe in a multicultural society,” he says firmly. “When people come into this country they have to obey the laws of the land.” He has a mellifluous voice and an affable manner, but the cardinal becomes steely when discussing the problems facing British society, and the issue of sharia law.

(e) Evening Standard
Two of the most powerful clergy in Britain launch stinging attack on Archbishop over sharia row
Last updated at 20:37pm on 10.02.08

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor added his criticisms and went on to urge Muslims to do more to integrate. “The extent to which multiculturalism has been encouraged recently has meant a lessening of the kind of unity that a country needs.
“There are common values which are part of the heritage of this country which should be embraced by everybody.
“I don’t believe in a multi-cultural society. When people come into this country they have to obey the laws of the land.”

===========

Notably (alas, I haven’t kept any evidence…) the BBC (a1) article mentioned the Cardinal’s criticisms at first this morning, then around 9AM switched to a more supportive note (Radio 4′s Sunday Programme was broadcast today between 7.10 and 7.55AM).

So what can we be sure of?

(1) Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor has expressed complex thoughts, and felt the need to clarify them

(2) Those thoughts were anyway too difficult to translate into a soundbite

(3) Every media source opted to pick-and-choose whatever pleased them

(4) Even after the Cardinal’s change of tones between the Telegraph’s interview and the Sunday Programme’s appearance, most if not all stuck to their first choice

(5) Only the BBC made any significant change, but more or less “under duress”: to avoid ridicule, that is

The end result is that whatever the Cardinal’s opinions, his words were and still are just fodder for the Media animals. And whatever is read via one source or another, is very very unlikely to communicate the nuances of the Cardinal’s actual opinions.

===========

The question then becomes, given the above, how should one relate to the British media to avoid continuous distortions of one’s thoughts?

The Archbishop of Canterbury Is a Christian…

…hence his words are cause of scandal and upheaval among “humans”.

You see, it’s all written in Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians:

1, 23: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
1, 27: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
4, 10: We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.
4, 12: And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:
4, 13: Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.

This means that for once we have solid evidence that a person high up in a Christian denomination’s hierarchy is actually a Christian in the fullest sense of the term.

A bit like with Pope John XXIII, “a real Christian” in the carefully camouflaged words of Hannah Arendt, that went on wondering “How could that be? And how could it happen that a true Christian would sit on St. Peter’s chair?” (“The Christian Pope“, The New York Review of Books, Volume 4, Number 10 · June 17, 1965).

For now: Monday 11 Dr Williams’ own Synod will meet with more than one participant asking for his resignation. Let’s check instead what Paul recommended to the Christians in Corinth:

5, 13: But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person

Islamic Law: My Comment (and Picture) on the BBC News Website

Maurizio Morabito - BBC News

Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has written an extremely insightful piece on “Islam and English Law“.

It is a lecture that everybody should read, as it is intelligent, thoughtful, humble, and single-handedly describes the basis for solving the Islamic Question in Western societies, once and for all.

It can also be seen as the inspiration for a re-writing of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, making it even more universal than it is at the moment.

Dr Williams goes at great lengths to analyse the possible drawbacks of allowing people to use Islamic (but not just Islamic) Law within the framework of English (secular) Law, and offers challenges and solutions to all circumstances. He even mentions the existing settings of Inuit Law, as an example.

I say, rarely I have seen a document more profoundly Christian, in the best possible sense of the word. And yet (or… of course!) reactions have been overwhelmingly negative!!!.

The number and virulence of the ill-informed attacks against Dr Williams is a clear indication of how much Islamophobia has now become ‘mainstream’.

Reactions to Archbishop Williams’ Sharia Remarks Reveal Depth of Islamophobia

Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual Head of the Anglican (“Reformed Catholic”) Christian Community, has written an extremely insightful piece on “Islam and English Law“.

It is a lecture that everybody should read, as it is intelligent, thoughtful, humble, and single-handedly describes the basis for solving the Islamic Question in Western societies, once and for all.

It can also be seen as the inspiration for a re-writing of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, making it even more universal than it is at the moment.

Dr Williams goes at great lengths to analyse the possible drawbacks of allowing people to use Islamic (but not just Islamic) Law within the framework of English (secular) Law, and offers challenges and solutions to all circumstances. He even mentions the existing settings of Inuit Law, as an example.

====================

I say, rarely I have seen a document more profoundly Christian, in the best possible sense of the word. And yet (or…of course!) reactions have been overwhelmingly negative!!!.

Having read those 8 pages, I can affirm without any doubt that the Office of the Prime Minister, Home Office Minister Tony McNulty, the Tories’ shadow Community Cohesion Minister Baroness Warsi, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, Trevor Phillips, Chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Mark Pritchard, Tory MP for the Wrekin, in Shropshire have not bothered to read Dr Williams’ lecture before opening their mouths to utter banalities.

Not to mention (of course!) the hundreds of people clamoring to repeat the same inanities. How ironic, the champions of the Rule of (Single) Law are behaving like enraged fundamentalists!

====================

The underlying point is that anything that sounds related to Islam is nowadays seen as something to hate. Some will object that that is the consequence of 9/11, 7/7 and al-Qaeda. I do not think so. Jews have been isolated, hated, killed for centuries and then even exterminated, and they had no murderer called Osama on their side.

It’s the “advanced” Western nations that still cannot understand how to relate to the “others”. And so we are sowing again the seeds of hell

There Is More Than One Pope

Listening to the Pope has become like looking at a piece of art. Everybody stares at the same thing, but few will agree on what they are actually seeing…

Who will ever believe that the news articles reported below are meant to be about the same person giving the same speech? 

(1) From Italian newspaper “La Repubblica”
The Pope on the environment, nuclear bombs and the Family in defence of peace and the poorest Countries” (Dec 11)

The Pope asks the international community to assume its responsibilities and to not postpone its decisions in matter of environmental protection of the atmosphere. That must be done, he reminds, “with precaution”, a collective engagement and “without ideological accelerations towards hastened conclusions”. It must be done – he adds – within a “dialogue” and not with “unilateral decisions”.

(2) From UK newspaper “Daily Mail”
The Pope condemns the climate change prophets” (Dec 11)

[The Pope said] “it is important for assessments in this regard to be carried out prudently, in dialogue with experts and people of wisdom, uninhibited by ideological pressure to draw hasty conclusions, and above all with the aim of reaching agreement on a model of sustainable development capable of ensuring the well-being of all while respecting environmental balances. [...]
“Prudence does not mean failing to accept responsibilities and postponing decisions; it means being committed to making joint decisions after pondering responsibly the road to be taken.”

(3) From Reuters South Africa
Pope urges prudence in environmental decisions” (Dec 11)

(4) From AFP
Environmental policies must respect needs of the poor: pope” (Dec 12)

(5) From UK newspaper “The Guardian
(nothing at all. Must be busy trying to figure out their own spin)

(6) From UK newspaper “The Independent
(nothing at all. Must be busy trying to figure out their own spin) 

(7) From “Pink News” (yes you guessed it…)
Pope’s message – gay weddings threaten peace” (Dec 11)

About The Christian Roots of the Enlightenment

As then-Cardinal Ratzinger once said, “The affirmation [about] the Christian roots of Europe [...] relates, first of all, to an historical fact that no one can seriously deny“.

And obviously not just of Europe, but of pretty much everything European, including of course all that has been born from European minds. Including, that is, the Enlightenment.

Why can’t anybody seriously deny that? Because philosophical movements cannot appear out of thin air. Of course, Locke, Hume, Voltaire, Rousseau and the others could not use Shinto or Zoroastrian ways of thinking, but Christian ones, because they were educated by, were thinking like and had to always confront themselves with Christian culture(s).

There are six sections dedicated to The Soul in Voltair’s Philosophical Dictionary. None to the Buddhist concept of Nirvana. QED.

Check the answers to my series of blogs on Atheism. All too often, all too tellingly people nominally “without-a-god” reply with a frame of mind that actually implies a personal, omnipotent God.

That is, the Christian God.

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One thing I don’t understand is why something as obvious as the above should be controversial. Or perhaps I do understand: simply, the people that will shout the most against Christianity are bound to be the ones that despite claiming Atheism are actually Christian through and through, and they hate themselves for that.

Little hope to have a serious discussion with them.

But what does the above mean? Have we discovered the Last Stand for the Children of the Enlightenment? Should they be forced to honestly admit their roots are Christian?

I’m afraid not: because if Europe has Christian roots, those are not the only roots (Jewish and Islamic roots should be added of course, and that’s mentioning only the religious side…).

And if everybody should accept that the Enlightenment has (also) Christian roots, then everybody should accept that Christianity has (also) Pagan roots.

An enormous amount of time has been dedicated by people in the Church(es) to reconcile Jesus’ thoughts with Greek Philosophy, from the Gospel of St John onwards. Just as for the Enlightenment, the “new message” of Christianity had to be communicated by people to people.

The only way to do that was and is by using contemporary imagery, ways of thinking, categories of thought and historical philosophical arguments. Many of these were (“Pagan”) Greek at the time of Jesus, and so in our part of the world Christianity had to be built from Pagan Greek roots. QED once again…

Way to go, Senator Brownback!

Kudos to Sam Brownback for the wisdom of not dismissing evolution wholesale as an atheist conspiracy (“Creation does not preclude evolution“, International Herald Tribune, June 1).

But will the Senator have the courage of accepting the consequences?

Brownback states that “the process of creation [...] is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him“. In other words, God may as well have been using multi-billion-year evolution, 6-day creation or whatever else of His liking.

Therefore, to think of “evolution” as changing one species into another is no blasphemy.

To the contrary, it’s a hard-headed, literal reading of the (English?) Bible that strikes just as absurd and close-minded as those declarations by scientists using evolution to “prove” the non-existence of God.

As for “man’s unique and intended place in the cosmos” (another of Brownback’s points) that may well be but… it is a dangerous reasoning path for a person of Christian faith.

The way of Jesus is one of humility, not hubris.

The High Priests of Contemporary Atheism

Truly gone are the days of Epicurus.

Gone are the discussions about Free Will and the existence of Evil. Recently, some vocal atheists apper to be thinking it is time for puerile opinions instead.

Sure, many “persons without God” (including agnosticists such as Breaking the Spell”’s author Daniel C. Dennett) have a healthy respect for the experiences and beliefs of fellow human beings, be them atheists or not.

But then what can one say when an otherwise brilliant thinker like Richard Dawkins publishes without a grain of self-awareness the “Ultimate 747” argument, a so-called “definitive proof” that God does not exist?

It is a sort of an updated “who created the Creator” question that anybody with a brain can beautifully, simply and quite obviously take apart (hint: the Creator doesn’t have to be part of the Creation).

In Italy, philosophy Professor Maurizio Ferraris finds it worthwhile to spend his time arguing that Jesus is akin to Santa Claus, whilst mathematician extraordinaire Piergiorgio Odifreddi can’t even think of belief in God as anything else than irrational superstition.

Things look like going even more downhill now, with Christopher Hitchens’ new book “God is Not Great”: apparently, a masterpiece with pearls of wisdom such as asking if the Jews did not know that murder and adultery were wrong before they received the Ten Commandments.

Obviously, the problem is not with Hitchens, a professional polemicist that utters outrageous statements for a living (sort of a male Ann Coulter with just a tad less smell of sulphur). The problem is not even with Dawkins’ anti-fundamentalist crusade that truly throw the baby (Faith) with the bathwater (religious establishments).

There is a much larger issue at hand: the blind acceptance of their half-backed arguments by people evidently in need to justify their atheism to themselves.

Take for example Michael Kinsley’s review of Hitchen’s book (With brio and anger, an atheist takes on religion”, International Herald Tribune , May 12, 2007).

Mr Kinsley finds “entertaining” some blatantly silly questions such as “How could Christ have died for our sins, when supposedly he also did not die at all?” (Answer: please do read at least one Gospel, once).

Worse, Mr Kinsley is “satisfied” with (yet another?) “disproving” of the existence of God. Wow…it’s nice to know that age-old questions can finally be set aside: why don’t Messrs. Hitchens and Kinsley explain to us the Meaning of Life too?

Mr Kinsley is also quite happy to repeat Mr Hitchens’ thoughts on religious ecumenism. “if any one of the major faiths is true, then the others must be false in important respects – an obvious point often forgotten in the warm haze of ecumenism”. Boy, have they “obviously” squared the circle or what?

Do people like Kinsley and Hitchens realize how deeply, reactionarily catholic (with small “c”) is such a limited view of Faith (one God, one Truth, one World)?

How much was the Mahatma a “moron, lunatic or liar” then? That’s their definition of a modern believer. After all he did say “Non-violence requires a double faith, faith in God and also faith in man” and “One’s own religion is after all a matter between oneself and one’s Maker and no one else’s.”

Doesn’t anybody remember Quintus Aurelius Symmachus? One of the last pagans in ancient Rome, Symmachus protested the removal of the Altar of Victory from the floor of the Roman Senate by a Christian Emperor by saying “We contemplate the same stars, the Heavens are common to us all, and the same world surrounds us. What matters the path of wisdom by which each person seeks the truth?”.

(No need to waste your breath on our activist atheists, o civis Symmachus! They wouldn’t even know what you’re talking about).

Anyway, there is just the faintest of hope of some reasoning capability left in the activist atheist’s mind. Mr Hitchens writes that a sustained argument about the (non-)existence of God shouldn’t be either necessary, nor sufficient. I am sure only the most fundamentalist believers and atheists will disagree with that.

What is for atheists then the point of writing books belittling something they do not have?

Perhaps, just perhaps, one day people like Mr Hitchens and Mr Dawkins will realize that they may as well uselessly ponder on mysteries such as why a wonderful person as my wife ever fell in love with a less-than-perfect guy like me. Good luck with that!

Is this really what millennia of debates between believers and atheists have gone down to? Somebody will rightly point out that there are plenty of idiots that believe their Faith should be expressed by insulting, outlawing, threatening and killing others.

Yes, there are!

But two wrongs don’t make one right: weren’t Dawkins et al. supposed to be the Brights, the superiorly intelligent humans capable of shedding silly arguments and superstition from their lives, and from the lives of anybody that would follow them?

Why are they then switching off their brains whenever the conversational topic is Religion?

If theirs is the Light, we live in a very dim world indeed.

Like the Conquistadores in the Americas, these Brights are fighting to destroy what they can’t understand in the belief of improving the human lot. The bringing down of anything spiritual, it has become their spiritual quest. The attitude of the vast majority of their fellow humans, they consider it a primitive relic unworthy of their own perfection. Several thousand years of contributions in logic and philosophy, that doesn’t mean a thing to them.

Having discovered the “definitive arguments” for the double impossibility of proving the non-existence of any Divinity, they put themselves outside of human history. And they even gather around their books of wisdom, to accept with little sense of critique anything that is said to belittle the very idea that human being can believe in God.

It’s a hubris extravaganza.

Contemporary (activist) atheists truly set themselves in competition with God: here’s a hint of why they find so compelling to make however flawed an argument against the scandal represented by anybody not believing in their “religion of atheism”.

The Physics of Miracles And Of Free-Will

A scientific finding published a few months ago on Physical Review Letters and reported on The Economist may soon send religious types of all sorts and shapes to salivate back to their Physics books.

5% of a proton’s magnetism is contributed not by the host quarks but by visiting strange quarks that have popped out of nowhere“.

It is a perfectly reasonable discovery. Current quantum physics in fact

predicts that so-called virtual quarks, together with their anti-matter partners, are continuously emerging from the vacuum of space and then disappearing again as a result of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. So, while a proton has three resident quarks, it also plays host to a lot of short-term visitors

Nevertheless, such a discovery may herald fascinating consequences.

First of all, 5% is not exactly a negligible quantity.

Second, the measurement is obviously an average, so one proton will get a little nudge in one direction, another proton a slightly larger or smaller nudge in another direction, and so on and so forth. There is no macroscopic effect…but only insofar as the virtual particles pop up randomly in the protons.

Third, if this happens for one kind of particle, it is extremely likely it will happen for all kinds of particles, not just protons

Fourth, if this happens for one kind of force, it is highly likely it will happen for all kinds of forces, not just magnetism

—————–

The end result is that when we will be able to control where, when and how virtual particles pop-up within real particles, we will be capable to do all sort of currently deemend impossible actions. Imagine being able to “focus” the properties of a magnet so that it will attract a particular metallic object, instead of all the objects within a certain distance range….suddenly, one could move specific objects from a distance. That’s telekinesis for you.

Or look forward to the time gravitational fields will be strengthened, weakened, focused at will. That’s levitation for you. And spaceflight and levitating cars will become a child’s play to build and pilot.

—————–

Those are just dreams at the moment, impossibilities, what we could call Miracles if we were to witness them (as per A.C. Clarke’s famous saying: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic).In fact, what is there to prevent God from using those same virtual quarks exactly to perform…Miracles? (God of course could be prevented by being non-existant 8-) ; but let’s assume for now that’s not the case…).

Levitation does indeed allow one to walk on water or fly from Mecca to Jerusalem, or telekinesis the parting of the Red Sea. Some good control of the strong force and quark mechanics simplifies transforming water into wine or anything else.

Etc etc. So virtual particles popping all over the place may be God’s Backroom Control: invisible and intangible but still very much of consequence. Sort of a Miracle Physics (MP) Model.

—————–

For the Theist, it all makes sense.The Deity would have created a Universe that can take of itself but still not completely impervious to on-the-fly modificationsAlso the main objection against miracles would lose ground, as in the MP model the Divinity can intervene without foregoing the natural laws inscribed in the Universe

Just as light is a wave AND a particle, and an electron is a wave and a particle, we could say that the Universe is at the same time deterministic AND random. Not to mention that Evolution can then be a random walk AND the guided unveiling of some underlying plan.

—————–

So do we (well, IF we exist) have free will or are we in the hands of an omnipotent figure (if He/She exists) that decides things for us? Both.

Intelligent Design – Blasphemy?

Religious discussions about the theory of Evolution crop up every once in a while. Now it’s the turn of The Economist to dedicate one Briefing to “Evolution and religion”.

In that article it is reported the well known fact that in certain Christian and Muslim circles there is now support for so-called “Intelligent Design” (ID), “the idea that some features of the natural world can be explained only by the direct intervention of a ingenious creator“.

Frankly, as a Christian and Monotheist myself, I do find ID insulting to the very concept of an Omnipotent God and therefore bordering onto the blasphemous.

Let’s assume some computations mentioned by ID proponents are correct (“it would require about 300 times the age of the universe to by chance form just one protein molecule“). The alternative is to have an Intelligent Being making something as complex as a protein, or as an eye appear.

This God or Gods would continuously interfere with the Universe, adding bits here and there, making eyeballs and noses and whatever else.

Such a notion should be rejected at once. It directly implies that the Being was/is not Intelligent enough to create a universe where proteins, eyes and everything else would indeed come out of a natural mechanism such as Evolution.

It all becomes clearer once we stop separating “natural” from “God-made”. Such a step should be quite easy for a religious type.

Therefore: since God is designing the whole of nature, including all “natural mechanisms”, what prevents Him from making evolution a natural process, using a rather more elegant solution than having to clumsily get any or all parts, big and small, made on purpose?

And think again of the eye: ID proponents say it is “too complex to have evolved on its own“. It’s them putting some kind of limitation to what God could and could not do.

That’s blasphemy: the implication that God would not be able to devise something called “evolution”, and had/has to intervene “personally” in the making up of new species.

Au contraire: the Theory of Evolution is so much more compatible than ID with the whole idea of an Omnipotent God.

The Intelligent Being, if any exists, has created us with a clear instant-by-instant perception of time flowing in a particular direction. This applies presumably to all creatures on Earth. Why not use that constraint then in designing and implementing them all?

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Catholic circles especially in Rome are unwisely toying with the idea of discounting the Theory of Evolution anyway, as it would confine God “to just lighting the blue touch paper for the Big Bang“. Furthermore, if natural selection works with random steps, there it goes the “unique, God-given role in the animal kingdom” for the human species, especially favoured by Pope Benedict XVI.

These arguments should be aired after extremely careful consideration. First of all, as reported by The Economist, there is no point in devaluing the Church by letting it proclaim things that are manifestly false (a warning first made by St. Augustine).

As for the “blue touch paper“: the question is ill-posed. Even if the Universe has been created to follow Natural Laws such as Evolution, there is enough built-in uncertainty, such as in Quantum Physics, to allow any Creator to tinker at His pleasure.

Finally, regarding man’s unique role, I would rather promote more humility.

It makes little sense to try to defend one’s standing when the counterpart is… God!

The Tragedy of the Self-Righteous Christian

I am sure 99.57% of my non-Christian readers will never believe this, but…

…to be Christian and self-righteous at the same time is a contradiction in terms…

It ought to be a paradox.

The Gospels are quite clear. Besides depicting Jesus dining with “prostitutes and publicans” without feeling any urge to lecture and condemn them, references abound on concentrating on one’s own real problems instead of anybody else’s purported issues.

“Motes and beams” come to mind from Luke 6:41-42:

41 Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
42 How can you say to your brother, `Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s. 

Also the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector from Luke 18:10-14 could not be clearer:

10 Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: `God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector.
12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.
13 But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, `God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

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And yet obviously the vast majority of Christians prominently appearing in pulpits and news do indeed sound a lot more self-righteous than the average person.

Take for example the whole debate about homosexuality as a sin.

As a RC myself, it is not yet clear to me if the Vatican takes that view, or restricts the “sin” to the actual sexual intercourse between consenting adults of the same gender. Officially, they say the latter is true. However, this would clearly contradict Matthew 5:27-28:

27 “You have heard that it was said, `You shall not commit adultery.’
28 But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart

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Personally I don’t think God pays any interest in the sexual mores of a person as long as there is love behind them (with consent, adulthood, etc etc).

Anyway, centuries ago actors and non-baptized children were not deemed worthy of Christian burials, and attitudes have (slowly) evolved beyond that.

So it can be expected that in two or three hundred years all the “Christian” debate about allowing homosexuals as bishops, or in a Church at all could be seen as a giant waste of time, as puzzling as early-Church discussions of the existence of a soul in a woman’s body.

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Unfortunately, self-righteousness is much more than that: it is a tragedy and a scandal.

  • It is a scandal, as by shouting out (in the example above) against homosexuality, priests and Christians of all kinds of denominations are actively trying to deny other people the possibility of Salvation.

It would be like asking a person to choose: either eat or love God. I am afraid most would choose the former.

And so who knows how many people have been persuaded by their local priest or bishop… to become atheists!

  • It is also a tragedy, as the recurring appearance in history of a certain kind of rigid, unloving and definitely uncharitable attitude of self-righteousness among the Christians, leaves the nagging doubt: is there something intrinsically un-Christian in Christianity itself?

It has not to be that way. After all it is hard to hear about Christians that truly keep to Matthew 6:3-4:

3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4 so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

The best Hope and strongest foundation is the work of thousands of less publicity-prone people that actually do love God and their neighbours.

ps Am I suggesting Christian Churches should stop talking about their beliefs? No, I am saying Christian Churches should concentrate on the souls they’ve been gifted with, rather than pontificate about the ones they are currently refuting to accept. The commandment to love one’s neighbour as oneself carries no conditions.