Archive for the ‘Atheism’ Category

Boris Johnson Declared Islamophobia ‘Natural Reaction’ to Islam

November 28, 2019

Mike also put up another excellent piece, pointing out that while the Tories are misdirecting people to look for massively over-exaggerated anti-Semitism in the Labour party, they have been actively promoting hatred against Muslims. According to the magazine Business Insider, in 2005 our comedy prime minister wrote in the Spectator that

To any non-Muslim reader of the Koran, Islamophobia — fear of Islam — seems a natural reaction, and, indeed, exactly what that text is intended to provoke. Judged purely on its scripture — to say nothing of what is preached in the mosques — it is the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness towards unbelievers.

This was in the wake of the 7/7 London bombings, and Johnson questioned the loyalty of British Muslims and said that the country must realise that ‘Islam is the problem’.

Mike concludes ‘He’s not my prime minister. He is racist filth.’

Boris Johnson believes Islamophobia is a ‘natural reaction’ to Muslims. Let’s vote this racist OUT

No argument there from me, especially after Mates Jacobs has released a dossier of rabidly islamophobic, racist and anti-Semitic comments from the supporters of Jacob Rees-Mogg and our buffoonish Prime Minister. Not after Sayeeda Warsi has repeatedly demanding investigations into islamophobia in her party, and been condescendingly told that there’s little to worry about. Not when an inquiry into it has been pushed back after the General Election – presumably so that it won’t embarrass Johnson when it uncovers massive prejudice and hatred.

Now let’s put Johnson’s comments into their context. Many Brits understandably were worried about the possible danger from Islam after the 7/7 bombings on the London Underground and on buses. This was also a period when alienated Muslim youths marched through the street waving placards against the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, proclaiming that Islam would dominate the West and promising more violence and terrorism. But it is a mistake to claim that this alienation and rage represents true Islam, or comes from the pages of the Qu’ran.

In fact Islamism is the product of a distinct set of social and political circumstances. This includes the economic and political stagnation of Islamic societies, rising poverty and the bewilderment and dislocation felt by many Muslims to rapid modernisation. Some of the problems are due to the adoption of neoliberal economic programmes by secular Arab and Middle Eastern states, like Algeria, which have massively increased poverty. Some of it is a reaction to western colonialism and cultural and economic hegemony. And some of it is a response to real oppression by non-Muslim states around the world. Like there is massive discrimination and organised violence against Muslims, as well as Sikhs and Christians, by Hindu ultra-nationalists in India.

I studied Islam as part of my religious studies minor degree at College. Yes, Islam has expanded through violence and conquest, just as Christianity has. But it has also spread through peaceful contact and conversion. And the problems Islam is experiencing as it modernises aren’t unique to it. Christianity and the West experienced the same process in the 19th and 20th centuries. There were reactionaries in the Anglican Church in the 19th century, who were frightened of the extension of the franchise and political rights to Protestant Dissenters, Roman Catholics, and other religions. In the middle of the century the Papacy placed on its index of forbidden doctrines the idea that Roman Catholic countries should allow freedom of religion and conscience to non-Catholics. But now the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches as a whole very definitely are not anti-democratic, despite the attempts of General Franco and Roman Catholic clerico-Fascists during the Second World War. And aggressively atheist states like the Soviet Union have their own bloody history of intolerance. Religion was viciously persecuted in the USSR, and millions of people of faith, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or shamanist, were killed or imprisoned in the gulags for simply holding their beliefs. Nathan Johnson, surveying the vicious intolerance across secular, atheist as well as religious societies in his books on the mythology of New Atheism, has suggested that such intolerance may be part of human nature, rather than just unique to religion or a specific religion.

Islam also has a tolerant side. Christianity survived in the Balkans after the Turkish conquest because, when the Ottoman emperor wanted to force the Christian peoples to convert to Islam, the majlis, the assembly of Muslims scholars and jurists, told him it was specifically forbidden, for example. And even after the conquest, there were many areas in which Christian and Muslim lived side by side in peace. When Mike visited Bosnia after the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, he saw areas where churches and mosques had been built next to each other. Not the mark of an intolerant society, at least, not at that time.

Boris Johnson is, as Mike and so many others have repeatedly pointed out, a vicious racist. This is in sharp contrast to the Labour leader, who is a determined opponent of all forms of racism. Don’t believe him when he smears Labour as anti-Semitic.

And don’t let him get away with smearing Muslims. This is what the Tories are doing and have always done: manufacture hate against an out-group in order to gain power. They are doing it against the poor. They are doing it to the unemployed, to the disabled, to anybody, even working people, who claim benefits. And in the early part of the 20th century they did it to Jews. Now they’re doing it to Blacks, Asians and particularly Muslims.

A better world is possible. Reject the Tories and their prejudice and bigory, and vote for Corbyn and his anti-racism instead.

 

 

Identity of Monster Behind Uighur Concentration Camps Revealed

November 26, 2019

The I today has published a piece revealing the identity of the Han Chinese minister behind the concentration camps used to imprison and torture China’s Muslim minority, the Uighurs, simply for practising their own culture, language and religious identity.

The article by Jane Clinton, titled ‘Revealed: man behind Uighur camps’, runs

After bloody race riots rocked China’s far west in 20089, the ruling Communist Party turned to a rare figure in their ranks to restore order: a Han official fluent in Uighur, the language of the local Turkic Muslim minority.

Now, newly revealed, confidential documents show that the official, Zhu Hailun, played a key role in planning and executing a campaign that has swept up a million or so Uighurs into detention camps.

Written in 2017, the documents were signed by Mr Zhu, as then head of the powerful Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party in the Xinjiang region.

Mr Zhu joined the party in 1980 and moved up Xinjiang’s bureaucracy. By the 90s, he was so fluent in Uigher he corrected his own translators during meetings.

“If you didn’t see him, you’d never imagine he’s Han Chinese, he really spoke just like a Uighur, because he grew up with them,” said a Uighur businessman living in exile in Turkey, who declined to be named for fear of retaliation.

The Han are the majority Chinese population.

From what I understand, this is at heart all about the Chinese development of Xinjiang for its resources of coal and iron. This has led to massive Han Chinese immigration, which is resented by the indigenous Uighurs, as they fear they are becoming a minority in their own homeland. The concentration camps are part of a policy of forcibly suppressing Uighur national identity, including the use of their language and the practising of their religion, Islam. According to an article in the ‘Letter from…’ column in last fortnight’s Private Eye, even after release, Uighur former inmates are not free from surveillance and to pressure to abandon their national identity. Han Chinese spies may be billeted in their homes to make sure they don’t return to their old customs and identity. The policy’s similar to the way General Franco in Spain tried to stop the Basques speaking their own language, and the Soviet Union’s campaign to eradicate religion and religious practices.

By international law, Zhu Heilun and the Chinese government responsible for this policy are guilty of crimes against humanity, as I believe that attempts to suppress an ethnic group’s national identity is considered genocide.

Zhu is a monster, and his government deserves criticism and contempt for this policy.

Documentary Tonight on the Works of SF Author Ursula Le Guin

November 17, 2019

The Beeb are tonight screening a programme ‘The Worlds of Ursula K Le Guin’ at 10.00 pm on BBC 4. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

The American feminist writer, who died in January 2018, was best known for her ground-breaking science fiction and fantasy novels such as A Wizard of Earthsea and The Left Hand of Darkness, Produced with Le Guin’s participation over the course of a decade, this documentary explores how she defiantly held her ground on the margin of “respectable” literature until the sheer excellence of her work forced the mainstream to embrace fantastic literature. Tyhe film features contributions from the likes of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell and Michael Chabon. (p. 65).

The additional piece a few pages earlier by Huw Fullerton on page 63 reads

It’s fair to say that Ursula K Le Guin was a one-off. While plenty of sci-fi and fantasy authors could be described as ahead of their time, there are few to whom this applies as aptly as Le Guin, who was writing piercing, feminist and race-sensitive works as far back as the 1960s and 70s with works such as The Wizard of Earthsea, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, elevating her storytelling beyond the literary fringe.

In this new film, luminaries including Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood and Michael Chabon pay tribute to Le Guin’s life and legacy, interweaving with unusual animation to bring her story to (appropriately) fantastical life. 

I read The Dispossessed back in the 1990s, and I can’t say I liked it. It’s about a scientist, Shevek, from a desolate world colonised by Anarchists to its twin planet of Aieio. Shevek has been working on a Faster Than Light communication device, an ansible, a concept found in other SF writers, like James Blish’s Dirac Telephone. Unable to complete it on his world, he defects to its capitalist twin, now undergoing massive worker unrest and an ecological crisis. He becomes a figurehead for the working class radicals, and helps to inspire a revolution. He gives a speech, which is praised by Earth’s woman ambassador. The planet has been left a desert thanks to capitalism’s destruction of the environment. Conditions are consequently very basic, but humanity has been taken to the stars by the Hainish after they discovered Earth. After the revolution’s success, he travels with a member of an alien race, the Hainish, an ancient race of space travelers who have established interstellar contact between themselves, Earth and Aieio and its twin, back to his home world.

Shevek’s anarchist world is a harsh environment with no animal life on its dry lands, although it certainly exists in its seas. The society is based on the ideas of Odo, a female political thinker of a century or so earlier. There is no private property, no prisons and marriage has been abolished. However, couples may live together as partners. Children are brought up in state nurseries away from their parents, who may visit them. The harsh environment and puritanical ideology means that individuality in dress is frowned on as wasteful and extravagant. Everyone basically wears the same costume, although some do make it more individual in the towns and settlements away from the Centre devoted to dyeing. There is no government, but material goods are administered by the Centre, which contains the computer complex used to administer the society.

I didn’t find Le Guin’s anarchist utopia appealing. It’s far too like the totalitarian Communist societies, and particularly Maoism in its uniforms, hostility to religion, marriage and the family. I am also not sure that feminists would like a world where the differences between men and women are so extremely minimised. While women obviously want to be free to enter masculine professions, like science, engineering, construction and so on, there’s still a desire to retain some forms of traditional femininity. This was demonstrated in a piece on the one show about three Air Cadets, who had been voted its top people, and had won a trip to America to see where the latest high performance jet fighters bought by the RAF, were being made. Two of them were young women, and the third a young Black man. It shows that the RAF are trying to recruit a more diverse membership. What I found particularly interesting was that one of these prospective fighter pilots, a woman, outside of the Cadets blogged about makeup. This seemed to me to be the RAF reassuring prospective female recruits that the could still be girly and feminine while piloting an awesome engine of death. I also remember reading an interview with the psychotherapist Suzie Orbach, the author of Fat Is A Feminist Issue in the Financial Times in the 1990s where she said she didn’t want women becoming exactly like men, or men becoming exactly like women.

Also, I found Shevek himself to be a bit of a prig. He was very sanctimonious, pronouncing on the superiority of his planet and its culture at every opportunity. Le Guin recognises that it would have problems, like hoarding, as well as the administrative elite using their authority to suppress music and literature of which they don’t approve, but looking at the problems the Communist societies experienced, it struck me that these problems would be much greater. It also struck me that there would also be a serious problem with crime and criminality, simply because of human – or in this case – humanoid nature – which could not be solved through social engineering alone.

But there is no doubt that she is one of the great SF authors with a very wide following, and I’m sure that this programme will be an excellent examination of her works.

David Rosenberg’s Refutation of Latest Corbyn Anti-Semitism Smears

November 8, 2019

As I said a few days ago, the Tories must be desperate. They and their allies in the press have fallen back to the old smears of anti-Semitism against Jeremy Corbyn. A Reform Rabbi, Jonathan Romain, wrote an article in last Friday’s Times warning its readers not to vote for Labour, because he was afraid of the terrible consequences of a Corbyn-led government for Britain’s Jews. And Stephen Pollard, the non-Jewish, goysplaining editor of the Jewish Chronicle, has written an article aimed squarely at gentile Brits, urging us not to vote for Corbyn because ditto.

David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group has written another excellent reply to the latest round of smears. Rosenberg himself has been the subject of smear attacks and protests by ultra-rightwing Zionists. A few days ago Jonathan Hoffman, a former leader of the Zionist Federation, was doing his usual schtick of marching around screaming about anti-Semitism in protest at a talk Mr Rosenberg was given to the East London Humanists. Whom he also accused of anti-Semitism, because they’re militant atheists and are anti-Judaism. Well yes, they are. They are also anti-Christianity, anti-Islam, anti-Hinduism, and anti-religion generally. That does not mean that they stand for the persecution of Jews, or Christians, Muslims, Hindus or anyone else. As for Rosenberg being an anti-Semite himself, his piece, ‘Who’s Afraid of Jeremy Corbyn’, begins with him describing a journey he made as part of a group of sixty people on a four day educational visit to Poland. It was organised by Unite Against Racism and many of the people on it were trade unionists and members of the Labour party. They also ranged from sixth former to older people, including Holocaust survivors, some of whose terrible experiences he briefly describes. Rosenberg was a speaker at the event, but before he did, they were treated to a message by Jeremy Corbyn. It was not electioneering, but a private message, meant for the travelers alone. Rosenberg writes

But just before I spoke, we watched a video message that had been filmed in one of theScreen Shot 2019-11-06 at 17.22.31 busiest weeks of Jeremy Corbyn’s year. The election had only just been called but he found time to record a message to wish our group well on our visit. This was not electioneering. This was not a social media post to be broadcast by Labour’s Press Team for sharing far and wide. It was simply a private, personal, heartfelt message to our group, from someone who has spent their life confronting racism and fascism and posing an alternative to hatred.

“Your visit to Auschwitz,” Corbyn told us, “will be a poignant experience. I have been there myself.” He described antisemitism as an “evil cult that has to be destroyed in all forms.” He recalled a visit he made, in summer this year, “to a small Jewish museum in Romania next to a railway line, where hundreds of thousands of Jews were rounded up in 1944 and deported to their deaths.” He closed by calling on us to “unite as people to say we will not tolerate racism in any form in our society, be it antisemitism, be it Islamophobia, be it homophobia or any other kind of discrimination.”

Rosenberg goes on to criticise Romain’s article, which was part of the media’s general evidence-free argument against the Labour party. He also discusses how the Tories have been responsible for deliberately racist policies such as the Hostile Environment policy, and are now led by Boris Johnson and his vile remarks about ‘grinning picaninnies’ and women in hijabs. He also reminds voters thinking of switching from Labour to the Fib Dems because of the smears of racism just how racist the Lib Dems themselves are. They not only supported Tory austerity policies, which disproportionately affect ethnic minorities, they also supported the Hostile Environment. And they did some extremely racist campaigning themselves in Tower Hamlets. He writes

Some of us with longer memories might recall the role of the Liberal Democrats in Tower Hamlets in the early 1990s where Lib Dem leaflets linked the presence of Black and Asian people with the housing shortages, giving further credibility to the overtly racist BNP who were polling well. Other leaflets distributed by the Lib Dems accused Labour of diverting funds towards the area’s Asian communities. In the end the BNP won that seat, and the Lib Dems locally were widely seen as playing a despicable and racist role.

He also attacks the Torygraph article which quotes Conservative chairman James Cleverly that British Jews are preparing to flee Britain if Corbyn gets in. He notes that three years into Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party, fewer Jews than ever are actually leaving for Israel. But he also notes the anti-Semitic undertones of the Torygraph and Jewish Chronicle’s article. Both stereotype Jews as rich capitalists. He writes

But the more serious point contained in this suggestion is the not-so-subtle antisemtism of both the Telegraph and Cleverly.

In essence they argue that a Corbyn government will launch a vengeful attack on wealth. Those most committed to private enterprise fear being squeezed by a radical Labour government, and the suggestion seems to be that the Jewish community, often stereotyped as an overwhelmingly rich, business-orientated community, will especially feel that pinch. It is an argument that has been rehearsed by the very right wing Jewish Chronicle editor, Stephen Pollard, who gave space in December 2018 for an appalling article in his paper by Alex Brummer with a headline you might have expected to see in a fascist journal: “The thought of Jeremy Corbyn as PM has Jewish investors running for the hills”.

Three months earlier, Pollard himself, had attacked a tweet by Jeremy Corbyn in which Corbyn said that the people who caused the financial crash of 2008 “call me a threat. They’re right. Labour is a threat to a damaging and failed system rigged for the few.” Pollard tweeted: “This is ‘nudge, nudge, you know who I’m talking about don’t you? And yes I do. It’s appalling” In response I tweeted: “Stephen Pollard and Jeremy Corbyn. One of them seems to think all bankers are Jews. Clue: it is not Jeremy Corbyn.”

But when I read this drivel, stereotyping the Jewish community as capitalists, I think of the many Jews I know well who work in the health service and caring professions who will be boosted by the prospect of a Labour government that is committed to funding their sectors rather than selling them off. I think of the struggling Jewish single parents and pensioners I know, and unemployed Jews, who have every reason to welcome a Corbyn-led government that would boost welfare payments rather than cut them, and would undertake other serious anti-poverty measures. I think of Jews I know who are users of mental health services, whose provision has been cut to the bone by the Tories. I think of elderly Jewish acquaintances living in the East End for whom repairs to their council housing and a well resourced health service are very high on their agendas. These people need a Labour government to be returned on December 12th as much as as their non-Jewish counterparts.

Absolutely. I’ve met Jews, who’ve despised the Tories for what they’ve done to the Health Service because they’ve, or their parents, have worked in it.

He also gives more news that you won’t find in the lamestream media. Apparently here are two new initiatives by British Jewish young people to tackle the Tories. One is Vashti Media, which states that it is a ‘microphone for the Jewish Left’, and another is ‘Jews Against Boris’.

He also discusses a talk the group were given by a Polish socialist and anti-fascist, who talked about the current political situation in his country and the mobilisation of anti-Fascists to combat the recent nationalist marches through Warsaw. His article concludes by commenting on the way the Fascist and Nationalist right in Poland and eastern Europe are being supported by right-wing forces across the continent, including Britain’s Tories.

As we sat in a cab driving to the airport on Monday, we passed a wall graffitied with a crossed out Star of David in a circle. The populist right and far right in Poland, and other countries central and eastern Europe, have been drawing support from right wingers in Western Europe including Britain’s Tory Party. Those elements in Britain that are leading the false charge against Jeremy Corbyn, as if he were some sort of threat to Jews in Britain, need to stop playing dangerous factional political games and face up to where the threats are really coming from.

https://rebellion602.wordpress.com/2019/11/06/whos-afraid-of-jeremy-corbyn/

As Rosenberg and other, genuine anti-Fascist activists both Jewish and gentile have made clear, Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite. Since he’s been leader of the Labour party, the level of anti-Semitism has been at the lowest its ever been for years. Anti-Semitism, like racism generally, is always strongest on the right. And that means the very same Tories, who are trying to smear Corbyn as a Jew-hater.

 

Medical Stunt Tells BoJob his Hospital Visit is a Publicity Stunt

November 5, 2019

As Mike posted a few days ago, BoJob was booed out of Addenbrook’s hospital in Cambridge, when he turned up for a visit. And one medical student, Julia Simons, was so disgusted by this blatant piece of electioneering that she confronted him with it. This video from the Groaniad shows her trying to question our disaster of a PM as he walks out of the hospital to his limo surrounded by his bodyguards and minders, pointedly refusing to answer her questions. She also gives a brief interview explaining her attempt to confront him to the Groan’s reporter afterward.

She asks him, ‘I’d also like to ask you about your awareness of the health crisis and the climate crisis? I won’t be working in a system like the one today … Have you read the IPCC report? Do you understand that? Have you read it? Do you understand the IPCC report?’

She gets no answer, and slams the car door shut.

She says to the reporter afterward:

Basically, I just came out of clinic and I was told that Boris Johnson was coming, and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness’, like as a normal person you never get that opportunity to say something to someone like that. I really want to ask him, ‘What’s next?’ And I was told I wasn’t allowed to ask him any questions. Which is a really good sign, I think, that this is a PR stunt. People who work in this hospital know the reality of cuts, like I’m a medical student, I don’t know the cuts in the way these people do. They were all really angry to hear he’s coming here for a PR stunt, ’cause we know what cuts have done to our NHS. We know the NHS is being privatised even if it’s not explained in explicit terms.   

The reporter asks ‘What’s the mood among the staff at the hospital having had Boris Johnson come in?’

She replies

Oooh, we weren’t told he was coming, which is a really big sign. As a Prime Minister you should be proud of how you’re leading your country. We were told that we weren’t allowed to know he was here. But I think it’s one of frustration because, as doctors we practice evidence-based medicine and politics should be evidence-based too. And yet the health outcomes from his policy changes evidence-wise, that doesn’t work and we shouldn’t keep doing that. And he’s too much of a coward to talk to any real members of staff rather than some random medical student, who happened to get in front of some cameras about the reality of those cuts.

Very well said!

Of course it was a publicity stunt, just as all the Tories’ visits to hospitals and doctors’ surgeries have been. And I’m not surprised that the staff were told to keep schtumm. They know perfectly well that the Health Service is being privatised, and that it is all driven by ideology. The neurosurgeon, Humanist and philosopher Ray Tallis and Jackie Davis make this absolutely clear in their book, NHS-SOS. Despite all the verbiage about introducing private sector discipline and skills into the NHS, the reality is that private medicine and hospitals actually provide a poorer service than state medicine. But Tory ideology, plus their class interest as people with private business interests themselves mean that they are promoting the privatisation of the NHS for all they and their backers in private healthcare companies can get.

When Simons talks about evidence-based medicine, she means, of course, treatment that has been subject to thorough scientific testing and proper statistical analysis. But these are alien to the Tories, who lie through their teeth and won’t release proper statistics on anything whatsoever, because in healthcare, and so often generally, the proper stats flatly contradict their lies. See Mike’s experience of how Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP tried everything they could to refuse him the stats for the number of people, who had died after being declared fit for work by Atos, then handling the fitness to work tests.

Julie Simons is obviously an extremely conscientious student, who cares deeply for the NHS and the care it provides. She should make an extremely good doctor. She also joins a long line of other doctors, surgeons and medical professionals, who’ve also tried to confront the Tories about the catastrophic effect their vile policies are having.

But I am also afraid that, by daring to confront BoJob, she will also have her card marked as a troublemaker and will be subject to some of the appalling harassment and abuse that the Tories and their troll army have inflicted on others, who have confronted them like this.

The only politician and party that will keep the NHS publicly owned, providing free medicine at the point of use, is Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. Vote for them, and get the Tories and Lib Dems out.

Zionist Bigot Jonathan Hoffman Disrupts Humanist Meeting because of ‘Anti-Semitism’

November 5, 2019

Jonathan Hoffman is a fanatical Zionist activist, who regularly protests against and tries to disrupt pro-Palestinian meetings and events because they are, to him, ‘anti-Semitic’. Even when the events are organised by Jewish and other organisations, who are very careful to exclude real anti-Semites and neo-Nazis. He and his bizarre antics have been all too frequently discussed and documented by Tony Greenstein, not least because of the extreme right-wing company he keeps. Tony has many times put up photographs showing Hoffman parading around in the company of extremist, islamophobic outfits like the EDL and Britain First. He was photographed outside demonstrating against one pro-Palestinian meeting next to Paul Besser, Britain First’s intelligence officer. Which must surely be a contradiction in terms, coming from that organisation. A few months ago Hoffman and one of his mates, to my recollection, lost a court case and were convicted of harassment. According to Tony’s article today, it was of a Palestinian woman. But Hoffman evidently hasn’t learnt his lesson, because he’s been out disrupting meetings again.

This time it was the turn of East London Humanists, who are affiliated to the National Secular Society, who felt his ire. They’d committed the heinous crime of inviting David Rosenberg, of the Jewish Socialist Group, to speak about anti-Semitism. Hoffman duly lost his fragile mind once again, and turned up with six other ‘vigilantes’ as he describes them, to disrupt the meeting. Tony has a photo on his blog of him with a couple of them standing next to two Israeli flags. Why the anger? Because David Rosenberg’s another Jewish critic of Israel’s barbarous treatment of the Palestinians. Thus, according to Hoffman, he’s an anti-Semite and a ‘renegade Jew’, and the East London Humanists are guilty of anti-Semitism for inviting him there, apparently. Hoffman complains that as the Humanists actively oppose religion, they are a pain to the Jews. As Tony himself points out in the article, the Humanists oppose all religions, not just Judaism. I certainly don’t support either Humanism or the National Secular Society, who, in my opinion, can be extremely intolerant in their attempts to force religion out of the public sphere. But I don’t think you can accuse them of racism. Nathan Johnstone’s book on New Atheist myths, which I reviewed a few days ago, attacked Dawkins and co. for their vitriolic rhetoric, which he believed could all too easily spark vicious persecution. But he acknowledged that Dawkins and the others, including Sam Harris, were actually humane people, who genuinely sympathised with the oppressed and marginalised. I also have the impression that there’s a split between the old-fashioned Humanists and the New Atheists about their rhetoric. Many Humanists and atheists are disgusted with the New Atheists because of their intolerance, which they associate with religion. So while I don’t doubt that Humanists object to Judaism as a religion, along with Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and the other faiths, I’m sure that they’re genuine supporters of the Jewish people’s right to live in peace, equality and safety, along with people of other races and ethnicities.

Also, David Rosenberg himself is very far from being any kind of ‘renegade Jew’ or anti-Semite. I’ve blogged about several articles from his excellent blog, Rebel Notes. Rosenberg is, like Tony, a very firm opponent of racism and anti-Semitism. He has spoken at meetings in Britain and abroad against racism and Fascism. He was in Warsaw a few months ago, attending a ceremony commemorating the heroes of the Jewish uprising against the Nazis. This included children from the local schools singing one of the rebels’ songs in Yiddish. He also posted another piece on his blog about the speech he gave at an anti-racism meeting in Manchester, in which he praised the local Jewish, Socialist, Communist and trade union activists in that great city for sticking it to Mosley and his stormtroopers when they tried to goosestep around it. He has also posted pieces about an exhibition at the London Jewish Museum on Marxism and Jewish identity, in which he viewed Marx as in the line of Jewish prophets and campaigners against oppression and exploitation. It’s glaringly obvious that Rosenberg wouldn’t do any of this, if he were a genuine anti-Semite.

But Hoffman and his fellows have decided Rosenberg is a Jew-hater, because his socialism is informed by the stance of the pre-War Jewish Bund. This was the Jewish socialist party in eastern Europe and the former Russian Empire. They saw the Jewish people’s homeland as whichever countries they lived in. They had no intention of supporting a separate Jewish state, and actively campaigned against Zionism. They demanded instead that Jews should live as equal fellow citizens with their gentile neighbours. This was by far the majority view of European Jewry at the time. But it runs counter to the right-Zionist message, which is that true Jews have always wanted their own state. And so Zionist extremists like Hoffman smear activists like Hoffman, Tony and Jackie Walker, as anti-Semites.

Hoffman is also upset ’cause he doesn’t like Tony mentioning how he keeps company with people, who could be described as Fascists. So Tony’s put up photos of him marching around with the EDL and their Jewish division, the JDL, as well as Paul Besser and a few other extreme right-wing Zionists.

Don’t be misled. It’s people like Hoffman and other extreme right-wing Zionists, both Jewish and gentile, who are behind the anti-Semitism smears against pro-Palestinian activists. Those they attack and smear are very frequently genuinely anti-racist opponents of anti-Semitism. Tony states that he has never seen Hoffman protest against genuine racists and Fascists. He has pointed out over and over again that the Zionist right will collaborate with real anti-Semites in order to advance their goals of getting more Jews to emigrate to Israel. Which is why the Conservative Jewish establishment in this country, like the Conservative establishment generally, has done everything it can to smear Corbyn and his supporters in the Labour party as anti-Semites, even when Corbyn and they have a proud record of combating racism and supporting the Jewish community. And they can be especially vicious in their attacks on genuinely left-wing Jews, who support the Palestinians.

The real fanatical bigotry here didn’t come from Rosenberg or the East London Humanists. It comes from Hoffman and those like him. They’re responsible for smearing decent people, and their lies are being used by a right-wing political establishment and media to prevent a Corbyn government getting into power. Because it would actually do something for British working people, who naturally include Jews.

Don’t believe their lies.

http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2019/11/another-feather-in-cap-of-jonathan.html

Review of Book on New Atheist Myths Now Up on Magonia Review Blog

November 1, 2019

The Magonia Review of Books blog is one of the online successors to the small press UFO journal, Magonia, published from the 1980s to the early part of this century. The Magonians took the psycho-social view of encounters with alien entities. This holds that they are essentially internal, psychological events which draw on folklore and the imagery of space and Science Fiction. Following the ideas of the French astronomer and computer scientist, Jacques Vallee, and the American journalist, John Keel, they also believed that UFO and other entity encounters were also part of the same phenomenon that had created fairies and other supernatural beings and events in the past. The magazine thus examined other, contemporary forms of vision and belief, such as the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in the 1990s. It also reviewed books dealing with wide range of religious and paranormal topics. These included not just UFOs, but also the rise of apocalyptic religious faith in America, conspiracy theories, ghosts and vampires, cryptozoology and the Near Death Experience, for example. Although the magazine is no longer in print, the Magonia Review of Books continues reviewing books, and sometimes films, on the paranormal and is part of a group of other blogs, which archive articles from the magazine and its predecessor, the Merseyside UFO Bulletin (MUFOB), as well as news of other books on the subject.

I’ve had a number of articles published in Magonia and reviews on the Review of Books. The blog has just put my review of Nathan Johnstone’s The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion (Palgrave MacMillan 2018).  The book is a critical attack on the abuse of history by New Atheist polemicists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and so on to attack religion. He shows that the retail extremely inaccurate accounts of historical atrocities like the witch hunts and persecution of heretics by the Christian church and the savage anti-religious campaign in the Soviet Union in order to condemn religion on the one hand, and try to show that atheism was not responsible for the atrocities committed in its name on the other. At the same time he is alarmed by the extremely vitriolic language used by Dawkins and co. about the religious. He draws comparisons between it and the language used to justify persecution in the past to warn that it too could have brutal consequences despite its authors’ commitment to humanity and free speech.

The article is at: http://pelicanist.blogspot.com/2019/10/believing-in-not-believing-new-atheists.html if you wish to read it at the Magonia Review site. I’ve also been asked to reblog it below. Here it is.

Nathan Johnstone. The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion. Palgrave Macmillan 2018.

The New Atheists is a term coined to described the group of militant atheists that emerged after the shock of 9/11. Comprising the biologist Richard Dawkins, the journalist Christopher Hitchens, the philosophers Daniel C. Dennett and A.C. Grayling, the neuroscientist Sam Harris, the astronomer Victor Stenger, and others, they are known for their particularly bitter invective against all forms of religion. The above claim to stand for reason and science against irrationality and unreason. But while they are especially protective of science, and who gets to speak for it or use its findings, they are cavalier regarding theology and the humanities, including history.
Johnstone is appalled by this attitude. Instead of respecting history and its scholarship, he compares Dawkins, Harris et al to hunter-gatherers. They are not interested in exploring history, but rather using it as a grab-bag of examples of atrocities committed by the religious. In so doing they ignore what historians really say about the events and periods they cite, and retail myth as history. These he regards as a kind of ‘Black Legend’ of theism, using the term invented in the early twentieth century by the Spanish historian Julian Juderas to describe a type of anti-Spanish, anti-Roman Catholic polemic. He states his book is intended to be just a defence of history, and takes no stance on the issue of the existence of God. From his use of ‘we’ in certain points to describe atheists and Humanists, it could be concluded that Johnstone is one of the many of the latter, who are appalled by the New Atheists’ venom.
One such religious doubter was the broadcaster John Humphries,  the author of the defence of agnosticism, In God We Doubt. Humphries stated in the blurb for the book that he considered himself an agnostic before moving to atheism. Then he read one of the New Atheist texts and was so shocked by it he went back to being an agnostic. The group first made its debut several years ago now, and although New Atheism has lost some of its initial interest and support, they’re still around.
Hence Johnstone’s decision to publish this book. While Dawkins’ The God Delusion was published almost a decade ago, the New Atheists are still very much around. They and their followers are still on the internet, and their books on the shelves at Waterstones. Dawkins published his recent work of atheist polemics, Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide a few weeks ago at the beginning of October 2019. He accompanied its publication with an appearance at Cheltenham Literary Festival, where he was speaking about why everyone should turn atheist.
The events and the atrocities cited by the New Atheists as demonstrations of the intrinsic evil of religion are many, including the Inquisitions, the witch-hunts, anti-Semitism, the Crusades, the subjugation of women, colonialism, the slave trade and the genocide of the Indians, to which they also add human sacrifice, child abuse, censorship, sexual repression and resistance to science. These are too many to tackle in one book, and it confines itself instead to attacking and refuting New Atheist claims about the witch-hunts, the medieval persecution of heretics, and the question of whether Hitler was ever really Christian and the supposed Christian origins of Nazi anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
The book also tackles historical movements and figures, that the New Atheists have claimed as atheist heroes and forerunners – the ancient Greek Atomists and two opponents of the witch-hunts, Dietrich Flade and Friedrich Spee. It then moves on to examine Sam Harris’ endorsement of torture in the case of Islamist terrorists and atheist persecution in the former Soviet Union before considering the similarity of some New Atheist attitudes to that of religious believers. It concludes with an attack on the dangerous rhetoric of the New Atheists which vilifies and demonises religious believers, rhetoric which could easily provoke persecution, even if its authors themselves are humane men who don’t advocate it.
Johnstone traces these atheist myths back to their nineteenth and pre-nineteenth century origins, and some of the books cited by the New Atheists as the sources for their own writings. One of the most influential of these is Charles MacKay’s 1843 Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. In many instances he shows them to be using very dated, and now refuted texts. With some of the modern works they also draw on, examination shows that often they ignore the authors’ own conclusions, which may differ considerably, or even be the complete opposite of their own.
In the case of the witch-hunts, Johnstone traces the oft-quoted figure of over nine million victims to an early nineteenth century German author, Gottfried Christian Voigt, who extrapolated it from the murder of the thirty witches executed in his home town of Quedlinburg from 1569 to 1683. He assumed this was typical of all areas throughout the period of the witch-hunts. The figure was picked up by the radical neo-Pagan and feminist movements of the 1970s. But it’s false. The real figure, he claims, was 50,000. And its intensity varied considerably from place to place and over time. The Portuguese Inquisition, for example, only killed one witch c. 1627. In other places, the inquisitors were conscientious in giving the accused a fair trial. Convictions for witchcraft were overturned and evidence was taken to prove the accused’s innocence as well as guilt. The Roman Inquisition also demanded the accused to provide a list of their enemies, as their testimony would obviously be suspect.
In regions where the discussion of witchcraft had resulted in the mass trial and execution of the innocent, the religious authorities imposed silence about the subject. Johnstone rebuts the statement of some Christian apologists that the Church was only complicit in these atrocities, not responsible for them. But he shows that they were an anomaly. Nearly all societies have believed in the existence of witches throughout history, but the period of witch-hunting was very limited. The problem therefore is not that religion and belief in the supernatural leads inexorably to persecution, but how to explain that it doesn’t.
He shows that the Church moved from a position of initial scepticism towards full scale belief over a period of centuries. The witch-hunts arose when maleficium – black magic – became linked to heresy, and so became a kind of treason. As an example of how secular and political motives were also involved in the denunciations and trials, rather than just pure religious hatred, he cites the case of the priest Urbain Grandier. Grandier’s case was the basis for Aldous Huxley’s novel, The Devils of Loudoun, which was filmed by Ken Russell as The Devils. Here it appears the motives for the trial were political, as Grandier had been an opponent of the French minister, Cardinal Richelieu. Johnstone also considers that as secular societies have also persecuted those they consider to be politically or morally deviant there exists in humanity a need to persecute. This means finding and identifying an anti-group, directly opposed to conventional society, whose existence and opposition demonstrates the value of that society.
KEN RUSSELL’S ‘THE DEVILS’ (1971)
The medieval persecution of heretics may also have been due to a number of causes and not simply due to the malign attitudes of religious believers. There was a period of nearly 700 years between the execution of the Roman heretic, Priscillian, in the fourth century and the revival of persecution the early eleventh. This arose in the context of the emergence and development of states and the expansion of papal and royal power, which involved church and crown extending their power over local communities. At the same time, the papacy attempted reforming the church, at first in response to popular demand. However, it was then faced with the problem of clamping down on some of the popular reform movements when they threatened to run out of its control.
As the case of the Waldensians shows, the line between orthodoxy and heresy could be an extremely fine one. Johnstone also raises the question here of whether one of the most notorious medieval heretical groups, the Cathars, ever existed at all. It is possible that their existence is an illusion created by the categories of heresies the inquisitors had inherited from the Church Fathers. These were forced onto a group of local communities in the Languedoc, where popular piety centred around the Good Men and Women. These were highly respected members of the community, who were believed to live exemplary Christian lives. They were therefore due proper respect, which to the inquisitors looked like heretical veneration.
Hitler’s Christianity is also highly debatable. The little reliable testimony states that he was indeed Roman Catholic, but doesn’t provide any evidence of a deep faith. He certainly at times claimed he was a Christian and was acting in accordance with his religious beliefs. But an examination of some of these quotes shows that they were uttered as a rebuttal to others, who stated that their Christian beliefs meant that they could not support Nazism. This raises the question of whether they were anything more than a rhetorical gesture. There is evidence that Hitler was an atheist with a particular hatred of Christianity. This is mostly drawn from his Table Talk, and specifically the English edition produced by Hugh Trevor-Roper. The atheist polemicist, Richard Carrier, has shown that it is derived from a French language version, whose author significantly altered some of the quotes to insert an atheist meaning where none was present in the original. However, Carrier only identified a handful of such quotes, leaving forty requiring further investigation. Thus the question remains undecided.
Johnstone also examine the Nazi persecution of the Jews from the point of view of the theorists of political religion. These consider that humans are innately religious, but that once secularisation has broken the hold of supernatural religion, the objects of veneration changes to institutions like the state, free market capitalism, the New Man, Communism and so on. Those who follow this line differ in the extent to which they believe that the Nazis were influenced by religion. Some view it as a hydra, whose many heads stood for Christianity, but also Paganism in the case of Himmler and the SS. But underneath, the source of the real religious cult was the race, the nation and Hitler himself. If these theorists are correct, then Nazism may have been the result, not of a continued persecuting Christianity, but of secularisation.
He also considers the controversial view of the German historian, Richard Steigmann-Gall, whose The Holy Reich considered that the Nazis really were sincere in their Christianity. This has been criticised because some of the Nazis it examines as examples of Nazi Christian piety, like Rudolf Hess, were minor figures in the regime, against vehement anti-Christians like Alfred Rosenberg. He also shows how the peculiar views of the German Christians, the Nazi Christian sect demanding a new, Aryan Christianity, where Christ was blond and blue-eyed, and the Old Testament was to be expunged from the canon, were similar to certain trends within early twentieth century liberal Protestantism. But the German historian’s point in writing the book was not simply to put culpability for the Nazis’ horrors on Christianity. He wanted to attack the comfortable distance conventional society places between itself and the Nazis, in order to reassure people that they couldn’t have committed such crimes because the Nazis were different. His point was that they weren’t. They were instead uncomfortably normal.
DEMOCRITUS
The New Atheists celebrate the ancient Greek Atomists because their theories that matter is made up of tiny irreducible particles, first put forward by the philosophers Epicurus and Democritus, seem so similar to modern atomic theory. These ancient philosophers believed that these alone were responsible for the creation of a number of different worlds and the creatures that inhabited them by chance.
Some of these were forms that were incapable of surviving alone, and so died out. Thus, they appear to foreshadow Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. New Atheist writers bitterly attack Aristotle, whose own rival theories of matter and physics gained ascendancy until Atomism was revived in the seventeenth century. The natural philosophers behind its revival are credited with being atheists, even though many of them were Christians and one, Pierre Gassendi, a Roman Catholic priest. Their Christianity is thus seen as nominal. One also takes the extreme view that Galileo’s prosecution was due to his embrace of the atomic theory, rather than his argument that the Earth moved around the Sun.
But scholars have shown that the ancient atomic theory grew out of particular debates in ancient Greece about the fundamental nature of matter, and cannot be removed from that context. They were very different to modern atomic theory. At the same time, they also held beliefs that are to us nonsense as science. For example, they believed that the early creatures produced by atoms were fed by the Earth with a milk-like substance. They also believed in the fixity of species. Even where they did believe in evolution, in the case of humanity, this was more Lamarckian than Darwinian. Aristotle’s views won out over theirs not because of religious narrow-mindedness or ignorance, but because Aristotle’s had great explanatory power.
The scientists, who revived it in the seventeenth century, including Boyle and Newton, were sincere Christians. They believed that atoms created objects through divine agency because the ancient Greek explanation – it was all chance without a theory of momentum – genuinely couldn’t explain how this could occur without God. As for Galileo, the historian who first suggested this extreme and largely discredited view, believed that he was a victim of papal politics, and that there had also been a party within the Vatican and the Church, which supported his theories.
Discussing the two witch-hunters celebrated by the New Atheists as atheist, or at least, Sceptical heroes, the book shows that this was not the case. Dietrich Flade seems to have been accused because he had fallen out with an ecclesiastical rival, Zandt, for being too lenient on the accused witches. But he also appears to have been protected by the church authorities until the accusations of witchcraft by accused witches became too many to ignore.
The other Sceptical hero, Friedrich Spee, was a Jesuit priest, who became convinced of the innocence of those accused of witchcraft through attending so many to the stake. He then wrote a book condemning the trials, the Cautio Crimenalis. But he was no sceptic. He believed wholeheartedly in witchcraft, but considered it rare. The use of torture was wrong, as it was leading to false confessions and false denunciations of others, which could not be retracted for fear of further torture. Thus the souls of the innocent were damned for this sin. But while good Christians were being burned as witches, many of the witch-hunters themselves were in league with Satan. They used the hunts and baseless accusations to destroy decent Christian society and charity.
But if the New Atheists are keen to ascribe a wide number of historical atrocities to religion without recognising the presence of other, social and political factors, they deny any such crimes can be attributed to atheism. Atheism is defined as a lack of belief in God, and so cannot be responsible for inspiring horrific acts. Johnstone states that in one sense, this is true, but it is also a question about the nature of the good life and the good society that must be constructed in the absence of a belief in God. And these become positive ideologies that are responsible for horrific crimes.
Johnstone goes on from this to attack Hector Avelos’ statement that the Soviet persecution of the Church was only a form of anti-clericalism, which all societies must go through. Johnstone rebuts this by describing the process and extent of Soviet persecution, from the separation of church and state in 1917 to the imposition of atheism by force. Churches and monasteries were closed and religious objects seized and desecrated, religious believers arrested, sent to the gulags or massacred. These persecutions occurred in cycles, and there were times, such as during the War, when a rapprochement was made with the Orthodox Church. But these periods of toleration were always temporary and established for entirely pragmatic and utilitarian purposes.
The goal was always the creation of an atheist state, and they were always followed, until the fall of Communism, by renewed persecution. The wartime rapprochement with the Church was purely to gain the support of believers for the campaign against the invading Nazis. It was also to establish state control through the church on Orthodox communities that had survived, or reappeared in border areas under Nazi occupation. Finally, the attack on the clergy, church buildings and religious objects and even collectivisation itself were done with the deliberate intention of undermining religious ritual and practice, which was considered the core of Orthodox life and worship.
Sam Harris has become particularly notorious for his suggestion that atheists should be trusted to torture terrorist suspects because of their superior rationality and morality compared to theists. Harris believed it was justified in the case of al-Qaeda suspects in order to prevent further attacks. But here Johnstone shows his logic was profoundly flawed. Torture was not introduced into medieval judicial practice in the twelfth century through bloodthirsty and sadistic ignorance. Rather it was intended as a reasonable alternative to the ordeal. Human reason, and the acquisition of evidence, was going to be sufficient to prove guilt or innocence without relying on supposed divine intervention. But the standards of evidence required were very high, and in the case of a crime like witchcraft, almost impossible without a confession.
The use of torture was initially strictly limited and highly regulated, but the sense of crisis produced by witchcraft resulted in the inquisitors abandoning these restraints. Similarly, Harris’ fear of terror attacks leads him to move from reasonable suspects, who may well be guilty, to those who are simply members of terrorist organisations. They are fitting subjects for torture because although they may be innocent of a particular offence, through their membership of a terrorist organisation or adherence to Islamist beliefs, they must be guilty of something. Finally, Harris also seems to see Islamism as synonymous with Islam, so that all Muslims everywhere are seen as enemies of the secular Western order. This is exactly the same logic as that which motivated the witch-hunts, in which witches were seen as the implacable enemies of Christian society, and so exempt from the mercy and humane treatment extended to other types of criminal.
From this Johnstone then goes on to consider how the New Atheists’ image of atheism and the process of abandoning belief in God resembles religious attitudes. Their belief that atheism must be guarded against the dangers of falling back into religious belief mirrors Christian fears of the temptation to false belief, such as those of the Protestant reformers towards the persistence of Roman Catholicism. At the same time, their ideas of abandoning God and so attaining the truth resembles the Christian process of conversion and membership of the elect. And the vitriol directed at the religious for continuing to believe in God despite repeated demonstrations of His nonexistence resembles the inquisitors’ attitude to heretics. Heresy differs from error in that the heretic refuses to be corrected, and so must be compelled to recant by force.
The book also shows the dangers inherent in some New Atheist rhetoric about religious believers. This runs in contrast to much New Atheist writing, which is genuinely progressive and expresses real sympathy with the marginalised and oppressed, and which advocates trying to see the world through their eyes. But no such sympathy is granted religious believers. They are described as children, who may not sit at the same table as adults. Or else, following the logic of religion as a virus, proposed by Dawkins, they are described as diseased, who do not realise that they have been infected and even love their condition.
Bringing children up religious is condemned as child abuse. A.C. Grayling is shown to have a utilitarian attitude in his own advocacy of secularisation. He first states that he supports it for creating multiculturalism, but then contradicts himself by stating that he looks forward to it undermining religion. This was the same attitude the Soviets initially adopted towards religion. When it didn’t disappear as they expected, they resorted to force. Peter Boghossian wants atheist ‘street epistemologists’ – the atheist version of religious street preachers – to attack believers’ religious beliefs in public. They are to take every opportunity, including following them into church, in order to initiate ‘Socratic’ discussions that will lead them to questioning their faith.
Johnstone states that this is an implicit denial of theists’ right to conduct their private business in public without atheist interference. It’s in line with the New Atheist demands that religion be driven from the public sphere, into the churches, or better yet, the home. The metaphor of disease and infection suggests that what is needed is for religious believers to be rounded up against their will and forcibly cured. It’s the same metaphor the Nazis used in their persecution of their victims.
He quotes the atheist philosopher Julian Baggini, who is dismayed when he hears atheists describing religion as a mental disease from which believers should be forcibly treated. As for the statement that religious upbringing equals child abuse, the seriousness of this charge raises the question of how seriously the New Atheists actually see it. If Dawkins and co. really believe that it is, then their lack of demand for state intervention to protect children from indoctrination, as they see it, from the parents shows that they don’t treat child abuse seriously.
The New Atheist rhetoric actually breaks with their concrete recommendations for what should be done to disavow believers of their religious views, which are actually quite mild. This is what Johnstone calls the ‘cavalierism of the unfinished thought’. They may not recommend coercion and persecution, but their rhetoric implies it. Johnstone states that he has discussed only one of several competing strands in New Atheist thinking and that there are others available. He concludes with the consideration that there isn’t a single atheism but a multiplicity of atheisms, all with differing responses to religious belief. Some of them will be comparably mild, but most will involve some kind of frustration at religion’s persistence. He recommends that atheists should identify which type of atheist they are, in order to avoid the violent intolerance inherent in New Atheist rhetoric. This agrees with his statement at the beginning of the book, where he hopes it will lead to an atheist response to religion which is properly informed by history and which genuinely respects religious believers.
The book is likely to be widely attacked by the New Atheists and their followers. Some of its conclusions Johnstone admits are controversial, such as the view that the Cathars never existed, or that the persecution of heretics was an integral part of the forging of the medieval state. But historians and sociologists of religion repeatedly show that in the persecutions and atrocities in which religion has been involved, religion is largely not the only, or in some cases even the most important reason. Johnstone’s views on witchcraft is supported by much contemporary popular and academic treatments. His statement that the figure of over nine million victims of the witch-hunt is grossly exaggerated is shared by Lois Martin in her The History of Witchcraft (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials 2002). The Harvard professor, Jeffrey Burton Russell in his Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1972) also shows how Christian attitudes towards witchcraft passed from the scepticism of the Canon Episcopi to belief as the responsibility for its persecution passed from the bishops to the Holy Office.
Early law codes treated maleficium – black or harmful magic – purely as a civil offence against persons or property. It became a religious crime with the development of the belief that witches attended sabbats where they parodied the Christian Eucharist and worshiped Satan. A paper describing the scrupulous legality and legal provisions for the accused’s defence in the Roman Inquisition can be found in the Athlone History of Witchcraft and Magic In Europe IV: The Period of the Witch Trials, Bengt Ankerloo and Stuart Clarke eds., (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press 2002). Other writers on religion have noted the similarity between the late medieval and early modern witch-hunts and paranoid fears about Freemasons, Jews and Communists in later centuries, including the Holocaust, Stalin’s purges and McCarthyism. They thus see it as one manifestation of the wider ‘myth of the organised conspiracy’. See Richard Cavendish, ‘Christianity’, in Richard Cavendish, ed., Mythology: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (London: Orbis 1980) 156-69 (168-9).
The Soviet persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church is described by Rev. Timothy Ware in his The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin 1963). Ludmilla Alexeyeva also describes the Soviet persecution of the Orthodox Church, along with other religions and national and political groups and movements in her Soviet Dissent: Contemporary Movements for National, Religious and Human Rights (Middletown, Connecticutt: Wesleyan University Press 1985). R.N. Carew Hunt’s The Theory and Practice of Communism (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1950) shows how leading Communists like Lenin believed atheism was an integral part of Communism and the Soviet state with a series of quotations from them. An example of Lenin’s demand for an aggressive atheism is his speech, ‘On the Significance of Militant Materialism’ in Lenin: Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers 1968). 653-60.
It is also entirely reasonable to talk about religious elements and attitudes within certain forms of atheism and secular ideologies. Peter Rogerson in many of his well-reasoned articles in Magonia pointed out how similar some of the sceptics’ attacks on superstition and the supernatural were to narratives of religious conversion. His attitude is shared with some academic sociologists, historians and political theorists. Peter Yinger’s section on ‘Secular Alternatives to Religion’ in The Religious Quest: A Reader, edited by Whitfield Foy (London: Open University Press 1978) 537-554, has articles on the ‘Religious Aspects of Postivism’, p. 544, ‘Faith in Science’, 546, ‘Religious Aspects of Marxism’, p. 547, ‘Totalitarian Messianism’ 549, and ‘Psychoanalysis as a Modern Faith’, 551. For some scholars, the similarities of some secular ideologies to religion is so strong, that they have termed them quasi-religions.
While some atheists resent atheism being described as religion, this term is meant to avoid such objections. It is not intended to describe them literally as religions, but only as ideologies that have some of the qualities of religion. See John E. Smith’s Quasi-Religions: Humanism, Marxism and Nationalism (Macmillan 1994). New Atheism also mimics religion in that several of the New Atheists have written statements of the atheist position and edited anthologies of atheist writings. These are A.C. Grayling’s The Good Book and Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist. The title of Grayling’s book is clearly a reference to the Bible. As I recall, it caused some controversy amongst atheists when it was published, as many of them complained that atheism was too individual and sceptical to have a definitive, foundational text. In their view, Grayling’s book showed the type of mindset they wanted to escape when they left religion.
The fears of the terrible potential consequences of New Atheist rhetoric despite the avowed intentions of its authors is well founded and timely. There have been sharp complaints about some of the vitriolic rhetoric used to attack particular politicians in debates about Brexit which has resulted in assault and harassment. At the same it was reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes spiked after the publication of Boris Johnson’s column in which he described women wearing the burqa as looking like letterboxes. Neither religion, nor secularism and atheism should be immune from criticism. But Johnstone is right in that it should be correctly historically informed and careful in the language used. Otherwise the consequences could be terrible, regardless of the authors’ own humane feelings and sympathies.

17th Century Quaker Statement of Right to Freedom of Religion

October 30, 2019

I found this Quaker declaration of the freedom of religion in Documents of the Christian Church, selected and edited by Henry Bettenson, 2nd edition (Oxford: OUP 1963). It’s taken from The Chief Principles of the Christian Religion, as professed by the people called the Quakers, drawn up by Robert Barclay in 1678, and published in his Apology for the Quakers. Proposition XIV, Concerning the Power of the  Civil Magistrate in Matters purely Religious and Pertaining to Conscience, runs

‘Since God hath assumed to himself the power and dominion of the conscience, who alone can rightly instruct and govern it, therefore it is not lawful for any whatsoever, by virtue of any authority or principality they bear in the government of this world, to force the conscience of others;… provided always, that no man, under the pretence of conscience, prejudice his neighbour in his life or estate; or do anything destructive to, or inconsistent with, human society; in which case the law is for the transgressor, and justice to be administered upon all, without respect of persons.’

(p. 256).

It’s almost incredible to think that this was written in the 17th century, and that nearly 3 1/2 centuries later there are still countries in this world that don’t recognise it. Countries like Saudi Arabia, North Korea, China and Russia. In Saudi Arabia only Wahhabi Islam is permitted, and Shi’a Muslims viciously persecuted. A few years ago they also passed a law declaring that atheism was terrorism even without any violence or threats of violence being made. Russia is far more tolerant of religion than it was under Communism, when it was a persecuting atheist state. But even now, some religions are declared to be illegal. This includes not only extremist sects and beliefs, like Islamism, but also the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I admit they can be a pain when they come knocking on your door sometimes in their zeal to spread their version of Christianity, but a dangerous, radical extremist group? When, and to whom? The Nazis also persecuted them, because they wouldn’t accept Hitler as a secular Messiah.

It’s a disgrace that in the 21st century, freedom of religion and conscience still needs defending from persecutors across the world.

Richard Dawkins Promoting Atheism at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature

October 7, 2019

This week is the Cheltenham festival of literature. It’s an annual event when novelists, poets, illustrators and increasingly TV and radio personalities descend on the town to talk about and try to sell the books they’ve had published. There can be, and often are, some great speakers discussing their work. I used to go to it regularly in the past, but went off it after a few years. Some of the people turn up, year in, year out, and there are only so many times you can see them without getting tired of it.

Dawkins, Atheism and Philosophical Positivism

One of the regular speakers at the Festival is the zoologist, science writer and atheist polemicist, Richard Dawkins. The author of Climbing Mount Improbable, The River Out Of Eden, The Blind Watchmaker and so on is appearing in Cheltenham to promote his latest book, Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide. It sounds like a kind of successor to his earlier anti-religious work, The God Delusion. According to the accompanying pamphlet for the festival, he’s going to be talking to an interviewer about why we should all stop believing in God. There’s no doubt Dawkins deserves his platform at the Festival as much as any other writer. He’s a popular media personality, and writes well. However, his knowledge of philosophy, theology and the history of science, which forms the basis for his attacks on Christianity, is extremely low, and defenders of religion, and even other scientists and historians, who are just interested in defending their particular disciplines from factual mistakes and misinterpretations, have shot great holes in them.

Dawkins is, simply put, a kind of naive Positivist. Positivism was the 19th century philosophy, founded by Auguste Comte, that society moved through a series of three stages in its development. The first stage was the theological, when the dominant ideology was religion. Then came the philosophical stage, before the process ended with science. Religion was a thing of the past, and science would take over its role of explaining the universe and guiding human thought and society. Comte dreamed of the emergence of a ‘religion of humanity’, with its own priesthood and rituals, which would use sociology to lead humanity. Dawkins doesn’t quite go that far, but he does believe that religion and science – and specifically Darwinism – are in conflict, and that the former should give way to the latter. And he’s not alone. I heard that a few years ago, Alice Robert, the forensic archaeologist and science presenter, gave a speech on the same subject at the Cheltenham Festival of Science when she was its guest director, or curator, or whatever they term it. A friend of mine was less than impressed with her talk and the lack of understanding she had of religion. He tweeted ‘This is a girl who thinks she is intelligent.’

War of Science and Religion a Myth

No, or very few historians of science, actually believe that there’s a war between the two. There have been periods of tension, but the idea of a war comes from three 19th century writers. And it’s based on and cites a number of myths. One of these is the idea that the Church was uniformly hostile to science, and prevented any kind of scientific research and development until the Renaissance and the rediscovery of ancient Roman and Greek texts. It’s a myth I learnt at school, and it’s still told as fact in many popular textbooks. But other historians have pointed out that the Middle Ages was also a period of scientific investigation and development, particularly following the influence of medieval Islamic science and the ancient Greek and Roman texts they had preserved, translated, commented on and improved. Whole books have been written about medieval science, such as Jean Gimpel’s The Medieval Machine, and James Hannam’s God’s Philosophers. Hannam is a physicist, who did a doctorate in examining the development of medieval science, showing that, far from retarding or suppressing it, medieval churchmen were intensely interested in it and were active in its research. Medieval science was based very much on Aristotle, but they were well aware of some of the flaws in his natural philosophy, and attempted to modify it in order to make it conform to observed reality. The Humanists of the Renaissance, rather than bringing in freedom of thought and scientific innovation, were actually a threat. They wanted to strip philosophy and literature of its medieval modifications to make it correspond exactly with the ancients’ original views. Which would have meant actually destroying the considerable advances which had been made. Rather than believe that renaissance science was a complete replacement of medieval science, scholars like Hannam show that it was solidly based on the work of their medieval predecessors.

Christian Theology and the Scientific Revolution

The scientific revolution of the 17th century in England also has roots in Christian philosophy and theology. Historians now argue that the Royal Society was the work of Anglican Broadchurchmen, who believed that God had created a rational universe amenable to human reason, and who sought to end the conflict between the different Christian sects through uniting them in the common investigation of God’s creation. See, for example, R. Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press 1972).

Christian Monotheism and the Unity of Physical Law

It is also Christian monotheist theology that provides one of the fundamental assumptions behind science. Modern science is founded on the belief that the laws of nature amount to a single, non-contradictory whole. That’s the idea behind the ‘theory of everything’, or Grand Unified Theory everyone was talking about back in the 1990s. But this idea goes back to St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. Aquinas said that we must believe that the laws of nature are one, because God is one.  It’s the assumption, founded on Christian theology, the makes science possible.

Atheist Reductionism also a Danger

When The God Delusion Came Out, it was met by a series of books attacking its errors, some of them with titles like The Dawkins Delusion. The philosopher Mary Midgley has also attacked the idea that science can act as a replacement for religion in her books Evolution as a Religion and The Myths We Live By. On page 58 of the latter she attacks the immense damage to humanity atheist reductionism also poses. She writes

Both reductive materialism and reductive idealism have converged to suggest that reductivism is primarily a moral campaign against Christianity. This is a dangerous mistake. Obsession with the churches has distracted attention from reduction employed against notions of human individuality, which is now a much more serious threat. It has also made moral problems look far simplar than they actually are. Indeed, some hopeful humanist reducers still tend to imply that, once Christian structures are cleared away, life in general will be quite all right and philosophy will present no further problems.

In their own times, these anti-clerical reductive campaigns have often been useful. But circumstances change. New menaces, worse than the one that obsesses us, are always appearing, so that what looked like a universal cure for vice and folly becomes simply irrelevant. In politics, twentieth-century atheistical states are not an encouraging omen for the simple secularistic approach to reform. it turns out that the evils that have infested religion are not confined to it, but are ones that can accompany any successful human institution. Nor is it even clear that religion itself is something that the human race either can or should be cured of.

Darwin Uninterested in Atheist Campaigning

Later in the book she describes how the Marxist Edward Aveling was disappointed when he tried to get Darwin to join him in a campaign to get the atheist, Bradlaugh, to take his seat as a duly elected MP. At the time, atheists were barred from public office by law. Aveling was impressed by Darwin’s work on evolution, which he believed supported atheism. Darwin was an agnostic, and later in life lost belief in God completely due to the trauma of losing a daughter and the problem of suffering in nature. But Darwin simply wasn’t interested in joining Aveling’s campaign. When Aveling asked him what he was now studying, hoping to hear about another earth-shaking discovery that would disprove religion, Darwin simply replied ‘Earthworms’. The great biologist was fascinated by them. It surprised and shocked Aveling, who hadn’t grasped that Darwin was simply interested in studying creatures for their own sake.

Evolutionists on Evolution Not Necessarily Supporting Atheism

Other evolutionary biologists also concluded that evolution has nothing to say about God, one way or another. Stephen Jay Gould stated that he believed that Darwinism only hinted at atheism, not that it proved it. Charles Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, who published his own theory of evolution in Zoonomia in 1801, believed on the other hand that the development of creatures from more primitive forebears made the existence of God ‘mathematically certain’.

Frank H.T. Rhodes of the University of Michigan wrote in his book Evolution (New York: Golden Press 1974) on its implications the following, denying that it had any for religion, politics or economics.

Evolution, like any other natural process or scientific theory, is theologically neutral. it describes mechanisms, but not meaning. it is based upon the recognition of order but incorporates no conclusion concerning the origin of that order as either purposeful or purposeless.

Although evolution involves the interpretation of natural events by natural processes, it neither assumes nor provides particular conclusions concerning the ultimate sources or the significance of materials, events or processes.

Evolution provides no obvious conclusions concerning political or economic systems. Evolution no more supports evolutionary politics (whatever they might be) than does the Second Law of Thermodynamics support political disorder or economic chaos. 

(Page 152).

Conclusion

I realise that the book’s nearly 50 years old, and that since that time some scientists have worked extremely hard to show the opposite – that evolution support atheism. But I’ve no doubt other scientists, people most of us have never heard of, believe the opposite. Way back in 1909 or so there was a poll of scientists to show their religious beliefs. The numbers of atheists and people of faith was roughly equal, and 11 per cent of the scientists polled said that they were extremely religious. When the poll was repeated in the 1990s, the pollsters were surprised to find that the proportion of scientists who were still extremely religious had not changed.

Despite what Dawkins tells you, atheism is not necessarily supported by science, and does not disprove it. Other views of the universe, its origin and meaning are available and still valid.

Secular Talk on Media Lies and Push for War with Iran after Saudi Attacks

September 21, 2019

I don’t share Secular Talk’s religious views. I’m neither a secularist nor an atheist, but when host Kyle Kulinski talks about politics, I believe he’s correct. In this video from the 16th September 2019, he talks about the attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil fields, and predicts the media’s and American government’s response.

He believes that, although the Houthi rebels in Yemen have claimed responsibility, Trump and the media, and even the Democrats, will claim that the strikes are solely the responsibility of Iran. And they will not supply any context for the attacks. Like actually telling them it’s in response to the Saudi war against them. Saudi Arabia attacked Yemen after the Houthis overthrew the Sunni Muslim government and installed a Shi’a regime. Saudi Arabia is Wahhabi, and militantly anti-Shi’a. They responded by invading and waging a genocidal war. They have deliberately targeted schools, hospitals and mosques. Thanks to them, the country is gripped by a famine and cholera epidemic. One has affected 85,000, the other perhaps a million. But despite the fact that the Houthis have claimed responsibility, all the lamestream news channels, Kulinski predicts, will claim that the strikes were unprovoked. And those lying news agencies include the Beeb.

He also notes that some in the Iranian regime have also claimed responsibility for the attacks and celebrated them. He doesn’t deny that it is entirely possible that the Iranians did give the Yemenis weapons and assistance. But the media, he claims, and Trump’s government will claim that the Iranians are solely responsible and a demand a war with Iran. Netanyahu wants a war with Iran. Saudi Arabia wants a war with Iran. Trump’s adviser, John Bolton, wants war with Iran. Even though he’s now gone, it looks like he’ll get his wish. The Democrats have said they’ll back a war with Iran. And Trump will want a war with Iran, because he doesn’t want to look weak. He’s said previously that Saudi Arabia should fight its own wars and that they were responsible for 9/11, but this won’t matter after these attacks. Kulinski concludes that we are the closest to war with Iran as we have ever been, but he doesn’t trust any of the actors to deescalate.

I don’t know if he’s right about the mainstream media not providing any context for this or not. I’ve been avoiding the mainstream news recently because I don’t trust them to report anything objectively. It could be that they have provided some context. But there are powerful forces at work demanding that we go in and attack Iran. Iran’s been on the Neocons’ list of countries, whose governments they want overthrown since 1995. I don’t know what’ll happen in Israel, because of the way the elections resulted in a tie between Netanyahu’s murderous coalition and their equally nationalistic rivals. But Netanyahu and the Israeli right have also pushed for war with Iran, because Iran backs the Palestinians and wants to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. And America backs Israel, despite opposition from pro-Palestinian groups, including a sizable and growing number of Jewish Americans.

An Iranian gent, Reza Cage, left this comment pleading for peace on the YouTube page for this video. Here it is.

I am an Iranian living in Tehran, this terrifies me. For you guys it’a not big deal because your families and children will be safe not our.. most iranian just want peace we are not that different from you.. Edit: thank you my brothers and sisters for your support, I am overwhelmed by your (mostly) kind messages it gives me a tiny bit of hope in this time of chaos.I know our government in Iran is not good they are a minority with guns and weapons controlling a country mostly youth who are pro west and liberal to stay in power. That being said everything was peaceful under the nuclear agreement even American navy members were captured and immediately released this Trump has ruined this and our already right wing government has become aggressive. I want change in our country but it must happen from the inside not through war and killing this will only make majority of youth on your side despise you because no doubt their lives will be ruined.
His thanks to the other commenters for their replies is due to them having posted something like 355 replies when last I looked, mostly supporting him. And I don’t doubt that Agha Cage is right. There are right-wing hawks in the Iranian government, who’d love to push the country even further to the right by engaging in a war with America and the West. And of course, if we did invade, most of the Iranian young people would hate us. Because however much they hate their government, they, like everyone else, loves their country. The late Corinne Souza, whose father was an Iraqi dissident, said pretty much the same about our invasion of her father’s country. Before we invaded, there were Iraqis willing to work with us to bring down Saddam Hussein’s regime. But this stopped after we invaded, because we were the aggressors. And it’ll happen again if we invade Iran, along with all the other horrors we’ve seen in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.
I’ve made it very clear that I have little time or sympathy for the Iranian government. They are oppressive theocrats,  impoverishing their people and plundering their country to enrich themselves. But the Islamic revolution which installed the current regime came about because we oppressed and exploited them. We overthrew the last of the Qajar shahs in the early 20th century and installed the Pahlavis as the Qajars couldn’t repay the loans we’d given them to modernise the country. When Mossadeq nationalised the Iranian oil industry in the 1950s, we arranged a coup to overthrow him as Prime Minister. This led to the Shah’s ‘White Revolution’ in which the monarchy seized absolute power, ruling through torture and fear. I’ve met Iranians over here, whose friends vanished, thanks to the Shah’s murderous secret police. Florence, one of the great commenters on this blog, was active in the British protests in the 1970s against Britain’s support for murderous Fascistic tyrants like the Shah. If we join the Americans in an invasion of Iran, it won’t be to liberate the Iranian people. It’ll just be like the Gulf War over again – done so that the Saudis can seize their oil reserves, the Neocons can remove another enemy of Israel, and western multinationals can loot the country and its state enterprises.
We got no business sending our courageous young women and men to lose life and limb in the Middle East again, murdering people who’ve never invaded us, simply to make the likes of Boris, Trump and the Bush family even more obscene amounts of money.