Archive for the ‘Atheism’ Category

AJ+ Report on Jewish Protestors Demonstrating Against AIPAC

October 13, 2018

I’ve blogged many times about how the Zionist establishment here in Britain and elsewhere doesn’t represent the entire Jewish community. It’s clear if you read left-wing, Israel-critical bloggers like David Rosenberg, Martin Odoni, and Tony Greenstein that there is sizable community of Jews, who despise the way Israel treats and has always treated the Palestinians and are adamant that it, and the Jewish organisations and institutions that support it, like the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jewish newspapers like the Jewish Chronicle and the various Zionist organisations do not speak for them. And many young American Jews are turning away from Israel for the same reasons, even those, who have been on the heritage tours Israel organizes to enthuse them about their country, and those, who have suffered real anti-Semitic abuse and assault. Many of the Israel-critical Jews are religious and Torah-observant. Some of them object to Israel because they feel the policies of the Israeli state contravene the principles of liberal Judaism in which they were raised. For some Orthodox Jews, the existence of Israel itself is a blasphemy, as the variety of the faith teaches that it can only be brought about by the Messiah. Until that time, they believe passionately that Jews should stay in exile, to share the lives of the non-Jewish people amongst whom they live and pray. And some of them are secular agnostics or atheists, but are nevertheless active, self-respecting members of their communities.

AJ+ is one of the other channels of the Arabic news broadcaster, Al-Jazeera. In this video below, their correspondent, Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, covers a protest in Washington DC against the pro-Israel Jewish lobbying organization, AIPAC by If Not Now, a Jewish group formed in 2014 protest at the assault on Gaza. The protesters march through the town chanting ‘A-I-P-A-C I won’t let you speak for me!’ and ‘We are ‘If Not Now’, we want freedom, freedom’. The protesters are prevented from getting to the convention centre by barricades, but break through them and rush to the doors, where they sit down, link arms and chain themselves to the front of the building.

One protester says she’s saddened its taken people so long to do this, she’s angry but also hopeful, and praises her fellow protesters chaining themselves up as ‘beautiful people’. Another woman also says she feels angry and empowered, and is not letting the people in that building speak for her anymore. Another young woman, shown amongst a group sawing wood to make banners, says that this is a transformation of her generation, a change in consciousness of what it means to be Jewish and support Israel.

A group of conterprotesters from the Jewish Defence League also appeared, wearing Kach T-shirts with its symbol of a raised fist within a Star of David. Shihab-Eldin asks one of them, a big guy with a bushy, reddish-brown beard and shaven head, why they’re there. He says it’s to defend Israel’s right to exist. Asked what he makes of the protesters, he calls them hypocrites. One woman with them declares that she’s Palestinian and that there is no such thing as the occupation. Shihab-Eldin tells her that he’s Palestinian too. She then contradicts herself by saying that there is no Palestine, only Israel and she’s from Israel and Palestinians are liars. Shihab-Eldin tries to tackle her about this, pointing out that she just said she was Palestinian. She simply replies ‘family’. He turns away, saying that the situation is confused.

Later on the JDL thugs do everything they can to provoke the If Not Now protesters, physically assaulting them, calling them ‘Nazis’ and ‘Kapos’ and even burning a Qur’an. But despite this the protesters remain calm. At the end of the video, one of the young women says she feels immensely hopeful, but says that she doesn’t think there will be a beautiful future for the Jewish community in America unless the older generation comes with them and joins.

Much of this will be familiar to Jewish protesters against the Israeli occupation over here. They’ve also organized boycotts of businesses and organisations supporting the occupation of Palestinian, and organized protests and consciousness-raising meetings. And they’ve also suffered abuse, intimidation and assault by pro-Israel thugs, who smear them as ‘self-hating’ as well as the insults they hurl at them in the video above. As for the Jewish Defence League, they’re another far-right bunch, who march about with the Islamophobes and Fascists of Tommy Robinson’s English Defence League. The Fascist sympathies of the JDL counterdemonstrators is plainly shown by their Kach T-shirts. Kach is a militantly nationalistic Israeli organization, which was banned by the Israeli government as a terrorist group. The JDL are just another bunch of Fascists intent on ethnic cleansing like their gentile equivalents in the western Fascist parties. The fact that they’re Jews doesn’t make an awful lot of difference. They still use the same anti-Semitic abuse towards their Jewish opponents that is used by gentile Nazis.

But groups like If Not Now, and their British counterparts, left-wing groups like Jewdas and the Jewish Socialist Group as well as the Jewish anti-Zionist organisations, are the groups the political and media establishment really don’t want you to know about. They’re the wrong kind of Jews, an attitude which in itself is profoundly anti-Semitic. Hence the Board of Deputies of British Jews or the Chief Rabbi, I can’t remember which, was outraged when Jeremy Corbyn attended a Passover Seder with Jewdas. They accused the Labour leader once again of anti-Semitism, because he was talking to left-wing Jews instead of the Conservative establishment.

But this demonstration and others like it shows that the Conservative Jewish establishment does not represent the entire Jewish community. And Israel-critical Jews, who may indeed support Israel but not it the occupation of Palestine, are increasingly organizing against them and showing very clearly that the Conservative establishment certainly doesn’t represent them.

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Archbishop of Canterbury Condemns ‘Gig Economy’, Tories Go Berserk

September 15, 2018

More hypocrisy from the Tory party. This week, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, gave a long speech attacking Universal Credit and zero hours contracts. He described the ‘gig’ economy the Blairites and the Tories have created, in which workers in insecure jobs are only called in if their bosses decide there’s work for them to do, and go without pay if there isn’t, the ‘return of an ancient evil’.

He made the speech after Labour had outlined its commitment to empowering workers, which included a comprehensive attack on the gig economy. Zero hours contracts will be banned, and employment benefits like sick pay and maternity leave will be extended to cover part-time workers. The party also pledged to end the ruse in which many firms seek to dodge their obligation to provide their workers with proper rights and benefits by making them officially self-employed.

The Archbishop mentioned Labour’s John McDonnell in his speech, who in turn praised the Archbishop. McDonnell said

“The Archbishop of Canterbury has set out a bold vision for a different society, one without the evils of the gig economy, the exploitation of workers and tax dodging of the multinationals.

“I welcome his speech, and the growing movement against the failures of austerity and neoliberalism. Labour will end zero hours contracts, clamp down on the tax avoiders, and ensure everyone has access to sick pay, parental leave and protections at work.”

The Tories, however, immediately went berserk, and showed their own hypocrisy when it comes to supporting the political intervention of religious leaders. They were more than happy when the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks claimed that Corbyn and the Labour party were anti-Semitic. However, they were outraged that the Archbishop had dared to criticize the wonderful Thatcherite capitalism they’d created.

The Tory MP, Ben Bradley, tweeted

‘Not clear to me when or how it can possibly be appropriate for the Archbishop of Canterbury to be appearing at TUC conference or parroting Labour policy.’

He added: ‘There are a diversity of views as to what is best for the economy, but [he] only seems interested in presenting John McDonnell’s point of view.’

Simon Maginn tweeted his response

Rabbi Sacks: “Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite.”
Tories: “Listen to the holy gentleman.”
Archbishop of Canterbury: “Tories have increased poverty.”
Tories: ‘Must keep religion out of politics.”

Mike in his article notes that Archbishop Welby was unapologetic, and observed that ‘The Bible is political from one end to the other’.

Mike concludes

His intervention is to be welcomed.

The Church of England is often seen as a haven for Conservatives and it will be interesting to see what happens to those Tories’ attitudes, considering this new direction from the pulpit.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/09/13/tory-hypocrisy-over-archbishops-intervention-in-employment-politics/

This has been going on for decades. The Anglican Church has been described as ‘the Tory party at prayer’, and the Tory party itself was set up back in the 17th century by supporters of the aristocracy and established church against the more liberal Whigs.

However, the Church has also contained passionate reformers working against social evils. Archbishop Temple in his book, Christianity and the Social Order, published in 1942, pointed to reformers like William Wilberforce and the others in the ‘Clapham Sect’, who campaigned against slavery; John Howard and Elizabeth Fry and prison reform; and F.D. Maurice and the Christian Socialists in the 19th century. These latter wished to see businesses transformed into co-operatives, which would share their profits with their workers. This strand of Anglican social activism continued into the 20th century, and in 1924 the Anglican church held a conference to examine the question of how the Church should tackle the poverty and injustices of the age. Temple also pointed to the example of the pre-Reformation Church in attacking some of the economic and social abuses of the times, and particular Protestant Christian leaders and ministers, like John Wesley, after the Reformation.

He also quotes the Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament to show how property rights, while certainly existing and respected in ancient Israel, were also limited and intended to ensure that each family had their own portion of land and that great estates held by single individuals, did not develop. He writes

In the days of the Kings we find prophets denouncing such accumulations; so for example Isaiah exclaims: “Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no room, and yet be made to dwell alone in the midst of the land.” (Isaiah v.*8); and Michah: “Woe to them that devise iniquity and work evil upon their beds! When the morning is light, they practice it, because it is in the power of their hand. And they covet fields and seize them; and houses, and take them away; and they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage” (Micah ii, 1, 2). And the evil here was not primarily economic, though that may have been involved. The evil was the denial of what Tertullian (c.160-230) would call ‘fellowship in property’ – which seemed to him the natural result of unity in mind and spirit. (p. 38).

The first chapter of the book, ‘What Right has the Church to Interfere?’, gives the reasons Temple believes that the Church indeed possesses such a right. It’s too long to list all of them, but one of them is that the economic structure of society is immensely influential on the formation of its citizens’ morals. Temple writes

It is recognized on all hands that the economic system is an educative influence, for good or ill, of immense potency. Marshall, the prince of orthodox economists of the last generation, ranks it with the religion of a country as the most formative influence in the moulding of a people’s character. If so, then assuredly the Church must be concerned with it. For a primary concern of the Church is to develop in men a Christian character. When it finds by its side an educative influence so powerful it is bound to ask whether than influence is one tending to develop Christian character, and if the answer is partly or wholly negative the Chu5rch must do its utmost to secure a change in the economic system to that it may find in that system an ally and not an enemy. How far this is the situation in our country to-day we shall consider later. At present it is enough to say that the Church cannot, without betraying its own trust, omit criticism of the economic order, or fail to urge such action as may be prompted by that criticism. (P. 22)

Temple was also very much aware how some politicians resented the Church speaking out on political issues. For example, Queen Victoria’s first Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, is supposed to have said after hearing an Evangelical preacher that ‘if religion was going to interfere with the affairs of private life, things were come to a pretty pass’. Temple added

(L)ater prime ministers have felt and said the same about the interference of religion with the affairs of public life; but the interference steadily increases and will increase. (P. 15).

And the friction between the Tory party and the Anglican and other churches has been going on ever since Thatcher set foot in 10 Downing Street. She got very annoyed when the-then Archbishop, Robert Runcie, issued a report detailing the immense poverty that had been produced by her policies. Norman Tebbitt, her attack dog, made comments casting aspersions on the good clergyman’s sexuality, on the grounds that he had a sing-song voice and the slightly camp manner of many churchmen. He was soon showed to be very wrong, as Runcie had been an army chaplain, whose ferocity in battle had earned him the nickname ‘Killer Runcie’. A friend of mine remarked about him that the really hard men don’t show it.

The Church has gone on issuing reports and holding inquiries into poverty in Britain, and other social issues. And the Tory response has always been the same: to attack and criticize the Church’s interference. There have been comments of the kind that the clergy should stick to preaching the Gospel, and then they might have larger congregations.

But if Thatcher and the Tories didn’t feel that the Church had any right to interfere in politics, they definitely believed that they had the right to interfere in the church’s ministry and pastoral theology. And that this right was absolutely God-given. When Thatcher was on the steps of Number 10, she started quoted St. Francis of Assisi’s famous prayer, ‘Where there is darkness, let us bring light’ etc. She also took it upon herself to lecture the ministers of the church on the correct interpretation of scripture. I can remember her speaking to a conference of the Church of Scotland, in which she explained to the assembled ministers and faithful her own view of charity and the welfare state, based on St. Paul’s words, ‘If a man does not work, he shall not eat’. Needless to say, the guid ministers were not impressed, and showed it in the massed ranks of stony faces.

Temple was absolutely right in stating that Christians had a duty to examine and criticize the economic structure of society as the major force affecting people’s morals and character. But Thatcherism goes far beyond this. I’ve read pieces that have stated that Thatcher’s whole outlook was based on her peculiar right-wing religious ideas. Thatcherism isn’t simply an economic system. It’s a political theology. Thatcher was strongly influence by Keith Joseph, who was Jewish. It’s why she prattled about ‘Judeo-Christian values’ rather than just Christian values. I have no doubt that the Jewish readers of this blog will have their own views about proper Jewish morality, and that these may be very different from Joseph and Thatcher’s interpretation.

Thus in Thatcherism the free market is absolutely virtuous, and any interference in its operation is an attack on a divinely sanctioned system. But from the standpoint of a left-wing interpretation of Christianity, Thatcherite theology is like its economics, profoundly wrong, bogus and harmful. And her celebration of the free market turns it into an idol, an object of false religious worship.

More and more Christians both here and in America are turning against this idol, just as left-wing Jews are turning against right-wing politics as incompatible with the liberal politics of traditional Judaism. The Church has every right and, indeed, a duty as a moral body concerned with people’s spiritual welfare, to attack Thatcherism and its destructive legacy.

I’m very much aware that we now live in a post-Christian society, where only a minority attend Church and most people profess to have no religious beliefs. Just as there are also sizable non-Christian communities, such as Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and the various neo-Pagan groups, who also have every right to make their voices heard politically. Temple also advances other reasons why the Church should speak out on more rational, non-religious grounds, such as morality and common human sympathy for the victims of suffering. I hope, however, that regardless their religious views, people will support Welby on the issues of employment rights as an entirely justified attack on an iniquitous situation, which desperately needs to be corrected.

CBS Series on Jack Parsons, Rocket Scientist and Occultist

May 29, 2018

I found this trailer the other day on YouTube for a forthcoming TV series on CBS about one of the weirder figures in the history of American rocketry, Jack Parsons. The series is called Strange Angel, which was the title of a biography of Parsons that came out way back in the 1990s or thereabouts.

Parsons was one of the founders of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the 1930s and ’40s, when it was little more than a piece of waste ground in the Californian desert. He was one of the pioneers at the very beginning of American rocket research, when it was still very much the province of the early rocket societies, like the American Rocket Society over the other side of the Atlantic, and the British Interplanetary Society here in Britain. As the trailer shows, this was the period when the early visionaries launched very small, experimental rockets, all the while dreaming of the day when larger machines would carry people to the Moon, the planets and beyond. Parsons also had a very practical approach to experimenting. Instead of worrying very much about complex theories of chemical reactions, he simply mixed various types of explosives together and then tested them to see which worked best.

And as the trailer also shows, Parsons was deeply into the occult. He was a follower of Aleister Crowley’s ritual magic. I think he also ran a boarding house, which only accepted guests, who were atheists or otherwise rebels against American religion and society. And one the people, who stayed there was the future head of the Church of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. According to the very definitely unauthorised biography of Hubbard, Barefaced Messiah, Hubbard took Parsons in completely. Parsons believed that Hubbard was a man of extreme occult talent, and the two started performing rituals together out in the desert. One of these was to bring about the birth of the Antichrist. Or something. And just as Hubbard was performing these weird rituals with Parsons, he was also sleeping with his girlfriend. In the end, he ran off with her and several thousands of dollars of Parsons’ money, which he’d promised Parsons he’d use to buy a fleet of three yachts. Parsons managed to get some of his money back, but told Hubbard he could his girlfriend. Hubbard himself produced his own version of the story, claiming that he had rescued the girl from a group of Nazi Communists. Or Communist Nazis. Hubbard died a few years later, when he dropped some of the explosives he was experimenting with on the floor of his garage and blew himself up.

I don’t condone the occult, but Parsons is very definitely one of the most fascinating figures of that period of rocket research, and it’s easy to see why he was chosen to be the subject of this drama series. Quite how faithful it’ll be to real life is going to be an interesting question. And it will be very interesting to see if it mentions anything about his relationship with Hubbard, as I’ve no doubt that the Church of Scientology would be very sensitive about that.

However, as it’s on CBS, there’s going to be little chance that those of us on this side of the Pond will be able to see it. Oh well, perhaps it’ll come out on DVD.

Dick Coughlan on the Tories’ Adoption of Policies from the BNP

April 29, 2018

Okay, you’ll have to indulge me a bit in this post, because I’m afraid I’ve forgotten which YouTube video it’s in, so I can’t post it up here. But the British comedian and anti-Fascist ranter Dick Coughlan was interviewed a little while ago about Fascism and his own videos against it. Coughlan started off making vlogs promoting atheism, and then turned to attacking racism and the far right as these became increasingly prominent. He’s made a series of videos lampooning and effectively critiquing Nazis, the Alt Right and the far right men’s rights activists, as well as showing very clearly that the Holocaust most definitely did exist.

In the interview he talks at one stage about how he saw the vile policies of the BNP being adopted over successive elections by the Tories. It started well over a decade ago, when the BNP looked like they were about to make their breakthrough into mainstream British politics. Mercifully, they lost massively in the 2004 general elections. But despite their defeat, their policies were taken over by the Tories. And this happened in subsequent elections.

And so Britain under the Tories has moved steadily closer to real Fascism.

The BNP are now, hopefully, a spent force. According to Hope Not Hate, their last councillor has said he will not be standing at the next election. But if they’ve vanished as a force in British politics, their place is being taken on the far right by islamophobic groups like Britain First, the EDL, and underground Nazi organisations like the banned National Action.

And the threat of Fascism also comes from mainstream government, with the Tories adopting their policies.
It’s time to stop and resist the Tories as the racists they are.

The Anti-Semitism Allegations Show its the BDJ and Jewish Leadership Council Who Are Desperate, Not Corbyn

April 6, 2018

On Monday, Jeremy Corbyn attended a Passover seder with Jewdas, an organisation of religious, politically left-wing Jews. News of this was then leaked by Guido Fawkes, and the Jewish establishment of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council went berserk, as did the Blairites in the Labour party.

One of the right-winger, John Woodcock, tweeted about how this showed that Corbyn was still being anti-Semitic. Woodcock’s a gentile, and so annoyed very many Jews by telling them what their religion was. Michael Rosen, the poet and, I believe, children’s poet laureate, put his feelings into verse challenging Woodcock to tell him what kind of Jew he should be. I can remember reading some of Mr. Rosen’s poetry when I was a kid, in the verse collection Rabbiting On. From what I can remember, it was largely light, entertaining stuff, which I think children need considering the immense pressure now being placed on them by the school and educational system. Other Jews also shared his opinions, and tweeted their views on Woodcock’s presumption. I can appreciate how they feel. When I was arguing apologetics with atheists, I wasn’t impressed when some of them were amazed that I believed in evolution and told me that I shouldn’t.

Then the Board of Deputies of British Jews decided to wade in, with their partners the Jewish Leadership Council. One of the Board’s leaders appeared on the BBC six O’clock news on Tuesday loftily declaring that Corbyn’s meeting with Jewdas showed how he was ignoring the concerns of mainstream Jews and did not take the allegations of anti-Semitism seriously. A spokesman for the Jewish Leadership Council also denounced Corbyn for attending the seder, and said it was a ‘two-fingered salute’ to mainstream Jews.

Jewdas, however, were very appreciative and praised the Labour leader for taking an interest in the Jewish community and seeking their views on the issues that mattered to it.

As the BDJ and Jewish Leadership Council know, Corbyn isn’t an anti-Semite, and whatever they say, the Labour party takes the allegations very seriously. That’s why tens of thousands of people were purged from the party, often just on the unsubstantiated allegations of them or related groups, like the woefullly misnamed Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. Arbush, the president of the the Board of Deputies is a true-blue Conservative, who hailed the election of Donald Trump and his Alt Right lackey, Steve Bannon. He’s in no position to moan about anti-Semitism to anybody, given Trump’s support for these Nazis. But the Jewish establishment likes him, because Trump is pro-Israel.

This is the real issue here. Corbyn isn’t anti-Israel, but he is pro-Palestinian, which to the pro-Israel lobby is the same thing. If he becomes prime minister, it will mean an end to the automatic deference given to Israel and complete lack of criticism for its continuing persecution and ethnic cleansing of its indigenous Arab population. The Board and Jewish Leadership Council know this. Hence their smears against Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semites, even though they are no such thing. Indeed, many of them are decent self-respecting Jews and anti-racist gentiles, who have been abused and assaulted by racists and Fascists. These smears show just how desperate the Israel lobby is.

It seems to me that the Board and the Jewish Leadership Council represent the politically Conservative, neoliberal elite in the Jewish community. The same Conservative, neoliberal business elite which in the wider British community has done so much to wreck the economy and reduce ordinary working people, whether Jews, gentiles or whatever, to even greater extremes of poverty, all for corporate profit.

Corbyn is a left-winger, and it is natural that he should seek the views and company of those, who support him and his plans to undo nearly four decades of Thatcherism. They naturally include Jews, and as the messages of support for him show there are a large number of Jewish organisations and individuals, who do.

This is what worries the Board and the Jewish Leadership Council. They are becoming increasingly unable to present themselves as automatically representing British Jewry. And so they and the Blairites are trying to destabilise Corbyn’s leadership by making false, libellous accusations of anti-Semitism under the pretence that they do.

And even with these, they’re sounding increasing desperate. The Israel lobby has said that such smears are not being taken as seriously as they once were. In other words, ordinary people are waking up to the fact that these scoundrels aren’t concerned with anti-Semitism, only with using it as a weapon to defend Israel. And in America at least, Jewish young people are increasingly either indifferent to Israel, or actively hostile because of its maltreatment of the Palestinians.

Corbyn enjoys the support of a wide cross section of British society for his determination to bring the Thatcherite regime of benefit cuts, outsourcing and privatisation to an end. He is respected because of his decades-long stance against all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. He’s a real threat to the Thatcherites, both in the Tories and the Blairites in Labour, as well as the Israel lobby.

But their shrill cries of outrage and smears show that it is they, who are desperate, aware that it is their power and influence that’s waning. And there’s absolutely no reason why Corbyn should listen to them. They’re Tories and Thatcherites to a man and woman, who have tried to unseat him and used the accusation of anti-Semitism to libel his supporters. He has every right to ignore them, no matter how they may try to pose as the representatives of mainstream Jews in this country.

Books on God and Religion

March 17, 2018

On Thursday, Jo, one of the great commenters to this blog, asked my a couple of questions on the nature of the Almighty, which I tried to answer as best I could. I offered to put up here a few books, which might help people trying to explore for themselves the theological and philosophical ideas and debates about the nature of God, faith, religion and so on. I set up this blog about a decade and a half ago to defend Christianity against attacks by the New Atheists. I don’t really want to get sidetracked back there, because some of these issues will just go on forever if you let them. And I’m far more concerned to bring people of different religions and none together to combat the attacks by the Tories and the Blairites on the remains of the welfare state, the privatisation of the NHS, and the impoverishment and murder of the British public, particularly the disabled, in order to further enrich the corporate elite. Especially as the Tories seem to want to provoke war with Russia.

But here are some books, which are written for ordinary people, which cover these issues, which have helped me and which I hope others reading about these topics for themselves will also find helpful.

The Thinker’s Guide to God, Peter Vardy and Julie Arliss (Alresford: John Hunt Publishing 2003)

This book is written by two academics from a Christian viewpoint, and discusses the Western religious tradition from Plato and Aristotle. It has the following chapters

1. Thinking About God – Plato and Aristotle
2.The God of the Philosophers
3. The God of Sacred Scripture
4. Religious Language
5. The Challenge of Anti-Realism
6. Arguments for the Existence of God
7. The Attributes of God
8. Life After Death
9. Miracles and Prayer
10. Jesus, the Trinity, and Christian Theology
11. Faith and Reason
12 Attacks on God, Darwin, Marx and Freud
13 God and Science
14 Quantum Science, Multi-Dimensions and God

God: A Guide for the Perplexed, Keith Ward, (Oxford: OneWorld 2003)

1. A Feeling for the Gods
God, literalism and poetry, A world full of Gods, Descartes and the cosmic machine, Wordsworth and Blake, the gods and poetic imagination, Conflict among the gods, Friedrich Schleiermacher: a Romantic account of the gods; Rudolf Otto: the sense of the numinous; Martin Buber: life as meeting, Epilogue: the testimony of a secularist.

2. Beyond the gods
Prophets and seers; The prophets of Israel and monotheism; Basil, Gregory Palamas and Maimonides: the apophatic way; Thomas Aquinas: the simplicity of God; The five ways of demonstrating God; Pseudo-Dyonysius the Areopagite; The doctrine of analogy; Three mystics.

3. The Love that moves the sun
The 613 commandments; Pigs and other animals; the two great commandments; The Ten Commandments; Jesus and the Law; Calvin and the Commandments, Faith and works; Theistic morality as fulfilling God’s purpose; Kant, the categorical imperative and faith, God as creative freedom, affective knowledge and illimitable love.

4. The God of the Philosophers

God and Job; Plato and the gods; the vision of the Good; Appearance and Reality; Augustine and creation ex nihilo, Aristotle and the Perfect Being; Augustine and Platonism; Anselm and Necessary Being; Evil, necessity and the Free Will defence; Creation as a timeless act; Faith and understanding.

5. The Poet of the World

The timeless and immutable God; The rejection of Platonism; Hegel and the philosophy of Absolute Spirit; Marx and the dialectic of history; Pantheism and panentheism; Time and creativity, The redemption of suffering; History and the purposive cosmos; Process philosophy; The collapse of the metaphysical vision.

6. The darkness between stars

Pascal: faith and scepticism; A.J. Ayer; the death of metaphysics; Scientific hypotheses and existential questions; Kierkegaard: truth as subjectivity; Sartre; freedom from a repressive God; Heidegger and Kierkegaard: the absolute
paradox; Tillich: religious symbols; Wittgenstein: pictures of human life; Religious language and forms of life; Religion and ‘seeing-as’; Spirituality without belief; Non-realism and God; The silence of the heart.

7. The personal ground of being

God as omnipotent person; The problem of evil; Fichte, Schelling, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche: beyond good and evil; Omniscience and creative freedom; God: person or personal; Persons as relational; The idea of the Trinity; The revelatory roots of religion; Conclusion: Seven ways of thinking about God.

Bibliography

Teach Yourself Philosophy of Religion, by Mel Thompson, (London: HodderHeadline 1997)

Introduction
What is the philosophy of Religion?
Why study religion in this way?
What is involved?
The structure of this book
What this book aims to do.

1. Religious Experiences
Starting with experience
What happens when you experience something?
What is religious experience?
Induced religious experiences
Prayer
Conversion
Mysticism
Charismatic experiences
Revelation
Some features of religious experience
What can we know?
Authority and response
Conclusion

2.Religious Language
A private language?
Knowledge and description
Faith, reason and beliefs
The rational and the non-rational
Interpreting language
Cognitive and non-cognitive
Language games
The limitations of language

3. God: the concepts
God as creator
Eternal
Omnipotent
Omniscient
Transcendence and immanence
Theism, pantheism and panentheism
Atheism, agnosticism and secularism
Nietzsche: God is dead
Secular interpretations of God
A postmodernist interpretation
The Christian concept of God: the Trinity
Beliefs, language and religion
Saints?
Religious alternatives to theism
Basic beliefs

4. God: the arguments
The ontological argument
The cosmological argument
the teleological argument
the moral argument
the argument from religious experience
Conclusion

5. The Self
Bodies, minds and souls
Dualism
materialism
Idealism
Knowing our minds
Joining souls to bodies?
Identity and freedom
Freedom?
Life beyond death
Some conclusions

6. Causes, providence and miracles
Causes
Providence
Miracles
Summary

7. Suffering and evil
The challenge and the response
the problem
God as moral agent
Suffering and the major religions
Coming to terms with suffering
The devil and hell
Religion and terrorism
Summary

8. Religion and Science
The problem science poses for religion
the key issues
the changing world view
the methods of science and religion
the origin of the universe
evolution and humankind
Some conclusions

9. Religion and ethics
Natural law
Utilitarianism
absolute ethics
Morality and facts
How are religion and morality treated?
Values and choices
Conclusion

Postcript, Glossary, Taking it Further

God and Evolution: A Reader, ed. by Mary Kathleen Cunningham (London: Routledge 2007)

Part One
Methodology

1. Charles Hodge ‘The Protestant Rule of Faith’
2. Sallie McFague ‘Metaphor’
3. Mary Midgley ‘How Myths work’
4. Ian G. Barbour ‘The Structures of Science and Religion’.

Part Two
Evolutionary Theory

5. Charles Darwin, ‘On the origin of species
6. Francisco J. Ayala ‘The Evolution of life as overview
7. Michael Ruse ‘Is there are limit to our knowledge of evolution?

Part Three
Creationism

6. Genesis 1-2
7. Ronald J. Numbers ‘The Creationists’.

Part Four
Intelligent Design

10. William Paley ‘Natural Theology’
11. Michael J. Behe ‘Irreducible complexity: Obstacle to Darwinian Evolution’
12. Kenneth R. Miller, ‘Answering the biochemical argument from Design

Part Five
Naturalism

13. Richard Dawkins, ‘The Blind Watchmaker’
14. Richard Dawkins, ‘God’s utility function’
15. Daniel C. Dennett, ‘God’s dangerous idea’
16. Mary Midgley, ‘The quest for a universal acid’
17. Michael Ruse, ‘Methodological naturalism under attack’.

Part Six
Evolutionary Theism

18. Howard J. Van Till, ‘The creation: intelligently designed or optimally equipped?’
19. Arthur Peacock, ‘Biological evolution-a positive theological appraisal’
20. Jurgen Moltmann, ‘God’s kenosis in the creation and consummation of the world’.
21 Elizabeth A. Johnson, ‘Does God play dice? Divine providence and chance’.

Part Seven:
Reformulations of Tradition

22. John F. Haught, ‘Evolution, tragedy, and cosmic paradox’
23. Sallie McFague, ‘God and the world’
24. Ruth Page, ‘Panentheism and pansyntheism: God is relation’
25. Gordon D. Kaufman, ‘On thinking of God as serendipitous creativity’.

Physics Textbook on Cosmology and Gravitation

March 15, 2018

M.V. Berry, Principles of Cosmology and Gravitation (Bristol: Institute of Physics Publishing 1989).

Yesterday came the news of the death of the great British physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking at the age of 76. Hawking had suffered for most of his adult life from motor neurone disease, since he was diagnosed with it in his early 20s. He was given only three years to live, but instead managed to live out a very full lifespan working on his theories of the origin of the universe and Black Holes. He was a great ambassador for science. His book, A Brief History of Time, was a bestseller when it appeared in 1980s, although he admitted that it was probably a book few finished. And he showed that it was still possible for a disabled person to do cutting edge research, provided they had the necessary technical and medical support. In his case, it was his wheelchair and the machine that allowed him to speak, first of all by keying in the words, then by twitching just a single muscle. Some of the praise seemed a bit too fulsome to me. Like when they started saying that he was the greatest scientist since Newton and Einstein. I don’t think he was. And Hawking on his own didn’t unlock the secrets of universe or Black Holes, as the Beeb’s presenters also claimed. As for his great sense of humour, well, it existed, as his appearance on shows like The Simpsons demonstrated, but my memory of it is marred by him turning up with the TV critic, Victor Lewis Smith, telling fart jokes and laughing on the 1990s series, Inside Victor Lewis Smith. But it really was inspiring to see how he was a great hero to the ‘A’ level students at a science fair yesterday, and how he had inspired them to become interested in science.

One of the complaints Richard Dawkins has made about popular science programmes is that they’re too ‘dumbed-down’. He points out that they have to have lots of explosions, and they mustn’t include equations, in case that scares people off. There’s a lot with which I don’t agree with Dawkins. I’m not an atheist, and have argued on this blog against him and the other militant atheists. But he is right here. Scientists writing the popular science books have said that they’ve been told by their publishers to leave equations out, because every equation in a book damages sales.

I think this is the wrong attitude to have. It’s why I’ve put up this piece about the above book by M.V. Berry. It’s an undergraduate physics textbook, which does contain the fundamental mathematical equations for this area of physics. Its contents include

1. Introduction

2. Cosmography
2.1 What the universe contains
2.2 The cosmic distance hierarchy and the determination of galactic densities
2.2.1 Parallax
2.2.2 Distance from velocity measurements
2.2.3 Distance from apparent luminosity
2.2.4 Weighing galaxies
2.3 The red shift and the expansion of the universe.

3. Physical base of general relativity
3.1 The need for relativistic ideas and a theory of gravitation.
3.2 Difficulties with Newtonian mechanics: gravity
3.3. Difficulties with Newtonian mechanics: inertial frames and absolute space.
3.4 Inadequacy of special relativity.
3.5 Mach’s principle, and gravitational waves.
3.6 Einstein’s principle of equivalence.

4 Curved spacetime and the physical mathematics of general relativity.
4.1 Particle Paths and the separation between events
4.2 Geodesics
4.3 Curved spaces
4.4 Curvature and gravitation.

5 General relativity near massive objects
5.1 Spacetime near an isolated mass.
5.2 Around the world with clocks.
5.3 Precession of the perihelion of Mercury
5.4 Deflection of light
5.5 Radar echoes from planets
5.6 Black Holes

6 Cosmic Kinematics
6.1 Spacetime for the smoothed-out universe
6.2 Red shifts and horizons
6.3 Apparent luminosity
6.4 Galactic densities and the darkness of the night sky.
6.5 Number counts

7 Cosmic dynamics
7.1 Gravitation and the cosmic fluid
7.2 Histories of model universes
7.3 The steady state theory
7.4 Cosmologies in which the strength of gravity varies

8 In the beginning
8.1 Cosmic black-body radiation.
8.2 Condensation of galaxies
8.3 Ylem.

Appendix A: Labelling astronomical objects
Appendix B: Theorema Egregium
Problems
Solutions to odd-numbered problems
Useful numbers.

there’s also a bibliography and index.

I’m not claiming to understand the equations. I struggled at both my ‘O’ level maths and physics, and what I know about science and astronomy I learned mostly through popular science books. But in the mid-1990s I wanted to see at least some of the equations scientists used in their explorations and modelling of the universe. One of the popular science books I was reading said at the time that this book was at the level that people with ‘A’ level maths could understand, and this didn’t seem quite so much a jump from my basic maths skills. So I ordered it. I’m afraid I can’t say that I’ve read it properly, despite the fact that I keep meaning to. Some of the equations are just too much for me, but I can follow the explanations in the text. I’m putting this notice of the book up here, in case there are any budding Stephen or Stephanie Hawkingses out there, who want to go a bit further than the pop-sci explanations, and see for themselves what the maths behind it all is like.

The Beeb also said in their eulogy for the great man, that Hawking hoped that the people reading his A Brief History of Time would come away with one point, even if they hadn’t finished it: that the universe is governed by rational law. Actually, this ideas isn’t unique to Hawking by a very, very long way. It actually comes from the Middle Ages, and is the assumption that makes science possible. Hawking was an agnostic, I believe, and many scientists are atheists. But this assumption that the universe is governed by rational laws ultimately comes from Christian theology. The founds of modern science in the Renaissance pointed to the passages in the Bible, in which God’s Wisdom creates the universes and establishes the boundaries and courses of natural phenomena, like the tides and stars. And the anarchist of science, Feuerabend, pointed out that the assumption that the laws of the universe all form a consistent whole come from Christian doctrine, quoting the 13th century theologian and philosopher, Thomas Aquinas: ‘We must believe that the laws of the universe are one, because God is one.’

Hawking has passed away, but it’s clear that he has inspired many more people to become interested in this rather arcane branch of the sciences. I hope this continues, despite the Tories’ attack on education and science and research for its own sake.

Andrew Marr Praises Steven Pinker’s Book on Science, Rationality and Free Markets

February 28, 2018

Mike has posted a number of pieces on his blog commenting on the right-wing bias displayed by Andrew Marr on his Sunday morning show. One recent example of this was his comment to a Tory guest, who came on immediately after he had given a hard interview to someone from the Labour Party. His interview of the Tory was softer, and at the end of it he leaned over to tell her that she had done ‘very well’. Or something like it.

I’m not surprised by this bias. Marr is a fan of the free market, the sacred ideology at the heart of Thatcherism, against which no-one is allowed to blaspheme or question. He was in the I newspaper a few weeks ago praising Steven Pinker’s new book, which argues that the world has got immensely better due to science, reason and markets. Pinker’s a neuroscientist and atheist polemicist. The book’s a successor to his previous work, The Better Angels of Our Nature. This was written to refute the claim that the 20th century was the bloodiest period in human history. This argument has been made in defence of religion, as much atheist polemic is based on the violence and bloodshed that has been generated by religion. But the 20th century is a problem, as the massacres and genocides there took place within an increasingly secular world, and in the case of the horrors committed by Communist regimes, were perpetrated by aggressively atheist regimes. And in the case of the Fascist regimes, it’s questionable how religious they were. General Franco in Spain believed that he was defending Christianity from secularism and materialism when he launched his attack on the Republican government, and horrifically many Christians did support the Fascist regimes against the supposed threats of Communism and Socialism. I’m well aware that Hitler claimed that he was doing ‘the Lord’s work’ in persecuting the Jews in Mein Kampf, but in his Table Talk he has nothing but contempt for Christianity, and wants astronomical observatories set up near schools as part of a scientific campaign against the religion. Hitler’s own religious beliefs seem to have been a kind of monistic pantheism, possibly not that far removed from those of the Monist League, who also sported the swastika as their symbol. As for Mussolini, the Italian dictated signed the Lateran Accords with the papacy, in which the Pope finally recognised Italy’s existence as a state in return for Roman Catholic religious education in schools. But il Duce had started out as a radical socialist, and many members of the Fascist party still were vehemently atheist. Much depended on the religious opinions of the local Fascist ras whether Roman Catholic religious education was taught in the schools in his area. I don’t wish to go into this argument now, whether these regimes were really atheist or not, or if the 20th century really was the bloodiest period in human history. I just wish to make the point that this was the issue at the heart of Pinker’s previous book.

Pinker’s new book apparently tells us that everything’s getting better, including the environment, and Pinker marshals an impressive arrays of facts. But all this said to me was that people and governments have become more ecologically conscious. It does not mean that we aren’t facing the devastating loss of an extraordinary number of this planet’s animal and plant species, or that we face catastrophic global warming which may make the Middle East uninhabitable.

But even more questionable is Pinker’s and Marr’s assertion that modern, post-Enlightenment society has been immensely improved thanks to the science, reason and markets. In the case of science and reason, at one level the statement is obviously true. Human life has benefited immensely from scientific advance, particularly in medicine. But the view that science and reason didn’t exist before then is one that many Medieval scholars would strenuously reject. In contrast to the stereotypes, the Middle Ages actually wasn’t anti-science. There are poems from the 12th-13th centuries celebrating it, and the new knowledge that was flooding into Europe from the Islamic world. The 15th century English poem, The Court of Sapience, lists the various branches of knowledge known to the medieval world, and celebrates them as the area of ‘Dame Sapience’, an idealised personification of wisdom. As for superstition and the occult, historians have also pointed out that the Middle Ages were also an age of scepticism as well as faith. Medieval theologians wrote texts arguing that visions of demons were more likely caused by a full stomach interfering with the correct functioning of the nerves, and so causing bad dreams. Others doubted whether the seers, who claimed to be able to identify thieves through peering in bowls of water or other reflecting surfaces, had any such powers, and were simply using common knowledge to put the blame on notorious thieves. And in contrast to what Marr apparently thinks, free market capitalism did not suddenly emerge in the 18th century with the French Physiocrats and then Adam Smith. In fact, some Christian theologians were arguing for free trade as far back as the thirteenth century.

As for free market capitalism benefiting humanity, the evidence today is that it really doesn’t. The neoliberalism ushered in by Thatcher and Reagan has done nothing but make the lives of the poor much poorer across the world, and in so doing has increased international tension and political violence. The Korean economist, Ha-Joon Chang in his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, shows how the strong economies of the world’s developed nations were all created, not by free trade, but by protectionism.

This is very clearly not something any true-blue Thatcherite wants to hear. But it also shows the strange, cult-like nature of the ideology of free trade capitalism. A number of writers have pointed out the apparently illogical, absolute belief its supporters have, even when they are shown the plentiful evidence to the contrary. They still go on believing and demanding free market solutions, even when it is abundantly clear to everyone else that not only do they not work, they are even causing immense harm. And Marr is clearly one of these true believers. He also seems to have uncritically accepted the view that science, reason and free market capitalism were all products of the Enlightenment, when academic historians have been pushing the origins of science and capitalism further back to the Middle Ages, and demonstrated that the Age of Faith was also one of Reason, however irrational it now seems to us.

Marr’s praise of the book and its promotion of the free market also gives more than an indication of his own political beliefs, and why he is much less sympathetic to left-wing guests on his show than those from the right. He’s another member of the cult of neoliberal market capitalism, and this has to be protected at all costs from unbelievers. Even when he and the Beeb swear impartiality.

Trump Wants to Arm Teachers: This is Joke from the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

February 24, 2018

Trump is apparently serious about arming teachers to protect them from another school shooting. The best solution obviously would be to restrict firearm ownership, so that people couldn’t get their mitts on powerful submachine guns, especially not criminals and murderous nutters. As for teachers with guns, I’m reminded of the Boomtown Rats old hit, ‘Tell Me Why I Don’t Like Mondays’. It was based on a real incident, where a teacher came in and shot down her class. When she was asked by the police why she did it, she simply replied ‘I don’t like Mondays’.

In fact, Douglas Adams was making jokes about arming teachers with guns as long ago as the 1980s, in the third book of his Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. I’m afraid it’s so long ago since I read it, that I can’t remember what it was called. But I do remember it involved Ford and Arthur going off to investigate the re-emergence of a savagely xenophobic and militaristic race, the Armourfiends of somewhere-or-other – I’ve forgotten the rest of their name. These people are so mad keen on war and weaponry, that certain professions are armed because of their work. This includes teachers.

What started as a joke by Adams’ is now being promoted as serious government policy by Trump. Somewhere up there, Adams must be having a very dry, ironic laugh. Always supposing that heaven exists, and the Good Lord will let militant atheists in.

The CAA and the JLM are the Israel Lobby’s Version of the ‘Anti-Paki League’

February 24, 2018

The Anti-Paki League were another bunch of extreme right-wing racists, who goose-stepped up and down our green and pleasant land in the 1970s campaigning against coloured immigration, and terrorising Blacks and Asians. They had an ugly name, which exactly expressed the ugliness of the organisation. I first became aware of the Leagues existence when I saw a book on them in the former Midland Educational bookshop in Bristol’s Broadmead in the ’70s or early ’80s. The cover showed a crowd in Klan robes about to behead a prone and screaming Black man.

I’ve chosen the Anti-Paki League to focus on here, rather than other, larger anti-immigrant and racist organisation, like the National Front or BNP, because their name also carries with it undertones of Islamophobia. Pakistan is a Muslim state. It was explicitly set up to be the country where Muslims, who felt excluded by the dominant Hindus in India, could live in according with Qu’ran and the Sunna. Not all Pakistani immigrants are Muslim, however. Many of them have been Christians, who have left their homeland because of the increasing violence and intolerance of their Muslim compatriots.

And Islamophobia and connections to other, nakedly Fascistic British anti-Muslim organisations, run right through the Israel lobby and its organisations like the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Labour Movement. The racism and Islamophobia at the heart of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism is very clear in its statement that Muslims are more likely than the rest of the British population to be anti-Semitic, whom they also smear as sharing the same Jew hatred.

As for the JLM, their head, Jonathan Newmark, an unconvicted embezzler from Jewish charities, if the allegations against him are true, turned up to disrupt a film on the sufferings of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation, held at the SOAS university. They did so in the company of the Jewish Defence League, the Jewish branch of the Fascist English Defence League, screaming, hurling abuse and waving flags.

Mike’s been unfairly accused of being an anti-Semite, because the uncomfortable facts he covered about Shai Masot’s attempts to plot the removal and replacement of prominent cabinet ministers, which he rightly described as a conspiracy, was held to be an ‘anti-Semitic trope’.

Well, turning up to a screening of film to disrupt it by flag-waving racial nationalists is a Fascist trope. Since the time of Mosley’s BUF, the stormtroopers of the British Nazi right have used appropriated the Union Flag and other emblems of Britishness for their insignia and rallies. The National Front despised Mosley, but they adopted the same tactic to try to win over members.

And Fascists also aggressively disrupt anti-racist and left-wing gatherings, including films. The parallel to their JDL’s disruption of the film on the Palestinians that comes to my mind is the attack Christian Fascists in France in the 1920s made on the screening of Bunuel’s and Dali’s Surrealist film, L’Age d’Or. As Marxists, the Surrealists were extremely anti-religious with a bitter hatred of Christianity. The French Christian far right objected to the film because it showed a monstrance being thrown into a river, and ended with a group of skeletons lying on a rock wearing clerical vestments such as bishop’s mitres.

And the Israel lobby’s connection to mainstream British Islamphobic Fascism don’t end there. A few months ago Jonathan Hoffman, another prominent member of the Israel lobby was photographed getting very chummy with Paul Besser, the intelligence officer of Britain First, if ‘Intelligence officer’ in this context isn’t a contradiction in terms.

These are fake anti-racist organisations. They don’t exist to protect Jews from real anti-Semitism. They exist to defend Israel and its racist oppression of the Palestinians by pretending to defend Jews from anti-Semitism. And they do this by smearing Israel’s critics, including self-respecting secular and Torah-observant Jews, as anti-Semites.

They are Fascists. The CAA should lose its charitable status, and the Jewish Labour Movement, as a Fascist organisation, should be closed down. Real socialists and anti-racist activists should not be tolerating any racist organisation, no matter what it’s ethnicity is, in their party.