Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

Hell and the Mean and Exploitative Rich in the Non-Canonical Gospels

August 6, 2019

Leafing through the book The Apocryphal Jesus: Legends of the Early Church by J.K. Elliott (Oxford: OUP 1996) yesterday, I got to the chapter on heaven and hell. The book’s a collection of extracts from apocryphal Christian literature, the Gospels and various lives of the Apostles that weren’t included in the Bible because they were not considered historically reliable by the bishops of the Early Church. Despite being outside the accepted canon of scripture, they were nevertheless widely read and have influenced Christian art and literature. These writings include descriptions of the delights of paradise and the torments of the damned. Most of the torments are for moral offences, like fornication, adultery and homosexuality and failure to live according to proper Christian standards or neglect or rejection of Christianity. It’s grim stuff, and is the type of material and doctrines that now puts people off religion. How can a loving God inflict all these torments on people for all eternity, especially since the sexual revolution of the 1960s? Pre-marital sex is now the norm, homosexuality is accepted and opposition to it is seen as bigotry. It’s a good question, and I’m no fan of the hellfire and damnation preaching myself. As for Hell, I tend to follow the Father Duddleswell attitude from the books about the Irish priest by Neil Boyd. God’s justice demands it exists, but his mercy means there’s no-one in it.

But several of the torments described in these apocryphal books are for the rich and the exploitative. Like some of the people in the Tory and Brexit parties. One of the extracts is from the Acts of Thomas, in which the apostle raises up a dead woman, and commands her to tell what she has seen. And amongst the damned were people hung up by various parts of their bodies, including the hands.

Those hung up by the hands are they who took that which did not belong to them and have stolen, and who never gave anything to the poor, nor helped the afflicted; but they did so because they wished to get everything, and cared neither for law nor right. (p. 191).

In the Apocalypse of Peter, it is Christ Himself who describes the torments of hell, including those reserved for the rich.

‘And beside them, in a place near at hand, upon the stone shall be a pillar of fire, and the pillar is sharper than swords. And there shall be men and women clad in rags and filthy garments, and they shall be cast thereon to suffer the judgement of an unceasing torment; these are the ones who trusted to their riches and despised the widows and the women with fatherless children … before God.’ (p. 194).

In the Apocalypse of Paul, it is this apostle, who is taken by an angel and shown the heaven and hell, including this description of what happens to usurers:

And I saw another multitude of pits in the same place, and in the midst of it a river full with a multitude of men and women, and worms consumed them. But I lamented and sighing asked the angel and said, ‘Sir, who are these?’ and he said to me, “These are those who exacted interest on interest and trusted in their riches and did not trust in God that he was their helper.’ (p. 202).

We now have a government that is packed full of rich, highly rapacious individuals, who really don’t have any thought for the poor, the widows and the fatherless. And all too many of them are connected to the financial sector, like Jacob Rees-Mogg. Mogg and several other Tories come from the Christian right. It’s a pity they don’t read these passages, and those in the Bible itself, urging concern for the poor, the sick and marginalised, and do the right thing.

Which is stopping these exploitative, murderous policies of immiseration and exploitation, and resign!

As an old piece of graffiti in Bristol used to say: ‘Repent of your sins, Maggie Thatcher!’

 

Anti-Black Racism and the Anti-Semitism Smears

August 2, 2019

Looking back at two of the most notorious instances, where decent anti-racists have been smeared as an anti-Semites, it occurred to me that behind them there’s a very nasty strain of anti-black racism. These two cases were the attacks on Jackie Walker, the vice-chair of Momentum by the Campaign Against Truth and the Jewish Labour Movement, and against Marc Wadsworth by Ruth Smeeth. Both were not only passionate and committed campaigners against all varieties of racism, they were also Black.

Walker is Jewish by descent and faith. Her partner is Jewish, and she sent her daughter to a Jewish school. She is an outspoken opponent of Israeli apartheid, and began attacking it through her activism against its counterpart in South Africa. Because of this some Zionist organisation has apparently identified her as the second most dangerous threat to Israel along with Jeremy Corbyn.

She was accused of anti-Semitism when snoopers from the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism dug up an old Facebook conversation between her and two or three other historians and scholars discussing Jewish financial involvement in the slave trade. Walker made it clear that she was looking at it partly from the angle of being a Jew herself. She said that the Jews involved were ‘my people too’. It’s a legitimate area of historical research, and Jackie has subsequently very ably defended herself by citing studies of this by mainstream, respectable Jewish historians. Nowhere did she claim that the Jews were solely responsible for the slave trade, or even its main investors. She has made it clear that the responsibility for the slave trade lies with the Christian monarchs of the states that engaged in it.

Nevertheless, her words were taken out of context and further distorted, and she was the subject of a vile article in the Jewish Chronicle claiming that she had. This formed the basis for a complaint against her to the Labour party demanding her expulsion. She was also accused of anti-Semitism by the Jewish Labour Movement. They secretly recorded her at a workshop on the proper commemoration of the Holocaust for Holocaust Memorial Day. Jackie complained that she was unable  to work with their definition of anti-Semitism and objected to the way Holocaust Memorial Day concentrated exclusively on Jewish suffering to the exclusion of other groups, who had also suffered similar genocides, like Black Africans. I believe the definition of anti-Semitism to which she objected wasn’t the normal definition that it is simply hatred of Jews as Jews, but the IHRC definition, which conflates it with opposition to Israel. And while Holocaust Memorial Day does mention the holocausts of other ethnicities, there is increasing hostility amongst some Zionists on their inclusion. As Tony Greenstein has shown, the Israeli state is keen to present the Holocaust as a unique phenomenon which targeted only Jews, despite the Nazis’ determination to murder other groups and races, like the Roma and the disabled, not to mention the Slav peoples they intended to enslave and turn into a class of peasant serfs.

Jackie was duly expelled from the party, though not for anti-Semitism, which he accusers couldn’t prove, but on other, spurious charges, like bringing the party into disrepute or some other nonsense. Since then, she has been the victim of sustained, vicious abuse. She has been told that she should be hanged from trees, or killed and her body dumped in bin bags. This is so vile, that she has forbidden her daughters from reading her email, because she doesn’t want to see them upset by the abuse their mother is getting. And amongst these accusations is the claim that she cannot be properly Jewish, because she’s black. Which is itself definitely racist.

Now it seems to me that at the heart of these smears against Walker is the assumption that, as a Black anti-racist activist, she must be an anti-Semite. This is based on the very public comments several decades ago of two leading Black American figures, Louis Farrakhan and the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Farrakhan is, or was, the head of the Nation of Islam, the religious movement led by Malcolm X. Although it sees itself as a form of Islam, it is by Muslim standards highly heretical. It’s based around the worship of W.D. Fard, a Syrian immigrant to the US, as God incarnate. It also has elements of those new religious movements centred on UFOs, like the Aetherius Society. Farrakhan claims that he was taken up by a UFO from a mountain in Mexico to an orbiting ‘mother wheel’, where he was told that W.D. Fard and Jesus were alive and well on Venus, where they would direct the future war against Whites.

As well as bitterly hostile to Whites, Farrakhan is also vehemently anti-Semitic. He really does believe that the Jews were responsible for the slave trade. This is definitely rejected by every proper scholar of the subject, including Jackie herself. 

In the late 1980s and 1990s, Farrakhan organised a series of events protesting against the conditions of Black people in America. One of the most spectacular was the ‘Million Man March’, in which a million Black men were to march on Washington D.C. It was supposed to be a men-only event, as the religion has very traditional views on sex and gender roles. Women were supposed to be at home, looking after the children. And it was supposed to be for Blacks only. In the event, the organisers could only reach the numbers they wanted through letting Whites join.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson was a Christian minister, who was also a Black anti-racism activist. He was popular, and at one stage it looked like he might win the Democratic presidential nomination. Eddie Murphy in his stand-up comedy routine included jokes about the shock White racists would get after they drunkenly voted for him as a joke, only to wake up the next morning to find Jackson in the White House. It’s possible that two decades before Barack Obama, America could have seen its first Black president. Jackson’s political ambitions took a nosedive, however, when he began to move close to Farrakhan and made anti-Semitic comments. The most notorious of these was when he called New York ‘Hymietown’ because of its large Jewish population.

It therefore seems very strongly to me that the accusations of anti-Semitism against Jackie Walker were partly intended to recall the real anti-Semitism of Farrakhan and Jackson. The implication there seemed to be that because she dared discuss Jewish involvement in the slave trade, she must share Farrakhan’s odious views. Not least of which is because she’s a Black anti-racist activist, and so was he.

Ditto with Marc Wadsworth. He was smeared by Ruth Smeeth because he caught her passing on information to a Torygraph journo next to her at a Labour party event. She then claimed that he was guilty of using the anti-Semitic trope of Jews as leaders of a conspiracy against her. The lamestream press had a field day with this, repeating this lie and even screaming that he was the Labour activist, who made her cry.

Wadsworth is not Jewish, but he is a committed anti-racist activist. Among his achievements was getting the parents of the murdered Black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, to meet Nelson Mandela. He also worked with the Board of Deputies of British Jews to formulate improved legislation to protect Jews from real anti-Semitic violence after a spate of attacks by the NF/BNP in the Isle of Dogs in the 1980s. He’s very, very definitely not a racist. But truth doesn’t matter to these scoundrels, and they libelled him as such anyway.

Like Jackie Walker.

I think part of the underlying assumption here is that both Jackie and Marc must be racist themselves, because they’re Black. When riots broke out in Black communities across Britain in the first years of Thatcher’s reign c. 1981/2, the Tory press claimed that they weren’t caused by poor social conditions, lack of opportunities, high unemployment suffered by British Blacks, or institutional racism in British society. No! The real reason Blacks in Toxteth, Liverpool, St. Paul’s, Bristol, and Brixton in London, was because they were anti-White racists. And although nearly four decades have passed since then, I think that’s still the assumption, or the implication, behind the accusations against Marc and Jackie. Black anti-racism activists must be anti-White, and anti-Semitic, because of the assumptions and events of over three decades ago.

Meanwhile, it’s noticeable how uninterested in combating racism, or actively racist those making the accusations of anti-Semitism are. the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism has precious little to say about real Fascism and anti-Semitism, preferring to rail instead against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. Margaret Hodge did so little to combat the NF/BNP in Islington, that when the BNP’s Derek Beacon and his storm troopers got onto Tower Hamlet’s council, they sent her a bouquet of flowers. Tom Watson, who has done his best to facilitate these accusations in the Labour party, was a friend of Phil Woolas, who was prosecuted for running an islamophobic campaign portraying Muslims as terrorists. David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group has written on his blog about how the Board of Deputies of British Jews in the 1980s did their level best to prevent Jews from going on anti-racist marches and events like Rock Against Racism. The ostensible reason was that they were afraid Jews would be exposed to anti-Zionist propaganda. But others suspected that the real reason was that the Board did not want them mixing with people from different races and communities. And the respected historian of Jewish community in Britain, Geoffrey Alderman, was put under pressure by the Board in the 1970s to remove from his book his finding that 2 per cent of the Jewish community in the UK voted for the BNP because they hated Blacks and didn’t want their children going to school with them.

Of course, the people making these defamatory accusations of anti-Semitism against decent people don’t confine them to Blacks. They also make them against Whites, and particularly against Jews critical of Israel. These latter, who obviously include Jackie, are subjected to the most vile abuse, which would automatically be considered anti-Semitic if it came from non-Jews. Like some of the comments Tony Greenstein has received by Zionist Jews, telling him that they wish he and his family had died in the Shoah.

But it seems to me that behind the smears of Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth there is nevertheless a very strong undertone of anti-Black racism, a racism that permeates their accusers and the right-wing media, which supported those smears.

 

 

Geoffrey Alderman Accuses Tom Watson of Anti-Semitism for Talking about Christ’s Arrest

July 29, 2019

Geoffrey Alderman, a professor of Jewish history and columnist for the Times and the Jewish Telegraph, has made an official complaint to Jennie Formby accusing the deputy leader of the Labour Party of anti-Semitism. Why? In his Easter message, Watson referred to Christ’s arrest by a squad of Roman soldiers under the direction of the servant of the High Priest. Alderman states that

‘the allegation that Jews were Christ-killers, implicated in if not actually responsible for the death of Jesus, is widely regarded as an anti-Semitic trope’.

He then correctly states that it was condemned by the Pope at Vatican II in the 1970s.

While it’s amusingly ironic to find Watson, who has given so much aid and support to those fabricating false claims of anti-Semitism against decent, anti-racist people, both Jewish and non-Jewish, of anti-Semitism himself, the accusation is wrong and should be denied and rebutted.

Firstly, Alderman is absolutely correct that the accusation that Jews are Christ-killers has been responsible for much prejudice and often horrific persecution of Jews down the centuries. However, this does not mean that the description of Christ’s arrest and trial by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea at the time, are fictional and anti-Semitic themselves. Alderman’s accusation is therefore wrong and should be strenuously denied and refuted.

As Mike has said in his piece about the accusation, all the Gospels state that Christ was arrested by the Romans under the direction of the High Priest, tried before the Sanhedrin, before being passed in turn to Pontius Pilate for judgment. I realise that many people do regard the Bible as completely fictitious, and that there have been books written against the inclusion of the Jewish authorities in Christ’s arrest and execution in order to counter what many believe to be a source of anti-Semitism. These attempts are based on descriptions of the power of the Sanhedrin in the Talmud, which claim that the Temple authorities could not hold such trials and had no power to issue the death penalty for blasphemy unless the name of God was explicitly pronounced. However, while some of the Oral Law is ancient, dating back to the time Ezra according to scholars of Judaism, the Talmud itself was compiled over a period of centuries from the Second Century AD onwards. Jewish scholars have said that there is difficulty in assessing the truth of the passages about the Sanhedrin, as it is not clear which are historically accurate, and which an idealised picture of how the Jewish sages at the time of Talmud’s composition felt it should have operated.

Christ’s execution is mentioned by the Syrian Stoic philosopher, Mara bar Serapion, in a letter that may date from 73 AD. The letter discusses the disasters that befell the Athenians after they executed Socrates, and the Samian after they killed Pythagoras. He asks rhetorically

or what did it avail the Jews to kill their wise king, since their kingdom was taken away from them from this time on?

The ‘wise king’ is believed to be a reference to Christ. See Kevin O’Donnell, Introduction to the New Testament (Hodder and Stoughton 1999) 78.

There is also a garbled reference to Christ’s crucifixion on a charge of sorcery and leading Israel astray in the Talmud, see O’Donnell, above, 78.

Similar events are also recorded by Roman historians. There’s a passage in the Jewish historian, Josephus, I believe, which records how the Sanhedrin brought before the Roman governor a man, who had been prophesying the destruction of the Temple. They demanded the man be executed. Instead, the governor simply had the man flogged and then sent away.

This was an extremely dangerous and politically volatile time. The Temple hierarchy was bitterly resented by many Jews both for the corruption of some of its priests and officials, and their collaboration with Israel’s Greek and then Roman overlords. The books of Maccabees in the Apocrypha records the heroic resistance to Greek rule by Judas Maccabaeus. He and the Jewish people were provoked into rebellion by the attempts of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greek general, who ruled the province under Alexander the Great, to stamp out their faith. Mothers were forbidden to circumcise their sons, the teaching of the Law was forbidden and copies burnt and the Temple was turned into a temple to Zeus. Although the Temple was restored and the Jews allowed to practise their faith freely once again, the situation remained tense. There were tensions between the Pharisees, the Jewish sect that stressed absolute obedience to the Law, and which believed in spirits and the resurrection of the dead, and the Sadducees, who did not, and who seem to have been largely aristocratic. Josephus records another Jewish uprising just before the time of Christ, which was crushed with the execution of 19,000 Pharisees.

The Talmud also contains passages, which are believed to date from this time, which rail against the corruption of the Temple clergy and High Priest. One is a heartfelt account by the author of how he was beaten by Boethus, a member of the Temple hierarchy, while other priests and leading officials used their office to extort money from ordinary Jews.

Moreover, it needs to be remembered that Christ and His disciples were almost all Jews. St. Matthew’s is the most Jewish of all the Gospels, and its writer frequently assimilates Christ’s teaching with those of the great Jewish sages. He was therefore part of a Jewish Christian community, which continued to observe the Mosaic Law.

It therefore seems very clear to me that the accounts of Christ’s arrest and trial are historically accurate and reflect the very bloody tensions within 1st century Judaism. And while they have been used to foment anti-Semitism, they are not themselves anti-Semitic. It’s clear reading them that the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate were responsible for Christ’s death, not the Jewish people as a whole.

I went to the same Anglican church school as Mike, and as he says, we were very definitely not taught to hate anyone because they were of a different religion. Indeed, the clergy and Christian laypeople, who taught at the school had a horror of religious violence and bigotry. Mike and his year were taken on visits to a synagogue and mosque. This didn’t happen to my year, but we were taught about Judaism in RE lessons. I also remember going down the stairs just as one of the RE teachers was going up them with a bearded gentleman carrying a menorah and other Jewish sacred objects, presumably to show them to one of the other classes. And some of the older pupils I know were taught about the Holocaust and its horrors.

I also believe that the myth that the Jews were responsible for the death of Christ has largely been laid to rest. Many of the Christians I know have very positive attitudes towards Jews and Judaism because of their religion. Where anti-Semitism does exist, I believe it largely comes from other reasons, like all the stupid, murderous conspiracy theories that try to tell you the Jews hate Whites and are importing Blacks to destroy the White race and enslave gentiles. And so, like Mike, I’m left wondering why Professor Alderman has chosen to accuse Tom Watson of anti-Semitism because of this. And so I agree completely with Mike’s conclusion:

Tom Watson is a wrong ‘un, no doubt. But to demonise him by trying to stir up animosity between Jews and Christians is completely unacceptable and I hope everyone of both religions condemns his words.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/07/29/this-anti-semitism-complaint-against-tom-watson-should-not-stand-up/

 

Priti Patel and the Barbarity of the Reintroduction of the Death Penalty

July 27, 2019

Yesterday, Mike put up a piece reporting that Boris Johnson, the raging, incompetent blond beast now in charge of the government, has appointed Priti Patel as his home secretary. And she supports the reintroduction of the death penalty.

I’m not surprised. Johnson is a man of the Tory hard right, and there’s a section of the British public that has been demanding the return of the death penalty for years. I think support for capital punishment is probably spread between both parties, but I’m reasonably sure it’s much stronger in the Conservatives. This is the party that, after all, tries to project itself as the party of law and order and keeps demanding tougher sentencing for criminals. And that includes the death penalty for murder. It’s clear that Bozza is now very much appealing to that constituency with his appointment of Patel, although he himself won’t say whether he favours it himself.

I very well understand why some people want it back. There are unrepentant criminals responsible for the most sickening crimes, who do make you feel that they should pay the ultimate penalty. Like the Nazis at Nuremberg, who planned and presided over the horrific murder and torture of millions of individuals and the proposed extermination of entire races. Before Eichmann was executed he said something about regret and remorse being for the weak and inferior. Himmler in a notorious speech to the SS at the death camps actually boasted about the horrors they were committing, claiming that it was deeply moral and that though it was hard unpleasant, they would come through it with the moral character intact, still pure. With such twisted morality, such deep evil, you feel that death really is too good for them. And the same with serial killers and child murderers, like the Moors Murderers.

But as Mike showed in his piece, there are very, very strong arguments against capital punishment. Not least is the fact that innocent people have been convicted of murder in gross miscarriages of justice. This was Ian Hislop’s argument in a clip from Question Time he put up in his article, in which the editor of Private Eye mopped the floor with Patel. Hislop said that over the years his magazine had uncovered many such cases, and that if we had had the death penalty, then the people wrongfully convicted would be dead. He also pointed out that if we had it, we would also have turned some very unpleasant people into martyrs. By that, he means the various terrorists that have shot and bombed their way across Britain since the return of Irish nationalist terrorism in the 1970s. And some of those convicted of Irish Republican terrorist offences were victims of the miscarriage of justice. Like the Birmingham Six, who were wrongfully jailed for the Birmingham pub bombings. If these men had been executed for the crime, not only would the British state have killed innocent people, but that fact would have been picked up and strenuously broadcast by the IRA as yet more evidence of British oppression. And the Islamist terrorists responsible for 7/7 and other outrages see themselves as shahids – martyrs for Islam. At one level, executing them would be giving them exactly what they want. And their deaths would be used by the other zealots for propaganda, as righteous Muslims going to their eternal reward for killing the kufar.

All Patel could do in the face of this argument was bluster about being absolutely sure of the accused’s guilt before sentencing. That’s right – judges were obliged to point out to juries in murder cases during capital punishment that if they had any doubt whatsoever, they should not convict. But as Hislop then went to argue, innocent people were still convicted even with the weight of the burden of proof. And then Patel fell back on the old canard that it acted as a deterrent. There’s no evidence of that. A friend of mine, who’d actually read Pierrepoint’s memoirs, told me that Britain’s last hangman had said that in his experience, it didn’t act as a deterrent at all. According to Peter Hitchens, who is very much one of the law and order brigade – he’d like to see people jailed for drunkenness, for example – Pierrepoint changed his mind about this just before he died. But I think the evidence is that it doesn’t. In fact, it seems to encourage violence. I can remember reading in article in one of the papers back in the ’90s – the FT perhaps, or the Independent – that there’s actually a rise in violent incidents around the time of executions in the US. The article said that it was almost as though people felt that if the state could inflict violence, so could they.

I’d also argue that there are some murderers, who should be punished, but who also can be rehabilitated. When I was working as a volunteer at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, some of my co-workers were convicts at the end of their sentence. They were working towards being finally paroled and released back into the community. It was quite an experienced working with these people. Although they were murderers, they weren’t monsters. They were articulate, and often creative and highly educated. Some were so inoffensive, you wondered what circumstances led to them committing their crime. I realise that the people I knew may not be entirely representative. The Museum only took those who were genuinely willing to work there, rather than just exploit the system. And I am not suggesting for a single minute that murder should be treated leniently. I am merely arguing that there are some people responsible for this crime, who can be usefully rehabilitated after their punishment. And there may well be mitigating circumstances in individual cases that should rule out the death penalty.

And sometime, letting a murderer live and contemplate his guilt can be more terrible than simply killing them. One of the priests at my local church in south Bristol was a prison chaplain. He told us once how a murderer in one of the prisons in which he ministered told him one day, that he had no idea how difficult it was for the prisoner to live with the knowledge of what he’d done.

Way back in the 12th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the cleric who wrote the constitution for the Knights Templars, once saved a murderer from execution. He had him taken down from the scaffold. When the crowd objected, he told them he was going to take the man to do something far harder than simply being killed, and led him off to become a monk. This was during the great age of monastic reform, when life in some of the new orders being founded was very hard.

Many of the early Christians under the Roman Empire also had very strong views against the judicial system and its punishments. They objected to the death penalty, because Our Lord had been unjustly condemned to death by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christians had no choice but to adopt and become responsible for the trial and punishment of criminals. But some bishops and clergy remained firmly against it to the end. One clergyman stated that he could not see how any Christian could have a man tortured or sentenced to death, and then lie back in ease and luxury on cushions afterwards. The Christians, who object to the death penalty are heirs to this tradition.

The reintroduction of the death penalty cannot be justified, not least because of the very real danger of wrongful conviction. By appointing Patel, one of its supporters, Johnson has shown how amoral he is in pandering to such vindictive populism. He, Patel and the other horrors in his cabinet are an affront to British justice. Get them out!

Mars as Communist Utopia in Pre-Revolutionary Russian SF

June 7, 2018

I thought this might interest all the SF fans out there. One of the books I’ve started reading is Lost Mars: The Golden Age of the Red Planet, edited by Mark Ashley (London: The British Library 2018). It’s a collection of SF stories written about the Red Planet from the 19th century to just before the Mariner and then Viking probes in the ’60s and ’70s showed that rather than being a living planet with canals, vegetation and civilised beings, it was a dead world more like the Moon. It’s a companion volume to another book of early SF stories from about the same period, Moonrise: The Golden Age of Lunar Adventures, also edited by Mike Ashley. The Martian book contains stories by H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury – from The Martian Chronicles, natch – Marion Zimmer Bradley, E.C. Tubb, Walter M. Miller, and the great novelist of dystopias and bug-eyed psychopaths, J.G. Ballard. It also contains pieces by now all but forgotten Victorian and early Twentieth writers of Scientific Romances, W.S. Lach-Szyrma, George C. Wallis, P. Schuyler Miller and Stanley G. Weinbaum.

Both books are also interesting, not just for the short stories collected in them, but also for Ashley’s introduction, where he traces the literary history of stories about these worlds. In the case of the Moon, this goes all the way back to the Roman satirist, Lucian of Samosata, and his Vera Historia. This is a fantasy about a group of Roman sailors, whose ship is flung into space by a massive waterspout, to find themselves captured by a squadron of Vulturemen soldiers from the Moon, who are planning an invasion of the Sun.

The history of literary speculation about Mars and Martian civilisation, is no less interesting, but somewhat shorter. It really only begins in the late 19th century, when telescopes had been developed capable of showing some details of the Martian surface, and in particular the canali, which the Italian astronomer Schiaparelli believed he had seen. The Italian word can mean ‘channels’ as well as ‘canal’, and Schiaparelli himself did not describe them as artificial. Nevertheless, other astronomers, like Percival Lowell of Flagstaff, Arizona, believed they were. Other astronomers were far more sceptical, but this set off the wave of novels and short stories set on an inhabited Mars, like Edgar Rice Burrough’s famous John Carter stories. I remember the Marvel adaptation of some these, or at least using the same character, which appeared as backing stories in Star Wars comic way back in the 1970s.

It’s also interesting, and to contemporary readers somewhat strange, that before H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, the vast majority of these stories about Mars assumed that the Martians would not only be far more scientifically and technologically advanced, but they would also be more socially and spiritually as well. Just like the Aetherius Society, a UFO new religious movement founded by George King in the 1950s, claims that Jesus was really as Venusian, and now lives on that world along with Aetherius, the being from whom they believe they receive telepathic messages, so there were a couple of short stories in which Christ was a Martian. These were Charles Cole’s Visitors From Mars, of 1901, and Wallace Dowding’s The Man From Mars of 1910.

Other utopias set on the Red Planet were more secular. In Unveiling a Parallel, by Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant, of 1893, the Martians are handsome and intelligent, and their women totally liberated. Another feminist utopia was also depicted by the Australian writer Mary Moore-Bentley in her A Woman of Mars of 1901.

And in Russia, the writer Alexander Bogdanov made Mars a Communist utopia. Ashley writes

While the planetary romance theme was developing there were other explorations of Martian culture. The Red Planet became an obvious setting for a communist state in Krasnaia Zvesda (‘Red Star’, 1908) and its sequel Inzhener Menni (‘Engineer Menni’, 1912) by Alexander Bogdanov. Although reasonably well known in Russia, especially at the time of the revolution in 1917, and notoriously because of its reference to free love on Mars, it was not translated into English until 1984. Kim Stanley Robinson claimed it served as an influence for his own novel, Red Mars (1992), the first of his trilogy about terraforming the planet. Although the emphasis in Bodganov’s stories is on the benefits of socialism, he took trouble to make the science as realistic as possible. The egg-shaped rocket to Mars is powered by atomic energy. His Mars is Schiaparellian, with canals that have forests planted along their full length, explaining why they are visible from Earth. He also went to great lengths to explain how the topography of Mars, and the fact that it was twice as old as Earth, allowed social evolution to develop gradually and more effectively, with planet-wide communication and thus a single language. (Pp. 11-12).

So five years before the Revolution, Mars really was the ‘Red Planet’ in Russian literature. I’m not surprised it wasn’t translated into English until the 1980s. British publishers and censors probably disliked it as a piece of Communist propaganda, quite apart from Anglophone western Puritanism and the whole issue of free love. No naughtiness allowed on the side of the Iron Curtain, not even when it’s set on Mars. Russian cinema also produced one of the first SF films, also set on Mars. This was Aelita (1922), in which Russian cosmonauts travel to the Red Planet to start a revolution, though at the end it’s revealed that it’s all been a dream.

Meanwhile, Mars as a planet of mystery continues in the French SF series, Missions, shown at 10.00 Thursdays on BBC 4. This has French spationauts and their American rivals landing on the Red Planet, only to find a mysterious altar constructed from lost Atlantean materials described by the Romans, and Vladimir Komarov, a Soviet cosmonaut, who has been turned into something more than human with three strands of DNA. In reality, Komarov died when the parachutes on his spacecraft failed to open when it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Tragically, Komarov knew it was a deathtrap, but went anyway because Khrushchev wanted another Russian space achievement to show up the Americans, and Komarov did not want his friend, and first man in space, Yuri Gagarin to go. It’s a tragic, shameful waste of human life on what was a purely political stunt, and Komarov is, because of his desire to save his friend, one of the great heroes of the space age.

But Missions shows not only how much people really want us to travel to Mars – to explore and colonise – it also shows how the Red Planet still remains the source of wonder and speculation about alien civilisations, civilisations that may not be hostile monsters intent on invading the Earth ‘for no very good reason’, as Douglas Adams described the motives of those aliens, who wanted to take over the universie in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. One of the French spationauts, Jeanne, has dreamed of going to Mars since being shown it through a telescope by her father when she was a little girl. Electromagnetic scans of the area, when developed, give a picture of her face, and ‘Komarov’ tells her he has been waiting millions of years for her, and she is the true link between Mars and Earth.

Yes, it’s weird. But different. And it shows that Mars is continuing to inspire other forms of SF, where the Martians aren’t invaders – or at least, not so far-but benevolent guides waiting for us to come to them and make the next leap in our development. Just like Bogdanov in 1912 imagined that they would be ahead of us, and so have created a true Communist utopia.

Book Defending the Resurrection of Christ

April 2, 2018

Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications 2004).

Yesterday was Easter Sunday, the day when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ 2,000 years ago, as well as joining the rest of the world in looking out for the Easter Bunny and eating chocolate eggs. Christians wishing to defend the historical authenticity of Our Lord’s resurrection and the accounts of it in the Bible, or simply want to find something to strengthen their own faith, may like to look at the above book. Gary R. Habermas is the distinguished professor and chair of the department of philosophy and theology at Liberty University in Lynchburg, while Michael R. Licona is a New Testament Historian. The book is a popular treatment of the issues intended to help Christians share their faith, and contains a wealth of very good advice for those wishing to argue against those, who claim that Christ didn’t rise from the dead. It presents the arguments and supporting evidence clearly, and there’s a CD game show style quiz as well so the reader can test their knowledge at the end of it.

I hope everyone reading this blog had a great day yesterday, regardless of their religious views or lack of them, and that the Easter Bunny brought them all the Easter eggs they wanted. And that everyone here’ll have a great Easter Monday today. Despite the rain!

Best Good Friday Wishes to all my Readers and Commenters

March 30, 2018

Today is Good Friday, the day when Christians commemorate the crucifixion and death of our Lord, and look forward to His resurrection on Easter Sunday.

But whatever you religious beliefs, or lack of them, I wish the readers of this blog a very happy and peaceful Easter holiday. Enjoy yourselves, and don’t let the squalid spawn of Thatcher grind you down!

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’.

John Wycliff’s Arguments for Pacifism

February 18, 2018

Last Sunday I put up a piece about the Lollard sermon, The Perversion of the Works of Mercy. The Lollards were the late fourteenth-early fifteenth century followers of the English theologian and reformer, John Wycliffe. Wycliffe was a kind of proto-Protestant, who denounced the corruption of the church, rejected the papacy and maintained that the Bible should be the sole authority for Christian doctrine. The Perversion of the Works of Mercy attacks the way people have turned away from performing their Christian obligations to feed, clothe, give drink to the poor, visit and care for the sick and prisoners, and instead do this all for the rich and powerful. It’s a powerful message for today, when the Tories’ official policy is to increase the tax burden of the poor, in order to give massive tax cuts to the rich. The Tories are also cutting benefits to the poor, unemployed, sick and disabled as part of this programme of making the rich even richer, while at the same time claiming that the destruction of the welfare state is all for the benefit of the poor themselves. It’s saving them from ‘welfare dependency’, and is encouraging them, in the notorious words of Norman Tebbit, to get on their bikes and look for work. It’s all part of the Tory and Thatcherite embrace of the Victorian attitude of ‘less eligibility’, which stated that conditions of state aid should be as harsh as possible in order to deter people from taking it up, and encourage them to take any job, no matter how low paid or exploitative.

Wycliffe was also a pacifist. I also blogged a month or so ago about a book I found on his pacifism in the Oxbow Bargain Book Catalogue. Wycliffe’s pacifism is also discussed by Basil Cottle in his The Triumph of English 1350-1400 (London: Blandford Press 1969). Here’s the passage where he discusses Wycliffe’s rejection of war, quoting the medieval theologian himself:

In each particular, Wyclif’s views are revolutionary, and his treatment of of war is typical of this: those who go to war cannot with justice say the Lord’s Prayer. ‘And before the seven axingis that Crist techith in the Pater Noster meneth … algatis to axe in charite, and thefore men that liven in werre ben unable to have their axinge; but thei axen ther owne dampnynge in the fifte peticioun, for ther thei axen that God for3yve hem ther dettis that thei owen to Hym, ri3t as thei for3yven men that ben dettours unto hem.’ [And for this reason the seven askings that Christ teaches in the Lord’s Prayer mean… at all events to ask in charity, and therefore men that live in war are unable to have what they ask; but they ask for their own damnation in the fifth petition, because there they ask that God may forgive them their debts that they owe to Him, even as the forgive men that are debtors to them.] But what was the situation in which the divided Church now found herself?-the Pope offering indulgences t6o those who would fight against the antipope (a subject extensively treated in a sermon on Martyrs) , and Bishop Despenser of Norwich leading his beastly and futile ‘crusade’ of 1383 against Flanders: ‘now men seyen that thei shulden, bi lore of ther feith, werre upon Cristen men, and turnen hem to the Pope, and slee ther persones, ther wyves, and ther children, and reve hem ther goodis, and thus chastise hem. But certis this came nevere of chastyment of Crist, sith Crist seith He cam not to lese lyves bu save hem. And hefore this is chastyment of the fiend, and never chastyment of Crist, that uside pacience and myraclis.’ [Now men say that they should, by the teaching of their faith, war upon Christian men, and win them over to the Pope, and kill their persons, their wivs, and their children, and rob them of their goods, and thus punish them. But certainly this kinid of punishment never came from Christ, since Christ says He came not to destroy llives to save them. And for this reason this is a punishment from the dreadful fiend, and never a punishment from Christ, who used patience and miracles.] Yet ‘blynde heretikes wanten witt as ydiotis, whan thei seien that Petre synnede not in smytynge of Malcus ere, but 3af ensaumple to preestis to fi3t’ [blind heretics lack understanding, like idiots, when they say that Peter did not sin in striking off Maclhus’s ear, but set an example for priests to fight]-though Christ prevented him from fighting further. ‘Lord, where this Pope Urbane hadde Goddis charite dwelling in him, whan he stired men to fi3te and slee many thousaund men, to venge him on the tother People and of men that holden with him?’ [Lord, did this Pope Urban have ~God’s charity dwelling in him, when he incited men to fight and kill many thousand men, to avenge himself on the other Pope and on men who belong to his side?] The friars, says Wyclif, preach to a bellicose text- that the English must get in first with their attacks on their enemies in other countries, for fear they do the same and sin be increased on both sides; a hideous doctrine of sinning so as to good.)

Cottle goes on to observe that ‘This new pacifism may have distasteful to readers who still enjoyed the memory of Crecy and Poitiers and to the old soldiers who must have figure among the 1381 malcontents’ (the Peasant’s Revolt). (pp. 235-6).

This hatred of war was shared by Sir John Clanvowe, soldier, diplomat, courtier, poet, crusader, and the author of the Boke of Cupide. This was so similar to Chaucer’s works, that for a time it was accepted as that great poet’s own composition. Clanvowe himself died in a village near Constantinople. Clanvowe wrote

‘The world holt hem worshipful that been greet werryours and fi3teres, and that distroyen and wynnen manye londis, and waasten and 3even muche good to hem that haan ynou3, and that dispenden oultrageously in mete, in drynke, in clothing, in building, and in lyuyng in eese, slouthe, and many oothere synnes.’ [The world considers them honourable who are great warriors and fighters and destroy and conquer many lands, and waste and give much property to them that have plenty, and spend outrageously on food, drink, clothing, building, and living in ease, sloth, and many other sins.] (Cottle, op. cit., p. 253).

Cottle himself says of this passage that ‘the attack here is almost on rank, and Clanvowe is disgusted that it is of these proud and vengeful people that ‘men maken books and soonges, and reeden and singen of hem for to hoolde the mynde of here deedes the lengere here vpon erth’. [Men make books and songs, and recite and sing of them so as to keep the memor of their deeds the longer here on earth.] (p. 254).

As I said with my earlier post about the Perversion of the Works of Mercy, I’m not putting this up to attack Roman Catholicism. I despise religious intolerance and don’t want to provoke any more sectarian religious hatred. I’m also deeply impressed with the various Roman Catholic organisations, clergy and lay people that genuinely work for the poor and those in the needy, and radical groups like Doris Day’s Catholic Workers. My point here is to show merely that religious radicals, like Wycliffe and Clanvowe, despised the way the poor were ignored and treated by the rich, and condemned war as fundamentally unchristian.

This is an attitude that attacks and refutes the vicious opinions of the religious right, with their prosperity gospel – that Christ wants everyone to be rich, and if you’re poor, it’s your fault – and is solidly behind the wars in the Middle East and elsewhere. These wars aren’t being fought to protect America, Israel or anyone else. They’re fought purely for the profit of immensely rich multinational corporations, who hope to profit from the theft of these nations’ state industries and oil reserves. As the above texts show, they would have been thoroughly condemned by Wycliffe and Clanvowe.

Steeleye Span’s Seasonal Hit ‘Gaudete’

December 29, 2017

I remember when at least one pop band nearly every year during the 1970s and 1980s released a Christmas single. The classic examples are Slade’s ‘Well, Here It is, Merry Christmas’, and one of the other glam rock band’s ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’. These seem to have disappeared these past few years, possibly due to the collapse of the charts. A friend of mine told me that it was now nearly impossible to compile them in the way that had been done a few decades ago, because the music scene has become very fragmented, with different people listening to a wide number of musical genres. Or it may just be that public taste has changed, and people are no longer interested in buying songs about Christmas. Some of this might be due to the increasing secularisation and religious plurality of British multicultural society, but I doubt it. After all, people still put on school nativity plays, and there’s even been two British comedies about them. This is despite the scare stories run by the Daily Mail about ‘left-wing’ councils or schools banning such plays in case they offend Muslims.

One of the great pieces of British Christmas pop from the 1970s was Steeleye Span’s ‘Gaudete’, which was released in Christmas 1972. Steeleye Span were one of the great folk rock bands, who produced a series of great rock versions of folk songs. ‘Gaudete’ itself is a medieval carol, celebrating the birth of Christ. It’s in Latin. The first line means, ‘Rejoice – Christ is born of the Virgin Mary’.

I found this video of Steeleye Span with their lead singer, Maddy Pryor, performing it on the Park Records channel on YouTube. It was staged as part of the 35th anniversary tour. The band is obviously older, looking very definitely middle aged, but their musical skill has not dimmed with the years.

I realise that not everyone who reads this blog is a Christian, but I hope whatever your views on religion, you can still enjoy a piece of great medieval music, performed by some of the great folk artists of the 1970s.

Here it is. Enjoy!