Posts Tagged ‘paganism’

Book on Working People’s Environmentalism in the US

September 16, 2017

Chad Montrie, A People’s History of Environmentalism in the United States (London: Continuum 2011)

I found this yesterday in the £3 bookshop on Bristol’s Park Street. It’s clearly inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which told the story of the US as it affected ordinary working, blue-collar Americans and other marginalized groups, like Blacks and the indigenous peoples. It challenged the dominant, right-wing narrative of how America was founded by rich, White, and immensely wise Founding Fathers as a uniquely just society. Zinn has since passed away, but his book inspired Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s collection of radical British historical texts, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport. Contemporary scholarship has superseded some of Zinn’s work, paradoxically showing that in some areas such as ethnic minorities, his opinions were too moderate. But the Republicans still utterly despise him and his book. Looking at one right-wing website I found a list of books its readers hated and considered harmful to America. Zinn’s was one of them.

This book on working Americans and the environmental movement is particularly urgent now that Trump is set on trying to complete the destruction of both. I haven’t done more than glance at the book, but there’s a summary of the book’s contents by Kathryn Morse of Middlebury College on the back cover. This states that it’s

An engaging, critical synthesis of 20 years of new scholarship in environmental and labour history, this book tells a new story of the emergence and power of environmentalism as a movement forged by common people in defence of their lives and livelihoods. Countering previous arguments that environmentalism began in post-World War II middle-class suburbs, Montrie redefines environmentalism as a grass-roots, working class response to industrialization and urbanization dating from the early 19th century.

From the start, this movement included workers’ resistance to elite attempts to control nature both for profit and for upper-class leisure. Montrie narrates the growth of working-class environmentalism and its successes and failures from the textile mills of New England, to the Chicago streets around Hull House, to automobile plants of New England, to the coal mines of Appalachia, and to the agricultural fields of California, with other stops along the way. This detailed by accessible book offers a forceful new interpretation of American environmentalism and rewrite the narrative of the modern environmental movement.

The Republicans and the corporate backers fear and despise the Green movement, denouncing it as a strategy for introducing redistributive taxation and Socialism by the back door. They hate the way Greens recommend that rich, polluting industries should be taxed, and clean, non-polluting energy sources – like solar, wind and wave energy – should be developed to replace fossil fuels. These have got to go, as the Republicans and Libertarians are funded and bought by the Koch brothers and other oil and fossil fuel magnates.

And when the Republicans and the corporate paymasters aren’t foaming at the mouth about environmentalist ‘socialism’, they’re claiming that it’s another form of Nazism, because the Nazis were very keen on protecting the German environment. Well, they were, and this had been a major part of the German racist, volkisch movement since the 19th century. But this doesn’t mean that environmental per se is simply Nazism under another form. Where it appeared in Britain and America, it was an attempt by working people and the authorities to protect the environment and allow ordinary people to live clean, healthier lives and enjoy the beauty of the countryside in which their ancestors had lived and worked.

Hitler would have liked the Nazis to have been a party of the working class, but he hated organized labour. The first thing the Nazis did when they seized power was smash the German trade unions. But as this book shows, after the War American trade unions played a major part in the Green movement in the US. Which also explains why the Republicans go bug-eyed about the Greens and Socialism. The environmental movement and its connections to organized labour and the American working people marked a challenge to capitalism and the power of big corporations, not just to exploit the environment, but also to exploit the blue-collar, working women and men, who claimed their rights at work and to enjoy America’s great scenic beauty.

Another strand of their ideological attack on the environmental movement is to claim that it’s pagan, and so Christians should have nothing to do with it. It is true that much modern, Neopaganism is centred on the worship of the earth mother, and that pagans have been particularly environmentally conscious since the emergence of Green movement in the 1960s. But Christian writers were describing the beauty of the natural worlds and the wonders of its creatures as evidence of God’s providential handiwork from at least the Middle Ages onwards, and I’ve seen absolutely nothing to suggest that caring for the environment in itself is at all antichristian. Indeed, some theologians have pointed to Jean Calvin’s belief that as God has given human stewardship of the Earth, they have a duty and responsibility to protect the environment.

I haven’t really had time to read the book properly yet, but I will have to. Trump and the big corporations which control him are a real, present threat to the environment, working people, and indeed the future of the Earth and humanity, just as the Tories and their paymasters are over this side of the Pond. We have to protect both in order to create a better future and preserve the planet.

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Ancient Christian Apologist Tertullian on Human Damage to the Environment

July 15, 2017

Some of the most vocal opponents of environmentalism and climate change in the US are politically Conservative Christians. They object to it, not just on the grounds that they believe it to be wrong scientifically, but also because they are highly suspicious of it on political and religious grounds. It is argued that the Green movement is really a pagan movement, or else a way of sneaking Socialism in through the back door through stressing the need for legislation and the regulation of industry to protect the environment. It’s also denounced as a form of Nazism, because the Nazis were also eager to protect the German environment.

It’s true that Green politics has strongly influenced some contemporary neo-Pagan religious movements, particularly Wicca, whose deities consist of an Earth mother and horned god. However, the scientific evidence on which the Green movement is based is separate and independent from any one particular religious or political group. And modern Green politics began with books such as Silent Spring in the 1960s and the Club of Rome, a gathering of concerned scientists, in the early ’70s, and not with Hitler and the Nazis.

Furthermore, writers and philosophers long before the Nazis were also acutely concerned with the threat of overpopulation and the damage humans were doing to the environment. One of them was the early Christian apologist, Tertullian, who wrote

‘Most convincing as evidence of populousness, we have become a burden to the Earth. The fruits of nature hardly suffice to sustain us, and there is a general pressure of scarcity giving rise to complaints. Need we be astonished that plague and famine, warfare and earthquake, come to be regarded as remedies, serving to prune the superfluity of population?’

This quotation was dug up by Adrian Berry, a fellow of the Interplanetary Society, Royal Astronomical Society and Royal Geographical Society. Berry is very much a man of the right, who used to write for the Torygraph. He used it to argue that people have always had exaggerated fears about the threat to society. Or alternatively, they could also be extremely complacent, such as the 2nd century AD Roman writer Pliny. Pliny wrote of the enduring splendor of the Roman Empire just before it began to collapse. Jonathan Margolis also cites in his chapter on predictions of environmental catastrophe, ‘Global Warning’, in his A Brief History of Tomorrow: The Future, Past and Present (London: Bloomsbury 2000) 89, where he also discusses the possibility that predictions of environmental collapse may be wrong.

At the moment, the majority of the world’s scientists are convinced that climate change and environmental damage caused by humanity are real, and a genuine threat to the planet, its flora and fauna, and ultimately humanity itself. Furthermore, archaeologists become increasingly aware how global changes to the environment have caused civilizations to collapse. The early Viking colonies in Greenland were destroyed in the 14th century, when the environment in the northern hemisphere became colder, making it impossible to practice European-style agriculture so far north.

Similarly, the highly developed Pueblo Indian cultures in the Chaco canyon in what is now the southwestern US collapsed and were abandoned when the climate became hostile in the 13th century. The cultures existed in an arid region of the US, using extensive irrigation canals to water their crops. The area suffered an intense drought, and unable to support themselves, the inhabitants moved away.

As for ancient Rome, one of the causes for the barbarian invasions may well have been climate change. The environment became colder from the 3rd century onwards. Central Asian tribes, such as the Huns, moved west, crossing the steppes into Europe and moving south to attack China. This displaced other tribes, such as Goths, who were settled around the Black Sea. The sea levels began to rise, so that the Frisians and other Germanic tribes settled in what is now the Netherlands, were forced to abandon low-lying farms and villages on the coasts. This may have been one of the causes of the Anglo-Saxon migrations to Britain.

In the Greek-speaking eastern Roman Empire, towns shrank, while in the west there was a movement away from the cities, partly through economic grounds. Historians have argued whether the Roman population was decimated by disease. Certainly in Rome itself, located amidst swampland, malaria was endemic, and the sheer size of the population meant that it was periodically subject to outbreaks of other diseases. And the city depended on a steady influx of new immigrants to replenish its population. And there was a constant threat of starvation. The free Roman masses depended on shipments of grain from Egypt and north Africa, and one of the elected officials in the city was responsible for securing the grain supply. Amongst the graffiti found scrawled on walls in Pompeii are election slogans urging men to vote for a particular candidate because ‘he gets good bread’.

Tertullian may well have been absolutely right about the dangers of overpopulation. And regardless of whether he was or wasn’t, the fact that he, one of the great defenders of Christian faith and doctrine in the Roman Empire, was prepared to accept and argue that overpopulation and environmental damage were a danger, shows that there is nothing inherently anti-Christian in the Green movement. This was shown a few weeks ago when the current pope, Pope Francis, criticized Trump’s government for ignoring science and failing to tackle climate change. There’s an irony here in a religious figure attacking the elected leader of a supposedly secular state for having an anti-scientific attitude. And it remains true that there is nothing fundamentally contrary to Christianity about Green politics regardless of the support for Green politics amongst peoples of other religions or none.

Cartoon – Thatcher and Von Hayek as Monstrous Idols

July 3, 2017

Welcome to the latest instalment in my series of cartoons attacking the Tories, the right-wing press, and the ideologues and economists responsible for today’s misery and exploitation.

Two of the cartoons I’ve previously posted up have shown Maggie Thatcher and various other Tories as malign pagan idols, and this is another portrayal of her in the same vein. The inspiration for it was a photograph of a place in Turkey where the statues of ancient gods from Greece, Rome and perhaps elsewhere from that country’s long history emerge from the hillside.

In this picture, the deities of the ancient Graeco-Roman world have been replaced by Maggie Thatcher on the left, and von Hayek on the right. Von Hayek was one of the founders of the Libertarian free market economics that Thatcher embraced as her official policy. He was another bitter opponent of Socialism, which he attacked in his book, The Road to Serfdom. He served the Austrian government in the 1920s formulating an anti-Socialist economic policy based on classical Liberalism. After embracing the free market economists of Von Mises and others in the 1920s, he fled to Britain in 1931, where he taught at the LSE. He wasn’t quite the worst of the leaders of the New Right free market economists, as he still believed in some minimal kind of welfare state. But he was highly influential in the Libertarian attacks on state intervention and the welfare state.

And Thatcher was a big fan. The Financial Times over a decade ago carried an article on him, which attempted to argue that some of his ideas can still be embraced by those on the Left. For example, he stressed the importance of central institutions for a country’s political and economic life. These were the fundamental parts of its political constitution. In Britain’s case, these would include the monarchy and parliament. That both of these are of major importance to the British constitution is unquestionable, but I don’t think you need to be any kind of Libertarian to recognise this. And of these two institutions, the monarchy isn’t indispensable to orderly government by any means. It’s extremely popular, and there is a very good argument for retaining a head of state, who is above politics. But at the same time, there’s also a sizable minority of people in Britain, who would prefer a republic as a far more democratic, and less expensive alternative.

As for parliament, constitutional theorists have also pointed out the importance of middle level associations, such as professional associations, trade unions, employers’ organisations and so on to act as checks on the centralisation of political power and defend the rights and liberties of the rest of the population.

Standing between them, if you can make it out, is a statue of a demon dating from Celtic Gaul, from a photograph of a sculpture in the Musee Nationale in Paris. The ancient Celts were head hunters, keeping and displaying the heads of their victims after death. This demon appeared to have been part of a temple or shrine displaying severed heads taken in battle. The monster has two human heads beneath its two front paws, and the space between the creature’s legs held circular depressions. These appear to have been the places were real human heads were placed for veneration or display.

Again, I thought this creature was a very fitting metaphor for Thatcher and von Hayek. Their economic policies have proven to be a dreadful failure. Rather than bringing prosperity and freedom, they have only brought poverty, misery and death. As I’ve mentioned over and again before, there are a hundred people forced to use food banks to keep themselves from starving. There are 7 million more people, living in ‘food insecure’ household. In 2015, 30,000 people were killed by austerity.

And instead of peace and security, we live in an age of seemingly endless war, as our government joins the Americans in military campaigns in the Middle East. These are supposedly against Islamist terror and brutal despotisms, but the reality is that it’s just more western imperialism with a very thin humanitarian guise.

At home, the government and the press are whipping up hysteria and hatred against immigrants, including refugees fleeing from the very wars and dictators the West has begun and installed in power around the world. Muslims are particularly singled out because of atrocities committed by Salafist terrorists, despite the fact that time and again the majority of British Muslims have shown they don’t support such outrages. The real responsibility for these terror attack does not lie with ordinary British Muslims. It lies with our government, who used radical Islamist groups as soldiers in the proxy war against Communism, the Soviet Union and secular, Arab nationalist governments in the Middle East, and the Saudis, who are backing them to export their brutally intolerant brand of Islam. These Islamist groups have killed far more Muslims, as they attempt to carve out their wretched caliphate, in attacks and massacres across the Dar al-Islam than other religious groups.

And whatever the Libertarians have said about shrinking the state to expand the sphere of personal liberty, in practice nearly four decades of Thatcherite regimes, including Blair’s New Labour, have done the exact opposite. The power of the security services to intrude and monitor our private communications has been ruthlessly expanded under the pretext of keeping us safe from terror. There’s a real danger of Britain becoming a surveillance state, exactly like 1984. And Blair’s New Labour and the Tory-Lib Dem coalition under Cameron and Clegg passed legislation providing for secret courts. These are Kafkaesque courts, where a man or woman can be tried in secret, with critical evidence against him or her and his/her lawyer and even the identity of the person accusing them withheld, if it is considered necessary for reasons of national security. Which was exactly like the travesties of justice in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia.

But Thatcher and von Hayek still remain idols on the right. The Daily Mail, Scum and other right-wing rags fly into paroxysms of rage if anyone dares to insult her memory, or point out that the terrible state of the country today, with a deliberately failing health service, mass poverty, poor and exploitative public services and utility industries, and the erosion of civil liberties are ultimately all the products of her policies and ideas.

And so Thatcher and von Hayek stand, like Ozymandias, on a desolate hillside, surveying the ruins they have created. While their followers kill and maim, offering terrible human sacrifices to them and their failed doctrines.

It’s long past time they were swept away, and replaced by a decent government, that would renationalise the NHS, nationalise the railway and parts of the electricity infrastructure, prevent the privatisation of schools, and reverse the benefit cuts and sanctions that are killing tens of thousands and forcing millions into poverty.

It’s about time May was forced out, along with the rest of the Tories, and replaced with Jeremy Corbyn and a Labour administration.

Anti-Tory Cartoon – Esther McVey and Wasserman

June 28, 2017

Welcome to another instalment in my ongoing series of cartoons attacking the Tory party and their vile attack on the poor, the sick, the unemployed and disabled in the name of corporate profit. Yesterday I put up a drawing I’d made of Evan Davies, Andrew Lansley, David Cameron, Eric Pickles and George Osborne as members of a cannibalistic pagan cult, like the Aztecs or those of ancient Mesopotamia, because of the immense death toll their policies have inflicted on the British public. As I’ve blogged before, according to Oxford University, 30,000 people were killed by austerity in 2015. Over a hundred thousand people are forced to use food banks to keep body and soul together, and 7 million people live in ‘food insecure’ household, where they don’t know if they’ll be able to afford to eat tomorrow.

This cartoon continues the pagan theme of the last one. It therefore has a picture of Baal, the ancient pagan god of the Canaanites, and other gods from what is now Iraq, with human skulls and a strange, demonic creature, part man, part serpent. The two Tories depicted are, if I remember correctly, Esther McVey and Wasserman – I’m sorry, but I’ve forgotten this Tory functionary’s first name.

McVey was the Tory minister for the disabled in Iain Duncan Smith’s wretched and murderous DWP. She used to be the MP for Merseyside or one of the other constituencies in the Liverpool area, before the good burghers of that fair city got fed up with her and threw her out at the last election. Those Liverpudlians not enamoured of her – and there were quite a few – called her the ‘Wicked Witch of the Wirral’. Unfortunately, losing an election doesn’t seem to have put a stop to her political career, and she flew off on her broomstick to take up a position with the Tories in another constituency. She was also one of the proprietors of a TV production company, which produced the ‘poverty porn’ documentaries, intended to confirm the prejudices of all good Conservative voters that those on benefit are unemployed, not because there are no jobs due to structural problems with the economy, but because they’re really lazy.

So to express the deep festering corruption in this woman’s soul – Mike and the other bloggers and disabled rights’ activists found that in one year, 13-14,000 disabled people had died after being found ‘fit for work’ by Atos – I’ve drawn one half of her face a seething mass of malignant pustules. So great was the carnage inflicted by this woman and her superiors in the department, that one wag amended her Wikipedia page so that she became ‘The minister in charge of culling the disabled’. Which is exactly how Mike and many other bloggers and commenters, like Jeffrey Davies regard her. Mike has made it very clear that this is the genocide of the disabled.

As for Wasserman, he was one of the two ministers, who prepared various documents for the privatisation of the NHS for Maggie Thatcher. She was forced to back down from this policy after there was a mass cabinet revolt, and her personal private secretary, Patrick Jenkin, told her just how bad the American system was. Nevertheless, it did not stop her from trying to get more people to get out private health insurance – she aimed at 25 per cent of the British public. And successive right-wing administrations, including Tony Blair’s New Labour, have been aiming at the privatisation of the NHS ever since, gradually selling off parts of it and passing legislation to allow private hospital management chains and healthcare companies, like Circle Health, to take over the running of doctor’s surgeries and hospitals. Wasserman later appeared in David Cameron’s cabinet, where I would guess that he was doing much the same there as he did under Thatcher.

Jeremy Corbyn has promised that he will end the fitness to work tests and the sanctions system, which have seen so many people thrown off benefits for the most trivial of reasons. He has also promised to renationalise the NHS, thus ending nearly forty years of creeping Thatcherite privatisation.

So vote for him for a fairer Britain, where everyone has access to free healthcare, and tens of thousands are not dying of starvation just so that billionaires can have their tax bill lowered, or have a supply of cheap, subsidised labour supplied to them courtesy of the workfare industry.

If you wish to see the faces and know a bit more about some of individuals, who have been killed by the Tories’ assault on the welfare state, Mike, DPAC, Johnny Void and Stilloaks have published articles on individual victims, and lists of those, who have died, complete with brief descriptions of the circumstances of their deaths. The last time I looked, it was about 500-600 plus people, but the true figure is many times higher.

To stop the carnage the Tories have inflicted and are continuing to inflict, vote Labour.

Richard Spencer’s Nazi Solar Cult

November 23, 2016

Yesterday I put up clips of an Alt-Right meeting at the weekend at which the movement’s founder and self-declared ‘father’, Richard Spencer, delivered a speech. It’s very chilling footage, as Spencer talks in openly Nazi terms, beginning with the cry of ‘Hail Trump! Hail our race! Hail victory!’ He’s now issued a statement today that all this was supposedly ‘ironic’.

Yeah. Right.

The Young Turks have pointed out that it would be ironic if the Green Party did it, or some other left-wing group. As it is, it isn’t ironic at all. It’s just Nazi.

Spencer also went on to eulogise the White race, stating that we were a race of ‘strivers, explorers and conquerors, who went up and up’. Well, so did any number of other civilisations, from whom we learned, and adopted and adapted their achievements. Like the great civilisations of the Ancient Near East, Babylon, Phoenicia, India, Ancient China, the Arabs and so on.

But Spencer also described Whites in another manner, which has distinct Nazi connotations, which no-one else so far appears to have picked up. He described Whites as ‘the children of the sun’. It’s a bizarre comment, as for most people, Whites are the children of the temperate or cold climates. ‘Children of the sun’ seems a description more appropriate to the indigenous peoples of the tropics, like Black Africa, south and south-east Asia, South and Central America and Australia.

The phrase looks to me like it comes from Nazi pagan sun worship. The swastika is believed to be a representation of the sun’s movement across the sky during the day. The Germanic neo-pagan cults, which partly influenced the Nazi party, were themselves strongly influenced by late 19th century Monistic philosophy, which viewed the planets, and the life that subsequently developed on them, as created from the primordial sun. This produced in its turn a volkisch cult of the sun. In the late 19th century, for example, one of the Austrian neo-pagan groups buried a series of bottles laid out in the shape of the swastika as part of a ceremony designed to adore the sun as the visible body of the ancient Norse God, Baldur.

Donald Trump has today issued a statement renouncing the support of the Alt-Right, assuring people that he believes in racial equality and wishes to be a president for all Americans. Unfortunately, he still has Steven Bannon, a Breitbart executive known for his anti-Semitic and White supremacist ‘Alt-Right’ beliefs. If Trump wishes to reassure Americans that he is not a White supremacist or Nazi, he should sack him and anyone connected with the racist Right.

But this is also an issue that confronts the Christian religious right. Much of the polemics made by right-wing religious and political pundits, like Glen Beck, has involved denunciations of Nazism for its explicitly pagan, anti-Christian nature. I know that this view of Nazism is challenged and rejected by many atheists, who point to Hitler’s statement in Mein Kampf that he was doing God’s will, and the disgraceful and odious support given to Hitler’s regime by the churches. The support Hitler received from the churches is indeed an outrageous scandal. Hitler himself wasn’t a Christian, however. Academic historians instead believe that he was a pantheist, who believed in an impersonal God as the forces of nature. He wasn’t a Christian, but he wasn’t quite an atheist either. Rather, he had views similar to the Monists mentioned above. There were pagan cultists within Nazism, mostly in the SS, whose leader, Heinrich Himmler, invented pagan ceremonies for them, and in certain sections of the Reich, such as the borders with occupied Poland, the gauleiters embarked on a deliberate policy of anti-Christian persecution.

Glen Beck and the other leaders of the Republican religious right see Nazism as synonymous with ‘socialism’ and state interference. But Spencer and his stormtroopers claim to defend private industry – which, incidentally, Hitler also did. But they’ve also made their Nazi beliefs very evident, including a revealing reference to their paganism. If the Christian religious right does not denounce them for their Nazism and paganism, but continues to support them because they supposedly defend and protect laissez-faire capitalism and anti-welfare policies, then it shows that they are nothing but hypocrites, who have no compunction against supporting a murderous political ideology and the pagan cultists, who wish to implement it, purely because they like their economic views.

I realise that not all pagans by far are Nazis. The impression I’ve got from meeting them and reading about their beliefs is that many have absolutely normal political views, and a large number are left-wing, peaceful hippy types. I’m not try to demonise them, or pantheists. My point here is to expose the hypocrisy of the Christian religious right, who make much noise about standing up for Christianity and Jews against pagan and Nazi persecution, but look like doing absolutely nothing about it in practice at this very moment.

Secular Talk on Pro-Slavery Textbook Used Today in Arizona Academy School

August 18, 2016

Unfortunately, school textbooks presenting a rosy, positive view of slavery for American school children do not appear to be a thing of the past. In this piece from 2014, Secular Talk’s Kyle Kulinski talks about the scandal over a couple of books used in the state’s oldest charter school, the Heritage Academy. They’re written by an activist, Cleon Scousy, and called The Five Thousand Year Leap and The Making of America. The secularist activist group, United Citizens for the Separation of Church and State, have complained that it pushes Christian nation propaganda and other Christian religious teachings. It’s been embraced by the largest of the 14,000 or so Tea Party organisations, which has hailed it as ‘a handbook of Tea Party ideals’. Kulinski compares this with the outrage that would be generated by right-wing media organisations, like Fox News, if a left-wing, progressive text book was produced, and was welcomed in similar glowing terms as ‘a handbook of progressive ideals’ from a left-wing organisation. The right-wing radio and TV host, Glen Beck, has also endorsed it, which Kulinski also points out should be a red flag to progressive activists and lawmakers. Beck’s extremely right-wing. He’s known for hysterical rants and breaking down in tears, because atheist pagan Socialists are coming for American freedom, and are about to put all good Christians in concentration camps. He’s stunningly bonkers.

Critics of the books have stated that it presents a very racist view of American history. Covering the American Civil War, it argues that slavery was beneficial for the slaves, and that racism only began with the incursion of Northern troops and their demands for equality for the slaves. Kulinski dispels the idea that this could just be a hostile interpretation of an ambiguous text by quoting a passage from the book that states that if coloured children ran about naked, it was from choice, and when the White boys were forced to put on shoes and go to school, they often envied the freedom of their ‘coloured playmates’. The book also blames the North for the Civil War, calling it ‘the War of Northern Aggression’. Kulinski is naturally outraged, and responds by saying that this is well beyond what is or should be acceptable, stating that perhaps the American Civil War should be ‘the War of Slave-Masters’ Aggression on their Slaves’, and pointing out that the North was justified in coming to put an end to it.

Kulinski argues that books like this are handicapping America’s children. By presenting such false views, they help to create a situation where America won’t get the patents her industries demand and the technical and scientific advances the country needs, and where its infrastructure will fall apart, as it’s doing now. America’s heading for the kind of dystopia portrayed in the film Idiocracy, where everyone in a future America is monumentally thick.

I don’t agree with all of his Kulinski’s comments. I went to a church school, and so don’t see anything particularly wrong with schools offering a Christian education to parents, who want it. We also had some excellent science teachers, so I can honestly say we were not stopped from appreciating science or studying it, including evolution. But this is a much more controversial issue in America, where Creationism is far more popular than over here.

But Kulinski is nevertheless right about textbooks like these damaging children’s education. It presents a racist view of American history as normal and beneficial, and so prevents the development of a truly just, multiracial society based on equal rights and justice for all, regardless of gender or skin colour. And extreme right-wing politics, which stress the importance of private enterprise over the state, are damaging the nation’s infrastructure through lack of investment.

I find it truly horrifying that such a view could still be taught now, in the 21st century, and am worried that some of the right-wing nutters over here will try to import such racism into our political discourse.

Sufi Poem on the Value of All Religions

January 23, 2016

I found this poem by the Arab Sufi poet, Ibn Farid, who lived from 1182 to 1235 in the anthology of religious texts, Sacred Books of the World, by A.C. Bouquet (London: Pelican 1954). The Sufis are Islamic mystics, like the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey. There are a number of different Sufi orders, rather like the monastic orders and lay brotherhoods of Christianity, and the Whirling Dervishes are just one of them.

The Sufis have a reputation for religious tolerance and syncretism. The teachings and practices of various orders may include elements drawn from the other religions around them. It’s also been claimed that where Islam has been spread peacefully by their preaching, rather than jihad, relations between Muslims and the non-Muslim population are much more peaceful and amicable.

The poem below is on the value of the other, non-Muslim religions, and illustrates this spirit of tolerance and syncretism.

Virtually no hand but mine tied the infidel’s girdle: and if it be loosed in acknowledgement of me, ’twas my hand that loosed it.

And if the niche of a mosque is illuminated by the Qu’ran, yet is no altar of a church made vain by the Gospel:

Nor vain are the books of the Torah revealed by Moses for his people, whereby the Rabbis converse with ~God every night:

And if a devotee fall down before the stones of an idol-temple, there is no reason for religious zeal to take offence;

For many a one who is clear of the shame of associating others with God by means of idolatry, is in spirit a worshipper of money.

The warning from Me hath reached those whom it hath sought, and I am the Cause of the excuses put forth in every faith.

Not in any religion have men’s eyes been awry, not in any sect have their thoughts been perverse.

They that heedlessly fell in love with the Sun lost not the way, forasmuch as its brightness is from the light of My unveiled splendour. And if the Magicians adored the fire – which a history tells us was not quenched for a thousand years –

They intended none but Me, although they took another direction, and did not declare the purpose they had formed.

They had once seen the radiance of My light, and deemed it fire, so that they were led away from the True Light by the rays.

And but for the screen of existence, I should have said it out: only my observance of the laws imposed on phenomena doth keep me silent.

So this is not aimless sport, nor were the creatures created to stray at random, albeit their actions were not right.

Their affairs take the course according to the brand of the Names; and the wisdom which endoweth essence with diverse attributes caused them to take that course in consequence of the Divine Decree.

ISIS really hate the Sufis, considering them part of the juhailiyya, or age of non-Muslim darkness and barbarism that afflicts everyone except them. The Sufis are especially despised for their fatalism, their believe that whatever happens is due to the Will of Allah, and Daesh are doing their level best to exterminate them, along with other persecuted religious groups, in Iraq and Syria.

And no wonder, if their great poets offer a way of religious dialogue, mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence. All ISIS and al-Qaeda have had to offer is hate, repression and bloodshed. A hatred that’s also expressed in the racism and bigotry of Western clowns like Donald Trump.

Let’s hope the way of peace and tolerance, like that expressed by Ibn Farid, prevails against the people of violence and butchery.

Homosexuals and Atheism: An Uneasy Alliance

February 7, 2008

One of the most noticeable features of recent atheist polemic is its deliberate appeal to the gay community. Religion, it is argued, is innately hostile to gays and so the self-respecting gay man or woman should utterly reject it. While it is entirely understandable why many gays object to what they feel is religiously motivated prejudice and persecution, nevertheless it is not necessarily the case that atheism offers better protection.

Now my own opinion is that the debate about homosexuality has already gathered more attention and taken up more time than it deserves. While I believe that it falls short of the ideal set for us by the Lord, I don’t like the culture of hate that exists in certain parts of society, such as the violently homophobic lyrics in some Rap. I also feel that the desire to avoid being seen as homophobic has deterred entirely legitimate criticism of certain aspects of gay culture. For example, the reckless hedonism and promiscuity portrayed in some of  the novels of Edmund White would be seen as irresponsibly dangerous and self-destructive if done by heterosexuals. At that level, the sexuality of the people involved is immaterial: it’s squalid regardless of whether it’s done by gay or straight people. I don’t wish to discuss the morality of homosexuality or the prohibitions against it here, but to challenge the assumption that atheism promises a better attitude towards gay men and women.

Pro-Homosexual Attitudes in Paganism

While many religions have prohibitions against homosexuality, there are others which include the ‘queer’ in their conception of the sacred. Babylonian and Canaanite paganism included male as well as female temple prostitutes. There were particularly associated with the goddess of love, Ishtar. ‘There is no doubt, however, that the temples of Ishtar, the goddess of carnal love, were the sites of a licentious cult with songs, dances and pantomimes performed by women and transvestites, as well as sexual orgies’. The male participants in these rites, called assinu, kulu’u or kurgarru, included passive homosexuals. 1 Amongst the gods of Polynesia is one who presides over gay love affairs. 2 The Roman writer Apuleius, was gay as well as a devout member of the cult of Isis. Homosexuality was entirely acceptable in Graeco-Roman culture, a situation that has strongly influenced contemporary Neo-Paganism’s positive view of homosexuality. In the 1905 novel, The Garden God, by Forrest Reid, recounts the discovery by the gay hero that he and his boyfriend were lovers in previous lives in ancient Greece. Confessing their emotions to each other on a beach, they call upon the ancient Greek gods and goddesses. 3 Many shamans in the world’s indigenous religions may be gay or transvestites, their sexuality a sign of their deep connection to the uncanny and numinous. This was recognised by the ancient Greeks, who noted the presence of such individuals, and the respect in which they were held, by the ancient Scythians. The author of the Hippocratic medical treatise, Airs, Waters, Places specifically mentioned them, stating that ‘the Scythians themselves attribute this to a divine visitation and hold such men in awe and reverence, because they fear for themselves.’ 4 Here a rational, materialist explanation for their sexuality has been a challenge to the high status in which such people were held since ancient Greece. The above Hippocratic author was himself critical of the supposed supernatural origin of their sexuality. In an explicit statement of early rationalistic scepticism, he stated that ‘indeed, I myself hold that this and all other diseases are equally of divine origin and none more divine nor more earthly than another. Each disease has a natural cause nothing happens without a natural cause.’ 5 For this early exponent of sceptical medicine, the transvestism of this part of the Scythian people was due to varicose veins brought on by their constant horse riding and their highly dangerous attempts to cure it by cutting the carotid artery. 6 Thus, while individual religions may condemn homosexuality, theism as such does not, and some gays have found in those Neo-Pagan religions that accept it a more positive attitude towards their sexuality than may be found elsewhere in society.

Lack of Basis for Tolerance to Gays in Atheism

There is also the problem in that atheism, as a rejection of theism and its values, does not necessarily lead to a more tolerant or positive attitude towards gays. In the controversy surrounding the establishment of civil partnerships by the British government a year or so ago, the BBC noted on one of its news programmes that three quarters of the British public were opposed to gay marriage. This would seem to include many secular individuals who would not see their opposition to it as religiously based. A documentary by a British Black gay writer and broadcaster on Britain’s Radio 4 into the violent hatred of homosexuals in Caribbean culture, The Roots of Prejudice, while interviewing some Christian ministers whose preaching strongly condemned in very strong tones, nevertheless also considered that it was due to the very strong emphasis on masculinity in Caribbean culture. My guess is that the hatred in such lyrics may also act as a general redirection for the anger and bitter hostility generated by tensions elsewhere in some Caribbean societies. Despite the high hopes for prosperity and social advancement and improvement after independence, Jamaican politics has been tainted with corruption since the 1980s when politicians made alliances with the notorious Yardie gangs to advance their ambitions. In a climate when politics could be mixed with real gang violence, it’s possible that the anger and disillusionment at the contemporary situation, which could not be voiced because of the real danger of personal violence, could find an outlet instead in a common hatred of homosexuals.  

It is also the case that some of the postmodern philosophies that have become fashionable in recent years, despite their ostentatious promise of tolerance, actually offer the opposite. A few years ago some of the self-appointed arbiters of what was fashionable in Britain made statements highly supportive of Nihilism. One gay style guru got into Private Eye’s ‘Pseud’s Corner’ for his declaration that nihilism was not enough, and that right-thinking gays should go beyond this, apparently not realising that if you go beyond the mere negative, you come back to embracing a positive view. Nihilism here seems to have had an attraction to those who saw themselves as courageous adversaries of oppressive social convention, preaching personal liberation and tolerance. However, there is the situation that in order to argue that gays also have the right to life, liberty and property, it has first to be accepted and recognised that there are indeed transcendent rights to life, liberty and property, rights which Nihilism implicitly denies, along with all other conventions. The persecution of homosexuals can only be condemned as immoral if it is considered that there are transcendent morals which are necessarily true beyond mere human opinion and social convention. Nihilism, by definition, entirely rejects this view. In the Brothers Karamazov, Doestoyevsky observed that without God, anything was permissible. Thus, just as some homosexuals believe that atheism will allow a greater acceptance of their sexuality, so nihilism also leaves open the possibility of renewed and greater persecution as morality becomes nothing more than individual opinion or social convention. This was one of the problems the British journalist and agnostic, Rod Liddle, in his The Trouble with Atheism on Britain’s Channel 4, pointed out with Richard Dawkins’ conception of morality in The God Delusion. Liddle remarked on Dawkins’ revised commandment, ‘You shall enjoy your sexuality, as long as you don’t harm others’ that it was all very wishy-washy. Dawkins replied that that was it’s advantage, as it could be revised and updated with the zeitgeist. The problem with this attitude is that, if morality is only the product of the zeitgeist, then the tolerance Dawkins was advocating may be totally rejected in favour of intolerance and persecution.

Hostility to Homosexuality in Atheist and Anti-Christian Ideologies

It’s also been the case that many atheist ideologies themselves have been hostile to homosexuality. Freudianism traced homosexuality to problems in a person’s upbringing, and attempts by Freudian psychiatrists to correct what they saw as a dangerous inclination towards it amongst their patients and charges could be cruel. A few years ago the BBC screened a documentary series, The Century of the Self, on the profound influence Freudian psychiatry has had on Western political, social and commercial attitudes, and the way Freudian psychiatrists were hired by governments, politicians and businesses to manipulate popular opinion. Amongst the chilling stories recounted in the series was the account of how one particular Freudian psychiatrist had attempted to bring up the perfect, well-adjusted family according to a strict Freudian regime. She was particularly worried about one of the boys, whom she feared would grow up to be gay, and so paid particular attention to preventing this from occurring. The result was a harsh, bizarre system inflicted on the children, with the result that far from being happy and well-adjusted, many of them became emotionally scarred and neurotic. The vehemently antichristian totalitarian regimes of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany both criminalised homosexuality. Twenty years ago the British theatre produced a play, Bent, about the Nazi persecution of gays and their incarceration in the concentration camps.

Materialistic Conceptions of Humanity No Guarantee of Tolerance

As part of the campaign to remove the perceived prejudice against gays, some scientists and activists have suggested a genetic, sociobiological origin for homosexuality in which it is viewed as an advantageous evolutionary strategy. For example, it has been suggested that homosexuality arose, as it allowed homosexual males to assist the early proto-hominid group in protection and foraging, while allowing the dominant heterosexual male to mate with the females. A variant of this view is that the homosexual gene exists to allow gay children to help their parents with child-rearing. Such sociobiological theories have been criticised by scientists for both their lack of evidence and their reductionist attitude to human psychology, sexuality and society. ‘Any of these ideas could be true, but they are mutually exclusive, and there is absolutely no evidence for any of them. This kind of reductionist analysis of something as complex and manifestly socially conditioned as human sexual preference causes anthropologists, psychologists and others to despair.’ 7

These evolutionary theories of the origin of homosexuality also suffer from the naturalistic fallacy of turning ‘is’ into ‘ought’. The problem is that there are many things that occur in nature that human society rightly condemns and prohibits. Science may explain the origin of homosexuality, but it still requires a philosophical justification through moral theory. Moreover, these sociobiological theories of the origin of morality generally miss the point. People don’t just behave altruistically from an evolutionary strategy to allow the survival of their children in the co-operative group in a way that can be simply calculated scientifically, as J.B.S. Haldan is supposed to have done on the back of an envelope in a pub. According to the story, after performing his calculations Haldane declared that he was willing to die for four uncles or eight cousins, this being the number required to replace a person’s own genes in the gene pool. 8 People act altruistically and with compassion not from a desire to protect their genes, or those genetically similar to them, but from a belief that what they are doing is transcendentally and objectively right.

Materialism a Threat to Human Dignity

Indeed, the materialism on which much atheism is based actually undercuts morality. For some very reductionist philosophers and scientists, such as Daniel C. Dennett and Sue Blackmore, consciousness is an illusion and people really are nothing more than organic automatons. Yet people’s everyday interactions with each other is predicated on the idea that there is indeed a ‘ghost in the machine’, and a transcendent self, an ‘I’, within their heads experiencing pleasure and pain. A good starting point for morality and altrusim is the belief that the suffering experienced by people is not an illusion experienced by an equally illusory, unreal self, but real pain suffered by a real person. This is traditionally the view of the theist religions, and so one of the forces that may actually protect gays, as well as heterosexual people, from dehumanising conceptions of humanity is actually this aspect of theistic religion.

Reproductive Technology and Children’s Right to Life, regardless of Predicted Sexuality

Similarly, Christian objections to the morality of genetic engineering and ‘designer babies’ may also protect homosexuals. For Christians, as well as very many other people of faith and atheists, recent developments in reproductive science threaten to devalue the sanctity of human life as people are offered the ability to choose their children’s heredity, including, possibly, their sexuality. A few years ago there was much hoo-ha about the supposed discovery of a ‘gay gene’. Suddenly the possibility that parents would choose their children’s sexuality seemed all too real. The Christian pastor, Albert Mohler has been strongly criticised on the internet for his suggestion in his blog that if it was found that an unborn child would grow up gay, then gene therapy should be used to prevent this. Long before he made these comments, however, I can remember Quentin Crisp causing similar outrage when he said something similar in the British media. What made this particularly surprising is that Crisp is a gay icon, and the dramatised treatment of his life, The Naked Civil Servant, a landmark in the campaign for greater tolerance towards homosexuals in British society.  Now Christianity considers that people are not simply the products of their genes. They have free will and a genuine moral choice. And for many Christians, the rights of the unborn to life and their inherent biological integrity and dignity means that such genetic tampering should be rejected regardless of which sexuality those doing the tampering intend to fix in the child. Again, Christian moral attitudes here towards the unborn may also protect those who could be suspected of growing up gay.

Christian Attitudes to Homosexuality: A Middle Way

At the moment there is a strong debate in Christianity over the morality of homosexuality, with some urging its acceptance while others are very strongly opposed. It is possible to find a middle way, however. Christian theology makes a distinction between the sin and the sinner. God hates sin, but loves sinful humanity, and gays do not deserve any greater condemnation than other people. This attitude was clearly displayed a few years on British television by a Baptist pastor in a documentary series on Channel 4. This was a mixture of reality TV and history as it followed a group of men and women and their children as they attempted to recreate the life of the very first colonial settlers in Jamestown, Virginia, in the first decades of the 17th century. The people themselves were a mixture of Britons and Americans, with the Baptist Pastor taking the role of the colony’s first governor. Part of his duties was to lead the community in Christian worship in the colony’s church, just as it would have been performed by the colonists nearly four centuries earlier. One of the guys in the party was secretly gay. Tormented, and unable to hide his sexuality any longer, the man stood up in church one Sunday morning and publicly declared his anguish and his sexuality to the rest of the community. The Pastor was unfazed. He simply remarked that while it was a sin, ‘all men have sinned, and fallen short of God’s glory’ and simply carried on with the service. A condemnation of the sin does not necessarily translate into hostility towards the sinner, and while traditional Christian morality rejects homosexuality, amongst the mainstream churches in the West it will lead also to a condemnation of violence against gay people as persons. Some of those who campaigned for the legalisation of homosexuality in Britain were liberal Christians who felt that the punishment was worse than what was punished. Atheism offers no guarantee of this, and its conception of humanity as a mere automaton whose notions of morality are merely the products of an evolutionary history designed to ensure the propagation of genetic material actually weakens this. Thus, while traditional Christian morality rejects homosexual, its concern for the person as a transcendental subject, made in the image of God, may offer to protect gays as well as heterosexuals from the dehumanisation inherent in a purely atheistic, mechanistic view of humanity.

Notes

1. Georges Roux, Ancient Iraq (London, Penguin 1992), p. 213.

2. G.H. Luquet, ‘Oceanic Mythology’ in Felix Guirand, ed., Richard Aldington and Delano Ames, trans., New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (London, Hamlyn 1968), p. 451.

3. Ronald Hutton, The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft (Oxford, OUP 1999), p. 48.

4. ‘Airs, Waters, Places’ in G.E.R. Lloyd, ed., and J. Chadwick, W.N. Mann, I.M. Lonie and E.T. Withington, trans., Hippocratic Writings (Harmondsworth, Penguin 1978), p. 165.

5. Lloyd, Chadwick, Mann, Lonie and Withington, Hippocratic Writings, p. 165.

6. Lloyd, Chadwick, Mann, Lonie and Withington, Hippocratic Writings, p. 165.

7. ‘Homosexuality’ in Anna Hodson, Essential Genetics: Genetics Clearly Explained and Defined (London, Bloomsbury Publishing 1992), p. 142.

8. Mary Midgley, Evolution as a Religion: Strange Hopes and Stranger Fears (London, Methuen 1985), p. 121.