After nearly 200 years, utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s defence of homosexuality and other sexual practices has been published. Thanks to the miracle of the internet, anyone can now download and read his work without charge. (more…)
Posts Tagged ‘religion’
Oxford historian Alan Strathern explains that religion – even one with pacifism as the central tenet – can be used to justify violence against those who worship differently. We are witnessing this today in the attacks of Buddhist monks on Muslims in Burma and Sri Lanka. (more…)
As he [St Augustine] wrote his commentary on Genesis, he was made constantly aware of the vast body of pagan knowledge to which the Biblical account of the creation was nonsense: subtle arguments of physics ‘elaborated by men of leisure’ had already been mobilized by [Greek philosopher] Porphyry [234-305] against the Christians; a whole battery of such awkward problems, quaestiones, formed part of the intellectual atmosphere of the late fourth century.
Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (1967; new edition, University of California Press, 2000), p. 266.
Princeton historian Peter Brown (born 1935) is a well-known student of the religious culture of the later Roman Empire and early medieval Europe. Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis (354-430), known also as St Augustine, converted to Christianity -the official relgion of the Roman Empire- in 387 and became Catholic bishop of the Roman city Hippo Regius (present-day Annaba, Algeria) in 395. He began writing De Genesi ad literam (The Literal Meaning of Genesis) in 401, and completed it in 414.
It is widely-known that some members of the US House of Representatives, especially those in the Tea Party Caucus, are hostile to science. What is not so well-known is that some of them occupy positions on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
Rep. Paul Broun, who serves on the House Science Committee, told a church-sponsored banquet in his home state of Georgia that the theories of evolution and the big bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell.” … [T]he comments from the medical doctor who also has a degree in chemistry are getting lots of attention after the Bridge Project, a progressive political watchdog group, began distributing video of the remarks.
Broun says “all that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang theory” was part of a ploy to hide how old the Earth really is, “to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.” …. [He adds] “there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don’t believe that the earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.” ….
His comments were greeted with applause at the Sept. 27 Sportsman’s Banquet at Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell, Ga. Broun’s reelection is assured next month since he doesn’t even have a Democratic challenger.
Daniel Politi, “Republican Lawmaker Says Evolution Is a Lie ‘Straight From the Pit of Hell’“, Slate, 6 October 2012.
Paul Broun (born 1946) is a member of the Tea Party Caucus and has served in Congress since 2007. His Tea Party colleague on the House Science Committee, Rep. Todd Akin (born 1947), two months ago achieved notoriety with a remark that women rarely become pregnant from “legitimate rape” because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”. Akin was first elected to the House of Representatives from Missouri’s 2nd district in 2001. He is now running for the Senate, and next month hopes to defeat incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill (Democrat, born 1953).
British author Karen Armstrong discusses early Christian beliefs and controversies regarding the divinity of Christ.
[I]n much of the New Testament, Jesus is perceived as “a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders and signs” (Acts 2.22), a typical definition of a charismatic prophet. In Judaism, the title “Son of God” was simply a human being who enjoyed special intimacy with God ….
St Paul … believed that at his resurrection Jesus was raised by God to an exalted status, far above most humans, but still inferior to the Father. …. It was John, the author of the Fourth Gospel, written in about 100AD, who set the pattern for the future. His Jesus … was a transcendent figure who came from Heaven and was somehow one with the Father.
But John’s high Christology was by no means the norm. ….
[I]n the early fourth century, a bitter dispute broke out in Alexandria between the presbyter Arius, who insisted that the Son had been created by God and raised to divine status after the crucifixion, and the bishop and his assistant Athanasius, who were equally adamant that Jesus was God tout court. ….
The debate did not end in 381, as [Geza] Vermes claims, but continued until the seventh century, when Maximus the Confessor found a formula that finally satisfied the Greek Orthodox …. Jesus, he said, had been wholly “deified”, entirely permeated by the divine; and we could all be like him – even in this life.
Karen Armstrong, “Divine interventions“, Financial Times, 7 July 2012.
Karen Armstrong (born 1944) is a former Roman Catholic nun and author of twelve books on comparative religion. Her latest book is The Case for God: What Religion Really Means (Vintage, 2010).
Ms Armstrong is reviewing Christian Beginnings: From Nazareth to Nicaea (AD 30-325), by Geza Vermes (Allen Lane, 2012). Vermes (born 1924 in Hungary, to Jewish parents) was a Roman Catholic priest until 1957, when he left the church, reasserted his Jewish identity and took up a teaching post in the UK. He was the first professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford university before his before his retirement in 1991.
On Wednesday the Vatican announced a crackdown on US nuns long considered too liberal by the church hierarchy.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as the Office of the Inquisition, issued a highly critical report that accused US nuns of engaging in “corporate dissent” and of ignoring, or worse, challenging the church’s teachings on abortion, homosexuality and an all-male priesthood.
“I’ve no idea what they’re talking about,” Sister Simone Campbell, head of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, told the BBC.
“Our role is to live the gospel with those who live on the margins of society. That’s all we do.”
Jane Little, “Leader of ‘radical’ US nuns rejects Vatican criticism“, BBC News, 21 April 2012.
The accused nuns are members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 80% of the 57,000 Roman Catholic nuns working in the United States. What touched off this investigation was the Leadership Conference’s support of Obama’s Affordable Care Act, in defiance of US bishops, who opposed the legislation. The report criticised the nuns for challenging their bishops, “the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals”.
The Vatican named the Archbishop of Seattle, Peter Sartain, to head a reform of the nuns’ leadership, which “will be for a period of up to five years, as deemed necessary”. Sister Simone Campbell warns: “It’s totally a top-down process and I don’t think the bishops have any idea of what they’re in for.”
At the link, there is a four-minute podcast of Sister Campbell’s conversation with the BBC.
Catherine Rampell’s readers provide her with examples of anticapitalist passages in the Jewish Bible.
As described in Leviticus 25, every 50th year is a jubilee year, during which slaves are freed and property is returned to its original owner.
Debts are forgiven even more frequently. Just as God rested on the seventh day, I.O.U.’s get wiped out every seventh year. From Deuteronomy 15:
At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel the loan he has made to his fellow Israelite. He shall not require payment from his fellow Israelite or brother, because the Lord’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed.
I can think of a few American homeowners who might support reviving this rule. Maybe a few countries, too. Oh, but wait — the biblical passage continues:
You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your brother owes you.
Catherine Rampell, “Reader Response: Bible-nomics“, Economix, 3 February 2012.
Catherine Rampell is an economics reporter for The New York Times. This, and her earlier post, is in response to a recent op-ed column by Rabbi Aryeh Spero:
The mechanism of capitalism, as manifest through investment and reasoned speculation, helps facilitate our partnership with God by bringing to the surface that which the Almighty embedded in nature for our eventual extraction and activation. ….
Many on the religious left criticize capitalism because all do not end up monetarily equal—or, as Churchill quipped, “all equally miserable.” But the Bible’s prescription of equality means equality under the law, as in Deuteronomy’s saying that “Judges and officers . . . shall judge the people with a just judgment: Do not . . . favor one over the other.” Nowhere does the Bible refer to a utopian equality that is contrary to human nature and has never been achieved.
Aryeh Spero, “What the Bible Teaches About Capitalism“, The Wall Street Journal, 30 January 2012.
Astrophysicist Coel Hellier debunks the absurd, but common, accusation that Darwinian thinking inspired the Nazi holocaust.
[W]hile Nazi racial doctrine and Mein Kampf share one feature with Darwinism, namely competition and selection, the Nazi doctrine is not derived from Darwinism and is fundamentally incompatible with it. Whereas Darwinism says that all humans have a common origin, that species and races are malleable, evolving over time, and that one could (as with all animals, and if one so wished) artificially control breeding to enhance and select desired characteristics, Nazi doctrine says that human races are distinct and primordial, created separately by the Will of God, who desires that they remain separate, that the moral imperative is to preserve the races in their current state by preventing any racial intermixing, which would be both harmful and sinful.
Above all, while any similarity with Darwinism is only in one mechanism, namely competition and selection, the Nazi motivation for keeping the races separate is profoundly anti-Darwinian and instead religious and creationist. ….
Thus to the Nazis Darwinism was something they largely rejected and opposed. As with many Christians they opposed Darwinism because it saw man as an evolved ape, whereas they saw man as God’s special creation, and they opposed Darwinism because it was materialist, stripping mankind of the spiritual dimension, and because it did not give man a moralistic destiny.
That is why, in a list of books they banned from Third Reich libraries, the Nazis listed:
“Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (Haeckel).”
“Monism” is the idea that mankind is solely material, with no spiritual soul. Haeckel, as well as having been the foremost Darwinist in Germany, had founded the Monist League in 1905 (it was disbanded in 1933 when the Nazis gained power). The word “primitive” here is a pejorative epithet to denigrate Darwinism.
Coel Hellier, “Nazi racial ideology was religious, creationist and opposed to Darwinism“, coelsblog, 8 November 2011.
The essay is illustrated and carefully researched, with numerous quotes and links to historical documents.
Coel Hellier is professor of astrophysics at Keele University in England and author of Cataclysmic Variable Stars: How and why they vary (Springer-Verlag UK, 2001).
HT: The Browser.
[Y]ou get design without a designer the same way the wind blows without a blower.
Andrew Brown, “A creationist’s ‘scientific’ disproof of Darwin’s theory of evolution“, 15 October 2011.
Journalist Andrew Brown is answering the question of a Penetecostal deacon from Lancashire: “How can you have ‘design’ without a designer?”.
HT: The Browser.
Arab countries spend a lot of their income on education–as a share of GDP, as much or more than the world average–but the quality of their schooling leaves much to be desired. This week’s Economist describes as “frightening” the “gap in the quality of education between Arabs and other people at a similar level of development” while acknowledging that Arab countries “have made great strides in eradicating illiteracy, boosting university enrolment and reducing gaps in education between the sexes”.
According to surveys, barely a third of Egyptian adults have ever heard of Charles Darwin and just 8% think there is any evidence to back his famous theory. Teachers, who might be expected to know better, seem equally sceptical. In a survey of nine Egyptian state schools, where Darwin’s ideas do form part of the curriculum for 15-year-olds, not one of more than 30 science teachers interviewed believed them to be true. At a private university in the United Arab Emirates, only 15% of the faculty thought there was good evidence to support evolution.
The strength of religious belief among Arabs partly explains their reluctance to accept the facts of evolution. Until recent reforms, state primary schools in Saudi Arabia devoted 31% of classroom time to religion, compared with just 20% for mathematics and science.
“Education in the Arab world: Laggards trying to catch up”, The Economist, 17 October 2009.