17 December 2005
The Society has a new web address and a new site to go with it:
the old site will remain for the present, and there are links between the two. Note that some of the pages on the new site are still 'work in progress'.
Now to our quote of the week:
In The Guardian G2 on Wednesday this week there was an excellent interview by Danish journalist Martin Krasnik with American author Philip Roth, now 72. Asked if he is religious he replied: "I'm exactly the opposite of religious. I'm anti-religious. I find religious people hideous. I hate religious lies. It's all a big lie."
Unfortunately on Friday The Guardian decided to follow this up with a piece by Robert Winston, whose new TV series The Story of God makes him suddenly a pundit on religion, claiming "Philip Roth was wrong". His article reiterates a series of "big lies" unworthy of someone who is supposedly a scientist, and now a historian.
He claims both that: "Human spirituality is deeply embedded in our genes." And that: "Man is a competitive creature and the seeds of conflict are built deep into our genes." So it seems we really are in a mess! He can't have it both ways, can he?
He talks about "innate human aggression", presumably thinking of the work of Konrad Lorentz and Raymond Dart, back in the 1960s, but research has moved on since then.
Robert Sussman (1997) writes: "Not only are modern gatherer-hunters and most apes remarkably non-aggressive, but in the 1970s and 1980s studies of fossil bones and artifacts have shown that early humans were not hunters, and that weapons were a later addition to the human repertoire."
Winston says: "religious frameworks ... have contributed so much to our notions of morality". However, one of the bible principles, practiced by many parents in the past is: "Spare the rod and spoil the child". H. P. Beck cites: "The Family Research Project (Trotter, 1976) studied the effects of parental discipline among 2,000 children in Manhattan households. Punitive childrearing was found to be the fourth best predictor of problem aggressive behavior. The other top predictors involved emotional rejection by the parents." Reformers of all stripes have been fighting against such religion-endorsed immoralities for centuries.
Winston's most outrageous claim is: "Religion is not the primary cause of strife in Kashmir or the Middle East. And it was not the underlying reason for the troubles in Northern Ireland. Nor should we blame religion for the various Crusades in Europe, the vicious massacre of the Cathars by the Catholic Church on medieval France or the horrific slaughter of Jews by Bogdan Chmielnitzki in 17th century Poland. Such conflicts were far more about deprivation, or gaining political power, land or wealth than they were about God."
Without religion the problems in Kashmir, the Middle East and Northern Ireland could probably be settled amicably by negotiation within a few years. As for the Crusades and the massacre of the Cathars not being due to religion? Winston's capacity for self-delusion is unfathomable!
When Innocent III came to the Papacy in 1198 there was a power vacuum in Europe, which he took advantage of. The Catholic Encyclopedia says: "There was scarcely a country in Europe over which Innocent III did not in some way or other assert the supremacy which he claimed for the papacy. ... Like many preceding popes, Innocent had at heart the recovery of the Holy Land, and for this end undertook the Fourth Crusade. ... Innocent was also a zealous protector of the true Faith and a strenuous opponent of heresy." The site About Atheism has: "He eliminated the Manicheans in the Papal States and then turned his eyes towards France where the Albigenses were growing in numbers and strength. Innocent called for a crusade against them in 1208 and sent Simon of Montfort to lead a campaign to eliminate the Albigenses heresy and restore Southern France to Catholic control. This led to the formal legitimization of the Inquisition in 1233 for use against suspected heresy in Europe. Innocent claimed to have been given the whole world to rule over by God, ... he saw himself not merely as the Vicar of St Peter, but as the Vicar of Christ." ... "Innocent is regarded by Roman Catholics as one of the greatest popes of the Middle Ages, and by others as one of the most harmful men ever to have lived."
Innocent gave the go-ahead for the Dominican Friars who ran the Inquisition. It was under another Innocent, VIII, that the Dominicans issued the Hammer of the Witches in 1486 which justified the persecution of many poor women.
On a slightly lighter note here is a link provided by Adam Tjaavk in secular newsline (noticed by our member Allan Hayes) which looks back to the 19th century to see what modern textbooks of Intelligent Design might look like.
If only... All we need is some decent secular education, and these problems will lose their reason for being and disappear. But as soon as we try to propose such a thing, let alone actually move in that direction, we find we are up against some very powerful vested interests.
If we’re to end these conflicts – and end them we must, for our very survival depends on it – we need to see beyond the tools of propaganda and coercion that are employed and analyse their sources of power and the vested interests behind them. None of those conflicts has its origins in religion. The real origin is in the real conflict of interests between different groups whose history leads them to be battling it out for ownership and control.
Those who would dominate use religion to make unthinkable the conclusions a clear mind would draw from the evidence, and therein lies their fear of atheism.
But what is it that makes them think that they are "different groups"? Religion! Jews and Palestinians are not different species, they are all human beings.
If their dispute is over land or water or oil or past conflicts, all such matters are negotiable. It is only where there are religious claims such as 'the promised land' or 'our temple was here first before you built a mosque over it' (the same argument as at Ayodhya between Muslims and Hindus) that irrationality enters.
I say to the burglar, hopefully after defending myself with minimal force, "Let's call in the police (i.e. the UN and international law) to help settle this matter". This is what is happening with Iran at present.