Monday, March 11, 2013

Atheism as an emotional and civilizational loss

It's one thing to catalogue the manifest faults within this or that religious tradition, which the new atheists have ably done... over and over and over again. It's quite another to claim, as these authors also invariably do, that godlessness is not only true but also unambiguously good for human beings. It quite obviously is not.

If atheism is true, it is far from being good news. Learning that we're alone in the universe, that no one hears or answers our prayers, that humanity is entirely the product of random events, that we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter, that we face certain annihilation in death, that our sufferings are ultimately pointless, that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense, that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment get away with their crimes scot free — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic.

Honest atheists understand this. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God, but he called it an "awe-inspiring catastrophe" for humanity, which now faced the monumental task of avoiding a descent into nihilism. Essayist Albert Camus likewise recognized that when the longing for a satisfying answer to the question of "why?" confronts the "unreasonable silence of the world," the goodness of human life appears to dissolve and must be reconstructed from the ground up.

In our own time, physicist Steven Weinberg admits that he is "nostalgic for a world in which the heavens declared the glory of God" and associates himself with the 19th-century poet Matthew Arnold, who likened the retreat of religious faith in the face of scientific progress to the ebbing ocean tide and claimed to detect a "note of sadness" in its "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar." Weinberg confesses to his own sorrow in doubting that scientists will find "in the laws of nature a plan prepared by a concerned creator in which human beings played some special role."

The past century has given us many honest atheists, some well known, others less so: The playwrights Eugene O'Neill and Samuel Beckett, aphorist E.M. Cioran, filmmaker Woody Allen. But perhaps the most brutally honest of all was the poet Philip Larkin, whose poems movingly describe the immense psychological struggles that often accompany atheism — an outlook he considered to be both "true" and "terrible." Religion — "That vast moth-eaten musical brocade / Created to pretend we never die" — used to dispel the terror of annihilation, or at least try to. But Larkin will have none of it. And that leaves him — and us — with no solace or reassurance, confronting the horrifying prospect of a lonely plunge into infinite nothingness: "This is what we fear: no sight, no sound, / No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with, / Nothing to love or link with, / The anesthetic from which none come round."

To reject religion does not merely entail facing our finitude without comforting illusions. It also involves the denial of something noble. It is perfectly fitting, Larkin seems to say, for an atheist to lament his lack of belief in a God who bestows metaphysical meaning on the full range of human desires and experiences. As he puts it in the unforgettable closing stanza of "Church Going," in which the poet ponders the prospect of a world without religion, the empty shell of the church he inspects with "awkward reverence" is, finally, "a serious house on serious earth." And its seriousness flows from its capacity to serve as a place — perhaps the only place on earth — where "all our compulsions meet / Are recognized, and robed as destinies."

It is a striking image, capturing at once the dignified beauty of religious ritual and its capacity to conceal the truth under a layer of intricate artifice: The whole point of the liturgy performed on the church altar, Larkin implies, is to seduce us with the beautiful and supremely fulfilling illusion that our worldly compulsions have cosmological meaning and significance. And for Larkin, this longing for our most precious hopes to link up with the order that governs the universe "never can be obsolete." Which means that this aspect of religion, at least, may very well be too deeply rooted in the human soul ever to be completely purged.            

The compassionate generosity and honesty of Larkin's atheism also infuse a poem titled "Faith Healing," which reflects on the deepest sources of humanity's religious impulses. Larkin suggests that human beings are creatures governed by the longing to love — and even more so, by the longing to be loved. It is a need, a hunger that never can be permanently satiated. But religion tries, understanding and responding to this crucially important aspect of humanity perhaps more fully than any other institution or practice. When a preacher looks into the eyes of a suffering parishioner, cradles her head in his hands, and utters "Dear child, what's wrong?", Larkin writes, "an immense slackening ache / ... Spreads slowly through" her, "As when, thawing, the rigid landscape weeps." The preacher's love may be a charade, the loving God that appears to act through him may be a fantasy conjured out of a combination of imagination and spiritual yearning, but in that moment faith has demonstrated its unique capacity to heal the human heart.

That godlessness might be both true and terrible is something that the new atheists refuse to entertain, no doubt in part because they want to sell books — and greeting cards do a brisk business. But honesty requires more than sentimental, superficial happy talk, which is all readers will get from A.C. Grayling and his anti-religious comrades in arms.



The Historical Jesus

Every once in a while, we hear a false charge. A charge that has significance during this Lenten season of 2013.

It’s an old lie that seems to keep resurfacing. The accusation is that supposedly there is no historical reliability to Jesus as a person.

In other words, we supposedly can’t know for sure that He even existed historically.

That is so false. For example, Will Durant, the great historian who wrote the series, "The Story of Civilization,"noted in the volume, "Caesar and Christ," that if the same criterion by which some philosophers claim Jesus didn’t really exist as an historical person, then by that same criterion we’d have to throw out all sorts of historical figures, such as Hammurabi or King David.

Will Durant was not a believer. But even he saw how false this notion was.

This lie that we don’t know if Jesus ever existed is even dallied with, and (thankfully) dismissed, by some of the modern bestselling books promoting atheism by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens.

I heard a caller on a talk show recently where he was challenging the host and co-host as to Jesus Christ. The caller made the astounding claim that Jesus is only written about in the New Testament, but there were no secular or non-Christian sources writing about Him during those early years.

Unfortunately, the hosts let this comment slide by with some sort of remark like, “You have to take it on faith.” But Christianity is well-rooted in history. Jesus is better attested than virtually any figure of antiquity.

Dr. Gary Habermas of Liberty University is the author of "The Historical Jesus." He tells us that there are multiple non-Christian sources from the first and second centuries that refer to Jesus Christ in one way or another.

These include: Josephus, Tacitus, Thallus, Phlegon, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, Emperor Trajan, Emperor Hadrian, the Talmud, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion, and so on.

In addition, there are multiple sources from Christian writers who are not in the New Testament. They would include Clement of Rome, Diognetus, Aristedes, Papias, Barnabas, Polycarp, Ignatius, Melito of Sardis, Quadratus, Justin Martyr, and so on.

Dr. Gary Habermas and Dr. Mike Licona, authors of "The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus," note that there is more documentation for Jesus Christ within 150 years of his life, even from secular sources, than there is for Caesar Tiberius.

That’s an astounding observation.

To create an analogy: Imagine if 2000 years from now, there was more documentation on the life of a traveling minister (whose ministry lasted three and a half years) than there was for the President of the United States, during whose term the preacher preached.

Furthermore, Dr. Habermas once told me, “Actually, the life of Jesus is recorded in whole or in part, different segments, in about 20 different non-Christian sources, archaeological or historical, outside the New Testament.”

He went on to say, “Now most of these are little snippets, a sentence here, a paragraph there, but you put them all together and there’s approximately 60 to 65 facts concerning the life, death, resurrection, teachings of Jesus in the earliest Church. You can get an outline of his life and never touch the New Testament.”

So the next time somebody tries to sell you on the idea that Jesus cannot be documented in history---even secular history, please lovingly but firmly stop them in their tracks…with the facts.

No reputable historian denies the historicity of Jesus.


How typical of the Left to idolise a despot who gloried in attacking America and Britain

Scenes of mass grief and hysteria have accompanied the deaths of many dictators, from the Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin in 1953 to North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il in 2011.

The public mourning in Venezuela following the death this week of the country’s Socialist President Hugo Chavez from cancer at the age of 58 will be played out for weeks.

The Venezuelan people have been whipped into hysteria by the propaganda of the sinister — and aggressively anti-American — political machine Chavez left behind as his legacy.
Chavez was a brutal despot who strutted the world stage basking in the international celebrity status he gained as a result of his anti-American rhetoric and relentless attacks on Britain

Chavez was a brutal despot who strutted the world stage basking in the international celebrity status he gained as a result of his anti-American rhetoric and relentless attacks on Britain

His designated successor Nicolas Maduro claimed risibly that Venezuela’s President was murdered by the CIA with ‘a technology for inducing cancer’ even as he choked back tears and paid his tributes to a glorious leader.

The truth is that Chavez was a brutal despot who strutted the world stage basking in the international celebrity status he gained as a result of his anti-American rhetoric and relentless attacks on Britain.

He was a master of propaganda who deftly wooed the ‘useful idiots’ of the Left — to use the phrase Stalin applied to Britain’s Labour politicians and trade unionists — while clamping down on free speech in his own country, rigging the political system in his favour and presiding over a nation drowning in bloodshed and mired in poverty.

He befriended murderous tyrants such as Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi, used his country’s vast oil wealth to support terrorist groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and helped terrorist drug-runners in Colombia  whose products cause misery and death across the world.

He may not have been a genocidal maniac in the style of Kim Jong-Il or Stalin, but Chavez was one of a grotesque line of authoritarian strongmen who have been the curse of Latin America over the decades.

And yet, because of his defiant stance on the U.S. and his attacks on British ‘imperialism’, he was lionised in this country by the Left and its media mouthpieces, The Guardian and the BBC. (Perhaps that’s not so unexpected — we have to remember that a BBC reporter wept during the funeral of arch Palestinian terrorist Yasser Arafat.)

Much of the British Left is prepared to overlook all manner of ugly truths to canonise their secular saints such as Chavez. This explains why the usual suspects have been overcome with grief at the death of the Venezuelan Comandante.

Radio 4’s Today programme, the BBC’s flagship morning news show, led its bulletins with the news of Chavez’s death, according it extraordinary reverence and solemnity.

They gave air-time to his greatest British champion, former London mayor Ken Livingstone, who claimed Chavez ‘was focused on what he could do for the people of Venezuela and of course also what he could do for poor people in New York or London’. Admittedly, his views were opposed by an American commentator.

Livingstone later tweeted: ‘The best tribute for Hugo Chavez is to redouble our efforts for a world free of exploitation and colonialism. RIP.’

Diane Abbott, Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, announced his death was a ‘tragedy for Latin America and the Caribbean’.

Respect Party MP George Galloway portentously tweeted: ‘Farewell Comandante Hugo Chavez champion of the poor, the oppressed everywhere. Modern day Spartacus. Rest in Peace.’

At least they did not join Chavez’s friend, Iran’s President Ahmadinejad, in comparing the departed with Jesus and the Twelfth Imam.

This Latin-American Spartacus-cum-Robin Hood was born in 1954 to parents of a modest background, and he indoctrinated himself in the revolutionary politics of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara while in the army.

Oil-rich Venezuela was so prosperous in those years that they used to say people ‘fell out of trees and into Cadillacs’.  But then the price of oil fell in the late Eighties, and poverty and unemployment soared — along with visceral class hatred.

In 1992, Captain Chavez tried and failed to seize power in a coup before turning to ‘democratic’ politics, founding his own party.

Six years later, in 1998, he was elected President — and was still in office when he died.

Opponents in successive elections were dismissed as ‘criminals’, ‘mafia’ and ‘oligarchs’. State funding of opposition political parties was banned and the electoral system reorganised to ensure Chavez could not lose.

Details of those who voted against Chavez were recorded and used to blight their chances of jobs, loans or benefits. His Cuban-trained police bugged the phone calls of dissenters, then aired them on TV to discredit these critics.

For in Venezuela, television was the primary tool Chavez used to destroy free debate, an inconvenient truth that is overlooked by the leftists of the BBC.

He monopolised the media and held court on TV for hours, even days, at a time, with rambling monologues that involved him singing, dancing, ranting, raving and praying.

Live audiences included hapless members of his Cabinet, who he would harangue and humiliate in public, culminating in an Alan Sugar style: ‘You’re fired.’

There was usually an obligatory phone call to his father-figure Fidel Castro, whose country Chavez kept afloat for years with so much free oil that the Cubans could export it.

This Latin-American Spartacus-cum-Robin Hood was born in 1954 to parents of a modest background, and he indoctrinated himself in the revolutionary politics of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara while in the army

This Latin-American Spartacus-cum-Robin Hood was born in 1954 to parents of a modest background, and he indoctrinated himself in the revolutionary politics of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara while in the army

He used one TV programme to attack the Queen over the Falklands, making a direct appeal to Buckingham Palace. ‘Look, England, how long are you going to be in Las Malvinas? Mrs Queen of England, I’m talking to you,’ he said. ‘The time for empires is over, haven’t you noticed?’

He described British control of the islands as ‘anti-historic and irrational’, and asked ‘why the English speak of democracy but still have a Queen’.

In one marathon four-day TV session, Chavez sent ten tank battalions as live entertainment to a tense border stand-off with Colombia.

The complete collapse in law and order in his country meant crime spiralled out of control, with an average 16,000 kidnappings and 18,000 murders a year, many related to a thriving trade in drugs.

The capital Caracas has a murder rate that dwarfs Baghdad and Kabul combined, and the country is one of the deadliest on the planet with 160,000 murders during his time as President — a four-fold increase on the period before he took office. But you will never hear this on state TV or radio, because they were, of course, Chavez controlled.

Political arrests have mushroomed and strict defamation and slander laws result in 30 months in jail for disrespecting a public official.

And this was the man who at international conferences or the UN had the gall to call George W. Bush a ‘sulphurous devil’ or Spain’s conservative Prime Minister ‘a Fascist’.

It would be farcical, but for the ruin that 13 years of misrule by Chavez has inflicted on a country with the world’s largest oil reserves outside the Middle East.

About $1 trillion of oil revenues have been squandered in an attempt to build what Chavez called ‘21st-century Socialism’. This regime has so much oil wealth it does not have to account for how it is spent.

Yet, there are chronic food shortages and the infrastructure is crumbling, with collapsing bridges and potholed roads. Electricity supply is erratic.

Nationalisation of hundreds of companies — sometimes live on TV — has resulted in a thriving black market. The environment has been ruined by reckless industrialisation. Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have sought a better life abroad.

Meanwhile, Chavez doled out Venezuelan oil on the cheap to fellow Left-wing regimes in Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua, not forgetting London — whose wide-eyed mayor Ken Livingstone wasted taxpayers’ money on visits to meet Chavez in Cuba and Venezuela.

The common denominator between Chavez and all those he supported, and who now worship him in death, is not a passionate belief in improving the lot of the poor through Socialism. It is an atavistic loathing of America and, by proxy, Britain.

Chavez blamed the U.S. as the hidden hand responsible for all the world’s ills. But no matter how crude his views of the Great Satan, they are widely shared among Britain’s bien-pensant circles, where the fatuous notion that the Americans ‘gave’ him cancer will soon join such canards as the CIA crashing planes into the World Trade Centre to provoke a war.

One can only speculate as to what post-Imperial resentment has inspired such irrational sentiments — and led such people to view a belligerent bully like Chavez as some sort of saint.


The perils of photographing children again

Parents lose custody of their children for a month after they take innocent bathtime photos in to be developed at Walmart and employee calls police

An Arizona couple falsely accused of taking pornographic pictures of their three young daughters are suing Walmart in a bid to win damages after an horrific ordeal which they claim robbed them of precious time with their kids and cost them $75,000 in legal fees.

In 2008, Lisa and Anthony 'A.J.' Demaree took their three young daughters – then aged five, four and 18 months - on a trip to San Diego.

On returning home they took 144 photographs, mostly from their recent trip, to their local Walmart in Peoria, Arizona to have them developed.

The couple were reported to child protective services after a Walmart employee was concerned that some of the images being developed might be child pornography

What happened next was the start of a nightmare for the Demarees.

Instead of receiving a batch of happy memories of a fun family outing, the couple were reported to the police and their children were placed into the care of the Arizona Child Protective Services Agency.

‘It was a nightmare, it was unbelievable. I was in so much disbelief. I started to hyperventilate,’ Lisa Demaree told ABC News at the time.

It was a month before the girls were returned to their parents, after a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled the photographs were in fact harmless and a medical exam revealed no signs of sexual abuse.

The family was reunited but the damage had been done. The couple’s named went on a central registry of sex offenders, while Lisa was suspended from her job at a local school for a year while the investigation was under way.

The couple also had to spent $75,000 on legal bills.

‘We’ve missed a year of our children’s lives as far as memories go,’ Demaree told ABC News.

‘As crazy as it may seem, what you may think are the most beautiful innocent pictures of your children may be seen as something completely different and completely perverted.’

In 2009, the couple sued the city of Peoria and the State Attorney General’s office for defamation. They also sued Walmart for failing to tell them that they had an ‘unsuitable print policy’ and could turn over photos to law enforcement without the customer’s knowledge.

The couple lost the initial hearing after a federal judge sided with Walmart, ruling that employees in Arizona cannot be held liable for reporting suspected child pornography.

However the Demarees appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and on March 6 the court held a hearing before three judges.

The family’s lawyer has argued that Walmart committed fraud by not disclosing to customers that employees would look at their photographs and was also negligent because ‘untrained clerks’ were given the authority to make assumptions about the content of the pictures and report them to police.

Lawyers for Walmart argued that under Arizona statute employees who report child abuse without malice are immune from prosecution and there was no indication of malice in this case.

The Demarees are currently awaiting a verdict from the appeals court on the case against the city and Walmart.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICSDISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL  and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine).   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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