Monday, October 27, 2014

Aldous Huxley Quotations on the Bible, Christianity, sexual mores, philosophies of meaninglessness, and philosophies of meaning

"Examples of reversion to barbarism through mere ignorance are unhappily abundant in the history of Christianity. The early Christians made the enormous mistake of burdening themselves with the Old Testament, which contains, along with much fine poetry and sound morality the history of the cruelties and treacheries of a Bronze-Age people, fighting for a place in the sun under the protection of its anthropomorphic tribal deity... Those whom it suited to be ignorant and, along with them, the innocent and uneducated could find in this treasure-house of barbarous stupidity justifications for every crime and folly. Texts to justify such abominations as religious wars, the persecution of heretics... could be found in the sacred books and were in fact used again and again throughout the whole history of the Christian Church. [Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means, p. 328]

"In this remarkable compendium of Bronze-Age literature, God is personal to the point of being almost sub-human. Too often the believer has felt justified in giving way to his worst passions by the reflection that, in doing so, he is basing his conduct on that of a God who feels jealousy and hatred... and behaves in general like a particularly ferocious oriental tyrant. The frequency with which men have identified the prompting of their own passions with the voice of an all too personal God is really appalling." [p. 276-277]

"According to his very inadequate biographers, Jesus of Nazareth was never preoccupied with philosophy, art, music, or science and ignored almost completely the problems of politics, economics and sexual relations. It is also recorded of him that he blasted a fig tree for not bearing fruit out of season, that he scourged the shopkeepers in the temple precincts and caused a herd of swine to drown. Scrupulous devotion to and imitation of the person of Jesus have resulted only too frequently in a fatal tendency, on the part of earnest Christians, to despise artistic creation and philosophic thought; to disparage the inquiring intellect, to evade all long-range, large-scale problems of politics and economics, and to believe themsevles justified in displaying anger, or as they would doubtless prefer to call it, 'righteous indignation.'" [p. 275-276]
"There are some... who believe that no desirable 'change of heart' can be brought about without supernatural aid. There must be, they say, a return to religion. (Unhappily, they cannot agree on the religion to which the return should be made.)" [Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means, p. 2]

"In practice, Christianity, like Hinduism or Buddhism, is not one religion, but several religions, adapted to the needs of different types of human beings. A Christian church in Southern Spain, or Mexico, or Sicily is singularly like a Hindu temple. The eye is delighted by the same gaudy colors, the same tripe-like decorations, the same gesticulating statues; the nose inhales the same intoxicating smells; the ear and, along with it, the understanding, are lulled by the drone of the same incomprehensible incantations [in the old Catholic Latin mass tradition], roused by the same loud, impressive music.

"At the other end of the scale, consider the chapel of a Cistercian monastery and the meditation hall of a community of Zen Buddhists. They are equally bare; aids to devotion (in other words fetters holding back the soul from enlightenment) are conspicuously absent from either building. Here are two distinct religions for two distinct kinds of human beings." [p. 262-263]

"In Christianity bhakti [or, loving devotion] towards a personal being has always been the most popular form of religious practice. Up to the time of the [Catholic] Counter-Reformation, however, the way of knowledge ("mystical knowledge" as it is called in Chrstian language) was accorded an honorable place beside the way of devotion. From the middle of the sixteenth century onwards the way of knowledge came to be neglected and even condemned. We are told by Dom John Chapman that "Mercurian, who was general of the society (of Jesus) from 1573 to 1580, forbade the use of the works of Tauler, Ruysbroek, Suso, Harphius, St. Gertrude, and St. Mechtilde." Every effort was made by the [Catholic] Counter-Reformers to heighten the worshipper's devotion to a personal divinity. The literary content of Baroque art is hysterical, almost epileptic, in the violence of its emotionality. It even becomes necessary to call in physiology as an aid to feeling. The ecstasies of the saints are represented by seventeenth-century artists as being frankly sexual. Seventeenth-century drapery writhes like so much tripe. In the equivocal personage of Margaret Mary Alacocque, seventeenth-century piety pours over a bleeding and palpitating heart. From this orgy of emotionalism and sensationalism Catholic Christianity seems never completely to have recovered." [p. 281-282]

"First Shakespeare sonnets seem meaningless; first Bach fugues, a bore; first differential equations, sheer torture. But training changes the nature of our spiritual experiences. In due course, contact with an obscurely beautiful poem, an elaborate piece of [musical] counterpoint or of mathematical reasoning, causes us to feel direct intuitions of beauty and significance. It is the same in the moral world. A man who has trained himself in goodness come to have certain direct intuitions about character, about the relations between human beings, about his own position in the world -- intuitions that are quite different from the intuitions of the average sensual man... [p. 333]
"The ideal of non-attachment has been formulated and systematically preached again and again in the course of the last three thousand years. We find it (along with everything else) in Hinduism. It is at the very heart of the teachings of the Buddha. For Chinese readers the doctrine is formulated by Lao Tsu. A little later, in Greece, the ideal of non-attachment is proclaimed, albeit with a certain, pharisaic priggishness, by the Stoics. The Gospel of Jesus is essentially a gospel of non-attachment to "the things of this world," and of attachment to God. Whatever may have been the aberrations of organized Christianity -- and they range from extravagant asceticism to the most brutally cynical forms of realpolitik -- there has been no lack of Christian philosophers to reaffirm the ideal of non-attachment. Here is John Tauler, for example, telling us that 'freedom is complete purity and detachment which seeketh the Eternal...' Here is the author of "The Imitation of Christ," who bids us 'pass through many cares as though without care; not after the manner of a sluggard, but by a certain prerogative of a free mind, which does not cleave with inordinate affection to any creature.'" [p. 5, 6]

"...as knowledge, sensibility and non-attachment increase, the contents of the judgments of value passed even by men belonging to dissimilar cultures, tend to approximate. The ethical doctrines taught in the Tao Te Ching, by Buddha and his followers, in the Sermon on the Mount, and by the best of the Christian saints, are not dissimilar." [p. 327]

In his book, Ends and Means, written in 1937 (chapter 14, the chapter on "Beliefs"), he wrote about the rise of "philosophies of meaninglessness" and materialism among the masses after the First World War, the generation of the 1920s-30s. Speaking of that generation, John Derbyshire wrote:
"The second and third decades of the twentieth century were notoriously an age of failed gods and shattered conventions, to which many thoughtful people responded in obvious ways, retreating into nihilism, hedonism, and experimentalism. Literature became subjective, art became abstract, poetry abandoned its traditional forms. In the 'low, dishonest decade' that then followed, much of this negativism curdled into power-worship and escapism of various kinds. Aldous Huxley stood aside from these large general trends. Though no Victorian in habits or beliefs, he never entered whole-heartedly into the spirit of modernism. The evidence is all over the early volumes of these essays. James Joyce's ground breaking novel, Ulysses, he declares in 1925, is 'one of the dullest books ever written,and one of the least significant.' Jazz, he remarks two years later, is 'drearily barbaric.' Writing of Sir Christopher Wren in 1923, he quotes with approval Carlyle's remark that Chelsea Hospital, one of Wren's creations, was 'obviously the work of a gentleman.' Wren, Huxley goes on to say, was indeed a great gentleman, 'one who valued dignity and restraint and who, respecting himself, respected also humanity.' In his thirties, in fact, Huxley comes across as something of a Young Fogey." [John Derbyshire, "What Happened to Aldous Huxley," The New Criterion Vol. 21, No. 6 (February 2003)]
In chapter 15 of Ends and Means on "Ethics," Aldous, the "Young Fogey," abhorred "sexual addictions," or using sex as a means to achieving base ends. And Aldous' chapters on "Religious Practices," "Beliefs," and "Ethics" argued in favor of a meaningful cosmos and a universal spirituality that Aldous said was reflected in the works of certain Eastern mystics as well as some famous Christian mystics. Below is a series of quotations demonstrating what I have said above, all taken from Aldous Huxley's Ends and Means: An Inquiry into the Nature of Ideals and into the Methods Employed for Their Realization (Harper and Brothers Publishers, New York and London, 1937, fifth edition).

"From the world we actually live in, the world that is given by our senses, our intuitions of beauty and goodness, our emotions and impulses, our moods and sentiments, the man of science abstracts a simplified private universe of things possessing only... elements which can be weighed, measured, numbered, or which lend themselves in any other way to mathematical treatment. By using this technique of simplification and abstraction, the scientist has succeeded to an astonishing degree in understanding and dominating the physical environment. The success was intoxicating and, with an illogicality which, in the circmstances, was doubtless pardonable, many scientists and philosophers came to imagine that this useful abstraction from reality was reality itself. Reality as actually experienced contains intuitions of value and significance, contain love, beauty, mystical ecstasy, intimations of godhead. Science did not and still does not possess intellectual instruments with which to deal with thses aspects of reality. Consquently it ignored them and concentrated its attention upon such aspects of the world as it could deal with by mean of arithmetic, geometry and the various branches of higher mathematics. Our conviction that the world is meaningless lend itself very effectively to furthering the ends of erotic or political passion; in part to a genuine intellectual error -- the error of identifying the world of science, a world from which all meaning and value has been deliberately excluded, with ultimate reality.

"[The philosopher, Hume's, erroneous attitude was typical] Hume wrote, 'If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstracts reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact or evidence? No. Commit it then to the flame; for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.' Hume mentions only divinity and school metaphysics; but his argument would apply just as cogently to poetry, music, painting, sculpture and all ethical and religious teaching. Hamlet contains no abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number and no experimental reason concerning evidence; nor does the Hamerklavier Sonata, nor Donatello's David, nor the Tao Te Ching [book of Chinese philosophy and wisdom], nor the Following of Christ. Commit them therefore to the flames: for they can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

"We are living now, not in the delicious intoxication induced by the early successes of science, but in a rather grisly morning-after... The contents of literature, art, music -- even in some measure of divinity and school metaphysics -- are not sophistry and illusion, but simply those elements of experience which scientists chose to leave out of account, for the good reason that they had no intellectual methods for dealing with them. In the arts, in philosophy, in religion, men are trying -- to describe and explain the non-measureable, purely qualitative aspects of reality...[Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means, p. 308-310]

"In recent years, many men of science have come to realize that the scientific picture of the world is a partial one -- the product of their special competence in mathematics and their special incompetence to deal systematically with aesthetic and moral values, religous experiences and intuitions of significance. Unhappily, novel ideas become acceptable to the less intelligent members of society only with a very considerable time-lag. Sixty or seventy years ago the majority of scientists believed -- and the belief caused them considerable distress -- that the product of their special incompetence was identical with reality as a whole. Today this belief has begun to give way, in scientific circles, to a different and obviously truer conception of the relation between science and total experience. The masses on the contrary, have just reached the point where the ancestors of today's scientists were standing two generations back. They are convinced that the scientific picture of an arbitrary abstraction from reality is a picture of reality as a whole and that therefore the world is without meaning or value. But nobody likes living in such a world. To satisfy their hunger for meaning and value, they turn to such doctrines as nationalism, fascism and revolutionary communism. Philosophically and scientifically, these doctrines are absurd; but for the masses in every community, they have this great merit: they atytribute the meaning and value that have been taken away from the world as a whole to the particular part of the world in which the believers happen to be living.

"These last considerations raise an important question, which must now be considered in some detail. Does the world as a whole possess the value and meaning that we constatntly attribute to certain parts of it (such as human beings and their works); and, if so, what is thenature of that value and meaning? This is a question which, a few years ago, I should not even have posed. For, like so many of my contemporaries, I took it for granted that there was no meaning. This was partly due to the fact that I shared the common belief that the scientific picture of an abstraction from reality was a true picture of reality as a whole; partly also to other, non-intellectual reasons. I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption.

"Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don't know because we don't want to know. It is our will that decides how and upon what subjects we shall use our intelligence. Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless." [p. 311-312]
"No philosophy is completely disinterested. The pure love of truth is always mingle to some extent with the need, consciously or unconsciously felt by even the noblest and the most intelligent philosophers, to justify a given form of personal or social behavior, to rationalize the traditional prejudices of a given class or community. The philosopher who finds meaning in the world is concerned, not only to elucidate that meaning, but also to prove that is it most clearly expressed in some established religion, some accepted code of morals. The philosopher who find no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics. He is also concerned to prove that there is not valid reason why her personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves. The voluntary, as opposed to the intellectual, reasons for holding the doctrines of materialism, for examples, may be predominantly erotic, as they were in the case of Lamettrie (see his lyrical account of the pleasures of the bed in La Volupte and at the end of L'Homme Machine ['The Human Machine,' a work of materialist philosophy]), or predominantly political, as they were in the case of Karl Marx. The desire to justify a particular form of political organization and, in some cases, of a personal will to power has played an equally large part in the formulation of philosophies postulating the existence of meaning in the world. Christian philosophers have found no difficulty in justifying imperialism, war, the capitalistic system, the use of torture, the censorship of the press, and ecclesiastical tyrannies of every sort from the tyranny of Rome to the tyrannies of [Calvin's] Geneva and [Puritan] New England. In all cases they have shown that the meaning of the world was such as to be compatibel with, or actually most completely expressed by, the iniquities I have mentioned above -- iniquities which happened, of course, to serve the personal or sectarian interests of the philosophiers concerned. In due course, these arose philosophers who denied not only the right of Christian special pleaders to justify iniquity by an appeal to the meaning of the world, but even their right to find any such meaning whatsoever. In the circumstances, the fact was not surprising. One unscrupulous distortion of the truth tends to beget other and opposite distortions. Passions may be satisfied in the process; but the disinterested love of knowledge suffers eclipse. [p. 314-316]

"For myself as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning, they insisted) of the world. There was an admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotic revolt: we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever... The men of the new Enlightenment, which occurred in the middle years of the nineteenth century, once again used meaninglessness as a weapon against the [conservative] reactionaries. The Victorian passion for respectability was, however, so great that, during the period when they were formulated, neither Positivism nor Darwinism was used as a justification for sexual indulgence. [p. 316-317]
"It is only when it takes the form of physical addiction that sex is evil. It is also evil when it manifests itself as a way of satisfying the lust for power or the climber's craving for position and social distinction." [Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means, p. 358]

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Failure of the Search for Evidence of Human Giants Over Ten Feet Tall, The Nephilim, et al. A Creationist Story of Obsession

What creationists (like Carl Baugh and Kent Hovind) "see" below is "photographic evidence" that human giants over ten feet tall existed.

The source of the "photograph" turns out to be an engraving from a book that contains an unsubstantiated story
SOURCE: http://books.google.com/books?id=qb0vAAAAMAAJ&ots=sm5utu2FMw&dq=%22The%20Tongue%20of%20Time%22%20comstock&pg=PA86#v=onepage&q&f=false

One finds endless pages of bunk on "human giants" (over ten feet all) on the web, a hodgepodge of photoshopped images (people neglect to even google the words, "photoshop human giant," or check Snopes and other urban myth tracking sites to see the evidence that such images were photoshopped. Even a video showing you how http://youtu.be/y6t8blQcrFY ). One can also find ancient reports that simply talk about the bones of human giants being found but lack any bones to back up the talk (we don't know if the bones were human, since in the 1700 and 1800s plenty of such misinterpretations existed due to discovering large mammal and dinosaur bones that people supposed might be human). The "solid" evidence for human giants over ten feet tall consists of carved giant human-looking statues. One such statue can be seen leaning up against a train in Great Britain:
SOURCE: http://www.thelivingmoon.com/forum1/index.php?PHPSESSID=b36cdd7b5befc1b12d9cec946143cb2d&topic=463.msg19576#msg19576

The above statue was carved soon after the popular Cardiff Giant, another carving:

Both raked in money for their owners who put them on display. See the full story below.

A Colossal Hoax: The Giant from Cardiff that Fooled America http://www.amazon.com/Colossal-Hoax-Cardiff-Fooled-America/dp/0742560511/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1303175434&sr=1-1

The "discovery" of the "petrified Cardiff Giant" in the 1860s directly preceded the "discoveries" of both the "petrified Irish Giant" and even a "petrified Revolutionary War soldier" in the 1890s.

The "discoverer" of the "petrified Irish Giant," Mr. Dyer, said it had been dug up in County Antrim, Ireland, in the 1890s. We'll see below why that claim itself is part of the hoax.Dyer, after showing the "giant" in Dublin, came to England with his find and exhibited it in Liverpool and Manchester at sixpence a head, which was exactly what happened in America in the 1860s with the "Cardiff Giant," the parallel hoax. P.T. Barnum made loads of money displaying the Cardiff Giant, which probably gave Dyer the idea to carve a giant in a similar posture, though with a modest covering for its naughty bits, because after all, Ireland was a Catholic country, though Dyer made his carving two feet taller than the Cardiff giant. (The "petrified Revolutionary War Soldier" apparently was also carved in a somewhat similar position, but was not gigantic, though it didn't need to be, it's draw was its southern heritage.) Note that the county in Ireland where Dyer allegedly "discovered" the "Irish Giant" also was home to the mythologically named "Giant's Causeway," i.e., County Antrim in Ireland.. But the "Giant's Causeway," has as little to do with actual giants as does the carving that Dyer put on display to make a buck. But by making such a claim Dyer set up a mythological connection in the minds of Great Britain's ticket-buying public.

A different mythological connection existed in the U.S., reaching back to claims by prominent Puritan settlers in New England that fossilized mammoth bones belonged to "human giants." Such connections helped feed the Cardiff Giant hoax. See the article, "When Giants Roamed the Earth:In the Golden Age of Hoaxes, Petrified Men Came to Life by Mark Rose, Archaeology, Volume 58 Number 6, Nov./Dec. 2005: http://www.archaeology.org/0511/etc/giants.html

Google: "Cardiff Giant" to see how the posture of the first carved hoax was recreated in the "Irish" Giant, plus a couple feet added in height. The hoax grew, literally. And google some pics of the Giant's Causeway sites below to learn more about the myth that "giants" created it:

Northern Ireland - County Antrim/Giant's Causeway
County Antrim Ireland Tourist Information... The lunar landscape of the Giant's Causeway

Giant's Causeway, County Antrim, Ireland

Webshots Prints - Giant's Causeway, County Antrim

Another "petrified man" claim from the 1890s was that of a "petrified Revolutionary War soldier" on display in South Carolina. It was an easy way to make a buck back then, simply by charging a small amount to allow people to take a peek at your "discovery": http://digital.tcl.sc.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/bro&CISOPTR=6&REC=1

Another image I often see is based on unsubstantiated tales of Patagonian Giants. The Patagonian giant frenzy died down substantially when some more sober and analytical accounts were published. For instance in 1773 John Hawkesworth published on behalf of the Admiralty a compendium of noted English southern-hemisphere explorers' journals, including that of James Cook and John Byron. In this publication, drawn from their official logs, it became clear that the people Byron's expedition had encountered were no taller than 6-foot-6-inch (1.98 m), tall perhaps but by no means giants. See these pieces:



Speaking of research on human giants, see this piece on Men Over Ten Feet Tall that I wrote years ago: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/ce/3/part2.html

Years after the above piece was composed someone sent me the exact origin of the so-called "photo" of an 11' 6" skeleton. The image was originally an artist's engraving from The Tongue of Time, a book published in 1838 (before the invention of permanent non-fading photos, so books at that time did not even contain photographs). Below is the original artist's engraving:

A creationist took a blurry photograph of the above engraving and other creationists claimed that the blurry photo of the engraving constituted photographic evidence! But one can see, all the images in the book are engravings created just to accompany the stories.. The story has remained unsubstantiated to this day, and also mentions tales of "cyclops" in ancient Sicily. But archeologists have noted that the ancient Greeks probably confused mammoth leg bones and their skulls for the remains of "human giants." The huge skull of the mammoth has as a large "socket" in the middle which would have been for the mammoth's trunk, but the Greeks probably pictured that "socket" as the eyehole of a human giant, not knowing about ancient mammoths once roaming Europe. Check out this photo: http://matthewjent.blogspot.com/2011/03/memory-monsters.html

And see this book:

The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Ancient Greek and Roman Times by Adrienne Mayor

For additional research on the so-called evidence for humans over ten feet tall see

Purported Human Giant Bones Belonged to an Elephant


Giant Animals in Past and Giant Human Beings Over Ten Feet Tall
The Mt. Blanco Creationist Museum "Giant Femur" Myth

Dinosaur and Human Tracks--key articles, including some on alleged "Giant Human Tracks" (A website featuring articles by the person whose rigorous research made both ICR and AIG drop their claims that they had proof that humans lived alongside dinosaurs) http://paleo.cc/paluxy.htm

The Bible and Science: Are Dinosaurs Mentioned in the Bible?
Includes mention of so-called evidence of human giants

PaleoFairy Tales Exposed! There is no such thing as a world where dinosaurs and humans coexist in a 6,000 year old universe. http://www.stupiddinosaurlies.org/

On Recovering from Alcoholism, Drug Addiction, and... Addiction to Religious Certainties

Alcohol and drug addictions are very strong. Addiction to religious or philosophical certainty is also strong in its own way. Drug and alcohol addiction can be replaced with other types of addictions, including religious addiction. Kind of like taking a less addictive drug to get past the addiction to a truly terrible drug. There are also examples of people getting off drugs via Scientology if you read testimonies on Scientology websites.

However, unless a person has reached a point where they see no hope in remaining an addict, and unless that person wants to change, no program can help them. For instance, at least one famous Christian faith healer died an alcoholic when his liver and/or heart finally gave out, i.e., Rev. A.A. Allen, yearly Bible Conference speaker at Bob Jones University and president of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship. Allen was addicted equally to spirits from the bottle and to his religious beliefs and died an alcoholic in his hotel room when he should have been at an Evangelistic conference that night.

Also, Dr. John Vaughn, the new president of the FBFI, sadly announced that Dr. Rod Bell, the outgoing president, had fallen into sin involving the consumption of alcohol.

I know of others who got over drugs via an addiction to religious certainty, then they got over religious certainty. Their testimonies are over at exchristian.net, and I've included some excerpts from them below.

One can be grateful to some born again Christians for helping get one hooked on something other than alcohol or drugs. But even born again Christian converts have gone back to drugs and died from them. Of course they don't publicize such failures.
Like I said, people have to see the futility of simply continuing as addicts of whatever sort they are, and it helps some if they join a program that demands personal responsibility in getting off the addiction. There are also secular programs that I mention in my online piece, "The Uniqueness of the Christian Experience" at the Secular Web, a piece that questions the uniqueness of the Christian Experience from a variety of angles.

I left the fold myself after no longer being satisfied with the explanations of Christian apologists for "believing the Bible." And no matter how many addicts went from booze and drugs to Jesus, that doesn't eliminate such questions.

David J. from, "Tell me about that hell part again":
'When I believed the Bible was infallible, it felt hopeless, and I drank to drown that out. Now that I see it has mistakes and has been severely altered by men, the constant fear and depression is gone. It is ironic to think back a few years to me quoting scripture to try and stay sober. Now that my beliefs have changed, I have absolutely no desire to drink. I still believe in God and don’t know what to believe about Christianity. I will continue to read about both as I did about the Bible and see where the evidence takes me.'

from "Scratching Walls":
'I went from one of the top students at my high school to a needle junkie to a real holy roller within the space of about a year... I think it's clear that a drug addict, and most especially a very young one, is not exactly what I would call a “clear-thinking individual”. When we consider the sorts of decisions this person has been making up to the present time-stealing, lying, cheating, slowly killing their bodies…it seems obvious that they are not in a correct frame of mind to make thoughtful decisions... So now this line of thought becomes personal: I was a drug addict, I needed to change my lifestyle, worldview, etc., but I needed help doing it. For me, help came in the form of a sort of religious quasi-boot camp. The name of this loveshack is Appalachian Teen Challenge (ATC). My brief testimony on their webpage (written a while back) was posted by the director, Jim Nickels. At the time I last emailed him (according to my records, summer of 04, since the testimony has this timeframe), I was already at a stage of escape from this darkness that Jim would consider heresy-to him, I was “backslidden”. However, I felt a deep discord at the idea of revealing the depth of my progress to him, (as I see it) and opted instead for a generic report about how god was really helping me and mostly focused on my goals and plans and marriage, see the letter I recently wrote him for more... One of the most interesting things about the Christian culture is their tendency to bury the wounded. What they see as “lost souls” are ripe for evangelism and discipleship, but those who “fall away”, especially those like myself, who spent quite a few years teaching/preaching the faith, are often, as the Bible instructs (Heb. 6:4-6, 1 Jn 2:19), abandoned. Besides giving up hope for a backslider’s salvation, there are also a number of scriptural precedents for booting people who lose faith from the fold (1 Cor. 5:1-13; 1 Tim. 1:19-20; 2 Thes. 3:6; 2 Cor. 6:14-15; Job 24:13). So, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at the response I receive(d) from Christian friends and family... I will write more about my deconversion, and edit this accordingly, but suffice it to say that although I am open to new evidence and arguments in favor of god’s existence and in the religion of Christianity, I think I’ve already heard the “best” there is to offer, and I find it, on the whole, unconvincing.'

from "Fear leads to the dark side":
'I became a Christian as a result of a burnout on drugs (hash,opium) that I had at the ripe old age of 16 while living in Europe. After experiencing a great deal of paranoia and instability, I encountered a pastor of a newly developing church called International Christian Fellowship. Basically this was a spin-off of the Assemblies of God, made for the European market. Being so young and impressionable I believed all this, burned my albums (ouch!) cut my hair (Oh no Delilah!) and basically became a completely brainwashed Evangelical. We would preach to people of all nations, creeds and backgrounds through our church and I became what others considered to be the best at Christian Apologetics. It seemed as if I had an answer for every argument against Christianity at the time. When the church began to indoctrinate us further and require classes for all assistant pastors I complied and became fully immersed in it. I stopped sleeping with my girlfriend who also became a Christian (what was I thinking?), I stopped smoking (not bad I admit), and became the perfect "soldier for Christ" The church used "before and after" photos of me to show the transforming power of Jesus. Heavy rocker to Christian. Whoopee! But all was not well in paradise. As I became more and more involved in learning about the religion and being a defender of it I became aware of...' [read the rest online]

Daniel M, from "Returning to Sanity" :
'At 16, I had already developed pretty deep doubts about god's existence and attributes. When my father got cancer (a devout Xian) I lost all faith in the idea of a personal god. Unfortunately, I was also quite immature and emotionally unstable, and I started using pretty hard drugs during this time of intense confusion and pain. To get "clean", a court and my parents decided a Xian rehab named "Teen Challenge" was the best answer for me. After 14 months there, this young, confused, hurting person came out a devout Xian again. I had stability in what I believed, and the evidence for god's existence was the "change" that god wrought in me. After all, I was drug free!! Nevermind that I was seriously programmed, and that during that 14 months there was absolutely no way I could've gotten drugs had I wanted to. Nevermind that my problem was a mental and philosophical crisis rooted in confusion and disillusionment, and not the drugs themselves. Nevermind that deep down, I never bought into the creationism because I already knew enough about science and reason to reject a literal reading of Genesis. I was 19, and fresh out of Christian boot-camp/rehab. After slowly regressing over the period of years to a moderate Xian, I found I finally had the courage to acquire books...' [read the rest online]

x-ray man from "I Tried, I Really Tried...":
'Many of my best friends also fell into serious alcohol addiction. Gary one of my oldest and dearest friends from childhood finally stopped drinking and found God. Almost over night he became a preachy born again Christian. I really wasn't too fond of his ways, yet he did succeed in putting the cork in the jug. I continued to drink heavily. He always said that Jesus was the way to overcome my addiction. At age 27 I was married with a small child when I finally hit a complete rock bottom. My drinking took me as low as a man could go. On a March night in 1991, I was alone in my house shaking uncontrollably in a pool of cold sweat, with the DT's. I had been drunk with a friend for a week straight. When the money ran out and the booze ran dry, I had the worst withdrawals any human ever had. My mind and body were in peril. I decided it was time for me to surrender to Jesus. It was my only hope. This was your typical addict finding God story in the making, and I was the main character. I called the 700 club prayer line, and got on the phone with a prayer counselor and asked Jesus to come into my life. I got down on my knees and prayed with all my heart. I wanted to be saved from the misery so bad. Well, as I was praying and pleading with God, I felt............nothing. Absolutely nothing. No spirit, no uplifting experience. No sense that everything would be OK. Not even a little twinge of evidence that God was with me. I even remember the prayer counselor getting a little short with me, like as in "Hey buddy I've got other calls." Well for the next few days I continued going through the serious withdrawals. I didn't sleep for two nights. It was the worst experience my body had ever endured. The religious experience I had hoped for didn't come close to happening. I have never drank again since that experience, but it wasn't because I was saved by God, it was because I never wanted to feel that way again. Many will say that it was God, but I know better. It was me finally wanting to turn my miserable life around. Years later I tried to find God again. My wife and I decided to join a local church and get the kids baptized...' [read the rest online]

The life of the late evangelist A.A. Allen is proof that one can preach Christ and drink himself to death at the same time. His last months were living in a drunken state in a run down hotel room making audio evangelistic tapes for his radio broadcasts while in a drunken state:
On June 14, 1970, listeners in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Philippines were hearing a recorded message from A. A. Allen on his radio program saying: "This is Brother Allen in person. Numbers of friends of mine have been inquiring about reports they have heard concerning me that are not true. People as well as some preachers from pulpits are announcing that I am dead. Do I sound like a dead man? My friends, I am not even sick! Only a moment ago I made a reservation to fly into our current campaign. I'll see you there and make the devil a liar." At that moment, at the Jack Tar Hotel in San Francisco, police were removing A. A. Allen's body from a room strewn with pills and empty liquor bottles. The man who had once said that "the beer bottle and gin bucket" should have been on his family coat of arms was dead at 59 from what was said to be a heart attack but was in reality liver failure brought about by acute alcoholism. (p.88)

SOURCE: The Faith Healers by James Randi, section on Asa Alonzo Allen (1911-1970). Prominent, flamboyant and controversial Pentecostal "healing evangelist" of the 1940s-1960s. Allen made many outrageous, unsubstantiated claims of miracles.

Harry McCall, ex-fundamentalist seminarian, and son of an alcoholic parent, adds this
If a person can get to a place where alcohol hurts more than it helps, they can quit. Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists and any other non-"Jesus" religions can and do put depressed people on a spiritual journey and often apart from any god in the sky.

The fact is, when one is burned out by a section of their life of drugs and alcohol and their body is shutting down, what else can one do but to either change or die.

Call it "god" of self determination...both seem to work and boil down to that if help has a social support context, it's religion; if not, it's self determination.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Leaving the Fold : A Few Brits Discuss Their Experiences and Reasons for Leaving the Fold after having tried to defend and promote Christianity

Paul Wright


gjm11 is someone I’ve known for years, initially through the uk.religion.christian newsgroup, and then through LiveWires. He’s a very clever man. Since my own loss of faith, I’ve sometimes wondered about the very clever people I know who are Christians (gjm11 among them), and how they manage to sustain their faith in the face of (what I see as) the serious intellectual flaws in Christianity.

Unbeknown to me, gjm11 had been thinking hard about it for a while, and recently announced that he is no longer a Christian. He has an essay on the web where he outlines some of the main reasons for his deconversion. The enormous thread on uk.religion.christian which followed his announcement is, I think, interesting to anyone who wonders about how people get, keep and lose faith.

Gareth McCaughan


Sunday, September 21, 2014

On Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Non-uniqueness of Christianity

There are millions of devout Hindus more moved by the story of Krishna in the Hindu holy book, The Bhagavad Gita, than by the story of Jesus. As one Indian Catholic priest candidly told a British journalist, "Although my family had been Christians for generations and I had been through the full rigors of a Jesuit training, I still, in my heart of hearts, feel closer to the God Krishna than to Jesus." (In Indian courts of law, people swear with their hand on The Bhagavad Gita not the Bible, and there are even popular Indian books with titles like, The Bhagavada Gita for Executives by V. Ramanathan.)

There are also millions of devout Buddhists more moved by stories of the Buddha and his disciples than by stories of Jesus and his. Anagarika Dharmapala, a nineteenth century Buddhist, commented, "The Nazarene carpenter had no sublime teachings to offer, and understandably so, because his parables not only reveal a limited mind, but they also impart immoral lessons and impractical ethics...The few illiterate fishermen of Galilee followed him as he promised to make them judges to rule over Israel [appealing to relatively 'base' desires according to Buddhist teachings - ED.]." To such Buddhists, "Jesus is a spiritual dwarf before Buddha, the spiritual giant."

Oddly enough, one version of the Buddha's life that reached Europe from India underwent subtle changes along the way, until the Buddha became a Christian saint! According to that version the "prince" who "lived in India" was named "Josaphat," and he was a "Great Renouncer." Research into the origins of "Saint Josaphat," revealed that the Latin name, "Josaphat," was based on an earlier version of the story in which the Greek name "Ioasaph" was used, which came from the Arabic "Yudasaf," which came from the Manichee "Bodisaf," which came from "Bodhisattva" in the original story of the Buddha. (A "Bodhisattva" is a person who achieves great spiritual enlightenment yet remains on earth to help others.) Thus the Buddha came to be included in Butler's Lives of the Saints.

Also, some of the earliest Jesuit missionaries to China, who read the Far Eastern book of wisdom, the Tao Te Ching, returned to Rome and requested that that book be added to the Bible, because it contained teachings on non-violence, love and humility that paralleled and preceded Jesus' teachings by hundreds of years. (Many of those parallels are commented on in The Tao of Jesus: An Exercise in Inter-Traditional Understanding by Joseph A. Loya, O.S.A, Wan-Li Ho, and Chang-Shin Jih.)

Eastern religions also feature stories of miracles and visions, along with stories of saintly Hindus and Buddhists who died beautifully and serenely. In some cases a sweet flowery odor is said to have come from their corpses. In another case a corpse allegedly turned into flowers at death. All in all, the stories rival those of Catholic saints and their miracles. In fact, "sainthood" is a phenomenon common to all the world's religions. Needless to say, reading about Hinduism and Buddhism in books written by Christian apologists is no substitute for reading books written by Hindus and Buddhists. A tour of any large bookstore can provide plenty of interesting titles by both Hindu and Buddhist authors.

C.S. Lewis's lifefriend, Bede Griffiths, who was mentioned in Lewis's autobiography, Surprised by Joy, was one of Lewis's pupils at Oxford and converted to Christianity about the same year Lewis did. Afterwards they "kept up a copious correspondence." Griffiths became a Catholic monk and far surpassed Lewis in his ability to perceive a similar spiritual center lying at the heart of all the world's major faiths. Griffiths far outlived Lewis and died at eighty-six years of age while living in a Christian-Hindu ashram that he, Griffiths, had founded in India. The titles of his published works illustrate his mystic universalist approach to knowing God, beginning with his autobiography, The Golden String, and followed by The Marriage of East and West, Return to the Center, River of Compassion, The Cosmic Revelation: The Hindu Way to God, and his final work, The New Creation in Christ.

Dom Bede Griffith's obituary in the National Catholic Reporter (May 1993), by Tim McCarthy, stated:

As late as 1990, Griffiths was forced to defend Eastern spirituality against the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's (CDF's) December 1989 response to the challenge of Buddhist and Hindu spirituality.

Discussing the CDF's warning that certain forms of Eastern prayer tempt people to try to overcome the necessary distance between creator and creature, God and humankind, Griffiths wrote in The National Catholic Reporter, "As if God in Christ had not already overcome that distance and united us with him in the closest bonds. St. Paul says, 'You who were far off, he has brought near-not kept distant-in the blood of Christ.' Jesus himself totally denies any such distance, 'I am the vine,' he says, 'you are the branches.' How can the branches be 'distant' from the vine?" . . .

We must "never in any way seek to place ourselves on the same level as the object of our contemplation," the CDF document insisted. "Of course, we don't seek to place ourselves on the same level," Griffiths countered. "It is God who has already placed us there. Jesus says, 'I have not called you servants, but friends.' And to show what such friendship means, he prays for his disciples, 'that they may be one, as thou, Father in me and I in thee, that they may be one in us.'"

In a letter published in the National Catholic Reporter, beneath the headline, "Vatican Letter Disguises Wisdom of East Religions," (May 11, 1990), Griffiths drew attention to several Christian movements in ages past that endorsed mystical prayer, then added, "This is not to say that Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian mystics all have the same experience. But it is to recognize an analogy between them and to look upon the Hindu and Buddhist experience as something of supreme significance, not to be lightly dismissed by a Christian as of no importance."

Also interesting is the fact that the 1996 winner of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion was Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (which also subsidizes Josh McDowell Ministries!). But the very next year the winner was a Hindu, Shastri Athavale, whose spiritual and social activism was inspired by the The Bhagavad Gita. Athavale has inspired hundreds of thousands of people to spend two weeks or more visiting India's poorest villages where they seek to advance the self-respect and economic condition of those they visit. For more than four decades Athavale has taught that service to God is incomplete without service to humanity.

There are even what one might call "fundamentalist" Hindus, like the one who asked Joseph Campbell, "What do scholars think of the Vedas [the most ancient Hindu holy books]?" Campbell answered, "The dating of the Vedas has been reduced to 1500 to 1000 B.C., and there have been found in India itself the remains of an earlier civilization than the Vedic." "Yes," said the Indian gentleman, "I know; but as an orthodox Hindu I cannot believe that there is anything in the universe earlier than the Vedas."

It's obvious that the study of the world's holy books by historical, archeological and literary scholars continues to provoke tension and discomfort in "Vedic believing" Hindus, "Koran believing" Moslems, and "Bible believing" Christians (like McDowell). So there is nothing "unique" about "Bible believing" Christians in that respect.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Nature contains a limited number of "odd survivors," including a few phyla with only a handful of living members. Do Intelligent Design proponents have an explanation for such data?

Maybe an INTELLIGENT DESIGN proponent can explain why we need 33-40 phyla when merely 9 of those phyla constitute about 95% of all animal life? The remaining 26-31 phyla have fewer than about 2,000 known members--the rarest with just three members (Cycliophora: odd sacs represented by Symbion pandora), two members (Xenoturbellida: strange flatworm) or one species (Micrognathozoa: tiny jawed animal, and Placozoa, an animal that resembles a multicellular amoeba). Most are simple marine organisms, often referred to as worms or nanoplankton.

Also, how about an INTELLIGENT DESIGN proponent explaining why, among multi-cellular organisms, beetles and mites proliferate so much, producing hundreds of thousands of species, while other phyla produce far fewer? The number of species of mites might even reach 1 million according to some estimates, as more beetles and mites continue being discovered all the time.


13 phyla of multi-cellular animals appear during the Cambrian Explosion.


20 phyla of multi-cellular animals appear AFTER the Cambrian. Neither is the number of phyla into which all the world's species can be divided agreed upon among systematicists. Under the most frequently used classification scheme there are 38 animal phyla, but some systematicists claim there are between 35 and 40 phyla. Three new phyla were discovered in the last century, the most recent in 1993.

See also this post on living fossils... http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2012/01/creationists-love-to-talk-about-living.html

Intelligent Design or Trial and Error? Some Data to Consider

Let's look at the I.D. proposal versus trial and error when it comes to sperm and whether you as an individual were personally designed. It doesn't look like you were. Neither does it look like the species of which you are a part was individually or personally the product of design, since we are merely one of several large-brained mammalian species, and all of them have loads of extinct cousins that we have found in the fossil record.

Here's the data. Many sperm are deformed, i.e., two heads, two tails, squiggly tails, heads that are too large or two small, etc. In the average ejaculate, there are 200 million sperm, talk about a roll of the biological dice that made "you." Only about half of the sperm that are ejaculated make it to the egg (and they don't reach the egg by their own power, but they slide en masse up the fallopian tube via peristaltic waves, so it's not like some sperm are being chosen individually to reach the egg), the rest doodle around in circles. And all but one sperm dies. Some sperm have just the male compliment of genes, some the female compliment. (The male-producing-sperm tend to be faster on average, but the female-producing-sperm tend to be stronger on average, so it's a stalemate in the sperm gender competition to fertilize the egg, again, it's anyone's race.) http://www.yourtango.com/2014208352/sex-sperm-101-10-crazy-facts-you-never-knew-about-his-swimmers-ejaculation-IVF-semen

That raises the question, were you "designed?" personally, individually? Based on a study of sperm it doesn't seem so. You are the result of trivial differences between hundreds of millions of dead sperm, purely statistical odds.

Therefore, it does not seem valid to hold the belief that the whole cosmos was arranged just so that [insert your name here] could arise.

And if not you personally, then what about the species of which you are a member? Was the whole cosmos arranged so that "humans" could arise?

Humans constitute one of a few, very few, extremely large-brained mammalian species which include countless extinct cousin species of cetacea (whales, dolphins), elephants, ancient apes, upright hominids that all died like those hundreds of millions of sperm.

Paleontologists have discovered that before the earliest upright hominids arose, the world was covered with ape species, the majority of which went extinct. Likewise with cetacea. Paleontologists have found some fuller fossils of early cetacea but there's plenty of evidence that the fuller skeletons are a mere drop in the bucket of all the species of cetacea that used to exist. There are many other whale bones in Eocene rocks of Pakistan and India. Mostly they are teeth--the rock surrenders a few skulls as well -- but even teeth clearly show that their owners were not clones of Pakicetus or the other better-known whales, but evidence of countless cousin species that are now extinct.

The current species of humanity known as Homo sapiens is a tremendous latecomer to the cosmic scene, having only recently arisen during the slimmest margin of cosmic time, and we only recently discovered that we live on the quaking surface of a rock flying through space with countless other rocks flying around, and explosive energies, both in space and beneath our feet, energies constantly mixing and swirling around, again, statistically allowing for life to arise in very small regions of the cosmos, and probably only for limited amounts of time due to the explosive swirling nature of the cosmos. And that life continues via death and reproduction. Life does not appear to be a particularly stable phenomena, though some single-celled forms have a better chance of surviving than more complex multi-cellular forms.

It is probable, given the fact that planets with life are so small and energies and matter keep swirling round and filling most of the cosmos, that the human species will become extinct in future.

Can the human species survive for billions of years like the stars, or a hundred billion years like black holes? And if we do, what will those far flung descendants of today's humans be like? Will they still closely resemble our species today? Maybe present day humanity is just another stepping stone to some far flung future species, and no single species was "designed" to be as it is, but the cosmos is always in process, all species are always in process?

Maybe present day humanity will diversify over the billions of years that follow, filling niches on different planets, and that may be followed by extinction events on those separate planets, again a trial and error and whittling process. Who knows what future version of humanity will be the last one standing?

Or imagine our newcomer species dying out tomorrow or merely a million years from now, in which case there will still be stars with billions of years ahead of them in which to shine, and black holes with a hundred billion years ahead of them in which to suck, but there will no longer be any humans to gaze at them. Seems possible, even probable.

Humanity might even might be superseded by some other biological organism or machine we happen to create. Imagine that we invent a sensory apparatus capable of acquiring information via a learning program, then that learns how to upgrade itself faster than humans can upgrade it, so it evolves faster than we can even imagine it evolving, and it surpasses humanity. In that case carbon-based life forms will have been superseded by something we gave birth to, and humanity will simply have been a stepping stone in the process toward newer entities. See also the online essay, "Why We Believe in a Designer" located at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/ce/4/part2.html

So, the "Design" in the above case would be a never ending process of change, including the possibility of extinction at every level of such changes. It looks like trial and error to me.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Quotations from Augustine of Hippo: Proof that you can study "holy scriptures" for a lifetime and pray for guidance and come to conclusions like these

The earliest image of St. Augustine from a 6th century fresco in San Giovanni Lateran, Rome.

AUGUSTINE joined his ego with that of the largest religious movement in the Roman Empire which expanded his ego and gave him more verbal outlets for whatever steam was building up between his ears than ever before, more people to preach to verbally and textually, telling them what to believe and how to act, because otherwise... hell. How big a kick is that? What expands a person's ego more than imagining one has the ability to jangle the keys to eternal life or death in people's ears? One imagines one is preaching and writing for God's sake not your own, that you are giving God a voice via promoting your own understandings of "God's words." You even get to tell your audience that God teaches it is virtuous of them to humble themselves and listen to you and other church leaders you agree with, and God doesn't want them listening to any of those "heretics" with whom you disagree. All the while convincing yourself that it's your divinely appointed job to help preserve the eternal safety and sanctity of your congregation's immortal souls.

Augustine devoted his life to being a cult leader, one of the earliest, loudest and most listened to when it came to arguing that heretics must be compelled/forced to enter or re-enter the fold of the one true Catholic Church. He set forth the principle of Cognite Intrare ("Compel them to enter," based on Luke 14:23). Cognite Intrare would be used throughout the Middle Ages to justify the Church's suppression of dissent and oppression of difference.

Not long after Augustine's arguments were put forth the Roman Emperors who were at least nominally Christian began to produce laws related to the persecution and even execution of unrepentant heretics who refused to keep their damned mouths shut or their pens out of the ink well. Augustine also taught that children who had not undergone the one true baptism of the Catholic Church remained in Satan's power and were hell bound if they died prior to receiving such baptism, which I am sure added to no one's anguish at all. (Up till the 1970s Catholic seminarians had to learn how to use a syringe filled with holy water to baptize babies in the womb if the birthing process was not going well in order to ensure such babies would wind up in heaven.)

Below are quotations from Augustine:

"In Luke it is written: 'Compel people to come in!' By threats of the wrath of God, the Father draws souls to his Son."

"There is no salvation outside the church."
--City of God

"...there is a righteous persecution, which the Church of Christ inflicts upon the impious."

"...many have found advantage (as we have proved, and are daily proving by actual experiment), in being first compelled by fear or pain, so that they might afterwards be influenced by teaching."
--Treatise on the Correction of the Donatists

"The king serves God in one way as a man, and in another as a king; as a man, he serves Him by living in fidelity to His law, and since he is also a king, he serves by promulgating just laws, and forbidding the opposite, and by giving them a fitting and strong sanction; just as Zecharias served by destroying the shrines and temples of the idols; just as King Josias served by himself doing like things; just as the King of the Ninevites served by compelling the whole State to appease God; just as Darius served by giving the breaking of the idols into the power of Daniel; just as Nebuchadnezer served by forbidding by a terrible law all those dwelling in his kingdom to blaspheme God." And in the same place he adds: "Who, being in his right mind, will say to kings: 'In your kingdom have no care as to that by which the Church of your Lord is supported or opposed,' 'In your kingdom it is not your affair who wishes to be devout or sacrilegious,' to whom it cannot be said: In your kingdom it is not your affair who wishes to be virtuous or who does not?"

Augustine also wrote about the one non-Christian Emperor who reigned after Constantine (all the rest were at least nominally Christians): "Julian, the betrayer and enemy of Christ, allowed the freedom of perdition to heretics... [also] allow[ing] sacrilegious disputes to be freely indulged in."

Thus Augustine complained about freedom being allowed to heretics to speak their minds or write their works.

St. Augustine, in Epistle 62, "We warn that a heretic is to be avoided, lest he deceive those who are infirm or inexperienced, to such an extent that we have not denied that he should be corrected by any means possible and so on."

Augustine, in Book II of his Retractions, Chapter 5, and in Epistles 48 and 50, retracts what he had once thought, that heretics should not be forced to believe, and proves at length that it is very useful; he always rules out the punishment of death, not because he thought they did not deserve this, but both because he judged that this was unbecoming the gentleness of the Church and also because no imperial law was in existence, by which heretics were sentenced to death; for the Law, "Quicumque, C. de hereticis," was promulgated a little after the death of Augustine.

That, however, Augustine judged it to be just, if heretics were put to death, is beyond question; for, in Book I, in opposition to the letter of Parmenianus, in Chapter 7, he demonstrates that if the Donatists were punished by death, they would be justly so punished. And in tract 11, on John: "They kill souls, he says, and are afflicted in the body, those who bring about eternal deaths complain that they suffer temporal deaths," by which he says they falsely complain that they are killed by Emperors; nevertheless, even if this were true, they would be complaining unjustly. Finally, in his Letter 50, to Boniface, he writes that the Church does not want any heretic to be put to death: nevertheless, as the House of David could not enjoy peace unless Absalom were done away with and David was consoled by the peace of his realm in his grief over the death of his son: so when, from the laws of Emperors against heretics, the deaths of some follow, the sorrow of the maternal heart of the Church is assuaged by the deliverance of a multitude of people.

St. Augustine replies (in Letter 50 to Boniface, and elsewhere) that the Apostles never did that [called upon the secular arm to persecute heretics], because then there was no Christian Ruler they could call upon. For, at that time, the words of the Psalm (II, 2 & 10) were verified: "The kings of the earth, and the princes conspire together against the Lord and against His anointed." (v. 2) And after the time of Constantine, that began to be verified which is written later in the same Psalm: "And now, O kings, give heed; take warning, you rulers of the earth: Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice before Him; with trembling pay homage to him..." (vs. 10-12) Soon the Church implored the help of the secular arm.


"Augustine was at his most disagreeably impatient when faced by groups whom he saw as self-regarding enclaves, deaf to the universal message of the Catholic Church. He insensibly presented the Church not only as the true Church, but as potentially the Church of the majority of the inhabitants of the Roman world. He was the first Christian that we know of to think consistently and in a practical manner in terms of making everyone a Christian. This was very different from claiming, as previous Christians had done, that Christianity was a universal religion in the sense that anyone in any place could, in theory at least, become a Christian. Augustine spoke of Christianity in more concrete, social terms: there was no reason why everybody in a given society (the Jews excepted) should not be a Christian. In his old age, he took for granted that the city of Hippo was, in effect, a Christian city. He saw no reason why the normal pressures by which any late Roman local community enforced conformity on its members should not be brought to bear against schismatics and heretics. He justified imperial laws that decreed the closing of temples and the exile and disendowment of rival churches [Donatist and other churches]. Pagans were told simply to 'wake up' to the fact that they were a minority. They should lose no time in joining the Great Majority of the Catholic Church. In fact, the entire world had been declared, more than a millennium before by the prophets of Israel, to belong only to Christ and to his Church, and Augustine quoted the second Psalm as proof: 'Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron.' [Psalm 2:6,8,9,12]."

"[Of course not everyone was swayed by Augustine’s arguments.] We have a recently discovered letter that Augustine wrote at the end of his life to Firmus, a notable of Carthage. Firmus had attended afternoon readings of Augustine’s City of God. He had even read as far as book 10. He knew his Christian literature better than did his wife. Yet his wife was baptized, and Firmus was not. Augustine informed him that, compared with her, Firmus, for all his culture, even his sympathy for Christianity, stood on dangerous ground as long as he remained unbaptized."
--Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom, 2nd Ed., (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), p.91, 92


On the Necessity of Believing in What the Scriptures Say Without Hesitation

"...in matters that pass beyond the scope of the physical senses, which we have not settled by our own understanding, and cannot--here we must believe, without hesitation, the witness of those men by whom the Scriptures (rightly called divine) were composed, men who were divinely aided in their senses and their minds..."

On the Necessity of Believing that Vast Waters Lie Above the Firmament

Genesis speaks of the firmament (Gen. 1:6-7) as that place that divides the earthly waters from the heavenly waters. Augustine offers a lengthy allegorical interpretation of the firmament in his Confessions (book 13)—seeing it as a symbol of Scripture and its place between the earthly and the heavenly—but the presence of an allegorical interpretation does not mean that he also rejects the literal existence of a firmament.

When some philosophers of Augustine's day argued that the waters would be too heavy to stay in the sky, Augustine replied, “If God ever wished oil to remain under water, it would do so.” (The Literal Meaning of Genesis 2.2).

The “term ‘firmament’ does not compel us to imagine a stationary heaven,” says Augustine, “we may understand this name as given to indicate not that it is motionless but that it is a solid and that it constitutes an impassable boundary between the waters above and the waters below” (The Literal Meaning of Genesis 2.10.23). And while he appears later in life to question his confidence in the exact nature of the firmament (Retractions 2.6.2), he continues to hold to its literal existence.
--Brandon Withrow, Augustine, Genesis, and “Removing the Mystical Veil”: Part 2

Augustine mentions that “...[in Genesis 1] the firmament was made between the waters above and beneath, and was called ‘Heaven,’ in which firmament the stars were made on the fourth day.” [City of God chapter 11.5-9] In that same chapter Augustine cites Psalm 148:3-4 that states the "sun, moon, stars and heaven" praise the Lord along with "the waters above the heavens," which assumes waters exist above the stars. Augustine adds, “Whatever the nature of the waters [above the firmament], we must believe in them, for the authority of Scripture is greater than the capacity of man’s mind.”

Augustine’s last phrase above was echoed by Martin Luther as late as the fifteenth century:

“Scripture simply says that the moon, the sun, and the stars were placed in the firmament of the heaven, below and above which... are the waters... We Christians must be different from the philosophers in the way we think about the causes of things. And if some are beyond our comprehension like those before us concerning the waters above the heavens, we must believe them rather than wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity with our understanding”
--Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 1, Lectures on Genesis, ed. Janoslaw Pelikan (St. Louis, MI: Concordia, 1958), pp. 30, 42, 43].

"Many [of the Church Fathers] repeat the statement of Augustine, that whatever the nature of the waters [above the firmament], we must believe in them, for the authority of Scripture is greater than the capacity of man’s mind.”
--Frank Egleston Robbins, The Hexaemeral Literature: a Study of the Greek and Latin Commentaries on Genesis

On the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World's Past

"They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed [since the creation of Adam and Eve].
--City of God, Book XII, Chapter 10, On the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World's Past

"...those antediluvians lived more than 900 years."
--City of God, Book XV, Chapter 14

On the Absurdity of Believing that Men Exist on the Other Side of the Immense Expanse of Ocean

"As to the fable that there are Antipodes, that is to say, men on the opposite side of the earth [Augustine is poo pooing the idea that human beings will be found on the opposite side of a spherical earth, not a flat one], where the sun rises when it sets on us, men who walk with their feet opposite ours, there is no reason for believing it. Those who affirm it do not claim to possess any actual information; they merely conjecture that, since the earth is suspended within the concavity of the heavens, and there is as much room on the one side of it as on the other, therefore the part which is beneath cannot be void of human inhabitants. They fail to notice that, even should it be believed or demonstrated that the world is round or spherical in form, it does not follow that the part of the earth opposite to us is not completely covered with water, or that any conjectured dry land there should be inhabited by men. For Scripture, which confirms the truth of its historical statements by the accomplishment of its prophecies, teaches not falsehood; and it is too absurd to say that some men might have set sail from this side and, traversing the immense expanse of ocean, have propagated there a race of human beings descended from that one first man."
--City of God 14:9

On Augustine's Belief in Human Giants Based on Bible Passages Combined with Finding Large Bones in the Ground

"...the size of men’s bodies was larger then than now... the large size of the primitive human body is often proved to the incredulous by the exposure of sepulchres [in this case, buried bones], either through the wear of time or the violence of torrents or some accident, and in which bones of incredible size have been found or have rolled out. I myself, along with some others, saw on the shore at Utica a man’s molar tooth of such a size, that if it were cut down into teeth such as we have, a hundred, I fancy, could have been made out of it. But that, I believe, belonged to some giant."
--City of God, Book 15, Chapter 9

On God's Re-Creation of Animals Directly from the Ground in Distant Lands Right After the Flood

In The City of God (16.7), Augustine discusses Noah's Ark and how it was that animals were present on distant islands so soon after the great flood:

"[I]t is asked how they [various wild animals] could be found in the islands after the deluge ... It might, indeed, be said that they crossed to the islands by swimming, but this could only be true of those very near the mainland; whereas there are some so distant that we fancy no animal could swim to them ... they were produced out of the earth as at their first creation ... this makes it more evident that all kinds of animals were preserved in the ark, not so much for the sake of renewing the stock, as of prefiguring the various nations that were to be saved in the Church."

On The Damnation of Infants That Die Without Having Been Baptized

"Infants, When Unbaptized, are in the Power of the Devil... The Christian faith unfalteringly declares that they who are cleansed in the laver of regeneration (i.e., the baptismal font) are redeemed from the power of the devil, and that those who have not yet been redeemed by such regeneration are still captive in the power of the devil, even if they be infant children of the redeemed... From the power of the devil... infants are delivered when they are baptized; and whosoever denies this, is convicted by the truth of the Church’s very sacraments, which no heretical novelty in the Church of Christ is permitted to destroy or change, so long as the Divine Head rules and helps the entire body which He owns--small as well as great. It is true, then, and in no way false, that the devil’s power is exorcised in infants, and that they renounce him by the hearts and mouths of those who bring them to baptism, being unable to do so by their own; in order that they may be delivered from the power of darkness, and be translated into the kingdom of their Lord."
--On Marriage and Concupiscence, Book 1, Chapter 22

On the Knowledge of the Saints Concerning What Is Going on in the Outer Darkness

"They who shall enter into [the] joy [of the Lord] shall know what is going on outside in the outer darkness... The saints’... knowledge, which shall be great, shall keep them acquainted... with the eternal sufferings of the lost."
--The City of God, Book 20, Chapter 22, “What is Meant by the Good Going Out to See the Punishment of the Wicked” & Book 22, Chapter 30, “Of the Eternal Felicity of the City of God, and of the Perpetual Sabbath”

On How Fire Can Burn Forever Yet Not Consume a Body

"I have already sufficiently made out that animals can live in the fire, in burning without being consumed, in pain without dying, by a miracle of the most omnipotent Creator."

On the Location of Hell

"It seems to me that in the twelfth book I ought to have taught that hell is under the earth rather than to give a reason why it is under the earth, since it is believed to or said to be earth, as if it were not so."
--Retractations, written near the end of Augustine's life

On How the Sexual Organs Functioned in Eden

"In Eden, it would have been possible to beget offspring without foul lust. The sexual organs would have been stimulated into necessary activity by will-power alone, just as the will controls other organs. Then, without being goaded on by the allurement of passion, the husband could have relaxed upon his wife's breasts with complete peace of mind and bodily tranquility, that part of his body not activated by tumultuous passion, but brought into service by the deliberate use of power when the need arose, the seed dispatched into the womb with no loss of his wife's virginity. So, the two sexes could have come together for impregnation and conception by an act of will, rather than by lustful cravings."
--The City of God, Book 14, Chapter 26

As evidence in favor of his view that Adam had full control over his member in Eden, Augustine cites the case of people who can "make musical sounds" out of their "behinds"):

"We do in fact find among human beings some individuals with natural abilities very different from the rest of mankind and remarkable by their very rarity. Such people can do some things with their body which are for others utterly impossible and well-nigh incredible when they are reported. Some people can even move their ears, either one at a time or both together. Others without moving the head can bring the whole scalp-all the part covered with hair-down towards the forehead and bring it back again at will. Some can swallow an incredible number of various articles and then with a slight contraction of the diaphragm, can produce, as if out of a bag, any article they please, in perfect condition. There are others who imitate the cries of birds and beasts and the voices of any other men, reproducing them so accurately as to be quite indistinguishable from the originals, unless they are seen. A number of people produce at will such musical sounds from their behind (without any stink) that they seem to be singing from the region. I know from my own experience of a man who used to sweat whenever he chose; and it is a well-known fact that some people can weep at will and shed floods of tears."
--City of God, Book 14, Chapter 24

On Women

“...the woman together with her own husband is the image of God, so that that whole substance may be one image; but when she is referred separately to her quality of help-meet, which regards the woman herself alone, then she is not the image of God; but as regards the man alone, he is the image of God as fully and completely as when the woman too is joined with him in one.”
--On the Trinity Book 12 7.10

On Abstinence Being More Important Than the Continuance of the Human Race

"In the first times, it was the duty to use marriage... chiefly for the propagation of the human race. But now, in order to enter upon holy and pure fellowship… they who wish to contract marriage for the sake of children, are to be admonished, that they use rather the larger good of continence. But I am aware of some that murmur, 'What if all men should abstain from all sexual intercourse, whence will the human race exist?' Would that all would... Much more speedily would the City of God be filled, and the end of the world hastened. For what else does the Apostle Paul exhort to, when he says, 'I would that all were as myself;' or in that passage, 'But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remains that both they who have wives, be as though not having: and they who weep, as though not weeping: and they who rejoice, as though not rejoicing: and they who buy, as though not buying: and they who use this world as though they use it not. For the form of this world is passing away.'" (1 Cor. 7:7-8, 29-31)
--On the Good of Marriage, Sections 9-10

On His Advocacy of the View that Slaves Ought to Love Their Masters

"...the apostle [in the New Testament] admonishes slaves to be subject to their masters, and to serve them heartily and with good-will, so that, if they cannot be freed by their masters, they may themselves make their slavery in some sort free, by serving not in crafty fear, but in faithful love, until all unrighteousness pass away, and all principality and every human power be brought to nothing, and God be all in all."
--City of God, Book XIX, Chapter 15

On the Wickedness of Giving Presents to Friends

MacMullen notes the joyous pagan festivals, including feasts, dancing, poetry orations and their long persistence despite the opposition of the bishops (Augustine tried to argue that giving friends presents was wicked).
--See, Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

On "Curiosity"

"There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity. It is this which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing and which man should not wish to learn."
--The Confessions

On curiosity, compare a passage from another early Church Father, Lactantius 250-325 CE., who claimed that God made Adam the last of his creations so that he should not acquire any knowledge of the process of creation.

Or consider what another early Church Father, Jerome, wrote, "Is it not evident that a man who day and night wrestles with the dialectic art, the student of natural science whose gaze pierces the heavens, walks in vanity of understanding and darkness of mind?" Comment. in Ep. ad Ephes. iv, 17

"For centuries Stoic philosophers and Christian theologians struggled to subdue curiosity as one of the most disruptive, intractable and potentially vicious human traits. According to the 12th-century saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the evil angel fell as a result of curiosity. 'He had peered curiously into what was to come and wanted what he was not allowed to have and hoped presumptuous hopes,' Bernard writes, concluding that 'rightly is curiosity considered the first step of pride; it was the beginning of all sin.' Two centuries later, when Petrarch climbed a mountain in Provence and began to enjoy the view from the summit, he nervously opened his copy of Augustine's Confessions and was stunned by words that seemed to him a direct rebuke: 'And men go to admire the high mountains, the vast floods of the sea, the huge streams of the rivers, the circumference of the ocean and the revolutions of the stars--and desert themselves.'

"Yet the great work that checked Petrarch's curious gaze paradoxically contains the seeds that would eventually transform the churchman's vice into the psychoanalyst's virtue. Augustine himself was far too much in the grip of curiosity to endorse unequivocally its condemnation. If he chastised excessive interest in the world, he directed a virtually obsessive attention to the hidden reaches of his innermost self: 'I have become a problem to myself, like land which a farmer works only with difficulty and at the cost of much sweat.' More specifically, he manifested what was, for the pre-modern world, an unusual interest in his adolescence, from his theft of pears to his gaudy nights in Carthage, and a still more unusual interest in his early childhood, from his infantile rages to his first stumbling efforts to speak."
--Stephen Greenblatt, Curiosity Is Destiny: For Adam Phillips, psychoanalysis is about restoring people's appetite for life, New York Time, February 22, 1998

One of the more remarkable transformations in the history of European intellectual life was the removal of curiosity from the table of the vices and its inscription into the table of virtues. From the beginnings of Latin Christianity in the second century (Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine), curiositas was defined as a vice; but by the fifteenth century it had begun to be considered a virtue, and by the eighteenth century it was simply assumed by most European thinkers to be virtuous.

"It is no exaggeration to say that European thought about curiosity is Augustinian from the fifth century to the fifteenth... Curiosity for Augustine is appetite for nothing other than the ownership of new knowledge." It is a kind of concupiscentia, a disordered desire that guarantees its own disappointment. Curious concupiscence engages in close study and investigation of its chosen objects. "But the curious man is always a fornicator: he perverts study and investigation in much the same way that having sex with those to whom you are not married perverts the gift of the sexual appetite." Thus the curious man is distinguished from the studious man.

Curiosity's desire is closed off to its objects relation to God, considered only in isolation, whereas the studious man's interest is open to a knowledge of things including their relatedness to God. The second of Jesus' three temptations in the wilderness (where Jesus is placed on the temple's pinnacle and asked to throw himself down because of the scripture that says God's angels will permit no harm to come to him) is the paridigmatic temptation of curiosity, says Griffiths, because it offers satisfaction of the experimental appetite. Appetite for novelty is another key element in curiosity, an appetite that prevents contemplative rest and also "prevents curiosity's gaze from seeing the vestigium aeternitatis, eternity's trace, in the things at which it looks." Yet again, curiosity is characterized by loquacitas, a garrulity or chattiness involved in becoming known as one who knows.

But the most important element in Augustine's critique of curiosity, according to Griffiths, has to do with the attempt to own knowledge, "to assert proprietas over it, to make it subject to oneself (sibi tribuere)."... Curiositas, then, is an appetite that operates within the constraints of the libido dominandi, the lust for dominance that ownership brings. Its Augustinian contradictory is studiousness, and this is an intellectual appetite that operates within the constraints of a proper appreciation of givenness, or of what Augustine would prefer to call the gift, the donum Dei.
--Paul J. Griffiths, "The Vice of Curiosity," Pro Ecclesia, Vol. XV, No. 1 (Winter, 2006)

I think the point Griffiths, above, was trying to make, is that Augustine wanted everything in one's mind to be related to God, in fact, in relation to the Catholic Church's ideas and beliefs about God. Hence, one must not be too curious. Knowledge for its own sake might derail the faithful from their prayers and single-minded devotion to God/Church and the Church's mission of "saving" the world. This is borne out by much else that the early Church Fathers wrote concerning knowledge, curiosity, and the priority that Catholic beliefs and teachings must take over and above everything else. Concerning the early Church Fathers and science, the historian, Richard Carrier, has produced some youtube videos and podcasts on the topic that one can google and/or find on itunes. His presentations feature further quotations from early Church Fathers that bear out what I have stated.)


On the Contempt Augustine and other Church Fathers had for Ancient Skeptical Thinking

MacMullen points out the contempt prominent Christians such as Tertullian, Augustine, Lactantius, Ambrose and John Chrysostom had for ancient philosophy. They denounced Plato and Aristotle by name, and mocked the idea of skeptical study and the scientific attitude. Nor did they stop there. They told stories about apparitions over the battlefield, miraculous cures, the ever present existence of demons, people raised to life by Christians, and dragons turned to dust by the sign of the cross.
--See, Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

"After Constantine there existed an empire-wide instrument of education: the church. What bishops, even emperors, made plain, and what could be heard in broader terms from every pulpit, was an agreed upon teaching. Every witness, every listener should know the great danger to his soul in Plato’s books, in Aristotle’s, in any of the philosophical corpus handed down from the past. The same danger threatened anyone using his mind according to their manner, with analytical intent, ranging widely for the materials of understanding, and independent of divine imparted teachings... Another factor that arose specifically out of the ongoing conversion of the empire was the doctrine of demonic causation. The belief in the operation of maleficent forces on a large scale had to await Christianity; and it was of course Christianity that was to form the medieval and Byzantine world... Satanic agents were to be seen as the cause not only of wars and rebellions, persecution and heresy, storms at sea and earthquakes on land, but of a host of minor or major personal afflictions. So, in consequence, Christians were forever crossing themselves, whatever new action they set about, and painted crosses on their foreheads too, responding to their leaders’ urging them to do so. It would protect them against all evil."
--Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The New Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi, Episode 1, a Critique / Review of Deep Breath

The new Doctor didn't seem as funny when he was confused after his change as Matt Smith was. I was hoping for a funnier sort of confusion. Instead, his confusion sequences came off as very bland. Perhaps he should also have spoken his lines a bit louder.

After the new Doctor's head cleared he seemed to emulate Matt Smith a little and then seemed to be finding his way toward his own unique persona. So the first half of the show was pretty weak in my opinion, including the exchanges between Clara, the Doctor's companion, and Madame Vastra, the lizard lady, which were confused and dragged on too long. They were trying to show that Vastra was challenging Clara to be strong for the Doctor, but they came off as insults aimed at Clara for no apparent reason and not all of the insults seemed geared toward making Clara stronger. Clara has already proven her strength many times in the past. They should have rewritten the first half of the show. (I would like to have had a crack at that myself.)

The rest of the program and plot were well done and no doubt tie into the season as a whole.

Overall, I recall Strax's lines more than anyone else's. He stole the show.

It's wonderful how much money they save by having actors act like clockwork robots without any special robot costumes required. Brilliant. Kind of like the Who episode where a group of tourists were locked inside a bus on some distant world and then possessed by an alien without having to undergo any physical transformation, just a personality transformation, or, like the Who episode where the humans all wore gas masks. Inexpensive yet effective means to convey otherworldly weirdness. And it allows the actors to stretch themselves instead of stretching plastic all over their faces.