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Jesus lives: April Fool! April 1, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in About Religion, Democracy, Religion, Socialism.
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Roger Hollander, April 1, 2012, www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com

If capital G God exists (capital I if),  He/She/It has given us a little ironic treat in having Palm Sunday fall on April Fools day this year.

When I think of Palm Sunday and the monstrosity known at the Roman Catholic Church and the other world religions, with the possible few exceptions of the Asian  religions, I think of the phrase “cross my palm with silver.”

The air-tight relationship between accumulated wealth (in our era, capital) and organized religion is a historic reality.  There is in fact good reason to believe that the first division of labor creating a privileged class in previously classless tribal society, was that of the first shamans or priests converting their credibility into political and economic power, which they used to control and manipulate.

The young 26-year-old Karl Marx, in his 1844 Manuscripts wrote about religion in a handful of paragraphs that include his famous and taken out of context “opiate of the masses.”

Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of men, is a demand for their real happiness. The call to abandon their illusions about their condition is a call to abandon a condition which requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, the embryonic criticism of this vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers from the chain, not in order that man shall bear the chain without caprice or consolation but so that he shall cast off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man so that he will think, act and fashion his reality as a man who has lost his illusions and regained his reason; so that he will revolve about himself as his own true sun. Religion is only the illusory sun about which man revolves so long as he does not revolve about himself.

… thus the criticism of heaven is transformed into the criticism of earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.

From: “Contributions to the  Critique  of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,”  in   “Karl Marx: Early Writings,” translated and edited by T. B. Bottomore, McGraw Hill, 1964, pages 43, 44.

This I consider to be a manifesto for secular humanism, of which I am a proud advocate.  Who can deny that the very existence of our biosphere is in danger from escalating warfare and environmental catastrophe.  Those who advocate looking outside of humankind to some sort of God to take us out of this mess are the very same religious institutions that promote and indoctrinate obeisance to the vast accumulations of wealth that capitalist economic relations generate.

Shakespeare via Cassius:“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves …”

Today it is more evident than ever that political democracy is little more than a farce in a capitalist world.  Vast accumulated wealth (which is what capital is)  plus the military and political power it purchases with that very wealth is what rules in every nation on earth, not the “demos” (people) of democracy.  In a word, political democracy without economic democracy is not genuine democracy.

The destruction of capitalist economic relations and replacement with economic democracy (genuine socialism, not state capitalism calling itself socialist as in China, Cuba, Venezuela, etc.) where those of us who create wealth share in it equally, is a Monmouth and daunting task (given especially enormous state power and means of repression).  But it is the only long-term solution to the world crisis in which we live.  In the light of this reality, a vote for Obama or a prayer to whatever god, can do no more than any other opiate, that is, create illusory and useless hope.

To show that I am not a blind hater of Christianity, let me cite one of my favorite biblical quotes, that of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, where he states that: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  My belief is that in the individual human dimension, love is the highest notion; and at the communal/social level, love is no more or less than social, political and economic justice, that is, socialism.

 

 

 

Dawkins’ “The God Delusion:” a Must Read September 17, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in About God, About Religion, Religion, Science and Technology.
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Roger Hollander, September 17, 2011

I am re-reading Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion,” one of the most important reads for me in the past years.  If you are a fan of science and reason over ignorance and prejudice, you will love Dawkins.  He is a world-class scientist (evolutionary biologist), but his prose is both literate and replete with humor, and his scientific explanations are for the most part understandable for the lay person.  A quotation he attributes to Fred Hoyle almost says it all.  When Hoyle refused to give an educated opinion to an interviewer who asked him to speculate about life on other planets, the interviewer asked him for his gut feeling.  Hoyle replied that he tries not to think with his gut.

I have reviewed “The God Delusion” elsewhere on this blog (http://rogerhollander.wordpress.com/category/current-posts/a-rogers-original-essays/about-religion/), here I will just give you a taste of some of the many little gems you will find in this outstanding work.

I begin with this quote from a United States Senator:

“There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs.  There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls the supreme being.  But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly.  The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom.  They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 per cent.  If you disagree with these religious groups  on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.  I am frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person  must belive in A, B, C or D.  Just who do they think they are?  And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate.  I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans … “

At the end of this essay I will give you the name of the Senator who make this statement.  Take a guess.

Here are the mottos of the two major divisions in Christianity:

“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.”  St. Augustine

“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the Divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God … Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his reason.”  Martin Luther

As for humor:

In Northern Ireland: “Yes but are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?”

Citing a comedian: “All religions are the same.  Religion is guilt, with different holidays.”

You will learn from Dawkins a lot about Darwin and natural selection.  You will watch him obliterate the arguments of the so-called “creationists” and the weasels who try to disguise creationism as “intelligent design.”  He will make you think twice if you think that agnosticism makes more sense than atheism; and he will show you the distinction between the notion of a God Creator who continues to intervene in creation, and what he refers to “Einsteinian religion,” the awe inspired by knowledge of the amazing universe we inhabit.

And he has an answer for you if you argue that you have a religious belief in God but not the kind of ridiculous belief in a God with a beard in the Sky and a literal interpretation of the Bible.  The answer is that you can call yourself religious or Christian, but the overwhelming majority of those who call themselves Christian (or Jewish or Muslim) do believe in that Personal God who created it all and continues to communicate with us and intervene where He chooses (and not to intervene where He chooses not (Pope John Paul II, when he suffered an assassination attempt in Rome, attributed his survival  to intervention of Our Lady of Fatima: “a maternal hand guided the bullet.”  Watkins wonders why she didn’t guide the bullet to miss him entirely, and he speaks up for giving credit to the surgeons who operated for six hours to save him.  He also wonders why the Lady of Fatima, and whether the Ladies of Guadalupe, Medjugorje, Akita, Zeitoun and Garabandal were too busy at the time to lend a hand).

Now here is the name of the Senator who is responsible for the quote complaining about the pressures from organized religion.  You were wrong if you guessed a liberal like Ted Kennedy or Al Franken.  The answer is: Barry Goldwater, and he ended the quote as follows: “… I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of conservatism.” (emphasis added).

And, oh yes, my favorite one liner of them all: “Blasphemy is a victemless crime.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blasphemy is a Victimless Crime: a Book Review February 25, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in About God, About Religion, Religion.
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Roger Hollander

www.rogerhollander.com, February 24, 2010

The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins, Transworld Publishers (Random House), London, Black Swan edition, 2007.

If it didn’t go against the very spirit of the author’s work, it would be tempting to call Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” the Atheist’s Bible.  Dawkins is no fan of Bibles, Korans, or scriptures of any sort.  He is a fan of science; he is a renowned evolutionary biologist; but he does not make a religion of it.  That is an important point because many of his critics have accused him of just that.

For Dawkins the dichotomy is not the religion of God versus the religion of Atheism, rather it is belief based upon evidence (science) versus belief that is founded upon faith (religion).  He argues passionately and, in my opinion effectively, against those who say the two spheres are mutually exclusive; that faith has nothing to say about science and, more to the point, that science has nothing to say about faith.  If there is a God, for example, as millions of believers believe, who can simultaneously enter into the mind of every human being on earth and listen to prayers and communicate back, then scientists who study the human mind surely would be interested to explore, understand and evaluate the phenomenon.  Dawkins shows how “faith heads” are quick to discount science when it contradicts belief but jump on any shred of scientific evidence that might verify a Biblical notion.  The case study of religious “scientists” who with diligence attempted (using double blind studies, control groups, etc.) to prove that God answers prayers (the result: He doesn’t) is both humorous and grotesque.  I am reminded of an experiment I once read about where religious “scientists” took the weight of dying individuals just before the moment of death and just after, in order to determine the weight of the human soul (which they presumed left the physical body at the moment of death).

If you appreciate the scientific mind, you will love Dawkins.  Along with a comprehensive and penetrating knowledge, not only of his own field of Darwinian studies, but in many other areas of science, Dawkins has the gift of explanation, he is lucid and logical to a fault, and he writes with equal doses of humour and passion.  He is highly opinionated, and that offended many of his wishy-washy post-modernist critics, but his opinions are painstakingly based upon careful and reproducible experimentation, analysis and sound reasoning.

I will not attempt here to review the entire work for it is of epic proportions, but rather to underscore what I consider to be some of its most salient points.  I urge you to read it for yourself.

The God whose existence Dawkins undertakes to disprove is the God of Abraham, the founder of three of the world’s greatest religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam; the alleged Creator of the Universe.  By giving the reader what amounts to a mini-course in Darwinian evolutionary biology, he shows the high degree of improbability that such a deity could have done what He is alleged to have done.  Along the way he dissects, excoriates, and destroys the arguments and theories of those latter day Creationists, who have come up with a false science called “Intelligent Design” in their weasely attempt to introduce Biblical “science” into the science curriculum of public schools through the back door.

Dawkins makes the distinction between agnosticism and atheism, and his major reason for opting for atheism is that agnosticism as he understands it posits an equal possibility of the existence or non-existence of God, whereas he believes the probability is almost nil.  From my perspective it is not that important a distinction; but after having read his entire argument, I tend to agree, especially in this era of the resurgence of totalitarian religious fundamentalism at a global level, that it is important to counteract vigorously and mercilessly conclusions about the reality of our universe that are based upon faith or revelation rather than scientific observation.

It should be noted that this work is not so much an assault on the belief in God as much as it is an attack on religion itself.  When criticized for concentrating on the more extreme fundamentalists, he counters by demonstrating how to a large extent fundamentalist based totalitarian theocracy has moved into the mainstream.  But more fundamentally, he demonstrates that the kind of moderate religion that sees the Bible as metaphoric, for example, rather than literal, nonetheless is telling us to base belief on faith as opposed to evidence, a notion that makes us vulnerable to deception and manipulation.

He bemoans the fact that we tend to treat faith-based notions with kid gloves, that we bend over backwards not to offend religious belief in a way that we would not allow, for example, for political ideas.  Evolutionary cosmology, for example, tells us that our earth is millions of years old, whereas the Bible tells us it is some six thousand years old.  He cites respected scientists who accept the Biblical version “on faith” when forced to choose between science and faith.  Kurt Wise, an American geologist, for example, “… if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate.”

Dawkins would ask us not to credit, in the name of religious tolerance, such deliberate blindness (to give an idea of proportion, believing the Biblical data on the age of the earth would be like believing that New York is about seven yards from San Francisco).

Dawkins is perhaps most passionate when it comes to children.  He asserts, for example, that there is not such thing as a Catholic child, rather a child of Catholic parents.  He sees the indoctrination of children, who are incapable of weighing the evidence and making judgments for themselves, as tantamount to child abuse, an assault on the development of their critical faculties.  He cites Victor Hugo: “In every village there is a torch – the teacher: and an extinguisher – the clergyman.”

In an interesting section of the book, one where is scientific evidence and reasoning is more speculative and open to different interpretation, he gives theories on why religion is so universal and all pervasive from a Darwinian evolutionary standpoint.  To survive the evolution process of natural selection, one must have positive, advantageous characteristics; so if religion is so destructive, how come it has survived and prospered?  One theory is that at one point in human evolution the need to trust (especially parental) authority without question was necessary for survival; organized religion based upon unquestioned belief then is an aberration,  a left-over from an earlier evolutionary stage.

From Thomas Jefferson to Bertrand Russell, Dawkins cites respected sceptics who have chosen reason over faith.  Let us here give the final word to Thomas Jefferson:

“The priests of the different religious sects … dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight, and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subdivision of the duperies on which they live.”

Thank God I’m and Atheist December 7, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Religion, Religion.
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 by Roger Hollander, December 7, 2009

 Get in line in that processional,
Step into that small confessional,
There, the guy who’s got religion’ll
Tell you if your sin’s original.
If it is, try playin’ it safer,
Drink the wine and chew the wafer,
Two, four, six, eight,
Time to transubstantiate!

 Tom Lehrer, “The Vatican Rag”

 

You hungry, ain’t you, babies.

 Lord Buckley, “The Naz”

 

 Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.  It is the opium of the people.

Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Introduction (1843)

 

 

 I live in what is referred to as a “Catholic country” in South America.  The Church and its rituals and its paraphernalia are ubiquitous.

 

I have a profound disrespect for institutionalized religion, and that most certainly includes the Roman Catholic Church.

 

I make it a point, however, not to disparage individual believers or to show disrespect, although, if the circumstances permit, I will quite willingly enter into debate on questions of faith and belief.

 

This weekend I had occasion to attend the first communion ceremony of a ten year old niece.  I sat patiently through the mass and participated in the après mass family photo taking and then the party at the parents’ home.

 

Here is a short list of what offended me about the ceremony:

 

  • The indoctrination of young children

 

  • The emphasis on confession, guilt and a repressive notion of sin whereby war can be OK, but masturbation or pre-marital intercourse can send you to you know where

 

  • The false, arrogant and unctuous attitude of the priest and his attempt to appear “cool”

 

  • The display of ostentatious wealth in a dirt-poor country (this was an upper-middle class all white congregation); the money spent on designer dresses, thousand dollar suits, beauty parlour hair-dos,and expensive digital cameras could feed the population of the near-by slum ghetto for a year

 

Here is a short list of what offends me about the Roman Catholic Church:

 

  • A pope who is a former Nazi youth and who, as a Cardinal and chief defender of the faith, did all he could to destroy local autonomy and suffocate the promotion of Liberation Theology

 

  • The Church patriarchy, its misogyny, the policy of celibacy, its protection of child abuser priests, and its aggressive stand on therapeutic abortion, which has caused untold death and suffering for women around the globe

 

  • The Church’s past and present active support for dictatorships and authoritarian regimes

 

I endured a mass through which I sat with bitterness in my heart, and this little essay is my attempt to get it off my chest.  Having done that I would like to end on a positive note by saying that some good things happened as well.  Children were made to feel special (this was “first communion weekend” in Ecuador, with thousands participating; at the mass I attended there were about 35 children taking their first communion).  It brought families together in joyful celebration.  Most children will end up living their Catholicism as a cultural artefact and will resist the authoritarianism of the Church.

 

Karl Marx’s classic statement (cited above) about religion is usually taken out of context and wrongly considered to be anti-religious.  I do not believe it is inconsistent to be Marxist and Christian (or any other religion) at the same time.  Even within the Catholic Church there have been and are those who struggle and sacrifice for the good of humanity.  Marx was not a critic of the spiritual; rather he wished to replace the misguided hope for the relief of suffering via faith in a future heaven with the revolutionary struggle to transform human social structures as a means of alleviating human suffering on earth.

ps. for the record, in case God is listening, I consider myself an agnostic, not an atheist, but I couldn’t resist the oxymoron title.

 

 

 

 

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