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Also here on Anne Frandi-Coory’s Facebook page 

https://www.facebook.com/myhomelibrary/

 

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Updated 5 June 2017 

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A must read for anyone interested in the background of the three monotheistic religions spawned in the Middle East:

Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Christopher Hitchens’ quotes from the book:

“There would be no such churches in the first place, if humanity had not been afraid of the weather, the dark, the plague, the eclipse, and all manner of other things now easily explicable. And also if humanity had not been compelled, on pain of extremely painful consequences, to pay the exorbitant tithes and taxes that raised the imposing edifices of religion.”

“What is religion, if not political in terms of governing the people?”

“As far as I am aware, there is no country in the world today where slavery is still practiced, where the justification of it is not derived from the Qur’an.”

Read about the blatant plagiarism by Christianity and Islam from ancient Judaism and Paganism, and the violence perpetrated by all of these religions against non-believers. Christopher Hitchens is a gifted writer, historian and philosopher; I could not put this book down once I began reading it. Now more than ever, this is a book for our times, with our world in jeopardy because of the war being waged between the Christian West and Islam.

There can no longer be any doubt that the religious indoctrination of children is child abuse.

– Anne Frandi-Coory

“Merciless…quite comical…trenchant and witty… God Is Not Great is a treasure house of zingers worthy of Mark Twain or Mencken.” – Daniel C. Dennett, Boston Globe

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Are USA, Australia, Secularist or Theocratic Countries?

Although the following discussion refers to USA, it could easily refer to

LNP far right conservative  government of Australia in 2017: 

The Catholic Church, Jesus, Religion in State Schools, Nazi alliance with the Vatican, Islam, Jihad, Christianity

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dawkins_hitchens in conversation photo Newstatesman

Richard Dawkins’ last interview with Christopher Hitchens in 2011 (photo; New Statesman)

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“Never be afraid of stridency”:

Richard Dawkins’ interview with Christopher Hitchens

Is America heading for theocracy?

How worrying is the rise of the Tea Party?

Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins discuss God and US politics.

Transcribed by Richard Dawkins

RD: As an Orwell scholar, you must have a particular view of North Korea, Stalin, the Soviet Union, and you must get irritated – perhaps even more than I do – by the constant refrain we hear: “Stalin was an atheist.”

CH: We don’t know for sure that he was. Hitler definitely wasn’t. There is a possibility that Himmler was. It’s very unlikely but it wouldn’t make any difference, either way. There’s no mandate in atheism for any particular kind of politics, anyway.

RD: The people who did Hitler’s dirty work were almost all religious.

CH: I’m afraid the SS’s relationship with the Catholic Church is something the Church still has to deal with and does not deny.

RD: Can you talk a bit about that – the relationship of Nazism with the Catholic Church?

CH: The way I put it is this: if you’re writing about the history of the 1930s and the rise of totalitarianism, you can take out the word “fascist”, if you want, for Italy, Portugal, Spain, Czechoslovakia and Austria and replace it with “extreme right Catholic party”. Almost all of those regimes were in place with the help of the Vatican and with understandings from the Holy See. It’s not denied. These understandings quite often persisted after the Second World War was over and extended to comparable regimes in Argentina and elsewhere.

RD: But there were individual priests who did good things.

CH: Not very many. You would know their names if there were more of them. When it comes to National Socialism, there’s no question there’s a mutation, a big one – the Nazis wanted their own form of worship. Just as they thought they were a separate race, they wanted their own religion. They dug out the Norse gods, all kinds of extraordinary myths and legends from the old sagas. They wanted to control the churches. They were willing to make a deal with them. The first deal Hitler made with the Catholic Church was the Konkordat. The Church agreed to dissolve its political party and he got control over German education, which was a pretty good deal. Celebrations of his birthday were actually by order from the pulpit. When Hitler survived an assassination attempt, prayers were said, and so forth. But there’s no doubt about it, [the Nazis] wanted control – and they were willing to clash with the churches to get it. There’s another example. You swore on Almighty God that you would never break your oath to the Führer. This is not even secular, let alone atheist.

RD: There was also grace before meals, personally thanking Adolf Hitler.

CH: I believe there was. Certainly, you can hear the oath being taken – there are recordings of it – but this, Richard, is a red herring. It’s not even secular. They’re changing the subject.

RD: But it comes up over and over again.

CH: You mentioned North Korea. It is, in every sense, a theocratic state. It’s almost supernatural, in that the births of the [ruling] Kim family are considered to be mysterious and accompanied by happenings. It’s a necrocracy or mausolocracy, but there’s no possible way you could say it’s a secular state, let alone an atheist one.

Attempts to found new religions should attract our scorn just as much as the alliances with the old ones do. All they’re saying is that you can’t claim Hitler was distinctively or specifically Christian: “Maybe if he had gone on much longer, he would have de-Christianised a bit more.” This is all a complete fog of nonsense. It’s bad history and it’s bad propaganda.

RD: And bad logic, because there’s no connection between atheism and doing horrible things, whereas there easily can be a connection in the case of religion, as we see with modern Islam.

CH: To the extent that they are new religions – Stalin worship and Kim Il-sungism – we, like all atheists, regard them with horror.

RD: You debated with Tony Blair. I’m not sure I watched that. I love listening to you [but] I can’t bear listening to . . . Well, I mustn’t say that. I think he did come over as rather nice on that evening.

CH: He was charming, that evening. And during the day, as well.

RD: What was your impression of him?

CH: You can only have one aim per debate. I had two in debating with Tony Blair. The first one was to get him to admit that it was not done – the stuff we complain of – in only the name of religion. That’s a cop-out. The authority is in the text. Second, I wanted to get him to admit, if possible, that giving money to a charity or organising a charity does not vindicate a cause. I got him to the first one and I admired his honesty. He was asked by the interlocutor at about half-time: “Which of Christopher’s points strikes you as the best?” He said: “I have to admit, he’s made his case, he’s right. This stuff, there is authority for it in the canonical texts, in Islam, Judaism.” At that point, I’m ready to fold – I’ve done what I want for the evening. We did debate whether Catholic charities and so on were a good thing and I said: “They are but they don’t prove any point and some of them are only making up for damage done.” For example, the Church had better spend a lot of money doing repair work on its Aids policy in Africa, [to make up for preaching] that condoms don’t prevent disease or, in some cases, that they spread it. It is iniquitous. It has led to a lot of people dying, horribly. Also, I’ve never looked at some of the ground operations of these charities – apart from Mother Teresa – but they do involve a lot of proselytising, a lot of propaganda. They’re not just giving out free stuff. They’re doing work to recruit.

RD: And Mother Teresa was one of the worst offenders?

CH: She preached that poverty was a gift from God. And she believed that women should not be given control over the reproductive cycle. Mother Teresa spent her whole life making sure that the one cure for poverty we know is sound was not implemented. So Tony Blair knows this but he doesn’t have an answer. If I say, “Your Church preaches against the one cure for poverty,” he doesn’t deny it, but he doesn’t affirm it either. But remember, I did start with a text and I asked him to comment on it first, but he never did. Cardinal Newman said he would rather the whole world and everyone in it be painfully destroyed and condemned for ever to eternal torture than one sinner go unrebuked for the stealing of a sixpence. It’s right there in the centre of the Apologia. The man whose canonisation Tony had been campaigning for. You put these discrepancies in front of him and he’s like all the others. He keeps two sets of books. And this is also, even in an honest person, shady.

RD: It’s like two minds, really. One notices this with some scientists.

CH: I think we all do it a bit.

RD: Do we?

CH: We’re all great self-persuaders.

RD: But do we hold such extreme contradictions in our heads?

CH: We like to think our colleagues would point them out, in our group, anyway. No one’s pointed out to me in reviewing my God book God Is Not Great that there’s a flat discrepancy between the affirmation he makes on page X and the affirmation he makes on page Y.

RD: But they do accuse you of being a contrarian, which you’ve called yourself

CH: Well, no, I haven’t. I’ve disowned it. I was asked to address the idea of it and I began by saying it’s got grave shortcomings as an idea, but I am a bit saddled with it.

RD: I’ve always been very suspicious of the left/right dimension in politics.

CH: Yes; it’s broken down with me.

RD: It’s astonishing how much traction the left/right continuum [has] . . . If you know what someone thinks about the death penalty or abortion, then you generally know what they think about everything else. But you clearly break that rule.

CH: I have one consistency, which is [being] against the totalitarian – on the left and on the right. The totalitarian, to me, is the enemy – the one that’s absolute, the one that wants control over the inside of your head, not just your actions and your taxes. And the origins of that are theocratic, obviously. The beginning of that is the idea that there is a supreme leader, or infallible pope, or a chief rabbi, or whatever, who can ventriloquise the divine and tell us what to do. That has secular forms with gurus and dictators, of course, but it’s essentially the same. There have been some thinkers – Orwell is pre-eminent – who understood that, unfortunately, there is innate in humans a strong tendency to worship, to become abject. So we’re not just fighting the dictators. We’re criticising our fellow humans for trying to short-cut, to make their lives simpler, by surrendering and saying, “[If] you offer me bliss, of course I’m going to give up some of my mental freedom for that.” We say it’s a false bargain: you’ll get nothing. You’re a fool.

RD: That part of you that was, or is, of the radical left is always against the totalitarian dictators.

CH: Yes. I was a member of the Trotskyist group – for us, the socialist movement could only be revived if it was purged of Stalinism . . . It’s very much a point for our view that Stalinism was a theocracy.

RD: One of my main beefs with religion is the way they label children as a “Catholic child” or a “Muslim child”. I’ve become a bit of a bore about it.

CH: You must never be afraid of that charge, any more than stridency.

RD: I will remember that.

CH: If I was strident, it doesn’t matter – I was a jobbing hack, I bang my drum. You have a discipline in which you are very distinguished. You’ve educated a lot of people; nobody denies that, not even your worst enemies. You see your discipline being attacked and defamed and attempts made to drive it out.

Stridency is the least you should muster . . . It’s the shame of your colleagues that they don’t form ranks and say, “Listen, we’re going to defend our colleagues from these appalling and obfuscating elements.” If you go on about something, the worst thing the English will say about you, as we both know – as we can say of them, by the way – is that they’re boring.

RD: Indeed. Only this morning, I was sent a copy of [advice from] a British government website, called something like “The Responsibilities of Parents”. One of these responsibilities was “determine the child’s religion”. Literally, determine. It means establish, cause . . . I couldn’t ask for a clearer illustration, because, sometimes, when I make my complaint about this, I’m told nobody actually does label children Catholic children or Muslim children.

CH: Well, the government does. It’s borrowed, as far as I can see, in part from British imperial policy, in turn borrowed from Ottoman and previous empires – you classify your new subjects according to their faith. You can be an Ottoman citizen but you’re a Jewish one or an Armenian Christian one. And some of these faiths tell their children that the children of other faiths are going to hell. I think we can’t ban that, nor can we call it “hate speech”, which I’m dubious about anyway, but there should be a wrinkle of disapproval.

RD: I would call it mental child abuse.

CH: I can’t find a way, as a libertarian, of saying that people can’t raise their children, as they say, according to their rights. But the child has rights and society does, too. We don’t allow female – and I don’t think we should countenance male – genital mutilation. Now, it would be very hard to say that you can’t tell your child that they are lucky and they have joined the one true faith. I don’t see how you stop it. I only think the rest of society should look at it with a bit of disapproval, which it doesn’t. If you’re a Mormon and you run for office and say, “Do you believe in the golden plates that were dug up by Joseph Smith?” – which [Mitt] Romney hasn’t been asked yet – sorry, you’re going to get mocked. You’re going to get laughed at.

RD: There is a tendency among liberals to feel that religion should be off the table.

CH: Or even that there’s anti-religious racism, which I think is a terrible limitation.

RD: Romney has questions to answer.

CH: Certainly, he does. The question of Mormon racism did come up, to be fair, and the Church did very belatedly make amends for saying what, in effect, it had been saying: that black people’s souls weren’t human, quite. They timed it suspiciously for the passage of legislation. Well, OK, then they grant the right of society to amend [the legislation]. To that extent, they’re opportunists.

RD: But what about the daftness of Mormonism? The fact that Joseph Smith was clearly a charlatan –

CH: I know, it’s extraordinary.

RD: I think there is a convention in America that you don’t tackle somebody about their religion.

CH: Yes, and in a way it’s attributed to pluralism. And so, to that extent, one wants to respect it, but I think it can be exploited. By many people, including splinter-group Mormons who still do things like plural marriage and, very repulsively, compulsory dowries – they basically give away their daughters, often to blood relatives. And also kinship marriages that are too close. This actually won’t quite do. When it is important, they tend to take refuge in: “You’re attacking my fundamental right.” I don’t think they really should be allowed that.

RD: Do you think America is in danger of becoming a theocracy?

CH: No, I don’t. The people who we mean when we talk about that – maybe the extreme Protestant evangelicals, who do want a God-run America and believe it was founded on essentially fundamentalist Protestant principles – I think they may be the most overrated threat in the country.

RD: Oh, good.

CH: They’ve been defeated everywhere. Why is this? In the 1920s, they had a string of victories. They banned the sale, manufacture and distribution and consumption of alcohol. They made it the constitution. They more or less managed to ban immigration from countries that had non-Protestant, non-white majorities. From these victories, they have never recovered. They’ll never recover from [the failure of] Prohibition. It was their biggest defeat. They’ll never recover from the Scopes trial. Every time they’ve tried [to introduce the teaching of creationism], the local school board or the parents or the courts have thrown it out and it’s usually because of the work of people like you, who have shown that it’s nonsense. They try to make a free speech question out of it but they will fail with that, also. People don’t want to come from the town or the state or the county that gets laughed at.

RD: Yes.

CH: In all my tours around the South, it’s amazing how many people – Christians as well – want to disprove the idea that they’re all in thrall to people like [the fundamentalist preacher Jerry] Falwell. They don’t want to be a laughing stock.

RD: Yes.

CH: And if they passed an ordinance saying there will be prayer in school every morning from now on, one of two things would happen: it would be overthrown in no time by all the courts, with barrels of laughter heaped over it, or people would say: “Very well, we’re starting with Hindu prayer on Monday.” They would regret it so bitterly that there are days when I wish they would have their own way for a short time.

RD: Oh, that’s very cheering.

CH: I’m a bit more worried about the extreme, reactionary nature of the papacy now. But that again doesn’t seem to command very big allegiance among the American congregation. They are disobedient on contraception, flagrantly; on divorce; on gay marriage, to an extraordinary degree that I wouldn’t have predicted; and they’re only holding firm on abortion, which, in my opinion, is actually a very strong moral question and shouldn’t be decided lightly. I feel very squeamish about it. I believe that the unborn child is a real concept, in other words. We needn’t go there, but I’m not a complete abortion-on-demand fanatic. I think it requires a bit of reflection. But anyway, even on that, the Catholic Communion is very agonised. And also, [when] you go and debate with them, very few of them could tell you very much about what the catechism really is. It’s increasingly cultural Catholicism.

RD: That is true, of course.

CH: So, really, the only threat from religious force in America is the same as it is, I’m afraid, in many other countries – from outside. And it’s jihadism, some of it home-grown, but some of that is so weak and so self-discrediting.

RD: It’s more of a problem in Britain.

CH: And many other European countries, where its alleged root causes are being allowed slightly too friendly an interrogation, I think. Make that much too friendly.

RD: Some of our friends are so worried about Islam that they’re prepared to lend support to Christianity as a kind of bulwark against it.

CH: I know many Muslims who, in leaving the faith, have opted to go . . . to Christianity or via it to non-belief. Some of them say it’s the personality of Jesus of Nazareth. The mild and meek one, as compared to the rather farouche, physical, martial, rather greedy . . .

RD: Warlord.

CH: . . . Muhammad. I can see that that might have an effect.

RD: Do you ever worry that if we win and, so to speak, destroy Christianity, that vacuum would be filled by Islam?

CH: No, in a funny way, I don’t worry that we’ll win. All that we can do is make absolutely sure that people know there’s a much more wonderful and interesting and beautiful alternative. No, I don’t think that Europe would fill up with Muslims as it emptied of Christians. Christianity has defeated itself in that it has become a cultural thing. There really aren’t believing Christians in the way there were generations ago.

RD: Certainly in Europe that’s true – but in America?

CH: There are revivals, of course, and among Jews as well. But I think there’s a very long running tendency in the developed world and in large areas elsewhere for people to see the virtue of secularism, the separation of church and state, because they’ve tried the alternatives . . . Every time something like a jihad or a sharia movement has taken over any country – admittedly they’ve only been able to do it in very primitive cases – it’s a smouldering wreck with no productivity.

RD: Total failure. If you look at religiosity across countries of the world and, indeed, across the states of the US, you find that religiosity tends to correlate with poverty and with various other indices of social deprivation.

CH: Yes. That’s also what it feeds on. But I don’t want to condescend about that. I know a lot of very educated, very prosperous, very thoughtful people who believe.

RD: Do you think [Thomas] Jefferson and [James] Madison were deists, as is often said?

CH: I think they fluctuated, one by one. Jefferson is the one I’m more happy to pronounce on. The furthest he would go in public was to incline to a theistic enlightened view but, in his private correspondence, he goes much further. He says he wishes we could return to the wisdom of more than 2,000 years ago. That’s in his discussion of his own Jefferson Bible, where he cuts out everything supernatural relating to Jesus. But also, very importantly, he says to his nephew Peter Carr in a private letter [on the subject of belief]: “Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise and the love of others which it will procure you.” Now, that can only be written by someone who’s had that experience.

RD: It’s very good, isn’t it?

CH: In my judgement, it’s an internal reading, but I think it’s a close one. There was certainly no priest at his bedside. But he did violate a rule of C S Lewis’s and here I’m on Lewis’s side. Lewis says it is a cop-out to say Jesus was a great moralist. He said it’s the one thing we must not say; it is a wicked thing to say. If he wasn’t the Son of God, he was a very evil impostor and his teachings were vain and fraudulent. You may not take the easy route here and say: “He may not have been the Son of God and he may not have been the Redeemer, but he was a wonderful moralist.” Lewis is more honest than Jefferson in this point. I admire Lewis for saying that. Rick Perry said it the other day.

RD: Jesus could just have been mistaken.

CH: He could. It’s not unknown for people to have the illusion that they’re God or the Son. It’s a common delusion but, again, I don’t think we need to condescend. Rick Perry once said: “Not only do I believe that Jesus is my personal saviour but I believe that those who don’t are going to eternal punishment.” He was challenged at least on the last bit and he said, “I don’t have the right to alter the doctrine. I can’t say it’s fine for me and not for others.”

RD: So we ought to be on the side of these fundamentalists?

CH: Not “on the side”, but I think we should say that there’s something about their honesty that we wish we could find.

RD: Which we don’t get in bishops . . .

CH: Our soft-centred bishops at Oxford and other people, yes.

RD: I’m often asked why it is that this republic [of America], founded in secularism, is so much more religious than those western European countries that have an official state religion, like Scandinavia and Britain.

CH: [Alexis] de Tocqueville has it exactly right. If you want a church in America, you have to build it by the sweat of your own brow and many have. That’s why they’re attached to them.

RD: Yes.

CH: [Look at] the Greek Orthodox community in Brooklyn. What’s the first thing it will do? It will build itself a little shrine. The Jews – not all of them – remarkably abandoned their religion very soon after arriving from the shtetl.

RD: Are you saying that most Jews have abandoned their religion?

CH: Increasingly in America. When you came to escape religious persecution and you didn’t want to replicate it, that’s a strong memory. The Jews very quickly secularised when they came. American Jews must be the most secular force on the planet now, as a collective. If they are a collective –which they’re not, really.

RD: While not being religious, they often still observe the Sabbath and that kind of thing.

CH: There’s got to be something cultural. I go to Passover every year. Sometimes, even I have a seder, because I want my child to know that she does come very distantly from another tradition. It would explain if she met her great grandfather why he spoke Yiddish. It’s cultural, but the Passover seder is also the Socratic forum. It’s dialectical. It’s accompanied by wine. It’s got the bones of quite a good discussion in it. And then there is manifest destiny. People feel America is just so lucky. It’s between two oceans, filled with minerals, wealth, beauty. It does seem providential to many people.

RD: Promised land, city on a hill.

CH: All that and the desire for another Eden. Some secular utopians came here with the same idea. Thomas Paine and others all thought of America as a great new start for the species.

RD: But that was all secular.

CH: A lot of it was, but you can’t get away from the liturgy: it’s too powerful. You will end up saying things like “promised land” and it can be mobilised for sinister purposes. But in a lot of cases, it’s a mild belief. It’s just: “We should share our good luck.”

RD: I’ve heard another theory that, America being a country of immigrants, people coming from Europe, where they left their extended family and left their support system, were alone and they needed something.

CH: Surely that was contained in what I just . . .

RD: Maybe it was.

CH: The reason why most of my friends are non-believers is not particularly that they were engaged in the arguments you and I have been having, but they were made indifferent by compulsory religion at school.

RD: They got bored by it.

CH: They’d had enough of it. They took from it occasionally whatever they needed – if you needed to get married, you knew where to go. Some of them, of course, are religious and some of them like the music but, generally speaking, the British people are benignly indifferent to religion.

RD: And the fact that there is an established church increases that effect. Churches should not be tax-free the way that they are. Not automatically, anyway.

CH: No, certainly not. If the Church has demanded that equal time be given to creationist or pseudo-creationist speculations . . . any Church that teaches that in its school and is in receipt of federal money from the faith-based initiative must, by law, also teach Darwinism and alternative teachings, in order that the debate is being taught. I don’t think they want this.

RD: No.

CH: Tell them if they want equal time, we’ll jolly well have it. That’s why they’ve always been against comparative religion.

RD: Comparative religion would be one of the best weapons, I suspect.

CH: It’s got so insipid in parts of America now that a lot of children are brought up – as their parents aren’t doing it and leave it to the schools and the schools are afraid of it – with no knowledge of any religion of any kind. I would like children to know what religion is about because [otherwise] some guru or cult or revivalists will sweep them up.

RD: They’re vulnerable. I also would like them to know the Bible for literary reasons.

CH: Precisely. We both, I was pleased to see, have written pieces about the King James Bible. The AV [Authorised Version], as it was called in my boyhood. A huge amount of English literature would be opaque if people didn’t know it.

RD: Absolutely, yes. Have you read some of the modern translations? “Futile, said the preacher. Utterly futile.”

CH: He doesn’t!

RD: He does, honestly. “Futile, futile said the priest. It’s all futile.”

CH: That’s Lamentations.

RD: No, it’s Ecclesiastes. “Vanity, vanity.”

CH: “Vanity, vanity.” Good God. That’s the least religious book in the Bible. That’s the one that Orwell wanted at his funeral.

RD: I bet he did. I sometimes think the poetry comes from the intriguing obscurity of mistranslation. “When the sound of the grinding is low, the grasshopper is heard in the land . . . The grasshopper shall be a burden.” What the hell?

CH: The Book of Job is the other great non-religious one, I always feel. “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” Try to do without that. No, I’m glad we’re on the same page there. People tell me that the recitation of the Quran can have the same effect if you understand the original language. I wish I did. Some of the Catholic liturgy is attractive.

RD: I don’t know enough Latin to judge that.

CH: Sometimes one has just enough to be irritated.

RD: Yes [laughs]. Can you say anything about Christmas?

CH: Yes. There was going to be a winter solstice holiday for sure. The dominant religion was going to take it over and that would have happened without Dickens and without others.

RD: The Christmas tree comes from Prince Albert; the shepherds and the wise men are all made up.

CH: Cyrenius wasn’t governor of Syria, all of that. Increasingly, it’s secularised itself. This “Happy Holidays” – I don’t particularly like that, either.

RD: Horrible, isn’t it? “Happy holiday season.”

CH: I prefer our stuff about the cosmos.

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The day after this interview, I was honoured to present an award to Christopher Hitchens in the presence of a large audience in Texas that gave him a standing ovation, first as he entered the hall and again at the end of his deeply moving speech. My own presentation speech ended with a tribute, in which I said that every day he demonstrates the falsehood of the lie that there are no atheists in foxholes: “Hitch is in a foxhole, and he is dealing with it with a courage, an honesty and a dignity that any of us would be, and should be, proud to muster.” – Richard Dawkins

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The 2011 Christmas issue of the New Statesman was guest edited by Richard Dawkins. 

It was to be Christopher Hitchens’ final interview; he died as it was published.

Christopher Hitchens was  a former journalist at the New Statesman

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-Anne Frandi-Coory  3 September 2015

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Charles Freeman’s book about civilisations of the Ancient Mediterranean

I have just been reading Egypt, Greece and Rome; Civilisations of the Ancient Mediterranean by Charles Freeman , published 1999.  What an amazing book of 638 pages.

Not as much of a chore to read as you might think. The author breaks the book into easy to follow chapters and titled paragraphs.  He uses date charts, date lists, events and maps to great effect and to which I referred constantly during the reading of the book.

The book has given me a better insight into the pre-history of these amazing civilisations, and to their relevance today. Mr Freeman takes the reader on an epic journey from Egypt in 4,500 BC to Eastern and Western Empires up to 1000 AD.  He brings together the most interesting and salient stories. In one sense, not much has changed.  Constant wars, plagues, atheism, religious diversity,polemics, politics, the fight for democracy, all played a part.

Carthage (now Tunisia) , for instance, was a prosperous and thriving Phoenician city in the 5th Century BC, and Greece was pioneering philosophy and   theatre.   Greek philosophers travelled the Mediterranean teaching students to “look” at both sides of an argument.  Trading goods between the various states was the chief activity that brought so many disparate groups together.  What I also loved about this book, are the references to legend and myth, and how they intertwined everyday life across the Mediterranean world. I especially enjoyed the sections on Classical Greece, a favourite era of mine, and the references to its literature.

In Chapter 14, Mr Freeman expands on the 5th Century origins of drama (one of the greatest of Athenian Inventions, by no means a universal human experience),  poetry, tragedy, theatre with such names as Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, and Aristophanes, that satirical playwright extraordinaire.

During these times, beliefs in various gods were tied in with natural events,  human frailty and excesses.  Travel was relatively easy throughout Greece and the Mediterranean, and even non-citizens could find skilled work. Differing versions of the genealogy of gods wasn’t a hindrance, and most visitors ‘slotted in’ with local lore.

It was interesting to read the section on Sophists. The original meaning of the word ‘Sophist’ was anyone with exceptional talent.  However, members of this group were attacked  by both Plato and Aristophanes (satirically) for daring to present arguments  for and against any motion. Sophists can be credited with pioneering the study of religion as a social and anthropological phenomenon according to Mr Freeman. They disagreed strongly with the belief that there was some divine principle at work in the Universe. (Modern atheists, take note!) The Sophist, Protagoras, spent most of his life as a travelling teacher. He wrote: “Concerning the gods, I am unable to discover whether they exist or not, or what they are like in form; for there are many hindrances to knowledge, the obscurity of the subject and the brevity of human life.”  He proclaimed: “Man is the measure of all things.”   Athens was implementing democratic governance at this time and Protagoras’ proclamation could be taken as the slogan of democratic Athens.  Other Sophists suggested that gods originated in man’s experience of nature. The various gods had been created as personifications of natural phenomena such as the sun, moon, rivers, water and fire. To the Sophists men of shrewd and subtle minds invented for man the fear of the gods, to “frighten the wicked even if they acted, spoke or thought in secret.”  By the end of the century free thinking on religious matters was less tolerated.  Pestilence, war, tyrants and destruction killed optimistic fervour.

I wonder, is this what is happening in our world now?

 

-Anne Frandi-Coory  1 February 2011

 

 

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Also here on Anne Frandi-Coory’s Facebook page: 

https://www.facebook.com/myhomelibrary/

Mary & Jesus? No, actually Ancient Greek statue Tyche or Fortuna, the centre figure of a flourishing cult

You would think that a professor of this standing would get out of the past – say 5000 years ago – and think about the 21st Century;  Palistine and Israel?????    See article below:

An example by Raphael of God at his ‘smiting’ best:

LOT flees from Sodom; 'The Lord rained sulphur & fire from the sky on Sodom & Gomorrah devastating those cities and all the valley' -The Raphael Loggias.

Source: Associated Press COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — A Texas A&M professor promised to notify colleagues in the future before he re-enacts a Bible story in class that involves screaming about killing people.

The Nov. 23 outburst by Richard Stadelmann, a philosophy and religion professor, led a worried teacher in a nearby room to call police and led students in a neighbouring classroom to take cover under their desks. Stadelmann was leading a religious studies class when he loudly slammed a door and began yelling about Jonah’s rage at God for not smiting the Assyrians (my emphasis). (See Religious Beliefs Questioned)

 

Date Chart from 'Egypt, Greece & Rome' author: Charles Freeman. (click on image to enlarge)


Stadelmann, who is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), says he was into character and “genuinely angry.”

Police were called off when it became clear that nobody was in danger.

Biblical Scene: 'Noah's Sacrifice' Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione known as Grechetto (early 17th Century)

The interesting and thought-provoking  article below reinforces musings on my previous post Are We But a Flock of Sheep?

I am sure that the beautiful religious images painted by Italian artists helped persuade many a young mind toward belief in Catholic dogma and biblical stories.  I know I was captivated by their depictions of saints and martyrdom.

Article below. Source: Council for Secular Humanism:

Author: Peter Singer

Freedom of speech is important, and it must include the freedom to say what everyone else believes to be false, and even what many people take to be offensive. Religion remains a major obstacle to basic reforms that reduce unnecessary suffering. Think of issues like contraception, abortion, the status of women in society, the use of embryos for medical research, physician-assisted suicide, attitudes towards homosexuality, and the treatment of animals. In each case, somewhere in the world, religious beliefs have been a barrier to changes that would make the world more sustainable, freer, and more humane.

So, we must preserve our freedom to deny the existence of God and to criticize the teachings of Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, and Buddha, as reported in texts that billions of people regard as sacred. Since it is sometimes necessary to use a little humor to prick the membrane of sanctimonious piety that frequently surrounds religious teachings, freedom of expression must include the freedom to ridicule as well.

Yet, the outcome of the publication of the Danish cartoons ridiculing Muhammad was a tragedy. More than a hundred people died in Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria, and other Islamic countries during the ensuing protests and riots. In hindsight, it would have been wiser not to publish the cartoons. The benefits were not worth the costs. But that judgment is, as I say, made with the benefit of hindsight, and it is not intended as a criticism of the actual decisions taken by the editors who published them and could not reasonably be expected to foresee the consequences.

To restrict freedom of expression because we fear such consequences would not be the right response. It would only provide an incentive for those who do not want to see their views criticized to engage in violent protests in the future. Instead, we should forcefully defend the right of newspaper editors to publish such cartoons, if they choose to do so, and hope that respect for freedom of expression will eventually spread to countries where it does not yet exist.

Unfortunately, even while the protests about the cartoons were still underway, a new problem about convincing Muslims of the genuineness of our respect for freedom of expression has arisen because of Austria’s conviction and imprisonment of David Irving for denying the existence of the Holocaust. We cannot consistently hold that it should be a criminal offense to deny the existence of the Holocaust and that cartoonists have a right to mock religious figures. David Irving should be freed.

Before you accuse me of failing to understand the sensitivities of victims of the Holocaust or the nature of Austrian anti-Semitism, I should tell you that I am the son of Austrian Jews. My parents escaped Austria in time, but my grandparents did not. All four of my grandparents were deported to ghettos in Poland and Czechoslovakia. Two of them were sent to Lodz, in Poland, and then probably murdered with carbon monoxide at the extermination camp at Chelmno. Another one fell ill and died in the overcrowded and underfed ghetto at Theresienstadt. My maternal grandmother was the only survivor.

So, I have no sympathy for David Irving’s absurd denial of the Holocaust-which, in his trial, he said was a mistake. I support efforts to prevent any return to Nazism in Austria or anywhere else. But how is the cause of truth served by prohibiting Holocaust denial? If there are still people crazy enough to deny that the Holocaust occurred, will they be persuaded by imprisoning some who express that view? On the contrary, they will be more likely to think that views people are being imprisoned for expressing cannot be refuted by evidence and argument alone.

In the aftermath of World War II, when the Austrian republic was struggling to establish itself as a democracy, it was reasonable, as a temporary emergency measure, for Austrian democrats to suppress Nazi ideas and propaganda. But that danger is long past. Austria is a democracy and a member of the European Union. Despite the occasional resurgence of anti-immigrant and even racist views-an occurrence that is, lamentably, not limited to former Nazi nations-there is no longer a serious threat of any return to Nazism in Austria.

Austria should repeal its law against Holocaust denial. Other European nations with similar laws-for example, Germany, France, Italy, and Poland-should do the same, while maintaining or strengthening their efforts to inform their citizens about the reality of the Holocaust and why the racist ideology that led to it should be rejected.

Laws against incitement to racial, religious, or ethnic hatred, in circumstances where that incitement is intended to, or can reasonably be foreseen to, lead to violence or other criminal acts, are different, and are compatible with the freedom to express any views at all.

In the current climate in Western nations, the suspicion of a particular hostility towards Islam, rather than other religions, is well justified. Only when David Irving has been freed will it be possible for Europeans to turn to the Islamic protesters and say: “We apply the principle of freedom of expression evenhandedly, whether it offends Muslims, Christians, Jews, or anyone else.”


Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University, New Jersey, is the author of, among other books: Pushing Time Away: My Grandfather,  and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna.

God’s Callgirl-a memoir

My childhood was spent in Roman Catholic institutions and my mother was a novice nun before her marriage (see ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar?’), so  these two books were of personal interest to me.   But of course they are both well written and interesting books in their own right, well worth the reading.

Carla Van Raay’s book God’s Callgirl is a perspective of the depths, in my opinion,  of how far Catholicism has sunk since the beginnings of Christianity and the teachings of Jesus.  Carla tells us  about her life from her upbringing within a strict Catholic family,  sexual and physical abuse by her father,  to her entry into a convent as a teenager and her later life as a sex worker. Her life in the convent was spent in prayer and unpaid drudgery, such as cleaning, teaching and needlework (which the convent sold) and when she finally leaves the convent she discovers her parents, who were not well off, were charged by the nuns for Carla’s board and keep!  She re-enters the real world as an innocent in every sense of the word. The convent was run by spiteful and cruel nuns within a strict hierarchy.  The convent’s inhabitants were called ‘The Faithful Companions of Jesus’, ironic to say the least.  Carla triumphs despite the best efforts of her parents and Catholicism.

My mother’s life was also one of hardship and emotional abuse in her convent which was called the ‘Home Of Compassion’.  My mother and I,  like Carla,  never experienced or witnessed any real and heart-felt compassion in any Catholic institutions!  In light of what is being exposed within the Catholic Church in recent times, it brings to my mind that saying  ‘The higher you fly, the further you fall’.

-Anne Frandi-Coory 8 July 2010

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A God Strolling in the Cool of the Evening – a novel

 

 

Mario De Carvalho’s book A God Strolling in the Cool of the Evening is well researched which is apparent when he takes the reader back to Rome around the time of Jesus.  The narrator is a Roman provincial official with whom we travel on  his rounds of duties in the township where he lives, in amongst slaves and the rest of the populace.  We learn how Roman officials spent their days and how they treated their women and their slaves.  He describes in detail his living quarters and official buildings and how governing decisions of the time were reached.  The book is  set in the era of Jesus’ preaching and that of his ragtag bands of followers.  Rome was then suspicious of their motives, before the time when Rome would eventually embrace this new religion as the state’s own.  Added to that, many felt threatened and alarmed by the way these ‘new sect’  devotees dressed and behaved.  It just wasn’t the Roman way.  Persecutions and killings of Jesus’  followers was rife but in spite of this, the bands grew in number and they willingly became martyrs for their new beliefs; they felt close to Jesus  spiritually, copied his  acts of compassion for the poor.  His God seemed a more humane one than the various Roman gods.  Rome and her officials were sinking into corruption and the poor suffered greatly at their hands.  For a Roman Official to speak out for a pleb or a slave, was not self-serving; demotion or  exile from one’s town , often both,  would be the outcome. -Anne Frandi-Coory 8 July 2010

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