Maxine Beneba Clarke is the Saturday Paper’s Poet Laureate and a winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry.
-Maxine Beneba Clarke 2019
Maxine Beneba Clarke is the Saturday Paper’s Poet Laureate and a winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry.
-Maxine Beneba Clarke 2019
Today, I would like to introduce to you an amazing lady and friend, Anne Frandi-Coory. We connected on Twitter five years ago, when another equally lovely lady, Melanie Selemidis recommended Anne to read my short stories. It was from then on, we found we had not only a common interest in ancient history and mythology, but we also shared the same culture, an Italian heritage. I’ve since read her heart-wrenching autobiographical/memoir, Whatever happened to Ishtar? and more recently, read her latest publication, Dragons, Deserts, and Dreams: poems, short stories and artworks. Her latest book, is a unique collection of poetry, artwork and stories of her familial heritage. Click here for my review of the book.
I asked Anne if she’d honour me with an interview, and she said yes! In this candid interview, Anne is honest and her answers will make you want to reach out and hug her. Enough with my ramblings, and over to Anne…
For a few years after publishing Whatever Happened To Ishtar? in 2010 I felt a deep seated need to paint and write poetry incorporating some of the memories and family stories I’d written about. Writing Ishtar? helped me to organise my childhood trauma into some kind of chronological order and gave many of the fractured memories context and adult understanding. That’s when poems and brush strokes just flowed from me although I’d never written poetry or painted on a canvas in my life before. Any task or project I have embarked upon, be it career, marriage, motherhood, writing or painting, I have done with a passion, I know of no other way. Once a particular passion grips me, I let no one, or nothing, stand in my way.
I loved reading to my children when they were little and later I read to my grandchildren, whenever I helped out with their care. My grandchildren love to share their vivid imaginings with me so when I had completed the painting and poetry of the painful past, I was inspired to paint images of my young grandchildren’s imaginative stories, along with the natural world around us, and to write poetry to enhance them all.
Whenever family came to visit they were keen to see whatever painting I was working on and how it was progressing. I kept a record of these and the rest of my works in a folder. I had intended to write another book when I realised one day looking through my folder, that I had already written and illustrated another book! Somehow, all the different poems and stories just seemed to fit when I re-arranged them into a certain order. I felt that everything I’d written and painted summed up my whole life. I could see the pain of the past, and the joy that my grandchildren had brought into my life and how much we loved walking around the lakes near my home, watching wildlife and learning together.
There are two short stories in the book. One relates to my Lebanese grandparents’ emigration from Lebanon to Australia then on to New Zealand, based on my grandfather Jacob Coory’s diary. I wrote the other story especially for the book because I wanted to encapsulate all the research I’d done into my Italian family history which highlighted the heartbreaking lives of mothers and daughters, especially that of my great grandmother, Raffaela Mansi Grego. Compared to the Italian women in my family tree, my Lebanese grandmother and her daughters had a relatively happier existence. The poems pick up some of the hardships the women suffered, and how it impacted upon following generations. Catholicism featured largely in the lives of both my paternal and maternal families, much of it detrimental and in my view, added greatly to the suffering of the women and their daughters. The societies they lived in were patriarchal and certain cultures and conventions hadn’t changed for centuries. I believe that when a Christian god was installed as the Almighty One and Only God, and pagan gods and goddesses were relegated to nothing more than Classical Studies, life for females became much darker. In this way, the short stories and many of the poems are a literary reflection of my maternal Italian and paternal Lebanese heritage.
The tragic deaths of Daniel, Zahra and Caylee were front page world news during the years I was writing my first few poems, and their stories really affected me and stayed with me. I couldn’t get them out of my mind, so I sat down one day and wrote a poem especially for them. The words just poured out, and I dedicated it to all abused children. Only then could I get on with my other writings. My own childhood was full of fear, loneliness and gross neglect by family and others who should have been caring for me, and I felt deeply the horrors Zahra and Caylee had endured in their short lives from their own families. Daniel came from a loving family, but his last moments at the hands of the stranger who murdered him would have been terrifying. All because a bus driver decided not to stop and pick him up at the bus stop. Likewise, the cruelty that some humans inflict on animals I find deeply disturbing. Life can be fickle, children and animals so vulnerable. Humans have the intelligence and power to do so much good on this wonderful planet earth, but sometimes it seems to me that greed and evil are winning. I fight depression by putting my thoughts down on paper. Sometimes they develop into stories and poetry.
I wanted women, especially mothers, to soak in my words, to be able to relate to them and for those of us who were raised within strict Catholic institutions, to know that others share the harm done to us and understand. I would like readers in general to see the balance in my works…that love and the kindness shown by others can overcome tragedy.
Of course I have also written poems which celebrate the imagination of children and the allure of animals and the natural world. I hope readers can share the joys I have found in my affinity with animals and children, and the solace that the natural world can bring to our lives if we can accept that we are a part of nature and that we must live in harmony with it.
It was much easier than writing Ishtar? because then I was confronting a jumble of fractured memories without any context. Each time I discovered new information it was another emotional hit and it left me exhausted, depressed and emotionally troubled. However, painting always leaves me in a state of equilibrium and the poems are already formed, seemingly, in my subconscious, so that I am merely transferring them onto an empty page.
Did I learn anything? If I did, it was that much of the emotional pain that I had carried around with me for most of my life, had largely dissipated.
When I was a child incarcerated in various Catholic institutions, the natural world and animals did not feature in my life at all. Any reference to animals or nature were in abstract, that is, told through the prism of religion: God made everything on earth, Noah saved animals on the Ark during the great flood and St Francis of Assisi loved animals. Most of the children’s books we were given to read were illustrated bible stories, the images always of perfect human beings and animals. We knew nothing at all about the actual world outside. When I was a young mum, we had a menagerie of many different animals; as my children grew up and learned to cherish animals, so did I. There is no doubt in my mind that animals taught me so very much about motherhood, life, death and loyalty. For instance, as a child, I was terrified at the thought of death. My nights were filled with nightmares of my own and others’ deaths. Having witnessed many times the death of beloved pets due to old age or accident while bringing up my children, I realised how animals accept death as a part of life. Not for them the maniacal scenes of death and destruction nuns and priests often imposed on us as a warning against sin. At first, I could not believe how peaceful death was when our first pet cat was euthanised after a long and happy life. I expected writhing and meowing in agony and as the tears streamed down my face I waited in trepidation; instead our beloved feline died quietly in my arms. I had paid for the vet to come to our house so our pet who had never left our gardens could be surrounded by that which he loved. The vet too had tears in his eyes, witnessing my distress. Not everyone I come into contact with is so gracious about my emotional states or as understanding of my passions. It has been a long process, but yes, the happiness and contentment reflected in Dragons, Deserts and Dreams, is real. I remain a bit of a recluse, preferring to strictly control who comes into my life because I still live with trust issues which prevent me from having a normal social life.
I have correspondence from hundreds of readers, and both Lebanese and Italian descendants living around the world which has the potential to be transcribed into a very powerful book.
I’ll await and see what spirits contrive to move me.
Dragons, Deserts and Dreams can be purchased worldwide from Amazon and other online bookstores or if readers live in Australia or New Zealand they can purchase a signed copy directly from me through my blog here
I’m always happy to receive comments and correspondence from readers either through comments on my blog or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
by Robert Stone
What is it about authors who have been incarcerated in Catholic orphanages and other religious institutions during their formative years? This is another book I found at Clunes Book Festival in Victoria and I wonder, is it the title that attracted me or the intense stories about faith written within its pages? The author Robert Stone has himself a past bathed in religious upheaval and search for identity. He was raised by his schizophrenic mother until he was five, when she was committed to an asylum for the insane. Five year old Robert, whose father abandoned the family, was then taken in by a Catholic Orphanage, who Stone describes as having the ‘social dynamic of a coral reef’. The violence the boy experienced at the hands of men posing as carers, is a heart rending story retold many times over by children raised in religious institutions. I think it must be the passion and fearlessness with which these authors take on ‘taboo’ subjects that attracts my undivided attention. Someone wrote that books, once written, have no need of their authors. That is true enough, but I must admit to seeking out most books by author, rather than title or genre. I like to know more about the background of the author, particularly if a book has had a deep effect on me, and Damascus Gate is just such a book. You can never judge a book by its cover in my view, especially when it’s a good read you are looking for.
At the centre of the Damascus Gate story is struggling free-lance journalist, Chris Lucas (Catholic mother, Jewish father), who teams up with a psychiatrist in Jerusalem to write a book about religious zealots, some insane, of all persuasions who come to the Holy City to ‘find the truth’ a condition labelled the ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’. The two men enlist the help of an archaeologist, who himself seems to have caught the ‘combative spiritualism’ endemic in Jerusalem. Little does Lucas realise that he is being followed, photographed and controlled by various groups fulfilling their own agendas. The Jerusalem Syndrome is a label attached to a group of mental phenomena involving the presence of either religiously themed obsessive ideas, delusions or other psychosis-like experiences that are believed to be triggered by a visit to the city of Jerusalem. Followers of the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam can be equally affected by the syndrome. There is no doubt that with the Israeli army surrounding the city, and with its spies everywhere, the religion of Judaism appears to have the upper hand and control of the city and its environs with the help of its watch towers and road blocks at every twist and turn. The best known manifestation of Jerusalem Syndrome is whereby a person who seems previously balanced and devoid of any signs of psychopathology becomes psychotic after arriving in Jerusalem. The psychosis is characterised by an intense religious mania and most often resolves to full recovery for the afflicted over time or immediately following their departure from the city.
Even those of little faith, or atheists, sense ‘there is something here in Jerusalem’, but what, they cannot say.
Damascus Gate is set in Jerusalem and surrounding areas, is fiction based on fact; we all know what a powder keg Jerusalem is with its struggle to contain the three religions within a relatively harmonious state. Making the situation even more volatile, are the various sects of Christianity, Islam and Judaism competing to have their ‘truth’ realised, even though archaeological proof is yet to be discovered for any of their respective claims. This book is a great read and highlights the sectarian differences between Christians, Muslims and Jews whose followers all fight for supremacy over this small historically important city. Each sect has its own neighbourhood and if you’re not one of them, you are forewarned to avoid walking through its streets alone without an approved escort. It can be a very dangerous city and riots between Jews and Arabs can erupt at any time for the slightest of motives. Not only that, this fraught city attracts all manner of religious lunatics hell bent on ‘saving’ their respective Messiah’s or Holy Prophet’s relics from the infidel. Drugs, money and sexual favours add to the heady religious mix, and anything can happen at any time. Herman Melville’s quote sits revealingly on the front page of Damascus Gate: ‘Enigma and evasion grow; And shall we never find Thee out?’
A Jewish extremist underground movement exists in Jerusalem and it aspires to rebuild the Temple. To achieve this, the mosques must be blown sky high. The Israeli Defence Force and Mossad know that if this happens Armageddon will erupt in Jerusalem which will surpass its many past destructions, the effects of which will be felt across the globe. There is not much going on in Jerusalem that these two forces don’t know about. The tensions are deep and ancient, with their thousands of years of history fought over every day and at every religious festival. Serious political games are being played out at the very highest levels where murder, intrigue and ‘religious authority’ are used to control and incite violence which is forever simmering at a very shallow depth beneath the surface of this ancient land.
Israelis and Palestinians both claim Jerusalem as their capital, and the state of Israel maintains its primary governmental institutions there. One of Israel’s Basic Laws, the 1980 Jerusalem Law refers to Jerusalem as the country’s undivided capital. All branches of the Israeli government are located in Jerusalem, including the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), the residences of the Prime Minister, President and the Supreme Court while the State of Palestine ultimately foresees the city as its seat of power. However, neither claim is widely recognized internationally. In latter years Muslim extremists have become more powerful and dangerous making Jerusalem even more volatile than ever. Staff of non-government organisations such as the UN and Save the Children, feature in this story and all play an integral part in the intrigue and hidden agendas.
One reviewer says of Damascus Gate: ‘Stone has a journalist’s eye for detail, but a novelist’s eye for irony’…and I believe that this is what makes the book such a great read. Stone manages to capture all the intrigue, all the religious fervour and menace in his words and all the while there is the ‘festering menace of Gaza’.
-Anne Frandi-Coory 23 January 2017
by Michel Onfray
Born to a family of Norman farmers, Michel Onfray was abandoned by his parents to a Catholic institution from age 10 to 14. Overcoming these early hardships, Onfray graduated with a PhD in philosophy. He has written over 80 books and teaches philosophy at a French university.
A friend gave me The Atheist Manifesto not long after he had finished reading Whatever Happened To Ishtar? which I had written in 2010, a book spawned of seventeen years of an indoctrinated childhood spent in various Catholic institutions. ‘I know you will enjoy this book’, he told me, ‘but it’s a little too intellectual for me.’ He was right; I have since read it twice.
Was Monotheism born of the sand? Two paragraphs in Manifesto’s preface attempt to partly answer this question:
Desert Memory: After a few hours on the trail in the Mauritanian desert, I saw an old herdsman traveling with his family. His young wife and his mother-in-law rode camels; his sons and daughters were on donkeys. The group carried with them everything essential to survival-and therefore to life. The sight of them gave me the impression that I had encountered a contemporary of Muhammad. Burning white sky, scattered, scorched trees, uprooted thorn bushes blown by the desert wind across unending vistas of orange sand…the spectacle evoked the geographical and psychological background of the Koran, in the turbulent period of camel caravans, nomad encampments, and clashing desert tribes.
I thought of the lands of Israel, Judaea, and Samaria, of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, of Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. Places where the sun bakes men’s heads, desiccates their bodies, afflicts their souls with thirst. Places that generate a yearning for oases where water flows cool, clear and free, where the air is balmy and fragrant, where the food and drink are abundant. The afterlife suddenly struck me as a counter world invented by men exhausted and parched by their ceaseless wanderings across the dunes or up and down rocky trails baked to white heat. Monotheism was born of the sand.
Michel Onfray analyses the fanatical belief in the afterlife by followers of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The lives of these early followers of one God were, every single day, a struggle for survival in a harsh and unforgiving climate, where death inflicted different kinds of terror in the living. Was the promise of an afterlife meant to alleviate that terror? For instance the Koran’s fantastic description of paradise: rivers of milk and wine, beautiful virgins, beds of luxurious cloth, celestial music and magnificent gardens? Why wouldn’t a man want to die and leave this endless struggle?
What better way to avoid looking at reality and inevitable death in the face, than to construct fantastical tales that the three religions are built on. And I love this from Onfray, so relevant to our 21st Century concerns over human-made Climate Change: The invention of an afterlife would not matter so much were it not purchased at so high a price: disregard of the real, hence wilful neglect of the only world there is. While religion is often at variance with immanence, with man’s inherent nature, atheism is in harmony with the earth – life’s other name. For those of us who have given up on believing in the existence of God, saving planet earth is our passion, science our saviour.
The author tells us about the first tentative atheists, who weren’t really fully fledged atheists for one reason or another, which he outlines with some humour and sarcasm. And then along came Nietzsche! Onfray uses the sub-heading Philosophical Earthquake to describe this period which is a perfect description of the upheaval this one man caused. But so much made sense to intelligent, thinking people!
Onfray goes on to ‘teach’ the case for atheism. He writes: Talmud and Torah, Bible and New Testament, Koran and the Hadith offer insufficient grounds for the philosopher to choose between Jewish, Christian or Muslim misogyny. Or to opt against pork and alcohol but in favour of the veil or the burka, to attend the synagogue, the temple, the church, or the mosque, all places where intelligence is ailing and where, for centuries, the faithful have practiced obedience to dogma and submission to the Law-and therefore obedience and submission to those who claim to be the elect, the envoys and the word of God. He suggests that instead of teaching monotheistic religions in schools we should be teaching atheism. He prefers the teachings of The Genealogy of Morals (1887) rather than the epistles to the Corinthians. I happen to agree with him. Along with world conservation, less exploitation of this wonderful planet we live on!
In the chapter Towards an Atheology: Thirty centuries from the earliest texts of the Old Testament to the present day, teach us that the assertion of one God, violent , jealous, quarrelsome, intolerant and bellicose, has generated more hate, bloodshed, deaths, and brutality than it has peace…[for example] There is the Jewish fantasy of a chosen people, which vindicates colonialism, expropriation, hatred, animosity between peoples, and finally an authoritarian and armed theocracy.
The author pleads for the world to have an end to the linkage of the world’s woes to atheism: God’s existence it seems to me, has historically generated in his name more battles, massacres, conflicts and wars than peace, serenity, brotherly love, forgiveness of sins, and tolerance. To my knowledge, no popes, princes, kings, caliphs, or emirs have excelled in the practice of virtue, so outstandingly did Moses, Paul, and Muhammad excel in murder, torture, and orgies of plunder-I call the biographies to witness. So many variations on the theme of loving one’s neighbour.
Onfray suggests that the times we live in are no longer atheist. We instead are in the midst of the era of nihilism, which stems from the ‘turbulence of the transit zone between still very present Judeo-Christianity and timidly blooming post-Christianity…Jews, Christians and Muslims, construct for themselves, a made-to-measure morality. This implies selective borrowings (tailored to fit their needs) from their holy books in order to establish rules of play and participation by the community.’
Christians, particularly Catholics, know all too well, religious concepts of ‘purity’, and how it relates to sex, and we can mostly thank Paul of Tarsus/St Paul for that! The dichotomy of the female, whore/virgin, is still constantly preached as Canon Law by an ancient and all-male Vatican. The author delves into this topic with relish, and coming from a background of a childhood in Catholic institutions, I could relate to these chapters intimately.
Onfray explains that Muslims share many of their fixations on purity with Jews; all food must be ritually prepared. Why the absolute prohibition of the consumption of pork, but not camel meat? Even on that matter, there is much disagreement. Some suggest the pig was emblematic of certain unpleasant memories of Roman legions, others believe it was the pig’s omnivorous diet, its consummation of public refuse. I have also read of another theory: the squeals of the pig as it was led to slaughter, was too reminiscent of the darkest days of sacrificial slaughtering of children in attempts to appease more ancient gods. The rituals connected to the cleansing of the body are rational, especially for life in the desert. The author explains in detail the similar ritualistic rules for respect of one’s body and bodily hygiene.
I found the chapter entitled Bonfires of the Intelligence; producing the holy books, particularly interesting. Onfray: The three monotheisms are seen as the religions of the book-but their three books are far from mutually supportive… Naturally they all preach brotherly love. Thus from the very start it seems to appear beyond reproach to our brethren of the Abrahamic religions. None of these books is a work of revelation. Who would have done the revealing? Their pages no more descend from heaven than those of Persian fables or Icelandic sagas.
The Torah is not as old as tradition claims; Moses is improbable. Yahweh dictated nothing-and in any case, Moses could not have written what Yahweh said unless he wrote in hieroglyphics, since the Hebrew script did not exist in the time of Moses. None of the evangelists personally knew Jesus. The testamental canon arose from later political decisions, particularly those reached when Eusebius of Caesarea, mandated by the emperor Constantine, assembled a corpus stitched together from twenty-seven versions of the New Testament in the first half of the fourth century. The apocryphal writings are more numerous than those that constitute the New Testament proper.
Muhammad did not write the Koran. Indeed, that book did not exist until twenty-five years after his death. The second source for Muslim authority, the Hadith, saw the light of day in the ninth century, two centuries after the Prophet’s death. Hence we must infer the very active presence of men in the shadows of these three Gods.
Science does not sit well within the three monotheistic religions, and the author discusses this at length and in detail. If they do embrace science, it is usually to enhance their dogma and this instrumentalisation of science ‘subjects reason to domestic and theocratic uses’. For example, one Hadith indeed celebrates the quest for scientific knowledge as far afield as China, but always in the logic of its instrumentalisation via religion, never for the human ideal of social progress. The Catholic religion impeded the forward march of Western civilisation, inflicting on it, incalculable damage.
Then there is the female problem that the religions of the book have in common. Only mothers and wives are venerated. Judeo-Christianity promotes the idea that Eve was an afterthought, made from Adam’s rib; ‘an inferior cut off the prime beef, a humble spare rib‘. She appears in the Koran as Adam’s wife but the fact that she is never named is revealing, because, as Onfray says, ‘the unnamed is unnameable.’
The ridiculous tenets of these three religions engender the worst kind of hypocrisy because we are all too human. The possibility of sex divorced from conception, and thus of sex alone, of pure sexuality-that is absolute evil. For the monotheist there can be no more hideous oxymoron than a barren, sterile woman! In the name of this same principle the three monotheisms condemn homosexuals to death…For his part, Paul of Tarsus saw in the solitary male the perils of lust, adultery and free sexuality. Hence given the impossibility of chastity, his endorsement of marriage –the least objectionable justification for the libido.
Onfray discusses at length the barbaric mutilation of female and male genitalia, practiced by monotheistic religions and their literature abounds in references to the extinction of libido and the destruction of desire. Onfray refers to them as ‘variations on the theme of castration’. From what I’ve read and seen on world news every day, none of these religions is achieving the total sexual control over their adherents that they initially set out to achieve. Catholic paedophile priests, Muslim child marriages, polygamy, Jewish paedophilia, to name a few.
All three religions have burnt books, whole libraries, whole towns, citizens, mosques, temples, churches, synagogues, slaughtered millions, and all for what or who? What God? There is no archaeological proof Jesus existed. The author covers this period in Christianity’s history in depth, with all of its subterfuges.
In the chapter headed Selective Exploitation of the Texts, Onfray writes:
Everyone knows of monotheism’s three books, but very few know their dates of origin, their authors, or the ups and downs attendant on establishing the three texts-the absolutely final, immutable texts. For the Torah, Old Testament, New Testament, and Koran took an unthinkably long time to emerge from history and claim that their texts issued from God alone, that they had no need to explain themselves to those who entered their prayer temples armed only with faith, unburdened of reason and intelligence. Considering Muhammad was illiterate it is ridiculous to believe that he wrote the Koran as God dictated it. And let’s be clear, there were several Korans from different periods which were merged into one, hundreds of years after Muhammad’s death!
We do not possess an official date of birth for the worship of one God…Jean Soler insists on the neighbourhood of the fourth and third century BCE-in other words very late…but the family line is very clear: the Jews invented it to ensure the coherence, cohesion and existence of their small, threatened people. The mythology they fashioned engendered belief in a warrior God, a fighter, blood thirsty, aggressive, a war leader highly effective at mobilising a people without a land. The myth of a chosen people thereafter blessed with a destiny.
Of that labour of invention, several thousand pages of canonical text survive-very few considering their worldwide influence over the course of more than twenty centuries. The Old Testament boasts a total of 3,500 pages, the New Testament 900 pages, the Koran 750, that is, little more than 5000 pages in which everything and its opposite is said once and for all. In each of these three founding texts, contradictions abound and Onfray gives us many examples of these.
Love of one’s neighbour as espoused by all three religions, was non-existent, and still does not exist in the 21st century! The Pauline texts, so useful in justifying submission to de facto authority, triggered results that went far beyond the legitimisation of wars and persecution. In the field of slavery, for example, which Christianity did no more than the other two monotheisms to deter. Indeed, in later centuries the small-scale slavery resulting from tribal raids evolved into the slave trade pure and simple, the sale and deportation of whole populations for use as chattels and beasts of burden.’
More than twenty centuries later has anything changed? Onfray: ‘The commandments do not advocate any particular respect for one’s neighbour if he looks different, if he is not branded in the flesh by the rabbi’s knife. The non-Jew did not enjoy the same rights as members of the covenant. So that outside the confines of the book, the Other may be called on to account for himself, to be treated like an object, a thing: the goy by the Jew, the polytheist or animist by the Christian, the Christian by the Muslim, and the atheist, needless to say, by everyone.’ [My emphasis]
Onfray likens the three monotheisms to death cults. He asks ‘How can we escape the domination of [the death instinct] after so effectively killing off the life urge both within and outside of ourselves?’ Are we so terrified by the horror and void of death, that we believe in the ‘consoling fables and fictions that incite us to deny the use of our full powers?’ He posits that this ‘false world’ forces us to live in the here and now ‘buttressed by the hopes of a tinsel afterlife.’ Finally, he suggests that we are in the flux of a ‘post-Christian’ era, but that we must beware ‘religious secularism’ in which ‘the essential remains Judeo-Christian.’ He believes that the 21st Century has opened on a merciless war. On one side is a Judeo-Christian West, on the other side, a Muslim world. Monotheist religions are waging this war, and Onfray asks: Must we choose a side? There is much more to read in these chapters, but I will leave you to buy the book.
In the final chapter of MANIFESTO Onfray sums up where we are at in the fight for a genuine post-Christian secularism:
At this hour when the final battle –already lost-looms for the defence of the Enlightenment’s values against magical propositions, we must fight for a post-Christian secularism, that is to say, atheistic, militant and radically opposed to choosing between Western Judeo-Christianity and its Islamic adversary-neither Bible nor Koran. I persist in preferring philosophers to priests, imams, ayatollahs and mullahs. Rather than trust their theological hocus-pocus, I prefer to draw on alternatives to the dominant philosophical historiography: the laughers, materialists, radicals, cynics, hedonists, atheists, sensualists, voluptuaries. They know that there is only one world, and that promotion of an afterlife deprives us of the enjoyment and benefit of the only one there is. A genuinely mortal sin.
-Anne Frandi-Coory 18 August 2016
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
The Catholic Church, Jesus, Religion in State Schools, Nazi alliance with the Vatican, Islam, Jihad, Christianity
Richard Dawkins’ interview with Christopher Hitchens
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.
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.
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 . . .
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.
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.
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.
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
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
-Anne Frandi-Coory 3 September 2015
The Closing of the Western Mind; The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason
By Charles Freeman, published 2002
For anyone who is interested in the roots of Christianity, how it developed, and eventually swept the Western world, this book is the book to read. Greek philosophical tradition and paganism, were the losers.
To me personally, the most interesting chapters in the book, were those which dealt with the way in which a particular sect of Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire; Roman Catholicism. It was largely because of political expediency; more power and control over the masses, by Roman emperors. I was fascinated by the fierce in-fighting surrounding the ‘correct’ early interpretation and establishment of Christian dogma, as early as the 4th Century ACE. It largely centred around the ‘Godhead’ of Christianity: God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and whether or not all three were as ‘one’ or of three levels, (to put it very simply). Part of the problem was that early Christian dogma was formulated from several different sources: scriptures, gospels, old testament, Greek philosophy, Hebrew, Latin and Greek translations. Also taken into account was the life and status of Jesus, and in this case, there were so many disputed ‘facts’ about who he was and how he lived, that it appears the Jesus we know, could have been a ‘collage’ of several different prophets or holy men who lived around the same time.
In the book, Freeman writes about Emperor Julian (who ruled from 361) – Dismayed by the vicious infighting he saw around him…Experience had taught him that no wild beasts are so dangerous to man as Christians are to one another. Ammianus Marcellinus further suggests that Emperor Julian believed that the Christians left to themselves would simply tear each other apart. Julian was well aware of the brutality of Christian generals and emperors.
-Anne Frandi-Coory 27 October 2011
One more review of many:
“One of the best books to date on the development of Christianity…beautifully written and impressively annotated, this is an indispensible read for anyone interested in the roots of Christianity and its implications for our modern world view….Essential.”
Updated 28 August 2014
This debate is still going on….TAbbott govt is run by far right wing Christian bigots who want to keep Australia in the dark ages, and has allocated almost half a billion dollars in total for School Chaplaincy Programme in State Schools against the wishes of most parents and school principals!
A Melbourne law firm has begun a legal challenge against the way religion is taught in Victorian government schools.
My question is, why does religious dogma have to be aired in public schools anyway? If families prefer their children to have their own particular religion imparted to them, they have the choice of sending them to religion specific schools. If this is not possible for some families, then they ought to teach their children at home, or at the family’s place of worship. It just makes more sense.
The claim has been lodged with the Equal Opportunity Commission against the state education department. Lawyer Andrea Tsalamandris says if parents decide they do not want their children to participate in the classes, their children are sometimes left unsupervised. She says forcing children to opt out of the classes, is discriminatory. “These are young children. They are vulnerable,” she said. “For them to identify themselves as non-believers and walk out of the classroom is distressing for them and these are the kind of stories we are hearing from the parents.”
Here is an interesting statistic: While other religious groups – including Jewish, Islamic and Hare Krishna – are accredited to run classes, 96 per cent are taught by Christian education provider Access Ministries, made up of volunteers.
The following article has been taken from the internet site ‘Fairness of Religion in Schools’ or FIRIS:
When questioned, most parents cite one, or both, of two main areas of concern:
We regard any instruction of children in matters of faith as a deeply personal matter that families and religious communities should take very seriously. It is not for the Government school system (currently influenced too much by some) to determine what children should be taught to believe about these matters or how and when they are taught it. It is a matter solely for parents and their communities to decide on and administer.
It is simply not good enough, if you conscientiously object to this system by withdrawing your children from SRI, that your children must spend time actively engaged in pencil sharpening or playing computer games while being made to feel they are outsiders.
Professor Gary Bouma, an Anglican priest at Saint John’s church in East Malvern and the UNESCO chairman in Interreligious and Intercultural Relations, has described the curriculum developed by Access Ministries as appalling. ”Now, unfortunately, most of the Christians out there trying to train the next generation are putting them off with the kind of crap they serve,” he said.
This debate is especially relevent to Australia’s multi-culture, multi-religion, society. As far as Christian religious instruction goes, many of us still carry within us the fear engendered by Christian dogma about the devil, fires of hell etc, etc. Obviously I can’t comment on the other religions, but they too are possibly frightening and perplexing to the uninitiated.
Jewel Topsfield, Education Editor, says on her internet site 5/04/2011: Proselytising is supposed to be forbidden in religious education classes, but the accounts of many students suggest it happens. One mother withdrew her children after her six-year-old daughter was taught that families who did not attend church would drown when the second flood came. ”She begged me to start going to church so we wouldn’t die. She was so frightened she had nightmares and her siblings felt the fear too,” the woman said.
Ms Topsfield continues: Unlike New South Wales, which offers ethics classes for students who opt out of scripture classes, Victorian students are not allowed to do other work. They are often forced to sit in the back of the classroom or in corridors or the library. The Victorian Education Department says core curriculum cannot be offered instead because the other students would miss out. In 1872, Victoria became one of the first places in the world to provide free, secular and compulsory education. Instead of upholding this proud tradition, we have allowed our schools to be infiltrated by evangelising volunteers.
I will follow this debate with interest.