The following is from my friend Herb Silverman, pres. of the Secular Student Alliance who writes for the Washington Post.
After Koran burning, indefensible violence
I'm not a person of the book , whether it be the Bible, the Koran, or any other so-called holy book. As a secular humanist, I'm a person of many books. Book burnings appall me. Criticizing Pastor Jones for his action is my second favorite choice. My favorite would have been to ignore this attention-seeking ignoramus.
Rather than condemn Pastor Jones for exercising his free speech right to act as a buffoon, I condemn violent responses to his action. No book is more precious than a human life. Books can be replaced, but not human lives. Muslims who felt justified, if not obligated, to kill U.N. workers and others in Afghanistan because of pastor Jones did more to turn world opinion against Islam than any infidel could ever do. Things got worse when the top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan called burning the Koran "insane and totally despicable," but did not similarly condemn the slaughter of U. N. workers.
There were also violent reactions several years ago when a Danish newspaper published cartoons depicting Muhammad. Atheism, as well as any religion, should be open to criticism without fear of violent reaction. We counter bad speech by good speech, not by killing people. I would not have been so appalled had Muslims taken an eye for an eye approach and burned a Bible in response to the Koran burning. They could even have burned Carl Sagan's "Demon-Haunted World," since Sagan called into question the beliefs of Muslims, Christians, and others.Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are known as the three Abrahamic religions because of a spiritual tradition associated with Abraham. As the myth goes, Abraham was a man of such faith that he was willing to kill his son because he believed God wanted him to do it. Such actions should be condemned by all humans, of whatever faith or none.
MAN MADE GOD – A book review
Barbara Walker, whose Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets was named the "Educational Book of the Year" by the London Times, is at it again, and her Man Made God is a marvelous, thorough read for anyone new to the freethought world.
I first met Barbara in the 90s when I and Marie Castle persuaded the folks at First Unitarian to jointly sponsor her for appearances there and with the MN Humanists and the MN Atheists. Two months ago, she came to hear me present "Who Are Your Heroes?" to the Humanists of Sarasota, and I'm pleased to say that she is still the same, lively, sharp-witted, likeable, grandmotherly person who impressed me back then.
Never one to mince words or slop on the sugar coating, Barbara's Man Made Gods is just as direct and informative as was her Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. A few passages follow:
When skepticism is considered a vice, skeptics live as a minority in a world whose majority opinions they find distasteful, dishonest or immoral. Although polite convention refrains from offending a believer by questioning his views, no such convention extends a similar courtesy to the skeptic.
One reason for this situation is that skeptics don't put on a show, in the sense of confusing symbol with fact, making a ritual appear to be a true deed. Insofar as a ritual is supposed to be doing something real, like turning bread and wine into flesh and blood, or making a human being into a semi-divine saint, or laying a curse on an enemy, it is really only show business, even when the audience is convinced that something has happened. Skeptics want symbols and facts more clearly distinguished from one another, which take the fun out of being fooled. After all, what is more uplifting: to see a supposedly lifelong cripple arise from her chair at the evangelist's touch, or to find out that she is only a shill, taught to respond on cue?
She continues: "Many people assume that spirituality and religion are the same. I think not. Spirituality is a feeling; religion is a business." [YES! YES! YES!]
The Wonders of Nature
How incongruous it is, that when people gather together to appreciate the works of God, they are surrounded only by the works of man. Churches, temples and mosques express the creativity of human artisans, not divine ones. "Houses of God" are really houses of man. Even their holy images have human faces. But the works of God, as most people envision them, are not indoors. they are out in the world of nature, about which the average person knows remarkably little.
Is the cathedral a place of beauty? Yes, but the wings of a butterfly are even more beautiful than stained-glass windows. Is the flying buttress a marvel of engineering? Yes, but a spider's web is even more marvelous in both structure and function…. Does the idea of a fiery hell frighten you? Perhaps; but the original basis of this myth, volcanic fire erupting from the bowels of the earth, formed the real terror. Holy images may be adorned with faceted gems, but naturally formed crystals are more beautiful and enlightening, because serious study of them gives more insight into the forces that shape the universe than hours of contemplating the pallid, painted face of a phony saint in sanctuarial gloom, even if its eyes are made of jewels.
When Buddha's disciples begged him for the ultimate revelation, so the story goes, he said nothing, but held up a single, small flower. This was the famous Flower Sermon, whereby Buddha underscored his dislike of lavish temples and pretentious theology, and implied that the proper object of human contemplation is not the supernatural, but the natural. Buddha was opposed to formal worship. He specifically charged his followers not to turn him into a god, not to build temples or make images in his honor, not to prostrate themselves in adoration. Of course, they disobeyed his commands. Two centuries after his death, Buddha became one of the world's foremost holy icons.
Pass the Plate
Churches live on money. The largest sums of money ever generated by human culture have been poured into building and maintaining god's houses with all their personnel and trappings, music, art, treasures and political maneuverings….
The Forgery of "Historical" Christianity
None of the early schools of Christianity resembled the literalist Christianity that we know today. The so-called "historical" Christianity was invented over the course of three and a quarter centuries, until the Council of Nicea set it in stone and covered up its early roots, while Christian monks burned whole libraries of books, killed priestesses, destroyed temples, forbade the study of philosophy and closed the schools, eradicating the classical world's knowledge to help bring on the Dark Ages.
One of the major players in the cover-up operation was Bishop Eusebius, who, at the beginning of the fourth century, compiled from legends, fabrications and his own imagination the only early history of Christianity that still exists today. All subsequent historians have been forced to base themselves on Eusebius's dubious claims. All those with a different perspective on Christianity were branded heretics and eradicated. In this way, falsehoods compiled in the fourth century have come down to us as facts. Eusebius forged many textual interpolations and shamelessly advocated what he called "holy lying" for the benefit of the Church.
Eusebius was employed by the Roman emperor Constantine, who made Christianity the state religion and gave literalist Christianity the power it needed to begin the final eradication of Paganism and Gnosticism. Constantine wanted "one God, one religion," to consolidate his claim of "one Empire, one Emperor.
He oversaw the creation of the Nicene Creed—the article of faith repeated in churches to this day—and Christians who refused to assent to this creed were banished from the Empire or otherwise silenced, usually in a distinctly permanent fashion.
This "Christian" emperor then returned home from Nicea and had his wife suffocated and his son murdered. He deliberately remained unbaptized until his deathbed so he could continue his atrocities and still receive forgiveness of sins and a guaranteed place in heaven by being baptized at the last moment. Although he had his "spin doctor" Eusebius compose a suitably obsequious biography for him, he was actually a monster."
Among the many forgeries instituted by early Church fathers and false writers like Eusebius was the single passage on which the Roman Church based its imprimatur, Matthew 16:18-19, where Jesus gives Simon the new name of Peter, meaning "Rock," and states that he would found his church upon this rock. Now known to be a false interpolation, this passage is still cited by those who wish in believe that Peter went to Rome, had himself crucified upside down and founded the Catholic Church, though not necessarily in that order!
The Jesus Myth
Tom Harpur, a former priest and New Testament professor at the University of Toronto, writes, "There is, in the extant Jewish literature of the first century, not a single authentic reference to the founder of Christianity...no contemporary non-Christian writer even knew of Jesus' existence."
For a possible hint of Jesus' historicity, Christian authorities relied heavily on a single, brief paragraph in the works of the respected Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who was born in 37 AD/CE, served as governor of Galilee and traveled extensively in the same area where Jesus allegedly lived. If anyone was in a position to report the wonder-workings of a local holy man in his own parents' generation, it was Josephus, a dedicated reporter of minute details. Yet in all his voluminous works, a single paragraph called the "Testimonium Flavianum" or "TF"—says only that Jesus was "a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was |the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day."
There are many problems with this passage. First, it is noticeably out of context with the surrounding material. Second, it evidently did not appear in the early copies of Josephus' works, or in the second-century version quoted by Church father Origen, who would certainly have mentioned it if it had been present.
In addition, the "TF" does not appear in any known works until it is quoted at the beginning of the 4th century by Bishop Eusebius, the enthusiastic advocate of what he called "holy lying" who was known to be responsible for many interpolations, revisions and blatant forgeries.
Rodney Sheffer expects to be at the May Meeting of the LSF, Thor willing! He will have copies of his book, God Talk and Other Incoherent Religious Delusions for sale. Paperback - $17.00.
I will also have copies of my best seller, True North… and of Eyes Wide Open: Living, Laughing, Loving and Learning in a Religion-troubled World. Hard cover - $20.00 George