God’s Identity?

God’s Identity? [via New Scientist)

or just one of those coincidences and human imagination running wild?

Happy Newton Day! by Richard Dawkins, New Statesman

Just joining in on the festive time of Christmas

Reposted from:
http://www.newstatesman.com/200712130029 

NewtonDecember 25th is a date to celebrate not because it is the disputed birthday of the “son of God” but because it is the actual birthday of one of the world’s greatest men

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel . . .

Advent, we learned at school, was a time of anticipation: of looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. But we boys knew better. Advent was looking forward to something a lot more interesting – Christmas. That great processional tune, played on the organ to announce the Advent hymn, still stirs my depths, fifty years on. It meant that Christmas, which was the main thing each boy had been looking forward to since his birthday, was really coming – and what bad luck on poor Jesus, having his birthday on Christmas Day.

The Advent hymn anticipated the excited sleeplessness of Christmas Eve, then the knobbly weight of the stocking, distended and crackling with promise of the “real” presents to come after breakfast or, in unlucky years, after church. That heraldic minor-key theme, on the trumpet stop, was a fanfare for Hamleys, for Meccano and Hornby Dublo, for overeating in a wasteland of coloured wrapping paper.

We knew little of the theology of Advent. “Emmanuel”, we gathered, might be a rather daring misspelling, but it really was just another way of writing “Jesus”. How else interpret the familiar words of Matthew (1:22-23)?

Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying/Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel . . .

We never wondered why God would go to such lengths simply to fulfil a prophecy. Nor, indeed, why God would go to the even greater lengths of sending his son into the world in order that he should be agonisingly punished for the sins that mankind might decide to commit at some time in the future (or for the past scrumping offence of one non-existent man, Adam) – surely one of the single nastiest ideas ever to occur to a human mind (Paul’s, of course). We never wondered why God, if he wanted to forgive our sins, didn’t just forgive them. Why did he have to scapegoat himself first? Where religion was concerned, we never wondered anything. That was the point about religion. You could ask questions about any other subject, but not religion.

We’d have been intrigued if our scripture teachers had come clean and told us that Isaiah’s Hebrew for “young woman” was accidentally mistranslated as “virgin” in the Greek Septuagint (an easy mistake to make: think of the English word “maiden”). To say that this little error was to have repercussions out of all proportion would be putting it mildly.

From it flowed the whole Virgin Mary myth, the kitsch “Our Lady” of Catholic grotto-idolatry, the sub-paedophile spectacle of young girls in virginal white First Communion dresses, the goddess status of not just Mary herself but a pantheon of local “manifestations”. Pope John Paul II thought he was saved from assassination in 1981 not just by Our Lady but specifically by Our Lady of Fatima. As I have remarked elsewhere, presumably Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Medjugorje, Our Lady of Akita, Our Lady of Zeitoun, Our Lady of Garabandal and Our Lady of Knock were busy on other errands at the time.

Our scripture teachers could have gone on to tell us that Isaiah’s “Emmanuel” verse was really nothing to do with Jesus, but referred to a temporary problem in Jewish politics seven centuries earlier. The birth of a child called Emmanuel was a sign to King Ahaz of Judah, to encourage him in his little local dispute with the neighbouring kingdoms of Syria and Israel.

It is typical of the religious mind to force a gratuitous symbolic meaning where none was intended. Christian writers later saw Judah’s oppression as a symbol for mankind’s enslavement to death and “sin”, and ended up unable to tell the difference, like people who send Christmas cards to the Archers. An even funnier example is the late Christian gloss on the “Song of Songs”, a frankly erotic document headed, in Christian bibles, by hilariously euphemistic epigraphs such as “The mutual love of Christ and his church”.

The desire to fulfil prophecies is where our most heart-warming Christmas stories come from. There is no actual evidence that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, let alone in a stable. But he must have been born in Bethlehem, because the prophet Micah (5:2) had earlier said:

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou
be little among the thousands of Judah, yet
out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel . . .

So, Luke has Mary and Joseph starting in Nazareth, but forced to go to Bethlehem (“everyone into his own city”) to pay a Roman tax (ancient historians rightly ridicule this tax story). Matthew, by contrast, has Joseph’s family starting in Bethlehem, but moving to Nazareth after returning from the flight to Egypt. Matthew turns even Jesus’s relatively undisputed con nection with Nazareth into a strained effort to fulfil yet another prophecy:

And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:23)

Mark, the earliest Gospel, doesn’t mention the birth of Jesus at all. John (7:41-42) has people saying that he couldn’t really be the Christ, precisely because he was born in Nazareth not Bethlehem, and because he was not descended from David:

Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee?
Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the

To add to the confusion, Matthew and Luke, though theirs are the only Gospels claiming that Jesus had no earthly father, both trace Jesus’s descent from David through Joseph, not Mary (albeit through very different intermediates from one another, and very different numbers of intermediates).

Most but not all scholars think, on balance, that a charismatic wandering preacher called Jesus (or Joshua) probably was executed during the Roman occupation, though all objective historians agree that the evidence is weak. Certainly, nobody takes seriously the legend that he was born in December. Late Christian tradition simply attached Jesus’s birth to a long-established and convenient winter solstice festival.

Such seasonal opportunism continues to this day. In some states of the US, public display of cribs and similar Christian symbols is outlawed for fear of offending Jews and others (not atheists). Seasonal marketing appetites are satisfied nationwide by a super-ecumenical “Holiday Season”, into which are commandeered the Jewish Hanukkah, Muslim Ramadan, and the gratuitously fabricated “Kwanzaa” (invented in 1966 so that African Americans could celebrate their very own winter solstice). Americans coyly wish each other “Happy Holiday Season” and spend vast amounts on “Holiday” presents. For all I know, they hang up a “Holiday stocking” and sing “Holiday carols” around the decorated “Holiday tree”. A red-coated “Father Holiday” has not so far been sighted, but this is surely only a matter of time.

For better or worse, ours is historically a Christian culture, and children who grow up ignorant of biblical literature are diminished, unable to take literary allusions, actually impoverished. I am no lover of Christianity, and I loathe the annual orgy of waste and reckless reciprocal spending, but I must say I’d rather wish you “Happy Christmas” than “Happy Holiday Season”.

Fortunately, this is not the only choice: 25 December is the birthday of one of the truly great men ever to walk the earth, Sir Isaac Newton. His achievements might justly be celebrated wherever his truths hold sway. And that means from one end of the universe to the other. Happy Newton Day!

Richard Dawkins, FRS is Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. His most recent book is “The God Delusion” (Black Swan, �8.99)

Religion and Politics – The Unholy Alliance

Religion has played a large part of politics and policy making in the world. In the past decade or so, there has been a resurgence of it in Sri Lanka. The election of clergy into parliament has made it clear at least a sizeable minority of Sri Lankans want to expand the powers of religion in mainstream policy making. There has been pandering by politicians towards certain religions in the past, such as in the creating of the Sri Lankan Constitution which has a separate chapter on Buddhism.

The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e).

Reproduced from the Constitution – http://www.constitution.gov.lk/constitutionSL1978.shtml

Though this might not be seen by most people as being an oppression by most people, consider it if the words “Buddha Sasana” were replaced by a political party or a specific race or by another religion for the Buddhists. Would most people take it with the same magnitude of apathy towards this article? Why are our taxes used in this way? What would a non-Buddhist Government or President do? This may not be comparable to constitutions of countries such as Afghanistan where you could be put to death for not believing in a certain religion.

This being said, the religious faction of our government is hard at work trying to pass rules and regulations to suit their world-view. These new programs include censoring our thoughts and actions. This downward spiral could continue to such an extent that only die hard followers of these religious of these pious leaders will enjoy the full rights that we now hold.

Falling Bo tree kills two devotees in Sri Lanka

Oct 04, Monaragala: At least two persons were killed and many more injured when a branch of a Bo tree fell on to a group of devotees at Sri Sambodhi Viharaya in Monaragala last night. Monaragala police said the Bo tree branch fell due to the gusting winds blowing across the area when the devotees were engaging in religious activities last nigh to mark the Vap full moon Poya day. Nearly 25 devotees, who received injuries in the incident, have been admitted to Monaragala and Badulla hospitals.

Posted from Colombopage.com

Let There Not Be Light by Jeremy Clarkson

This was an article by Clarkson in the Sun

A Jewish couple are suing their neighbours because, they say, the security light which comes on automatically when they step into the communal hallway in their block of flights is a breach of their human rights.

Apparently, Orthodox Jews believe that a ban on the lighting of fires on the Sabbath means that they also can’t ignite the filament in a bulb.

Yes. But is it not the human right of all the other people in the block of flats not to trip over a kid’s bicycle because they couldn’t see the bloody thing in the darkness?

Meanwhile, we heard this week about the tragic story of a Roman Catholic woman who suffocated her new-born baby out of shame, and then died herself.

And it can’t be long before another Muslim blows himself up at a Tube station.

Religion. Honestly. What is the point?

Why We Don’t Believe – Absurdity : Would YOU believe this?

One of the core components of all religions is the belief in absurdity. I could give a list of these elements (such as the magical underpants of the Mormons, the transubstantiation in Christianity, the bodily ascended Mohammed or the worship of a statue of the Buddah), but that would be beside the point and I shall stick to only types of these preposterous ideas (I will illustrate more on specific religions on latter posts). Almost everyone understands that these claims are absurd, but since these stupidities are in the religious nature, we are asked to overlook them (only in the case of their inherent religion). Why do people laugh at Mormons and Scientologists for their beliefs? Is the idea of a supreme galactic overlord any less ridiculous than the idea of a talking snake? Most average religious folk tend to dismiss these ideas by stating that they come from ancient texts or that the authors were would have meant them to be metaphorical. Why stop there, why not the whole religion? What criteria is there to separate the metaphors from the “actual religion”?

Some of the absurdity is actually in rituals. Take prayer for instance. Every religious person does it. They pray for all types of things, but when they do not get it, “Its just god’s will” or “God moves in mysterious ways.” Why bother doing it in the first place? Imagine the millions of Jews praying Hitler to die or the millions of Sri Lankans praying for peace all these years. God took his sweet time didn’t he?

Then there is the “scientific” nonsense in religion. There are creationists museums in the United States that depict modern humans living with dinosaurs, well the Flinstones could be shown as a documentary then. Are these not products of the religious irrationalities? There was even a Bishop Usher who calculated the creation of the universe to 23 October 4004 BC.

To make these absurdities apparent to believers, many non-theists have created “pseudo-religions.”, two of the most popular being the Churches of The Flying Spaghetti Monster and that of the Invisible Pink Unicorn. These are meant as lampoons on “real” religions, but are they?

Joint NGO Statement on Danger of U.N. “Defamation of Religions” Campaign

(Some grim news from the UN. Visit the site on the link to read the whole document with signatories)

Deeply concerned by the pervasive and mounting campaign by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to produce U.N. resolutions, declarations, and world conferences that propagate the concept of “defamation of religions,” a concept having no basis in domestic or international law, and which would alter the very meaning of human rights, which protect individuals from harm, but not beliefs from critical inquiry;

Deeply concerned by the attempt to misuse the U.N. to legitimise blasphemy laws, thereby restricting freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press;

Deeply concerned that “defamation of religions” resolutions may be used in certain countries to silence and intimidate human rights activists, religious dissenters, and other independent voices;

Alarmed by the resolution on “defamation of religions” recently tabled at the current 10th session of the UN Human Rights Council;

Alarmed by the draft resolution on freedom of expression circulated by Egypt, whose amendments seek to restrict, not promote, protections for free speech;

Alarmed by the recently-announced initiative of the U.N. “Ad Hoc Committee on Complementary Standards” to amend the International Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) by adding a protocol on “defamation of religions”;

Alarmed by provisions in the latest draft outcome document of the Durban Review Conference that, through coded language and veiled references, endorse and encourage these anti-democratic initiatives;

1. Call upon all governments to oppose the “defamation of religions” resolution currently tabled at the UN Human Rights Council, and the objectionable provisions of the freedom of expression resolution;

2. Call upon all governments to resist the efforts of the “Ad Hoc Committee on Complementary Standards” to alter the ICERD;

3. Call upon all governments not to accept or legitimise a Durban Review Conference outcome that directly or indirectly supports the “defamation of religions” campaign at the expense of basic freedoms and individual human rights.

Posted from UNWATCH