Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Unless you are a professional philosopher or a committed atheist, you probably have not heard of Antony Flew. Eighty-four years old and long retired, Flew lives with his wife in Reading, a medium-size town on the Thames an hour west of London. Over a long career he held appointments at a series of decent regional universities â Aberdeen, Keele, Reading â and earned a strong reputation writing on an unusual range of topics, from Hume to immortality to Darwin. His greatest contribution remains his first, a short paper from 1950 called âTheology and Falsification.â Flew was a precocious 27 when he delivered the paper at a meeting of the Socratic Club, the Oxford salon presided over by C. S. Lewis. Reprinted in dozens of anthologies, âTheology and Falsificationâ has become a heroic tract for committed atheists. In a masterfully terse thousand words, Flew argues that âGodâ is too vague a concept to be meaningful. For if Godâs greatness entails being invisible, intangible and inscrutable, then he canât be disproved â but nor can he be proved. Such powerful but simply stated arguments made Flew popular on the campus speaking circuit; videos from debates in the 1970s show a lanky man, his black hair professorially unkempt, vivisecting religious belief with an English public-school accent perfect for the seduction of American ears. Before the current crop of atheist crusader-authors â Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens â there was Antony Flew.
Flewâs fame is about to spread beyond the atheists and philosophers. HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins, has just released âThere Is a God: How the Worldâs Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind,â a book attributed to Flew and a co-author, the Christian apologist Roy Abraham Varghese. âThere Is a Godâ is an intellectualâs bildungsroman written in simple language for a mass audience. Itâs the first-person account of a preacherâs son who, away at Methodist boarding school, defied his father to become a teenage atheist, later wrote on atheism at Oxford, spent his life fighting for unbelief and then did an about-face in his old age, embracing the truth of a higher power. The book offers elegant, user-friendly descriptions of the arguments that persuaded Flew, arguments familiar to anyone who has heard evangelical Christiansâ âscientific proofâ of God. From the âfine tuningâ argument that the laws of nature are too perfect to have been accidents to the âintelligent designâ argument that human biology cannot be explained by evolution to various computations meant to show that probability favors a divine creator, âThere Is a Godâ is perhaps the handiest primer ever written on the science (many would say pseudoscience) of religious belief.
Flewâs âconversion,â first reported in late 2004, has cast him into culture wars that he contentedly avoided his whole life.
Read the rest from The New York Times Magazine here. I’ll be commenting on this later.
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November 4, 2007 | 8:42 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
The bloggers-aren’t-real-reporters story seems to make for intermittent newspaper filler. I, of course, disagree with the premise, in part because so many mainstream reporters now also blog for their media outlet. I apply the same standards to blogging as I do to my stories that appear in The Jewish Journal or the magazines I freelance for. I credit sources that I pull information from and occasionally include reportage on The God Blog that appears no where else.
But plenty of my former colleagues in the daily business still think it’s worth kvetching about the evolving definition of “journalism.” Deadspin found it in the Detroit News.
Detroit News sports reporter person Chris McCosky was asked to fill space on the weekend, so he went with the “bloggers are not real reporters because they don’t talk to people” story:
A lot of times these bloggers use the work of legitimate reporters. They will lift facts and segments of stories and cut and paste them onto their blog. Rarely, if ever, though, do they bother to credit the source.
Bloggers are having a field day speculating on how Joel Zumaya really injured his shoulder. Nobody believes a heavy box fell on him. So the Internet is rife with stories about how he fell off his dirt bike.
As a Tigers fan, I knew about Zumaya’s untimely injury, but I didn’t hear about the dirt bike angle. Unfortunately, McCosky didn’t cite which blog said this, so I’ll never know.
But because there is no accountability, because there are no repercussions for being wrong, because they will never have to look Zumaya in the face, who cares? Make up whatever you want.
Well, I wasn’t gonna make stuff up, but ... oh why not.
One day Chris McCosky got piss drunk and stumbled into a day care, punching any children that got in his way. He stole seven vanilla cupcakes and three kids’ blankies. He tied the blankies totogether, forming a cape, and pretended to fly out of the day care. Once he reached the sidewalk, he crashed into an unsuspecting Joel Zumaya, who was out walking his Yorkshire terrier. McCosky was unhurt, as Zumaya’s right shoulder broke his fall. According to numerous reliable eyewitness accounts, McCosky promptly got up, stole a dirt bike that was parked on the side of the road, and drove to work.
Deadspin’s Sussman forgot to mention in his fictitious reporting that McCosky kicked Zumaya’s terrier before stealing his dirt bike.
November 3, 2007 | 10:32 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
“I seen the devil a million times. And I beat him up and sent him back to Hell again.”
That is what Albert Rosa, a rather colorful Holocaust survivor who lives in Los Angeles, told me yesterday.
November 2, 2007 | 1:36 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
To Nazi hunters, Aribert Heim is the most coveted target still at large. The German and Austrian governments, as well as the Simon Wiesenthal Center, all believe that the so-called Butcher of Mauthausen is alive, and they are offering $430,000 for information on him. They periodically send investigators around the world to find him, most recently to Chile.
There is just one small problem: Heim is now said to be dead, executed in 1982 in California by a secretive cell of Jewish avengers.
So, at least, says Danny Baz, a retired Israeli air force colonel who claims he was a member of The Owl, a covert Jewish death squad made up of former American and Israeli military and intelligence officials. Baz claims that the group spent years tracking down and killing Nazis who fled to the Western Hemisphere after World War II.
Bazâs sensational allegations appear in âNot Forgotten or Forgiven: On the Trail of the Last Nazi,â a memoir released last month by mainstream publisher Grasset in France, where it received broad media coverage.
Baz has been fiercely condemned by the Wiesenthal Center and other Nazi hunters since the book appeared in mid-October. The American government backs the critics.
âThis is a bunch of baloney,â said Eli Rosenbaum, director of the Nazi-hunting Office of Special Investigations at the U.S. Justice Department. âWhat is true is that there is a real person who calls himself Danny Baz and is trying to make some money with this book at the expense of the truth.â
Read the rest at The Forward.
November 2, 2007 | 11:42 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
America is now a nation of 300 million souls, wielding more influence than any people in human historyâand yet 240 million of these souls apparently believe that Jesus will return someday and orchestrate the end of the world with his magic powers. This hankering for a denominational, spiritual oblivion is not a good bet, much less a useful idea.
And yet, abject superstition of this kind engorges our nation from sea to shining sea. Consequently, the rest of the developed world has learned to view America like a rich, southern auntie: She may be bumptious, bloviating, smarmy, and God-drunk, but sheâs got all the money; everyone is in her debt, and everyone is hoping that sheâll just shut up and go to sleep.
This is one of many short essays in The Atlantic Monthly‘s 150th issue, out now, on “The Future of the American Idea.” The complete essays are available online by subscription only.
Curiously, The Atlantic editors also invited “Left Behind” author Tim LaHaye to pen a piece about the religious beliefs of our Founding Fathers.
November 2, 2007 | 9:39 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
THE four-hour journey through the bush from Kano to Jos in northern Nigeria features many of the staples of African life: checkpoints with greedy soldiers, huge potholes, scrawny children in football shirts drying rice on the road. But it is also a journey along a front-line.
Nigeria, evenly split between Christians and Muslims, is a country where people identify themselves by their religion first and as Nigerians second (see chart 1). Around 20,000 have been killed in God’s name since 1990, estimates Shehu Sani, a local chronicler of religious violence. Kano, the centre of the Islamic north, introduced sharia law seven years ago. Many of the Christians who fled ended up in Jos, the capital of Plateau state, where the Christian south begins. The road between the two towns is dotted with competing churches and mosques.
This is one of many religious battlefields in this part of Africa. Evangelical Christians, backed by American collection-plate money, are surging northwards, clashing with Islamic fundamentalists, backed by Saudi petrodollars, surging southwards. And the Christian-Muslim split is only one form of religious competition in northern Nigeria. Events in Iraq have set Sunnis, who make up most of Nigeria’s Muslims, against the better-organised Shias; about 50 people have died in intra-Muslim violence, reckons Mr Sani. On the Christian side, Catholics are in a more peaceful battle with Protestant evangelists, whose signs promising immediate redemption dominate the roadside. By the time you reach Jos and see a poster proclaiming âthe ABC of nourishmentâ, you are surprised to discover it is for chocolate.
In fact, religious front-lines criss-cross the globe.
Most obviously, Americans and Britons would not be dying in Iraq and Afghanistan had 19 young Muslims not attacked the United States in the name of Allah. The West’s previous great military interventions were to protect Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo from Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croatians. America’s next war could be against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Other conflicts have acquired a new religious edge. In the poisonous war over Palestine, ever more people are claiming God on their side (with some of the most zealous sorts living miles away from the conflict). In Myanmar (Burma) Buddhist monks nearly brought down an evil regime, but in Sri Lanka they have prolonged a bloody conflict with Muslims. If India has an election, a bridge to Sri Lanka supposedly built by the god Ram (and a team of monkeys) may matter as much as a nuclear deal with America.
The Economist, not often a magazine I’d turn to for religious reportage, just published this 18-page special report on “the new wars of religion,” complete with nine stories and a disclaimer that concludes the main article:
First, many numbers in religion are dodgy: most churches inflate their support and many governments do not record religion in their censuses (in Nigeria the best source is health records). Second, in a field where many believers claim to know all the answers, it poses mainly questions. And lastly, given the emotion the subject arouses, the chances are that some of what follows will offend you.
I could hardly discuss all the stories here, but here’s one of the sidebars “Holy Depressing.”
SHEIKH Yazid Khader and Rabbi Yaacov Medan both live in the occupied West Bank. Both are devoutly religious men who feel they have been betrayed by secularists. The sheikh, a local Hamas leader, has just emerged from another bout of Fatah custody (depressing when the rival Palestinians, he says, should both be fighting âthe Zionist enemyâ). The rabbi, a leader of the settler movement, is still seething about the Israeli government’s forcible ejection of its own settlers from Gaza. Both men are obstacles to any chance of peace in the Middle East.
Not that they see it that way. Both insist that their religions are peaceful ones and each has solutions to the current impasse. Of course Israel should keep its settlements in the West Bank (illegal under international law), argues the rabbi: it is part of the land God gave it. But a system of tunnels could be constructed for the Palestinians to find their way round them. For his part, the sheikh refuses to accept Israel’s right to exist: Palestine is a waqf, land placed by God in Muslim hands for eternity. But if Israel retreats to its 1967 borders, Hamas would generously grant the infidels a hudna or truce, initially for ten years.
If you are concerned about religion’s effect on politics, there is no more discouraging place to visit than the tiny sliver of land that is Israel-Palestine. Forty years ago the trouble there amounted to a territorial dispute between two fairly secular tribes. Religious Zionismâas opposed to the traditional, secular kindâwas a fringe movement. Many of the Palestinian leaders were Christians or Marxists. But the six-day war of 1967 set off a chain of sectarian reactions on both sides. Polls show that most people on both sides still want a two-state solution, but many of the growing number determined to stop such an outcome now enlist God on their side of the argument.
They’re right: That will definitely offend some people.
November 1, 2007 | 4:02 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
A regular topic on The God Blog is my quest to balance my Jewish heritage with my Christian beliefs. This has played out in posts about Jewish exceptionalism and that unanswerable question: Who is a Jew? Well, Slate takes on both those topics in this story about “Jewgenics”:
Are Jews a race? Is Jewish intelligence genetic?
If these notions make you cringe, you’re not alone. Many non-Jews find them offensive. Actually, scratch that. I have no idea whether non-Jews find them offensive. But I imagine that they do, which is why Jews like me wince at any suggestion of Jewish genetic superiority. We don’t even want to talk about it.
Actually, a bunch of us did talk about it, three days ago at a forum at the American Enterprise Institute. The main speaker was Jon Entine, an AEI fellow and author of a new book, Abraham’s Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People. He was joined by fellow AEI scholar Charles Murray and by Laurie Zoloth, a bioethicist at Northwestern University. Entine and Zoloth are Jewish. Murray isn’t but talks as though he wishes he were. “One of my thesis advisers at MIT was a Sephardic Jew,” he announced proudly, turning the old “some of my best friends” clichÃ© upside down.
Entine laid out the data. The average IQ of Ashkenazi Jews is 107 to 115, well above the human average of 100. This gap and the genetic theories surrounding it stirred discomfort in the room. Zoloth, speaking for many liberals, recalled a family member’s revulsion at the idea of a Jewish race. Judaism is about faith and values, she argued. To reduce it to biology is to make it exclusive, denying its openness to all. Worse, to suggest that Jews are genetically smart is to imply that non-Jews are inherently inferior, in violation of Jewish commitments to equality and compassion. My friend Dana Milbank, who’s a better (if I may use that word) Jew than I am, watched the discussion, went back to his office, and wrote a column in the Washington Post poking fun at all the talk of superior Jewish intellect. The column, as usual, was really smart.
But what if Judaism as a genetic inheritance is compatible with Judaism as a cultural inheritance? And what if the genes that make Jews smart also make them sick? If one kind of superiority comes at the price of another kind of inferiority, and if the transmission of Jewish values drives the transmission of Jewish genes, does that make the genetics and the superiority easier to swallow?
November 1, 2007 | 12:21 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Some Christian pastors—particularly in lower income, urban areas—are coupling Dianetics with the Bible.
Scientologists do not worship God, much less Jesus Christ. The church has seen plenty of controversy and critics consider it a cult. So why are observant Christians embracing some of its teachings?
Two pastors who spoke recently with CNN explained that when it comes to religion, they still preach the core beliefs of Christianity. But when it comes to practicing what they preach in a modern world, borrowing from Scientology helps.
Here’s what is wrong with that equation: Scientology, which clearly fits the sociological definition of a religion, is proscribed by its officials as a complimentary belief system to any religious worldview. I watched a promotional video from Scientology’s international headquarters in Hollywood in which the narrator talked about how good Christians and Muslims were using Scientology to improve their lives. (The narrator proceeded to say, and I paraphrase the gist, “Do you have to believe in Scientology? No. But you’d be an idiot not to.)
If the narrator was being sincere—and if you believe everything you see on “South Park” then you know none of the leaders of Scientology actually are—that would mean that these pastors that CNN interviewed are preaching something that looks a lot like L. Ron Hubbard’s creation.
They say they are not scared off by programs with ties to a church that critics say has aggressive recruiting, secretive ways and rigid theology. As men of God rooted in Christian values, they do not see Scientology as a threat to their faith, but rather as a tool to augment it.
Scientology was founded in the 1950s by L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer. Followers are taught that they are immortal spiritual beings called thetans. Although the church says there is a supreme being, its practices do not include worshipping God.
“I’m looking for solutions, and the people that I help, they don’t ask me who L. Ron Hubbard is,” said McLaughlin, who works with addicts. “You know what they say? ‘Thank God.’ “
Rick Ross, who runs a Web site that tracks cults and controversial religious figures, goes on to say that this the kind of mainstream acceptance Scientology’s leaders desire. For more, read this excellent piece from Rolling Stone.