Posts Tagged ‘religion’


David Ropeik, May 14, 2012

       When I was a kid, my synagogue was right across the street from a Catholic church. Bellevue Avenue made such a clear dividing line between us – The Chosen People – and them…the enemy. No doubt the view from the other side of the street was the same. I had no idea at the time what a powerful metaphor those few lanes of asphalt made for one of the most significant aspects of human behavior…the powerful instinct of tribalism. It’s everywhere, protecting us by readily overriding reason, and morality, and pretty much anything else that could dim our chances of survival. And it’s threatening us at the same time.

Maybe you read about one recent manifestation in The New York Times, about the  Orthodox Jews of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn who shunned a neighbor after he told police about a man – a fellow Jew – who was sexually abusing his son. You’d think that a father protecting his son would be the sort of behavior that would be honored. Nope. Not if it is disloyal to the tribe.

That’s the synagogue side of the street. How about the long loathsome record of Catholic Church authorities abandoning their morals and forfeiting the safety of vulnerable children by covering up, ignoring, or denying extensive evidence of child abuse by a small number of priests. Same thing. Tribe first. Morals second.

It’s not just religion, of course. We identify ourselves as members of all sorts of tribes; our families, political parties, race, gender, social organizations. We even identify tribally just based on where we live. Go Celtics, go Red Sox, go U.S. Olympic team! One study asked people whether, if they had a fatal disease, would they prefer a life-saving diagnosis from a computer that was 1,000 miles away, or the exact same diagnosis from a computer in their town, and a large majority preferred the same information if the source…a machine…was local.

Tribalism is pervasive, and it controls a lot of our behavior, readily overriding reason. Think of the inhuman things we do in the name of tribal unity. Wars are essentially, and often quite specifically, tribalism. Genocides are tribalism – wipe out the other group to keep our group safe – taken to madness. Racism that lets us feel that our tribe is better than theirs, parents who end contact with their own children when they dare marry someone of a different faith or color, denial of evolution or climate change or other basic scientific truths when they challenge tribal beliefs. What stunning evidence of the power of tribalism! (By the way, it wasn’t just geocentrist Catholics in the 16 adn 1700s who denied  evidence that the earth travels around the sun. Some Christian biblical literalists still do. So do a handful of ultra orthodox Jews and Muslims.)

Yet another example is the polarized way we argue about so many issues, and the incredible irony that as we make these arguments we claim to be intelligent (smart, therefore right) yet we ignorantly close our minds to views that conflict with ours. Dan Kahan, principal researcher into the phenomenon of Cultural Cognition, has found that our views are powerfully shaped so they agree with beliefs of the groups with which we most strongly identify. His research, along with the work of others, has also found that the more challenged our views are, the more we defend them…the more dogmatic and closed-minded we become…an intellectual form of ‘circle-the-wagons, we’re under attack’ tribal unity. Talk about tribalism overruling reason.

As irrational as genocide and science denial and immorality may be, it makes absolute sense that tribalism can produce such behaviors. We are social animals. We have evolved to depend on our tribes, literally, for our safety and survival. As Jane Howard, biographer of anthropologist Margaret Mead, put it “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” We may not be aware at the conscious level of the influence tribalism has on us, but then, most of human cognition happens below the radar of consciousness, and is driven not so much by the goal of getting good grades or winning Nobel Prizes as it is, first, to survive. Small wonder that this ultimate imperative dominates so much of how we behave, how we think and act, and how we treat each other. And it’s hardly surprising that the more unsettled and uncertain we feel and the less we feel we have control over how things are going – feelings that make us feel threatened –  the more we circle the wagons and fiercely fight for tribal success, looking to the tribe to keep us safe.

It’s a sobering reflection on this inherent but potentially destructive aspect of human nature, in these unsettled and threateningly uncertain times.

http://bigthink.com/risk-reason-and-reality/how-tribalism-overrules-reason-and-makes-risky-times-more-dangerous

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The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth

Does Easter celebrate a man, a savior, or a myth? Some say Jesus never existed and was a myth created by early Christians.

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN)– Timothy Freke was flipping through an old academic book when he came across a religious image that some would call obscene.

It was a drawing of a third-century amulet depicting a naked man nailed to a cross. The man was born of a virgin, preached about being

“born again” and had risen from the dead after crucifixion, Freke says.

But the name on the amulet wasn’t Jesus. It was a pseudonym for Osiris-Dionysus, a pagan god in ancient Mediterranean culture.

Freke says the amulet was evidence of something that sounds like sacrilege – and some would say it is: that Jesus never existed.

He was a myth created by first-century Jews who modeled him after other dying and resurrected pagan gods, says Freke, author of

“The Jesus Mysteries: Was the ‘Original Jesus’ a Pagan God?”

“If I said to you that there was no real Good Samaritan, I don’t think anyone would be outraged,” says Freke, one of a group of

mythicists who say Jesus never existed. “It’s a teaching story. What we’re saying is that the Jesus story is an allegory.

It’s a parable of the spiritual journey.”

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

On Easter Sunday, millions of Christians worldwide mark the resurrection of Jesus. Though Christians clash over many issues,

almost all agree that he existed.

But there is another view of Jesus that’s been emerging, one that strikes at the heart of the Easter story. A number of authors

and scholars say Jesus never existed. Such assertions could have been ignored in an earlier age.  But in the age of the Internet

and self-publishing, these arguments have gained enough traction that some of the world’s leading New Testament scholars feel

compelled to publicly take them on.

Most Jesus deniers are Internet kooks, says Bart D. Ehrman, a New Testament scholar who recently released a book devoted

to the question called “Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth.”

He says Freke and others who deny Jesus’ existence are conspiracy theorists trying to sell books.

“There are people out there who don’t think the Holocaust happened, there wasn’t a lone JFK assassin and Obama wasn’t born

in the U.S.,” Ehrman says. “Among them are people who don’t think Jesus existed.”

Does it matter if Jesus existed?

Some Jesus mythicists say many New Testament scholars are intellectual snobs.

“I don’t think I’m some Internet kook or Holocaust denier,” says Robert Price, a former Baptist pastor who argues

in “Deconstructing Jesus” that a historical Jesus probably didn’t exist.

“They say I’m a bitter ex-fundamentalist. It’s pathetic to see this character assassination. That’s what people resort to

when they don’t have solid arguments.”

 The debate over Jesus’ existence has led to a curious role reversal. Two of the New Testament scholars who are leading

the way arguing for Jesus’ existence have a reputation for attacking, not defending, traditional Christianity.

Ehrman, for example, is an agnostic who has written books that argue that virtually half  of the New Testament is forged.

Another defender of Jesus’ existence is John Dominic Crossan, a New Testament scholar who has been called a heretic

because his books challenge some traditional Christian teachings.

But as to the existence of Jesus, Crossan says, he’s “certain.”

He says some Jesus deniers may be people who have a problem with Christianity.

“It’s a way of responding to something you don’t like,” Crossan says. “We can’t say that Obama doesn’t exist, but we can

say that he’s not an American.  If we’re talking about Obama in the future, there are people who might not only say he

wasn’t American, but he didn’t even exist.”

Does it even matter if Jesus existed? Can’t people derive inspiration from his teachings whether he actually walked the Earth?

Crossan says Jesus’ existence matters in the same way that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s existence mattered.

If King never existed, people would say his ideas are lovely, but they could never work in the real world, Crossan says.

It’s the same with an historical Jesus, Crossan writes in his latest book, “The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus

Became Fiction about Jesus.”

“The power of Jesus’ historical life challenges his followers by proving at least one human being could cooperate fully with God.

And if one, why not others? If some, why not all?”

The evidence against Jesus’ existence

Those who argue against Jesus’ existence make some of these points:

-The uncanny parallels between pagan stories in the ancient world and the stories of Jesus.

-No credible sources outside the Bible say Jesus existed.

-The Apostle Paul never referred to a historical Jesus.

Price, author of “Deconstructing Jesus,” says the first-century Western world was full of stories of a martyred hero

who is called a son of God.

“There are ancient novels from that period where the hero is condemned to the cross and even crucified, but he escapes

and survives it,” Price says. “That looks like Jesus.”

Those who argue for the existence of Jesus often cite two external biblical sources: the Jewish historian Josephus who wrote

about Jesus at the end of the first century and the Roman historian Tacitus, who wrote about Jesus at the start of the second century.

But some scholars say Josephus’ passage was tampered with by later Christian authors. And Price says the two historians are not

credible on Jesus.

“Josephus and Tacitus – they both thought Hercules was a true figure,” Price says. “Both of them spoke of Hercules as a figure that existed.”

Price concedes that there were plenty of mythical stories that were draped around historical figures like Caesar. But there’s plenty of

secular documentation to show Caesar existed.

“Everything we read about Jesus in the gospels conforms to the mythic hero,” Price says. “There’s nothing left over that indicates that

he was a real historical figure.”

Those who argue for the existence of Jesus cite another source: the testimony of the Apostle Paul and Jesus’ early disciples. Paul even

writes in one New Testament passage about meeting James, the brother of Jesus.

These early disciples not only believed Jesus was real but were willing to die for him. People don’t die for myths, some biblical scholars say.

They will if the experience is powerful enough, says Richard Carrier, author of “Proving History.”

Carrier says it’s probable that Jesus never really existed and that early Christians experienced a mythic Jesus who came to them through

visions and revelations.

Two of the most famous stories in the New Testament – the conversion of Paul and the stoning death of Stephen, one of the first Christian

martyrs – show that people seized by religious visions are willing to die, Carrier says.

In both the Paul and Stephen stories, the writers say that they didn’t see an actual Jesus but a heavenly vision of Jesus, Carrier says.

People “can have powerful religious experiences that don’t correspond to reality,” Carrier says.

“The perfect model is Paul himself,” Carrier says. “He never met Jesus. Paul only had an encounter with this heavenly Jesus.

Paul is completely converted by this religious experience, but no historical Jesus is needed for that to happen.”

As for the passage where Paul says he met James, Jesus’ brother, Carrier says:

“The problem with that is that all baptized Christians were considered brothers of the Lord.”

The evidence for Jesus’ existence

Some scholars who argue for the existence of Jesus says the New Testament mentions actual people and events that are substantiated

by historical documents and archaeological discoveries.

Ehrman, author of “Did Jesus Exist?” scoffed at the notion that the ancient world was full of pagan stories about dying deities that rose again.

Where’s the proof? he asks.

Ehrman devoted an entire section of his book to critiquing Freke, the mythicist and author of “The Jesus Mysteries:

Was the ‘Original Jesus’ a Pagan God?” who says there was an ancient Osiris-Dionysus figure who shares uncanny parallels to Jesus.

He says Freke can’t offer any proof that an ancient Osiris figure was born on December 25, was crucified and rose again. He says

Freke is citing 20th- and 19th-century writers who tossed out the same theories.

Ehrman says that when you read ancient stories about mythological figures like Hercules and Osiris, “there’s nothing about them

dying and rising again.”

“He doesn’t know much about ancient history,” Ehrman says of Freke. “He’s not a scholar. All he knows is what he’s read in other

conspiracy books.”

Craig A. Evans, the author of “Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence,” says the notion that Paul gave his life for a mythical

Jesus is absurd.

He says the New Testament clearly shows that Paul was an early enemy of the Christian church who sought to stamp out the burgeoning

Jesus movement.

“Don’t you think if you were in Paul’s shoes, you would have quickly discovered that there was no Jesus?” Evans asks.  “If there was no

Jesus, then how did the movement start?”

Evans also dismissed the notion that early Christians blended or adopted pagan myths to create their own mythical Jesus. He says the

first Christians were Jews who despised everything about pagan culture.

“For a lot of Jewish people, the pagan world was disgusting,” Evans says. “I can’t imagine [the Gospel writer] Matthew making up a

story where he is drawing parallels between Jesus’ birth and pagan stories about Zeus having sex with some fair maiden.”

The words of Jesus also offer proof that he actually existed, Evans says.  A vivid personality practically bursts from the pages of the

New Testament: He speaks in riddles, talks about camels squeezing through the eye of a needle, weeps openly and even loses his temper.

Evans says he is a man who is undeniably Jewish, a genius who understands his culture but also transcends his tradition with gem-like parables.

“Who but Jesus could tell the Parable of the Good Samaritan?” Evans says. “Where does this bolt of lightning come from? You don’t get

this out of an Egyptian myth.”

Those who argue against the existence of Jesus say they aren’t trying to destroy people’s faith.

“I don’t have any desire to upset people,” says Freke. “I do have a passion for the truth. … I don’t think rational people in the

20th century

can go down a road just on blind faith.”

Yet Easter was never just about rationale.

The Easter stories about the resurrection are strange: Disciples don’t recognize Jesus as they meet him on the road; he tells someone

not to touch him; he  eats fish in another.

In the Gospel of Matthew, a resurrected Jesus suddenly appears to a group of disciples and gives them this cryptic message:

“Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

And what did they see: a person, a pagan myth or a savior?

Albert Schweitzer, a 20th-century theologian and missionary, suggested that there will never be one answer to that question.

He said that looking for Jesus in history is like looking down a well: You see only your own reflection.

The “real” Jesus, Schweitzer says, will remain “a stranger and an enigma,” someone who is always ahead of us.

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/07/the-jesus-debate-man-vs-myth/


How I am Celebrating My Good Friday!!

By PaanLuel Wel.

According to the (Gregorian) Christian’s calendar introduced to the world by Pope Gregory XIII on  24 February 1582, which is currently the best known calendar around the world, today marks the day on which Jesus of Nazareth, a first century Jewish teacher of morality considered by some people to be a god, was supposed to have been crucified on the cross for the sin of humanity. The day is better known to this generation as the Good Friday–Good because it is, Christians believe,  the day on which human’s blood was shed to clean human’s sin.

Essentially, it is about the ancient ritual of blood sacrifice practice by all human all over the world from immemorial time till modernity recently reduced or ended it. Still, the thought that the ancient ritual of blood sacrifice could form the foundation of Christianity--presently the largest organized human religion in the World–and that it still hold such a sway among human race in this 21st century is mindbogglingly worrisome.

For my fellow atheists–did I mention that we have no original sin to be atoned–around the world whose today Bible readings may not give them the true evolutionary trajectory and meaning of this day of “Pious Atrocities” in human history, I would recommend (re) reading of Sam Harris’s Afterword to his bestselling book: Letter to a Christian Nation:

LETTER TO A CHRISTIAN NATION: AFTERWORD

Humanity has had a long fascination with blood sacrifice. In fact, it has been by no means uncommon for a child to be born into this world only to be patiently and lovingly reared by religious maniacs, who believe that the best way to keep the sun on its course or to ensure a rich harvest is to lead him by tender hand into a field or to a mountaintop and bury, butcher, or burn him alive as offering to an invisible God. Countless children have been unlucky enough to be born in so dark an age, when ignorance and fantasy were indistinguishable from knowledge and where the drumbeat of religious fanaticism kept perfect time with every human heart. In fact, almost no culture has been exempt from this evil: the Sumerians, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Hebrews, Canaanites, Maya, Inca, Aztecs, Olmecs, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Teutons, Celts, Druids, Vikings, Gauls, Hindus, Thais, Chinese, Japanese, Scandinavians, Maoris, Melanesias, Tahitians, Hawaiians, Balinese, Australian aborigines, Iroquois, Huron, Cherokee, and innumerable other societies ritually murdered their fellow human beings because they believed that invisible gods and goddesses, having an appetite for human flesh, could be so propitiated. Many of their victims were of the same opinion, in fact, and went willingly to slaughter, fully convinced that their deaths would transform the weather, or cure the king of his venereal disease, or in some other way spare their fellows the wrath of the Unseen.

In many societies, whenever a new building was constructed, it was thought only prudent to pacify the local deities by burying children alive beneath its foundations (this is how faith sometimes operates in a world without structural engineers). Many societies regularly sacrificed virgins to ward off floods. Others killed their first-born children, and even ate them, as a way of ensuring a mother’s ongoing fertility. In India, living infants were ritually fed to sharks at the mouth of the Ganges for the same purpose. Indians also burned widows alive so that they could follow their husbands into the next world. Leaving nothing to chance, Indians also sowed their fields with the flesh of a certain caste of men, raised especially for this purpose and dismembered while alive, to ensure that every crop of tumeric would be appropriately crimson. The British were actually hard pressed to put an end to these pious atrocities.

In some cultures whenever a nobleman died, other men and women allowed themselves to be buried alive so as to serve as his retainers in the next world. In ancient Rome, children were occasionally slaughtered so that the future could be read in their entrails. Some Fijian prodigy devised a powerful sacrament called “Vakatoga” which required that a victim’s limbs be cut off and eaten while he watched. Among the Iroquois, prisoners taken captive in war were often permitted to live among the tribe for many years, and even to marry, all the while being doomed to be flayed alive as an oblation to the God of War; whatever children they produced while in captivity were disposed of in the same ritual. Certain African tribes have a long history of murdering people to send as couriers in a one-way dialogue with their ancestors or to convert their body parts into magical charms. Ritual murders of this sort continue in many African societies to this day. [1]

It is essential to realize that such obscene misuses of human life have always been explicitly religious. They are the product of what people think they know about invisible gods and goddesses, and of what they manifestly do not know about biology, meteorology, medicine, physics, and a dozen other specific sciences that have more than a little to say about the events in the world that concern them. And it is astride this contemptible history of religious atrocity and scientific ignorance that Christianity now stands as an absurdly unselfconscious apotheosis. The notion that Jesus Christ died for our sins and that his death constitutes a successful propitiation of a “loving” God is a direct and undisguised inheritance of the superstitious bloodletting that has plagued bewildered people throughout history.

Of course, the God of Abraham was no stranger to ritual murder. Occasionally, He condemns the practice (Deuteronomy 12:31; Jeremiah 19:4-5; Ezekial 16:20-21); at other points, He requires or rewards it (Exodus 22:29-30; Judges 11:29-40; 1 Kings 13:1-2; 2 Kings 3:27; 2 Kings 23:20-25; Numbers 31:40, Deuteronomy 13:13-19). In the case of Abraham, God demands that he sacrifice his son Isaac but then stays his hand at the last moment (Genesis 22:1-18), without ever suggesting that the act of slaughtering one’s own child is immoral. Elsewhere, God confesses to inspiring human sacrifice soas to defile its practitioners (Ezekiel 20:26), while getting into the act Himself by slaying the firstborn of Egypt (Exodus 11:5). The rite of circumcision emerges as a surrogate for child sacrifice (Exodus 4:24-26), and God seems to generally encourage the substitution of animals for people. Indeed, His thirst for the blood of animals, as well as His attentiveness to the niceties of their slaughter and holocaust, is almost impossible to exaggerate.

Upon seeing Jesus for the first time, John the Baptist is rumored to have said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). For most Christians, this bizarre opinion still stands, and it remains the core of their faith. Christianity is more or less synonymous with the proposition that the crucifixion of Jesus represents a final, sufficient offering of blood to a God who absolutely requires it (Hebrews 9:22-28). Christianity amounts to the claim that we must love and be loved by a God who approves of the scapegoating, torture, and murder of one man—his son, incidentally—in compensation for the misbehavior and thought-crimes of all others.

Let the good news go forth: we live in a cosmos, the vastness of which we can scarcely even indicate in our thoughts, on a planet teeming with creatures we have only begun to understand, but the whole project was actually brought to a glorious fulfillment over twenty centuries ago, after one species of primate (our own) climbed down out of the trees, invented agriculture and iron tools, glimpsed (as through a glass, darkly) the possibility of keeping its excrement out of its food, and then singled out one among its number to be viciously flogged and nailed to a cross.

Add to this abject mythology surrounding one man’s death by torture—Christ’s passion—the symbolic cannibalism of the Eucharist. Did I say “symbolic”? Sorry, according to the Vatican it is most assuredly not symbolic. In fact, the judgment of the Council of Trent remains in effect:

I likewise profess that in the Mass a true, proper and propitiatory sacrifice is offered to God on behalf of the living and the dead, and that the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ is truly, really, and substantially present in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist, and that there is a change of the whole substance of the bread into the body, and of the whole substance of the wine into blood; and this change the Catholic Church calls transubstantiation. I also profess that the whole and entire Christ and a true sacrament is received under each separate species.

Of course, Catholics have done some very strenuous and unconvincing theology in this area, in an effort to make sense of how they can really eat the body of Jesus, not mere crackers enrobed in metaphor, and really drink his blood without, in fact, being a cult of crazy cannibals. Suffice it to say, however, that a world view in which “propitiatory sacrifices on behalf of the living and the dead” figure prominently is rather difficult to defend in the year 2007. But this has not stopped otherwise intelligent and well-intentioned people from defending it.

And now we learn that even Mother Teresa, the most celebrated exponent of this dogmatism in a century, had her doubts all the while—about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, about heaven, and even about the existence of God:

Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love — and now become as the most hated one — the one — You have thrown away as unwanted — unloved. I call, I cling, I want — and there is no One to answer — no One on Whom I can cling — no, No One. — Alone … Where is my Faith — even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness — My God — how painful is this unknown pain — I have no Faith — I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart — & make me suffer untold agony.
So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them — because of the blasphemy — If there be God — please forgive me — When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven — there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. — I am told God loves me — and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?

— addressed to Jesus, at the suggestion of a confessor, undated

Mother Teresa’s recently published letters reveal a mind riven by doubt (and well it should have been). They also reveal a woman who was surely suffering from run-of-the-mill depression, though even secular commentators have begun to politely dress this fact in the colors of the saints and martyrs. Mother Teresa’s response to her own bewilderment and hypocrisy (her term) reveals just how like quicksand religious faith can be. Her doubts about God’s existence were interpreted by her confessor as a sign that she was now sharing Christ’s torment upon the cross; this exaltation of her wavering faith allowed her “to love the darkness” she experienced in God’s apparent absence. Such is the genius of the unfalsifiable. We can see the same principle at work among her fellow Catholics: Mother Teresa’s doubts have only enhanced her stature in the eyes of the Church, being interpreted as a further confirmation of God’s grace. Ask yourself, when even the doubts of experts are taken to confirm a doctrine, what could possibly disconfirm it?

It has been more than a year since Letter to a Christian Nation was published, and the book has continued to draw steady fire. Much of the criticism leveled at it has been bundled with attacks upon my first book, The End of Faith, and upon other atheist bestsellers: especially Dan Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, and Christopher Hitchens’God Is Not Great. In fact, Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens, and I have been regularly assailed as though we were a single person with four heads. The accusations and arguments against us are always the same, and they always miss the point. Indeed, what is most surprising about debating the faithful is how few surprises there are.

The Problem with Moderate Religion
Whenever nonbelievers like myself criticize Christians for believing in the imminent return of Christ, or Muslims for believing in martyrdom, religious moderates declare that we have caricatured Christianity and Islam, taken “extremists” to be representative of these “great” religions, or otherwise overlooked a shimmering ocean of nuance. We are invariably told that a mature understanding of scripture renders faith perfectly compatible with reason, and that our attacks upon religion are, therefore, “simplistic,” “dogmatic,” or even “fundamentalist.”

But there are several problems with such a defense of religion. First, many moderates (and even some secularists) assume that religious “extremism” is rare and therefore not all that consequential. But religious extremism is not rare, and it is hugely consequential. America is now a nation of 300 million souls, wielding more influence than any people in human history, and 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 extreme in almost every sense—it is extremely silly, extremely dangerous, extremely worthy of denigration—but it is not extreme in the sense of being rare. Of course, moderates may wonder whether as many people believe such things as say they do. In fact, many atheists are confident that our opinion polls are out of register with what people actually think in the privacy of their own minds. But there is no question that most Americans reliablyclaim to believe the preposterous, and these claims themselves have done genuine harm to our political discourse, to our public policy, and to our reputation in the world.

Religious moderates also tend to imagine that there is some bright line of separation between extremist and moderate religion. But there isn’t. Scripture itself remains a perpetual engine of extremism: because, while He may be many things, the God of the Bible and the Qur’an is not a moderate. Reading scripture more closely, one does not find reasons to be a religious moderate; one finds reasons to be a proper religious lunatic—to fear the fires of hell, to despise nonbelievers, to persecute homosexuals, etc. Of course, anyone can cherry-pick scripture and find reasons to love his neighbor and to turn the other cheek. But the more fully a person grants credence to these books, the more he will be convinced that infidels, heretics, and apostates deserve to be smashed to atoms in God’s loving machinery of justice.

Religious moderates invariably claim to be more “sophisticated” than religious fundamentalists (and atheists). But how does one become a sophisticated believer? By acknowledging just how dubious many of the claims of scripture are, and thereafter reading it selectively, bowdlerizing it if need be, and allowing its assertions about reality to be continually trumped by fresh insights—scientific (“You mean the world isn’t 6000 years old? Okay.”), medical (“I should take my daughter to a neurologist and not to an exorcist? Seems reasonable…”), and moral (“I can’t beat my slaves? I can’t even keep slaves? Hmm…”). There is a pattern here, and it is undeniable. Religious moderation is the direct result of taking scripture less and less seriously. So why not take it less seriously still? Why not admit that the Bible is merely a collection of imperfect books written by highly fallible human beings?

Another problem with religious moderation is that it represents precisely the sort of thinking that will prevent a rational and nondenominational spirituality from ever emerging in our world. Whatever is true about us, spiritually and ethically, must be discoverable now. Consequently, it makes no sense at all to have one’s spiritual life pegged to rumors of ancient miracles. What we need is a discourse about ethics and spiritual experience that is as unconstrained by ancient ignorance as the discourse of science already is. Science really does transcend the vagaries of culture: there is no such thing as “Japanese” as opposed to “French” science; we don’t speak of “Hindu biology” and “Jewish chemistry.” Imagine a world in which we could have a truly honest and open-ended conversation about our place in the universe and about the possibilities of deepening our self-understanding, ethical wisdom, and compassion. By living as if some measure of sectarian superstition were essential for human happiness, religious moderates prevent such a conversation from ever taking shape.

Intellectual Honesty
Religion once offered answers to many questions that have now been ceded to the care of science. This process of scientific conquest and religious forfeiture has been relentless, one directional, and utterly predictable. As it turns out, real knowledge, being both valid and verifiable across cultures, is the only remedy for religious discord. Muslims and Christians cannot disagree about the causes of cholera, for instance, because whatever their traditions might say about infectious disease, a genuine understanding of cholera has arrived from another quarter. Epidemiology trumps religious superstition (eventually), especially when people are watching their children die. This is where our hope for a truly nonsectarian future lies: when things matter, people tend to want to understand what is actually going on in the world. Science delivers this understanding in torrents; it also offers an honest appraisal of its current limitations. Religion fails on both counts.

Hoping to reconcile their faith with our growing scientific understanding of the world, many believers have taken refuge in Stephen J. Gould’s quisling formulation of “non-overlapping magisteria”—the idea that science and religion, properly construed, cannot be in conflict, because they represent different domains of expertise. Let’s see how this works: while science is the best authority on the workings of physical universe, religion is the best authority on… what exactly? The non-physical universe? Probably not. What about meaning, values, ethics, and the good life? Unfortunately, most people—even most scientists and secularists—have ceded these essential components of human happiness to the care of theologians and religious apologists without argument. This has kept religion in good standing even while its authority has been battered and nullified on every other front.

But what special competence does a priest, rabbi, or imam have to judge the ethical implications of embryonic stem-cell research, family planning, or preventative war? The truth is that a person’s knowledge of a scriptural tradition is no more relevant to ethics than it is to astronomy. Representatives of the world’s religions can tell us what their congregations believe on wide variety of issues (and believe, generally, on bad evidence); they can tell us what their holy books say one ought to believe to escape the fires of hell; but what they cannot do—or cannot do better than butchers, bakers, and candle-stick makers—is offer an account of why these orthodox positions are ethical. Is it ethical to kill a person for changing his religion? I’d stake my life that the answer is “no.” But, according to a recent poll, thirty-six percent of British Muslims (ages 16-24) disagree with me. [2] As it turns out, they are on firm ground theologically: for while the Qur’an does not explicitly demand the murder of apostates, the sacred literature of the hadithdoes, repeatedly and without equivocation. Is this edict ethical? Is it compatible with civil society? Is the reliance upon authority that has delivered this barbarism down through the generations even remotely compatible with science?

It is, of course, trivially true to say that religion and science are compatible because some scientists are (or claim to be) religious. But this is like saying that science and ignorance are compatible because many scientists freely admit their ignorance on a wide range of topics. To clarify these issues, it is helpful to remind ourselves that both religion and science are constituted by beliefs and their justification, or lack thereof. Is there a conflict between justified and unjustified belief? Of course, and it is zero-sum. Given that faith is generally nothing more than the permission religious people give one another to believe things strongly without evidence, a conflict between science and religion is unavoidable.

Religion and science are also in conflict because there is no way of disentangling religious and scientific truth-claims: the belief that Jesus was born of a virgin may be central to the doctrine of Christianity, but it is also an explicit claim about biology; the belief that Jesus will physically return to earth in the future entails a variety of claims about history, the human survival of death, and, apparently, the mechanics of human flight without the aid of technology. It is time that all rational people acknowledged that where claims about the nature of reality are concerned, there is only one magisterium.

The Empty Wager 
The fundamental problem with religion is that it is built, to a remarkable degree, upon lies.  I refer not merely to twenty-megaton displays of hypocrisy, as when Evangelical preachers get caught with male prostitutes or methamphetamine (or both). Rather, I refer to the daily and ubiquitous failure of most religious people to admit that the basic claims of the their faith are profoundly suspect. Mommy claims to know that Granny went straight to heaven after she died. But Mommy doesn’t actually know this. The truth is that Mommy is lying—either to herself or to her children—and most of us have agreed to view this behavior as perfectly normal. Rather than teach our children to grieve, and to be happy despite the reality of death, we nourish their powers of self-deception.

How likely is it that Jesus was really born of a virgin, rose from the dead, and will bodily return to earth at some future date? How reasonable is it to believe in such a concatenation of miracles on the basis of the Gospel account? How much support do these doctrines receive from the average Christian’s experience in church? Honest answers to these questions should raise a tsunami of doubt. I’m not sure what will be “Christian” about any Christians left standing.

Many readers of Letter to a Christian Nation have taken inspiration from Blaise Pascal and argued that evidence is beside the point and that religious believers have simply taken the wiser of two bets: if a believer is wrong about God, there is not much harm to him or to anyone else, and if he is right, he wins eternal happiness; if an atheist is wrong, however, he is destined to spend eternity in hell. On this view, atheism is the very picture of reckless stupidity.

While Pascal deserves his reputation as a brilliant mathematician, his wager was never more than a cute (and false) analogy. Like many cute ideas in philosophy, it is easily remembered and often repeated, and this has lent it an undeserved air of profundity. A moment’s thought reveals that if the wager were valid, it could justify almost any belief system, no matter how ludicrous or antithetical to Christianity. Another problem with the wager—and it is a problem that infects religious thinking generally—is its suggestion that a rational person can knowingly will himself to believe a proposition for which he has no evidence. A person can profess any creed he likes, of course, but to really believe it, he must believe that it is true. To believe that there is a God, for instance, is to believe that you are not just fooling yourself; it is to believe that you stand in some relation to God’s existence such that, if He didn’t exist, you wouldn’t believe in him. How does Pascal’s wager fit into this scheme? It doesn’t.

The reasons to doubt the existence of God are in plain view for everyone to see: everyone can see that the Bible is not the perfect word of an omniscient deity; everyone can see that there is no evidence for a God who answers prayers and that any God who would grant prayers for football championships, while doling out cancer and car accidents to little boys and girls, is unworthy of our devotion. Everyone who has eyes to see can see that if the God of Abraham exists, He is an utter psychopath—and the God of Nature is too. If you can’t see these things just by looking, you have simply closed your eyes to the realities of our world.

I have no doubt that many Christians find great consolation in their faith. But faith is not the best source of consolation. Faith is like a pickpocket who loans a person his own money on generous terms. The victim’s gratitude is perfectly understandable, but absolutely misplaced. We are the source of the love that our priests and pastors attribute to God (how else can we feel it?). Your own consciousness is the cause and substance of any experience you might want to deem “spiritual” or “mystical.” Realizing this, what possible need is there to pretend to be certain about ancient miracles?
Sam Harris
September 2007
New York

http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/afterword-to-the-vintage-books-edition


Adviset Warns Kampala and Juba Against Continuing to Support Rebels
AllAfrica.com
Khartoum — The Sudanese presidential adviser Mustafa Osman Ismail warned that his country is running out of patience with South Sudan and Uganda over their alleged support to rebel groups fighting Khartoum in different parts of the country.

Hundreds of thousands of Christians ordered to leave Sudan
Catholic Culture
The government of Sudan, an overwhelmingly Muslim nation, has stripped between 500000 and 700000 Christians of their citizenship and ordered them to leave for the new nation of South Sudan, according to a report from Ecumenical News International (ENI) 
South Sudan commits to making the national army child-free
Sudan Tribune
12 March 2012 Juba, South Sudan – The Sudanese People’s Liberation Army of South Sudan(SPLA) signed an agreement called an action plan with the United Nations today which renewed their commitment to release all children within their ranks.

Vizada Networks… Solution For South Sudan… (SATCOM)
SatNews Publishers
[SatNews] The Republic of South Sudan’s administration has selected the Astrium owned satellite and telecommunications specialist…. ….Vizada Networks to provide interim Internet connectivity and voice services for domestic and international 

US diplomat discusses Sudan in meetings here
Pittsburgh Post Gazette
The movement has sputtered over the last year, in particular in the wake of South Sudan in July voting to separate from the Sudan government in the north, and a reduction in violence in the Darfur region. In addition to his lunchtime speech Monday,

China cancels Sudan electricity project loan on lack of oil collateral: report

Platts
The Chinese government has canceled funding for an electricity project in Sudan as it has lost collateral for the loan, which is in the form of oil supply, following the separation of Sudan and South Sudan last year, Sudan President Omer al-Bashir said 
What Is the Fate of Country Inmates in Sudan?
AllAfrica.com
By Isaac Morris Merisiya, 12 March 2012 It is a fact that, there are still South Sudanese inmates in different parts of Sudan who are serving their conviction period, the exact number is unknown but alleged to be more than two thousand with the 

South Sudan’s army signs pact with UN to release all children in its ranks
UN News Centre
The Sudanese People’s Liberation Army of South Sudan (SPLA) today signed an agreement with the United Nations renewing its commitment to release all children within its ranks. Since 2005, the SPLA has been listed on the UN Secretary-General’s list of 

UAE Captain helps to establish Juba Air in South Sudan
eTurboNews
Samir M. Al Sayed Al Hashemi is organising start-up funds for Juba Air / Image via Legacy Aviation DUBAI, UAE – An Abu Dhabi-based UAE national is helping to set up an airline, Juba Air, in the newly independent African state of South Sudan

South Sudan struggling with healthcare crisis
Press TV
South Sudan is considered to be among the top in the list of countries with high infant and maternal mortality rate. The healthcare crisis in the country is largely due to the country’s lack of proper hospitals and qualified doctors.

Madam Rebecca Garang and other officials declare assets and liabilities

JUBA, 2 March 2012 (NASS) – The Presidential Advisor for Gender and Human Rights, Madam Rebecca Nyandeng, ministers for Information and Broadcasting, and Water Resources and Irrigation, and the chairperson of workers trade union declared their assets and liabilities to the South Sudan Anti-Corruption Commission yesterday.
The declaration was made at the commission’s headquarters in the presence of its top officials.


Madam Rebecca receiving her compliance certificate.
[Photo: Ajang Monychol]
After receiving the certificate of confirmation, Madam Rebecca Nyandeng said this is the time she has been waiting for because the South Sudanese need to know how the national resources are being used.
Madam Nyandeng stated that she filled all her income, assets and liabilities clearly on the form mentioning that it is all about the money she got as compensation from the plane accident that kislled her later husband and national hero Dr John Garang de Mabior.
She also condemned the rumours circulating around the country about the ownership of White Bull Company. She declared that it is not hers adding that if she is to do something for South Sudan it will not be through a beer company.


Dr Marial receiving his compliance certificate.
[Photo: Ajang MOnychol]
Meanwhile the minister for Information and Broadcasting, Dr Barnaba Marial Benjamin urged all the ministers and top officials of the government to be transparent in the exercise saying everybody should be accountable.
At the same time, the minster for Water Resources and Irrigation, Paul Mayom Akech asserted that they will assist the commission take tougher decisions to reduce corruption vowing that they did not fight to embezzle public funds.
On his part, the chairperson of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Justice John Gatwech Lul announced that whoever fills the form without declaring all the assets and later discovered will forfeit the assets which will then be transferred into government account.


Hon Mayom waits as the Commission chair reviews his compliance documents.
[Photo: Ajang Monychol]
He as well warned the target group that once the exercise timeframe expires then automatically they will issue resignation letters to those who fail to comply.
Reported by Martin Jada Gabriel, News Agency of South Sudan (NASS)

http://www.goss.org/

press release
Juba — The Presidential Advisor for Gender and Human Rights, Madam Rebecca Nyandeng, ministers for Information and Broadcasting, and Water Resources and Irrigation, and the chairperson of workers trade union declared their assets and liabilities to the South Sudan Anti-Corruption Commission yesterday.
The declaration was made at the commission’s headquarters in the presence of its top officials.
After receiving the certificate of confirmation, Madam Rebecca Nyandeng said this is the time she has been waiting for because the South Sudanese need to know how the national resources are being used.
Madam Nyandeng stated that she filled all her income, assets and liabilities clearly on the form mentioning that it is all about the money she got as compensation from the plane accident that killed her later husband and national hero Dr John Garang de Mabior.
She also condemned the rumours circulating around the country about the ownership of White Bull Company. She declared that it is not hers adding that if she is to do something for South Sudan it will not be through a beer company.
Meanwhile the minister for Information and Broadcasting, Dr Barnaba Marial Benjamin urged all the ministers and top officials of the government to be transparent in the exercise saying everybody should be accountable.
At the same time, the minster for Water Resources and Irrigation, Paul Mayom Akech asserted that they will assist the commission take tougher decisions to reduce corruption vowing that they did not fight to embezzle public funds.
On his part, the chairperson of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Justice John Gatwech Lul announced that whoever fills the form without declaring all the assets and later discovered will forfeit the assets which will then be transferred into government account.
He as well warned the target group that once the exercise
More South Sudanese officials declare income and assets

March 2, 2012 (JUBA) – More constitutional post holders in South Sudan declare their personal income and assets to the South Sudan Anti-Corruption Commission (SSACC) on Thursday, although like previous declarations the results were not made public.

The policy was reintroduced by a presidential decree, after the previous attempt had failed, calling on all the constitutional post holders, senior civil servants and officers from the organised forces to declare their income and assets before the 31 March. Any official who fails to submit the form before the deadline will be asked to resign.

Two weeks ago the vice president Riek Machar declared his income and assets to the commission, although his net wealth and assets have not been made public. Machar urged his colleagues to follow suit. The army’s top generals were also issued with the declaration forms and expressed their readiness to declare their wealth.

The most high profile of the latest batch of officials to declare their assets was Rebecca Nyandeng Garang de Mabior, a presidential Advisor on gender and human rights. Upon receiving a certificate on Thursday verifying she had declared all her assets and liabilities to SSACC she denied rumours that her family owns a beer company in Juba.

Speaking to reporters after receiving her certificate of declaration on Thursday, Nyandeng thanked the anti-graft commission. She said it was appropriate for officials to declare their wealth and assets so the public knew what was happening to the country’s resources.

In a statement on national television, Nyandeng explained that she filled all her income, assets and liabilities clearly. She said that most of her assets were from an insurance payout after the death of her husband the former chairman of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), John Garang de Mabior. Garang died in a helicopter crash in 2005 just weeks after becoming the first vice president of Sudan and the President of South Sudan as part of the north-South peace deal.

Nyandeng denied and condemned the rumours and allegations that she owns the White Bull Company, which makes beer. She told state TV and radio that she did not know who owned the company, stressing that if the company belonged to her family, she would have declared it like other assets she had declared.

Other officials including minister of information and broadcasting, Barnaba Marial Benjamin and water resources and irrigation, Paul Mayom Akec declared their assets at the same time.

The declaration forms are South Sudan’s latest attempt to root out corruption, which is rife in the young country. Billions of dollars of public funds have gone missing since the SPLM took power in Juba in 2005 following a peace deal with the Sudanese government in Khartoum.

In July last year South Sudan became independent but the world’s youngest country faces a host of problems including humanitarian emergencies and security issues as well as corruption.

On Thursday the chairperson of South Sudan’s workers trade and union also joined the top government officials in declaring his assets and liabilities to the SSACC.

Meanwhile the minister for information and broadcasting, Dr Barnaba Marial Benjamin urged all the ministers and top officials of the government to be transparent in the exercise saying everybody should be accountable.

At the same time, the minster for water resources and irrigation, Paul Mayom Akech asserted that they will assist the commission take tougher decisions to reduce corruption vowing that they did not fight to embezzle public funds.

On his part, the chairperson of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Justice John Gatwech Lulannounced that whoever fills the form without declaring all the assets and later discovered will forfeit the assets which will then be transferred into government account.

There are concerns that some officials may have banked stolen money under different names, making it difficult to trace.

The SSACC boss however earlier said he was mobilising expertise from Europe and America who will employ the latest techniques of tracing and detecting “stolen” money from financial institutions around the world.

(ST)

http://www.sudantribune.com/More-South-Sudanese-officials,41773


Sudanese opposition slams calls for Islamic constitution
Sudan Tribune
March 1, 2012 (KHARTOUM) — Sudanese opposition parties condemned pressures by Islamists parties and groups to adopt an Islamic constitution in Sudan after the secession of South Sudanlast July. Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood, Salafi Ansar Al-Suna, 

Lamu port project launched for South Sudan and Ethiopia
BBC News
Construction has begun on a $23bn (£14.5bn) port project and oil refinery in south-eastern Kenya’s coastal Lamu region near war-torn Somalia’s border. An oil pipeline, railway and motorway will also be built linking Lamu to South Sudan and Ethiopia.

US very concerned by Sudanese conflicts
UPI.com
WASHINGTON, March 2 (UPI) — Sudan and South Sudan are drifting further from commitments outlined in a 2005 peace agreement, the US State Department warned. South Sudan in July became an independent country as part of an agreement reached with 

Returnee train departs Sudan capital for south
Newsday
Click here Returnee train departs Sudan capital for south Originally published: March 2, 2012 6:49 AM Updated: March 2, 2012 9:37 AM By The Associated Press MOHAMED OSMAN (Associated Press) (AP) — A 60-car train carrying 1400 southern Sudanese 
South Sudanese families return home
msnbc.com (blog)
South Sudanese families arrive with their belongings at a train station in Khartoum on March 1 to be transported home to South Sudan. A family waits for water before being transported home to South Sudan, in Khartoum on March 1.
South Sudan: UNMISS trains army officers on human rights, democracy
Afrique en Ligue
New York, US – The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said it has trained South Sudanesearmy officers on human rights, democracy and the rule of law, as well as other societal issues. A UN statement, made available to PANA in New York on Thursday, 
Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan
Coastweek
NAIROBI (Xinhua) — Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan are expected to launch the Lamu Port project, East Africa’s largest infrastructure project, on Friday. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and South Sudan’s President 
South Sudan claims Abyei
GroundReport
by JosephEdward March 02, 2012 The disputed area of Abyei was defined as part of Warrap state in the South Sudan election bill, last week in a parliamentary session, the Minister of Justices Mr. John Luk Jok disclosed that Abyei citizens will 

Sudanese Tensions Reach Boiling Point
Arutz Sheva
South Sudan reports Sudan bombed civilian villages amid a diplomatic impasse over oil rights and the disputed Abayei region. By Gavriel Queenann South Sudan said Thursday that two Sudanese fighter jets dropped bombs Wednesday in Pariang county inside