God Sends a Message

For Hal Lindsey, the glass is always half full:

Jesus indicates that all the natural disasters will begin to increase in frequency and intensity in concert with each other shortly before His return. And it is as these “birth pains” begin to take place that believers in Jesus are to know that their deliverance is near.

I believe we are at that time in history. As Jesus promised, He will come and deliver His own out of the worst that is to come. That is our hope. And God has never failed to keep His promises.

Yes – if we’re really lucky, we might just make it to the Rapture without being horribly killed by a sign that our deliverance is near.

Meanwhile, Jason Yungbluth tells us:

I was listening to a bit of the “Savage Nation” radio show this evening. Toxic host Michael Savage was apparently on assignment drowning kittens, but his substitute was actually using precious radio spectrum to posit this question: what kind of God would allow events like the Asian tsunami to occur

Caller after caller posited God’s wrath against Muslims or took odds on the celestial destination of the unbaptized victims or spewed theologically contaminated atheism, all in an effort to prove that they, the GED educated brood of a midnight call-in program, had Einsteined the answer to the Universe’s greatest head scratcher.

Reporting from India, Sujoy Dhar and Sandip Roy of The Pacific News Service unearth further theological “insights”:

The destruction was “God’s fury unleashed, because of the ridicule he is subjected to by the so-called educated Indians,” says Sri Dulal Chandra Naskar, a soothsayer and Kali-worshipper of the famous Kamakshya Temple. “When you ridicule the sages and in turn the God, it hurts Him and the sigh He heaves unleashes destruction like this.

…Some saw in the tsunamis retribution for more specific, contemporary struggles. In the state of Tamil Nadu, a venerable Hindu seer, the Kanchi Acharya had been recently arrested, leading to an uproar among his supporters. “The devastation by the tsunami in Tamil Nadu, could it be a caveat from ‘Up There’ about the atrocities being visited on the Kanchi Acharya?” writes columnist Rajeev Srinivasan on the online news site rediff.com.

Well, I suppose a deity like Kali doesn’t have the theodicy problem. But really, God: next time you want to send a message, why not try that star thing over Bethlehem again? Would make life a lot easier. Or how about striking down the crass opportunists who use human suffering to promote fatalism, fear, hatred, their own privileges and crappy paperbacks with titles like Earth: The Final Chapter?

But perhaps the real news story is that there has (apparently) been so little of this kind of stuff. Indeed, the very conservative Christian Agape Press news service has even been moved to publicise American Buddhist relief efforts. Most of the usual suspects you would expect to say something stupid appear to have kept their heads down. Is there a new sensitivity to the public mood (especially recalling the Pat Robertson-Jerry Falwell debacle after 9/11)? Or are they just all off on holiday?

UPDATE: Reuters has more:

“This is an expression of God’s great ire with the world,” Israeli chief rabbi Shlomo Amar told Reuters. “The world is being punished for wrongdoing — be it people’s needless hatred of each other, lack of charity, moral turpitude.”

…Azizan Abdul Razak, a Muslim cleric and vice president of Malaysia’s Islamic opposition party, Parti Islam se-Malaysia, said the disaster was a reminder from god that “he created the world and can destroy the world.

The Washington Post directs us towards the website of Christian Zionist Bill Koenig, who tells us:

The Biblical proportions of this disaster become clearly apparent upon reports of miraculous Christian survival. Christian persecution in these countries is some of the worst in the world.

But if you really want to scrape the barrel, Atrios links to Raw Print, which has the inevitable flyer from Fred Phelps…

Joseph Farah and the Business of Christian Reconstructionism

Business Reform magazine is now (partly) available for free electronic perusal to “friends of WorldNetDaily“, I discovered after clicking on a WND link. WND and Business Reform have been working together for some time, as Terry Krepel at ConWebWatch noted last year:

WorldNetDaily has been in a bit of an expansion mode lately. One new initiative is a page dedicated to business news, unsurprisingly called BizNetDaily. It follows the WND formula of aggregated (outside link) business stories combined with original commentary.

The twist here is WND’s partner in creating this page. It’s a magazine called Business Reform, and WND CEO Joseph Farah describes the folks behind it as “people who share our unique perspective on the news and our view of the world.”

So, what is Business Reform? It describes itself as “a Christian ministry approaching today’s business issues from a Christian worldview and assisting Christian businesspeople through publications, audio resources, conferences and seminars, networking, and consulting.” A blurb on the magazine’s Web site describes it as “may well be the most important unifying literary voice now emerging in God’s obvious global call to those in the marketplace.”

Krepel then refers a (since-moved to here) puff piece for Pat Robertson as an example of why Business Reform is not much good.

Business Reform was founded by Joe Johnson, an Ohio-based businessman who suffered bankruptcy before he discovered Biblical business financing principles. He is also a full-on Christian Reconstructionist, drawing inspiration from Cornelius Van Til and Rousas Rushdoony. In the first issue of the magazine (in 2001), Johnson notes that just as the apostle Paul interpreted God’s Law to show that women should be silent in church and submissive to their husbands, so Christians today need to interpret the Scriptures in order to apply Biblical Law to modern business:

everything that pertains to life and godliness can be found through the knowledge of Him, which is found in the Bible (John 17:17). Therefore, the Word of God must teach us how to structure our balance sheet, what kind of business model to use, what our employee policies should say, how to market our products and services, or how to solve specific management problems.

Johnson’s great hero is John McDonogh, a slaveholder from New Orleans:

The secret strategy of the successful, nineteenth-century slaveholder mentioned earlier was the covenant he made with his slaves that gave them the opportunity to buy their freedom and become self-governed, free men. The covenant required the slaves to work more productively in order to earn the money to buy their freedom and their own land to work in their off time. Eventually, John McDonogh, the Scottish Presbyterian slaveholder from New Orleans, became one of the richest men in America.

In the same way, such motivationalism from bosses is a far fairer way to run a business than “un-American” rules such as anti-discrimination laws. Johnson also promotes Trinitarian business management, as illustrated here:

 god-of-business

However, business is not the only topic covered by the magazine. The latest issue features an article on Creationism by Gary North (linked by WND). As I noted when I surveyed Creationism in the USA a few weeks ago, Creationists use the democratic-populist impulse in American culture to undercut science with anti-intellectualism. North (a notorious Y2K scaremonger) provides the perfect example of this:

Darwinists are well aware of this truth: Their opinions regarding man’s origins are not shared by the vast majority of Americans. This fact bothers them, but not enough to surrender control over tax-funded education to the will of the people. It bothers them because they have lost the intellectual battle for the minds of men, despite their century-long monopoly over public education. The public still isn’t buying the Darwinists’ tuition-subsidized product.

…To the extent that the American academic Establishment is Darwinian, it is of necessity politically elitist. The self-certified, self-accredited professorate wants its academic work funded by taxpayers. The professors also want their worldview written into the textbooks that are paid for by taxpayers. They want no back-talk from voters. They see democracy as a matter of temporary convenience. Whenever democracy threatens to transfer the monopolistic power they possess over the allocation of money extracted by compulsion from taxpayers, they abandon all pretence of honoring democracy.

The magazine claims to have a readership of 100,000, and hopes to have 42 employees by 2006.

Quest for the Gay Jesus

365Gay.com has joined the Quest for the Historical Jesus:

a growing group of Biblical scholars believe that Christ may have had at least one sexual relationship with another male.

Noted Methodist theologian Rev. Theodore Jennings Jr. and Dr Morton Smith, a world renowned Bible scholar, say there is irrefutable evidence that Jesus was at least bisexual.  Dr Rollan McCleary of the University of Queensland, in Australia, says he has discovered through his research that three of the disciples were gay.

Not sure how Morton Smith could “say” anything, as he’s been dead since 1991 – but here’s the “Secret Gospel of Mark” he claimed to have found in 1958. As for the others:

Rev. Jennings, a professor at the United Church of Christ’s Chicago Theological Seminary, points to the Gospel of St. John.  In his book “The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives From the New Testament,” Jennings writes that the reference in St John about  “the disciple Jesus loved” was actually a reference to Jesus’ gay boyfriend…Dr McCleary spent three years researching “gay spirituality”. His book, “Signs for a Messiah” says that Jesus and at least three of his disciples were gay, and Christianity in general is built on “gay principles”.

“Gay principles?” And there was I thinking that gay people were just as diverse as heteros, and shouldn’t be stereotyped. Peter Tatchell, a British political activist whom I respect (and an ex-Sunday school teacher), adds:

Large chunks of Jesus’ life are missing from the Biblical accounts. This has fuelled speculation that the early Church sanitized the gospels, removing references to Christ’s sexuality that were not in accord with the heterosexual morality that it wanted to promote

365Gay.com then turns to the critics:

The Vatican has denounced the research by Jennings, Smith and McCleary as “heretical”. It has also been denounced by Southern Baptists and evangelical Anglicans.

You don’t say! I would be more interested to read the reactions of serious Historical Jesus scholars; a very diverse crowd which includes the likes of EP Sanders, John Dominic Crossan, Robert Funk, NT Wright, Gerd Theissen, Geza Vermes, etc. etc. (back in 1967 Hugh Montefiore suggested that Jesus may have been “homosexually inclined”, but that’s the only serious scholarly speculation on the topic with which I’m familiar) My own reaction is to wonder why there is no reference to a gay Jesus in any of the anti-Christian polemical literature from the ancient world. For example, the Talmud famously claims that rather than being the son of a Virgin (Parthenos), Jesus was the son of a Roman Centurion called Panthera (a claim Morton Smith took seriously). Why would the polemical author have ignored a homosexual/bisexual Jesus? But perhaps this is covered in the two books, which I have not been able to see.

McCleary has a website devoted to his researches, which appear to be based on a rather odd methodology that involves astrology. Tatchell’s take on the subject, which references Smith, can be seen on his website.

(365Gay link via The Anomalist)

Christmas in Japan 2004

It’s Christmas in Japan:

angel-teddy

The Creative Doug Giles

Part One

This is curious. Some of Doug Giles’s Townhall/Clash Radio “Clashpoints” are syndicated for the benefit of British fans (!) on a Charismatic Christian website called Cross Rhythms. However, his latest Townhall/Clash Radio piece, on “Christianity and the Arts” appears to be a bit different on the Cross Rhythms site.

For a start, there’s the title, and an opening quote. Here’s the Cross Rhythms version (in green):

Christianity and the Arts: Our Current Commitment to Kitsch

“Whenever Christians, and evangelicals in particular, have attempted to ‘reach the world’ through the media — film, publishing and so on — the thinking public gets the idea that, like soup in a bad restaurant, Christians’ brains are better left unstirred.” (Frank Schaeffer)”

Whereas the US version has just:

Christianity and the Arts

Wording has been changed here and there throughout, but a few alterations are more substantial.

UK:

Art itself needed no justification, and for 400 years killer art emerged from the Church.

US:

Art itself needed no rationalization, and for 500 years, brilliant art emerged from the Church.

Well, what’s a hundred years? Here are some more examples:

UK:

This incredible compilation of literary genius spanned the entire gamut of human emotions—highs, lows, lust, betrayal and sodomy. God created the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. If it were truly represented on celluloid, there is no question the film would be rated R, showcasing characters that make the bar scene in Star Wars look like a Young Republican staff meeting.

US:

This incredible assemblage of literary genius spans the entire gamut of human emotions—highs, lows, lust, love, loyalty, and betrayal, to name a few.  The scripture showcases the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful.  If it were truly represented on film, there is no question the movie would be rated R, since the Bible is filled with characters that make a bar on South Beach look like a Young Republican staff meeting.

No sodomy in Townhall’s Bible, it seems. And I’m sure South Beach is just like Tattooine.

UK:

God dumped on us a lot of “useless beauty,” expressly for our enjoyment. And you know what – this freaks the altar call driven number crunching, pragmatic, utilitarian, no taste fundamentalist because it seems that such expenditure is a waste of time, space and energy.

US (ellipsis in original):

God dumped a lot of unnecessary splendor on us, expressly for our enjoyment.  And you know what…this freaks out the altar-call-driven, number-crunching, pragmatic, no-taste Church-goer because it seems that such expenditure is a waste of time, space and energy.

Nothing wrong with being a US fundamentalist, it seems.

Other “Clash Points” have been edited for Cross Rhythms, usually to remove cultural references that the average Brit would not understand. There also seems to be a question of Christian taste. From the Townhall version of “Barbarians R Us”:

Even though this “tissue” has a recognizable heart beat at six – 6! – weeks, and brain activity at ten – 10! – weeks: it’s not a human according to these wizards until it breaches the mother’s womb.   Hey, secularists, help us ignoramuses out would you?     If it’s not a human being, then what is it?  A Michael Jackson?

The UK version baulked at the Jackson reference.

Part Two

But there is something even stranger about the new column. The website of Kaleo Fellowship carries an article by their worship leader, Brian Thomas, called…er…”Christianity & the Arts“. It’s dated 1 December, 17 days before Giles’s piece. Here are some choice passages that are suggestive of Jungian synchronicity (in purple):

As British satirist, P.G. Wodehouse said [as quoted by Frank Schaeffer], “Whenever Christians, and evangelicals in particular, have attempted to ‘reach the world’ through the media – TV, film, publishing and so on – the thinking public gets the firm idea that, like soup in a bad restaurant, Christians’ brains are better left unstirred.”

Sounds familiar. Now, some direct comparisons:

(1) Thomas:

The support for the arts and man’s creativity comes very early in Scripture. In the book of Genesis you see the Master Artist creating ex nihilo (out of nothing). At the very onset of creation the prerequisites for art are established – light, space, and unity. God then created the details, calling forth earth, vegetation, water, and finally human beings…Humans were created in the image and likeness of God, who were themselves empowered to create.

Giles:

…The believer in the biblical account of creation also believes that he is an image-bearer of his Creator, that he, too, has creative juices coursing through his veins.  Thus, being veritable Mini-Me’s of Jehovah, we should be brimming over with creative, artistic life…Part of God’s personality is his ability to create, a capacity inherent in those who are his image-bearers

(2) Thomas:

…man’s creativity as God’s image-bearers have been relegated to the basement of Christian consciousness, often looked upon as a worldly pursuit. I believe this has been one of the major contributing factors leading to Christianity’s ineffectiveness upon our culture.

Giles:

The Church’s view of art as unspiritual, or even idolatrous, has created an aversion and an antagonism to art which has effectively alienated us from the world that God has made and the society he wants us to reach.

(3) Thomas:

The universe God created is not only functional; it is also beautiful…We have the ability not only to perceive beauty, but also to create and enjoy God through our creations.

Giles:

God dumped a lot of unnecessary splendor on us, expressly for our enjoyment.

(4) Thomas:

Some of the world’s greatest paintings, sculptures, architecture, and music have been inspired by the Christian faith.

Giles:

…Where is the mind-blowing stuff…y’know, the paintings, the sculpture, the architecture and the music that makes you drool your Slurpy down your shirt?

As well as the Wodehouse quote used by both, Franky Schaeffer’s book Addicted to Mediocrity (Franky is the son of Francis – click here for a sympathetic review) provides further unattributed inspiration for Giles. Here’s a section from Schaeffer (in tourquoise), followed by the Giles remix:

In looking at the diversity of the Scripture itself as well as its content and form, one can hardly imagine that the Bible has anything to do with the present narrow sloganeering aspects of evangelical Christianity. It seems to me that if it had been written along the lines of what much of evangelical Christianity represents today—it would be a three page pamphlet printed probably in words of one syllable,

Giles:

If it were up to some our anti-art religious leaders, the Bible wouldn’t need all that literary fluff at all.  We could put our deductions on a 4 x 6 postcard, devoid of art, narrative and design, with the Ten Commandments on the front and the address of where to send your tithe on the back.

Yes, Doug. Thank you for telling us about the importance of creativity. That’s “creativity”.

UPDATE (26 December): Today Doug turns motivational speaker and tells us about the “Pit Bull Attitude”, contrasting it with the “Poodle Attitude”. Here are some aspects of the former:

1. Do you have a definite purpose backed up by a burning desire to see it fulfilled?

2. Are you continuously in action working on your plan?

3. Is your mind closed towards all negative and discouraging influences from foes, “friends,” dysfunctional parents, music, books, tapes, T.V. etc?

4. Do you hang out with people who are greater than you in what they have accomplished and who utterly challenge you to excellence?

Now compare that with this piece by business motivator Ann Rusnak:

1. Have a definite purpose backed up with a strong desire to obtain it. Write it down. 2. Have a plan of action. How are you going to make it happen. What do you need to do. 3. Close your mind to negativity and discouraging influences. Self talk can be the most damaging. Watch which were saying to yourself. 4. Develop a group of people who will encourage you but also hold you accountable to follow through on your actions.

World Wingnut Crusade

The New York Times brings some Japanese wingers to our attention. But first, their victim:

Toru Kondo, an English teacher at a public high school here…was recently required to take a two-hour “special retraining course,” lectured on his mistaken ways and given a sheet of paper on which to engage in half an hour of written self-examination.

His offense was to defy the Tokyo Board of Education’s new regulation requiring teachers to sing the national anthem while standing and facing the national flag.

The regulation (which I looked at previously here) was brought in by Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, but has wider political support:

Takayuki Tsuchiya, a Tokyo assemblyman, said the new regulation was necessary to counterbalance decades of leftist lectures by teachers, especially members of the Japan Teachers’ Union.

However, the actual enforcer is Kunio Yonenaga, who made a bit of a faux pas a couple of months ago when he met Emperor Akihito and related his achievements:

Mr. Yonenaga, who had expected encouragement, was instead rebuked by the emperor, who said, “It’s not desirable to do it by force.” Taken aback, Mr. Yonenaga…interrupted the emperor and blurted out, “Thank you for your wonderful words.”

Tsuchiya, though, has an explanation for why the emperor’s nationalism is weak:

Asked why he thought the emperor held such a view, Mr. Tsuchiya mentioned the influence of Elizabeth Vining, a Quaker schoolteacher from Philadelphia, who tutored Akihito, then the crown prince, from 1946 to 1950.

Well, Akihito seems to have turned out better than the USA’s only Quaker president, at any rate (some obits for Vining have been collected here)…

Yonenaga is a former shogi (Japanese chess) master. He is also a member of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, responsible for a textbook that allegedly features the Nanking “Incident” as just a minor blip in Japan’s efforts to liberate Asia (I wonder if he got tips from Douglas Wilson?). Back in 1998 the Weekly Shincho apparently exposed his “shameful private life”, but there are sadly no details on-line (at least in English).

The new regulation must have American wingers green with envy, judging from this report in the Hampton Union:

A Pledge of Allegiance issue at the Seabrook Middle School has been dropped by the School Board, to the dissatisfaction of parents who turned out Monday night to protest one teacher’s refusal to stand during the morning recitation.

“…If we go any further with her it’s going to be another lawsuit,” said [school] board member Jim Fuller. “I’ll go out on a limb here. She knows how to play the game. I’d like to tell her how to operate, but I can’t do that.”

Go west, Mr Fuller, go west…

(Thanks to History News Network for NYT link; Jesus’ General for Hampton Union and Douglas Wilson links)

Buttiglione Butters Up the American Right

Back on December 8 the American Enterprise Institute hosted Rocco Buttiglione, the Italian politician who failed to become an EU Commissioner after expressing his views on homosexuality and is now considered the leader of the nascent European “theo-con” movement. Buttiglione was in Washington to receive an award from the Acton Institute, whose founder Fr Robert Sirico (profiled by Bill Berkowitz here) blends conservative Catholicism with Ayn Rand.

As I blogged previously, I have a certain amount of sympathy for Buttiglione, who only revealed his views because he was asked directly by the European Commission Committee on Legal Affairs. What’s more, his statement was not all that shocking or remarkable: he affirmed that although, as a Roman Catholic, he considered homosexuality to be sinful, he did not believe that the law should enforce morality. However, based on his ill-considered musings at the AEI, available to view here (a transcript is promised for the near future), one cannot feel that the EU Commission has missed out on a great talent.

The American Christian right (and I use the term advisedly – I don’t mean thoughtful Philip Yancey-type Evangelicalism) is currently in a bit of a bind: while enjoying more political and cultural power than it has had for a long time, the language of victimisation remains a useful rallying tool. So what better way to feed Christian resentment than to wheel out a European Christian victim of secular persecution to show them what American liberals really want? And Buttiglione obliges perfectly, with a presentation on Europe that seems tailor-made to massage the prejudices and misconceptions of American conservatives, and consisting mainly of a softly-spoken but nevertheless demagogic whinge.

First, Buttiglione diagnoses the root of the problem – moral relativism:

There is another idea of democracy that is growing in Europe…that is linked to the so-called multiculturalism…If you look at Derrida’s works you see there another idea of democracy. The idea of democracy is that nobody has the right of making a distinction between good and evil, right or wrong…There are no values…Man should not search of truth.

…what they want is a society in which there is a new religion, a new official religion, a new civil religion…a religion that forbids to have values. This new religion is not based on the liberty of the other…If you are not a moral relativist, you are a second-class citizen.

He returns to this theme at the end of his talk, adding:

…we have a consistent trend, mainly of Marxist religion…Look to Derrida, to the intellectual history of Derrida.

This is, of course, complete bunk. Most Europeans who object to anti-homosexual attitudes do so not because of moral relativism, but because they believe that such attitudes are an irrational prejudice that is itself immoral, as with racism. This may clash with traditional Christian teaching, and it may (or may not) be unfair to the real concerns of religious conservatives, but it is an ethical position, not a relativist one. And the claim that Jacques Derrida is behind it all is absurd. I’m far from being a Derrida fan (Zizek is more my cup of tea as far that kind of thing goes), but as someone who wrote on religion and ethics he deserves better than to be cast in the role of evil nihilist mastermind. Besides, there’s plenty of relativism emanating from religious conservatives in the US; particularly the idea that the naturalistic method of science is just some kind of bias that should be balanced with Creationism.

Buttiglione’s second theme is anti-Catholicism:

Do you what is the greatest danger to human freedom according to the European Parliament? Do you know what is the country that has been condemned more often by European Parliament for violation of human rights?…the state of the Vatican. You have thirty resolutions against the state of the Vatican…they see the defence of objective truth, of objective human values, as the main enemy.

Buttiglione notes the recent prosecution and jailing of a (Pentecostal) Swedish pastor who condemned homosexuality (the case of Ake Green: see here) as an example of this new trend against Christianity. But this is extremely over the top. Just what are these “thirty resolutions against the state of the Vatican”? It is true that the Vatican’s stance on birth control and abortion is somewhat out of kilter with mainstream European thinking, but that hardly amounts to the rabid anti-Catholicism Buttiglione would have his credulous neo-con audience imagine. I was unable to find anything about these “thirty resolutions” on the internet, although I did find this on Catholic News from 2002:

EU parliamentarians mount attack on Holy See

Radical elements of the European Parliament have sponsored resolutions attacking the Catholic Church’s moral authority on abortion and demanding that all church influence on temporal matters be brought to an end.

Maurizio Turco, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for Italy’s Radical Party and the sponsor of the resolutions backed by 10 other MEPs, accuses the Catholic Church of a “desire to lay down the law” and meddling with “national legislations on sexual and reproductive health.”

One would have thought the report would have mentioned a history of anti-Catholic resolutions if these existed. Instead, we only have an unspecified number of resolutions proposed by what appears to a fringe anti-clerical MEP (actually, the most vitriolic anti-Catholicism in the EU Parliament comes not from the moral relativists, but from Ian Paisley, the Presbyterian fundamentalist MEP from Northern Ireland. When the Pope visited the Parliament in 1988 Paisley heckled him as the anti-Christ).

During the question-and-answer section, he adds that

in Europe it is fashionable to be anti-Christian…

But how, exactly, is being anti-Christian “fashionable”? It’s true that sex scandals in the Catholic Church have likely reduced respect for the clergy, and that many people no longer respect traditional teachings about homosexuality. But most people are simply indifferent to religion. It is not “anti-Christian” not to know that the Bible teaches that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (a fact unknown to 28% of Britons, according to a new survey) – it’s simply ignorance, and most likely the result of a diverse entertainment culture (a culture created by the free market rather than a Derridan conspiracy).

He then turns to the most notorious anti-European stereotype, that of anti-Semitism:

…and it is fashionable to be, not anti-Semite, [but] anti-Zionist; but anti-Zionism has become the new name of anti-Semitism. You start condemning the Israel government, for good reasons or for bad reason, it does not matter, and you end up reconstructing all the justification of anti-Semitism.

Yes, even if you have a good reason for not being a fan of Ariel Sharon, “you end up reconstructing all the justification of anti-Semitism”. I’ve touched on the subject before, when the Institute on Religion and Democracy produced a report that considered the topic. Of course anti-Semitism exists in Europe, just as it does in the USA – but most criticism of Israel that is part of the public discussion is based on the facts about how it treats the Palestinians. And there’s certainly less anti-Semitism in Europe than there is anti-Arab racism and excessive anti-Muslim rhetoric in the USA.

The frustrating thing is that Buttiglione was badly treated by the EU Parliament. Further, how protecting groups and individuals from “incitement to hatred” should be balanced against the free expression of religious values (and with anti-religious scepticism, as it happens) is extremely problematic and needs urgent consideration. But giving paranoid talks about Derrida and frothing secularists to American right-wing ideologues is hardly a serious contribution to the discussion.

Mooning the Tomb of Christ

Back in September Reuters reported on a clash at the Holy Sepulchre (or the “Anastasis” in the Orthodox tradition):

Fistfights broke out on Monday at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre between Christian sects that jealously guard their hold on sections of the shrine built on the traditional site of Jesus’s crucifixion.

“There was lots of hitting going on. Police were hit, monks were hit … there were people with bloodied faces,” said Aviad Sar Shalom, an Israeli tour guide who witnessed the fight.

The tussle between Franciscans and Greek and Russian Orthodox clerics erupted during a procession through the church on Holy Cross Day marking the fourth century discovery of the cross which some faithful believe was used in the Crucifixion.

I lived in Jerusalem a few years ago and I have to say that the Holy Sepulchre must be the most fascinating building I have ever been inside. The structure itself, rebuilt and damaged many times since the Fourth Century, is a rambling mess of Byzantine, European, African and Russian architecture, and is divided between six different Christian groups in accordance with an arrangement decreed by the Ottoman authorities in 1757 called the status quo. The Greek/Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches have the largest shares, but the Armenian Orthodox Church has two decent sized-sections. Around the back of the actual supposed tomb of Christ (an ornate cupboard-like building beneath the main dome) are small areas belonging to the Syriac Orthodox and Coptic Churches, while the Ethiopians have a monastery and a small chapel on the roof. A Muslim family has the key to the front gate, which is locked nightly with various priests and nuns inside.

So it’s a bit odd when into this extremely fragile religious ecosystem is injected Rev Moon’s Unification Church. John Gorenfeld links to this page from the Church’s website, a photo gallery of a pilgrimage last year during which the “burial of the cross” took place. This is a ceremony that reflects Moon’s decree that Christians should remove the symbol of the Cross from their churches. Apparently, part of this ceremony took place at the actual entrance to the site regarded as the tomb of Christ. One assumes that the various Christian groups within the building were so busy eyeing each other suspiciously that they overlooked what was going on.

An account of the Unificationist pilgrimage during which this event took place can be read here.

Ultra-modern Shinto

Ultra-modern Shinto in Osaka:

shinto-ultra-modern

Flew Jab

A snippet from The Revealer about the Antony Flew interview in Biola’s University’s Philosophia Christi journal:

Christian media junkies have recently been gloating over the news that longtime atheist philosopher Antony Flew had changed his mind. Now atheists strike back, with the latest bulletin of Rationalist International declaring that their man remains a defender of the unfaith. Sounds like a he-said/she-said to us, but if Flew really didn’t confess, why did Christian media grab hold of thin evidence to declare that he had?

But what the Rationalist International actually writes is:

This is not the first time that Professor Antony Flew’s atheist position is attacked. In reaction to an internet campaign in 2001 that tried to brand him a “convert” to religious belief, Professor Antony Flew made the following statement. In 2003 he answered yet another campaign in this direction with the same statement. It is still now his latest official position in this regard.

So the RI posting draws on a source that predates the interview by a year, which I would see as a serious weakness. But it is true that in the new interview Flew only says that the evidence for God is “stronger”:

Well, I don’t believe in the God of any revelatory system, although I am open to that. But it seems to me that the case for an Aristotelian God who has the characteristics of power and also intelligence, is now much stronger than it ever was before.

I think that the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries. I’ve never been much impressed by the kalam cosmological argument [see here], and I don’t think it has gotten any stronger recently. However, I think the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it…we can be sure that they [Russell, Mackie, or Ayer] would have examined these new scientific arguments.

However, when the interviewer says that Flew “affirms” the Aristotelian concept of God, Flew does not contradict him.

What the significance of Flew’s statement may be is another matter. He talks of Intelligent Design very casually, and shows no knowledge of the many scientific criticisms of the ID movement  (for example, the work of Matt Young and Taner Edis). But Flew feels quite qualified to pronounce on other matters of which he has little understanding. Towards the end of the interview he turns Middle East pundit:

It was because the whole of Palestine was part of the land of Islam that Muslim Arab armies moved in to try to destroy Israel at birth, and why the struggle for the return of the still surviving refugees and their numerous descendents continue to this day.

Yes, Palestinian refugees don’t want to return to their homes for any natural reason that you or I could relate to: their desire must be a manifestation of a bloodthirsty fundamentalism. And the whole Arab-Israeli conflict can be reduced to Muslim irrationality. What is it about Anglo philosophers and a complete inability to actually understand people?

UPDATE: The Church Times (in an article written by my old undergrad chaplain, as it happens) has more details:

Professor Flew, the son of a Methodist minister, agreed that the first life was breathed by God. “Well, I suppose so, yes,” he said on Wednesday.

The theory that the enormous complexity of a living thing that was able to reproduce genetically could happen by accident was “just not on”. “No one has produced any theory for the origin of life, and this [reproduction] is much more complex than that…Yes, life was started by an intelligent being…”

Professor Flew has been to New York to record a video of his new-found belief “under the auspices” of the Christian author Roy Varghese, whom he described as having written “very powerful books on theism”.

Earlier, he attended a symposium in the United States at which he said he had been impressed by the Orthodox Jew, Gerald Schroeder, author of The Hidden Face of God: Science reveals the ultimate truth. This book outlines statistical evidence pointing towards a creator.

References that critique Schroeder’s work are provided by The Panda’s Thumb.

UPDATE 2: The Panda’s Thumb now reports that Flew has distanced himself from Schroeder’s work, although he remains a deist.

UPDATE 3: Flew now says he has “made a fool” of himself. See today’s entry.