God’s tapestry & the problem of foresight.

September 2, 2014

There was a moment during a debate between Dr William Lane Craig & Christopher Hitchens, in which Hitchens points out that to believe in the Christian narrative, one would have to believe that for 200,000 years of human existence, through the awful conditions that our fragile species barely survived within, through the disease and violence, through it all, heaven didn’t particularly care. 198,000 years later, heaven decided it was now time to intervene, by having a 1st century Palestinian Jew tortured to death somewhere in the Middle East. Laurence Krauss used a similar argument in his debate with Dr Craig also.

Craig countered and insisted that it wasn’t the timing that was important, but population, in that only 2% of the overall population of mankind existed prior to Christ and that Christ appeared to have arrived at a time prior to a population boom. Dr Craig referred to this as God choosing “an opportune moment” to send Jesus, right before massive population growth. Leaving aside God’s lack of concern for the poor 2%, and the fact that an all-powerful God could have created a population boom whenever He pleased rendering the “opportune moment” suggestion meaningless, I think it important to note the consequences of that “opportune moment” chosen to intervene, and its implications for the premise of the Christian God.

For, not only would you need to believe that for 198,000 years heaven peered on with indifference, but you’d also have to believe that either God did not foresee the future consequences of choosing that moment and that specific region to send Christ to ‘save’ mankind and the suffering that it would entail, or He did foresee it, and was absolutely fine with it; the problem of foresight.

All religious narratives suffer a form of contradiction every so often, whether that be contradiction within texts themselves, or the text contradicting the premise of the God on offer. In this case – the problem of foresight – it is the latter that we’re focusing on, because the premise of an all-knowing God implies eternal foresight, whilst the historical consequences of what Christian’s believe to be God’s actions, imply a God unaware of how this plan was going to turn out, or simply an uncaring God (contradicting the concept of an all-loving God).

For Christianity, time – God’s creation – is laid out in front of Him like a tapestry that He wove. Before the events of Genesis 1, He already knew, because He created as a timeless absolute, the consequences of the actions of all mankind at all times, from the hugely consequential decision to convert the Roman Empire to the faith, right through to an individual’s private sex life in the 21st Century. He sees it all and crucially, He can intervene whenever He chooses. And yet it seems unfathomable that such a power would be so oblivious – or simply uncaring – to the consequences of the manner in which His followers would convey the Christian message over the centuries. Indeed, He necessarily knew the consequences, and again sat back with indifference for the next 2000 years.

Whilst not wishing to document every instance of Christian-led persecution over the past 2000 years, it is perhaps worth noting a few, in order to highlight the contradiction and the problem of foresight.

It must be the case, that an all-knowing God knew that the brutality by which Christian Emperors of Rome – like Constantius and his persecution of Pagans – would aid the growth and power of Christian dogma into a disastrous dark age and the suppression of all things ‘heretical’ – including extensive book burning – for at least the next thousand years. He could have encouraged free inquiry in medicine, democratic accountability in political affairs, astronomy, human liberty, and all over forms of inquiry that simultaneously shrink the gaps by which God traditionally resides, whilst elevating the suffering of mankind. With few exceptions, the opposite occurred. Along with the centuries-long justification of tyrannical Christian power under the guise of “divine right”, and knowing as He would have if He were all-knowing, among other edicts of suppression, that the Emperor Jovian would order the burning of the library at Antioch, through to the child abuse scandal of the modern day Catholic Church.

It must be the case, that an all-knowing God knew that a great deal of Europe’s human beings – like Thomas Moore – and their families would suffer the indignity of religious-inspired state murder; the unimaginable physical and psychological pain that comes with confinement and executed for such nuanced differences as whether or not the King or the Pope had supreme control of the Church. His own devout followers, who offered nothing but devotion and love, He knew would be subject to the most cruel punishments for simple disagreements. An all-knowing God would necessarily have seen this in great detail, long before the “In the beginning…” of Genesis 1.

It must be the case, that an all-knowing God before events described in Genesis 1, knew the tragedy that would beset Native tribes in the Americas when the sincerely believed Christian message was forcefully imposed. Indeed, He knew far greater the reason for that pain and tragedy than the Friar’s involved, yet started the ball rolling down that inevitable path by sending Christ, and very mixed messages in the Holy Book that followed. Ken Burns documentary ‘The West’ notes one 18th Century Friar during the missionary period firmly believing his life’s work must be to save Natives from damnation, confused as to its clear failure, saying:

“They live well free, but as soon as we reduce them to a Christian and community life… they fatten, sicken and die.”

– The Friar could not understand how a Godly message of what he considered to be saving grace, was having such an adverse affect on the Native population. God however, does not get the luxury of such an excuse.

It must be the case that an all-knowing God knew that Jerusalem would be a Holy centre for three major faiths, and consequently, the centre of such a violent dispute. He set humanity up for that inevitable conflict. The Gods of Islam and Judaism don’t escape this criticism either.

And most notably, it must be the case that an all-knowing God knew that 1700+ years later, a movement to prevent further Christian state brutality, and to free human ingenuity and autonomy required the disestablishing of Christian authority over the public realm.

The birth of Jesus was a moment that would change the course of history for humanity… though not for God, who knew how it all would pan out anyway. It is on that second point that it is not viable to suggest He provided that divine message, and that from that moment on, it was up to humanity to live according to it. It is not viable, because with the tapestry of time laid out in front of Him, He could see the minute-by-minute detail of exactly how His message would be used, and He chose to go with that course anyway; in fact, He created that course and intrinsically stitched humanity to it. Indeed, to suggest God is all-knowing, is to suggest humanity has no choice but to follow the path God is already aware that he/she will follow. The only possible way to deflect from that path, is to be more powerful than God, which again, contradicts the premise of the all-powerful Christian God.

And so we’re left with three possibilities; 1) God knew exactly how the course of human history would be affected by the onset of Christianity, and not simply allowed, but forced through His unbreakable tapestry, centuries of violent oppression – including the suppression of scientific endeavor – to take place for the sake of a grand scheme that He refuses to reveal. This is appealing because it allows for the all-knowing God, yet leaves a lot to be desired for the notion of an all-loving God, seeming as it does to imply that God is playing a cruel game with human beings who have no choice. 2) God is restricted by time, cannot see the long stretching consequences of His actions, which implies He is not all-knowing, nor all-powerful and if we look back over the course of history of the religion, reads like a series of bad decisions by the divine. Or 3) There is no God, and the flawed species of humanity is responsible for its own shortcomings. Because the problem of foresight as summarised in points 1 and 2 necessarily contradict the Christian premise of an all-loving, all-knowing God, I am further led to conclude that point 3 is the more likely.

The Power of St Peter.

February 23, 2014

Source:  Wikimedia Commons Author: By Emilio García from Parla, Spain (cropped version of San Pedro vigila).

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Author: By Emilio García from Parla, Spain (cropped version of San Pedro vigila).

It is ten years this year since my first trip to Rome. A friend of mine had given me ‘Rubicon’ by Tom Holland to read. It’s a book that chapters the fall of the Republic and the rise of Octavian. The epic nature and the timeless names of the final years of the Roman Republic, with all its contradictions, had me hooked from the first page of the book, and I endeavoured to visit the city. At that time, it never occurred to me that Rome was the cradle of not just one masterful empire, but two.

The Via della Conciliazione leads from Castel Sant’Angelo to St Peter’s Square. It’s a relatively narrow street given how central its location to Papal power. Far narrower than the Mall leading to Buckingham Palace in London. It feels like a tunnel that comes to an end at the vast opening of St Peter’s Square. St Peter’s is an odd contradiction. A beautifully crafted plaza surrounded by stone Saints and the genius of Bernini, yet funded by the hideous robbery of the poor by the church through the sale of indulgences. It was the sale of indulgences that started the ball rolling of the rejection of Papal authority, through what became the reformation.

Inside the walls of the Vatican stands St Peter’s Baldachin. Bernini’s towering Baroque structure is said to stand directly above the tomb of St Peter, which apparently – though very doubtful – lies underneath St Peter’s basilica. The giant structure and its placement echoes the power and supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church, built upon the ‘rock’ of St Peter. Which leads to the question, what is the Biblical justification for the presumed power and supremacy of Rome, and for the legitimacy of the line of succession from St Peter to Pope Francis, and all in between who have had such vast power and influence?

You will have to excuse my overlooking of the question of whether the Biblical Peter actually visited Rome at all, or in fact, actually existed. I want instead to focus on presumed Papal authority and its fundamental justifications.

Paragraph 882 of the Cathechism of the Catholic Church says:

“… the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.”

– The problem with this declaration is twofold. Firstly, there is no Biblical reason to accept that the Church in Rome was considered supreme in authority over any other sees. There is likewise no early Christian writings that establishes Rome as the supreme centre of Christendom for at least a century following the death of Peter. And even then, Irenaeus’s suggestion at the power of. Roman Catholic authority is dubious, due to its many translations. Secondly, there is no Biblical justification for a line of supreme authority succession from the Roman “Vicar of Christ”.

On the first point, it is generally argued that ‘1 Peter’ establishes – by Peter – the episcopal see in Rome as the supreme church governing all churches, with this particular verse that Peter supposedly wrote to several churches throughout early Christendom:

“The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Mark my son.”

– It is this that the Vatican uses primarily to place Peter in Rome. The common argument is that ‘Babylon’ was an early Christian code-word for Rome. The Book of Revelation similarly calls Rome ‘Babylon’, and this is used as further evidence that Peter thus used ‘Babylon’ as code for ‘Rome’. Though there is a vast difference between the writing style of Revelation – figurative, mythological – and the reference to ‘Babylon’ in 1 Peter – a plain, rather boring, matter-of-fact salutation. Revelation is also written decades after the death of Peter, and there is no reason to think Christians at the time of Peter were already using “Babylon” as a code for Rome. Also, Revelation is not speaking directly to any group in particular. Peter is tasked with speaking to Jewish communities. We know from Josephus, that Babylon had a great number of Jews at that time, and it isn’t unlikely that Peter was writing from the actual Babylon on the Euphrates itself.

The Vatican’s insistence that Rome was established as the supreme church is curious for several more reasons than just the writing style of 1 Peter. Firstly, Peter isn’t only thought to have established the episcopal see in Rome, but also the episcopal see at Antioch. And by early Christian standards, Antioch was a far more important place than Rome. And if we are to consider the idea that the word ‘Babylon’ in 1 Peter refers to another city, I’d suggest it’s far more likely to refer to Antioch, than to Rome:

Rome isn’t mentioned once as an important Christian city in the New Testament, but Antioch plays a vital role. Indeed, the importance of Peter in the early spread of Christianity, is echoed in the importance of Antioch. In Acts 11:26 we see just how important Antioch was for the early Christians:

“…And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.”

– The concept of being ‘Christian’ comes to us from Antioch. ‘Prophets’ – whomever they are – came specifically to Antioch all the way from Jerusalem, suggesting that Antioch was a city with great importance and influence for the early Christian communities across the empire at that point. This is also where Peter specifically chooses to establish a Church.

The fascinating pre-Christian history of Antioch brings up an unexpected link with Babylon. It was Alexander the Great’s general Seleucus I Nicator that built and established Antioch as his city of governance for the new Seleucid Empire in the fourth century BC. Seleucus established himself in Babylon in 312bc, which is the year given for the beginning of the Seleucid Empire. The importance of Babylon at that point cannot be overstated. Seleucus soon noticed that the Western section of the empire including Syria, and Turkey, had considerably more advantages than the Eastern section. The Eastern section contained Babylon. The Western section needed a Babylon of its own. So Seleucus had Antioch built in the West, and soon flocks of people from the east – including a great number of Babylonians – were now moving west, to Antioch. The establishment of Antioch and other cities by Seleucus was one of the key reasons for the decline of Babylon. Indeed, it was the Babylonian Priests that dominated Antioch at that time. Antioch was so incredibly Babylonian a few years later, that the historian Franz Cumont noted:

“There can be no doubt that Babylonian doctrines exercised decisive influence on this gradual metamorphosis and this latest phase of Semitic religion. The Seleucid princes of Antioch showed as great a deference to the science of the Babylonian clergy as the Persian Achaemenids had done before them.”

“It was Babylon that retained the intellectual supremacy, even after its political ruin. The powerful sacerdotal caste ruling it did not fall with the independence of the country, and it survived the conquests of Alexander. The researches of Assyriologists have shown that its ancient worship persisted under the Seleucids, and at the time of Strabo the Chaldeans still discussed cosmology and first principles in the rival schools of Borsippa and Orchoe.”

– From the clear influence of Babylonian culture on the foundations of Antioch, and from the clear central importance of Antioch to the early Christians, I would suggest that if we are to follow Papal reasoning, that Peter was not referring to Bablyon – then the reference to ‘Babylon’ in 1 Peter is more likely a reference to Antioch, and not to Rome. The Seleucid’s may have moved to Antioch, but remained the Kings of Babylon. This seems too significant for me, to simply overlook.

So, if we cannot reasonably suggest that Peter had established the church in Rome as the supreme authority, and placing aside the translation issues of the often quoted Irenaeus passage for the supremacy of Rome from around 120 years after the death of Peter – is there any Biblical reason to presume the supreme authority of Peter, and that of the established line of Papal succession?

Biblical scholars date the Gospel of Matthew to between 80ad and 110ad. At best, around fifteen years after the death of Peter in Rome, and at worst around half a century after the death of Peter in Rome. Between the death of Jesus, and the Gospel of Matthew, there is no hint of justification for the supremacy of the Bishop in Rome. Whilst Peter is given a special place among the apostles in spreading the message of Jesus, his establishment is never suggested supreme over all others, and the other apostles certainly are not told that they are subordinate to Peter.

The authors of the letters of Paul and Peter themselves appear to have no conception of Roman church supremacy. As shown, there is certainly more reason to suggest the primacy of the Church at Antioch, than Rome. Paul certainly isn’t preaching the supremacy of Rome, and in fact appears to consider himself to be the authority on early Christian doctrine especially in relation to gentiles. It is Paul who by his own words rebukes Peter over Peter’s apparent hypocrisy. In Galatians 2:11-14 Paul says:

“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?”

– Paul here – and later – argues that old Jewish laws should not apply to gentiles. Peter didn’t seem to know where he stood on certain Theological questions of the early Christians, which Paul then goes on to argue and address. The only mention of Peter, by Paul, is an argument between the two, and Paul rebuking Peter. It is afterall not the case today, that Christians must observe the laws of Moses.

Indeed, the author of 1 Peter himself seems to hint that Christians in Asia Minor are also to be considered stones upon which Churches are built, in much the same way as Matthew describes Peter:

“4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house[a] to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

– Later in the same chapter of 1 Peter, the author’s use of language is not demanding – as one might expect from the supreme leader of the Church over all other Churches – but simply one of an advice giver:

“11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.”

– He ‘urges’. There is no authoritarian demands, as one might expect from the single authority of Christian dogma. There is simply suggestion. He has no authority to demand. He isn’t ever claiming to be an authority on the entire church.

It is clear from the Gospels that Peter doubtlessly plays a more pronounced role in the spread of Christianity, but not as the single supreme authority on the new faith. There is no hint in Peter’s letters in the New Testament, that he considered himself to be the supreme head of the entire Christian faith. This idea seems to come from one brief and ambiguous passage in Matthew – written decades after Peter’s death, and presumptions of superiority due to his elevated status among the other apostles. There is no hint anywhere in the Bible that Peter ever set out to establish a supreme Church to rule all the churches, from Rome. There no hint in the Bible or in the writings of Peter or Paul, that an apostolic line of succession for the Bishops of Rome would forever be the ultimate Christian authority. There is nothing from Paul to indicate that he had any idea of the supremacy of Peter – indeed, Paul rebukes and argues with Peter – or the necessity for a central authority in Rome. This has no basis in anything but later conjecture, that seems to begin with the Gospel of Matthew and – as usual – relies heavily on cherry picking.

So the question remains; for such a powerful institution that has controlled and influenced the land, the art, the expression, the sexuality, the thoughts and the lives of so many Christians and non-Christians over the centuries, on from clear Biblical basis does the Roman Catholic Church derive its power?

Uthman Badar: Rationalising the irrational.

February 7, 2014

“Give to every human being every right that you claim for yourself.”
– Robert Ingersoll.

In November last year, Recital Hall in Sydney played host to a debate with the motion: “God and Prophet’s should be protected from insult”. Arguing for the motion was Uthman Badar of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Naturally, Badar’s position was one in which he attempts very weakly to rationalise the irrational, advocate oppression, whilst trying to appear not just to be having a bit of a tantrum. I thought I’d address several of Uthman Badar’s claims in this article.

I was immediately struck by this incredibly hypocritical line from Badar:

“Here’s a frank memo to the liberals…. enough of the self indulgence.”

– If this isn’t the most ironic statement made by someone who advocates a global Caliphate based on the supremacy of his particular ideology above all others… I don’t know what is. It isn’t liberals who punish apostates, or call for the execution of those who make jokes out of our ideas. It isn’t liberals who poison and injure the minds of children with dogmatic stories of eternal torture for non-belief. It isn’t liberals who burn down embassies if someone publishes a cartoon we don’t like. It isn’t liberals who insist on banning people from marriage if they don’t have the specific set of genitals we deem to be ‘acceptable’. So it is perhaps prudent of Uthman Badar in future to look closer to home when it comes to centuries of religious self indulgence before churning out the pitiful line that it is liberals that are the self indulgent ones.

“Free speech is a liberal position. It is an ideological liberal position. Not some logical, universal position”.

– Very simplistic. Free expression absolutely is a logical, universal position. Liberals didn’t invent the idea of not being punished by oppressors for words that those oppressors don’t like. Oppressing expression requires an ideological framework of power, like, say, religion. Oppressing expression does not extinguish the thoughts, it simply reduces the person who has those thoughts, to silence through fear. It chains the tongue and instills fear into the mind. This is incredibly unnatural, very dangerous, and completely contemptible. The erected oppressive barrier is thus simply a form of control over others. Liberals may have broke down that oppressive barrier in periods of enlightenment and emphasis on human rights and individual liberty. It is the barrier itself that is not a natural one. Nature does not inherently permit the oppression of thoughts and expressions that run contrary to the dictates of a 7th Century Middle Eastern sect. The thoughts and expressions of others, are not the property of any ideology.

To be free to express oneself is a natural condition that is only subject to oppression in some form or another from ‘outside’. We erect walls of oppression around the freedom to express oneself that must also be reasonable and logical if they are to be acceptable to us collectively; defamation for example. I know of no one who would argue that defamation laws are not beneficial to us all, or that they restrict others in their pursuits. They protect us equally from damage to our reputation by those who seek to harm us. It is more than expression in that respect. Similarly, threatening through words to murder someone has implications to the safety of the person, and so is likely to encourage a visit from the police. This is entirely different from words that someone may find offensive about the ideas they quite like. We are not naturally restricted in how we express ourselves. Those who wish to do so, simply seek to enslave the mind of those they cannot win over any reasonable way.

It is therefore the burden of those seeking to erect barriers to that natural liberty, that must explain why they have that privilege, why they believe our lives are theirs to play with, and why the rest of us must acquiesce. Free expression is not ideological, it is natural.

We are also endowed with curiosity. This is expressed in terms of critiques (like this article), or artistically – through music, or comedy, or theatre, or any other form of self expression. It is this self expression – and primarily through comedy/satire/mocking – that Uthman objects to. What then Uthman Badar is arguing for, is the legitimacy of erecting further walls of oppression over a natural human condition, based solely on what he deems to be “offensive” for what he holds as sacred beliefs. It is no different to a non-Muslim advocating the banning of Islam or the Qur’an, if they find it to be offensive. For me, this is intensely irrational and dangerous. Why must we take Badar’s supremacy seriously, but not the individual wishing to restrict Islam? (Similarly, I have defended the right of Muslims to build a Mosque in Bendigo, when other supremacists demanded it stopped).

We know what happens when defensive, insecure and paranoid religious folk have power over the cogs of state. Currently, 72 year old Brit Masud Ahmad – part of the Ahmadiyya sect – faces three years in a Pakistan prison for reading the Qur’an out loud. Apparently blasphemy if carried by a ‘non-muslim’. The logic behind just what actually constitutes blasphemy in Pakistan, is irrelevant. The very fact that someone can face jail time for “blasphemy” is so utterly abhorrent, and enough to remind us of just why a state should never be governed along religious principles. When a state is governed by religious principles – the dogmatic adherence to moral ‘rules’ set out centuries ago by one group in one place in one time – human freedoms quickly erode, human progress quickly erodes, replaced by personal beliefs of the dominant group and the inevitable oppression of others.

Badar never actually explains why causing offense to a religion – blasphemy – should be off limits, yet other forms of offense shouldn’t. He never offers an explanation as to why his particular authoritarian idea – that includes political control over others – should be protected from the mocking words of those they seek to control. Defamation is quite clear cut and covers us all. Trying to ban offending someone’s beliefs isn’t as clear cut, and only seems to cover religious beliefs. If Badar’s demands for a ban on offending religious beliefs, doesn’t extend to offending political beliefs, or indeed, any form of offense that one might cause someone else through any medium including practically all forms of comedy; then immediately his argument falls down through a massive hole of inconsistency, and he is relegated to simply having a silly little child-like “I hate blasphemy” tantrum. 

Indeed, every human being ever condemned as a heretic or a blasphemer, and violently punished or killed as such across the centuries, must today be considered a hero in the cause of human freedom.

“To insult others is to treat them with gross insensitivity, insolence, or contemptuous rudeness. Those who want to allow this, the onus is on them to prove that such depravity should be allowed.”

– Yes. Exactly right, to insult others. Though it shouldn’t be banned by the state, insulting others for the sake of it certainly shouldn’t be encouraged and should indeed be discouraged. As adults, we should of course regulate ourselves as best we can. For example, Mehdi Hasan of the New Statesman failed miserably on that, when he said:

“The kaffar, the disbelievers, the atheists who remain deaf and stubborn to the teachings of Islam, the rational message of the Quran; they are described in the Quran as, quote, “a people of no intelligence”, Allah describes them as; not of no morality, not as people of no belief – people of “no intelligence” – because they’re incapable of the intellectual effort it requires to shake off those blind prejudices, to shake off those easy assumptions about this world, about the existence of God.”

– This Kuffarophobic bigotry should indeed be discouraged. I wouldn’t wish to see Mehdi Hasan punished for expressing his bigoted views toward people he’s never met. He is entitled to hold those views and to say them. I should not be trying to punish that. And I wouldn’t wish to silence the words of his God, who considers me someone of “no intelligence” apparently. This is insulting to me as a person. Not to my beliefs, but to me as a human being. Insulting other human beings is entirely separate. Challenging authoritarian ideas and concepts – be them political or religious, with critique and satire, with criticism and poking fun – should be considered uncompromisable and absolutely necessary. Authoritarian ideas like Islam must not be afforded the opportunity to regulate our thoughts and our expressions. Humanity is not to be chained by a single ideology.

In his follow up article (it’s the same wording as the video, with a few tweaks), Badar says:

“…Would we accept white people using the “n word” against blacks?”

– No. The issue here isn’t the expression, the issue is the sentiment behind the expression. The sentiment behind the expression is one rooted in the history of an oppressive, supremacist ideology based on race. It is supremacy that is the problem. Racism is institutional supremacy, and its partnered language further goes to solidify those supremacist notions. For example, if a group – such as the one Badar represents – was to openly suggest “eradicating” Jews from the Earth, we may say that the words themselves are not the issue, the issue is the sentiment behind it. A very neo-nazi sentiment seeped in violent, oppressive history.

Secularism ensures a line of equality. It affords the same rights for you as a person as it does for me as a person. My gender, my sexuality, my race, or my beliefs have no more right to oppress you, as your gender, sexuality, race or beliefs have a right to oppress me. It is the only safeguard against supremacy. Anything that deviates from that line – the elevation of one race above another, or the elevation of one system of belief in a place of power above all others – is supremacist. This is the problem. This is what Badar advocates.

Badar says:

“Insulting another person’s beliefs does not encourage them to think. Instead, it makes them more entrenched, defensive and prepared to retaliate – that’s human nature.”

– Two problems with this quote also. Firstly, Badar makes the mistake of presuming that offending religious beliefs, is primarily about trying to encourage people to think about those beliefs. Why does he presume that’s the case? I am quite certain that the ‘Life of Brian’ or ‘Father Ted’ were not intended to encourage people to think. They exist to make people laugh. Political satire equally is there to make people laugh, not primarily to make people think. Though, some is. Jon Stewart’s Daily Show exists to make people laugh, but also – as with the Kramer interview – to encourage thought. Still, Stewart mocks political ideas. For Badar, this is unacceptable.

Badar appears to believe any criticism of ideas must only be encouragement to think. I reject this wholeheartedly. Indeed, even when it is presented as a thoughtful discussion, it tends to be claimed to “insult” those who hold beliefs to be sacred. Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason” was so insulting to Christians, that in Britain he was condemned:

“…as an enemy of proper thought and of the morality of decent, enlightened people.”

– In this respect, Paine was writing to make people think, and simultaneously managed to insult people. Centuries earlier, the Syrian al-Ma’arri wrote poetry that openly mocked religion, but it is also conducive to thought and understanding; the history of non-belief in this case. This immediately shows just how mistaken Badar was when he claimed insulting beliefs does not encourage thought. It doesn’t have to be primarily about encouraging thought, but often when that is the primary point, it is still considered insulting anyway. It is often true, that most great leaps forward intellectually, were considered incredibly insulting and offensive when first proposed.

Secondly, in insisting that insulting another person’s beliefs is fundamentally wrong, Badar appears to be disagreeing with his own God. And he goes on to contradict the words of his own Holy Book again later, when he states:

“When it comes to critique – as opposed to insult – I’d say, bring it on. Any attempt to quash or stifle serious debate is unacceptable in Islam.”

– And yet, the Qur’an begins almost every chapter with a vivid description of the punishment awaiting we non-believers if – even through serious debate – we conclude there is no God. Here, a quick example:

“Surely it is He Who brings about the creation of all and He will repeat it so that He may justly reward those who believe and do righteous deeds, and those who disbelieve may have a draught of boiling water and suffer a painful chastisement for their denying the Truth.”

– Essentially, let’s debate it… but if you don’t end up agreeing with me, you will be tortured forever. This should be insulting to anyone who values free thought, and critical inquiry. It is insulting to me as a non-believer. It is a threat. I am insulted by this. It isn’t encouraging me to think. It is nothing but intimidation. When I point this out to Muslims, most say “You don’t believe it, so you shouldn’t be offended.” This cop-out completely misses the point. Just as it is not my place to tell you that you shouldn’t be offended by a cartoon of the Prophet, it is not your place to tell me I shouldn’t be offended by what is written in a Holy Book I find to be repugnant. And if a Holy Book spends so much time insisting that I as a non-believer deserve to be tortured for eternity, then I absolutely reserve the right to mock it. It deserves nothing less from me. There is no inherent right for this one particular ideology to be respected without question. It must earn our respect, and for me it has managed the complete opposite.

Further, the suggestion seems to be that if we non-believers do not inherently respect your religion, and your Prophet, then we should be forced to respect your religion, and your Prophet through threat of punishment. It seems rather obvious to me, that if you need to force people to respect your religion through blasphemy laws – chances are, it’s not a respectable religion.

Indeed, what I defend as a freedom for myself to express without force or punishment, I defend for those whose actual existence I am so vehemently offended by. I am insulted that Hizb ut-Tahrir wishes to establish a Theocratic system whereby I am relegated to a social rank below Muslims who are to have power over me, protected by a thoroughly Islamic constitutional framework. I am offended by Badar’s expression of this goal, but I do not wish to punish him for having it or expressing it. The same freedom that allowed for Graham Linehan’s wonderful ‘Father Ted’ blasphemous comedy, allows for Hizb ut-Tahrir to announce on their East Africa website that:

“Homosexuality is an Evil that Destroys Societies!”

– This is insulting on such a grand scale. Incredibly offensive. It is this that we can compare to use of the “n word” Badar mentioned earlier. When I read this statement, it is like reading a KKK white supremacist pronouncement of the evils of those with darker skin. It is supremacy based on the idea that one biological trait is supreme and must have control over others, for the benefit of that one trait. This is hideous to me. Sexuality, like race, is largely genetic and a vast spectrum that has no “right” or “wrong” and the only reason sexuality has been oppressed so viciously over the centuries, is entirely down to religious supremacy; a heterosexual male dominated sphere of influence. Similarly, the only reason those with darker skin tones have been so viciously oppressed over the centuries, is racial supremacy. The poison is the same; the irrational oppression of freedom forged by those with power over those with no power, in order to ensure conformity to that particular oppressive ideology.

It is because of that inherently oppressive nature of supremacist ideologies – they are not just ‘beliefs’ if they seek control over others – that I maintain that not only should mockery and criticism not be punished by the state, but if that mockery or criticism is aimed at supremacist ideologies with a long history of oppression and with very imperialist, supremacist doctrines that I find offensive – then mockery and criticism become vital and necessary. Similarly, I absolutely support Badar’s right to offend my views on the superiority of secular democracy and human rights. The line of equality is essential.

If Uthman Badar wishes me not to “offend” his God, or his Prophet, then I demand with equal passion, that the Qur’an be rid of all references to the vicious eternal punishment awaiting we non-believers. Why is me feeling insulted by the words promoted in a book that believers have long used to oppress people like me, less important than the feelings of muslims with delusions of the importance of their doctrines? Why, if I find an ideology so repulsive to my own ideas of human freedom and rights, must I keep that to myself? When that faith no longer demands power over the lives of others through the mechanism of the state, when it longer seeks to indoctrinate children, when it no longer punishes apostates, when it doesn’t tell my gay friends they’re “unnatural” or shouldn’t be allowed to marry, when we’re not constantly told how awful the “kuffar” are or how evil the “west” is….. when all that self indulgence and Islamic supremacy stops, then I might cease criticising and mocking Badar’s ideology. Until then, I reserve the right without fear of punishment, to believe that all authoritarian ideas – of which Islam is certainly up there – should be open to criticism, mocking, and satire. And that those like Uthman Badar, a danger to the very basics of human liberty and dignity. Blasphemy is not just acceptable, it is absolutely vital to extinguishing the illegitimate power of religious oppression and supremacy.

It is quite simple, if you are not secularist, if you do not believe in a line of equality regardless of faith, race, gender, sexuality, then you are by definition advocating the power of one race, or one faith, or one gender, or one sexuality above all others. In Badar’s case, he advocates a state in which his particular ideology deserves power over the lives of us all, should be given special privileges over all others, simply because he believes its premise to be true. This is the advocating of oppression, regardless of how it is dressed up. No supremacist – to my knowledge – including Uthman Badar has ever provided a reasonable position as to why we should all accept their particular brand of supremacy as legitimate over our lives.

Let us be clear; free expression, freedom of belief, human and civil rights based on racial, religious, sexuality, and gender equality are not “liberal” principles. They’re not “Western” principles. They’re just not oppressive Theocratic principles. Those of us who hold those ideals; those of us with a respect for human beings before ideologies; those of us who believe in equal treatment under secular law… we should be intensely proud of those values.

Poeticising Da’wah: An Atheist Critique.

December 9, 2013

There is a video currently doing the rounds across social media platforms that appears to have great power over Muslims. The video is produced by “Talk Islam” and features a speaker poetically expressing his understanding of the universe, and his dismissal of science. Those who have commented on the video range from some who find it the most inspiring poetic expression of Islam in years, to those who it drives to tears – that’s right, I can be poetic too! – and this surprises me for something that is so poorly written.

The video in question is here:

You may think “It’s just poetry, why address it? Let it be….Whisper words of wisdom…. let it be.” I would note that this video is being touted as a video that converts people the moment they see it. It is shown to non-believers as a form of beautiful proselytizing, of da’wah and so it becomes more than just a poem. Therefore, criticism is required.

I am a big fan of poetic creativity, and the poet in this video is expressing his. On a poetically creative level, I fully appreciate his work. But the content – as a form of da’wah – I find to be woefully misleading, scientifically illiterate, and full of fallacy and ignorance. I thought I’d deal with several of the points it raises here. The video is only 6 minutes long, but contains a lot of points, which would take up several thousand words to address. So I thought I’d stick to the first half of the video here, and limit my arguments, in an attempt to show that if the first half can be dismissed as nonsense, the second half isn’t likely to produce anything better.

It is also important to note that he isn’t saying anything new. The cosmological “proof” is used, the God-of-the-gaps is used, and commenting on his own misunderstanding of science is used. These widely used religious non-arguments are simply used a little more poetically here.

So, here are the five points:

“Don’t ask any questions, just go with the flow.” “Just make as much money as you can”.

– Here, the speaker is critiquing Western values. The audio is interlaced with a video showing US dollars. The implication being, the reason we non-Muslims haven’t asked questions, and come to Islam yet, is because we’re too busy obsessed with money. That is his only explanation. We must be too distracted by the accumulation of material goods, to embrace Allah. Both the poet and I agree that the Western World has placed money as a sort of quasi-God, and that this is deeply problematic. Though I would describe an obsession with religion as just as problematic, inhumane and dangerous, as an obsession with money. The two are very similar to me.

What the speaker is doing is a tried and tested method – usually by Muslims – to deflect from the issues their own system creates (institutionalised homophobia, for example), their lack of reasonable argument, and instead seeks to amplify the worst of Western, secular values – to the very extreme – as if they are representative of the entire region and everyone in it. It is of course, deeply misinformed. Indeed, the secular World has created some of the greatest universities in the World, encouraging free thought and wonderful advancements – far more so than any religious state has ever achieved – we do not ban books or words that run contrary to prevailing wisdom, we do not threaten people if they make films or books satirising secular customs.

The very reason I am an Atheist, is because I question (and not least because I wont be arrested, or have my life threatened by the state for questioning). The very reason I reject the Qur’an is because the Qur’an seems so inadequate; is scientifically less impressive than the Greeks were 1000 years earlier; offers no proof or even a shred of evidence for its claims on divinity; is rather badly put together; incredibly inaccurate; is far better explained by its links to the early Caliph’s need to control and unify; spends far too much time on meaningless tribal squabbles and Muhammad’s love life; and anchors “morality” to a single place and single time. And this is before we’ve even started to discuss the possibility of a ‘creator’. But we’ll come to that shortly. I wrote here on where I believe Islam – as we know it – took its roots and why.

It would also appear to me that the phrase “don’t ask questions” is better placed as a description of religion. Apostasy laws, blasphemy laws, attempting to prohibit the teaching of evolution, placing “God” in the gaps of understanding as if that’s reasonable, dismissing contrary arguments as of the “kuffar”, and threats to those who question or criticise certain religions ensure uniformity of belief among those under states that are entwined with the religion. It is a very difficult venture indeed, to locate a page in the Qur’an that doesn’t threaten those who are not Muslim, with terrible pain and torture simply for asking questions. This isn’t the promotion of freedom of thought and critique, this is the business of controlling thought processes and ensuring conformity through threats. The speaker in this video casts stones that boomerang back and hit him square in the face.

“How did we get here, and who made us so perfect?” “Did you create yourself or is it someone else that fashioned you?”

– Hideously false dichotomy. The choice isn’t “either you made yourself, or God made you“. We didn’t just appear, as we are today. Our ancestors – from the single cell, to homo sapien – have weathered such incredibly tough climates and challenges, fought rival species for survival, endured close to starvation and extinction, fostered ingenuity on a wonderful level, created language and tools, adapted to conditions and threats along the way, and died of the most easily curable diseases. That is how we are here. We have our ancestors to thank. We didn’t create ourselves. We didn’t require a God. Natural selection is as close to fact as any scientific theory you will ever come across – including gravity.

The question of how the entire universe got here – well, we don’t have a definitive answer yet, just like we didn’t have a definitive answer as to the nature of a lunar eclipse, centuries ago. This gap in our knowledge did not then render the Viking explanation of two wolves chasing and trying to eat the sun, any more credible. We place myths in the gaps in knowledge, always have. But we advance because we question. A ‘creator’ of the universe, is simply another gap plugged with an ill-fitting myth.

The speaker then goes on to show a video of Dawkins and Krauss, and subtly hints that an absence of God in our lives, is by extension, an absence of purpose. I find this to be a weak point, and one made out of malice and desperation rather than thought. Oprah Winfrey – a Christian – made the overly obtuse comment that non-believers just don’t understand awe and beauty. This is of course ridiculous, and I addressed it here. It is awe and beauty that drives curiosity and scientific inquiry. The same is true of purpose. As a non-believer, I create my own purpose. My purpose – as a human, with 70 or so short years in which to cram everything in – is to love, to be happy, and to obtain knowledge to the best of my ability, to see as much of the World as I possibly can, and when my time is up, I want to die feeling fulfilled. That is my purpose. I do not require a promise of heavenly reward, or a fairy sky man for that.

“For there isn’t a camera on this Earth that can come close to the human eye. If the whole world was to come together we wouldn’t be able to create a single fly…. so many signs.”

– This is scientifically illiterate creationism, and nothing less. It is a full dismissal of evolution via natural selection. Therefore it is also a dismissal of every subject that is based on evolution; genetics, biology, medicine, zoology, and many more. I am still waiting for a thesis from any creationist that proves the basis of all of those studies to be entirely false. So far, their criticism seems to amount to nothing more than “why are there still monkeys?

The eye is a beautifully elegant product of natural selection. We know this. It isn’t a guess. From simple photoreceptor structures that could recognise basic light in unicell organisms, to the evolution of lenses that regulate light intensity, to the complex structure we now have; each step along the way has endowed the species with a genetic advantage, and so has become increasingly complex in structure. Natural selection can and does explain the evolution of the eye. And it has taken around a billion years.

The speaker weirdly compares this, to a modern camera. Photography has existed since around 1840. Less than 200 years. Which, you will perhaps note, is a little bit less than a billion years – about a billion years less – so yes, we’d expect a bit more complexity, especially with natural selection as the driving force. I’m sure in a billion years, the camera might be a little more complex too.

A predator that has a greater – even to a very small degree – perception of light and depth through mutations to a form of photoreceptor, has an evolutionary advantage and the gene will eventually pass on and slowly improve if necessary. Basic science. It is the reason bacteria become immune to vaccines. They adapt. The eye did the same thing. The eye is naturally advantageous, so of course it is complex. There are not “so many signs” for a creator. There are however vast amounts of collected evidence, and vast amounts of significant study into the evolution of the eye. The speaker here dismisses them all. He isn’t challenging the litany of thesis backed by evidence, he’s simply displaying his ignorance of it. Therefore, he is not promoting thinking, as he seems to believe he is.

“Science tries to justify that all this can come from none, when it’s a simple sum, zero plus zero plus zero can not possibly give you one.”

– Yes. I guess if you’re willing to suggest that all physics can be reduced to basic 2nd Grade maths, this is true. In reality, it’s nonsense. I also suspect he abandons that sum, the moment that the “one” in the equation is called “God”. Indeed, it isn’t science that says we “came from none”, it’s his own faith:
Qur’an 19:67:

“We created him before out of nothing.”

– What the poet is telling us then, is that whilst science is wrong to suggest “something came from nothing” (incredibly simplistic interpretation of scientific inquiry), it’s fine for religious folk to say “something came from nothing…. when eternal magic sky man does it”.

Science has never suggested something comes from nothing. It claims a singularity. The big bang was an incredible moment at which the form of energy that existed at the unfathomable singularity changed and began to expand. We know this. We don’t know how it began to expand (there doesn’t need to be a ‘why’ is began to expand). But not knowing, is not evidence for a God. It never has been. We also know that at a quantum level, virtual particles spring in and out of existence – from nothing – all the time. It is only scientifically illiterate religious folk that cannot comprehend science; they prefer the simplistic answer.

Science goes where the evidence points, not where philosophical conjecture points, and science is not here to place “God” in the gaps of understanding. It is an accumulation of knowledge, not a guess. The existence of “nothing” is of course, self defeating. There has always been something. Existence requires time. Time and space are necessary for causation to exist. Time and space sprang into existence at the singularity, therefore, there was no time or space for a cause of time and space to exist. Causation is a product of the universe and applies to the sum of its parts, it need not apply to the universe itself.

“Everything has a maker, a creator”. “We can believe in the Big Bang but I’d rather believe in He who caused it to explode.

– Again, I suspect this little equation is abandoned, the moment we ask “so who made God?”

I wrote on the idea of “before” the Big Bang here and so wont repeat myself too much, but an excerpt of my argument is important for this point:

“If you conceive of a “before time”, you have created Neverland. A place where time doesn’t exist, but causation exists. You have divorced causation from time, you have divorced time from the universe. I see no reason to accept this as a reasonable proposition, simply because not a shred of evidence is ever provided for such an extraordinary revision of all known physical laws.”

– Following from this, and in relation to the poem, the speaker uses the term “caused”, which suggests that he believes causation has no link to time or space. He of course provides no evidence for this extraordinary claim. He simply places ‘God’ in the gap in our understanding, and has decided that is a logical position to hold, despite the fact that every time the God of the gaps has been invoked throughout history, it’s always turned out to be wrong.

For a poem that is being promoted as some sort of supreme da’wah, it is inconceivably weak on absolutely every point it endeavours to make. It achieves the opposite of what it sets out to achieve, it is several minutes worth of trying to justify the dogma of the God-of-the-gaps. Whilst the poetics, and the over dramatic pronouncements make it seem attractive, the proselytizing fails the moment it begins. Though if we are to take one thing from this video, one idea that the poet makes, that is to question everything, including claims made by way of poetic da’wah.

The Hamza Delusion.

December 4, 2013

Hamza Tzortzis is an interesting chap. I’ve seen him debate live a couple of times. A few things strike me about Hamza. Firstly, he’s an excellent public speaker, very engaging, and incredibly articulate. Secondly, he doesn’t really say anything of substance. He tends to repeat the same arguments that Theists have always presented, with brand new sparkly language that he seems to think gives credit to the points he makes, or he completely rewrites scripture to mean something that it clearly doesn’t mean.

I recently watched this talk by Hamza, from earlier this year:

– First thing I noted was that for a speech that is intended to show the “rationality” of Islam, it takes Hamza less than five minutes to mention – as if a fact of reality – Angels, and Satan. Not rational explanations for what we’d traditionally call ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and that we now know are based on chemical imbalances in the mind, but instead chooses to stick with Angels and Satan. This is something Hamza wishes us to consider ‘rational’.

Hamza then moves on to present his own reworded version of the old cosmological argument, with the phrase “the universe began“, and that it was “…created by something uncreated“. He calls this a “logical explanation“. It’s important on that point to note that his “logical explanation” is completely divorced from logic at every point. I deal with the cosmological argument and its inherent illogic in another article, here.

The issue that I wanted to discuss in this article, relates to a quote from Hamza beginning at 6:37 of the video above:

“When God always mentions his creative power, when Allah always mentions his mastery of the universe, when Allah always mentions the fact that he is the one who sustains the universe and created the universe and he talks about creation itself, it’s always as a premise, it’s always as a launching pad to launch your intellect into the realisation that not only does Allah exist, but he is one, and he deserves to be worshipped.”

– So ‘masterful’ is Allah’s commanding of the universe, that he doesn’t actually tell us anything we didn’t already know at that exact moment in history. Nevertheless, with the quote itself, I have one main issue – besides the circular reasoning, which Hamza goes on to say “isn’t circular reasoning“, but it most certainly is circular reasoning.

I am almost certain that the Qur’an was compiled at a time of the framing of a new empire, for the sake of the power and stability of that new empire. Most notably, a massive PR offensive was launched during the reign of Abd al-Malik, that continued through his son’s reign, and it is this period in which Islam begins to become what we know today. In my previous article on the birth of the myths of the Prophet, I noted:

“The besieging of Mecca, in 692, with over 10,000 Syrian troops, shows just how serious Abd al-Malik believed the situation had become for the future of his dynasty. Eventually the rebellions, as well as the Byzantines were defeated, and so the next step is to unify the Empire. To further the plan of unification, he needed to solidify his own claims to the Caliphate. It is around this time, that coins start to be inscribed with the name of Muhammad, linked directly to the Caliph. It is also no surprise that the Sana’a manuscripts (the earliest Qur’anic manuscripts we have) are calligraphically dated to the era of Abd al-Malik.”

– It is very difficult to overstate the sheer importance and enormity of the task that Abd al-Malik faced in consolidating his empire and his power in 685ad. I would argue that the Qur’an, and its constant repetition of the power of God was created for the sake of ensuring obedience to the Caliphate and its new ruler. I say this, because almost every time God’s power is mentioned as what Hamza calls a “premise” in the Qur’an, it is followed by a threat for those who disbelieve.

Qur’an Chapter 2:

“I, Allah, am the best Knower. This Book, there is no doubt in it, is a guide to those who keep their duty, Who believe in the Unseen and keep up prayer and spend out of what We have given them, And who believe in that which has been revealed to thee and that which was revealed before thee, and of the Hereafter they are sure. These are on a right course from their Lord and these it is that are successful. Those who disbelieve — it being alike to them whether thou warn them or warn them not — they will not believe. Allah has sealed their hearts and their hearing; and there is a covering on their eyes, and for them is a grievous chastisement. And there are some people who say: We believe in Allah and the Last Day; and they are not believers. They seek to deceive Allah and those who believe, and they deceive only themselves and they perceive not. In their hearts is a disease, so Allah increased their disease, and for them is a painful chastisement because they lie.”

– If you wish to ensure the obedience of a scientifically illiterate population to your new Theocratic empire, there is no better way than to offer a divine carrot and stick approach, by using ones fear of death and the afterlife as a tool. When the state is wedded to the new faith, and the new faith is essentially crafted by the new state, it becomes necessary to say that a threat to ensure obedience to the new faith, is a threat to ensure obedience to the new state.

One verse of one chapter of course might not be enough to really drive home the message that this new empire is directly linked to heaven itself. And so just to make certain that potential non-believers understand the message, well, maybe another chapter will do the trick:

“Alif, Lam, Mim. Allah, the Ever-Living, the Self- Subsisting, Who sustains the entire order of the Universe – there is no god but He. He has revealed this Book to you, setting forth the Truth and confirming the earlier Books, and He revealed the Torah and the Gospel before that for the guidance of mankind; and He has also revealed the Criterion (to distinguish the Truth from falsehood). A severe chastisement lies in store for those who deny the Signs of Allah.”

– Remember, these are written at the beginning of the chapter. This ensures the reader knows that if he or she does not accept what comes next, severe punishment awaits. There is no intellect involved here. No thinking. No rationality. It isn’t asking you to think or to consider. It is demanding obedience at gunpoint.

And so it goes…

“[10:1] Alif. Lam. Ra’. These are the verses of the Book overflowing with wisdom. [10:2] Does it seem strange to people that We should have revealed to a man from among themselves, directing him to warn the people (who are engrossed in heedlessness), and to give good news to the believers that they shall enjoy true honour and an exalted status with their Lord? (This seemed so strange that) the deniers of the Truth said: “This man is indeed a plain sorcerer!” [10:3] Surely your Lord is Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days, then established Himself on the Throne (of His Dominion), governing all affairs of the Universe. None may intercede with Him except after obtaining His leave. Such is Allah, your Lord; do therefore serve Him. Will you not take heed? [10:4] To Him is your return. This is Allah’s promise that will certainly come true. Surely it is He Who brings about the creation of all and He will repeat it so that He may justly reward those who believe and do righteous deeds, and those who disbelieve may have a draught of boiling water and suffer a painful chastisement for their denying the Truth.”

And it goes…

“[13:1] Alif. Lam. Mim. Ra’. These are the verses of the Divine Book. Whatever has been revealed to you from your Lord is the truth, and yet most (of your) people do not believe. [13:2] It is Allah Who has raised the heavens without any supports that you could see, and then He established Himself on the Throne (of Dominion). And He it is Who has made the sun and the moon subservient (to a law), each running its course till an appointed term. He governs the entire order of the universe and clearly explains the signs that you may be firmly convinced about meeting your Lord. [13:3] He it is Who has stretched out the earth and has placed in it firm mountains and has caused the rivers to flow. He has made every fruit in pairs, two and two, and He it is Who causes the night to cover the day. Surely there are signs in these for those who reflect. [13:4] And on the earth there are many tracts of land neighbouring each other. There are on it vineyards, and sown fields, and date palms: some growing in clusters from one root, some standing alone. They are irrigated by the same water, and yet We make some excel others in taste. Surely there are signs in these for a people who use their reason. [13:5] And were you to wonder, then wondrous indeed is the saying of those who say: “What! After we have been reduced to dust, shall we be created afresh?” They are the ones who disbelieved in their Lord; they are the ones who shall have shackles around their necks. They shall be the inmates of the Fire, wherein they will abide for ever.”

And it goes…

“[14:1] Alif. Lam. Ra’. This is a Book which We have revealed to you that you may bring forth mankind from every kind of darkness into light, and direct them, with the leave of their Lord, to the Way of the Mighty, the Innately Praiseworthy, [14:2] (to the Way of) Allah to Whom belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. Woe be to those who reject the Truth for a severe chastisement, [14:3] to those who have chosen the life of the world in preference to the Hereafter, who hinder people from the Way of Allah, and seek to make it crooked.”

And it goes…

“[15:1] Alif. Lam. Ra’. These are the verses of the Book, and a Clear Qur’an. [15:2] Soon will the time come when the unbelievers will wish they were Muslims. [15:3] Leave them to eat and enjoy life and let false hopes amuse them. They will soon come to know. [15:4] Whenever We destroyed a town, a definite term had previously been decreed for it. [15:5] No people can outstrip the term for its destruction nor can it delay it.”

– This is just a few of the first fifteen chapters of the Qur’an. It goes on and on and on, and the point of all of them is not that God wishes you to know how great he is, nor is it to “launch your intellect” as Hamza would have you think. The greatness of God is followed always by describing torturous punishment to those who doubt. Indeed, a considerable chunk of the Qur’an deals with threats of eternal punishment for the victimless crime of non-belief. The point is power and control, and nothing else. It is violent threats toward those who don’t conform to its dogma, and it is reflected entirely in the needs of the new fledgling empire and the necessity to control a population that wasn’t unified, and threatened rebellion at every point.

It is the case that by the late 7th century, the Prophet Muhammad’s name was suddenly being used to strengthen a fragmented, and fragile political Umayyad state and to solidify the claims of one particular Caliph; coins appear with Muhammad’s name on it; Hadith are being collected in order to provide a legal framework for the new empire; Muhammad suddenly becomes a legendary and much needed figurehead for the reign of Abd al-Malik (followed by his son, who carries on the imperial PR venture), upon his accession to a largely fragmented and warring empire; and the Qur’an is suddenly compiled including threats against those who disbelieve. This is quite obviously politics, this was never ‘revelation’.

I would argue that this is a far more logical, and rational explanation of the opening verses of the chapters of the Qur’an than “God wants to launch your intellect” which appears to be entirely contradicted by the use of threats.

Hamza goes on to inform us that in the Qur’an, God is telling us to reflect upon what we know, reflect upon the words of the text, and we’ll come to the conclusion that God exists. What Hamza doesn’t say, is that if you don’t come to that conclusion – like the majority of the World – then you will suffer intense and horrific punishment. It seems particularly pernicious to me that a God would bestow upon mankind the beautiful ability to doubt and to critique, but then to punish us the moment we come to a conclusion that isn’t based solely on glorifying Him. Hamza’s point is not rational, it is based on nothing of substance, and wholly contradictory. It is easily explained away with history, and at its core, tries to convince you that blindly accepting dogma is itself thoughtful and rational. It is for those reasons that Hamza possesses a unique inability to understand the word “rational”.

“Before The Big Bang”: A Divine Neverland.

November 17, 2013


People often ask each other what our favourite Disney film is. Peter Pan is always my answer. I was always fascinated by the idea of Peter Pan and Neverland, growing up. It seemed, to the naive mind of a child, that J.M Barrie had managed to capture the essence of wonder of childhood, and anchored that essence forever, full of mythical creatures and beautiful islands and lagoons (I adore that word) and pirates and lost boys and I remember being five or six years old and closing my eyes, thinking happy thoughts, and wondering if I’d start to fly. It seemed like a heavenly place to me as a child. Incidentally my happy thought was the idea of being able to fly. I’m not sure if the paradox there was the reason I never achieved human flight, either way, I didn’t, and I slowly realised that Neverland may just be fictional and may not actually exist anywhere in reality.

In Neverland, time comes to a halt. You stop aging. It obviously isn’t supposed to be a scientific explanation for anything – merely a children’s tale – but the idea that aging stops divorces the aging process from time itself. Events still take place in Neverland. Events that have consequences, in other words, causation, which requires time, still exists. Neverland has a complete revamping of the characteristics of time. In reality, without time, nothing exists, not even causation. The two are entwined.

I briefly touched on this subject in my article on the Cosmological Argument, but I thought I’d expand on my thoughts below. I am quite certain that the existence of time is evidence against the existence of a divine creator.

Hamza Tzortzis on his blog says:

“Science cannot explain the past or the origins of things. For instance questions such as, what was before the Big Bang?…. are technically outside the realm of the scientific method.”

– Apart from being an entirely false premise, the sentence presumes that there ever was a “before the Big Bang”. This is a false presumption, and not only is it a false presumption because it lacks any kind of evidence relying instead on flimsy guess work, but it also ignores evidence to the contrary. The phrase “before the Big Bang” gives one the sense that time itself preceded the Big Bang, and whilst that’s up for debate on the level of science, this isn’t what Hamza was getting at. He’s suggesting and arguing for divine creation.

The word “before” denotes the context of time. Time is woven into the fabric of the universe. Therefore “before”, is an absurd term to use for the question posed. For, causation itself can only exist within the context of of time. There cannot be a time before time and so the context of the word “before” begins at the point that time itself began. To suggest otherwise not only represents a manipulation of language, but also commits the fallacy of composition. A new concept of causation based not on time is required from creationists to come anywhere close to saving their Neverland. Causation of the universe, they must separate from causation in the universe. Good luck with that.

Stephen Hawking, in a lecture on the beginning of time says:

“Since events before the Big Bang have no observational consequences, one may as well cut them out of the theory, and say that time began at the Big Bang.”

Discounting the theory of chaotic inflation, or the big bounce concept, or the idea that endless black holes create endless infinite universes (an intriguing idea, well worth reading up on, and perpetuated by Vahe Gurzadyan among others) for one second – because all of those theories will still lead believers to ask “what came before? Who started it all? Infinity is impossible!!”, they aren’t looking for scientific theories, they’re automatically suggesting a creator – and so I’ll be focusing on the premise that the Big Bang was the beginning of everything.

As we know it, time & space began at the moment of the Big Bang. Therefore, time and space are precluded from “before” the Big Bang, in fact, the word “before” is precluded from before the Big Bang… or to be a little more in keeping with the point of this article… There is no “before” time. Indeed, this is not a faith based guess. It falls therefore on the believer to provide any sort of verifiable evidence that a being can exist outside of time and space, that there existed a separate realm in which a creator had the ability to kick start the universe as we know it, and what the characteristics of that realm are. All of which can only ever be taken on guesswork, fantasy, and are entirely self defeating. This should not be progressed as a serious inquiry into origins. It is creationism and nothing more.

Indeed, if a creator existed in a realm of time and space prior to the beginning of the universe, then that time and space must have different properties to what we understand of time and space, it must also have preceded the existence of the creator within it, therefore, it is a higher realm than the creator, and the creator cannot be called a creator at all. Certainly not the God of the omni’s.

The existence of time and its beginning renders the idea of a creator either obsolete, or creates a sort of Neverland realm, in which the creator dwells – which again, suggests the realm preceded the existence of the creator – a realm in which time doesn’t exist, but events are still able to occur, which in turn suggests a version of time does actually exist in this divine realm; at that point, believers tend not to give any evidence nor characteristics of this magical land.

And so if this divine realm exists before “time” (again, impossible, because existence requires time), did the creator create it also? If the creator created this divine realm also….. how did it do so? In what realm of time and space was it able to exist in order to create this new fantasy realm required before the universe was created?

In other words, if there was a “before” the beginning of time, this would have required another realm for causation to exist – which as I pointed out earlier is a product of time – which then leads to a “before” that realm, which in turn needs a “before” that realm and so on… The chain is endless. And so if you’re suggesting a “before time” – as a synonym for “before everything” – and placing your particular God in that new realm that you’ve just created – out of nothing, ironically – you’ve opened up a whole bag of new questions that you must answer before the question “What came before the Big Bang?” is taken seriously.

Is this Neverland completely timeless? If so, how do events occur?
If it is timeless, do you have any such verifiable evidence that something can exist outside of time and space?
If your creator exists, you must therefore believe existence, and cause and effect do not require time or space? What then, do they require?
Or does this realm have another version of time? Do you have evidence for the existence of more than one version of time?

Or does this realm include our understanding of time, that was simply extended to the universe at the Big Bang? In which case, where did your creator exist in order to create it? How did your creator exist before existence was possible?

If you conceive of a “before time”, you have created Neverland. A place where time doesn’t exist, but causation exists. You have divorced causation from time, you have divorced time from the universe. I see no reason to accept this as a reasonable proposition, rather than a completely absurd and illogical proposition. Especially when you provide no evidence for such an extraordinary revision of all known physical laws.

To summarise:
If a creator created everything – which encompasses itself – including the time and space required to ‘create’ the universe, it must have done so in another realm of time and space. Suddenly “everything” doesn’t encompass itself any more, and the creator is no longer the creator, because this new realm preceded it. Arguing the existence of a creator of the universe does nothing but lead to complete absurdity and eventually defeats itself. He created time, whilst in time. Or he created time, without time existing, despite creation requiring time in order to happen. Absurd. The believer essentially creates an endless stream of divine Neverlands, whilst both changing the nature of existence and time and through it all, offering no evidence whatsoever for the existence or characteristics of any of those wonderful Neverlands, or even the ability for any to actually exist. It is fantasy dressed up as viable, and credible inquiry.

The evidence is clear; if there is no time and space, there is no existence. Existence requires time. Causation requires time. All characteristics of the universe. Therefore, not only does God not exist…. He isn’t required to exist, and actually cannot possibly exist. It is logical impossible.

That the universe – time, space, matter, energy – came into existence doesn’t suggest a creator. Quite the opposite. It negates the need for a creator, and entirely precludes His existence.

Just like a child slowly coming to the realisation that J.M Barrie’s Neverland does not exist anywhere in reality, what we understand of the universe, of time, and of space necessarily leads us to a point in which we do not abandon the search for truth, but we recognise there is not – and cannot possibly be – a God… Except of course, within the absurd and contradictory, self defeating realm of a hopeless divine Neverland.

The Cosmological Argument: “Eternal sky man used magic”.

November 14, 2013

The old cosmological argument as a classical ‘proof’ for the existence of God is apparently alive and well. It is used in practically every debate for the existence of God that I’ve come across. They sometimes rewrite it a little, believing to have strengthened its points, but the argument remains the same. The argument seems to require both supposition, and circular reasoning, whilst attempting to seem logical. William Lane Craig is always itching to use it before he even steps up to the podium. Hamza Tzortzis is under the unique impression that it still has merit especially if he uses pretentious language that is ultimately meaningless. The argument is as follows:

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

– In essence… you cannot get something from nothing.

I have several criticisms of this classical ‘proof’ for the existence of God that I’ll set out below, point by point.

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
You may have noted several problems with the argument immediately, starting not with its first point, but with its overall premise that an infinite cannot possibly exist. The premise that an infinite cannot exist, in this case is negated by the idea that a creator was uncaused, and thus, infinite. On top of an infinite God, the argument presupposes that the first cause ‘created’ everything…. out of nothing. They attempt to argue that something from nothing is impossible, whilst arguing that something from nothing is possible, as long as an eternal overlord did it. They don’t in any way provide evidence for the presupposition that something – anything – is able to exist prior to time and space, or outside of time and space. And that’s a crucial point. They therefore have no logically sound base for their argument. We try to rationalise with them, debate respectfully, use grandiose philosophical terms on a level that they believe helps their cause, but I think perhaps we give the cosmological argument too much credit, when in fact its very fundamental premise is just a more eloquent rewording of: “Eternal sky man used magic“.

Secondly, the phrase “…that begins to exist” is vital to the flaw. It used to be simply “Everything has a cause”. Well, then, if everything includes itself, then we must say that a creator must also have a cause. This presented problems for the believer, and so the phrase “…that begins to exist” was added. But this addition isn’t free from flaws, in fact it multiplies them. It is clearly intense circular reasoning. It presumes two states of being. Things that begin to exist, suggests there are also things that don’t begin to exist, which suggests they’ve always existed, which exempts them from the entire argument. In turn, this means by splitting existence into two categories a) Things that begin to exist and by extension b) Things that don’t begin to exist, but exist anyway, those who use the cosmological argument defeat their own premise; that nothing can be infinite.

They are also trying to prove God, by exempting God from the argument. To put it a little more simply, it is like saying “Everything…. that is blue“. Everything encompasses itself, there is nothing excluded. But the addition of “..that is blue” suddenly changes the meaning of “everything” by exempting everything that isn’t blue. And so “…that begins to exist” exempts that which is presumed not to have a beginning, by which believers call “God”. The argument already presumes a God, whilst trying to prove a God. To put it simply, Point 1 can thus be rewritten as:
1. Everything, except God, has a cause.
Which means point 2. can be rewritten as:
2. The Universe (but not God) began to exist.
– If an exemption for “everything” exists – and the exemption is that which you’re trying to prove – then your argument is incomplete, and so it is flawed.

Also flawed, is the premise that everything has a cause. Hume argued that we can infer from our experience of houses, that an architect and builders are required for a house to exist. We know this from experience of how houses come to exist. But we have no experience of how universes – the chain itself, rather than the constituent parts – come to exist, and so it is not possible to draw the same inference as we would do for houses. In essence, causation applies to the constituent parts of the universe, but need not apply to the universe (and so, time) itself.

2. The universe began to exist.
This is a flippant attempt to link the beginning of the universe itself, to the beginning of everything within the universe, when in fact the two are separate. Causation requires time to exist. Therefore causation is a product of the universe, the universe need not itself be a product of the laws of causation observed within the universe. The argument “the universe began to exist” places the universe (the entire set, rather than the parts of the set) within itself, subject to the law of the parts of the set that it gave birth to.

There was no “before time“, there was no prior state of being in which the universe hadn’t “begun” to exist yet, and so there was never a possibility for something to exist in order to be the cause of the universe – and therefore time – itself. The word “begun” requires time. The word “before” requires time. The word “cause” requires time. If a cause existed, then time existed, which means the universe had already begun to exist.
To argue “you cannot get something from nothing” is meaningless when discussing the universe itself, because there has never been “nothing“, there has always been “something”.

Causality is linked necessarily to time. So the Kalam Cosmological argument, by including the phrase “…that begins to exist” suggests that something can exist outside of time and so has no cause, without actually providing evidence for that subtly made assertion. This is not a respectable argument for the existence of God, it is not a rational argument for the existence of God, and yet some of the key Theistic public speakers use it constantly. It isn’t in the slightest bit convincing.

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
As noted above, this does not follow from the first two points, and therefore fails. It is a meaningless statement. Before making a case for the cosmological argument’s credibility, it seems to me that one must first produce the slightest piece of evidence that it is possible for something to exist outside of the all-encompassing confines of time and space. Which is of course both irrational, and self defeating. Existence requires time. And on that basis alone, the third point is irrational.

We non-believers simply say we do not know. Scientists are working on it. We just don’t know yet. In time, evidence will be gathered, theories formed, and conclusions drawn. It is simply not acceptable practice to notice a gap in our understanding, and place “God” without a significant amount of evidence for such an extraordinary claim, relying instead of horribly flawed philosophical talking points. The cosmological argument is one of those flawed talking points. It is nothing more than an eloquently formed synonym for “Eternal sky man used magic“.

Oprah… Awe is as natural to Atheists as breathing oxygen.

November 1, 2013


I am quite used to hearing religious folk assert that Atheists do not have an objective moral base for our conception of right or wrong, and it’s so easy to refute, it’s getting tiresome to hear. But a couple of weeks back threw open a new attempt to dehumanise Atheists. This time, from Oprah Winfrey. Oprah suggested that non-believers cannot possibly experience a sense of awe or wonder, and that if you do experience a sense of awe and wonder, you are in fact a Theist. I would like to take the opportunity to point out how desperately wrong she is.

It seems self evident to me that science – the pursuit of knowledge – is itself driven by awe. We are a species blessed with curiosity. Awe is what drives science. Religion is simply a failed science that was used to try to explain the natural World when we had no other explanation. A sense of wonder drove both religion, and science. It is natural to humanity, and does not require faith.

What do you think drove the wonderful Stephen Hawking to dedicate his life to trying to understand the cosmos? Do you not think that he was driven by the awe one feels whenever we stare into the heavens and contemplate the vast blackness of space, our place within it, and the tiny pinholes of light in the heavenly canvas that we now know to be balls of burning gas millions of light years away. I took the above photo, outside of my house. I felt I just had to document how beautiful the night sky appeared to me that evening. In fact, the documentation of beauty is why I take my camera everywhere with me. It is why I can spend hours in an art gallery. It is why music can inspire. It is why the landscape of our breathtakingly diverse planet can drive people to tears. It is why the words of Hemingway can make my heart race and dream of Paris. How humbled we feel. Do you not think that when we consider those balls of gas burning millions of light years away, that we aren’t overcome with a sense of awe and wonder when we remember that the light has travelled so far for so long that many of those stars no longer exist, and that our eyes are therefore our personal time machines? That perhaps one of those balls of burning gas has a planet like ours circling it, with its own inhabitants staring back at us in their own wonder? Why does this need religion?

Is there no excited imagination in dreaming of what it must be like to stand for just a brief moment on the lip of a black hole? The event horizon, upon which light can neither escape the grip of the gravity of black hole, nor is gravity strong enough to pull it in. The moment that time itself comes to a stop. If you were to leave the slowness of time around a black hole, and return to Earth, you would find time has moved faster on Earth, and so whilst a few weeks may have passed to you; days, years, decades, perhaps centuries to those on Earth. Do you not think the knowledge that this actually exists, has us in awe? Do you think that belief in a talking burning bush is what is missing from our lives?

The awe was in the search, but also in the truth of knowing that every last atom that makes up our body, has always existed, since the moment our home sprung into existence at the big bang. We are made from the left overs of stars that have exploded in the very distant past, and those left overs from all over the universe have come together, to form you. You are star dust. Star dust that over time, has developed the ability to know that it exists, to question its existence, to acquire knowledge, to experience love, and beauty, and happiness, to produce incredible feats of art for expression, and engineering. For the brief time that each of us exists, we are a random collection of atoms that have already experienced an incredible history, and we are the universe trying to understand itself. How does this not fill you with awe? Why must you need a story of human sacrifice to atone for sins, to feel a sense of awe? Why can you not experience that in itself?

Does looking out of your window at the colourful tapestry of life, all at the mercy of the unguided design of natural selection, not make your heart race at the majesty of it all? The almost infinite number of ways your genes could have lined up, have lined up in a way that produces you. The history of your family over the centuries, the struggles and hardships have converged, to produce you. You, as a life form, are incredibly unique across the incomprehensible vastness of everything. There is nothing else like you. Your experiences and the way your mind works will never be repeated across the billions of years the universe has left to exist.

How do you not feel humbled, and thankful that our ancestors fought the harshest of conditions, to adapt, to innovate, to conceive of new ideas, to spread to every corner of the Earth and develop art, music and language. Language! A new way to express ideas that doubtlessly contributed to the development of our natural awe and curiosity. The elegance of words have us inspired daily. A single gracefully crafted sentence can change our lives…. “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all are created equal“…. and it is humanity that built the structural foundation upon which language could be expressed so strikingly. This requires neither Prophets, nor Gods. It only requires a sense of astonishment at the achievements of mankind since our birth as a species, through Socrates, Al-Biruni, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein, and what we are capable of in the future.

Religion insists that we have the answers. Stop looking. It’s all in this book. To have faith is to look into the mysteries of the unknown and instead of considering all possible avenues of explanation of inquiry – most of which are incredibly beautiful propositions – simply places “God” into the gap. I see no charm in this. The wonderment and the excitement and the emotion is in the search and the truth can be just as stunning – if not more so – than the fiction. If you need faith for a sense of awe, I feel very sorry for you.

Life is a wonderful question, do not settle for “God did it”.

The Superiority of Secularism.

October 19, 2013

“I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look round for imaginary supports, no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a fit place to live in, instead of the sort of place that the Churches in all these centuries have made”
– Bertrand Russell.

Secularism is the natural and logical human reaction to the oppressive Patriarchal, Theocratic, Despotic, irrational, dogmatic, anti-human values that are so disagreeable to the human desire for freedom and equality.

Indeed, at its core, secularism is a level playing field, a natural system free from dogma that is conceived for the sake of anti-institutional-prejudice. That is why secularism is superior. It is that simple. Anything other than secularism tilts the playing field in one particular direction, thus becoming radically unfair. It then follows that anything other than secularism, is the advocation of the supremacy of one particular faith; a system of unjustifiable privilege and power.

I maintain that any system of power cannot be justified without enshrining equal rights for all under a legal framework for protection of those rights; gender equality, sexuality equality, race equality, and the right to believe, think, and express however you so wish without threat. All of those notions of equality are not compatible with any other system of power thus conceived by human beings, other than secular democracy. By enshrining these rights and noting that we are all born equal regardless of gender, sexuality, race, or belief; we maximise the possibility of human social advancement, understanding, and compassion by enfranchising those who would otherwise be held back, and treated less than equal under any other system. This is secularism and democracy.

The fact that we reached a stage of social evolution where it became necessary to separate church from the power of state in order to secure basic rights, is evidence of the cruelty that religion imposed upon the people when it did have power. One only need look at states that are still Theocratic, to see a continuation of that cruelty and oppression in 21st century. See my article on the treatment of homosexuality in Saudi Arabia. Secularism is the forward march of rationality and progress that must be combined with democracy for the sake of the rights of all. Religion when mixed with politics and law is cultural stagnation – usually anchored to far more violent periods of history – based on unverifiable dogma masquerading as universal truth and beauty for the sake of the social supremacy of those who believe over those who don’t. One read through a religious text quickly teaches us that we have in fact progressed since the barbaric days in which they were written.

Imagine secularism as a line of power. A line on which stands all genders, all sexualities, all races, all faiths. The line ensuring all are considered equal. No one group above another. A line that transcends generations. If any one of those groups deviate and raise above the line, or choose to push others below the line, we suddenly find ourselves in a situation in which secularism has been replaced by an illegitimate authority that has no right to do so (or no right thus rationalised adequately). The maintaining of that line, is necessary to protect against dogmatic injustices that appear as a result of one group raising above the line.

Secularism allows for the religious to believe and express the violent notion that we non-believers are cursed to spend eternity burning in the unforgiving flames of hell. That is your right to believe and to say. Similarly, I have a right to say that I find that disgusting, worthless, outdated, and worthy of nothing but ridicule and condemnation. Under a Theocratic system, believers would be free to believe and express the violent notion that we non-believers are cursed to spend eternity burning in the unforgiving flames of hell, but we non-believers would have no protection under the law to criticise and ridicule and hold those views to be contemptuous and cancerous. The level playing field of secularism is the protection of all ideas regardless of how insulted we may be by them.

When George Wallace was sworn in as Governor of Alabama, he stood on the same spot that Confederate President Davis stood 102 years earlier, and swore:

“In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”

– He was arguing and fighting for the perpetuation of the supremacy of the colour of his skin, enshrined into law. Individual liberty, and the realisation of ones dreams and hopes and ambitions were severely limited to what colour your skin was. It takes a very long time to undo the vicious chains applied by the power of the supremacy of one particular race, but it is necessary and rational to foster a system that breaks those chains and levels the playing field, and whilst the UK and US still has major roads to travel until the ideals of secularism and equality are realised, they are on the right path. There are also some wonderful secular Muslim groups working to the same end – ‘British Muslims for Secular Democracy’ for example – who must be supported and defended against all those who wish to subdue them.

Speaking of those who wish to subdue others. Religious supremacy also tends to have male supremacy, and heterosexual supremacy built into its very foundations. A critic of mine, the increasingly Patriarchal Hakeem, when rather putridly attempting to defend grown men marrying children, says:

“Due to being moral relativists, the critics of Muhammad must judge him precisely as they would judge anyone else who lived in that time period; they cannot morally condemn him if, in his day, it was the norm to marry someone who is younger than today’s age of consent and consummate the marriage later. The only way to provide an objective basis for morality is to believe in a transcendent being (God) which, as atheists, the authors of “Does God Hate Women?” deny.”

– And here, for once, I absolutely agree with him. There is no God. Therefore the Prophet – when it comes to his marriage to a young girl – cannot be judged entirely by today’s standards. He is anchored to the cultural context of the period in which he lived. It would be arrogant of me to suggest that had I lived back then, and in that region, I would have felt the same way as I do today. Of course I wouldn’t, because I am constrained by the context of the time. But Hakeem fails in his basic premise, when we flip the argument back around to face him. The Prophet Muhammad, to Hakeem, was in touch with the eternal. He was in touch with a being that transcends time. He is not restricted by the cultural context of 7th Century Arabia, and in fact for Muslims, the Prophet is there to change the context of the time period. He certainly isn’t restricted by it.

Therefore, the ‘objective’ moral base from Hakeem’s God – who sees fit to intervene to demand which direction people should pray toward, but doesn’t see fit to intervene to suggest marrying a child might be wrong – has no problem with grown men marrying children. The Prophet today, would be absolutely fine with marrying a 9 year old girl, because his God permitted it not just for the 7th Century, but for all time. This is the absolute epitome of Patriarchy and abuse and very very dangerous. And Hakeem wishes to uphold it. His article is one long pointless ramble that could be summed up with “It’s fine to marry kids! Aisha loved it! And all those who say otherwise are white supremacists blah blah incoherent rant.”

However, whilst Hakeem is right to claim that we Atheists – in order to be consistent (unless we argue from the Muslim perspective) – cannot tie the Prophet to anything but the context of his time, Hakeem is wrong in suggesting that we secular Atheists believe we have an “objective” base for our moral understand. No Atheist will tell you we have an “objective” base for our moral values, when “objective” is defined by the religious. I simply say, that human basis of right and wrong – whether you’re an Islamist like Hakeem, or an Atheist like myself – has never been defined by religion, that we have always used our rational judgement to make a moral decision based on our understanding of the World at that moment, and that that ability to rationalise is key to the evolution of our collective understanding of right and wrong. Sometimes we have got it wrong, but we learn and we improve, as an in-built species survival mechanism derived from a group mentality that has shaped our evolutionary history. This is a process of necessary cooperation, conflict resolution, altruism, and the part of our brain that deals with empathy. I maintain that all religions simply grabbed on to the moral context of a time that they were born into, and try continually to compel us all – by force of religious supremacy – to lay stagnant in that context, on fear of punishment.

Similarly, we see primitive forms of “morality” in the nature of our primate cousins. They appear to recognise the situation of their contemporaries and act accordingly. They (what we might call “anthropoid apes”) show evidence of empathy, and group cooperation. There are some excellent studies into the empathetic displays by certain primates. I would argue that to dismiss the evolution of empathy within primates, as a key ingredient to human morality, would be to suggest that it has no bearing on our decision making, and to dismiss all understanding derived from scientific observation and experimentation, instead putting your hands over your ears and saying “la la la I’m not listening! Allah did it!!”.

Another key ingredient, is the accepted scientific method of observing and evaluating what works, and what doesn’t work; what helps humanity and the individual within the society (both important factors) and what doesn’t. Again, this is a product of our evolution as a species. If I put those two together; our evolved sense of “morality” and our socially evolved sense of empirical evidence gathering; this is where that which we have labeled “morality” stems. Human beings are wonderfully reasoned primates.

Regardless of the way Hakeem twists the words of his faith to appear less vicious, less supremacy-driven, less Patriarchal… it cannot be escaped. Religious supremacy, at its core, is no different and no less oppressive than any other form of supremacy. It demands subjugation of others. The Qur’an makes quite clear:

“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient (to Allah), and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah orders them to guard (e.g. their chastity, their husband’s property, etc.). Regarding the woman who is guilty of lewd, or indecent behavior, admonish her (if she continues in this indecency then), stop sharing her bed (if she still continues doing this lewd behavior, then), [set forth for her the clear meaning of either straighten up or else we are finished and when she returns to proper behavior take up sharing the bed with her again], but if she returns in obedience (to proper behavior and conduct) then seek not against them means (of annoyance). Surely, Allah is Ever Most High, Most Great.”

– Indeed, the website “Islam Tomorrow” explains this verse:

“Now we can properly understand that Almighty God has commanded the men to provide for the women and allow them to keep all of their wealth, inheritance and income without demanding anything from them for support and maintenance. Additionally, if she should be guilty of lewd or indecent conduct, the husband is told to first, admonish her and then if she would cease this lewdness. If she should continue in this indecency, then he should no longer share the bed with her, and this would continue for a period of time. Finally, if she would repent then he would take up sharing the bed with her again.”

– There is no sense of equality here. There is only the sense of an owner (the man) and his animal (the woman). The woman is treated like property that requires a man to keep her in her place, on threat of punishment. This is Islamic supremacy, & male supremacy. Secularism ensures this kind of poison does not infect the lives of those of us who believe in the beauty of equality. I am quite sure that Emily Pankhurst wasn’t fighting for the right of a man to “admonish” her if she freely chose to act “lewd” according to a man’s interpretation of that term.

And then Hakeem moves onto a complete misunderstanding of secularism (though this is from a man who, when he cannot provide any logical argument – which is all the time – resorts to calling all those who disagree with him, a white supremacist):

“A perfect example of this is the issue of homosexuality. If you read literature by early secular socialists, they were vehemently against homosexuality, some arguing it was an unnatural behavior that was a product of capitalism. In the modern era, however, socialists are among the most vocal of advocates in normalizing homosexuality. Now some would give them a pat on their back for their more tolerant and progressive views. The question is, based upon what criteria are they progressive? And who is to say they won’t flip their views a couple of decades from now, believing once again that homosexuality is an elitist lifestyle of the capitalist upper-class, as they once argued? And then they would get another pat on the back for being progressive, when in reality, all that happened is they allowed their morality to be fluid, rather than based on a solid foundation.”

– Firstly, he is correct that early Communists violently disapproved of homosexuality. That’s where his “being right” ends. He fails to note how viciously his own religion treats gay people in Islamic countries, and how mainstream Islamic opinion is entirely negative toward sexuality being anything other than “straight = right, gay = hell bound!”. I would argue that the reason gay people have been so mistreated and abused for centuries, is down exclusively to the heterosexual supremacy of religion. Hakeem is wrong to use the term ‘secular’ to describe anyone who disapproved or may in the future disapprove of homosexuality. To disenfranchise, punish, or single out homosexual men and women for abuse or second-class rights, is the antithesis of secularism, and the establishing and ensuring the supremacy of heteorosexuality enshrined into the cultural fabric.

He seems to not understand the term “progressive”. We have moved from a stage of not understanding sexuality in the slightest, because our understanding up until very recently was based on Biblical prejudices that have endured for centuries…. to a position upon which we have based our understanding of sexuality on research and reason. And by doing so, we notice that heterosexuality and homosexuality are just two points on a spectrum, with neither being “better” or “natural” and thus “supreme” in comparison to the other. Thus, progress. To then suggest we might one day decide otherwise, can only be true if we suddenly decided to reintroduce religious considerations into the debate. Or, regression.

The misrepresentations are rather malodorous at times to say the least. One common misrepresentation is that secularism necessarily leads to eugenics, and the rise of Nazism. To suggest that the Nazi Party – which based its ideology on the advancement of one particular race, and worked to destroy the Jewish identity – was the result of secularism, is a catastrophic misunderstanding of secularism. The narrow frame upon which they tend to establish what led to the rise of Hitler is so intensely flawed that a response is largely unnecessary, but given the point of this defensive article, I thought it worth mentioning to highlight the basic flaws in anti-secular thought (I use the word ‘thought’ in its loosest possibility). Firstly, let’s point out that those – like Hakeem – obsessed with the idea that Atheists have no “objective” base (by which they mean, metaphysical base) for their morality echo the thoughts of Hitler, who in April 1933 said:

“Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith …we need believing people.”

– Secondly, the economic situation in Germany along with the humiliation of the Treaty at Versailles and centuries of anti-Jewish rhetoric spewed by the Catholic Church, led to the rise of Hitler and the horrendous genocide that followed. As a young man, Hitler read a lot of works by Martin Luther, the German Protestant reformer. One of which – “On the Jews and their lies“ – calls for Jews to be put to use as slaves, and Jewish schools burnt to the ground. This is the antithesis of secularism. It is the perpetuation of a system of privilege based on one particular race, and the conclusion of 2000+ years of Christian inspired anti-Jewish hate. Hitler wasn’t reading Thomas Paine or John Stuart Mill… Hitler was reading Luther.

And thirdly, supremacy. The Nazis were fighting to place their particular race above the aforementioned line of equality and establish racial supremacy. The illogic is no different to Hakeem attempting to place his religion above the aforementioned line of equality and establish religious supremacy. Only secularism ensures they cannot oppress, and that irritates both Islamists, and white supremacists. Hakeem’s dream for an Islamic-controlled state, is the reintroduction of Jim Crow based not on white supremacy, but on Islamic supremacy.

Secularism – as mentioned above – advocates a level playing field upon which no single gender, race, religion, or sexuality has a natural right to supremacy over any others. No one gender can rightfully be considered the “maintainers” of another. No one race is “greater” than another. No one sexuality is more “natural” than another. No one belief deserving of authority over others. No one is free to oppress another if the other is an apostate. Secularism allows for the ingenuity of everyone regardless of trivial differences to work to their full potential, the freedom to excel, to argue, to reason, to create, to live, to love, and to experience life in their own way, to their own beliefs. If you wish your particular gender, or sexuality, or race, or religion to deviate from that line of equality, you are going to have to work particularly hard to convince the rest of us to bow down in unquestioning subordination to your new found desire for supremacy, with reasoned and uncontentious points that stack up to more than “Well if you don’t give us power over your lives, you’re basically Hitler”.

For further reading, see my article on the right to blaspheme.
For more further reading, see my article on Hakeem Muhammad and his ludicrous claim that Atheism is a product of white supremacy.

Yahwallahism & the Prophet Barbara.

September 19, 2013

If a woman – let’s call her Barbara – were to insist that God had chosen to speak to Her, and that through the Prophet Barbara we have the final Prophet of the one true God. But curiously, this new set of demands and doctrine from God – let’s call Her Yahwallah – gathered up all of the prejudices encouraged by the Abrahamic faiths, and turned them back on themselves?

And so, inspired by declarations like this…


…I thought I’d give it a shot.

If we were to take the prejudices thrown at women, at homosexuality, at children, by powerful faiths and their followers who seek to enshrine those prejudices into law, and we were to aim those inherent faith-based prejudices back at those faiths, and we demanded society be organised by this new faith, how would Christians and Muslims react? How would the arguments against its adoption, or political power over their lives be formed? How would they prove the new scripture to be wrong? As of now, I will present a summary of the TRUE scripture of the one true God.

Let’s call the new scripture, the Book of Yahwallah. It was given to the Prophet Barbara, by an Angel of Yahwallah, and you can’t prove it wasn’t. Here is what the one true word of God says.

This new Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – insists that “Muslims and Christians are unnatural, and an abomination, they must be punished”. Whenever evidence is presented to the contrary, you must point out that Yahwallahist scripture insists that these “people” are horrid sinners, an abomination, and destined for Hell. I don’t make the rules. This came from God. This should be instilled into the minds of Children. If then these children are bullied for secretly being Christian, or Muslim….. tough.

The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – has been interpreted to insist that Christians and Muslims should be banned from marriage. We therefore demand a Constitutional Amendment defining marriage as between non-christians and non-muslims only, this is the true and only definition of marriage before God. Any deviation from this, is an abomination, and influenced by Satan.

The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – should be used to defend Congressional votes against the right of Christians or Muslims to adopt a child, based not on their suitability as parents, but on whether or not they are Muslim or Christians, thus banning Muslims and Christians from being allowed to adopt. Children should be brought up in good, wholesome non-Christian, non-Muslim families. To bring them up in Christian or Muslim households, threatens their development.

The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – tells the story of Modos & Harromag; a City full of hedonistic Muslims and Christians. The merciful God destroyed that evil city. Let this be a lesson, that allowing sin – like Islam and Christianity – to flourish, will bring the fury of God. The war in Syria right now, is actually Yahwallah’s punishment for allowing Islam & Christianity to flourish.

The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – insists that children not be forced to marry old men, but that those old men who advocate child marriage, now themselves be forced to marry sex-starved prison inmates. They have no choice in this.

The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – insists that those who didn’t follow the words of the new one true Prophet Barbara, nor accept her as their personal saviour, and the rules she sets out, regardless of her historicity and the moral reasoning behind those rules, that those people will burn forever in eternal fire…this should be taught to children. Fear of Yahwallah will guide them.

The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – doesn’t go into detail when it comes to nuclear fission, or the physics of a black hole and event horizon, or evolution, or dinosaurs, or the speed of light…. because to be honest, it’s too busy condemning everyone who isn’t Yahwallahist…. but it does say “and we are all made up of small things”… clearly describing in perfect detail all known atomic theory. HOW COULD SHE HAVE KNOWN THIS WITHOUT GOD!!!! Truly miraculous. This MUST be taught in school science lessons.

The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – starts with the story of creation. The World was knitted by Yahwallah, in 5 days (far more impressive than 6), before She rested on the 6th, and that as a result, everyone should wear a knitted hat, and that this story of Intelligent Design should be taught in science class alongside pesky science and evidence. Teach the controversy!

Without the Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – you are morally inferior.

The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – makes clear that after a woman gives birth, the father is unclean. Also, Women, make sure your husbands (of which you can marry as many as you please) stay silent in Yahwallahist temples. For it is shameful for a man to speak in a temple.

The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – tells the story of the condemning to death of the Prophet Barbara, by Christians and Muslims. For this, Christians and Muslims must always be treated as suspicious, probably part of a global domination conspiracy, and must be thrown out of any land they rest, because they murdered the one true Prophet.

The punishment for apostasy from Yahwallahism is flogging. Though apostasy from Yahwallahism and then speaking out against Yahwallahism can only reasonably be solved by the death penalty.

Innocent children gunned down in schools must be the victim of the Government straying from the path of Yahwallah. We must use this opportunity not to call for tighter gun laws, but to call for more Yahwallah teaching in schools.

The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – makes clear that if a man disobeys his wife (she is the head of him), then she has permission to beat him. Good men are obedient. This is God’s truth.

The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – tells how when a man reaches the age of 1, he must have one testicle removed. He has no choice in this. Ignore those who call it forced genital mutilation. It isn’t. Because it pleases God.

The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – insists that the one true Prophet Barbara was born in Jerusalem – the home of Yahwallahist, and it is where Prophet Barbara will return when Yahwallahism bring about Judgement day. It was here that the Prophet Barbara heard Yahwallah speak through an Angel. Yahwallah said “Barbara, Jerusalem is yours, for your faithful alone”. This of course means the land was divinely given to Yahwallahists, and so all Muslims and Jews must leave immediately, or face perpetual war until they accept that it is ours. Remember, we don’t make these rules, they came directly from God. Oh, the Prophet Barbara once flew during the night to London too, so we claim London as ours.

We support a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy on Christians in the Military, though we don’t think they should be allowed to fight alongside true American Yahwallahists, because they’re an abomination. For this reason, and because kids are vulnerable, we believe Christians shouldn’t be allowed in the Boy Scouts of America. Words of the scripture, not me.

The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – tells how the Prophet Barbara gave unbelievers (let’s call them “rifak”; they are Muslims and Christians) the chance to convert to Yahwallahism. But they insisted on worshipping false idols, and so the Prophet Barbara obviously had to go to war with them and slay them. So, never trust, nor imitate the rifak. They are immodest, liars who wish to pull you away from the one true God. They do the work of Satan. They will be punished in hell.

The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – insists that the Yahwallahist Scripture is really well written, and you can’t produce anything like it, and so it must be a miracle, because the Yahwallahist Scripture and people who are Yahwallahists say so. To further back up this self evident TRUTH, the Yahwallahist Scripture constantly says: “Yahwallah sent this down from heaven, and Barbara is the Prophet of the Lord”, so it must be true. How can the rifak deny it?

The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – insists that the witness of a man is half that of a woman. That a man must cover his entire body and face to protect his modesty, that if he doesn’t he must bear some responsibility if he’s sexually assaulted, and that a man not be allowed out of the house without a female chaperone. This is an example of the wonderful rights we have given to men everywhere! Far more so than the oppressive West.

The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – insists that the phrase “One Nation under Yahwallah” be inserted into the US Pledge of Allegience, rather than the current focus on the wrong non-existent God. We also call for mandatory school Yahwallahist prayer.

The Yahwallahist Scripture – direct from God – tells the story of the death of Prophet Barbara. She died to save you all from hell fire. All you have to do is discard belief in Allah or Jesus, and believe in the true God Yahwallah and his one true Prophet, Barbara. If you don’t, you’re destined for hell. This message of hope must be spread and forced upon populations where ever possible.

If Muslims or Christians ‘offend’ the Prophet Barbara, or this new scripture of anti-Christian, anti-Muslim, anti-men doctrine, they must be punished. No one has a right to say anything negative about this scripture that insists Christians and Muslims are an unnatural abomination. You don’t have to believe it, but freedom of expression does not cover disrespecting a religion that thoroughly disrespects you. Deal with it.

To challenge any of the above, or to thoroughly despise any of the above, and to call out the oppression inherent to any of the above, or to suggest that this one scripture permits both prejudice and the acceptability and perpetuation of prejudicial language…. at best you will told you are just being Yahwallahophobic, at worst you will be threatened, or punished for blasphemy.

When you understand the oppressive structure set out above toward Christians, Muslims, and men, and the quite obvious absurd risks that come from teaching it to children as fact; when you understand that it is not acceptable to hide unjustifiable prejudice and privilege behind the mask of faith, as I would be doing if I were to claim all Christians are an abomination destined for hell based on my new Yahwallah scripture…. when you understand this, you will understand why non-believers find Christianity and Islam so dangerous and oppressive.

The Search for Muhammad: Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan

August 8, 2013

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: Orientalist

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: Orientalist

In the British Library sits a collection of Syriac New Testament fragments of manuscript throughout history. Of these, lays a version of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark, known as Addition 14,461. Scribbled inside the pages, is a note from what is thought to be around the time just after the battle of Gabitha in 636 CE that reads:

“…and in January, they took the word for their lives did [the sons of] Emesa, and many villages were ruined with killing by [the Arabs of] Mụhammad”

– This is the earliest non-Islamic mention of a man named Muhammad, written just four years after his death.

It is without doubt that Islamic literature covering the life, the actions, and words of the Prophet Muhammad, is vast, and along with the Qur’an, the bedrock of Islam. From biographies, to commentaries, to translations and constant reinvention to suit a more ‘acceptable’ modern narrative (the age of Aisha, springs to mind); it goes without saying, that the intrusions into every facet of the life of the founder of one of the Worlds largest religions, is central to the Islamic faith.

It is truly difficult to know where to start, what we actually know for certain, when trying to figure out just who Muhammad was. Wading through legend, and interpretation rather than fact, is a tiresome venture. But one name crops up as perhaps the most important in the institutionalisation of Islam and the beginnings of forging the legend of the Prophet; Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan.

The first thing to note, for the sake of this article, is the importance of religion, in carving a successful empire. Reza Aslan, in ‘No God but God’ notes:

“Your religion was your ethnicity, your culture, and your social identity, it defined your politics, your economics, and your ethics. More than anything else, your religion was your citizenship.”

– The significance of this will be clear by the end of this article.

The very first biography of the Prophet was produced by Ibn Ishaq; Sīrat Rasūl Allāh. The most notable problems with this, are that Ibn Ishaq was born around 704ad, approximately 70 years after the Prophet had died. He was born two decades after the fifth Umayyad Caliph, Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan worked to marry together the new Arab Empire, his own legacy and dynasty (the first dynasty of the Arab empire), with a religious identity of its own. Ibn Ishaq’s biography – a collection of oral traditions – was therefore written around 100+ years (traditionally, 120 years) after the Prophet had died, and just after the Caliphate had indulged in a Public Relations effort. Not only that, but Ibn Ishaq’s work has since been lost to history. We know that Ishaq’s work was edited by al-Bakka’i, whose copy has also been lost to history. al-Bakka’i edit was then edited by Ibn Hisham, whose work (in copies) are the basis for all inquiries into the life of the Prophet that we have today. Everything else, is pieced together from Hadith, that happened to come about even further removed than Ibn Ishaq. For the basis of the life of the Prophet, Ibn Ishaq is often (though not always) taken at his word that he is trustworthy, which obviously means we must take al-Bakka’i’s word that he is trustworthy, and we must take Ibn Hisham’s word that he is trustworthy. And yet, even Islamic scholars throughout history have questioned Ibn Ishaq’s reliability:

“Imam Malik was not the only contemporary of Ibn Ishaq’s to have problems with him. Despite writing the earliest biography of Prophet Muhammad, Scholars such as al-Nisa’I and Yahya b. Kattan did not view Ibn Ishaq as a reliable or authoritative source of Hadith.”

If we cannot be certain of the legitimacy of all Hadith, and we place the collection of Hadith at a time that follows a systematic effort to institutionalise Islam by marrying its history to that of the Ummayad rulers, then I see no reason why we can be certain of the legitimacy of any Hadith. If we cannot be certain of the legitimacy of the entire biography by Ibn Ishaq, and cannot be certain of the legitimacy of integrity of Ibn Hisham’s edit, then I see no reason to trust any of it. Both of these contentions have far reaching consequences not just for Muslims, but for those of us who are critical of the Prophet. My criticisms of the Prophet come from the traditions presented of him, through the Qur’an and Hadith. My judgement that he was misogynistic and violent, are based on interpretations of the Qur’an and Hadith. If neither can be trusted, than all criticism falls away. I am left with criticism of a legend; but given the structure and practice of belief that legend has inspired and the power it now has over the World, I think it less of a problem to be critical, than it is to believe.

So what do we know of the Prophet Muhammad?

Well, if we cross reference early Islamic writings of Ibn Ishaq (though again, we rely on Ibn Hisham for this) with the writings of those outside of Islam, we may get a more accurate picture of Muhammad, than relying purely on the biases of either.

St John of Damascus, writing before any Hadith were compiled, wrote:

“There is also the superstition of the Ishmaelites which to this day prevails and keeps people in error, being a forerunner of the Antichrist. They are descended from Ishmael, [who] was born to Abraham of Agar, and for this reason they are called both Agarenes and Ishmaelites. They are also called Saracens, which is derived from Sarras kenoi, or destitute of Sara, because of what Agar said to the angel: ‘Sara hath sent me away destitute.’ These used to be idolaters and worshiped the morning star and Aphrodite, whom in their own language they called Khabár, which means great. And so down to the time of Heraclius they were very great idolaters. From that time to the present a false prophet named Mohammed has appeared in their midst. This man, after having chanced upon the Old and New Testaments and likewise, it seems, having conversed with an Arian monk, devised his own heresy.”

– St John’s birth year is contentious. Some sources insist around 675, others like Daniel J. Sahas suggest 652. Either way, he lived at a time when the Arab Empire had surged northwards and taken control of his homeland. He would be familiar with stories of Muhammad (Muhammad never stepped foot in Damascus). He lived through the iconoclast controversy, and he was a boyhood friend of the future Caliph Yazid I. He had a keen interest in people of other faiths. Interestingly, in his writings, he never refers to the new occupiers as “Muslims”. There is no “Islam”. No system of laws. The ‘heresy’ wasn’t new, Muslims are referred to as ‘Saracens’ (The Byzantines decreed that because of his supposed heresies, John of Damascus was himself of ‘saracene opinions’) and Muhammad was simply a leader of that old tradition. The chapter itself is called “Heresy of the Ishmaelities”.

St John was writing just before the accumulation of Hadith began. Around 100 years after Muhammad’s death, and well into the centralising of control toward Damascus, by the Ummayad dynasty. His writings suggest that whilst this new band of ‘heretics’ existed and were linked to a man named Muhammad by the 8th Century, they were not known as Muslims, nor were they considered a brand new religious order, separate from Christianity, with a system of values and laws of their own.

However, much of that is St John’s Christian bias. The Arabs did not consider themselves to be a heretical Christian sect. Here we see two coins. The coin on the left, is the coin of Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. The coin on the right, is the Umayyad coin, modelled on the earlier Byzantine coin…. but with the cross missing:

– The Umayyad coin is dated to around 690, during a dispute with the Byzantines. The minting of new coins lead directly to war with the Byzantine Empire. And here we see the beginnings of what would become a very centralised, political Islam, through, in my estimation, the single most important Caliph in the history of the Arab Empire.

The Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan established the entity that would become an Islamic state, rather than simply conquered lands. In short, Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, was brilliant. A master of empire building. A political genius. He came to power upon the death of his father, during a civil war that was tearing the fragile Empire apart. He most feared the rise of the alternative Caliph Abd-Allah ibn al-Zubayr and his followers. The besieging of Mecca, in 692, with over 10,000 Syrian troops, shows just how serious Abd al-Malik believed the situation had become for the future of his dynasty. Eventually the rebellions, as well as the Byzantines were defeated, and so the next step is to unify the Empire. To further the plan of unification, he needed to solidify his own claims to the Caliphate. It is around this time, that coins start to be inscribed with the name of Muhammad, linked directly to the Caliph. It is also no surprise that the Sana’a manuscripts (the earliest Qur’anic manuscripts we have) are calligraphically dated to the era of Abd al-Malik.

He had the coin above created to include an image of himself, defiantly holding onto his sword, as a warrior. Poetry of the time calls the Caliph, the ‘deputy’ of God. They go to great lengths to push this idea, and it is most prominent during the reign of Abd al-Malik.

The urgency to ensure the strength and growth of the new Arab Empire – an Empire that had already experienced civil war, and was in the midst of new uprisings – depended on creating a history of its own, intrinsically tied to the new Caliph (This happens with all dynasties of old who have spurious claims to power. Augustus adopted the title ‘Caesar’, King Henry VII of England, named his first son Arthur, linking his dynasty to the reign of the legendary King Arthur). It is the result of the attempts to centralise power more concisely and distinctly than any previous Caliph, and to solidify the new Empire, by Abd al-Malik, at a period in history by which the survival of a new state entwined majestically with the growth of the religion that it was based on. Without a powerful religious context, alongside a manipulated legend-based history, a state struggled to survive.

Unsurprisingly, the first mention of the Prophet Muhammad on any coin, was issued a year after the accession to the Caliphate, in 686, and in the midst of rebellion and civil war….. of Abd al-Malik. The coin reads: “shahāda: bism Allāh Muḥammad rasūl Allāh (“In the name of God, Muḥammad is the Messenger of God”)”. This again, coincides with the Caliph’s attempts to solidify the power of the new Empire, and link his dynasty and his Empire back to the early days, and to Muhammad. Abd al-Malik, is forging a history for his dynasty. The legend of Muhammad was the next stage in the strengthening of the dynasty through forged history.

Between 685, and 715, the dynasty that controlled the Caliphate was in the middle of perhaps one of the greatest and most impressive Public Relations ventures the World has ever seen.

Earlier Arab coins, during the period between Muhammad’s death, and the 5th Umayyad Caliph, show no mention of anything that could be linked to the Islam that evolved over the following century. No mention of Islam, or of the Prophet. They include generic phrases like “bism Allah rabbi” (In the name of God, my Lord).

Coins are one way to strengthen an Empire, but by far the most impressive, is through Architecture. Abd al-Malik oversaw the symbolic building of the Dome of the Rock, in centre of Jewish Jerusalem, on the legendary site of Temple Mount. It stands high above Church of the Holy Sepulchre, dwarfing the old Christian Church. A symbol of great power to the new Monotheism in town. Nothing says the coming of a new age, and a new dynasty, quite like crushing the old one. A symbol of authority, and wealth; great architecture is woven into the fabric of the building of Empire. This was used to stunning effect by the great architects of the Abd al-Malik era.

His son, al-Walid, upon accession to the Caliphate, continues his father’s legacy, by building the great Umayyad Mosque at Damascus, over the old Christian Basilica of Saint John the Baptist. al-Walid also became the Patron of great artists and poets at the time. The Umayyad’s were creating a brand new culture, that centred around themselves. It is for this reason perhaps that Islam, is an extremely political religion. It was necessary, for the time period.

Coins emphasising the link between Abd al-Malik’s dynasty, and Muhammad, forging the legend of Muhammad to add weight to the early days and linking it to the history of his dynasty, huge beautiful buildings on the sight of religions of conquered Empires, codifying laws through the Qur’an; this all took place to strengthen Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan’s claim to the Caliphate. He oversaw the centralising of power from reliance on tribal leaders, to a system of bureaucracy (which resulted in the Arabisation of the language of state). He reformed the military, creating official ranks of non-Arab fighters. We can trace the legends of Muhammad to, and directly following his reign. Prior to that time period, all we have are sparse references to a man named Muhammad who was simply a leader of the Arabs. What he said, and what he did, was of little to no significance. Imperial authority, Islamic authority, all resulted from Abd al-Malik’s imperial & dynastic goals.

Three things are clear. Firstly, the sudden and impressive Arab conquests around the 7th century, included and was most likely lead by a man called Muhammad, though whether his words and deeds were important to this new faith, is unlikely given that it took over a century to decide it might be wise to document his words and deeds, and over 60 years before he even appears on a coin. Secondly, Muhammad preached a Monotheism that differed to that of Christians and Jews, and was considered a heresy by non-Muslims of the period. And Thirdly, by the late 7th Century, Muhammad’s name was suddenly being used to strengthen a fragmented, and fragile political Umayyad state and to solidify the claims of one particular Caliph; coins appear with Muhammad’s name on it; Hadith are being collected in order to provide a legal framework for the new empire; Muhammad suddenly becomes a legendary and much needed figurehead for the reign of Abd al-Malik, upon his accession to a largely fragmented and warring empire.

What we do not know, and what is pure speculation at best, is the Prophet’s life before his supposed revelations, what actually happened in the cave outside of Mecca (if anything), any aspect of his life, what he ever said, and how he treated others. We simply do not know. It is far more likely that Muhammad, as presented in Islamic literature, was a figure whose legend began to be moulded by the truly brilliant Abd al-Malik, and was further added to in order to suit the goals of later Caliphs.

Islam as we know it, was intrinsically linked to the Umayyad dynasty. It was all political, all spin, all PR, and based on the geopolitical climate of the late 7th Century. The early Arabs were not Muslims as we know them today. The Fifth Umayyad Caliph carved a political empire. Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan was the great spark that lit the fire of the legend of the Prophet Muhammad.

Paris stays with you.

June 13, 2013

You can hear the World, in a coffee shop.
It is shapeless rumbles of noise that emanate from all corners and they crash into each other and I think the human mind learns how to drown it out without knowing that’s what it’s doing, dismissing it all as dreary, though it is anything but.
I sit with a book.
Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’.
It’s a quaint little book that reminds me of Paris, and Michigan and I read it with the desire of a wealthy traveler but the wallet of a beggar.
I first drank a Mocha in Michigan. I’m drinking one now as I write this. I drink one in the coffee shop. If I drink two in the coffee shop, I wont sleep much that night.
But I feel as if I am being judged, if I only have one, yet expect to be in there for an hour or two. So I buy two. And then I don’t sleep much that night.
… and then there’s 37 rue de la Bûcherie.
With its Tudor-style beams overhead, and its drooping book shelves under the weight of so much genius. The staircase has books running up it. There are old typewriters too. Quintessentially Parisian, with a nostalgic charm, as you climb the little wooden ladder to your chosen book.
Hemingway knew it when it was on rue de l’Odéon.
Joyce stayed there. T.S Eliot. D.H Lawrence. Larbaud.
We owe this to the wonderful Sylvia Beach.
On a step, you read “Live for humanity“.
A wonderfully simple yet beautiful command.
It reminded me of Aeschylus, the Greek Tragedian:
To tame the savageness of man, make gentle the life of this World“.
Parisians don’t like you paying with notes. They like coins. Notes seem to offend them. I don’t know why. The man at the Eiffel Tower, selling crepes huffs and puffs if you hand him a note. Maybe they don’t offend him. But they seem to bore him. Bank notes are boring. I’m huffing and puffing just talking about it. Pay with coins. But always buy a crepe on the cobblestoned lanes of Montmartre.
The walls are thin and cracked and the tiny balconies with the black metal frames of the hotel rooms are the beautiful lookout of millions of lovers in the morning, passing through Paris on their way.
She has pale skin, and freckles, and reddish hair which she often brushes behind her ear and she smiles as me. I smile back. It is easy to fall in love with a smile. You can fall in love on a train station platform three or four times before the train arrives, all for a smile.
And then forget it all by the time you sit down.
Even on warm days, I choose to sit inside the coffee shop.
I seldom contemplate sitting outside on the terrace, as I stand in line.
Because when I do contemplate it, I exaggerate the significance of it.
I am convinced that it is reserved for Macbook clad, cigarette’d business people.
The ‘yar…. yar, like… totally‘ people.
And that the busy shoppers walking by would look at me in disgust if I were to sit outside.
And they’d all stand still, in shock.
And they’d cover their children’s eyes.
And they’d go home and recite to their friends, that the man without the Macbook, who didn’t sit cross legged, smoking a cigarette, was sat outside the coffee shop, and their friends would recoil in horror as thunder crashed dramatically over head.
And then I’m back in line being asked what I’d like to order.
So I seldom contemplate sitting outside, as I stand in line.
Because when I do contemplate it, I exaggerate the significance of it.
You can sit outside the coffee shop in Paris though. It is almost necessary. At least it feels necessary. And I like that. You are surrounded by lovers in their romantic dream, and a faint sound of an accordion player. You are surrounded by cafes and shops with dirty old verandahs, and nuns walk by on their way to Mass. You are surrounded by the shading trees and bicycles with baskets on the front. You are surrounded by Paris.
The soft light of sunset that glistens the Seine, and that hugs the Pont Neuf, makes it hard to place the terror of Robespierre’s reign, or the riots at the Bastille, or the Napoleonic era, in such a serene city. But it happened.
Hemingway speaks beautifully of the Jardin du Luxembourg before reminding me of Chicago.
But as hard as I try, I can’t focus in a coffee shop on the book.
The people are too distracting.
But people are fascinating.
Intimate detail of lives are expressed so openly, as if no one can hear.
And so I thought I’d learn to make order from the chaos, and take my little black notebook, and write down the odd snippets of conversation that distract me and make distinction between them.
And not know which face belonged to each voice.
And not know the context of the stories.
And not know the turn the conversations would take, or the ending to the conversations, just a line here and a line there.
Mixed together.
The result – that I have so far written down – is exceedingly mundane, yet fascinating to me.

A metre. I told him. No. …. Yeah. A metre but He never fucking listens. I hate squatting… oh… before I forget… do you have Fletch’s number? With a big fat cherry on top? There are usually seventeen but I swear she stole one. Yeah things aren’t going too well for me at the minute. No reason for us to stay together when the cat died. Two coffees too many dad. I can’t believe it was 2, I didn’t think there’d be time. Tell her we can go ahead with terminating his contract… yeah he deserves it. Sometimes you’ve just gotta say fuck it, you know? It’s a shame, he seemed nice enough at the time… I never thought he’d do it. Some solids. Walked home until I had a car. Cream on that? I swear mate, she doesn’t even get off the couch, fucking lazy. People die, it happens. They don’t do curry sauce with the chips any more though. Nah Liz told me that it’s likely Jen will be cautioned for it but probably not Bek. Blatantly gay. What if he finds out? They don’t teach manners at the fucking border agency. She ain’t even sucked his dick yet. Twice but sometimes if it’s raining there will be more. Sensed it. Two brake lights I think. Yeah Dave’s had it with Sky, never fuckin’ works when it rains. A girl? Daisy? Or not?. Isn’t it though?. Season 4 was the best so far but. Does it smell funny in here to you?…..no…… oh. Birmingham is quieter I think. Three massive blokes just fucking…just…came out of fucking nowhere. I don’t think they’ll get married. Repping in Mabella I think.

Sometimes I wonder who these people are; their names; what comes next; if they have terrible secrets; when their parents first laid eyes upon each other; their favourite subjects; if they talk to themselves when they’re alone; if they’re in love; if they ever called their teacher “mum”; have they ever ran from the police; how old they were when they first smoked a cigarette; if they play the piano; what expletive do they shout when they stand on an upturned plug?; where they will be when they’re 80; what pressures they’re under; do they write? sing? do they want children? are they scared of spiders? do they have an incredible family history they’re yet to uncover? do they drink? What insecurities plague them? What did they do on their 18th birthday?

Sometimes I imagine their stories.
The old man who sat three tables out from me, wore a grey beanie hat.
He looked cautious and uneasy.
I imagined he was hiding out. I imagined he’d fled to Vegas in the 60s in search of a piece of the pie. The small Nevada town exploded into a heaven of seedy gamblers and quick-buck gangsters in the 50s. Grey beanie wanted in on it. Being a young hothead, believing the World was his to take, he just pushed his luck a little bit too far. He now owed millions of dollars, that he lost in a string of bad luck, back room, smoke filled poker games, surrounded by strippers and the smell of desperate nobody’s, in the mid 70s. He borrowed more and more to try to win it all back. And now he owed. Having packed up in the middle of the night in August, ’76, he fled eastward. Having walked for miles, hitched for miles more, snuck onto trains, and slept with one eye open in the dingiest motels that lined the route, he spent the 80s hiding out in a tiny one roomed shack in the Shenandoah valley in West Virginia, just outside of Jefferson County. He had a stove, and a stream near by to collect water. He hunted for food. He learned to love the basic life. He would sit outside every morning with a coffee, and just listen. Listen to the soft, mellifluous sound of nature. He would close his eyes and the sounds seemed more prominent. They made him feel alive. This is what it was to be living. Vegas didn’t exist. Money didn’t exist. Nothing else existed. Reality though, reality is indifferent to the dreams of absolute serenity of one man. His creditors caught up with him. In 1991, he fled to England. He’s been here ever since. First, in the Welsh valleys; in a town called Hirwaun in the Cynon Valley, before marrying a girl in Yorkshire. He wears the beanie to cover the scar from a barroom fight in Vegas; an easily identifiable scar. His wife doesn’t know his past. He thinks it’s safer that way. And all of the places he’s been, from Vegas, across the midwest, to the Shenandoah Valley, I want to see.
It is me, living vicariously through stories that I attribute to unsuspecting faces.
And here he is. Cautiously watching the World go by, in a little unknown coffee shop, in England, as if any second could be his last, as if Michael Corleone could walk out of the bathroom at any moment and end it all in a flash. I watch him as I take a sip of Mocha.

These are lives. It is a World that you hear in a coffee shop.
We all share a single ancestor. All of us. And yet here, in a coffee shop, we are all a rich tapestry of easily forgettable, beautiful mundanity, dreaming with stories that aren’t real, and Paris stays with you.

The Great Syrian Freethinkers: Al-Ma’arri

May 19, 2013


Such was the nature of the power of Christianity, its dogma, its insecurity, during the Middle Ages, that a great writer, humanist, and long time friend of the King could be put to death for nothing more than refusing to swear that King Henry VIII was the Supreme Head of the Church in England. Thomas More was lucky in one sense. He had his head swiftly detached from the rest of his body with one sweep of the executioners axe. Lucky, because others were not accorded the same swift death. Robert Lawrence, a Carthusian Monk, refused also to submit to the Oath of Supremacy. Though, unlike More, Lawrence was hung, just enough to ensure he lost consciousness. He was then revived, in time to see his stomach slashed open, and his insides pulled out, and set on fire. He was then cut into pieces, his head stuck on a spike on London Bridge. This agonisingly horrid punishment was handed down for questioning the King’s power over Rome, not for questioning Christianity or religion in general. Simply for questioning the power of the Monarch over the power of the Pope.
This was England, and this was Christianity, in the Middle Ages.

Whilst we see no one questioning Christianity in general, or religion itself in general, throughout Christian Europe really from the death of Greek Philosophy, through the rise of Christianity, the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, until the Enlightenment…. (we can perhaps ascribe that situation, to the existence, wealth and power of the Papacy over the centuries; a single authority that Islam has always lacked) we see some wonderful free thinkers, and rationalists coming out of the areas considered Islamic during those centuries. It would seem that Islamic settlements dealt far less harshly with free thought and criticism during those centuries, than Christianity. The violent suppression of free thought that plagues Islamic Nations today, appears to be a relatively new phenomenon for the faith.

Over the next few articles, I will endeavour to introduce you to a few rather wonderful culturally Islamic freethinkers from days past.

In the city of Aleppo, in Syria, stands a statue to the poet, Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri. His statue has recently been beheaded, by Syrian rebels. The beheading of the statue of Al-Ma’arri by Islamic extremists, for me, is a rather fitting tribute to a brilliant freethinker, who attracted great attention among poets and writers of the late 10th Century with his sharp critique of Islam and religion in general. Al-Ma’arri’s life was never in danger for questioning, and often insulting the idea of religious belief. That’s not to say that categories of punishable Heresy didn’t exist in Islamic tradition, they certainly did, though not as harsh at that time, as was happening across Europe. This is evident in tracing Al-Ma’arri’s route across the Middle East, and his notable presence in Baghdad.

His freethinking and his ideas thereof, are often repeated in one way or another by freethinkers today. On a side note, he was a strict vegetarian, believing it immoral to harm animals in any way. One may quite rightly say, he was a genius, well ahead of his time. And far advanced, even in the 10th Century, when compared with the religious fundamentalists that beheaded his statue earlier this year.

His philosophical poetry, at times reads like the works of modern day, so called ‘new Atheists’ much of the time.
In one poem, Al-Ma’arri writes:

“So, too, the creeds of man: the one prevails
Until the other comes; and this one fails
When that one triumphs; ay, the lonesome world
Will always want the latest fairytales.”

– ‘The lonesome World’ – Here Al-Ma’arri is convinced that the World is on its own, yet humanity cries out for something more, and in that sense, will always welcome fairytales to make the spiritual loneliness of humanity seem less so. A rather revolutionary idea in such a dark age. Reason is rejected, for the latest fashionable fairytale. The supremacy and importance of reason, becomes a key feature of Al-Ma’arri’s works.

He is also not afraid to openly criticise the leaders of faiths. A surefire way to get your head swiftly removed from the rest of your body, in Christendom at the time:

“O fools, awake! The rites ye sacred hold
Are but a cheat contrived by men of old
Who lusted after wealth and gained their lust
And died in baseness-and their law is dust.”

Al-Ma’ari gives us his own distinction between those who subscribe to religious schools of thought, and those he refers to as ‘Enlightened’. To be enlightened, to Al-Ma’arri, is to give up on religious superstition:

“Hanifs (Muslims) are stumbling, Christians all astray
Jews wildered, Magians far on error’s way.
We mortals are composed of two great schools
Enlightened knaves or else religious fools.”

– For Al-Ma’arri, reason was enough to guide humanity. For Al-Ma’arri, all religion is just a tool of power over whom he considered to be fools.

He is scathing in his attack on the rise of religions, how he considers them to have perpetuated through the years, whilst at the same time he advances the cause and superiority of reason.

“Had they been left alone with Reason, they would not have accepted
a spoken lie; but the whips were raised (to strike them).
Traditions were brought to them, and they were bidden say,
“We have been told the truth”; and if they refused, the sword was
drenched (in their blood).
They were terrified by scabbards full of calamities, and tempted by
great bowls brimming over with food for largesse.”

He has no trouble using such fierce and provocative language, with his mention of the angels of Islam, Munkar and Nakir. According to Islamic tradition, after your burial upon death, and after the last mourner has left the site of your grave, Munkar and Nakir prop you up, and ask you:

“Who is your Lord? Who is your Prophet? What is your religion?”

– If you answer correctly (Al-Lah, Muhammad, and Islam) then you will be treated kindly. If you answer incorrectly, you will be punished horrifically whilst you await the day of judgement. Al-Ma’arri doesn’t appreciate this idea. He states:

“And like the dead of Ind I do not fear
To go to thee in flames; the most austere
Angel of fire a softer tooth and tongue
Hath he than dreadful Munkar and Nakir.”

– Here, he is openly noting that the Indian tradition of cremation is far preferable upon death, than a visit from the ‘dreadful’ Munkar and Nakir. The use of the word ‘dreadful’, had it been applied to Christian figures, or angels, would most certainly have been considered far to heretical for the author not to face immediate and harsh death. Had he used similarly toxic language within certain Middle Eastern countries today, I suspect he might have received quite an outpouring of outrage and calls for death. But, Al-Ma’arri moved freely across the Islamic World in the late 10th Century, stopping for at least a year and a half in the culture centre of Baghdad, in which he was warmly welcomed and celebrated by literary circles.

“They recite their sacred books, although the fact informs me
that these are a fiction from first to last.
O Reason, thou (alone) speakest the truth.
Then perish the fools who forged the religious traditions or interpreted them!”

Al-Marri seems to us, to be better suited to walking and talking in the streets of 19th Century Philadelphia with Thomas Paine, or sitting around a fire place, with a whiskey, deep in discussions in the mid-20th Century with Bertrand Russell, or joining Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris on stage for merciless debates with religious apologists in the early 21st Century; than he does to the Middle Ages. His appeal to reason, his dismissal of superstition, and his openly antagonistic and scathing approach to dealing with religious dogma and power, seems alien to a Middle Age in which we today consider to have been the dark days of human intellectual advancement. Islam appears to be entering a stage of its history today, in which Christianity emerged from two centuries ago. An insecure age, in which questioning is suspicious, freethought is a dangerous concept, and satire or ridicule inexcusable to the faith.

I advise reading the works of Al-Ma’arri. They do not only suggest a vast gulf when it comes to the perception of ‘heresy’ between the Islamic World of the Dark and Middle Ages, with the Christian World. They also speak to our sense of humanity, the supremacy of reason, and of the importance of free expression. They remind us that our Enlightenment traditions are not new. They are embedded within the psyche of mankind as can be seen from Epicurus, to Al-Ma’arri, to Paine, to Hitchens. Enlightenment thinking has a wonderful tradition unto itself. The poems are as relevant today as they were in the 10th Century. And that is what makes Al-Ma’arri – one of the few I name as personal heroes – worthy of greatness.

Searching for Jesus: ‘Antiquities’ of Josephus.

April 3, 2013


Outside of the New Testament (which undoubtedly contains notable forgeries; most of the letters of Paul, for example) there appear no mentions of Jesus by which we can establish who he was, what he said, or in fact, whether he actually existed in the first place. Whilst there are no sources, apologists tend to be adamant that there are. Most notably, the writings of Josephus. And so I thought i’d address the Josephus source here, in three parts. Josephus’ Book 18 of his work ‘The Antiquities of the Jews‘, followed by the early Christian writer ‘Eusebius‘, onto Antiquities ‘Book 20‘, ending on my own thoughts. Each ‘part’ is highlighted relevantly, for convenience.

Book 18:
The passage from Book 18 of ‘Antiquities‘, often cited as evidence, is referred to as “Testimonium Flavianum“, or simply “the Testimonium“, and it is this:

“At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one should call him a man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. He was the messiah. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, just as the divine prophets had spoken of these and countless other wondrous things about him. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.”

– Pretty conclusive. But if we read it carefully, there are problems immediately.

Firstly, Josephus was not a Christian. He was a devout Jew. His writings are important in the history of Judaism, they show Josephus to be fully committed to his faith. His Grandfather lived around the same time as Herod, in Judea. His father lived during the time of Jesus, in Jerusalem. Josephus writings about his father, make no mention of the apparent shockwaves Jesus was sending through Jerusalem when he first arrived, according to Matthew:

“The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.”

– Apparently Josephus’ father, who lived through this ‘uproar‘ didn’t mention it to his son. All the miracles, the huge following, the darkness that covered the land for hours following Jesus’ crucifixion…. not one mention from Josephus in his history of the Jewish people, despite writing much less impressive, and far more mundane accounts of life for Jews in Jerusalem. So, already alarm bells are ringing that he would suddenly, 60 years later, write an extremely brief, yet extraordinary claim on the divinity of someone that as a Jew, he doesn’t believe to be divine in the first place. In fact, make any claim on the existence of Jesus at all, given his silence on the subject for over half a century.

Josephus wrote many works on Judaism. A faith that denies the divinity of Jesus. By all accounts, the divinity of Jesus – central to Christianity – is not central, nor has any more relevance to the life of Josephus, nor his writings, than the one passing, paragraph above. And yet within that paragraph, Josephus writes like he’s a devout Christian apologist. He accepts that Jesus died, and rose from the dead. He calls him “the Messiah“, he refers to his teachings as ‘the truth‘, he accepts that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies. This is not a story a Jewish writer would be perpetuating.

Every other ‘Prophet‘ of Judaism, are presented in ‘Antiquities‘ as great Philosophical leaders (to help appeal to Pagan Rome at the time). Josephus though, places Jesus above all of them, as not only a great Philosophical teacher, but also divine, the Messiah, the fulfilment of all earlier Prophecies. It would seem from that passage, that Josephus is very, very Christian.

It is the early Christian writers who linked Jesus to the prophecies of the Old Testament, in order to ‘prove‘ his divinity. The story of Herod and the murder of the innocents mentioned in nowhere but the Gospel Matthew, which concludes the story with:

“Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah.”

– This Gospel quite obviously attempts to link Jesus with the apparent Prophecies of the past. Josephus then, appears to agree with the Gospels. Josephus, a Jewish man who mentions Jesus divinity nowhere else, nor does it affect the way he lives his life, nor is he a Christian; apparently believes Jesus is the divine Son of God, fulfilling the Prophecies of the Jewish Prophets. He concurs entirely with Christian writers at the time.

Secondly, ‘Antiquities‘ was written during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian. Jesus supposedly died during the reign of Tiberius. Between Tiberius and Domitian, we see the three year reign of my favourite Emperor, Caligula. We see the thirteen year reign of Claudius, the thirteen year reign of Nero, the year that saw Emperor’s Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, the ten year reign of Vespasian, the two year reign of Titus, and finally the fifteen year reign of Domitian; under whom the ‘Antiquities‘ was completed, in the last year or two of his reign. So, that’s a full nine Emperors, and around 60+ years after Jesus death. This does not count as evidence. Especially given how wide spread Christianity had become, and how much of a threat it was perceived, even as far before Domitian as the reign of Nero. Josephus himself, was born after Jesus supposedly died. The best you could say is, if it is his work, Josephus was apparently told the story, and convinced it must be true. Hearsay. Nothing more.
This is not a valid source of evidence for proof of the life of Jesus.

And thirdly, and most importantly…. it would appear that most historians agree that either the entire above paragraph is a forgery, or it is a genuine verse of Josephus, with the more ‘Christian‘ parts added later. I place myself in the “the entire passage is a forgery” camp.

For example, the passage uses the phrase “a wise man” to refer to Jewish figures throughout history, like Solomon. Never, does he use the term to refer to anyone outside of the scope of Judaism. Most other leaders around that time, are referred to negatively. The philosophical figures, for Josephus, are all those of Judaism.

The beginning of the next sentence, that directly follows the above passage is:

“About the same time, another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder.”

– What an odd line to follow such a positive passage about a wonderful, wise, Messiah, and a band of loving followers. Yet, if we take the passage out entirely, the line of the new paragraph flows perfectly from the passage preceding it, which discusses slayings, and Jewish misery. Go look for yourself…here.. Chapter 3, verses 2,3 and 4. It becomes obvious that verse 3 (the Jesus passage) is completely out of place.

Not only that, but it isn’t until the 4th Century that any Christian mentions the Jesus passage by Josephus. Three hundred years pass by, and not one notable Christian scholar, including Minucius Felix, Irenaeus, Origen, Justin Martyr, Clement, Tertullian and Methodius – all commentators on Josephus, mention this passage at all.

Origen actually mentions Book 18, but doesn’t refer to the passage at all. Did he genuinely not consider it important? Well, there is actually something more telling than that in Origen’s words from Book 1 of Contra Celsus:

“For in the 18th book of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist, and as promising purification to those who underwent the rite. Now this writer, although not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless–being, although against his will, not far from the truth–that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus (called Christ)–the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice”

– Here Origen quite openly states that Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the Christ. So, we can confidently suggest that the passage in question was not there, when Origen was reading it. So where did it come from?

The first mention of the Jesus passage, comes from a man the Church refer to as the Father of Ecclesiastical History; Eusebius. He was a member of the First Council of Nicea, and a friend and biographer of the Emperor Constantine. He also happens to have been one of the most distrusted, and fraudulent Christian historians in history. The great Cultural Historian Jacob Burckhardt says of Eusebius:

“the first thoroughly dishonest historian of antiquity”

It isn’t as if Eusebius would disagree with that analysis of himself, given that in Chapter 13 of Eusebius’s own book ‘Praeparatio evangelica‘, he states:

“That it will be necessary sometimes to use falsehood as a remedy for the benefit of those who require such a mode of treatment.”

– Eusebius, in his role as courtier and biographer to Constantine, along with his work with the Council of Nicea, was a political propagandist of the Constantinian era. He writes during Constantine’s lifetime, that the Emperor had grown up around Christians. After the Emperor dies, suddenly Eusebius tells us that Constantine had a divine vision of the Cross, which led to his instant conversion. Propagandist, and nothing more. He helped to shape Christianity within that framework. And it would seem, he is responsible for the Josephus passage above, given that no other Christian scholar appears to have noted it before him. It all begins with Eusebius.

Eusebius is also the first person to record the legend of the King of Edessa writing letters to, and getting replies from, Jesus himself. Eusebius also claimed to have not only found the letters, but translated the letters into Greek. They can be seen here. The letters themselves use language from Jesus, that he absolutely doesn’t use when we look at the Gospel. In the letters, Jesus, for some odd reason, wishes to emphasise that he is separate from God the Father:

“I went out of My Father, who is in Me like I am in Him! However, the Father is the Highest, because He is My Love, My Will.”

– Coincidentally, this letter appears at a time when the Trinity was a hotly debated topic among the early Church, and Eusebius happened to believe that Jesus was separate from God, but also ‘from’ God. They were different, but attached. The Son was subordinate to the Father, according to Eusebius. Much like Jesus seems to be emphasising in the letter above – “The Father is the Highest” – conveniently found, and translated, by Eusebius. Similarly, in his work “Church History”, Eusebius is very anti-Jew. He dedicates a lot of time to writing about how awful the Jews are. For example:

“that from that time seditions and wars and mischievous plots followed each other in quick succession, and never ceased in the city and in all Judea until finally the siege of Vespasian overwhelmed them. Thus the divine vengeance overtook the Jews for the crimes which they dared to commit against Christ.”

– And so, can this hatred for Jews be linked in any way to the words of Jesus? Well, not if you look at the Gospels. But, if you look at the letters conveniently found and translated by Eusebius, we get:

“However, be steadfast in all, what you will gradually hear of Me from the wicked Jews, who soon will deliver Me into the hands of the hangman.”

– Jesus seems to confirm most of Eusebius’s views. How convenient.

If we are to say that these letters are forgeries (which pretty much every historian accepts, and it is quite obvious, they are forgeries, most probably by Eusebius for purposes of propaganda) then we cannot trust anything Eusebius says. Especially his reference to a Josephus passage that no other preceding Christian scholar seems to have noticed. Therefore, it is not a mention of Jesus.

Book 20:
The other apparent mention of Jesus by Josephus, is Book 20 of Antiquities:

“But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus, the Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as lawbreakers, he delivered them over to be stoned. But as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent. (24) Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.”

– There are marks that certain changes have been made to this passage, though the passage itself is not completely invented, like the passage in Book 18. The change here, is the use of the term ‘Brother of Jesus, the Christ‘. If we take “Brother of Jesus, the Christ” out of this passage, it suddenly makes sense to the proceeding lines, which end:

…… and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.

– If we take this story at face value, it seems to not make much sense. After James is killed, the Jewish elders are very angry, and demand Ananus, his condemner, have the High Priesthood taken away from him, and given to Jesus….. the son of Damneus.

Why would Jewish elders care so much about the Christian Lord’s brother condemned to death? It makes no sense, and this is especially true, given that the death of James does not correlate with early Christian writings on how he supposedly died. It’s a completely different story. It’s a different James, and a different Jesus. The phrase “brother of Jesus, the Christ” was added later.

My Thoughts:
The problem for Christianity is, according to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus was incredibly famous during his own lifetime:

“News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.”

– And so you would expect that someone might have made some sort of reference to Jesus at the time. There might be some contemporary source, given how famous he apparently was. And yet, we have nothing. Nothing by Jesus, nothing written of Jesus during his lifetime, by any one. It isn’t as if we’re short of historical sources from that time period and that area, either. It’s just, none of them mention Jesus. As noted in my previous article, Philo of Alexandria – an impressive contemporary historian and cultural commentator in Jesus’ time – wrote nothing about Jesus, despite living in and writing about the exact area Jesus was in, throughout the life of Jesus. No mention of miracles, no mention of ‘uproar’ caused as Jesus entered Jerusalem, no mention of the many ‘Saints’ who rose from the dead and appeared to many people in Jerusalem, according to the Gospel of Matthew:

“The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.”

– No mention of anything mentioned in the Gospels. Similarly, nothing mentioned by Josephus can reasonably back up anything suggested in the Gospels pertaining to the life of Jesus. And even if it could, it would be hearsay, based on the fact that Josephus was not a contemporary of Jesus.

I am therefore led to believe, given the veritable lack of evidence, that Josephus does not provide a mention of Jesus at all.

The Incoherence of ‘End Time’ Prophecies.

March 24, 2013

Oxford University has a rather curious name for the beginning of its January term. This is referred to as “Hilary Term”. It is named after the 4th Century End Time Prophet and Bishop of Poitiers, St Hilary. Hilary predicted that the end of the World would occur in the year 365ad. This rested on the idea that the short-lived Roman Emperor, Jovian, was the anti-christ for restoring Paganism as the Imperial religion. Hilary believed Christ would soon return, that those times were predicted in the Bible, and that the end was on its way. Hilary is the first that I have been able to find, whom directly claims the Biblical rapture was imminent.

A lot of writing and philosophising has been exhausted by Catholics and Protestants alike, in their attempts to work through Biblical references to the end times, and what the words could possibly mean for humanity. End time prophecies based on selective interpretations of Biblical language have plagued humanity since the collating of the Gospels. Any slight Earth tremble, is interpreted as the beginning of the end. Any election of a President the American Right Wing dislike, is sure to herald the rapture. Whenever a Nation legalises same-sex marriage, the Christian Groups insist that Jesus is on his way back in a fit of outrage.

The ‘End Times’ have inspired many self-proclaimed End Time Prophets to attempt to insist that the end is here. It is a theme that follows through from the beginning of Christianity, right through to today. The prophesies of Hilary, to Pat Robertson, in 1990 claiming the end of the World would take place on April 29th, 2007. For those wondering….. it didn’t end.

The Vatican is not immune to End Time prophets in their highest rank. Riots sparked when Pope Sylvester II claimed that the new millennium, in 1000ad would herald the end of the World. Pope Innocent III predicted that the World would end in 1284, 666 years after what he considered to be the beginning of the rise of Islam. And today, we still have people claiming End Times. The worry today, is those claiming to be “prophets” based on ancient hearsay are often exposed for the frauds that they quite obviously are, attempting to build a worryingly dangerous cult around themselves, but only when it is too late. Jim Jones is a good example of this. We must be ever vigilant, with the onset of social media and the ability of these people to reach a large audience, including very young, vulnerable and impressionable people, the dangers of those attempting to create cults around themselves, built on threats of eternal punishment, instilling fear in order to win people over to their cult. Some, i’m sure, believe what they are saying. Most, I would argue, are manipulators, and very dangerous con artists.

For a sneak peak at today’s manipulative end time ‘prophets’, preying on the vulnerable:

– Marketing-your-cult lesson One: Set up a picture of yourself praying. Add blood drops around it to convey doom. Abraham did this too!

Where then do End Time Prophesies originate? What does Jesus actually say? I have spent the past week trying to plot out exactly what he supposedly said, and to read, and re-read the exact language, within the context of the people he was addressing, the situation at the time, and the comments of Biblical commentators later on in the Book who mention End Times.

It seems to me that the description of when the End Times is likely to occur in the Bible, is perhaps the least ambiguous and most agreed upon between Gospel writers, of all Jesus’s speeches or actions. The Gospels are notoriously inconsistent, and quite often disagree with each other without any explanation, driven largely by the fact that they were penned decades after the supposed death of Jesus. The quite obvious question we must pose, when searching the Gospels for answers on the End Times, is “When?” We must read the Gospels with that question at the front of our minds. And so it turns out, the disciples asked the exact same question, and got a direct answer.

According to Matthew 24, Jesus begins to describe the end of days:

3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you.
5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.
7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.
9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,
11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.
12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,
13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—
16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house.
18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak.
19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!
20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.
21 For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equalled again.
22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.
23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.
24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
25 See, I have told you ahead of time.
26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.
27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.
29 “Immediately after the distress of those days “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.
31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.
33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.
34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

– Throughout this piece, Jesus is directly referring to his disciples. This is not a prophecy set to take place thousands of years in the future. He refers to those living in end times, as “you”. He is clearly suggesting that his disciples, the very people who asked him the question “When?” will still be alive when the end of days arrives. Jesus clarifies this further, with the most important line of this entire section, with “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened“. All these things. This includes the loud trumpet call whilst the ‘Son of Man’ appears in the clouds. Jesus is not talking to us, 2000 years in the future, he is talking to the people there and then, about an event he expects to take place within their life times.

This isn’t unique to Matthew. Luke 21:32 recounts the story, and states:

“Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”

-It is clear. Jesus expected End Times to occur within the life time of his disciples. We can point to ‘wars’ now as mentioned would appear, by Jesus. Or famine. Or Earthquakes. It is all irrelevant, because Jesus sets a time frame of within the lifetime of those whom he is addressing at that time.

There is very little agreement on whom penned the Book of Hebrews. Paul is often cited as the author, others claim Clement of Rome. Great early Christian scholars like Origen accept that no one knows for sure. It is a wonderfully written book nonetheless, and is further essential to our investigation into when End Times was expected, within a Biblical framework. Mention of the End Times is given prominence right at the beginning of Hebrews.
Hebrews 1:1-2 states:

“1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,
2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. ”

– It is quite unambiguous. Early Christians understood End Times as being exactly as Jesus had intended. Christianity was not meant to be a religion that spread throughout the ages, filled with Popes and Cathedrals. Jesus was supposed to be the very final messenger in the very final days of the life of the people of Earth. It seems, as End Times didn’t arrive as planned, and yet more people were exposed to Christianity, structure began to become important to the faith. Jesus does not mention any form of necessary Church structure. He is primarily concerned with ‘saving’ people then and there, because he is convinced End Times are around the corner. To Jesus, there would be no reason to begin such an organised religion. To Paul however, as End Times didn’t seem to be imminent, we suddenly see structure and uniformity becoming important; organisation became the key element to the early Church, whilst still presenting the idea that End Times are on their way (this had to be kept up, otherwise it undermines Jesus’ teaching entirely) and so it is from that perspective, that I interpret 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18:

“16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

– This seems to be a bit of a pep talk. Essentially, ‘don’t worry, I know you’re waiting for the end to come, and it will come very soon (“we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds”), just keep the faith’. It makes reference again, to that specific generation. They were clearly expecting Jesus to return to that generation.

St Peter, the chief of the Apostles, according to the Catholic Church, was another of the generation of Jesus, who understood Jesus’s words, as they were meant to be taken, not as we take them today, concerning End Times. In the First Epistle of Peter (1 Peter 1:, largely believed to be written by St Peter (though, there are several reasons to believe this isn’t true), it is stated:

“He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”

Peter Continues. 1 Peter 4:7:

“The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.”

– Throughout Peter, Thessalonians, and the Gospels, the subject of End Times is of key importance to the early faith. And that End Time is considered imminent. There is a theme of desperation running through the texts. There is absolutely no way that Jesus according to the Gospels ever considered the idea that the End Times would not happen within that particular period. Thessalonians echoes Jesus’ thoughts. Peter starts to echo the thoughts of Jesus, telling his followers that Jesus is about to appear. But time is now passing, and there is no Jesus. It has been decades. There is no sign of a return. So Peter changes the story a little… and by a little, I mean, completely. 2 Peter 3:9 :

3 knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts,
4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”
5 For this they wilfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water,
6 by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.
7 But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judegment and perdition of ungodly men.
8 But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

– Here, Peter changes the entire story, that End Times are coming. Every End Time position since, can be traced back to this. Peter here, tells his followers that End Times aren’t imminent after all. It is clear that between 1 Peter and 2 Peter, followers had been wondering why End Times hadn’t arrived, enough to make Peter address the problem directly. And he does that, by moving the goal posts. He suddenly introduces the idea that a day in human time, is a thousand years to God, and so Peter suggests that what Jesus actually meant was not that the end was coming to the generation that he told the end was definitely coming to…definitely….. he actually meant it could occur at any time, according to God’s misshapen time schedule. But then the question arises, why would Jesus not just say that in the first place? He was speaking to mortals, trying to save mortals. Mortals who had no concept of God’s 1000 year = 1 day scale of time. He needed to be far more specific with such an important aspect of his message.

‘End Times’ is not a valid Theological position to hold in the 21st Century. In fact, at any time outside of the immediate generation of Jesus, ‘End Times’ could not be considered a valid position to hold. To hold this position, is to ignore everything Jesus actually said on the matter, and everything Hebrews, and Thessalonians say on the matter, and instead to cling to the desperation of Peter to salvage what was left of a key concept to a faith – a concept that was quite obviously being questioned, even at the time – that relied so heavily on End Days. This has further implications for Christianity as a whole, given that it would appear the early writers considered the end of everything to be imminent, Jesus to be key to that, and their writings reflect the necessity for that generation to be fully prepared for it.

It is therefore, not a surprise that of the 23 predictions from modern prominent Christians, that the World would end between January 2000 and today, alone….. none of them have actually come true.