Showing posts with label christopher hitchens. Show all posts
Showing posts with label christopher hitchens. Show all posts

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

We Are All Fig Trees In the End

"Teachings of Jesus 36 of 40. parable of the fig tree. Jan Luyken etching. Bowyer Bible" by Phillip Medhurst - Photo by Harry Kossuth. Licensed under FAL via Wikimedia Commons.
I'm absolutely certain that someone has mentioned this before -- perhaps Christopher Hitchens? Anyway, something else struck me when reading Carolyn Hippolyte's book, Still Small Voices: The Testimony of a Born-Again Atheist. It's just after the opening of chapter 4 which I quoted in my previous post about the book.

p. 81
[...] Over the years, I have watched believers seriously struggle over the odd or violent stories in their holy book. Even Emily was occasionally flummoxed by the Bible. One day she recounted how disturbed she had been during her morning devotion upon reading that Jesus had cursed a fig tree for not bearing figs when it was not the season for figs (Mark 11:12-14). I am certain that she must have read this story dozens of times since she spent a good deal of time reading the Bible every day, but her demeanor was as one who had never encountered the story before. She was sitting on the floor and she pounded on the ground, saying. “But Jesus, you are always loving. I don’t understand since it was not the time for figs.” I said nothing, and she said nothing. We never talked about this matter of the figs again. She moved on with the same piety she had before. It should not be surprising that this fig story was not a deal breaker. What I think is noteworthy is that this seemed to me one of those moments when we read the Bible without the veil of dogma and for a moment, we see it for what it is. For a moment Jesus looks not only human, but even a bit irrational. But for a believer, these moments are short-lived. Something else in the mind takes over and forgetting the brief moment when the voice of reason was heard, one returns to reading the text as one wishes it were.
This parable and the reaction to it reminded me of what Christopher Hitchens said about the cruelty of a supposed God who would create not just fig trees but all of humankind to be flawed and then expect perfection.

Or put differently, punish those who cannot honestly believe in his existence would be punished for not being capable of getting it with eternal hell. I suppose they do it to themselves the same way the fig tree does it to itself when it's simply not in season.  This tree is merely behaving as it was supposedly designed! Seems to more resemble the behaviour of an abusive parent than a loving father to me. Perhaps some wise Christian can explain Jesus' seemingly childish fit and apparently brutal snuffing of a perfectly good tree.
I have been called arrogant myself in my time, and hope to earn the title again, but to claim that I am privy to the secrets of the universe and its creator — that's beyond my conceit. I therefore have no choice but to find something suspect even in the humblest believer. Even the most humane and compassionate of the monotheisms and polytheisms are complicit in this quiet and irrational authoritarianism: they proclaim us, in Fulke Greville's unforgettable line, "Created sick — Commanded to be well." And there are totalitarian insinuations to back this up if its appeal should fail. Christians, for example, declare me redeemed by a human sacrifice that occurred thousands of years before I was born. I didn't ask for it, and would willingly have foregone it, but there it is: I'm claimed and saved whether I wish it or not. And if I refuse the unsolicited gift? Well, there are still some vague mutterings about an eternity of torment for my ingratitude. That is somewhat worse than a Big Brother state, because there could be no hope of its eventually passing away.
-- Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian 

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Mother Teresa's Was No Saint - New Paper In Canadian Journal Studies in Religion

Mother Teresa (source)
Canadian scholars Serge Larivée and Genevieve Chenard of University of Montreal's Department of Psychoeducation and Carole Sénéchal of the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Education will soon be releasing a paper in the journal Studies in Religion/Sciences religieuses that will echo much of what Christopher Hitchens has said about the less-than-saintly life of Mother Teresa.  The paper is discussed in a press release on the University of Montreal website on Friday.

Mother Teresa: anything but a saint...

In the paper, they lay out some all-too-familiar charges against Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu.
The missions have been described as "homes for the dying" by doctors visiting several of these establishments in Calcutta. Two-thirds of the people coming to these missions hoped to a find a doctor to treat them, while the other third lay dying without receiving appropriate care. The doctors observed a significant lack of hygiene, even unfit conditions, as well as a shortage of actual care, inadequate food, and no painkillers. The problem is not a lack of money—the Foundation created by Mother Teresa has raised hundreds of millions of dollars—but rather a particular conception of suffering and death: “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ's Passion. The world gains much from their suffering," was her reply to criticism, cites the journalist Christopher Hitchens. Nevertheless, when Mother Teresa required palliative care, she received it in a modern American hospital. 
And...
Mother Teresa was generous with her prayers but rather miserly with her foundation's millions when it came to humanity's suffering. During numerous floods in India or following the explosion of a pesticide plant in Bhopal, she offered numerous prayers and medallions of the Virgin Mary but no direct or monetary aid. On the other hand, she had no qualms about accepting the Legion of Honour and a grant from the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti. Millions of dollars were transferred to the MCO's various bank accounts, but most of the accounts were kept secret, Larivée says. “Given the parsimonious management of Mother Theresa's works, one may ask where the millions of dollars for the poorest of the poor have gone?”
The summary goes on to point out just how warm and fuzzy Western media were with her and how  "the media coverage of Mother Theresa could have been a little more rigorous.” All of this is essentially echoing charges against the now-beatified Teresa levelled by Christopher Hitchens.

Those on the other side have wasted no time trying to discredit the paper.  Over at Science Codex, an unnamed blogger has already posted Atheists in the humanities tear into Mother Teresa again.  Facts and references be damned, it's those darned atheists in the humanities.
Despite atheists criticizing her, Mother Teresa gained an image of holiness and infinite goodness. According to the three academics, her meeting in London in 1968 with the BBC's Malcom Muggeridge, an anti-abortion journalist who shared her "right-wing Catholic values" - being against abortion - was crucial. Further revising history and even telepathically knowing the motivations of people they never met, they declare Muggeridge decided to promote Teresa. In 1969, he made what they call 'a eulogistic film' of the missionary, promoting her by attributing to her the "first photographic miracle," when it should have been attributed to the new film stock being marketed by Kodak.
This Muggeridge fellow is not invited to my dinner party.  He, like Mother Teresa, saw nothing in this world more beautiful and noble than human suffering, than misery.  For me, this makes him and her both enemies of humanity.

As for the miracle, Hitchens had refuted it repeatedly.  The camera man himself couldn't understand why Muggeridge was so impressed by the performance of a new kind of film from Kodak in dimly lit rooms.  Not a miracle, technology.
The miracle in question was “a photographic miracle” of “divine light” which brilliantly illuminated BBC cameraman Ken Macmillan’s footage of Mother Teresa’s dimly lit Home for the Dying, but which Macmillan attributes, instead, to a new and better variety of filmstock recently shipped from Kodak. “It is the first unarguable refutation of a claimed miracle,” Hitchens wrote, “to come not merely from another supposed witness to said miracle but from its actual real-time author.”
But go ahead and refute until you're blue in the face.  Some people are no interested in having their illusions broken.

I may just pick up a copy of this article myself.  It's nice to hear more scholars standing up and pointing to the ugly facts when it comes to this woman and the suffering she so lovingly cherished in this world - the suffering of others that is.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Nineteenth-Century Feminists I: Robert Green Ingersoll

I hesitated whether or not to include Ingersoll in my series of secular feminists of the 19th and 20th century.

When I first read Ingersoll and heard the rave reviews of many in the freethought community, I was guilty of putting the man up on a kind of pedestal.  I had typecast him into being a progressive feminist alongside his unwaivering humanism and agnosticism.  But he was a progressive in a less progressive era.

Then there's Susan Jacoby, whom I also greatly admire.  It's been awhile since I've read her book Freethinkers, so I don't know where along the feminist spectrum she puts Ingersoll.  I need to obviously re-read this excellent book.  But perhaps such a prominent feminist as Jacoby's admiration for Ingersoll simply lead me to believe that Ingersoll himself was equally as progressive when it comes to women's equality as she is.

In some sense everyone is a product of their times.  The progress in progressive thought and movements underlines the basic fact that the radicals of yesterday may appear to be the prudish conservatives today who have been left behind by the changing wave of Zeitgeist.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Malcolm Muggeridge : You're not invited to my dinner party.



"If we did a good act merely from the love of God and a belief that it is pleasing to Him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist? ... Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God."
 - Thomas Jefferson


I just finished watching an excellent televised debate posted by the saints at AtheistMedia blog:  The Full 'Life of Brian' Debate (1979).  I order you to watch it.

The Pythons were in it, but there was nothing at all funny about it.  It was, however, like a microcosm exhibiting the tension between freethought and dogmatic religion.  The one wishing to explore, ridicule and question, the other wishing to suppress anything of the sort.

John Cleese and Michael Palin were being attacked, rather viciously, by Malcolm Muggeridge, who was always seen as a hero in our household if memory serves.  He looks like a rather unpleasant fellow - I wouldn't invite him to my dinner party.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Freethinkers and Skeptics In Ancient Literature Part I: Thersites the Contrarian

Mean, ever-contrarian, ugly and critical.  Like an ancient
Thomas Paine, Thersites dared to question and mock the
authority of kings.
You can read all of the articles in this series by clicking here: Freethinkers and Skeptics In Ancient Literature

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but in addition to my Computer Science BSc, I have a bachelor's degree in Classics - Ancient Languages and Literature to be precise.  On a practical level this means I could be that barista at Starbucks who wearily doles out your caffeinated beverage every morning.  On a more theoretical level it means I may have exposed to some of the seminal works in Western Literature.  I would like to make believe it's the latte(r) for the duration of this post.  Please, indulge me this once.

As an outlet for the repressed literature student in me, I'm starting up this new series that focuses on characters in ancient Western literature who show some sign of skepticism or freethinking. By extension I'll also show the quacks, charlatans or authorities they dare to annoy with their tiresome voices of dissent, critiques and prodding for explanations, proofs, or defenses.  Or I highlight their intolerable standing-up-business for the common man.