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Paul Kurtz on separation of church and state

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment

The continuing battle for democracy has been accompanied by a call for separation of church and state. The Religious Right in the United States has insisted on making the voice of religion inappropriately prominent in the public square, and it has attempted to secure governmental funding for religious schools and charities. It has sought to mandate the teaching of creationism or intelligent design alongside evolution in the public schools and has tried to limit the rights of unbelievers. All such measures were opposed by secular humanists. They believe that religion should be a private matter and that the integrity of science should be defended so that students can be exposed to the best science, and that the rights of non-believers be given equal status with believers. (Kurtz, What is Secular Humanism? pp. 48-9, 2007)

Kurtz P. (2007). What is Secular Humanism? Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. pp. 48-9.

Categories: Quotes

Ibn al-Rwanadi’s concluding thoughts on the history of Islam.

September 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Once the Arabs had acquired an empire a coherent religion was required in order to hold that empire together and legitimize their rule. In a process that involved a massive backreading of history, and in conformity to the available Jewish and Christian models, this meant they needed a revelation and a revealer (prophet) whose life could serve at once as a model for moral conduct and as a framework for the appearance of the revelation; hence the Koran, the Hadith, and the Sira, were contrived and conjoined over a period of a couple of centuries. Topographically, after a century or so of Judeo-Muslim monotheism centered on Jerusalem, in order to make Islam distinctively Arab the need for an exclusively Hijazi origin became pressing. It is at this point that Islam as we recognize it today-with an inner Arabian biography of the Prophet, Mecca, Quraysh, Hijra, Badr, etc, – was really born, as a purely literary artefact. An artefact moreover, based not on faithful memories of real events, but on the fertile imaginations of Arab storytellers elaborating from allusive references to the Koranic texts the canonical text of the Koran not being fixed for nearly two centuries. This scenario makes at least as much sense as the traditional account and eliminates many anomalies.

From the vantage point of this skeptical analysis the narrative related in the Sira, that purports to be the life of the Prophet of Islam, appears as a baseless fiction. The first fifty-two years of that life, including the account of the first revelations of the Koran and all that is consequent upon that, are pictured as unfolding in a place that simply could not have existed in the way it is described in the Muslim sources. Mecca was not a wealthy trading center at the crossroads of Hijazi trade routes, the Quraysh were not wealthy merchants running caravans up and down the Arabian peninsula from Syria to Yemen, and Muhammad insofar as he was anything more than an Arab warlord of monotheist persuasion, did his trading far north of the Hijaz;  furthermore Mecca, as a sanctuary, if it was a place of sanctuary, was of no more importance than numerous others and was not a place of pilgrimage. (al-Rawandi, ‘Origins of Islam: A Critical Look at the Sources’, pp. 104-5, 2000)

Reference

al-Rawandi I. (2000). ‘Origins of Islam: A Critical Look at the Sources’, in I Warraq (ed), The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. pp. 104-5.

Categories: Quotes

Dan Barker On Having A Purpose-Filled Life.

September 1, 2011 1 comment

A little positivity for you guys, on this, the first day of spring, with new hope and a warm summer to follow!

Do you want a purpose-filled life? Find a problem to solve… Purpose is mainly about finding solutions. If you are trying to eliminate a threat to survival or to enhance the opportunities for a quality life, you have purpose. Find something you hate and work against it. Find something you love and work for it. Hunger, natural disasters, inequality, oppression, unfairness, predation, disease, invasions, aggression, racism, sexism, cruelty to animals, pollution, endangered species, political corruption, corporate greed, unsafe working conditions, exploitation- these are all worth fighting. The toil to gain scientific and historical knowledge; or the exercise of creating beauty, art, music, literature, theater, and architecture; or the efforts put into sports, entertainment, cooking and gardening- all these are worthwhile, useful and purpose-filled activities, and you can probably think of more. (Barker, The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God, pp. 36-7, 2011)

Barker D. (2011). The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God. Berkley, California. ULYSSES Press. pp. 36-7.

Categories: Quotes

James Barr on harmonization of the Bible

August 31, 2011 Leave a comment

If two passages in the gospels describe in different terms what seems to be the same incident, they are harmonized in the conservative literature. The most common way to do this is to add the two together, so that what one says compliments what the other says. Certainly it is admitted that one evangelist has seen things or described things rather differently than the another, just as two persons who witness a road accident will describe it differently. But they cannot be in real contradiction, they cannot be saying different things that cannot be reconciled. The most striking example is the famous incident of the cleansing of the Temple by Jesus. In the synoptic gospels this is narrated at the very end of the ministry of Jesus, at the beginning of passion week (Matt. 21:10-17; Mark 11. 15-19; Luke 19. 45-48), while John has it right at the beginning of the ministry (John 2. 13-17). The New Bible Commentary Revised (on Mark, C.E Graham Swift, p. 875b) gives us the simple but ludicrous harmonization: ‘By far the most satisfactory solution is that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice.’ Why not? By the same account, why should the ascension of Jesus to heaven not have taken place twice? This would successfully harmonize the facts that according to Luke 25.51, the ascension appears to have taken place on the same day as the resurrection, while Acts 1 expressly makes it about forty days later. Jesus was carried up to heaven, but later returned, appeared and spoke with his disciples for forty days, and then finally ascended again. Why not?… The commentator then, typically of conservative interpretation, abandons the literal sense as soon as it would imply error or disagreement in the Bible; he achieves harmonization by taking the Acts account literally in this respect (i.e. in respect of the time of events) and holding that the  Luke account is telescoped or otherwise imprecise. Multiple ascensions form a different method of harmonization: in this case one has the advantage that both narratives, that in Luke and that in Acts, can be taken literally. In either case what never enters the head of the conservative interpreter is that there was no certain knowledge of the temporal sequence, or that quite contradictory accounts existed, or that some source represented the events in such a way not because that was the way it happened but because that was important for the theological message of that particular source. Harmonization through the production of multiple events is the most thoroughly laughable of all devices of interpretation. (Barr, Fundamentalism, pp. 56-7, 1977)

Barr J. (1977). Fundamentalism. Tottenham Road, London. SCM Press Ltd. pp. 56-7.

Categories: Quotes

Michael Martin on God’s existence making miracles more likely

August 21, 2011 1 comment

This relates to this post.

“What sore of evidence would make it probable that God, rather than some other supernatural being, was the cause of the Resurrection? It has been argued that at the very least one would have to show  that the Resurrection fitted into a larger pattern of events that revealed God’s purposes. [62]… But what sort of pattern would this be? Presumably it would involve other miraculous events that God brought about. If one had evidence of Miracle1, Miracle2, Miracle3 and so on, and evidence of the Resurrection, one might be able to discern a pattern and infer from it a divine purpose that would indicate that God was behind the Resurrection.

However this implication is damaging to Christianity… The historical reliability of reports of the other miraculous events reported in the Scriptures is no better and is often worse than the evidence for the resurrection. In these accounts of the Resurrection, there are inconsistencies, lack of eye-witness testimony, second and third-hand reporting, failure of independent confirmation and questions about reliability of witnesses… There is then a serious obstacle in concluding that Jesus was restored to life and that this was a miracle.” (Martin, The Case Against Christianity, p-98, 1991)

Martin M. (1991). The Case Against Christianity. Philadelphia. Temple University Press. P-98

Categories: Atheism, Quotes
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