2019-04-19

Well, I Sure Got That Wrong

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by Neil Godfrey

Tom Holland, an amateur historian with some excellent and some not so excellent writings in history.

I thought Tom Holland was a historian. I am talking about the author of In the Shadow of the Sword, a history of the seventh century Arab conquests and emergence of Islam which I posted about three times in 2013. I had read the book after a fascinating interview with Holland on Australia’s Radio National’s Late Night Live show with Philip Adams. Presumably Tom Holland had been introduced as a historian and it never crossed my mind to doubt that that was his profession.

But today I was struck by something I read in Richard Carrier’s new post today, No, Tom Holland, It Wasn’t Christian Values That Saved the West. My first reaction was that somewhere Holland was re-hashing his apology and praise for Christian values and even the heritage of the Christian church itself. Of course there’s nothing wrong with “love thy neighbour”, but Holland goes well beyond that. He credits Christianity with having, in effect, saved the world from barbarism. I certainly acknowledge many good programs throughout history by some Christians and some Christian organizations, but it is going too far to claim, as Holland does, that the difference between pagan and Christian values in ancient times was as stark as night from day.

I was somewhat incredulous that such a “reputable historian” could come out with that sort of … somewhat debatable viewpoint. So I posted:

I was just as dismayed when I noticed Tim O’Neill’s wearing of a Tom Holland praise badge on his website:

“A brilliantly erudite blog that stands sentinel against the wish-fulfilment and tendentiousness to which atheists, on occasion, can be no less prey than believers” – Tom Holland, best-selling history writer

I have demonstrated (most recently here) just how lacking in erudition and how thoroughly tendentious O’Neill’s History for Atheists actually is in some of its posts.

But Richard Carrier has shown that I myself have been caught out merely assuming Tom Holland was a credentialed/trained historian. Here is Carrier’s opening to his new post, No, Tom Holland, It Wasn’t Christian Values That Saved the West

Novelist Tom Holland just wrote an article for The Spectator titled “Thank God for Western Values,” declaring the “debt of the West to Christianity is more deeply rooted than many might presume.” Everything he says is false.

The Back Story

Holland is another amateur playing at knowing what he’s talking about. He has no degrees in history, and no advanced degrees whatever. He has a bachelors in English and Latin poetry. He dabbled in getting a Ph.D. in Byron but gave up. No shame in that; but it still doesn’t qualify you to talk about ancient history, or even medieval. So keep that in mind. As to faith, he might be called a Christian atheist.

Now I squirm with that “another amateur playing at knowing what he’s talking about” put-down, but I was determined not to be caught out again so I checked and tried to find some credible source. I followed up the following citations in Holland’s Wikipedia page:

 

Sure enough (and Carrier links to the first of these) Tom Holland never studied history at a tertiary level. Never. He has no formal studies in history to his credit. (Nor, by the way, does Tim O’Neill, who also studied literature, medieval literature in his case.) Even I have more “formal training” in university level history than Tom Holland, but more than that, I have built on my formal training (an arts degree majoring in history units, both ancient and modern) with trying to keep reasonably abreast of the scholarly debates and controversies about the nature of history ever since.

So I am finally getting my ear down close enough to the penny-in-the-slot-machine to hear the dropping action inside.

If you are wondering, by chance, in what way Holland might be incorrect when he leads a New Statesman article with

It took me a long time to realise my morals are not Greek or Roman, but thoroughly, and proudly, Christian.

then no doubt you will find some reasons in Carrier’s own post (I have not yet read it myself but I am sure with Carrier’s qualification in ancient history there will be some pretty good pointers there), and/or you can check out a post or two on this blog, such as:

Even Pauline Christianity is arguably built on the principles of Stoic philosophy:

 

 


2019-04-18

So the Mueller Report “Obliterates” the Conspiracy?

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by Neil Godfrey

With regard to Facebook ads and Twitter posts from the Russia-based Internet Research Agency, for example, Mueller could not have been more blunt: “The investigation did not identify evidence that any U.S. persons knowingly or intentionally coordinated with the IRA’s interference operation” (emphasis added). Note that this exoneration includes not only Trump campaign officials but all Americans:

Greenwald, Glenn. 2019. “Robert Mueller Did Not Merely Reject the Trump/Russia Conspiracy Theories. He Obliterated Them.” The Intercept. April 18, 2019. https://theintercept.com/2019/04/18/robert-mueller-did-not-merely-reject-the-trumprussia-conspiracy-theories-he-obliterated-them/.

I can understand Russia doing all it could to damage Hillary Clinton. From my distant perspective looking across at the 2016 campaign I found myself worrying that a Clinton presidency might even risk a war with Russia over Crimea and the Ukraine. I was certainly attracted at that time to Trump’s talk of getting along with other powers. Of course, I had a lot to learn. I knew nothing about Trump before 2016.


2019-04-17

Mischievous Mythicists At It Again

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by Neil Godfrey

We saw it first on Valerie Tarico’s website, and now, right on the eve of Easter, it pops up in full bloom on Alternet:

 

https://www.alternet.org/2019/04/what-if-jesus-never-existed/

Or go to the original base:

What if Jesus Never Existed? An Interview with History Writer David Fitzgerald

 


The Evil Rises — Muslims, the New Witches

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by Neil Godfrey

Since posting the vicious response of fundamentalist Christian to the Notre Dame Cathedral fire (the Triablogue post below) I have learned that the medieval inquisition is resurfacing in Europe, too.

https://www.alternet.org/2019/04/this-is-their-world-trade-center-moment-conspiracy-theorists-and-far-right-extremists-are-spreading-bogus-stories-about-the-notre-dame-blaze/

And just about everywhere else, too, where we can expect to find “defenders” against some sort of “Islamic invasion” against Christian societies:

https://www.mediamatters.org/blog/2019/04/16/study-notre-dame-burned-anti-muslim-content-thrived-online/223467

Direct from the seventeenth century! Brought to you by Steve of Triablogue

Of course he has “grounds” for suspicion. Five tweets from three authors, each of whom is quickly identifiable as Islamophobic simply by skimming the first pages of their accounts.

Meanwhile, some compassionate sanity from the refreshingly godless Ophelia Benson:


2019-04-16

Life After Faith Can Be Hard

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by Neil Godfrey

I concluded my previous post with “Why do I need the middle man (or god or spirit or totem pole)? Is there not a more efficient and honest way?” That sounds flippant, perhaps. In reality life after years of relying on the crutch of faith can be very difficult at first. One no longer has a pole that enables getting over the impossible bar. Self-doubts can come back at the most inconvenient moments.

Chance had me listening to a radio interview with a psychologist who had a fundamentalist background and who had written a book, a “guide for former fundamentalists and others leaving their religion.” Everyone is different so my own experiences of psychological recovery would be relevant to only a few others, but Marlene Winell’s book covers a wide range of insights and exercises or pathways for people damaged by their religious experiences to recover and enter “normal life” as healthy, “normal” individuals. I especially appreciated her various suggestions relating to seeing oneself as a child, lovable, accepted no matter what, as a pathway to overcoming self-loathing and maintaining a positive and healthy self-acceptance.

No doubt there are many other books that are on the same topic and that others have found very helpful in their recoveries. But Winell’s Leaving the Fold was the one that helped me and to which I often returned to keep on an even keel.

Feel free to add other books that you or others you know have found especially helpful in psychological, emotional recovery after religious indoctrination and negative pressures.

(Ed Babanski has a book by the same title, Leaving the Fold, but I think that has a slightly different emphasis. It is a collection of various types of testimonies of former fundamentalists who have found different directions after their life of faith.)

 

 

 


The Faith Trick

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by Neil Godfrey

It was all a psychological trick. I was simply going a long roundabout route to accepting and loving and forgiving myself.

Writing about the “tongues trick” reminded me of another “awakening” I had towards the end of my religious life.

I had been thinking a lot about the New Testament instructions that tell us how good works are the “natural” consequence of faith in what Christ did for us on the cross, yet at the same time we are not saved by works. Works are the fruit of our salvation (or “promise” of salvation if that’s what a particular church taught), not its cause.

But I had to admit to myself that often I was wanting to do “the right thing” because, I believed, it was required of me and if I failed to do it I would be condemned. (Of course I could repent and be forgiven but that led to an endless cycle of always doing “the right thing” for mixed motives, partly to avoid judgment. But that’s not what the “good works are the fruit of being saved” message was about.

God’s grace was supposed to transform us, change our nature, so that we wanted to good works entirely as a result of his grace. There was no more judgment or fear to be involved. No stick, no carrot. Only a boost of energy to want to do the right thing “naturally” because of God’s grace. Like a child running off and just being “naturally good” for a little while after being given a big hug and an ice-cream.

So I prayed again, and came to understand that the one who loved and accepted me was the greatest being in the universe, etc, and that such a being “totally accepted me”. That’s grace, forgiveness, acceptance.

Filled with such an awareness I could not help but be awed into humility and totally thankful. Gratitude was so strong it spawned tears of joy and humility.

With such an awareness, with that sort of deep faith in Christ, my inner being, my thoughts and desires, were all changed. I was at peace. Joyful. I wanted only to do good and life a life of good works. All fear of judgment and need for “effort” was gone. The “fruits of the spirit” really were “fruits”, results, the outcome, the “works of/from faith”.

Then it hit me. It was not Jesus or God or the Holy Spirit that was responsible for any of my changed “born again” life. It was all me. It was my belief in being accepted and forgiven that was the cause of my “new” and “transformed” person.

Okay, my faith was in Christ, but it dawned on me that I could have exactly the same faith relationship with a totem pole if I had a different set of holy books or teachings, and the results would be exactly the same.

It was all a psychological trick. I was simply going a long roundabout route to accepting and loving and forgiving myself. And that’s where my newfound confidence and peace and joy was coming from. Also where my desire to simply be kind to others, with no need to dwell on wrongs, was coming from.

So I began to think. Why do I need the middle man (or god or spirit or totem pole)? Is there not a more efficient and honest way?

 

 

 


(Why are) Biblioblogs Silent on the Julian Assange Arrest?

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by Neil Godfrey

I subscribe to a wide range of biblioblogs and have been surprised to see no post (with one exception) on the Julian Assange business. Not even anything by James Crossley who has posted and written about political and ideological issues at length, but he has been quiet more generally lately. It’s not a biblical topic, you might say, and I don’t expect most biblioblogs to touch it, but a substantial number do comment on current affairs of note from time to time.

If you know of any biblioblog which has touched on the topic do please leave me a note below.


The Tongues Trick

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by Neil Godfrey

Edward Babinski has an interesting post on the miracle of speaking in tongues on his Scrivenings blog. He used to be a tongues speaker and his description of “how it’s done” particularly interested me. It confirmed my interpretation of my own single experience with glossolalia. I was never part of a church that sanctioned tongues speaking, certainly not in church services. The Worldwide Church of God cult of which I was a member for too many years taught tongues speaking was from the devil. Nonetheless, there was a time when during intense fasting and prayer I did find myself speaking in tongues and it pulled me up with a start. I don’t recall now if I consciously decided I’d give it a try or if it somehow subconsciously came upon me in my “intense” state at the time. What surprised me how easy it was. I really could speak in what sounded very much like another language. (None of Ed Babinski’s beginner steps for me!) I wasn’t just babbling a few syllables repetitively but it really sounded as if I was speaking in sentences with “meaningful” phrases, intonation, the lot.

I knew then that it was nothing but something I could do if I just set my mind to it and “stepped out” with “my tongue”. It was very obvious to me that there was no spiritual possession involved. I realized probably anyone could be taught to do it.


2019-04-15

“It would never happen the other way around”

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by Neil Godfrey

Nick Davies (Wikipedia Commons)

Some readers protest when I attempt to convey a Palestinian perspective or concern that I think deserves to be more widely known and respond by stressing the official Israeli version of events as if that is the real truth and all we need to know. Sometimes I try to respond by explaining that their knowledge is shaped largely by one-sided mainstream media reporting. An elaboration of that same point is made by Nick Davies in Flat Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media by Nick Davies. The link is to a Wikipedia article explaining who Nick Davies is.

There is now a network of pro-Israeli pressure groups who specialise in orchestrating complaints against the media. HonestReporting has offices in London, New York and Toronto and claims to have 140,000 members on whom it can call to drench media organisations in letters and emails. . . .  Camera, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, uses street demos, pressure on advertisers, formal complaints and email showers. Giyus, Give Israel Your Support, supplies its members with a browser button which they can hit to send them any article which they deem offensive, and software called Megaphone to assist them in launching mass complaints. Memri (the Middle East Media Research Institute), Palestine Media Watch, Bicom (the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre) and Israeli Embassy staff all supply more energy for the fence. They share aims and⁄or funding sources with the immensely powerful network of organisations which lobby governments and political parties on behalf of Israel.

The result is that some facts become dangerous: to report Palestinian casualties; to depict the Palestinians as victims of Israeli occupation; to refer to the historic ousting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes; to refer to the killing of Palestinian civilians by Zionist groups in the 1940s. The facts are there, but the electric fence will inflict pain on any reporter who selects them. Words themselves become dangerous: to speak of ‘occupied territories’; to describe Palestinian bombers as anything other than ‘terrorists’; to reject the Israeli government euphemism of ‘targeted killings’. Crucially, there is no lobby of similar force on the Palestinian side. The pro-Israeli groups are able to claim numerous victories.

Honest Reporting claims:

‘Since 2000, the organisation prompted hundreds of apologies, retractions, and revisions from news outlets.’

They cite, in particular, their campaign against CNN, which saw them sending up to 6,000 emails a day to the chief executive and which resulted in their being invited to CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta to meet managers who, they say, ‘showed a genuine sensitivity to HonestReporting’s concerns’. They had complained that CNN was failing to describe Palestinian bombers as ‘terrorists’; that too little attention was being given to Israeli victims; and that CNN had been willing to broadcast videotaped final statements by bombers. Following the meeting, they note, CNN.com started referring to ‘Palestinian terrorism’ and ran a special series on Israeli victims, while the chief executive issued a ban on the use of videotaped statements by bombers. HonestReporting also quotes from transcripts of CNN broadcasts in which the anchor in Atlanta interrupts the correspondent on the ground to put the Israeli case.

HonestReporting also claims credit for Reuters’ decision to stop referring to Hamas as a group seeking an independent state and to describe them instead, for example, as ‘Hamas, sworn to Israel’s destruction’; and for the Washington Post’s decision to change a website headline from ‘JEWISH TODDLER DIES IN THE WEST BANK’ to ‘JEWISH BABY SHOT DEAD ON WEST BANK’ within ninety minutes of HonestReporting starting to complain. The New York Times printed a fulsome apology for publishing a photograph of a pro-Israeli demonstration which showed anti-Israeli protesters in its foreground. A survey by fair.org found that in 90% of references to the Palestinian territories occupied by the Israeli Army, American cable news described them only as ‘contested’ or ‘disputed’ or even as ‘Israel’.

The BBC has been targeted particularly heavily, winning HonestReporting’s annual award for dishonest reporting. One senior journalist there told me:

‘The lobby insinuates a sense of fear. If the editor of the Today programme knows that an item will make the phone ring off the hook, he may think twice about running it. Sure, the lobby works. I can think of numerous examples where I have felt the brunt of it.’

One member of staff at the BBC recalls the former press officer at the Israeli Embassy in London, David Schneeweiss, persuading a Today producer to set up a story about Yasser Arafat’s involvement in corruption, even though BBC correspondents in Israel said there was nothing in it.

‘You get correspondents there who will file a piece about Palestinians and be told by London ‘Nice piece, but it needs an Israeli voice.’

And that would never happen the other way around. Two extensive academic surveys have found that the BBC routinely gives more airtime to Israeli voices than to Palestinian and that it focuses more frequently on Israeli victims than on Palestinians. The judgements are there to be made.

Davies, Nick. 2009. Flat Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media. London: Random House UK. pp. 123f


2019-04-13

History Channel’s Jesus Doco

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by Neil Godfrey

Mercifully I do not have access to History Channel’s series Jesus: His Life (links that were sent to me by some well-meaning readers are blocked in Australia) but for those interested R.G. Price has begun to review the series in John Loftus’s Debunking Christianity site.


2019-04-12

Julian Assange & WikiLeaks – Comments

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by Neil Godfrey

[Daniel] Ellsberg was called The Most Dangerous Man in America by President Nixon’s national security advisor, Henry Kissinger. Now Ellsberg, an articulate and energetic seventy-nine years old, was passing on the baton to Assange—and going one step further. He agreed that Assange was a ‘good candidate for being the most dangerous man in the world’ and he should be ‘quite proud of that’. He also had some advice for Assange. He was ‘not safe physically wherever he is’.

Fowler, Andrew. 2011. The Most Dangerous Man in the World: The Explosive True Story of Julian Assange and the Lies, Cover-Ups and Conspiracies He Exposed. Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Press.

About two days ago I watched this press conference. The editor-in-chief sums up the fundamentals of journalism in a democratic society: If it’s newsworthy, if it’s in the public interest, and if it’s true — it should be published.

So many of knew Julian Assange’s days in the Ecuadorian embassy were imminently threatened but was not expecting the arrest so soon.

I know many readers of this blog have no time for Assange. I cannot deny I find his narcissism very unlikeable. But that’s not the point, of course. (And yes, I know the reasons others loathe him go well beyond his personality.)

A Real Test

https://twitter.com/ryangrim/status/1116295855122853889

-o0o-

Important Background

https://twitter.com/Snowden/status/1116285397284290560

-o0o-

The excerpt of the UNHR document in easier to read size:

The full document is at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24042&LangID=E

-o0o-

Good Bullshit-free Analysis and Summary

read more »


2019-04-11

All the way?

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by Neil Godfrey

When Australia’s Prime Minister Harold Holt smilingly proudly boasted that Australia was “all the way with LBJ” — implying that Australia was with. side-by-side, joined at the hip with the U.S. in the invasion of Vietnam, no questions asked, fully 100% — many Australians saw the colour of blood and believed Holt had declared Australia to be in an obsequious, servile, amoral relationship to a foreign power.

So when D.J. Trump twits the following. . . .

I am reminded of how times or something somewhere has changed. . . .

From ANU archives

2019-04-10

Once more: the problematic nature of biblical studies

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by Neil Godfrey

Donald Akenson

There is much I disagree with in Donald Akenson’s book, Surpassing Wonder. The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds (2001), and Akenson would certainly find himself objecting to some of my posts here on Vridar. But Akenson is a serious figure in the field of historical studies and do find his following statements interesting:

During the twentieth century (and to a lesser degree, before that) thousands of biblical scholars have beavered away at the life of Yeshua. In my reading, they appear to break into two camps: those who accept the rules of the historian’s craft (however arbitrary those may be) and those who do not. The second group is impossible for an historian to deal with, because they claim (either explicitly or implicitly as evidenced by the methods they employ) that the rules of proof which apply in secular historical scholarship are all very well, but that there are special evidentiary by-passes when it comes to Jesus-the-Christ. Such works, even when wrapped in historical terminology, really are parts of the history of theology. The first group, the scholars who endeavour to be as rigorous in historical method as possible and who consciously try to avoid special pleading, are much more interesting, not least because they are often first-rate minds and in a very difficult situation. This is particularly true of those who have written on aspects of the historical Yeshua within the last two or three decades. Their position is difficult because (1) in the last quarter of the twentieth century the historical profession generally has become increasingly aware of something that good historians always had known: that there is no such thing as objective historical truth; instead historians deal with the perpetual transience of pale imitation of a final reality that can never be known, a forever-escaping past. Biblical historians, as much as their individual personalities have permitted them, have acted according to the canons of historical investigation, which assert that even if one cannot ever get anything perfectly right it is possible to prove that some ideas about the past are dead wrong. Yet, at the same time, many of the same scholars seem to yearn so deeply for theological-ideological-denominational certainties, that all their efforts at being as objective-as-possible are thwarted. One is frequently reminded of the commonplace assessment of Immanuel Kant, that he spent his entire adult life proving what he had known with certainty when he was five years of age. And (2) the overwhelming majority of biblical scholars are employed by institutions that have a theological or denominational or political ideology (however vestigial) which is based on certain assertions about the nature of the historical Yeshua, the man behind Jesus-the-Christ. These institutional affiliations inevitably involve pressures upon the scholars, or limits on what they can think. It is a hard business to be in.

Given the intellectual and social pressures upon them, it is natural that scholars who specialize in trying to find “the real historical Jesus” become co-dependents. However much they differ from each other on matters of interpretation. evidence, and in their individual unconscious assumptions, they need each other and depend upon each other for confirmation that their quest for the historical Yeshua is a valid enterprise. (538-539)

Two pages later:

the overwhelming majority of scholars who do “New Testament” history are employed by institutions or organizations whose roots are in religious belief. Which means: more than any other group in the present day academy, biblical historians are under immense pressure – sometimes overt, sometimes subliminal, but virtually omnipresent – to adjusl their scholarship, to theologize their historical work. The maintenance of scholarly integrity by so many of the biblical historians is the product of considerable individual heroism. The pressure they frequently experience helps to explain why one encounters so often in the literature appeals to consensus. (541)

Akenson, Donald Harman. 2001. Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Thanks to “Ignorant Amos” from whom I learned of Akenson‘s Surpassing Wonder.


2019-04-09

The Relative Insignificance of the Acts and Teachings of the Historical Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

Amazon cover of Hellenistic Ways of Deliverance and the Making of the Christian Synthesis

The early Jewish Christians remained Jews, with no thought of embracing a new religion; they were merely convinced that Jesus was the “Messiah” or the “Christ,” and they regarded his Messiahship as much more important than any new moral message he might be bringing. That is, they believed in Jesus, rather than that what Jesus taught was true — an attitude that remained characteristic of most Christian thought until the nineteenth century. This conviction involved certain intellectual beliefs or expectations: notably, that only righteous, Law-observing Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah would share in the Kingdom he would set up on his second coming. But their faith in Jesus was primarily a commitment to Jesus: it was practical rather than intellectual.

Much the same holds true of Paul, though his conception of the nature of the work of Christ was quite different. For him, this was not to found the Kingdom, but to transform human nature from flesh to spirit, and thus to save individual souls from bondage to sin and death. By accepting and believing in the Christ, men are united to him in a mystical union, die with him to the old Adam, put off the flesh with him, and rise with him, completely transformed in their nature, to live a new and divine life, a life “in Christ.” This is all for Paul an intensely personal and practical religious experience. Believing in Christ is no mere intellectual assent, and acceptance; it is utter absorption.

Hence neither the early Jewish Christians nor Paul made central what Jesus taught.

Randall, John Herman. 1970. Hellenistic Ways of Deliverance and the Making of the Christian Synthesis. New York: Columbia University Press. pp 146f