Monthly Archives: March 2011

A Christian Philosopher’s Faulty Arguments: On the Need for God as Basis for Morality – Part I

In a long article, “The Indispensability of Theological Meta-ethical Foundations for Morality,” ** William. L Craig (Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California) argues that objective morality requires a theistic base. In other words, without God humans do not have an objective basis for moral values and moral judgments.

In the process of so arguing, Craig commits a variety of errors, false assumptions, invalid inference, and offers a rather weak argument. I will show this by a two-part critique of his article. This is the part I.

Summary of his argument: Theism and naturalism are contrasted with respect to furnishing an adequate foundation for the moral life. It is shown that on a theistic worldview an adequate foundation exists for the affirmation of objective moral values, moral duties, and moral accountability. By contrast, naturalism fails in all three respects. Insofar as we believe that moral values and duties do exist, we therefore have good grounds for believing that God exists. Moreover, a practical argument for believing in God is offered on the basis of moral accountability.

Here are excerpts from the first part of Craig’s essay interspersed with my critical response and remarks in highlighted brackets.
. . . . . . .
But wait. It would, indeed, be arrogant and ignorant to claim that people cannot be good without belief in God. But that was not the question. The question was: can we be good without God? When we ask that question, we are posing in a provocative way the meta-ethical question of the objectivity of moral values. Are the values we hold dear and guide our lives by mere social conventions akin to driving on the left versus right side of the road or mere expressions of personal preference akin to having a taste for certain foods or not? Or are they valid independently of our apprehension of them, and if so, what is their foundation?

[Response: When secularists deny that we need a supernatural sanction for moral values the implication is not that moral values are “mere expressions of personal preference.” Secular philosophers have developed ethical theories which invoke moral values that are applicable to human conduct and are not just subjective expressions of social convention. The case for secular morality may be compared to civil law. Laws are independent of any individual’s apprehension of the law, yet laws do not issue from a supernatural source.]

Moreover, if morality is just a human convention, then why should we act morally, especially when it conflicts with self-interest?

[Simple answer: To say that secular morality is “just a human convention” is a misleading statement. Secular morality does involve social convention. But this does not make morality a mere expression of taste or ‘convention.’ At least some humans are moral agents, who recognize and act according moral rules that may be contrary to self-interest. A supernatural authority is not a necessary condition for such moral action and moral consciousness.]

Or are we in some way held accountable for our moral decisions and actions?

[Response: Yes, we are accountable to each other and to the community. But we’re not accountable as super-naturalists would have it: as accountable to a supernatural being who distributes rewards or punishment in some imagined afterlife.]

Today I want to argue that if God exists, then the objectivity of moral values, moral duties, and moral accountability is secured,

[What exactly does this ‘objectivity’ mean, given that different cultures all basing their morality on a god set up different moral codes? ….and given that god believers don’t concur on moral values. That “moral accountability is secured” under divine authority is questionable. Morever, as with civil and criminal law, secular morality can also involve accountability. ]

.. but that in the absence of God, that is, if God does not exist, then morality is just a human convention, that is to say, morality is wholly subjective and non-binding.

[It does not follow that without God morality is “wholly subjectivity and non-binding.” There are many counter-examples of non-theists who conduct themselves moral ways that do not arise from mere subjective interests and desires. Furthermore, again the writer misleads us with this assumption that morality as human convention is not really morality. ]

We might act in precisely the same ways that we do in fact act, but in the absence of God, such actions would no longer count as good (or evil), since if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

[This is a false proposition. Along with many other secularists, I recognize some actions as morally good and others as morally bad; and we hold our share of moral values. The proposition that “moral values do not exist” is not even a coherent proposition with a clear meaning.]

Thus, we cannot truly be good without God. On the other hand, if we do believe that moral values and duties are objective, that provides moral grounds for believing in God.

[Belief that moral values and duties are objective does not rule out a variety of actual moral codes, values, and moral action. Historically and with regard to current cultures, this factual variety – which even involves conflicting views as to the “higher moral good” – suggests a variety of deities; not one law giver.]

Consider, then, the hypothesis that God exists. First, if God exists, objective moral values exist. To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so. It is to say, for example, that Nazi anti-Semitism was morally wrong, even though the Nazis who carried out the Holocaust thought that it was good; and it would still be wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them.

[One can agree with this without invoking objective values sanctioned by God. This is a high, moral imperative for which people (god believers and unbelievers) recognize no exception, but this does not require that we invoke a supernatural law-giver.
Moral imperatives, such as those forbidding genocide, arise from the experience, judgment and values of a society or culture. Moral good which is completely independent of all human experience and human society is a fiction.
]

On the theistic view, objective moral values are rooted in God. God’s own holy and perfectly good nature supplies the absolute standard against which all actions and decisions are measured. God’s moral nature is what Plato called the “Good.” He is the locus and source of moral value. He is by nature loving, generous, just, faithful, kind, and so forth.

[Nobody has ever shown in detail how human values and moral imperatives are based on “God's own holy and perfectly good nature.” One could stipulate such divine perfection or Plato’s highest form of the “Good” and yet not be able to show how these supernatural posits help resolve difficult issues of moral conduct, values and moral dilemmas. Furthermore, these pronouncements of God’s perfectly good nature are simply pronouncements of a doctrinal faith; they do not constitute an argument for objective morality at all. In fact the God of scripture is not at all portrayed as one having a perfectly good nature; many of his actions are not morally respectable at all!]

Moreover, God’s moral nature is expressed in relation to us in the form of divine commands which constitute our moral duties or obligations. Far from being arbitrary, these commands flow necessarily from His moral nature.

[Really? The commands “flow necessarily from his nature”? How exactly did you learn this? And what do we do when we have different interpretations of the commands that flow from “his moral nature”? For example, there is much contention among theists regarding such hard moral issues as the morality of war and the morality of birth control.]

In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, the whole moral duty of man can be summed up in the two great commandments: First, you shall love the Lord your God with all your strength and with all your soul and with all your heart and with all your mind, and, second, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On this foundation we can affirm the objective goodness and rightness of love, generosity, self-sacrifice, and equality, and condemn as objectively evil and wrong selfishness, hatred, abuse, discrimination, and oppression.

[Yes, these are the easy ones. How do these “standards” help to resolve the really hard moral dilemma, e.g. morality of war, of abortion, euthanasia, disparity between rich and poor, distribution of benefits when they won’t cover all, etc. ? Loving a supernatural Being – who is declared to be perfectly good- and loving my neighbor as myself do not get me very far when I have to resolve the difficult moral conflicts that we inevitably confront. For example, on the issue of the morality of war, you can find plenty of Christians, all who profess to recognize the two principles of “love,” on either side of the issue.]
———– End of Part I ————

** Source: William Lane Craig, “The Indispensability of Theological Meta-ethical Foundations for Morality.” Foundations 5 (1997): 9-12.

http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/meta-eth.html

Gods, religions & active imaginations

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College ([email protected])

Active imaginations; many gods

Over the millen­nia, humans have created thou­sands of supernatural belief sys­tems and have wor­ship­ped everything from the Egypt­ian scarab beetle to the Hindu elephant; from the Sun god to gods of the seasons, to mother Earth; from sex gods and goddesses to spirit trees, to scary mythical creatures, to everything being god. In fact, the idea of mono­­theism, one god, was a relatively recent invention in a very long his­tory.

A Few Supreme Gods

Akditi: Mother of gods, India

Aten: God of the Sun – Egypt

Brahma: Creator and Absolute –India

Coyote: God of creation – Crow Indian

Gamab: Supreme god – Africa

Inti: Supreme god – Inca

Jar-Sub: God of universe – Turkey

Kumani: Virgin goddess – India

Marduk: Supreme god – Babylon

I’m sometimes asked, aren’t all these different gods really just aspects of the one true God? But then why have all these different gods (speaking through their prophets, gurus, shamans, ayatollahs, mullahs, clerics, swamis, channelers, priests, mini­­sters, rabbis, holy books, etc.) told their followers quite different things regarding birth control—abortion—gay rights—souls —women’s rights —slavery —reincar­nation —hell —human sacrifice —prophecies—purgatory —limbo—idolatry —heaven —omens —devils—demons —angels —voodoo —ghosts —salvation —witches—incubi—dancing—virgin births —exorcisms —incarnations —petting —drinking —smoking —judgment day —the origin of evil —whom to kill —faith healings —and just about everything else?

The origin of monotheism

Around 3,300 years ago Amenhotop IV, the pharaoh of Egypt, chose Aton, a little known Sun god, as the one and only god of Egypt, thus intro­ducing the idea of monotheism. After Amenho­top died, the Egyptians went back to wor­ship­ing sev­er­al gods. However, the wor­ship of one divinity lingered among the Hebrews in Egypt. Some scholars believe that this is why the one god concept became an impor­tant part of the Hebrew religion. The Hebrews were also influ­enced by the Greeks who, unlike the Egyp­tians, made their gods in their own image.

Religious beliefs persist in spite of scientific advances

By the late 19th century it was be­lieved by some leading intel­lectuals that with in­creased edu­ca­tion and improved standards of health and economic well being, our classi­cal relig­ious orth­o­­doxies would be replaced by a huma­nis­tic civil­iza­tion based on com­passion, rea­son and science. Yet, even though the scientific revo­­­­l­u­tion has invaded our lives at al­most every level and has dis­credited many sacred dogmas and re­lig­ious myths, religions still flourished. Religious loyalties still persist.

Why should we be sur­prised? After all, humans still fear pain and lone­li­ness. Most still find it hard to ac­cept death as a final­ity. We still look for some ulti­mate divine purpose to our lives; we want all our suffering to have some higher meaning. We also marvel at how this uni­verse and life came into being. And, of course, many of us want to be­lieve what we really want to be true. Logic and sci­en­tific evidence are seldom enough to dislodge per­son­al beliefs and pre­j­u­dices, particu­larly if these beliefs offer great comfort and even joy. Our mind’s capacity for self-delusion is enor­mous!

Many of religions have ac­cepted the findings of science up to a point. Others have to­tally rejected all findings that go against their spe­cific sacred teach­ings. Still others have dis­torted science to sup­port every conceivable pseudo­scientific and para­normal belief. Many have been taught that to hold onto beliefs that have been disproved by science represents the highest of virtues, one to be reward­ed by God on the final judgment day. Examples include a literal belief in bib­li­cal creation stories, Noah’s ark, the Resur­rection and other religious miracles.

Yet science has so often proved to be superior to gut feel­ings that when our intuitive exper­i­­ences contra­dict scientific evi­dence, we would do well to look close­ly at our own rea­son­ing to see if, once again, we’ve been deceived.

Religions abound

So today we live in a world that, in spite of sci­en­tific appearances, is still very religious—a world rang­ing from countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia where Islam remains the dom­inant so­cial force, to South America which is predomi­nantly Catholic, to the indus­tri­alized West where reli­gion has become frag­men­ted and diversi­fied.

One estimate is that there are cur­rently over 7000 different religious sects world­wide. The history of Christianity, alone, is a history of doctrinal schisms and fragmentation, resulting today by one count in 23,000 separate and distinct Christian denominations around the world. In fact, just the conservative Christian movement in the U.S. has been described as a quarrelsome conglomeration of fundamentalist and evangelical groups whose differences are every bit as great as those setting apart Catholics and Methodists.

In very recent history, the United States also has seen the appearance of Mor­monism, Christian Science, Jehov­ah’s Wit­nesses, Seventh Day Ad­ventists and the Church of Reli­gious Science, to name just a few. We now have more than 1,500 different religious bodies and sects, including 300 different Christian denom­ina­tions, a number of deep­ly divided Jewish traditions and a growing but divided Muslim con­stituency.

We have hundreds of various faith expressions, including millions of Buddhists, a million Hindus and hundreds of thousands each of Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Bahai, Jains, Confucians, Pagans and Shintoists. We have over 360,000 churches, mosques and syna­gogues. We have 10,000 Bible clubs on public school cam­puses across our country. Everywhere we find evidence testifying to the con­tinual persua­sive­­ness of faith and dogma in our so-called rational and scien­ti­fic so­ciety.

Furthermore, the chances are that our children will come to believe that their parents’ religion is the true one. In one study of uni­ver­sity stu­dents, over 95% who said they were Cath­olic were raised in Catholicism. The same was true for Jews and Protestants.

Most of us are raised athe­ists when it comes to some­one else’s reli­gion. Christ­ians reject the Hin­du gods, Hindus don’t worship Allah. Those born in Israel or in Saudi Arabia would likely be raised Jewish or Muslim. Either way they would not believe in the resurrection of Jesus or in his divinity.

Religious transformations

Christian believer: But isn’t God telling us that Christianity, by its awesome transformation power, is His one true religion?

A. It’s true that the personal experi­ence of “know­ing Jesus” is very power­ful for un­told millions. But as many, if not more believers in the Koran (the sacred text of Islam) have also ex­peri­ence religious trans­­formation. Yet Islam holds Muhammad to be the one true prophet and doesn’t recognize Jesus as the Son of God. So who’s right and who’s being deceived?

The thousands of quite different re­li­gions through­out the world and throughout history proves to the skep­tic that equally sincere people who are “transformed” are not all see­ing or hearing the same thing. Catholics see visions of the Vir­gin Mary and are transformed. Prot­es­tants, on the other hand, see Jesus but rarely the Virgin Mary be­cause the wor­ship of Mary is often den­i­grated. Or the In­dian brave, after days of cold and hunger in the forest, fi­nally sees the expected vision of a bear or eagle and is “trans­formed.” Our minds really want to be­lieve.

The power of the human mind to be de­ceived is absolutely enor­mous. Our evolved brain easily hal­lu­cinates (hears voices, sees visions, has out-of-body ex­per­i­ences, and feels pos­sessed). This can hap­pen through star­vation, ex­treme soli­­tude, drugs, fear, epi­lepsy, mi­graines, pain and oxygen depra­vation. Yet we are rarely educated in such areas as the psychology of self-de­cep­tion.

“Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true.”

—Francis Ba­con

Does Humanism substitute “Humanity” for God?

“Humanism: Humanity as Ultimate: One result of the secular challenge to spiritual ultimacy has been the emergence of groups that consider humanity itself to be ultimate. The idea of treating humanity as a substitute for God can be traced to the French philosopher, Auguste Comte (1798-1857)”

(from William A. Young, The World’s Religions – World views and contemporary issues, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1995, page 422)

Despite the thinking of August Comte and William Young, contemporary secular humanism does not replace God with Humanity. (*For more on the issue of religious humanism, see note below.) In other words, humanist does not make humanity into an idol to replace deity. Humanism is not religious in that sense at all. But some have argued that there is a sense in which humanism qualifies as a religion. William A. Young uses a working definition of religion as “a human transformation in response to perceived ultimacy” (See his text, The World’s Religions – World views and contemporary issues.) He then goes on to classify Humanism as a religion. The idea is that humanists have an ideal concept of humanity and work to bring humans closer to that ideal. So in that sense the aim is a human transformation of sorts, although many questions would arise concerning the “perceived ultimacy” in Young’s definition.

At any rate, the term “religion,” broadly defined in this sense, might apply to some of the thinking and work of humanists. But there are significant differences between humanism and most religions, and those differences are more significant than the similarities between the two. In several ways, humanism is categorically different from religions: it rejects all reference to supernatural realms (including God, angels, saints, heaven, hell, and such); and it assumes a naturalistic, material view of human beings; humans are part of the natural, biological realm and do not partake of spiritual or heavenly status.

I’ll attempt a few summary statements of humanism vis a vis religion and the concept of humanity.

Humanism espouses human values over supernaturally-based values. It advocates a perspective of reality based on scientific naturalism and a critical, rational philosophy. This generally rules out supernatural doctrines and beliefs that portray humans as ‘higher,’ spiritual beings. In short, ‘God’ is discarded as neither an essential nor justifiable concept. ‘God’ is not replaced by new idol, the human being. However, the ‘humanity’ that humanism envisions is somewhat idealized.

The ‘humanity’ of humanism is very positively portrayed. This implies that “humanism” functions as a value term, and is only partly a descriptive term. Humanity is portrayed as more admirable and upstanding than the facts warrant. Humanism emphasizes the human potential for a scientifically-based, rational life; and tends to see humans as aspiring to high ethical, moral values. For example, humans are portrayed as caring, compassionate creatures, who would try to treat others according to the Golden Rule: Don’t do to others as you would not want done to you. Humanism portrays humans as free agents capable of high achievement in the sciences, technology, literature, the arts, and philosophy. Humanists tend to assume that when humans break the shackles of supernaturalism and authoritarian religion, they will flourish. But all this may give too much credit to our human-all-too-human tendencies.

Much about humanity is not so admirable. The reality of history and contemporary societies show that humans, with or without supernatural religion, often are neither noble nor humane. Humans have a penchant for war, acquisition, oppression of fellow humans, irrationality and destructive superstitions. It was human beings acting in history that dreamt up oppressive and destructive religions that have dogged human history and caused so much suffering. Humans are inclined to short-term thinking; hence their actions have destructive long-term effects: for example, overpopulation, waste of natural resources, destruction of the environment. Humans are often lazy, satisfied with frivolous pleasures, and not inclined to work for higher ends. The casinos of Las Vegas, spectator sports and celebrity worship characterize the human ‘spirit’ more than the higher values that philosophers and poets celebrate. Supernatural religions cannot be held accountable for all the misery and suffering that the world has seen and continues to see. Humans themselves have brought about much of it. However, humanity is not a lost cause.

The optimistic spirit of humanism inspires all to work at improving the human situation. This side of humanism has the audacity to think that human beings can prevail and defeat their many ‘demons.’ Here we see a role for society and education to cultivate and realize the better aspects of people. Among other things, we would try to realize a society in which more people act on the basis of clear and critical thinking. In addition, we promote the teaching and cultivation of humane, enlightened ethics. People should have the freedom and opportunity to develop intellectually, artistically, technologically, in terms of self governance and social work. By means of education, proper training, and a society that learns from experience, we can work to achieving some of these ends. Even some forms of philosophical instruction can help; but we must discard those philosophies which are counter-productive or irrelevant to the task of reforming human society. But aspiring to reach the stars, we must not lose touch with reality.

Humanism must remain a human-based, realistic philosophy, which does not turn humans into the new idols, or replace “gods” with a glorified humanity. A human-based, realistic philosophy works with people as people, recognizing people’s strengths and weaknesses [**note below]. As realists, we know that humans often fail on their own; but this should not be taken as grounds for arguing that humans need a supernatural caretaker. We shall apply the ideals of the Enlightenment (science, reason, education, and a humane ethics) in an effort aimed at helping the tribe of humans improve their human society and realize a better world.

So if we think of religion as “a human transformation in response to perceived ultimacy” and we take “human transformation” to refer to education and eventual enlightenment of people; and we take the “perceived ultimacy” to be the humanists’ view of a more excellent human being; then we could allow that in this very weak sense of ‘religion’ humanism can be taken as religious like. But this is a very vague sense of ‘religion’ and does not over-ride the ordinary view of humanism as a philosophy very much at odds with traditional theistic religion.

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* For short article on the issue of “Religious Humanism” in the US, see “Religious Humanism” by Mason Olds at:

http://www.humanistsofutah.org/1996/artapril96.htm

—————————————–
** Humanists should avoid coming across as judgmental regarding humanity. Instead of a superior, judgmental attitude to people in general, humanists can learn from the spirit of a poet like Carl Sandburg, who offers these great words on the human condition, recognizing the “hero and the hoodlum” in the people:

The people yes
The people will live on.
The learning and blundering people will live on.
They will be tricked and sold and again sold
And go back to the nourishing earth for rootholds,
The people so peculiar in renewal and comeback,
You can’t laugh off their capacity to take it.
. . . .
The people so often sleepy, weary, enigmatic,
is a vast huddle with many units saying:
“I earn my living.
I make enough to get by
and it takes all my time.
If I had more time
I could do more for myself
and maybe for others.
I could read and study
and talk things over
and find out about things.
It takes time.
I wish I had the time.”

The people is a tragic and comic two-face: hero and hoodlum:
phantom and gorilla twisting to moan with a gargoyle mouth:
“They buy me and sell me…it’s a game…sometime I’ll
break loose…”

C Rulon: Abortion & fetal idolatry – Part 4 (Souls, science & evolution)

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College ([email protected])

Fetal idolatry and ensoulment

Elevating tiny, mindless, senseless human em­br­yos and fetuses to a rever­ed exalted status is fetal idolatry according to Rev. John Swomley, Emeritus Professor of Social Ethics, St. Paul School of Theology.[1] Swomley writes that “Fetal idolatry is the major battleground issue for both the patriarchal and clerical control of women.” Fetal idolatry is strengthened by and dependant on the religious belief that what sets us apart from the animals and gives our lives ultimate meaning is the existence of a divine soul—a soul that appears with God’s miracle of fertilization.

Yet, given the importance of the soul in Christianity, the Bible is surprisingly vague regarding what a soul is, who has one, and when it enters the body. As a re­sult, over the ages Christ­ian the­o­lo­gians have variously assert­­ed that the soul en­tered at conception, at the time of “quickening” (the 15-16th week), at birth and a short time after birth.

Churches over the centur­ies have also repeatedly changed their posi­tions regarding the time of ensoulment, as have popes.[2] In addition, for centuries there have been arguments over whether females, non-white races, and members of other religions had souls. Recently there have been debates over whether “test-tube” babies had souls, or sentient beings from other planets. Theologians have even argued over what happens to a soul if a blastula divides to become identical twins. Thus, rationality dictates that there’s just no way to tell for sure which religion (if any) to listen to regarding the time of ensoulment.

Many liberal Christian groups have endorsed a woman’s right to choose based on a belief that the soul can enter the fe­tus only after the brain and body have be­come sufficient­ly developed to receive a soul. For still others, it’s when breathing becomes potentially possible.[3] Most conservative Christians, on the other hand, disagree. They claim that human life is sacred and to be protected from the moment of conception (which most believe is the time of ensoulment).

Fetal idolatry and the paranormal/supernatural

The possibility of divine souls in embryos would not seem so scientifically implausible if para­normal and/or super­natural phe­­nom­ena (e.g., mind over mat­ter, psy­­chic read­ings, seeing into the fu­ture, past-life regres­­sions, communi­cating with the deceased, near-death experiences, and weep­ing religious statues) were actually known to exist. Yet, after 100 years of negative research findings regarding the existence of paranormal and supernatural phenomena—after all the experi­mental vari­a­bles have been tightly con­trol­led to elimi­nate chance, errors, bias, careless­ness and fraud—not a sin­gle person has yet been found to pos­sess para­normal pow­ers; not a single so-called supernatural event has ever been scientifically validated. All such claims have turned out to be unverifiable, scien­tifi­cally ex­plain­­able, wish­ful think­ing, illusions, hallu­cina­tions, or fraudulent.[4]

Fetal idolatry and scientific advances

Many religious folk consider pregnancies to be miracles from God and the chemical reactions of life imbued with “super­natural en­er­gies” and “vital forces”. Yet, after several hundred years of extremely fruitful research into the physics, chemistry and bio­l­ogy of life, including our four billion-year evolutionary history, it’s now widely accepted by scientists world­wide that all processes in liv­ing orga­nisms (from fertiliza­tion to death) strict­ly obey the laws of nature. No super­­natu­ral inputs have ever been found (or even appear necessary) for fertilization to occur, for embryos to develop, or for life to function. This includes the human mind which appears to be totally a function of the neuro-anatomy and physiology of our evolved brain. While modern neuroscience cannot conclusively rule out the possibility that disembodied consciousness could exist, there now is a staggering amount of evi­dence to the contrary.[5]

Today, the chemical reactions of life are routinely carried out in laboratories around the world. In fact, it’s now possible to insert the genetic material from a body cell (like a cheek cell) into an unfertilized egg and have it grow into an embryo. It is now possible to take living human cells (like the ones shed every time we scrape our knee) and coax them into developing into human embryos.

With advances in scientific knowledge, the need for supernatural forces to explain life and all its processes disappeared as a belief system for the large majority of scientists over 50 years ago. Today, the large majority of scientists are quite skeptical that an immortal soul (or anything else of a paranormal or super­natural nature) exists. However, fetal idolaters and other anti-choice supporters tend to either remain willfully ignorant or to reject all scientific knowledge that conflicts with their religious dogmas and beliefs.

Fetal development and evo­lution

The way a particular structure develops in an organism has proved successful in providing a window into how that structure evolved. The use of development to clarify evolutionary questions has spawned a new field: evolutionary develop­mental biology.

The hu­man embryo first re­sembles a gen­er­al­ized verte­brate em­bryo with a number of fish embryo characteristics, then an amphib­ian-rep­tilian-like em­­­bryo, then a gener­alized mammal embryo, and finally a pri­mate embryo. A six-week hu­man em­bryo has a tail which occupies about one-fourth of its entire length. This tail does not continue to grow but remains a vestige along with a few tail mus­cles.

The early human embryo pos­sesses a kidney very simi­lar to that of a jaw­less fish. This kidney is com­pletely replaced later by an amphib­ian-like kid­ney which, itself, later be­comes part of our repro­ductive system as the mammalian kid­ney makes its appearance.

The human embryo has a series of six gill clefts in its neck, fully equip­­ped with cart­i­lage gill bars and gill arter­ies as in a fish embryo. But the gills never develop as they do in fish em­bryos. In­stead, the first two bars end up form­ing the ba­sis of the human em­bryo’s future jaws, repeating the evo­lu­tionary process that led from the jaw­less fish to the bony fish with jaws some 450 mil­lion years ago. The re­main­­ing gill bars become our larynx and sup­ports for our tongue muscles. And the “gill” arteries in the hu­man embryo either de­velop new connections or disap­pear altogether.

Male mammals have nipples. Female mammals evolved nipples for nur­s­ing. But males and females of each species are mere­ly vari­a­tions of the same embryo­logical plan for that spe­cies. Thus, embry­onic path­­ways for nipple devel­op­ment exist in all mam­mal fe­tuses, but later become more de­velop­ed and func­tional in females. Simply put, males have nip­ples be­cause they had strong survival value in fe­males and so were selected for. For the same reason, human male embryos have ducts for making uterine tubes and a uterus. And human female em­bryos have ducts for making two vas defer­ens, the sperm carrying tubes in males.

In conclusion

The beliefs that a divinely planned human being with a soul exists at conception and that this event has special moral and religious significance are unprovable theological beliefs, not scientific facts. Yet, legis­lators continue to pass laws based on medieval theo­logies and pseudoscience that demean and endanger women and, in effect, treat them as obligatory breeding machines.

Although birth control has come a long way, contra­cep­tion is still not perfect. There are also major religious, patriarchal, financial, educational and social obstacles to birth control. In addition, humans are a very sexual species that can be quite fallible and careless. We are into denial, sexual guilt and embarrass­ment. There’s also alcohol and other drugs which lubricate sexual behavior, while reducing responsibility. And never forget the hundreds of millions of young, sexually aggressive, deter­­mined, macho males.

As a result, we live on a planet literally awash with 80 million unplanned and mostly unwanted mindless, senseless developing human embryos every year, year after year! That’s an entire United States full of unplanned embryos every four years! And every year over 40 million women choose to, or are driven to abort, legal or not.

Yet, for those who are driven by power and money, medieval religious beliefs, male dominance, moral zealotry and fetal idolatry none of this matters. The enemy must be defeated. “We are called by God to save all His unborn children from being slaughtered by the baby killers.”

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[1] http://www.population-security.org/swom-98-06.htm

[2] Maguire, 1989, Abortion Rights and Fetal Personhood

[3] The Bible seems clear to many that a person does not begin at conception, but with breathing. In Genesis 2:7, God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being” (in some translations, “a living soul.”) The Hebrew word for a human being or living soul is nephesh, the word for “breath”. “Nephesh” occurs over 700 times in the Bible as the identify­ing factor in human life. Thus, if the fetus is not breath­ing (or if its lungs have not yet developed, (before the 24th week) it is not yet a person in God’s eyes.

[4]Druckman,D., & Swets, J. (eds). Enhanc­ing Human Performance: Issues, Theories and Techniques (Nation­al Acad­­emy Press). The National Acad­emy of Sciences concluded em­phatic­ally that 130 years of research had produced no scien­tific justi­fication for the exist­ence of any paranormal phenomena. Also, in 1997 the James Randi Educational Foun­dation reported that anyone who could demon­strate any para­nor­mal, or psy­chic abil­ity under tightly controlled scien­tific conditions would be paid $1,000,000. Many have tried and so far no one’s col­lected a dime! See . Also see and

[5]Zeman, A., 2003, Consciousness: A User’s Guide (Yale University Press). Zeman is a neurologist in Edinburgh;

Fischbach, G., 1992, “Mind and Brain,” Scientific Ameri­can, September. Dr. Fischbach is a professor of neuro­biology and chairman of the department of neuro­biology at Harvard Medical School.;

B. Hinrichs, “Brain Research and Folk Psy­cho­logy,” The Humanist, March/April 1997;

C Rulon: Abortion & fetal idolatry – Part 3 (Pain and suffering)

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College ([email protected])

No fetal pain until 28th week

By 8 weeks a fetus in utero will react to needle stimu­lation. But as with paraplegics, this is a reflex media­ted by the spinal cord, not the brain. It’s not a conscious reaction and no pain can be experienced. Although fetuses have started to form pain receptors by 8 weeks, the thalamus (that part of the brain which routes information to other areas) doesn’t start to form until after the 20th week. Without the thalamus, no information can reach the cortex for processing. That includes the nerves from the skin and other pain-sensitive areas. Thus, no aware­ness of pain is possible.

Finally by the 28th week the necessary nerve pathways have formed so that the fetus might begin to experience pain. Even then, the myelin sheath (the insulating cover on nerves that is required for efficient conduction of pain signals) does not begin to form around neurons in the spinal chord until about the 24th week and is not found in most of the cerebral cortex until after birth.[1]

On the other hand, the global suf­­fer­ing to women and girls with unwanted pregnancies due to medieval religious dogmas, entrenched patri­archal laws and customs, the desire to punish “loose” women, plus pro­found ignorance and grind­­ing pov­erty is simply staggering.[2]

Pregnancy can be extremely dangerous

Preg­nancy constitutes a major biological invasion with potentially dangerous conse­quences. Pregnant women exper­ience 7-9 months of sym­p­toms of varying sev­erity, often includ­ing nausea, vomiting, bloating, insom­nia, varicose veins, hemorr­hoids, back pain and indigestion. Their uteruses increase to over 500 times regular size. One out of four needs serious medical attention. Finally, preg­nan­cies cul­mi­nate in a physiologi­cal crisis that can be excru­ci­atingly pain­ful and occasionally fatal.

Pregnancy is particularly dangerous for the world’s poor. Every year throughout Africa, Asia and Central and South America 600,000 women and girls die worldwide every year from pregnancy and childbirth (140,000 bleed to death, 100,000 die from infection, 40,000 die from the agony of prolonged labor, 75,000 women die each year trying to end their pregnancies.) Most of these women are in their teens and early twenties. They have been coerced by their societies into bearing children at a young age and far too frequently.[3]

Restrictive abortion laws have not stopped the large majority of abortions any­where on Earth according to a 2007 study from the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization. Every year on our planet some 20 million women with unwanted pregnancies are desperate enough to attempt a self-induced abortion or to seek out a danger­ous illegal one. The U.N. estimates that 50,000 women and girls try to self-induce each day. Millions end up in hospitals hemorrhaging and badly infected. Over 70,000 die each year. UNICEF’s statistics show that for every woman who dies, 30 survive with gruesome injuries and disabilities. Many will face life-long, disabling pain. The seriously injured and dead often leave behind young, unattended children whose chances for survival are bleak.

Add to that the exhausting burden of repeated pregnancies and births, and you have a global picture of suffering on the part of women that demands a global response. Of the millions of women each year who are coerced into carrying unwanted pregnancies to term, hun­dreds of thou­sands will die from pregnancy-related com­pli­cations.

These deaths and tragic injuries are almost entirely preventable. Yet, they go on year after year while powerful religious men and their male political allies (lackeys) continue to publicly revere the sanctity of mind­less, senseless embryos and fetuses, buttressed by pseudo-science and pseudo-history, and attempt to outlaw abortions. In the meanwhile, U.S. support for family planning information and services has been slashed and a concerted effort to block emergency contraception and abortion has intensified.[4]

Fetal idolaters and dishonest propaganda

When informed about all the above pain and suffering, the fetal idolaters and other anti-choice supporters respond that “murdering the innocent unborn” is a barbaric solution to unwanted pregnancies and continue to obsess over the imagined “excruciating pain” experienced by fetuses being aborted.

“It is unbearable to contemplate the ex­cruci­ating pain the unborn must feel as their lives are torn asunder. It is a wrenching nightmare to see in the mind’s eye the delicate little hand of an unborn infant reaching out play­fully to touch the very curette that is poised to rip him apart.”

— U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch

The Silent Scream

In order to more dramatically create the illu­sion that a tiny mindless senseless fetus is actually a conscious sentient baby aware of in­tense pain, the anti-choice/ pro-forced-pregnancy-continuation activists pro­duc­ed a 28-minute propa­ganda film enti­tled The Silent Scream. This film was viewed by former Presi­dents Rea­gan and Bush Sr. and by the entire U.S. Con­gress, each of whom re­portedly received a personal copy. It has now been seen by over fifty million Americans in churches and in schools throughout the country and can quickly be found on the web.

The Silent Scream depicts a 2nd trimester abor­tion through the use of ultrasound visualization. Although all the audi­­ence re­ally sees are black-and-white moving blobs, it’s the narra­tor’s voice-over that’s so chilling as he describes to the audience what they most feared, the tearing to shreds of a scream­ing defenseless tiny human being. Dishonest incendiary propaganda at its best.

“Who Killed Junior”

Another inflammatory propaganda publication to appear (and easily found on the web) was a 24-page car­toon book entitled “Who Killed Junior?” The car­toons trace the growth of a fertilized egg in the womb. By the 6th week “Junior” is depicted as a fully formed baby, standing up and smiling. By the 11th week he is running in place and has a decent command of English. By 12 weeks Junior has his hand cupped to his ear, listening in alarm. The caption says, “His mother and her doc­tor are discussing how to kill him.” Then follows several cartoon pan­els in which the basic methods of abortion are illustrated. In one, Junior screams as he is being sucked out of the womb. In another, he screams as a knife slices him to pieces. A later panel shows a fully formed baby with a knife through him and the caption, “If You’re a Teenage Girl, You Need to Know Abortion Means Killing a Human Being.”

Millions of copies of “Who Killed Junior?” were print­ed and distri­buted to high school students across the coun­try. “Junior” didn’t stop high school students from having sex. But it did increase all of the phy­sical, emotional and social problems that arose when, later, those teens with unwanted pregnancies now felt too guilty to abort and so carried to term.

Closing thoughts

Elevating a tiny, mindless, senseless, partially formed, human em­br­yo or fetus to a help­less, innocent, unborn baby with awareness and feel­ings—a “conscious baby that will under­go excruciat­ing pain as it is torn apart in an abortion”—is dishonest, incendiary propaganda. It is also fetal idolatry according to Rev. John Swomley, Emeritus Professor of Social Ethics, St. Paul School of Theology.[5]

But even if the scientists are wrong and an embryo could feel pain, it doesn’t change the fact that a woman’s personal body integrity is being violated if she is forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term and to give birth. After all, since we all are legally protected from having our bodies invaded against our will (like being forced to donate blood or bone marrow), even if it means that someone else is then doomed to pain, suffering and even death, why aren’t women who discover they have an unwanted pregnancy given the same right? Yet, anti-choice legis­lators continue to try to pass laws based on medieval patriarchal theo­logies and pseudoscientific propaganda that demean and endanger women and, in effect, treat them as obligatory breeding machines.
——————————————————–

[1] S.J. Lee et al., “Fetal pain: A systematic multidisciplinary review of the evidence,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 294(8), 947-954. In addition, see “Fetal Pain: A Red Herring in the Abortion Debate” by Joyce Arthur in Free Inquiry, Aug./Sept. 2005, an excellent summary article with current references.

[2] http://www.populationmedia.org/who/message-from-the-president/

[3] http://www.populationmedia.org/who/message-from-the-president/

[4] Time, March 14, 2011, p. 66. Planned Parenthood and other reproductive care facilities in the U.S. provide information and birth control to about 5 million women a year at over 4,600 health centers. Over one million unintended pregnancies a year are prevented, half of which would likely have ended in an abortion. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that for every $1 spent by our taxes for contraceptive care, taxpayers save around $4 in Medicaid costs for mother and baby in just the first year. Only about 3% of Planned Parenthood funds go toward legal abortions, none of which comes from taxes.

[5] http://www.population-security.org/swom-98-06.htm

C Rulon: Abortion & fetal idolatry – Part 2 (Human embryology)

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College ([email protected])

Fetal idolatry

Elevating human em­br­yos and fetuses to a rever­ed, exalted, even sacred status is fetal idolatry, according to Rev. John Swomley, Emeritus Professor of Social Ethics, St. Paul School of Theology.[1] Fetal idolaters have trans­formed a mindless, senseless fetus the size of my thumb into a kind of demigod—a help­less, innocent, unborn baby with awareness and feel­ings—a baby that is playfully suck­ing its thumb and only needs to grow—a conscious baby that will under­go excruciat­ing pain as it is torn apart in an abortion—a pre-born baby with the sacred, inalienable, self-evident, funda­mental right to life. Yet, the scientific reality is quite different.

Human embryology

When does life begin?

Regarding the abortion issue, a central question is “When does life begin?” The scientific answer is that single-celled life forms evolved from non-life by natural processes almost four billion years ago. This first question is usually quickly followed by the second: “When does a human being first appear?” The answer is that it depends on one’s definition of “human being”, since what was once an ancient ape-like primate slowly evol­ved over millions of years into many different species of the genus Homo and finally us, Homo sapiens. Many fetal idolaters, however, reject the fact of our evolution in favor of some variation of an ancient creation myth in Genesis.

Fertilization

Fetal idolaters believe that a divinely planned human life with a soul begins at the moment of conception. But there is no magic “moment” of conception. Instead, there is a time span of up to 48 hours. After a sperm penetrates the egg, its genes remain separate from the egg genes for a day or more. Sometimes several sperm penetrate the egg and it takes time for the egg to eject the extra chromosomes.

Also, although fertilization brings together all 46 human chromosomes a great deal of information is still miss­ing in the human embryo. This information can only emerge inside the uterus from the biochemical and physi­cal interactions of the develop­ing em­bryo with its sur­round­ings. As one example, our 20-30 thousand genes can’t possibly control the precise develop­ment and inter­con­nections of the 100 billion neur­ons in the human brain.

Cloning

In addition, with our rapid advances in cell biol­ogy, biochemistry and genetic engi­neering tech­nolo­gies it is now possible to clone humans from body cells. So if my appendix is removed and thrown out, mil­lions of potential human beings would have been “killed”. (Cloning has become a “tunnel of madness” for the Roman Catholic Church.)

Stages of embryological development

Following fertilization the zygote (fertilized egg) be­gins to divide. After 3 days it has become a ball of 16 cells, still about the same size as the original zy­gote. This ball of cells then hollows out and be­comes a blastula. By the 7th day, if not destroyed, it has attached to the in­ner lining of the uterus and pregnancy has medically begun.

By the 4th week follow­ing concep­tion, the human embryo is about the size of a pencil eraser. It has no human face, hands, feet, or cerebral cor­tex. It has no function­al sense organs to see, smell, hear or exper­ience anything. It has a pro­nounced tail and super­ficially looks something like a tadpole. It also has a barely vis­ible embryonic tubular heart that has started to beat. (The recorded sound of this beating embryonic heart continues to be used by the anti-choice forces, even in the U.S. Congress. But our heart is just a very good pump. Fish, reptiles and mammals all have beating hearts. We are not human because of a beating heart!)

By the 6th week a human embryo is about one-half inch long. It has an eye spot on each side of its head. Its reptilian-like face has slits where the mouth and nose will eventually be. Arm and leg buds have appeared. By the end of the 7th week the tail is almost gone and the face is more pig-like than human.

By the 8th week the developing fe­tal skele­ton is carti­lage, not bone. Very tiny arms and legs with fin­gers and toes are developing. (Technology now allows these fingers and toes to be photo­graphed and sent across the web, galvanizing the anti-choice supporters.)

By the 9th week most major organs exist in rudiment­ary form. But it will take several more months for these organs to grow in size, complexity and organization to the point where they can function. The abortion pill (RU-486 or Mifepristone) can still be used at this time.

About 50% of all abortions in the U.S. have occurred by the 8th week and about 90% by the 12th week. These percentages would be much higher if all the legal obstacles erected by the anti-choice male power structure were overturned. Only 2% of abortions occur after the 19th week, almost always because of a wanted pregnancy that went terribly wrong.

By the 23rd week the human fetus is still too under­developed to live outside the uterus. Its lungs can’t exchange air, its skin is not waterproof, its kidneys will fail, and the blood vessels in its brain will collapse and rupture. Almost all will die if delivered. If delivered one week later, at 24 weeks, only 20% of infants will have good out­comes. Another 40% will have serious ab­norma­li­ties and the re­maining 40% will likely die.

Brain development and humanness

Those who picket reproductive care centers often carry greatly magnified photos of tiny baby-looking fetuses with arms and legs, fingers and toes. They also play recordings of fetal heart beats. But what make us human are not our fingers and toes, nor our eyes, legs, or hearts. Many other mammals have sharper vis­ion and more pow­er­ful legs. And our heart, although a superb pump (as are the hearts of all mam­­mals), can be replaced without any claim that a new “person” now exists.

What makes us human is our large brain. Our humanness—our sentience, reason and will—our ability to love, hate, enjoy, grieve and suffer—is all found in our brain. If my brain could be trans­­­­­planted, my “person­hood” would go with my brain, not stay back with my body. Scientists know for a fact that this brain of ours gradually evolved over hundreds of millions of years from an ancient fish brain.

By the 10th week of pregnancy a fe­tus still does­n’t have function­­ing eyes, ears, a cerebral cortex, or brain waves asso­ci­ated with con­scious­ness. Its brain volume is about l/500th that of a newborn. There is some reflex motion that doesn’t require a brain. But the groundwork for human con­scious­ness and aware­­­­ness still does not exist.

By the 24th week, the large scale linking up of neu­rons criti­cal for human conscious­ness and aware­ness has just begun. Continuous brain waves do not begin to occur until about the 28th week and EEGs asso­ci­ate with thought and conscious­ness don’t occur un­til some­­time after the 30th week. Fe­tuses young­er than this still lack the nec­es­sary brain archi­tecture to think like humans. Significant development of neuronal activity in the cortex continues long after birth.

Regarding fetal pain, although fetuses have started to form pain receptors by 8 weeks, the thalamus (that part of the brain which routes information to other areas) doesn’t start to form until after the 20th week. Without the thalamus no aware­ness of pain is possible.

Furthermore, there is no scien­tific evidence for any “ghost in the machine” that is separate from our brain and lives on after death. While modern neuroscience cannot conclusively rule out that possibility, there is now considerable evi­dence to the contrary.

“Without the brain we are merely a lump of thoughtless meat that might respond automatically in some simple ways as an amoeba might.”

—Isaac Asimov

Some final thoughts

The argument that a fer­ti­lized egg or embryo is somehow a prepackaged human des­tined to be born contradicts all that scientists have learned. Knowledge of human embryology is why biologists use words like “zygote,” “blastula,” “embryo” and “fetus”, not “baby.” Possibly the public’s attitude toward abortions would have been more mature and reasonable if students had learned some basic human embryology in school. But instead, in dozens of states students are only taught that “abortions murder babies” and legis­lators continue to pass laws based on medieval theo­logies and pseudoscience that in effect, treat women as obligatory breeding machines. Who is asking the question: when will women, themselves, achieve full personhood?

Appendix

Demigod or parasite?

Fetal idolaters elevate embryos to demi-god status. But a desperate woman seeking a quick abortion may view the same embryo as she might view an internal parasite, to be quickly removed. Of course, it’s abhor­rent to most people to compare a human embryo to a parasite and there are differences. But there are also similari­ties. An internal parasite and an unwanted embryo are both un-welcomed organisms that live and grow inside a host at whose expense they obtain food and shelter and release wastes. They both harm the host in one way or another. The host’s defenses often attempt to expel both. In fact, up to 25% of all preg­nancies are spontaneously expelled.

What about miscarriages?

Christian fundamentalists believe that the millions of new “American” embryos coming into existence each year all have divine souls and were all planned by God. Yet, research reveals that 10-25% of all pregnancies miscarry.[2] In addition, every year over 100,000 women have dangerous tubal preg­nan­­cies requiring emer­gency surgery. Obviously, a significant percentage of conceptions are never “destined” to be born.

Fetal idolaters dismiss miscarriages as God’s Will and show little interest in pouring money and energy into reducing the miscarriage rate. One would think that if they were really committed to saving these millions of “innocent human beings” miscarried they would support spending billions of dollars to stop all these “little people” from being flushed down the toilet. Terrorism pales in significance to this vast ongoing tragedy—a disaster of biblical proportions! All of these saved pre-born humans could then be implant­ed into millions of women, or else frozen until extremely expensive technolo­gies can be invented for their ongoing develop­ment, birth and adoption.
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[1] http://www.population-security.org/swom-98-06.htm

[2] The Guttmacher Foundation reported that in 2008 there were 6.4 million pregnancies to the 62 million women of reproductive age. Of those, 19% ended in abortion, 66% ended in live birth, and 15% ended in miscarriage. That means there were approximately 1.21 million abortions. Another study revealed that anywhere from 10-25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage.

C Rulon: Abortion and fetal idolatry – Part 1 (The birth of fetal worship & extremism)‏

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College ([email protected])

Part 1: The birth of fetal worship & extremism

Personal body integrity

In the United States we have the right to personal body integrity. This means that I am legally protected from being forced to donate my blood or bone marrow—from having my body invaded against my will— even if it means someone else will die. It means that if a baby were to be medically attached to me to keep it alive, but without my consent, I could have it removed, even though it would then die. Yet, prior to 1973 there was one major exception—an exception where a person’s body could be invaded without her expressed consent and with potentially dangerous conse­quences, but where it was against the law for her to have the invasion removed. I’m referring to the millions of women with unwanted pregnancies who were being forced to carry to term and give birth. In 1973 Roe v. Wade changed all that. One half of our entire population now became legally and safely protected from forced childbirth—from being unwilling embryo incubators.

The right to personal body integrity is threatened

Yet, for the last several decades Catholic, Fundamentalist and Evangelical male leaders and their political allies/lackeys have attempted to turn back the clock and once again force women with unwanted pregnancies to stay pregnant and give birth against their will. Today, women’s bodies are once again in real danger of being involuntarily conscripted by a religiously conservative patriarchy to preserve the lives of tiny mindless senseless embryos and fetuses. Many of these anti-choice religious and political male leaders are driven by power, money, male domination desires, and/or moral zealotry. Many are also driven by an obsessive desire to prevent any further weakening of medieval relig­ious dog­mas devastated by hundreds of years of scien­ti­fic and ethical advances. And many want to punish­ “loose” women and those women who are trying to “selfish­ly shirk their mater­nal duty.”

Fetal idolatry is born

These anti-choice men in power have largely disguised their real (but politically unacceptable) motivations. Instead, a strategy was born that would emotionally galvanize tens of millions of committed followers. This strategy elevated tiny human em­br­yos and fetuses to a rever­ence, an exalted status, a God-planned sacredness that, according to Rev. John Swomley, Emeritus Professor of Social Ethics, St. Paul School of Theology, could only be described as fetal idolatry.[1] “Fetal idolatry [becomes] the major battleground issue for both the patriarchal and clerical control of women,” declares Swomley.

These powerful religious and political leaders willfully ignore the fact that a five-week em­bryo is no bigger than a pencil eraser—that it has no face, hands or feet, no higher brain centers, no function­al sense organs to see, smell, hear or feel anything. They suppress the fact that the large majority of abortions occur while the fetus is still smaller than my thumb. They deny the fact that as late as the 19th week the human fetal brain still has no nerve con­nec­t­ions to the sen­sory environment and thus is incapable of experiencing pain or touch, or that the fetus doesn’t have a brain capable of the most rudimentary level of human conscious­ness until well into the 3rd trimester.

None of this well-established embryology makes any difference to those bishops, televangelists, pastors, elected politicians and other men who promote fetal idolatry. They dismiss all these “pesky” sci­entific, medical and embryological facts. Terms like “zygote,” “blast­ula,” “em­bryo” and “fetus” are replaced with “child” and “baby”. The fetus is elevated to a kind of demigod—“a help­less, innocent, unborn baby with awareness and feel­ings”; “a baby that is playfully suck­ing its thumb and only needs to grow”; “a pre-born baby with the sacred, inalienable, self-evident, funda­mental right to life.” Ultrasound images of “our baby in utero” now grace the family fridge, with the “baby” imagined to be smiling, waving, or sucking his thumb. Such ultrasound images have become an important propaganda staple for those who attribute to embryo and fetal life a sacredness and mythical level of awareness that has taken precedence over all else.

The “ultimate civil rights is­sue”

With the idolatrous creation of “conscious pre-born babies under­going excruciat­ing pain as they are torn apart by the baby butchers”, the abortion battle metamorphosis into the “ultimate civil rights issue of the century—the vital issue of pro­tect­ing the weak­est, most in­no­cent and most vulner­able among us.”

The anti-choice male power structure ignores the fact that our country outlawed abortions in the past, not because embryos and fetuses had a right to life, but because abortions had been extremely dangerous and deadly for women. Also, Protestant clergy had been motivated more by the declining birthrates of adherents than by any concern for the embryo. In addition, clergy had been opposed to abortions because women were seeking out abortions to try to escape the shame and punishment for the sexual sins of extramarital sex and non-procreative sex.[2]

These men ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s findings in Roe v. Wade that there was little agree­ment among scientific, medical, religious, political, philosophical and social groups as to when per­sonhood (and thus the right to life) appears (if at all) dur­ing fetal development. In fact, the last several decades of wide­spread acri­mo­­nious dis­agree­­ments among ethicists, theo­lo­gians, politi­cians, medi­cal personal, clergy, and the public clearly confirms the fact that when the “right-to-life” actually occurs in fetal development is not a specific point in time ever to be discovered scientific­ally, or agreed upon religiously. And they also willfully ignore or dismiss the fact that the large majority of civil rights groups in the U.S. support Roe v. Wade, as do numerous public health, psychi­atric and pedi­atric asso­ciations, along with vari­ous medical organ­i­zations representing hundreds of thousands of doctors and medical students.[3] So do dozens of religious organ­i­zations[4] and women’s groups.[5]

“As a public re­lations wea­pon and grass-roots organizing tool, [abortion] was the perfect smoke screen for the launching of larger political salvos” wrote Conway and Morris. “Abor­tion was almost guaranteed to ignite the apathy of un­regis­tered ‘born agains,’ and to sway many Demo­crats over to the conser­­vative Republican side.”[6]

Fetal idolatry and extremism

Fetal idolatry fuels moral zealotry and extremism. It justifies lying, distorting, misquoting, libeling and repressing, all in the service of defeating the enemy. There is no room for compromise. Fetal idolatry fuels the mass production of incendiary flyers which refer to emergency con­tra­cep­­­­tion as “baby pesticides” and to doctors who perform early abortions as “blood thirsty child kill­ers” and “baby butchers comparable to those who ran the Nazi death camps in World War II.” Abortions are called “America’s holocaust” and pro-choice supporters “Nazis”. Congregations are told that atheists are “slaughtering God’s children” and that “tear­ing a developing fetus apart, limb by limb, simply at the mother’s request, is a barbaric act of depravity that society should not permit.”

Truth is the first casualty of zealots. Those who label the morning-after pill a “baby pesticide” and early abortions as the “mur­der of unborn child­ren” have stooped to error-filled propaganda and dis­honest rhetoric designed to inflame. Also, equating the abortion of embryos to the Nazi Holocaust is rationally absurd and morally re­pug­nant. It raises the temp­era­ture of the abortion debate intol­erably. It is harmful, ex­tremist propa­ganda.[7] Such incendiary phrases have been a major contributing factor in the terror­izing, bombing and burning of repro­duc­tive health clinics for the past three decades. Tragically, tens of millions of conservative Christian Americans have swallowed this dishonest, inflam­­­ma­tory rhetoric.

Fetal idolatry has been a major factor in the terrorizing, bombing and burning of repro­duc­tive health clinics in the U.S. for the past three decades. It has resulted in intimidation and even murder of those who take a different position. Since 1980 the National Abor­tion Federation has identified more than 10,000 reported acts of terrorism and violence against lawful repro­duc­tive rights sup­porters in the United States. There have been thousands of abor­tion clinic block­ades. Clinic workers have been regularly stalked. There have been several hundred clinic arson attacks and bomb­ings. There have been kidnap­pings and shootings. Doctors must wear bulletproof vests. Nine abortion providers have been murdered so far.[8] And according to Swomley “There is no evidence that major religious leaders of the “pro life” movement have engaged in any effort to stop this violence.”

Religious violence, writes Rabbi Robert Wol­koff, never needs a poli­ti­cal purpose, since reli­gious extrem­ists “identify with divine power in annihilating the forces of chaos”. Extremists believe they are engaged in an apocalyptic war between light and dark­ness. Their role in this cosmic conflict is to demon­strate the des­tructive power of the One True God against evil. There is little room for com­pro­mise, since human laws are irrel­evant next to “God’s Laws.”[9]

Some final thoughts

Fetal idolatry is only able to thrive in religiously conservative, scientifically ignorant, patriarchal cultures with seriously flawed anti-rational educational systems. It has no place in any civilized, rational society that values the separation of church and state and values female equality. “Glamor­i­zing” and “personalizing” mindless, senseless human embryos has distracted us for decades from the fundamental question: Do we really want to live in a country that tries to force women to use their bodies against their will to incubate unwanted embryos—a country that outlaws a woman’s right to have herself freed from this potentially dangerous and unwanted bodily invasion? Historic­ally, the answer has almost always depended on the beliefs, needs and interests of MEN in religious and political power, certainly not on the needs of those who were actually burden­ed with unwanted pregnancies.
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[1] http://www.population-security.org/swom-98-06.htm

[2] J. Mohr, Abortion in America (1978).

[3] A national organization known as Medi­cal Students for Choice (MSFC) has chap­ters in over 100 medical schools and represents more than 3000 med­ical stu­dents nationwide. Also see Phy­sicians for Reproductive Choice and Health (www.PRCH.org).

[4] The Religious Coalition for Repro­duc­tive Choice, repre­sents over 40 dif­ferent denominations and faith groups in this coun­try. (www.rcrc.org).

[5] Examples include the American Association of Uni­ver­sity Women, the Association for Women in Science, Women’s Law Associations, the International Women’s Health Coalition, League of Women Voters-U.S., Nation­­al Edu­ca­tion Association (NEA), Women for Racial & Economic Equality, and the YWCA.

[6] Conway, F. and Siegelman, J. Holy Terror. 1981

[7] Using words as they were never in­ten­­d­ed in order to emo­­­­tionally galvanize people to various causes has long been an indispensable propa­ganda tool. Propaganda is not education. It is one-sided communica­tion design­ed to tell people what to think. To do this it must deaden the power of reasoning; it must stifle thought, not stimu­late it. Some main ingre­dients for success­ful prop­a­ganda are:

— Greatly simplify the issues down to easily remem­bered slogans.

— Be repetitious. If a falsehood is said thous­ands of times, people will act­u­ally start to believe it.

— Appeal to the emotions, not to the in­tellect.

— Have no gray areas, no room for com­pro­mise.

[8] For further updates on anti-abortion terrorism check . Also google [Abortion Terrorism], or check and .

[9]Wolkoff, R., “The Clash of Dark­­ness and Light,” L.A. Times, 3/3/94. B8.

Evil and human suffering – Philosophical/theological problem or human tragedy?

Many studies of the philosophy of religion include the “problem of evil,” which can be treated either as an intellectual problem, one which raises logical and epistemic issues, or as an existential problem of human tragedy.

Philosophers and theologians take on the challenge of trying to show that one can consistently affirm God’s existence and the fact of evil in the world. Other philosophers argue the contrary thesis. Questions of logical consistency are hashed back and forth; attempts are made to make concepts fit together, while others expose unexamined assumptions and point to implications that follow from propositions affirmed.

But the intellectual problem arises from the “existential problem”, one concerning human experience of suffering and evil, and human attempts to make sense of such suffering and evil. However, unless we have been there, we cannot fully comprehend first-hand experience of suffering and confrontation with evil. Fortunately, great literature, film, art and drama can offer a concrete, real-life expression, and enable us some measure of the experience of human tragedy. Great literature, both religious and secular, effectively portrays humans in confrontation with suffering and moral evil, attempting to find meaning and some redeeming value in tragedy.

In some cases, the message of literature and art implies a rejection of the intellectual “solutions” as mostly ineffective. This is the case in the following three examples, two from world literature and one from a contemporary drama.

Biblical Story of Job: Job suffers overwhelming loss and affliction. Three friends accompany him and offer theological explanations of his situation. Job rejects them all as irrelevant and ineffective. For him nothing about his travail makes any sense (he has been pious and morally upstanding). “The virtuous suffer along with the evil doers. Even worse, the evil doers prosper.” What is God doing??

Dostoevsky – “Rebellion” (1879-80)- In an emotionally wrenching exchange between two Karamozov brothers, Ivan and Alyosha, Ivan takes up the case of the gratuitous suffering of children, something he cannot accept as justifiable or subject to theological, philosophical explanation. He remarks that even if someone were to prove that children’s suffering was a necessary condition for achievement of ultimate harmony, he would reject that ‘truth.’ The suffering of one innocent child cannot be justified by a higher purpose or harmony to be achieved. Alyosha remarks that this is a form of rebellion against God.

PBS Drama: “God on Trial” (2008)- Jewish men imprisoned at Nazi death camp (Auschwitz?) and awaiting execution put God on trail on charge of violating the covenant with the Jewish people. Different witnesses give testimony, some presenting theological and philosophical defenses of God’s inaction and apparent indifference to the plight of Jews at hands of Nazi executioners.
The discussion — sometimes heated, sometimes half- whispered, always charged — went back and forth. If suffering is God’s design, is Hitler a servant of God? Does God want them to suffer and die? Why, as Jews, do they think that they have a monopoly on God? The convicted criminal who oversaw the bunkhouse spat that he just wanted to survive and would do anything to do so. What use is free will? All attempts to defend God are found to be inadequate, not at all justifications for what God has allowed to happen. Ultimately, God was found guilty of a breach of contract, although this verdict was revealed in the present day by an old man.
One of the conclusions: “God is powerful and has been on our side in the past; but is no longer our advocate and protector. God does not represent moral justice.”

The screen play written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and probably inspired by Eli Wiesel’s account of his experience in Nazi concentration camp and his book The Trial of God.

Human existence and evil:

The question is not why do humans commit and suffer evil, but why so much? Why is there so much gratuitous evil and unnecessary suffering? (Gratuitous Evil (suffering) – Suffering which is devoid of reason or justification.) The question is not why isn’t the world one of perfection and pure happiness, but why is the world one in which so much is permeated with intense suffering, evil, and injustice? This question is one which applies even to a secular person, someone who has a non-theistic, naturalistic view of reality. In the face of such overwhelming evil, what meaning and value can we find in human existence? What moral order remains? The question becomes more pressing for the theist who believes in an all-powerful deity who represents the highest moral good.

Some Christians have the image of the God the heavenly shepherd, who cares for his flock. Jews have the idea of a covenant between God and his chosen people. Muslims believe that everything that happens is Allah’s will. In each case, we have the general idea of a deity who controls or oversees all that happens to his creatures. Add to this the idea that the deity is perfectly good and desires that his creatures enjoy their measure of happiness and well-being. Often we apply the analogy of a parent who desires and works to realize the welfare of his children. (Another analogy: we judge the skill of the builder by the strength and integrity of his building. David Hume relies on similar analogies to argue that on basis of his works we could never infer the existence of an all-powerful, perfect Being.)
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There isn’t any need to think in terms of perfection or a world of pure happiness. All we need to envision is a world which is not so full of gratuitous evil, unnecessary suffering, and injustice. The question that both the believer (in a deity) and the non-believer asks: Can’t we imagine a better world? The answer, to anyone who notices what human history and current reality are like, is that obviously one can imagine a better world, for example, one in which children do not suffer unnecessarily. Conscientious people, both believers and non-believers, work to realize such a better world.
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Existential problem: Given human experience of evil, how do we make rational sense of evil? What are the implications for our beliefs, our faith, and our attitude (toward God, with regard to our moral values)? What meaning or value or moral order can we find in human existence?

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The question for theologians and ‘philosophical’ defenders of theism: Given the plausibility of a better world, what are the implications for belief in an omnipotent, perfectly good deity who oversees the human world?

The question for everyone, including nonbelievers in deity, is why does the world show so little moral progress in present so much evil, suffering. This question arises in the context of great progress in the sciences, technologies, engineering, medicine, communication, etc.
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History and news accounts of current world events can be read as horror stories!

War, oppression , slavery of African people, genocide, conquest and destruction of Native American cultures, . . In the 20th century: the Jewish Holocaust, Genocide in Soviet Union, of the Armenian people, in Southeast Asia (Cambodia’s “killing fields), in Africa (Rwanda, Burundi) – Suffering and massive death resulting from two world wars, aerial bombing of cities and civilians seen as acceptable way of doing war, atomic bombing of Japanese cities; from continuing conflict in the Middle East, Iraq, and Afghanistan – September 11, 2001 attack.

Disease, plague, physical and mental afflictions of many kinds, famine, drought, natural disasters (e.g. earthquakes), hurricanes, Flu Epidemic of 1917, Tsunami near Indonesia in 2004, the Haiti earthquake, and the 2011 massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Gross economic inequality and disparity in quality of life around the world.

Any great suffering that we focus on (e.g. genocide, Jewish holocaust, slavery of Africans, conquest and destruction of native Americans, oppression, hunger, death from preventable disease in ‘developing nations’; death and suffering from wars) is but a sampling of the suffering of people throughout history.
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From the PBS dramatization “God on Trial”: “God was not good. He was only on our side.” (Statement by a Jewish man referring to Biblical history of Hebrews. Statement made in context of attempt to make sense of God’s role at time of Nazi genocide perpetrated on Jews, among others.)

“God destroys both the guilty and the innocent. Even worse, He allows the evil doer to prosper, and destroys the righteous.”

Biblical Job: The lesson taught: Might makes right. Job is overwhelmed by the might of the almighty. Question of justice becomes irrelevant.

The lesson of Job is not an intellectual one, but an existential one. Job, the paragon of virtue, has become a man of flesh and blood overcome by suffering. Standard answers (from theology and philosophy) to the problem of evil and suffering are discarded as insufficient, even irrelevant. The questions raised by Job are not intellectual ones. He cries out because, through suffering, he has lost the capacity to trust in life itself. The final point (a religious one) is that meaning in life is not to be found in words (philosophy), but in confrontation with the Almighty himself.
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From Plato: Socrates raises a philosophical dilemma for theists. Either moral good is what God does (i.e., definition of “good” as anything which God does) or God does what is good (meaning, the action of deity is good by some objective standard). If the former is true and good is by definition whatever God does, then there is no problem of evil. But you have bizarre consequences that genocide, murder, and the suffering of innocent children could be morally good. If the latter is true (God’s acts can be evaluated by some standard of good), than we have a problem of evil when the actions of God (and what He allows to happen) are evil by our objective standard and cannot be explained as the acts of benevolent, just Being. .
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Analogy: In life you win some and lose some. But the ‘evil’ does not result from failure to find perfection, from our not having a perfect season. Yes, sometimes good people win (the trapped minors are rescued and all passengers on the down airliner are safe). Evil results when everyday is one of profound suffering and loss, as is the case for the majority of people on the earth. Evil is manifest in the gross injustice and disparity of wealth and standards of life around the world.

“Any talk of a correspondence between moral justice and human destiny is just plain foolishness.”
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From Michael L. Peterson, The Problem of Evil, Selected Readings

“Among various issues in the philosophy of religion, the problem of evil commands much attention. Both the specialized philosopher and the intelligent lay person puzzle over how certain theological concepts fit together, how to evaluate various explanations of why God allows evil, and what personal stance to adopt toward a world such as ours which includes so much evil.”

“From the lament of the ancient patriarch, Job, to Albert Camus’ disturbing tale of about a bubonic plague epidemic in the French town of Oran, we see the horrors of natural evil. Each piece raises in its own way the question of how the God of theism — a being thought to be omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good — could allow undeserved physical suffering. Then, in the exchange between Ivan and Alyosha Karamozov given to us by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and in the chilling account of the Holocaust by Elie Wiesel, we sense the terrible and haunting human capacity for moral evil. Why does God, if he exists, allow human beings to be so inhuman to each other?”

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But the question could also be: Why do humans allow so much injustice and commit so much inhuman evil on others? We don’t need the postulation of a God to pose the problem of evil.

C Rulon: By accepting God, I have everything to gain and nothing to lose…or do I?

by Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College ([email protected])

Pascal’s Wager: “How could I give up eternal salvation by choosing not to believe in God?” I’ve been asked. “By accepting God you have everything to gain and nothing to lose. It’s a no-brainer.” Here’s my response:

Which god? There are a great many diff­er­ent gods and religions worshiped today, each with diff­erent dog­mas and beliefs regarding just about everything. Obviously they can’t all be right. But since there’s no rational way to deter­mine which ones are wrong, if not all of them, how can I choose? What happens if I pick the wrong god? What happens if I choose a Hindu god, or Allah, or the bib­li­cal god and the real god turns out to be a jealous, vindic­tive Egypt­ian Sun God? Now I’m really dammed to hell!

Which Christian sect? So suppose I flip a coin and it comes up “Jesus is my Lord and Savior”. I still have to select from among the hundreds of different Christian sects and denomi­nations which disagree­ with each other on all sorts of trivial things…like how to get to heaven, or the time of ensoulment, or the morality of birth control, abor­tion, homosexuality, or woman’s place, and so on. Why so many differ­ent sects? Partly because our Bible is filled with scientific absur­d­ities, contradic­tions, ambi­gui­ties and incon­­­sis­t­encies, thus making it a “pick-n-choose” Bible.

Faking is out. Also, you can’t fake it. You have to really believe in this medieval nonsense. Feigning belief? Don’t even think about it. Any omniscient god would see right through the deception. So now what? How do I throw out decades of acquired knowledge that devastates god beliefs, including much of my entire scientific back­­ground and become a true believer?

Horrors! Suppose I “miraculously” do become a true believer, say in the god of the Christian Right and of the Republican Party. Suppose I spend the rest of my life worshiping this god and doing what I am told is his bidding. Then suppose I discover near the end of my life that this god was either the wrong god or never existed in the first place. Horrors!! I’ve just spent my life trashing large chunks of excellent, life-advancing science in this god’s name.

I’ve spent my life trashing rational critical thought and human­istic com­passion in favor of an intol­erant medieval theocracy! I’ve spent my one priceless life increasing the pain and suffer­ing of gays and lesbians, and people with terminal illnesses who just wanted to die in peace and dignity. I spent my life trying to force untold num­bers of desperate women with unwanted pregnancies to be unwilling embryo incubators! I’ve even fought against the survival of demo­cracy in favor of a fascist theocracy!

I’ve squandered my precious time on Earth worshiping, sacri­ficing to, and fighting for some evil deity or one that never existed in the first place! In fact I’ve actually spent my life working for the extinction of the entire human species by preaching and supporting Arma­geddon End Times beliefs! Horrors!! And Christians actually have the temerity to tell me that I have everything to gain and nothing to lose by accepting their god!!!!

Here’s what I think. If an all-good, all-wise deity really did exist—a deity respon­sible for all the laws of sci­ence, including relativity and quantum mechanics—this deity would certainly not want us to waste our time kissing His ass and sending money to charlatans with bad hair pieces. Instead, He would want us to live lives of kindness, gener­osity and humanis­tic compassion. He would certainly not want us to follow the irrational, destruc­tive, intolerant, and self-serving dogmas of the Christian Right.

Also, since this deity saw to it that we had brains which could scientifically discover and explore the work­ings of His creation, He would regard the honest seeking of truth as one of His highest virtues. He would want us to use our rational brains and the scientific method to improve life on Earth instead of wallowing in endless superstitions.

Hell: If Christian fundamentalists are right and I’m wrong, I could be going to Hell (I’ve been told) for trying to destroy the faith of good, honest, God-fearing Christians. (Mark 9:42). But consider: If the Jesus of the New Testa­ment really did exist and, despite all evidence to the con­trary, his words really were recorded accurately in the Gos­pels, then those “Christians” who have not done their best to conform to his moral dictates could also be joining me for an eternity of fire and brimstone. That could be a lot of Christians!

After all, Jesus was very clear in his explicit admonition for the wealthy to give all their money to the poor if they ever wanted to go to heaven (Matthew 19:16-26; Mark 10:17-25; Luke 18:18-26). Yet, Christian Ameri­cans remain incredibly wealthy compared to the two billion people on our planet who live on less that $2 a day. So the express train to Hell might very well be stuffed with those who spent their extra money on BMWs, Botox injections, Armani shoes and trips to Vegas instead of on poverty relief. Also in danger could be those men who committed adultery by marry­ing div­orced women, those who didn’t turn the other cheek, and those who spent their time judging and condemning homo­sexuals, secular huma­nists, Jews, and Janice Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction.

C Rulon: Japan’s destruction and God’s wrath

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College (ruloncl@ya[email protected])

Introduction

In March 2011, a magnitude 8.9 earthquake and resultant tsunami devastated Japan. Within days, dozens of countries were sending help and supplies. But also within days numerous people were blaming the Japanese and their “rampant atheism” for incurring God’s wrath. I was immediately reminded of earlier disasters.

The 2004 tsunami

On December 26, 2004 a tectonic plate under the Indian Ocean seabed slipped. One result was a tsunami that hit the coast of Thailand and other countries in S.E. Asia. Over 250,000 people including 80,000 children drowned. It was one of the worst natural disasters in our history.

Scientists have natural expla­nations for earthquakes and tsunamis. Yet, many religious people still cling to medieval beliefs that such disasters are expressions of their deity’s anger for human sin. The following are actual quotes by mostly religious leaders, regarding the 2004 tsunami as reported in the news media.

Buddhist: “Karmic law determines who lives and dies.” The people of S.E. Asia “suffered collective bad karma, prompted by oppression and unjust wars that invited the calamity. Those who perished were paying the price of accumulated demerits in this life or past ones, while the survivors were reaping rewards.”

Hindu: “The tsunami was caused by a huge amount of pent-up man-made evil on earth.” …“The ocean is a terrible god who drowns people and boats, but also provides fish as food. The tsunami was a response by this ocean god to the negative actions of humans.”

Muslim: “The Qur’an recognizes no natural laws inde­pen­dent of God’s will. All that happens is Allah’s doing and displays His mercy and compassion. The tsunami has some hidden positive purpose. This is a test from God to measure the strength of one’s faith.”

Jewish: “This is an expression of God’s great ire with the world. The world is being punished for wrongdoing.”

Liberal Christian: “God’s infinite love and wisdom allows evil and suffering to exist in order to bring about far more long-range good than we can possibly foresee. God did not desert us; He showed His presence in the out­pouring of good works that poured forth to aid the victims of the tsunami.”

Calvinist: “Human collective sin has been so monumen­tal that it continues to justify every form of Divine wrath visited upon Earth.”

Christian evangelist: “God is trying to awaken people and help them realize that salvation is in Christ.”

“This tragedy is a sign of the last days, fulfilling Christ’s promise that devas­tation will precede his second coming. The end is almost at hand. Be concerned only about your status with the Lord when the final judgment comes.”

Christian fundamentalist: “The tsunami was divine punish­ment for America’s homosexuality, abor­tion, lack of God in the schools, and taking Jesus out of Christmas. God will not be mocked.”

Obviously, since there’s no scientific way to test any of the above reli­g­ious explanations for natural disasters, how can any of them be considered know­ledge at all? Skeptics also ask: “Why anyone would want to worship a god who drowned 80,000 innocent children, or worship a god who didn’t or couldn’t stop the earthquake?”

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina (2005) was the costliest and one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States. It devastated much of the north-central Gulf Coast, particu­larly New Orleans. The mayor of New Orleans responded that “God is mad at America.” And a slew of Islamic bloggers claimed that the hurricane represented Allah’s judgment on Ameri­ca’s sins.

And then there was Reverend John Hagee, an extremely influential American tele­van­gelist. Hagee is president and CEO of John Hagee Ministries which telecasts his national radio and television ministry carried in America on 160 TV stations, fifty radio stations and eight networks and can be seen and heard weekly in 99 million homes. His minis­tries can also be seen in Canada, Africa, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and in most third world nations.

Hagee asserted that Hurricane Katrina was an act of God, punishing New Orleans for “a level of sin that was offensive to God”.[i] He specifically referred to a homo­­sexual parade that, he said, was held on the date the hurri­cane struck as proof “of the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans.”[ii] Another reason for God sending Katrina, Hagee claimed, was the Bush administration’s pressure on Israel to abandon the land God gave them 2000 years ago (the Left Bank). There­fore, claimed Hagee, God took American land in a tit-for-tat exchange during Hur­ricane Katrina.

In 2008 Hagee came out in strong support for presi­dential candidate John McCain who initially sought and welcomed his endorsement. Later, McCain changed his mind when Hagee said that God used Hitler and the Holocaust to send the Jews to Israel, the promised land.

9/11

Following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center (Sept. 11, 2001), America’s churches were filled and millions were singing “God Bless America” at rallies and memorials all across the country. But many religious Americans were also asking them­selves how their all-good, all-loving, all-merciful, all-just, all-compassion­ate, all-knowing, all-power­ful interventionist god could have allowed this to happen to us? Here were a few of their answers found in newspapers, magazines and on the web:

“God has chosen not to intervene in human affairs, since this would undermine our free will to choose to love Him.” Q: But then why pray for divine intervention at all? And why then do most Christians still see evidence of God’s inter­ven­tions everywhere?

“9/11 was God’s way of bringing Americans (God’s chosen people) together through adversity.” Q: But, 9/11 led to our invading Iraq, which has seriously divided our country and alienated us from much of the world.

“Satan was responsible for 9/11.” Q: So why didn’t God stop Satan? Believer: “Who knows? God works in mysterious ways. We can’t know His Will.” Q: Then how can you claim to know your god’s will on anything, such as abortion, gay rights, stem call research, and so on?

“By allowing 9/11 to happen, God was sending us a wake­up call regarding the rapid and dangerous spread of Islamic fundamentalism.” Q: Or could your god be send­ing you a wake-up call for allowing the dangerous spread of Christian fundamen­talism?

“God was punish­ing us because we’ve strayed from God’s moral laws by allowing the killing of pre-born babies and the spread of homosexuality.”

“God is pissed off at America because we are destroying the ecologi­cal life-support systems of his planet and are selling major weapons of death and destruction to over 160 other nations.”

Collective guilt & punishment

The Hebrews’ tribal god often punished entire commu­nities for the transgressions of a few.[iii] Christian leaders Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson both expressed this collec­tive guilt concept when they publicly declared that the terrorist attack on 9/11/01 was punishment from God for American’s sins, in par­ticular homosexuality and killing God’s unborn children.

This belief in collective guilt—that God punishes us with terrorists attacks or hurricanes because our nation doesn’t condemn, for example, homosexual behavior—can ultimately result in the loss of personal privacy. In free societies there is a toler­ance for sexual activity in private between con­senting adults. But religious conservatives often have zero tolerance for private vices, especially sexual vices. Sexual freedom, they believe, will only lead to licentious­ness and decadence, fol­lowed by God’s wrath on everyone. Thus, those who believe that God will punish everyone for the private sexual activities of some, in particular homosexuality, will take considerable interest in the private affairs of others. They will snoop and snitch and condemn.

Some final thoughts

a. Because religions offer no valid mechanism by which their core beliefs can be tested and revised, each new generation of believers is condemned to inherit the super­stitions of its predecessors. The idea that certain fantastic propositions can be believed without evidence is something that most Americans share with much of the Muslim world.

b. The ability of religious leaders to explain away all evil only reveals the delusional nature of religious belief. It only proves that people can use their various gods to justify just about anything including genocides, witch-burn­ings, inquisitions, jihads, and on and on. This has been done in spades through­­­out the ages. After all, once people believe that their god always has a good reason for doing what He does, no matter how obscure, contrived and inconsis­tent it seems, then all debate stops. God’s assumed omni­science must always trump our meager understanding and exonerate the Almighty of any possible error or bad intention.

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[i] John C. Hagee is the founder and senior pastor of Corner­stone Church in San Antonio, Texas, a non-denominational evangelical church with about 20,000 members. Hagee had received millions of dollars in compensation for his position as CEO of his non-profit corporation, Global Evangelism Tele­vision (GETV). He is one of the highest-paid televangelists.

[ii] Actually the gay parade was scheduled for the next week. Hagee failed to mention that those areas spared the flooding and destruction included most of the gay neighborhoods.

[iii] The 2nd Commandment states “.… for I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, punish­ing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to thousands who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6 – NIV)