Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Say It Ain't So

With Our Moral Leader hanging out with teenage girls across England (and now Paris) it's up to us, his many followers, to start thinking for ourselves. But, alas, thinking is hard -- at least it is for me. So, I've been forced to search the Internet looking for articles on religion and morality as I await Mr Ford's return to regular blogging.

I've found four interesting articles: the first laments the loss of Biblical literacy; the second, by a post-Marxist, points to the Biblical foundations of modern democratic politics; the third contrasts Jewish and Christian ideas on the morality of hate; and, lastly, an article from the BBC (of course!) suggesting that religion, and by inference Biblical morality, is bunk.

Unfortunately, I regard the last article to be the most persuasive of the four. You see this is what happens when the Great Luke Ford puts his holidaying pleasures above tending to the moral needs of his flock -- we get tempted by dangerous ideas, like science, secularism, and fantasies about partying with hot English (and Parisian) teens!

1) In "The Bible Tells Me So: Biblical illiteracy is a shame" the Wall Street Journal's Adam Nicolson writes:
Up until, say, 100 years ago, biblical literacy would have been practically mandatory. If you didn't know what "the powers that be" originally referred to, or where "the writing on the wall" was first seen, or what was meant by "the patience of Job," "Jacob's ladder" or "the salt of the earth"-- if you didn't know what an exodus was or a genesis, a fatted or a golden calf -- you would have been excluded from the culture. It might be said that a civilization consists, at its core, of these easily transmitted packages of implication. They are one of the mechanisms by which cultures can be both efficient and rich. You don't have to return to first principles every time you wish to communicate ... Without the set of archetypes and fount of wisdom in the Bible, our lives would be thinner and poorer. I know my own life would have been immeasurably less if I had never encountered the majestic language of scriptural stories, as told in the King James Version.
2) History professor Richard Wolin discusses left-wing German philosopher Jurgen Habermas' interest in the role of Judeo-Christian belief in a healthy democracy:

Among 19th-century thinkers it was an uncontestable commonplace that religion's cultural centrality was a thing of the past. For Georg Hegel, following in the footsteps of the Enlightenment, religion had been surpassed by reason's superior conceptual precision. In The Essence of Christianity (1841), Ludwig Feuerbach depicted the relationship between man and divinity as a zero-sum game. In his view, the stress on godliness merely detracted from the sublimity of human ends. In one of his youthful writings, Karl Marx, Feuerbach's most influential disciple, famously dismissed religion as "the opium of the people." Its abolition, Marx believed, was a sine qua non for human betterment.
Habermas, in contrast, points to "the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love" as the necessary basis for Western political ideals of fairness and equality:

The "contract theory" of politics, from which our modern conception of "government by consent of the governed" derives, would be difficult to conceive apart from the Old Testament covenants. Similarly, our idea of the intrinsic worth of all persons, which underlies human rights, stems directly from the Christian ideal of the equality of all men and women in the eyes of God. Were these invaluable religious sources of morality and justice to atrophy entirely, it is doubtful whether modern societies would be able to sustain this ideal on their own ... religion, as a repository of transcendence, has an important role to play. It prevents the denizens of the modern secular societies from being overwhelmed by the all-encompassing demands of vocational life and worldly success. It offers a much-needed dimension of otherness ... Religious convictions encourage people to treat each other as ends in themselves rather than as mere means.
3) In the Catholic journal First Things Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Yeshiva University explores the Jewish idea that it's sometimes virtuous to hate one's enemies:

[Jesus] acknowledged his break with Jewish tradition on this matter from the very outset: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous ... Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." God, Jesus argues, loves the wicked, and so must we.


For Christians, God acted on humanity's behalf, without its knowledge and without its consent. The crucifixion is a story of a loving God seeking humanity's salvation, though it never requested it, though it scarcely deserved it. Jews, on the other hand, believe that Gods covenant was formed by the free consent of His people. The giving of the Torah is a story of God seeking to provide humanity with the opportunity to make moral decisions. To my knowledge, not a single Jewish source asserts that God deeply desires to save all humanity, nor that He loves every member of the human race. Rather, many a Jewish source maintains that God affords every human being the opportunity to choose his or her moral fate, and will then judge him or her, and choose whether to love him or her, on the basis of that decision. Christianity's focus is on love and salvation; Judaism's on decision and action.


The Protestant theologian Harvey Cox, who is married to a Jew, wrote a book on his impressions of Jewish ritual. Cox describes the Jewish holiday of Purim, on which the defeat of Haman is celebrated by the reading of the book of Esther. Enamored with the biblical story, Cox enjoys the tale until the end, where, as noted above, Esther wreaks vengeance upon her enemies ... he is disturbed by Jewish hatred. It cannot be a coincidence, he argues, that precisely on Purim a Jew by the name of Baruch Goldstein murdered twenty innocent Muslims engaged in prayer in Hebron. There is something to Cox's remarks. The danger inherent in hatred is that it must be very limited, directed only at the most evil and unrepentant.
See also Jeff Jacoby's comment on Soloveichek in a piece titled "When Hatred Is Necessary." Jacoby notes: "Jewish tradition holds, with Ecclesiastes, that there is a time to love and a time to hate."

Reading Soloveichek and Jacoby it may appear that Christian morality is clearly superior to the Jewish alternative. But hating one's enemies, and doing them harm, is a pragmatic philosophy in a way that turning one's cheek is not. Jesus' teachings should be understood within their intended (narrow) context. Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. He told His followers to behave as if they were already living in the Kingdom of God: to love their enemies, give up their material possessions, leave their families, if necessary, and follow Him, for the world was about to end.

Now if that sounds nutty consider the following.

4) In "God on the Brain" Liz Tucker points to the scienfitic evidence that the very religious, especially those claiming to have experienced religious visions, suffer from a brain disorder:

Controversial new research suggests that whether we believe in a God may not just be a matter of free will. Scientists now believe there may be physical differences in the brains of ardent believers. Inspiration for this work has come from a group of patients who have a brain disorder called temporal lobe epilepsy. In a minority of patients, this condition induces bizarre religious hallucinations ...


Professor VS Ramachandran, of the University of California in San Diego, believed that the temporal lobes of the brain were key in religious experience ... So he set up an experiment to compare the brains of people with and without temporal lobe epilepsy ... What Professor Ramachandran discovered to his surprise was that when the temporal lobe patients were shown any type of religious imagery, their bodies produced a dramatic change in their skin resistance.


Scientists now believe famous religious figures in the past could also have been sufferers from the condition. St Paul and Moses appear to be two of the most likely candidates. But most convincing of all is the evidence from American neurologist Professor Gregory Holmes. He has studied the life of Ellen G White, who was the spiritual founder of the Seventh-day Adventist movement. Today, the movement is a thriving church with over 12 million members. During her life, Ellen had hundreds of dramatic religious visions which were key in the establishment of the church, helping to convince her followers that she was indeed spiritually inspired. But Professor Holmes believes there may be another far more prosaic explanation for her visions.

He has discovered that at the age of nine, Ellen suffered a severe blow to her head. As a result, she was semi-conscious for several weeks and so ill she never returned to school. Following the accident, Ellen's personality changed dramatically and she became highly religious and moralistic. And for the first time in her life, she began to have powerful religious visions.
I remember reading a similar explanation for the religious visions of Mohammed in Will Durant's The Age of Faith (1950). So, I guess this argument has been around for awhile. But now, apparently, there is scientific proof that moral leaders Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Ellen White, Joseph Smith, et al., were fruitcakes, and so, too, presumably, the Great Dennis Prager and, horror of horrors, the Great Luke Ford.

Oh my.

Mr Ford isn't going to be pleased to find out that he may be suffering from yet another medical condition. I'll have to ask him about this when he returns from Europe. Assuming, that is, that he does return. I have a terrible fear that Mr Ford forgot to pack all his (many) medications, and in a moment of unmedicated weakness he will do something stupid with, or worse to, one (or more) of his teenage admirers, and just like Roman Polanski, he'll never be allowed to return to America (and The Hovel™).

Let us pray that a) the Great Luke Ford isn't a fruitcake, and b) that he proves this by returning from his European vacation with his morals safely intact.

-- by the Luke Ford Fan Blogger