Monday, August 31, 2009

C.M. Woodhouse: scholar-soldier and philhellene

I first encountered C.M. Woodhouse through his wonderful 1986 book George Gemistos Plethon: The Last of the Hellenes. Considering Plethon's central importance to the Italian Renaissance it is remarkable that Woodhouse's is the only book-length treatment of the man in the English language. For those interested in finding out more about Plethon you might want to check out my blog post titled Contra Atheos, Part Deux: A Gentlemen's Agreement, as well as the post George Gemistos Plethon: Sources.

It turns out that Woodhouse himself was quite a remarkable character. Below is a brief biography that appears at the website of Denise Harvey Publishers, the publisher of Woodhouse's last book, Rhigas Velestinlis: The Proto-Martyr of the Greek Revolution. And click here to read Woodhouse's obiturary in the New York Times (Woodhouse died February 13, 2001).
Christopher Montague (Monty) Woodhouse was one of the small band of Second World War scholar-soldiers who became legends as young men. Educated at Oxford, where he read Classics and gained a double first along with other prizes, he then went to the British School at Athens intending to return to an academic career at Oxford. On the outbreak of the war he enlisted in the Royal Artillery and it was because of his knowledge of modern Greek, learnt while in Athens, that he was sent to Greece as a member of the British Military Mission. He was first in Athens, and then in German-occupied Crete collecting intelligence and helping British solders escape from the island where he learned 'to feed on snails, mountain grass and ground acorns'. After a spell at a training school in England he was parachuted as second-in-command with a small British team into mainland Greece with the object of making contact with local resistance fighters and sabotaging the main railway line. This was successfully achieved when the railway viaduct at Gorgopotamos was blown up, one of the most spectacular wartimes acts of resistance in occupied Europe, and an act that gave great momentum to resistance to the Germans. Woodhouse stayed in the mountains for the rest of the occupation, becoming head of the now Allied Military Mission. In his unpublished 1945 report on the Mission, he wrote:

'Nothing matters so much in this story as the Greek mountains. The rolling downs of Olympus, the precipitous ravines of Agrapha, the orchards of Pelion, the staggering crags of Smolikas, the long, thin ridge of Taygetos, the pine forests of Giona, are almost individual characters in the story, their roles perpetually changed by sun and snow and rain. Without them no guerilla movement could have been born.'

In the immediate post-war years he was largely engaged in helping to clear up and record the Balkan disarray, and he was attached to the British Embassy in Athens and was secretary-general to the Allied Mission for observing the Greek elections a year later. Posts in industry, the Nuffield Foundation, and a spell at the Foreign Office followed, and from 1955 to 1959 he was Director-General and Director of Studies of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House). In 1959 he entered the House of Commons as M.P. for Oxford and represented the constituency, except for a four-year break, until 1974. He was also for several years visiting professor at King's College, London, perhaps the British academic institution with the closest links to Greece, a position which he greatly enjoyed.

From the war onwards as a writer he concerned himself primarily with Greek history. His first book, The Apple of Discord: A Survey of Recent Greek Politics in their International Setting (1948), was an important analysis of Greece during the war. There followed many other books, including The Greek War of Independence (1952), The Story of Modern Greece (1968), The Philhellenes (1969), The Struggle for Greece, 1941–1949 (1976), Karamanlis: The Restorer of Greek Democracy (1982), The Rise and Fall of the Greek Colonels (1985), and Gemistos Plethon: The Last of the Hellenes (1986). His last published book was Rhigas Velestinlis.

"As a Buddhist, what I can do is pray for them...."

"As a Buddhist, what I can do is pray for them [the storm victims], wishing them that in their next life, they can still be human and live a happier life."
[His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as quoted in today's Taipei Times, see link below the picture.]

Claude Arpi's analysis on "The importance of the Dalai Lama's Taiwan visit" at the Indian news and information site

"You achieved democracy. That you must preserve”. Quote from Financial Times article:

Dalai Lama had spoken about his desire to visit Taiwan back in November, 2008:,dalai-lama-wants-to-visit-taiwan-in-2009.html

The Philipine Star online: "Dalai Lama prays, encourages democracy in Taiwan":

Anne Rice's book reviews at Amazon

Anne Rice is a fascinating person, and I say that as someone who is not a fan of her writing. It is not at all the case that I dislike her writing - it's just that it has never really "grabbed" me. In fact, the only vampire novel that I have ever read is the cult-classic I, Vampire by the amazing Jody Scott (1923-2007) - one of the most under-appreciated masterpieces of modern popular fiction.

The reason I mention Anne Rice is that while poking around trying to find reviews and other responses to Jan Assmann's works on monotheism I stumbled upon Ms. Rice's review of his Moses the Egyptian at Amazon. At first I was (highly) skeptical that this was really Anne Rice, but since her wikipedia entry states that these reviews are actually written by her, well, it must be true! Rice loved Assmann's book, btw; she gives it five stars and titles her review "Brilliant and crystal clear historical analysis".

Most of Rice's 90 reviews at Amazon at least mention (or, more often, primarily focus on) Christianity. Rice's Christianity is not without subtlety and surprises (depending, of course, on one's own preconceived notions of that religion). For examples, although she is a Catholic she supports the ordination of women and gay marriage, while strongly criticizing the Church's opposition to contraception. She even goes so far as to question the Church's position on abortion. These views are only hinted at in her reviews at Amazon, but she was much more explicit in a 2005 interview with Anne-Marie O'Connor of the Los Angeles Times. At the same time, Rice appears to be theologically conservative when it comes to what she views as purely theological issues. Perhaps she is one of those who agree with Joseph Campbell that the Church should have retained the Latin Mass and accepted the ordination of women, rather than the other way around.

The beautiful drawing of Anne Rice is by Craig Hamilton, it was dowloaded from

Saturday, August 29, 2009

More thoughts on Plato's "Charmides"

The Charmides was one of the first of Plato's dialogues that I ever read, and I have to admit that I have not had much occasion to return to it over the years. But as I searched for a proper starting point for Plato for Pagans I kept going in circles until it occurred to me to start with Laches and Charmides. My main reason for doing so was that these dialogues meet two very attractive criteria for an introduction to Plato: (1) they are traditionally considered to be among Plato's early and more accessible works, and (2) they are both clearly datable in terms of the precise time in Socrates' life in which they are set, and they also correspond to important events in the history of the city of Athens.

Since chronological specificity was a major reason for choosing these two dialogues, I had little choice but to put Charmides before Laches, since the Charmides takes place in 432 BC, when Socrates is 37 years old, and the Laches takes place eight years later. (The kind of dating I am talking about is often referred to as the "dramatic date" of a dialog. All of Plato's dialogues were written well after Socrates was dead, but they are all set dramatically during Socrates' lifetime.) One often finds the two dialogues presented in the opposite order. This is the case, for example, in Charles Kahn's Plato and the Socratic Dialogue as well as in the Rosamond Kent Sprague's single volume translation of both dialogues.

As I already alluded to, many years had passed between my first reading of Charmides and the time, very recently, when I began to look at it again more closely. When I did this I was shocked at the depth and complexity of this "early" dialogue! Not only are the arguments presented at times quite convoluted (enough so that contemporary scholars differ widely even on the gist of what Plato is trying to say), but the themes that are addressed are among the most weighty in all of Greek philosophy. What is knowledge? What is wisdom? What is the nature of the soul? How should we live our lives?!

And yet I continue to believe that this is an excellent starting point for Plato. But the Dear Reader must be forewarned - this will not be a matter of dipping a toe cautiously into the water, it will be much more like jumping in head first!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Boycott Whole Foods

For years I have done most of my grocery shopping at the nearest Whole Foods store. After not really giving it much thought for the last two weeks, though, it finally struck me just how depraved John Mackey is, and just how badly I want to make him sorry for being such a schmuck.

I mean seriously - the guy could have kept his trap shut. But he decided to flaunt his moronic McCarthyism as if daring people to do something about it. So, like, why don't we?

I say live by the sword, die by the sword. Let's hit Mackey where it hurts. Let's ruin his business empire, or, better yet, let's force him, through the power of the pocketbook, to apologize to all his loyal customers that he has insulted.

The guy has staked out a position well to the right of Walmart!!

So from now on I'll shop at Roots Market, My Organic Market, Trader Joe's, Giant, Safeway, etc - but until Mackey has atoned for his sins, I will never darken Whole Foods door again. Except on a picket line!

I am also joining the advocacy group Single Payer Action which has been helping to organize protests at Whole Foods stores.

".... to live freely"

Laura Dekker is my new hero. She is a 13 year old girl who wants to sail around the world, and her parents think this is a fine idea. She is a born adventurer - her mother gave birth to her on a yacht off the coast of New Zealand during a 7 year global-wide sailing expedition. But a Dutch court has intervened and taken legal custody away from her parents (although she continues to live with her father).

What Laura Dekker wishes to do is obviously dangerous. She could easily get herself killed. And of course I cannot pretend to know what is best for her. It is natural for a 13 year old to think that she can do things that she either can't do, or at least shouldn't do. I know I did!! The illusion of indestructibility and even immortality is one of the greatest gifts/curses of youth.

But to those who insist that she is not old enough to sail around the world, her reply is
"I want simply to learn about the world and to live freely."

"He is free who lives as he likes; who is not subject to compulsion, to restraint, or to violence; whose pursuits are unhindered, his desires successful, his aversions unincurred."
[Epictetus On Freedom (Discourses IV.1)]

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dalai Lama headed to Taiwan

According to tradition, the Dalai Lama is a living avatar of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. What could be more natural, then, than for him to visit Taiwan, a Buddhist country, in the wake of the devastating floods that killed hundreds of people and caused billions of dollars of damage?

But the Communist government of the People's Republic of China, which lays claim to both Taiwan and Tibet, has denounced the decision of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou to allow His Holiness to visit the flood ravaged island, which lies just 100 miles off the coast of the PRC.

In announcing his decision, President Ma said
The Dalai Lama could come to Taiwan to help rest the souls of the dead and also pray for the well-being of the survivors.
Taiwan is an overwhelmingly Buddhist country (over 90% of it's 23 million+ inhabitants are Buddhist), and the Dalai Lama is an extremely popular figure there. When His Holiness visited the island in 1997 and 2001 tens of thousands of people turned out to hear and see him. The Dalai Lama was very impressed with the enthusiastic greeting and, after his last visit, had decided to return to Taiwan at least once every two years. But the PRC furiously demanded that no more visits take place, and the Taiwanese government has acquiesced - until now.

Read the latest news stories on the Dalai Lama's upcoming visit to Taiwan here.

Meet the "Greek" philosophers of Asia!

The maps above show the birthplaces for many of the most influential "Greek" philosophers.

For more information on the early Stoics Zeno, Cleanthes and Chrysippus, see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Stoicism. There is also a separate entry for Epictetus. Two other prominent Stoic philosophers not shown above were the Emperor Marcus Aurelius and the writer and statesman Seneca, neither of whom were "Greek": both were Romans. Seneca was born in Corduba, Spain, while Marcus was born in Rome.

For more information on the Platonic philosophers of late antiquity follow these links:

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy articles on Plotinus and Porphyry.

A nice page on Iamblichus by Bruce J. MacLennan.

A very nice section on Proclus at the Goddess Athena website, where there is also a section on Iamblichus.

And here are the wikipedia entries for Damascius and Simplicius (better than nothing!).

And for those keeping score at home, the city of Constantinople is, of course, in continental Europe. But Proclus was by ethnicity Lycian - and Lycia is in southwestern Anatolia (see map). And (of course!) Alexandria is in Africa - not Asia!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Monotheistic Robots of Doom, Part Deux

The first post on this subject featured a long excerpt from Jan Assman's 1997 book Moses the Egyptian, along with some tenuously related material concerning the newish SciFi movie Caprica. This post will continue on with the themes raised by Assmann in that excerpt, but despite the fact that I probably won't reference Caprica and/or BSG, I will nevertheless keep the title "Monotheistic Robots of Doom" just for laughs.

Ten years after publication of Moses the Egyptian, Assmann's essay Monotheism and Polytheism appeared in a collection titled Ancient Religions, edited by Sarah Iles Johnston (in fact it had appeared already in the 2004 Religions of the Ancient World, also edited by Johnston). Before going into that essay, though, I want to first talk more generally about the book Ancient Religions as a whole. Johnston herself has three major contributions: her Introduction and a chapter each on Mysteries and Magic. In the opening paragraph of the chapter on Mysteries, Johnston writes that "today, neopagan religious groups worship the gods of mystery cults in what they believe is the way that ancient initiates did."

The above is a remarkably objective statement concerning modern Paganism coming from a scholar. Where, one wonders, is the knee jerk contemptuousness that is inevitably encounterd when dealing with the likes of, say, Don Mary Beard (who has her own contribution to the volume on the subject of Writing and Religion)? Pagans do not require praise or even validation from modern scholarship, but is it too much to ask that scholars refrain from saying things about Pagans that would cost them their jobs were they to say such things about Jews or Christians? Apparently the strain of maintaining "scholarly objectivity" weighs so heavily on some minds that they must blow off steam on targets who are deemed sufficiently powerless. Fortunately there are others to whom genuine objectivity comes naturally as a corollary to an innate intellectual curiosity -- and such is the case with Professor Johnston, whose masterful Hekate Soteira is already (and very deservedly) on the must read list of many Pagans. Well read Pagans also owe it to themselves to be familiar with Ancient Religions, as well as Johnston's books on Medea, Ancient Greek Divination, etc (her book on Ancient Greek Divination until recently was only available in an expensive hardback edition, but is finally out as a much more affordable paperback!!).

In fact the influence of the ancient Mystery cults on modern day Paganism is pervasive and deeply rooted. It is not going at all too far to say that in particular the Mysteries of Eleusis and those of Dionysos (including especially the Orphic forms of Dionysianism) are the examplars for most forms of modern Paganism in the West, including, especially, Wicca. Moreover, these ancient Mystery cults have been "of perennial interest", as Johnston correctly phrases it, throughout the entirety of the last 2000 years of Western history. This "interest" provides a very tangible and direct connection between modern and ancient Paganisms - and one that is also continuous and even "linear", as Ronald Hutton himself has phrased it.

Johnston begins her overview of the ancient Mystery cults with (where else?) that of Eleusis. In her discussion, Johnston is not interested in presenting her own interpretation of the Eleusinian Mysteries, but rather with providing the reader with "a summary of what scholars think we can say with certainty". Her brief overview should probably be required reading for all Pagans. It includes a very well written thumbnail sketch of the muthos of Demeter and Persephone, relying primarily on the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, as well as an outline of the public parts of the ceremonies leading up to and including the sacred procession from Athens to Eleusis. Dramatically, Johnston leaves us at the very entrance to the Telesterion itself, reminding us that "under threat of death, initiates kept their secrets well."

Johnston also discusses the Samothracian Mysteries, in which even the names of the Deities honored was kept a secret. In her discussion of the Bacchic mysteries, she focuses on the rites involving the famous "gold tablets ... which have been found in Greek and Italian graves dating from the 5th century BCE to the second century CE." These gold tablets "are small sheets of gold inscribed with instructions that guide the soul of the dead through the underworld .... Fritz Graf suggests that these texts were also read aloud during initiations, which supports the idea that the tablets served to remind the soul (which was expected to be confused after death) of what it had already learned while alive."

Johnston begins the chapter on Magic with a very nice retelling of the story of the Seal of Solomon to help illustrate why "Most scholars today now concede that a reliable means of dividing magic and religion will never be found." (This lack of a bright dividing line neatly separating Magic and Religion is something that I wrote about back in June in my post on Paganism has always been a magical religion.) In the section on "The power of images and essences" Johnston talks about the relationship between ousia ("essence") and sumpatheia ("sympathy" - as in "sympathetic magic"):
Ousia comprised material taken from someone or something: hair, fingernail parings, fringe from a garment, a nail from a cross on which a criminal had been crucified, a plank from a shipwrecked vessel. Ousia might be understood as a special sort of image, a physical object that stood in for what was otherwise missing, making it present.
[p. 148]
Johnston notes that while "Earlier generations of scholars would have called the use of ousia an example of sympathy .... Recent scholars have rejected this idea along with most other Frazerian inheritances." Johnston clarifies that what has been "rejected" is Frazer's misunderstanding of sumpatheia, but not the original concept itself, for "there is no denying that sympathetic ideas were at work in antiquity." [p. 148] Johnston then goes on to discuss the late antique development of sumpatheia as an over-arching theoretical infrastructure for a philosophical approach to magic. But in the end Johnston concludes that with regard to the sumpatheia of the late antique Platonists "[t]he implicit idea is the same as that behind the use of ousia." [p. 149]

Fritz Graf (mentioned above in the discussion of Johnston's chapter on Mysteries) also contributed two chapters to Ancient Religions, one on the question What is Ancient Mediterranean Religion?, and one on Myth. The first of these serves as a second, extended Introduction, and it is complementary to Johnston's own Introduction. Other contributors include David Frankfurter (on Egypt), John Scheid (on Religions in Contact) and Jan Bremmer (on Ritual), to name just a few of the accomplished scholars represented.

But lets now turn to Assmann's essay on Monotheism and Polytheism. Although he does not deign to state it explicitly, this essay amounts to a summary demolition of the concept of "Pagan Monotheism". For starters, Assmann states categorically that "the idea of unity is not alien to polytheistic religions", and that, all by itself, is more than enough to deal the death blow to so-called "Pagan Monotheism", which can only justify itself by stupidly seeing "monotheism" wherever the "idea of unity" is present. Assmann goes on to explain that "On the contrary, the emphasis on the oneness or uniqueness of God or the ultimate unity of the divine world with its plethora of deities is obvious in Mesopotamian and Egyptian texts and increases over time." [p. 24]

Assmann then goes to explain that what has come to be termed by many as interpretatio graeca is actually a general feature of ancient polytheistic religions (what I have elsewhere termed interpretatio prisca), and a feature that long predated the classical Greeks (let alone "Hellenism"):
Translation functions because the names not only have a reference, but also a meaning, namely, the god's specific character as it is unfoled in cosmological speculation, myths, hymns, rites, and so on. This character makes a deity comparable to other deities with similar traits. The similarity of gods makes their names mutually translatable. But in historical reality, this correlation is reversed. The practice of translating the names of gods created a concept of similarity and produced the idea or convicion that gods are international.

The tradition of translating or interpreting foreign divine names goes back to the innumerable glossaries equating Sumerian and Akkadian words, among which appear lists of divine names in two or even three languages, such as Emesal (woman's language, used as a literary dialect), Sumerian, and Akkadian. The most interesting of these sources is the explanatory list Anu sa ameli, which contains three columns, the first giving the Sumerian name, the second the Akkadian name, and the third the functional definition of the deity. This explanatory list gives what may be called the meaning of the divine names, making explicity the principle that underlies the equation or translation of divine names. In the Kassite period of the Late Bronze Age [approx. 1531-1155 BC], the lists are extended to include languages such as Amorite, Hurrian, Elamite, and Kassite in addition to Sumerian and Akkadian. In these cases the practice of translating divine names was applied to very different cultures and religions.
[pp. 24-25]
Unlike the misguided proponents of "Pagan Monotheism" Assmann realizes that universalizing "translations and interpretations" of the kind found among polytheists in the ancient world lead in the exact opposite direction as that of the phenomenon of "revolutionary monotheism":
[T]here is no evolutionary line leading from polytheism to revolutionary monotheism. This form of monotheism manifests itself in the first place as a negative or counterreligion, defining what god is not and how god should not be worshiped. Revolutionary monotheism is based on the distinction between true and false, between one true god and the rest of forbidden, false, or nonexistent gods. The introduction of this distinction into the realm of religion constitutes a radical break....

Biblical monotheism is based not on evidence but on revelation. It is not a matter of cognition but of commitment. It requires adherents to make a conscious decision to accept revealed truth and reject deceitful evidence. Natural evidence in debunked as seduction, as luring people away from revealed truth into the traps and pitfalls of false gods, that is, the world. The distinction between true and false refers, in its ultimate meaning, to the distinction between god and world. Revolutionary monotheism worships an extramundane or transcendent god, whereas the deities of both polytheism and evolutionary monotheism [which is really just a form of polytheism] create and animate the world from within and constitute its life. These religions may be termed "cosmotheism," because they worship the world as a divine being. Biblical monotheism is based on an extramundane truth that cannot be seen or otherwise sensually experienced ....

In consequence of its determination to distinguish between true and false, revolutionary monotheism constructs the outside world of former and foreign religions as paganism, a concept completely alien to primary religions. The Greeks knew "barbarians" but no "pagans". However, the distinction is primarily applied within the group itself; it addresses the "pagan within" and cuts right through its own community and even through the individual heart, which now becomes the theater of inner conflicts and religious dynamics. The concept of idolatry became psychologized and turned into a new concept of sin.
[pp. 28-30]

So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, "Whoever is for the LORD, come to me." And all the Levites rallied to him.

Then he said to them, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.'"

The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died.

Then Moses said, "You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day."
[Exodus 32:26-9]

See also (links NOT automatically generated):
Constantine (A brief history of Revolutionary Monotheism, Part Three)
Moses (A Brief History of Revolutionary Monotheism, Part Two)
Akhenaten (A Brief History of Revolutionary Monotheism, Part One)
Monotheistic Robots of Doom
Lies, Damned Lies, and Pagan Monotheism
Hic Sunt Dracones

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Monotheistic Robots of Doom

BEWARE: Major Spoilage to follow!!!!
OK, so I finally watched the movie Caprica, the opening salvo of the new Sci Fi channel prequel series to Battlestar Galactica. In what follows there will be serious spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen it yet and doesn't want to know what happens!

But first I want to talk about the nature of the Beast known as Monotheism. Jan Assmann is one of the world's most prominent scholars of ancient Egyptian religion, and he is also a proponent of a (to some) radical new way of looking at monotheism. Assmann's contention is that the distinction that really matters is not that between monotheism and polytheism, rather it is the Mosaic distinction, as Assmann has named it, between true religion and false religion. In essence, Assmann posits that Moses, or someone like him, invented the notion of Zero Sum Theology (that's my phrase, not Assmann's): it is not enough for my religion to be true - all other religions must also be false.

Here is how Assmann explains himself in the first chapter of his book Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism
The distinction I am concerned with in this book is the distinction between true and false religion that underlies more specific distinctions such as Jews and Gentiles, Christians and pagans, Muslims and unbelievers. Once the distinction is drawn, there is no end of reentries or subdistinctions. We start with Christians and pagans and end up with Catholics and Protestants, Calvinists and Lutherans, Socinians and Latitudinarians, and a thousand more similar denominations and subdenominations. Cultural or intellectual distinctions such as these construct a universe that is not only full of meaning, identity, and orientation, but also full of conflict, intolerance and violence. Therefore, there have always been attempts to overcome the conflict by reexamining the distinction, albeit at the risk of losing cultural meaning.

Let us call the distinction between true and false in religion the "Mosaic distinction" because tradition ascribes it to Moses. We cannot be sure that Moses ever lived because there are no traces of his earthly existence outside the tradition. But we can be sure that he was not the first to draw the distinction. There was a precursor in the person of the an Egyptian king who called himself Akhnenaten and instituted a monotheistic religion in the fourteenth century B.C.E. His religion, however, spawned no tradition but was forgotten immediately after his death. Moses is a figure of memory but not of history, while Akhenaten is a figure of history but not of memory. Since memory is all that counts in the sphere of cultural distinctions and constructions, we are satisfied in speaking not of Akhenaten's distinction, but of the Mosaic distinction. The space severed or cloven by this distinction is the space of Western monotheism. It is this constructed mental or cultural space that has been inhabited by Europeans for nearly two millennia.

It is an error to believe that this distinction is as old as religion itself, though at first sight nothing might seem more plausible. Does not every religion quite automatically put everything outside itself in the position of error and falsehood and look down on other religions as "paganism"? Is this not quite simply the religious expression of ethnocentricity? Does not the distinction between true and false in reality amount to nothing other than the distinction between "us" and "them"? Does not every construction of identity by the very same process generate alterity? Does not every religion produce "pagans" in the same way that every civilization produces "barbarians"?

However plausible this may seem, it is not the case. Cultures not only generate otherness by constructing identity, but also develop techniques of translation. We have to distinguish here between the "real other," who is always there beyond the individual and independent of the individual's constructions of selfhood and otherhood, and the "construction of other," who is the shadow of the individual's identity. Moreover, we have to realize that in most cases we are dealing not with the "real other," but with our constructions and projections of the other. "Paganism" and "idolatry" belong to such constructions of the other. It is this inevitable construction of cultural otherness that is to a certain degree compensated by techniques of translation. Translation in this sense is not to be confused with the colonializing appropriation of the "real" other. It is simply an attempt to make more transparent the borders that were erected by cultural distinctions.

Ancient polytheisms functioned as such a technique of translations. They belong within the emergence of the "Ancient World" as a coherent ecumene of interconnected nations. The polytheistic religions overcame the primitive ethnocentrism of tribal religions by distinguishing several deities by name, shape, and function. The names are, of course, different in different cultures, because the languages are different. The shapes of the gods and the forms of worship may also differ significantly. But the functions are strikingly similar, especially in the case of cosmic deities; and most deities had a cosmic function. The sun god of one religion is easily equated with the sun god of another religion, and so forth. Because of their functional equivalence, deities of different religions can be equated. In Mesopotamia, the practice of translating divine names goes back to the third millennium B.C.E. ... In the second millennium, this practice was extended to many different languages and civilizations of the Near East. The cultures, languages, and customs may have been as different as ever: the religions always had a common ground. Thus they functioned as a means of intercultural translatability. The gods were international because they were cosmic. The different peoples worshipped different gods, but nobody contested the reality of foreign gods and the legitimacy of foreign forms of worship. The distinction I am speaking of [between true and false religions] simply did not exist in the world of polytheistic religions.

The Mosaic distinction was therefore a radically new distinction which considerably changed the world in which it was drawn. The space which was "severed or cloven" by this distinction was not simply the space of religion in general, but that of a very specific kind of religion. We may call this new type of religion "counter-religion" because it rejects and repudiates everything that went before and what is outside itself as "paganism". It no longer functioned as a means of intercultural translation; on the contrary, it functioned as a means of intercultural estrangement. Whereas polytheism, or rather "cosmotheism," rendered differed cultures mutually transparent and compatible, the new counter-religion blocked intercultural translatability. False gods cannot be translated.
[pp. 1-3]
I find Assmann's analysis to be valuable and penetrating, but there are at least three major problems with what he is saying:

(1) The emphasis on "cosmic" Gods is misplaced. Nature, including especially terrestrial nature, is very much a part of the "cosmos", and an Earth Goddess is (obviously) just as "cosmic" and "international" as a Sun God.

(2) Assmann is stuck in the rut of a progressivistic mindset that requires the construction of a primitive other whose religion was "ethnocentric", and this small-minded tribal religiosity, in Assmann's view, had to give way to the superior, civilized, universalizing religiosity of urban polytheism.

(3) But by far the most egregious deficiency of Assmann's theory of the "Mosaic distinction" can be summed up in two words: no robots.

This, of course, is where the movie Caprica comes in (and, therefore, this is also where the spoilers are to be found). It is one thing to identify where monotheism goes wrong [that is, in creating the true versus false religion dichotomy]. But how did monotheism come to be so powerful? The answer to that turns out to be somewhat complex, but it definitely, as you have probably guessed by now, involves robots. You see once upon a time (in the future) there was a highly advanced civilization that was based on 12 different planets, the so-called "twelve colonies". The inhabitants of these worlds worshipped a variety of Goddesses and Gods, more or less based on the Olympian Deities of ancient Hellas.

Amidst these space-colonizing polytheists of the future are a small number of anti-social, violent, fanatical monotheists. They have no power to do anything other than occasionally carry out vicious acts of terrorism, in between which they gather in secret and fantasize about "driving out the many Gods" worshipped by human society at large, and replacing those Gods with their "one true God".

Among these mentally disturbed monotheists are three mentally disturbed teenagers, who decide to run away from home together. At the last minute one of the teenagers, Lacy Rand, chickens out. The other two get on a train and begin their escape, but one of them (whose name really doesn't matter - and, besides, I can't remember it) starts acting really nervous. The other teenager, Zoe Graystone, keeps asking him what's wrong.

Finally, the teenage boy reveals what his problem is: he has decided to take his monotheism to the next level by becoming a suicide bomber. He opens his coat and shows Zoe his explosives - and then blows up everyone on the crowded train (including Zoe).

The thing is, though, that Zoe was an evil genius who had found a way to create a computer simulation that was a perfect copy of herself. It also turns out that Zoe's daddy is a big-shot executive for a military contractor trying to create a battlefield ready robot-soldier. The only problem for Zoe's daddy is that his robots literally can't shoot straight. Well, one thing leads to another and Zoe's digital simulacrum, complete with excellent hand-eye coordination and evil religious fanaticism, ends up inside one of the robots. And that is how the end of the human race begins....

See also (links NOT automatically generated):
Constantine (A brief history of Revolutionary Monotheism, Part Three)
Moses (A Brief History of Revolutionary Monotheism, Part Two)
Akhenaten (A Brief History of Revolutionary Monotheism, Part One)
Monotheistic Robots of Doom, Part Deux
Lies, Damned Lies, and Pagan Monotheism
Hic Sunt Dracones

"even his enemy": Glenn Greenwald and Thomas Paine gang up on torturers

If you are not already, please start keeping track of Glenn Greenwald, especially what he is writing on torture. And that's not just because he has some excellent quotes from Thomas Paine in today's column:
An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.
The executive is not invested with the power of deliberating whether it shall act or not; it has no discretionary authority in the case; for it can act no other thing than what the laws decree, and it is obliged to act conformably thereto. . . .
[both of these quotes are from Paine's Dissertations on First Principles of Government]
In yesterday's column Greenwald wrote about "What every American should be made to learn about the IG torture report." Among the things that Greenwald thinks we should all be made to learn are that American torturers used

(1) threats of execution

(2) threats against detainees families (including the threat of raping detainees wives in front of them and murdering their children)

(3) severe physical abuse

(4) the use of power tools in interrogations

(5) the deaths of dozens of detainees as a result of torture done by Americans.

Greenwald provides extensive excerpts from the Inspector General's report documenting all of the above (click here for a pdf of the IG report).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Christian Today India" runs story questioning "Watch List" designation for India

It was supposed to be the plight of Christians in Orissa that motivated the US Commission on International Religious Affairs (USCIRF) to announce that they were adding India to their "Watch List" of nations in which religious freedom is imperiled. But among those who have protested against this move are prominent representatives of the Christian community in Orissa, according to an article on the Christian Today India website: "Orissa Christians reject USCIRF report, defends 'secular' India".

Most of what is reported by Christian Today India was already known from other sources, but the fact that this story is now being run in a major Evangelical Christian news outlet dramatically undermines the legitimacy of the USCIRF's statements regarding India.

Christian Today India cites both Catholic Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, and Swarupananda Patra, president of the Orissa Minority Forum. Patra is also a professor of Christian Theology and an officer of the All Orissa Baptist Churches Foundation.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Aseem Shukla responds to India "Watch List" designation

The following is by Aseem Shukla, a regularly featured contributor to the joint Newsweek and Washington Post "On Faith" blog, and member of Hindu American Foundation's Board of Directors. The original blog post can also be read here.

Washington, D.C. (August 14, 2009) - This week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) placed India on its "watch list." By this designation, India, the largest multi-ethnic and multi-religious democracy joins a motley cabal comprised of the likes of Afghanistan, Cuba, Egypt, Somalia and Venezuela. Countries like Bangladesh, that so recently forced the exodus of thousands of Hindus under an Islamist government, enjoy higher status with the Commission than India. How is this possible?

The watch list defines those countries that the USCIRF believes are in danger of being listed among the worst offenders of religious freedom. The government of India reacted predictably to this rather dubious distinction, "regretted" the action, said India guaranteed freedom of religion and aberrations are dealt "within our legal framework, under the watchful eye of an independent judiciary and a vigilant media."

A closer look at the India designation, however, shows the Commission's innate bias, lack of insight, absence of understanding, and loss of credibility. Worse, putting India on the watch list will be perceived as a self-defeating and egregious act that needlessly complicates relations between two diverse, pluralistic and secular democracies.

Created by Congress in 1998, the Commission can only advise the State Department, which has its own list of countries of concern and amiably ignores the Commission's recommendations. But the Commission's pronouncements still carry the symbolism of an official government entity judging the fitness of another's country's human rights record.

There is power in symbolism, and the attention credible human rights groups bring to a cause gives succor to the oppressed and isolate the oppressor . But therein lies the rub-- credibility--and the USCIRF, in its composition, methodology and ideology, is running low on gas.

Let's begin with the India chapter in the USCIRF report itself. In its 11 pages, the document details three specific episodes to justify slamming India: Riots between Hindus and Muslims in the state of Gujarat that broke out after a Muslim mob torched a train full of Hindu pilgrims killing 58 in 2002; riots between Hindus and Christians that left 40 dead in the state of Orissa in 2008 after a Hindu priest, long opposed by fanatic missionaries, was murdered; a brief incident where miscreants attacked "prayer halls" built by the New Life Church -- a revivalist Protestant group -- that had distributed a pamphlet denigrating Hindu Gods and Goddesses and allegedly engaged in mass conversions of Hindus.

These three episodes in a country of a billion condemn an entire nation?

Incredibly, the Commission's India chapter paints a portrait of minority religions on the run in India, pursued by a rabid Hindu majority! This in a country whose last President was Muslim, whose leader of the largest political party is Christian and whose Prime Minister is Sikh. In contrast, behold the shrill outcry when our own President Obama was alleged to be Muslim!

A terrible riot that left hundreds of Muslims and Hindus dead and occurred closer to a decade ago mandates an entire section, but the ongoing attacks by jihadis in India's Kashmir targeting Hindus; several recent bombings in Hindu temples carried out by Islamists, and Hindu temple desecrations in Christian Goa; and an analysis into the incendiary results of attempts to convert Hindus by coercive means fail any mention at all.

Indian Americans know the story of the subcontinent, and without an exploration of these original sins that sparked riots, is to tell half a story--a problem now wholly the Commission's.

India's history--beginning with the bloody partition of the country by religion into East Pakistan (1947)/Bangladesh (1971) and Pakistan in 1947 --created a tinderbox of tension. But a land that gave birth to Hinduism and Buddhism--a Mahatma Gandhi and a syncretic Muslim emperor like an Akbar centuries before were both defined by these traditions--offered a unique experiment that sought to replicate what our own Founding Fathers did here: create a secular, inclusive democracy.

That experiment is put to a singularly arduous trial by the machinations of Pakistan that sees its identity as an Islamic nation threatened by India's pluralism -- its adventures in Mumbai in 2008 and Kashmir massacres are examples. And a small minority of Indian Muslims choose the ideology of the Taliban rather than embrace that of the great Pashtun, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the patriot whose non-violent struggle against the concept of carving a piece of India into Pakistan is legendary--reactionary Hindu groups form and trouble brews. It is in this context that terrible riots too often validate devious provocateurs--and a point that sadly eludes the USCIRF.

Then there is the explosive issue of coerced conversions in India. Today, the largest aid donor to India is not the government of any country. Nearly half a billion dollars are sent to India under the auspices of Christian missionary organizations. Some of these groups are involved in truly uplifting work amongst the poorest, but the underlying subtext for some churches is a bargain: convert and we will help. The New York Times famously reported on evangelical tsunami aid organizations disproportionately lavishing help on those communities that agreed to convert. Legions of converts testify to the pressure they received in the form of a job, medical aid, education -- if they just agreed to change their faith. Families are turned against families and communities -- a potent brew that also raises tensions that can escalate. And when these evangelical groups proclaim their work and their scores of new converts couched in colorful videos at suburban megachurches, the dollars flow and enrich itinerant missionary mercenaries -- a fact blithely ignored by the Commission.

Examine the makeup of the USCIRF: Six members are Christian, one is Jewish and one Muslim. Not a single non-Abrahamic faith is represented. The chair is Vice President of the far-right Federalist Society, and another commissioner is an executive at the evangelical Southern Baptist Convention, which publishes material which calls Hinduism's grand festival of Diwali "devil worship."

Finally, Hindu Americans are wondering today if there is quid pro quo at work. The USCIRF was denied a visa this month to travel to India for a "fact-finding" trip. But the Commission was clear that it would not visit Kashmir (because of threats by Muslim terrorists) nor the Northeast of India where militant Christian terrorists are displacing Hindus and fighting for separatism. It would not look into Hindu temple desecrations in Goa and other attacks. It only wanted to visit Gujarat and Orissa. The Government of India said, "thanks, but no thanks." The USCIRF was outraged at the denial, and we can only ponder whether this was payback.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hindu Americans question credibility of US Commission on International Religious Freedom

Panel slams US for putting India under watch list

Lalit K Jha, Press Trust Of India
Washington, August 15, 2009

A group of American Hindus in Washington has slammed a US panel on global religious freedom for placing India on its "watch list" for religious intolerance, saying that it shows the body's "innate bias, lack of insight".

Putting a question mark on the credibility of US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) in a statement said, a closer look at the India designation shows the Commission's absence of understanding and loss of credibility.

Reacting to the HAF statement, USCIRF Chair Leonard Leo, said, "If people want a detached and balanced assessment of the facts, they should read the report for themselves and draw their own conclusions."

HAF charged USCIRF of indulging in personal vendetta as its members were denied visa by India early this year.

"Hindu Americans are wondering today if there is quid pro quo at work. The USCIRF was denied a visa this month to travel to India for a "fact-finding" trip," HAF said.

"But the Commission was clear that it would not visit Kashmir (because of threats by Muslim terrorists) nor the Northeast of India where militant Christian terrorists are displacing Hindus and fighting for separatism. It would not look into Hindu temple desecrations in Goa and other attacks," HAF charged.

"It only wanted to visit Gujarat and Orissa. The Government of India said, "thanks, but no thanks." The USCIRF was outraged at the denial, and we can only ponder whether this was payback," HAF said.

Questioning its composition, HAF said, "Examine the makeup of the USCIRF, six members are Christian, one is Jewish and one Muslim. Not a single non-Abrahamic faith is represented. The chair is Vice President of the far-right Federalist Society, and another commissioner is an executive at the evangelical Southern Baptist Convention, which publishes material which calls Hinduism's grand festival of Diwali "devil worship."

"Putting India on the watch list will be perceived as a self-defeating and egregious act that needlessly complicates relations between two diverse, pluralistic and secular democracies," it said.

HAF charged that in its 11 pages, USCIRF details two specific episodes to justify slamming India, riots between Hindus and Muslims in the state of Gujarat that broke out in 2002 and between Hindus and Christians that left 40 dead in the state of Orissa in 2008 after a Hindu priest was murdered.

"These episodes in a country of a billion condemn an entire nation. Incredibly, the Commission's India chapter paints a portrait of minority religions on the run in India, pursued by a rabid Hindu majority!" HAF said.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Orissa Christians leaders take exception to US report

Orissa Christian leaders take exception to US report

Bhubaneswar, Aug 14 (PTI)
Taking exception to a report by a US panel on global religious freedom placing India on the 'Watch List' for Kandhamal violence, Christian leaders in Orissa today said the majority community has been "extremely cordial" to them.

Minorities in India have been targets of hate campaign by a small section, "but the civil society of the majority community has been extremely cordial and supportive of the minority community in the state," Orissa Minority Forum (OMF) President Swarupananda Patra said.

His remarks came in the wake of a statement made by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom that India was placed on the 'Watch List' due to "disturbing increase" in communal violence there.

Though a few 'criminal elements' created problems for the minority community during the riots, the secular fabric of the society was intact, Patra said.

Who the heck is the US Commission on International Religious Freedom?

This week a US government agency that most people have never heard of announced that they were placing the nation of India on a "watch list" based on claims that Christians and Muslims in India are being "persecuted" by the Hindu majority.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has a total of eight members: a Chair and two Vice Chairs and five Commissioners. Five of the current members are Republican appointees, three of them appointed by former president George W. Bush and one each by former House leader Dennis Hastert and former Senate leader Bill Frist. Of those five one (the Chair) is an officer of the Federalist Society (which some called the "Shadow Justice Department" of the Bush Administration), one is an officer of the Hudson Institute (the "think-tank" that hired Dan Quayle!), one (the Vice Chair) an officer of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (a think-tank whose "fellows" include Rick Santorum and Stanley Kurtz), one an officer of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the fifth Republican appointee is the founder of the Islamic Institute of Boston (go figure).

One irony is that the Chair and two of the Commissioners of the USCIRF are members of groups that have earned a place on a "watch-list" of their own! The Federalist Society, the Hudson Institute, and the Ethics and Public Policy Center have their own pages at the website of And some people might also find it odd that a member of the "Ethics Committee" (sic) of the Southern Baptist Convention sits on the USCIRF, since, as everyone knows, the SBC was formed originally for no other purpose than the preservation of the institution of human slavery, and today the SBC does not allow women to serve as pastors, and is openly and unapologetically homophobic.

None of the members of the Commission are Hindu or Buddhist.

Two countries not on either the Watch List or the even more serious Countries of Particular Concern list are Greece, where it is a crime to establish a religious organization without the government's permission, and government produced schoolbooks contain antisemitic materials; and South Korea, where arson attacks on Buddhist Temples by fanatic Christians have occurred regularly for decades, and where the current President is a fundamentalist Christian who has shown blatant favoritism to Christians in government appointments.

Obviously the agenda of the USCIRF is to serve as an advocacy group for US funded Christian missionaries operating abroad.

A little more on "Plato for Pagans"

Here are a few scattered ideas that didn't find their way into the first post on this subject.

(1) I also plan to do additional volumes beyond the two already outlined in skeletal form. A volume apiece will be devoted the Timaeus and Parmenides, while another volume will include the dialogues on knowledge, logic and language: Cratylus, Theaetetus, Sophist and Statesman. If I live long enough maybe I'll do one on the Laws, too, although in the meantime I should probably try to figure out a way of covering Book X of the Laws - probably in the volume on the Timaeus.

(2) Wherever possible I will use R.E. Allen's translations, as well as relying heavily on his commentaries. But even when I follow Allen closely I will be, hopefully, making the material more accessible. I think it would be pretty much totally impossible for someone without a strong background to just sit down and read Allen's commentaries starting from scratch. I'm not sure if I will succeed in accomplishing that with my own commentaries, but I'll try.

(3) I also plan to make extensive use of Pierre Hadot's What is Ancient Philosophy? and also Julia Annas' The Morality of Happiness. Both of those books, in my opinion, do have the level of accessibility that I am hoping for - not that they are light reading!! Charle's Kahn's Plato and the Socratic Dialogue and Annas' Platonic Ethics Old and New will also be at my side quite a bit.

(4) I will also weave Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War into the mix, especially in the first two sections of Volume One dealing with the life and death of Socrates. I also plan to make heavy use of the following secondary sources Perez Zagorin's book on Thucydides, Mark Munn's The School of History, Arlene Saxonhouse's Free Speech and Democracy in Ancient Athens, Robert Parker's two books on religion in Athens, and a number of the usual, and perhaps unusual, suspects concerning Athenian history. However, my goal will be to avoid any reliance on peculiarly modern interpretations of Plato, Socrates, or Greek history. Where a contemporary scholar's ideas seem consistent with a natural reading of Plato and/or with objectively agreed upon historical facts, then secondary sources will be used to explain and illustrate such interpretations and historical facts, but secondary sources will never be used as primary justifications.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lies, Damned Lies, and the "Persecution" of Christians in India

Over the coming weeks and months expect a steady drumbeat of stories claiming that a wave of violent persecution of Christians is sweeping India. The online fundamentalist mouthpiece the Christian Post was very pleased to announce today that India has been placed on the "watch list" maintained by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The USCIRF is an official government agency established by an act of congress in 1998.

You see, Christians like nothing better than to play the martyr. For example, historians now recognize that the so-called "persecution" of Christians in the Pagan Roman Empire was in large part intentionally provoked by Christian fanatics who longed for martyrdom. These fanatics committed acts of criminal violence directed at Pagan holy places and even at individual Pagans including priests, priestesses and even government officials. One of the world's leading scholars of the phenomenon of Christian "martyrdom", G.E.M. de Ste Croix devoted a whole chapter to what he calls Voluntary Martyrdom in his 2006 book Christian Persecution, Martyrdom, and Orthodoxy, in which he wrote that "voluntary martyrdom"
was a great deal more common among the orthodox than the Christian apologists have cared to admit. In all probability quite a substantial proportion of the 'noble army of martyrs' of the first three centuries consisted of volunteers .... It is impossible to doubt that the prevalence of voluntary martyrdom was a factor which both contributed towards the outbreak of persecution and tended to intensify it when it was already in progress.
[p. 153]
Now fast forward 2000 years. Christians today are clamoring about "persecution" in India. Exhibit A is inevitably the claim that Christians were the victims of "religious violence" in the province of Orissa last year. What Christians don't like to mention is that the violence only started after a group of Christians assassinated an 80 year old Hindu holy man along with four other Hindus - all of them unarmed. They also don't like to mention the fact that Christians in Orissa province are known to work together with Maoist guerillas against their common enemy: Hindus. If you look hard enough you'll even find that some Christians have been willing to publicly acknowledge this "problem". Their are now even people in Orissa who consider themselves to be "Christian Maoists"!

Christians also forget to mention that before Swami Lakshmanananda was killed there had been over half a dozen attempts on his life. The Swami had provided police with evidence of death threats against him by Christians just prior to his assassination. And they also neglect to point out that both Christians and Hindus died and lost their homes during the violence that ensued after the Swami's murder.

Here are some other things that get overlooked when the cry of "Christian persecution in India" is heard:

(1) Christians have lived in India for almost 2000 years. Jews have lived in India for even longer.

(2) India is a place of refuge for religious groups that face persecution elsewhere. This is true for Jews, Zoroastrians and Tibetan Buddhists.

(3) Christians have been the perpetrators of large scale religious violence in India for over 500 years. The Catholic Church set up a branch office of the Inquisition in India in the year 1600. Catholics, using artillery, destroyed Hindu Temples in the India and Buddhist Temples in Sri Lanka during the 16th century.

(4) Christians were accused of systematically using coercion and financial inducements in their "missionary work" by Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders of the movement that eventually brought independence to India, who strongly supported tight restrictions on the activities of foreign funded Christian missionaries in India.

(5) The great Indian Rebellion of 1857 began as a response to aggressive Christian missionary activity that was being supported directly by the British East India Company. Many Indians today see the ongoing activities of western funded Christian missionaries in their country as a seamless continuation of European colonialism.

(6) India has a long history of religious tolerance, which Indians are justifiably proud of. King Asoka, who ruled most of India over 2000 years ago, made religious tolerance a basic part of his vision for India in his famous Rock Edicts. By contrast, the Catholic Church did not explicitly embrace the principle of religious tolerance until the second half of the 20th century.

Orissa has been especially targeted by western funded foreign missionaries for decades. This means that Sarah Palin types from the US take their "vacations" in Orissa to "spread the Gospel". For example, follow this link for a 2007 church newsletter from Minneapolis inviting people to go to Orissa to "learn about Indian culture" the old fashioned way - by destroying it!

Here is a list of targeted villages in Orissa - complete with latitude and longitude, and the acronyms for which missionary groups are assigned to each village:

And here is a list of foreign funds received by NGO's operating in Orissa - compiled by the Orissa government:

Finally, for further reading check out a fascinating four part series of articles from the Boston Globe (in 2006) on the insidious nexus of right-wing American groups, Christian missionaries and US government agencies involved in "foreign aid". Below is an excerpt from Part 1: Bush Brings Faith to Foreign Aid (scroll down below the excerpt for links to parts 2, 3 and 4):
A Globe survey of more than 52,000 awards of contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements from the US Agency for International Development -- which distributes taxpayer-funded assistance overseas -- provides the first comprehensive assessment of the impact of Bush's policies on foreign aid.

The survey of prime contractors and grantees, based on records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, shows a sharp increase in money going to faith-based groups between fiscal 2001, the last budget of the Clinton administration, and fiscal 2005, the last year for which complete figures were available. Faith-based groups accounted for 10.5 percent of USAID dollars to nongovernmental aid organizations in fiscal 2001, and 19.9 percent in 2005.

The prime beneficiaries have been large groups including Catholic Relief Services and evangelical organizations such as World Vision -- the former employer of Bush's longtime USAID director Andrew Natsios -- and Samaritan's Purse, which is led by evangelist Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, who guided Bush to his own religious rebirth.
Part 2: Religious right wields clout
Part 3: Together, but worlds apart
Part 4: Healing the body to reach the soul