Sunday, January 29, 2012

"the hypnotic power of well executed cunnilingus"

If you are not already following Katy Anders' blog, "Lesbians In My Soup", you might want to seriously consider doing so right now. In her most recent post, she has promised to reveal the secret that has allowed her to master the Dark Art of playing, and winning, "out of her league". All we know so far is that Katy assures us it has nothing whatsoever to do with "the hypnotic power of well-executed cunnilingus."

Saturday, January 28, 2012

An Orthodox theologian explains what he means by "Inclusivism" and "Tolerance"

"Isn’t it a little too much to have tolerance and delicate forbearance
preached by what is intolerance and cruelty itself?"

[from Religion: A Dialogue, by Arthur Schopenhauer, 1889]

Rev. Dr. George C. Papademetrious is a prominent Orthodox theologian who is especially noted for his involvement in inter-faith dialogue (see his official biography at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America website). Father Papademetrious is a highly educated and exceptionally articulate man. When he writes about the relationship between Christianity and other religions he is not satisfied with glib, politically correct catch-phrases. Where he finds simplicity, he does not shy away from stating things plainly, even bluntly. And where he finds complexity, he insists on giving that complexity it's full due.

As far as I can see, there is no reason to doubt that Father Papademetrious has a genuine personal commitment to religious tolerance, and an abhorrence of all religious violence and persecution regardless of who the victims (or perpetrators) are. And he also possesses a clearly demonstrated interest in and sympathy for non-Christian religious traditions and their adherents.

But while Father Papademetrious' intelligence and humaneness shine through in his writings, this only makes it all the more jarring when one realizes the unambiguous import of what he believes to be the truth about all non-Christian religions. In particular, he insists that Christianity alone offers "salvation" and contains "saving truths". But somehow he makes this claim in the name of "tolerance" and "inclusiveness" (and also in the name of rejecting "exclusivism"). But Father Papademetrious is not here engaging in any deception or sophistry. He states very clearly what he means by "exclusivism", "inclusivism" and "tolerance". On close inspection, his definitions turn out to be rather counterintuitive, but they are not completely unreasonable, and they are presented in a very forthright and even well-reasoned manner, so there is no excuse for misunderstanding him.

An important source of Father Papademetrious' thinking on these matters is his essay An Orthodox Christian View of Non-Christian Religions. Therein he not only defines the three terms mentioned above, but also presents his definition of "pluralism" (which he also associates with the terms "syncretism" and "relativism").

Let's go through these four terms, one at a time, as defined by this noted Orthodox scholar:

Father Papademetrious defines "exclusivism" very precisely and narrowly: it only refers to the most extreme position that all non-Christians "will be damned because there is no salvation outside the visible Body of Christ, the Church".

Papademetrious' definition of "inclusivism" reflects and expands upon his definition of "exclusivism". While allowing that salvation is possible for non-Christians, Papademetrious (again very precisely and very narrowly) states that (1) the only possible avenue by which non-Christians can escape damnation is "through the mercy of [the Christian] God"; and also that (2) non-Christians do not attain salvation (if they attain it at all) through the agency of their non-Christian religious traditions, for such salvation is only conferred on the non-Christian "in spite of the religion he practices".

The definition of "pluralism" employed by Papademetrious follows inexorably from his definitions of "exclusivism" and "inclusivism". The simple truth is that he means by "pluralism" what most people naturally assume is meant by "inclusivism", namely that "the non-Christian may be saved by means of the very religion he practices, for nonChristian religions may also contain saving truths." This "pluralism" is rejected unambiguously by Papademetrious, thus categorically denying any spiritual value to any religion whatsoever other than Christianity.

It is clear from the above that what is included in Papademetrious' "inclusivism" is not non-Christian religions themselves, but rather selected individual adherents of non-Christian religions who are deemed worthy, at the sole discretion of the Christian God, of salvation in spite of their religious beliefs and practices. Likewise, Papademetrious' conception of "tolerance" toward non-Christian does not in any way involve any concession that non-Christian religions possess any spiritual value or "saving truths". In fact, Papademetrious makes a point of emphasizing that "Christian Truth is of highest importance in the Orthodox view of other religions," and that "Christ is Truth."

Even more can be learned from another paper authored by Papademetrious, which consists mostly of quotations from the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople: Recent Patriarchal Encyclicals on Religious Tolerance and Peaceful Coexistence. The most revealing of these quotations is the following:
"It is well known that every religion asserts that it holds within its belief system the absolute truth concerning God and the world, the latter of which also incorporates humanity."
Compare the above quote to one from the noted Hindu teacher Swami Vivekananda in 1893 (link):
"I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth."
This, finally, brings us to the heart of the matter. The Orthodox Patriarch claims that all religions are the same because they all make exclusive truth claims, while the Hindu sage claims that all religions are the same because they are all true!

Vivekananda himself recognized and articulated this very point when he also said (link):
"All religions are, at bottom, alike. This is so, although the Christian Church, like the Pharisee in the parable, thanks God that it alone is right and thinks that all other religions are wrong and in need of Christian light. Christianity must become tolerant before the world will be willing to unite with the Christian Church in a common charity."
All of the above very nicely illustrates the mentality of what Egyptologist Jan Assmann has termed "the Mosaic distinction", according to which mentality all religions can be divided neatly into two mutually exclusive groups: the one true religion, on the one hand, and false religions, on the other hand. Most importantly, Assmann has clearly shown that this mentality is not a universal feature of all religions, but is rather one of the defining characteristics of a certain kind of religion: monotheism.

Here is how Assmann himself explains this 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]
See related posts at this blog:
The Price of Monotheism in a nutshell
Are there two kinds of religion?
What is "Counterreligion"?
The Essence of Religion: Four Theories
Roman Catholicism (A brief history of Revolutionary Monotheism, Part Seven)
Charlemagne, Part Deux (A brief history of Revolutionary Monotheism, Part Six)
Charlemagne (A brief history of Revolutionary Monotheism, Part Five)
Muhammad (A brief history of Revolutionary Monotheism, Part Four)
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
Monotheistic Robots of Doom
Lies, Damned Lies, and Pagan Monotheism
Hic Sunt Dracones

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Salman Rusdhie: Back To The Future

On February 14, 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini personally read out, over state controlled Iranian radio, his fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie because the Indian-born writer had committed the crime of "blaspheming against Islam" in his novel The Satanic Verses.

Nearly 23 years later, the organizers of the Jaipur Literary Festival initially "wanted it to be a place where you could meet Salman Rushdie, not just read him." But by the time the festival (in the capital and largest city of the Indian state of Rajasthan) got underway few days ago, not only was Rushdie not present, but a scheduled-at-the-last-minute video "appearance" by him was canceled at the urging of local police authorities.

But wait, there's more. For all festival attendees it is now forbidden to read aloud from any of Rushdie's writings during the proceedings. Four writers who dared to ignore that prohibition were forced to flee Jaipur or face arrest (or possibly worse). Even displaying Rushdie's picture has been banned from the festival!

The whole thing has turned into a slow-motion train wreck of the worst kind of politically correct capitulation to the demands of Islamism. But please, don't take my word for it. Here are several recent articles describing the unfolding debacle:

Why Salman Rushdie's voice was silenced in Jaipur, The Guardian, 26 January 2012

Jaipur festival cancels Salman Rushdie video link
, The Guardian, 24 January 2012

Rushdie Jaipur speech cancelled amid death threats, Reuters, 24 January 2012

Jaipur Literature Festival organisers stop novelists from reading Satanic Verses, India Today, January 20, 2012

Salman Rushdie, Islamic Critics Clash Over Jaipur Literature Festival, Huffington Post, 20 January 2012

Salman Rushdie Jaipur festival appearance in doubt, The Guardian, 19 January 2012

Salman Rushdie Jaipur trip in doubt after India protest,, 17 January 2012

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Traditionalism & Anti-Modernism: A Guide For The Perplexed Pagan (Aldous Huxley, JRR Tolkien, Joscelyn Godwin, TYR Journal, Arthur Versluis ....)

"Fear is the mind killer."

As soon as the word "Traditionalism" is mentioned in certain company one will immediately be deluged with a hail of denunciations involving the words "racist", "fascist", "nazi", and so forth. This post is intended as a user-friendly guide for anyone who wants to get beyond the noise and actually learn something about Traditionalism, and it's kissing ideological cousin, Antimodernism.

All of this material should be approached with a critical eye.

1. Michael Strmiska's 2010 review of the journal TYR: Myth--Culture--Religion
The Pomegranate 12.1 (2010) 118-121 (link to pdf - it works now!)

For progressive minded Pagans with little or no first-hand knowledge of Traditionalism, Michael Strmiska's review of the Radical Traditionalist journal TYR is a good place to start. Strmiska is himself a very interesting figure in modern Paganism: he is both a self-described "leftist-liberal" (see his "Political Pagan" blog), and a professional academic (on the faculty at SUNY Orange), and, like many Pagans today, he is someone whose personal spiritual interests are very wide ranging: from Germanic Heathenry (in the 90s he had a Fullbright Fellowship to study Old Norse literature) to Advaita Vedanta. He is also the editor of the scholarly anthology: Modern paganism in world cultures: comparative perspectives. Strmiska convincingly critiques the notion that TYR's Radical Traditionalism should "raise a red flag of warning to anyone who fears modern Norse-Germanic Paganism being overtaken by or associated with right-wing nationalism." Strmiska backs this up with quotes from editorials in the first two issues of TYR, and also with personal communications he had with co-editor Michael Moynihan.

2. Tolkien and the Primordial Tradition
by Joscelyn Godwin

This essay by Professor Godwin is a genuine tour de force. The opening sentences set the stage for what is to follow:
When it becomes normal for people to cease believing in what they cannot reach with the senses, and when the established authorities on the supersensory are as contradictory and ignorant as is the case in our present civilization, then the truths that belong to all mankind — the Perennial Wisdom — must find other ways into the hearts and minds of men. Fortunately those who have been born into Western civilization have not been deserted entirely by the powers which look to the education of the human race (education in the original sense of drawing out the wisdom innate in every man). Like so much good teaching, their work may take place unconsciously, but its effect is not thereby diminished: rather the contrary, since society and upbringing have imbued many people so strongly with modern prejudices that the conscious entertainment of traditional wisdom is an almost unthinkable heresy for them.

3. Antimodernism by Arthur Versluis
, Winter 2006 vol. 2006 no. 137, pp. 96-130 (link to pdf)

This far ranging essay masterfully captures the breadth and depth of Antimodernism. One of the most rewarding aspects of Versluis's "Antimodernism" is the way that he handles the inescapable observation that "antimodernism is fundamental to the creative impulse in modernity." Versluis goes beyond the "usual suspects" associated with Traditionalism, and especially has quite a bit to say about important literary figures such as T. S. Eliot and Henry David Thoreau. Unfortunately, almost half of this thirty-five page article is dedicated to two representatives of the violent "direct action" brand of antimodernism: the Unabomber and the Earth Liberation Front. This actually makes for quite interesting reading, but the most useful information is contained in the rest of the essay dealing with antimodernism in it's broadest sense. Versluis is a highly respected scholar of Esotericism, and is Chair of the Department of Religion at Michigan State University. (here is a link to his personal website)

4. "Getting There Too Quickly: Aldous Huxley and Mescaline"
by Peter Bebergal at "The Revealer" blog

Aldous Huxley's name doesn't always come to mind when the subject of Traditionalism is being discussed, but his writings on "Perennial Philosophy" have helped to popularize a more genteel and (mostly) non-radical kind of Traditionalism.

An excerpt:
In 1937 Huxley moved to California and within a few years was introduced to the Vedanta Society of Southern California by his friend, the writer and scholar Gerald Heard. Huxley had been developing his perennial philosophy, the idea that religious traditions are historically and culturally relative but that they each validate, in their own way, that human beings are divine and that the purpose of our lives is to come into a relationship with the numinous behind the phenomenal world. Huxley believed the realization of our latent divinity to be a possible remedy to what he perceived as a Western material and spiritual crisis. Vedanta was the method Huxley had been looking for.

Vedanta is the philosophical underpinning of Hinduism, itself a dreamscape of multiple deities and stories of epic battles. Vedanta distills all of the multi-armed, elephant-headed, sword-wielding gods into one simple idea. The most important of the Vedic literature, The Upanishads, teaches that brahman, the supreme reality of all things, and atman, the manifestation of the divine in the human soul, are one and the same, a pure and perfect whole. Our purpose during our gross bodily manifestation is to recognize the divinity within all things. When we come to this, Vendata tells us, we will also see that every religion is merely a different way of expressing the same principle, the same overarching truth that there is no separation between the soul and God.

5. Anarchist Traditionalism: Hakim Bey

A post at Mark Sedgwick's Traditionalists blog

This post by Sedgwick (author of Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century. Oxford University Press, 2004) summarizes a recent interview of Hakim Bey (aka Peter Lamborn Wilson) conducted by Arthur Versluis. The full interview was published as “A Conversation with Peter Lamborn Wilson,” in the Journal for the Study of Radicalism 4, no. 2 (Fall 2010) pp. 139-165. Here is an excerpt from Sedgwick's summary:
In the Versluis interview, Lamborn Wilson makes clear that what he now values in Traditionalism is its critique of modernity, not its “proposal” for responding to modernity. As an anarchist, Lamborn Wilson gives the state–and especially the all-powerful contemporary state–a prime position in his own critique of modernity. His own proposals lead in a number of directions, none of them revolutionary in the normal sense, given his perception that the state always manages to co-opt revolutions. He stresses that his proposals should be taken in a poetic as much as a literal sense. The most famous of them is the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ),“an uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a guerrilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it” (TAZ, quoted in Sellars 2011). A less famous proposal, more emphasized in his interview with Versluis, is a form of “even more traditional Traditionalism” reminiscent of that of Khozh-Akhmed Noukhaev: to go back even further into the past, to before the state, to the tribe, and to the form of religiosity associated with it: individual spirituality. The tribe, Lamborn Wilson, admits, is not perfect: “Violence is real, and it will always be real, and disappointment and death are always there.” But at least the tribe is not the state.

6. A detailed review of Joscelyn Godwin's The Golden Thread
by John Robert Colombo writing for the gurdjieffbooks blog

An in-depth review of a very good and very important book. An excerpt:
Chapter 1: The Prisca Theologia. Interestingly Godwin begins his survey not at the beginning but in medias res: with the work of Georgios Gemistos Plethon, a fifteenth-century Byzantine who had a sense of “a ‘primordial theology’ (prisca theologia).” Plethon looks back on the Chaldean and Persian and Thracian “illuminates” and connects them with Pythagoras and Plato. In doing so he influences Cosimo de’ Medici who revives Plato’s Academy and appoints the scholarly priest Marsilio Ficino to head it. Here is a clear statement of the “‘perennial philosophy’ (philosophia perennis), the wisdom common to Jews, Christians, and pagans.” Godwin is right at home here but then begins to free-associate. The balance of the chapter is far-ranging, taking into account the “incorruptibility” of the bodies of saints, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the “mundus imaginalis” described by Henry Corbin, etc. The author refers to “a continuity of theurists” as “the stream of European magic … continuing to this day.”

7. The Strange Case of Savitri Devi, & The eternal return of Nazi nonsense
by Koenraad Elst (Flemish independent scholar)

Although this might be considered somewhat of a diversion, it is no more so than Versluis' discussion of the Unabomber. In fact, Koenraad Elst does a great service by shining a bright light on some of the darker aspects of the contemporary scholarship that passes for "Esoteric Studies". In particular, Elst takes aim at one of the leading figures in the modern "study" of Esotericism: Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. Here is an excerpt from the second essay:
Christian Bouchet dismisses Goodrick-Clarke as a "pseudo-historian" (p.83). That seems a bit exaggerated to me, if not downright unfair. I'd rather accept the criticism of those disappointed readers who object that Goodrick-Clarke's first major book, The Occult Roots of Nazism, belies its own promising title, possibly chosen by the publisher with an eye on its sales potential, by concluding (p.217) that the so-called occult roots of Nazism are only a myth. Some would clearly have preferred Goodrick-Clarke to uphold the myth rather than debunking it. On the other hand, it must be admitted that for a debunker of "Nazi occultism" fantasies, Goodrick-Clarke is strangely persistent and attached to this subject, on which he keeps churning out hefty volumes. To Bouchet, the explanation is that, apart from having struck gold in the material sense, Goodrick-Clarke is an "anti-fascist militant" (p.83) intent on turning the biography of Savitri Devi into a support for "his delirious ideas and his conspiratorial view of history which interconnects Hollywood-type neo-Nazis, partisans of Deep Ecology, New Agers, Animal Rights advocates etc." (p.92)

Now, to come to the contents of Bouchet's criticism of Goodrick-Clarke as a historian, he alleges that: "Goodrick-Clarke has dispensed with all research work and has merely relayed Savitri Devi's own sayings without analysing or criticizing them." (p.92, likewise p.87) The problem is that this single source, her autobiography, is not supported by any independent evidence, and that she can easily have refashioned her past: "For the period from her birth until after World War 2, we have to trust Savitri Devi Mukherji for her life story. However, it is obvious that she herself has arranged her biography a posteriori in order to harmonize it with the themes defended in her books." (p.88)

8. What is Intellectual History?
by Stefan Collini (English, Cambridge) writing for History Today magazine

The study of The History of Ideas is to Traditionalism as Cartesian Analytical Geometry is to Calculus. You must have the first in order to be able to "see" what is going on in the second.
'[T]he history of ideas' was the label chosen in the 1920s and 1930s by the American philosopher-turned-historian, A.O. Lovejoy, to designate his own idiosyncratic approach to the life of the past, an approach which consisted essentially of isolating the universal 'unit-ideas' out of which, he claimed, all more complex doctrines and theories were composed. Through his many pupils and his founding in 1940 of the Journal of the History of Ideas, Lovejoy's approach dominated the field in American universities for at least a generation, leading to the compilation of immensely thorough but essentially arid lists of the sightings of particular 'unit-ideas'. Lovejoy's own practice was, as is so often the case, better either than his preaching or than the imitative practice of his disciples, and his most famous work, The Great Chain of Being (1936), remains an extremely impressive tour de force. Though his influence has fallen away in recent decades (and the journal he founded has become less mechanical and sectarian in its approach), the term 'the history of ideas' is, at least in the United States, still sufficiently often identified with his work as to cause misunderstanding all of its own.

Other relevant posts from this blog:

Friday, January 20, 2012

Some New(-ish) Additions To My Blogroll

backward messages

At Backward Messages, Beth Winegarner gives you the straight story on all the influences you’ve been told will turn your teen violent: the occult, violent video games, heavy-metal music, and more.

Winegarner is a San Francisco author, journalist, and mom writing a book for parents on the most controversial teen influences and why they’re a healthy part of growing up. If you’re a parent who’s concerned about what your teen is up to, send your questions to backwardmessages AT gmail DOT com and they’ll be answered on the blog.

the hedge mason
A blog by E C Ballard of interesting news and commentary on liberal and esoteric Freemasonry and other stuff.

E C Ballard is a Folklorist, and Ethnologist specializing in Afro-Caribbean traditions of Central African origin, Fraternalism, Celtic Studies and Ethnomusicology, having received his Ph.D. in Folklore and Folklife from the University of Pennsylvania. Eoghan has been variously musical instrument maker, bookseller, college professor, academic dean, and independent researcher. Eoghan is Tata Nganga, about to become Houngan Su Pwen, and is a Master Mason.

Sparks in Electrical Jelly
Film, music, art and literature, with a leaning towards the fantastic in all its forms: Science fiction, fantasy, horror, the surreal, the Absurd, the Weird ('New' and old), the hauntologised and the just plain odd. West Country sightings reported, with regular return trips to London on film likely. In short, anything that sets the sparks a-crackling and fizzing through the old grey jelly.

The Museum of Sex
This is a real brick and mortar museum with a very nice website, blog, and online store. And they are currently hiring. Here is a sample:

"Ever wondered what happened to Napoleon’s penis? I certainly did – which is one reason I wrote a book called Napoleon’s Privates: 2500 Years of History Unzipped. It was a collection of stories about forgotten or secret aspects of sexual history, and the saga of the Emperor’s French loaf took on a certain symbolic quality…"

The Norse Mythology Blog
Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried's "Norse Mythology Blog" was 2011 Weblog Awards Best Weblog About Religion finalist. Chicago Humanities Festival: "Seigfried is a prolific chronicler of the world of Norse mythology." The Wild Hunt: "The blog is one of the most content-rich affairs for lovers of Norse mythology I’ve ever seen." Jóhanna G. Harðardóttir (Ásatrúarfélagið Allsherjargoða): "Hér er rétti maðurinn á ferð til að kenna Norræna goðafræði í US."

A Norse mythologist in Chicago, Karl teaches Norse religion at Carthage College, Norse myth at Newberry Library & Loyola University-Continuum. He's a featured writer/lecturer at Joseph Campbell Foundation & Wagner Society of America; member of Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study, Viking Society for Northern Research, Religion Newswriters Association; Official Norse Mythologist of the Stephanie Miller Show.

Koenraad Elst
Koenraad Elst (°Leuven 1959) distinguished himself early on as eager to learn and to dissent. After a few hippie years he studied at the KU Leuven, obtaining MA degrees in Sinology, Indology and Philosophy. After a research stay at Benares Hindu University he did original fieldwork for a doctorate on Hindu nationalism, which he obtained magna cum laude in 1998. As an independent researcher he earned laurels and ostracism with his findings on hot items like Islam, multiculturalism and the secular state, the roots of Indo-European, the Ayodhya temple/mosque dispute and Mahatma Gandhi's legacy. He also published on the interface of religion and politics, correlative cosmologies, the dark side of Buddhism, the reinvention of Hinduism, technical points of Indian and Chinese philosophies, various language policy issues, Maoism, the renewed relevance of Confucius in conservatism, the increasing Asian stamp on integrating world civilization, direct democracy, the defence of threatened freedoms, and the Belgian question. Regarding religion, he combines human sympathy with substantive skepticism.

The New Oxonian
Hoffmann has focused on the controversial aspects of Christian origins, with special reference to early heresies, gnosticism, and the pagan philosophical critiques of the Christian movement. His most recent books include an edited volume entitled Just War and Jihad: Violence in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (2006) and Sources of the Jesus Tradition (2010.)

His study of the concept of the right to life in early Christianity, Faith and Foeticide, will be published by Peter Lang, Oxford, in 2011, along with another in his series of translations of the classical philosophical critiques of the Christian movement: Christianity: The Minor Critics.

He currently teaches at the New England Conservatory in Boston.

The People of Shambhala
People of Shambhala is dedicated to raising awareness of the discrimination, oppression, and violence suffered on a daily basis by minority religions around the world today, especially under Islamic or Islamist regimes. We believe that, because of misplaced political correctness, the mainstream media has ignored the plight of minorities such as the Zoroastrians in Iran, the Yezidis in Iraq, the Kalash in Pakistan, Buddhists in Indonesia and Thailand, and others.

Nineteen years and counting in Papua New Guinea
Entries of a memoir about living in Papua New Guinea.

"Collecting is a little like the stock market, in that people gamble on rumours and valuation is a complex art not related to an object’s function. A good exhibition, a published catalogue and the right art historian can turn a simple Angoram mask into a six-figure object d’art.

"That’s precisely what happened to the Friede collection, especially after being carbon dated. Some of the Inyai carvings ---one, for example, often used in press releases---are 300 years old, and hence some of the oldest known wooden objects from New Guinea. This makes ‘ethnic’ art doubly valuable, insofar as it becomes historical artifact as well as an aesthetic object. The beautiful catalogue of the collection also compounded the ‘density’ of these pieces, as only the most serious collector would purchase this heavy two-volume set of gorgeous plates that contain less ethnographic than art-historical information."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Wherever you find them, kill them." Murderous injunctions from the Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī

Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:83:17 (link to Book 83)
Allah's Apostle said, "The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims."

Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:84:57 (link to Book 84)
Some Zanadiqa (atheists) were brought to 'Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn 'Abbas who said, "If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah's Apostle forbade it, saying, 'Do not punish anybody with Allah's punishment (fire).' I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah's Apostle, 'Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'"

Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:84:58
Abu Musa said, "I came to the Prophet along with two men (from the tribe) of Ash'ariyin, one on my right and the other on my left, while Allah's Apostle was brushing his teeth (with a Siwak), and both men asked him for some employment. The Prophet said, 'O Abu Musa (O 'Abdullah bin Qais!).' I said, 'By Him Who sent you with the Truth, these two men did not tell me what was in their hearts and I did not feel (realize) that they were seeking employment.' As if I were looking now at his Siwak being drawn to a corner under his lips, and he said, 'We never (or, we do not) appoint for our affairs anyone who seeks to be employed. But O Abu Musa! (or 'Abdullah bin Qais!) Go to Yemen.'" The Prophet then sent Mu'adh bin Jabal after him and when Mu'adh reached him, he spread out a cushion for him and requested him to get down (and sit on the cushion). Behold: There was a fettered man beside Abu Muisa. Mu'adh asked, "Who is this (man)?" Abu Muisa said, "He was a Jew and became a Muslim and then reverted back to Judaism." Then Abu Muisa requested Mu'adh to sit down but Mu'adh said, "I will not sit down till he has been killed. This is the judgment of Allah and His Apostle (for such cases) and repeated it thrice. Then Abu Musa ordered that the man be killed, and he was killed. Abu Musa added, "Then we discussed the night prayers and one of us said, 'I pray and sleep, and I hope that Allah will reward me for my sleep as well as for my prayers.'"

Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:84:64
Whenever I tell you a narration from Allah's Apostle, by Allah, I would rather fall down from the sky than ascribe a false statement to him, but if I tell you something between me and you (not a Hadith) then it was indeed a trick (i.e., I may say things just to cheat my enemy). No doubt I heard Allah's Apostle saying, "During the last days there will appear some young foolish people who will say the best words but their faith will not go beyond their throats (i.e. they will have no faith) and will go out from (leave) their religion as an arrow goes out of the game. So, wherever you find them, kill them, for whoever kills them shall have reward on the Day of Resurrection."

Percentage of Muslims in favor of the death penalty for apostates (those who "leave Islam"), by country:
  • Turkey 5%
  • Lebanon 6%
  • Indonesia 30%
  • Nigeria 51%
  • Pakistan 76%
  • Egypt 84%
  • Jordan 86%
Source: Muslim Publics Divided, Pew Global Attitudes Project report released on December 2, 2010. See, in particular, page 14. Here is a link to a pdf of the full report.

Further reading:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Toward a New Dharmic Vision of Humanity

Toward a New Dharmic Vision of Humanity
by Dr. David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva)
(link to original at VedaNet.Com)

The Meaning of Dharma

Dharma is perhaps the key term for the great spiritual traditions of India and East Asia, Hindu and Buddhist, whether relative to their understanding of the outer world of nature or the inner realm of consciousness. It is the basis of India’s vast and diverse culture and its deep commitment to Yoga and meditation as tools of self-realization for all. A respect for Dharma is said to be more important even than a belief in God, because it implies certain values and a way of life that promotes truth, unity and respect for all life above ideas or emotions.

Dharma in Sanskrit comes from the root ‘dhri’ meaning ‘to uphold’ and is symbolized by a pillar. It refers to the spiritual, ethical and natural principles that uphold the entire universe. Dharma has always been linked to Veda or vidya, which refers to an inner capacity to perceive the nature of things. It reflects a higher awareness pervades and underlies all existence.

Dharma is a very difficult term to define and eventually must be understood in its own right. To provide a basis for this, we could say that Dharma indicates both the nature of reality at a universal level as well as the proper place for each thing in the universe according to its particular qualities and capacities. There is a specific dharma relative to each creature and every aspect of nature, as well as to the whole of existence. Dharma indicates the harmony both of the totality and the individual, which are complementary and interdependent. According to a dharmic view, the entire universe is present in each object and in every creature, which in some way embody or express the totality.

There is a dharma or natural way of working behind the great forces of nature, the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether, the seasons, the three worlds as earth, atmosphere and the heavens, and the different aspects of the cosmos as matter, energy, and light, which follow interrelated laws and patterns. There is a dharma or unique quality and energy in every plant and animal which serves to make it what it is. Everything has its place in the Dharma, which reflects its role in the cosmic order. And there is a special dharma or role on Earth for the human being, which is to seek to embody a higher truth and work to promote a higher consciousness in the world. The universe is an organically connected vibratory field in which all things are linked together into a greater network of harmony, beauty and vitality. This is the universal ‘web of dharma’.

There is dharma or way of right action relative to all aspects of human life and culture: a dharma of art, a dharma of business, a dharma of communication, a dharma of relationship, a dharma of science, a dharma of religion, and so on – each of which requires its own examination. What is done according to dharma is performed with grace, intelligence and respect for the natural order. Each different domain of our lives has certain principles and practices necessary to unfold its full potential, which constitute its dharma. If we follow the dharma in what we do, we will not only be successful, but will act so in a way that promotes the well-being of all.

We have our own individual or ‘svadharma’ that reflects our capacities and aspirations in life. Yet this is not something that divides us from others. Each person has similar potentials that we must honor.

The Social Dharma

Relative to society, the term Dharma is used in a special way as indicating the right way for society and its members to operate in harmony with their natures, with the environment and with the universe as a whole. This is what we could call the ‘social Dharma’. For social well being, there must be a proper understanding and implementation of Dharma on all levels.

In Vedic thought, human society is looked upon like the human body as a single organism with different limbs, organs and functions, which all serve the benefit of the whole. The social organism is one in essence, but the role of different individuals, communities or professions must vary in order to fulfill the diverse and specialized needs of the whole. Such social differences should not become a matter of high and low or good and bad, but an organic necessity in which each particular role is vital, just as each organ of the human body has an important and irreplaceable role in the well-being of the entire body. We cannot forget society’s connection with the Earth and nature, if we want society to be healthy, harmonious and without violence.

There are special principles of Dharma or right living for society, nations and communities, including special guidelines for men and women, the young and the old, for different professions and for different stages of life. There is an organic order to life, even at a social level, as there is in how our body functions.

However, Dharma also requires that our outer actions and life-styles change along with changing times and cultures. Dharma does not consist of rigid rules that can be blindly applied to all circumstances, but of guiding principles that require adaptation according to the differing needs of time, place and culture. The social Dharma cannot become rigid or the social organism will decline. This means that the vision of Dharma is more important than any specific formulation of dharma in a particular book or by a single person, though we should not discountenance the value of the dharmic wisdom from the past.

Today we need a new social dharma that can integrate what is best in science and technology while restoring our deeper connection with both Nature and the Spirit, such as the great seers of India maintained.

Dharma and Human Rights

Western political thought and modern democracies in general are based upon the idea of “human rights”, which are primarily defined on an individual basis, according to political ideals of freedom, equal opportunity, and justice for each person. These democratic principles have helped protect the individual, reducing oppression and discrimination on various levels within the society relative to race, ethnicity, gender, class, occupation, or other social affiliations.

Yet, on the negative side, an over fixation on “individual rights” encourages a mere outer freedom to do what one wants that can make people more aggressive and acquisitive, lacking an inner dimension of spiritual search. Outer freedom without a corresponding inner aspiration can become a license for the ego to do what it wishes, even if it causes eventual harm to others or to the environment. It often becomes a hectic pursuit of the material world, a running after the external allures of Maya.

The American Declaration of Independence is a very interesting document in this regard. It is based upon the three principles of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as the inalienable rights of man. Life and liberty are our inalienable rights to be sure, but the “pursuit of happiness” taken only at an outer level easily promotes an external seeking of enjoyment, pleasure and power. What you pursue or run after usually runs away from you! This pursuit of happiness or desire has given rise to the current commercial society that in many ways is becoming increasingly vulgar and destructive. Each individual tends to seek his or her rights, which easily lends itself to self-promotion over the greater good of all.

Dharma, on the other hand, teaches us that life, liberty and happiness are our inherent nature and can be found within ourselves, without the need for external seeking or accumulation of possessions. Dharma promotes freedom from any sort of outer dependency. This includes freedom from commercial exploitation and an inner orientation to life, which implies a spiritual search. Our role in life is not simply to gain what is due to us, as if the universe owed us a favor, but to help in the well-being of the world as a whole, which is part of our own greater nature. Our place in life is not simply to take, as if we existed in isolation, but to give, reflecting our relationship with the whole and the wholeness of who we really are.

Dharma and Duty

Dharma indicates duty, obligation, and responsibility as well as rights and freedom. Rights can never exist without corresponding duties and obligations. Unless rights and duties are balanced, the society itself will become imbalanced and disturbed. Each one of us no doubt has our individual place in the universe that must be honored and a destiny of our own to be fulfilled, but we must also respect the universe upon which we depend and realize that our well being can never be secured at the cost of that of others.

In this regard, Dharma is connected to the idea of giving, offering and sacrifice –what Vedic teachings call yajna. Yajna is symbolized by a fire sacrifice. Fire can only burn if given an offering of the proper fuel. Our place in life is to make the proper offering so that the universal fire of Dharma can illuminate both ourselves and the world around us. Ultimately, we must ourselves become an offering for all, rather than holding to our personal existence or private property as final.

Yajna says that our lives should consist of worship and honoring, including relative the Divine, our ancestors, other living creatures, all human beings, and the spiritual heritage of the entire human race. If each one of us acts for the good of all, we will all certainly flourish. If we act only for the good of ourselves, our family or our particular community, we will breed long term division, inequality and violence.

Broader Human and Universal Rights

According to the principles of Dharma, it is not only individuals that have rights but all aspects of the social organism and the world of nature as a whole. Families have rights, as do communities, including the right not to be interfered with or to be broken up. Cultures have rights not to be denigrated or exploited, even in the name of progress. Today in the name of individual human rights many traditional communities and cultures are being devalued and denigrated, if not eliminated, often paving the way for commercial exploitation.

The non-human world also has its rights. Animals have the right to live without human interference or exploitation and to have their natural space to move freely. Plants do so as well, as the plant also has consciousness and feeling. The world of nature does not exist solely for our own personal advantage as human beings. Each creature has its own existence that we must honor. Ecosystems also have a right to remain as they are and evolve according to their own energies, without being turned merely into human habitations or recreation sites.

When human rights do not respect the rights of other creatures, they invariably lead to conflict and problems in human society as well in the world of nature. The greater life organism of the biosphere gets damaged, which means that human beings will also not have a harmonious natural environment that can provide for health and well-being. This is what we are seeing today in which our environment has been damaged by making human needs, desires and profits predominate over the natural rights of other creatures and the sanctity of the Earth itself – in which we are failing in our duty to the universe in the blind pursuit of personal enjoyment.

Dharmic Pluralism

Dharma reflects a pluralistic view of life which honors unity in multiplicity. It recognizes that there is a diversity of human beings, with each individual being unique in one way or another. There cannot be one job all for all, one medicine for all, or even one religion or spiritual path for all.

Therefore, there should be a corresponding diversity in society in terms of culture, philosophy, art and spirituality so that each person or group has something that their particular Dharma can relate to and find fulfillment in. According to Dharma, unity lies not in uniformity of name, form or action but in the inner freedom that allows the individual to move through and beyond all outer forms to the inner essence that is one with all.

Dharma and Relativism

Dharma holds that we must look at each individual and circumstance according the particular situations, energies and capacities involved. For this reason, a Dharmic approach remains flexible and does not seek to impose any absolutes or rigid rules upon humanity. For example, if you are driving down a road you cannot follow a rigid set of rules or formulas; you have to actually see the movement of traffic moment by moment. Similarly, Dharma rests upon perception more so than any doctrine.

Yet Dharma is far removed from an ‘anything goes’ attitude or a mere moral relativism. Dharma says that there is a right and appropriate way to do each thing, whether it is right way to eat, a right way to breathe, or a right and respectful way to organize our societies, reflecting individual circumstances as well as the broader principles existence. This way of right action cannot be reduced to a fixed pattern but is not without enduring principles either. Dharma requires consciousness in its application and cannot be turned into a standardized creed or mechanical set of rules.

Dharma and Secularism

Dharma does not imply a rule of religion over life or society. Dharma and secularism, the idea that church and state should be separate, share certain attitudes, values and concerns. Dharma holds that a government should not be used to promote one religious belief or another. It holds to freedom of religion and says that the individual should have the freedom to pursue their own Dharma in life, free of control by the state or by any external institution.

Yet Dharma is different from secularism in certain ways as well. Dharma regards all life as sacred and so cannot accept a merely commercial view of life, which is the tendency of so-called modern secular cultures. Dharma says that we must respect the sacred aspect of human life and try to make our social actions into something respectful of the greater universe. Dharma can project a spiritual vision without violating the principle of individual freedom. This is because it sees the spiritual path as a matter of individual practice, an expression of freedom, not something enforced from the outside.

Dharma and Religion

Religion is often translated as Dharma in Indian thought today. This reflects another side of its meaning. Dharma like religion states that we should recognize the universal and the eternal and base our human culture on a spiritual goal or higher consciousness. However, Dharma cannot be reduced to one particular religion, book, teacher, revelation or another. Dharma is not based upon belief and does not seek to spread, much less impose, a single belief upon all humanity. Dharma accepts freedom of religion as well as a freedom of the individual not to follow any religion at all. Above all, it places individual spiritual practice over any overt religious institutionalism.

Dharma places the need to act for the good of all above any religious labels or differences. Dharma says it is what we do that matters, not what we call ourselves, and that truth ultimately transcends all names and boundaries. Dharma says that the supreme truth is impersonal, apaurusheya, and cannot be reduced to a human formulation or representative that all must follow, however helpful these may be for certain groups or individuals.

Yet a dharmic approach does recognize that different individuals, groups and communities may want to follow different spiritual and religious paths – which need not all be the same – and which may have their own respective practices, formulations and values. Dharma accepts pluralism in religion as in all of life, including the freedom of individuals to differ and disagree on matters of religion, as long as they do not turn these differences into a pretext for conflict and violence.

At a higher level, Dharma embraces Yoga as its Moksha Dharma or teaching about the liberation of the soul, which is a matter of sadhana or inner spiritual practice through the science and art of meditation.

Dharmic Values and Ethics

Dharma rests upon certain clearly defined universal values and ethics. These are not simply dictates, laws or commandments but a recognition of how life works and how we can attune ourselves to the consciousness of the greater universe. Such dharmic values are perhaps most simply defined in the basic principles behind Yoga practice of non-violence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), self-control (Brahmacharya), non-stealing (asteya) and non-acquisitiveness (aparigraha).

There is no living being that wants to be hurt. We ourselves do not want to be hurt, so honoring the universal dharma, the universal culture as it were, we do not seek to harm anyone. Similarly, we do not want to be deceived. There is no creature that wants to be deceived, so honoring the universal dharma we tell the truth. Dharmic ethics therefore are a matter of universal courtesy, as it were, not only towards others but also towards ourselves. Without such dharmic ethics we cannot have access to the cosmic mind or the greater civilization of the universe, which is one of consciousness, not merely of science and technology.

Towards a New Dharmic Movement

Today humanity is suffering from a global crisis, which is not simply a lack of resources but a crisis of values. Today we must learn to coexist and pluralism, not only at a political level but also at cultural and religious levels, is essential. We cannot survive as a planet by promoting national, cultural or religious boundaries as final, as that is to deny the greater unity and value of humanity as a whole. A new vision of Dharma can help us in this direction because Dharma does not divide human beings up into opposing camps. It says we are all of one family and must all eventually come to the same truth and self-realization, albeit according to our own path and in our own time and manner.

Great modern teachers from India like Sri Aurobindo, Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Dayananda (of the Arya Samaj) and Swami Vivekananda, and many others from all over the world have looked into and provided their insights about creating a new social order or Dharma. Many Buddhist teachers, like the Dalai Lama are also promoting a greater dharma for humanity.

Ultimately, there needs to be a new renaissance in dharmic thinking. This implies a great deal of questioning, deep thought and profound meditation – an endeavor that may take decades to come to real fruition. It must rest upon an uncompromising pursuit of truth, not simply an attempt at social accommodation, appeasement or pleasing everyone. A new dharmic order is not a simple matter of a new political party but an infusion of higher values into our social interactions, which means a new approach to politics that considers not only the outer human being but the inner essence of the soul.

Unfortunately, the political world today tends to rely upon slogans, vote banks and appeals to mass fears and desires, looking forward only to the next election. The personality of the political leader is made more important than any deeper vision for humanity. Political parties today are lacking in any real idealism and vision and quickly compromise in order to gain power or influence. Even modern education is imed at training a person more in a particular technical profession, rather than providing a well rounded education that includes an examination as to what is the ultimate meaning of life. Clearly Dharma must be brought back into education and into social service for it to affect society as a whole.

A new world order defined by Dharma – not simply by religion, politics, or commercial concerns – is crucial for our way forward as a species and can help promote and preserve the good in all. It is important that a regard for the universal Dharma is brought into both our personal lives and into our societies. Otherwise our civilization may continue to flounder and is unlikely to find peace or harmony with life. This is a matter first of all of upholding Dharmic principles and practices in how we live and think. The work begins with each one of us.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Egypt and Hungary: When Majorities Attack

You can fool most of the people most of the time. And, really, that's all it takes.

Most of the people in Egypt support forms of political Islam that are little, if any, different from the theocratic totalitarianism advocated by Al Qaeda. That statement is not based on "Islamophobia", rather it is based on public opinion polls conducted in Egypt, and also on the recent free and fair elections that were held throughout the country.

The following opinion poll results from Egypt have been discussed previously in this blog (here, and in more detail here) but I will give the highlights again: In 2010, the Pew Research Center found that 75% of Egyptian Muslims (who make up 90% of the population) had a "favorable" view of the Muslim Brotherhood, 62% believed that Egyptian law should "strictly" follow the Quran, 95% felt that Islam should play a "large role" in Egyptian politics, 82% supported death-by-stoning for the crime of of adultery, and 84% were in favor putting to death anyone who attempts to leave the religion of Islam.

Then in late 2011 when Egypt held it's first post-Mubarak election, over 2/3 of the votes went to candidates for either the Muslim Brotherhood or the even more radical Salafists.

And speaking of elections, when Hungarians had their most recent chance to cast their votes in the national election of 2010, 52.7% of those who did so voted for the proto-fascist Fidesz party. (This is just slightly lower than the 52.9% of American voters who cast their ballots for Barack Obama in 2008.) Fidesz formed a coalition government with the Christian Democratic Peoples Party, a nationalistic and socially conservative party closely allied with the Catholic church. Together these two parties control over 2/3 of the Hungarian parliament. Using that democratically elected supermajority, the new government quickly passed over 200 new laws and also made sweeping changes to the Hungarian Constitution.

The newly revised Hungarian Constitution, which went into effect on January 1st, explicitly lists which religions are "recognized" by the state. These, not surprisingly, are limited to the Catholic Church, a small number of Protestant sects, and Judaism. Previous Hungarian law had already established the precedent of "officially recognized religions", but the new law took the old list of over 350 different religions and reduced it to 14! The new Constitution also explicitly recognizes Christianity as the "national" religion of Hungary.

The Economist, that normally staid voice of of "the extreme centre", recently described (here) the current Hungarian government using terms like "iron discipline", "rubber stamp" and "relentless centralization". But the same article tempers that criticism with a sentence that is far more ominous than it's author had intended: "Fidesz won power in a fair election."

Further reading:


Current events:

Sadly, sometimes this is what democracy looks like:

Sunday, January 1, 2012

"The ignorance of the new atheists MATTERS"

I just read Joseph R. Hoffmann's first blog post of 2012: Re-Made in America: Remembering the New Atheism (2006-2011), wherein Hoffmann, perhaps prematurely, announces the death of New Atheism and writes its obituary. In my humble opinion, you should read it, too.

Three overarching themes tie Hoffmann's essay together:

(1) The New Atheism is characterized by a profound ignorance not only of religion itself, but also of anthropology, archaeology and sociology. (I would add history, philosophy and humanism.) Moreover, Hoffmann emphasizes that it is this ignorance, and this alone, that makes New Atheism still worth paying attention to.

(2) The phenomenon of New Atheism essentially boils down to Richard Dawkins playing to an American crowd, by peddling to the yanks that which is "very old news" in England, where unbelief, irreligion, agnosticism, and atheism (as well as, and often combined with, active disinterest in religion generally) are far more prevalent than is actual belief in Christianity (in any form).

(3) The other thing that dominates Hoffmann's essay is a number of very nicely drawn character sketches of the American "poster-pasters" pimping for Dawkinsian atheism "over here".

Two of my favorite parts are Hoffmann's observation that Christopher Hitchens was "the only true intellectual and by far the best-read of the group," and this little gem: "The new atheism was as American as apple pie, which was invented in fourteenth century England. Just try finding apple pie in twenty first century England."

Lastly, the quote that comprises the title of this post comes from Hoffmann's closing two paragraphs:
"The ignorance of the new atheists matters–or I would stop complaining at once–because it makes almost impossible the work of serious religion scholars who have no commitment to belief, but who happen to feel that the study of religion belongs to and is inestimably important to the study of history and culture.

"That task is not helped by activism disguised as judgement, opinion hiding behind tangential scholarly pursuits, or defenses of science and reason that are inherently unreasonable in themselves."