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The New Crusades

Wars fuelled by religion are no new thing. But there are at least two crusades taking place today against (some forms of) religion itself - campaigns fought with words and ideas rather than with swords, bombs or bullets.

And some of them are very entertaining.

The Book of Dust Vol 1: La Belle Sauvage is the first volume in Philip Pullman's long-awaited prequel to the His Dark Materials trilogy: Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in the USA), The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

The original trilogy, and now its prequel, are gripping stories for younger and older readers alike. But they are also Pullman's crusade against forms of religion that I would describe as "a waste of life" - denying pleasure in this one life that we have in the expectation of a glorious (or eternally damned) life to come.

The two images and quotes below come from this really excellent Guardian review.

“Philip Pullman … a tension between deep attraction to magic and fierce atheistic pragmatism resolves itself into a commitment to art. Photograph: Michael Leckie”


“Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra in The Golden Compass, the 2007 film adaptation of Northern Lights. Photograph: Allstar/New Line Cinema”

From the Guardian review (click any of the images to read it):

Bible Belt America didn't know much about the original trilogy until the movie came out, and was then horrified. The books were withdrawn from libraries and schools because "they are teaching atheism to our kids", and no movies of the remaining books in the trilogy were made.

Such censorship is the opposite of education, closing minds instead of opening them - something that I find wholly destructive and evil.

Which brings us to the second crusade, this one being waged against science-denying forms of religion, particularly prevalent in the USA:
America still living in the Dark Ages - rejection of science by religion

In today's Dark Ages, many Conservative Evangelical Christians support a morally-degenerate President and a morally-degenerate political culture that are as far from real Christian values as you can get. It seems that they only had to be told that Hillary Clinton is a satanic figure who will deny your religious freedoms (an Internet-multiplied lie), and be fed and feed each other with distorted and falsified versions of her views on abortion, for them to bring about and support something that is truly evil.

The really frightening thing about the situation in the USA (and increasingly on the other side of Atlantic) is that truth in politics matters less and less - a situation for which science-denying religion is, of course, only partly responsible. To some extent politics has always been "a dirty business", but this is different. Donald Trump rose to power by telling literally thousands of flat-out, easily-disproved lies, spread by supporters on the Internet, and has gone on doing so since becoming President (at an average rate of 5.5 lies per day, see the CNN analysis here).

It is no accident that Trump constantly vilifies the free Press (violating the 1st Amendment) and is actively damaging (among other things) the country's Environmental Protection Agency, Intelligence Services and Science (follow these links for a current damage report). What all of these have in common is that they deal in reality, something to which Trump and his supporters are seriously allergic.

It is also no accident that the crusade against science-denying religions has become a wider crusade against the “post-truth culture” of today, which thrives on easy labels, fake news and the power of the Internet to spread misinformation, and which enemies of democracy (and I unhesitatingly include Trump, Steve Bannon and Putin among them) have clearly been exploiting.

It includes the world-wide protests that had a hashtag #StandUpForScience.

It includes (in their gentle and subtle support for reason and humanism) the highly entertaining books of Terry Pratchett.

It includes, in a small way, what you are reading now, and published letters like this one:

(Climate change denial has other causes, including corporate interests in fossil fuels. Also, the letter was actually written in response to a similar article in the same issue called THE TRUTH ON LIES.)

So... is there a bright side in all this? Are these crusades having any effect?

It seems true (whether you view it as good news or not) that religion is slowly declining in the USA. Part (but by no means all) of this is due to a backlash against what many Americans see as moral corruption in organized religion, examples being the political support for Trump and the pastor who refused to open his megachurch to victims of Hurricane Harvey. The effect of this last single incident in shifting the American religious landscape is probably very easy to underestimate.

In response the crusade against the “post-truth culture” of today, Google, Twitter and Facebook are finally taking action against fake news (the very latest links on that subject, relative to when you read this, will be found here).

Finally, as I asked in my previous article on a similar subject, how do we get out of this dark place?

Not easily, that's for sure - but FWIW here's my 2¢:

Moving forward, some suggestions for improving life after Trump


From this blog:

[PLEASE wake up, America. You are being “gaslighted”.]
[GPS: The Miracle in Your Smartphone]
[Science, Religion and Quantum Mechanics]
[“The Trump Diaries” (the Trump thread in this blog)]

From my web site:

[Thoughts on Science and Religion - and why this stuff matters]

From others:

[White Evangelicals Are Sticking With Their “Prince of Lies” (Newsweek)]
[Moving forward: the Obama Foundation ]


Seriously...
If we aren't happy with this:
How the president speaks to his nation tweets twitter
...then we need to fix this:
Trump's presidency the end result of flawed democracy
...and think hard about this:
Trumpness rare personality type disrespect for evidence-based truth anti-science religions alt-reality
...and (somehow) advance from this:
The Dark Ages in the USA and how they have led to Trump
...perhaps like this:
Moving forward, some suggestions for improving life after Trump


If you like this...

[PLEASE wake up, America. You are being “gaslighted”.]
[GPS: The Miracle in Your Smartphone]
[Science, Religion and Quantum Mechanics]
[“The Trump Diaries” (the Trump thread in this blog)]
[Moving forward: the Obama Foundation ]

From my web site:

[Why Science and Religion Need Not be Enemies ]



HD wallpaper available from here

This picture pretty much sums up how I feel right now - trying to see the bright side in the darkness. I have been lucky enough to enjoy many things in 2016 (including these), but this has also been the year of Brexit and Donald Trump.

Many people must be celebrating either or both of those, but many more probably are not.

If you are in the “not” camp, then you might like my long blog post that you will find here on my web site.


The Shadow in the West

"Daybreak at Rain Forest Lagoon" © by Christoph Wiemann


Please share this, if you will (but click the date/time FIRST in order to get a permalink - thanks!)

If you like this, you might also like...

[A friendly letter to America]

and from my web site:

[The Shadow in the West - the full version]
[My thoughts on science and religion, and why this stuff matters]



From the page:

There's more thought-provoking stuff to read here, for example the statistics from the Federal Bureau of Prisons supporting previous findings that “the unaffiliated and the nonreligious engage in far fewer crimes.”

The question “Can we be good without God?” is one that has interested me for some time, and I am not surprised by the findings of this research. My own thoughts on the subject, FWIW, appear here on my web site.

My own answer to that question is yes, there are a number of ways, including the humanist point of view, the best-known proponent of which is probably the author Sir Terry Pratchett, who sadly died recently (see my previous post below).

From my web site:

It is a sad fact that some of the world's religions, as practised by people, have given rise (and are still giving rise) to much human misery, in spite of their otherwise good aspects. Again FWIW, my thoughts on that subject can be found here on my web site.

Hmmm... Food for thought...


A suggestion...

[Try clicking the life-improvement tag at the top of this post...]



In this particularly beautiful video, Neil deGrasse Tyson, American astrophysicist, explains what he considers to be the most astounding fact about our universe: that we are all literally made of “star stuff”.

Of course, we are all more than the sum of our parts!

After watching the video I reflected sadly that some religions close their eyes to the true wonders of creation - which reminded me of this (apparently often misunderstood) quote:

If (like me) you wondered what Einstein really meant by this, go here or click the quotation for a good discussion article, or go here for an in-depth Wikipedia article on Einstein's religious views.


If you like this...

[The science of the movie Interstellar [1]]
[The science of the movie Interstellar [2]]

... and FWIW:

[My own thoughts on the conflicts or otherwise between science and religion (from my web site)]
[Magical Loops: wonderful complexity from repeating simple rules many times (from my web site)]



If you liked reading The Little World of Don Camillo and its sequels, then you will love this blog by “An American Fan”. It's more or less complete now, but it stands as a wonderful work in its own right - a true work of love. You will also discover that there was much more to Giovanni Guareschi than Don Camillo.

If you haven't read the books (so much better than the entertaining screen adaptations), then may I strongly recommend them!

From the blog intro:


Science, Religion and Quantum Mechanics

The image above is mine - feel free to share...

It turns out that all the technology that is based on transistors - computers, mobile phones, the Internet, you name it - depends on the strange reality of quantum physics, as does almost everything that we see (and don't see) around us.

I recently read, or rather am having the great pleasure of working through in several passes, most of The Quantum Universe: Everything that Can Happen Does Happen, a book written by Professors Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw. (I say “most of” because the the chapters in the book lead you up to a real worked example in the Appendix, a seriously high mountain which I have yet to attempt!)

In 1927 J.B.S. Haldane famously wrote: “I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

The Universe is truly a queer and wonderful place, and this book clearly explains some of its most queer and wonderful mechanisms. The method of explanation, using familiar clock faces and waves, doesn't eliminate the occasionally frightening mathematics, but conveys brilliantly what is really going on.

(Anyone thinking "I can't do maths", by the way, has never had teachers like these (or Salman Khan, see bottom of this post). I wish they had taught me when I first attempted to learn this stuff!)

Equally fascinating is the authors' explanation of how science reached its current understanding of the theory that predicts so accurately how the Universe behaves, from the chemistry of life (and table salt) to why (since atoms are mostly empty space) we don't fall through the floor, to the life-cycle of stars.

Unusually in a science book, the authors are not afraid to explain the limitations of science, either: scientific knowledge isn't perfect and fixed, but always growing, and here is a great description of how science helps knowledge to grow.

You can read a really good review of the book here. Click the images for more about the authors.

I find it sad that in today's world some religions still cannot accept science, but must imagine an alternative reality (with a bogus science that doesn't constantly test itself critically against evidence, as real science does) that doesn't conflict with their beliefs.

It is also ironic, as well as sad, that people following these religions promote their messages (and do much else) using technology that depends on the science that they don't believe in.

Creationists (or whatever they call themselves) have a perfect right to believe in whatever they want. However I find it horrifying to read about persistent attempts to have Creationism taught in classrooms, and teachers being intimidated for teaching real science.

Disrespect for science is no new thing, and not confined to reality-denying religions. The “mad scientist”, for example, has always been a popular feature of movies and TV shows (even in The Muppets, one of my all-time favourites!). Scientists have not always performed well, and have not always found it easy to communicate clearly with the non-scientific public (a hard but essential job when issues like climate change and health are at stake).

A while back, the UK woke up to the fact that its future prosperity depended on reversing this trend, and many popular science programmes (among other things) have resulted - from the BBC's Bang Goes The Theory to some extraordinarily illuminating programmes featuring Brian Cox.

J.B.S. Haldane, should he be observing from somewhere what is happening in physics today, might not change his suspicion (the inner workings of gravity, for instance, still have much to reveal to science) - but I am sure that he would be “watching developments with great interest”.


If you like this...

[More thoughts on Science and Religion]
[Is our weather getting worse? (major Channel 4 documentary)]
[Some wonders from NASA]
[Some thoughts on Science and Politics]
[One of the greatest FREE learning and teaching resources on the Internet: The Khan Academy]


(Original post: September 25th, 2010)

This comes from a new post on my other blog.

Click the image for some of my thoughts on humanism, and why I think that this stuff really matters.


From Laura Miller's web site:

"The Magician's Book is the story of one reader's long, tumultuous relationship with C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. As a child, Laura Miller read and re-read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and its sequels countless times, and wanted nothing more than to find her own way to Narnia. In her skeptical teens, a casual reference to the Chronicles's Christian themes left her feeling betrayed and alienated from the stories she had come to know and trust. Years later, convinced that "the first book we fall in love with shapes us every bit as much as the first person we fall in love with," Miller returns to Lewis' classic fantasies to see what mysteries Narnia still holds for adult eyes--and is captured in an entirely new way...

"...In 2006, I traveled to England and Ireland in search of the places that inspired Narnia. I began in Oxford, where C.S. Lewis wrote the Chronicles, and went on to Northern Ireland, where he grew up. Lewis always maintained that the Counties Down and Antrim were the models for Narnia, especially the area around the Mourne Mountains near the Lough of Carlingford. Others (such as his illustrator, Pauline Baynes), seem to see it as more English. Here are some of the photographs I took during my trip."