9 Dec 2008

News and Resources

Resources

Lumosity. Brain Games and Brain Training with free trial.

Erowid. Erowid is a member-supported organization providing access to reliable, non-judgmental information about psychoactive plants and chemicals and related issues.

Atheism Quotes website

Welcome to the one of the largest collection of atheist quotes, atheism quotes, and atheist shirts on the net! Browse the entire collection of atheist quotes from famous atheists and intellectuals throughout the ages, or search for your favorite personality or subject! It's all here for you! We're guessing if the atheist shirts had been available when some of these thinkers were alive, they would have worn one too!

Well, everyone has to support their site in some way, and having quotes on a T-shirt beats advertising some corporate designer!

3 Dec 2008

Scholarpedia

Welcome to Scholarpedia, the peer-reviewed open-access encyclopedia written by scholars from all around the world.

Scholarpedia feels and looks like Wikipedia -- the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Indeed, both are powered by the same program -- MediaWiki. Both allow visitors to review and modify articles simply by clicking on the edit this article link.

However, Scholarpedia differs from Wikipedia in some very important ways:

  • Each article is written by an expert (elected by the public or invited by Scholarpedia editors).
  • Each article is anonymously peer reviewed to ensure accurate and reliable information.
  • Each article has a curator -- typically its author -- who is responsible for its content.
  • Any modification of the article needs to be approved by the curator before it appears in the final, approved version.

Herein also lies the greatest difference between Scholarpedia and traditional print media: although the initial authorship and review are similar to a print journal so that Scholarpedia articles could be cited, articles are not frozen and outdated, but dynamic, subject to an ongoing process of improvement moderated by their curators. This allows Scholarpedia to be up-to-date, yet maintain the highest quality of content.

The approach of Scholarpedia does not compete with, but rather complements, that of Wikipedia: instead of covering a broad range of topics, Scholarpedia covers a few narrow fields, but does that exhaustively.

Currently, Scholarpedia hosts Encyclopedia of Computational Neuroscience, Encyclopedia of Dynamical Systems, Encyclopedia of Computational Intelligence, and Encyclopedia of Astrophysics. There has also been added the Encyclopedia of Cognitive Neuroscience.

2 Dec 2008

American Atheist seeks new Editor

American Atheist, a monthly journal of atheist news and thought, is seeking a new Editor.

Applicants must be Atheists with a history of expression of Atheist thought and activism and must be in agreement with the
following statement:

American Atheists, Inc. is a nonprofit, nonpolitical, educational organization dedicated to the complete and absolute separation of state and church, accepting the explanation of Thomas Jefferson that the First Amendment to
the Constitution of the United States was meant to create a “wall of separation” between state and church.

All this sounds fine, but the list of skills needed seemed to me slightly bizarre. I hope they are not listed in order of importance because at the top we find:
(1) Mastery of English grammar and spelling.
(2) Knowledge of and ability to use style manuals such as The Chicago Manual Of Style or similar
publications.
(3) Knowledge of foreign phrases and words commonly used in educated English prose.

Number 3 is especially strange and slightly antiquated. I would be more daunted if they required the editor to be able to read the outpourings of the Vatican in their original Latin or even the Italian Osservatore Romano. But, as stated, it seems enough to know what je ne sais quoi means and shrug one's shoulders meaningfully. However, applicants should at least brush up on the difference between pantheism, pandeism and pandemonium.

Application guidelines here at American Atheist.

27 Nov 2008

World Pantheism

Are you searching for a path that focuses on this Earth rather than some imaginary beyond, that makes saving the planet its focus not saving your eternal soul, that respects individual choice rather than pushing prejudice down people's throats, that values reason rather than fanaticism?

Do you find it impossible to believe in supernatural beings, and difficult to conceive of anything more worthy of reverence than the beauty of Nature or the power of the Universe?

Do you feel a deep sense of peace and belonging and wonder in the midst of Nature, in a forest, by the ocean, or on a mountain top? Are you speechless with awe when you look up at the sky on a clear moonless night and see the Milky Way strewn with stars as thick as sand on a beach? When you see breakers crashing on a rocky shore, or hear wind rustling in a poplar's leaves, are you uplifted by the energy and creativity of existence?

If you answered yes to these questions, then you will feel thoroughly at home in the World Pantheist Movement.

==

This doesn't, on the face of it, sound like a traditional philosophical position that is usually labelled pantheism. However, reading further,"If atheism, humanism and naturalism are to advance, then they need approaches that don’t simply leave the individual alone in the face of an increasingly threatening physical, social and international environment. They need ways of life that offer as rich a range of benefits as traditional religious ones. " Indeed, the best description is one they themselves use, which is spiritual naturalism. This group also has a strong ecological element, putting nature back into naturalism in a concrete rather than wholly abstract way. Interesting site.

21 Nov 2008

Compassion and Choices - Euthanasia organization

Compassion & Choices is a nonprofit organization working to improve care and expand choice at the end of life. As a national organization with over 60 local groups, affiliates and chapters, and 30,000 members, we help patients and their loved ones face the end of life with calming facts and choices of action during a difficult time. We also aggressively pursue legal reform to promote pain care, put teeth in advance directives and legalize physician aid in dying.

The Hemlock Society

The Hemlock Society is committed to providing information regarding options for dignified death and legalized physician aid in dying.

To strengthen our ability to serve the terminally ill, and forward aid-in-dying laws across the country, Hemlock is now partnered with the national US leader in aid in dying, Compassion & Choices.

Interesting read is
Students' Guide to Physician Aid in Dying


Hemlock (conium maculatum) was also, of course, the poison of choice to quieten Socrates.

The Atheism Tapes by Jonathan Miller

As part of the making of the ground-breaking series “A Brief History of Disbelief,” Jonathan Miller filmed conversations with some very distinguished minds. Jonathan, of course, could not resist the temptation to make these conversations wide ranging and so – naturally enough – their final contributions to “A Brief History of Disbelief” are only a small part of the original interviews.

Now this six part series is an opportunity to see and hear the conversations at much greater length as Jonathan Miller goes head to head with Daniel Dennett, Denys Turner, Richard Dawkins, Colin McGinn, Arthur Miller and Steven Weinberg.





Out of Body Experiences Simulated

An out-of-body experience (OBE) occurs when a person who is awake sees themselves from a location outside their physical body. OBEs have been reported in conditions where brain function is compromised, such as stroke, epilepsy and drug abuse. They have also been reported in association with traumatic experiences such as car accidents. Around one in ten people claim to have had an OBE at some time in their lives.

Now Dr. Henrik Ehrsson, a University College London neuroscientist, has devised the first experimental method to induce an out-of-body experience in healthy participants.

Dr Ehrsson said: “Out-of-body experiences have fascinated mankind for millennia. Their existence has raised fundamental questions about the relationship between human consciousness and the body, and has been much discussed in theology, philosophy and psychology. Although out-of-body experiences have been reported in a number of clinical conditions, the neuro-scientific basis of this phenomenon remains unclear.

“The invention of this illusion is important because it reveals the basic mechanism that produces the feeling of being inside the physical body. This represents a significant advance because the experience of one’s own body as the centre of awareness is a fundamental aspect of self-consciousness.”

The set-up of the illusion is as follows: the study participant sits in a chair wearing a pair of head-mounted video displays. These have two small screens over each eye, which show a live film recorded by two video cameras placed beside each other two metres behind the participant’s head. The image from the left video camera is presented on the left-eye display and the image from the right camera on the right-eye display. The participant sees these as one ‘stereoscopic’ (3D) image, so they see their own back displayed from the perspective of someone sitting behind them.

The researcher then stands just beside the participant (in their view) and uses two plastic rods to simultaneously touch the participant’s actual chest out-of-view and the chest of the illusory body, moving this second rod towards where the illusory chest would be located, just below the camera’s view.

The participants confirmed that they had experienced sitting behind their physical body and looking at it from that location. Dr Ehrsson said: “This was a bizarre, fascinating experience for the participants – it felt absolutely real for them and was not scary. Many of them giggled and said ‘Wow, this is so weird!’”

To test the illusion further and provide objective evidence, Dr Ehrsson then performed an additional experiment to measure the participants’ physiological response – specifically the level of perspiration on the skin – in a scenario where they felt the illusory body was threatened. Their bodily response strongly indicated that they thought the threat was real.

The creation of this perceptual illusion stems from an idea Dr Ehrsson had as a medical student, when he wondered what would happen to the ‘self’ if you could effectively move your eyes to another part of the room, just a few metres away, so you could observe yourself from an outside perspective. Would the self ‘follow’ the eyes or stay in the body?

Dr Ehrsson added: “The illusion is different from anything published previously. It is the first to involve a change in the perceived location of the self, relative to the physical body. It is also different from any virtual reality set-up because it examines what happens when you look at yourself, and there is also multisensory information that triggers the illusion. There has been no way of inducing an OBE in healthy people before, apart from unsubstantiated reports in occult literature. It’s a very exciting development, and has implications for a range of disciplines from neuroscience to theology.”

You can read the original paper The Experimental Induction of Out-of-Body Experiences and take a look at the Ehrsson Lab, including links to other research papers.

The Study was supported by the Wellcome Trust and the PRESENCCIA project, an EU funded Project under the IST programme. Dr Ehrsson was supported by the Human Frontier Science Program, the Swedish Medical Research Council and the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research.

Article: ‘The experimental induction of out-of-body experiences

There was also some discussion at the Dawkins website.

19 Nov 2008

What does it feel like to have faith?

This question was posed on the Richard Dawkins forum and so far only one real reply of merit as been posted. However, it was interesting enough to warrant a few comments. People who claim to have faith in their religious doctrine exist in a particular state of mind. There is no way for them to step outside their faith and look back at themselves in the knowledge that they can then step back inside. It is therefore the kind of question that only makes sense to someone who was once a believer but who then "lost" their faith - or, of course, possibly a shift in the opposite direction.

One of the defining characteristics of a believer is their absolute certainty in the truth of their object of belief, whatever the lack of evidence. It may seem like the person's rational faculties have been unplugged, but I suspect this merely shows that the condition takes place at an unconscious level. There is one other state of mind which is very similar and which directs its affections to a real object rather than a fantasy - being in love. And being in faith feels very much like being both loved and in love. It is like the whole universe is perfumed with this love. It doesn't even enter into one's mind that this is all purely self-generated. Like many other forms of religious experience, as it feels like it comes from outside, then it is ascribed to an outside influence; in this case, the love of one's God. It is also the case of many psychiatric disorders that manifestations of the mind appear to be externally created.

But just as the love for another person can sometimes evaporate, so can the love for one's God. As quickly as the mist descends so too can it clear, leaving behind a feeling of... possession, dare one say. The feeling of human love as well as cosmic all-pervading love are associated in the chakra system with, fairly obviously, the heart chakra. I don't want to dwell on this particular theory too long but is interesting to note that in many meditational systems the opening of the chakra centres should be done in a particular order and with a certain care and guidance. The obsession in some new age groups to focus on the heart chakra does indeed lead to a feeling of benevolence to the universe but at the expense of foregoing all the other experiences associated with the other chakras. Thus opening only one chakra leads to a one-sided view of our human nature. It is just partial knowledge, and no knowledge at all if done as part of the religious indoctrination without a conscious sense of what one is activating.

Apart from the feeling of unconditional love, the other aspect of faith is the rituals associated with maintaining and strengthening that faith. One may think that rituals are not really part of the feeling of belief but rituals do serve the purpose of fixing both images and behaviour. Studies of comparative religious
iconography show that beyond culturally local symbols there are similarities in the psychic functions of symbols or, more importantly, a family of symbols that create a meaningful internal myth. The tragedy and ignorance of fideist religions is to believe and preach that these psychodramas are external metaphysical entities rather than mental constructs. Only in eastern religions do we find the acceptance that these are deep mental constructs, including methods to see this clearly so that one is no longer a slave to indoctrination.

One interesting consequence of rituals being the prop of belief is the experience of increasing dependence on rituals in times of a crisis of faith. Somehow, the unconscious mind seems to prepare for what is about to happen, with the conscious mind being totally ignorant of this. The lady who described her experiences said
she went through a period of sudden increase in prayers, in thinking about becoming a nun and a morbid concentration on being with God. These acts of faith rose to a crescendo up until the poit where her belief suddenly collapsed. The fog had lifted, the world looked very different, the love had vanished. The rituals that were once learnt expressions of an underlying faith had become mere gestures - excessive mannerisms as a substitute for genuine belief.

Going back to secular love, we see similar situations arising when one partner is waning in their love for the other. Somehow, making an effort to be loving and caring, buying presents and trying to please your partner eventually reveal themselves as empty gestures when the reality dawns that you really don't love that person anymore. We think that repeating the right actions will somehow resurface the original feelings. But feelings, like faith, cannot be manufactured - not if the person is free to develop themselves.

Actions can be difficult to stop. Another commenter mentioned how de-programming from religious mannerisms was similar to remove hypnotic suggestions. The rituals of religions do have many aspects in common with hypnotic suggestions. It does also leave the possibility that many people may survive within their religion purely because of the comfort generated by performing certain rituals. It will need further investigation as to whether there is a neurological difference between the genuine believer acting out of faith and the default believer whose faith is a consequence of their actions.

To sum up, the feeling of faith is an emotional and neurological condition with many similarities with secular love. This love is, however, directed towards a metaphysical entity. To a believer, such an entity feels real. However, it is possible that such religious faith can disappear, just as human love can, and that the person feels freed from the obligation to be faith-full. Much of this appears to happen at an unconscious level, with the conscious reaction to this being to adjust to both states of mind. But one interesting difference is that the non-believer does not perceive to be "in" any particular state. We do not have a special word for somebody who is not in love, as we see that not being in love is the default condition. Rather strangely, many think that being a believer is the natural state, rather than the more obvious situation in which being non-believer is the natural state, just as not being in love, and that both belief and love are altered states. Living in an altered state may have its advantages but it is not clear that it is a good basis on which to claim knowledge of reality.

8 Nov 2008

Research in Belief in God at Oxford

Researchers at the University of Oxford will spend £1.9 million investigating why people believe in God. Academics have been given a grant to try to find out whether belief in a deity is a matter of nature or nurture.

They will not attempt to solve the question of whether God exists but they will examine evidence to try to prove whether belief in God conferred an evolutionary advantage to mankind. They will also consider the possibility that faith developed as a byproduct of other human characteristics, such as sociability.

Researchers at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion and the Centre for Anthropology and Mind in Oxford will use the cognitive science disciplines to develop “a scientific approach to why we believe in God and other issues around the nature and origin of religious belief”.

Justin Barrett, a psychologist who has been quoted in support of arguments by both the atheist Richard Dawkins and his critic, Alister Mc-Grath, a Christian theologian, said: “We are interested in exploring exactly in what sense belief in God is natural. We think there is more on the nature side than a lot of people suppose.”

He compared believers to three-year-olds who “assume that other people know almost everything there is to be known”. Dr Barrett, who is a Christian, is the editor of the Journal of Cognition and Cultureand author of the book Why Would Anyone Believe in God? He said that the childish tendency to believe in the omniscience of others was pared down by experience as people grew up. But this tendency, necessary to allow human beings to socialise and cooperate with each other in a productive way, continued when it came to belief in God.

“It usually does continue into adult life,” he said. “It is easy, it is intuitive, it is natural. It fits our default assumptions about things.”

Dr Barrett said: “The next step therefore is to look at some of the detailed questions – which religious beliefs are most common and most natural for the human mind to grasp?” The most exciting questions were in areas such as the different responses to polytheism and monotheism, for example, and relationships between religion and evolutionary biology.

He and his colleague Roger Trigg will be investigating whether religion is a part of the selection process that has helped humans survive or merely a byproduct of evolution.

The three-year study is being funded by a £1.9 million grant to the Ian Ramsey Centre from the John Templeton Foundation, which supports research into religion, science and spirituality. There will be seminars and workshops, while £800,000 will go towards a small grant competition, with 41 grants for different projects.

Professor Trigg, a senior research Fellow at Oxford and author of Religion in Public Life: Must Faith be Privatised?, said: “Religion has played an important role in public life over the past few years and the debate about the origin of religion, and how it fits into the human mind, has intensified. This study will not prove or disprove any aspect of religion.” (Times Online)

==

I will keep track of this research and will post more. If you have any news then please leave a comment. One word of caution; the research is another Templeton funded project. The Templeton Foundation has a lot of money and is unashamedly Christian in outlook. Look closely and one of the goals is to see how "natural" belief in God is. In the theologian's mind if it can be shown to be natural then it is very close to being true. Trying to prop up metaphysical beliefs, rather than investigating spiritual mental states is not, in my opinion, a huge step forward.


6 Nov 2008

Was HIV-AIDS Manufactured by the US government?

I know you won't believe this, but it really is worth looking at the evidence.

I started researching this by accident as the 2008 Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to two scientists involved in discovering the HIV virus (the fact that others may well have done so before is another story). The propaganda machine of nearly all governmental agencies and pharmaceuticals has spun the story that HIV came from some accidental transmission of the virus from a simian to a human host somewhere in Africa.

The truth is altogether more disturbing. Numerous scientists who have not been paid off are also distressed that the genuine research to test the alternative hypotheses is almost impossible to get funded.

However, an official document came to light in 1999 under the Freedom of Information Act. For a brief background on Boyd Davies and his discovery see here. A HIV/AIDS timeline is available and the original 1971 report can be downloaded for a small fee (the man's gotta live!) However, the timeline gives enough details for the general public.

The main finding is that HIV was man-made by a secret Special Virus Program. The USA had some of its allies helping in the research. The live experiments were conducted in Africa and amongst New York's gays. The most likely vector for the HIV infection was a smallpox and hepatitis B vaccine. Monkeys were also infected at the same time in the same locations in Africa. It is possible that the virus was perfected by human to monkey to human experiments but the monkeys infected in Africa seem designed to present a future false genesis of the virus for propaganda purposes. The aim was to target blacks and gays. I know, shocking. But the proof is in the government documents.

There is more recent research that sheds light on the fact that HIV was manufactured and distributed by humans. I will write about it further but in the meantime you can read the articles at The Origin of AIDS.

1 Nov 2008

Near Death Experiences Research

A three-year study will explore the nature of death and consciousness.

After countless accounts of near-death experiences, dating as far back as ancient Greece, science is now taking serious steps forward to explore the nature of the phenomenon.

The Human Consciousness Project sets out to explore the nature of human consciousness and the brain. The first step of the project is the "Awareness During Resuscitation" study, a collaboration among more than 25 medical centers throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. (popsci.com)

Contrary to popular perception, says the HCP webpage, death is not a specific moment, but a well-defined process. From a biological viewpoint, cardiac arrest is synonymous with clinical death. During a cardiac arrest, all three criteria of clinical death are present: the heart stops beating, the lungs stop working, and the brain ceases functioning. Subsequently, there is a period of time—which may last from a few seconds up to an hour or longer—in which emergency medical efforts may succeed in resuscitating the heart and reversing the dying process. The experiences that individuals undergo during this period of cardiac arrest provide a unique window of understanding into what we are all likely to experience during the dying process.

Studies by Parnia and other researchers show that between 10 and 20 percent of who are resuscitated from cardiac arrest had a near-death experience (NDE). Various other studies show the frequency of near-death experience to be between 4 and 18 percent. The experience is typically described as a progression of stages. First, the person has a sense of peace, then a sense of separation from the body. The person then enters into darkness, and sees a bright light like the end of a tunnel. Finally, the person enters the light and interacts with an entity, described as God, Allah, or simply a universal cosmic force.

==

Good to see research money going into something that is of scientific, medical and philosophical importance.

Will post more info as I research this.

Overcoming Fear

Creating a new blog is a transformational process. The very act of posting, whether news links, resources or editorial, leads to a process of selection but also creates conceptual links between what otherwise would seem random disconnected pieces of information.

This is not a news agency with the imperative to be first with breaking news. It is not even, as yet, wholly a news aggregator trawling the news feeds for specific topics. The news and resources posts are not meant to be exhaustive, but rather the starting points for further investigations. The thing that is, I think, most important is bringing the whole lot together in the editorials.

There are many websites on conspiracy theories, on the covert controls that are slowly but surely taking over the whole planet, on political, religious and military enslavement of bodies and minds. But is living in a state of informed fear any better than living in ignorant fear? The former lives in fear because of the propaganda, the latter in fear of the creators of the same propaganda. If one is justified and the other manufactured they are still both bad for our health and well-being.

The propaganda machines of this world are huge, well funded and ultimately backed by physical force. You may live in a democracy which makes token nods to freedom, but just try investigating anything in depth and you will soon discover the iron fist within the velvet glove. That is likely to be terminally bad for your health.

Nietzsche wrote that the measure of a human is how much truth they can bear. This may seem like a never-ending task but I don't think Nietzsche was talking about becoming an encyclopedia. He was talking about overcoming one's self, overcoming one's fears and prejudices, un-knotting that tangled mess of beliefs we hold in our minds. Those knots may appear to us to be what is holding us together, what makes us individuals, but they are what binds us to a prison of our own making.

Before seeking to right the wrongs in the world, it is worth becoming truly independent. Then, if it still seems like a good idea, you can change the world without fear being the driving force. Before I am misunderstood, this is not a plea for pacifism but rather a call to be stronger than the prison guards.

31 Oct 2008

Science and Religion News and Resources

News

The Vatican: Guidelines to Stem Sex Abuse by Priests

Illinois: Ex-Priest Guilty of Sex Abuse

Jesuit School Sheltered Molesters, Groups Say

Vatican-Israel Tensions Rise Over Pius. Interesting that even the Vatican should fear repercussions from jewish groups as arguments rage over the potential beautification of Pius XII.

Exploring Religion, Shaped by the Enlightenment


Resources

Bishop Accountability
. Documenting the abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church.

28 Oct 2008

CFI Issues Statement on Religious Discrimination Exemption

The Center for Inquiry expressed outrage at the public release of a memorandum from U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that would allow participants in the Bush Administration’s Faith-Based Initiatives programs to engage in discriminatory hiring practices, in contravention of long-established federal civil rights laws. The memorandum exempts World Vision—a religious organization receiving federal grant monies under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act—from the religious nondiscrimination provisions that help preserve the separation of church and state.

On Oct. 17, the New York Times reported that the newly disclosed legal memorandum claims that taxpayer money can be diverted directly to sectarian faith groups that actively discriminate on the basis of religion in their hiring practices, bypassing laws that distinctly forbid that very practice.

Section 3789 of U.S. Code Title 42 Chapter 46 states, (emphasis added):

No person in any State shall on the ground of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under or denied employment in connection with any programs or activity funded in whole or in part with funds made available under this chapter.

But World Vision, claiming that hiring non-Christians would somehow impede its goal of helping youths escape gang culture, has received an exemption to the law. Citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, the O.L.C. memorandum claims that requiring the exclusionary Christian group to adhere to the antidiscrimination law would “substantially burden” the free exercise of religion, and that “…exempt(ing) World Vision from the religious nondiscrimination requirement…” would be “…the least restrictive means of furthering (a) compelling governmental interest.”

Ronald A. Lindsay, CFI’s President and CEO, objected strongly to the memorandum’s contents.

“By distorting the concept of religious freedom, the Department of Justice has enabled the Administration to deny true religious freedom. As a result of its aggressive, flawed, and harmful reading of the law, individuals will be denied employment based on their religious beliefs. Nothing in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act negates the applicability of federal civil rights statutes. Every recipient of government funding must obey the law, including recipients that happen to be religious,” commented Lindsay. “Freedom of religion does not include the freedom to break the law.”

Derek C. Araujo, an attorney for CFI, lamented that this issue is yet another part of a larger pattern of the government giving special legal exemptions to religions, and that this a clear illustration of how the rule of law is getting sacrificed, yet again, in the name of piety.

“This provides one more example of how infusing politics with religion distorts our thinking about important public policy issues—in this case, protecting long-cherished civil rights,” Araujo said. “It is stunning that this Administration thinks that enforcing civil rights laws is not a ‘compelling interest.’”

In defense of the religion-based initiative movement, its architect, University of Missouri law professor Carl H. Esbeck, was quoted in the Times asking why World Vision should “be denied the opportunity that everyone else has to compete for funding simply because of their religion.” But the spin he gives this narrow interpretation of civil rights legality ignores the question of why other citizens who want to help dispel gang violence should be denied the opportunity to be hired simply because of their religious convictions, as well as the larger question of why religious recipients of government funds should be privileged by exemptions to federal antidiscrimination laws that apply to non-religious recipients.

The 58-year-old World Vision, which boasts action in more than 100 countries, also goes far beyond the basic spiritual alignments required of such religious exclusionists as the Boy Scouts of America—who simply ask for a vague affirmation of belief in God—and has very stringent rules regarding the specific mandated beliefs of employees.

From World Vision’s Web site, (emphasis original):

The status of World Vision U.S. as an equal opportunity employer does not prevent the organization from hiring staff based on their religious beliefs, so that all staff share the same religious commitment. Pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 702 (42 U.S.C. 2000e 1(a) World Vision U.S. has the right to, and does, hire only candidates who agree with World Vision’s Statement of Faith and/or the Apostles’ Creed.

The Apostles’ Creed is the unbending backbone of Catholic dogma, and the cited Statement of Faith mirrors its tenets with the addition of passages maintaining that the Bible is the only infallible, authoritative word of God; that the “lost” will be inevitably resurrected and sent to eternal damnation; and insinuations that the “indwelling” of the Holy Spirit is necessary for a person to live a decent and respectable life.

On Oct. 19, the Washington Post reported that Richard E. Stearns, president of World Vision’s U.S. operations, brushed off complaints of special treatment for Christians—who dominate the U.S. political landscape—citing “that a waiver from the anti-discrimination provisions in grants could apply to Jewish, Hindu and Muslim groups, as well.”

15 Oct 2008

Christian Fundamentalists Pretending to be Ex Muslim Terrorists

How does one protect oneself from lie after lie? One standard black operations technique is to create false histories for people, then let them loose on a gullible and stupid public.

Wouldn't it be great if we could find muslim terrorists who repented for their crimes? Would be even better if they saw the errors of their ways and did the right thing, converting to Christianity! There is no need to wait for history to deliver the goods when they can be manufactured.

==

For some time now a trio of self-proclaimed ex-terrorists has been making the rounds of the lecture circuit, charging thousands of dollars for their fantastical tales of life as murderous Muslim extremists.
Reza Aslan

Walid Shoebat, Kamal Saleem – both US citizens – and Zacharia Anani, a Canadian national, all claim to have been members of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Anani claims personal responsibility for the deaths of over two hundred people. Shoebat says he was part of a terrorist cell inside the United States.

Their most recent appearance was at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, which hosted the three at its 50th Annual Academy Assembly on the topic, “Dismantling Terrorism: Developing Actionable Solutions for Today’s Plague of Violence.”

Shoebat, Saleem, and Anani were asked to speak about their personal experiences as Islamic terrorists, to provide the next generation of US soldiers with an inside account of radical terrorism.

The selection by the Air Force Academy of these speakers was criticized by both the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Why? Because it turns out these guys are not ex-terrorists at all but—wait for it—fundamentalist Christians posing as ex-terrorists. Their fervently anti-Islamic message, in which all Muslims are labeled as radicals, is a prelude to a testimony about how accepting Jesus into their hearts and becoming born again saved them from a life of terrorism.

Walid Shoebat is a favorite of the “Left Behind” crowd and has spoken at Tim LaHaye’s Pre-Trib (Pre-Tribulation) Research Center. Kamal Saleem, whose real name is Khodor Shami, worked for Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network for sixteen years, and was hired by Focus on the Family in 2003. In 2006, he launched Koome Ministries, whose mission is to “expose the true agenda of [Muslims] who would deceive our nation and the free nations of the world… America must wake-up and set a continued Christian agenda of Liberty and Truth as a standard to follow throughout the free world.”

Since the three began their speaking careers, the authenticity of their claims has been repeatedly challenged by academics and terrorism experts, who have found many aspects of their stories don’t add up.

According to Tom Quiggin, Canada’s only court-qualified expert on global jihadism, and a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police intelligence and national security expert, “Mr. Anani’s not an individual who rates the slightest degree of credibility, based on the stories that he has told.”

Among other things, Quiggin points to Anani’s claim of killing hundreds of people after joining his first militant group in Lebanon at age 13. Anani, now forty-nine, would have been 13 in 1970. However, the fighting in Lebanon did not begin in earnest until 1975, and religious-based terrorism was practically unheard of there until after 1979. According to Anani, he left Lebanon for Egypt to attend Al-Azhar University at age 18, three years earlier.

Professor Douglas Howard teaches the history of the modern Middle East at Calvin College in Michigan, where Kamal Saleem spoke last November. He was shocked to hear Saleem claim that a member of his family was the “the Grand Wazir of Islam.”

“Wazir is a variation of vizier,” Professor Howard explained. “The Grand Vizier was a political role in the Ottoman empire. No Muslim would ever claim that in connection with the role of mufti, which is a scholar of Islamic texts. It’s like someone saying they were the governor of Christianity.”

Professor Howard described the talk at Calvin College as “a tent meeting revival sermon sponsored by academic organizations.”

“His personal story gives him credibility as an anti-Islamic preacher,” he said. “But it is not verifiable and without it he’s no different from other fundamentalist preachers and there’s plenty of those out there.”

Here’s a question: if the claims of these three are true, why aren’t they in Guantanamo?

Mikey Weinstein, head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which has worked tirelessly to uncover precisely the kinds of constitutional violations of church and state that occurred when these three spoke, or rather, witnessed, at the Air Force Academy, put it this way: “If their claims are true, these alleged ex-terrorists should be deported or prosecuted, unless our government now considers conversion to fundamentalist Christianity a reason to disregard prior terrorist activities. If their claims are fabricated, they have criminally defrauded every institution that has paid them to speak.”

Strangely, no arrests warrants have yet been issued.

==

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is actually a very good website, and should scare anybody who has not swallowed the religious propaganda whole. The infiltration by fundamentalist right-wing belligerent intolerant deluded evangelising Christians into the armed forces of the USA is one very good reason to disbelieve anything that comes out of the US administration regarding the constructed war on terror. It is also another reason why the supposed allies of the USA, most notably the Europeans, are less than enthusiastic supporters of American adventurism, unless they have something concrete to gain. The slow eradication of personal freedoms is one area all governments can agree upon, but to add a crusading Christian mission seems unnecessary. The individual is deluded to support personal freedom against the state and yet also support religious enslavement in the same breath. The two march together so that you hear whichever drum makes you keep in step.

Europe shares many borders and a large part of its history with muslims. Europe may well have the first largely muslim nation join the EU. The expansion of the EU is a unique experiment in political expansion without wars. It is already larger than the USA in terms of human beings and economic size. Its weakness, and its strength, is its huge diversity. However, the European project is also in danger of becoming a Christian citadel - that will be its weakest point.

Compare the strength of the mighty oak with that of the bamboo.

14 Oct 2008

How Tall is God? Mormons Accuse Prosperity Gospel of Plagiarism

How Tall is God? by Andrew Brown

This looks like one of those unanswerable questions, but it turns out that the Mormons – and the leaders of the American "Prosperity Gospel" movement – believe they know the answer: God is about 6' 2" tall. (He doesn't use the metric system).

The justification for this is Isaiah 40:12, where God, it is said

"hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?"

Kenneth Copeland, one of the leading preachers of the prosperity gospel, has claimed that God is :

"very much like you and me … having a body, complete with eyes, and eyelids, ears, nostrils, a mouth, hands and fingers, and feet."

Quite how you get from there to a measurement of nine inches has not been revealed to me, but an article by Professor Kirk MacGregor in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, from which I got this story, goes on to quote Copeland as he works out the implications in a sermon:

"The Bible says [God] measured out the heavens with a nine-inch span. Well…my span is eight and three-quarter inches long. So God's span is a quarter of an inch longer than mine. So you see…God…stands somewhere around 6'2",6'3", weighs somewhere in the neighbourhood of a couple hundred pounds, little better."

Professor MacGregor's paper then adds the glorious detail that Mormon scholars have accused him of plagiarising their secret knowledge of God for this calculation:

The clear similarity between Copeland's theology proper and that of Mormonism has led LDS scholars to accuse Copeland of lifting his doctrine of God from their theological repertoire. Stephen E. Robinson, professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, charges that "the Latter-day Saint doctrine of God is used…by Kenneth Copeland, of Texas," and Mormon exegete Daniel C. Peterson alleges that Copeland's exegetical remarks could have been drawn from the wellsprings of "only the Latter-day Saints, to whom a doctrine … of human beings and of their literal kinship with God has been revealed."

If I were them, I would shut up about it, but there we are.

Aakomment

It is difficult not to laugh out loudly. It is sometimes difficult to accept that evolution of the human mind is just so much slower than our power to meddle with technology. These minds are thoroughly medieval in outlook - with due apology to some of the more enlightened medieval philosophers.

29 Sep 2008

Asylum Joy

The name Asylum Joy comes from a mishearing of the name of a Thai restaurant in Chiang Mai. The homophone somehow stuck in my mind for over a year and this is the outcome.

An introduction is supposed to set out some kind of theme, to adumbrate the general look and feel of the landscape before a closer examination of the fauna and flora. But building a frame before the canvas is completed seems to set undue limits as to future directions and scope. Perhaps, rather than setting limits, it is best to explore the palette instead.

The word 'wisdom' has a rather arcane, somehow quaint flavour to it; something we secretly desire but which being out of fashion is also difficult to find. It is an improbable commodity, it cannot be sold in bulk and repackaged as a consumer desirable, and yet, with a nod to the alchemists, it is a kind of mining that we shall be engaged in. Looking for those rare and precious seams within both the exoteric and esoteric sciences that are the fulfilment of the largely base strata.

But wisdom without freedom is ultimately unsustainable, so we shall also look at the powers of control, so intoxicating to certain elements within both the sciences and the religions. It is often in the early hours of a major news story, when a thousand voices clamour to be heard, that one can piece together an accurate picture from a few mosaic tiles. Only later, when the editorial hand of a propagandist has rearranged the pieces do the self same tiles paint an altogether different official picture.

I am sure that other colours will emerge, but for the moment, I must go practise my brush strokes.

10 Dec 2008

Without deleting or subtracting from the above, a clearer focus has emerged and a differentiation between the sibling blogs of Asylum Joy and Aakom. For some reason, my mind has swapped the aims of the two sites. Perhaps it is a function of their very names, as the word 'asylum' conjures up two slightly different images. Before it became used as a synonym for sanatorium - or insanatorium - an asylum was a place of refuge and safety. We still hear of political or economic asylum seekers fleeing from one perceived tyranny to find some sanctuary, if not always with open arms. So to combine both meanings, this seeks to be an asylum from asylum Earth.

The lunatics will be in full parade so that one can be discerning about what they say and what they do. I make no apologies for covering websites and news items that I both agree and disagree with. Know thine enemy is a very useful motto and to be cocooned within one's chosen clique can be as damaging as believing the masses. Ultimately, the real contrast is between those forces of control and those of freedom. I will therefore cover the areas of science and religion, technology, politics and any propaganda that seems to come in my field of view. The focus will largely be on news and resources. Longer philosophical discussions will largely be on Aakom, as well as research specifically on the intersection between science and religion. As both blogs are fairly new I don't expect too much confusion.

RM