Slaves at the root of the fortune that created Richard Dawkins’ family estate – Telegraph


Slaves at the root of the fortune that created Richard Dawkins’ family estate – Telegraph.

Richard Dawkins and Long-Dead Ancestor, Henry Dawkins...

“The ancestors of Richard Dawkins, the atheist campaigner against superstition, intolerance and suffering, built their fortune using slaves, it has been revealed.” Daily Mail style Headlines from the Sunday Telegraph

For starters, none of us are responsible for the actions of others (aside from the children in our care and that is relinquished once they are 18) – least of all our long dead ancestors – any more than we are entitled to take personal credit for their innovations.  For The Telegraph to take this stance, they must have been REALLY desperate for something to print.  How on earth did this epitome of demagogic hackery get past the editor of a national broadsheet?  Were they asleep on the job?  I was aware of this article prior to it’s release, as many others who read the RDF website were, and he reported the aggressive and accusatory approach of the ‘news-gatherer‘.  If the Telegraph values it’s reputation at all, it will offer a front page apology to Proff. Dawkins (for this shameful attempt to slander his character) written by the journalist who wrote it, retract the article and discipline the editor.  The comments on the Telegraph article have been disabled.  I wonder why.  This is NOT an awkward truth.  He has done nothing wrong by being related to a property owner; one among hundreds who owned slaves nearly 300 years ago.  For people to arbitrarily declare that he personally owes an apology for historical events, is both crass and and parochial and indicative of a much bigger problem.

“Plantation owners were not the only customers who wanted to buy slaves. Many people in the cities of North America, including New York, Charleston and Providence in Rhode Island on the east coast, employed enslaved Africans as domestic servants, sailors and construction workers.” – Portcities Website, ‘Plantation owners’


Lets go through some of it shall we?

Before I start, I am by no means justifying the existence of slavery.  I find the idea of owning someone abhorrent – and the fact that it continues to this day, even more so.  What I aim to do in this post is clarify the events without applying a my 21st century ideals.

The first mistake that should be mentioned is the deliberate omission from popular history of where and how the slave merchants obtained their stocks.  European access to Africa was extremely limited.  Where colonies of British and European settlers existed, they were confined to a handful of  coastal areas of West Africa and solely at the pleasure of the African Tribal leaders.  Africa is a continent, not a single country, a fact which the ignorant (the writer of the article), seems blissfully unaware of.  The individual kingdoms had their own leaders, their own customs, and where European presence was met with hostility and deemed unwelcome, this was not the universal rule.  The neighbouring kingdoms also had their own conflicts and tensions, so when the Europeans came along they saw an opportunity to gain an advantage over their neighbours through trade.

“He has railed against the evils of religion, and lectured the world on the virtues of atheism.

Now Richard Dawkins, the secularist campaigner against “intolerance and suffering”, must face an awkward revelation: he is descended from slave owners and his family estate was bought with a fortune partly created by forced labour.” 

The mistake people commonly make is confusing simplicity for stupidity.  The second mistake is to apply modern standards, and impose modern motives to figures and events of the past.  The Africa of the 17th and 18th century was extremely simple in comparison with Europe but that does not make them ‘primitive’ or inferior.  As I said, each region had its own laws and customs.  One of those customs was to either kill or enslave criminals (all crimes were capital) and prisoners of war. If they had a harvest to collect, prisoners would be put to work, if not, they would execute them.  What the Europeans did was alter the equation.  The letters of Lieutenant John Matthews of the Royal navy provide first hand evidence (4), that the presence of European traders on the coast, willing to buy slaves, inspired some African leaders to lead raiding parties into other villages for sale to slave traders on the coast in exchange for gunpowder, weapons and other items which would add to their prestige and give them an advantage over their neighbours.  For those demanding monetary regress between the descendants of planters, traders and slaves are extremely remiss in their adamant claims that blame lies entirely at the feet of the planters and their descendents.

“One of his direct ancestors, Henry Dawkins, amassed such wealth that his family owned 1,013 slaves in Jamaica by the time of his death in 1744.” 

“The Dawkins family estate, consisting of 400 acres near Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, was bought at least in part with wealth amassed through sugar plantation and slave ownership.”

 The Beckford family (5) were also made extremely rich by their sugar plantations. In fact they were the richest family in England for the best part of 200 years.  They did not do what they did illegally.  At the time their actions were all legal and considered acceptable.  As did, the Dawkins family.

“Over Norton Park, inherited by Richard Dawkins’s father, remains in the family, with the campaigner as a shareholder and director of the associated business.”

“Professor Dawkins, the atheist evolutionary biologist and author of The Selfish Gene, claimed associating him with his slave-owning ancestors was “a smear tactic”.

“One of the most disagreeable verses of the Bible – amid strong competition – says the sins of the father shall be visited on the children until the third or fourth generation,” he said.”

Even if inherited sin was not a disgusting guilt-tactic cynically adopted by the early church to maintain fear and through fear, control, the fact that 6 generations have now passed, cannot have escaped the ‘reporter’s’ notice.  It holds individuals responsible for actions they could not have possibly had anything to do with and condemns infants to answer for, and somehow atone, for the sins of not only their parents but their grandparents, great grandparents and great, great grandparents.  This so-called journalist has appointed himself judge in this instance and demanded, that Dawkins answer for the ‘crimes’ (I will reiterate, that owning slaves was a legal and common practice in the 18th century).

“In 2010 Richard Dawkins wrote an obituary for his father, describing how John Dawkins had inherited Over Norton Park from a distant cousin and how the estate, in the Cotswolds area of outstanding natural beauty, had been in the family since the 1720s. He omitted, however, to mention how previous generations made their money.

And why should he have done?  What business is it of ours?  If it had been him, personally, owning slaves and profiting from their labour, we would probably be rightly shocked. It wasn’t him.  It was the 18th century and most of the wealthy landowning class, DID earn their money that way. It wasn’t shocking.

He quoted Scripture – disparagingly – to insist: “I condemn slavery with the utmost vehemence, but the fact that my remote ancestors may have been involved in it is nothing to do with me.

“One of the most disagreeable verses of the Bible – amid strong competition – says the sins of the father shall be visited on the children until the third or fourth generation.”

Audibly irritated, he added: “You need a genetics lecture. Do you realise that probably only about 1 in 512 of my genes come from Henry Dawkins?”

Well the reporter called his house (twice) and accused him of being guilty of enslaving a thousand people who died 3 centuries ago.  Who wouldn’t be ‘irritated’?  For the last time, Dawkins is NOT responsible for the actions of  his ancestors.

“”For goodness sake, William Wilberforce may have been a devout Christian, but slavery is sanctioned throughout the Bible.”

Richard Dawkins’ sister Sarah Kettlewell, 67, is thought still to live on the estate, which has a farm shop and pedigree cattle. According to Companies House records which list Professor Dawkins as a director, Over Norton Park Limited made a £12,000 profit last year.”

For those outside the UK, £12,000 is less than one person would earn on minimum wage in a year. And weren’t most people Christians and church-goers in the 18th century?

He insisted: “The estate is now a very small farm, struggling to make its way, and worth peanuts. The family fortune was frittered away in the 19th Century. Such money as I have is scarcely inherited at all.”

He earns his money from his work as a biologist, writer and public-speaking.  The little his family estate is worth or makes is shared among his other relations.  I fail to see a problem with this.  He’s doing nothing illegal.

He is now facing calls to apologise and make reparations for his family’s past.

Esther Stanford-Xosei, of Lewisham, south London, the co-vice chairman of the Pan-African Reparations Coalition in Europe, said: “There is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity.

“The words of the apology need to be backed by action. The most appropriate course would be for the family to fund an educational initiative telling the history of slavery and how it impacts on communities today, in terms of racism and fractured relationships.”

The revelations come after a difficult few days for the campaigner.”

Only due to the fact that few hacks in the media and (several in the cabinet), have been making claims that not only fly in the face of reason, but are completely devoid of truth.  Baroness Warsi, an unelected, token Muslim woman in the Conservative party, is not unknown for her spurious claims about non believers and has made no effort at all to listen when corrected.  Her comments, and Cameron’s,  about this country being ‘Christian’ and needing a resurgence of religious fervour is, in my view, a sinister distraction tactic.  I have little doubt that Cameron knows that his party is in trouble with public opinion.  He backed Osborne’s economic austerity measures and they have made the situation far worse and is now attempting a policy of divide and rule among believers and non-believers in order to retain favour with the white, male, business owners.  He has even put in plans to force people on JSA to work for nothing, or risk losing the £53 per week they live on now.

To add inventive this scheme, big companies are also exempt from offering any of the benefits or rights that their other employees have (including minimum wage).  The only thing that will do is allow businesses to take on unpaid temporary staff on a continual stream and avoid paying contracted staff overtime.  The only people who actually gain are the board members and the shareholders.  While slavery is being brought back by stealth and Cameron systematically dehumanises the poorest of the British public, the trash-news aided and abetted by the Telegraph find it prudent to publish the family history of a specific prominent figure who speaks out against religious privilege in an attempt to deprive him of support.  It doesn’t bode well…

On Tuesday 14 February, some critics branded him “an embarrassment to atheism” after what many listeners considered a humiliation in a Radio 4 debate with Giles Fraser, formerly Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, in which the professor boasted he could recite the full title of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species”, then when challenged, dithered and said: “Oh God.”

Critics of the movement have always found an easy target in the shape of  Professor Dawkins and other outspoken atheists, viewing any opposition or contradiction to their beliefs as the height of rudeness.  The only thing we can do as a movement is to continue to push back and hold our ground.  It’s worrying enough that the British PM has begun pushing his Christianity and encouraging others to push theirs while complaining they are being marginalised by equality laws, but how long will it be before non-believers are more stringently penalised?  Our tax-funded faith schools already have the right to exclude the children of non-believers.  Let me make one thing quite clear, preventing one group of people from discriminating against another does NOT under any stretch of the imagination, amount to oppression, marginalisation, or persecution.  It amounts to fairness, where all people have equal rights under the law, without exception or privilege.


From the sublime to the ridiculous…

It gets worse.  On the 14th of February The Telegraph published and article applauding a former cleric and ‘Thought for the Day’ know-it-all, for rendering Professor Dawkins ‘speechless’ when he could not roll of the top of his tongue, the full title of Charles Darwin’s (going to be the name of my 3rd child if I have a third) ‘Origin of Species’.  It’s ‘On the Origin of Species by Process of Natural Selection‘ but as most copies are printed with the shortened title, including mine, it’s not surprising that most people don’t know it.  The fatuous challenge was issued after Dawkins pointed out that most people who call themselves Christian, cannot name the first book of the bible which is true.  However the point is more than about knowing what something is called.  It is about understanding the content.  The Rev. was not ‘stylish or mature.  It was a simple case of playground ‘I know you are, but what am I”, posturing. The second article uses their favourite ad hom – ‘militant secularists -against those of us who object to having the superstitions of other people foisted upon us by means of legislation.  When religious institutions start paying tax and making a real contribution to society, they can then start having a say on political reforms. Untill such time, can they shut up.

“We all hear about Muslim leaders issuing fatwas against homosexuals, preaching hate and the extermination of the Jews. But who hears of an Imam who is a credit to their religion?

And yet the extremists are merely a flipside of the atheists. Their actions, too, are entirely negative, aimed at winning plaudits from fellow atheists and in the process poisoning the rest of society against them.” – Stephen Pollard of The Daily Telegraph

The telegraph and the Independent have both gone downhill. It seems nationalist anachronistic crap now qualifies as reasonably objective and fashionable journalism to papers more concerned with sales than with quality and they are fast losing all credibility.


Related articles and Sources…

  1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2012/feb/15/richard-dawkins-title-origin-species
  2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/feb/19/richard-dawkins-disbelief-slave-trade-ancestor
  3. http://discoveringbristol.org.uk/slavery/people-involved/traders-merchants-planters/caribbean-plantation-development/plantation-owners/
  4. Matthews. J (1787-8), ‘Letters of John Mattews‘ in Gibbons. R (ed.) ‘An Anthology of Primary Sources‘, Manchester University Press, New York, (pp. 266-270).
  5. http://www.bbc.co.uk/wiltshire/content/articles/2007/03/06/abolition_fonthill_abbey_feature.shtml

What Happens at an Exorcism and Why It Should Worry Us.


“There were only a small number of priests who had any real expertise, and they were getting calls from all over the country.” So many attended the conference, he said – “They must have requests.” Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Bishop Thomas Paprocki - The organiser of this October's Conference on Exocorism 

In October 2010, a Catholic conference was held in Baltimore, Maryland (preceding yet another) attended by 56 US Bishops and 66 Priests.  That Bishops had bothered to attend was indeed a novelty because the annual conference is normally only attended by Priests. What the focus of this conference is certainly surprising considering that it was held in a (theoretically) civilised country.  None the less, these Priests and Bishops find reason to gather every year to discuss exorcism.

While all Catholic priests are permitted by the Vatican to perform these ceremonies, very few American are trained and able to. Though how much training does it take in order to become ‘proficient’ in bullying, manipulating, and terrifying and further brainwashing an already troubled individual into first believing that their troubles are due to a demonic possession and secondly that their lifestyle had allowed the possession to occur in the first place.  The conference was meant to train priests in the ‘art’ of exorcism and was organised by the Bishop Thomas Paprocki who is also the chair of the Bishops’ Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance.

Paprocki is of the view that there is an increasing demand for exorcism in the US despite the lack of data on the subject: But when has real evidence had anything to do with what the Catholic church believes or how they decide to act.  Out of the 68 million Catholics in the US, only an estimated 6 to 14 are ‘trained exorcists‘ though the church seems determined to rectify this issue and plunge America further back toward the Dark Ages of Europe and the reign of tyranny and fear exerted by the Inquisition.  One of those exorcists is the Rev Gary Thomas of Saratoga and the subject of The Rite.  (The book by Matt Baglio and forthcoming film starring Sir Anthony Hopkins)

Paprocki’s feeling is seconded by Rev. Thomas.  Exorcism is being requested by parishioners who have family they believe to be in need of this ‘service’ yet there is no mention of any clerical recommendation.  I am sure these family members are well-meaning but the greatest harm is often caused by the best intentions (Thanks to Terry Goodkind for that one.).  The Rev. believes the cause of this demand is an increase in paganism and ‘idolatrous activity’ by Catholics.   This is, of course, garbage and garbage of the sort spouted by the likes of Michael Voris.  The Church feels threatened by its lack (or loss) of privilege in the developed world and is trying to increase their influence by any means necessary.  When you consider that even the president of the National Federation of Priests, Rev. Richard Vega, has not heard of any requests at all.  He speculated that immigrant Catholics, who were probably more familiar with the practice, may be making requests.  He also reported to the Guardian that it is Canon Law requires every diocese have a trained exorcist.  That many do not, he blames on a post Vatican II church.  In 2005 Pope John Paul II wrote to all US Bishops instructing them to train an exorcist.  Rev Thomas was asked when the initial candidate declined and despite his own reservations that it was not what he had ‘signed up for’, he took the course while in Rome on a sabbatical.

“Some demons are very strong,” he said. “So it needs repeated prayer and fasting and penance.” People breaking up relationships don’t always make a clean break. “The relationship didn’t develop overnight and is not broken overnight.”Paprocki

An exorcism requires discernment to determine whether or not the person ‘brought in’ is really in need of one or if their family just thinks they are.  The ritual is not just performed on demand (apparently) but it seems a rather convenient idea that a person may not realise they are possessed and may be subjected to this treatment against their will by the very people with a vested interest in the belief in the practice.  The initial discernment is carried out by team including a physician, a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist who (should all know better) are all practising Catholics.  Rev. Thomas claims that only five out of one hundred requests (again gave no real indication of the number of requests) result in an exorcism and that the exorcist is an ‘ultimate sceptic‘ (doubtful) based only on the idea that they do not just assume that all those who ask for the ritual need one.  This is NOT a sceptical outlook because they STILL believe in demonic possession despite the lack of evidence in favour of it and they STILL practice an outdated, unnecessary and harmful (extreme stress) practice.

“The person who is possessed may not even realise it. It’s more frequent that someone would bring a person in,”Paprocki.

The bishop Paprocki strongly believes in the need for exorcism and tried to explain possession it in terms of a relationship between a human and a demon having turned sour.  He states that it may have gone bad due to the human having realised their error.  This idea is highly speculative and even dubious, when accuracy is brought into question.  It is absurd, obtuse and fatuous to contrast an imagined demonic possession (based entirely on superstition and ill-conceived dogma) to real human relationships.  Paprocki is a fool to believe this rubbish and a dangerous fool to be promoting the practice and spreading his belief.  The Rev. Thomas says that he has performed 40 exorcisms over five years on five people.  Two gave up the ‘project’ due to time constraints.

When asked what was involved after the discernment, Thomas told The Guardian that it consists of a set of prayers meant to break up the relationship between the possessed and the demon (so a fake problem is solved with a fake cure.  It sounds about right for the church)  in order to force the demon out.  Even Thomas won’t call the work rewarding, and is reluctant to even go so far as to call it meaningful, he calls the work arduous and time-consuming with little chance of success.  Never thought that it’s because none of it is real and you have based at least the last 15 years on lies and half-truths, good Reverend?

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

The demand for exorcism – as seen in Hollywood films such as The Exorcism of Emily Rose – is growing in the US. Photograph: ScreenGem/Everett / Rex Features

Both the Bishop and the priest have found themselves having to reassure people regarding the nature and risks of possession; correcting mythology with more mythology to the people who have already been misled into believing Christianity at all.

“Possession is not an involuntary thing. It’s not contagious. The person themselves has to open the door,” Paprocki said. To those who come to Thomas asking, “‘How do I protect myself from being inhabited by a demon?’ I say if you have a prayer life, if you have a sacrament life, if you have a faith life – you have nothing to fear.”

This is assuming that those brought in (or anyone) believe in either demons or possession.  The bishop believes that demons must be invited but are always looking for a way in.  80% of those brought to the Bishop have been sexually abused by a family member or ‘someone else’  and this abuse, the Bishop says, leaves the victim vulnerable to the possession of demons.  It just emphasises the church’s tendency to externalise blame, hold the victim responsible for the actions of others, and typical of this barbaric and outdated religion of ridiculous superstition.

Exorcisms which have made the news are those that have ended in tragedy but were dismissed by the Bishop as having been carried out by untrained amateurs who resorted to beatings drownings and asphyxiation in order to ‘drive the demon out’.  Forget the need for training and more of these pointless rituals,  there is a need for a worldwide ban on the practice.  We only hear about the handful that are even reported but how many tragedies go unmentioned?  How many of these people are permanently damaged or injured by this practice?  We don’t hear about them for the same reason we didn’t hear of the widespread (and current) practice of protecting paedophiles for so long: the church do not regard themselves as subject to the man-made laws or morals that contradict their own idiotic philosophy.  It is in the interest of public safety that the practice is halted entirely rather than escalated.  When you consider that there are some who regard the ritual to be dangerous to the exorcist but the danger was also dismissed by the Bishop (who has never performed one) who put the deaths down to the ignorance of the untrained.  He added that the ‘unofficial’ exorcism were merely ‘ineffective’ and that “Jesus is more powerful than the Devil”.  Not the first to close their eyes and mind to reality but his influence on this subject makes him dangerous.

The Bishop’s dismissal make little impact on the Reverend who believes that the danger to exorcists is very real.  They can be attacked emotionally, physically and psychological but added that he had never experienced a physical attack (I wonder why? duh) but his celibacy is often attacked.  Often? 8 a year for 5 years is often?  Heaven for bid he ever quit the church and get a real church: the shock would probably induce a stroke.  Paprocki and Thomas both refer to demons and devils in the plural and the singular but the Bishop seems proud (isn’t pride a sin?) to admit this as if he was showing off some expertise on the matter.

“I use those interchangeably,” Paprocki said. “Sometimes a person can be possessed by more than one devil.”

According to these paranoid papists, a demon is a spiritual being who has rejected God and is being punished eternally for that ‘crime’ and the trick to a successful ritual is to learn the demon/devil’s real name while remaining aware that the Devil is the Prince of lies.  That simple huh?  The knowledge of this grants the exorcist power over the demon and the ability to banish it.  They have both noted that this cannot be done in one session so one wonders how much the church charges for their time.  It also begs the question of why the exorcist would believe a word spoken by/through the possessed?  The rarity of exorcism is, claims Paprocki, due to the rarity of real possession (no shit, Sherlock moment?).  The Bishop went on to say that the Devil’s ‘real’ game is temptation (aside from his earlier claim that demons are always looking for a way in) so it is a mistake to assume that the only danger lies in possession.  The devil is no more real than God, Jesus or any other mythology for that matter and it is foolish to fear mere characters in stories.

Polish exorcists gather in Warsaw

The national congress comes as part of a policy by Poland’s Catholic Church to lift the veil on what was once a secretive practice Photo: CORBIS

Clearly these men (and those who follow his promotion of exorcism) are deranged and should be removed from positions where they can influence the ideas and actions of others (and possibly placed in psychiatric institutions?) so they can do no further harm.  Regardless of the improbability of their claims and ideas, people DO listen to these men and change their minds according to what their local clergy tell them to think so these insane and parasitical ideas of demons, devils and possession are being spread and have more than merely the potential to cause very real and lasting (if not permanent) harm.

Sources

 

 






William James on Mystical States and Agnosticism


Mystical States

“One may say truly, I think, that personal religious experience has its roots and centre in mystical states of consciousness,” William James

Our tendency to ‘pyschologise’ our experiences may well have grown since the time of William James but I rather think that now we know more about the works of the human mind, we tend to at least try to attach natural explanations before leaping feet first into the realms of the mystic and supernatural.  Ecstatic states that apparently provide sustenance for a human need for personal affirmation should not be merely issued with unquestioned validity.  Believing something that makes you ‘feel good’, or provides consolation or even offers comfort to the bereaved, does not make it accurate or true in any sense.

Childishly clinging to any imagery is a hindrance to meditation as any instructor will tell you.  So why should we be expected to maintain religious imagery for the sake of tradition? We shouldn’t.  These religions offer us nothing and have now reached the point that the followers of such now struggle to justify the existence of said religion.  This is so much so that very few can do more than bluster about the ‘marginalisation’ of Christianity and how they are being persecuted, waffle on about their country’s tradition being rooted in Christianity (despite all evidence to the contrary), and then parrot what they heard on Fox News the night before.  Tradition, by the way, is no reason to continue any practice, it is merely an excuse used to justify the continuation of a dubious habit.

James acknowledged that mystical experience has a lot to do with emotion along with memory and awe so even he admitted that these experiences are affected by the subject’s own cultural knowledge.  He also admitted that the experiences must be filtered through the subject’s conscious scrutiny so as not to attribute it wrongly to mysticism.  Mr Vernon only gives this acknowledgement a passing mention.  James did not however, believe that the correct means of assessing the truth of these mystical experiences was that advocated by who he referred to as the ‘medical materialists’ for whom mysticism had no meaning other than to suggest hysterical and semi-hypnotic states in an intellectually limited and superstition-biased mind.  Indeed, they would have been the ideal people to test the ideas as they had no interest in their truth.

James’ theories are now at odds with modern conventions of psychology and scholars of mystical experience.  He believed it had little to do with time or place but rather emphasised a need for dialogue of the experience and examination of the historical context in order to distinguish between a real experience and a mere imagining.  James’ interest rested in the individual’s experience more than in the communal as he viewed the former as the ‘real and positive’ version.  The shift in perspective between what is real and what is imagined does little more than add to the religious delusion; because one felt small and alone before, they involuntarily invented an event which allayed a negative and uncomfortable emotional state.  This still does not prove that these experiences were in any way mystical.  However much James wished for there to have been truth to the claims of mysticism, it does not grant them that truth and for or those people to have experienced any positive effects from their moments of epiphany, they would have to have had a negative view of their lives beforehand.  Unless we know their state of mind, what they were doing or how they were living prior to their visions, it is impossible to do anything more than take James at his word that the changes were positive.  It is also likely, considering this was in 19th CE America, that James himself had a preconceived and strict idea of what constituted a good lifestyle and whatever did not fit into that mindset, did not qualify as ‘good’.

Even the great mystics do not claim that their good deeds prove the truth of their visions but instead that misdeeds invalidate them. James’s propensity to disregard the influence of prior knowledge or experience leaves him vulnerable to other charges of biased investigation such as side-lining historical context.  James attempted to judge these accounts based on reasonableness and how well it fit within existing and articulated systems of belief and went on to stress that it is the overall consequences for the individual which matter: the quality he thought of as ‘saintliness’.  I agree that the consequences matter but only in the sense that those who experience these episodes should seek help from the psychiatric profession rather than the church.

Agnosticism

Vernon, wrote in his article that there is an agnostic sentiment in James’ writing.  This may be, but only if he was an agnostic with a desire to believe.  A claim of knowledge which is based only on a religious vision can not truly be taken seriously in scholarly circles.  We have already established that James had become convinced that these visions were helpful to mankind regardless of any ill effects and probed the accounts he had collected in an attempt to prove his case.  One of his observations in from his 18th lecture was that mysticism was too private and varied a matter to be able to claim any form of authority of any overall positive effect on mankind as a species.

“Can philosophy stamp a warrant of veracity upon the religious man’s sense of the divine?” William James

But what is religious philosophy and how does it have any bearing here?  James believed very much that it was a secondary consideration to experience because he felt that humans were driven by passion and emotion rather than reason that drove human this area of inquiry.  He deemed philosophy a necessary, but not sufficient, means of exploration and explanation.  He also had quite a scathing view of intellectualism, describing it as a “preference for concepts over reality” and an insidious means of becoming a spectator of life rather than a participant.  In summary, he felt it encouraged speculation for its own sake with mere ‘intellectual bubbles’ as it’s result.  James detected this intellectualism within religious circles in attempts to prove the existence of God as a fact  but decided that these ‘proofs’ were sought by those who felt the need to separate themselves from what they saw as the randomness of the world.

James charged the Cardinal John Henry Newman of being a ‘vexed spirit’ with a ‘disdain for sentiment’ though considering James’ own disdain for reason and rationality in examining what he believed to be mystical encounters, I do not feel this accusation is entirely a fair one.  Newman made a clear distinction between ‘notional assent‘ and ‘real assent‘ and believed that to determine a belief using only philosophy is to give it only notional assent.  The Cardinal believed that this was an inadequate way to think about such things because it only engaged the rational and that real assent required more than reason.  He also stressed that he believed that in order to achieve a real understanding of mysticism the subject must examine all the evidence and experience as a whole – rational, emotional, cultural and observational.  Though each, on its own, are not conclusive proof of anything but added together, he believed, they supported the truth of a powerful belief.  Newman used the an allegory of a cable to symbolise the elements of religious beliefs.  If one strand is broken then the cable remains intact.  But the more strands that break the weaker the cable becomes until it eventually breaks and thus the individual is freed from the yoke of belief.  The tactic employed by the leaders of organised religion is that they aim to keep their congregations attention away from the man behind the curtain (as it were) by focusing on other issues; the supposed ‘persecution and marginalisation’ of Christianity, for instance. Real assent implies that God is a fact rather than a mere hypothesis and requires a complete suspension of disbelief in order to just accept it as a possibility.

belief in God is “an action more subtle and more comprehensive than the mere appreciation of syllogistic logic”, John Henry Newman

In his essay, ‘The Will to Believe‘, James drew upon the tenuous preoccupation with belief which doctrine requires of its adherents. He admits to the absurdity of the idea that a belief in God can simply be willed.  The essay seeks instead to justify individual belief in God even when those individuals have not been coerced into them.  He began by attempting to define religious belief.  Firstly the beliefs must be ‘real’ to count as such and secondly those individuals must consider those beliefs to be real possibilities.  For example, the subject must consider adherence to a religion and a set belief system to be a viable option for themselves.  They also had to affect the subjects’ outlook on life to be considered ‘religious’.  In the same essay James makes reference to Pascal’s wager, the hypothetical argument in favour of a belief in god, which many have taken seriously in the years since.  The wager is, as James saw it, based upon the logic of the gaming table.  James however had failed to see the wager for what it was; based upon very long odds indeed.  Instead James took it to mean that Christianity was a valid option for the French philosopher and mathematician despite the obvious objections to the suggestion that one may even feign belief if the odds favour a positive result for doing so.

instead of being powerless, [it] seems a regular clincherWilliam James

The wager did not work for Pascal any more than it should have worked for James (it didn’t) or for anyone else for that matter.  Pascal may have had a will to believe but that ‘will‘ does not render one capable of submission to religious belief for to do so we non-believers and agnostics would have to consciously and deliberately ignore all of the evidence and education we have accumulated over the course of our lives (and over human history).  The form of objectiveness demonstrated in the wager does not work in the case of religion because religion requires that we voluntarily lay aside our reason, independent thought and rationality, and our will to question ‘authority’ (rendering objective thought impossible) in favour of becoming a form of intellectual slave to ancient superstition.  That does indeed require a certain willingness but it is not one that I, or anyone in my non-believing activist circle, are in possession of.

Sources

Hold the Fort, for We are Coming!


The recent Tory cuts will cost 500,000 people their jobs in the next four years. They have chosen to strike ordinary people, and those in hardship rather than close the ‘legal’ tax loopholes that only the rich can afford to pay accountants to ‘find’ and avoid paying their fair share.  George Osborne is just one such hypocrite.

This is not the only onslaught we face, Comrades.  It is not only the very real danger of a second recession before we recover from the first.  It is bad enough we face a government who would hold people to ransom over needed assistance be it for food or for housing (What’s next Osborne?  Extra fees for using the fire service, police, schools or ambulance service?), and a very real danger of our public services being dismantled or privatised, but since the Pope’s invasion of this country last month, which he used to undermine secular democracy, others  have taken this as licence for a media attack on our morals and have picked up the cue to communion whine (excuse the pun, couldn’t help it) about, being marginalised.

Enough is enough.  I am not going to sit quietly and take it anymore.  It is to this joint cause which I think this rousing little union march applies nicely.

We meet today  in freedoms cause
And raise our voices high.
We’ll join our hands in union strong
To battle or to die.

Hold the fort
For we are coming,
Union men be strong.
Side by side keep pressing onward,
Victory will come.

Look my comrades
See the union banner waving high.
Reinforcements now appearing
Victory is nigh.

Hold the fort
For we are coming,
Union men be strong.
Side by side keep pressing onward,
Victory will come.

See our numbers still increasing
Hear the bugles blow.
By our union we shall triumph
Over every foe.

Hold the fort
For we are coming,
Union men be strong.
Side by side keep pressing onward,
Victory will come.

 

Alternate Chorus.

Hold the fort for we are coming,
Union men be strong!
Side by side we’ll battle onward,
Victory will come!

Saudi Arabia’s ‘morality queen’.


“Meet Zainab al-Khatam, the winner of Saudi Arabia’s second annual pageant celebrating “spiritual and filial beauty”. Each contestant reportedly underwent training in “psychology, culture and law in Islam; family relations, public rights, social skills, health knowledge, volunteering … as well as cosmetics””  Nesrine Malik – guardian.co.uk,

 

Map of Saudi Arabia

Map of Saudi Arabia

 

The Saudi ‘inner beauty’ contest, really is nothing but a veiled celebration of female submission.  It was set up last year and does more than merely imply criticism of western pageants but encourages the warped view of feminine subservience as a virtue.  This is but one of many nations which conditions women to think of their circumstances in terms of positive attributes and in an “I can bear more oppression and subjugation than the others” and they do this not behind a mask of religious dogma but because of that dogma.  In a ‘world’ where any form of female vanity is not only disapproved of but punished severely, the mind boggles as to what the organisers of those ‘women’s groups’ were thinking when this plan was conceived.  It does nothing but cow-tow to the patriarchal Islamic authority.  These women have been forcibly conditioned to accept their circumstances by forbidding them access to any alternatives.

“This year’s winner is a blind 24-year-old woman who had managed to exhibit superlative “respect for her family, parents and society” – by staying at home after she had finished her studies, in order to take care of her family. She suffered in dignity and accepted her lot, her martyrdom becoming all the more poignant because of her disability. She is a stark contrast to another Saudi woman, Samar Badawi, who was sent to jail for disobeying her father.”

 

Muslim women

'Spirit of compliance' – female submission is nothing to celebrate. Photograph: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

 

“Al-sutra” is an approbative term meaning to cover or conceal in order to preserve dignity and is one of the most highly prized and pernicious values in Sudanese society. It applies to both men and women and involves summoning up one’s reserves of strength and endurance.  It requires that both men and women put up with all hardships in silence.   If somebody in your family wrongs you, then you bear it.  You do not chase family members who owe you money.  More importantly, the misery of an unhappy marriage is to be kept between that couple.  The ability to be seen as a doormat to the world is deemed a sign of good breeding in women and thus the burden of sutra is all the heavier for them.

“This is by no means exclusive to Sudanese or Arab societies. It is a hallmark of conservatism and slavery to traditional values. Lady Chatterley and Out of Africa’s Isak Dinesen were both ostracised for not maintaining a stiff upper lip, and there is a universal human regard for martyrdom and comely suffering victims.

 

Khadra al-Mubarak, left, showing potential contestants brochures of the _Miss Beautiful Morals_ contest at her office in Safwa in the eastern province, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, May 5, 2009.

Khadra al-Mubarak, left, showing potential contestants brochures of the _Miss Beautiful Morals_ contest at her office in Safwa in the eastern province, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, May 5, 2009.

 

It has been told that women hold informal contests of their own in which the prize may be marriage to an eligible bachelor who has heard through the female grapevine that the winning candidate dropped out of school to take care of her ailing mother, or willingly ‘gave away‘ her inheritance to build her family a new home. These are not feats of selflessness, but dis-empowering.   These women have been conditioned to be compliant, ensuring that no matter how far afield the body travels, the mind is subjugated.  According to Islamic law, daughters are entitled to only half of the inheritance of their brothers  (Qur’an 4:11).  If there are only daughters, more than two should share 2/3 between them but if there is one then she is only entitled to half of what is left after bequests and debts are paid.

“Unlike others conned into suffering in silence in order to score social brownie points, she realised that in deliberately embracing her position, she transcended it.”

What they’re looking for in the quest for “Miss Beautiful Morals” is the contestant who shows the most devotion and respect for her parents.  The women, who despite great hardship can revel in her suffering with what can almost be described as euphoria due to what that suffering represents.  Their suffering and subjugation may be noticed but not lamented.  But doesn’t this pride in their ability to lay down and be their family’s doormat, without complaint, verge on vanity?  (Qur’an 4:36)

 

Veiled women shop at al-Zall souk in downtown Riyadh Saudi Arabia

Veiled women in downtown Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

 

Islam is possibly the most inhuman(e) of the three Abrahamic religions. It is geared to favour men in every aspect. The Qur’an is, in a large part (Chapter 4 is a fair example.), designated to the repression and subjugation of their women.  This includes instructions to beat rebellious and disobedient wives (Qur’an 4:35), a promise of reward for those who die as martyrs (4:74-76), how to deal with unbelievers who; “would dearly like you to reject faith, as they have done, to be like them. So do not take them as allies until they migrate [to Medina] for god’s cause.  If they turn [on you] then seize and kill them wherever you encounter them.  Take none of them as an ally or supporter…We give you clear authority against such people.“, and condemning those who do not ‘commit themselves and their possessions to striving in God’s way‘ as deficient and beneath those who do (Qur’an 4:89-91, 115).   This contest does nothing more than legitimise the religious oppression of women.  Rather than celebrate this contest we should mourn it as it shows exactly how deeply their inculcation has gone.

“Zainab’s morals may be beautiful, but society’s reasons for celebrating them are very ugly indeed.”

Sources