Sunday, June 17, 2007



Thanks to Prince Charles on June 19th the rafters of Westminster Cathedral are due to resound to the 99 sacred names of Allah conveyed in an oratorio-like piece, The Beautiful Names of God which England’s future head of the Church of England (if it survives in its present form!) has commissioned Sir John Tavener to compose. There will be protests. Does this religiously unusual event matter either way for good or ill as some believe? Is it the step forward for religious understanding that Charles and others hope for, or a step backwards into incoherence in matters of faith?

I suggest that even if you believe the monotheistic faiths are worshipping the same God – which is often assumed but doesn’t automatically follow – something is going wrong here, a general spiritual principle is getting overlooked, one that even somebody like the Dalai Lama without any specific Christian beliefs to weigh in with on the subject might remind us of if asked.

There is no question that the three major monotheistic religions worship towards one God in principle just as polytheists worship many gods in principle. But the God of Islam has no more for that reason to be the same God as that of the Christians than Mars is/was identical with Venus for polytheists. Undeniably the Koran makes statements (such as that God could never have a son or be any kind of composite One) which are at such variance with claims of Christian scripture that it would not seem possible the same God is revealed in the relevant scriptures. (Interestingly, it's recorded in the Hadith, the Sayings, that Mohammed originally had doubts about the source of his visions, doubts his wife resolved for him. The situation constrasts with the Biblical picture where doubts about the divine source are never really recorded outside perhaps Job's argument with God).

Contradiction of this kind raises issues of doctrine and logic that can get people arguing at the intellectual level, but this isn’t all that’s involved. There is hardly anything less true than as Christopher Howse has written in UK'S Daily Telegraph paper about this event that:
"In a way, the word used to refer to God is arbitrary. It functions as a common noun, in the same way as tree or mountain".
Not quite. The fact is that in almost every religion known to mankind the name or names of the gods or spirits were originally understood and experienced as something more spiritual, a secret or a special revelation, a vibration, a power in its own right. It’s true, and has been stated in defence of Charles’ project by such as Howse, that Arabic Christians can use Allah as a name for God. However that’s precisely a generic name just as God is a generic word in English. The “Allah” or the “God” word that believers use covers for other more essential names like Yahweh, Jehovah, Father, Lord, Jesus, the name Yahweh having been specially revealed to Moses. These, then, are the more private, devotional names of prayer and intimacy somewhat as within marriages and families people use special names.


…..And that’s just the point. Even if there were not major doctrinal issues to consider like Christianity’s “No one comes to the Father but by me”, which cannot be lightly dismissed and is distinctive (Allah is not a Father nor related to as such) devotion would still need to act at the level of a certain “privacy”. The husband doesn’t automatically give out the pet name of his wife for all to use. And he presumably wouldn’t tell his wife that he loves her….just as he loves all other women. Which is where the Dalai Lama comes in because of his disapproval of syncretism as opposed to toleration among religions and his belief one just can’t muddle traditions and be true to one's deepest spiritual impulses which are a special exercise and a tradition that inevitably make for their own kind of exclusivity.

Beyond that we might add a sort of magic. Prayer and devotion generate their own energy, an energy sensitive people feel in some churches and buildings. Mixing the vibes can be a confusion, a chaos, a bad “magic”. If Westminster Cathedral was consecrated to the worship of the Christian God then that is the direction in which its worship should flow. It’s an esoteric claim that speech and music and especially praise have their own power. The walls of Jericho were understood to have fallen before the force of an insistent praise linked vibe.

There seems little question that Charles, who would prefer to be defender of faith than “the faith” has a love affair going for Islam. Some, rather extremely, have even suggested he is a secret convert. Clearly, though, his intense interest in all things Islamic, his intellectual willingness to give even Sharia law its due, is on the extreme side as was his determination to include a mosque within plans for an estate he was overseeing despite local protests there was scarcely a Muslim around to justify the idea. Charles’s public defence of Islam owes considerably to the late Dr Zaki Badawi unofficial Grand Mufti of Britain who became a consultant and friend of the prince and took broad and apparently moderate views of how Islam and Muslims should integrate in England.


But moderation in Islam is perhaps always a/the problem. Moderate, peace loving, liberal Muslims undeniably everywhere exist, it’s just that their voice is never notably strong because the religion has a certain dynamic, essentially fundamentalist and severe. which has always relied on an excommunication if not execution system guaranteed to silence dissent sooner or later and which regularly generates fear. Plus, in dealing with infidels complete open reciprocity is not a scriptural principle, so that peace deals and any deals could potentially disadvantage non Muslims. Certainly there is hardly a place Islam has been present where those of other religions are not sooner or later under some degree of threat – at very least they must pay infidels tax to be tolerated at all. Presently there is such frequent persecution of Christians in Muslim lands – Iraq where Christians are fleeing in great numbers, Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, Sudan where they are being decimated, even in Israel where Palestinian fanatics have been making for a decline in the Christian centres of Nazareth and Bethlehem through constant harassment, that this dimension of the picture cannot be ignored however accommodating one might wish to be. Accordingly it is quite shocking that Charles is either not more aware of this or if aware not protesting it more as journalist Julie Burchill has said would be more to the point in the circumstances than just sweetly gesturing in the direction of harmony ( that is really an illusion).

And all said and done, though the Church of England is in a parlous state it is supposed to stand for something Christian within England and its future nominal head should be taking a more specifically Christian position. That he is not currently doing so arguably puts him in line with the faithless kings of Israel who compromised with other religions. (The person he has commissioned to compose the musical work has himself reportedly abandoned his rather noisy conversion to Greek Orthodoxy in favour of experiments with oriental faiths). It is incidentally an interesting speculative point with which I can close whether like the kings of Israel Charles is actually engaging divine disfavour as at least one would-be prophet has strongly maintained and well before the current controversy arose.


Among vocal would-be modern visionaries I admit not to rate the American, Cindy Jacobs, very highly for reasons I needn’t outline here except to say I think she’s usually more intuitional than truly prophetic. Even so, and in harmony with some observations made in articles here about assessing modern visions (see April and May archives on Lennon) I’m always a little more interested and impressed when visionaries come up with claims somehow against the grain which in relation to Prince Charles Jacobs did in April last year. Jacobs claims an angelic visitation and a Word from the Lord “to the true church in England” during a service for Bishop Hamon and Christian International, a Word she didn’t perfectly understand at the time. She is quite simply American and not particularly knowledgeable about or concerned with Britain’s royal family.

The obvious, predictable thing for any attention seeking prophet to take up, particularly if they didn’t know much beyond the tabloid level, would be that Charles had displeased God on account of his love life. But this wasn’t at all the message. It was that darkness was beginning to close in on Britain and a door to negative spiritual influences had been opened. Also that Charles, apparently in relation to this general development “had been weighed in the balances and found wanting”. Only two days later while reading a paper did Jacobs finally have conviction that involved in the condemnation she’d heard was Charles’ over involvement in especially Islam to which he was, however unwittingly at a spiritual level, helping open the doors to in England.

Praise is almost central to the Jewish and Christian faiths. The dedication of Solomon’s temple and its invocation of God had to be in music and praise. Singing the music of the mystic names of Allah in a Christian church is a very special departure in the spiritual realm and like invoking Allah rather than the God of Israel (and Muslims seem to hate no country more) that Christians claim specifically to worship. Perhaps indeed Charles has been weighed in the balances and found wanting.

Saturday, June 16, 2007



This time the problem isn’t persecuting Pakistanis but bigoted Brazilians, the sort that by their extremism encourage ratification of the kind of questionable laws I referred to in an earlier feature (Neither the Bullying nor the Protection, Please. See March Archive).

This Sunday Sao Paolo, the largest city in Brazil and one of the largest in the world, will be holding its gay parade. This will perhaps be the world’s largest party and for rather more than just gays and probably 3 million people will attend. 2,500,000 did so last year. Not to be outdone the evangelicals of Brazil put on a March for Jesus last Sunday which well over a million attended even if in the circumstances they appeared to be marching more to declare themselves against homosexuality and the popularity of gay parades than something, whatever, for Jesus.

Protestants, mostly evangelicals, are now a large minority in Brazil where they are worrying the Catholic establishment by having rapidly become 15% of the population. It’s noticeable that the Jesus March didn't just take place a week before the gay celebration but almost provocatively on Catholicism’s Corpus Christi day which traditionally features its own parades. Evangelicals have been successful not least because some of them have shown care and done good work in the many slums that otherwise the priests of a right wing church largely ignored. Some American missionaries have however belonged to the tele-evangelist, money making class and tales of corruption have ensued. The star couple leading the huge and successful Pentecostal church, the wealthy Estevan Hernandes Filho and Sonia Haddad Moraes Hernandes, are currently still under house arrest in Miami on alleged money smuggling charges.

It simply had to be the dramatizing Pastor Filho who initiated the Marches for Jesus in Brazil. Dubious people need scapegoats to divert attention from themselves so gays and homosexuality would be sure fire targets. By far the most distinctive and reported feature of last week's event was Pastor Andre Fabiano doing a quasi-Catholic exorcism style rant against all gays, blaring through loud speakers across the crowd “Vale retro Satan, Vale retro Homosexuality”. The object was in effect to curse Sao Paolo's party out of the country.


Anyone is religiously and democratically entitled to disfavour gay parades. There are nevertheless two reasons why this Protestant chanting against gays is particularly scandalous. Brazil is the most violently homophobic society in the world, more gay murders are recorded there than anywhere. (2,680 between 1980 and 2006) so just imagine the bashings and violence that don’t end in death and are often not reported or properly dealt with by the often corrupt authorities. While it’s undeniable that some believers seriously believe gays are rejected, evil, damned souls, (a position other believers seriously question) given the social conditions in Brazil Christians are morally and spiritually obliged to express more acceptance. They should protest existing prejudice if only to stem unacceptable levels of violence which otherwise behaviour of Pastor Fabiano’s kind must be held responsible for contributing to. However, as far as one can see churches have done next to nothing in this direction so that now evangelicals can make the “Satanism” of gays part of a self fulfilling prophecy.

One doesn’t have to look far to find an answer to the question why it is that homosexuality now gets associated with “Satanism” in Brazil It’s well known that prejudice against gays is so great that many, especially in poorer districts, have joined the ubiquitous spirit house cults by way of finding spiritual self expression outside of rejecting mainline churches or even as a form of talisman and protection against the violence. Since the evangelicals will regard all trafficking with spirits as demonic, although those involved in spirit cults aren’t deliberately invoking Satan as such, they are now additionally libeled as persons in the same bracket as Alistair Crowley and Anton Le Vey who were outright Satanists (and not gay). There is no sociological awareness nor spiritual care of souls in all this, just the aggressive will of bigots to have scapegoats to condemn rather than help.


While Brazil is the epitome of homophobia whether religious or more fascist the tendencies involved are found elsewhere and the negative images of the homosexual and homosexuality they employ are so often focused around, (but not well focused on), the supposedly representative gay pride parades of modern liberal societies. The result is the woods are never seen for the trees. A good current example is the kind of insistent protest made against the San Diego Gay Parade by “ex-gay” anti-gay Republican campaigner, James Hartline. Since, (even given a few exaggerations and distortions), it’s pretty obvious Hartline has battled a seriously difficult life starting with an excess of parental physical abuse, I wouldn’t care to be a severe critic here or get into the endless arguments some people engage over whether Hartline really is or isn’t gay. All I note is the strange scattershot moral critique of the gay world, gay parades and gay values that Hartline increasingly provides and which, though lapped up and widely reported by some Christians and right wingers, raises questions. And not always because it’s wrong, just so curiously unfocussed.

I think for example that anyone could and should question as Hartline does that San Diego’s Pride Committee has encouraged the involvement of kids in the parade at the same time as it has employed former convicted pedophiles. I haven’t witnessed a San Diego parade but given how some parades (Sydney, San Francisco) will allow controversially suggestive floats or simulated sex in front of a crowd including children it’s ludicrous to make issue (as Hartline has done and some critics always do wherever the occasional straightforward, non sexual nudity of gay nudist groups is concerned) that “an almost completely naked man” (presumably one in a jock strap) was last year allowed to hand out candy to children in the crowd. The children, presumably accompanied by parents, would be unlikely to be corrupted by the sight of nudity, they would more likely be amused, but they could be rendered morbid and confused by the simulated sex that police and parade committees are less likely to censor out than simple nudity. Some plain common sense and pragmatism is needed here.

But it’s just this that isn’t the rule in the wonky modern Christian critiques of sexual issues especially as soon as anything gay is involved. Perhaps we should start talking about an unthinking “in your face” Brazil syndrome affecting attitudes and seek to critique and warn of it wherever it crops up. Unchecked its supposedly righteous wrath really can only encourage violence. Last year at the attempted Jerusalem parade one of the half mad Ultra-Orthodox Haredi, stabbed no less than three gays whom plainly he and other Haredis would like to have had killed - it seems some have stated gays should not be alive. In the spirit of this this year Haredis have already placed an eternal curse on parading gays.

Meanwhile….. this week the eminently hetero Paris Hilton who in more carefree times once fronted a Hollywood gay parade is now reading her Bible and declaring from jail that God has given her “a second chance”. A second chance is almost more than the Brazilian bigots feel that the “satanic” gays they want exorcized out of existence should have. They and much of the church have of course never absorbed that they might themselves need a few second chances since in the biblical teaching on anger as a form of, or preliminary to, murder, those who abuse others as “racah, you fool” are in particular soul danger (Mt 5:22). In the Aramaic of Jesus’ time abusing people as in effect pervert/faggot, (which is what the term Jesus uses actually means) is a serious matter, it’s almost a symbol of all the other violence associated racist and discriminatory attitudes which is doubtless why Jesus referred to it. So who’s talking to who amid the infectious Brazilian folly?

Those who find the evangelicals’ attitudes disturbing might like to support those who resist it like most notably in Latin America the rather needed and embattled Otras Ovejas (Other Sheep) society of Christian gays. They have a website at:

Thursday, June 14, 2007



As though Pakistan wasn’t tricky enough for women – it's the original feminists’ nightmare of a place where hundreds of women get stuck indefinitely in prison for protesting they’ve been raped and can’t produce four witnesses to prove it - if you’re a Christian in Pakistan you can know all about the fact. The too evident mixture of corruption and intolerance can have you caught in injustice fit for the Roman Empire and the era of the martyrs. I paste below a horror story guaranteed not to get much publicity because the international media won’t want to upset religions and cultures. But I don’t record it here solely as a rights issue though it's all of one….

The following is precious, classic and proves a point. Historians of homosexuality and theologians with a poor understanding of the Bible’s Sodom and Gibeah Stories should alike note how this story is everything revisionist theologians try to stress about the biblical stories: a special kind of shaming behaviour which has little or nothing to do with “homosexuality” but a lot to do with violence, bullying, sadism, betrayal of hospitality and simple vice. Those involved are of course hypocrites, for a start they are not supposed to take alcohol.

Those troubled by this story should write to the given source of report and approach Pakistani embassies.

ASSIST News Service (ANS) - PO Box 609, Lake Forest, CA 92609-0609 USA
Visit our web site at: -- E-mail:

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Muslim men sodomize a Pakistani Christian youth
Mother faces threats to lose her job

By Sheraz Khurram Khan
Special Correspondent for ASSIST News Service in Pakistan

MANDI BAHAWALDIN, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- A Christian youth was critically manhandled and sodomized by several unidentified Muslim men on the night between June 2 and 3 rd after he picked up a quarrel with his Muslim age fellow while playing Cricket in a play ground near District Headquarter (DHQ) Hospital MandiBhawaldin, ANS has learnt.

The trouble for 16-year-old Christian man, Imran Masih started when his Muslim friend, Naveed called him by the words " Essai and Choora," the bywords for Pakistani Christians used often by the Muslims to disgrace them.
Not knowing that his protest against the unwelcome language would make his position more vulnerable, the youth expressed his anger in a bid to stop Naveed from using the offensive language against him. This triggered a physical altercation between them. Naveed's father, Muhammad Sadique, an ambulance driver of the DHQ Mandibahwaldin as well as the private driver of the Medical Superintendent, Amjad Iqbal arrived at the scene of incident and took the Christian youth to his home under the pretext of "reconciliation".

As the Christian youth entered Sidique's drawing room several Muslim men, who were waiting for their "victim" started forcing the minor boy to convert to Islam. Imran did not knuckle under the pressure and refused to embrace Islam. This angered the Muslim men and they started thrashing Imran with kicks and fists while some even bit him at his chest and other parts of his body to bully him into submission.
The Rays of Development (ROD), a non-governmental organization that investigated the case told ANS that most of the assailants were drunk.

"They threw liquor on his face and slapped and kicked him before subjecting him to sexual abuse", Farhan Mazhar , Chairman of the ROD told ANS.
He went on to say that the Muslim men tucked his mouth in a sofa and stood on his hands and feet.

Later, they subjected him to sexual abuse one by one, he added.
The Muslim men allegedly continued to bugger the Christian youth throughout the night between 2 nd and 3rd June and threw the unconscious youth in the street outside their house.

Imran was picked up by his family members the next day.
"Imran could not move any part of his body. He was not in his senses. We wondered what had happened to him, " Imran's family members told ROD.
The youth revealed the traumatic incident to his family when he restored his senses after some time.

Imran's mother, Kaneez bibi, who is a janitor at the hospital took his son to the Medical Superintendent of District Headquarter Hospital Mandi Bhawal Din for medical examination but he told her she was lying and showed him the door.
When the family approached the City Police Station Mandi Bahawldin for lodging a Police First Information Report (FIR) the police used dilly-dallying tactics and told them they should first obtain the Medical report.

The family members of the victim told the ROD that the hospital authorities and the Police kept them shuttling from the hospital to the police station and vice versa.
Imran's family members further told ROD that the Police have been pressuring them for reconciliation. The high-ups of local district administration, and some local members of the provincial assembly Punjab are allegedly forcing the Christian family not to file the FIR. They threatened them with dire consequences if they did not change their mind, the ROD told ANS.

The police filed a fake theft report against Imran wherein he has been accused of stealing cash worth Rs 50,000 (US$ 833.3) and a mobile phone.
The ROD told the ANS that the police did file a report number 82 but have not filed FIR against the Muslim men who manhandled and abused the Christian youth sexually.
The accused are yet to be brought to the book despite the passage of a week. The incident has only come as a strain on the budget of the poor Christian family. After they are shunned treatment from government hospital the family is buying basic medicines like painkillers from the private chemists.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Pakistan.

Saturday, June 9, 2007



A run of books popularizing atheism from such as Sam Harris, Chris Hitchens, David Mills and Richard Dawkins have hit the stands since late last year. It’s a trend given impulse by the debate around ID (Intelligent Design) in science and the role of the Religious Right in the era of Bush. Especially with the likes of the Rational Response Squad popularizing the popularizers and issuing their Blasphemy Challenge, atheism is –almost -hot.

Oxford professor, Richard Dawkins’ contribution, The God Delusion, is divisive and even to some atheists slightly embarrassing in the fundamental (if not quasi-fundamentalist) simplicity of its core position which creates an Us-against-Them, as regards the superiority of science for “Truth”. If you’re not supporting science you’re as good as an ignoramus or a mad fanatic. It’s a position that sits uneasily with the fact that in some respects Dawkins’ brand of materialism can itself be considered old fashioned and his support of it a bit fanatic, a point worth stressing as marking the first Dawkins delusion before passing on to other issues the book raises.

As even New Age guru, Deepak Chopra, stressed in TV debate with Dawkins his radical materialism is arguably already dislodged by physics. Space-time depends on shaping forces beyond space and time. Dawkins the card carrying Darwinian evolutionist still believes in solid objects randomly colliding to form more complex objects, till after billions of years there’s human DNA with billions of genetic bits. The materialist very much believes in “matter”. Individual atoms of DNA are nevertheless more than 99.9% empty space while individual electrons have no fixed position in time or space. Nature’s constants like gravity and speed of light, are, besides, too precisely inter-related for just chance to operate. If any one of six constants were off by less than a millionth of one percent, the universe itself couldn’t exist. Events at opposite ends of the universe pair with each other and a change in the spin of one electron produces immediate twin effect in another. Such communication isn’t explicable by materialism a la Dawkins. It defies notions of cause and effect and chance. Every electron exists as a wave function that’s everywhere at once. When this wave function collapses, there’s a specific isolated electron but before the wave collapses the materialist’s “matter” is non-local. Chopra is arguing against Dawkins while not for a personal God for at any rate a “conscious” universe.


Dawkins’ materialism may be inadequate but even so….if only because it’s currently super popular and like The Da Vinci Code a sign of the times mood thing, The God Delusion is an important book. Certainly it’s one that I should regard as a wake-up call to Christians in ways I shall indicate. However, long before I arrived at the section of Dawkins' book where he identifies with feminist consciousness raising I’d concluded that this was probably what the book was mainly about and what its main effect would be, even the reason it’s gained rapid bestseller status a la Betty Friedan. Imagining I might get to read a rather philosophical work the book turned out to be considerably taken up with how religion can still function as the trump card in the competition for personal rights. We, therefore learn how, beyond the abuse of the rights system by Christians, Muslims and others how atheists lack rights and can get misunderstood, threatened or vilified in line with the many examples of the errors and abuses of popular religion, which prompt the idea that religious educations could be “child abuse”. (The idea that for some children religious education might generate security feelings in our troubled society is ignored - apparently it’s only adults are lulled to false security by religion!). Altogether the book is an implicit invitation to throw off the shackles of one’s Sunday School religious past and come out of the belief closet atheist and proud. Or perhaps non-theist and proud…

Dawkins is not one hundred per cent atheist - he even considers himself almost "religious" in the way of scientists and philsophers like Einstein and Spinoza who have admired nature and the order of things without believing in any personal deity or soul or anything supernatural. Dawkins simply considers the existence of God extremely improbable, a hypothesis lacking, and likely never to possess, sufficient “evidence”. This evidence must rest purely on the science, logic and reason which he regards as the ultimate basis of good living and society. The question of God is asserted to be a scientific one, not something for theologians or philosophers. Doubters in God are made to feel by this book they would be doing themselves and society a good turn not to believe in anything unless the progress and insights of modern science.

In some respects Dawkins and his book are strange, as strange as Pope Benedict in being rather iron hand in the velvet glove or rottweiler-like and sweetly sympathetic at the same time though in Dawkins’ case in a very English, rather donnish way. What might appear complex and contradictory in him could nevertheless indicate a tendency to be simply blinkered about self and others, not to say The Other. This is all-apparent in the already famous (“blasphemous”) opening of Chapter Two with which Dawkins warms audiences up at readings. Later in the book Dawkins concedes students should be educated in Bible as literature for cultural reasons but Chapter Two opens with a long tirade about how the God of Moses is the most revolting character in fiction, proud, sado-masochistic, bullying, jealous, vindicative, murderous, etc.

This is of course to caricature an aspect of the ancient God picture given. It totally ignores the other side and developed by the prophets “A God, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness….” (Ex 34:6), traits which presumably must have registered with some people somewhere or the relevant religion would surely never have survived! Dawkins however is against any species of supernaturalism, any notion in any religion of a creator God with powers to know or understand or command humanity, the Old Testament God being merely one symbol of this wider objection. Moreover Dawkins doesn’t like philosophers any more than theologians (he regards them as people who accept no commonsense answers to anything) so he objects to traditional philosophical notions of God being “simple”. God must be irreducibly complex. Everything evolves into greater complexity so you can’t have a deity complex at the start and - reproducing a very popular notion - there can’t be a God or else who would have created/started this Being ? He would need to be at the outset irreducibly complex –a notion which perhaps believers not sold on Aquinas and the terminology of medieval philosophy wouldn’t have great objection to.


The book’s would-be explosion of the belief bubble is greatly simplified by the fact that Dawkins does not and perhaps cannot think outside the science box. Although there is passing acknowledgment of development in religion and ethics basically Dawkins does not apply or appreciate any kind of broad evolutionary principle to belief issues in the way he applies it to nature and this to the point of letting evolution become like a substitute religion-cum-mysticism. (He does however try to explain religion as a by-product of other things in our condition like most notably the capacity to fall in love). I’m grateful to the book that it forced me to look further and at Dawkins sayings on the Net where he clarifies, better than in his book, that despite Hume and a few philosophers real atheism hardly existed before Darwin because it’s evolution theory that puts atheism on solid ground and provides an adequate (sort of) religion substitute. And clearly Dawkins is the original true believer where evolution is concerned. It’s common knowledge his bete noire the creationists are against it but then so too have been atheist scientists like Francis Crick and Fred Hoyle.

Really, though, the core of Dawkins' objection to the God hypothesis, when not perhaps psychologically coloured by an aversion to the idea any higher power should be organizing or commanding anything, is simply a radical objection to “faith” in any shape, form or size and the notion there should be any ‘will” to have faith in anything In short, only the rational/critical mind can and should judge whatever is. This may sound fair enough in the context of the book where it’s anecdotally backed up by innumerable stories of the endless follies and injustices of “religion” based on faith. It’s less so when we consider how we stand (as does even Dawkins as a lover or poetry, music etc), in plenty of non logical, non rational spaces when we deal with aesthetics, emotion and much else on which order, but not pure reason, can be imposed. In fact we run a lot of our everyday lives on “faith” assuming ideas for which if we may have some evidence we have little or just hearsay. The extent to which Dawkins ignores this could be considered another of the delusions he works with.


Having said that already I’m recalling not just Pascal on the heart having its reasons apart from Reason but a meaningful recent lecture given to Truth Dig by journalist Chris Hedges. This was made in critical response to ideas of Sam Harris (Letter to a Christian Nation, The End of Faith), a thinker popularizing atheism through America as Dawkins is through England. Certain points Hedges makes are relevant to the campaigns and obsessions of both writers. I’ll mention two.

First, Hedges insists that the problem of violence, fanaticism etc is never religion as such nor any other factor than the evil of the human heart. While admitting with liberals like the theologian, Tillich, that institutional religion in common with most institutions can function like a theatre of the demonic, he insists distinction be made between “professed” religion, which has dangerously tribal and social identity associations, and lived faith which is individual and if it’s worth anything must make for the ethical. “By their fruits you will know them”. (Hedges’ “Tribalism” in fact rather easily explains a lot of the lunacy, the bullying, the hate mail etc of which Dawkins gives examples Quite simply many people professing religion are just not religious enough. They have a well invested identity through religion but little else. They aren’t practicing the presence of God, studying scriptures or doing anything notably ethical or spiritual, but just serving socio/political agendas via religion. Modern America has had a line in this ever since having church affiliations lent people respectability within a frontier society. The chronic injustices of such as Pakistan seem involved in a particularly questionable kind of social identity Islam).

Second, it must be realized that religion develops/evolves and that beyond all failures the monotheistic faiths have produced the concept of individualism (that Dawkins and Harris take for granted though one can’t do that) and with it individual moral accountability, dissent and liberties. In short Hedges believes, rather like feminist philosopher, Irigaray, that from the purely practical standpint one can regard God as at least a “horizon” or basis for an all- important transcendence (which modern atheism could be considered parasitic upon in terms of what the individualism and accountability produces for society and individuals).

I shall make my own comment at this point re “evolution” in religion working towards individualism and human rights because it will link to the point I have to make about why Dawkins should be considered a wake-up call for the churches.


Let’s for a moment assume, almost fundamentalistically, that the severest, most questionable parts of the Torah, the Law of Moses, were all given by Dawkins’ ultra-terrible God of the Bible and his servant the supposedly fascist Moses. Actually this is a more questionable assumption than fundamentalism would allow because a) certain of the lesser laws that we could consider “vicious” do show parallels in laws of the ancient world so are not especially original from on high, at most agreed to by God, b) because it’s distinctly stated that the essential covenant (Exodus 34:10) given during Moses’ forty days on the Mount was contained in the Ten Commandments. Thus everything else would have to be less essential, at best a sort of commentary on the core revelation whether or not it is claimed or believed this rest of the laws came directly from God. But anyway, assume everything marks something directly uttered by God rather than something more cultural and indirect and at best God permitted.

We can reasonably imagine there will not be a growth towards accountability, individualism and the ethical until the people have slowly worked their way through the values that existing tribalized societies already have. Take for example the case of executing willful offspring (Deut 21:18-21)that Dawkins mentions. Obviously it's something we couldn't possibly endorse today and hardly seems worthy of a good God in any era. The point here may nevertheless be that it was commonplace in ancient society for the father to have rights of life and death over wife and children. Arguably, then, if God is behind this God is rendering existing custom meaningful, an object of ethical restraint and reflection by getting it linked to specific moral issues and not just any issue (the right of a paterfamilias to lose his temper and kill with impunity!) while its realization is additionally checked by the system itself which because both parents will have to agree ( how many mothers will agree to execute their sons?) so this is going to be rather hard to carry through. In some respects this is perhaps modifying ancient custom even while it may to us today appear to be endorsing it.

Another example of horror law is the barbarous demand that the man who has raped a woman in open country must marry her and she must belong to him for life – in effect punishing the victim and denying her all chance of finding love (Deut 22:28-29) especially since if the unfortunate woman was subsequently romantic in search of love she could then be executed for adultery! What sort of a God (or society) would legislate for this? It sounds horrific and in its way it was, yet perhaps in context of the society and times where women were anyway chattels rated little better than heads of cattle it was almost a mercy. What would be the alternative? The woman has lost her bride price so she cannot properly marry. If she won’t be murdered or thrown down a well (as still sometimes happens among Palestinians to this day if a woman disgraces her family by losing virginity for no matter what reason) she is in danger of being thrown out and forced to survive alone which virtually means live as a prostitute. At least she has the economic protection and social respectability of being married to someone even if it was her attacker. In turn ardent youths will think twice if they know they will lifelong have economic responsibilities for their actions.

If one takes Hedges’ line all change is going to have to start somewhere. If the laws are believed to derive from God, then some fear of God is going to be necessary for them to be instilled if the Law is to become customary. Simply as story it will of course sound as ghastly as Dawkins proposes that God destroys the man who disregards the new covenant by collecting sticks on the Sabbath. It might seem petty and vicious of the God of Sinai to be bothered about the stick collector (Num 15:32-41) but what is the Sabbath rest favouring in larger human rights terms? Basically some rest for especially slaves and domestics who in surrounding societies enjoyed no such rights. Pagans long condemned Jews as being lazy for observing a Sabbath, forerunner of our weekend. Dawkins would have us mourn the life of the destroyed sticks collector but might he not represent the spirit of the ever busy slave driver type to tolerate whom will deprive the many of the rights to be gradually established through the Covenant?

I would also note the following and it agrees with the kind of “esoteric” reading I suggest presently may be necessary to clearer understanding of difficult texts. The draconian attention to rules, the minor as well as the major is typical of something quite specific: the army where minor infractions can count as major misdemeanours and be mercilessly punished. And this surely applies here. Not only is Israel formed on almost a war footing in an era of almost constant Lebensraum wars in which it is engaged in a rather special way but it is so in the era given to the sign of, Aries, the sign of war and the military. Ethics, whether as legislated by God or interpreted by humanity is going to be seen in very militaristic terms and this looks like an instance of it.

Whatever….I am suggesting we need to read sub-texts and codings and cultural situations and accept an “evolution” of consciousness is taking place if we are to grasp the biblical heritage and be fair to it. However we don’t just need to do this we now must do this.


The popularizing new wave atheism has caught the churches off guard and slumbering like the ten virgins of the parable. Both sides of biblical interpretation, liberal and conservative are called to account and found wanting.

Dawkins like many modern atheists has no time for the liberals who believe they can discount laws of Moses or difficult biblical stories, because this is to be illogical and involves arbitrary picking and choosing, a game everyone could play but which betrays the religion must have got it wrong in the first place. Equally of course he has no time for the conservatives for whom their God is as biblically described, in which case he sees them are worshipping a monster and themselves acting often like monsters accordingly.

While I consider Dawkins’ own position on religion itself a bit warped I still take the objections seriously because a kernel of truth is there. I feel obliged to agree that if one is going to pick and choose one’s major and minor truths, laws, texts etc, one must at least have a reliable schematic basis, some well organized theory on which to do this. Not liking a passage or finding it irrational in modern terms isn’t sufficient. The lack of adequate hermeneutic (method of interpretation) is all-apparent today but also largely unnecessary I believe that one of the great skeptical critics of the Bible, Cady Stanton, in The Woman’s Bible, hit on, but didn’t develop, the important insight that without grasping the “occult” or esoteric assumptions within the biblical text much is lost on us.

Cady assumed, as would I, some connection to values and beliefs scattered about such as the tradition of Jewish Kabbalah, the mystical tradition which looks back to understandings of the Oral Torah, teachings of the Essenes and earlier. What I would consider a very obvious point never even considered by mainstream scholars is how the almost obsessive concern of the Mosaic laws with blood of all kinds from sacrifical to menstrual, or again all kinds of iron implements and swords, is completely in accord with the fact that the era of this Law corresponds as I have mentioned to the age of Aries, the sign quite specifically identified with blood and iron and war. One may need to absorb all these kind of mystical/esoteric sub-texts or much will remain a blank. The entire story of Sinai (a mountain the people must camp around but not “touch”) and the rites and revelations associated with it take us into a world much like that of shamanism or wicca but white and divine and practiced on a large tribal instead of an individual or small coven basis. One may not like these associations but refusing to see them cuts one off from the story and its spirit.

Conservatives, despite their emphasis upon a more literal belief, are also so remote from the mystical, esoteric and developmental that they too miss keys to ancient texts. Also by their passive acceptance of revelation - “God’s Word” is just God’s Word – which refuses dynamic, critical inter-action with the tradition ( the “argument” with God engaged by Job and many Rabbis) they don’t see/imagine the possibly, pragmatic, educational dimension that any “living God” would necessarily have to manage and that is hinted at when St Paul speaks of the Law as a schoolmaster bringing us to Christ (Gal 3:24)and implied by Jesus' mention that the provisions for divorce were influenced by the hardness of heart of the people. Conservative bibliolatry is such that only the individual self reverently reading the text and not the deity believed to utter at least parts of it is considered. A hermeneutic which examines the possible needs and psychology of God in the process the Bible unfolds was attempted in Jack Miles', God: A Biography, but it was the cynical product of an atheist Christian who from the standpoint of his Hebrew scholarship got a lot of facts wrong besides. Still, despite this failure or rather false new start, the idea was valuable and again in its way betrayed the terrible weaknesses of both liberal and conservative positions in describing and using for today a whole Bible in its complexity.

In the mind of the believers Dawkins criticizes plainly the God image remains uneven or unexplained. God can get described as “the kindest person I know” (title of a popular religious book) at the same time as he is the warrior and executioner of Moses’ law simply because the same two themes of love and hate are present in the Bible. A preacher can both preach a gospel of forgiveness and call for the institution of laws more fit for the times of Sinai. If there is this co-existence within the same Bible (and in personal religious experience) of such radically contradictory elements as regards divine character and sacred laws it is because there is precisely some development occurring which is larger and more psychologically complex than even the difference sometimes allowed between an era of Law and an era of Grace. It’s no good proclaiming, just because it’s in the Bible that somehow God is loving and good while (just because it’s also in the Bible) we should accept without reservation he is author of laws like those governing rape in their unacceptable injustice and which by no amount of turning can be (or should be) made into reflections of some higher principle “real” character of God. What may reflect a policy of divine pragmatism vis-à-vis cultures or levels of human understanding of the divine in a given era must not be passed off as describing divine perfection.


But idolatry of scripture has always existed. There are traces of it in the Bible itself where the Psalmist describes the Law of the Lord as “perfect”, fit to be meditated on day and night. St Paul, despite calling Torah an education towards Christ, himself falls into calling the Law “perfect and true and good”, which he doubtless had also thought, a reason the former Saul caused such havoc among Christian believers imagining he needed to impose himself with recourse to the already archaically executionary values of the Torah system. Believers must move on from such thinking and say the Law may indeed have been “perfect” to achieve what God intended in terms of ethical and spiritual learning experiences across history but in itself, no, much of it is not perfect. Even its most sublime and challenging dicta such as loving the neighbour as one oneself is like a lotus amid the mud, or at least tangle, of minor provisions often just archaic or unjust and without any apparent shape or order in the telling – heavy editing, challenging for the pure inspiration thesis seems to have been at work on the minor laws. It's typical of the limitations of conservatives that prominent Southern Baptist leader, Albert Mohler, in his review of the The God Delusion is strongly critical of the atheism without even mentioning what the objections to the OT God image or the OT laws actually are. He proceeds as though, we could argue like Enlightenment era Deists for some abstract Deity. Which we can't do or not honestly. What's difficult, archaic, unjust by our standards etc in the Bible must be faced as part of the picture one deals with.

Even if the Torah were wholly inspired/dictated by Dawkin’s horror deity much of the Torah is, as current atheist critiques realize, anyway irrelevant to us (as when it speaks of buying and selling slaves, managing lost cattle or dealing with extra wives in polygamy!). It's accordingly a terrible illusion of Christians, one fit to parallel Dawkins own delusions, to imagine what is described as a "covenant" with a “chosen” people and evidently geared to making them be and feel people of a separate vocation, represents in its minutiae the basis of laws that are universal or intended to be such after the manner of the Natural Law theory of some philosophers.

Since it involves objective fact however strange I often use the example of blood types to make the point of the Jewish Law being for a specific people. I note that the Promised Land is one of "Milk and Honey" and the prophets invite us to drink milk. Some of us have dairy product allergies especially if we're born with Blood Group A, the group which should abstain from dairy products unlike those of Group B which the Jews nearly all are. Unfortunately however the Jewish Law viewed as universal plan continues to exist as the half hidden source and sometimes almost the dirty little secret for all manner of odd Christian policies, manuals, “new” discoveries and sermons from which conservatives pick and construct all manner of ideas. Fundamentalists may learn they are to tithe certain amounts certain ways to obtain certain benefits or treat thieves or punish children to obtain a better society and all because some obscure and ancient text of the OT can be cited to imply or commend it. This must stop or society, encouraged by vocal atheists, will judge Christians hopeless obscurantist, fanatical, and illogical, a virtual danger to society. It must be added Dawkins does also and without being PC about it criticize other faiths like Islam; he merely takes Christianity as symptomatic of a wider problem with faith issues.


While Dawkins makes some meaningful critical points about religion that only fools and the insensitive would ignore, he is nevertheless a bit of a pied piper and thief of souls for his science/reason agenda. Despite extreme moments he is (by and large) fair and even sentimental in a donnish English way but for people wavering between intellectual or even political allegiances that stand to affect the rights of religion, education of children etc, just this could prove seductive. It is for example unlikely that America’s half crazy Rational Response Squad which sets up The Blasphemy Challenge against the Holy Spirit and has tried to justify involving youth in it would have done so without the shrill talk about religious education as “child abuse” issuing from Dawkins style neo-atheism. Dawkins’ extremely negative caricature of Yahweh may seem donnishly amusing to a certain type of university crowd and he himself would doubtless oppose anti Semitism, but might not his treatment of biblical history encourage feelings in that line in a society where only recently British universities have placed boycott upon Jewish scholars out of respect for Israel’s enemies? Dawkins has not sought converts but he has certainly made them starting with the late Douglas Adams whose “radical atheism” is due to Dawkins who dedicates the book to him.

For many who will never “come out” as, or even just be, atheists Dawkins nevertheless offers the lure of simplifying life by throwing reason like a net over everything so as to disregard whole tracts of experience and wittily despise even the most enlightened and spiritual religion as pure illusion. Again to cite Hedges one has to beware against making Reason itself a kind of deity (as happened at the French Revolution where a prostitute representing it was enthroned at Notre Dame). However well meaning and trying to be fair in his way, Dawkins is still a real spiritual influence for our times and not a healthy one. The review of Dawkins book and his influence in real terms and what he campaigns for is well treated in a Commonweal article worth reading.

It's nevertheless symptomatic of the deficient spiritual condition of religion associated people today that we find the likes of Joan Bakewell (a familiar figure in religious media in UK) or Ruth Gledhill, religion reporter of the England’s Times paper, hastening to praise the author’s brilliance and accomplishments - in a debate The Times sends Gledhill to witness she votes for him as a clear winner against God - blind to the potentially negative influence the accomplishments may be getting put to. Dawkins is a frankly divisive campaigner and he believes he needs to be to make his points. But sometimes, likewise, it can be a Christian duty to be divisive and recognize: “He who is not for me is against me” as Jesus had it. The Christian fans of Dawkins are not taking such dicta seriously and fail responsibly to grasp trends of the times that stand to affect modern society.

The one thing about which Dawkins is least deluded, and likewise such as Sam Harris in the opening of his Letter to a Christian Nation, is the curious viciousness, the unspiritual rudeness and sometimes aggression, (yet often supposedly supported by the scriptural) that some believers are capable of. My next entry will be about this under-treated, quasi-taboo subject of precisely the rudeness of too many Christians.

Saturday, June 2, 2007



From the extent to which it’s pronounced on and ruled for by Pope and Catholic hierarchy, protested and argued for by laity anyone would imagine that opposition to abortion, a subject unmentioned the length of the Bible, was now the first rule of the gospel. Even Catholics like the returned novelist, Anne Rice, have expressed embarrassment at such over-emphasis on a theme. Instead of being a confrontation with God and a general call to repentance (metanoia – a mind change affecting potentially many issues) the modern gospel, Vatican style, is becoming a system of legal DON’Ts or a politics sparking intellectual arguments rather than spiritual reflections affecting deeper levels of mind.

Pope Benedict has recently visited Latin America where a lot of young girls in poorer districts suffer the trauma of rape, not infrequently through incest, and almost as soon as he’s arrived in Brazil abortion is the first thing the pontiff mentions. Rather predictability. Catholic prelates worry at the subject like dogs at a bone. Today, having the true faith and staying inside it is largely assessed by the yardstick of your position on preserving life – those who recently legislated for abortion in Mexico have been excommunicated and the Pope approves that.

You’re some kind of murderer if you have, want or actively support abortion. The worst historical failures of organized religion that produced inquisitions and crusades that disposed of thousands while singing Te Deums is more than forgotten in the new self-righteous crusades to preserve life via political policy. The gospel, scarcely mentioned amid the plethora of socio-political comments, far from being an offer or choice is something to be imposed by the secular state if possible.

Among Protestants portions of the evangelicals and charismatics have got in on the act, praying, decreeing, prophecying for repealed abortion laws. Currently they intend the supposedly spiritually linked 7-7-7 date of this year will correspond to a huge rally for morality and against abortion. They seem to have borrowed the idea that life is sacred from the first to the last moment more from the Catholics than the Bible or the Spirit because if anything the Bible promotes the idea that in some circumstances it is a duty to take life, and that some measure of right over life is a human dignity.

The notion of the absolute sacredness of life from first to last moment is a philosophical idea, a deduction from an unconditional love doctrine and/or the natural law theory of medieval scholastics especially Aquinas (who unscientifically assumed that the infant was a complete homunculus of the male seed from the first - which would make any abortion a murder of sorts). But obviously all this has tenuous relation to scriptures though some try to find it. The more extreme among the Protestant lifers have even decided that judgement can’t be withheld from America unless abortion is repealed there because, influenced by curse verses in Deuteronomy, the blood of the innocent is calling from the earth and Moloch, whom those attending abortion clinics have probably never heard of, has been sacrificed to(really and in effect). The idea that America might have a few sins other than or more worthy of judgement from the biblical perspective than abortion scarcely registers so much has right to life become an alternative gospel.


I’m not claiming abortion is a “good” thing. It’s really a rather ugly one, at best a necessary evil or an occasional mercy. Doubtless too the easy modern recourse to it (and often as the merest result of unplanned behaviour in an era which given birth control methods has least excuse for accidents) is controversial. America has well over a million abortions annually, nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned and unwanted and nearly half of those will be aborted. Economically disadvantaged, unattached women are those most likely to have recourse to abortion. In America where woman's private right to decide for any reason extends to six months within pregnancy abortion can end up used simply as an altermative birth control method and multiple abortions be had.

The sheer ease and frequency of abortions for whatever reason does dangerously encourage and generally imply a diminished sense for the essential sacredness of life and lifers would be right to regard feminists noisily calling for women’s “right to choose” as too blase altogether. Also, no society should tolerate infanticide which some late term abortions virtually amount to and which, just as a medical procedure, can be quite inhumane to the victim. No procedures that are late term should ever be legal unless perhaps in the most obvious and extreme cases that the mother’s life is endangered and then one is forced to sacrifice the lesser to the greater life. (If traditionally and still today the adult female isn’t regarded as the greater life then that was and is sheer misogyny).

All this admitted, in an imperfect world abortion will continue, illegally if not legally, only with greater likelihood that both mother and child will die as a result of the illegal operations. Trying to abolish abortion is like trying for total bans on liquor - something which incidentally the Bible could hardly be said to support though Christians have attempted it regardless - and we know what good prohibition did for America. Such campaigns are an invitation to every corruption and hypocrisy.

Such being the score there's really no alternative whether for secular or semi Christian societies than responsibly to regulate abortion. And if we’re talking regulation there’s a case for saying that America with its over-the-top abortion rate should be limiting availability. The positive of the lifers’ campaigns is that it may achieve that while failing in the irrational goal of zero toleration, something which does little to help ethics or religion. As far as the image of religion is concerned it can only cause a widespread sense of injustice and oppression by the church towards especially the traumatized and to maintain that a morning after pill for raped, traumatized women could be serious sin is astonishing beyond belief to the average person with and without belief.

There should never be a question, and even in some traditionally Catholic countries there isn’t about permission to abort where there is obvious danger to the life of the mother, rape and incest. Zero toleration as in Nicaragua means controversially asking the victim to carry trauma and the impure within herself (a religious issue, I shall turn to that point next section). Also perhaps, (though I realize it’s a danger zone that could be exploited) there would seem to be some case where it’s known that extreme disability and deformity will be the fate of the child. In addition to the suffering of the child such situations can be soul destroying for especially poor families and here there is arguably some grounds for taking the life – I shall suggest a religious/biblical reason for doing that and I think the “euthanasia” talk in such contexts is overdone and alarmist. In fact, it’s astonishing that the Catholicism which did so little for the Jews in the holocaust or at any time presumes to raise the spectre of “holocaust”, “genocide” and “euthanasia” next over the notion that extreme disability never presents a case to be aborted.


Ironically however, especially if one wants to sound the note of caution and conservatism and educate away from the abortion option, it is precisely the spiritual education which one almost never hears today amid the appeals to rule and law - that law of secular states that the church (unbiblically) expects should protect its more specialized agendas. Although with typical literalism and extremism some early church fathers did opine the soul of the mother “dies” with the aborted foetus, experience of the more spiritual kind does seem to support the idea that the soul, or rather spirit, can be inexplicably wounded by certain events of which mere convenience abortion is one. (The point was as good as made a couple of years ago on a TV feature made by a person of no religious views whose experience of abortion had left her feeling strangely uneasy with the whole idea. Pro choice people were almost hysterically opposed to the feature being allowed to be shown, testimony perhaps to the idea they are aware there are deeper problems do exist). Charismatics have inevitably been attending to the fact of these “wounds” and it may have swayed some of them in their still rather weak and undeveloped theology towards otherwise incongruously Catholic views.

As described in my Thunder Perfect Minds, one of many discoveries I made is that there can be a portion of the mind we can identify with spirit which is agonized and needs it own kind of healing even when and where the rest of the self feels quite happy, positive and can scarcely imagine what ails the spirit and why. So I can understand how the abortion which makes good sense in practical terms, could still prove undermining to the self at deeper levels over longer periods, rather as I’ve heard the admission that for especially a woman, the free sex life of early years can become an unexpected burden on the spirit maybe twenty years later.


First, because everyone knows it is and it already exists in religious circles as such anyway. When the nuns were raped and traumatized in the Congo in the sixties, they were privately offered a way out of the consequences. Those few nuns who have supported freedom of choice have pointed out such facts. It is even said that if a nun is got into trouble in the Vatican again there is a way out. I myself have heard such things from the daughter of a Protestant doctor in Rome who was regularly called upon to fix Catholic problems. In the latin cultures love of abstractions is such it is felt that if one keeps proclaiming an ideal it’s a kind of virtue in itself regardless of how actual life is managed.

Second. There is strictly nothing in the Bible to substantiate any conception-to-death “right to life” principle despite the commandment not to kill and the general hostility of rabbis during recent centuries to both capital punishment and abortion in most instances. The fact is the Bible calls for execution for all manner of offences - so many it is distinctly problematic for the modern reader, a subject in itself and currently a strong suit for the popularized atheism of the Dawkins and Sam Harris kind. Beyond saying a lot of Torah in this respect could be considered symbolic or often almost deliberately unworkable for actually securing the death penalty (which if so means that Torah rulings could be the pre-philosophical society’s way of defining what’s evil as that which should go out of existence), I don’t want or need to consider the various implications of these laws here. For Christians it’s probably best simply to say they clearly belong to a very different culture understood to be for Jews only (though bearing comparisons with laws of nations surrounding ancient Israel) and even belonging to a different dispensation in religious terms. However we should still note this. In the case of some offences like rape and incest, even the (presumably or often) innocent victims could be cut off from society or executed along with the offenders because (to judge from the general value system of Leviticus) the whole of society, the very land itself, has been offended. (The raped woman could save herself if she was thought to have cried out but the matter was hard to prove anywhere beyond the city walls).

Symbolically at least this could be said to make the crucial point that there can be a sense of terrible, purely ritual impurity associated with acts like incest and rape. The woman carries about within her this polluting factor which needs to be banished from the land. Undeniably women raped can have an overwhelming sense of being rendered impure. They also need to be able to expel this feeling and obviously abortion is one way, perhaps the major way today, for them to do this.

In the same vein one could mention that in the aftermath of the Law the prophets are always talking about God "blotting out" repented sins. Yet nobody seems to have imagined how there could be an element of repentance ritual, an objective correlate of the repentance, to aborting the fruit of some forbidden relation. If one has genuinely repented how reasonable is it to bring into existence the fruit of an adulterous relation now regretted? How fair is it to the offspring who carries the illegitimacy stigma so to do? Shouldn't the result of the liaison be "blotted out"? In biblical times obviously because it wasn't possible or much less so especially as regards very early in pregnancy, but now? While one could object to what I am saying here the fact that the point is almost never even considered by moralists is disturbing in that it raises the question: is the deafening silence here occasioned by unexamined misogynist desires to punish, not to forgive and to punish one party to a relation, namely the woman?

Third, God and/or his followers just never biblically show or declare the extreme modern respect for offspring. The prophet Hosea has God declare:
"Even though they give birth
I will destroy the cherished offspring of their womb"
(Hos 16:9)
and with or without prophetic perspectives it's undeniable that until well into the nineteenth century the level of post-partum deaths was extraordinarily high - sometimes up to half of all births. Even granted the conditions of an imperfect, fallen world, if God was quite so careful of life as Lifers assume would this age old situation ever have been allowed? Then we have the famous and famously misguided Psalm 137(the otherwise pretty “By the waters of Babylon…”) which actually concludes advising that one take the infants of one’s captors and dash them against the rocks – infants, not mere fetuses in the womb! Granted this probably represents rage more than policy. There is no record of Jews in Babylon actually doing this kind of thing to the children of their captors – they would probably have been forfeiting their own lives had they tried! Nevertheless, such words got into the Bible and they raise questions about just how sacred the Judaeo-Christian tradition does rate life.

In earlier and tribally organized times as at the fall of Jericho there was never question that whole families and women with child would be disposed of in sacred holocaust because of the sin of one person (seen as representing the whole tribe or land). Such happenings belonged to the general custom, religion and psychology of the era and obviously we cannot begin to approve the killing of infants they entailed. Yet that these customs and Psalm 137 are part of our spiritual heritage, however remotely and in any way, should stop us being merely squeamish about life in the womb especially in difficult cases. The more so if, as at any rate traditional Jewish belief maintained, the foetus doesn’t have a soul or is not a proper person before the “quickening”, placed at somewhere around 2 to 3 months. (More scientifically we do know that the sex of the child is not determined until 11 weeks so to that extent they are not a person till then). Even today most abortion in America does take place before 3 months which is to be if not on the right side then the better side of things.


Finally there’s this. While outright murder (as opposed to killing) was from the first considered sin because humans are made in the divine image (as opposed to animals who may be killed/sacrificed), to be able to make decisions regarding life is itself part of being human and in effect its dignity. To be obsessed with just “women’s right to choose” is over-reaction to a tradition of misogyny like that of Luther who believed women should bear children till they died of it. However…there is such a thing as the dignity to decide for anyone or any sex. In line with ancient world standards, but more moralized and safeguarded against, the Torah supplied the father right of life and death over his own child – if an offspring was rebellious he could be executed (Deut 21:18-21). Again this would rarely if ever happen (especially as both parents would have to agree!) but the mere notion this could apply, and to grown persons at that, surely gives some ethical right within the Judaeo-Christian tradition to take the life of what is not yet fully human, perhaps not “quickened” or those who will be severely limited in life by extreme disability.

After all and again if the Torah is any guide as in the rulings of Leviticus 21 one of its more ‘cruel” provisions in modern terms is its banning from the ritual ground of the deformed, the physically imperfect. These represent something which is not of God. We thankfully don’t think that way today, and Jesus might describe some debilities as marking actual work of evil forces, nothing at all evil or impure in child or parent. Whatever, to the extent the scriptures esoterically/spiritually have the idea of persons bearing the wrong, as it were embodying the impure, might this not be an argument of sorts for human dignity to make intelligent decision regarding what is best for life and persons and to heal life itself by an excision?

The point is obviously a controversial one but at least by emphasizing it I hope to have destabilized the notion that in scriptural terms there exists some abstract, infallible, rationally defensible “right to life” rule that if need be imposes suffering on victims, and sometimes lifelong suffering on families all in the name of Jesus’ unconditional love, though in practical terms it might as well be just another new Moloch to sacrifice to. (It’s another issue, but is it not similarly prolonging trauma and suffering, perhaps lifelong for the relatives of victims, where capital punishment is refused in the case of even the worst torturing serial murders or drug lords who have destroyed countless lives because, abstractly it is good that life be preserved?) Not to speak of the possible hypocrisy involved, it’s arguable that church authorities insisting on “right to life” at all costs are just promoting the merest invention of philosophy, what the gospels would refer to as “the traditions of men”, not Truth in itself. We and even the gospel need liberation from this because at its worst clergy and their protesting followers insisting on this “right to life” at all costs are little different from the Pharisees “who bind heavy burdens….but will not move them with their finger….blind guides, blind fools…straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel”. (Mt 23).