What do you get when church and state are mixed?
You get things like the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Who could object to that?
Atheists could object, of course, but then, you know how atheists are, complaining all the time…
…when they get locked up behind bars.
This week, Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, a government body that seeks out religious heretics so that they may be punished, referred a list of atheist bloggers from Saudi Arabia to the Interior Ministry, so that the atheists could be hunted down by the police and thrown into prison. Human Rights Watch notes that the government of Saudi Arabia categorizes the promotion of atheist ideas as a form of terrorism.
We don’t arrest people for being atheist here in the United States, but there are many who wish to make Christianity an official state-sponsored religion. In Florida, the Brevard County Commission voted unanimously this week to exclude members of the Central Florida Freethought Community from ever giving an invocation before the Commission.
The Commission told the freethinkers that the purpose of invocation is “guidance for the County Commission from the highest spiritual authority”. Given that freethinkers are often atheists, and don’t acknowledge spiritual authority, they aren’t eligible to give an invocation. One of the commissioners, Andy Anderson, explained that only Christian prayers should be allowed before the Brevard County Commission, because Christianity is under attack… in Iraq.
Christians are under attack in Iraq, but not because of separation of church and state. Rather, attacks against Christians come from groups that seek to strengthen the incorporation of religion into government at all levels. The best way to protect Christians from attack is also the best way to protect atheists from attack – to honor the approach of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, ensuring that government neither sponsors religion nor opposes its free practice.
Present-day skeptics are fond of presenting their kind of thinking as the latest thing, a relatively new invention that was developed only with the struggle and sacrifice of freethinkers and scientists during the Enlightenment. However, the writings of Lucian of Samosata, who lived in present-day Syria nearly two thousand years ago, show that the skill skeptical inquiry is quite ancient.
Lucian writes of the popular god Glycon, a god who was said to have descended from the heavens to take on the earthly form of a snake. That snake was held in the arms of Alexander of Abonoteichus, who was said to have discovered him. Upon hearing of the wonders of Glycon, who was said to have been able to heal the sick and raise the dead, Lucian went himself to see what it was all about.
Lucian claims to have uncovered proof that Glycon’s prophet Alexander created the whole religion out of thin air. According to Lucian, Alexander planted false evidence of a prophecy of Glycon, by, in a foreshadowing of the Mormon’s Joseph Smith, burying bronze tablets with cryptic writing, and then discovering them later.
The next step, according to Lucian, was to perform a similar false discovery with the incarnation of the god itself. Lucian writes that Alexander, “went one night to the temple foundations, still in the process of digging, and with standing water in them which had collected from the rainfall or otherwise; here he deposited a goose egg, into which, after blowing it, he had inserted some newborn reptile. He made a resting-place deep down in the mud for this, and departed. Early next morning he rushed into the marketplace, naked expect for a gold-spangled loincloth; with nothing but this and his scimitar, and shaking his long loose hair, like the fanatics who collect money in the name of Cybele, he climbed on to a lofty altar and delivered a harangue, felicitating the city upon the advent of the god now to bless them with his presence. In a few minutes nearly the whole population was on the spot, women, old men, and children included; all was awe, prayer, and adoration. He uttered some unintelligible sounds, which might have been Hebrew or Phoenician, but completed his victory over his audience, who could make nothing of what he said, beyond the constant repetition of the names Apollo and Asclepius.
He then set off at a run for the future temple. Arrived at the excavation and the already completed sacred fount, he got down into the water, chanted in a loud voice hymns to Asclepius and Apollo, and invited the god to come, a welcome guest, to the city. He next demanded a bowl, and when this was handed to him, had no difficulty in putting it down a the right place and scooping up, besides water and mud, the egg in which the god had been enclosed; the edges of the aperture had been joined with wax and white lead. He took the egg in his hand and announced that here he held Asclepius. The people, who had been sufficiently astonished by the discovery of the egg in the water, were now all eyes for what was to come. He broke it, and received in his hollowed palm the hardly developed reptile; the crowd could see it stirring and winding about his fingers; they raised a shout, hailed the god, blessed the city, and every mouth was full of prayers—for treasure and wealth and health and all the other good things that he might give.”
Quickly, devotees of the new religion, worshipping Glycon, gathered in the province of Bithynia-Pontus, on the south shore of the Black Sea. In time, however, Lucian says that people began to see through the flim flam of the snake god. So, the prophet Alexander resorted to a tactic well-known to many present day preachers: Focus believers on the danger of infidels in their midst. Lucian writes, “A time came when a number of sensible people began to shake off their intoxication and combine against him, chief among them the numerous Epicureans; in the cities, the imposture with all its theatrical accessories began to be seen through. It was now that he resorted to a measure of intimidation; he proclaimed that Pontus was overrun with atheists and Christians, who presumed to spread the most scandalous reports concerning him; he exhorted Pontus, as it valued the god’s favor, to stone these men.”
We can’t know whether Lucian’s depictions of the religion of Glycon’s many frauds are honest and accurate, because we don’t have any corroborating evidence. It’s possible that Lucian had an axe to grind with the growing power of Glycon’s followers, and made up his story much as he accuses Alexander of doing. What Lucian’s writings about Alexander and Glycon do prove, however, is that the ability to think critically about religious claims of fantastic events has been around for a very long time.
I certainly intend to comply. If you do it out of order, who knows what might happen.
A Nigerian preacher named Temitope Joshua has sent thousands of bottles of holy water to Sierra Leone as cures for the deadly ebola virus sweeping through that country.
Is this donation:
1. A great idea, as the holy water can’t do any harm
2. A terrible idea, given that holy water has never been shown to benefit people infected with ebola, and may interfere with legitimate humanitarian efforts
3. Not worthy of attention, given that it’s just a gimmick from the preacher to get attention for himself
4… something else
I am visiting Maine. Alongside the trail I was hiking today, I saw large stands of this pink wildflower. It doesn’t grow where I live.
Does anyone know what it is called?
“The brilliance of Google,” writes Owl Eyes Creative, “is that the company has grown to understand its users.”
Part of understanding Google’s users is an understanding of where Google users live. Google has become an unrivaled expert at using the power of well-designed data mining to create a deeper level of understanding for users about the real-world geography that surrounds them.
Google’s accomplishments in this area are being celebrated around the world, but nowhere is this recognition stronger than in the small coastal community, which has dedicated a park to George Trailer, the principal architect of Google’s intelligent mapping systems. George Trailer lived in Rockland for a 7-month period while his parents were getting divorced back in 1997.
Right behind the stand-alone Walmart One Hour Photo booth on Route 1 lies the new Trailer Park, a green and peaceful area with playgrounds, picnic tables, a volleyball court, and the George Trailer Map Museum, which was dedicated today in a noontime ceremony. “Google’s maps are so accurate,” said Rockland resident Arthur Thentick, who attended the ceremony. “I think it’s a lovely thing that Trailer Park is now included on Google Maps, of which we are so proud. I couldn’t get around Rockland without his inventions.”
In the southbound lane of the long, high metal and asphalt bridge over the Piscataqua River that divides New Hampshire from Maine, a grate covers a storm-water drain. Out of that drain, a lone sunflower plant has grown. Today it is in full blossom, facing its bloom toward the sun.
If you are a designer of inspirational greeting cards, pull out your high-speed camera.
If you are an author of motivational business books, start counting the ways in which low-paid corporate drudges aren’t working as hard as that sunflower.
If you have a sermon to write for next week, ask, “isn’t Jesus like that?”
If you are a cynic, think about the chances of a bumblebee making it all the way out there.
Among investors, the “Monday Effect” is a theory that financial markets will, on a Monday, tend to follow trajectories similar to what occurred on the previous Friday. Vijay Gondhalekar and Seyed Mehdian, in a study in the Quarterly Journal of Business and Economics, extended discussion of the Monday Effect into a “blue-Monday hypothesis”, positing an “inherent gloom” among investors because of a relatively high level of risk in Monday trading.
Brandon Holmquest reacts to the following lines in the poem Monday in Seven Days, by Albanian poet Luljeta Lleshanaku, by telling us that if we don’t grasp “how truly excellent the choice of the word ‘hurl’ is and how excellently true the observation contained in the lines is”, then we must not like poetry very much, and should read more of it.
“Preparing for winter
isn’t tradition, but instinct. We hurl our spare anxieties
like precious cargo from a shipwreck.”
What does it mean for something to be excellently true? Can something be true, but not excellently so?
I think I must not like poetry very much, and should read more of it. Is “hurl” a truly excellent word choice because it suggests vomit? Does it do so in the original Albanian?
Wolfram Alpha tells me that next Monday, there will be 30 minutes less sunlight than there will be this Monday.
About half of the images representing Monday on Giphy show disoriented non-human animals.
The web site for Monday Magazine in British Columbia hasn’t been updated for three Mondays, because it is a monthly magazine. Even back in the days when it was a weekly magazine, Monday Magazine was distributed on Thursdays, not Mondays.
The town of Thingal Nagar, in Tamil Nadu, was once known as Monday Market, because it had a noteworthy market on Mondays. The name is gone but the market remains.
This year, Target and Walmart extending the Cyber Monday holiday in November into an entire Cyber Week (Amazon is intent on celebrating only Cyber Monday, because it’s on the orthodox commercial calendar). Is it a coincidence that this week will come on the heels of a Halloween on which Amazon is encouraging children to place Cyberman helmets over their heads, to be assimilated?
Halloween is on a Friday this year, not a Monday, but according to the Monday Effect theory, it’s pretty much the same thing.
I’m not worried if that doesn’t make sense to you, because, according to the web site Motivational Monday, we should make dollars, not sense.
The most prominent Monday legislation currently in Congress is H.R. 681, from Frank Wolf: “To amend title 5, United States Code, to provide that Washington’s Birthday be observed on February 22, rather than the third Monday in February, of each year.” At present, the bill has nine cosponsors.