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Does Religion Divide Or Unite?


      Does Religion Divide or Unite?

      Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss

      makes a powerful case against organized religion:

      "It implies things about the real world that are just not true."

      By Ray Cunneff

      August 14, 2018

      My recent post "Thank God I'm An Atheist" prompted some thought-provoking as well as revealing comments illustrating how people incorporate their beliefs into their daily lives.

      The literal-minded failed to recognize the quite intended irony in the title, and an inability to grasp the concept of 'freedom of belief', the search for enlightenment in the rejection of superstition, myth and magic.

      I said in response to one traditionalist comment that I believed that most self-proclaimed atheists or agnostics would be pleasantly surprised to discover there actually is a God (all evidence to the contrary). If you've lived a good life, you should have nothing to fear from a final judgment. But if, on the other hand, you have committed acts of cruelty, or violence, in the name of God, your belief-system might be crushed to learn that "your ticket to heaven was a forgery".

      That in turn reminded me of a 'thought experiment' I read several years ago...

      In a bold and thoughtful soliloquy, physicist Lawrence Krauss contends that organized religion tends to promote an "us vs. them" mentality that in turn triggers a dangerous form of xenophobia. When people say religion is responsible for much of history's wars and suffering, this is what they're talking about.

      While acknowledging that religious myths often bring comfort to some, Krauss observes that making decisions based on those myths often “lead to bad consequences". Krauss states: that while (Religion) has provided opportunities for groups to sometimes do progressive things. It's inevitably based on myth and superstition, built upon ideas created by Iron Age peasants who didn’t even know the Earth orbited the sun.

      Krauss then enters an investigation into ancient texts such as the Old Testament, which, if taken literally, he describes as a "disgusting document" that most people know to treat allegorically. An issue Krauss sees among some Muslims is that the insistence on treating a text like the Koran one hundred percent at face value leads to unnecessary cruelty and violence.

      Krauss contends that the Old Testament is more violent than the Koran, "it's full of violence, oppression, genocide, hatred - it's an awful book and it's amazing that we present it as a moral standard".

      The full text:

      "It’s hard to lump religion which comes in many different forms, shapes, sizes, and viewed many ways by different people in a single framework. Ultimately, I think religion is a negative force for humanity because what it does — at least organized religion around the world — is it implies things about the real world that are just not true. That are in disagreement with the evidence of empirical testing in science. And while they may provide comfort to people inevitably whenever you make decisions based on something that’s a myth, the decisions lead to bad consequences. Whether you’re teaching children or subjugating women. So religion of course at various times in human history for individuals provides comfort. It has provided opportunities for groups to sometimes do progressive things. But inevitably it’s based on myth and superstition, based on ideas created by Iron Age peasants who didn’t even know the Earth orbited the sun. And ultimately why we should view that as wisdom is beyond me.

      The saddest part that’s characteristic of everything including the Koran and I don’t want to label just the Koran in this regard because I think it’s characteristic in the Old Testament and the New Testament in the Abrahamic religions. Is the xenophobia that religion introduces; it’s us versus them. We are absolutely right because we believe this or because we follow these traditions and other people are absolutely wrong because they don’t. And then the question is what do you do to the people who are wrong because they’re not part of your group? Well in many cases you kill them or you ostracize them or you send them to hell.

      No one mentions hell more than Jesus. Supposedly he was a loving savior, but he uses the word hell more than anyone else in the Bible. So that’s the same kind of xenophobia. In fact it’s worse in my mind. As my late friend Christopher Hitchens would say, you know, Saddam Hussein only condemned his victims to violence and death, you know, until they died. What about a god who condemns you to eternal pain forever? Far worse than Saddam Hussein in the sky. So I think the kind of xenophobia, the fact that people who don’t conform are to be ostracized or killed is prevalent in every religion and I can understand it because these religions were based, in some sense, [on] preserving order within a tribe. They’re all outgrowths of tribal behavior. To preserve order with a tribe, it’s always us versus them. Here are rules that define you as a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim. You do those rules and you’re distinguishable from the other and the other is to be swept away.

      Now in the current world, I think there’s no doubt that right now Islam is a source of more violence than a number of the other organized religions. It’s not the unique source of violence. But I think the problem is just one of timing. Islam is 500 years younger than say Christianity. And 500 years ago Christianity was producing far more violence than Islam ever is today from the Crusades to the Inquisition. And so it’s not surprising that a younger religion in some sense is coming through its growing pains in that regard. The problem is we live in a time where there’s access to much more destructive forces so you’ve got to worry a little bit about that. Ultimately the real problem — the real difference that I see between Islam and, say, Judaism, I mean the Old Testament is every bit — it’s more violent than the Koran. It’s full of violence, oppression, genocide, hatred. It’s an awful book and it’s amazing that we present it as a moral standard.

      If you actually read the Bible, it’s a disgusting, disgusting document. There’s beauty in the psalms and the poetry of the psalms perhaps, but it’s every bit as violent if not more so than the Koran. The fundamental difference it seems to me is that we’ve learned even highly religious people take the Bible allegorically. They take it — they don’t — when it says you can stone your children if they disobey you, no one takes that seriously anymore. The difference is that many people take the Koran, every word of the Koran as not only divine, but literally. And therefore when it exhorts you to violence, they take that literally. That’s not done any more in the older religions, in the Abrahamic religions. The Bible still says to do those awful things, but people don’t take it seriously. In fact, when we talk about religion in general, many people call themselves religious because they think if they don’t, they’re not good people.

      There was a — my friend Richard Dawkins has his foundation in England did a poll. It looked after the most recent census in England, which happens to ask what your religious affiliation is. For the first time only 53 percent of people said they were Christian or about that number. They took the people who listed Christian in the box and said do you believe in the virgin birth? Do you believe in transubstantiation? Do you believe in — the whole list of things that are sort of standard parts of Christianity? Most of those people said no. And then they were asked why did you check the tick that said you’re a Christian? And they said we like to think of ourselves as good people. And that’s the — what seems to me the thing that we have to overcome the most is people recognizing that you can be a good person by accepting reality for what it is and questioning everything including questioning the existence of God. There’s nothing wrong with that. I get letters from kids all the time who say, you know, I’m happy to read your books or see the movie you’ve just done because it tells me I’m not alone. I’m not a bad person for questioning what my elders or pastor or teachers say. In fact we should be encouraging our children to question everything. It’s part of education.

      Lawrence Maxwell Krauss is a Canadian-American theoretical physicist who is a professor of physics, and the author of several bestselling books, including The Physics of Star Trek and A Universe from Nothing. He is an advocate of scientific skepticism, science education, and the science of morality. Krauss is one of the few living physicists referred to by Scientific American as a "public intellectual", and he is the only physicist to have received awards from all three major U.S. physics societies: the American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the American Institute of Physics.

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      Pundit Post

      How Audiences Know When To Appluad And Laugh.


          One of the things I noticed watching Trump's rallies was the crowd co-ordination. The applause, laughter and the boo's all add to the atmosphere and lend probity to the speaker's words.

          It's like watching a television studio production.

          If one is watching at home, that's what it is. The viewing audience at home are watching a production, and don't get to see behind the scenes. The people attending the rally are the participants, the actors.

          Further to that, many participants at the event are given gratuities and may paid in exchange for their heightened enthusiasm.

          Literally paid to act.

          (and we are not talking about victims of gun crime here)

          So, here's some further thoughts on canned laughter and applause for your entertainment.

          It's just an introduction to the subject from jaredunzipped.com 2015.


          "We should expect more from ourselves and the content that we consume. Watching comedies on television that don't cue us when to laugh is a profound first step in that direction.


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          How The Framers Tried To Block Foreign Influence Over Our Elections


              Worthy of a share.

              Recently, speaking about the creation of the Constitution to a room filled with teachers of history, I mentioned that the drafters struggled over how best to choose the president. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention initially agreed that Congress should make the choice, but then grew concerned that "foreign powers" (mine) would bribe congressmen to favor their preferred candidates.


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              Democracy Now! With Chomsky On Israel's Shift To The Far Right.

              Interesting in light of recent debate, and the objections from the Druze.

              (I think we can safely say there is no anti-Semitism here, but that doesn't mean detractors won't claim there is.)

              Right-wing activists spread fake correspondence on deal between Druze leaders and Labor party


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              500 Years: Mexico And The Wall


                  500 Years
                  Mexico and the Wall
                  Part 1: Beginning

                  1518-40: Emperor Charles V, King of Spain, sends a military exploration and settlement group from Jamaica to establish a town and church on the east coast of Mexico.
                  On landing, the shore party is immediately arrested, and the ships driven off; by Cortez!, ranging far to the north of the kingdom he is carving out employing terror tactics and genocide in Southern Mexico.
                  Governor-General Garay of Jamaica assembles an army: with ships, artillery, guns, and a fighting force of seven hundred and fifty officers and men; and, to make a long story short, is soon conquered, and becomes the "pet" of Cortez, an evil genius.
                  Where had Garay wanted a town? At the mouth of the Rio Grande, discovered only the year before.
                  He envisioned controlling all the lands north of the natural dividing line: the Great River. Lands that would become the United States of America.

                  As the northern wastes had no gold or silver to satisfy the Spaniard's lust; a slave trade was quickly established, much to the profit of the governors-general and Cortez. Indians in the South retaliated by refusing to have children.
                  But the goal that Cortez wanted most to achieve; the settlement of the Rio Grande, eluded him; and it haunted him to his dying day. Known for his avarice and cruelty, Cortez died an abject failure.
                  On Jan. 6th., 1540, Vasquez de Coronado is granted a royal commission to discover and conquer upriver, where he is convinced will be found cities of gold.

                  On his first day in Mexico, Cortez had been gifted discs of gold, and of silver, "too large for two men to carry". Coronado knew that along another great river, far to the north (actually, it was the same river), were tall stone houses, and cities of stone set high in cliff faces. Where there were cities, there must be gold. Even cities of gold. Not so. The stone houses and cliff cities were found; but, the Indians only had corn, and beautiful feathers to trade; and stories of golden cities farther inland, always farther away.

                  Spanish Conquistadors had traced out (little did they know), in a generation of exploration and conquest, the future border between the United States and Mexico. They were the first non-natives to walk the route of the Wall.

                  And, they left footprints in blood.

                  (To be continued...)

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                  The Language Barrier


                      [Culture Clash - Changing Times]

                      The Language Barrier.

                      I read an interesting article about an old topic. Actually it could be several topics in one.

                      Other than the obvious language barrier; which is at it's center, it could be about white flight coming to an end --because there is no longer endless places to run from other people (hence the urge to build the border wall and gentrification). It could be about the changing of the times in many old mill towns across America, and in good part is. It could be about how does it feel to feel less powerful and disconnected? Is America as a whole reader for the future? What will happen if some of the disenchanted demand that the ways, and the orders of people and things as they were in their parents time, stay that way forever? Could this lead to civil unrest?

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                      A Guidebook To Fascism In A 1963Twilight Zone Episode Maybe Trump Saw It?


                          I've been binge watching old "The Twilight Zone" episodes and came across this incredible and almost prescient episode (for these times of Trump vs the Resistance) - "He's Alive" (Season 4, Episode 4). This episode from January 4th, 1963 - is a Master Class on how to create a Fascist movement . . . . . . taught to the young enthusiast (Dennis Hopper) by the Master himself. Here is a link. It is chilling to see this today, given what this nation is going through now!


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                          Foreign Belly Dancers? Egyptians Shake Their Heads (and Hips)

                          CAIRO — When undercover police officers in Egypt swooped on an upscale nightclub on the Nile last spring and arrested a Russian belly dancer, the focus of their investigation was her costume — and what, if anything, lay beneath it.

                          Was the dancer known as Johara, whose sizzling video had become an overnight sensation, wearing the right “shorts,” as modesty-protecting undergarments are officially called? Were they the right size? The appropriate color? Or was she, as some feared, wearing no shorts at all?

                          Johara, whose real name is Ekaterina Andreeva, 30, insisted on her innocence, but still the police marched her off to jail, where others argued over her fate.

                          Russian diplomats paid a visit. Her manager and her husband back in Moscow pressed her case. In her dingy cell, Ms. Andreeva gave an impromptu performance for a dozen fellow prisoners, mostly prostitutes and drug dealers.


                          “Those women treated me so well,” she recalled. “They asked me to dance, and then we all danced together.”

                          A belly dancing workshop at a hotel in Cairo.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times
                          The Egyptian dancer Randa Kamel leading a workshop attended by many Eastern European women.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times

                          After three days, it seemed she would be deported. But at the last minute, a mysterious white knight intervened — a Libyan businessman with powerful connections, she was told — and she was sprung from jail.

                          It was a drama worthy of belly dance, a centuries-old art form that has long thrived onsensual intrigue. During the Second World War, German spies mingled with British officers at Madam Badia’s cabaret; in the 1970s, dancers performed for American presidents.

                          In recent decades, belly dance has inspired conflicting impulses among Egyptians, who see it either as high art, racy entertainment or an excuse for moral grandstanding.

                          But Ms. Andreeva’s plight also highlighted a rather touchy issue: If Cairo is the global capital of belly dance, then why do its hottest new stars come from everywhere but Egypt?

                          Kiev to Cairo

                          The Ukrainian dancer Alla Kushnir, a law graduate, appeared on “Ukraine’s Got Talent” with an extravagant belly-dance routine that set her on a new career path. CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times

                          At a wedding in a plush Cairo suburb, a barefoot Alla Kushnir shimmied onto the flower-strewn dance floor, a whirlwind of quivers, twists and furious gyrations.

                          Young men in tuxedos, grinning widely, clambered over one another for a better view of the belly dancer. Little girls in party dresses scurried behind, imitating her moves. A group of veiled women at a corner table clapped in approval.

                          “Coming to Egypt was my dream,” said Ms. Kushnir, 33, who hails from Ukraine, while stuffing her outfit into a suitcase afterward.

                          Foreigners have dominated the top flights of Egypt’s belly-dancing scene in recent years — Americans, Britons and Brazilians, but especially Eastern Europeans.


                          The foreigners bring an athletic, high-energy sensibility to the dance, more disco than Arabian Nights. Their sweeping routines contrast with the languid, subtly suggestive style of classic Egyptian stars. Some are overtly sexual.

                          Ms. Kushnir trying out accessories for her performances at her apartment in Cairo.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times
                          Participants in Ms. Kamel’s workshop during an outing near Cairo.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times

                          Growing up in the port city of Nikolayev, Ms. Kushnir, 33, dreamed of being an archaeologist. She graduated in law. But in 2010, she appeared on a TV show, “Ukraine’s Got Talent,” with an extravagant belly-dance routine that set her on a new career path.

                          In one performance, she wore a black veil with a tray of burning candles on her head; in the other, she writhed in a pool of water supported by semi-naked men.

                          Then Ms. Kushnir moved to Cairo, the Broadway of belly dance, where she became a true star. She sometimes performs five times a night at upscale weddings and ritzy parties, where top performers can earn $1,200 or more. One of her videos has nine million views on YouTube.

                          Purists bemoan the foreign invasion as a cultural travesty. They accuse the outsiders of trampling on Arab heritage for profit and pushing the dance form in a brash direction. Even some foreigners agree.

                          “In many cases, we lack the nuance, subtlety and grace of Egyptians,” said Diana Esposito, a Harvard graduate from New York who came to Egypt in 2008 on a Fulbright scholarship and stayed to pursue a career in belly dance.

                          Ms. Esposito, who performs as Luna of Cairo, noted that there were still thousands of Egyptian dancers. But most are in the lower rungs of the industry — seedy cabarets near the Pyramids or tourist traps on the Nile.

                          “It feels like the Egyptian dancer is an endangered species, which is very sad,” said Ms. Esposito, who recently moved back to Brooklyn. “Sad for the art. Sad for Egypt.”

                          Even so, Egyptian dance still has one undisputed queen — a dancer who by wide agreement stands above them all.

                          The Last Egyptian Queen?

                          Egyptian dance still has one undisputed queen: Dina.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times

                          It was just after 3 a.m. at the cabaret in the luxury Semiramis Hotel when Dina glided onto the stage, glittering in the spotlight, as a 17-piece band struck up.


                          Bow-tied waiters bustled about. Puffs of cigar smoke lingered in the air. The audience — Arab couples, Western tourists, as many women as men — watched from red velveteen booths, utterly entranced.

                          A legend across the Middle East, Dina Talaat Sayed has danced for princes, presidents and dictators in a career spanning four decades. “Ah yes, Qaddafi,” she said with a wry smile, recalling the deposed Libyan strongman. “Funny man. Very funny.”

                          Ms. Sayed also knows all about Egyptians’ conflicted attitude about her profession.

                          “Love and hate — it’s always been like this,” she said. “Egyptians cannot have a wedding without a belly dancer. But if one of them marries your brother — oh, my God! That’s a problem.”

                          Amie Sultan, a prominent Egyptian dancer, with a costume designer. She comes from a wealthy Egyptian family and trained as a ballerina. CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times
                          Participants in Ms. Kamel’s workshop.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times

                          The stigma is part of a creeping puritanism that has stifled the arts in Egypt in recent decades. Now even a hint of a kiss is forbidden in Egyptian movies, song lyrics are sanitized, and moral vigilantes hound artists through the courts.

                          A pop singer, Shyma, is languishing in prison on charges of “inciting debauchery” for a sexually suggestive video; in 2015, a belly dancer was barred from standing for election because she “lacked a good reputation,” a judge declared.

                          “Egyptians see an Egyptian dancer as a hooker,” said Bassem Abd El Moneim, Ms. Andreeva’s manager. “But a foreigner can be a star.”

                          There are exceptions beyond Ms. Sayed. One prominent dancer, Amie Sultan, hails from a wealthy family and trained as a ballerina. Another, Fifi Abdou, an Egyptian national treasure viewed with both affection and mockery for her boisterous personality, has been reincarnated in retirement thanks to social media.

                          Recently, Ms. Abdou, 65, perched before a pair of iPads as she broadcast to her three million followers on Facebook and Instagram in an hourlong stream of affectionate babble, air kisses and trademark catchphrases.

                          “Scooze me!” she exclaimed randomly as the screen filled with red hearts. “Salma! Love you, love you, love you!”

                          But for many Egyptians, the price of a career in belly dance can be too high.

                          Randa Kamel, who runs a major belly dance school in Cairo that attracts students from across the world, was beaten as a teenager by a father who disapproved of her dancing. Even now, her 17-year-old son hides her profession at his private high school, and she pulls off her glittering fake nails before meeting his teachers.

                          “That’s why I don’t go on TV,” Ms. Kamel said. “I want my son to have a good life. There’s a certain amount of fame that is not healthy.”

                          A Welcome Notoriety

                          A participant in Ms. Kamel’s workshop performing during the closing ceremony.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times

                          Ms. Andreeva, the briefly jailed Russian belly dancer, still isn’t sure what spurred the police raid in February, but she blesses the day.

                          Since then, bookings have soared, her appearance fee has doubled, and she is sought by the rich and powerful. Recent clients include the family of a major steel tycoon, the daughter of Egypt’s prime minister and an exiled cousin of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

                          Official concerns about her act — and her “shorts” — appear to have vanished. The shimmering dress she wore in the video that landed her in trouble has become a major part of her act.

                          Even the police chief who kept her in his jail has become a fan, and booked Ms. Andreeva for several family weddings, said her manager, Mr. Moneim.

                          “She’s famous now,” he said, as he whisked her between gigs on a Friday night. “People love that.”

                          Ms. Andreeva admitted that it was hard to match Egyptian dancers on some levels. “We are technically good, but they have that Arab soul,” she said.

                          But she compensates by channeling the sheer, raucous energy of Egyptian audiences. “There’s an emotion here that is incredible,” she said. “It makes me feel like a rock star.”

                          An array of belly dance costumes on sale at Ms. Kamel’s workshop in Cairo.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times

                          Nour Youssef contributed reporting.

                          Produced by Mona Boshnaq.

                          Declan Walsh is the Cairo bureau chief, covering Egypt and the Middle East. He joined The Times in 2011 as Pakistan bureau chief, and he previously worked at The Guardian. @declanwalsh

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