Monday, March 31, 2008

Abraham revisited

I have been reading a book by American author, Austin Dacey, called "The Secular Conscience". Dacey makes the case that liberals have boxed themselves into a corner in moral debates because they have for so long insisted that matters of religion equate with matters of conscience and such matters are private and not for public discourse. This argument was advanced and adopted to fight against the intrusion of religion on public institutions. The problem is that it also thereby restricts liberals from exercising opinions and views related to their conscience.

Dacey says that unless conscience can be relegated to the public space there can be no meaningful discussion on moral issues between the religious and the non-religious. He says that religions do not honour the notion that their moral views should not inform the public institutions because they do not accept that religious morality is a matter of private conscience. Liberals have simply hamstrung themselves in the face of religious conservatives and need to rethink that position.

He devotes a significant number of pages to establishing that conscience, both biologically and in a evaluative sense, is independent of religious authority, and, in fact, religious notions of morality only have meaning because humans developed the faculty of the conscience before religious prescriptions and, without this faculty, they would have no way of evaluating religious moral edicts. He uses the story of Abraham to illustrate this point.

A refresher for the non or lapsed religious types.

Abraham is considered to be the Godfather of the three so-called monothesitic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

God appeared to Abraham one day (one of his rare appearances, even Moses only rated a burning bush) and said to the good man that he should travel to a distant land to a particular mountain and there perform a dutiful sacrifice and a burnt offering to show his love for God. The sacrifice and burning the deity had in mind was Abraham's only begotten son, Isaac. So, Abraham did as he was told and on the appointed day, in the named location, raised the knife above his son who was tied to the altar. But before he could strike, the Lord God sent one of his flappy flunkies (ie. angels) to tell Abraham that he could put the knife away, God was satisfied that Abraham was a truly pious man.

This story is cited by the religious as an example of faith, the obedience one owes to God, above family and all earthly things.

Dacey's point is that this story only makes sense if Abraham has a conscience that tells him it is wrong to kill his innocent son, that gives him a choice because of that sense of right and wrong and allows him the capacity to refuse to do God's bidding. If Abraham is no more than an automaton, doing what he is told without reflection and remorse, then the story has no real moral point.

The upshot for those religious folk who believe that a conscience derives only from religious edicts, and that in the absence of religion, the world would be a riot of rape, pillage and murder is that they are full of shit!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The New Atheists

American journalist/author Chris Hedges has written a book entitled, “Why I don’t believe in atheists.” He is currently on a book tour and has been interviewed in the local media several times. This book is an attempt to rebut the jarring messages of the New Atheists, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and others, and to defend religion. Hedges’ last book was “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. He is a self-described moderate Christian liberal.

I read that book and would recommend it to anyone. I haven’t read his anti-atheist book, although I intend to do so. I have, however, read the opinion of the religion and ethics editor in the Toronto Star on his work and I have viewed both interviews and debates with Hedges on U-Tube.

His simple message is that God resides in each of us and that we all have the capacity to do ill or good. Evil or goodness is an inherent quality in humans, not an external force to be harvested or constrained. His objection to the atheists is that they are committing the same sort of fallacy that fundamentalist Christians do, externalizing evil as if it is a force in the universe. While Christians believe in the gospel of the devil, atheists believe in the evil of religion. In fact, he refers to these robust atheistic writers as fundamentalist atheists.

I may change my mind after I read his book, and, if I do, I will blog further on this subject, but at first blush I would say that Hedges is off base and employing inappropriate language. It makes sense to speak of fundamentalist Christians to differentiate them from moderate or nuanced Christians. Fundamentalists believe the Bible to be the literal word of God.

But there can be no fundamentalist atheist. An atheist, in its modern usage, simply means a person who does not believe in the existence of a supremely governing deity (irrespective of religious dogmas of one stripe or another). What would a moderate atheist be? Consider an agnostic – a person who cannot decide one way or the other whether they believe in the existence of gods, a perfectly defensible and moderate view. Atheists have made that decision, so agnostics can’t be atheists.

But it is a far cry from simply being an atheist (I don’t believe) to considering religion to be a source of evil. And it is also far cry from maintaining that the mythical Devil caused some calamity (the external form of evil) to pointing to the evils of the Spanish Inquisition which were real and carried out with church blessing. In what respect would people doing harm in the name of their religious doctrines and under divinely sanctioned authority not be reasonable evidence of the inherent danger and risk of evil-doing that religions pose for humanity? The same could be said for the practice of slavery which really only got its moral force from the Catholic and Protestant church leaders.

President George Bush believes he is divinely guided in waging his war in Iraq. Is he evil? I don’t think so, but I do believe he is misguided. And it is his faith-based reasoning that is causing harm, not an inherent human quality of a black heart.

Were there good-hearted Nazis, or were there just good-hearted Germans who became evil because they subscribed to an evil ideology? It seems to me the human heart can inform ideology in equal measure to ideology informing the human heart. I don't think you can say that evil strictly resides in the human heart -- especially when it is the head giving way to emotion, fired by ideological propaganda. Indeed, religions can be evil.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The battle for free speech continues

There is an important case unfolding in Ottawa this week: Lemire vs Warman. There is an excellent synopsis of the issue and the background in this National Post article. Who would ever have thought that the "white supremists" would be the good guys in such a contest?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A most generous American President

Many people claim that George W. Bush is an international know-nothing. History demonstrates that he is not any different in that respect than Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton who both tried to broker peace between Palestinian organizations and Israel. One thing about the United States, if a problem can be fixed by throwing money at it, you can bet Americans will have the answer. If it can't be fixed by throwing money at it, well, they still have the answer. See the American Center for Democracy's review of the latest Bushism below.

NATIV ■ Volume Twenty-One ■ No. 2 (121) ■ March 2008 ■ Adar II 5768 ■ Ariel Center for Policy Research

US Rewarding Arab Terrorism

Rachel Ehrenfeld and Alyssa A. Lappen

The Bush Administration’s search for partners to promote “peace” and “democracy” within the Palestinian Authority (PA) resembles Lord Charles Bowen’s “blind man in a dark room looking for a black hat – which isn’t there”.

For the first time, the Bush Administration plans to give $150 million in cash directly to the Palestinian Authority (PA) Treasury, as part of a $496.5 million “aid” package, including $410 million for development programs. This added to the $86.5 million for CIA “security training”, which Congress authorized in April 2007.

The CIA has apparently assumed the Palestinian terrorist-training role previously held by the former Soviet Union. Since 1994, the CIA armed and trained thousands of Palestinian “security forces”, who subsequently joined every Palestinian terrorist organization.

CIA Palestinian training success is best described by a member of the PA’s Chairman own security unit – Force 17, officer Abu Yusef: “The operations of the Palestinian resistance would [not] have been so successful and “would not have killed more than 1,000 Israelis since 2000, and defeated the Israelis in Gaza without [American military] trainings,” he boasted in August 2007.

Since the Oslo Accords, the PA received some $14 billion to $20 billion in international aid, according to a 2007 Funding for Peace Coalition (FPC) report to the British Parliament. Each Palestinian received $4,000 to $8,000 per year. In comparison, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), provided $1 billion in humanitarian aid for 2.5 million Darfur refugees from 2003 to 2006 – only $100 per person annually. Moreover, of the $7 billion pledged international aid, only $5 billion were spent to assist more than 5 million Tsunami victims in more than 15 countries on two continents.

The PA received “the highest per capita aid transfer in the history of foreign aid anywhere”, according to former World Bank country director for Gaza and the West Bank, Nigel Roberts. Not surprisingly, hundreds of thousands of Gazans spent more than $300 million in less than two week shopping spree, after Hamas blew up the border with Egypt. Yet, the Palestinian economy is in ruins, Why?

In March 2007, PA Prime Minister and former World Bank official Salam Fayyad, told London’s Daily Telegraph: “No one can give donors that assurance” that funds reach their designated destinations. “Where is all of the transparency in all of this? It’s gone.” Controlling Palestinian finances, Fayyad concluded, is “virtually impossible”.

Palestinian violence has escalated since the 1994 PA establishment and PA officials have produced an unbroken record of unfulfilled promises and outright deception. Yet President George W. Bush in his January 28 State of the Union Address, reassured the Palestinians that “America will do, and I will do, everything we can to help them achieve...a Palestinian state by the end of this year.”

Nevertheless, US-favored PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who in 1957 with Yasser Arafat co-founded the al Fatah terrorist group, assumed the role of his predecessor. Like Muslim Brotherhood, Marxist–trained Jihadist Arafat, neither does Abbas “recognize that confronting terror is essential to achieving a state where his people can live in dignity and at peace with Israel,” as President Bush declared.

Abbas remains committed to the organization’s raison d’etre – destroying Israel and expelling the Jewish people from the region. Despite public Fatah-Hamas leadership disagreements, branding one another “murderers and thieves”, Abbas arranged on Jan. 30 to give Hamas $3.1 billion of $7.7 billion that international donor community pledged last December in Paris.

Abbas’ support for Hamas is not new. In Feb. 2007, He announced, “We must unite the Hamas and Fatah blood in the struggle against Israel as we did at the beginning of the intifada.” He stated this en route to Mecca to meet with the Saudi King, and Hamas terror chiefs Khaled Mashaal and Ismail Haniyeh. The Saudis pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in “humanitarian aid” – which, like previous pledges, they failed to deliver.

Rather than $660 million in annual aid the Saudis promised in 2002, the kingdom donated only $84 million since then, according to World Bank reports. Other Arab League members, who in 2002 promised $55 million monthly to foster PA economic development, gave even less.

Meanwhile, however, the Saudis and the Gulf states funneled hundreds of millions of petrodollars – some raised in government-sponsored telethons – to reward Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Hamas and Palestinian Jihad suicide bombers and fuel the anti-Israel Jihad. Indeed, “Saudi Arabia remains a source of recruits and finances for...Levant-based militants,” said National Intelligence Director J. Michael McConnell, before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, on February 5, 2008.

McConnell should have included USAID on his terror-funding list. A Dec. 2007 USAID audit reported that the mission administering its funds gave money to groups and institutions affiliated with US designated terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It warned: “Without additional controls, the mission could inadvertently provide support to entities or individuals associated with terrorism.”

USAID “failure” to prevent funds from reaching Palestinian terrorist is not surprising given US previous Administrations support for Arafat, and now for Abbas, who repeatedly claims: “We have a legitimate right to direct our guns against Israeli occupation,” while reiterating his desire for “a political partnership with Hamas”.

It is time for President Bush to remove his blinders and stop donating US-taxpayer funds to this murderous partnership. It is also time for Congress to demand a proper monitoring program to oversee the legitimate use of US aid to the Palestinians.

Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, Director American Center for Democracy, and author of several books, the latest: Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed - and How to Stop It.
Alyssa A. Lappen is a US-based investigative journalist focusing on the Middle East and related issues. Her work has appeared frequently in,, the Center for Security Policy and other internet and print journals.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Morally Relative Capitalists

For my three or four readers, my sincerest apologies for not blogging for these many months. I will make more effort to keep it up and make it interesting. To wit:

There are a number of Canadians who are anti-capitalist, western civilization loathing types. Their dislike of capitalism shows up in many contexts.

One that has always amused me is the dismissal by these folks of the opinion of scientists who dissent from the global warming hysteria of environmentalists like Al Gore and David Suzuki. The argument usually runs like this: Gore should be believed because he is trying to "save the planet", whereas these skeptics work for public policy organizations that accept money from rapacious capitalistic companies like Exxon and their opinions should be dismissed without consideration on their merits for that reason alone.

When you look at the financial reports of some of these public policy organizations you find that Exxon's contributions are very small potatoes in the overall budget of the organizations. In fact, Greepeace has a website devoted to exposing Exxon's "secret" donations, totally some $3.5 million annually distributed amongst 49 "front" organizations. It is difficult to understand how an internationally publicly traded company can have such secrets, but thank heavens Greepeace was there to "out" them.

One of these terrible public policy institutes that was fingered by Greenpeace, for example, the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco, according to its 2004 Annual Report (see page 41 of the document) had a budget of approximately $4.1 million and received $45,000 from Exxon in 2003. This amounted to 1% of its overall budget and only 9% of all corporate donations received by the PRI that year. In other years the PRI was getting sums from Exxon of $15k to $95k. Is it credible to assume that these paltry sums are enough to discredit the objectivity of such an organization?

It is clear that Exxon, by only spending a miserly $3.5 million a year is losing the war of warming discreditation. One wonders why, if discrediting global warming science is an important objective of this oil company, as alleged by Greenpeace, it would not have spent more money doing so. After all, in 2007, Exxon's profits were $39.5 billion dollars. It's expenditure on the "secret" fight against global warming amounts to just 9/1000th of 1% of its profits. Could it be that Greepeace is mistaken? Could it be that Exxon doesn't really care one way or another about the global warming controversy?

I never really understood the Exxon versus global warming argument anyway, since any extra costs imposed on Exxon and other fossil fuel companies to combat so-called global warming will simply get passed on to consumers. So why would they care that much about discrediting global warming science?

On the other hand, there are people who care very deeply about whipping up the public fright on climate change. Al Gore is making millions selling something called "carbon credits". I have often referred to him as a snakeoil salesman for this very reason. Now it appears, from this story in the International Herald Tribune, that other billionaires are following Gore's pioneering and are plotting to cash in on the climate hysteria.

I guess as long as capitalists are profiting from "saving the planet" they are morally superior to capitalists who are profiting from warming our homes in the winter and cooling them in the summer and providing fuel for our transportation to our jobs and vacation destinations.