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The Choice of Hercules

Jan 26th, 2009 | By Max Dunbar

Two attractive women approach you. Introducing themselves, one tells you that she is the personification of Duty, and invites you to follow her down the road of virtue, piety, sacrifice and hard slog. The second beauty represents Pleasure: she wants to guide you down a path of indolence, vice and hedonism. Which do you choose?

This was the famous ‘choice of Hercules’, put to him while he was a farm labourer in exile: appropriated by various religions and mythologies, it can be argued that millions of people who have never read the classics still think of life in these terms of virtue versus pleasure: the good life versus the Good Life. A C Grayling’s achievement is to expose this dichotomy … Read the rest

Against Mythicism: A Case for the Plausibility of a Historical Jesus

Jan 22nd, 2009 | By Edmund Standing

A position that appears to be growing in popularity in atheist and rationalist
circles is known as ‘mythicism’. According to this position we have no adequate
reason to believe that the gospels refer to a historical figure called Jesus at
all. This position of strong scepticism holds that the gospels are entirely
mythological texts and that we are mistaken in reading them as embellished
accounts of a man who lived and preached in the Middle East around 2000 years
ago. I disagree with this position for a number of reasons. In particular, I
contend that the apocalyptic material found on Jesus’ lips and the hopes for a
very real earthly historical transformation strongly suggest that there is an
underlying historical … Read the rest

Rocks, Hard Places and Jesus Fatigue

Jan 18th, 2009 | By R. Joseph Hoffmann

The following comments are not a direct response to Bruce Chilton’s very helpful article on the Jesus Project but in many ways anticipate and respond to some of his observations. I offer it as further commentary on the pros and cons of undertaking yet another “quest,” at a time when New Testament scholarship, in the eyes of some, is a mission without a guiding purpose. JH

Crouching somewhere between aesthetic sound byte and historical detail is Michelangelo’s famous statement about sculpture. “The job of the sculptor,” Vasari attributes to il Divino, “is to set free the forms that are within the stone.” It’s a lovely thought—poetic, in fact. If you accept the theory of Renaissance Platonism, as Michelangelo embodies … Read the rest

Taking Relativism Seriously

Jan 12th, 2009 | By Andrew Taggart

Why is there wavering in my voice when I say that something is ‘wrong, period’? It may be that in the back of my mind I hear someone retort, “But that’s just your opinion” or “Who are you to say?”, skeptical charges to which I have no immediate reply. Or it may be that I expect my interlocutor to go to great lengths to point out to me that somebody who can make that sort of proposition has to be smug, overconfident, and immodest, none of which, he will assuredly imply, are very becoming.

It is common today to hear people speak about wanting to get other people’s perspectives. By definition, perspectives are ways of seeing the world from different … Read the rest

Fighting Straw Men: Mary Midgley and Scientific Discourse

Dec 27th, 2008 | By Tauriq Moosa

Mary Midgley’s publisher Routledge calls her a fighter of “scientific pretension” – but what remains with the reader is her passion for science’s defamation.

Observe two of her statements: “Genes cannot be selfish or unselfish, any more than atoms can be jealous”[1] and “Reason’s just another faith”[2]. In many of her writings, she refers to scientists as “prophets”, science as an inclusive institution, or evolution as religion[3].

Many will know the typical antiscience mantras – cropping up like weeds in what should be a growth of knowledge and not its stifling. Creationists or anti-Darwinists play the victim-card, stating the scientific community ostracizes anyone who “dares” speak out against the “doctrine” of Darwinism. Of course, if they simply went to any … Read the rest

Medical Mistletoe Myths

Dec 26th, 2008 | By Colin Brewer

The season of consumerist indoctrination, dietary excess and Panglossian sentimentality is approaching its peak, so here is a heart-warming little Christmas story. Actually, its roots – literal and metaphorical – go back well before the intrauterine innovations that traditionally attended the conception and birth of Christianity’s founder and it will warm principally and selectively the hearts of cheerful cynics and pessimists like myself (and, I assume, like many readers of B and W) in whom any habits of optimism have long been replaced by a null hypothesis as the default mode. One of the favourite hobbies of People Like Us is saying ‘I told you so’ and we derive additional schadenfreude from noting that even in the current financial crisis, … Read the rest

Scheisshaus Luck: Surviving the Unspeakable in Auschwitz and Dora

Dec 24th, 2008 | By Max Dunbar

If you’re seeking a Holocaust survivor’s memoir with a profound philosophical or poetic statement on the reasons six million Jews and many millions of other unlucky souls were slaughtered, and why a person like myself survived the Nazi camps, you’ve opened the wrong book. I’d be lying if I said I knew the reason, or if I even believed there is a reason, I’m still alive. As far as I’m concerned it was all shithouse luck, which is to say – inelegantly – that I kept landing on the right side of the randomness of life.

Pierre Berg, from his Foreword, Scheisshaus Luck: Surviving the Unspeakable in Auschwitz and Dora

Scheisshaus Luck is the memoir of Pierre Berg, a teenage … Read the rest

Women’s Right Activist Beheaded in Iraqi Kurdistan

Dec 21st, 2008 | By Azar Majedi

Nahla Hussain, a women’s rights activist and the leader of the women’s league of the Kurdish Communist Party and mother of two children, was beheaded at her house in Kirkuk, in north of Iraq. She was alone in the house at the time of her death. According to the police some unidentified men entered her house on Thursday night, but the circumstances that led to the attack are unknown.

However, violence against women who do not observe Islamic laws and dress code has become a common phenomenon in Iraq. Women’s rights activists, secularists and communists are under constant threats by different reactionary factions, including the Islamists.

In the context of Iraqi society, “the circumstances that led to her death” are … Read the rest

Call for End to Sharia Courts

Dec 16th, 2008 | By Maryam Namazie

A new report showing that Muslim women are discriminated against and
encounter gross bias when they subject themselves to Sharia adjudications
was welcomed today by The One Law for
All Campaign, which is supported by a variety of organisations and

The campaign’s spokesperson Maryam Namazie said: ‘This research reinforces
our own findings that Sharia Councils and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals are
discriminatory and unfair. However, the solution to the miscarriages of
justice is not the vetting of Imams coming to the UK as the report has
recommended but an end to the use and implementation of Sharia law and
religious-based tribunals.’ She added: ‘At present these Sharia-based bodies
are growing and appear to have some sort of official backing. But … Read the rest

Quest for the Historical Jesus Begins Anew

Dec 15th, 2008 | By Center for Inquiry

Amherst, New York (December 08, 2008)-Scholars gathered this past weekend, December 5-7, in Amherst, New York, for the inaugural meeting of The Jesus Project in a renewed quest for the historical Jesus. The project, sponsored by the secular think tank Center for Inquiry and its Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (CSER), is an effort by historians, biblical scholars, and theologians to determine what can be reliably recovered about the historical figure of Jesus, his life, his teachings, and his activities, utilizing the highest standards of scientific and scholarly objectivity.

An earlier inquiry, “The Jesus Seminar,” founded by Professor Robert Funk in 1985, concerned itself primarily with the sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels and related sources. Dr. … Read the rest

Jihadism and the ‘Dreamers of the Day’

Dec 11th, 2008 | By Edmund Standing

Since the 9/11 attacks, the world has become all too aware of the growth of a fanatical ideology grounded in an extreme interpretation of Islam and centred on totalitarian fantasies. In recent years, we have seen the emergence of a far more politicised brand of Islam often referred to as Islamism. This loosely connected movement seeks to bring about global Islamic rule by creating a series of Islamic States which are to be ruled according to strict adherence to Shari’ah law. At the same time, we have seen the emergence of an even more extreme ideology, which in this article I have termed ‘Jihadism’. While there are considerable similarities between Islamism and Jihadism, there are significant differences that mark Jihadism … Read the rest

Launch of Campaign against Sharia law in UK

Dec 4th, 2008 | By One Law for All

The One Law for All campaign against Sharia law in Britain is to be launched at the House of Lords on International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2008 from 4:00 to 5:00pm.

According to campaign organiser, Maryam Namazie, ‘Even in civil matters, Sharia law is discriminatory, unfair and unjust, particularly against women and children. Moreover, its voluntary nature is a sham; many women will be pressured into going to these courts and abiding by their decisions. These courts are a quick and cheap route to injustice and do nothing to promote minority rights and social cohesion. Public interest, particularly with regard to women and children, requires an end to Sharia and all other faith-based courts and tribunals.’

The campaign has … Read the rest

Science in Wonderland: A Case in Point

Nov 25th, 2008 | By Stewart Justman

In an ideal world people would perhaps live such healthy lives that medicine would wither away. In this spirit, utopias are portrayed as realms where the ills of the world at large are ruled out both in principle and in practice.

Among the first genuinely preventive medical measures was the control of traffic into and out of municipalities hit by the plague, a policy that may have contributed to the eventual disappearance of that scourge from Europe.[1] In some cases visitors from plague-infected regions were temporarily confined on an island. A utopia might be envisioned as such an island writ large, except that in this case the quarantine secures against infection from the surrounding world instead of the other way … Read the rest

The Dogma of Halal and Haram

Nov 13th, 2008 | By Jahanshah Rashidian

If you walk at random in any Muslim district in Europe, you will certainly find somewhere an Islamic butcher with the word ”halal” written on its shop-window. For meat products, the word “halal” is a badge of Islamic quality.

Muslims believe that since blood is not ritually a pure substance, slaughter is necessary to inhibit the thorough draining of all of the animal’s blood. Furthermore, the verse” Bismillah al Rahman Al Rahim”, in the name of Allah the Beneficent the Merciful, is necessary to render the meat halal or lawful to eat.

The word halal refers, here, to meat killed and prepared in line with Islamic dietary laws. Jewish and Islamic religions demand that slaughter be carried out with a … Read the rest

The New Atheists

Nov 12th, 2008 | By Max Dunbar

The cliché goes that atheism is a form of theism; Tina Beattie writes:

A professor of theology (Denys Turner) tells of how he makes a bet with his students that, if they can tell him why they do not believe in God, he will tell them which Christian denomination they were brought up in. He says he usually wins the bet.

I’d love to make that bet with Turner: being a liberal atheist born to liberal atheists, I suspect it’d be easy money for me. (Admittedly my great-grandfather was a Glaswegian missionary, and I’ve always regretted that he died before I was born.) But in this critique of the ‘New Atheists’ Beattie often treats unbelief the way that Turner apparently … Read the rest

The Gospel of Matthew: A Book for Today?

Nov 11th, 2008 | By Edmund Standing

Earlier this month, the BBC reported that Pope Benedict XVI had opened a Synod of more than 200 cardinals and bishops from around the world to examine the modern lack of interest in the Bible.[1] As in many of his recent pronouncements, the Pope took the opportunity to repeat the same tired old claim that because modern Western society is apparently turning away from Christianity and the Bible, we are seeing the growth of ‘destructive influences’. Once again, secularism is blamed for the ills of modern society, while the Pope proposes that a return to ‘Scripture’ will solve our problems.

I decided it was time to take the Pope’s advice and re-read some ‘Scripture’.[2] Having previously come away from reading … Read the rest

Education and Wishful Thinking

Nov 10th, 2008 | By Raymond S Mackintosh

The article by Charles Murray, discussed in a Note and Comment with a measure of disapprobation, raises awkward questions that need to be faced and which rarely are. The problem is that liberal-minded people, and I am one such, are not immune from falling into the trap of believing what we wish to be true rather than that which is true.

Let me first digress to tell a story. Almost twenty years ago, a senior colleague of mine became quite well-known for
writing highly regarded books on relativity and quantum mechanics (the `Uncle Albert’ series) that were targeted at
young teenagers. He gave our (physics) department a talk on the research that he did in preparation for writing
these books. … Read the rest

New Dimensions for American Democracy

Nov 6th, 2008 | By Paul Kurtz and Tom Flynn

At long last, a protracted and often fierce election campaign is over. America has selected its new president. We congratulate Barack Obama, and we pledge our support for his efforts!

President-elect Obama will face awesome problems left over from the Bush administration. But let us focus on the positive. Obama is the first person of mixed Anglo-African parentage to attain the presidency. Heroically, he represents a significant extension of the scope of American democracy. His election reminds us that the United States really is the universal society on this planet and reconfirms America’s identity as a truly (if not yet perfectly) multiracial, multi-ethnic, multicultural nation. Bravo!

The United States is the first major country founded under the ideals of the … Read the rest

The Republican Glossary

Nov 4th, 2008 | By R Joseph Hoffman


My friends

Energizing the base (1)

Energizing the base (2)


Straight talk

Palling around with terrorists

Health care


Ready to be president

Underestimating Sarah Palin

Joe Six-pack

Joe the plumber


Real American Hero


Energy policy



Change (real)

Reaching across the aisle

Economic policy

Race card

Real America


Bold new vision

Pit bull



Second Amendment Rights


Strong on foreign policy

Strong on security

Early voting


Inciting to riot
Wink and wave
Inadvertant Straight talk
scripted comment
Conversation with Mensa members
Draws breath

Listening to Sarah Palin
One of my friends
Joe Six-pack’s dumber brother
Unbranded range animal
Shot down over Nam
Anger issues
Drill baby drill

Read the rest

Choosing to Know

Oct 21st, 2008 | By Ronald Aronson

The fact that nearly half of all Americans reject evolution is depressing enough, but the opinions of college graduates may cause despair. One in three holders of bachelor’s and postgraduate degrees deny that “Darwin’s theory of evolution [is] proved by fossil evidence.” Even more dismal, only about one-third of U.S. college graduates and postgraduates admit to a “belief in evolution”—while about sixty percent accept Creationism or its Trojan Horse, Intelligent Design.[1] In over thirty countries, including every other advanced society, a higher percentage of the general population accepts evolution: in pious Ireland, for example, the number accepting evolution is sixty percent higher than in the U.S.! Americans are just as likely to choose to believe in ghosts and UFOs as … Read the rest