Archive for the Religion Category

What Skeptics and Conservatives Can Learn from Each Other

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published May 11 by Grand Junction Free Press.

What do skeptics from Denver and conservatives from the Heritage Foundation have in common? More than you might initially guess.

We suppose Ari is one of the few people to have attended both a Heritage event and a Skepticamp (a day filled with talks critical of mysticism and the paranormal). He may be the only one to have done so on back-to-back weekends.

During the last weekend of April, Heritage sponsored a two-day event in Colorado Springs for free-market activists. On May 5, Denver-area skeptics organized a Skepticamp in Parker. Ari attended both events, and the juxtaposition of ideas merits some discussion.

Of course the huge disagreement between the conservatives and the skeptics concerns the reasonableness of believing in a supernatural entity. Most of those who attended the Heritage event believe in the Christian God. Probably everyone at Skepticamp, on the other hand, believes that no god exists, and that neither the evidence nor any rational argument supports a belief in God’s existence.

That is a huge debate, and one’s beliefs on the matter impact one’s entire worldview. By the time people reach adulthood, they usually settle their beliefs on the matter; we doubt that anyone who attended either event will seriously consider changing positions.

While we cannot understate the importance of the debate over God’s existence, nevertheless beyond that issue many conservatives share much in common with many skeptics. And we think the similarities are just as interesting.

We hope the skeptics would have been impressed by much of what Heritage historian Matthew Spalding had to say. Spalding sees America’s founding as rooted in the Enlightenment, a movement that recognized the power of human reason to advance science and governments. Spalding described the core principles of America—equality under the law, a recognition of the facts of human nature, and government rooted in the consent of the governed—and argued that everyone, whether pagan or Christian, can discover these truths through reason.

True, skeptics would disagree with Spalding’s view that “reason and revelation agree” about such things. Nevertheless, Spalding resisted the views of some that American principles flow only from the Christian tradition. Spalding pointed out that the Constitution is not a sectarian document, and that Jefferson and other Founders drew on the ideas of Aristotle, Cicero, and other pre-Christian thinkers.

Spalding also spoke about the profound importance of religious liberty and freedom of conscience, ideals many skeptics also support. For example, Spalding praised George Washington’s “Letter to the Jews of Newport,” written early in the great man’s term as president.

Washington wrote, “The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.”

We are proud to call ourselves liberals in this Washingtonian tradition. And both conservatives and skeptics who follow Washington in supporting freedom of conscience are to that degree liberals in the truest sense.

Many skeptics could learn a thing or two from Spalding about the profound importance of economic liberty. While skeptics claim to be critical thinkers, some unthinkingly embrace leftist political goals emanating from the disturbed mind of Karl Marx and the so-called “Progressive” movement that he inspired. To take but one example, some skeptics seemed to support censorship of political speech by individuals interacting voluntarily in groups (“corporations”).

Spalding spoke eloquently of the Founders’ respect for property rights, economic liberty, and the rule of law that protects equality under the law, not “equality” of resources that others produce. As Spalding argued, such liberties flow from natural facts about people and the use of reason to recognize those facts and their proper political implementation.

Unfortunately, sometimes skeptics and American Christians make a comparable error. Some skeptics see the cause of economic liberty as bound up with the religious right and reject both. Some Christians think that the problem with Communism was its atheism, rather than its reliance on a secularized version of religion that treats the collective as a mystical superentity. Capitalism—the system of individual rights (including economic liberty)—finds its defense in reason based on the evidence of the natural world.

But many skeptics do indeed endorse economic liberty. Last year Barry Fagin, a free-market writer for the Independence Institute, spoke at Skepticamp. This year, Robert Zubrin spoke about his new book, “Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism.” Strikingly, while some of the conservatives made disparaging remarks about Charles Darwin, the greatest biologist of human history, Zubrin explained how leftists misapplied Darwin’s ideas to promote programs involving eugenics and population control.

If every conservative would attend a Skepticamp, and every skeptic would attend a lecture by the likes of Spalding, the world would be a much more interesting place—and we think a much better one.

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari blogs at AriArmstrong.com in the Denver area.

Note: Heritage paid most of Ari’s expenses for the event in question (not that that made any difference to the contents of this article); see Ari Armtrong’s Disclosures Unjustly Compelled by the FTC.

Image of Matthew Spalding from the Heritage Institute

The Book of Tebow

Quite obviously — and we know it’s true because it was published by Fox News – Tim Tebow’s 316 passing yards in yesterday’s spectacular victory against the Steelers “Invokes Key Bible Verse,” that being John 3:16. (See also my comments about this elsewhere.)

But what sports writers have not yet figured out is that God was sending us a message through all of Tebow’s games, not just yesterday’s game. If we look carefully enough at the numbers, we can divine God’s complete message for us. Just take a look at Tebow’s stats for the entire season.

What is not commonly understood is that the reference to John comes from the number of passes completed. That number is 10. What is the tenth letter of the alphabet? It’s “J,” as in “John.” Coincidence? I think not.

Clearly God was using Tim Tebow, in the course of a glorious football game, to communicate with mankind. (Clever technique, that, as opposed to, say, a burning bush.)

So let’s look at God’s complete message, using the stats from Tebow’s entire season.

Game 5: Tebow completed 4 passes for 79 yards. Obviously, then, that refers to Daniel 7:9:

“As I looked, thrones were placed and one that was ancient of days took his seat; his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, its wheels were burning fire.”

Prepare to have your mind blown. That week the Chargers beat the Broncos. Their “throne” a “fiery flame?” Well, it’s the Chargers, and just look at the logo of their helmets! It’s a flame! And the white hair? Check out the mane of Chargers general manager A. J. Smith.

Game 7: 13 completions for 161 yards. Obviously the 13 can’t refer to “Malachi,” because that book doesn’t contain enough chapters or versus. So the next logical book is Matthew, 16:1:

“And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show a sign from heaven.”

Was Tebow tested? Did he show a sign? Well, the outcome speaks for itself: “Tebow answers critics, rallies Denver to win vs. Miami.”

Game 8: Tebow completed 18 passes for 172 yards. That can’t be “Ruth” or “Romans,” because they aren’t not long enough. That takes us to Revelation 17:2. That starts off mid-sentence, so I’ll include the first verse as well:

“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harolot who is seated upon many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the dwellers on earth have become drunk.”

Let me just point out that the Lions crushed the Broncos that game 45-10. How many “bowls?” 7. How many sacks? Again, 7. I’m not sure what the “fornication” bit means — perhaps it’s metaphorical — but the Broncos sure played like they were drunk.

I could continue, but this is the sort of thing the reader can ably do for himself. I think the point is made well enough by now.

Image: NYC Wanderer (Kevin Eng) Hosted by Picasa

January 12 Update: Westword has outdone me. After reviewing the findings of this post, Michael Roberts predicts that, in his next game, Tebow will complete twelve passes for 263 yards, invoking Leviticus 26:3:

If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them…. you shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely. I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none will make you afraid; I will rid the land of evil beasts, and the sword will not go through your land. You will chase your enemies, and they shall fall by the sword before you. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight; your enemies shall fall by the sword before you.

Let us pray it comes to pass.

Tebowmania Article Published in Denver Post

The Denver Post published a recent op-ed of mine, “Tebowmania isn’t just for Christians.”

In this article I try to make sense of the overt religion of Bronco’s football star quarterback, Tim Tebow. On the surface, there’s much about this that seems odd. What if, I ask, “a star football player were as vocal about his Muslim, Hindu, or Scientologist beliefs?” And does God really care about who wins football games?

But, listening to some of Tebow’s comments during a recent game, I got a better sense of what religion does for him. I conclude that “what Tebow is able to do remarkably well is keep a sense of perspective about the game and his play,” and he uses religion for that end.

Read the entire article!

Ayn Rand As Atheist: Skepticamp Talk

I delivered a twenty-minute talk August 27 at Skepticamp in Colorado Springs titled, “Ayn Rand As Atheist.” I open with the American Values Network attack on Ayn Rand for her atheism, then I describe what her atheism actually entails.

Somebody pointed out that I may not set up an early quote about duty well enough; it comes from Rand’s Red Pawn (in Early Ayn Rand) and it comes from a character whose views Rand criticizes as typically Communist.

September 12 Update: Following is a write-up based on the same material.

That the left attacks Ayn Rand for her capitalist politics comes as no surprise. Today’s left, though, attacks Rand not only for her political conclusions, but specifically for her atheism. Decades ago, usually only the religious right employed that line of attack (and did so with a vengeance). Today’s left, far from consistently defending secular values and the separation of church and state, increasingly joins the religious right in bringing religion into politics.

Rand, on the other hand, consistently defended the separation of church and state. While she eloquently defended freedom of religion and freedom of conscience more broadly, she rejected religion throughout her career and defended reason based on the evidence of the natural world and objective values based on the life and happiness of the individual.

The leftist organization American Values Network prominently attacks Rand’s atheism in a web page and related video, touting residual media ranging from Time to USA Today to Fox News. The organization argues:

GOP leaders and conservative pundits have brought upon themselves a crisis of values. Many who for years have been the loudest voices invoking the language of faith and moral values are now praising the atheist philosopher Ayn Rand whose teachings stand in direct contradiction to the Bible. Rand advocates a law of selfishness over love and commands her followers to think only of themselves, not others. She said her followers had to choose between Jesus and her teachings.

GOP leaders want to argue that they are defending Christian principles. …As conservative evangelical icon Chuck Colson recently stated, Christians can not support Rand’s philosophy and Christ’s teachings. The choice is simple: Ayn Rand or Jesus Christ. We must choose one and forsake the other.

In fact American Values Network grossly distorts Rand’s views — she advocated appropriate loving relationships and thoughtfulness of others — but the organization’s deeper error lies in attacking Rand’s atheism while explicitly advocating a religious basis for politics (specifically a Christian basis rooted in Biblical texts). Note the enormous difference between logically or factually questioning Rand’s conclusions in politics and ethics (controversies beyond the scope of this article), and rejecting Rand’s ideas because she does not ground them in religion. The latter sort of attack should concern everyone who values the separation of church and state.

As a silver lining, the American Values Network campaign raises awareness of Rand’s criticisms of religion and faith-based politics, provoking thoughtful observers to discover the nature of Rand’s actual views. Thankfully, Rand eloquently explained and defended her views on religion. Considered on their merits, rather than filtered and stripped out of context by partisan character assassins, Rand’s positions constitute an important alternative to religion and a powerful defense of the separation of church and state. Those positions richly deserve a deeper look.

To set the context for Rand’s atheism, consider that she was born in pre-Soviet Russia in 1905 into a Jewish family. Thus, she never grew up with strong Christian (or even religiously Jewish) beliefs. (See Objectively Speaking, edited by Marlene Podritske and Peter Schwartz, page 226.) Marxism dominated many intellectual circles in Russia, with its emphasis on collectivism and antagonism toward religion. Rand moved to the United States in 1926 where, understandably, her antipathy toward Communism dominated much of her early thinking. Not until many decades later, in the mid-1970s as Rand approached the end of her life, did the religious right make serious attempts to ground politics on religious beliefs.

Yet, as Rand developed her philosophy over time and emphasized different aspects of it as the culture around her changed, she constantly advocated the same worldview of using reason to achieve life-based values in the natural world. This was true of her first professional writing in 1932 until her final public appearances in the early 1980s. By any sensible measure, Rand must be counted among the greatest atheist intellectuals of the 20th Century.

Many of the basic elements of Rand’s atheism appear in the first writing she sold, a 1932 screen treatment called Red Pawn. As the name suggests, the treatment largely deals with the evils of Soviet dictatorship, yet it also criticizes religion.

Rand criticizes the notion of duty that contradicts or stands beyond reason. The Communist character Commandant Karayev describes the duty-based view: “When it’s duty, you don’t ask why and to whom. You don’t ask any questions. When you come up against a thing about which you can’t ask any questions — then you know you’re facing your duty.” (The Early Ayn Rand, edited by Leonard Peikoff, page 120.) Rand rejected any attempt to act outside of reason, whether from a religious or collectivist motivation.

Rand’s description of Karayev reveals much about her views of religion as well as Communism:

He stood at the door. At one side of him was a painting of a saint burning at the stake…renouncing the pleasures and tortures of the flesh for the glory of his heaven; at the other side — a poster of a huge machine with little ant-sized men, sweating at its gigantic levers, and the inscription: “Our duty is our sacrifice to the red collective of the Communistic State!” (The Early Ayn Rand page 136.)

For Rand, Communism does not fundamentally stand opposed to religion; instead, the Communists substituted the authority of the state (with its Commisars) for the authority of a religion (with its priests and sacred texts). While the religious authorities demand individual sacrifices for God or his works, the collectivist authorities demand sacrifices for the state or some collective end. As Leonard Peikoff summarizes in his introduction to the work, “Ayn Rand saw clearly that Communism, contrary to its propaganda, is not the alternative to religion, but only a secularized version of it, with the state assuming the prerogatives once reserved to the supernatural” (The Early Ayn Rand page 108).

For Rand, then, atheism is not enough. Atheism merely states a negative, an absence or rejection of theism and its supernatural realm. People can reject God and yet advocate irrational and even evil ideas. What matters is one’s positive philosophy, and Rand’s philosophy of reason grounded in natural evidence and earthly values consequently precludes theism. While American Christians reacted strongly against the atheism of Communism, particularly during the Cold War, Rand saw the similarities between the two camps as more substantial than the differences.

Rand’s 1936 novel We the Living, again set in Soviet Russia, addresses (at its periphery) the ethics and psychology of religion. Consider a telling exchange between two of the characters, Kira and Andrei:

“Do you believe in God, Andrei?”

“No.”

“Neither do I. But that’s a favorite question of mine. An upside-down question, you know.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if I asked people whether they believed in life, they’d never understand what I meant. It’s a bad question. It can mean so much that it really means nothing. So I ask them if they believe in God. And if they say they do — then, I know they don’t believe in life.”

“Why?”

“Because, you see, God — whatever anyone chooses to call God — is one’s highest conception of the highest possible. And whoever places his highest conception above his own possibility thinks very little of himself and his life. It’s a rare gift, you know, to feel reverence for your own life and to want the best, the greatest, the highest possible, here, now, for your very own. To imagine a heaven and then not to dream of it, but to demand it.” (We the Living, by Ayn Rand, page 97-98 in the 1959 Random House edition.)

Here Rand suggests that religion tends to stand in the way of worldly values by encouraging people to place their hopes of achieving values in some afterlife. One chooses this life and the values of this life, or one neglects or denigrates this life in favor of an imagined world beyond death. (That many people in fact act on contradictory ideas and commitments would not surprise Rand.) Rand presents a highly idealistic vision of values in the sense that they are achievable in this life.

Religion drops even further to the background in Rand’s 1940 novel The Fountainhead, but that book too makes some criticisms of religion. Consider an exchange between the main character Howard Roark and his early mentor:

“Why did you decide to be an architect?”

“I didn’t know it then. But it’s because I’ve never believed in God.”

“Come on, talk sense.”

“Because I love this earth. That’s all I love. I don’t like the shape of things on this earth. I want to change them.” (The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, page 39 in the 1994 Plume edition.)

The dialogue again emphasizes Rand’s focus on this-worldly values, as opposed to the supernatural realm.

In his famous courtroom speech, Roark adds:

That man [the creator] the unsubmissive and first, stands in the opening chapter of every legend mankind has recorded about its beginning. Prometheus was chained to a rock and torn by vultures — because he had stolen the fire of the gods. Adam was condemned to suffer — because he had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge. (The Fountainheadpage 710.)

Here Rand presents religion as backwards mysticism that stands in the way of this-wordly values.

Rand’s criticisms of religion become more pronounced and developed withAtlas Shrugged in 1957.

John Galt makes a number of pointed criticisms of religion (and collectivism) in his detailed radio address, including the following:

The good, say the mystics of spirit, is God, a being whose only definition is that he is beyond man’s power to conceive — a definition that invalidates man’s consciousness and nullifies his concepts of existence. The good, say the mystics of muscle, is Society — a thing which they define as an organism that possesses no physical form, a superbeing embodied in no one in particular and everyone in general except yourself. (Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, page 1027 in the 1992 Dutton edition.)

The mystics of both schools… are germs that attack you through a single sore: your fear of relying on your mind. They tell you that they possess a means of knowledge higher than the mind, a mode of consciousness superior to reason… (Atlas Shrugged page 1034.)

Here Rand emphasizes the irrationality of supernatural religious presumptions or their collectivist counterparts. Whereas, in Red Pawn, Rand revealed the psychology of turning to religion in rejection of worldly values, in Atlas Shrugged she sees as a source of mysticism the fear of relying on one’s reasoning mind as the sole means of knowledge.

Following the publication of Atlas Shrugged, Rand turned more to nonfiction writing and speaking, when she continued to attack the mysticism and self-sacrifice of religion and its subversion of reason in politics.

In 1960, Rand delivered an address at Yale titled, “Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World.” In this talk, she again explicitly defends reason against the mysticism of religion: “Reason is the faculty which perceives, identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.Mysticism is the claim to a non-sensory means of knowledge.” (Philosophy: Who Needs It, by Ayn Rand, page 63 in the 1984 Signet edition.) Moreover, Rand argues that rejecting reason in favor of religious faith in politics leads inexorably to conflict, violence, and rule by brute force:

[F]aith and force are corellaries, and… mysticism will always lead to the rule of brutality. The cause of it is contained in the very nature of mysticism. Reason is the onlyobjective means of communication and of understanding among men… But when men claim to possess supernatural means of knowledge, no persuasion, communication or understanding [is possible]. (Philosophy: Who Needs It page 70. Note that a typographical error appears in some printings of this book, corrected here with the bracketed text.)

In another talk later in 1960, Rand blasted conservatives for attempting to ground their politics in religious faith: “Politically, such a claim contradicts the fundamental principles of the United States: in America, religion is a private matter which cannot and must not be brought into political issues” (Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, by Ayn Rand, page 197 of the 1967 Signet edition).

Rand’s warning about the inevitable strife of faith-based politics, and her resounding endorsement of the separation of church and state, should serve to jolt the rising Religious Left to its senses. Those who believe they can defeat Rand’s political positions using logic and reason are free to try it. But rejecting Rand’s ideas specifically because they are atheistic, and calling instead on a politics grounded on religious faith and sacred texts, invites long-term disaster in America, logically tending toward theocracy.

Over the course of her career, Rand fought for naturalism, a focus on this world, as opposed to supernaturalism. She advocated reason grounded in the evidence of the senses, not faith or mystical intuition. She advocated a morality based on the lives and well-being of real individuals, rather than some allegedly transcendent realm. She fought for a politics grounded in reason and individual rights. Rand presented these ideas in riveting novels that continue to sell hundreds of thousands of copies every year to readers hungry for Rand’s idealized, value-based, story-driven “Romantic realism.” Through essays, lectures, and public appearances throughout the rest of her life, Rand continued to advocate her positive philosophy as well as the rightful separation of church and state.

Despite Rand’s decades of intellectual achievements, today more than any other literary figure she becomes the target of nasty and fact-challenged smears by both the left and the right. The left hates her for her capitalism, while the right hates her for her atheism — though the left increasingly joins the right in this, as the American Values Network illustrates.

Those who reject Rand’s moral and political theories would do well to take a second look at what she actually advocated and why, as her views suffer continual distortions in the popular media. Yet even those who disagree with Rand’s specific conclusions should recognize her achievements and her status as a preeminent 20th Century atheist intellectual and, more fundamentally, a champion of reason and liberty.

***

“Anonymous” left the following comment on September 11, 2011: Ari, not sure if this was the session where you talked about the left incorporating in more overt ways the religious (principally Christian) creed of self-sacrifice or not. But it got me thinking about an interview between the American play-write Arthur Miller and Jonathan Miller. In it, Arthur Miller touches on this idea, but levels an even greater warning: the combination of Christianity, Judaism, and nationalism – literally lethal in his view. It is a great interview, and is part of a collection of interviews with several atheists entitled The Atheism Tapes (BBC). Cheers! B Danielson

How Not to Read Harry Potter

I’m in the middle of preparing my notes for a talk on the religious themes of Harry Potter. I came across some material that I thought about citing but that’s a bit too goofy to use in the talk. So consider this an outtake.

On her web page, Denise Roper quotes some material from her book, The Lord of the Hallows:

“How in the name of heaven did Harry survive?” asked Professor McGonagall at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (SS 12) This is the first of many examples of how the language of Christianity is used throughout the series. … In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Mr. Weasley asks, “Good lord, is it Harry Potter?” (CS 39) Draco refers to Harry as “Saint Potter, the Mudbloods’ friend.” (CS 223) Dumbledore even leads the Hogwarts students and faculty in “a few of his favorite carols” at Christmastime. (CS 212) In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the manager of Flourish and Blotts says “thank heavens” (PA 53)… and Remus Lupin says “My God.” (PA 363) … In these numerous references and in many others, there is evidence of a belief in the Christian God in the world of Harry Potter. (The Lord of the Hallows pages 69-70) [Various page numbers Roper cites include abbreviations for the relevant Potter book.]

My initial response to that is simply: “Oh my God.”

For good measure, Roper adds:

[T]here are jokes about a wizard being “saint-like” or “holy” (George on page 74 [of Deathly Hallows]). That George Weasley would call himself “holy” (“hole-y”) refers to his missing ear, which was cursed off during a battle with the Death Eaters. St. George was a Christian saint…”

Sorry, but that’s just silly.

To take but one example, Lupin says “My God” when he discovers that Scabbers the rat is actually Peter Pettigrew. Obviously he’s using the phrase as an expression of surprise, akin to “unbelievable.” We live in a culture with deep Christian roots, so it’s not surprising that people often use religious-sounding language in basically non-religious contexts. Tons of people say things like “God damn it,” “Jesus Christ,” “Christ Almighty,” “Lord help us,” and so on, when they don’t actually intend any religious meaning.

If religious humor is enough to indicate religiosity, then I have a few to tell you about the priest who walks into a bar.

Now, it’s true that the mere presence of words like “Christmas” in Rowling’s magical world indicates a shared religious tradition with the Muggles. That’s not surprising; the stories are set in England, and wizards do not formally segregate themselves from the non-magical Muggle world until 1689 (see page 13 of The Tales of Beedle the Bard.) But the incidental use of Christian language indicates nothing more profound than that.

Roper also makes some valid points about the religious themes in Harry Potter, but, to learn about such topics, you’d do much better to read my essay for eSkeptic“Religion in Harry Potter.” Or read my book.

***

Anonymous commented August 2, 2011 at 7:52 AM
Hi Ari,

When viewed through a strict Christian lens, Harry Potter is nothing more than black magic and witchcraft.

Ari commented August 2, 2011 at 8:02 AM
The comment by anonymous is false, for reasons I explain here:

http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/11-07-13/

Anonymous commented August 4, 2011 at 7:44 AM
Ari,

According to the Holy Bible, if it is not the Holy Spirit, it is Black Magic.

You pick where Harry gets his power.

Anonymous commented August 4, 2011 at 8:02 AM
Ari,
I followed the link you provided. I read it. You are a good writer however this is no substitute for your lack of Biblical understanding and lack of Biblical Faith. Using David Kopel, a man I know and respect, is no excuse. David’s comparison of Harry Potter and CS Lewis is a mistake by David. CS Lewis purposely used subject matter children could relate with, to spread the message of the Holy Bible. The chosen tactics of CS Lewis are questionable as he did have a past with the occult prior to conversion. To compare CS Lewis to Harry Potter implies J.K. Rowling was also using an understandable subject matter to transport the Christian doctrine. David Kopel and his comparison are irrelevant and misleading. Shame on David.
As an avid reader of the Holy bible, I can say this. God is incredibly possessive. If it does not originate with Him and glorify Him, it is from the dark one. In Gods Eyes, there is no in-between.

Ari commented August 4, 2011 at 9:21 AM
… and I think “anonymous” has successfully self-parodied!

antiplanner commented June 21, 2012 at 9:21 AM
So automobiles, computers, and refrigerators, none of which “originated with Him,” must all be from “the dark one.”

The Pope and Harry Potter

Did Joseph Ratzinger condemn the Harry Potter novels before he became Pope?

In my book Values of Harry Potter, I write on page 10: “Before he became Pope, Joseph Ratzinger warned Catholics to beware the books’ ‘subtle seductions,’ according to Catholic News Service.” My source is a January 15, 2008, story by Cindy Wooden titled, “Writers in Vatican newspaper debate lessons of Harry Potter novels.”

In my article published just yesterday by eSkeptic, “Religion in Harry Potter,” I use a different source to make the same point. I write, “Before he became Pope, Joseph Ratzinger said the books threaten to ‘corrupt the Christian faith’…” For this I use a January 16, 2008, article by Katherine Phan of Christianity Today, “Vatican slams Harry Potter as ‘wrong kind of hero.’”

However, in his 2008 book How Harry Cast His Spell – which I also cite in my eSkeptic piece — John Granger claims the story about Ratzinger is false (see pages 266-67). Is it true that “Pope Benedict XVI has condemned Harry Potter,” Granger asks? He writes that LifeSiteNews “started this absurd Skeeter effect that won’t go away.” (Rita Skeeter is the corrupt and deeply dishonest journalist in the Potter series.) To Granger, claims that Ratzinger “commented on [the Potter novels] critically” is “laughable.”

Granger writes, “[A]n article in the Catholic News Service the week the LifeSiteNews post was made… denied the Pope had taken a position on the matter.” Granger continues, “The Harry Potter books… have not been opposed, condemned, or criticized by any agency or person of authority in the Vatican… The Pope certainly hasn’t spoken on the subject. … The Pope doesn’t oppose Harry Potter.”

However, while Granger accuses LifeSiteNews of bogus Rita Skeeter-like journalism, in fact it is Granger who is distorting the record.

The LifeSiteNews article of July 13, 2005, “Pope Opposes Harry Potter Novels” (which was apparently updated at some point) includes a translated transcript of Ratzinger’s letter. (Granger suggests the letter may have been written by “a page in [Ratzinger's] office,” but regardless the note carries Ratzinger’s name.)

The web page makes available a scanned copy of the letter. It is written on the letterhead of “Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger” and dated March 7, 2003. While English translations may vary, the letter clearly talks about the possible “subtle seduction” (“subtile Verführengen”) of the novels. The letter also talks about corrupting the soul (“das Christentum in der Seele zersetzen”).

Is Granger correct that another article “denied the Pope had taken a position on the matter?” No.

It turns out that Cindy Wooden also wrote the July 14, 2005, article forCatholic News Service, “New attention given to 2003 Cardinal Ratzinger letter on Harry Potter.” Here is what Wooden writes:

In the cardinal’s letter, excerpted on [recipient Gabriele] Kuby’s Web site and published widely since late June, he praised the author’s attempt to ‘enlighten people about Harry Potter’ and the possible ‘subtle seductions’ that can distort children’s thinking before they mature in the Christian faith.

Contrary to Granger’s suggestion, the article does not deny that Ratzinger took a position on the Potter novels. Instead, Wooden writes:

Although the Vatican press office July 14 said it would have no comment on the letter since Pope Benedict XVI and his secretary were on vacation in the northern Italian Alps, a former Vatican official said Harry Potter books must be read as children’s literature, not theology.

Granger seems to be playing something of a game here. He says “the Pope” has not taken a position on the Potter novels, but that doesn’t change the fact that Ratzinger in fact took a critical position, before he became Pope. And that remains the interesting point.

Could It Be… SATAN?

Apparently Satan is making a comeback these days. First came an over-the-top silly article from First Things titled, “The Fountainhead of Satanism,” in which Joe Carters claims, “[Ayn] Rand’s doctrines are satanic.” The argument goes something like this: because a crazy person liked Ayn Rand, therefore Rand’s ideas reflect the beliefs of the crazy person. (Thankfully, no crazy or homicidal person has every claimed to find motivation in or affinity with Christianity.)

Then I was shopping in Costco and saw Ann Coulter’s new book, Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America. Perhaps, I thought, she’s using the term “demonic” metaphorically, to mean something like “Many leftists are so bad they almost seem demonic.” Apparently not. Flipping through the book, I found lines like this one: “The mob is satanic and Satan can only destroy.” This occurs in the final chapter, titled, “Lucifer: The Ultimate Mob Boss.” So, you see, the left is mob-like, and mobs are satanic, therefore, you can complete the little syllogism.

On Twitter, I mentioned that lines like the one quoted make it hard for me to take Coulter seriously. (Incidentally, I briefly met Coulter in 2006 when she spoke in Colorado.) Immediately somebody replied that mobs have put innocent heads on pikes, eaten human hearts, and strapped bombs to babies; does that not demonstrate Coulter’s thesis?

My reply is two-fold. First, demonstrating that mobs generally are bad is not the same thing as demonstrating they are satanic. Second, I would point out that, in many cases, mobs have been motivated to expunge what their members thought were satanic forces in their victims. Take, for example, the witch hunts and the Inquisition.

Consider this 2009 headline from the Associated Press: ”African Children Denounced As ‘Witches’ By Christian Pastors.” The father of one of the boys allegedly possessed by demons tried to pour acid down his throat, “burning away his face and eyes.” The boy died soon thereafter.

Invocations of alleged satanic activity among one’s enemies prove the perfect motivator for many mobs. And is that not precisely the intended effect of Coulter’s book?

I find it hard to believe that Coulter takes herself seriously when, in aninterview about her book, she excoriates leftists for “their tendency to demonize all those that disagree with them.” Because, you know, we wouldn’t want to demonize the opposition!

But sometimes you just have to laugh at such silliness, which is why this is such a great time to review Dana Carvey’s classic skit, “The Church Lady.”

What’s a Horcrux?

On the same day Atlas Shrugged came out in theaters, the seventh film of the Harry Potter series arrived on DVD. I’m very interested in both films; see my reviews of Atlas I and Hallows I.

Central to the plot of the Potter novels is the Horcrux, an object of great evil that manifests the major characteristics of the villains: viciousness toward others, an obsession with physical objects, and a pathological fear of death. I released a short video further explaining the Horcrux:

For a more detailed account, see my book, Values of Harry Potter.