The Serpent’s Egg

The disappearance and subsequent murder of 3 Israeli teenagers on 12 June sparked a huge search operation in Palestinian towns and cities across the West Bank and resulted in the deaths of several people, including two Palestinian teenagers one only 15 years old.

During the search more than 300 Palestinians were arrested in an operation the Israelis ironically called ‘Brother’s Keepers’. Aren’t all followers of the Abrahamic religions brothers & sisters?
It’s a terrible thing that happened to the three Jewish teenagers, but it is also equally a terrible thing that happened to the Palestinian teenagers. It is an equally terrible thing that Jews and Arab Muslims are stuck in their bitter intransigence some 6 decades and more since the founding of the Jewish state.

Israel must also accept responsibility for the deaths of the three Jewish teenagers for they are just as guilty as the Palestinian men who carried out this terrible cowardly act. Both sides are caught up in a bitter cycle of violent hatred of one another despite PM Netanyahu’s attempt to take the high moral ground while speaking at the funeral of the murdered teenagers.
The West’s covering of the story has been biased in favor of the Jewish state and the continued plight of the Palestinians is by and large ignored by the Western media. Ordinary Palestinian men, women and children continued to be stereotyped as terrorists when in fact they suffer under an Israeli occupation in addition to being collectively punished because of the madness of fanatical organizations like Hamas.

Yet equally fanatical are the hard line Israelis who are determined to displace and remove all Palestinians from occupied Palestine and reclaim the land as a modern day Judea for all Jews.

A little over 600 miles away as Iraq fragments and falls apart another fanatical hard-line Islamist group has established a Caliphate across parts of Syria and Iraq, calling upon all Muslims to migrate there and establish their homeland. Is there no end to this madness? Sadly not-our fragile little blue planet lost in the universe, seems to slide nearer to the precipice of oblivion with each passing day.

The tit for tat killings and murders by both Palestinians and Israelis brings shame upon the goodness inherent in religions which have evolved since antiquity to help us to seek a better life- one characterized through meaning based on an ethical and moral vision to counter the hopelessness propagated through the distorted vision of a few mad mullahs, corrupt priests and rabid Rabbis who have usurped the goodness inherent in a religious world-view. The battle between Israel, Palestine and between the mad men of all religions is a quarrel
“That will bear no color for the things they are,
Fashion it thus: that what they are, augmented,
Would run to these and these extremities;
And therefore think them as a serpent’s egg,
Which, hatch’d, would as their kind grow mischievous,
And kill them in the shell” (adapted from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar Act 2, scene 1, 28–34 )

Saints or Sinners?

A couple of years ago I spent part of my summer walking the Camino de Santiago. As a New Zealander, it was my first trip to France and Spain, and while I had read some of their histories, and understood the influence of Roman Catholicism in both countries, nothing prepared me for the glorification of the history of religious wars and the Crusades, especially in Northern Spain. In most of the grand cathedrals along the Camino de Santiago in Spain, St James is celebrated and portrayed as a Moor slayer astride a white horse decapitating Muslims as he liberates Catholic Spain from Islamic rule and influence. I found it all quite repugnant, especially Catholicism’s glorification of killing people of another faith in the name of religion. It’s the antithesis of the Gospel message. Equally so is the 21st century aristocratic portrayal of Roman Catholicism under the new Pope, Francis. Initially renowned for adopting the name of one Catholicism’s great reformers, Francis of Assisi, the new Pope’s ‘simple life’ captured the imagination of millions of Catholic Christians, of whom I was one, who hoped for an authentic form of Christianity as preached through Jesus’ message in the gospels.
Recently, Pope Francis presided over an ancient and archaic ritual in which two former Popes, John Xlll and John Paul ll were canonised and declared saints. “We declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II to be saints and we enrol them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole church,” said Francis in the official proclamation. Leaving aside the arrogance of this claim, the ceremony itself was anything but simple, and showed the Roman Catholic Church in all its refined, aristocratic glory. The Princes of the Church, in their royal finery portrayed a whole other story of wealth and privilege at the expense of the two thirds of the world’s Catholics who are abjectly poor.

What kind of church did these two ‘Saints’ preside over? Here’s an apt summary from the late Christopher Hitchens:

How could anyone be declared a Saint while presiding over such an institution which was inflicting so much pain and suffering on its members-especially its children?

The Pope, Politics and the Seductive Power of the Free Market

In an opinion piece written for The Nation, a Thailand broadsheet newspaper, Bloomberg columnist Ramesh Ponnuru argued that Pope Francis misunderstands the power of the free market. He goes further and lambasts the Pope for commenting on politics, economics and other problematic social issues which are the negative side effects of free market capitalism, claiming that the Pope is misguided when it comes to offering a point of view on the social ills of the free market era and the general decline in democratic freedoms throughout the developed world. He goes so far as to say that the Pope’s thoughts and comments are “frustratingly vague, imprecise or poorly considered” (Ponnuru, December 21st 2013). Clearly he hasn’t read the full text of the Apostolic Exhortation: Evangelii Gaudium.
Ponnuru isn’t the only ‘free marketeer’ to criticize the Pope for his forthright comments on the growing inequalities in an age of unbridled wealth and riches throughout the world. In the November 2013 issue of the right wing Australian Magazine Quadrant, Mervyn Brendle argued that “there are moments when the new Pontiff can sound very much like a spokesman for the Occupy movement, but his philosophy and goals are likely to go beyond the mere propagation of slogans” (Brendle, 2013). Brendle goes on to further discredit the man by arguing that prior to being elected Pope, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a conflicted fascist/ leftist leaning Jesuit radical; and likened him to the leader of “a secret order characterized by obedience, intellectual rigor and ascetic discipline—the Jesuit virtues—but whose intellectual influences were a mish-mash of Lenin, the mystic Romanian philosopher Mircea Eliade and the sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary to China, Matteo Ricci” (Brendle, 2013).
For those who hold advanced capitalism as their overarching secular pseudo-theological view of the universe a Pope with a social conscience can be very disturbing and very threatening (China bans religion for this very fundamental reason-to avoid anyone expressing or using their social conscience to challenge or disagree with the mantra that ‘socialist greed is good’).
Yet it is the right time to have a leading world Statesman comment on the malignant cancer of greed which attacks the body politic of humanity today. Barrack Obama attempted this but has been held captive by his own country’s inert and ineffective political dialectic, and has made little progress since the massive economic depression triggered through the greed and dishonesty of the financial practices of banks, traders and investors in 2008. And other Western political leaders have long forgotten about the concept and usefulness of having a social conscience; they never utter more than a word or two about the plight of the poor, dispossessed and alienated in their countries and in other Nation States throughout the world.
The new Pope is right to condemn greed and excess. He is right to comment that the death of a homeless man is completely disregarded while a 2% downturn on the stock market makes headlines. He is right to argue in Evangelii Gaudium that “Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded (Bergoglio, 2013). He says that we have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading”; and that “we have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (Ex. 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.” He goes on to explain how “ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision… In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response, which is outside the categories of the marketplace.” (Bergoglio, 2013).
Pope Francis has reminded the world in Evangelii Gaudium that the old aristocratic version of Christianity inherited from the Byzantium era, and upheld in all of its corrupt splendour by his predecessors, lacks relevance in 21st century Christendom, and that living the Gospel virtues, as taught by Jesus will bring us into conflict with a rampant advanced capitalistic, free market with little regard for those with no ready cash on hand. The Pope challenges us all to think more deeply about our priorities and about what is right and wrong in the world and take a stand. I for one am glad of this timely reminder of how to live a more relevant and virtuous life.

Bergoglio, J. (. (2013). APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION EVANGELII GAUDIUM. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Brendle, M. (2013, November 6th). Pope Francis, Liberation and Integralism. Quadrant, pp. 12-18.
Ponnuru, R. (December 21st 2013). Pope Francis Misunderstands the Power of the Free Market. Bangkok: The Nation.

Why fight and argue over the Name of God? There are plenty to choose from!

The ‘Keepers of the Keys to the Eternal Kingdom”  have never agreed on who holds the right key to fit the door of eternity, and throughout  millennia  of religious and spiritual belief we’ve come to accept and acknowledge that this is the way it’s always going to be. Nonetheless, the capacity for religions to fight among themselves, and disagree and argue about their particular claim to the Deity in the face of immense human suffering leaves me bewildered. For example, in terms of invoking the Name of God for a cause, there’s nothing more chilling today than hearing fighters in Syria scream ‘Allah Akbar” as they send missiles, bullets, grenades and chemical weapons into local neighbourhood killing innocent men, women and children in the name of religious orthodoxy.
It is an unfolding tragedy for humanity that different people of different faith and spiritual beliefs are never going to agree on many things and will never give ground on their respective claims to having private access to the Deity’s direct line in ‘Heaven’. Notwithstanding Prince Charles’s proclamation that when he ascends the throne of the United Kingdom he will be the defender of all faiths, such sentiments are just not shared by other commonwealth nations. He ought to take heed of this now and note that levels of disagreement have reached the heights of the absurd, as a Malaysian court rules that non-Muslims cannot use the word Allah to refer to their Deity.
Surely the concept of a universal Deity is bigger than all of the world’s religions combined? Furthermore whatever forms the Deity takes at any given time in history we can be quite sure IT isn’t too concerned about an argument based on nationalistic – religiosity and  linguistic reductionism about who can or cannot use the word Allah.  History throws up a plethora of terms for the Deity. For example the English noun God is used across cultures and countries to name the Deity and as far as I know no-one throughout the recent millennial of the Abrahamic religions has claimed copyright to it-at least not up until now.
The absurdity of this law is in its attempt to make a legal ruling based upon a meta-physical belief in a supreme being, without the physical evidence to support such an assertion in the first place. It is illogical. However if we are to accept this reductio ad absurdum then there’s very little to worry about because the great Deity literally has hundreds of names available for the non Muslim citizens of Malaysia and the world to choose from.

Firstly there are the 101 names of God:



Worthy of Worship
Yaz meaning worthy of being attuned; Praiseworthy
Lord of all
Lord of All
Without Beginning

Without Beginning

Without End
Without End
Root of Creation
Root of Creation
Endless Bliss
The End of All
Primal Cause
Ancient Cause
Exalted One
More Noble
Purest of the Pure
Most Open (Innocent)
Detached from All
Separate from All
In touch with all
Connected with All
Unreachable by anyone
Attainer of All
Who Can Reach All
Most Righteous
Most straightforward; Truest of All
Upholder of all

Who Holds Everyone

Beyond reason
Without Cause (Does not need a reason for existence)
Sovereign Reason
Reason for Being
Bountiful One
Creator of Progress
Ever Prolific
Creator of Growth
Reaching equally to all
Who Reaches Everyone Equally
Protector of the world
Protector of Creation
Never Changing
Not Different
Without Shape
Most Steadfast among the Steadfast
Most Determined
Lord Invisible
Most Invisible


All in all
Most Complete
Worthy of our profound thanks
Worthy of Thanksgiving
All embracing Goodness
Completely Good Natured
Har-naik faraih
All embracing Holy light
Completely Good Noble Aura


Remover of affliction
Remover of Suffering
Beyond Affliction
Fulfiller of Holy Desires
Grantor of Wishes
Creator of Holy attributes
Creator of Noble Nature
Compassionate Judge
Generous with Justice
Merciful Giver
Grantor of Generosity
Bountiful Giver
Most Abundant Provider
Who Does Not Get Angry
Freest of the free
Independent; Without Worry
Deliverer from evil
Protector from Evil
Never Deceiving
Who Does Not Deceive
Never Deceived
Who Cannot Be Deceived
One without a second
Without Duality
Lord of desire
Lord of Wishes
Decreer of Sovereign Desire
Wish Is His Command
Aekh Tan
Soul Supreme
Without Body
Who Does Not Forget
Just Accountant
Keeper of Accounts
Knowing all things
Worthy of Knowing; All Knowing
Devoid of pain
Without Suffering
Most exalted one
Most High
Ever the same
Always the Same
Invisible Creator of the Universe
Creator of the Universe Invisibly
Creator of the Profoundly Spiritual
Creator of Much Invisible Creations
Hidden within the spirit
Hidden in Invisible Creation
Transmuter of Fire into Air
Who Changes Fire Into Air
Transmuter of Fire into dew
Who Changes Fire Into Water
Transmuter of Air into Fire
Who Changes Air Into Fire
Transmuter of Air into dew
Who Changes Air Into Water
Transmuter of Air into Earth
Who Changes Air Into Dust
Supreme Transmuter of Air into dust
Who Changes Air Into Wind
Supreme Transmuter of Fire into divine sparks
Who Changes Fire Into Jewels
Spreading Air everywhere
Who Creates Air In All Places
Creator of Lifegiving water
Creator of Much Water
Transmuter of Dust into Fire
Who Changes Dust Into Fire
Transmuter of Dust into Air
Who Changes Dust Into Air
Transmuter of Dust into water
Who Changes Dust Into Water
Master Craftsman
Creator of Creators
Rewarder of sincere desires
(Fulfiller of Wishes) *
Creator of all Humanity and its actions
(Creator of Mankind) *
Creator of all Human and Animal Life
(Creator of All Things) *
Creator of all the four elements
(Creator of 4 Elements) *
Creator of all the planets and all other worlds
(Creator of Stars) *
Never in doubt
Without Doubt
Eternally awake
Always Guarding & Progress Creator
Recorder of Man’s actions
Keeper of Limits
Lord of the Universe
Lord of Creation
Lord of Life and Wisdom
Wise Lord
Preserver of Creation
Most Capable of Preserving Originality of Creations
Renewer of Creation
Most Capable of Creating New Creations
Embracing All Creation
Who Can Reach All Creations
Giver of All Things
Who Can Provide Everything
Infinitely Patient
Lord of exisience
Lord of Existence
Forgiver of sins
Divine Creator
Creator of Justice
Rayed in glory
Full of Brightness
Haloed in Light
Full of Aura, Light
Lord of Justice
Giver of True Justice
Lord of Just Rewards
Lord of Good Works
Giver of Freedom for Progress
Awakener of Eternal Spring
Refresher of the Soul with Progress

(Wikipedia, 2013)

And, if that isn’t enough there are over 950 other names ascribed to the Deity too, so non-Muslims in Malaysia take your pick! But perhaps it is worthwhile to remember that it isn’t so much about the name, but more about those who claim adherence to any particular faith and how they practice it. To make a legal ruling on who can and cannot use Allah, God or Deity or any other name for that matter isn’t about religious faith or spirituality it’s about adhering to an inflexible ideology which just doesn’t understand that even the concept of a God is “beyond full comprehension by humans; has an endless number of virtues; takes on innumerable forms, but is formless; and can be called by an infinite number of names thus “Your Names are so many, and Your Forms are endless. No one can tell how many Glorious Virtues You have” Allah. (Wikipedia, 2013)


Wikipedia. (2013, August 19). Names of God. Retrieved from Wikipedia:


Exorcisms & The Problem of Evil in the Modern World

In a world ravaged by war, poverty, indifference, environmental degradation, human avarice and exploitation and general uncertainty we could be forgiven for thinking that our pale blue dot in a lonely universe is an evil place, the actual personification of the dark side. But it is too easy to lump all the negatives together and apply a universal term like evil to them-especially when the root causes of these issue are to be found in our own actions and behaviors and the simple truth that all of these major problems are caused by us. So the question of evil becomes more subtle and more complex.
The term is bandied about today without any real understanding. The meaning is still associated with the actions of demons such as Lucifer or Beelzebub found in the Judaic-Christian school of belief and understanding. These traditional and culturally bound concepts of evil have long been misrepresented, misunderstood and misinterpreted, especially in literature and film. But they seem to still have a place in our demon haunted world if a recent report by Lucy Wallis of the BBC’s news magazine is credible. (Wallis, 2013)
She reports on three teenage girls in the United States of America (where else!!) who perform ritual exorcisms on people who require them. Brynne Larson and Tess and Savannah Scherkenback are middle class, white conservative Christian girls who travel throughout the US and internationally performing ritual exorcisms on people who believe they are afflicted by demon possession. The girls, according to Wallis, see themselves as ‘freedom fighters’ waging a war on evil in the world. Sound familiar? It’s the kind of rhetoric which American leaders have been using for decades-the war on drugs, the war on terror and so on, so it’s no surprise that impressionable teenage girls would pick up on such carefully constructed propaganda and turn it into their very own cause célèbre. The girls are pictured with their perfectly coiffured highlighted hair, make-up and body hugging clothing, thrusting silver crosses into the lens of the camera. It could be a still scene from a fantasy-horror movie, but more frightening than that it captures a real life event. The girls take their exorcism crusade very, very seriously.
Among their strongly held beliefs are the idea that the United Kingdom is infested with necromancy, sorcery and bewitchment because of the vast popularity of the Harry Potter books. They are convinced that every single country has a specific kind of demon and those demons possess a person and cause suffering, unhappiness and all kinds of addictions. They claim when someone sins or does something wrong this allows a demon to enter into them. They understand themselves and believe themselves to be “enforcers’ who can take on demons. Their language is the language of street gangs and talk show television where they “look forward to kicking some demon butt”. (Wallis, 2013)
So how do upper middle class all American school girls become exorcists? Firstly, they were home schooled, which means they were denied access to a balanced, liberal arts educational program which encourages critical thinking, reasoned thought processes and the development of a rational view of the world. Secondly, the man who created and groomed the youngsters is the father of one and the pastor of the other two. He argues that ‘training’ the girls to perform exorcisms is a more noble and spiritual cause in a society rampant with lewdness, drunkenness and sexual promiscuity. Moreover in asking for money for these ritual performances he further asserts that it is unacceptable for people to expect spiritual services to be free of charge. His wife shares this irrational view of a demon haunted world and supports her husband and daughter in their work as “exorcists who are making a difference…” (Wallis, 2013) The mother of one of the girls abdicates total responsibility for grooming her daughter’s delusional thinking and behavior by arguing that “I didn’t really keep her from doing deliverances, but I didn’t discourage her.” (Wallis, 2013)
The parents of these girls are considered normal solid citizens, who love God and country-good living Christian folk. They are ordinary. Yet, in their ordinariness, with its thin veil of social respectability they have acted in an evil way. They have deceived their children into believing in a demon haunted world, and have coerced them into a delusional, irrational world view in which the girls believe they have some magical, divinely inspired power which allows them to cast out fictitious demons from the minds and bodies of the lonely, poor, neurotic, depressed, addicted and worried well in our societies. The parents of these girls are evil. In their incorruptible, inflated sense of self-righteousness they see everyone else who does not hold their world view as evil. And it is precisely because of their own self-conceited blindness to the harm they have caused their children in inflating and nurturing the girls’ delusions of grandeur as exorcists, that they are evil. They have psychologically abused and manipulated their children into believing that they are above reproach and must cleanse the world of others who do not fit their image and likeness, through using their carefully crafted silver crosses and Bibles.
But perhaps what is most disturbing in this story is that the girls and their parents are not displeasing to themselves, there’s no self-recrimination or regret only a blind faith in a discredited religious practice which has no place in modernity. It is lack of critical intelligence, humility, compassion and self understanding which denotes them all as malevolent in some way. Instead of exorcising the evil out of others, they ought to be healing the sickness in themselves. The artifice which goes into protecting the self image of moral purity and righteousness of these girls and their parents and those who condone their delusional practices are not so much designed to deceive others, as to deceive themselves, and that’s why they are evil.

Wallis, L. (2013). Teen Exorcists” The girls who expel demons on stage. London: BBC News Magazine.

Communism, Science & Religion in the 21st Century

 It seems our quest for human understanding on the nature of the universe and life in general is still determined through politics, science and religion. Three recent events are a testament to this claim. The Princes of the Roman Catholic Church attired in their customary red, elected a new Pope to lead the world’s 1.3 billion Roman Catholics. About the same time as this event captured media imagination, physicists working on the Haldron collider in Switzerland confirmed they may have found the Higgs Boson, affectionately referred to as the God Particle. Meanwhile, juxtaposed with the election of Pope Francis 1st was the installation of Xi Jinping and his court to lead the Chinese nation for the next decade. The rise of the new ruling elite, the Princes of the Chinese communist party, attired in their customary black suits and coiffured dyed black hair seemed sombre in comparison to the red and white dress of the priestly class in Rome.  Yet, notwithstanding its current socio-political constraints, China enjoys an esteemed cultural and philosophical tradition going back to antiquity. It includes among its most influential, intelligent and inspirational thinkers Confucius, Mencius, Lao Tzu, Huineng and Zhou Dunyi all who have influenced modern western political and philosophical discourse.

The Pope and his retinue have been around for around two millennia give or take a few years and for much of that time have been embroiled in scandals of one sort or another. From the early days of the Bishopric of Rome to the height of its rule during the Renaissance, and more recently with the resignation of Benedict the XVI, it has been beset by political infighting, nepotism and corruption (also found in the Chinese communist party). Seldom has it placed its own spiritual wellbeing, and that of its members above its on grasp for material wealth and political power. Yet, in amongst the clamour to control the spiritual, social and biological behaviour of populations, and in its often incoherent justifications for control of body and mind through its decrees, dogmas and papal bulls on sainthood, Marian theology, human life, contraception, homosexuality and general sexual behaviour, it too has produced some of humanity’s most influential, intelligent and inspirational thinkers.

For example, St Valentine a priest was martyred in Rome in AD 269. He promoted marriage among Christian couples and it was for this breach of Roman law that he was executed. Today his life and work have been appropriated by secularism as a celebration of romantic love. Francis of Assisi, had a vision in a dream and attempted to reform Catholicism in the Middle Ages, through living a more authentic Christian life in which materialism was seconded to compassion, love and understanding for all of nature and humanity. His pantheistic version of Christianity founded an order of celibate Monks called Franciscan friars and a large secular following still relevant today. The spirit and vision of St Francis has been an inspiration for causes as diverse as environmentalism and liberation theology. Mother Theresa of Calcutta also offered an alternative vision of Catholicism to the world through her work with the poor and destitute of India. She humbled Bishops and Popes through her authentic imitation of the way of Jesus Christ. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Philosopher, Palaeontologist, and Jesuit priest offered an intelligent theological basis for evolution and perhaps out of all the Catholic thinkers since the inception of the Church-aside from Galileo- has contributed the most  to the reconciliation of science and religious world views. The point is, situated amongst its scandals; brocaded clergy and their aristocratic lineage founded upon outdated rituals, there are genuine examples of how a religious world-view is inspirational and relevant in the modern world. It remains to be seen whether in adopting the name of Francis of Assisi the Pope is engaging in a cynical exercise of rebranding a corrupt, outdated and largely irrelevant Church or genuine attempt at reform and making the Catholic version of Christianity relevant in the turmoil and uncertainty associated with life in the 21st century.

The Chinese president rules over about the same number of people as the Pope, give or take a few hundred thousand. Both Rome and China have around a quarter of the world’s population at their behest. There are a number of similarities between Chinese Communist dogma and Roman Catholic doctrine insofar as they are founded upon ideologies which want to control people biologically, socially, morally and intellectually. Each has been responsible for the deaths of innocent men, women and children throughout their respective histories. Scholars suggests Roman Catholicism has been directly responsible for up to a quarter of a million deaths (this excludes deaths by civilian governments and Kingdoms in their own right) throughout its two thousand year old history. On the other hand in the short space of 90 years the Chinese communist party has been responsible for up to 60 million deaths of its own people through various purges and pogroms. China’s unique brand of communism flavoured with 21st century advanced capitalism, offers a materialist utopia if you can struggle out of poverty and make it to the top of the heap. Euphemistically called a meritocracy Chinese communism offers a utopian vision of a world devoid of spiritual values despite its strong spiritual and philosophical traditions, justice and compassion. Consolidation of Military power, tighter control over media and press freedoms, and no political reforms are indications that nothing will change in China in the near future.

Perhaps science offers a glimmer of hope for humanity having announced recently that through its work on the Hadron collider in Switzerland it has discovered the God particle-the Higgs Boson. What does this exactly mean? That akin to the character in the movie Bruce Almighty science is able to answer everyone’s prayers and create a better world where truth, peace and justice will prevail? Science has created a theory for everything? Not really. It may help science to piece together the components of the universe from its early emergence to the present day. As an aside it could be a way to find more evidence to support Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s arguments in his insightful work The Phenomenon of Man.

 In the meantime, the Catholic Church and Chinese Communists control around a quarter of a million of the world population. Science struggles to find cures for Malaria, HIV, and the increasingly drug resistant strains of viruses and bacteria which threaten the health of the planet’s population.

In the opening pages of his definitive work entitled Magic, Science and Religion, Malinowski makes the point that in every society since the emergence of humankind a distinguishable domain has been made between the sacred and the profane. He elaborates further, pointing out that however rudimentary these demarcations between the observable and unobservable world are; they help us establish control over a world which for the most part we don’t understand all that well.  And it is within this context that the election of a new pope, the elevation of a new Chinese president, and the discovery of the Higgs Boson are given meaning.

Why I think Christmas as a Religious Festival is still important in the West.

Among the multi anti-religious discourses of the last 20 years none has been as vocal as the atheist lobby with spokespersons as diverse as the late Christopher Hitchens, the somewhat discredited anti-theologian and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, along with many purveyors of advanced capitalism who through the propaganda of advertising seduce consumers with the creed that more of anything will make one feel better and that greed is good. The more you buy and spend at Christmas time-the happier and merrier you’ll be!

American atheists have spent an undisclosed sum of money erecting a bill board in Times Square which  reads “Keep the Merry!” next to a picture of Santa Claus, and “Dump the Myth!” next to a picture of the crucified Jesus Christ.  It’s an odd paradox the atheists have created for themselves because despite Hollywood’s attempt to find the real Santa Claus and create the fable of Kris Kringle and the original Santa Claus there’s no historical evidence that such a figure has ever existed in human history. Moreover, there’s little merriment in the atheist message which attacks, not only the faith and religious belief of over a billion people on the planet, but also the historical evidence which supports the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. The subtext of their billboard is one of fear and hate. Fear that their own disbelief may be found wanting-after all if one has faith in the certainty that God doesn’t exist why spend ten of thousands of dollars trying to convince others of that conviction -what’s the point? Hatred of difference too is the subtext in their billboard; “if we don’t believe in Jesus Christ, no-one else should”

Leaving aside two thousand years of disputed doctrinal and theological argument (yes I know it’s not an easy thing to do!) there’s sufficient historical evidence that Jesus was a holy man who lived and died, and that he proved unpopular with the establishment because he attempted to lead people to a greater awareness and understanding of themselves. Most historical scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed and that he was born between 7 and 2 BC and that he died around 30-35 AD. These scholars also agree that he was baptized by John and that the Governor of Galilee, Pontius Pilate assented to his death. The references to Jesus by the 1st century Roman Historians Josephus and Tacitus are considered authentic too.

Despite my scholarly research into Santa Claus I could not find any historical evidence that he ever existed except along with the tooth fairy, goblins, wizards, demons, vampires and elves and other imaginings of J.K.Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Hans Christian Anderson, along with various atheist groups and the like. It seems to me the atheists are conflicted both in their beliefs and historical understanding of human history.

It is the institutionalization of religion which has undermined its very purpose-to give meaning to an individual’s life through shared communal belief and understanding; and nearly all of the bloody religious internecine struggles throughout human history have been about enforcing one belief over another. Nothing has really changed today and that is why the Christmas message of hope is so urgent. The birth of Jesus as my favorite Christmas carol, ‘Oh Holy Night’ reminds me, enables the soul to find its way. By that I mean it reassures my intuitive nature that we are not alone, alienated or lost in a world devoid of meaning as some would have us believe.

Christmas reminds me of a man who gave us some very clear directions on how to be better human beings and how to care for and understand one another. “I am the Way, the truth and the life” Jesus said; the idea being that he modeled a way of life based on care, forgiveness, compassion, love, tolerance and understanding of difference. He challenged human corruption and complacency.  Through living each of the values he espoused we find our way, our truth and our life. Similarly, “seek first the kingdom of God and all things will be added to you”. The message is similar to the Buddha, nothing outside of ourselves will give us meaning, we must look inside ourselves, prioritize what’s important based on his message, and there we will find God. Jesus’ message was about human consciousness and states and levels of awareness we can grow into as human beings. We can create a better life for ourselves and others by listening to our hearts and minds and touching that intuitive part of ourselves which “lets our light shine before all humanity and so they may see our good works”. There’s nothing in the myths of atheism or the mass produced fantasies of popular fiction and Hollywood that offer a more compelling alternative. Have a blessed and happy Christmas.

Voices of Reason in an Age of Violence, Anti-Rationalism & Islamaphobia

BBC, CNN, Sky News, Fox News, MSNBC, Euro News and Al Jazeera all ran headline stories on the recent riots, violence and general mayhem seen across some of the Middle East, North Africa, West Asia and Australia after a former felon and obscure, unknown film maker produced a poorly made film insulting Islam and The Prophet Mohammed (Peace be Upon Him). It’s not difficult to assess genuine revulsion and authentic offence from the deliberate acts of cruelty and brutality perpetrated by opportunists who emerged out of the shadows of their own discontentment, to attack the West in general and the United States in particular, which in turn  led to the tragic deaths of the US Ambassador to Libya and several of his diplomatic colleagues. Yet, what I find disappointing and irritating from the news coverage in the West is the lack of balance and recognition given to the voices of reason, and the excessive over-reporting of irrationality, bloodshed, social carnage and savagery associated with the aftermath of this little known flick.

For example none of the major news broadcasters in the West paid any attention to the clear voice of reason in the personage of Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti,  Sheik Abdul-Aziz bin Abdullah Al Sheikh; the highest theological authority in the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia. He denounced the attacks, and the violence and brutality associated with them outright, and said that attacks on embassies, diplomatic missions and their personnel are un-Islamic. He said that while the film is “miserable and criminal” in its portrayal of Islam and the Prophet (PBUH) it “is forbidden to punish the innocent for the wicked crimes of the guilty, or to attack those who have been granted protection of their lives and property, or to expose public buildings to fire or destruction…these are distortions of the Islamic religion and are not accepted by God.”

Similarly was the lack of reports in the Western media of the reasonable words of  the Grand Mufti of Lebanon’s Sunni Muslim population Sheik Mohammad Rashid Qabbani. He reassured Pope Benedict XVl that “any attack on a Christian is an attack on all Muslims”. Sheik Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, told the Pontiff that the events rocking the world at the moment will “bring us Muslims and Christians a light which will shows us a path to a better tomorrow.” It is unfortunate that his words have since been undermined through the violent anti western  hollow rhetoric of Hezbollah; who are so often out of step and out of touch with their own authentic spiritual tradition.  Their call for more angry, violent protests teaches us that anger and hatred are not holy and have no place in any genuine 21st century spiritual or religious movement. It is interesting to note how yet again Hezbollah’s oratory of “loud gongs  and clashing cymbals”  made Western media news outlets; it seems that violence and the suppressed madness of sane men really does get better televsion ratings than messages of love, peace, hope, reason and peaceful co-existence.

Another voice of reason in amidst the chaos was that of Sheik Ahmed Al Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Cairo’s Al Azhar. He called for an international resolution banning hatred towards Muslim religious symbols. Such a call is timely in an age of irrational fear towards Islam and religion in particular, along with the rise of islamaphobia in the world. I am sure too, that such a call if adopted would be extended too all religions along with the right and freedom to sacred, devout expression regardless of religion and one’s religious history. Sheik Ahmed also called on his country’s men and women to show wisdom and restraint in the face of adversity.

I’d really like Fox News, CNN and the like to pick up on some genuine rational discourse from the Middle East, rather than showing the bleak stereotyped conflict ridden region we have all become de-desensitized to in the last six decades. Today the front page of the Khaleej Times, a Duabi based regional newspaper, had a photo of young Muslims greeting Pope Benedict in Lebanon, along with pictures of an interdenominational meeting with the Pontiff, including leaders of the Muslim and Coptic communities. I haven’t seen this coverage on either Fox News or Sky News.

The world is in need of moral and spiritual leadership and guidance. This comes through voices of reason and hearts filled with compassion rather than hatred. There’s no doubt that this is where our attention should focus, not on the errant ways of misguided individuals who hide behind the ideal of freedom of expression, to offend, insult and hurt others.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Cardinal Carlo Martini: Two Clear Voices of Moral Reasoning in an Age of Deceit and Denial.

The death on August 31st of the Roman Catholic Cardinal Carlo Martini may have passed unnoticed in the largely secular world of quick buy and sell materialism. But, it deserves significant attention because the late Cardinal was not only a champion of liberal causes within the Catholic Church; he was also honest and forthright in expressing his views of its corrupt, outdated and often arcane practices. Of the ongoing sexual abuse scandals he wrote that it “obliged the Church to undertake a journey of transformation” and of its arcane rituals devoid of genuine spirituality-the kind Jesus practiced and urged others to undertake- he remarked that “The Church is tired, our prayer rooms empty…our religious rites and the vestments we wear pompous”.  The kind of scandals and avarice within the Catholic Church today is reminiscent of its state in the 12th century when Francis of Assisi attempted to reform the corrupt, aristocratic practices of his day when he founded his Order in 1209. Some 800 years later even the Franciscans struggle with their own largesse, vast palatial properties (I stayed in their 5 Star Hotel in Santiago de Compostela recently), wealth beyond the ordinary person’s imaginings and its collection of vineyards world wide.

Cardinal Martini is that voice of reasoning and inspiration in the 21st century. His message is clear-the Church needs repair: morally, theologically, politically and economically. Firstly, it needs to review its doctrine of compulsory morality and admit that its dichotomy of soul-redemption versus sinful-flesh hasn’t worked and has done more to pervert the natural drive of human sexuality throughout history than many other (though not all) secular or religious ideologies. It needs to allow its clergy to marry, embrace divorced people as Jesus would have done, rethink its concept of family, permit the use of contraception and accept that homosexuality is a natural attraction for those of same sex orientation. Secondly, it should review its theological position on original sin, purgatory and the nature of Hell-to instill such fear and paranoia in the minds of children from preschool age is tantamount to emotional and psychological abuse. There are more humane ways to instill a sense of the good, and care and compassion in the young. Thirdly, it should deregulate its internal political hierarchy and eschew the aristocratic nature of its titles, like Bishop, Pope, Cardinal (Princes of the Church indeed), Father, Reverend and so on, and revert to simples names as the Apostles had: John, Paul, Peter and so on. It should lead by example in more humble and gentle self-effacement practices in how to address each other. Finally, it should sell all of its gilded works of Art, properties, and other vestiges of its princely aristocratic lineage, and practice Jesus’ retort that “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” The life of a tenant is more in keeping with Gospel values I think. It is my view that aside from the Dali Lama there’s a lack of overt genuine spiritual and moral guidance in the world today. It’s not too late for the Roman Catholic Church to undertake a “radical transformation, beginning with the Pope and his Bishops” as the late Cardinal Carlo Martini urged shortly before his death.

In the realm of the living, still alive and expressing sound moral reasoning which we ought to heed is the great Bishop Desmond Tutu. The Nobel Laureate’s call for the International Criminal Court in The Hague to indict Tony Blair and George W Bush for War Crimes is timely. Bishop Tutu argues cogently that double standards are being applied to Western Leaders. The death toll from the Iraq war continues to climb today with bombings and sectarian killings becoming the accepted threshold for what Blair and Bush refer to as a “new democracy”. I recently spoke to a colleague of mine who returned to Mosul for the summer to see his family, and he reported that “life was a struggle for ordinary people”. I have argued elsewhere that up until 1991, Iraq had a 100% literacy rate, and had one of the best educational systems in the region. (Al-Azzawi, 2011)

However, the devastation and destruction inflicted upon Iraqi society, leading up to and including  the USA and UK led invasion in March 2003, is still a tragedy unfolding.  Souad Al-Azzawi, Associate Professor at the University of Baghdad, described the complete annihilation of the education sector under USA and UK occupation, and it is worth quoting in full here:


Looted Facilities

Burned Facilities

Bombed Facilities


Universities & Colleges





Technical Colleges





Secondary Schools & related services










 More than 738 secondary schools and educational centers were occupied by military invading forces…the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) took control of Iraq under occupation. In opposition to all international laws and norms which call for the preservation and national ownership of education and culture of the occupied country, the CPA abolished the national education curriculum by decree in July 7, 2003. “ (Al-Azzawi, 2011)

Such actions contravene the Geneva Convention and in themselves would be enough to prosecute those responsible.  I agree with Bishop Tutu that Western leaders should “be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in The Hague. “ Mr. Blair remains in a state of denial and his tired, recurring self-defense that the intelligence was correct is simply a lie and a denial of the facts. I have lived in the Middle East since 2001, and it is, as Bishop Tutu says, on the precipice. It didn’t get this way through poor local polices and decision making. The conditions were created on that fateful day of March 17th 2003 when in a publicized television address George W Bush gave the Iraqi leader and his family an ultimatum- ” leave your country in 48 hours or we will attack”. The outcome as Bishop Tutu explains has made the world more unstable; yet those responsible for this instability and mayhem have never been brought to account.

The Catholic Church, Child Abuse and Homosexuality by Lawrence Burke, Ed.D

    The claim by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi[1], the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations, that the sexual abuse scandals which have continued to undermine the Catholic Church’s moral position for the last three decades, were carried out by Gay men and Lesbians who became priests, monks, brothers and nuns deserves closer scrutiny. Archbishop Tomasi asserts that between 80-90% of priests who have been accused of the sexual abuse of children were Gay[2]. It’s not clear how, where or when these astounding statistics were gathered, or how the Church gathered the evidence that the sexual orientation of their priests, brothers, monks and nuns, was homosexual rather than heterosexual, and was the cause of the wave of sexual abuse allegations against its members, within its parishes, religious orders and congregations. But, what is clear is that the claim deflects attention away from the probable cause; the Church’s negative, compulsory moral position on human sexuality and its attempt to control the psycho-sexual development of tens of millions of women, children and men. The language in all its official documents and encyclicals including  Casti  connubi (1930 Pope Pius XI), Humanae vitae (1968) by Pope Paul VI , Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II , Evangelium vitae (1995) by Pope John Paul II , which pontificate on how Catholics are to behave sexually is couched in a negative, deterministic, controlling vernacular which sees the human body as an enemy to be defeated. They all argue that “the flesh is the hinge of salvation.”[3]

The moral position of the Church grades human sexuality and sexual practices on a scale from sinfulness to one of acting towards a state of grace:

Damnation……………………….…. Sinfulness …………….Towards a state of Grace


Masturbation, homosexuality, contraception, pre-marital sex, sex for procreation

The Church in fact de-grades human sexuality. It does not promote an empowering, healthy, nurturing and positive view of human sexuality. It fails to foster an approach toward human sexual practices which articulates to all of humanity, that sex is a wonderful, pleasurable, normal and natural part of our lives. That it is a gift from the Creator, to be embraced, enjoyed and practiced without fear, self-loathing or guilt. In its de-gradation of human sexuality, the Catholic Church becomes culpable for deviance, both within its organization and in wider society. A healthy, positive, nurturing approach to human sexuality doesn’t cause sexual crimes or produce a billion dollar plus a year pornography industry.

In its attempt to provide moral guidance, the Catholic Church has imposed a behaviorist and controlling model of psycho-sexual development on millions of men, women, and children. This has resulted in quite disturbing and dysfunctional behaviors and attitudes within the Catholic Church, and within wider societies.  One quite clear and incontrovertible result of the Church’s negative compulsory morality is the wave of sexual abuse allegations made against its clergy, and members of its religious orders and congregations. The blame doesn’t lie elsewhere. It is squarely in its own house that these shameful deeds have been born, breed and played out at enormous personal cost and suffering to tens of thousands of girls, boys, men and women throughout the world, not to mention the immeasurable suffering brought down on Catholic families throughout the world.

Religious world views (and for that matter their secular counter-parts i.e. atheism, communism, socialism etc) together with their inherent ideological bases, and quite specific moral and dogmatic approaches to human development, exercise one of the most powerful sociological and psychological effects upon us  as we grow and develop as human beings.  For decades prior to the emergence of the first sexual abuse scandals, the Catholic Churches’ vocations directors for its diocesan seminaries, religious orders and congregations targeted the youngest and most impressionable members of its schools and parishes and coaxed them into their pre-seminaries and juniorates, with the specific aim of forming their physical, emotional, psychological, psycho-sexual and spiritual lives towards the moral, doctrinal and philosophical position of the Church. They were promised heavenly rewards for their earthly service.  These boys and girls were as young as 11 and 12 years of age. They were co-opted into a way of life at the most vulnerable time of their lives, in regards to their own psycho-sexual development. They were inculcated with a sullied view of humanity-namely that human flesh is sinful and that sexuality corrupts us and distances us from God. In brief they were taught through encyclicals like Casti Connubi that the only true holy state was one of sexual abstinence, and that to transgress such a state lead towards eternal damnation. A horrifying thought for impressionable children, and one which has had disastrous consequences. Those who taught this flawed and somewhat deviant world-view were themselves adherents to its cause, and as such were zealots in the belief that all flesh is sinful, and that only a truly chaste life led to God. Marriage, while sanctified by the church as dignified and laudable, was never held up as the ideal outside of the call to the religious life.  It was considered second best.

Today, these children are now well into middle age and/or  are the very elderly, and are among the tens of thousands of mainly men, and to a much lesser extent woman, who have been investigated and charged with the sexual abuse of children throughout the period from the 1950s through to the present time (sexual abuse of children existed prior to the 1950s too, but most of the victims and perpetrators are dead)  It is an indictment against the Catholic Church, that it members continue to look for causes outside their own house, and engage in scapegoating innocent men and woman, while refusing to acknowledge that the way it forms the minds of the perpetrators; these men and women when they were children in its pre-seminaries and juniorates, was and still is one of the primary causes of the sexual abuse of children within its organization.

Archbishop Tomasi’s rallying cry against Gay men and women has been heard throughout history. The Inquisition targeted innocent people and charged them with being heretics and witches for challenging Church orthodoxy. The Nazis targeted Jews as scapegoats for their own shortcomings both as a people and a nation, because they were unable to come to terms with the ignominious defeats of WW1. Sadly, humanity in general, and nations and organizations in particular, are unable to accept responsibility for particularly destructive and murderous key epochs in their history. As a result ordinary people across the world remain vulnerable and, are not immune from dangerous, callous and cruel attacks on their way of life.

There has been no causal link established, in any study, which shows that the sexual orientation of a priest, brother, monk or nun is the primary cause of the sexual abuse of children within the Catholic Church. The assertion, while silly and desperate, is like saying that the reason there are homosexual practices in single sex prisons is because all the inmates are Gay. Yet, despite the claim’s serious flaws both logically and empirically, it is still a dangerous one to make.  It has been around for some time, and was made earlier in 2002 by Vatican spokesman, Dr, Joaquin Navarro-Valls.[4] He argued that there was a causal link between homosexuality and the sexual abuse of children within the Church, but cited no evidence to substantiate the claim. He did try to differentiate classifications like pedophile and ephebophile, but these simply become exercises in semantics to obfuscate the point that the alleged offenders, were once children and teenagers within the care of the Church, and had all been trained and educated by the Church’s priests, monks,  nuns and brothers over decades, and when they were very impressionable youngsters.

Once Tomasi’s and Navarro-Valls’s claims entered into the public sphere they tended to gain credence whether reliable and factual or not. The American columnist, Joel Mowbray took up the Navarro-Valls’s claim and asserted that 25-30% of Catholic priests are homosexual[5]. He provided no evidence but based it on some spurious figure that only 2-3% of men in secular society are Gay. He also accused the deceased Cardinal of Chicago, Joseph Bernadin of appointing homosexual priests in his diocese, as part of a deliberate plan to undermine the Church’s moral position on sexuality[6]. The problem with these uninformed, fantastical and clearly biased views is that they are picked up by the mainstream media, are re-asserted and begin to generate a kind of social hysteria, in the community and wider society, with all its subsequent manifestations, and are taken as fact. As a result there’s almost no possibility of informed, reasoned, factual debate ensuing, and it soon becomes evident that the truth will not set anyone free.

The Catholic Church’s position ex cathedra on homosexuality is clear. It states that:

    The number of men and women who have deep seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By virtues of self mastery that teach inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendships, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection[7].

It is evident that Archbishop Tomasi, along with Dr, Joachim Navrro-Valls and James Mowbray, along with other prominent Catholic Church leaders, might claim full  membership of the Magisterium, but they are clearly out of step with their own Church’s teaching on homosexuality. Moreover, such a clear doctrinal position from the Church on homosexuality as stated above,  suggests that Gay men and women may well be called into religious life too, and be able to live a life of chastity in service of their Church. But, to acknowledge this would place the Church in a vulnerable position, and risk undermining its opposition to homosexuality per se. Moreover, it would place heterosexuality and homosexuality as equal expressions of God’s gift of human sexuality. Such a view poses a serious threat to the Catholic Church. It would have to reassess its moral position vis-à-vis human sexual relationships and accept full responsibility for the sexual abuse cases of the preceding decades, and I dare say centuries.  Moreover, it would have to acknowledge that on matters of faith and human morality it can no longer claim the moral high ground, given the seriousness of the sexual abuse claims made against it.

The Catholic Church in the 21st century needs to untangle itself from its contentious history in which claims are made to justify today’s celibate Priesthood. This history includes its sanctioning of polygamy amongst its clergy in the 2nd century, concubines, and a landed autocratic and aristocratic clergy up until the 10th and 11th centuries.[8] The Church needs to seek forgiveness for its own misdeeds and for its own sinfulness. It needs to accept culpability for letting down millions of men, women and children across the world. Over the centuries it has behaved more like a wolf in sheep’s clothing rather than the Shepherd sent to tend the sheep. It needs to reclaim a tradition, started by Jesus, when he proclaimed, St Peter, a married man, to be the first leader of the new order.  It would also go a long way towards its own reconciliation with humanity, if it apologized for the recent calumny made against millions of Gay men and women throughout the world.


Catholic Catechism, The Meaning of Death, In Brief, 1015, Paulist Press, USA, 2001.

Cline, R. Roman Catholicism & Homosexuality: An Unusual Relationship, About.Com

Retrieved 2/10/2009

Irvine, R. & Kincaid, C, Homosexuals in the Catholic Church, Media Monitor, 2002.

Paulist Press, Http://  accessed 2/10/2009

Weiser, G. A Brief History of Celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church,, Retrieved 2/10/2009

[2] Op.cit

[3] Catholic Catechism, The Meaning of  Christian Death, In Brief, 1015

[4] Irvine, R & Kincaid C, Homosexuals in the Catholic Church, Media Monitor, 2002.

[5] Op.cit.

[6] Op. cit.

[7] Cline, R. Roman Catholicism & Homosexuality: An Unusual Relationship,

[8] Weiser, G. A Brief History of Celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church,