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.

References
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:

Name

Meaning

Yazad
Yazad
Worthy of Worship
Yaz meaning worthy of being attuned; Praiseworthy
Harvesp-Tawan
Harvesp-Tavaan
All-Powerful
Almighty
Harvesp-agah
Harvesp-Aagaah
All-Knowing
All-Knowing
Harvesp-khoda
Harvesp-Khudaa
Lord of all
Lord of All
Abadeh
Abadah
Without Beginning

Without Beginning

Abi-anjam
Abee-Anjaam
Without End
Without End
Bun-e-stiha
Bune-Steeh
Root of Creation
Root of Creation
Frakhtan-taih
Fraakhtan-Teh
Endless Bliss
The End of All
Jamaga
Jamaga
Primal Cause
Ancient Cause
Prajatarah
Parajtarah
Exalted One
More Noble
Tum-afik
Tum-Afeek
Purest of the Pure
Most Open (Innocent)
Abaravand
Abarvand
Detached from All
Separate from All
Paravandeh
Parvandaah
In touch with all
Connected with All
An-ayafeh
An-Aiyaafah
Unattainable
Unreachable by anyone
Hama-Ayafeh
Ham-Aiyaafah
Attainer of All
Who Can Reach All
Adro
Aadaro
Most Righteous
Most straightforward; Truest of All
Gira
Geeraa
Upholder of all

Who Holds Everyone

A-ehem
A-Chem
Beyond reason
Without Cause (Does not need a reason for existence)
Chamana
Chamanaa
Sovereign Reason
Reason for Being
Safana
Safanaa
Bountiful One
Creator of Progress
Afza
Afjaa
Ever Prolific
Creator of Growth
Nasha
Naashaa
Reaching equally to all
Who Reaches Everyone Equally
Parwara
Parvaraa
Nourisher
Provider
Ianaha
Eeyaanah
Protector of the world
Protector of Creation
Ain-aenah
Aaeen-Aaenah
Never Changing
Not Different
An-aenah
An-Aaeenah
Formless
Without Shape
Kharoshid-tum
Khrosheed-Tum
Most Steadfast among the Steadfast
Most Determined
Mino-tum
Meeno-Tum
Lord Invisible
Most Invisible
Vasna
Vaasnaa
All-Pervading
Omnipresent
Harvastum

Harvastum

All in all
Most Complete
Hu-sepas
Hu-Sepaas
Worthy of our profound thanks
Worthy of Thanksgiving
Har-Hamid
Har-Hameed
All embracing Goodness
Completely Good Natured
Har-naik faraih
Har-Nek-Fareh
All embracing Holy light
Completely Good Noble Aura
Baish-tarana

Besh-Tarnaa

Remover of affliction
Remover of Suffering
Taronish
Taroneesh
Beyond Affliction
Mysterious
Anah-aoshaka
An-Aoshak
Immortal
Immortal
Farasaka
Farsak
Fulfiller of Holy Desires
Grantor of Wishes
Pajohdehad
Pajoh-Dahad
Creator of Holy attributes
Creator of Noble Nature
Khwafar
Khvaafar
Compassionate Judge
Generous with Justice
Avakhshiaea
Afakhsheeaaeaa
Merciful Giver
Grantor of Generosity
Abaraja
Abarjaa
Bountiful Giver
Most Abundant Provider
A-satoha
A-Satoh
Unconquerable
Who Does Not Get Angry
Rakhoha
Rakhoh
Freest of the free
Independent; Without Worry
Varun
Varoon
Deliverer from evil
Protector from Evil
A-farefah
A-Farefah
Never Deceiving
Who Does Not Deceive
Be-fareftah
Be-Farefah
Never Deceived
Who Cannot Be Deceived
A-dui
A-Duee
One without a second
Without Duality
Kam-rad
Kaame-Rad
Lord of desire
Lord of Wishes
Farman-kam
Farmaan-Kaam
Decreer of Sovereign Desire
Wish Is His Command
Aekh Tan
Aokh-Tan
Soul Supreme
Without Body
A-faremosh
A-Faremosh
Never-forgetting
Who Does Not Forget
Hamarna
Hamaarnaa
Just Accountant
Keeper of Accounts
Sanaea
Sanaaeaa
Knowing all things
Worthy of Knowing; All Knowing
A-tars
A-Tars
Fearless
Fearless
A-bish
A-Beesh
Devoid of pain
Without Suffering
A-frajdum
Afraajdum
Most exalted one
Most High
Ham-chun
Ham-Chun
Ever the same
Always the Same
Mino-satihgar
Meeno-Steeh-Gar
Invisible Creator of the Universe
Creator of the Universe Invisibly
A-minogar
A-Meenogar
Creator of the Profoundly Spiritual
Creator of Much Invisible Creations
Mino-nahab
Meeno-Nahab
Hidden within the spirit
Hidden in Invisible Creation
Adar-bad-gar
Aadar-Baad-Gar
Transmuter of Fire into Air
Who Changes Fire Into Air
Adar-nam-gar
Aadar-Nam-Gar
Transmuter of Fire into dew
Who Changes Fire Into Water
Bad-adar-gar
Baad-Aadar-Gar
Transmuter of Air into Fire
Who Changes Air Into Fire
Bad-nam-gar
Baad-Nam-Gar
Transmuter of Air into dew
Who Changes Air Into Water
Bad-gail-gar
Baad-Gel-Gar
Transmuter of Air into Earth
Who Changes Air Into Dust
Bad-gred-tum
Baad-Gerd-Tum
Supreme Transmuter of Air into dust
Who Changes Air Into Wind
Adar-kibritatum
Aadar-Keebreet-Tum
Supreme Transmuter of Fire into divine sparks
Who Changes Fire Into Jewels
Bad-gar-jae
Baad-Garjaae
Spreading Air everywhere
Who Creates Air In All Places
Ab-tum
Aab-Tum
Creator of Lifegiving water
Creator of Much Water
Gail-adar-gar
Gel-Aadar-Gar
Transmuter of Dust into Fire
Who Changes Dust Into Fire
Gail-vad-gar
Gel-Vaad-Gar
Transmuter of Dust into Air
Who Changes Dust Into Air
Gail-nam-gar
Gel-Nam-Gar
Transmuter of Dust into water
Who Changes Dust Into Water
Gar-gar
Gar-Gar
Master Craftsman
Creator of Creators
Garo-gar
Gar-O-Gar
Rewarder of sincere desires
(Fulfiller of Wishes) *
Gar-a-gar
Gar-Aa-Gar
Creator of all Humanity and its actions
(Creator of Mankind) *
Gar-a-gar-gar
Gar-Aa-Gar-Gar
Creator of all Human and Animal Life
(Creator of All Things) *
A-gar-agar
A-Gar-Aa-Gar
Creator of all the four elements
(Creator of 4 Elements) *
A-gar-a-gar-gar
A-Gar-Aa-Gar-Gar
Creator of all the planets and all other worlds
(Creator of Stars) *
A-guman
A-Gumaan
Never in doubt
Without Doubt
A-jaman
A-Jamaan
Ageless
Timeless
A-Khuan
A-Khuaan
Eternally awake
Sleepless
Amast
Aamasht
Ever-alert
Alert
Fashutana
Fashutanaa
Ever-Protecting
Always Guarding & Progress Creator
Padmani
Padmaanee
Recorder of Man’s actions
Keeper of Limits
Firozgar
Feerozgar
Victorious
Victorious
Khudawand
Khudaavand
Lord of the Universe
Lord of Creation
Ahuramazd
Ahur-Mazd
Lord of Life and Wisdom
Wise Lord
Abarin-kuhan-tawan
Abreen-Kohun-Tavaan
Preserver of Creation
Most Capable of Preserving Originality of Creations
Abarin-nao-tawan
Abreen-No-Tavaan
Renewer of Creation
Most Capable of Creating New Creations
Vaspan
Vaspaan
Embracing All Creation
Who Can Reach All Creations
Vaaspar
Vaspaar
Giver of All Things
Who Can Provide Everything
Khawar
Khaavar
Infinitely Patient
Generous
Ahu
Ahu
Lord of exisience
Lord of Existence
Avakshidar
Avakhseedaar
Forgiver of sins
Forgiver
Dadar
Daadaar
Divine Creator
Creator of Justice
Raiyomand
Rayomand
Rayed in glory
Full of Brightness
Khorehmand
Khorehomand
Haloed in Light
Full of Aura, Light
Davar
Daavar
Lord of Justice
Giver of True Justice
Kerfaigar
Kerfegar
Lord of Just Rewards
Lord of Good Works
Bokhtar
Bokhtaar
Liberator
Giver of Freedom for Progress
Farsho-gar
Frash-Gar
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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/101_Names_of_God

 

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.

References
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.