September 16: Grand Inquisitor of Spain – Torquemada (1498)

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science on September 16, 2014 by RJ Evans

torquemadaFrom contributor Ronald Bruce Meyer

It was on this date, September 16, 1498, that the Grand Inquisitor of Spain, Tomás de Torquemada, died in Ávila. Born on a date uncertain in 1420 in what is now Valladolid, Torquemada was a Dominican monk – one of the famed “hounds of the Lord” (domini canes) – in the monastery at Valladolid, and later became prior of the Monastery of Santa Cruz at Segovia, serving for 22 years.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, which has trouble with candor about the fatal consequences of not converting to Christianity in medieval Spain, much less doing so honestly, sounds this apologetic note:

At that time the purity of the Catholic Faith in Spain was in great danger from the numerous Marranos and Moriscos, who, for material considerations, became sham converts from Judaism and Mohammedanism to Christianity.*

Torquemada became confessor to future Queen Isabella, but declined higher office when she rose to the throne. Instead, as Pope Sixtus IV had established the Inquisition in Spain in 1478, in 1483 Torquemada accepted appointment as Grand Inquisitor of Castile and Aragon. With the Pope’s blessing, Torquemada was completely in charge of the Spanish Inquisition until his death in 1498.

Never has a man so enjoyed his work! Torquemada developed and employed an elaborate network of spies and secret police to root out heresy. His favorite methods for extracting confessions, nevermind the truth, were to hang the accused by the arms so that the arms were pulled from their joints, to force the swallowing of gallons of water, and to have the joints dislocated on the rack. His methods made him generally unpopular – he had to travel with bodyguards – but no one dared oppose him. Even the Pope could not reign him in: when Sixtus issued a bull absolving conversos of any wrong they might have done, Ferdinand, under Torquemada’s influence, refused to enforce it.

The least of his crimes was his twisting of jurisprudence: In 1490 Torquemada oversaw the LaGuardia trial, in which eight Jews and conversos were accused of crucifying a Christian child. No victim was identified, no body ever discovered, but all eight were convicted nevertheless on the strength of confessions obtained by torture. And all were burned at the stake.

In sum, Torquemada had over 2,000 heretics, Jews and Muslims burned by auto-da-fé, and perhaps 9,000 punished in other ways. The Catholic Encyclopedia tries to mitigate Torquemada’s cruelty, saying:

Whether Torquemada’s ways of ferreting out and punishing heretics were justifiable is a matter that has to be decided not only by comparison with the penal standard of the fifteenth century, but also, and chiefly, by an inquiry into their necessity for the preservation of Christian Spain.*

In other words, this cruel torture and punishment was allowable, in God’s name, because the eternal and Almighty was too shy to oppose the savagery of the age!

Rather than convert to Christianity, the Spanish Jews offered a tribute of 30,000 ducats if the King would leave them in peace. Ferdinand was considering it, but Torquemada, held aloft a crucifix and declaimed “Judas Iscariot sold Christ for 30 pieces of silver; Your Highness is about to sell him for 30,000 ducats. Here He is; take Him and sell Him.” Torquemada thus single-handedly persuaded the King to expel the Jews from Spain in 1492.

The contemporary Spanish chronicler, Sebastian de Olmedo called Torquemada “the hammer of heretics, the light of Spain, the saviour of his country, the honour of his order.”** Confident that he had served Christ and his Church, Torquemada died on this date at age 78, but the Inquisition carried on.

* Catholic Encyclopedia, 1909, article “Torquemada.”
** Sebastian de Olmedo, Chronicon magistrorum generalium Ordinis Prædicatorum, fol. 80-81, quoted in ibid.

September 11, 2001

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science on September 11, 2014 by RJ Evans

attackwtcFrom contributor Ronald Bruce Meyer

It was on this date, September 11, 2001, that four US planes were hijacked, turned in flight, and crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, into the west wall of the Pentagon in Washington DC, and into a rural Pennsylvania field, in a suicide attack on the United States of America.

That September 11 terrorist attack, conceived by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden and carried out by al-Qaeda, has come to be known by its date, 9/11. And 9/11 was the most destructive faith-based initiative on US soil. As much as priests and politicians deny it, the facts are clear: without religion, those 19 young men would never have sacrificed their lives to achieve an end from which they would never live to benefit. If being faithful is the same as being good, then only religion can make good people do bad things.

Why did they do it? The glib answer is that people who are strong and successful are always hated by people who are not. Or, they hate our freedom, as pandering politicians say. The more accurate answer was articulated by the terrorists themselves: after defeating the lesser Satan, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the next holy cause was to defeat the Great Satan, America. This Great Satan is evil because (say the terrorists) it is a tempter, or in the words of the Qu’ran, one who “whispers in the hearts of men.” It is the secularism of the West, as well as US support for Israel and the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, that are seen as impediments to submission to the true faith of Islam.

However, there is no question about 9/11 being part of a religious war: the terrorist attack fell on two symbols of secular American power: the financial power represented by the World Trade Center and the military power represented by the Pentagon. (One can only speculate that the fourth plane was destined for a political symbol: the US Capitol or the White House.) So although this was a faith-based attack by professed Muslims on a country dominated by people professing to be Christian, 9/11 was not an attack by Islam on Christianity.

There are six million Muslims in the US, about a billion worldwide, and many if not most of those Muslims (excluding the late Osama bin Laden himself) are poor, live in countries with no political freedom, and are taught from birth to blame their misery on the Great Satan, or its foreign policy, or its secularism or its support for Israel – instead of their own inadequate government and social services. And although the “Arab Spring” of 2011 may be changing this, there is almost no chance Muslims will blame their repressive religion.

Is Christianity just as bad? It was: the Christian Bible authorized the Crusades, the Inquisition, the murder of minority religions, slavery, the subjugation of minorities, the subjugation of women, slavery, imperialism and wars of aggression. To a greater or lesser extent, by history as well as by Qu’ranic exhortation, so does Islam. But there is little evidence of these Christian crimes against humanity in this century. On the other hand, there is no question about 9/11 being an attack by Islam against Christianity: the terrorists destroyed no Christian symbols, only secular ones.

You see, the West is not a Christian civilization. Yes, it has some values (mostly bad ones) that are coincident with Christianity. But to call the West Christian is to forget that there is no mention of democracy or representative government in the Bible. The Bible includes no idea of toleration for other races or religions. There is not a particle of biblical support for science. It is the secular ideas of democracy, tolerance and science that built the West, not priests and prayer. And all these ideas are missing from Islam.

Islam is about submission to one ideology; secularism is about openness to and tolerance toward multiple ideologies. If Islam can secularize and behave rationally, who knows how far they can go toward the future? Rationalism and secularism are the key. We have one planet and two alternatives: a minority of irrational, fundamentalist fanatics can destroy the planet with more faith-based initiatives like 9/11, or the planet can become more rational and secular and tolerant, so the planet will survive for all to share.

It’s not Islam vs. Christianity. It’s faith vs. reason. Can we make the right choice?

September 5: Reign of Terror (1793)

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science on September 5, 2014 by RJ Evans

robespierreFrom contributor Ronald Bruce Meyer

It was on this date, September 5, 1793, that an 11-month Reign of Terror began in France. Sometimes called the Red Terror, to distinguish it from the equally brutal but little-mentioned White Terror which followed it, the Reign of Terror lasted until the execution of Maximilian Robespierre on 28 July 1794. In less than a year, about 18,000 people were killed, an average of 55 a day. The massacres and beheadings were excessive, and supervised by the Committee of Public Safety, in which Georges Danton and Robespierre were influential members. Religious writers, when they speak of the French Revolution at all, are fond of pointing to the Terror as proof that people deprived of their religion turn into beasts with no moral compass. Is that true?

First, the Terror was not part of the French Revolution: the revolutionists had succeeded in 1789 – replacing with a republican government a desperately brutal feudal system, a 90% illiteracy rate and the divine rule of kings – and the men and women who had secured the freedom of France left the governing to others. The Terror took place four years after the French Revolution.

Second, anyone who is familiar with the history of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages may recall, if they were ever taught, that compared to the 50,000 slaughtered in a few days during the St. Bartholomew Massacre some 220 years earlier, or the quarter of a million Albigensian men, women, and children slain from 1211-1215, the Reds had a lot to learn from the Catholics about random murder.

Third, the Committee of Public Safety, supported by the people of Paris, was created to preserve the reformed government and to put down threats from inside the country. The clergy, in league with the nobles, were plotting the reversal of the Revolution. Robespierre took the lead and the Terror was installed to defeat the insurrection and to repel opportunistic foreign invaders, since this was in every sense a national emergency. And yet, less than 10% of those killed in the Terror were clerics – 67% belonged to the mostly republican working class.

thirdestateThe clerical-royalist conspiracies were real: the crowned heads of Europe wanted to smother democratic ideas in the cradle. The former French nobility wanted their inherited privilege returned. The Catholic Church was similarly addicted to unearned advantage, but they had also been made into employees of the state, and required to take a loyalty oath. Half of them refused and fought for the failure of republican government, enlisting the aid of foreign powers. As it is unlikely that foreign invaders would not demand a piece of France for their services, it was fortunate that the republican army defeated the Austrian, English, Prussian and Spanish invaders.

Fourth, there was an internal quarrel between the Girondists and the Montagnards. Robespierre led the Montagnards to victory – but he not only believed in God and hated Atheism, he decreed the worship of God as the State religion, which alienated the populace. It was under the God-loving Robespierre that the despicable acts of the Terror took place. The Terror ended when Robespierre was overthrown and an appalled public demanded his execution.

Fifth, as soon as Robespierre fell, there was an equal and opposite reaction from the clerical-royalists: a White Terror to restore the monarchy. Perpetrated largely by Catholics, the displaced masters of France took revenge on the republicans, killing thousands without even the pretense of a trial. Eventually, more moderate men took over, but they also abolished Robespierre’s Cult of the Supreme Being. With the resulting general indifference to religion, France became relatively tranquil and prosperous.

So not only were the greatest excesses of the Reign of Terror perpetrated under a man of God, but the reactionary clerical-royalists dipped their hands in blood, as well. France is a secular republic today because, unlike the US and some other nations, France knows what religious strife is really like.

NB: The facts of the Red Terror and the White Terror are related in the following sources: Cambridge Modern History Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Ernst Daudet, La Terreur blanche.. Quantin, 1878; Ernest Lavisse. Histoire de France Contemporaine. 10 vol., 1920-1922; Richard Lodge. A History Of Modern Europe From The Capture Of Constantinople,1453, To The Treaty Of Berlin, 1878. New York: Harper & Bros., 1898.

The Immorality of Immortality

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science on September 3, 2014 by RJ Evans

immortalityIf it were possible to become immortal, would you do it? Would you step boldly into a life of eternal existence? If so, have you considered the ramifications, the consequences of living forever? On the face of it, immortality appears innocuous, a wish fulfilled, a dream of immense possibilities. However, the reality of living forever would likely be a forever nightmare. Not only for you, but everyone on the planet.

Remember the movie “Ground Hog Day” starring Bill Murray? Murray’s character, Phil Connors, finds himself trapped in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania living the same day over and over again. Connors is soon bored, tired, and desperate for an end to his time slavery. He tries to kill himself multiple times, only to discover that he can’t die. Eventually it’s his love for a woman who takes him forward into the next day, and humbles him to the nightmare of his own flaws that propelled him into the circular time cycle. Now, imagine yourself being an immortal, living every day for all of eternity. Each day will begin to seem like yesterday. Over and over and over again. It is likely you will learn everything, do everything, see everything, experience everything. You will reach the pinnacle of existence as you know it. What’s next? What do you do? Love won’t bring you back from immortality. Even if the one you love is immortal as well.

On the Face of It

It seems so wonderful, so magical, so much fun! To live forever! To see what will happen next! To never grow old and die! To soak up every experience, every nuance of life! To live eternally! Imagine all the things you could do… without dying! Think of all the things you could accomplish in a forever life! But, I have to ask… What would motivate you to do any of it? You have forever to do it. If you have a problem with procrastination now, how much worse would it be if you’re immortal? More important, what would stop you from taking advantage of your immortality and exploiting it for your own benefit?

For all our talk of compassion, altruism, civility… For all our ambitions to create, invent, explore… Isn’t what motivates humanity firmly grounded in our finite existence? Knowing that our time is limited seems to me to be the greatest contributor to our motivation to live and to stay alive. Imagine not being concerned with being injured or dying. Imagine never feeling pain. Of course, you’re probably thinking that immortality wouldn’t mean a painless existence. But, to be truly immortal, pain would have to go. Physical pain exists in mortals to warn them of danger, of something wrong with the mortal body. An immortal would have no need for pain. Injury and death would be relegated to fiction.

Human?

Philosophical question: If you’re immortal, would you still be human? Immortals in literature are deities of immense power and are not human. There are attempts to solve this problem by some deities. They have occasionally bridged the gap between their immortal realm and the human domain. We can see this in many religions, both past and present. But, even before their extraordinary expeditions into the human realm, immortals always possessed exclusively human qualities and characteristics. This is no coincidence of course. And, no matter how hard an immortal tried to transcend the human aspect of their personality, they always seemed to fall victim to their human qualities. Selfishness, arrogance, greed, fear, violence… So… If you’re immortal, are you still human? The answer might be found in the human condition. Our struggle to survive is the driving force behind our humanness. Even in the light of all our technological advances people still struggle to live, to survive. Immortals, on the other hand, don’t struggle as humans do. However, their immortality seems inextricably linked to humanity. Immortals always seem to desire being needed, wanted, worshiped, adored, admired… Name a human trait, emotion, or characteristic and it can be found, good or bad, in an immortal. It seems that living eternally would escape the human aspects of injury and dying, but would be forever tortured by human emotions and behaviors.

Even Immortals Die

At some point in your immortal existence, any positive human personality traits you managed to retain will wither away. You will likely find yourself very, very lonely, depressed, angry. Your mind will be older than your body. Your eons of acquired knowledge and wisdom will transcend expression in human language, and making small talk with any human will utterly bore you. Your conversations with humans will cease. You will become a prisoner of your inner dialog, a cacophony of voices in your head will clamor for individual attention. You will long for the human touch, but will be unable to feel. Pain and pleasure will be beyond your immortal existence. You will never again know the thrill of the first eye contact, the anticipation of a kiss, the buzz of a new scent.  All of it will die in the obscurity of your infinite time. To live forever… alone.

If Only Everyone Were Immortal!

But, what if everyone were immortal? Well… Let’s take a quick look at that! The first thing that comes to mind is death. Without death, overpopulation, overcrowding, extinction of all resources, and ultimately a bunch of folks standing around asshole to belly button for eternity. Of course, we could always find a way to leave the planet. But, what are the odds of that if everyone is immortal and nobody’s in a hurry to do anything when they have an eternity in which to do it? And, it would be remiss of me not to mention another obvious dilemma of everyone being immortal: Perpetual war. Everyone would try to control everything and everyone. No consequences. Trying to kill each other and no one dies. Instead, an anti-immortality arms race and total chaos.  If you thought the “state of nature” described by Thomas Hobbes in “Leviathan” was horrible, imagine adding the horror of eternal life? As if Hobbes were to write…

“In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and eternal.” 

The Immorality of Immortality

So, where exactly is the immorality in immortality? One look at religion says it all. The promise of eternal life, of immortality, living in a timeless world, is the magical carrot, dangled in front of the ignorant, the desperate, the downtrodden, or anyone who’s willing to part with their humanity and a few bucks. It is intended to elevate them artificially from human to immortal, sucking the motivation to live in the here and now, with the promise of riches after physical death. It instills a false sense of power and dominion over others and the natural order. It emboldens the religious tribes to subjugate all who fail to yield to a myth and bullshit promise.

Modern day examples? Christian Fundamentalists seeking dominion over all, in the free and Democratic Republic of Secular America. Fundamentalists, under the guise of “Religious Freedom” , who will do whatever it takes to outlaw freedom of choice, science and evolution, marriage equality, human sexuality, and environmental responsibility. In Africa, where threats of death and eternal damnation are leveled upon those who were born gay. In Syria, and Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East, where thousands are killed, some beheaded for imaginary crimes against an imaginary god. And what for? All for the promise of immortality.  How tragic is it that the reality of immortality comes not only with real, immoral problems, but it also produces real, immoral results?

I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.” - Carl Sagan, Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium

August 26: Montgolfier (1740)

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science on August 26, 2014 by RJ Evans

JosephmontgolfierFrom contributor Ronald Bruce Meyer

It was on this date, August 26, 1740, that French paper-maker and chemist Joseph-Michel Montgolfier, was born, one of 16 children of a prosperous paper manufacturer. With his younger brother Jacques-Étienne, the Montgolfier brothers conducted experiments with paper and fabric bags filled with smoke and hot air, which eventually led to their co-invention of the first hot-air balloon. On 5 June 1783, they inflated a large linen bag with hot air. Ascending to 3,000 feet (1,000 metres) in the marketplace at Annonay, near Lyons, the flight lasted 10 minutes and covered more than a mile. On September 19 of that same year, the Montgolfier brothers set aloft another balloon, with a sheep, a rooster, and a duck as passengers, which landed safely about 2 miles (3.2 kilometres) from the launch site. Then, about a month later, on 21 November 1783, in the first untethered, manned flight by hot air balloon, the Montgolfiers sent Pilatre de Rozier and François Laurent, marquis d’Arlandes, as passengers in a balloon that sailed over Paris for 5.5 miles (9 kilometres) for about 25 minutes. This balloon, too, landed safely.

In recognition of their achievement, Étienne received the ribbon of St. Michael, Joseph was awarded a pension of 1,000 livres and King Louis XVI elevated their father Pierre to the French nobility (thereafter bearing the surname “de Montgolfier”) Among many additional honors bestowed on Joseph Montgolfier were membership in the Legion of Honor and appointment to the Institute of France. Thereafter, the brothers published books on aeronautics and continued their scientific careers: Joseph invented a calorimeter and the hydraulic ram, and Étienne developed a process for manufacturing vellum. Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier died on 2 August 1799, at age 54, in Neuchâtel, Switzerland; Joseph-Michel Montgolfier died at Balaruc-les-Bains, France, age 69, on 26 June 1810.

However, Joseph-Michel supported the French Revolution, and was appointed Administrator of the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts. The French astronomer Jérôme Lalande, a close friend, told Sylvain Maréchal, author of the Dictionary of Ancient and Modern Atheists, that Montgolfier was an Atheist—or, as Joseph Mazzini Wheeler put it in his Biographical Dictionary of Freethinkers of All Ages and Nations (1889), “A friend of Delambre and La Lande, he was on the testimony of this last an atheist.” Indeed, that venerable vetter of the virtuous, the Catholic Encyclopedia, conveniently mentions only Joseph-Michel’s pious brother!

What I’ve Been Doing… Too Much Fun!

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science with tags , on August 22, 2014 by RJ Evans

I regret my lack of posts here.  But, I don’t regret the “why?”  So, to bring everyone up to speed…

A few of my crew and cast mates from the defunct AHTV web series decided to join me for a less-than-intellectual venture into another mad scheme of mine.  “Sodomite Championship Wrestling”.  The web television comedy is a weekly series (shorts) that follows the antics of three characters.  Blast, Phemy, and Miss Dee Rection.  Nothing too heavy here.  Just some satire, comedy, and always some sort of underlying message.  I’m truly enjoying the lack of seriousness in this show.  I hope you’ll have a chuckle watching.  And, don’t worry…  I will be publishing more commentary here as I’m inspired.

August 8: Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments (1910)

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science on August 8, 2014 by RJ Evans

communionFrom contributor Ronald Bruce Meyer

It was on this date, August 8, 1910, that “Quam singulari,” a decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments, specified the age at which children are to be admitted to first Communion in the Roman Catholic Church.[1] The Catholic Encyclopedia, the authority on the subject, says that conditions for first communion include being at the “age of discretion” – defined as knowing right from wrong – and being capable of “using … reasoning powers.” This last condition would seem to contradict the very idea of faith, but no matter.

In order to partake of Christian communion, the child must also “be able to distinguish the Eucharistic from the common bread; that is, to know that what looks like bread is not bread, but contains the real, living Body and Blood of Christ.” Leaving aside this patently ludicrous statement, what do you suppose it means that this miraculous bread, that looks like ordinary bread, “contains the … Body and Blood of Christ”? If you eat this bread, are you eating God?

And why would you eat a god?

In ancient superstition, if you eat the flesh of your enemy, you can magically acquire his courage, his strength or even his magical powers. This “eating the god,” as the Aztecs of Mexico literally called it, was described by Sir James George Frazer in The Golden Bough: “by eating the body of the god, he shares in the god’s attributes and powers.”[2] When the Spaniards conquered the Aztecs, the perplexed missionaries, bent on converting the heathens, found that they were already performing a Eucharistic ritual: dough images of Huitzlipochtli were blessed by the Aztec priests, the people fasted before the communion, and the priest’s words were said to cause a transubstantiation, turning the consecrated “host” into the flesh of the god!

Likewise for drinking the god’s blood. The ritual cannibalism began with the real sacrifice of human captives of war, but evolved into a substitution of wine and bread – or grape juice and bread for the more timid churches – for the literal flesh and blood of the god. Similar communions were found in the cult of Dionysos, the cult of Mithra and the cult of Isis and Osiris – all of which influenced the adoption of the Christian Communion.[3]

As historian and ex-priest Joseph McCabe writes:

It must not for a moment be supposed that modern educated Catholics do not literally believe this jumble of pagan superstitions and medieval verbosity. They do. … The priest dons his mystic (or Mithraic) garments, and carries his wafer to the altar. … At the middle of the “mass” he consecrates the bread and wine … If he does not articulate each word of the Latin formula…, if he does not say it right at the bread and wine, there will be no magic. … He must, of course, swallow the large wafer … without putting his teeth into “the body of Christ.” He must take the “blood” without spilling a drop, for in each visible crumb of bread or drop of wine there is the whole Christ, godhead and manhood.[4]

Communing with fellow Christians may encourage fellowship, but there is always a side dish of comical consequences. In his 1911 recollection of fourteen years in the Jesuit priesthood, Count Paul von Hoensbroech tells the story of an old woman who, after receiving the wafer in her mouth, contemplated that she was swallowing the genital organs of Christ himself. She spat the wafer into her prayer book, gave it to the priest, and he had to eat it![5]

The very idea that symbolically eating a god can confer on the communicant some kind of benefit is magical thinking at its most primitive. When a child takes her first communion, the church says she has to open her mouth wide enough to swallow dusty superstition along with the dry wafer.

[1] This was officially promulgated as Acta Apost. Sedis, 15 August 1910.
[2] James George Fraser, The Golden Bough, Chap 50, §1. “The Sacrament of First-Fruits.” See also Robin Fox, “Food and Eating: An Anthropological Perspective: The Holy Meal.”
[3] For the communion in the cults of Dionysos and Mithra, see John M. Robertson’s Pagan Christs, 1903, pp. 201 and 334; for the cult of Isis and Osiris, see Rendel Harris, Eucharistic Origins, 1927.
[4] Joseph McCabe, The Popes and Their Church, 1918.
[5] Count Paul Von Hoensbroech Fourteen Years a Jesuit, 2 vols., 1911 (II, p. 223), as told in McCabe, ibid.

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