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.

The Virgin Mary (1555): Religion and Virginity

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science on August 7, 2014 by RJ Evans

virginityFrom contributor Ronald Bruce Meyer

It was on this date, August 7, 1555, that Pope Paul IV, newly elected and nearly 80, issued an Ecclesiastical Constitution called “Cum quorundam,” making it an article of faith that Mary, the mother of Jesus, “was a virgin before, during, and after the conception and birth of her” son.

The idea of the Virgin Birth, which is to say the birth of a holy man to a virgin, was not invented with the Christian myth: it has many pagan parallels. The Ancient Egyptian queens were believed to have been impregnated by the gods – though the Egyptians had so many gods it was difficult to objectively establish paternity. Zeus was notoriously hot for human women, and fathered children of Leda, Semele and Danae, among others. The myth even extends to the mother of the first Japanese Emperor and the mother of Buddha, giving birth through divine favor. The stories of Zeus’s carousals were well known to the early Christians, and contemporary Jews accused them of borrowing the story for Matthew’s Gospel – but Mark’s Gospel (the first written) and John’s, make no mention of the birth of Jesus.

What is rarely asked is: why did Mary necessarily have to be a virgin? What is it about virginity that it is glorified, when is it not “fetishized”? In the Gospels, there was no concern for the perpetuation of the species, and therefore virginity and chastity were encouraged, because the world was expected to end before the last apostle died, anyway.

The idea of virginity, chastity and abstinence being somehow blessed and desirable is further proof that Christianity borrowed the worst ideas from the pagans from which to fabricate their religion. The oldest forms of worship were animist or Pantheist: the worship of the bounty of Mother Earth, the harvest, and so on. The fertility of humans being as important as that of cattle, this matriarchal religion, along with phallic elements, was a natural result.

However, a competing religious idea arose in the Mediterranean, that of a Sky-God, and descended on the Mother Earth worshipers with an ascetic, that is an anti-sex, view of sex. The Sky-God pronounced the flesh evil, sinful, inhabited by the devil (or some such demonic force). By the sixth century BCE, the idea was thoroughly developed in Persia with Ahura Mazda – and it’s male-dominated, patriarchal precepts spread like weeds over the ancient world. Christianity was only one of many religions to adopt asceticism as a virtue and the degradation of women (and the Earth) as fidelity to the Sky-God.

But asceticism and celibacy are no more natural than fasting and flagellation. And the denial of fundamental human needs leads to lying, perversion, and disrespect for authority. Abstinence for the sake of some negligible notion of purity is also pointless, as Andrew Marvell pointed out in his poem, “To His Coy Mistress”:

…Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity:
And your quaint honor turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace…
(published 1681)

Paul’s constitution on the virginity of Mary was reaffirmed by the Catholic Church as late as 1968, as if to “…make our sun Stand still.” It was for freethinkers to draw back the curtain on the past and say, “…yet we will make him run.”

August 7: James Randi (1928)

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science on August 7, 2014 by RJ Evans

randiFrom contributor Ronald Bruce Meyer

It was on this date, August 7, 1928, that magician, author and paranormal debunker James Randi was born Randall Zwinge in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Educated in Canada, he was naturalized a U.S. citizen in 1987. From the 1950s he toured the world as a magician, stage mentalist and escape artist, like his idol, Houdini, and developed a strong skepticism toward psychics. Randi was a founding fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), based in Buffalo, NY, a non-profit organization devoted to the critical examination of paranormal and supernatural claims.

Randi first got national attention in 1970 when he challenged the spoon-bending of Uri Geller as a trick. Geller sued; Randi won. Since 1996, Randi has posted a $1 million reward (through his James Randi Educational Foundation) for any psychic or paranormalist who can prove his or her powers under controlled conditions. The prize is unclaimed.

Randi is a trenchant skeptical investigator who frequently offends his detractors but also sometimes his allies. Still, his skill at exposing fraud is legendary. Psychics and paranormal practitioners are so fearful of Randi’s version of Occam’s Razor that they refuse his reward challenge, saying he is biased and will never accept a paranormal claim. Robert Todd Carroll, who writes the Skeptic’s Dictionary website, points out, “Randi’s rules are little more than what any reasonable scientist would require. If you are a mental spoon bender, you can’t use your own spoons. … If you are going to do some remote viewing, you will not be given credit for coming close in some vague way. If you are going to demonstrate your dowsing powers, be prepared to be tested under controlled conditions. If you are going to do psychic surgery, expect to have cameras watching your every move.”*

As for his personal beliefs, in Randi’s 1989 book The Faith Healers, he writes (p. 303),

I am frequently approached following lectures and loudly asked if I am a Christian and/or whether I believe in God – the assumption being that I understand what the questioner means by both terms. My answer has always been that I have found no compelling reason to adopt such beliefs. Infuriated by such a response … [they] usually turn away and leave ringing in the air a declaration that there is just no point in trying to reason with me and that I will be ‘prayed for.’ I have no need of this patronization, nor of such a condescending attitude, and I resent it. I consider such an action to be a feeble defense for a baseless superstition and a retreat from reality.†

In a 1995 interview in Skeptic magazine, Randi attempted in one statement to break the blasphemy law in every state that still has one:

I hereby state my opinion that the notion of a god is a basic superstition and that there is no evidence for the existence of any god(s). Further, devils, demons, angels and saints are myths; there is no life after death, no heaven or hell; the Pope is a dangerous, bigoted, medieval dinosaur, and the Holy Ghost is a comic-book character worthy of laughter and derision. I accuse the Christian god of murder by allowing the Holocaust to take place – not to mention the ‘ethnic cleansing’ presently being performed by Christians in our world – and I condemn and vilify this mythical deity for encouraging racial prejudice and commanding the degradation of women.‡

* Robert Todd Carroll, “The Randi Paranormal Challenge” from The Skeptic’s Dictionary (website).
† quoted from Celebrity Atheists website.
‡ from Skeptic, 1995, 3:4, p. 11. Randi adds, “This comprehensive statement was arrived at by examining the statutes of those seven states that have remained in the Dark Ages, so that I might satisfy their definitions of blasphemy.”

July 23: Daniel Radcliffe (1989)

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science on July 23, 2014 by RJ Evans

RadcliffeDanielFrom contributor Ronald Bruce Meyer

It was on this date, July 23, 1989, that the English actor known for a 10-year run as the title character in the Harry Potter films, Daniel Radcliffe was born Daniel Jacob Radcliffe in Fulham, London. Radcliffe made his acting debut at age 10 in the title role of BBC One’s television movie David Copperfield (1999), followed by his film debut in the John le Carré spy film The Tailor of Panama (2001). In addition to the seven or eight Harry Potter films, depending on whether you count the two-part Deathly Hallows finale as one or two films (2001-2011), Radcliffe appeared in the 2007 London and New York revivals of the Peter Shaffer play Equus (only some of its popularity sparked by Radcliffe appearing nude!) and as the lead in the 2011 Broadway revival of the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Other films include a horror picture, The Woman in Black (2012), as the 1950s beat poet Alan Ginsberg in the thriller, Kill Your Darlings (2013) and as the son of Rudyard Kipling in the TV movie My Boy Jack (2007).

Radcliffe has spoken out against homophobia and promoted awareness of gay teen suicide prevention, saying in a 2010 interview, “I have always hated anybody who is not tolerant of gay men or lesbians or bisexuals. Now I am in the very fortunate position where I can actually help or do something about it.” He has donated to charities commemorating Holocaust survivors and to fighting HIV/AIDS.

Of his upbringing, Radcliffe said in a 2012 interview, “There was never [religious] faith in the house. I think of myself as being Jewish and Irish, despite the fact that I’m English.” He has also said, “I’m an atheist, and a militant atheist when religion starts impacting on legislation,” and that he is “very proud of being Jewish.” Christian conservatives, already suspicious of the pagan orientation of the Harry Potter books and films, were even more dismayed when, in an interview promoting the 2009 release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Radcliffe said, “I’m an atheist, but I’m very relaxed about it. I don’t preach my atheism, but I have a huge amount of respect for people like Richard Dawkins who do.”

July 22: Gregor Johann Mendel (1822)

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science on July 22, 2014 by RJ Evans

mendelFrom contributor Ronald Bruce Meyer

It was on this date, July 22, 1822, that Moravian monk and amateur botanist Gregor Johann Mendel was born in Heinzendorf (now Hynice), a tiny village in Austrian Silesia, which was then under Hapsburg rule. A peasant with a passion for learning, owing to the poverty of his family, Mendel noviced at the Abbey of St. Thomas at what is now Brno, Czech Republic, in 1843, and was ordained in 1847. He entered the Augustinian Monastery in Brno, which allowed Mendel to study mathematics and science at the University of Vienna. He taught for several years, but eventually gave that up to become abbot of his monastery.

It was in the monastic garden that Mendel made the first experiments in cross-breeding pea plants, combining botany with his mathematical knowledge to produce predictions about dominant and recessive traits. He published the founding theories of genetics before genes were ever discovered, and his researches would have jump-started the science of genetics had not his 1866 paper, Experiments in Plant Hybridization, passed into oblivion because it was published only in the backwater of Brno, and had no champion, like Darwin his Huxley. Difficulty in getting his theory noticed was due also to a lack of mathematical literacy in the field of botany. Mendel’s theories were rediscovered posthumously in 1900 by Hugo de Vries (1848-1935) in Holland, Carl Correns (1864-1933) in Germany, and Erich Tschermak von Seysenegg (1871-1962) in Austria – and by courtesy his name is given to Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance.

Popular writers, such as the website St. Francis Online, say Freethinkers forget to mention, among scientists, “Christians whose faith supported them in their scientific endeavors, like Blaise Pascal, Louis Pasteur and Gregor Mendel.”* This is a truly bizarre criticism: Pascal was seriously ill all of his life and the work on which we judge his religious beliefs was published only after his death, with modifications to make him appear orthodox. Pasteur was a Rationalist all his life.

As for Gregor Mendel, this so-called “devoted monk,”** and “great Catholic scientist” is not even claimed by the (new) Catholic Encyclopedia. His biographer, Hugo Iltis, was a relative, and in the German original of his 1924 Life of Mendel he gives evidence that Mendel was seriously anti-Christian in his youth and remained skeptical all his life. Mendel wrote an aggressively Rationalist poem, speaking of “the gloomy powers of superstition which now oppress the world,” two years before entering the monastery.

And how did he end up in a monastery? Iltis shows that Mendel became a monk only to get leisure to study. He shirked his priestly duties whenever he could, and remained a skeptic (that is, a Deist). Failing eyesight and his duties as abbot distracted Mendel from his researches – so much the worse for science. Even after he became abbot, however, he read and annotated Darwin’s Origin of Species and accepted evolution, something no orthodox Catholic was allowed to do at the time. Mendel’s researches supplanted the dominance of Darwin’s idea that evolution occurred by random mutation, complementing it with the theory of inheritance of dominant characteristics.

It is one of the ironies of science history that Darwin was never aware of Mendel’s discoveries – which would have provided a much-needed “missing link” of support for evolutionary theory!

* St. Francis Bookshop Online (Catholic)
** Bible Believers.Net (Fundamentalist Protestant)

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