Monday, April 28, 2014

Anti-Semitic Hatred a World Problem


Hungarians march against anti-Semitism
A Hungarian restaurant owner recently thought he knew why anti-Semitism seems to have exploded again worldwide:  "The cause, indeed, is poverty. When the economy does not really work and people are poor, somebody has to be blamed, and the Jews and the gypsies are blamed," Miklos Deutsch said.

Deutsch may be right in Hungary, but anti-Semitism isn’t bound by economic restraints.

For example, annoyed that the United States has a black president? Blame the Jews.  Shout “Heil Hitler,” as one white supremacist did in Kansas and kill three people (ironically all Christian) outside two Kansas Jewish centers.

Berlusconi
Trying to help a friend win an election and in need of a scapegoat?  Focus animosity against the Jews.  That’s what former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi did recently.  “But heavens above, according to the Germans, there never were concentration camps," he said.

The Germans disagreed vociferously with that claim.

Berlusconi has said a few strange things before.  In 2003, he insisted that former Italian dictator
Mussolini
Benito Mussolini “never killed anyone. Mussolini used to send people on vacation in internal exile.”

Really?  Mussolini was actually a fierce anti-Semite, who proudly said that his hatred for Jews preceded Adolf Hitler's and vowed to "destroy them all," according to diaries by the Fascist dictator's longtime mistress. An estimated 8,000 of Italy’s 32,000 Jews ended up in concentration camps.

The term these days for Berlusconi's claims is “revisionist history.”  That’s so hate groups can avoid being accused of denying the Holocaust. 

Eisenhower
Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who led the Allies in Europe during World War II, knew people like that would show up eventually. That’s why he required German citizens to walk into concentration camps and see the horror that had been perpetuated on millions of innocent people – Jews, gypsies and many others.  Eisenhower, who was later president, also insisted on complete photos and documentation.  So did the courts that tried Nazi war criminals after the war ended.  The evidence is readily available, clearly itemized by the precise Germans who kept track of the wholesale murders.

Le Pen
Yet, the hatred continues.  In Hungary, thousands of people recently marched into protest against the anti-Semitic Jobbik party. However, the far right-wing party won nearly a quarter of votes cast in a national election.  So did the far-right National Front party of Marine Le Pen in France.  The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)  declined to work with her last year because “anti-Semitism and general prejudice remains in the DNA of the party,” UPIK party leader Nigel Farage said.

Such political parties are hardly unique.  A year ago, the State Department responded by naming a special envoy. Ira Forman, to monitor and combat anti-Semitism following documented increases in incidents of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

In 2013, the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism described “a severe escalation in the worldwide anti-Jewish atmosphere as anti-Semitism continues to infiltrate the mainstream from the extreme left and right fringes, and its manifestations have become an almost daily phenomenon.”

The United States is not immune.  The numbers of attacks here are notoriously inaccurate since surveys reveal that most Jews who have experienced an anti-Semitic verbal or physical attack did not report them.

Nevertheless, the Anti-Defamation League, which defends Jews, reported 31 anti-Semitic assaults in 2013 in this country, “four men in Brooklyn attacking a Jewish man wearing a yarmulke; a group of girls throwing a bottle at a 12-year-old girl, with one of them calling her ‘dirty Jew’ and an attack on a man in Los Angeles by five men who yelled ‘Heil Hitler’ before striking him.”

KKK
Such events are likely to continue as hate groups proliferate, led by right-wing Christian groups who hide their anti-Semitism under the veil of religion.     The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks such organizations, identified a long list of hate groups:


  • 186 Ku Klux Klan groups
  • 196 Neo-Nazi groups
  • 111white supremist organizations
  • 98 groups of skinheads
  • 39 Christian Identity groups
  • 93 Neo-Confederate groups
  • 113 black separatist groups
  • 90 general hate groups (subdivided into anti-gay, Holocaust denial, racist music, radical traditionalist Catholic and others)
California (77) leads the way with the most hate groups, followed by Florida (58) and Texas (57), according to the SPLC.  Every state has at least 1 (North Dakota).
  
Bachmann
Not surprisingly, a group of Republican leaders like Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn) protested that some of these groups don’t belong there. 

Their concern is touching, but reflects the reality that the Grand Old Party already has an image problem.  For example, the self-styled Republican Party Animal, a Hollywood political/social group for conservatives, turned out to be headed by a well-known Holocaust denier.

In 2010, Mother Jones magazine reported that anti-Semitic statements appeared on the Republican National Committee's Facebook page and were not removed quickly despite repeated requests.  The comments included claims that  “Israel is responsible for 9/11, Al Qaeda is ‘100 percent state sponsored by Zionist Jews,’ and then-White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is actually an agent for Mossad, the Israeli spy agency.”

Cantor
Meanwhile, tea party candidates, who are sucking out the lifeblood of the Republic Party, have been caught pronouncing a variety of anti-Semitic jokes or comments.  Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va), the only Jewish Republican in Congress, finally admitted that anti-Semitism stains the Republican caucus. 

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) President and CEO David A. Harris responded, noting  "It's both admirable and disturbing in the extreme to hear Majority Leader Cantor's candid remarks regarding the dual challenges of racism and anti-Semitism that he has detected in the House GOP caucus."

Harris, like Cantor and an otherwise-unknown Hungarian restaurant manager, all know that anti-Semitism will continue to plague mankind.  

"Some of us at one point believed," Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a New York magazine article, "that we were going to come up with the antidote, the panacea for anti-Semitism. Realistically, however, what we've learned is that the best we're going to be able to do is to keep a lid on the anger and the ugliness. But right now, for some reason, the sewer covers have come off."

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Pat Robertson's Meteor Strike


Robertson in full rant
In his latest rant, televangelist-cum-prophet Pat Robertson said the world may end next week with a meteor strike.  He said he predicted just such an event in his vastly unread 1995 novel. (note: next week came and went without any meteors to darken the skies.)

Normally, Robertson’s comments should be dismissed with the rolling of the eyes and a shrug at their immense stupidity.  This time, however, he may have stumbled over something.

A massive meteor could cause an apocalypse next week.   

Robertson, of course, links his comments to the biblical statements about the end of the world, such as:

End of the world?
… there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. (Revelation 6:12-14).

And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.(Luke 21:25-26)

Meteor
To Robertson, that description can only mean a space rock collides with our planet.  "I don't see anything else that fulfills the prophetic words of Jesus Christ other than an asteroid strike,” he said.

“There isn't anything that will cause the seas to roil, that will cause the skies to darken, the moon and the sun not to give their light, the nations terrified on Earth saying 'what's happening?'"

Naturally, he doesn’t know the difference between a meteor and an asteroid: an asteroid orbits the sun and becomes a meteor when it enters the Earth’s atmosphere.

However, Robertson is correct about meteors and their dangers.  Many of them have struck Earth.  One, some 65 million years ago, helped end the reign of dinosaurs.  Scientists now estimate that more than two dozen meteors strike the Earth every year.  A few have been large enough to cause serious damage, such as the one that exploded over Siberia about 100 years ago.

The last known one – most are too small to have an impact or to trigger equipment – took place over Russia in 2013 and injured about 1,000 residents of Chelyabinsk after the resulting explosion broke glass and created massive shards.
Revelation imagery

On the other hand, by focusing on meteors, Robertson calmly ignores the rest of the biblical  prophecies about the end of the world. For example:

So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind. Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million. (Revelation 9:13-16).

The meteor is unlikely to have an army aboard.

For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. (Matthew 24:5-28)

Prophets

A meteor will leave little time for wars, but nations have been battling each other since the beginning of human society. Famine is commonplace, too, and sadly has been a part of human condition from earliest times.

 

And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. (Acts 2:17-21)

 

Maybe Robertson’s comments count as prophecy, but, if so, he’s one of the few and definitely not a young man.  Robertson was born in 1930.

 

Meteor crater

Just as significantly, anyone looking around can see that meteors have left evidence of their impacts, but only in the distant past.  The craters that have been identified are old and, in some cases, barely recognizable.  Robertson, however, thinks the world is barely 9,000 years old, which is not enough time for craters to be swallowed up.

 

As a final blow to his theory, Robertson has been forced to rely on science to support his claim.  Normally, as a biblical literalist, he rejects astronomy, geology and other scientific fields that are necessary to understand the existence of meteors and the damage they cause.  He doesn’t accept evolution, which has been proven by the same sciences he now relies on to support his meteor theory. 

 

In essence, Robertson has blithely rejected all of his earlier beliefs and all scientific evidence to support this one claim. 

 

That’s enough to make people subjected to yet another ridiculous Robertson statement roll their eyes and shake their heads again.

 

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1

 

 


Friday, April 11, 2014

Facts Continue to Undermine Religious Claims


Jesus Wife papyrus
Pope Francis, resting in his apartment near the Vatican, must have sat up wide-eyed and upset this morning.  An international team of scientists has finished studying a scrap of ancient papyrus that claims Jesus had a wife. The scrap was introduced in 2012 and contains just a few words, including “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’" and "’she will be able to be my disciple.’" 


 Vatican has claimed that the small fragment is a fraud.  “Substantial reasons would lead us to conclude that the papyrus is actually a clumsy counterfeit," L'Osservatore Romano, said in an editorial in 2012. 

Of course, the same Vatican has refused to admit the Shroud of Turin is a fake even after exhaustive scientific tests dated the so-called burial cloth of Jesus to the 13th century.  The Church’s credibility isn’t very high in these matters.  It’s wrong on this papyrus fragment, too.

Research announced today (April 11) shows clearly that the writing is genuine.

Historian Karen King
"A wide range of scientific testing indicates that a papyrus fragment is an ancient document," reported Harvard Divinity School.  Historian Karen King, who works at the Divinity School, first introduced the scrap two years ago.  Scholars looked at everything from the composition of the papyrus, oxidation and the carbon ink to the handwriting and grammar.The papyrus was dated using carbon 14 testing, which found that it was produced from 659-859 CE.

Of course, those few words don’t prove anything.  They certainly don’t prove Jesus was married, only that some writer in that time period thought he was.

The Vatican is likely to dismiss it on those grounds.

However, to claim that’s it’s just some unknown author’s thoughts is a two-edged sword.  It also cuts right through the Gospels.  The beloved, sanctified and loudly proclaimed words in the New Testament are nothing more than the writings of unknown writers – the names Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were added long after the books were written -- who were expressing their thoughts decades after the death of Jesus.

The evangelical words are no different than the words on the papyrus.  The New Testament is just older.

The Vatican has already conceded that the Gospels are not history, but contain the “beliefs” of the authors.

So does this new fragment.

However, it flies in the face of several important Catholic ideas, such as priestly celibacy.  The thinking is that Jesus didn’t marry, so priests shouldn’t.    Oops.  The second Church tenet that’s been crushed is that men run the church, not women, because there are no women disciples.  A second oops.

Expect the Church to fulminate further that the fragment is a fake.  Expect conservative Christians to complain about the testing.  They don’t respect science anyway.  Some Christian conservative in Pennsylvania, for example said he’s running for Congress because “evolution made his daughter cry.”  She should be bawling about her father’s ignorance.

Facts are facts.  The little piece of papyrus came from an ancient document.  That’s just the way it is.
Someone more than 1,800 years ago thought Jesus was married and had a woman disciple.  If one person thought that way, others did, too.  That’s history.  No amount of denials is going to change that.  Pope Francis is due for a few more restless nights as science continues to dismantle cherished Church concepts.

How about the claim Jesus died for our sins?  Oh, wait.  That’s been shown to be wrong.  Evolution proved Adam and Eve never existed so there was no Original Sin.  Or that God created the universe?  Darn, the Big Bang Theory exploded that concept.

What’s left?

Probably just more meaningless objections from a sleepless pope.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1