Monthly Archives: September 2014

Déjà Vu: Muslim extremist evils should sound familiar

Lightning from Blue CloudFew reading this, I dare say, have any qualms about seeing religious extremists who believe they please the Almighty by dealing with nonbelievers, sinners, so-called apostates and “infidels” with intolerance and especially cruelty and butchery, contained and even eradicated (Mandated when an armed response is the lesser of 2 evils — kill or else have more innocents killed).

At the moment (October 2014) a coalition of nations including many predominately Muslin ones are involved in rolling back the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL) whose atrocities and wanton evil are regularly showcased and discussed on TV and in newspapers, not to mention web, blog and social media outlets galore worldwide.

In the midst of all this most justifiable righteous indignation with extremist violence and monstrous wickedness, there is also a growing hostility towards Muslims in countries throughout the world in which peaceful, law-abiding ones are not only suspected of being sympathetic to Islamic extremists like IS/ISIS/ISIL but are thought to be fellow travelers, even members of planted “sleeper cells” who lurk in the shadows awaiting conditions to favor their popping out and engaging in terrorism.

And, even though Muslims including scholars have come out and denounced the extremist evil of IS including their cherry-picking of the Quran to support their beliefs and actions (Examples: Here & here), this is oftentimes ignored or eclipsed by our all-too-human in-group/out-group sentiments (wiring?) which in many instances has given rise to xenophobia and then paranoia. There is something both ironic and paradoxical in the fact that many who decry the intolerance and acts of cruelty championed by extremists began to treat anyone or anything that “smacks of the enemy” with intolerance and cruelty (ranging from subtle ostracism to physical violence).

It is also tempting to filter out contrary evidence within the Islamic world and conclude that IS/ISIS/ISIL actually reflects the heart and soul of Muslim beliefs and heartfelt convictions. It doesn’t help that stories and accounts come out of how many Muslims actually do believe that certain Islamic extremist groups, often dominated by clerics, are an antidote for deviating from a literal interpretation of the Quran or “creeping liberalism”. This sort of thing is naturally seized upon by those who argue that Muslims who bomb, shoot, crucify, bury alive, behead and otherwise dispatch “infidels” in bestial ways represent the real Islamic McCoy. Here is one of many posted articles on the Web that take this position (This one claims that the Oklahoma Muslim who beheaded an ex-coworker represents the “real Islam”): http://www.wnd.com/2014/09/oklahoma-beheader-represents-real-islam/

If this doesn’t should familiar, you’ve either forgotten your high school history lessons or slept through them. How so? At one time the Christian world, especially many of its leaders both religious and secular, sanctioned draconian measures against “infidels” which included torture, imprisonment, exile and cruel executions. What did these “defenders of the faith” base their actions on? They certainly didn’t need to make up scriptural justification for this sort of thing. The Bible provided them abundant material that when taken literally and narrowly applied, sometimes out-of-context and sometimes not, justified the cruelest imaginable treatment and horrific execution of gays, occultists, nonbelievers, heterodox believers (heretics), infidels (non-Christians) and more. Click to read a rundown of such verses.

Historic examples? Thankfully, a chap by the name of Mark Humphrys saved me having to dig out all the applicable historic incidents and practices and such, as he researched, organized and posted this to http://markhumphrys.com/christianity.killings.html (Readers are also encouraged to peruse what’s posted at http://www.heretication.info/_heretics.html).

Of course, most modern (Western) Christian believers and organizations including churches and denominations would never entertain taking verses such as Leviticus 20:10 as (ahem) gospel and acting on them: If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death (Albeit some especially aggrieved wives or husbands might wish this was the law of the land)

But ask yourself: What stopped the waves of church-sanctioned persecution, torture and cruel execution of heretics and those declared apostates, sinners or such who would not repent or otherwise bend their knee to those who held their lives in-the-balance? History reveals no sudden turnabout. However, over time a number of shifts and changes occurred that gradually undermined and eroded intolerance and forced conformity to orthodoxy: Among these, the church lost secular power and influence while Biblical literalism and militant, extremist Christian policies and actions lost steam as more moderate views won the day (And these because to a great extent religious scholars and others critically examined archaic beliefs and practices and even the scriptures themselves in light of contrary or mitigating factual evidence and reasoning).

This is viewpoint is reflected in comments made by Southern Baptist Theological seminary faculty member Dr. Timothy Paul Jones to the Baptist Press which were incorporated in a July 2014 article titled “Why Christians killed and why Muslim violence continues” by David Roach:

“Christians used to kill with some frequency over matters of doctrine. There was the Spanish Inquisition, Calvin’s Geneva, England’s notorious Bloody Mary, the drowning of Anabaptists, the Crusades and more.”

Dr. Jones, the author of “Christian History Made Easy“, also stated that “it was the intermingling of church authority and civil authority that made it possible for persons who claimed to be Christians to have the state execute others who also professed Christ.”

But,…and this is a big but…..this shift was not without acrimonious debates, calls for a return to “that old time religion” (i.e., a church with secular power that punished heretics and others), fist fights and open warfare, and worse, in various quarters at various times.

Now ask yourself: Does all that’s happening in the Middle East — the theocratic Islamic governments who rely on oppression and cruelty and public executions to hold the pot lid down on dissent, the pitched battles (literal and figurative) between proponents of a Muslim religious worldview that is exclusivist literalist, and radically fundamentalist and those who champion the opposite, etc. — represent the kind of “Future Shock” cultural, social and religious clashes and upheavals that arose from and signaled the transition from a Europe that was ruled by clerics and which burned heretics to one of nations largely democratic and essentially tolerant? (But not without periodic lapses into darkness when conditions favored the eclipse of reason and tolerance by fear, hatred and bigotry). I tend to think so.

The question of whether such a complete transition will occur may not be one of if but when. But at what cost to the Muslim world and Israel, the EU, America, and other countries before the dust settles?

Beyond containing militant/radical Muslim extremists, there are other variables at play that could up the ante and the “dust” that gets kicked up before it settles to the ground. Assume for a moment that those who warn that Iran is dead set on building nuclear weapons — something underscored by alarming developments such as this — are right and they do. What happens if a major offensive is launched by one or more Arab countries against Israel and Iran joins this? If so, it is not inconceivable that Russia, which has longstanding ties to Iran (not to mention Assad’s Syria), might seize the opportunity to support such military adventurism. This would surely result in America rightfully jumping into the fray to help Israel repel this armed assault and intended invasion. Bingo, WWIII or, if not something this dire, surely a major regional conflagration that will come awfully close to unleashing it.

A major war in the Middle East, too, seems less a matter of if but when. Certainly a great many Jewish and Christian believers view this as inevitable based on prophecies in the books of Daniel and Ezekiel (Among others). Read my blog entry on this by clicking this link.

However, whether a great war hits the Middle East in the near future, later on or not at all, we can all expect a lot of craziness and bloodshed not only there but in Europe, the US, Canada, and elsewhere before the Muslim world breaks free of the forces of extremism, oppression and such.

Our challenge here in the US lies not just encouraging and waiting out the hoped for transition among Muslim countries, but also in preventing terrorist acts by Islamic extremists and their sympathizers in our midst, while at the same time avoiding letting their occasional successes drive us into the arms of authoritarian solutions…or worse.

Dr. Anthony G. Payne (Br. Anthony of the Resurrection)

 

Additional/supplemental reading penned by “yours truly”

Dark times and the allure of evil

How do you kill 12 million people? Evil then and now: Recognizing & containing it

 

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Book review: “To Heaven & Back” by Mary C. Neal, MD (Great read but it raises many concerns)

To Heaven & Back

I am like many of you reading this fascinated by unusual happenings and accounts including NDEs (near death experiences), UFOs, Bigfoot, and so forth. Actually so long as a claim does not violate the established laws of physics or chemistry and has not already been convincingly refuted by contrary evidence, one must allow that the phenomenon or what-have-you in question might one day garner sufficient proof to compel acknowledging its reality. However, until the jury is in (solid evidence) it is usually prudent to remain agnostic on the matter (With the exception of things believed on the basis of faith and not testable using the tools of science — such as the existence of God).

There is nothing, for example, to disallow the existence of Bigfoot (Sasquatch) or a Yeti. The existence of such primates do not require a violation or suspension of the laws that govern the natural world nor even quality as extraordinary in the same sense, say, as an alien or fairy or ghost would. The problem with Bigfoot and the Yeti lies in a lack of evidence. There has been lots of frauds and biological samples that turned out to be from cows and bears and such, but no hair or tissue DNA (much less corpses) that reveal a previously unknown bipedal primate.

Near Death Experiences (NDEs) are a phenomenon that involves biological events surrounding dying and death, especially brain states that tend to give rise to things like leaving one’s body, visiting the afterlife (Heaven, hell or what-have-you), and so forth. Scientists have spent decades teasing out the mechanisms underlying or contributing to this process such as anoxia (lack of oxygen) albeit some of their pet hypotheses have been recently questioned and challenged (Click this link to read one especially cogent article concerning this).

I doubt many people of faith would have any problem with NDEs as a biological phenomenon or at least rooted in it, however, things get somewhat contentious when it comes to whether anything is revealed in NDEs that could not be explained by prosaic natural events or happenings in the brain (Believers say “yes”, skeptics, “no”). Consider this:  Believers in God who have NDEs typically see people and places consistent with their beliefs and expectations, though more than a few have reported being in a place they did not expect to be — hell. Being in hell would not be the sort of thing most folks would expect, however, it could be argued that in such instances their subconscious anticipated their going to hell and they “fulfilled this” during dying or at clinical death — heart stoppage but not total cessation of brain activity — as an NDE “vision”. This is consistent with NDEs being a manifestation of processes in a dying brain though arguments abound on the Web by men and women of faith who’ve had NDEs and claim experiencing things that could not have been produced by the brain whether dying, on hallucinogenic drugs or in the throes of other influences.      

There are, I know, those who claim they were brain dead and returned to life minutes or even hours or days after death (A search of videos on You Tube will turn up many such accounts and there are many books written by people claiming this, especially in the Charismatic or neopentecostal Christian world). However, I have yet to come across a single case in which indisputable medical proof has been produced that confirms body & brain death occurred and then life was restored later on.

So as best I can tell we have this tug-of-war between the two camps — those who find in NDEs only natural processes at work and no evidence of anything beyond brain death — and those who admit to the natural aspects of dying & NDEs but claim they have peered into or visited an afterlife world and returned. As Carl Sagan rightly pointed out, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof” and no such extraordinary proof has yet emerged that takes a given NDE experience beyond what can accounted for by natural processes and happenings. But, and this is a big but, when such claims of having visited an afterlife world do not represent a scientific claim but one predicated solely on faith (and is also not amenable to scientific testing), then the tale or account or story lies outside the purview of science.

As I am a believer you know pretty much where I land on the question of NDEs and especially a postmortem afterlife. And in line with this I like to peruse books and articles penned by those who have had an NDE and have vivid recollections of either heaven or hell or both.        

One of my recent reads is orthopedic surgeon Mary C. Neal’sTo Heaven and Back“. It is this book I will briefly review and critique now.

In-a-word Dr. Neal went kayaking in  the Los Rios region of southern Chile in 1999 and wound up pulled under water and drowned.     

In her book Dr. Neal shared various “lessons” derived from her NDE experience and what followed and then drew conclusions (some applicable to others) that I found perplexing, even disturbing. One reviewer of her book very ably captured some of my own reservations:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/09/review-of-to-heaven-and-back-by-mary-c-neal.html

“…and yet in which it seems as though everything that happens, whether seemingly  good or ill, is for the best, and part of a divine plan, which is at times depicted as alterable but at other times seems not to be. “

“A worldview of this sort presents many puzzles and seemingly unanswerable questions. Neal believes that she was brought back from death to be there for her family to cope with the later death of  their son. But surely that makes no sense whatsoever – it would have been just as straightforward to spare her her accident, and have the son survive his own accident after a near-death experience.

“The book highlights the fact that, if we look for the good in the pattern of life that is woven by the intersection of human lives, we will find it. And I do not disagree in the slightest. But I do think that, in making a personal God the weaver who tugs and at times forces the threads into a foreordained pattern, it actually undermines the attributes of God that Neal herself wants to emphasize, including most importantly love. A God who micromanages an adult’s kayaking accident to ensure her survival, but not the careless running down of her son by a texting driver, or perhaps who micromanages both to at times reduce and at times intensify human agony, does not seem to provide anything other than personal comfort for one who, like Neal, wants to find comfort in the idea that such events are supernaturally meaningful.”

I’m sure many of the people who went through the Shoah (Holocaust) would agree with this reviewer whose opinion above, again, mirrors my own.

Also, in a chapter titled “Conversing with an Angel”: (pp 97-103) Dr. Neal discussed how an angel addressed a question of hers concerning why “bad things happen to good people?”

According to Neal ” In preparation for our journey to earth, we are able to make a basic outline for our life. This is not to imply that we, as humans, are entirely in charge of our life’s design. It is more like God creates it, then we review it and discuss it with our ‘personal planning’ angel. Within the algorithm are written branch points in our lives at which times we may exit, returning to God, or we may be redirected to a different task and goal”.

Let’s think about this for a moment:

Consider a, mother of six children, a believer, who has five children who along with her and her husband are placed in a concentration camp and then later tortured and then cruelly executed. Is it likely this is a plan she in some way approved as a preincarnate spirit including a grisly death of herself and her family, rewards in Paradise notwithstanding, as a favored “branch point” to exit this veil of tears?.

Would a preincarnate human spirit be likely approve an early life course spent being abused, sexually or otherwise, which is ended in her teens when her abuser bashes her head in with a sledge hammer? Is the fact the person she becomes is a faithful believer and accrues great eternal rewards for exercising her faith in the face of wanton brutality and perversion necessarily make this a life plan she would endorse?  

I suspect most folks reading this will have reservations and difficulties with this aspect of Dr. Neal’s book.

On a personal note, I am of the opinion that Dr. Neal’s  particular experiences are very circumspect in the sense that they constitute a divinely conducted experiment aimed at exploring & developing her faith (But which would not apply to many others, as the Almighty IMO fashions experiments unique to the individual).

This perspective — God as experimentalist — is actually one I have held for a very long time and developed and published in an essay titled “Rats in the Cosmic Laboratory: Is God a Scientist?” which readers will find at http://anthonypayne.hubpages.com/hub/Feeling-Alienated-You-have-a-lot-of-company (I originally published it ages ago on the “Think Deeply’ website — a now defunct cyber-forum. It racked up over 100K hits during it life and was #1 in the theory category).*

Having said all this, I did enjoy Dr. Neal’s book and was enriched by many aspects of it and thus would recommend anyone interested in NDE accounts to get a copy and read it, then pass it on to others who would welcome this sort of thing.

© 2012 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved.

*Readers interested in my religious musings are invited to visit http://summerclouds.weebly.com/.

Book Review: “When Rick Was Sick” (A Stem Cell Book for Children!)

001Normally I do a book review rarely and one for children’s books, well…never. Until now, that is. The book in question: “When Rick Was Sick” by Auntielynny.

I freely confess right up front that children’s books are not my forte, neither writing them or reading them. Part of this surely lies in the fact I never had any children and haven’t yet entered my 2nd childhood. So why make an exception with “When Rick Was Sick”?

CLICK TO READ THE REVIEW IN ITS ENTIRETY

Biblical prophecy is primarily about Israel & the Jewish people, not the US!

Judaism Starburst grunge backgroundhttp://summerclouds.weebly.com/summer-clouds-blog/prophecy-is-primarily-about-israel-the-jewish-people-not-America

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