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Universalis

Friday, February 22, 2008

Camp O'Donnell memorialjavascript:void(0)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Film debunks Christian Jesus

A quote from an ABC interview:

It’s one of the biggest censorships of history. So, I thought somebody should say this, and then others might disagree, say, “Ahhh, this could not be! This is blasphemy!” But it’s OK — this is the 21st century. It’s time for information. It’s time for communication. They can go check it out.

Yup.

It must be Easter…and the latest debunking of orthodox Christian belief is getting press coverage.

The latest twist? It’s a film on the “life of Jesus” as told by the devout Iranian Muslim government.

So the Iranian government releases a movie blasphemous of Christian beliefs...and the film wins praise at an “interfaith” film festival in Rome, for “generating interfaith dialogue”.

Well, why not.

Every religious holiday, the elites “discover” another “proof” that Christians are wrong about Jesus. Last year it was that Jesus was just a loud mouth preacher who got in trouble with the Roman authorities and ran off with Mary Magdalen and lived comfortably until a ripe old age.

And every year a similar “discovery” is touted. Last years’s the Da Vinci Code was only the latest.

And then you have the (now debunked) Jesus tomb story and the (now debunked) Gospel of Judas as front page stories generating oodles of publicity and TV specials, never mind that scholars, not theologians, have debunked the latter two as shoddy scholarship.

What few people understand is that these alternative stories about Jesus go back to the early days of Christianity, and in some areas for awhile became the most popular version of the creed. After all, it was a lot easier for those who believed in Zeus begetting Apollo and Hercules to change their religion to believing that Jehovah begat a superhero son than in believing that the one deity of the philosophers actually got his hands dirty by becoming a man in the old fashioned way, by being born….and into a dirty stable, of a poor working class family.

Better to believe Jesus was a minor god like Hercules, or a descended master, or a man whose body was used by a god (who conveniently flew the coop when Jesus was crucified), or that he wasn’t a lowly non Aryan Jew, but the son of a Roman soldier…. and of course he didn’t die and rise again. Like the Muslim story, someone else took his place, or he was taken from the cross and revived in the first century version of an ICU within three days, or…well, you get the picture.

Any story will do but the one preached by orthodox Christians.

What all these stories have in common is two things: One, that Jesus was not God, and that he didn’t die and rise again.

Two: That the alternative story is true, and the story told by the Catholic church is a lie. (place latest Catholic conspiracy theory here).

Mohammed in some ways had an excuse: The only Christianity he knew about was the non deity Christian type, so it is that version that got into the Koran.


So the filmmaker is presenting the same anti Catholic line as the DaVinci Code and a dozen other modern fictional novels: that Jesus was merely a man, and the Council of Nicea (with the help of Constantine) tried to destroy the real story of Jesus….

Catholics might gingerly point out, however, that Constantine and his son Constantius, and later the Emperor Valens actually backed the Arian (Jesus as superman) version of Christianity, and for awhile the strongest supporter of what is now called Christian orthodoxy, Bishop Athanasius, was on the run from the authorities. The Catholic version of this tells the story of Athanasius who once hid in a well to avoid capture by the Emperor’s soldiers, leading one writer to wryly comment: At the time, there was only one Christian, in a well, but the truth triumphed in the long run.

Ah, yes, Truth.

In a world of multiculturalism, one might echo the words of Pilate: What is truth?

Ah, but in today's multicultural world, truth is not important. Let’s all be reasonable, and insist that religion is a psychological way of coping with difficulties, god is our projection of a father figure, and why argue about theology when we are all good people, so just shut up about your beliefs.

Such ideas are tempting now that leading writers see religion as the source of all wars and hatred (conveniently ignoring the “isms” of the twentieth century that pointed to scientific reasons for their murders, and also conveniently ignoring the numerous wars of China, whose 3000 year history is as bloody as Europe, but not as well known).

But if one believes that truth matters, then one has to answer the question that Jesus asked those who followed him: Who do you say I am?

If you believe Jesus is a prophet, an avantar, a superman, a loudmouth revolutionary, a fraud, or X (place latest fad here), then no problem. If these ideas are true, you can go on and make up your own religion, and see orthodox Christians as narrowminded deluded bigots.

But, at least be aware that there is another version of the story that might be true, one that has implications: That the maker of the galaxies saw men getting into trouble on their own, and realizing they didn’t understand the mystics, decided to teach them about how to live.

And if this happened, then maybe the lessons of the Sermon on the mount mean more than a warm fuzzy feeling.

For unlike preachers who impose legal strictures, and unlike mystics who use hyperbole in seeking God, Jesus used simple stories: stories better understood by the farmers of Luzon or Africa than the intelligencia.

Jesus talked of things we see every day: The sprouting seed, the lost sheep, the son who preferred parties to hard work but came back to be forgiven by a loving father.

The response of the authorities back then to such radical teaching was the same as it would be today: to silence the voice by a show trial and ridicule.

So this year's big story debunking Christ and Christianity will be in the name of “religious understanding".

And the best way for Christians to react to this is to pray.

And maybe for those of us who are lowly bloggers, perhaps a quiet explanation on why we think such films distort the true story of Christ.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Family news

Yesterday we went to Manila to pick up Lolo's hearing aid. They had to send it to Singapore to get fixed, and it's been back for two weeks, but this is the first chance we had to drive down.

Now I don't have to shout at him.

It was Chano's birthday, so we celebrated by eating at a fancy Steakhouse...I ordered the Caeser salad (something I can't get here) and Lolo the steak and we shared, but still took home half the steak for us to eat for supper. Lolo rarely eats steak: it's quite expensive, usually imported from Australia or New Zealand. The local beef is either water buffalo or old cow, and has to be soaked, boiled, or pounded to eat.

Luckily the major demonstrations are being held today in Manila, since the hearing aid company's office is around the corner from the Peninsula Hotel where the last coup attempt took place. (the door is now fixed). But few feel that any protest will do anything...partly because the "smoking gun" will never be found, and partly because she'll be out in two years anyway, so why bother...they're all crooks anyway.

Note: This is not my opinion, just what people tell me.

Chano notes GMA is good for business, and supports her.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Scientific faux pas in Gallileo protest of Pope

Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman relates a time when he was part of the panel judging which textbooks should be used in a California school system. This meant he had to spend a lot of time and energy reading every proposed textbook, and deciding which one should be used.

One in a series of three books hadn't been printed yet, but the publisher decided to include a blank book with the series to remind the judges that it would soon be forthcoming.

But Feynman relates that the blank book got a good rating from 80% of the panel.

Obviously, the panel never bothered to open the book. Presumably, they merely took the word of the publisher of what was in the book and okayed it.

A similar mistake seems to be behind the recent protest in La Sapienza University, where 60 scientists signed a paper protesting the Pope's defense of the inquisition prosecuting Gallileo.

Someone at the Vatican who knows how to google did a little research. It happens that the letter denouncing the Pope got the university, the date, and the city of the speech wrong. And the only place that had the same three errors was a Wikipedia entry on the speech.

Now, Wikipedia is an excellent starting point for lay people, but it is written and edited by almost anyone, and therefore it has the scientific accuracy of a blog post, not the accuracy one expects from a peer reviewed scientific journal.

Any true scientist would not have relied on only the Wikipedia article, but have cross checked a second source to make sure that the speech had been correctly posted there. And, of course, any true scientist would have read the entire speech before signing the letter.

So the scientists who signed the paper obviously never bothered to read the entire speech. Like those who gave a good review to a blank textbook, they merely relied on another's "expert" opinion.

What can one learn from all of this?

Well, one lesson is that scientists are humans, and have a life. They don't want to "waste" time trying to understand the nuances of things outside their area of expertise. So and so told them this paper was true, and not having the time or energy to bother to explore the details, they simply signed the paper to go along with popular opinion.

Lesson two is that of Feynman: that even if 1000 scientists sign a paper, their opinion is not as valuable as a single scientist who actually studied the question in detail.

(crossposted BNN)

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

the bishop versus the organ hucksters

The Bishop versus the Organ Hucksters

February 6th, 2008 by Nancy Reyes

Archbishop Cruz, the former head of the Philippine bishop’s conference, is always on a crusade. Last week he was in the news for preventing a flashy “priest healer” from performing miracles in his diocese. The week before, he was denouncing government corruption….well, actually, almost every week he is denouncing government corruption of one sort or another.

And just in case you don’ t read about it in the papers, he has a blog

But this week, he has a bee in his bonnet, and it has to do with government announcing that they plan to regulate live organ donations in the Philippines.

What started the controversy was a University of the Philippines survey that revealed 3000 people in one Manila slum had donated kidneys for money, and reports that the local NBI (federal police) are investigating a respected hospital for it's involvement in the scam.

But instead of praising the police for their prosecution of those violating a 1993 law against human trafficking that forbids buying organs, the government instead has piously announced that they are going to regulate the business of buying and selling organs.

Buying organs for transplant has been going on for awhile in Asia, but as problems of overt exploitation and neglect of donors comes to light, India and other countries have started to make such profiteering illegal, essentially shutting down the pipeline for quick kidney transplants for rich outsiders.

So if "living donor" kidney transplants become legal, the Philippines stands to gain a lot of money as the transplant capital of the world.

When it comes to paying kidney donors, naive Americans, mainly of the libertarian persuasion, say, well, why not?

The rich guy gets a new lease on life with a new kidney, and the poor guy gets a bundle of money to help his family. End story.

But of course, that is not the end of the story.

A WHO (World Health Organization) report on paid live donors reveal that most volunteer because they are poor and enticed by the money promised to them. Yet afterward, many suffer health problems from the surgery, and often the initial financial gain is offset by the inability to work.(most are poor people whose jobs involve heavy physical labor).

Even in Iran, the only country who has legalized paying organ donors, and which strictly regulates it, has noted over half of their donors end up with health problems.

Those receiving the organs don’t get off free either. They risk getting HIV, or hepatitis B and C from the donors. And although some studies in obscure third world medical journals give suspiciously high (99%) one year results, an Australian journal shows that only 66 percent of the transplants are working a year later.

So who benefits? Follow the money.

The government will benefit because the growing trade in "medical tourism" will boost the economy.

Hospitals will benefit, since they will have paying patients.

Doctors will benefit, since skilled doctors will be able to do their work here in Manila instead of having to emigrate to other countries.

And, of course, those needing a transplant will be greatly helped.

So let's allow the government to regulate it to prevent harm.

But the main ones who benefit will be the "middle men", who find patients desperate for kidney transplants, and arrange their operation, and who will go into the slums and recruit poor people desperate for money. By using middle men, the government will be able to claim it will regulate the business, to ensure that only those wanting to altruistically donate their organs will be chosen.

Hospitals and doctors will be forbidden to recruit poor people as donors, so when a middle man comes in with an obviously poor person needing money, they will accept his claim that he only wishes to do a good deed. And if the middleman who brings these altruistic donors to the hospital gets a friendly gift now and then from the hospital, well that's just being friendly.

The government will make sure that these donors will be not be paid, but of course they will ignore if they are given a small "gift" to thank them for their donation and cover their expenses during recovery. And if the donor just happens to give part of that gift to the middleman, well, it's only being friendly.

And the government will ensure that the donors will receive health care after the operation, to make sure their health doesn't suffer.

But this is the Philippines, after all, and in the words of one local wag: here the bribes are over the table, under the table, and with the table. So of course, don't describe these simple gifts with nasty words like bribery or illegal kickbacks.

So everyone is happy: the government, the hospitals, the doctors, the patients, and especially the middle men.

The only loser is the poor man or woman in the slums who now is faced with a life of poor health, and who often is bilked out of the money promised to them:(the UP survey found that the average payment was not the promised $3000 but usually $1600-2000, the difference going to the middleman who recruited the donor).

So who speaks up for the voiceless poor who are being harmed by this scam? The Catholic Bishop’s conference. They have released a letter condemning the legalizing of the organ buying from the poor. They remind the government that Catholics traditionally see organ donation as a good deed, and it is encouraged, but to exploit the voiceless poor to benefit the rich is a no no.

So Archbishop Cruz is also angry, denouncing the plan on his blog as one more way that the corrupt rich are exploiting the desperately poor for their own financial gain.

So who will win? The bishop or the hucksters?

Personally, I suspect the money men will win in the short run.

But as Bishop Cruz and the other bishops remind them: that in the long run, no matter how rich they are, they can’t bribe their way into heaven.

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