The Golden Gate

The Golden Gate is one of the 12 gates of the Old City of Jerusalem and is one of two gates facing east, both of which are walled up.  There is a Jewish tradition that the Messiah will enter Jerusalem through this Gate, and a Christian belief based on this that Jesus entered Jerusalem thru this Gate.  In order to prevent the coming of the Messiah or the second coming of Christ (an adaptation of the Messiah legend) the Muslims walled these Gates up during the medieval period.  

However, there is an entrance to the Gate inside the Old City Wall, that was being used by the Muslims as a protected site from which to attack the Israeli guards on the Temple Mount.  So several years ago the inner side of the Gate was also closed by a metal gate by the Israeli authorities.  Recently the Muslim Wakf, in charge of Muslim interests on the site, called by them the Haram al-Sharif, used mob force to open these gates and tried to use the adjoining area again.  This lead to a clash with the Israeli police and there are now threats of further violence by the Muslims.

It does not strike them as ironic that the Muslims were responsible for permanently closing the Gate by walling it up in the first place, but now they are rioting to keep it open. I wonder what would happen if the Israel authorities decided to actually remove the wall that is blocking the Gate and leave it open for all to enter the Old City.  Then there would probably be an even greater riot.  That seems to be the only solution to all their problems.

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The Pope’s Visit to UAE

Among the more extraordinary events of the present time was the visit of the Pope to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  This was the first recorded visit of a leader of Christianity to the Arabian peninsula, from which Christians (and Jews) have historically been excluded.  This in itself is extraordinary, that a group could exclude all other religions from a whole sub-continent, merely because their prophet lived there!  Of course, up to and during Mohammed’s time Jews and  Christians did live in the Arabian peninsula.  But, they were all killed or driven out by the Muslims.

Now in the modern world, where they need Western tourists and connections to the wider world, some of the small Gulf Arab States are seeking to project the image of modernity and tolerance.  Hence the declaration by the UAE of a year of tolerance, during which they invited the Pope and other world religious leaders to attend a conference on Peace and Tolerance. Very nice.  Of course, one should not forget that these tiny sheikdoms lived through centuries of mutual conflict and were only brought into the modern world by British control and American oil dollars.  But, now some of them are opting for a more peaceful coexistence and in fact Abu Dhabi now calls itself the Land of Peace.

In contrast, in most other parts of the Muslim world, Christians are under physical attack, in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Turkey, Pakistan and more, Christians are being blown up in their Churches and Cathedrals and receiving death threats. (They can’t attack Jews living there because they already expelled or killed all of them, except in Morocco).   So we should be pleased that at least in some parts of the Arab Muslim world there is a tendency towards tolerance and modernization.  Even the Grand Imam of the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, considered the most important in the Arab world, came to Abu Dhabi and embraced the Pope.

But, let’s not get too carried away by this gesture.  One of the Gulf Arab States, Qatar, while also modernizing, has embraced extremism to the extent that the other Gulf States led by Saudi Arabia have broken diplomatic ties with it.  Qatar pays the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas m$15 per month in Gaza (thru an agreement with the Israeli Govt., so that they can pay for their electricity and water, etc.).  Qatar also flirts with ties with Iran.  Recently an Israeli Arab woman was murdered in Turkey by her brother and father because she wanted to go to medical school.  A Christian woman named Asia Bibi who was rumored to have blasphemed against the Koran in Pakistan was beaten by a mob and then condemned to death in 2010.  She spent 8 years on death row before she was declared innocent of the crime, but she was recently forced to leave the country under State protection because mobs were rioting demanding her death.  The Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared that blasphemy laws must be retained as they protect Islam.

Merry Christmas?

Unfortunately there is no merry Christmas for the Christians of the Middle East.  Although people tend to believe that there are very few terrorists and most Muslims are good people, nevertheless Christians throughout the Middle East are experiencing Muslim persecution, and their co-religionists in the West Don’t seem to care.  Here is a  statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England, Justin Welby (whose father was Jewish) “Middle East Christians are on the verge of extinction ….this is the worst situation since the Mongol invasions of the 13th Century.”

Coptic Christians in Egypt are under constant attack with many deaths in bombings of Churches by terrorists, and the Government is not able to willing to protect them,  consequently many are emigrating.  Christians in Lebanon are under constant pressure from the growing power of the terrorist Shia organisation Hezbollah, that openly attacks them.  In Iraq the historic Christian heartland of the Chaldean Christians has been nearly wiped out during the wars that have convulsed the region.

Christians in the Palestinian areas, notwithstanding the claim by Pres. Abbas that Jesus was a “Palestinian”, when everyone knows he was a Jew, have been hard hit by constant anti-Christian actions.  The Christian population of Bethlehem, where they are holding Christmas celebrations, has been greatly reduced from 86% in 1950 to 12% today.  Also, in Gaza where there were ca. 6,000 Christians when Hamas took over in 2012, there were estimated to be only 1,100 in 2016.  This reduction in Christian population is a feature of the whole Muslim Middle East, including Turkey and Pakistan,where attacks on Christians are rife.

By contrast, the Christian population in Israel has grown by about 5,000 in the past 20 years, although staying around 2% as the total population has grown, from natural increase and immigration.  All religions have freedom of worship in Israel, the only vibrant democracy in the Middle East.  Merry Christmas to our Christian friends!

 

Sexual Abuse in the Church

In Australia, Archbishop Wilson of Sydney has been found guilty in court of covering up cases of sexual abuse in the Church.  Specifically two cases by a priest named Fletcher were brought to his attention in the 1970’s, but he did nothing.  The Pope accepted his resignation, when at first he refused to resign.   The Archbishop is the highest Catholic forced to resign over sexual offenses, but in 2017 Catholic Cardinal Pell of Melbourne was found guilty of sexual offenses and resigned.   There have been severe cases in Australia involving the British children who were sent illegally there from the 1940s-70s, many of whom were used virtually as slave labor (and as sex slaves) in Catholic institutions.

In Chile, due to widespread sexual abuse in the Church, all Catholic Bishops have tendered their resignations to the Pope.  A terrible case was the mistreatment of children in Canada, orphans who were deliberately labelled mentally ill were put in a Catholic orphanage where they were treated to medieval torture and sexual abuse in the 1940’s-60s.  It was routine for them to be tied to metal springs and whipped.  The so-called Duplessis orphans sued the Church and received civil damages in the amount of millions of dollars.  It is believed the Church made ca. m$70 from the Quebec Government for “housing” these children.  It is believed many also died and were buried secretly.  Native American Children were also taken from their parents and subjected to abuse, mistreatment and even death.

In Ireland there is ,of course, the similar case of the Magdalene Order, who essentially imprisoned and exploited young women sent to them because they were “wayward” or “promiscuous.”  They were forced to work long hours without pay in laundries throughout Ireland and the Church made money off them.  Their plight was highlighted in a  book and a movie entitled ‘The Magdalene Sisters.”

In fact sexual and physical abuse of children and others is a notable feature of the Catholic Church, presumably because the requirement for male priests who are supposed to be celibate attracts homosexuals.  There is a list of such abuse country by country (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_sex_abuse_cases_by_country) including France, Belgium, England, Croatia, Italy, Poland, the USA and so on.  It defeats logic that believers in Catholicism continue to support this immensely rich organization that systematically abuses their children.

Of course, the Catholic Church is not the only religious institutions in which abuse occurs.  There are many cases of Anglican priests engaging in such activities and cover-ups by Bishops and so on.  Recently there was a case of a Jewish female teacher extradited from Israel to Australia where she was wanted on sexual abuse charges in an Orthodox Jewish school.  Religion is a powerful attractant for people who seek to abuse others through hierarchical power.

Did Einstein Believe in God?

I was invited to a dinner and at the dinner I met an interesting man named Bernard who was a physicist although he was religious.  When he found out that I am a biochemist he asked me several direct questions, and we had an interesting conversation about metabolism, drugs and cancer.  Then he also asked me if I believe in God.  I said that I did not (even though I was also wearing a kippa as a courtesy).  He asked me why and I explained this by saying that I did not have a religious upbringing and that I am a scientist.  Then Bernard made the statement that “Einstein was certainly a scientist and he believed in God.”

At that point I had to correct him, having read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Einstein and other material. I pointed out that Einstein’s famous statement “God doesn’t play dice with the universe,” was not a statement of belief by Einstein, but rather a refutation of quantum theory, that is based on probability, that Einstein spent the latter half of his life trying to disprove (unsuccessfully).  Bernard challenged me to provide another quote that proved Einstein was not a believer in God.  I told him that I could not remember such a quote verbatim, but I would gladly send one to him.

Instead of going to Isaacson’s book, I looked up “Einstein’s religious beliefs” in Google, and indeed there was a long article there.  I chose more or less at random a short paragraph with some quotes from Einstein, and sent them to Bernard, with  a covering note saying that I agreed with him.  Here is the quote :

Einstein expressed his skepticism regarding the existence of an anthropomorphic God, such as the God of Abrahamic religions, often describing this view as “naïve” and “childlike“.   In a 1947 letter he stated, “It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously.” In a letter to Beatrice Frohlich on 17 December 1952, Einstein stated, “The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naïve.”

This proved my point that Einstein rejected the so-called Abrahamic God and any kind of personal God, and although he remained a skeptic, he was in awe of the universe and retained some spiritual sense of a creator.

I received a pleasant response from Bernard, and a quote that he considered showed that Einstein’s was not an atheist:

Einstein stated, “I am not an Atheist.”   According to Prince Hubertus, Einstein said, “In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views.” 

My views are more atheist than Einstein.  I do have spiritual feelings when I see the amazing complexity of the animals in the world, but I know them to have been created by evolution by natural selection.  I am amazed at the complexity of molecular biology, but I see no reason to bring God into consideration to explain the interaction of bio-molecules.  I also cannot accept that the God that Jews have beseeched to protect them actually exists after the Shoah.

Science has refuted many religious views, such as that the earth is flat, that the sun revolves around the earth, that God made man from dust, that God created all the animal species as we find them, that God dictated the Torah (Bible) to Moses (writing on parchment did not appear until at least 300 years after the estimated date of the Exodus) and so on.  It is clear that religion is not equipped to handle the physical world, on the other hand science is not really equipped to handle the spiritual world.  Science deals in measurable quantities, such as length and time.  But religion deals in immeasurable quantities, like love and faith.  It is better that we keep that separation, equivalent to the separation of Church and State.

Note: I have expounded further on my views in an essay “The Tolerant Atheist” that I published in a book entitled “Of Gods and Lemurs,” available on Amazon.

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Rajneesh in America

I watched the 6-part Netflix documentary series entitled “Wild Wild Country” about the establishment of the settlement of Rajneeshpuram in the wilds of central Oregon. This was supposed to be a farming community of the followers of the Indian guru Rajneesh, named the Bhagwan. They had been essentially forced to decamp from their compound in Poona, India, for tax and other violations. The Bhagwan, a frail beaming, long-bearded man, usually dressed in pure white flowing robes, entrusted this move to his assistant, a 17-year-old Indian acolyte named Sheela.

This seemed quite a risky thing to do, but Sheela was bursting with confidence and hubris, and as the representative and top administrator of a new religion, she chose to move the whole religious cult to the USA and to the wilds of Oregon.  Let it be said that although she was an excellent organizer, she knew precious little about the US and although she chose an isolated area, she misjudged the reaction of the American people.

Rajneesh had written some books on philosophy and had developed what in America was called a New Age Cult, a mixture of Indian mysticism, free love, and opposition to established values.  What attracted many western youth to his cult was that they were allowed to express themselves without restraint and to engage in unbridled sexual activity and they were also expected to engage in meditation and self-criticism.  The sessions with thousands of people consisted of these 4 main aspects, always ending with the sex that went on for hours.

Sheela took a course at a College in the US and met and married an American Jew and became Mrs. Silverman.  But, her husband soon died, and played no role in the further events.  Sheela chose an area in central Oregon near a small town (pop. 40) called Antelope, where the cult bought a large unused farm.  They seemed to have unlimited money, although they depended on the contributions of their followers (called sanyasins), who all dressed in maroon or orange clothing.

Once they had bought the farm in 1981 they started moving in and developing the area, both expanding the farming and building many buildings.  To do this they had their own experts in construction, architecture, plumbing and so on.  They had their own generators and water supplies.  The inhabitants of Antelope were both amazed and frightened by the influx of strange people dressed in red passing thought their small town.  They became upset that the local authorities and the State of Oregon did nothing to check what the Rajneeshis were actually doing on their farm, now a new town called Rajneeshpuram.  They seemed to have unlimited funding, they built roads, an airfield, they had two planes and the Bhagwan had 7 Rolls Royce cars, that later became 20, all money supposedly obtained from their followers.  Certainly the locals were upset with what they heard was going on there, but they also resented that all this development was going on without any permits or checks as required by law.

A law suit was started because the Rajneeshis were supposed to be developing a farm not a city, that they said would have 10,000 people and eventually 100,000.  Because they did not have any legal right to incorporate as a city, Sheela, the manager of the whole project, found a  way around this.  They bought up property in Antelope, forced some of the people out, and took over the City Council and voted to merge Rajneeshpuram with Antelope, and then dropped the latter name.

Then Sheela made a big mistake, she went on TV and said that yes, they had taken over the town of  Antelope and they would soon take over the Wasco County.  This made people sit up and take notice and a movement started to prevent their expansion plans.  The Bhagwan had given Sheela the task of getting some Rajneeshis on the County Council.  But, she realized she did not have the votes, so she made another clever move.  She sent buses out all around the US, as far away as New York, Texas, and Minnesota, and they picked up all the homeless people they could persuade to go with them.  Some 2,000 were bussed back to Oregon, where they were given food and a place to sleep, and were registered as voters in the County.  Now she hoped she could obtain enough votes.

But before the next election, this tactic backfired.  Some of the homeless became unruly, they started fights, destroyed property, and one even tried to choke Sheela.  She had no option but to remove these anti-social elements from her “perfect” society, so she put them on buses and dumped them in the surrounding towns.  This did not sit well with the local inhabitants, who now had the homeless from all over the country dumped in their lap.  As a result of the bad feelings the hotel that the Rajneeshis owned in Portland was bombed and went up in flames.  It was at this point that Sheela started buying weapons on a large-scale and threatening that if they were attacked the Rajneeshis would fight back.  See how quickly a cult based on free love turned to violence.  It was also at this point that she started planning the assassination of several US officials.

Sheela also organized a campaign by her followers to spread salmonella over the salad bars in local restaurants so that people became ill.  But, to ensure that the Rajneeshis did not take over the county, the inhabitants did the same as Sheela had done, they bussed in people from surrounding areas and they stayed with them for a few days as required to register to vote and they then outvoted the Rajneeshis who got no representation on the County.  This was a significant defeat for Sheela.  Soon after this the Wasco County offices were set on fire.

At more or less the same time, in 1984, a group of wealthy Californians moved to the ranch, and one couple became very close to the Bhagwan, the man became his doctor and the woman an adviser.  Sheela saw her control over the Bhagwan and access to him being eroded.  By this time she had a small group of her own loyal followers and so they decamped in a plane to Germany.  In doing so she narrowly missed being arrested. The Bhagwan denounced her, claimed that she had stolen m$45 from his Foundation that she was administering, and cooperated with the police in attempting to get her extradited and charged.  In doing so he claimed no knowledge of any crimes she had committed.  He also claimed that he had never had sex with her, although this seemed unlikely since she had joined him when she was 16 and openly stated her love for him, and he preached free love.

After an investigation by the FBI, she and others were charged with the following crimes: 1. Attempted murder of the AG of Oregon and the US Federal AG (she had planned these assassinations and the US AG narrowly missed being shot); 2. Spreading bacterial infection (a bio-terror incident) in order to affect the outcome of an election; 3. Burning down the Wasco County Offices; 4. Illegal activities at Rajneeshpuram that included, an extensive secret wire-tapping system, including in the Bhagwan’s house, buying arms illegally and outfitting an army larger than the combined police forces of the State of Oregon;  5. Fleeing the US to avoid arrest.

Sheela was finally extradited from Germany to the US, where she was tried, found guilty and received a sentence of 20 years.  She now lives in Switzerland where she runs a Home for the aged and infirm.  Two of her loyal supporters received sentences of 10 years. Sheela claimed that the Bhagwan was complicit in all her crimes, but the FBI could not prove this. However, his claim that he was a religious leader was undermined by the fact that he had taken a vow of silence and had not preached in three years.  He was arrested in 1985 while fleeing to South Carolina and given a choice, either go on trial or leave the country.  Although he claimed his innocence, he chose the latter and returned to India, since no other country would allow him entry. He died there in 1990, with rumors circulating that he had been poisoned by some of this followers to obtain access to the wealth he had amassed .

In the course of 5 years he and Sheela had done irreparable damage to the inhabitants of the State of Oregon and to the trust anyone might have in such so-called “enlightenment” movements.  The Bhagwan had turned from a relative aesthete to a power-hungry leader, from wearing pure white clothes to flashy jewelry, gold watches and thick blue robes and driving around in his many Rolls Royces.  Sheela had turned from an ambitious girl to a murderous criminal.  And yet people gave up their lives and their fortunes to follow them!  It is ever thus.

Primitive Islamic Societies

I noticed an item in the media that two female volunteers were tortured and murdered in Pakistan because they were administering polio vaccinations to children.  The report said that the Taliban stated that it was “unislamic” to vaccinate children.  A few months ago a Ghanaian doctor at a hospital in Karachi was shot dead for similar reasons.

In Afghanistan, apart from attacks on health workers, women are unable to run any form of business without threats by the Taliban and need constant bodyguards.  One older lady who ran a bakery in Kunduz that employed only women, swore that she would not give in, but soon was forced to flee.  Now men work in the bakery and keep guard on it too.   You might think that because the Taliban no longer control Kunduz or Afghanistan that this is only a problem of the extremists, but interviews with men on the street (women are fully covered in burkas and cannot talk to strange people) showed that most of them agree that according to the Koran women should not be allowed to run businesses.  Note also that in Afghanistan, after the supposed defeat of the Taliban, schools for girls are regularly fire bombed and female teachers are regularly murdered.

This is not only a problem for those supposedly backward societies, but these kind of attitudes permeate all Muslim societies, with only a few allowing “westernization” or “modernization.”  Saudi Arabian schools and universities are completely gender segregated, with only teachers of the same gender allowed, or they can teach via remote media.  Even in supposedly secular societies, such as Turkey, the current trend is back to Islam rather than accept foreign western influences.  I am always amused by the TV ads for Doha and Dubai that show them as so modern, yet away from the cameras the same restrictions on women apply.  It is a traditional part of Islamic culture to keep women in their place, under control.  They are about 100 years at least behind the West and they are losing the incredibly valuable input of half their population.  It keeps their societies more violent, less civilized and backward.  Why don’t the liberals of the BDS movement campaign about this?