Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Thomas Riggins

After having to put up the John McCain/Sarah Palin saber rattling about Russia's "aggression" against Georgia last August (still grist for the mill with right-wing know-nothing radio big mouths) its nice to see the New York Times report (12-31-2008) on its front page that it was President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia who initiated the hostilities by "ordering an attack on separatists in South Ossetia."

He said he had to do so due to a "Russian invasion." The Times reports that since August "no evidence has emerged to verify the claim." Saakashvili tried to convince JOHN McCAIN that he didn't start the war and McCain's response was "I don't need proof." He would have made a swell president.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Thomas Riggins
Part Three
"Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number IS Six hundred threescore AND six."-- Revelation 13:18

In the last part of his essay Engels explains that the purpose of the Book of Revelations (by John of Patmos) was to communicate its religious vision to the seven churches of Asia Minor and to the larger sect of Jewish Christians that they represented.

At this time, circa 69 AD, the entire Mediterranean world much of the of Near East and Western Europe were under the control of the Roman Empire. This was a multicultural empire made of hundreds of tribes, groups, cities and peoples. Within the empire was a vast underclass of workers, freedmen, slaves and peasants whose exploited labor was lived off of by a ruling class of landed aristocrats and merchants. In 69 AD the empire was in essence a military dictatorship controlled by the army and led by the Emperor (from the Latin word for "general"-- imperator).

At this time there were peoples but no nations in our sense of the word. "Nations became possible," Engels says, "only through the downfall of Roman world domination." The effects of which are still being felt in the Middle East and parts of Europe, especially eastern Europe.

For the exploited masses of the Empire it was basically impossible to resist the military power of Rome. There were uprisings and slave revolts but they were always put down by the legions. This was the background for what became a great revolutionary movement of the poor and the exploited, a movement that became Christianity. The purpose of the movement was to escape from persecution, enslavement and exploitation. A solution was offered. "But" Engels remarks, "not in this world."

Another feature of the work is that it is a symbolical representation of contemporary first century politics and John thinks that Jesus's second coming is near at hand. Jesus tells John, "Behold, I come quickly" three times (22:7, 22:12, 22:20). His failure to show up by now doesn't seem to pose a problem for Christians.

As far as the later Christian religion of love is concerned, Engels reports that you won't find it in Revelation, at least as it regards the enemies of the Christians. There is no cheek turning going on here: it's all fire and brimstone for the foes of Jesus. Engels says "undiluted revenge is preached." God is even going to completely blot out Rome from the face of the earth. He changed his mind evidently as it is still a popular tourist destination and the pope has even set up shop there.

As was pointed out earlier the God of John is Yahweh, there is no Trinity, it is He, not Christ, who will judge mankind and they wil bel judged according to their works (no justification by faith here, sorry Luther), no doctrine of original sin, no baptism, and no Eucharist or Mass. Almost everyone of these later developments came from Roman and Greek, as well as Egyptian
mystery religions. Zoroastrian elements from the Zend - Avesta are also present. These are the idea of Satan and the Devil as an evil force opposed to Yahweh, a great battle at the end of time between good and evil, [the final conflict] and the idea of a second coming. All these ideas were picked up by the Jews during their contact with the Persians before their return after the Babylonian captivity and transmitted to the early Christians.

Once we realize all this we can also see why Islam was able to rise to the status of a world religion as well. Those areas of the world that were not the home land of Greco-Roman paganism were open to Islam which spread in areas of Semitic settlement and where Christianity had been imposed by force, so could Islam be.

We will give Engels the last word, the Book of Revelation "shows without any dilution what Judaism, strongly influenced by Alexandria, contributed to Christianity. All that comes later is Western , Greco-Roman addition."

Friday, December 26, 2008



Part Two

Engels views on early Christianity were formed from his reading of what he considered "the only scientific basis" for such study, namely the new critical works by German scholars of religion.

First were the works of the TUBINGEN SCHOOL, including David Strauss ("The Life of Jesus"). This school has shown that 1) the Gospels are late writings based on now lost original sources from the time of Jesus and his followers; 2) only four of Paul's letters are by him; 3) all miracles must be left out of account if you want a scientific view; 4) all contradictory presentations of the same events must also be rejected. This school then wants to preserve what it can of the history of early Christianity. By the way, this is essentially what Thomas Jefferson tried to do when he made his own version of the New Testament.

A second school was based on the writings of BRUNO BAUER. What Bauer did was to show that Christianity would have remained a Jewish sect if it had not, in the years after the death of its founder, mutated by contact with Greco-Roman paganism, into a new religion capable of becoming a world wide force. Bauer showed that Christianity, as we know it, did not come into the Roman world from the outside ("from Judea") but that it was "that world's own product." Christianity owes as much to Zeus as to Yahweh.

Engels maintains that THE BOOK OF REVELATIONS is the only book in the New Testament that can be properly dated by means of its internal evidence. It can be dated to around 67-68 AD since the famous number 666, as the mark of the beast or the Antichrist, represents the name of the Emperor Nero according to the rules of numerology. Nero was overthrown in 68. This book, Engels says, is the best source of the views of the early Christians since it is much earlier than any of the Gospels, and may actually have been the work the apostle John (which the Gospel and letters bearing his name were not).

In this book we will not find any of the views that characterize official Christianity as we have it from the time of the Emperor Constantine to the present day. It is purely a Jewish phenomenon in REVELATIONS. There is no TRINITY as GOD has SEVEN SPIRITS (so the HOLY GHOST is impossible Engels remarks). JESUS CHRIST is not GOD but his SON, he is not even equal in status to his father. Nevertheless he has pretty high status, his followers are called his "slaves" by John. Jesus is "an emanation of God, existing from all eternity but subordinate to God" just as the seven spirits are. MOSES is more or less "on an equal footing" with Jesus in the eyes of God. There is no mention of the later belief in ORIGINAL SIN. John still thought of himself as a Jew, there is no idea at this time of "Christianity" as a new religion.

In this period there were many end of times revelations in circulation both in the Semitic and in the Greco-Roman world. They all proclaimed that God was (or the Gods were) pissed off at humanity and had to be appeased by sacrifices. John's revelation was UNIQUE because it proclaimed "by one great voluntary sacrifice of a mediator the sins of all times and all men were atoned for once and for all-- in respect of the faithful."

Since all peoples and races could be saved this is what, according to Engels, "enabled Christianity to develop into a universal religion." [Just as the concept of the workers of the world uniting to break their chains and build a world wide communist future makes Marxism-Leninism a universal philosophy.]

In Heaven before the throne of God are 144,000 Jews (12,000 from each tribe). In the second rank of the saved are the non Jewish converts to John's sect. Engels points out that neither the "dogma nor the morals" of later Christianity are to be found in this earliest of Christian expressions. Some Muslims would presumedly not like this Heaven, not only are there no virgins in it, there are no women whatsoever. In fact, the 144,000 Jews have never been "defiled" by contact with women! This is a men's only club.

Engels says that the book shows a spirit of "struggle", of having to fight against the entire world and a willingness to do so. He says the Christians of today lack that spirit but that it survives in the working class movement. We must remember he was writing this in 1894.

There were other sects of Christianity springing up at this time too. John's sect eventually died out and the Christianity that won out was an amalgam of different groups who finally came together around the Council of Nicaea (325 AD). Those who did not sign on were themselves persecuted out of existence by the new Christian state.

We can see the analogy to the early sects of socialists and communists, says Engels. We can also see what happened after the Russian Revolution (Leninists, Stalinists, Trotskyists, Bukharinites, Maoists, etc., etc.). Here in the US today we have the CPUSA, the SWP, Worker's World, Revolutionary CP, Socialist Party, Sparticists, and etc., etc.).

Engels thought that sectarianism was a thing of the past in the Socialist movement because the movement had matured and outgrown it. This, we now know, was a temporary state of affairs at the end of the 19th Century with the consolidation of the German SPD. The wide spread sectarianism of today suggests the worker's movement is still in its infancy.

Engels says this sectarianism is due to the confusion and backwardness of the thinking of the masses and the preponderate role that leaders play due to this backwardness. The Russian masses of 1917 and the Chinese of 1949 were a far different base than the German working class of the 1890s.

"This confusion," Engels writes,"is to be seen in the formation of numerous sects which fight against each other with at least the same zeal as against the common external enemy [China vs USSR, Stalin and Trotsky, Stalin and Tito, Vietnam vs China border war, Albania vs China and USSR. ad nauseam]. So it was with early Christianity, so it was in the beginning of the socialist movement [and still is, peace Engels!], no matter how much that worried the well-meaning worthies who preached unity where no unity was possible."

Finally, for those fans of the 60s sexual revolution, Engels says that many of the sects of early Christianity took the opposite view of John and actually promoted sexual freedom and free love as part of the new dispensation. They lost out. Engels says this sexual liberation was also found in the early socialist movement. He would not, I think, have approved of the excessive prudery of the Soviets.

Stay tuned for part 3.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Frederick Engels and Early Christianity

Thomas Riggins

This is the season to remind all our Christian friends of the relationship between Christianity and Marxism-Leninism and the working class movement. Engels ("On the History of Early Christianity") tells us that there are "notable points of resemblance" between the early working class movement and Christianity.

First, both movements were made up of oppressed poor people from the lower ranks of society. Christianity was a religion of slaves and people without rights subjugated by the state and very similar to the types of poor oppressed working people that founded the earliest socialist and worker's organizations in modern times.

Second, both movements held out the hope of salvation and liberation from tyranny and oppression: one in the world to come, the other in this world.

Third, both movements were (and in some places still are) attacked by the powers that be and were discriminated against, their members killed or imprisoned, despised, and treated as enemies of the status quo.

Fourth, despite fierce persecution both movements grew and became more powerful. After three hundred years of struggle Christians took control of the Roman Empire and became a world religion. The worker's movement is still struggling. After its first modern revolutionary appearance as a fully self conscious movement (1848) it achieved a major impetus in the later part of the nineteenth century with the growth of the First and Second Internationals, and the German Social Democratic movement. It too is now a world wide movement with Socialist, Social Democratic and Communist parties spread around the world. [The rise and fall of the USSR was a bump in the road the consequences of which have yet to be determined.]

The Book of Acts reveals that the early Christians were primitive communists sharing their goods in common and leading a collective life style. This original form of Christianity was wiped out when the Roman Empire under Constantine imposed Christianity as the official religion of the state and set up the Catholic Church in order to make sure that the religious teachings of Jesus and the early followers of his movement would be perverted to protect the interests of the wealthy and the power of the state.

With few exceptions, all forms of modern day Christianity are descended from this faux version, based on a mixture of Jewish religious elements and the practices of Greco-Roman paganism, and only the modern working class and progressive movements (basically secular) carry on in the spirit of egalitarianism and socialism of the founder of Christianity.

Engels points out that there were many attempts in history (especially from the Middle Ages up to modern times) to reestablish the original communistic Christianity of Jesus and his early followers.

These attempts manifested themselves as peasant uprisings through the middle ages which tried to overthrow feudal oppression and create a world based on the teaching of Jesus and his Apostles.

These movements failed giving rise to the state sanctioned Christianity of modern times. Engels mentions some of these movements-- i.e., the Bohemian Taborites led by Jan Zizka ("of glorious memory") and the German Peasant War. These movements are now represented, Engels points out, by the working men communists since the 1830s.

Engels reveals that misleadership is also a problem in these early movements (and still today I would add) due to the low levels of education found amongst the poor and oppressed. He quotes a contemporary witness, Lucian of Samosata ("the Voltaire of classic antiquity"). The Christians "despise all material goods without distinction and own them in common-- doctrines which they have accepted in good faith, without demonstration or proof. And when a skillful impostor who knows how to make clever use of circumstances comes to them he can manage to get rich in a short time and laugh up his sleeve over these simpletons." The Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwell types have been around for a long time. I am sure readers can add a long list of names.

Stay tuned, part 2 coming up.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Some Reflections on "Dignitas Personae"

Thomas Riggins

Mixing up science and religion usually does no credit to the cause of scientific understanding. The latest instruction from the Vatican on bioethical issues is a case in point. The Saturday New York Times, 12-13-2008, ("Vatican Issues Sweeping Bioethics Document" by Laurie Goodstein and Elisabetta Povoledo) has a report that illustrates this.

It took six years for the Congregation of the Faith (formerly, and better known, as the Inquisition) to come up with 32 pages of dogma relating to human sexuality and procreation. The Vatican is opposed to in vitro fertilization, cloning of humans, pre-implantation embryonic gene testing, and research on embryonic stem cells the report says.

Why? Well, because "babies should only be conceived through intercourse by a married couple" and "every human life-- even an embryo-- is sacred." If you did not know the difference between an acorn and an oak tree you would not be a credible botanist. And if you can't tell the difference between a two celled conceptum and a human being you don't know much about biology either. This did not stop the Vatican from making pronouncements on the subject.

"Dignitas Personae" (misnamed "The Dignity of the Person") inveighs against "the morning after pill, the intrauterine device and the pill RU-486, saying these can result in what amounts to abortions." It is clear that the personhood and dignity of women and of the human beings that might develop from concepti are not taken into consideration.

If the Vatican ban on these birth control devices were to be carried out millions of women would suffer from unwanted pregnancies, not have the right to control their own bodies, and their personhood would trampled on in the name of unscientific religious dogma.

There would also be millions of unwanted children born into misery, poverty and short diseased ridden lives. Some "Dignity of the Person." All because some cranky old men who don't particularly like women (and may be overly fond of children) can't tell the difference between an acorn and an oak.

Why is the church against in vitro fertilization? The head of the Catholic Medical Association, Kathleen M. Raviele says "God creates through an act of love." But not always. What about rape? Is God creating through an act of love then?I don't think so. Raviele continues, in the lab "It's the technician who's creating. What in vitro does it separates the creation of a child from the marital act."

That is just ridiculous. If God does the creating he does all of it. The technician just facilitates the fertilization-- which is still a marital act if the people are married and want to have a child this way. And as far creating a potential person is concerned, its just as much an act of love when any two consenting adults arrange a way in which to have a baby.

Josephine Johnston of the Hastings Center (which does research into bioethics) is quoted as saying, "The idea that [in vitro] is not done within the spirit of marital love, I find very strange." Not so strange when you consider that religious dogmas are held out of irrational prejudices and not based of objective scientific criteria.

Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer in Rome stated the church issued "Dignitas Personae" in order "to give voice to those who have no voice." In other words, to give voice to two celled concepti on their way to becoming blastocysts. Too bad it doesn't give voice to the millions of poor and oppressed real persons living in poverty and war zones around the earth whose dignity and humanity would be preserved or restored by the very procedures the church seeks to ban.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A French Take on "Human Rights"

Thomas Riggins

French Foreign Minister Celebrates 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by Junking Human Rights (when necessary).

According to the international press Bernard Kouchner the French foreign minister, and former human rights activist before joining the current right-wing French government, has decided that Human Rights has to play second fiddle when it comes to national interests.

"You cannot govern a country's foreign affairs only according to human rights," he says.

It is at least refreshing to see the French admit that the violation of people's human rights is sometimes necessary in the pursuit of France's foreign policy goals. At least its not as hypocritical as some other countries which boast that their actions are always motivated by the welfare of others, even when bombing and invading them.

Kouchner stated, "there is a permanent contradiction between human rights and a nation's foreign policy."

A "permanent contradiction!" Well, in a capitalist world order, yes. There is also a permanent contradiction between human rights and the government's own citizens and domestic policy. It's always "Profits Before People" under capitalism. But that doesn't mean some other system isn't possible, a system where human rights and policy won't clash.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Humanism and Republicans

Thomas Riggins

A recent article at (10-28-2008) reported on the research of Professor Kennon Sheldon (psychology, University of Missouri) on the relation of religious values and politics. He only asked Republicans and Democrats for their opinions (Marxists, not being religious, can't be judged by these findings).

He compared "extrinsic" versus "intrinsic" values-- i.e., worldly success [$$$, etc.,] versus humanistic concerns [personal growth, a desire to help people in need, closeness in relationships, etc.]

He got a profile of four different groups: religious and non-religious Republicans and Democrats. Members of all four groups gave lip service to the intrinsic values. But there were some differences. Non-religious and religious Democrats were just about equal in their support of intrinsic values. Non-religious Republicans veered off in favor of extrinsic values compared to the Democrats. So did religious Republicans but not to the extent of the non-religious Republicans.

Since Republicans are always talking about God and Country I wonder where Sheldon found his non-religious Republicans: not among the yokels that make up the base of the party I'm sure.

As a result of his research Sheldon "wondered whether the primarily economic-oriented values of Republican politicians can allow them to work for large changes that seem needed, such as shifting to an alternative and sustainable energy economy in the face of increasing climate change, or shifting toward greater inclusiveness in the face of increasing racial diversity."

I understand why Professor Sheldon is so cautious in his findings. I used to teach in Missouri and intrinsic values were pretty low on the totem pole. There are however signs of progress. Missouri went for W in both previous elections but McCain won the state by less than 1% of the vote. But I doubt it was humanistic concern for "help thy neighbor" as opposed to self interest that prompted the change of heart among so many former Republican voters.

At any rate progressives can draw the correct conclusions that Sheldon can only hint at: i.e., Republican politicians, for the most part, are a bunch of selfish, hypocritical, racist SOBs that only care about money and the rest of us can all go to the Devil.

Hey, that's not me, that's science!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

What's Your Poison?


Thomas Riggins

The tainted milk scandal in China is extensively reported on in the 28 November issue of Science: "Chinese Probe Unmasks High-Tech Adulteration With Melamine." Melamine is a deadly toxin but it is cheap. It mimics more expensive food additives in tests so you can make big bucks by adding it to food and pocketing the difference in the cost of the melamine. Last year it was pet food, this year baby formula. What's a few dead animals and babies?

The "High-Tech" in the title of the article is a reference to the fact that the people who perpetrated the adulteration had to have advanced scientific training to pull it off and fool the inspection agencies. Sanlu, one the biggest companies in China, was involved. The U.S. and Chinese governments are working together to insure the safety of Chinese food.

The problem is that food production under capitalism is for profit, not to feed people. Chen Junshi of the Center of Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing said, "Food adulteration is inevitable and will be with us for many years. The sophistication of the techniques will improve next time."

And just why is that? Li Shaomin, a professor at Virginia's Old Dominion University, provides the answer: "When millions of people experiment with new ways to make money without moral self-constraint, the chance of new products that can evade existing testing methods is pretty high."

Moral self-constraint has nothing to do with it. In an "its good to be rich" society, i.e., a society that fosters capitalist attitudes, the moral values that are stressed are those of making money and self-constraint is a contradiction to the prime directive of capitalism. Its not China. Just look at the product recalls every year in the U.S. and the refusal to test for Mad Cow Disease. Its the economy comrade!