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New Review: An Atheist's History of Belief (Matthew Kneale)

Kneale grew up without any religious belief and that is still his position today, but he nevertheless thinks that religion is an important feature of human experience. His view is that it exists because it provides reassurance. He examines this idea by looking at how religion has developed, starting in prehistory and tracing its evolution over several thousand years into modern times. This is a very broad sweep of time and space to compress into 238 pages so inevitably there has been a lot of selection and compression. [More]

Fatima - the Third -Secret?

There was a programme on TV a few days ago about the so-called Third Secret of Fátima. The main focus was on whether the Vatican had revealed the real text of the Third Secret, as it claimed, or had fobbed us off with a toned-down version.

Two reasons were proposed for why it might have done this. One was that Our Lady had foretold the corruption of the Church that would result in its complete collapse. The other was that she had said there was going to be a global catastrophe that would destroy all, or almost all, of humanity.

Well, you can see why the Church wouldn't want the first prophecy to come out, especially in the context of the scandals currently affecting the Vatican and the wider Church. As for the second prophecy, that too might be something not to make public. If you were an astronomer who had discovered a large asteroid that was due to hit the Earth in a month's time, would you annouce the fact or keep it to yourself?

Of course, the most likely scenario for the claimed suppression of the truth by the Church is that this is yet another conspiracy theory. But even if the conspiracy theorists are right, so what?

The best contrinution, I thought, was by a bearded parish prieset who said he didn't believe in prophecies of this kind. What he didn't say is that failed apocalyptic pronouncements go right back to the very beginning of Christianity - to Jesus himself.

Jesus was an apocalypticist, who expected the coming of the Kingdom of God on Earth in his own lifetime. (See Paul D Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet ot the New Millennium.) This the plain meaning of the New Testament. If the founder of Chistiianity was mistaken, why should we believe in these modern prophecies based on visions?

Bishop Tom Butler and the Platonic soul

In today'sThought for the Day Bishop Tom Butler referred to the soul as temporarily inhabiting the body. I've posted about this idea before. Although many people think it is orthodox Christianity it isn't really. Christianity has traditionally taught the resurrection of the body but the question of what if anything happens to us between death and resurrection at the Second Coming is left uclear. It was Plato who taught the notion of the soul as eternal and separable from the body, but Christian philosophy has been based on Aristotle, not Plato, and Aristotle had a different view ot the matter - one that is actually not entirely capable of being reconciled with Christianity. Quite a muddle, in fact.

Mona Siddiqui

I've more than once mentioned here that Mona Siddiqui is one of the (few) contributors to Thought for the Day who can be trusted to come up with something worth listening to. Today she was talking about medically assisted suicide, and - I think - saying very subtly that this was something that a merciful society ought to take seriously as a possibility. As usual, I was glad I'd heard her.

If you quote Latin, at least get it right

In today's Thought for the Day the Rev. Michael Banner quoted the mediaeval Latin tag mors improvisa, which he translated as "a sudden and improvised death". This doesn't make sense (I suppose it would be "improvised" in contrast to a carefully thought-out suicide), but "improvisa" doesn't mean "improvised", it means "unforeseen". Coming from the Dean and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, this seems a real schoolboy howler.

Richard Harries on the end of the world

In today's Thought for the Day, Lord Harries took up the theme of the Mayan calendar 'prophecy' and spoke about the way that Christians in the early Church had had to readjust their thinking to accommodate the fact that the world hadn't ended as quickly as they thought it would.

What he didn't say was that Jesus, too, expected the end to come quickly. There are numerous references to this in the Gospels. I have several reviews of books on this theme by Bart D. Ehrman and others, and it is apparently orthodox teaching in academic New Testament circles. Harries is a very eminent theologian and scholar and obviously must be familiar with the matter, so I was sorry (but not surprised) that he didn't refer to it.