Aug 16

August 16: James Cameron (1954)

It was on this date, August 16, 1954, that Canadian film director James Cameron was born in Kapuskasing, Ontario. Director of The Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986), The Abyss (1989), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), True Lies (1994), Titanic (1997), and Avatar (2009), Cameron has been nominated for six Academy Awards overall and won three for Titanic: picture, director and film editing. Cameron’s Titanic and Avatar are the two highest-grossing films of all time.

Inspired to make films by watching the original 1977 Star Wars movie, Cameron claims that during a bout of food poisoning, while making a film on location in Jamaica, he had a nightmare about an invincible robot hitman sent from the future to kill him. This gave him the idea for The Terminator, the film that put Cameron on the Hollywood directorial A-list. Known for advancing film special effects as well as film technology itself, Cameron pushed the envelope again and again, first with The Abyss, then winning awards for sound, sound effects editing and visual effects for the Terminator sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, best visual effects for True Lies, best visual effects, best sound and best sound effects editing for Titanic, along with advances in underwater filming technology—and he pioneered stereoscopic digital 3-D in the film Avatar. Ironically, Cameron’s films frequently depict the uneasy relationship between humanity and technology.

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame inducted Cameron in June 2012. In October 2013, a new species of frog Pristimantis jamescameroni, from Venezuela, was named after him in recognition of his efforts in environmental awareness, in addition to his public promotion of veganism, saying the best thing you can do to fight climate change is to “stop eating animals.” He has been married five times and is described by the British newspaper The Independent as “notorious on set for his uncompromising and dictatorial manner, as well as his flaming temper” and one actor who worked with him spoke for many when he described Cameron as “not real sensitive when it comes to actors.” However, Cameron’s directorial style has inspired directors Joss Whedon, Baz Luhrman and Peter Jackson.

A self-described “converted agnostic,” as a child, Cameron described the Lord’s Prayer as being a “tribal chant.” Not only is Cameron an unabashed atheist, but in the 2009 biography The Futurist by Rebecca Winters Keegan he says, “I’ve sworn off agnosticism, which I now call cowardly atheism.” Continuing, James Cameron says, “I’ve come to the position that in the complete absence of any supporting data whatsoever for the persistence of the individual in some spiritual form, it is necessary to operate under the provisional conclusion that there is no afterlife and then be ready to amend that if I find out otherwise.”

Permanent link to this article: http://freethoughtalmanac.com/?p=6849

Aug 12

August 12: George Soros (1930)

GeorgeSoros

GeorgeSoros

It was on this date, August 12, 1930, that Hungarian-born American multi-billionaire, business magnate, investor and philanthropist George Soros was born Schwartz György in Budapest. His family name was changed in 1936 from Schwartz to Soros because of systemic anti-Semitism. In 1947, Soros emigrated from Hungary to England. Soros earned a BSc in philosophy in 1951 and a PhD in philosophy in 1954, both from the London School of Economics. In 1956, he moved to New York City where he worked as an arbitrage trader and as an analyst, and where he developed the theory of “reflexivity” based on the ideas of Karl Popper, which posited that the valuation of any market produces a “virtuous or vicious” circle that further affects the market. Soros began his first hedge fund in 1967 and, in 1970, founded Soros Fund Management and became its chairman.

Between 1979 and 2011, Soros gave away over eight billion U.S. dollars to human rights, public health, and education causes. He was instrumental in the peaceful transition from communism to capitalism in Hungary and contributed Europe’s largest higher education endowment to Central European University in Budapest. Soros is also the chairman of the Open Society Institute, founded in 1984 and named after the book The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945) by his former teacher, Karl Popper. Achievements that redound less to his good name include currency manipulation in Malaysia and Thailand. But the market meddling that earned him the title “The Man Who Broke the Bank of England” was his short-selling £10 billion sterling, forcing the devaluation of the pound and gaining his investors a $1 billion-dollar profit in the Black Wednesday currency crisis of 16 September 1992—which cost the UK treasury £3.3 billion. However, he had lost heavily (£530 million) in the 1987 Tokyo market crash.

Contrary to the positions of his detractors, Soros takes public policy positions more in line with popular American thought (which is consistently more progressive than the mainstream media would have you believe). He is repeatedly demonized by TV personality Glenn Beck and controversial American political activist Lyndon LaRouche, among many others, because he supports progressive causes. For example, according to his website, “Soros believes an alternative approach to the U.S. war on drugs would be more effective in reducing the harm caused by drug use. Through the Open Society Foundations, he advocates for an approach to international drug policy that incorporates a greater focus on public health and human rights” (website). Soros says the war on terrorism “cannot be won by waging war. We must, of course, protect our security; but we must also correct the grievances on which terrorism feeds. Crime requires police work, not military action” (Univ. of Pa. address, 2002).

Soros told his biographer Michael Kaufman that his goal was “to become the conscience of the world” through his charitable foundations. Indeed, according to a right-wing website, which characterizes these as bad things, Soros is a financial backer of Media Matters for America, has been a major funder of MoveOn.org, funds the Center for American Progress, funds the Climate Policy Initiative and Friends of the Earth to address global warming and funded America Coming Together to defeat George W. Bush in 2004 (as if his detractors don’t have their own causes to support).

Furthermore, in his book Open Society: Reforming Global Capitalism (2001), Soros writes, “It may be shocking to say, but I believe that the current unilateralist posture of the United States constitutes a serious threat to the peace and prosperity of the world” and “The main enemy of the open society, I believe, is no longer the communist but the capitalist threat.” Soros defines an Open Society as “based on the recognition that nobody has a monopoly on the truth, that different people have different views and interests, and that there is a need for institutions to protect the rights of all people to allow them to live together in peace. Broadly speaking, an open society is characterized by a reliance on the rule of law, the existence of a democratically elected government, a diverse and vigorous civil society, and respect for minorities and minority opinions.”

Born into a non-observant Jewish family, about his religion, Soros says, “I am not a Zionist, nor am I am a practicing Jew, but I have a great deal of sympathy for my fellow Jews and a deep concern for the survival of Israel” (New York Review of Books, 12 April 2007). In a Q&A on his website, there is the following exchange—

What faith is George Soros? He identifies himself as an atheist. What are his views on religion? Soros respects all faiths and religious practices. He believes that people of faith and faith communities contribute to the public’s understanding of pressing social issues and often add a principled, moral aspect to debates that are too often dominated by politicians, statistics and polling. His views on religion are embodied by the activities of the Open Society Foundations, which have provided funding for humanitarian projects to organizations representing many faiths.

In a 20 December 1998, profile on the CBS-TV news magazine “60 Minutes,” Soros was asked by Steve Kroft if he is a religious man and if he believes in God. To both questions George Soros answered an unequivocal “No.” However, in a speech to the National Press Club (28 October 2004), Soros expanded on this view by acknowledging both a value in and a fallibility of faith—

Faith plays an important role in an open society. Exactly because our understanding is imperfect, we cannot base our decisions on knowledge alone. We need to rely on beliefs, religious or otherwise, to help us make decisions. But we must remain open to the possibility that we may be wrong so that we can correct our mistakes. Otherwise, we are bound to be wrong.

Permanent link to this article: http://freethoughtalmanac.com/?p=8077

Aug 08

August 8: Eating God

Quam singulari (1910):
Christian Communion

Medieval Communion

It was on this date, August 8, 1910, that “Quam singulari,” a decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments, specified the age at which children are to be admitted to first Communion in the Roman Catholic Church.[1] The Catholic Encyclopedia, the authority on the subject, says that conditions for first communion include being at the “age of discretion” – defined as knowing right from wrong – and being capable of “using … reasoning powers.” This last condition would seem to contradict the very idea of faith, but no matter.

In order to partake of Christian communion, the child must also “be able to distinguish the Eucharistic from the common bread; that is, to know that what looks like bread is not bread, but contains the real, living Body and Blood of Christ.” Leaving aside this patently ludicrous statement, what do you suppose it means that this miraculous bread, that looks like ordinary bread, “contains the … Body and Blood of Christ”? If you eat this bread, are you eating God?

And why would you eat a god?

In ancient superstition, if you eat the flesh of your enemy, you can magically acquire his courage, his strength or even his magical powers. This “eating the god,” as the Aztecs of Mexico literally called it, was described by Sir James George Frazer in The Golden Bough: “by eating the body of the god, he shares in the god’s attributes and powers.”[2] When the Spaniards conquered the Aztecs, the perplexed missionaries, bent on converting the heathens, found that they were already performing a Eucharistic ritual: dough images of Huitzlipochtli were blessed by the Aztec priests, the people fasted before the communion, and the priest’s words were said to cause a transubstantiation, turning the consecrated “host” into the flesh of the god!

Likewise for drinking the god’s blood. The ritual cannibalism began with the real sacrifice of human captives of war, but evolved into a substitution of wine and bread – or grape juice and bread for the more timid churches – for the literal flesh and blood of the god. Similar communions were found in the cult of Dionysos, the cult of Mithra and the cult of Isis and Osiris – all of which influenced the adoption of the Christian Communion.[3]

As historian and ex-priest Joseph McCabe writes:

It must not for a moment be supposed that modern educated Catholics do not literally believe this jumble of pagan superstitions and medieval verbosity. They do. … The priest dons his mystic (or Mithraic) garments, and carries his wafer to the altar. … At the middle of the “mass” he consecrates the bread and wine … If he does not articulate each word of the Latin formula…, if he does not say it right at the bread and wine, there will be no magic. … He must, of course, swallow the large wafer … without putting his teeth into “the body of Christ.” He must take the “blood” without spilling a drop, for in each visible crumb of bread or drop of wine there is the whole Christ, godhead and manhood.[4]

Communing with fellow Christians may encourage fellowship, but there is always a side dish of comical consequences. In his 1911 recollection of fourteen years in the Jesuit priesthood, Count Paul von Hoensbroech tells the story of an old woman who, after receiving the wafer in her mouth, contemplated that she was swallowing the genital organs of Christ himself. She spat the wafer into her prayer book, gave it to the priest, and he had to eat it![5]

The very idea that symbolically eating a god can confer on the communicant some kind of benefit is magical thinking at its most primitive. When a child takes her first communion, the church says she has to open her mouth wide enough to swallow dusty superstition along with the dry wafer.

[1] This was officially promulgated as Acta Apost. Sedis, 15 August 1910.
[2] James George Fraser, The Golden Bough, Chap 50, §1. “The Sacrament of First-Fruits.” See also Robin Fox, “Food and Eating: An Anthropological Perspective: The Holy Meal.”
[3] For the communion in the cults of Dionysos and Mithra, see John M. Robertson’s Pagan Christs, 1903, pp. 201 and 334; for the cult of Isis and Osiris, see Rendel Harris, Eucharistic Origins, 1927.
[4] Joseph McCabe, The Popes and Their Church, 1918.
[5] Count Paul Von Hoensbroech Fourteen Years a Jesuit, 2 vols., 1911 (II, p. 223), as told in McCabe, ibid.

Originally published August 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.

Permanent link to this article: http://freethoughtalmanac.com/?p=2853

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