Οκτ 04

“Elder Pastitsios” Arrest Rekindles Debate on Blasphemy Laws in Greece

Source: Center for Inquiry

The following post comes to us from CFI supporter Simon, who grew up in Greece and has been following a new case of persecution for blasphemy—a case which has been largely ignored by the English-speaking media.  

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On Friday September 21 in the village of Psahna in the Evia Prefecture of Greece, the Police Electronic Crimes Unit arrested* a 27 year old male atheist Greek citizen on charges of malicious blasphemy and offense of religion. His name has not been made available publicly due to to the country’s privacy laws.The arrest came about after the authorities discovered that he is the administrator of a now-removed satirical Facebook page for “Elder Pastitsios” after receiving over one hundred thousand complaints including some death threats. The news of the arrest created a worldwide interest in the case with the Twitter hashtag #FreeGeronPastitsios becoming a global trending topic and a relevant petition by the Humanist Union of Greece has received over 9,000 signatures so far on Change.org. The Greek Atheist Union will hold a protest in Athens outside parliament on Friday September 28 demanding that the charges be dropped and that the blasphemy laws be repealed.

The Facebook page was for a fictional character based on well-known deceased Greek Orthodox monk Elder Paisios, where his name and face were substituted with “pastitsio”- a local pasta and bechamel dish. Elder Paisios is believed by many Orthodox Greeks to have performed numerous miracles and prophecies both during his life and after his death in 1994. His place of burial in Northern Greece is a frequent destination by believers seeking miracles and books with stories about his teachings and prophecies are quite popular.

The district attorney will prosecute only the charge of offense of religion which carries a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment, however prosecutions under the statute have been very rare in recent years and he is not expected to receive jail time. A trial date has not yet been set.

Four days before the arrest on September 17, MP Christos Pappas from the neo-nazi Golden Dawn party had brought the page to the attention of the justice minister and submitted an official inquiry into why the Facebook page was not being addressed by the Eletronic Crimes Unit. According to site NewsIt*, the police claim they had already concluded their investigation two days before the question was raised in parliament. Following the publication of the arrest, Greece’s leftist primary opposition party SYRIZA strongly denounced* the arrest as did it’s offshoot and now ruling coalition junior partner Democratic Left as well as the Greek Communist Party. Center-left party PASOK -also a member of the ruling coalition- issued a more tepid response opposing the arrest but affirming the need to “protect religious and national identity”. Golden Dawn lauded the arrest stating* that their MP’s question “mobilized the government into taking action”.

According to the page’s administrator, he angered many in the Greek Orthodox church leadership after he created a fictional story* of a posthumous miracle by Elder Paisios which was submitted to various Orthodox and far-right blogs in July and then it was reproduced both online and even on a far-right newspaper. The story was based on several existing tales that were already circulating online and involved a miraculous recovery of a teenage drug addict who had been in a coma after a car accident after his mother placed dirt from Elder Paisios’ grave in a talisman under her son’s pillow.

In the an interview* after his arrest, he states that he did this not only to expose the gullibility of the faithful, but primarily to show the poor fact-checking done by these sites. After he detailed this on the “Elder Pastitsios” page on July 26, both it’s popularity and the amount of hostile comments increased substantially compared to the past year in which he had been posting similar satirical content without incident. He has suspended the page voluntarily and stated that he may re-enable it for an hour so people can see what all the fuss is about. He says that he is an atheist because he likes to think for himself and that he has proven his point regarding the reliability of miracle testimonials and the exploitation of alleged prophecies by religious figures. He plans on focusing his future activism on the repeal of Greece’s blasphemy laws.

*Links to sites in Greek.

Keep reading…

This article was originally posted on the Center for Inquiry blog in English and reposted here with permission. You can direct your comments there.

Νοέ 28

So why an atheist?


It is a common point on online discussions about atheism to focus on the meaning of the word itself. Atheism, as used by many atheists and the definition that I use when I say I’m an atheist is ‘lacking a belief in the existence of a god or gods’, but this is not a sufficient explanation for some people. I will try to address why I choose the atheist label for myself.

To begin with, many people want to push forward the idea that atheism is the absolute belief that no gods exist. The definition does in fact exist, but it describes a belief that most sophisticated atheists do not hold. It is also notably a subset of the above definition, as you cannot logically have a belief in the non-existence of gods without lacking the belief that one exists, although the opposite is true.

This is a frustrating point in many discussions, since the proponent of the second definition accuses atheists of not knowing what our position is, and subsequently demanding that we defend the second claim which, they contend, reflects our “true position”.

This of course is asinine. Once I have clarified what I mean when I use the term ‘atheism’, my explicit position on the subject is what I will maintain. Even if I were to agree that the term solely applied to the second definition, the rational course of action would be to choose a different label to apply to my position, not change my position to reflect the label. Consider how silly this sounds if we try this rationale elsewhere:

– “Hey, I’m a Teabagger.”
-”What’s that?”
-”It means I’m a member of the Tea Party.”
-”No, it doesn’t. This dictionary describes teabagging as a deviant sex practice”
-”Really? *reads definition* Oh well. I better get to it then, where’s the nearest sex shop?”

It’s absurd. Dictionaries reflect usage, they don’t impose it. New coinages and new meanings for old words occur every day, so to deny the definition I proclaim because it isn’t in your reference book of choice is just lazy thinking at best.

This absurdity is rarely mentioned because of the most obvious fault of the position, that my definition of atheism is in fact the one used by most atheists to describe themselves amongst ourselves. This isn’t a new idea, it’s been around of years. This is what we mean, and this is the position I should defend. For a theist to argue with me on the matter of definition is just disingenuous.

A number of the people who promote the ‘belief no gods exist’ definition claim that the ‘lacking a belief in god’ is so vague that babies, animals or even inanimate matter could be classified as ‘atheist’. They claim that these categories can’t be atheist, since they couldn’t accept theism even in principle.

I don’t see that as a problem. Atheism is a negation of theism (which is ‘belief in at least one god’), and the same ‘problem’ can be posited on many words that describe a negative.

A teetotaler is someone who abstains completely from alcoholic beverages. By that definition you can describe a baby as a teetotaler, but that doesn’t mean its capable of going to a bar and asking for a drink. Illiteracy is the absence of the ability to read, which by definition makes both newborns and butterflies illiterate, but doesn’t imply that butterflies can learn. Death is the absence of life, yet we can describe barren rocks as being dead, and even metal objects such as doornails (of the ‘dead as a doornail’ variety) . That you can call rocks ‘atheist’ is not wrong, it just isn’t useful, just like it isn’t useful to call a butterfly illiterate, or a baby a teetotaler.

I will however make a concession here to theists, and that is, when I am talking about atheism being the default position, and when I’m talking about atheism being a rational position, I’m not talking about the exact same thing. They are both lack of belief in gods, but in the former case it is implicit, due to lack of knowledge of any gods, while in the latter it is explicit, that is, the person has been informed of god claims and has rejected them.

Further confusion comes with the misunderstanding of what we mean by ‘god’. The word god means very different things to different people. There are several thousand recorded gods in the various religions and mythologies throughout human history. I can’t say I have more than cursory knowledge of more than a hundred. Then, there are god concepts offered by theologians that have never had an existence outside some theoretical argument, or held the belief of anyone, not even their author. There are god concepts that by definition are unprovable, undisprovable, or both. Even if we discount all of these, there are still infinite possibilities of concepts of gods, some that will be postulated in the future, and some that may never be actualized in theological thought, but could be viable candidates.

Any honest researcher will admit that you cannot make the claim that absolutely no gods exist until you examine every single claim, which is impossible. That is not what atheism claims. I don’t need to disprove any god concept to disbelieve it, and I don’t need to disprove every god concept to be justified in doing so.

There is another way to look at the question “why an atheist?” and that comes from my side of the fence. It’s basically the question of whether ‘atheist’ is the best term for what our position is. I’ll post my thoughts on that on my next article.

Keep reading…

This article was originally posted on the Confused Cogitations blog in English and you can direct your comments there.

Νοέ 06

Thoughts on christian non-answers…


In a greek forum I have many times argued with a fundamentalist greek orthodox. Whatever I ask, he avoids to answer, and he always brings forth the following arguments, to which I am presenting my own thoughts:

  • You do not know anything about the orthodox christian faith: I have been born and raised in Greece, and I was baptized in the orthodox christian faith as a baby. My grandmother and my godmother were very faithful and used to force me and took me to church with them. They tried to make me believe in orthodox christianity, I even was sent to Sunday school, to catechism. It did not work. There was too much irrationality. From the story of Adam and Eve to the stories about the lives of the various saints, a lot of things do not make sense, and I could not make sense of those, could not see their logic. Because there is no logic in faith. As Carl Sagan put it: Faith is belief without evidence. As I grew up, I started to understand more and more, that really Sagan is right, that there is no logic in belief, in faith. One has to blindly believe, never question your faith and your beliefs, never question the reality of all these… Because the day you start asking questions, is the day that you start seeing faith for what it really is: a big fat lie.

  • You do not understand the christian orthodox faith: On the contrary, I understand it very well. I have seen blind faith and what it can do. Unfortunately, blind faith only brings out evil. Because when you do not ask questions, but you blindly follow what you are given, then you just become a pawn to an idea, an organization. And, in this case, you become a slave to that idea, a pawn, a foot-soldier lying for Jesus. This faith makes people feel guilty for simple human things, from swearing and cursing to having sex, and many other things. This faith keeps people ignorant and illiterate, fills their heads with misogyny and racism, I unfortunately understand it very well, and have witnessed many of its forms and expressions.

  • Find a confessor/spiritual father from the church: this is a total non-answer! I do not want to go to a priest, confessor whatever from the church. I do not trust them. They know nothing about psychology, I do not think that they can help anyone. The only thing that those «spiritual fathers» will do is try to fill me with guilt for everything I do, make me feel inferior, try to imprison my spirit, and make me another foot-soldier for Jesus. I have explained many times that I do not trust confessors. With a 6 month seminary they go through, they cannot know and understand psychology. How can they diagnose a serious psychological illness such as monopolar/bipolar syndroms, schizophrenia, and more?

  • Read a book about the orthodox christian faith: This another evasive tactic. I do not want to read another book about the orthodox christian faith, What more can this book tell me from the Bible or from what the various priests and bishops say? And what is my stimulus to get one of these books and read it? Is there anyone giving me a good reason to do so? None at all. However, I have taken a look at various such books in bookstores. I have opened them and tried to read a few paragraphs, to see if they had something interesting to say, if there was something that would make me buy and read that book. So far, I have not found anything positive in those books. All they say is just the same old stuff that the christian faith says: repent sinners, you will burn in hell, do not do this, do not do that… In short, they are forbidding people from living their lives…

And of course, the last non-argument, and the one that is never going to convince me to become a believer:

  • You have to believe first in order to find god: if I have nothing to believe in, if I don’t have evidence for what I believe in, how can I even start believing? How many faithful have really found god? There are a lot of faithful who have never found this entity. And there are a lot of atheists who were faithful, and never found god. When those people looked for god, looked for answers, they saw that there is nothing there. No god. There is absolutely no evidence at this moment for god, for the existence of such an entity. And I am not only talking about the christian orthodox faith, but about all religions. I have met a lot of people online, a lot of people who once were fundamentalists, creationists and the like. Some of them were even priests, or were trying to be, and have studied the scriptures, have studied apologetics, they had gone the whole way. But when they looked deeper, and tried to find god, they did not find what they were looking for. To their credit, these people did not close their eyes and go back to their blankets of faith. They went deeper, they followed their logic, their critical thinking, the evidence. A lot of faithful would say that those people did not believe enough, that their faith was lacking and other similar arguments. But those people did believe, they felt that faith, those beliefs with all their hearts, with all their being.

The above do not constitute answers, nor arguments for god and for a religion. They are evasions, apologetics, a tactic for those who do not want to have a rational and intelligent discussion, who do not want to engage in dialogue or debate. I am ready and willing to have such a discussion, but when I ask questions, and the answers are always the above, then how do these people expect me to start believing? How can they expect me to throw my logic, my critical thought, my freedom out of the window? Where are the arguments for the existence of god? Where is the evidence? And what evidence is there that the orthodox faith is the one true faith, and not another, like islam or catholicism, or even one of the cargo cults?

Keep reading…

This article was originally posted on the Snippets and other stories from the Net blog in English and you can direct your comments there.

Νοέ 05

Divine Creation (reductio ad absurdum)


Before I admitted even to myself that I was an atheist, while I was still struggling with my faith, I was always troubled by the very first chapter of the Bible; God creating the World. Does this even make sense? Why would a God want to create a material World? The more I delved in theology, the more this bothered me. I won’t even touch the rest of the story here, the original sin, the problem of evil, or the grand philosophical problems of heavenly clouds, pits of hell, demons, imps and angels. I’ll stop here, on the first page. After all, if a worldview has a problem right from the start, there’s little point in dealing with details.

There are two alternatives for the Universe having a divine creator. He either created it on purpose (voluntarily) or by accident (involuntarily). Let’s start with the second case, being the most implausible one.

Involuntary Creation

There are many examples of accidental creation in world mythology and two characteristic examples come from Ancient Greece.

Once upon a time, while Hera (wife of Zeus) was sleeping, the newborn Hercules approached her and started nursing. Hera woke up and slapped the infant away, some of the milk got spilled and our galaxy was created (hence the name, from the Greek word «gala» meaning «milk»). It was just an accident.

The birth of Aphrodite, goddess of beauty, was also coincidental. The myth goes like this: Cronus (father of Zeus) took a sickle and slashed at Uranus, his father, killing him. His blood trickled in the Ocean and Aphrodite was born from that. Similarly, the birth of Aphrodite was a random event. There are similar stories in other world mythologies.

What would this mean for Christian Cosmogony? What if Yahweh had created the Universe by accident? What if he had no intention of creating, but somehow it came about? What would that mean?

For starters, it would mean that Yahweh is not omniscient, since he didn’t predict the results of his actions, especially with the theory of a divine subconscious that acts independently. (This second alternative is more extreme, but the intense anthropomorphisms of the Old Testament allow me to assume yet another one. After all, I’m trying to cover all possibilities here.)

In this situation of unintentional creation there are four alternatives:

  • a) Yahweh creates the World unconsciously and is not aware of it. In this case, the World is ruled by the divine subconscious and consequently Yahweh and the Christian God that people worship isn’t God per se, but they’re worshipping the divine subconscious directly. This might explain the unstable behaviour the divine exhibits in the texts of the monotheistic religions (Islam included).

  • b) Yahweh creates the World unconsciously, but becomes aware of it at some «point». This alternative could have been the natural evolution of the Marcionites, had they survived long enough to develop apologetics. The Marcionites believed that the World is the creation of an inferior deity (the god of the Old Testament) and that Jesus was a superior god that came to save us. Assuming this inferior deity is the divine subconscious, this explains several things in monotheistic scriptures (in this scenario, God sends Muhammad; he just realizes the error later in human history).

  • c) The Universe is a by-product of some other divine action and Yahweh is just trying to work out the «bugs» without radically changing it. Human beings, since they were not designed from the start in the image and likeness of God, misunderstand the various revelations, and it becomes necessary for God to take human form (this could be the basis for all messianic religions).

  • d) The Universe is a by-product of some other divine action and Yahweh has not become aware of it nor will he (being atemporal and all). This Yahweh is a clearly deistic God. The World evolves naturally, it retains the traces of perfection people perceive today as signs of divine creation, but God doesn’t intervene, nor will he ever and all religions are human constructs.

Naturally, for the Christian Worldview the very idea of involuntary creation is blasphemous, since it presupposes several weaknesses in God. And if the divine operates like a human being with a conscious and subconscious mind (if, mind you), then it is equally unthinkable to assume imperfections in the divine subconscious. Furthermore, Christians reject the concept of a deistic God as non-personal. Involuntary creation cannot be incorporated into the Christian Worldview, as it is deemed completely incompatible with it.

I will also ignore the idea that God was somehow compelled to create the World. For a divine being, let alone a perfect being, it would be inconceivable to have created the World not because it wanted to, but because it was coerced. In this case, the word «God» shouldn’t apply to the creator, but to the one that forced his hand.

This entire train of thought on involuntary creation can be safely ignored.

Voluntary Creation

This is the standard Christian point of view. God wanted to make the World, he did so and has been maintaining it ever since, trying to lead intelligent beings to theosis (the reunification with the divine essence). But this concept has a serious philosophical flaw, perhaps even more serious that the previous ridiculous scenarios.

The problem was first pinpointed by Epicurus and his deistic philosophy about the gods. He said that the gods are «makaria» beings (that is, existing in a state of bliss, self-absorbed introspection and basking in one’s own perfection) that do not involve themselves with matters of the world, nor did they create it, since their only purpose is existing in «makariotis». Divine makariotis was considered by epicurean philosophy as the ultimate, but untenable goal of the human search for happiness and peace of mind («hedone», as he called it). On this level, epicurean philosophy is similar to Buddhism, with the difference being that the goal is not the untenable divine makariotis, but the union with the Universe and the fading away of the self (that is Nirvana, a goal that humans can reach).

This brief analysis is a direct attack on the very essence of the Christian God, even if it’s not apparent at first glance. It emerges when we ask «Why did God create the Universe?»

So why did Yahweh create the Universe? Did he want to feel the joy of creating something? Did he want to have creatures to love and be loved in return? Whatever one assumes here, God is made to desire something and, unfortunately, desire presupposes a lack of something. You must lack something in order to desire it and lack suggests imperfection. God cannot be perfect and desire. He cannot be perfect and be lacking something (especially if that something can be provided by imperfect, material beings).

Even though we’re speaking about the material world, the same goes for Yahweh’s immaterial troupe (material for God, immaterial for humans; a middle ground between matter and divine essence), and the question remains the same: «What was God lacking when he created such beings?» (I won’t even touch the calvinistic approach, that God wanted beings to praise his magnificence. This thrusts upon God a worse flaw; an ego).

For those that grew up with christian mythology this is equally inconceivable. A God that merely floats around inside or outside the Universe thinking about nothing but his own makariotis? Unthinkable. What about God being Love? Unfortunately, this analysis doesn’t even let God reach that stage of Love, since it doesn’t allow him to even create something. The conclusion is simple. A perfect God DOES NOT CREATE. He is either imperfect and a creator or perfect and not a creator. The two options are mutually exclusive.

There is of course a third scenario.

The Divine as not a creative agent

Could it be that if there is a God he did not create the Universe? We’ve already stated that for God to retain his perfection he couldn’t have created anything.

In this case we might have to default to one of these alternatives we’ve already mentioned:

The World is the creation of a mighty, but imperfect being, but then it would be doubtful if it would deserve to be called «God» in the classic philosophical sense. A being like that would be like an imperfect ancient Greek deity. Or perhaps God and the Universe are completely independent of each other. God is self-contained by Epicurean makariotis and the Universe was caused by natural causes and evolves by itself. God never creates the Universe and there is no philosophical issue to be tackled.

But perhaps one might assume that the Universe is made of transubstantiated divine essence. God used to exist, but became the Universe, and once the Universe runs its course its matter will revert back to its original state and God will reform. Bah… all this see-sawing from God to Universe and back again doesn’t sound perfect at all!

The last alternative we’re left with is Pantheism: God and the Universe as a single essence. It’s a clearly dualistic theory. God is the mind and the Universe is the body of a single entity with intelligent beings acting as neurons of sorts. This theory solves the problem of the Universe having to be created, but turns God into a finite being (or rather an organ). He exists as long as there is intelligent life, so if intelligence had never arisen God would not be (and of course, if all intelligent life is wiped out, so is God). Either God continues to exist or he has always existed, only inert and unobserved.

God in this case might be finite, but in effect immortal inside the confines of the Universe. It’s also doubtful if his properties can be divined, since he is dependent on material beings. I’m not entirely sure if the collective consciousness of all intelligent beings in the Universe can be called a «Being», let alone «God.»

It’s definitely a very enticing idea and has been used repeatedly by New Age religions and Sci-Fi (my favourite appearance is in «Babylon 5» where intelligent life is cast as the Universe trying to understand itself). Even though the idea is a very romantic one and joins all intelligent life in a single whirlwind of consciousness and exploration of being. If we encounter other intelligent beings in the Universe (and I’m convinced that we will at some point) it might be used as a good argument for universal peace, but I doubt we can call this «God».

In Conclusion

All in all, is a being such as the one christian theology and apologetics describe possible (let alone plausible)? A perfect being, omnipotent, omniscient, timeless, immaterial, omnipresent, creator of the Universe and personification of love? It’s obvious what I think and equally obvious why I’m not a Christian. I have no idea where my spiritual quest will lead me, but I cannot reconsider the Christian God unless I can find a satisfactory answer to the question that jumps off the first pages of the Bible. It’s a short question, like most hard questions are; seven words long:

How can a perfect being have desires?

Keep reading…

This article was originally posted on the On the Way to Ithaca blog in Greek. It has also been posted in English and you can direct your comments there.

Οκτ 17

Religion and Free Expression II


A few days ago I had written the first part of this post. But there are new developments which happened just today, and I am really angry and sad at the same time. But let me first explain what happened.

About 3 months ago, my niece’s teacher gave them various small projects to do. My niece’s project was about the myths of Italy. Along with my sister, they sat down, and found three beautiful myths from Italy. Today was the day that my niece would present the project. The school owner, though, does not want my niece to present her project, on religious grounds yet again, because, in the myths, there were witches, ghosts and the devil! She now wants to look and read through the projects so she can «religiously» approve them!

I really don’t know what to say about this person, who is trying to make children into dogmatic soldiers for Jeebus, who is trying to impose her own dogmatism into children, who is forbidding every expression of imagination and inventiveness…

I do not care what that fundie believes. She can believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster for all I care! But she has no right to impose her own religious views, her own ideology, her own fantasies to anyone, not to my niece, let alone any other child!

She has no right to hurt not just my niece but any child in this way, she has no right to terrorize children in this way, she has no right to treat children in this manner, as if they are non-existent, as if they are nothing. And all the above because of religion! Children have their own characters, their own personalities, and they must be respected.

And yet again, my niece does not fully comprehend why. How can anyone explain to a 9-year old girl about people having attitudes like the fundies, and are trying to impose those on others without any respect for the individual? How can anyone explain to her what dogmatism and fundamentalism are? And what they do to people? How can anyone explain to her that this person is living in a fantasy world, one very much removed from reality?

I never understood, and still do not understand, why the Abrahamic religions need to impose their views, their ways to others. Why you are considered a sinner or whatever if you use your own logic, your empathy, your sensibility. your critical thinking skills, and find your own way in this world. I don:t want your religious views or your ideology; I don:t want to be preached at; I do not want you to judge me before you get to know me in person; I am not a soldier for Jeebus or Allah or whatever deity you believe in, and don:t want to be. I want to be free to choose and decide for myself; I want to be free to think for myself!

Keep reading…

This article was originally posted on the Snippets and other stories from the Net blog in English and you can direct your comments there.