In this edition of the podcast, Aidan is speaking to Eric Pratt, a former radical member of the Mormon Church. Born and raised in Utah, Eric was a follower of Mormonism for over 20 years, including two years spent as a proselytizing Mormon missionary. In this intriguing audio, Eric tells the story of his indoctrination into, and his escape out of, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Eric also talks about the infamous founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, what it was like to be a missionary, the prevalence of misogyny within religion, living a moral life as an atheist, and much more. A prequel of sorts to this episode is also available, see episode 82 – Project Extra: The Legacy of Christopher Hitchens.
This episode of the podcast is a bonus audio edition ahead of a full-length episode to follow. Aidan’s guest is Eric Pratt, who for over 20 years was an aggressively active member of the Mormon Church, including two years spent as a proselytizing Mormon missionary. Although it is addressed only briefly in this episode, in the full episode, Eric will explain his journey into, and out of, the Mormon faith. In this bonus audio, Aidan and Eric talk about the life and influence of Christopher Hitchens, whose reasoned arguments assisted Eric in leaving religion altogether. Aidan and Eric also discuss atheism and religion, friendship, and Eric’s possible foray into podcast hosting. Eric, as will be discussed in the full episode, is not on social media, but is working on a book about his life which will hopefully be available in the near future.
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Abraham is the common patriarch of the three major world religions. Indeed, Abraham was supposedly a man of such faith in God that, when commanded to do so, he would have sacrificed his son, Isaac, to prove his devotion. Such fanciful tales are easily dismissed, but Aidan’s guest, Bernard Lamborelle, argues that the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – very likely do have a real story to tell about a covenant, but not a religious one. Instead, an earthly tale, argues Lamborelle, would later be adapted and obscured until a simple handshake between Abraham and a mortal lord became a story which proclaimed a divine covenant with the almighty. Lamborelle’s industrious research resulted in a book, The Covenant: On the Origin of the Abrahamic Faith, by Means of Deification, which takes readers back to 3,500 years ago, to a time when men of power were viewed as living gods. Using a holistic, literal, and secular interpretation, this historical essay first demonstrates that the Abrahamic narrative from Genesis is far more coherent when considered from the standpoint of a mortal lord alongside the establishment of an earthly, rather than divine, covenant. In this episode, Aidan and Bernard discuss the fascinating reframing of Abraham’s covenant, the implications that the adoption of such an understanding could have for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, and a great deal more, including the battle between the forces of secularism and religious literalism.
Bernard has very kindly made the book available via Smashwords for a period of 30 days following the release of this episode. Head to https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/766677 and simply enter the code HG64L at the checkout. The offer expires on 16 March 2018.
On Thursday 18 January, I appeared as a guest on Miracles and Atheists, a live Facebook show in which believers and non-believers engage in civil discourse. I discussed atheism, my view on miracles, the collision between religion and secular values, Christopher Hitchens, faith healers, and much more. A replay is available – my guest spot begins at around 02:36:00.
In this edition of The Aidan Project, Aidan examines Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal (1623–62) was a talented French mathematician, physicist, inventor and writer, but he is most famous for his theological work. Pascal’s famous wager argues that it is rational to believe in God, because the benefits of this belief being justified when you die are vast: Entry into heaven, avoidance of hell. By contrast, said Pascal, even if God does not exist, the costs of living as if God does exist are trivial. To not believe in God, therefore, is irrational. Whilst it also means you will never know that God does not exist if He, in fact, does not exist, you risk fiery damnation if He does exist. Your life is a bet, believed Pascal, and, on the balance of probability, there is only one way to place it – on belief. In a mathematical sense, if we believe in God, and He exists, the rewards are infinite, and if we are wrong, the losses are hardly worth worrying about. If we do not believe in God, but we are wrong, the punishments are potentially infinite. Aidan examines the merits of Pascal’s Wager, and explores its common criticisms. Place your bets. Further reading: Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, (London: Transworld, 2006). Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great, (New York: Twelve, 2007).
The status of Jerusalem is a leading news story, following Donald Trump’s historic announcement that the United States will recognise the Holy City as the capital of Israel. Aidan looked at the contentious issue of Israel and Palestine back in episode five, The Demise of the Two State Solution. The ancient city of Jerusalem, well known for its importance to the Abrahamic religions, is also at the centre of a peculiar religious psychosis, called Jerusalem syndrome. On this edition of The Aidan Project, Aidan explores Jerusalem syndrome, a clinical psychiatric condition, defined as a temporary state of sudden and intense religious delusions, which manifest while visiting or living in Jerusalem. Examples of Jerusalem syndrome include that of a man from Austria, who became enraged at hotel staff who would not prepare for him a last supper, and a man from the United States Midwest, who was found wandering the city, dressed in a white robe, claiming to be the Apostle Paul. Indeed, many people have become intoxicated with religious devotion in Jerusalem, including Homer Simpson. In a 2010 episode of The Simpsons, the phenomena served as the key plot point, with Homer believing himself to be the Messiah. Aidan also looks at Christopher Hitchens’ verdict on Jerusalem syndrome, which was as unforgiving as one might expect.
References: Christelle Evans and Jonathan Behar, ‘Jerusalem syndrome’, Student BMJ, 14, 2006. [Subscription required]
Yair Bar-El, Rimona Durst, Gregory Katz, Josef Zislin, Ziva Strauss, Haim Y. Knobler, ‘Jerusalem syndrome’, The British Journal of Psychiatry, 176, 1, 2000.