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Bad Moon, Burnt Qurans, Birthers and Flat Earthers

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I see a bad moon rising [out-of-control trade and budget deficits]
I see trouble on the way [gold at an all-time high]
I see earthquakes and lightning [Haiti]
I see bad times of day [mass unemployment]

Don't go around tonight
Well, it's bound to take your life
[Bombs on Iran will beget bombs in America]
There's a bad moon on the rise

I hear hurricanes a-blowing [New York City]
I know the end is coming soon [2014]
I fear rivers overflowing [Pakistan, 20 million homeless]
I hear the voice of rage and ruin [Glenn Beck]

Hope you got your things together [mass foreclosures]
Hope you are quite prepared to die [Gulf of Mexico]
Looks like we're in for nasty weather [global warming]
One eye is taken for an eye [Iraq, Afghanistan and all the Middle East]

--Credence Clearwater Revival

Another song said, "How high the moon? Does a full moon stir feelings of doom, or does it make lovers swoon? If riches were discovered there, would NASA's budget zoom?" And what about Clementine's discovery of ice water on the Moon? One small step for man, one giant step for...the Dow Jones? Insurance companies have done studies that suggest that there's a correlation between accidents and the full moon. Car accidents occur 14 percent more often during a full moon than during a new moon, according to an analysis of 3 million car policies by the U.K.'s Churchill Insurance Group. Women menstruate on the full moon, ovulate on the new moon, and use lunaception as a form of contraception.

Is there any connection between solar activity and the phases of the Moon and behavior on Earth, including acts of aggression and the prices of wheat, cotton, gold and silver? I believe there is, but I don't subscribe to astrology. There is a saying on Wall Street: "A rising market following a full moon and a falling market after a new moon." What are the odds that eight of the greatest market crashes in history would fall within a time period of six days before to three days after a full moon that occurs within six weeks of a solar eclipse?

The University of Michigan Business School did a study that examined 100 years of the stock market trends and lunar phases. Returns in the 15 days around the new moon dates are about double the returns in the 15 days around full moon dates. "In an experiment conducted on an arbitrary set of commodities for the year 1972, it was shown that short-term movements of prices react with some uniformity with respect to the phases of the Moon. In fact, the commodities chosen for observation -- silver, wheat, cattle, cocoa, and sugar -- showed an uncanny ability to form a rising market following a full moon and a falling market after a new moon" (P. J. Kaufman, Commodity Trading Systems and Methods, p. 205).

Solar eclipses have also had a marked circumstantial place in financial history because they seem to coincide with the rapid transformation of investor psychology from bullishness to paranoia, or conversely, from pessimism to hope. Sentiment, better known as public opinion, clearly has a role in politics, religion and sociology, as well.

Faith and the Moon

For generations, Passover has fallen on the first full moon after the Northern Hemisphere vernal (March) equinox, although occasionally (seven times every 19 years), it will occur on the second full moon. Churches celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the March equinox. The official church date for the equinox is March 21, but as the Eastern Orthodox use the Julian calendar while Western churches use the Gregorian, both of which designate March 21 as the equinox, the actual date of Easter ranges from March 22 to April 15. In the year 325 it was decreed by the council of Nicea that "Easter is to fall upon the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox; and if said full moon fell on a Sunday, then Easter should be the Sunday after." Christianity was in ascendancy, and its power was secured when Constantine made it the official state religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century. Thus, all subjects of the empire observed the holiday. (Note that the founders of the American republic did not institute an official state religion, a theme I will return to.) The name "Easter" comes from the Saxon Eostre (Phoenician Astarte), goddess of the Moon and measurer of time. The word "moon" comes from the Sanskrit mas, from ma, "to measure."

The Moon revolves 360 degrees counterclockwise (from the North) around the Earth in 27.3 days. This is the sidereal month. At the same time, the Earth spins counterclockwise a little bit faster underneath the Moon as it to revolves around the Sun. The Moon must then travel more than 360 degrees around its ellipse to reach any starting point in relation to Earth. This is the synodic month of 29.5 days. As the Earth and the Moon hug each other in a tango-step to the rhythm of the Sun's gravity, the lunar months speed up and slow down by up to 12 hours.

Each month the lunar cycle begins with a new moon that is sometimes a partial eclipse, and on rare occasions, a total solar eclipse. What begins in total darkness when the new moon is hidden (we can't see the illuminated side of the Moon from Earth) becomes a crescent and grows until it shines as the full moon. This crescent is significant to Islam and is borne on the state flags and official marquees of Muslim countries from Algeria to Indonesia.

The Age of Aquarius

The Greek astronomer Hipparchus discovered the precession of the equinoxes. That is, the apparent position of the Sun in the sky changes over time with respect to the background provided by the fixed stars and constellations. He discovered that the Sun's position on the vernal equinox, the first day of spring, had shifted from the constellation of Taurus to the constellation of Aries. However, by the time Hipparchus had made his discovery, the Sun was almost out of Aries as well. This new movement would come to be symbolized by the sacrifice of a lamb.

At the beginning of the Christian Era, the constellation that the Sun appeared to be entering was Pisces. It was symbolized by the fish and became one of the first symbols of Christianity. In modern times, the news that Pisces itself was soon to be replaced in the spring equinox by Aquarius was enough to give rise to a hit Broadway musical and pop charts single centered around "the Age of Aquarius."

Before the rise of Islam in the seventh century A.D., Mithraism (Sun worship) was Christianity's strongest competitor in Europe. The church formally suppressed it in the fourth century but also appropriated certain of its observances and symbols: Sunday had always been the holy day of the Mithraists, and they celebrated December 25 as the birthday of the Sun, in the knowledge that the days would grow longer following the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. This is the origin of Christmas and Sundays off from work. In Islam, Friday is the day of rest.

The Devil Made Me Do It

Recently, a certain Gainesville "pastor" found a way to get millions of dollars worth of free advertising: post placards declaring that the Quran is of the devil and burn copies of it on September 11. He captured the attention of millions and inflamed passions in countries occupied by U.S. troops. The President and the Secretaries of State and Defense had to invoke the safety of U.S. troops to discourage the stunt, which was ultimately canceled, but the charged atmosphere and acrimony continue: Should a mosque be permitted near "Ground Zero"? Is Obama a closet Muslim?

A genuine, intellectually honest discussion of the affair is not to be found in the media, and this essay aims to raise a few issues, and perhaps a few hairs, about the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament (Christian Bible) and the Quran. If more people actually studied these books, they would see that the ancients who committed sacred verse to paper had common-sense notions of the universe informed by unaided human sight, sound, taste and touch. Their writing was not informed by any supernatural wisdom about the nature of our world, including its shape, as would be expected of omniscient devils and divinities. For the flesh-and-blood authors of the Quran and the Bible, the Earth had four corners and rested securely on pillars. Centuries before Christianity and Islam dominated the world, and millennia before Columbus set sail, Libyan, Egyptian and Greek thinkers knew that the Earth is a sphere, and in 196 B.C. Eratosthenes of Alexandria used stick shadows to measure its size to within 95 percent accuracy of today's accepted value. Eratosthenes accurately measured the radius of the Earth by determining the minimum angle between the Sun's direction and the vertical at Alexandria on the day of the summer solstice. He knew that a zero angle occurs approximately when the Sun was at its highest point at the city of Syene (now Aswan), and he knew the base of the triangle, i.e., the distance from Alexandria to Syene. So not only were the ancient scribes of both the Quran and the Bible unaided by diabolical powers; they were unschooled in the science conducted by mortals centuries before:

On that day we shall remove the mountains, and thou wilt see the Earth as a level stretch ... (Quran 18:47)

And he followed a road; Till, when he reached the setting-place of the Sun, he found it setting in a muddy spring, and found a people thereabout. We said: O Dhu'l-Qarneyn! Either punish or show them kindness. (Quran 18:85-86)

Allah ... has ... made the Earth for you like a carpet spread out ... (Quran 20:53)

"Do you know where this sun goes?" I said, "Allah and his Apostle know best." He said, "It goes and asks permission to prostrate, and it is allowed, and one day it, as if being ordered to return whence it came, then it will rise from the west." (Bukhari 9:520)


In God We Trust

Factoid: "In God we Trust" was first seen on U.S. currency in 1866, and "One Nation under God" was introduced in the McCarthyite 1950s. My argument is that the authors of the Quran passages cited above and the Bible passages below did not believe in a round Earth, democracy, debate, human rights, freedom of speech, tolerance, scientific inquiry or the American Way. They believed in burning dissenters and, presumably, their books. The German Nazi movement also invoked the defense of Christianity against atheistic Soviet Communism and delighted in burning books.

Why, in the year 2010, do so many Americans insist that Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and their fellows, the architects of a secular state, Freemasons in conflict with the Divine Right of Kings, were somehow evangelicals and that therefore this is fundamentally a "Judeo-Christian nation" today? (Notice how they throw in "Judeo" to get around their de-facto exclusion of Jews.) Where does their Islamophobia come from, and why is the religion of the President a burning issue for them? Shouldn't it be a private matter? Are they aware of the separation of church and state, the real burning issue for the founders of the Republic? Of course, these are rhetorical questions.

Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him. (Mathew 1:8-11)

Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee. Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame: there shall not be a coal to warm at, nor fire to sit before it. (Isaiah 47:13-14)

There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch. Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee. (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)

Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. (Jeremiah 10:2)

And there shall be signs in the Sun, and in the Moon, and in the stars ... (Luke 21:25)

The ancients who wrote the Christian and Islamic holy texts and generations of scribes who followed in their wake believed that the sky was a solid dome over the Earth, a planetarium, as it were. They believed that this tiny blue dot floating in the incomprehensible immenseness of the cosmos was actually the center of all creation, an ancient idea handed down from Aristotle:

And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years ... (Genesis 1:14)

I suspect that Aristotle's 2500-year-old worldview forms the crucible for the monotheistic cosmologies of the three modern dominant Western faiths. And yet, even Aristotle, a Greek who taught 500 years before the dawn of the Christian Era, believed that the Earth was a sphere always at rest. For one of his proofs, he referred to an empirically testable fact: if the Earth were in motion, an observer on it would see the fixed stars as moving, just as he now observes the planets as moving from a stationary Earth. However, since this is not the case, the Earth must be at rest. To prove that the Earth was a sphere, he produced the argument that all Earthly substances move towards the center, and thus would eventually have to form a sphere. He also used evidence based on observation. If the Earth were not spherical, lunar eclipses would not show segments with a curved outline. Furthermore, when one travels northward or southward, one does not see the same stars at night, nor do they occupy the same positions in the sky.

The belief in a round Earth was not Aristotle's alone. Parmenides of Elea postulated that moonlight is reflected sunlight. A generation later, Empedocles and Anaxagoras hypothesized the cause of solar eclipses, namely the cloaking of the Sun in the shadow of the Moon.

Aristotle's hierarchical model of the universe had a profound influence on medieval scholars, who modified it to correspond with Christian theology. Saint Thomas Aquinas reinterpreted Aristotle's prime movers as angels. Enforced by ecclesiastical authoritarianism and terror, Aristotle's mistaken model of the universe lasted for sixteen centuries, until Galileo, putting his life in jeopardy, boldly pointed his little telescope skyward and rocked Christian dogma to its foundations. It is said that what Galileo saw (that Venus went through phases just like the Moon, and Jupiter had its own moons) so disturbed some officials of the Church that they refused to look through a telescope; they reasoned that the Devil was capable of making anything appear in the telescope, so it was best not to look through it.

Undoubtedly, when extraterrestrial life is confirmed in the near future, similar shockwaves will reverberate throughout the big three monotheistic religions. Until that time, may mankind learn to tolerate different points of view on Earth, and be less concerned with who is a Christian, Muslim or Jew, what books they like, or where they worship.