In Israel, a Dream Made Real


Against all odds, Zionism has allowed an almost extinguished people to renew itself 


Nov. 29, 2013 6:41 p.m. ET
For those observing Israel from afar, the country must seem like an ongoing crisis. Israel is at once an occupier and a target of its neighbors’ enmity. It faces existential threats and herculean challenges—the Iranian nuclear project, chaos in the Arab world, the Palestinian rejection of its legitimacy.

But some perspective is in order. The 20th century was the most dramatic century in the dramatic history of the Jews. In its first half, we lost a third of our people. But the second half of the century was miraculous. In North America, we created the perfect diaspora, while in the land of Israel we established modern Jewish sovereignty. The Jews of the 21st century have today what their great-grandparents could only dream of: equality, freedom, prosperity, dignity. The persecuted people are now emancipated. The pitiful people are now proud and independent.

In Israel, the Jewish Renaissance was achieved by the remarkable success of Zionism. When Zionism was launched in 1897, approximately 50,000 Jews lived in the Holy Land. Now the Jewish population exceeds 6 million. In 1897, Jews living in Palestine represented only 0.4% of world Jewry. In 1950, we accounted for 10.6%. In 1980, 25.6%. Now we make up almost 45%.

Israelis stroll near Tel Aviv before the Jewish state’s Independence Day in April. Mati Milstein

Today, the Jewish community in Israel is one of the two largest in the world. Given current trends, by 2025 the majority of the world’s Jews will be Israelis. The fundamental Zionist diagnosis and prognosis proved to be correct.

Nowhere is this success more apparent than in the port of Tel Aviv. Here, on the banks of the Yarkon River, the first Jewish Olympic Games—the Maccabiah—were held in the spring of 1932, long before the founding of the modern state. Within a few weeks, a sports stadium was hastily constructed where thousands gathered to watch the hundreds of athletes who traveled to Palestine from 25 countries to prove that the Jew of the 20th century was a new Jew: athletic, muscular and strong.

Here, next to the Maccabiah stadium, five other Zionist projects were inaugurated before the end of the 1930s. The Bauhaus compound of the extravagant Levant Fair, the audacious Tel Aviv harbor, the renowned Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra, the electrifying Redding Power Station, the pioneering Tel Aviv airport—all were outstanding breakthroughs of modern Zionism. They shared initiative, daring, innovation and a can-do spirit. They gave the emerging Jewish national home a unique economic and cultural might. As the great Arab-Jewish war was about to begin in Palestine and while catastrophe loomed over European Jewry, the Zionist pioneers laid in Tel Aviv the foundations for a sovereign, modern, creative Jewish existence.

Some 80 years later, as I walk south from the Tel Aviv airport on the promenade between the runway and the sea, I see the staff of a high-tech company having a day out in the sun. Twenty red-helmeted men and women ride by on red-wheeled Segways. Behind them are cyclists in sleeveless shirts and Lycra shorts with determined expressions on their faces. The joggers are more relaxed in their fluorescent running gear, sharing the path with willowy girls on skates, opinionated pensioners, amateur fishermen.

Before me is an Israeli Central Park on the shores of the Mediterranean, a Hampstead Heath in the Middle East—with all the calm and tranquillity that only free societies can accord their citizens. There is a sense of well-being here that the Jews have not had for nearly 2,000 years.

When I cross the Yarkon River and enter the port, I see all around me a feast of life. The cafes on the wooden decks are bustling with young families and singles, enjoying espressos and Champagne. Bicycles, skate boards, baby carriages. What a cocktail: an immigrant society and a warrior society against the backdrop of the blue sea. Jewish history and the Israeli present and blue skies.

In Israel, centuries of pain have burst out into gaiety and creation. Here is the demography of hope: an almost extinguished people renewing itself. Unlike the affluent societies of Europe, Israel’s affluent society reproduces and grows—we have babies in great numbers.

Israel is not the utopia it set out to be. It is flawed and maimed in many ways. It denies the Palestinians their rights and often betrays its own citizens. It has an unworthy political leadership, a dysfunctional political system and an unjust socioeconomic structure. Yet Israel is an amazing expression of vitality, of success against all odds. Once one steps back from the ongoing friction of a conflict reported daily around the world, one can see the transformation of the Jews in the Zionist century. We had to come here, and once we came, we did wonders.

The Jewish nation state has brought neither peace nor peace of mind to the Jews. But it has provided us with the intensity of life on the edge—the adrenaline rush of living dangerously. Threatened with death, we have built a spectacle of life. We have converged on this shore and cling to this shore, come what may.

—Mr. Shavit is a senior columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. This essay is adapted from his new book, “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel,” published by Spiegel & Grau.


Advent is about our deep need for hope and for justice

Advent is about our deep need for hope and for justice

Graham Tomlin

Published at 12:01AM, November 30 2013

Tomorrow is Advent Sunday. The word “Advent” enters popular culture at one point only these days: Advent calendars. The traditional ones with nativity scenes behind each cardboard window have given way to those offering chocolate, a shot of gin each day (the “Ginvent” calendar — I kid you not) or even the My Little Pony version for £38.98, with 24 small gaudy plastic horses.

Advent calendars began in Germany in the mid-19th century, and the basic idea was to build a sense of anticipation. Opening a little door every day, counting down the numbers until Christmas Day, is a way of building suspense, increasing expectation for the approaching celebration. Which is why, of course, the ones offering chocolate or gin do rather miss the point, providing instant gratification rather than the delayed sort that makes the final festivities so much sweeter and more satisfying.

Traditionally, Advent, like Lent, was one of the times in the Christian year when people were in waiting mode. It was, in part, waiting for Christmas, but also for something more — for the day when Christ would return a second time. This was to be a day when the world would finally be set to rights again, when God would step in to bring history to its true fulfilment. Advent is therefore ultimately about our profound need for two things: hope and justice.

Without hope, human life is unbearable. It is rare to find moments of total satisfaction, where everything, literally everything, is perfect. Most of our happiness involves some kind of expectation, some kind of hope that things will look up. The child waiting excitedly for Christmas is a picture of happiness, almost more so than the day itself, which often leaves behind a tinge of sadness that the day we’d built up to for so long is over so quickly. We all know that feeling of receiving something or arriving somewhere we have longed for, only to find that it wasn’t actually what we were longing for after all. We need hope, but so often, when we get it, the object of our hope disappoints. Whether a Christmas present, a clean bill of health, or the dream job, so often, getting what we long for fails to match the intensity of that very desire. When hope is absent, either because we are completely sated, with nothing left to look forward to, or because we are in despair, with no prospect of change, life becomes at best dissatisfying, at worst intolerable. Our capacity for happiness is somehow tied up with anticipation, and the inability of anything in this life to satisfy that hope is a hint that we were made for something more than this world can offer.

Yet Advent is not just about our deep human need for hope. It is also about our need for justice. Advent looks forward to the (perhaps still distant) day when the Son of God will make another entry into the world, this time not incognito, but, as the creed puts it, “to judge the quick and the dead”. Judgment is about justice — putting things right — and without justice the trafficker and the tyrant win. Ultimately our deepest desires will be met, not by another gadget under the tree, but when this world will finally be put right, so that children are no longer sold into slavery, refugees can return home and our own broken hearts are healed. And Advent also looks forward to the days when we see signs of that future, in the small signs of justice and healing that we are privileged to glimpse in the meantime.

We need to be able to hold onto the hope that even though this world is seldom just, one day, even if it is beyond our lifetime, justice will come. Without that hope, patience is a waste of time. With it, even in our darkest moments, life can be bearable, even joyful. Advent calendars teach us to wait patiently. Advent Sundays teach us to hope expectantly, believing that God will one day make things good.


The Rev Dr Graham Tomlin is Dean of St Mellitus College. HisLooking Through the Cross (Bloomsbury £9.99) is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book for 2014


Does prayer help us resist temptation? Talking to God boosts self-control and emotional stability, claims study

Does prayer help us resist temptation? Talking to God boosts self-control and emotional stability, claims study

  • People turn to prayer ‘as a coping response to the high demands in life’ and are rewarded with an increased ability to resist temptation
  • Previous findings have shown that when people try to control their emotions, the risk of aggressive outbursts and binge drinking rises


PUBLISHED: 10:56 EST, 29 November 2013 | UPDATED: 10:58 EST, 29 November 2013

Praying helps people stay in control of their emotions and behaviour, according to a new study.

People turn to prayer ‘as a coping response to the high demands in life’ and are rewarded with increased strength and ability to resist temptation, researchers said.

Previous findings have shown that when people try hard to control their emotions and thoughts, the risk of aggressive outbursts and binge drinking or eating rises.

prayer Moment of reflection: People turn to prayer ‘as a coping response to the high demands in life’ and are rewarded with increased strength and ability to resist temptation, researchers said



Belief in God may improve treatment for those suffering with depression, a study published earlier year found.

Faith in a higher being was found to significantly improve treatment for people suffering with a psychiatric illness, according to research carried out by McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.

Researchers followed 159 patients over the course of a year at the Behavioral Health Partial Hospital program to investigate the relationship between a patient’s level of belief in God, expectations for treatment and actual treatment outcomes.

Each participant was asked to gauge their belief in God as well as their expectations for treatment outcome on a five-point scale.

Researchers found that patients with ‘no’ or only ‘slight’ belief in God were twice as likely not to respond to treatment than patients with higher levels of belief.

And more than 30 per cent of patients claiming no specific religious affiliation still saw the same benefits in treatment if their belief in God was rated as moderately or very high.

But the latest study, by German psychologists at Saarland University and the University of Mannheim, found that praying helps people maintain self-control.

‘A brief period of personal prayer buffered the self-control depletion effect’, wrote the team, whose findings are published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology online.


‘These results are consistent with and contribute to a growing body of work attesting to the beneficial effects of praying on self-control.’

Praying has already been linked in the past to reduced levels of infidelity and alcohol consumption.

The German authors recruited 79 people, of whom 41 were Christian, 14 atheists, 10 agnostic and 14 belonged to other religions.

Participants were each left alone for five minutes and asked to either pray or think freely about one thing as intensely as possible.

Next they all watched a funny film clips with half told to react normally and half required to try to suppress their emotions and control their facial reactions.

Finally, they took part in Stroop tests, where words describing colours appear in different coloured inks, such as the word blue written in red ink.

drinkPrevious findings have shown that when people try hard to control their emotions and thoughts, the risk of aggressive outbursts and binge drinking or eating rises


Participants must respond to the ink colour, not the written word, which requires self-control as our instinct is to read the word in front of us.

Those who thought freely in the first part of the test and then tried to suppress their emotions during the film clips were found to struggle with the Stroop task.

But this was not the case for participants who prayed at the start of the study – showing they still had high levels of self-control at the end.

The authors also found those who first prayed had tried just as hard to suppress emotions during the film clips ‘but did not become depleted’.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2515637/Does-prayer-help-resist-temptation-Talking-God-boosts-self-control-emotional-stability-claims-study.html#ixzz2m956l3PK
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook


Let there be light: how the Universe looked after Big Bang

Let there be light: how the Universe looked after Big Bang

1 of 2
This 50-million pixel all-sky image shows relic radiation from the Big Bang ESA/Planck Collaboration/PA
  • This 50-million pixel, all-sky image
    This 50-million pixel all-sky image shows relic radiation from the Big Bang ESA/Planck Collaboration/PA
Hannah Devlin Science Editor
Last updated at 11:32AM, March 22 2013

It may not be in bad shape for its age but the Universe is even older than previously thought, according to the most detailed survey of ancient cosmic background radiation.

The first major results from Europe’s Planck space mission suggest that the Universe began 13.81 billion years ago, nearly 100 million years earlier than previous estimates. It also contains significantly more dark matter, but the precise nature of this invisible substance remains completely mysterious, scientists said.

Announcing the results at the European Space Agency headquarters in Paris, Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s director-general, said: “The extraordinary quality of Planck’s portrait of the infant Universe allows us to peel back its layers to the very foundations, revealing that our blueprint of the cosmos is far from complete.”

George Efstathiou, of the University of Cambridge, suggested that while to the public the image might resemble “a dirty rugby ball or a piece of modern art”, there were “cosmologists who would have hacked our computers or maybe even given up their children to get hold of this map, we’re so excited by it”.

The all-sky map, based on 15½ months of observations from the £510 million telescope, shows tiny temperature fluctuations in the so-called cosmic microwave background. This, the oldest light in the Universe, has travelled billions of years to reach us after first being imprinted on the sky only 380,000 years after the Big Bang.

At that time the Universe was a hot dense soup of interacting protons, electrons and photons at about 2,700C (4,892F). When the protons and electrons first joined to form hydrogen atoms, the light was emitted.

This radiation acts as a “back light” that helps to illuminate the overall composition of the Universe. Charles Lawrence, a Planck scientist based at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: “As that ancient light travels to us, matter acts like an obstacle course, getting in its way and changing the patterns slightly.”

The dark blue regions on the map represent the densest patches in space that went on to seed the formation of galaxies and clusters of galaxies that exist today.

The observations suggest that the ordinary matter that forms galaxies, stars and planets contributes just 4.9 per cent of the overall mass of the Universe, while dark matter makes up 26.8 per cent, a fifth more than was previously thought. Dark energy accounts for about 69 per cent, slightly less than thought.

Dark matter is perceived only through its gravitational influence, while dark energy is pushing our universe apart. Neither has been observed directly, but scientists hope that experiments at the Large Hadron Collider will do so.

Planck’s observations also appear to support theories describing “inflation”, a dramatic faster-than-light expansion of the universe immediately after the Big Bang. In far less time than the blink of an eye, the universe inflated in volume 100 trillion trillion times, the theory suggests.


Live, Love and Learn: Thanks is the new black


Live, Love and Learn: Thanks is the new black

11/28/2013 12:36

On this holiday weekend, I propose we celebrate thanksgiving the whole year through and cultivate an attitude of gratitude in our relationships.


‘Thanksgivukkah’. Photo: Buzzfeed

The art of the thank you note is one I mastered early on in life thanks to a long family history of thank you note writers.

Once, I wrote a thank-you note and got a boyfriend as a reply. You see, he thought I was flirting with him, when in reality I was just extending my gratitude for a job well done. I suppose expressing thanks for the mundane was foreign to him, and he could not wrap his mind around the idea that someone would do that just for the sake of it. Regardless, we dated for a few years and I think it was my bottomless pit of appreciation that pulled us through for as long as it did.

Gratitude can be a transcendent experience. I don’t mean to get all Deepak Chopra on you, but gratitude really has a way of creating a connection with depth and meaning.

It’s a hallmark of Jewish life. We experience that deep and meaningful connection with G-d daily through our endless stream of thanks. The first words out of our mouths every morning are words of appreciation for having our souls returned to us, in the Modeh Ani prayer; and more expressions of thanks follow throughout the day – including before and after meals, following a bathroom break, upon seeing a rainbow or any other wonder of nature etc.

Quite frankly, if the content of the standard siddur (Jewish prayer book) were sprawled across Kate Spade designer stationary, in perfect penmanship and with some attractive packaging – it would sell off the shelves of your local Papyrus store among the new-age spiritual hipster crowd. “Thanks is totally the new black,” they would proclaim. “It’s just so uplifting.”

And for once, they would be spot-on!

We know this very well as Jews, since we are basically commanded to be in a constant state of appreciation. We are called the Yehudim, the thankful ones – a name derived from Leah’s proclamation and gratitude upon birthing her fourth son, Yehuda.

So, why is it that we oftentimes neglect saying thank you to those who deserve (and long) to hear it the most? I’m talking about our partners, our lovers, our spouses, our other-halves. The people who support us in our weakest moments and contribute to our highest highs, with whom we should strive to have the deepest and most meaningful connections.

“Because they already know it”; “Because you forgot”; “Because you don’t have the time”; “Because you are passed that point.” I hear your mumbles and to all that I say: rubbish!

On this holiday weekend, I propose we celebrate thanksgiving the whole year through and cultivate an attitude of gratitude in our relationships.

I don’t feel a need to justify this proposal because celebrations and gratitude are standard Jewish fanfare but to emphasize its importance I will: It is as important to give thanks, as it is to receive it – and both should be done genuinely and generously.

Giving thanks to your loved one is important to them for the obvious reasons that it makes them feel appreciated and loved, and will probably result in some sort of reciprocation, which in turn, will obviously benefit you.

Expressing thanks is important for you because it forces you to pause momentarily and take account of your good fortune, which you in part owe to your significant other. This will instantly raise your level of personal satisfaction along with other positive emotions.

It will also increase your appreciation of your sweetheart.

But what about this deep connection I spoke of? Well, giving and getting thanks requires a significant level of humility that is the cornerstone of a healthy relationship. Expressing gratitude strips your soul bare – and naked is always a good state when we are talking romantically, figuratively and literally.

Finally, and most importantly, gratitude is married to happiness. By extending gratitude to somebody, we acknowledge that they are responsible for our happiness and that is an extremely powerful shared human experience.

So, how do you celebrate thanksgiving the whole year through, you might wonder? You begin by making quality time regularly, gathering around the table (in true Jewish form), and taking turns to express your respective thanks in thoughtful words, and matching actions.

For now, I wish you a meaningful Thanksgiving with those you love. Be grateful for the turkey you will be eating, but also for the person who cooked it, and with whom you will share it.

Margaux Chetrit is the founder and president of Three Matches, an international dating agency. Her insights on love and sex are inspired by a career in diplomacy, a panoply of academic degrees and ex-boyfriends. For more of her musings, please visit: www.threematches.com or follow her at www.twitter.com/threematches and www.facebook.com/threematches​


Discovery of earliest Buddhist shrine sheds new light on life of Buddha

Discovery of earliest Buddhist shrine sheds new light on life of Buddha

  • 08_MQ1206_120127_5020.jpg

    Pilgrims meditate at the wall below the nativity scene within the Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini, Nepal. The remains of the earliest temples at the site are in the background. (IRA BLOCK/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC)

  • 05_MQ1206_120125_3714.jpg

    Archaeologists Robin Coningham (left) and Kosh Prasad Acharya direct excavations within the Maya Devi Temple, uncovering a series of ancient temples contemporary with the Buddha. Thai monks meditate. (IRA BLOCK/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC)

  • 04_MQ1206_120125_3682.jpg

    Thai monks inside the Maya Devi Temple meditate over the remains of the oldest Buddhist shrine in the world at Lumbini, Nepal.(IRA BLOCK/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC)

Archaeologists in Nepal have uncovered the earliest-known Buddhist shrine, physical evidence that puts a concrete date and location on the life of the man who founded Buddhism.

“For the first time we actually have scientific evidence leading to the establishment of one of the major Buddhists shrines,” professor Robin Coningham of Durham University, U.K., who co-led the investigation, said in a press conference Monday.

Coningham’s research indicates the temple found at Lumbini in Nepal dates back to the 6th century B.C. The discovery is the first archaeological evidence linking the life of Buddha and the beginnings of Buddhism to a specific century.

‘Very little is known about the life of the Buddha.’

– Professor Robin Coningham of Durham University, U.K.

“Very little is known about the life of the Buddha, except through textual sources and oral tradition,” Coningham said. “We thought ‘why not go back to archaeology to try to answer some of the questions about his birth?'”

According to Buddhist tradition, Buddha’s mother Queen Maya Devi gave birth to him while holding on to the branch of a tree within the Lumbini garden. Coningham and his team began their excavations at this site and discovered the remains of a previously unknown timber structure within the Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini.

“What’s interesting is we identified a roof tile … all around the edges of the temple and not in the center,” Coningham said. “This indicated something that was very special about the center of the temple. When we started excavating we found another early temple below.”

Geoarchaeological research was conducted that confirmed the presence of ancient tree roots in the open space at the center of the newly-discovered timber structure which links to the nativity story of Buddha.  Fragments of charcoal and grains of sand were tested to determine the date of the timber shrine and the early brick structure above it.

The evidence of the tree shrine at the site proves the “continuity of the site” as Buddhist according to Coningham.

“The sequence (of archaeological remains) at Lumbini is a microcosm for the development of Buddhism from a localized cult to a


10,000-year-old house uncovered outside of Jerusalem

10,000-year-old house uncovered outside of Jerusalem

Digging History

  • 6-YOLI SHWARTZ..jpg

    Work being conducted at the excavation. (YOLI SHWARZ/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

  • 1-SKY_VIEW.jpg

    An aerial view of the large excavation along Highway 38. (SKY VIEW COMPANY/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

  • 3-iaa.jpg

    The standing stone (mazzevÄ) which is worked on all of its sides. Evidence of cultic activity in the Chalcolithic period. (ZINOBI MOSKOWITZ/ISRAEL ANTQIUITIES AUTHORITY)

  • 2-iaa.jpg

    A 10,000 year old house, the oldest dwelling to be unearthed to date in the Judean Shephelah. (DR. YAÂAKOV VARDI/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

  • 4-PERETZ.jpg

    A Chalcolithic period building and the standing stone (mazzevÄ) positioned at the end of it. (ASSAF PERETZ/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

An archaeological excavation near Jerusalem has revealed a 10-millennia-old house and a 6,000-year-old cultic temple — discoveries that experts called “a fascinating glimpse into thousands of years of human development,” and evidence of man’s transition to permanent dwellings.

The ancient structures were found at the site of a planned expansion the main access road to Israeli city Beit Shemesh, called Route 38. The house is the oldest building ever found in the area and dates back to the time of the earliest known domestication of plants and animals.

‘Up until this period man migrated from place to place in search of food.’

– Excavation directors with the IAA

“We uncovered a multitude of unique finds during the excavation,” said Amir Golani, one of the excavators for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). “The large excavation affords us a broad picture of the progression and development of the society in the settlement throughout the ages.”

The oldest artifacts found are of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period (approximately 10,000 years ago). According to the excavation directors, “whoever built the house did something that was totally innovative because up until this period man migrated from place to place in search of food.”

Golani explained that the find gave archaeologists a window onto a period 5,000 years ago in the Early Bronze Age, when a rural society made the transition into an urban society.

They “can clearly trace the urban planning and see the guiding hand of the settlement’s leadership that chose to regulate the construction in the crowded regions in the center of the settlement and allowed less planning along its periphery.”

Also among the finds were multiple structures from from the end of the Chalcolithic period (the Copper Age) some 6,000 years ago. Archaeologists found a six-sided stone column standing 51 inches high and weighing several hundred pounds.

“The standing stone was smoothed and worked on all six of its sides, and was erected with one of its sides facing east,” the excavator directors said in a press release. “This unique find alludes to the presence of a cultic temple at the site.”

A group of nine flint and limestones axes were also discovered laying side by side near the prehistoric building. “It is apparent that the axes, some of which were used as tools and some as cultic objects, were highly valued by their owners. Just as today we are unable to get along without a cellular telephone and a computer, they too attributed great importance to their tools,” the researchers concluded.

“It is fascinating to see how in such an ancient period a planned settlement was established in which there is orderly construction, and trace the development of the society which became increasingly hierarchical,” said Golani.

The IAA and Netivei Israel Company will open the excavation to the visiting public this Wednesday, November 27.


How the Grand Canyon makes us religious

How the Grand Canyon makes us religious: Natural wonders increase our tendency to believe in God and the supernatural

  • Being awe-struck prompts people to try to explain the world, a study found
  • Participants were quizzed after watching clips from the BBC’s Planet Earth


PUBLISHED: 08:11 EST, 26 November 2013 | UPDATED: 08:30 EST, 26 November 2013

Amazing natural sights such as the the Grand Canyon or the Northern Lights might increase people’s tendency to believe in God and the supernatural, according to new research by US scientists.

The findings suggest that awe-inspiring sights increase our motivation to make sense of the world around us, and may underlie a trigger of belief in the supernatural.

Psychological scientist Doctor Piercarlo Valdesolo, of Claremont McKenna College in the United States, said: ‘Many historical accounts of religious epiphanies and revelations seem to involve the experience of being awe-struck by the beauty, strength or size of a divine being, and these experiences change the way people understand and think about the world.

Heavens above: Researchers claim that gazing upon amazing natural sights such as the Grand Canyon (pictured) can lead to a belief in GodHeavens above: Researchers claim that gazing upon amazing natural sights such as the Grand Canyon (pictured) can lead to a belief in God


‘We wanted to test the exact opposite prediction: it’s not that the presence of the supernatural elicits awe, it’s that awe elicits the perception of the presence of the supernatural.’

Dr Valdesolo and his colleague Jesse Graham, of the University of Southern California, tested the prediction by having participants watch awe-inspiring scenes from BBC’s Planet Earth documentary series or neutral video clips from a news interview.


Afterwards, the participants were asked how much awe they felt while watching the video, and whether they believed that worldly events unfold according to some god’s or other non-human entity’s plan.


Thrill seekers ride 1,300 ft high Grand Canyon Swing

Study: Participants were shown scenes from the BBC's Planet Earth series and asked about religion afterwards. Pictured are the Iguazu Falls in Argentina, which featured in the showStudy: Participants were shown scenes from the BBC’s Planet Earth series and asked about religion afterwards. Pictured are the Iguazu Falls in Argentina, which featured in the show

Sneak peak: Participants who watched the awe-inspiring clips became increasingly intolerant of uncertaintySneak peak: Participants who watched the awe-inspiring clips became increasingly intolerant of uncertainty




Nature and a connection with the divine has long been observed, perhaps most famously by the Romantics.

Romanticism was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that began in Europe towards the end of the 18th century and peaked between 1800 and 1850.

Artists and philosophers who belonged to the movement emphasised the glory, beauty and power of the natural world. 

Feeling alienated by traditional religious beliefs, the romantics looked upon nature as the dwelling place of God. God and the natural universe were one and the same.

They saw nature as a metaphor for the sublime – the power and mystery of forces that inspired awe, solace and self-discovery.

Famous romantic Jean-Jacques Rousseau held that humans were by nature good but were corrupted by society. ‘Natural man’ was close to nature and unspoiled by social institutions.

The main reason for the development of this strong connection between nature and God was the Industrial Revolution, which caused many people to leave the countryside and live in cities, separating themselves from the natural world. 

The connection may also have arisen as a backlash against the scientific trend for enlightenment philosophy.

In addition to this, large areas of European and North American wilderness had been tamed, so that it had become much safer for people to travel to natural wonders.

Overall, the participants who had watched the awe-inspiring video tended to believe more in supernatural control, and were more likely to believe in God when compared with the news-watching group. 

The effect held even when awe-inspiring but impossible scenes, such as a massive waterfall through city streets, were presented.

Another study showed that participants who watched the awe-inspiring clips became increasingly intolerant of uncertainty. 

This particular mindset – a discomfort with uncertainty – may explain why feelings of awe produce a greater belief in the supernatural, according to the researchers.

Dr Valdesolo said: ‘The irony in this is that gazing upon things that we know to be formed by natural causes, such as the jaw-dropping expanse of the Grand Canyon, pushes us to explain them as the product of supernatural causes.’

However, the researchers also pointed out that the figures could also shed light on why certain individuals seek to explain the world through secular and scientific means.

The experience of awe may simply motivate us to search for explanations, no matter what kinds of explanations they are.

Dr Valdesolo said this might be why, in another experiment, participants who watched the awe-inspiring video showed greater discomfort and were more likely to believe a random string of numbers was designed by a human hand.

Based on their preliminary findings, published in the journal Psychological Science, the researchers are now looking at factors that modulate the effect of awe on belief in the supernatural.

For example, they are testing whether adopting submissive body postures, which make us feel less powerful, might dispose us to experiences of awe. 

Dr Valdesolo said such a link could perhaps explain the presence of such postures in religious practice, such as kneeling, bowing, and gazing up.

He added: ‘The more submissive we act, the more awe we might feel, and perhaps the stronger our beliefs become.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2513796/How-Grand-Canyon-makes-religious-Natural-wonders-increase-tendency-believe-God-supernatural.html#ixzz2lrciGmI4
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook


Evolution debate and textbooks engulfs Texas Board of Education


Published November 23, 2013

| Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas –  The Texas Board of Education used a late-night meeting to preliminarily approve new science textbooks for classrooms across the state late Thursday night, but it blocked signing off on a major new biology text until alleged “errors” in lessons over the theory of evolution are checked by outside experts.

The vote just before midnight did not reject the biology book by Pearson, one of the country’s largest publishers. But it delayed approval until three board members appoint a trio of outside experts to check concerns.

Textbook and classroom curriculum battles have long raged in Texas pitting creationists — those who see God’s hand in the creation of the universe — against academics who worry about religious and political ideology trumping scientific fact. At issue this time are proposed high school biology books that could be used across the state at least through 2022.


State law approved two years ago means school districts can now choose their own books and don’t have to adhere to a list recommended by the Board of Education — but most have continued to use approved books.

The issue is important nationally since Texas is so large that many books prepared for publication in the state also are marketed elsewhere around the country.

Publishers from around the country submitted proposed textbooks this summer, but committees of Texas volunteer reviewers — some nominated by socially conservative current and former Board of Education members — raised objections. One argued that creationism based on biblical texts should be taught in science classes, while others objected that climate change wasn’t as settled a scientific matter as some of the proposed books said.

Pearson and many other major publishers weren’t willing to make suggested major edits and changes, however.

That promoted some of the board’s socially conservative members to call for delaying approval of the book because of concerns including how long it took Earth to cool and objection to lessons about natural selection because “selection operates as a selective but not a creative force.”

Members outside the socially conservative bloc claimed their colleagues waited until the dead of night to try and impose ideological edits.

“To ask me — a business degree major from Texas Tech University — to distinguish whether the Earth cooled 4 billion years ago or 4.2 billion years ago for purposes of approving a textbook at 10:15 on a Thursday night is laughable,” said Thomas Ratliff, a Republican from Mount Pleasant.

He added: “I believe this process is being hijacked, this book is being held hostage to make political changes.”


Article rescued from bonfire reveals the beliefs behind Narnia

Tilda Swinton in a film adaptation of C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia
Kobal Collection
  • Tilda Swinton in a film adaptation of C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia Kobal Collection
Jack Malvern Arts Correspondent
Published at 12:01AM, November 22 2013

C. S. Lewis’s ruminations on God and truth in an essay that was rescued from a bonfire will be published for the first time as part of commemorations of the 50th anniversary of his death.

The author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe set out his thoughts in 1931 in an article that was probably intended for The Criterion, a literary magazine edited by T. S. Eliot. The essay will be published for the first time on Monday by Cambridge University Press as part of a collection of work.

Warren Lewis, the author’s brother, had planned to add the work to the bonfire of papers he made after the author died in 1963, but it was rescued at the last minute.

Walter Hooper, 82, the author’s secretary, recalled that when he arrived at Lewis’s house in January 1964 the bonfire had been burning for three days. “Warren was moving to a smaller place, so he began burning up the family papers,” he said. “He loved his brother dearly, but he wasn’t interested in anything except things of a family nature.”

Mr Hooper asked to take away 50 notebooks, he said. “I think I probably took away the largest share of things, but we don’t know what was lost. One of Lewis’s friends thought that he had written a sequel to Surprised by Joy, his autobiography, but if he did it must have been lost in the fire.”

The untitled essay, which attacks the ideas of the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce, will be published under the heading Image and Imagination. Mr Hooper said that it provided an insight into Lewis’s philosophical beliefs, which influenced works such as his Narnia series.

“What you see is the Lewis who had read philosophy at Oxford University. He could think very clearly, as a philosopher could, and he could put things very logically. He says, ‘Reason is the organ of truth. Imagination is the organ of meaning’.”

Lewis believed that imagination must have meaning because human minds were fashioned by God,  Mr Hooper said. “Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien both said the only one who could be the primary mover is God. We can only be sub-creatures.”

Mr Hooper met Lewis in the summer of 1963,and began to work as his secretary. “I stayed there about three months and then went to America to resign my job and come back, but he died while I was away, on the same day that President Kennedy was killed.”

He became Lewis’s literary executor, publishing all of his correspondence.

“There have been times when I’ve thought, oh Jack [Lewis’s nickname], I’ve spent more time editing your letters than you spent writing them,” he said.