Franz Brentano

Franz Brentano

“Those who knew Franz Brentano, even if only through his work, saw him as representing modern man, struggling with the riddle of the universe … he was first and foremost a thinker, one who did not allow his thinking to wander at random … Franz Brentano himself estimated that his work on psychology would fill five volumes, but only the first volume was published. It is fully understandable to someone who knew him well why no subsequent volumes appeared … In order to find answers to the questions facing him after the completion of the first volume of Psychology he needed spiritual knowledge. But spiritual science he could not accept and, as he was above all an honest man, he abandoned writing the subsequent volumes. The venture came to a full stop and thus remains a fragment.” — Rudolf Steiner, from Aspects of Human Evolution, Lecture Five, 1917.


Now I See … is a page and an opportunity for Anthroposophists to present reviews of non-anthroposophical books in such categories as non-fiction, scholastic or academic, history, science, biography, autobiography, and the paranormal.  The books do not need to be current or recently published, and most should raise the disturbing question as to why Rudolf Steiner’s name — or Anthroposophy or Spiritual Science — is not included in the index and in the contents, and when the absence of these resources or answers is felt to be something of an acute or tragic loss, or at the very least as a serious omission. Another kind of book appropriate for review will be of interest to Anthroposophists due to its timely and relevant subject (such as Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation of a WWII Fighter Pilot, by Bruce and Andrea Leininger, about their son, James Leininger).

The reviews submitted should not be critical, but should be written with a thoughtful, deeply questioning and sympathetic point of view, similar to Rudolf Steiner’s quotation about the work of Franz Brentano, above.

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Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, by Elaine Pagels; published 2003 by Random House, New York; reviewed by Frank Thomas Smith.

Elaine Pagels, professor of religion at Princeton University, became famous – well, at least well known – with the publication of her book, The Gnostic Gospels, in 1979. She has written several other books as well on the history of Christianity, establishing her as the foremost popular scholar in the field.

Beyond Belief, published in 2003 by Random House, is a sort of sequel to The Secret Gospels, in that it incorporates the new scholarship that has come to light since that book was published. Since Ms. Pagels’ infant son was diagnosed with fatal pulmonary hypertension, her pursuit of knowledge about who Jesus really was has become a question of personal urgency for her. This need is reflected in the text and transforms the book into much more than a scholarly treatise for the curious. She wants to know what Christ meant to his followers before doctrine and dogmas, in other words, before Christianity was invented by the Church.

The discovery of the Gospel of Thomas, along with other early Christian texts, offers revealing clues. Pagels compares Thomas’s gospel (which claims to give Jesus’ secret teaching and indicates an affinity with the Kabbalah) with the canonic texts to show how the early Church chose to include some gospels and exclude others from the collection we know as the New Testament – and why. During the time of persecution of Christians, the church fathers constructed the canon, creed and hierarchy, suppressing many of its spiritual resources in the process, in order to avoid conflict with Roman law and religion.

A prime example is the label of heresy attached to the Gospel of Thomas, and its subsequent suppression. If a copy hadn’t been found by accident (or destiny?) in the caves of Nag Hammadi, along with many other documents during the middle of the twentieth century, we’d have never even known of its existence. Such secret writings had been denounced by Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon (c.180) as “an abyss of madness, and blasphemy against Christ.” Pagels had therefore expected to find madness and blasphemy in these texts, but when she first studied them in Harvard graduate school, she found the contrary in sayings such as this from Thomas. “Jesus said: If you bring forth what is within you, what you will bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. Pagels found that “… the strength of this saying is that it does not tell us what to believe but challenges us to discover what lies hidden within ourselves; and, with a shock of recognition, I realized that this perspective seemed to me to be self-evidently true.”

However, certain church leaders from the second through the fourth centuries rejected many of these sources of revelation and constructed instead the New Testament gospel canon of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which has defined Christianity to this day. The Gospel of John is of special importance in church dogma, and its basic tenets seem to be in direct opposition to Thomas. John says that he writes “so that you may believe and believing may have life in [Jesus’] name.” Thomas’s gospel, however, encourages us not so much to believe in Jesus, as John demands, as to seek to know God through one’s own, divinely given capacity, since all are created in the image of God. “For Christians of later generations, the Gospel of John helped provide a foundation for a unified church, which Thomas, with its emphasis on each person’s search for God, did not.”

According to Pagels, John is the only evangelist who actually states that Jesus is God incarnated. But not only Pagels says so. In one of his commentaries on John, Origen – a church father, (c.240) – writes that while the other gospels describe Jesus as human, “none of them clearly spoke of his divinity, as John does.” One may object that the other three, synoptic (“seeing together”) gospels call Jesus “son of God”, and this is virtually the same thing. But such titles (son of God, messiah) in Jesus’ time designated human, not divine roles. When translated into English fifteen centuries later, these were capitalized – a linguistic convention that does not occur in the original Greek. When all four gospels, together with Paul’s letters, were united in the New Testament (c. 160 to 360) most Christians had come to read all four through John’s lens, that Jesus is “Lord and God”. Read more…

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March 22nd, 2020 | Tags:

The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins; review by Valdemar W. Setzer

Original: May 10, 2009. This version (2.5): Jan.2, 2010
Published in the electronic magazine Southern Cross Review, No. 68, Jan. 2010

1. Introduction

Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion provoked many discussions. Many people made reviews of it, either praising or detracting it. Typically, the praises came from materialists, that is, people who consider that there are only physical matter and processes in the universe and in living beings. Detractions came in general from religious people, that is, people who follow organized religions.

I am not a materialist, but I do not belong to any organized religion either. I admit, as a working hypothesis, that there are non-physical processes in the universe and in all living beings, that is, processes that cannot be reduced to physical ones. In fact, I consider every physical process a manifestation of a non-physical one. Having this spiritualist, monist point of view, I cannot belong to any religion because practically all of them are dogmatic, requiring faith or belief. Furthermore, they usually have rituals, and I don’t need and practice any.

I am aware of the problem of using the English word ‘spiritualist’, because of its association with mediumship, talking with the dead, Kardecism, etc. When I use the word ‘spiritualism’, I am not referring to any of these; I use it here simply in opposition to ‘materialism’, as characterized above.

I stress that my position is to have working hypotheses, and not dogmas, faith or beliefs. Furthermore, religions are in general directed to feelings. I look for understanding through inner and outer observation, studying and reasoning. For more details on my world-view (which will be expounded here in many of its aspects), please refer to my paper ‘Science, religion and spirituality’, linked from my home page.

My world-view leads to what I think are original views of Dawkins’ fascinating book; this is the reason I am writing this review. I totally agree with some of his positions, but totally disagree with others. I have not read books with other reviews of his book and don’t remember some comments I found some time ago on the Internet, so my own comments have not been influenced by them.

The book is very well written, has lots of materials and references, interesting reasoning and should be read by everyone interested in religion and science, particularly evolution.

This review covers each chapter and chapter section of Dawkins’ book (the origin of the word ‘extensive’ in my title), presenting literal citations of what I think are some of his most important points deserving discussion, followed by my comments. Obviously, the selection reflects my particular interests. I am using the paperback Black Swan edition, 2007; annotated pages refer to this edition. This edition does not carry numbers for chapter sections; in the sequel, I will introduce them. Thus, my chapter 4 deals with his chapter 1, “A deeply religious non-believer”, so my section 4.1 deals with his first section of that chapter, “Deserved respect” and so on. In order to be faithful to his ideas, I make many literal citations of his book. In the citations, all the emphases (italics) of the original were transcribed, and no further ones were introduced. All biblical citations have been taken form the King James version. At the end of the References section I give the Internet addresses to my papers cited in this review.

I am writing this paper in my limited English because I think Dawkins touches many universal questions, and English is far more universal than my mother tongue, Portuguese. Moreover, I want to permit him to read my comments and eventually give his own position – it would be a wonderful surprise if he does it (albeit having communicated through his web site the existence of this review just after it was completed, up to June 27, 2009 I received no word from him). In this case, I will obviously insert his comments to my views on my web site along with this review.

In the sequel, Richard Dawkins will be abbreviated by RD.

2. Preface to the paperback edition

In the preface, especially written for the paperback edition, RD presents a “list of critical or otherwise negative points from reviews of the hardback.” (p. 13). These points are all covered in the book, and will be commented in the appropriate chapters.

3. Preface

In the preface, RD presents four “consciousness-raising matters”: 1. “You can be an atheist who is happy, balanced, moral and intellectually fulfilled.” (p. 23). 2. “The power of cranes such as natural selection (p. 24)”; its description contains a brief summary of chapters 2-8. 3. “… children are too young to know where they stand on such [religious] issues” (p. 25). His point of view is that religious education of children is damaging to them; moreover, “There is no such thing as a Muslim child. There is no such thing as a Christian child, but a child with Muslim or Christian parents.” (p. 25). 4. “Atheist pride.” (p. 26). “My dream is that this book may help people to come out [as atheists].” (p. 27).

In due time I will comment on these matters. Here I just want to comment on RD calling himself ‘atheist’. This is a curious denomination indeed, albeit a popular one. American Heritage (3d. electronic edition, 1994) defines it as “One that disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods.” Let me compare this phrase with another one, that will surely be embraced by RD: “I don’t believe the Earth is flat.” The latter statement uses ‘Earth’ and ‘flat’. Both are understandable concepts, the first one being also a concrete physical body in the universe which we directly experience. So there is no problem in understanding what the second statement means. But how is it possible to understand “God or gods” – physical entities they are not. The concept of God or gods has varied enormously, up to the point that it has become a pure abstraction. One of the missions of the ancient Jewish people was exactly to disconnect the notion of God or, better, their God, Yahveh, of any concrete representation. So, if ‘God’ and ‘gods’ are not describable or understandable, how is it possible to state that one “disbelieves or denies” their existence?

I think the correct and precise denomination is not ‘atheist’, but ‘materialist’, as characterized in my chapter 1 above. RD’s belief is that there is only physical matter or energy in the universe, and only physical processes involving them.

One of the problems with RD is that he directs his observations and criticisms to religions and religious people who keep talking about God (he does not mention in his books people who believe in various gods). But these people also have no precise understanding of what they mean by that entity. Many of his arguments and the arguments used by his critics seem to be like a conversation between born-blind people discussing the impressions given by colors.

Just as an example, let me digress on the question of monotheism. If one reads carefully the Bible books Genesis and Exodus, one has to conclude that there was one divine entity, Yahveh, associated to the ancient Jewish people, but in them there is no denying that there existed other divine entities. In fact, the first Commandment says “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Ex 20:3). This can be literally interpreted as other gods also existing, but the Jews should ignore them. It does not say that there is just one God in the universe; this could have clearly been stated. In fact, the first divine beings cited in the Genesis are the Elohim, which is a plural. Yahveh appears for the first time in Gen 2:4, and two forms are used from then on, Elohim (e.g. Gen 4:4) and Yahveh-Elohim. A third form, Yahweh alone, appears only in Gen 4:2, and from then on the three forms are used. One may conjecture that the formulation was precise, and indicated different divine entities, a set of them (the Elohim) or just one (Yahveh), acting separately or jointly. For a long time I had doubts on the question of monotheism – it seemed to me that it was a concept applied only locallly, to the ancient Jewish people. Then I read the wonderful book by historian Howard Johnson, The History of the Jews, where he states that universal monotheism appears in the Bible only with Jesaiah [JON, chapter 2].

So here is my first comment on RD’s book: he is criticizing religious points of view that have no precise meaning. He is correct in pointing to this fact, and various problems arising from it. But there are other spiritual points of view which are not covered by his book. For instance, as I said, my central working hypothesis is that there are non-physical ‘substances’ and processes in the universe, and also in every living being – which, with some elaboration, can explain why they have life, a big mystery for current science. In my papers and lectures you will never find the word God, RD’s main concern, as the title of his book implies. In not using this word, I try to avoid the various interpretations given to this entity; here I also don’t need this concept.

At the end of the Preface, RD justifies his use of the word ‘delusion’ in the title. He understands it as a “false belief or impression” (p. 27).


4. Chapter 1 – A deeply religious non-believer

Read more…

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The Gnostic Gospels, by Eileen Pagels; review by Frank Thomas Smith

In December 1945 an Arab peasant was digging around a massive boulder in Nag Hammadi, Upper Egypt looking for sabakh, a soil for fertilizing crops, when he found an large earthen jar almost a meter high. He hesitated to break it for fear an evil spirit might be inside, but the thought that it could contain gold overcame his fear and he smashed it. Inside were 13 papyrus books bound in leather. Disappointed, he brought them home and dumped them on the floor. His mother subsequently used much of the material for fuel.

How the books came to be recognized is an interesting story in itself, how a local history teacher suspected their value and sent them on to a friend, how they were sold on the black market through antique dealers in Cairo, then confiscated by the Egyptian government, except for one codice, which was smuggled to the United States. Finally, thirty years after their discovery, they were deciphered and eventually published.

Mohammed Alí could not have imagined the enormous implications of his accidental find. If they had been found 1,000 years earlier, the Gnostic texts within would surely have been burned for their heresy. Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon c. 180, wrote five volumes entitled The Destruction and Overthrow of Falsely So-called Knowledge. By the time of the Emperor Constantine’s conversion in the fourth century, possession of books denounced as heretical became a criminal offense. Copies of Gnostic books were confiscated and burned. But someone in Upper Egypt, possibly a monk from the nearby monastery of St. Pachomius, took the banned books and hid them from destruction in the jar where they remained buried for almost 1,600 years. Today we read them differently — as a powerful alternative to orthodox, organized Christianity.

Until then, our knowledge of the early Christian Gnostics had been limited to what their adversaries wrote about them, which has been exclusively negative. In fact, by 300 A.D. both the Gnostics and their writings had been effectively eliminated. Now we have a good idea of what these early Christians thought and why the church found them heretical and dangerous. Elaine Pagels, one of the world’s foremost experts in historical Christianity, has written a non-technical book about these Gospels which is accessible to everyone — a real eye-opener.

The volumes found at Nag Hammadi are in the Coptic language and were written 350-400 A.D. They are, however, translations of earlier Greek documents, which cannot be later that 180 A.D. Gnosis is usually translated as knowledge. But the Greek language differentiates between scientific and reflective knowledge. As the Gnostics used the term, it could be translated as insight, for gnosis involves an intuitive process of knowing oneself. According to the Gnostic teacher Theodosius (c.140-160), the Gnostic is one who understands:

who we were, where we were … whither we are hastening; from what we are being released, and what is rebirth.

The living Jesus of the Gnostic gospels says things which are similar to those related in the four “official” gospels, but with other dimensions of meaning, often reminiscent of Zen koans. From the Gospel of Thomas:

Jesus said, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

Bound in the same volume with the above is the Gospel of Philip, which attributes to Jesus sayings quite different from those in the New Testament:

 … the companion of the Savior is Mary Magdalene. But Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on the mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended … they said to him, “Why do you love her more than all of us?” The Savior answered and said to them, “Why do I not love you as I love her?”

Other sayings in this volume describe common Christian beliefs, such as the virgin birth or the bodily resurrection as naive misunderstandings. Also bound together with these volumes is the Apocryphon (secret book) of John, which offers to reveal “the mysteries and the things hidden in silence” which Jesus taught to his disciple John.

The living Jesus of these texts speaks of illusion and enlightenment instead of sin and repentance as does the Jesus of the New Testament. Instead of coming to save us from sin, he comes as a guide who provides access to spiritual understanding. The similarity to certain Buddhist teachings is obvious and it is not impossible that these exerted influence on Gnostic thinking, as Buddhist missionaries had been proselytizing in Alexandria for generations when Gnosticism flourished.

The Resurrection

One of the main points of diversion between orthodox catholic and Gnostic thinking involved Jesus’ resurrection. Tertullian, a brilliant writer (c. A.D. 190) violently opposed to Gnosticism, wrote:

What is raised is “this flesh, suffused with blood, built up with bones, interwoven with nerves, entwined with veins, a flesh which … was born, and … dies, undoubtedly human.” He declares that anyone who denies the resurrection of the flesh is a heretic.

Gnostic Christians interpreted the resurrection differently. Some said that the person who experiences the risen Christ does not meet him physically raised back to life; rather, he encounters him on a spiritual level. This seems to be verified even in the New Testament gospels. When the resurrected Jesus appears to the apostles, they don’t even recognize him at first. And Mary Magdalene, when the risen Christ appears to her near his tomb, thinks he is the gardener, and when she does recognize him he tells her not to touch him. Even Paul, in his illumination on the road to Damascus, sees a “light from heaven” and only hears Jesus’ voice. Paul describes the resurrection as a “mystery”, the transformation from physical to spiritual existence. Yet the church condemned all such interpretations.

Gnostics were more interested in the possibility of meeting the risen Christ in the present than the past events attributed to the historical Jesus. A passage in the Gospel of Mary illustrates this:

Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene … She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

Peter especially doubts.

Mary wept and said to Peter: ” … Do you think I am lying about the savior?” Levi said to Peter, “Peter, you have always been hot-tempered … if the savior made her worthy, who are you to reject her?”

Peter, apparently representing the orthodox position, looks to past events, suspicious of those who ‘see the Lord’ in visions, Mary, representing the Gnostic, claims to experience his continuing presence.

This had political connotations, for the church based its authority on the succession from “the twelve” (after Judas was replaced), whereas Mary Magdalene, though not one of the twelve, is shown by the Gnostics to be at least equal to them. Furthermore , while the church relied on Jesus’ public teaching, the Gnostics claimed to be in possession of Jesus’ secret teaching about the “mysteries”. Valentinus, one of the leading Gnostics, argued that only one’s own experience offers the ultimate truth, taking precedence over second-hand testimony and tradition. Therefore, the structure of authority can never be fixed in an institution; it must remain spontaneous, charismatic, and open. Gnostic teaching was obviously subversive of a hierarchic order. It claimed to offer every initiate direct access to God, an access of which the priests and bishops themselves might be ignorant.

Within 170 years after Jesus’ death, the church had developed into a three-tiered organization of bishops, priests and deacons with authority over the laity. This authority was based on two sayings in the New Testament: the giving of the “keys of the kingdom” to Peter as founder of the church, and the claim that Peter was the first to witness the risen Christ; this despite the fact that both Mark and John state that Mary Magdalene was the first to see him. They claimed that Christ, who had authority over heaven and earth, gave temporal authority to “the eleven” disciples, especially Peter, as their spokesman. The Gnostics denied the church’s authority and its interpretation of events, so it was felt necessary to silence them. Read more…

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January 22nd, 2020 | Tags:


How to Protect Your Children on the Internet: A Road Map for Parents and Teachers, by Gregory S. Smith; published by Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2007; review by Valdemar W. Setzer

1. Introduction

This paper is a review of the book by Gregory S. Smith How to Protect Your Children on the Internet: A Road Map for Parents and Teachers (Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2007). Upon request of a Brazilian press, I gave an opinion on the convenience of translating and editing it; my opinion was strongly favorable. The resulting Brazilian edition is titled Como Proteger seus Filhos da Internet: Um guia para pais e professores (Ribeirão Preto: Novo Conceito, 2009). As the subject was a pressing educational issue, I decided to write this review before the publication of the Brazilian edition, citing all the points I considered most important in the book, adding at the end my opinions and recommendations regarding this issue. My intention in publishing the original review on my Web site was to make available to the Portuguese speaking public some important information of the book, and encourage its study after its translation. Because of this, I covered the book in many details. This English version has been requested by Jacques Brodeur, who intended to publish it in his Web site Edupax.

Sections 2 to 3 of this review contain an extensive summary of the contents of the book. This summary is presented according to its structure, in a quite objective way, that is, without expressing my opinion. Obviously, the choice of topics presented in this review is subjective, as well as the choice of quotations from the book. The latter represent points of view and data considered relevant. Titles of chapters and sections of the book and the excerpts quoted from it were cited in quotation marks. Section 4 contains some general opinions about the book and additional arguments showing that the Internet should not be used by children and adolescents.

The book is organized into two parts, each with several chapters. Each chapter concludes with a section with recommendations to parents.

2. Part One: “Introduction to Technology and Risks on the Internet”

2.1 Chapter 1: “Welcome to the Internet.”

In this chapter the author describes what is the Internet and its history.

It is worth repeating some of the book’s data to form an idea of the size of the Internet: in 1995, the number of its users was 45 million; in 2000 420 million, in 2005 it surpassed 1 billion and a forecast for 2011 suggested more than 2 billion. According to the Wall Street Journal, as of may 2006 143 million Americans had Internet access from their homes, with 72% connected via broadband. For what concerns us the following data are relevant: 91% of all U.S. children between 3 and 12 years, in kindergartens and elementary schools use computers, and 59% have Internet access.

In the section of recommendations at the end of this chapter the author introduces one of the most important facets of the danger posed by the Internet: “Children between ages 8 and 17 are not growing in an environment similar to the childhood of their parents. Children of past generations couldn’t even fathom the kinds of hard-core pornography available today at the click of a mouse, nor predict the actions of today’s teens while they are online.” (p. 13.) This is followed by recommendations to parents to become quite familiar with the computer and Internet used at home, especially the use of passwords, accounts and restrictions that can be introduced; record all programs used at home with their versions, including email, Web browsers, instant messaging systems, anti-virus and anti-spam programs (spam is unwanted email distributed to a very large list of addresses, containing irrelevant material, advertisements, viruses etc.), and programs for filtering and monitoring accesses; talk to the children and ask them what they are doing on the network; review the sites they are accessing (he gives directions on how to see the history of accesses from browsers); doing searches on computer files; noting all devices that have Internet access, such as telephones, computers, TVs, etc.; ask the children how many email accounts they have, whether they use instant messaging systems etc. “Be prepared for some lies.” (p. 14.)

2.2 Chapter 2: “Back to School”

In this chapter the author defines usual Internet terminology in alphabetical order, such as what are administrator privileges of an operating system, blocking software, blog, modem, DSL, etc.

In the section of recommendations, he calls attention to the fact that Internet technologies and resources are constantly changing, so that parents and educators must constantly update themselves. A very important point is “By the time most children reach the age of 14 or 15 years of age, they have completely surpassed their parents’ knowledge of computers and the Internet. If left unchecked, these may get into some trouble, whether or not they mean it. Parents have an obligation and right to nurture, educate and protect their children from the risks associated with going online. Those that feel they are violating the children’s privacy by keeping ahead of them from a technological and monitoring perspective may actually be contributing to their risk.” (p. 43.) This emphasis on the obligation of parents for the proper upbringing of their children is present in the whole book.

Some highlights of the recommendations: when the children are young and in intermediate classes (5th to 8th grades), “place your Internet-enabled computers in a common space that is viewable. Don’t allow them to have unfettered access to the Internet, especially from their rooms. ” (p. 43.); learn how a firewall works and install one in each machine; make a survey of filters and programs to block access to certain sites — “No computer or device that is used by a child should be without some type of protection or monitoring. As a parent, you are responsible for what your child has access to or is doing online.” (p. 43); install individual accounts for the children on each computer — “When appropriate, restrict those accounts from installing new software or applications. […] No child needs to install software without a parent’s consent, unless of course there is a stealth software installed.” (p. 44.); find out what security measures your child’s school has taken to protect him while using computers in the classroom. “Don’t settle for generic answers. […] Engage your child’s teacher in a conversation on Internet safety. You may be surprised how little they know.” (p. 44.) Most children use an Internet search engine such as Google, Alta Vista, etc. for their school projects, “Where appropriate, help your child perform the search and approve each results page to ensure that they are not being exposed to inappropriate content.” (p. 44.) Maintain a dialogue with the children about the dangers of Internet use.

2.3 Chapter 3: “Risks Overview: Are Parents Making the Grade?”

This chapter describes and details the dangers that children and adolescents risk when using the Internet, and challenges parents to verify if they got the proper information about them.

Right at the beginning, the author puts himself firmly against “privacy advocates that pontificate about how wrong it is for parents to spy on their kids’ activities, some online, in an attempt to keep them safe […]. I have every right as a parent to do what it takes to keep them safe. My house is not a democracy and is far cry from a dictatorship […]. The Internet is definitely an interesting place, especially for parents trying to protect their children from adult content, harmful adult predators, and others intending to physically or emotionally harm children.” (p. 45.)

Attention: at this point I cease to literally quote from the book, unless for chapter and section titles. Due to a request from the author, who menaced of suing me because of plagiarism (in spite of my having put the citations in quotes and specifying the pages they were copied from). He allowed me to quote only 300 words, so from now on I replace his own phrases by my own. I maintain his page numbers, thus making it possible for the reader to locate his own phrases, which are certainly much better written and clear than my limited English permits. If someone would like to receive my original with all his quotations, please write me an e-mail; my address may be found at the top of my home page at I excuse myself for the poor result of trying to change his words and phrases. Let it be clear that I did not change this text because of Smith’s menace, but in respect to his wishes.

The author points to the fact that children and adolescents have four major sites of Internet access: the home, school, friends’ homes and Internet cafés or shared Wi-Fi sites (p. 46.). He enumerates the dangers of such use, such as having access to sexual content, being subjected to menaces — eventually from predators with sexual intent; viruses and spyware (software that transmits to others via the Internet personal information like usernames, account numbers, passwords etc.); obtaining personal data; playing games for money and addiction; buying or distributing drugs; viewing acts of violence and mutilation; racism and insensitiveness, fraud and identity theft; injuries inflicted to people. (p. 47.) More specifically, he lists five main dangers for children and youth between 8 and 17 years of age:

  1. Images of pornography and adult content;
  2. Viruses, and software that collect data;
  3. Predators in search of sex;
  4. Grown-ups desiring to kidnap, sexual abuse or kill children;
  1. Propagating crimes due to hate, promoting arms and incentive harm to other people (pp. 46-7).

The author presents the various ways in which these dangers can occur, such as chat rooms, cell phones/PDAs, instant messaging, browsing/searching, blogging and email (p. 47). Then he details the dangers of surfing the Internet or using search engines, and shows how content filters are insufficient. He acknowledges that the intent of search companies could be good, but youngsters may circumvent the parameters by altering them, eliminating cookies [local files with data associated with any site, in this case with filtering parameters] or changing to another browser and specifying their own look-up parameters. (p. 48.) The author found that the so-called “family filters” (a class of filters provided by browsers), were not effective in their majority (p. 48) and gives a table of search results. For example, using Google with an activated filter, a search using adult terms provided 146 million pages, and the same search without the filter provided 599 million.

Further dangers in using email, instant messaging and chat rooms are detailed. Then he details what are network predators, and says that the internet predator is in general middle-aged, male, married and has his own children. (p. 52.) In general terms (i.e. not just through the Internet), 25% of sexual abuse are committed by women. According to a citation, sexual predators are smart, have a good knowledge of the Web and how to disguise their files. (p. 52.) The author expresses an opinion based on his personal experiences, that teenagers have more on other people while using the Internet, and they don’t grasp the intentions of a predator, nor the dangers of giving information about themselves for everybody to see. This applies in particular to things they would not tell some friends. The author calls the attention to the fact that parents and teachers should control what children they care about do, in order to avoid their being subjected to risks they don’t understand or decide to ignore. (p. 54.) In the sequel he presents six pages of chat room conversation between a 38-year old predator and a young girl who had inserted photos and personal data on a social networking site (from now on, simply called “social networking”). The predator asked to change the conversation from a public forum to a more private one, where there was no recording of the conversation; he pretended to be a more mature young boy trying to lead the girl to more adventurous situations. They end up making a date, the last sentences of chat being: “(Predator) don’t forget to wear something hot! everyone that sees us will want to be me to be with the hottie, who is also a nice person … (Cutegirl666) really? (Predator) sure. Can’t wait to see you for our first meeting. Remember “don’t tell anyone … can’t wait to see you, chow!” (p. 60).

The author also deals with cases such as blogs and social networking sites, message exchange via cell phones and PDAs (personal digital assistants) – handheld computers that work as cell phones.

This chapter also provides statistics on Internet use by children and adolescents, provided by organizations that deal with exploited and missing children. Some data from a USA national survey made by the University of New Hampshire in 2003 are cited, involving 10-17 year old 796 boys and 705 girls, and also those responsible for them. At least one undesired access to sexual pictures in the previous year were reported by 25% of the youngsters. Moreover, 73% while using a browser and 27% while using email or instant messaging. The places were such incidents happened were 67% at home, 15% in school, 13% at homes of friends, and 3 % in a library. 32% of the pictures showed people in sexual intercourse, and 7% had scenes of violence; of e-mails, 92% came from unknown people. Undesired material was found more by boys (57%) than girls (42%). Furthermore, the exposition 15-year or older youngsters was greater (60%) than younger ones; there was more exposition by troubled youths (p. 64).

It is also worth mentioning a survey conducted by three organizations with 503 parents and youths aged between the ages of 13 and 17 in February 2005, who had Internet access from home: 34% computers with access to the Internet were placed in the living room, 30% in the bedroom. Moreover, 51% of parents don’t know if they have programs installed to monitor what their children do with the computer. Of those who had such programs, 87% used this software to control what their children were doing; 23% did it daily and 33% monthly; teenagers use of instant messaging was reported by 61% of parents; parents who did not control what their children were doing were 42%. In general, parents ignored the acronyms used by their children. For example, 96% of them did not know that P911 meant parent alert, and 92% did not know what A/S/L (age/sex/location) meant (pp. 64-65).

The author shows a questionnaire he prepared and passed to 100 anonymous parents in the U.S. with children between the ages of 8 and 17, showing the percentages of responses. He says that he expanded the ages of those surveyed to children below age 10, because of his experience in seeing users of that age using computers at school and at home. He says that he was surprised with the results, which show that parents are ignorant of the dangers the Internet presents to young children (p. 65).

Here are some of the questions and results, using the number of each question as it is in the book.

Q1: If you have children under 18, do they access the Internet? Yes: 96%, no 4%.

Q3: Does the Internet present any dangers to children? Yes: 98%, no: 2%.

Q6: Specify at what ages that you allowed your children to use the following (pp. 66-8):

  1. Using a browser: 4 years
  2. Using e-mail: 4 years
  3. Phones without instant messaging: 7 years
  4. Cell phones with messaging: 10 years
  5. Accounts of instant messaging: 8 years
  6. Use of social networking sites: 10 years.

Q7. Why did you give your children access to the Internet?

  1. Other children have access: 3%
  2. Homework for the school: 68%
  3. I want to stay in touch with my children: 0%
  4. My children will not use it badly: 18%
  5. Other: 11%

Q8: Do you use software to filter or block pages for your children? Yes: 39%; no: 61%.

Q10: Do you know people who have children who have been harmed while using the Internet? Yes: 22%; no: 78%.

The author comments that he was surprised by the use of the Internet parents allowed their very young children. He guesses that either these parents are too permissive or they don’t comprehend the dangers (p. 68). He also comments that he was surprised with the result of Q10, because he expected much less, and adds that this may indicate a much higher percentage of children that may have been harmed by their Internet use, and he advocates that national surveys should be done in this direction (pp. 68-9).

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A Tale of Love and Darkness, by Amos Oz; Review by Frank Thomas Smith

This is a memoir, an autobiography written by a novelist who admits his disdain for footnotes, so they are few and far between. This, however, is not the book’s only virtue. Love and darkness as the two powerful forces running through his extraordinary, moving story which begins in Poland and Russia where his ancestors lived and died before and during the holocaust. But his parents and other relatives and friends were zealous Zionists and escaped to Palestine while there was still time. Amos Oz was born in Jerusalem in 1939 and lived through and participated in the history of Israel from its (modern) beginning to date. The characters here are not the historian’s bloodless footnotes, but real people, most of whom we wish we knew.

Rather than run on about the book’s contents and virtues, I prefer to lift an excerpt which particularly interested me – although there are many others. This book is required reading for anyone who loves literature and is interested in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Frank Thomas Smith


After my military service, in 1961, the Committee of Kibbutz Hulda sent me to Jerusalem to study for two years at the Hebrew University. I studied literature because the kibbutz needed a literature teacher urgently, and I, studied philosophy because I insisted on it. Every Sunday, from four to six p.m., a hundred students gathered in the large hall in the ‘Meiser’ Building to hear Professor Samuel Hugo Bergman lecture on ‘Dialogical philosophy from Kierkegaard to Martin Buber’. My mother, Fania, also studied philosophy with Professor Bergman in the nineteen thirties, when the University was still on Mount Scopus, before she married my father, and she had fond memories of him. By 1961 Bergman was already retired, he was an emeritus professor, but we were fascinated by his lucid, fierce wisdom. I was thrilled to think that the man standing in front of us had been at school with Kafka in Prague, and, as he once told us, had actually shared a bench with him for two years, until Max Brod turned up and took his place next to Kafka.

“That winter Bergman invited five or six of his favourite or most interesting pupils to come to his house for a couple of hours after the lectures. Every Sunday, at eight o’clock, I took the number 5 bus from the new campus on Givat Ram to Professor Bergman’s modest flat in Rehavia. A pleasant faint smell of old books, fresh bread and geraniums always filled the room. We sat down on the sofa or on the floor at the feet our great master, the childhood friend of Kafka and Martin Buber and She author of the books from which we learnt the history of epistemology and the principles of logic. We waited in silence for him to pronounce. “Samuel Hugo Bergman was a stout man even in old age. With his shock of white hair, the ironic, amused lines round his eyes, a piercing glance that looked skeptical yet as innocent as that of a curious child, Bergman bore a striking resemblance to pictures of Albert Einstein as an old man. With his Central European accent, he walked in the Hebrew language not  with a natural stride, as though he were at home in it, but with a sort of elation, like a suitor happy that his beloved has finally accepted him and determined to rise above himself and prove to her that she has not made a mistake. Read more…

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