Class Warfare Blog

March 30, 2015

If God Does Not Exist, Then …

“If God does not exist, then everything is permitted.” Fyodor Dostoevsky

This is a fairly common quotation, that is, it is still in circulation. I suspect you have heard it before. In any case, it applies to a situation few of us give any thought to. As an atheist, I am unconvinced that God exists. I go farther and say that the God described by most Christians is an impossibility, so I know that the god they claim does not exist. But few go any length at all to consider what the world would be like if we all believed this. The typical theist reaction was that people would become ravening beasts: pillaging, murdering, raping, etc. They claim that without God there would be no morality. Now that a sizeable portion of this country is atheist, I hope we could put that ridiculous idea to rest. In fact, if you look at Europe, consisting of older civilizations than ours, the degree of religiosity of any European country is inversely correlated with the happiness of its citizens. It also is positively correlated with violence in those societies.

So, if we aren’t to become ravening beasts when God no longer controls our lives, then what? Apparently Dostoevsky did give this some thought as his quotation shows. But it is a rather curious. The wording is “everything is permitted” and not “nothing is denied.” I have to ask: what was not permitted when God existed? Murder was outlawed and Christians murdered right along with every other group. Adultery was not permitted and Christians were as adulterous as any other group. Blasphemy was not permitted but Christians blasphemed right along with everybody else. So, what?

In fact, what does permission or prohibition have to do with any limitation on human behavior? It has been shown fairly conclusively that the people sitting on death row in our prisons were not deterred from crimes that could receive the death penalty. If the death penalty does not deter crime, how effective might “God’s permission or prohibition” be? Apparently, not very much. During the inquisition, people being put to the question readily gave up testimony that lead to them being burned at the stake (or tortured, dismembered, etc.). Most of that was probably due to ignorance of “the law” and of the religion itself (quoting the Bible in the vernacular of any culture would also get one burned at the stake, so I don’t think you could count on a bunch of ignorant serfs and craftsmen knowing Catholic dogma at all well).

I think Dostoevsky was in the “men are ravening beasts” category, that man’s essential nature was rapin’ and pillaging’. Apparently no amount of social conditioning could possibly work for those people, they needed the heavy had of a supernatural deity backing them up. Interestingly, as the religiosity of people is on the wane, violence is also … worldwide … and has been for centuries.

So, all of the northern Europeans who are leading calm, productive, happy lives without God? Are they the exception that proves the rule or could it be there never was such a God and the clergy just made up their own rules and we broke them like we would any other nonsensical, meaningless rules?

You know, God could have solved all of these problems. All he had to do was drop a known dead person on some government building steps, preferably with third degree burns, who would tell everyone about how real Hell was (Hitler would be good). Maybe another could be brought down from Heaven to supply a balanced report. (“No, there are no bathrooms in Heaven, we don’t shit any more … and we can eat all we want and we don’t gain weight!”) Instead, in His infinite wisdom (which means He fully understands human nature) He continues to keep us guessing as to whether He, Heaven, and Hell are real. Why use an ocean of faith when a teaspoon of evidence is more powerful? Ah, He certainly works in mysterious ways, so mysterious that people are choosing not to believe the bushwa in ever increasing numbers. And we are better off for it.

Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law: Finding the Fun

As you may well know the State of Indiana has taken Fox (sic) News’ “War Against Christianity” to heart and passed what they call their Restoration of Religious Freedom Act legislation. The law asserts that the Indiana state government can’t “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” and that individuals who feel like their religious beliefs have been or could be “substantially burdened” can lean on this law to fend off lawsuits. So, basically, pesky nondiscrimination or environmental laws that infringe upon one’s religious liberties need not be followed. The LGBT community feels that this law was expressly written so that Hoosiers (the gay name by which Indianans call themselves) could discriminate against LGBT folks, especially in the form of businesses refusing to serve them, the example of a custom wedding cake maker refusing to make a “gay wedding cake” being a recent example, though not from the State of Indiana.

I say this portends great fun when the first court cases come up. So, let’s say some proprietor has refused some random lesbians their services because they are gay and are an abomination in the sight of the Lord. The lesbians sue, the defendants use the Hold Your Religious Ground Law and we are off and running.

Here’s how I think the plaintiffs should proceed. I think they should investigate what “a person’s exercise of religion” is. Specifically I think they should zoom in on the defendant’s exercise of religion. It would probably go something like this:

Lawyer  Are you a Christian, sir?
Defendant  Yes, I am and proud of it.
Lawyer  So, do you believe the Bible to be the Word of God and without error?
Defendant  Yes, I do.
Lawyer  And this applies to the Book of Genesis and all of the other books of the Bible?
Defendant  Yes, of course.
Lawyer  And you claim that serving gay people is against you religion?
Defendant  Yes, they are an abomination in the eyes of The Lord.
Lawyer  How about murderers, them too? Are they abominations…?
Defendant  Them, too.
Lawyer  How about blasphemers and fornicators and adulterers, are they …?
Defendant  Yes, them too.
Lawyer  So, before deciding whether to serve a customer, do you inquire as to whether they are murders?
Defendant  No, of course not.
Lawyer  When deciding whether to serve a customer, do you inquire as to whether they are blasphemers or fornicators or adulterers?
Defendant  No, I would lose all of my customers if I were to do that.
Lawyer  So, basically, according to your religion, it is okay to do business with, to serve, murderers, blasphemers, fornicators, and adulterers just as long as you do not know that they are murderers, blasphemers, fornicators, and adulterers?
Defendant  But, …
Lawyer  So, which denomination is your “don’t ask, don’t tell” religion?
Defendant  I, I, …
Lawyer  Sir, is it okay to serve people who are wearing clothes of mixed fibers? Right now I am wearing underwear that is 35% polyester and 65% cotton. Could you serve me?
Defendant  Yes, of course.
Lawyer   Of course? Did not your Lord ban you from wearing such clothing and is that not an abomination in the sight of The Lord?
Defendant  No, no, that restriction no longer applies.
Lawyer  You mean in Deuteronomy, that was a mistake where it says that?
Defendant  No, there are no mistakes.
Lawyer  Well, then …
Judge  How long will this line of questioning go, counsel?
Lawyer   Well, Your Honor, we are trying to ascertain what the “exercise of the defendant’s religion” entails, especially the point as to whether the defendant really knows what that is and how he did learn it. This may take a while.
Judge  Proceed.

Only in America … he, he , he. American exceptionalism on parade! Monkey trials, monkey trials in Indiana!

March 29, 2015

Embracing Pascal’s Wager

If you are not familiar with Pascal’s Wager, shame on you! Here is Wikipedia’s take on it:

Pascal’s Wager is an argument in apologetic philosophy devised by the seventeenth-century French philosopher, mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal (1623–62). It posits that humans all bet with their lives either that God exists or not. Given the possibility that God actually does exist and assuming an infinite gain or loss associated with belief or unbelief in said God (as represented by an eternity in heaven or hell), a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.)” (I love encyclopedias which use words like posit; it shows they don’t think you are a complete idiot.)

Pascal’s W ager seems very logical and is proffered from time to time by Christian apologists as a way for non-believers to find their faith. But is it really?

This is basically a statistical argument. Let us start with your estimate of the probability that God and His Heaven and Hell exist. Let’s say you are mildly skeptical and put a 10% chance on that whole thing being true. So, you could go ahead and live your life as you wish and take your chance. If it turns out that you are wrong, you roast in Hell forever, but what the heck, there is only a 10% chance you are wrong.

How comfortable would you be with this wager? How comfortable would you be if the chance of Heaven and Hell’s existence were 50%? Since the penalty for being wrong is so severe that is not a bet I would be comfortable with. How about 5%? or 1%? Pascal’s argument is that the punishment is so severe for not believing and then finding out you were wrong, that no reasonable person should take any of those bets.

Okay, that argument is fine as it goes, but let’s look a little more closely. The world’s religions break out approximately thus:
Christian   32%
Muslim   23%
Hindu   14%
Buddhist   7%
Jewish   0.22%
Others   11%
Of the Christians, about three fourths are Catholic, the rest mostly Protestant. But there are in excess of 30,000 different sects of Christianity, the existence of each one being a statement that each thinks that it is right and the others are wrong. So, considering the statistical probability of selecting the wrong faith to believe in, Pascal’s Wager works in reverse. If Yahweh is feeling expansive when you reach the Pearly Gates, He might just say, “Alright, you were a Person of Faith, you’re in!” Or He might say, “Nope, Muslims go to Hell.” Even if you think that all Christians will go to Heaven and you are a Christian, can you afford to take such a risk? After all at the Pearly Gates, Yahweh might say “You Catholics aren’t True Christians, off to Hell with you.” (Many fundmentalist Protestant Christians believe this.)

Can you afford to take the chance? Make the wrong choice and you could end up in Hell (forever and ever, Amen …). I mean if you believe that all Christians will be saved, and you are wrong, oh my. If you do believe this, statistics says you should be a Catholic because three quarters of Christians are Catholic and how could all of them be wrong?

The only safe bet is to believe in them all.

I am announcing the Church of World Religions. We earnestly believe that all faiths are true and vital. We accept all as members. Don’t take the chance and join just one church. Be safe, join them all. Just send a check for $5000 US to …

 

March 28, 2015

Brookings Institute Researchers Surprised to Find Trickle Down Doesn’t Work

In a report published this week (see Where The Rich Get Richer, The Poor Often Don’t by Alan Berube, March 26, 2015) the authors said they were “surprised” that trickle down economics wasn’t working.

“Our latest report on income inequality in cities finds that the gap between the rich and poor across the 50 largest cities continued to grow, albeit slightly, from 2012 to 2013. In general, both high- and low-income households made gains, but income growth at the top end outpaced that at the bottom end.

“However, the cities in which either group made progress were, for the most part, different.

“This was a little surprising. We thought that the cities in which wealthy households posted big gains might also see incomes improve the most for poorer households. Top-earning households would use their additional discretionary income to purchase more local goods and services that, in turn, employed lower-income workers—restaurants, landscapers, house cleaners, child care providers, etc. (italics mine)”

They apparently missed the point of being rich. Being rich means that all of your necessary expenditures and most of your desirable ones are already handled. Rich people aren’t waiting until their next paycheck to be able to pay the rent or the utilities. When their income goes up, local spending has already maxed out. Spending on non-local luxury goods, though, may go up, or that extra income may just go to buy non-local stocks and bonds. Have the researchers never wondered why the Stock Market boomed during the biggest recession in the history of the country, you know the one with the incredibly weak recovery period?

I have a hint for them: trickle down economics does not work. It never has, it never will. It was an academic smokescreen used to rename “the rich get richer and the poor don’t.”

Hypocrisy 101

Republicans are screaming that the Obama Administration’s new rules on coal-fired power plants, designed to protect our air and thereby our health and forestall even more climate disruption, are the equivalent of a federal confiscation of private businesses. The new rules, they say, will put these electricity-generation companies out of business and hence would violate the Constitution in numerous ways.

These very same Republicans are fine with the passing of arbitrary state laws that make running an abortion clinic literally impossible to do. The right to have an abortion is federally protected but, what the heck.

Once again, the Republicans say “When we do it, it is legal. When you do it it is an outrageous breech of our Constitutional protections, traditions, and everything else.”

What a bunch of hypocrites.

March 26, 2015

Bombing Iran is Equivalent to Nuclear War

The Honorable (sic) John Bolton, our former Ambassador to the U.N. (I can’t think of a greater insult to the U.N.) in a N.Y. Times op-ed piece today acknowledged that in the minds of the Neocons the only two options in dealing with Iran’s desire to create nuclear weapons is 1) to negotiate and 2) to bomb their nuclear facilities. And, surprise, surprise, they are against negotiations.

Apparently these folks are absolutely okay with initiating a nuclear war because that is what we would be doing. We are the only country who has ever used nuclear weapons and when we did it the first time, there was some justification (and a great deal of ignorance). And doing it again because we think that negotiations might not work?

Make no mistake about it, if we bomb their nuclear facilities (we or our allies, that is) it is the exact equivalent of dropping a nuclear bomb. Look at any of the “natural” disasters involving nuclear power plants (Fukashima most recently, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, etc.). Nuclear contamination strewn miles around (even to the point of circling the globe in the atmosphere), devastation to the people blown up or exposed, etc. And power plants are like firecrackers compared to the potential of bombing a facility that contained large quantities of weapons grade fissionable material. Can the bombers guarantee that they will initiate no nuclear chain reaction? (As if strewing large quantities of highly radioactive material over miles and miles of the surface is a good option.)

If this country had any of our nuclear facilities bombed by a foreign power, how would we receive that? How do you think Iran would receive it if we were to do it? Would they ever be willing to have any kind of normal relations with us? Would any other Middle Eastern country? And what is the best weapon for the weak to fight against the strong? (Hint: terrorism.) Bombing Iran would be unleashing almost continuous terrorism on us domestically and at overseas locations. Bye-bye tourism; any place large numbers of U.S. tourists congregate will be a target for terrorism. Bye-bye foreign subsidiaries of American corporations; all will be targets of terrorists.

And the nuclear contamination of the “bombing site” would be there forever as a reminder of what happened, forever.

If these are our only two options (which I doubt, there are almost never only two options—see below) we should negotiate until there is absolutely no progress or we should look for a third or even a fourth option. It is grotesquely irresponsible for a former diplomatic official of this country to recommend such a thing because if one of our allies gets frisky and does this deed on their own, guess who will be blamed? Amazingly irresponsible.

 

Why There Is Never Just Two Options, A Story
An elderly shopper asked the greengrocer “How much are the cantaloupes?” He replied “They are small, so they are two for 79 cents.” “How much for just one?” she asked. The greengrocer smiled and said “40 cents.” She responded: “I’ll take the other one.”

The Pete Rose Hypocrisy

(‘Tis Spring and Baseball blooms, pray forgive this intrusion into more serious matters.)

The issue just won’t go away: whether Pete Rose deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame (HOF). Mr. Rose’s skills aren’t in dispute. He had more hits in his career than any other player and that may be a record that is never broken. (Having 3000 career hits is a lock on HOF status and Mr. Rose had well over 4000.) But Mr. Rose, as a player-manager (mostly manager) late in his career bet on baseball games in which he was involved, a definite no-no in the sport of baseball. Baseball has had a number of scandals related to such gambling and is correctly shy of any such involvement of players and managers.

But in Mr. Rose’s case, the error was individual; he was not part of a widespread gambling syndicate. The case against gambling by those with the ability to affect the outcome of the game is clear. How much Mr. Rose could have affected the outcome of such games is not clear, and he bet on his team to win, not against it.

blacknatural baseball batFast forward to the present era in which a great many baseball players, with their club’s tacit approval if not all-out support, used performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Clearly the use of the PEDs was done to affect the outcome of the games. But their use was so wide-spread that voters for entry into the HOF (the HOF is independent from MLB) have very little in the way of information that will help them determine whether those who they are voting on used PEDs. Consequently there is a growing group of HOF voters who simply want to acknowledge the dates such drugs were in widespread use and just vote as if they hadn’t been there, setting aside the most egregious abusers, though.

The hypocrisy involved in this case is the willingness to accept that many a player took PEDs with the clear intent of boosting their own performance and therefore their own team’s chance of winning and the unwillingness to accept Mr. Rose, who desire to win was exceeded by no one and whose actions had no effects on the outcomes of his bets.

Mr. Rose’s talent was greater than almost any of the other candidates currently under consideration. If a compromise is needed, merely accept him into the HOF and include a description of the controversy so that no one will forget (as if baseball historians are likely to forget anything involving a major player).

Creationists Lack Faith

Creationists insist that the Christian Bible is wholly true (pun intended). They have to, because they lack faith. Their argument, and it is their argument as I have seen video of Ken Ham himself making it, is that if Genesis is not literally true Christianity is like a house with a bad foundation, all that is above it will fall. (Mr. Ham held up a Bible, face-down, to put the Book of Genesis at the bottom when he made this argument.)

The problem with this, of course, is that Mr. Ham’s evangelical cadre must therefore believe a great deal of patent nonsense, including the Great Flood story. (One is curious how long those penguins took to waddle and swim from Antarctica to Palestine to board and return. One is curious about how the Ark could hold a year’s supply of food for myriad species of animals, etc. Those penguins eat a lot of fish.)

The foundation of Christianity is that God sent his son to Earth to act as a sacrificial animal to forgive our sins and give everybody a fresh start. This was not the first such fresh start, the killing of all land plants and animals during the Great Flood was another (One is curious how all the animals getting off the Ark onto land that had been submerged in sea water for a year found anything to eat.) All of this is in a context in which God’s chosen people, by his command, had eliminated human sacrifice, but I dissemble.

Fundamentally, all Christianity needs is a god to worship and a son who is sacrificed and is reborn, a symbolic promise to all others who would adopt their faith. Does it require that every jot and tittle in the Hebrew scripture be true? Actually, no. So what if some of what was written early in the development of their scriptures turns out to be “wisdom literature” that is stories told to make a point as much of the first five books of the “Old Testament” turn out to be (as the Jews clearly acknowledge now and that part is in their Bible)?

Creationists insist upon the literal truth of the Bible because if any of it is untrue, then there would be doubt about all parts of it, including the bits important to them. So, lacking sufficient faith to accept what they think are the true bits and acknowledge the fairy tale bits as just that, they set themselves up for failure. By not having faith in their follower’s ability to separate fact from fiction, they bring the whole house of cards down as more and more people find they cannot accept absolute nonsense as absolute truth and leave the religion behind.

So, creationists scurry about trying to prove the reality of the fairy tales. They claim over and over to have found the remains of the Ark, for example. But, if one accepts the Great Flood story literally, the situation Noah’s family found themselves in after the animals left the Ark and them is that there were no building materials around to construct a shelter or anything else, except the Ark itself. All of the trees are dead from being immersed in salt water for a year (and the remains waterlogged), what would they burn for fires to stay warm? (Hint: the Ark.) Any idiot would have scavenged every part of the Ark to survive. There would be little remaining. Yet they keep looking for evidence of the Ark when there should be none. If they were to look instead for evidence of a global flood in the indicated time period, they would find none (it has been looked for and not found), yet the Creationists keep holding talks in Churches about expeditions to look for the Ark’s remains. They have to. They are “all in” and the only result possible is failure.

Creationists oppose the teaching Evolution for the same reason: if Evolution is real, then the Bible is wrong … epic fail! I just wish it weren’t taking so long. And I wish they weren’t clamoring to inject their nonsense into our schools so that one and all could learn that it is okay to believe in fairy tales.

March 25, 2015

Strained Arguments Against Atheists

Atheists are often challenged to answer questions like: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” “How did life begin?” “Where did the universe come from and when did it all begin?” These questions are asked because the actual answers are mostly “I don’t know and neither does anyone else” whereas the Theists all know that the answer is “Goddidit.”

If you are confronted by such questions I suggest a step back. How about this as a response: “What difference does it make?” or “Who cares?” These are largely questions that involve topics that have no direct influence upon anyone’s life in the here and now. If you actually knew how life began, would you change your plan for what you wanted to do tomorrow? If you knew, for sure, how the universe began, would it affect your vacation plans? Or the decision of where your kids might go to college? Or where you would go to dinner tonight?

Such questions show the human trait of curiosity. And anyone who has raised children to at least the age of three knows that curiosity knows no bounds. Questions can be asked for which answers are not readily available or available at all.

Now you have put the Theists who ask such questions off message because they wanted to have a “gotcha” moment, indicating that they know the answers already. You can push them further off message by jumping to their conclusion and asking them: “Do you believe that God created all of this 6000 years ago? (It was 4004 BCE on my birth day, October 23rd, according to one divine who could add.) If they say “well, yes,” ask them how they know. If they say “because the Bible tells me so” or the equivalent, ask them how the Bible described the rest of the universe, say from 3000m up (to simplify things, otherwise they’ll start taking about the beasts of the field and whatnot). They probably will not know. You can then share with them that the Earth was considered to be flat and the Sun orbited around the Earth and the points of light in the sky were just that because there was water “above the firmament (much of which was needed to make the “Flood” narrative possible). Then you can ask if the Bible gets all of the basics wrong, how can you trust it when it says it knows who created it to be so. I mean the “so” was so wrong.

Basically the people who ask such questions are arguing from ignorance … yes, ignorance, not faith. This is because none of them know how the universe was created (even the very best cosmologists do not “know” this even though they have some fairly refined theories based upon a great many facts, none of which they got from the Bible). They have no idea how life began, they have no idea whether life evolves, and they have no idea how all of those other galaxies, stars and whatnot got there … so they conclude that a supernatural being must have created it all by magic. Now, not knowing a thing about a topic but accepting a supernatural explanation for it, now that’s faith.

 * * *

As a reminder, I write upon religious topics in a blog focused upon Class Warfare because religion is one of the devices by which the plutocrat’s class warriors keep the bulk of us distracted. Is there really a War on Christmas? No. Is there an Attack Upon Religious Freedom? No. Is the U.S. a Christian Nation? No. And while we are debating these bogus topics, the foxes are stealing all of the eggs from the hen house (plus most of the hens, too).

Believe what you want but keep it out of the secular realm. If you want your children to pray in school, tell them to pray their little asses off, but don’t try to convince anyone that we would all be better off if the government imposed rules upon all of us requiring school administrators to lead daily Christian prayers in our schools. It really pisses off us atheists, plus all of the Buddhists, Muslims, etc. And the Catholics would want equal time, so the Evangelicals would have to explain to their kids that Catholics aren’t real Christians and their kids would ask “They why are we saying their prayers?” See, it really is too much trouble. And, c’mon, any god that needs our government’s help is just too weak to merit worship.

March 24, 2015

Placing the “New Atheists”

In a N.Y. Times column yesterday (Why God Is a Moral Issue by Michael Ruse) a common trope was stated about the New Atheists, namely that they are rude and abrasive. Consider the opening paragraph:

The New Atheists are not a comfortable group of people. They have scornful contempt for those with whom they differ — that includes religious believers, agnostics and other atheists who don’t share their vehement brand of nonbelief. They are self-confident to a degree that seems designed to irritate. And they have an ignorance of anything beyond their fields to an extent remarkable even in modern academia. They also have a moral passion unknown outside the pages of the Old Testament. For that, we can forgive much.”

This is, typically, painting with a broad brush but with a kernel of truth in it. Christopher Hitchens (my favorite “New Atheist”) was often accused of boorishness and much more because he spoke truth to power as any good intellectual should. Mr. Hitchens upbraided priests and Bishops and other divines to whom most people pay deference.

Dr. Richard Dawkins, another NA, has on more than one occasion, to my knowledge, gone off the deep end in his critiques of religion. This is understandable and forgivable in my mind because we are only dealing in words and not bullets. You will not hear any atheists talking about violent revolutions against religions, a not uncommon practice among religions themselves. And, these are the leaders of a movement. By being brash and outspoken they are creating space behind them for people to say things that otherwise would seem really far out of bounds.

One commenter to this column went so far as to say “Atheism fails the works test” which is a strange comment coming from a Christian religious person. First, Jews insisted on good works being the source of salvation. Christians threw that out in favor of mere “belief” so Christianity itself fails the “works test.” And, on top of that, atheism is not a creed, it does not propose any kind of works, other than “figure it out without religion.” It is a common projection of the religious to describe atheism as a religion. It is not. It is the complete opposite … a non-religion.

Since we are currently talking about “white privilege” in discussions of race we should probably also talk about “religious privilege” in discussions of morality and such. The religious have come to expect deference and respect when they should be focused on earning those. They seem to think there will be no charity without religion, no solace for people bereft of loved ones without religion, ignoring all of the charitable agencies that have no religious basis (secular food banks, for example) and the solace friends and family give one another that has nothing to do with god talk.

So, as far as criticisms of the “New Atheism” (it being “new” only in so far as it is being spoken loudly, far and wide) being rude and brash, I appreciate the space those comments give for us who do not have the strength the beard the religious lions in their dens.

And with regard to the criticism “they have an ignorance of anything beyond their fields to an extent remarkable even in modern academia” I am dumbfounded. The people who have the least knowledge of the Bible, in my experience, are Christians. This is seemingly by design as “divinity schools” around this country teach the truth (a source of students leaving such schools and the religions behind them) but actively discourage their graduates from telling the truth to their parishioners (“They” are not ready.). The greatest source of atheists comes from those who actually study what the Bible says, not from people who were not taught right.

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