Class Warfare Blog

April 22, 2018

Capitalism: A Conservative Christian Religion

Filed under: Religion,Culture — Steve Ruis @ 11:14 am
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Since it is Sunday, I observe …

Evangelical Christians in the U.S. have decried “Godless Communism” and “Godless Socialism” for many, many decades. Some of the most prominent public evangelicals have been more than a little strident on this issue. (Think of Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, and especially Billy Graham, etc.)

And while these economic systems, actually political-economic systems, have been excoriated, capitalism has been mentioned only to praise it as something very close to God’s Will. This seems passing strange, no?

I start with definitions of capitalism and free markets.

Definition of Capitalism (Merriam Webster OnLine)
an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

Definition of Free Market (Merriam Webster OnLine)
an economy operating by free competition

Any references to God or Jesus there? No? I do not see any.

Well, what does the Bible have to say about capitalism, which is basically a wealth distribution mechanism, providing a few with a way to get rich and many a way to get poor, a system reeking of winners and losers.

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24)

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you. (James 5: 1-6)

Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. (Luke 12:33)

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:10)

Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven. (Proverbs 23:4-5)

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. (Proverbs 14:31)

I could go on … for page after page, mind you, but I think you get the point.

So, why would these devout evangelical Christians (and many others of similar ilk) stand so stalwartly behind a system, capitalism, that if not severely confined results in the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, the ultimate “redistribution” that conservatives rail against? (Actually, they are fine with redistribution in this direction, they just don’t like it when it goes the other way.) My argument is that for a religion to prosper it must serve the interests of the religious and secular elites. Almost by definition the secular elites are defined by their wealth, so unless a religion serves the wealthy, its status declines.

If you look at Evangelical history in the U.S., they have had very little impact (save the occasional savant) until they hitched their wagon to the Republican Party. It was Billy Graham who presidents consulted, not a panel of religious leaders or an interfaith council. Upon Graham’s death, photo after photo showing Graham posing with presidents were to be seen in the epitaphs.

So, Christianity in this country, Protestant Christianity mostly, has favored democracy and capitalism, not because these are favored in scripture (they clearly are not) but because these are favored in the halls of power.

What Would A Christian Economic System Really Look Like?
I wish I could really answer this question. I can but start on an answer. Our economic culture is currently “pay-as-you-go,” if you want something, you must pay for it. Our motto is TANSTAAFL, which if you are not read up on Robert Heinlein, means “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

So, in our culture there is a line we could label “Ability to Pay” that goes from zero to as near to infinity as any of us can conceive of. At the “zero end” there are people who have no job, no housing, no money, no food and live via begging and theft. At the other end we have people who make more than a billion U.S. dollars a year, which as I have indicated before means that if they to work ordinary work hours and take ordinary holidays, they would be “making” $532,000 per hour … for the whole year. That would be to make “just” $1 billion; some make more. To put that in perspective, in my 40 years of work as a teacher, I made $2 million, which these people would make in one afternoon (knocking off early if they wished).

Capitalism does provide incentives for people to work, so there are some of its bones that could be incorporated into the new system, but an economic system that is in accordance with Christianity would have to have both ends of this line truncated.

At the bottom end, everyone would have shelter and food to eat and a reasonable amount of medical care (not to include casting out demons, that would only be included in the Platinum Plans). If people with shelter and enough to eat, couldn’t improve their lot in a fair system (not rigged as our current system is with Right to Work laws and tax breaks for wealthy people, etc.) then that would be their lot in life.

The top end would also need to be truncated, if only to protect rich people from an eternity in Hell (I’m kidding … I think). As incomes reach very high levels, tax brackets need to approach 100%. Now I know this sounds heretical, but I am talking about an economic system that is compatible with Christianity here. Anybody accumulating obscene amounts of money is either doing it legitimately or illegitimately. If they are doing it illegitimately, taxing their socks off is a way to get them to turn away from their illicit behaviors. If they are doing it legitimately, the accumulation of vast wealth is an indicator that they are not taking care of those around them. For example, Walmart could double to wages of its employees and the owners would still make billions in profits every year. Or they could donate those “extra” profits to charities, to avoid very high tax loads, etc.

The additional taxes collected would go to providing the “economic floor” so needed by the poorest among us.

Conservatives should like this system. It would be more “Christian” and with the poor guaranteed a roof over their heads and a full belly and a “fair shake” at improving their lot, if they do not do so, then conservatives would be free to refer to them as being shiftless and lazy.

The additional tax monies acquired through such a system would also allow us to take care of those unable to work: the severely physically handicapped, the mentally ill, wounded warriors, etc. And the rich would still be rich, if they wanted to test the proposition that “Hell is real.”



The Role of Religion in Society in a Nutshell

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:46 am

We’ll offer them religion in exchange for food. If that doesn’t work, we’ll kill them and take their food in the name of religion.
(Cheney cartoon from The New Yorker—April 23, 2018)

April 18, 2018

The Supernatural: A Con Man’s Special Place

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 1:53 pm
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An alarming number of people believe that there is a realm called “the supernatural.” While I suspect people have different definitions for the term, the idea is rather straightforward. Here are dictionary definitions of supernatural and the prefix super-:

1: of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially : of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil
2a : departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature
b : attributed to an invisible agent (such as a ghost or spirit)

1a: over and above : higher in quantity, quality, or degree than : more than

[Source: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary]

The supernatural realm is always “above” the natural realm, never sideways to it or goodness knows, beneath it. Such a realm basically can’t have a location in the natural realm, so why the insistence on the “above” nature is beyond me. I think this relates to belief in a god which is “up there,” and also another god which is “down there.” The “up” being good and the “down” being bad. Of course, the bad gods and the good gods are in the same supernatural realm, unless there is more than one such realm, but why not? The more the merrier.

I used to hear the phrase “planes of existence” a great deal before the Internet drove us to a more common vocabulary. I think this came about from a pack of cards metaphor as it makes no sense otherwise. Why would one wonder about how realms of existence relate to one another spatially when they shouldn’t be interacting, and so no “fit” is required. Of course, fiction writers, even some of my favorites (Andre Norton was a past favorite), wrote about beings being transferred between these planes of existence via various “gateways.” As a narrative device, this allows the author a great deal of rein to “adjust” foliage, animal life, geology, history, etc. to their whim. But, hey, it is fiction.

All of this was before the “multiverse” became fashionable to talk about in rarified physics circles. The Multiverse was either an invention of Marvel Comics or possibly Jack Vance, maybe Michael Moorcock, I can’t say for sure, but it is now playing a role in cosmological theoretical speculations. I suspect, however, that just as invoking gods to explain the creation of the universe, making things horrifyingly more complicated, that invoking a multiverse to make sense of our one verse will also prove to be vastly complicating and, when that happens it seems to be a sure sign of a dead-end road into a theory.

Currently I consider anyone who mentions anything “supernatural” to be one of two types of people (well, maybe three): an entertainer (Think Ancient Aliens or whatever that show is.), or a con man (most serious religionists are in this category (Think William Lane Craig.). The third possibility is that someone has been, or just is, deluded. If all of your friends and family talk about Disney World as if it were real, you’d think it is, ditto for Heaven and Hell.

Anytime you hear someone talk seriously about the supernatural (beings, locations, occurrences, etc.) grab your wallet and back away briskly. Do not run, you may trip and actually hurt yourself interacting with the only reality for which we have evidence of its existence.


April 17, 2018

Taxing the Rich: A Good Idea or Not?

To those whom much is given, much is required.

The standard narratives regarding not taxing the rich are quite bankrupt but are still used, much like the tired old arguments of religious apologists (there is always a new audience to whom these arguments make sense). The usual thing touted is that the rich are the job creators and if you tax them (at all?) they won’t take risks and start new companies which hire workers and we all suffer thereby.

As a counter narrative consider the story of Toys R Us, a huge entrepreneurial success story, which ended in a financial meltdown. The company, however, made its owner rich when individual and corporate taxes were ever so much higher and met its demise in a time when those taxes became ever so much lower.

Read this fascinating story here.

The “standard narrative” of the rich about the rich is they made their money “themselves,” so they “deserve” the rewards. But in reality, does anyone make it themselves? Or is it like personal gifts one is born with and developed, in which we deserve some credit for the development but much of what happens to us and because of us depends upon things like genetics, luck, externalities (like available electricity and good roads provided to all), circumstances of birth (being born into a rich family is a strong marker for “becoming” rich)?

April 16, 2018

Why Labor History Is Not in Our Schools

Filed under: The Unions — Steve Ruis @ 2:01 pm
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I remember a years long battle to get labor history included in high school curricula. It failed miserably. It continues to fail miserably, not because that history isn’t relevant to today’s world, but because it is.

Allow me to share some quotes from an article in Appalachian Magazine:

In 1921, black, white and immigrant mineworkers took up arms to battle the coal companies that controlled and exploited every aspect of their lives. United, they wore red bandannas to identify each other in battle. They called themselves the “Redneck Army”.

The West Virginia mine wars were the bloodiest labor conflict in American history. Culminating in the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921, more than 10,000 miners marched from the Kanawha valley toward Mingo to join other striking miners in protest. In their way stood the Logan county sheriff, Don Chafin, who was in the pocket of big coal – a $32,000 payoff each year, roughly $400,000 in today’s dollars.

Chafin commanded a private army of more than 2,000 mercenaries and multiple airplanes equipped to drop bombs on workers. Siding with Chafin and the coal bosses, President Warren G Harding sent federal troops too, armed with gas and more planes (the fourth time that troops had been called in to squash organized miners in the mountain state).

The miners proved what we know today: there is nothing more frightening to a coal boss or corrupt politician than a courageous, united, multi-ethnic coalition of working men and women.

In the coal camps, black people found segregated housing and schools, and lower pay. Operators preferred to break strikes by importing black workers, to sow discord among the races. But by the 1910s, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) was fighting for pay equality, and requiring an oath from every member not to discriminate against any fellow member by “creed, or color, or nationality”.

Its first paid organizer in West Virginia was a black man. Miners swore an oath to each other, across “class or creed”. An early planning committee consisted of three officers: one white person born in West Virginia, one Italian immigrant and one black person.

One miner remarked: “I call it a darn solid mass of different colors and tribes, blended together, woven together, bound, interlocked, tongued and grooved together in one body.”

Do you see why “certain people” will not allow our youths to learn about the labor history of the last century? And as was not said at the end of LooneyTunes cartoons “And That’s Not All, Folks!”

Duh … Of Course Student Protesters Are Younger

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 1:59 pm

The Guardian published a piece yesterday with the title “Vietnam to Parkland: How America’s Protesters Are Getting Younger.” I didn’t bother reading the article because this has been obvious for years. If students were to be protesting, they would have to be younger. Why? Because the college students who protested during the Viet Nam war era have been defanged by social conservatives.

This was accomplished primarily in two ways. One of those was the removal of student loans from the list of economic burdens that could be discharged under bankruptcy. A scumbag like Donald Trump could use bankruptcy over and over, but a hard working student who just couldn’t seems to get good enough jobs to be able to repay his/her student debt cannot. This law was sold to other lawmakers on the lie, with no supporting evidence of course as there was none, that a drove of these students were running up bills going to medical school and law school and then eliminating their debt through bankruptcy. There was a tidal wave of these students … er, not … not even a trickle.

The second major tool in this effort was the federal guarantee of student loans of various sorts. This allowed lenders to pursue loans with no substantial risk assessment per se. Many proprietary “colleges” actually ran boiler room type operations to fill their classes with students, who upon graduation or just leaving the school didn;t have skills that equated to jobs that would pay off their loans. This was a major factor in the acceleration of the cost of college attendance increasing well in excess of inflation.

SCollege students, now, are what they call a preariat, a group whose economic futures are so precarious that they have to hew to the straight and narrow, otherwise they court a life of debt slavery. Getting out of line may be all it takes to lose a job or not get a better one.

So, the college students have been taken out of the game. It will be interesting to see what these same oligarchal powers will do to eliminate high school students from the game. Maybe they will make student protests a black ball in the process of getting into a good college or maybe getting a college loan. They will come up with something.

April 15, 2018

Are Theists Stupid?

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:41 am

This question gets asked over and over on questions sites like Quora, along with “Are atheists stupid?” as well as many other permutations of these questions.

The roots of the word “stupid” are related to the word “stupor” in that we all are stupid from time to time as we are “slow on the uptake” or “slow to understand” as if we were in a stupor. But I think this is the wrong word in that it was meant to be a pejorative rather than an accurate descriptive term.

Consider the contestations of a minister in Kentucky: “The placement of the sun and the moon relative to the earth allows life to exist. Is this a mere chance occurrence or by divine design? The existence of gravity which prevents us from floating off into space – is it merely a chance occurrence or is it by divine design? These questions were not meant to be answered, they were meant as “do you believe the Bible or your lying eyes” challenges. But what sort of evidence might one provide to actually answer these questions?

Let’s start with the latter one. Gravity, which prevents us from floating off into space(!), is this a divine gift or a natural feature? Gravity exists everywhere we can see and there is nowhere we can examine in which it does not. All of the stars whose shapes we can see are spherical which is caused by a force existing that pulls things toward their centers … or … a force that pulls the surface toward a minimal value (aka surface tension). So, water forms drops here on Earth, due to surface tension, not gravity, so can we be sure that it is gravity causing these stars (and their associated planets) to be spherical (or roughly so)? Yes, we can because of the magnitude of the forces involved. We can know from studies of gravity here and in our own solar system (the planets orbits are determined by gravity, not surface tension) that gravity exists and the force is determined by the quantities of masses involved and their distance of separation. Surface tension is not such a large force so it cannot explain the spherical shapes of all of the stars and planets within our ken and, of course, explains nothing about orbits.

Astronaut Joseph Kerwin, aboard Skylab 2 in 1973, forms a perfect sphere of water by blowing droplets from a straw. Gravity is countered in orbit, but not surface tension. Photo courtesy of NASA.

So, is gravity a natural feature or was it supplied as a magical gift to humanity? The only way to settle such disputes is to use a principle called Occam’s Razor which states that when you have two competing hypotheses or theories, the one which has the fewer causes is most likely to be correct. So, on one hand we have “gravity is a feature of mass: it attracts itself.” On the other hand we have “an unknowable supernatural being who has unlimited powers to do anything it wants. We do not know where this entity came from or what its motivations are, but it created gravity in an unknown process to that we could live on this planet and not spin off into space.” Which do you think is simpler and therefore more likely?

The first question “The placement of the sun and the moon relative to the earth allows life to exist. Is this a mere chance occurrence or by divine design?” We have exactly one example of this phenomenon: namely the Earth. There are other planets in our solar system that are too close to the sun and are presumably to hot or too far from the sun and are presumably too cold for life such as we know to exist … but we have not checked these other planets to see if life exists there. We have explored Mars to some extent and have not definitively found signs of life yet, but that planet is large and our rovers are small so that “experiment” is incomplete. So, we have a suggestion of an hypothesis (for the existence of the so-called Goldilocks Zone), a conjecture, but no substantive criticism of that conjecture per se. So, is our planet’s place next to its star an accident or a sign of divine placement? To answer this question, we need to examine a great many other solar systems, ones with planets in the Goldilocks Zone, and see if there is life on them. If there is, we still haven’t answered the question as a deity that “designed” our systems could have made the designs generic, which means we would find them everywhere.

Once again, the question comes down to an Occam’s Razor decision. This one is somewhat distorted by our uniqueness (in our own knowledge). We are the only highly intelligent species of which we are aware. The conditions that exist here and now support the existence of intelligent life because if they did not, we would not be here to ask this question. So, were they divinely provided or naturally occurring. Occam’s Razor says natural, not divinely engineered.

The problem we have here is one of perspective. On one hand we have a cadre of people trying to find answers to fundamental questions of our existence; they are called scientists. On the other hand, we have a group of people who say they know the answers to those questions and have for a very long time, well before studies of gravity, planetary orbits, evolution existed. Their claim is this: Whoa, Nature is so complicated I can’t understand it, so I assume that it must have been made but something which has much greater powers than I have. The feeling behind this is real. I feel it, as a scientist. I am a chemist and I understand some of the chemical behaviors involved in this quest for knowledge. But I also know that even as a “chemistry expert” my knowledge is limited. When I taught advanced chemistry classes, I used to draw a number line on the blackboard, the longest straight line I could draw. I said that the length of the line represented the amount of chemical knowledge known to us collectively. Right near the “zero” end of the line I would make a hash mark and say “this is your level of knowledge.” I would then shift my body to a place nearer the other end, but then reach back and draw another hash mark just a tiny bit farther away from zero and say “This represents my knowledge of chemistry.” And that was the honest truth. No one chemist knows even a single percent of all of the chemical knowledge possessed by humans collectively. This reality, that the scope of human knowledge is well beyond the capacity of any single person, allows me to have respect for the collective knowledge we have of other fields. For example, the amount of evidence we have supporting the Theory of Evolution in biology is possibly exceeded only by the amount of evidence we have in chemistry and physics for the Atomic Theory. The amount of evidence is vast and when biologists say “it is conclusive,” they are not saying that the Theory of Evolution is “proved” or any other such nonsense, they are basically saying that the chance of making a mistake assuming that this is the way the universe works is very, very … very … small.

And as these understandings of how the universe works grow the “mysteries” needing a god to explain them grow smaller and smaller, and smaller. The problem is just that non-scientists rarely get a glimpse at how vast our scientific knowledge is. Couple that with an unwillingness to entertain the possibility their theology might be wrong, prevents even them from making simple searches for evidence that might disprove their Theory of Divine Intervention.

Since the Theory of Divine Intervention has no evidence whatsoever, merely rhetorical arguments, e.g. “How could something as complicated as an eye have evolved?” it is destined to lose every contest with secular knowledge, especially when they persist in asking questions like “How could something as complicated as an eye have evolved?” and ‘Where are the transitional fossils?” because these questions have been answered quite some time ago. There are evidence trails indicating the evolution of eyes in multiple locations and times, meaning it didn’t just evolve once, so it could not be as difficult to do, only difficult to conceive of if you do not serious entertain the answers to the questions asked. And Wikipedia maintains a “tentative, partial” list of transitional fossils (here) because the list, although quite long already, keeps growing.

So, to answer the question in the title, I think “not,” merely willfully ignorant.

Addendum I deftly ignored the “placement of the moon” issue here. Basically the moon stabilizes the rotation of the Earth, preventing frequent flips of the axis the Earth rotates on which would be very disruptive for living organisms. (Imagine that as we are entering spring right now, if the poles were to be reversed we would be entering autumn, just as Australia is now; with no spring or summer crops to sustain out food supplies.) The rejoinder is why would an unlimited deity create such Rube Goldbergian system when a much simpler system could be created by magic. (Some theists retort that their deity cannot do things that are impossible, which I contend is a slippery slope because creating a universe via magic would be on that list of impossible things I would think.)

April 12, 2018

Evangelicals Denounce Godless Capitalism!

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:20 pm
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In a stunning reversal, the Evangelical Council of American Churches has denounced capitalism as a godless pursuit of money and power. Their statement pointed out that politicians deference to religion in general is just posturing as few of them lead lives that have Christian foundations. Instead the politicians are paid handsomely to support capitalistic practices that advantage the rich and disadvantage the poor. “Jesus said that the poor will always be among us, but that doesn’t mean that they should be treated like dirt,” the announcement stated.

Capitalism was attacked as having no soul, being a giant edifice to greed. “Only a change of heart,” it was claimed, “could preserve the economic system, one which would imbue more Christian virtues into the system. There needs to be considerations given to the relief of human suffering and not just shareholder value,” the document went on.

* * *

Yeah, in your dreams.

I was wondering why these churches were against godless communism and yet were pro (pro-, pro-) capitalism which has no whiff of god about it. Then I realized … tax breaks!




April 11, 2018

Stepping Back To See

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 1:00 pm
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I enjoy the blog Tim…Stepping Out where the mythos of the New Testament is being explored (to become a book, it is promised).

In that blog I read all kinds of things and while that blog gets into the mythical underpinnings of various scriptures, I am now tending to take a step back instead. For example: Jesus gathers 12 disciples to follow him and help on his mission. The first gospel, Mark, paints these disciples as hopelessly dense rubes. I suspect if you asked the average Christian what they thought of Jesus’s disciples, most would either agree with that sentiment, or just stare at you blankly.

Of the twelve, Judas didn’t turn out so well, even though without him, there is no Christianity. But of the others, did any of them have significant impact on the development of what we know as Christianity today? The answer is a simple “no.” Maybe Peter had a little impact, but that impact was buried under the impact of the “Apostle” Paul, who was not a disciple. (I put apostle in quotes as it was a designation that Paul gave himself; it was not bestowed by any authority.)

Now Jesus is consider to be “God” himself, the all-knowing, etc., etc. creator of the universe. How could such a being have chosen so many ill-suited people to carry his message, especially when he had tens of thousands of angels at his command who would, I suspect, make a much greater impression upon people hearing the message? How could Jesus, god of the universe, be so incredibly inept at team building? Apparently none of his disciples could write, as they left no testaments to their experience. (Plenty of people claiming to be them wrote things, but those have been dated to times in which all of the disciples would have been dead, so they are forgeries.) Neither did anyone else think it was a good idea to pay a scribe to write down things these people said.

In another narrative, Simon of Cyrene, the character selected from the crowd to carry Jesus’s cross, was selected somehow to receive the Christ Spirit from Jesus, so that Jesus could die on the cross (niftily explaining away the criticism that Jesus, as a god, cannot die and so could only fake dying for the rubes in the audience). Not many Christians accept this narrative around Simon of Cyrene, but if you take it at face value, Jesus is being treated as a meat puppet by the Holy Spirit and when the going gets tough, Jesus the man, is left all by his lonesome to bear the “discomfort” of crucifiction. Hey, way to treat your loyal servants!

If we take a step back from, instead of into, the details, we see the utter unsupportability of these stories. There is no real “there” there. These stories are just stories and they do not make a narrative case for the claims of modern Christianity. Their god does not act like a god which is all-powerful, and on the rare case he does, he acts like the cosmos’s biggest dick.

April 10, 2018

The Pull of Religious Community

Filed under: Culture,History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:30 pm
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On Quora yesterday the question was asked why Christianity has become the #1 religion in all of the world. My response was that “Christianity” was imaginary. There are tens of thousands of different sects of Christianity, each so defined because they couldn’t find enough common ground to join one of the pre-existing sects. Some of these sects are vehemently opposed to some of the others, to the extent that they do not believe some of the others are Christians at all. If you listed the population of each of these sects individually, few of them would make the top ten list in the world.

This question came close on the heels of my finishing of the book, Sapiens. One of the points made near the end of that book was that the idea of an individual was developed quite recently. Harari claims that the individual was an invention of “governments and markets.” Here he was painting with broad strokes, so don’t think of individual markets but markets as a local and global phenomenon.

You do not have to go back too far to a time in which an individual had almost no chance of surviving without their family. The family provided shelter and food and education. If something was desired that the immediate family could not handle, extended family was brought in, e.g. uncles and cousins would help raise a barn or other building. No pay was provided or expected. If even larger projects were involved, e.g. a large ditch to bring in water from a lake or river, the local community banded together. The key thing was that everyone knew each other and had information as to whether others could be trusted. These values correspond almost exactly to “small town values” even to this day.

There was no government to appeal to, no institutions, like banks, from which to get resources. And this covered almost all of the “civilized” period of humanity, at least until quite recently.

Then governments based upon laws were created and institutions sprung up that provided what families used to provide. The “markets” provided jobs so that we were no longer beholden to family entirely. Banks provided loans to buy houses and start businesses. Police forces and courts provided justice in place of relatives making visits to malcontents with axe handles in hand.

People still talk about times in which they could leave their houses with the doors unlocked in their small town. This, of course, was due to the fact that these small towns were generally agricultural and spread out over quite some acreage. The odds on some stranger walking by your house was close to zero, and the perceived safety was not some moral superiority of their community being enacted, just a manifestation of isolation.

But people still yearn for “community.” We are social animals after all. One institution that provides a link from now to “back then” is the churches. Back then, the churches were part of the intimate community in that everyone who went to a church knew all of the others. So, churches didn’t create community, they were just a manifestation of the community. Today, churches offer community and Community. They offer a community of like minded believers in whatever. Many of the churches, the smaller ones, become intimate in that everyone in the church knows all of the others (fairly well). Lots of the others, especially the mega-churches, are creating imaginary Communities. These institutions talk of “belonging to something bigger.” They spin this to immense proportions when they talk about their religion expanding to cover the entire globe. And, of course, they connect this “belong to something bigger” to include their supernatural entities as well.

Some point to this “ability” of churches, that is to create community/Community, as an indicator of why they will be with us forever. Of that, I am dubious. Humanity creates communities at a bewildering pace. My favorite example is that there is an Association of Playing Card Manufacturers Association Executives. Churches are just what we have been handed down to perform a certain community practice. That this practice can be “played” to include abortions like prosperity gospels or atheist’s churches, shows that there is nothing behind it but inertia (tradition is just a way of saying “we have always done it this way”).

“Christianity” is an imaginary Community including groups of people who wouldn’t be caught dead in the same room at the same time. Most of the individuals in this community only know their own experience in their intimate community of their local church. This is conflated to include the imaginary group to the extent that when someone criticizes the idiocy of, say, the Biblical Literalists, others declare it to be a War on Christianity.

It has been often said by atheists that if we could only get Christians to read the Bible, half of them would drop out of their religion before they finished reading it. Maybe we need to educate Christians as to their own imaginary community’s history. How the Ebionites, for example, a sect whose beliefs are closer to the teaching of Jesus than any of the others has been declared a heretical cult by orthodox Christianity.

The cracks are already there in the giant edifice of the Christian Imaginary Community. Even small wedges should do the job of breaking it up.

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