Class Warfare Blog

September 22, 2016

Early Christian History

Filed under: History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:46 am
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I have been enjoying Tim Stepping Out’s posts on his theories regarding early Christian history. This lead me to the book “When Jesus Became God” by Richard E. Rubenstein. This book covers the tumultuous fourth century CE when Christianity made the transition from a back water religion, affecting just a few Roman citizens (including women and slaves, oh my!) to the state sanctioned religion which slowly morphed into the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church.

You remember the Romans, no? The people who so oppressed the Jews that they prayed to be delivered from them by a messiah, a warrior king who would overthrow the oppressing Romans and establish a kingdom that would be heaven on Earth? Yeah, those Romans. Christianity became Roman!

I am not finished with the book and I do recommend it to you if you find this topic interesting, but boy, oh boy, oh boy. Once the Roman emperor, Constantine, endorses Christianity, the rats came out of the woodwork. Every “bishop” (who was in effect just the head priest in any area big enough that the head priest would take on the title), every last one of them became an imperial politician. And the Ten Commandments? Apparently they no longer applied, especially when it came to bearing false witness.

To see what was really going on, you have to take into account what the Roman Emperor Constantine and his heirs wanted from Christianity; they wanted a force for cohesion in the empire, a religion that would help people stick together, and to be subservient to the demands of the emperor and his administration. To have Christianity play this role, though, there had to be cohesion within the ranks of the bishops and, well, getting there was to prove harder than Constantine thought.

Constantine started by gathering a large conclave of bishops together at one of his pleasure estates, housing and feeding them lavishly. The purpose of the conclave was to bring together dissenting theologians and bind them together on their common ground. This was largely to deal with what later became the Arian Heresy. Arias and his followers believed that Jesus was indeed God’s son, as scripture said, and that he wasn’t God Himself. Others thought differently, saying that Jesus was God. Even though Arias’ position is supported by scripture and is rational, it didn’t agree with the ideas of many of the others. Arias lost this debate, not based upon a contest of ideas. If that had been waged, Arias would have won and in fact Arias’ ideas did win out in the Eastern part of the Roman empire (making the Eastern Orthodox Church). Arias’ problem was that he was a mere priest and how could exalted Bishops follow his lead (Sniff, sniff!) and he quit the field early by, well, dying.

The other prelates spent enormous amounts of time and energy battling each other and this included forming bands of armed thugs to beat opponent’s parishioners, kidnapping important opposing players, murdering people, and lots and lots of bearing false witness.

Apparently Constantine offloaded all of the childrearing onto his spouses because he allowed endless end runs on processes he himself set up.

Constantine started the conclaves and called quite a number of them . He even attended the first in person and made a few “suggestions” that the bishops present fell all over themselves agreeing to, at least until the meeting was over. These conclaves were expressly to create structures and administration to make Christianity more orderly and supportive of the empire. If the Romans were good at anything, it was administration. But the Christians were not organized at all. Each Christian center was its own little fiefdom with its own standards, its own processes, its own rituals, and its own scripture. There was no administration that wasn’t local and this is what Constantine wanted to change. He thought a little attention and a little doled out authority and some basic administrative structure (he suggested having a pope!) would be all it took and, boy, was he wrong.

Every time a conclave condemned somebody or some theology, whoever’s ox was gored, sped off to Rome and got Constantine’s ear and got those decisions set aside. Heretics were recalled to the loving bosom of the church, murderers were absolved, and so forth.

And how was all of this managed? Well, in an era in which it took months for a letter to be delivered, it was normally done face-to-face and usually by massively bearing false witness.

Consider Athanasius, who was at one point Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, a major Christian community. He was aggressive, amoral, and ambitious and anti-Arian. At one point he was exiled for murder but eventually freed when Constantine died (banishments are like presidential executive orders, they only last the length of the presidency). But while he was away, the Arians took over in his absence, so he fomented up a great deal of violence and disorder and then hied off to Rome and circulated a letter blaming his opponents for the riots and mayhem. His letter described the violence against his supporters as unilateral, unmerited and dreadful beyond endurance. He charged his opponents for inciting pagans, Jews, and other disreputables to attack his faithful, set churches on fire, strip and rape holy virgins, murder monks, desecrate holy places, and plunder church treasures. Jews were claimed to be cavorting naked in the church’s baptismal waters. This was bearing false witness to new levels because Athanasius hadn’t been back to Alexandria to observe anything. These descriptions were quite easy for Athanasius to come up with because he had caused, at one time or another, all of these things to happen. (Well, maybe not the Jews bathing in the baptismal founts.)

The reason I mention all of this is most Christians have this Disneyfied version of Church history in which all Christians are displayed as being persecuted and suffering gladly for their religion and that the ideas of scripture were so powerful, that people were converted in droves when they heard those holy words.

Well, that is all stuff and nonsense. The fact that there were so many heresies is an indication that there were many, many disagreements as to how to interpret scripture (and as to what scripture was). The eventual winners of these religion wars wouldn’t bother claiming something to be heretical if it were not popular in the first place. So many “heresies” means many reasonable differences of opinion. But wasn’t there a war of ideas, with the true, Yahweh-inspired meanings triumphant? Uh, not even close. These disputes were bare-knuckled power contests that were won by the meanest, and most ruthless, masterful politicians involved. The ideas had almost nothing to do with the outcome. And the disputes involved lying, cheating, stealing, mayhem, murder, and much, much more in mass quantities.

The more Christian history one reads, the more one comes to the realization that what we have now, however it began, is the result of humans squabbling over power and authority and almost nothing to do with the truth, whatever that may be.

Addendum Most people have heard of the deathbed converstion of Constantine to Christianity and some even have speculated it was done when Constantine had not the strength to resist. The author, on the other hand, offers the opinion that Constantine himself held off of his baptism into the church because as Emperor he knew that he would have to “sin” as part of the job. So, the opt-into Heaven card being played on one’s deathbed, if this story is to be believed, by getting baptised and absolved of all sins while knocking on Heaven’s door got a very early start.

Sure, We Can Trust Big Oil!

Last night I saw a TV commercial that, I presume, ran locally that was made by an Illinois-based petroleum industry organization. It started with acknowledging the ever louder call to “leave fossil fuels in the ground,” and tried to counter that with pointing to all of the good things petroleum is converted into: fertilizers, life saving pharmaceuticals, plastics and fibers, fire retardants, etc. Then of course, the plea pivoted on to “you wouldn’t want to put all of those things at risk would you?”

Apparently, these sort of “those are nice kneecaps you got there; it’d be a shame if sumpin’ were to happen to them” threats are considered common and effective now. This is also a straw man argument. The call to leave fossil fuels “in the ground” is due to the wholesale burning of those fuels to power moving vehicles and to be converted into electricity, the primary uses that result in carbon dioxide being injected into the atmosphere far faster than nature can deal with it, thus causing the conditions leading to climate change/global warming. No one is criticizing any of the wonderful things that can be manufactured from fossil fuels.

Of course, the commercial has calming music and pictures of farm machines reaping golden grain, smiling children and parents, etc. for the same reason factory farms still use bucolic pictures of Amish farms in their advertising, so I guess we shouldn’t hold that against them.

If one were to look critically at the, say, petrochemical industry, the industry that converts petroleum from out of the ground into “petrochemicals” other than gasoline, diesel, and other fuels, I guarantee you that there is much to find that we would dislike in the way of pollution, but these are small potatoes compared to the impact of the wide-spread, large scale combustion of fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, and natural gas) in our motors and stationary engines. This is not only causing global climate changes faster that we can adjust for them, but is also wasteful in that petroleum burnt can’t be converted into all of the wonderful things the commercial commented on.

Their argument will boomerang if that is the only one they have and it is the only valid one, even though they will mention all of the jobs in their industry that will be “lost” if a “leave it in the ground” policy were to be implemented. But, just like all of the other U.S. workers who have been “displaced” by corporate and government actions, those people will have to find other things to do. Whining about the loss of good paying jobs when the job description is “destroying the biosphere your children will need to survive” is a bit disingenuous, especially when so many other U.S. workers have been gleefully thrown under the corporate bus, just for a better bottom line.

Like the Wells Fargo accounts scandal, these continuing issues completely undermine the Conservatives’ campaign to “remove burdensome government regulations to unleash the power of U.S. corporations.” Clearly that is the last thing we want to do for the segment of our society which willingly does things on a daily basis to poison our environment, disrupt our financial systems catastrophically, and cheat their own customers, all governed by a need to “improve the bottom line.”

September 20, 2016

A Origins of Monotheism

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:30 am
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I have been writing about sporting equipment lately. Too often athletes using a piece of equipment and liking it offer opinions that are unfounded. They say “My whatzit is the best” and “This is the best whozewhatsit on the market.” These enthusiastic and uniformed opinions are apparently human nature. Various forms are used to create such “endorsements.” Some say that their thingie is as good as the “best thingie available.,” as in “It is as good as a Mercedes but much cheaper.” Others start with how good their piece of gear is and then switch to deriding the comparable items: “Oh, they’re good but way overpriced.” or “Those are overrated.”

That got me thinking about the progression of the Hebrews in the Bible from being a polytheistic bunch to being monotheistic. Even using the chronology of the Bible, much of the Bible wasn’t written down until very late in their history and that which was was kept away from the hoi polloi (many of whom couldn’t read in any case). But you can see the progression in the Bible itself, what with the Hebrews starting to drift away from Yahweh worship the minute Moses takes a walk up a mountain. Even well later Temple leaders struggled to get the people to accept that there was only one god worth their worship, to the point of enforcing it with regulation and Temple soldiers. Even through that period, there were still comments about people building little shrines to other gods up in the hills and it took quite a long time to root them out.

So, what we see, in the scriptures of all three “major” monotheistic religions is a people who were quite comfortable worshiping a multitude of gods. Then there are religious authorities working over time to get them to only worship one god. (This didn’t happen in Greece and Rome. In those traditions the religious leaders simply decided to “go along to get along.”)

So, if you were a religious leader and trying everything you could to convince people to worship just one god, what would you say? You would say things about how good our god was and how many good things were given to us, god’s chosen people. Here scripture has a very mixed record because Yahweh doesn’t treat His chosen people well at all. Any time the Hebrews got their asses kicked by an opponent, the religious leaders claimed that their god, Yahweh, made it happen to punish them for their transgressions against Yahweh. When King David incurs Yahweh’s wrath, He punishes the King by killing several tens of thousands of David’s subjects. (David, being part of the 1% gets special treatment.) If I were one of the “chosen people” so treated I would not look on that as being especially worthy of worship.

“(Your gods) are weak and puny and can’t do squats until they pass out …”

Usually you blame bad stuff on the other guy’s god, but that would introduce the question “How come their god kicked our god’s ass?” and that just wouldn’t do. So, you say wonderful stuff about your god (he loves you, he gave you the entire Earth to do with as you will, he gives you slaves to work and virgins to bed as you like, he is a really cool god), then at the same time, you denigrate the other gods. They are weak and puny and can’t do squats until they pass out … (Sorry, I slipped into Arnold Swartzenegger there.). They are false gods, they are evil, they vote Roman, whatever they could come up with. And there is only a small next step between those “other gods” being “false gods” to being “nonexistent gods” … “There is no god but Allah.”

It is not at all strange that the big push for monotheism came when Jews were allowed back into Palestine from Babylon and allowed to rebuild the temple that was destroyed. They could convince themselves that they had been “punished” because they hadn’t done Yahweh right and that they were now back in His good graces, so they better not eff up again. There was more than a little pressure to toe the party line. (And they did create this story line, pretty much out of whole cloth, that too, can be found in scripture.)

This very human tendency to ratchet up the criticism of “others,” and exaggerate the praise of what is ours can be seen in our current campaigns for political office, in fan behaviors at sporting contests, and in general discourse, even with regard to selecting what sporting equipment to buy.

So, monotheism, in my mind, most probably evolved from polytheism due to overzealous religious officials trying to tout their god and denigrate the gods of others. You can see how it happened by reading scripture.

September 19, 2016

NRA Identifies New Challenges

Wayne LaPierre, the spokesman for the National Rifle Association, in a blistering speech yesterday took on one of the most dangerous challenges to freedom in the USA. Mr. LaPierre noted that gun ownership had expanded substantially over the last twenty years and finally there is now in circulation more than one gun per adult in this country. “Make no mistake about it,” said LaPierre, “this is a major milestone on the path to freedom.

“But,” he continued, “Americans aren’t free yet, because it seems that 130,000,000 of the 265,000,000 million guns in the U.S. are in the hands of just 3% of the populace.

“We must be vigilant in our efforts to ensure freedom in America, he said, and we will overcome this new threat, the threat of gun hoarders.

“If these people weren’t so selfish and weren’t stockpiling so many of our guns, we would have that state in which each law-abiding American, and yes, each criminal would have their own gun and disputes would get settled right where they happen. We would need far fewer police, fewer judges, and prisons if this were to come about, so the NRA is putting up $2,000,00 to study the problem of gun hoarding in the hopes to find a solution and hopes that every red-blooded American will support that effort.”

September 18, 2016

Pascal’s Wager and Climate Change

Filed under: Politics,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:38 am
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A common tool of religious apologists is Pascal’s Wager, which is basically the claim that believing in God is the safest approach to reality because if you are wrong, there is no penalty and if you are right, then the rewards are tremendous. None of this applies, of course, if you “bet” that God does not exist.

This, obviously, has nothing to do with God and everything to do with human beings and risk management. I have commented before that the “risk” has been created by said god and hence Pascal’s Wager is merely part of the scam. It is not an argument in favor of god, it is an argument in favor of belief in a god whether He exists or not.

Having said all of that, Pascal was using his reasoning faculty when he proposed the idea of the “wager,” and, if this applies to something as profound as to whether to believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful supernatural being, should it also not apply to belief in, say, climate change? It is an obvious correlation that “strong religious faith” and disbelief in climate change are linked in this country. Did not the Christian/Jewish god provide the Earth for us to dominate? Would God allow His Creation (man) the power to destroy His Creation (the biosphere) that supports human and other life? Doubt about their religion is unacceptable but doubt about science, which often challenges their religion, well, that is actively cultivated from the pulpits of U.S. churches. So, if the religious are going to doubt anything, it is science.

So, let us apply Pascal’s Wager to the idea of climate change. If we believe in climate change as being man-made and, hence, capable of being rectified by the actions of men, and we are right, then we may survive to live on. If we are wrong, and there is no such thing as climate change, then we have lost little. If on the other hand, we disbelieve in climate change and we are wrong, we doom the future of humanity. If we are right, then there is nothing lost. Clearly the wager favors belief.

There is another dimension of this argument, if we believe climate change is man-made and we act upon it, but none of the man-made “causes” we suspected seem to have any effect when we rectify them, then there is a consequence, we have wasted time and effort on a non-solution. But this is not a net negative. By doing that experiment, we may discover what the real causes are and then have a leg up in solving them. If we do not even attempt the experiment, then we not only won’t find out if we are right, but we will not find the underlying causes of the effect. Basically, if climate change is real and not a “hoax” as so many claim, we are better off pretending that it is real and acting upon it.

The reason this is so important is we cannot afford the experiment we are now running, the experiment of changing our climate from one that supports human life to something else, something which is likely, very likely, to be less beneficial. It is not as if it is the case that if our experiment in climate change challenges our ability to survive, there isn’t a back-up Earth we can retreat to lick our wounds and learn from our mistakes. If we are wrong about climate change being “unreal” we may pay a penalty that is beyond our worst nightmares.

To solve this problem, just requires a little belief, but time is running out as the experiment is running and has been running for decades.

 

September 17, 2016

Deregulation and Trust

As I have commented on before, an article in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that in the 1960s, the sugar industry paid Harvard scientists to publish a study blaming fat and cholesterol for coronary heart disease while largely exculpating sugar. This study, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, helped set the agenda for decades of public health policy designed to steer Americans into low-fat foods, which increased carbohydrate consumption and exacerbated our obesity epidemic.

And, as I have done often enough, I will take a step back and look at this in context.

Part of the Republican agenda is that excessive government regulation is strangling American business and if those regulations were done away with, the power of American ingenuity would be unleashed.

Well, once again we see in the behavior of the sugar industry what they would do if government regulations were dispensed with. We have seen this from Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Agriculture, the tobacco industry (they are alive and well selling to unregulated foreign markets), the banking industry, the financial sector, etc. They are adept at manipulating the regulations in the first place (Is Dodd-Franck done yet?) and once those are in place they are adept at manipulating the regulators.

Can you imagine what their behavior would be like in the absence of regulations? I think it is safe to say we can “trust” them to be who they are.

One has to wonder that Republicans are even willing to share their deregulation goal with voters; it seems to confirm their depravity.

September 16, 2016

CEO Pay Scam … by the Government!

You have all heard about how CEO pay (aka remuneration) has risen from comfortable levels, roughly 20 times the average worker’s pay in the mid-1960s, to mind-numbing levels today, roughly 373 times the average worker’s pay in 2014. The sense of outrage is palpable, but not enough to have anything done about it. What would you say if I told you that the 373:1 ratio was vastly understated? That the actual ratio is closer to 950:1?

How is this possible? It is possible because the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), the government watchdog of said statistics, uses an estimate of the value of stocks held that works okay for ordinary people, but CEOs are not ordinary people. Their stock is worth more than that estimate suggests because they are better able to time when to cash in their stock because, they, unlike “ordinary people” have information, and decision making power, that allows them to maximize the value of their company’s stock.

So, how much are we talking about? In one such instance, a pharmaceutical corporation CEO was listed as making $19 million in such compensation in 2014 in SEC documents, but on his tax return, he listed a different number, $192.8 million. Similarly in 2015, the SEC list him at $18.8 million as his “fair-value compensation” while his actual take home was $232 million. And the SEC figures are what are used to calculate the ratio of CEO to average worker pay.

As if we needed more evidence that the 1% have scammed the system, it is clear beyond any shadow of doubt that America is government by the “e Rule” them that has the gold, make the rules.m, it is clear beyond any shadow of doubt that America is government by the Golden Rule: those that have the gold, make the rules.

September 15, 2016

Let’s See, That’s $10.4 Million Per Day . . .

Apparently the Obama administration has agreed to give Israel a record $38 billion in new military aid over the next decade, including $5 billion for missile defense. The package is “a reminder of the United States’ commitment to Israel,” according to National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

Hey, that’s some nice reminder! (I still miss George Carlin!)

That’s … uh, let’s see, uh … $10,400,000 every day of every year for the next decade. And, this, of course, is on top of what we already give to the Israelis with, apparently, no strings attached. My guess is that money just couldn’t be spent on crumbling roads and bridges because, well the construction lobby is just not as powerful as it used to be, what with so many of their workers being out of work (and voting for Trump?).

Do you think this is for all of the good behavior exhibited by Israel over Mr. Obama’s tenure. About how the nice they are making with the Palestinians? About how they are peacefully settling their differences with those who live in the Gaza strip? About the peace process progress? About how they have curtailed illegal settlement building? About how they have stopped adding on to the divisive wall? About how Mr. Netanyahu came and said nice things to our Congress?

I sincerely hope not because none of that happened. In fact I am hard put to be able to identify the reasons for such a bonus. Maybe it is the fact the Israelis have to spend that money in the company store. Maybe it is because it is an election year and the Jewish vote has established that it can be bought. Hard to tell.

And how come the Republicans let this go through? I thought they were against foreign aid? And, oh my, how are we supposed to pay for this when we can’t pay our bills nor? What were the Repubs thinking?

Our Scum Sucking News Media Have Chosen to Hide the Facts about Public Education

Newspaper after newspaper after news sources has chosen to hide the facts and instead beat the drum of a lie: “Our public schools are failing! Our public schools are failing.” One particular point of leverage is trying to sell families of color that their children would be better off in a charter school than in their “failing” local school.

“The meme ‘Our public schools are failing!’ is a lie.”

Well, let’s do some fact checking. The federal government has supplied the only consistent nationwide testing in the form of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams. The NAEP has a search engine from which you can acquire the following data:

Average scores, Grade 4 Math,
National Assessment of Educational Progress
White Students / Black Students

1990: 218.63 / 187.42
[…]
2007: 247.88 / 222.01
2009: 247.85 / 221.98
2011: 248.70 / 223.80

What these data show is that in under 20 years, Black students have achieved an average performance level higher than that of white students from 20 years ago. You can see there is still a gap between white students and black students on these tests scores, because white students didn’t stand still, they improved, too, but how did this incredible improvement in performance by Black students occur? By what magic? Surely it cannot be due to the performance of our failing public schools?

The increase in math education test performance is so great that in one generation Black kids have about two grades higher performance than did their parents at the same age.

The meme “Our public schools are failing!” meme is a lie.

And if you want to know why this lie is being promulgated, follow the money. (The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is the pot of money labeled “For Public Education.”)

If you want to know why our news media have fallen in with the liars, follow the money. More and more news organs have been scooped up by conservative owners, who expect their news organs to a) make money, and b) support conservative narratives moving us toward the glorious world they see in our future, where all of the children are above average, and government regulators disappear, and….

Can You Spell Opportunity Cost, Boys and Girls?

Filed under: Culture,Economics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:23 am
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I have made this point before but new evidence brings it into clearer focus. According to The Guardian newspaper “Religion in the United States is worth $1.2tn a year, making it equivalent to the 15th largest national economy in the world, according to a study.

The faith economy has a higher value than the combined revenues of the top 10 technology companies in the US, including Apple, Amazon and Google, says the analysis from Georgetown University in Washington DC.

“The Socioeconomic Contributions of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis calculated the $1.2tn figure by estimating the value of religious institutions, including healthcare facilities, schools, daycare and charities; media; businesses with faith backgrounds; the kosher and halal food markets; social and philanthropic programmes; and staff and overheads for congregations.

Co-author Brian Grim said it was a conservative estimate.

A conservative estimate . . .

Then, one must consider the economic principle of opportunity cost. This is the obvious, but often overlooked, point that is you spend your money on B you do not have that money to spend on A. If one were to make up a wish list of how to spend $1,200,000.000,000 per year in the U.S., would we select “religion” off of that list and nothing else? Of course, we have more money to spend on other things, but….

And for everyone who has had to learn the hard way that just because you do not spend your money on nonsensical things does not mean you will automatically spent it on sensical things, decisions have to be made and they can be worse as well as better.

Granted that, what’s in your wallet?

PS And for defenders of religion who claim “all of the good those religions do” as an offset, charitable spending by religions is a tiny fraction of their bottom line. Some diocese, for example, spend more on lawyers and accountants than they do on charity.

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