Class Warfare Blog

April 28, 2019

The Purpose of Religion: A Follow-up

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:03 am
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Salon.com recently re-published an article that originally appeared on Raw Story. Here is a taste of that article:

Scientists establish a link between religious fundamentalism and brain damage
Religious beliefs differ from empirical beliefs, which are based on how the world appears to be
by Bobby Azarian

study published in the journal Neuropsychologia has shown that religious fundamentalism is, in part, the result of a functional impairment in a brain region known as the prefrontal cortex. The findings suggest that damage to particular areas of the prefrontal cortex indirectly promotes religious fundamentalism by diminishing cognitive flexibility and openness—a psychology term that describes a personality trait which involves dimensions like curiosity, creativity, and open-mindedness.

Religious beliefs can be thought of as socially transmitted mental representations that consist of supernatural events and entities assumed to be real. Religious beliefs differ from empirical beliefs, which are based on how the world appears to be and are updated as new evidence accumulates or when new theories with better predictive power emerge. On the other hand, religious beliefs are not usually updated in response to new evidence or scientific explanations, and are therefore strongly associated with conservatism. They are fixed and rigid, which helps promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group.

Now, before all of you snarkmeisters (My people, my people!) jump on the obvious points, the point I want to address is not that. It is “They are fixed and rigid, which helps promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group.” And it is not the “fixed and rigid” part but the “promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group” part.

When humans gathered together into larger than family groups, society was formed in a process I am sure took some time to hammer out. In all herd animals there are behaviors of both the individual and the group that promote survival. Sometimes they clash but if they clash too much, neither the herd nor the individuals survive. We are not herd animals but we are social animals. “Society” exists to get us to conform to rules that result in greater survivability of both us as a group and us as individuals. Once a society is formed, it is not hard to see that it can be hijacked by individuals who mold society more to their advantage, survivability be damned. Books and movies are rife with such scenarios, where groups are betrayed by individuals to their benefit. These betrayals can be direct or through changing the societal rules to benefit just themselves.

Currently there is a subset of very wealthy U.S. individuals who are reshaping our society for their benefit and their benefit alone, the rest of society left to suck eggs. Religion is a major tool in creating and maintaining a “stable” society. It has lost much of its power in this country over the years and since a power vacuum doesn’t exist long, that power has been sucked up, in this case by wealthy financial types with their own priesthood (economists).

In any society there are those who produce the needs for direct survival (food, water supply, housing, transportation, etc.) and those who produce “other things” (art, politics, music, books, etc.). Those who produce the food, etc. need to have the respect of those who do not and vice versa. In this country, this mutual respect has been lost (not by accident, mind you) as it has been elsewhere around the world. In powerful church hierarchies, the elites offer little in the way of respect for the masses as they “manage their brands” and, they think, husband their power. The same goes on in centers of political power. Studies indicate that a prerequisite for getting any idea through Congress is being rich. If you are poor or middle class your ideas and opinions will be ignored. (Polls? What polls? Polls are “fake news.”) And, monumental issues like climate change are ignored because the wealthy do not want to accept any uncertainty in their wealth accumulation schemes (business opportunities my ass!).

As a consequence, ordinary people, who are engaged in serving the needs of these elites are in various states of rebellion. They are attending church services less. They are voting less. They are paying less attention to those who pay no attention to them or they are attending but responding with anger and resentment.

I thought if we could revive labor unions that they could apply some leverage in the interests of ordinary people, but unions have powerful opponents who have shut that door.

So, what is the way out of this existential problem?

Really, do you see a way out?

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April 25, 2019

The Purpose of Religion

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 1:44 pm
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I have written before that I think religions have a purpose. However they came into being, if they survived and thrived it is because they controlled the behavior of the masses. Their purpose came to be coercing the labor of the masses so as to serve the interests of the religious and secular elites. Basically these “elites,” whose jobs involve the production of nothing needed to survive (aka art, governance, music, rituals, etc. all of the “benefits” of civilization), needed ordinary people to gather or grow extra food, wool, building materials, etc. to provide for those not doing such work, aka the elites. This evolved into a class system in which the elites created a status system that elevated those who would not lift a finger to do anything manual, even so far as to getting dressed after a night’s sleep.

The religiously duped claimed that their religion has intrinsic purpose or value and ask “what can you secularists offer in its stead?” To which I offer “a life with no delusions” or as this lovely quote provides, a life not coerced by others.

“It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather our concern must be to live while we’re alive – to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.”
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

The religious often harp on their opinion of who and what we are and what our purpose may be. If you subscribe to that religion, you are judged by how well you shape your life to their prescription. That they can provide no proof of the benefits claimed should give anyone pause.

I hear many blather on about how their religion provides purpose for their lives. I always ask “What is this purpose?” Most answers seem confused or unclear. I can continue on to ask “When will you know this is true?” because it is only after death that most religions have scheduled their pay off . . . another fact that should give anyone pause.

It is also clear that most of the religious don’t want to talk about this topic. They prefer the vague goodness of their feelings to thoughts that lead to embarrassing conclusions, e.g.

Atheist: So what is this “purpose?”
Theist: To live in the presence of God and worship Him.
Atheist: Ah, so He needs worship?
Theist: Uh . . .

or

Atheist: So what happens to those who do not accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior?
Theist: They are denied living in the presence of God for all eternity.
Atheist: So, all of those scriptures describing the Lake of Fire are mistaken?”
Theist: Uh, I don’t know; I just think that being denied an eternity in God’s presence is our definition of Hell.
Atheist: And what will you being doing for this eternity?
Theist: Uh . . . I have an appointment I am late for.

And so on. The proscription on asking such questions in the various religions seems to serve only the purpose I claim above (the interests of the elites). I would think that the clearer people were on the benefits and trade-offs of a religion, the stronger their commitment would be, but understanding is not the goal, faith—which is subscription to the beliefs claimed by the religion without understanding or questioning—is . . . which should give anyone pause.

April 24, 2019

Why . . . ?

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:29 am
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Why is it that no enterprising evangelical or fundamentalist protestant has claimed that the fire that almost burned down the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France was “God punishing the Catholics for their failure to deal with the Church’s sex scandals (or fill in any other failing of the Catholic Church)?

These are people who have blamed natural disasters on gays, who have blamed political disasters on liberal Christians, etc. Why have all of the fundamentalists gone silent on this topic? Have they lost their cojones?

I did read that one such mouth breather didn’t realize that Notre Dame was a Catholic cathedral. He thought it was a museum or something. Of course, the stained glass and spires and the use of the word cathedral over and over were clues, as was the original build date for the “church” being 400 years before the Protestant Reformation. But I guess we shouldn’t expect people to put two and two together (or to get four when they do).

Come on evangelicals; there is still time! Don’t wimp out on us now!

And then there are the numbnuts who claim that the rain shower predicted the next day which held off until many of the art works that were exposed to the outdoors had been tarped or otherwise protected was an “act of God.” And the fire . . . it was what, you say? I’ll bet the insurance company will be arguing for “act of God” to avoid any payoff.

April 21, 2019

Jail Birds Fly Free … Well Some Do

One of the parents who conspired to get their kid into an elite college the old fashioned way (cheating, bribery, influence, etc.) has been on trial and that trial is in the sentencing phase. The prosecution wants something a little less than a year in prison and the defense wants something closer to a month in prison.

So, this is the justice system we have. People go to jail for cheating on college admissions requirements, for possession of small amounts of marijuana, etc. but if you do something really big, like bring down the financial system of the U.S. and the world, or defy the orders of a federal judge, you get swept under the rug as being “too big to fail” or, gosh, you get a presidential pardon. I understand that some banks might be too big to fail but are they too big to be broken up and sold off? Are the executives too big to go to jail? Do we need bigger jail cells? We used to send bankers to jail and did so as recently as the savings and loan debacle in the 1980’s. But now, gosh, it would be just so sad to do that, so let’s just give those executives a bonus and let them retire or, heck, just let them keep doing what they have been doing.

Obviously justice in this country has always been predicated upon the color of your skin and your socioeconomic status. If Bernie Maddoff had bilked a bunch of poor people or a bunch of people of color, would he have gone to jail? He had the bad taste to bilk white people who had been rich, so his fate was sealed.

This is sad.

My Easter Message: Anti-Indoctrination Laws

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:02 am
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Currently there are folks who are promoting anti-indoctrination laws in several states. Apparently these are laws to make sure that the theory of evolution is not taught as if it were valid scientific theory (It is.) and it does not concern at all the various efforts of churches to indoctrinate the children of the church’s members.

Every church does this, that is they “teach” their doctrines to kids to young to understand them. No one waits for the age of consent or any point in time at all. It all begins at birth. In church nurseries for kids too young to attend services are kept in a nursery (and so their parents can attend services). These nurseries will have Noah’s Ark toys (stuffed animals, too, none of them being cute ones who got drowned) and age-appropriate children’s books full of Bible stories.

This came to mind as I was in a small shop where the proprietor was listening to a foreign language program (on a cell phone), a language I do not posses, and while I was doing my business a children’s choir broke out in “Jesus Loves Me” . . . in English. I found myself fully capable of mentally singing along with the children’s voices even though I have had a lifelong problem hearing and remembering song lyrics.

Here is a short version of that song’s lyrics (all repetitions left out):

Jesus loves me this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak but He is strong

Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes Jesus loves me,
for the Bible tells me so

Jesus loves me still today,
Walking with me on my way
Wanting as a friend to give
Light and love to all who live

Now, if you were to give a devoted Bible reader a Bible and ask them to find where in the Bible this message is delivered, would they be able to find it? If you were to give a non-believer a Bible and asked them to read it, would they come to this conclusion?

This song essentially delivers a message, rather a conclusion, one might get from reading the Bible. These messages serve a number of functions, one of which is that it is not necessary to read the Bible, all of the important messages have been packaged for you and delivered before you have an IQ.

By associating such catchy tunes with the carefree state of childhood, one immediately taps into nostalgia and good feelings every time that message/song is replayed. For the few seconds I was singing along (in my head, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket out loud) I had very positive feelings and I am a confirmed atheist.

Get them young before they start thinking for themselves, then when they do argue against that practice vigorously. If that is not an indoctrination program, I don’t know what is. And, of course, anti-indoctrination laws are needed because . . . evolution. Sheesh!

April 11, 2019

Is Capitalism Given Too Much Credit?

Filed under: Economics,History — Steve Ruis @ 8:27 am
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Over at Ian Welsh’s website, Mr. Welsh has posted yet another brilliant takedown of our common knowledge/wisdom, aka “everybody knows.” he points out that many of the benefits claimed for capitalism were actually a result of industrialization, something that allowed the nascent Soviet Union to outgrow most other countries for quite some time.

Don’t Confuse Capitalism with Industrialization

Here’s a taste:

“We need to stop being nodes in a shitty resource allocation algorithm, and we need to start actually making sane decisions based on group autonomy and welfare.

“And capitalism, capitalism doesn’t do that.”

A very important perspective.

This is typical of what people do. If they like something they attribute positive properties to it whether or not they are possessed by that thing. I recall a teaching colleague who regularly received high marks for her sense of humor in her mathematics classroom. She points this out because she used no humor whatsoever in her teaching. But she was a very good teacher and was also kind and understanding as the teacher of a topic some find quite difficult, so she received high marks for everything surveyed.

Have we done the same for capitalism? I believe so. In addition to this normal tendency, there are people who have much to gain who propagandize the topic. These people often claim that “capitalism is the greatest economic system ever invented,” but if you query them on their knowledge of other economic systems, they are woefully ignorant. How can one claim A is better than B when they have no real idea what B is?

Read the piece, highly recommended . . . and it is short!

April 10, 2019

Other Ways of Knowing?

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:11 am
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As I read I am often presented with the dichotomy of the material and the spiritual, of the head and the heart.

“There is a wisdom of the head and a wisdom of the heart.”
Charles Dickens

And it appears to me that this is a consequence of some simple physiological facts. The sense through which we extract the most information is our vision. This gives us the impression that “we” (homunculus, whoever is driving this vehicle, whatever) reside inside of our heads. This illusion is very strong and quite understandable. Through our vision we may attend the entire world, from near to far and small to large in quiet contemplation. This ability does not seem to be a source of passion, rather “cold” intellect.

When we experience strong emotion, for whatever reason, it tends to affect our torsos in the form of restricted breathing or the reverse, panting, or a feeling of being punched in the stomach, generally accompanied by rapid heart beats. This creates the illusion that something else resides in our torsos. Since breathing is usually quiet, as is our heartbeat, they go unnoticed until their rates are jacked up to high rates and then we can hear them, internally.

Experience in killing animals and other humans points out the importance of the heart and lungs. Break or have a finger cut off and you will survive. Take a spear thrust in a lung and you will die, slowly. Take a spear thrust in the heart and you will die quickly. A hierarchy is therefore created as to which sources of the sounds of our life are most important: life’s blood, the breath of life, etc.

Is this the source of the idea of spirituality? Does anything qualifying as spirituality even exist? What is it really? As much as I love Joe Campbell’s writing on this topic I am still wondering whether spirituality is just an illusion we have become comfortable with, much as a number of philosophers now argue that conscious thoughts are illusions, possibly even consciousness as a whole being an illusion.

That spirituality is tied to strong emotions is no surprise. Using human passion as a lever to control people’s behavior also seems a workable approach for religions. Much of my religion’s tradition was wrapped in the words and imagery of strong emotion (Jesus loves you, the Passion, Brides of Christ, etc.).

Most religions diminish the role of the “head” and emphasize the role of the “heart” (or chakras, or stomach, or . . .). This war between the head and the heart rumbles on today in discussions between religious apologists and “secularists.”

Can this discussion be resolved? I suspect not soon, but it has clearly taken a modern twist, begun I think by William James (The Varieties of Religious Experience) and continued by the likes of Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell, et. al.). These worthies have been applying the tools of science, especially those of biological evolution, to explain the human experience of religion (with much resistance without and within the academic community). Will any of that discussion affect ordinary folks like you and me? That remains to be seen. Possible the rise in the numbers of Americans no longer claiming association with an organized religion (the “Nones”) is a sign, maybe it is not. Please note that an organized religion is not a requirement for having religious experiences. People had these things before organized religions existed and will likely have them after. Understanding their sources is therefore important.

 

 

April 8, 2019

Belief in Belief

I am working my way through Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett, one of my favorite philosophers. In that book he discusses “belief in belief” meaning that people exhibit the belief that believing in a god is very important but the details (which god, which way, etc.), not as much. (I always answer the question “Do you believe in god?” with “Which one?” The question “Do you believe in God?” is more often Do you believe in my god? or Do you believe in a god?) And Dennett claims that as time has gone on, more religions are requiring less belief and more professing, that is as a member of a church, you are to profess A, B, C, etc. whether you believe them or not (although they prefer you would believe them). They are requiring belief less and behavior more.

I have been thinking about this damned topic for at least 60 years and I am reaching some interesting positions, namely:

  • Since belief in belief is so important and possibly innate, we have therefore created gods by the bushel, to have foci for our beliefs.
    Joseph Campbell, another of my intellectual heroes, states “The gods are personifications of the energies that inform life—the very energies that are building the trees and moving the animals and whipping up the waves in the ocean. The very energies that are in your body are personified as gods. They are alive and well in everybody’s life. Most traditions realize this—that deities are personifications, not facts. They are metaphors. They are not references to anything you can put your finger on, or your eye on.”
  • People profess a belief in god as a social marker to proclaim “I am a good person, you can trust me.”
    This is why if you do not profess to believe in a god, you are proclaiming that you are not trustworthy (and are therefore scary, and eat babies, etc.).
  • Since people are basically confined in religious geographical regions (your religion is determined by where you were born) most people do not encounter “others” in any quantity, we are “normal” and they are not.
  • Religions have no incentive to help people understand other religions, as it might lose them dues paying members.
    In fact, they have an incentive to demonize, vilify, obfuscate, etc. those other religions. There is, therefore, very little understanding of those “other” religions or even denominations of the same religion (Protestant fundamentalists argue that Catholics are not “true Christians.”)
  • A consequence of science contradicting religious claims from antiquity, is that deities are becoming more and more vague/amorphous.
    Some of the religious-minded claim human minds cannot know their god. (How they can know their god and “all people” so well is not discussed.) Some call their god the “ground of all being” . . . WTF? This is not a drawback for the religions as the “mystery” sells well.
  • Arguing over proofs of the existence of a god or gods (one of my past preoccupations) is futile because almost everyone has their own definition and very, very few of them are well defined.
    There are more people who believe in belief than who believe in a god and the number of gods, historically, is immense. The idea of their god is so amorphous it is hard for any believer to accept that any argument you might make would apply to their god.
  • In the U.S. surveys show that American women are more religious than American men, substantially so.
    Since a simple characterization of a god as someone/something who watches over you and protects you (makes rules protecting you, etc.), this seems a logical consequence. Women are subject to more threats than are men.
  • As the science fiction/fantasy tales portray, we give gods power by believing in them.
    When people stop believing, those gods fade from memory and become “myths.” They sure as hell were not myths when people believed in them, serious actions were made at their “direction.”

As Voltaire is claimed to have said “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” “He” does not, so “we” did . . . over and over and over.

I conclude with another quote from Joseph Campbell “(T)here are only two ways to misunderstand a myth and our civilization has managed to do both. One is to think that the myth refers to a geographical or historical fact—Jesus rose from the dead, Moses got the law at the top of a mountain, that sort of thing. The other is to think that the myth refers to a supernatural fact, or an actual event, that’s going to happen in the future—the resurrection of Jesus, or the second coming. Our whole religious tradition is based upon these two misunderstandings. (. . .) It’s a terrible tragedy. These misunderstandings of our myth have caused us to lose the vocabulary of the spirit.”

I can only add that there is a benefit to this situation to those who wish to enrich themselves alone, to those who think an economic system is a competitive playground, rather than a way to enrich everyone’s lives. People who see trees as something to cut down and sell only or coal as something to dig and burn with no consequences. “It is a terrible tragedy.”

April 6, 2019

Are We Violating the First Amendment?

The first amendment to the Constitution begins with the words “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” and then changes the subject. This “law” has been declared to apply also to state governments.

Currently, the IRS and state taxing authorities generally exempt churches from paying taxes. As a consequence, I must pay more in taxes to make up that shortfall. Therefore, I am being forced by the government to support those churches (even Scientology!). This seems like a violation of the spirit of the First Amendment at the very least and the letter of Constitutional law at the most.

I know some will object and say that churches are charitable organizations and qualify for tax-exempt status thereby. A study I read indicated that just a few percent of most churches incomes (<5%) goes to charity (most going to costs such as utilities, employee salaries, etc.), so that doesn’t hold water. Others claim that churches are non-profits and that doesn’t hold water, either. How is a church, an institution that gives out advice (some for fee, some pro bono) any different from a tax accountant or financial advisor? Granted they may not make much profit to be taxed but they could not sustain continuing losses, so they must make some profit, and some of the large property owning churches make scads of money. And taxes on profits are not the only taxes. Dentists are taxed upon their dental chairs and offices if they own them (property taxes). Financial advisors are taxed likewise. Churches? Not so much.

(And don’t get me started on prosperity churches and their jet plane owning pastors.)

April 5, 2019

AOC Derangement Syndrome

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC as she is referred to, is a new member of the House of Representatives. Since she stands for all things abhorrent to the status-quo loving GOP she is the target of amazing stretches of logic. Take, for example, this cartoon:

In the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War, what was the greatest economy mobilizing force? That would be the American government, not capitalism. In the Great Depression, the business types (the Capitalists) insisted that it was a normal “business cycle” and that things would recover by themselves and that we should do nothing to help the struggling people.

This is what Democratic Socialism is all about, the government as representatives of the people, in control of the economy. Control in the sense of setting the rules, not running it as in totalitarian socialism. Currently, the capitalists have captured the government and are running the economy for their benefit and screw the rest of us. That is what capitalism offers unless it is restrained by government by the people … or a divine king if you want to try that again. (Donald Trump has volunteered for the position.)

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