Uncommon Sense

December 3, 2022

Science and Truth

I was reading a work of philosophy and the author objected to the categories of writing: fiction and nonfiction, in that “fiction” implied imaginary and so not true and non-fiction implies fact-based and therefore true. He had many interesting things to say, but they were mostly based upon this false interpretation.

When I read a work of non-fiction, I accept that the author tried to get the facts straight but I know how bleeding hard that is, so I don’t expect it to be 100% “factual” and certainly not a “true account” whatever that is. Writers of fiction often display more insight into things like the human condition than “fact-based” writers. When I read a work of fiction, I don’t expect it to be fact-based, so if a dragon shows up, I am okay with that. The two categories say something about how the authors went about creating their work, but nothing whatsoever about their veracity.

The problem here is with the word “truth.”

Truths are absolutes, and therefore, as far as I am concerned, they are mythical. I have written about absolutes before, so I won’t dwell on that topic, just to say they are extensions of things we see beyond any evidence for their existence.

I have often read that science cannot discover “the truth,” often by religious apologists, and this is obviously true as a statement. Science, in fact, is not looking for truths and never pronounces things as truths. We are smarter than that because what we think might be true today can be found to be false tomorrow. This is why all scientific findings are provisional. Scientists know this as it is beaten into them, but the lay public, looking over scientists shoulders, is often disturbed when scientists change their minds. What scientists think is a virtue, adapting to new data, the public finds alarming. This is because the public believes in the existence of absolutes, like truths, and when scientists announce a “discovery” the public think it is pronouncement of a new truth.

The best thing we could do educationally is to drum this into the minds of all citizens. Scientists are looking for what might work now so that they can continue to learn things, even though those new things may contradict what they have found previously. We in science call that progress. Religionists call that heresy. The public needs to learn to distinguish their religions from scientific “reality.”

As to what is “real,” just don’t get me started.

December 1, 2022

Just Accept Jesus as Your Lord and Master and . . . Wait

The Christian religion was created mostly by Saul of Tarsus (who changed his name to Paul). It is now called Christianity as if it had something to do with the teachings of the character Christ in scripture. It does not.

Evangelical Christians are fond of saying that “if you accept Jesus into your heart as your Lord and savior, you will be saved.” That is saved from the eternal torment invented by Christians and latter day Jews, Hell.

But if you read scripture, a different tale is told. For example in Matthew 25:31-46, it says:

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

Wait, where is the accept Jesus into your heart as your lord and master?

In fact, this seems to contradict a basic precept of Paul, that “faith” is all you need, not blindly following the commandments of Yahweh to do things.

Faith, Not Acts?
If you look at what Jesus listed in Matthew as the things that must be done, acts not faith alone, Jesus’s standard of judgment requires you to be:
Feeding the hungry
Giving drink to the thirsty
Taking in strangers and caring for them
Clothing the naked
Caring for the sick
Caring for those in prison

Nothing on that list requires faith at all, does it?

And Paul also stated, “They that do not work shall not eat.” Can you possibly winkle this precept out of Jesus’s list of acts needed to be “saved”? I can’t.

It is almost as if Paul had a different master than Jesus. It seems that Paul wanted us to obey the authorities (even pagan authorities, like the Romans!), pay our taxes (especially Roman taxes), get a job so we wouldn’t be a burden on the state, and you needn’t do all of those things that Yahweh and Jesus said, those are yucky . . . eww!

Oh, and be sure to vote Republican when voting is invented.

<Voiceover: “I am the Apostle Paul and I approve this message.”>

November 29, 2022

Sacred Places

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:14 am

I ran casually across a reference to sacred places, you know temples, shrines, pyramids, monolithic circles. And I had an interesting emotional response. The comment was just that such “sacred” places, buildings, whatever are often built on top of previous temples, etc. This triggered a memory of something I read that when European conquerors took over yet another people, they tended to build Christian churches on the same sites that pagan temples used to be (often the pagan temples were razed to prepare the “building site” but not always).

So, those spaces were sacred to pagan deities and to Christian deities? Why would that be? It sounds more like dogs marking their territories. A dog comes along and pisses on a tree, leaving some of its scent as a marker, then another dog comes along and pisses on top of that saying “my place, no yours”).

So, I remember images of such sites with ceremonies being performed: censors of smoke, fans and feathers used to splash the smoke around, hands held up to the sky in supplication while chants were being performed, etc. The emotion I felt was, well, embarrassment. What would happen if aliens showed up?

I understand why these ineffective ceremonies and practices are performed year after year, decade after decade, and century after century. Priests told people that if they didn’t perform the ceremonies, their crops would fail, animals die, or children and elders die, so people performed those rituals, chanted those prayers and often enough the harvest was good and the animals and relatives were healthy. Years in which the harvest was spotty, or animals were born still, blame was laid on the people who did the rituals because they must have done something wrong. (I call this the ceremony trap or the ritual trap—damned if you do and damned if you don’t.)

People dressed up in funny capes/robes, wearing odd hats, speaking archaic languages and splashing wine, smoke, or even blood around. It is just embarrassing for the human race.

And if aliens do show up, these nut cases will be in line wanting to talk to the aliens, to explain how only they have the valid sacred knowledge and the rest of the people are heretical know nothings. How would the aliens be able to tell who the nut cases were?

Embarrassing, I say.

And what if the aliens come wearing funny outfits (their leaders anyway) and funny hats. Will they identify with those of us with equally odd garb as being more likely to understand them, rather than those who might represent all of humanity? Is great puzzlement.

Tradition is doing things the ways we always have, so that we don’t lose important knowledge. But, what if that knowledge was bogus in the first place? What good are the traditions supporting it then? Don’t we see most crafts and practices evolve away from the old ways to “new ways”? Sometimes the new ways are better and we stop doing things the old way. We save some of the old ways for historical interest as hobbies, so we still have blacksmiths, even though more modern methods of making metal objects have been proven to be far superior.

Unfortunately religions and other sacred practices have no way to find new ways to do things and are wedded to the past, often as not the very deep past and so we get embarrassing practices like heads bobbing at an ancient wall, prayers being muttered, and specific shawls and hats needed to be worn, because we all know how much a fashion nitpicker that god is.

Embarrassing. I hope the aliens don’t come . . . for a while.

November 26, 2022

Creating Christ

The above title is a book title (didn’t read) and a documentary title (saw a couple of nights ago on Prime).

In this documentary, the evidence that Christianity was a Roman construction was presented, again. When I taught I used the rule of thumb that to really teach something you needed to address it three different times and, preferably, three different ways. This time, a great many aspects of this conjecture really clicked. The conjecture being, of course, that the Romans shaped Christianity to be a Rome-favorable choice of a religion for rowdy Jews.

I didn’t see a great many new pieces of evidence, just the same things presented as a coherent whole. And, things in my knowledge clicked into place as the doc proceeded. I was not impressed by the quality of the visual presentations as they would use the name of one Roman emperor while showing a statue of another, that kind of thing (the visuals were eye candy way too often, something I dislike). But the arguments were dispassionate and well structured.

A clear distinction was made between the Jews who were the insurrectionists and the Jews who were the cooperative sort (they were all Jews, whether subscribing to the Christian cult or not as far as the Romans thought). The insurrectionists were mercilessly suppressed. The claimed martyrdom of the early Christians is a propaganda tool, Christians per se were not suppressed, but the trouble making Jews were, and it was to the advantage of the Christians of the time to claim they were persecuted for their beliefs. They were not, insurrectionist Jews were punished for their actions.

One thing that had always bothered me is the Romans, taking the lead of Alexander the Great, developed a highly successful approach to pacifying conquered peoples. Part of that process was folding in the local gods with the Roman pantheon. Every school child has noticed the one to one correspondence between the Greek and Roman gods, e.g. Zeus = Jupiter, etc. Well, that approach was made general and performed over and over. The Romans had an “Office of Cults” that kept track of these things and checked to make sure that all of the peoples of the empire worshiped “the gods.” They didn’t particularly care which gods. The Jews of the time, however, were very stiff necked about the Imperial Cult in which emperors were worshipped and refused to do so. At one point the pragmatic Romans, trying to keep the lid on the volatile Middle East region, absolved the Jews from that requirement! Ah, such persecutions!

So, in contrast to that keystone of Roman empire administration, in the fourth century CE, Christianity became “an” official religion of Rome (and so was favored, rather than ignored/disfavored) and then a few decades later became “the” sole official religion of Rome. Rome ditched its very successful approach to governing conquered peoples to become monotheistic rather than polytheistic.

This cannot be considered a whim on the part of an emperor. The Romans were far too pragmatic for that, there had to be something in it for them, and that something had to be big, really big. The argument is that Christianity was shaped into a religion that was as pro Roman as a religion could be, and actively so, not just passively accepting as the various mystery religions of the time were. So, this religion was created to be a unifying support for the Empire and it got to be that over time.

Many things are explained by this. For one, why the gospels and Acts of the Apostles were written in Greek, rather than Hebrew, the Jewish language. Why slavery was accepted by an all-powerful entity who could have looked at it as a government usurping the slave’s free will. Why taxes were promoted as well as governments (aka rulers, even pagan rulers) as instruments of “God’s will.”

There is no group of people portrayed more favorably in the New Testament than the Romans. Even the cruel and vicious Pontius Pilate is portrayed favorably.

The Romans took actions to wipe out the insurrectionists/rebellious (John the Baptizer and Jesus were two such) and later attempted to convert the others to a pro Roman religion.

Many people point out that Paul, more than any other, was the creator of Christianity. Who was Paul? Paul claimed to be a Roman citizen and he played that card often and well. He must have had some sort of proof of that citizenship since otherwise, just a casual claim to citizenship would have been made by every miscreant. The Romans saved his life, protected him, treated him well, and for his part, Paul claimed o have many friends in Rome, including in the Emperor’s palace. The Book of Acts leaves Paul’s story when he was in “custody” in Rome, a very comfortable custody, as it is described. So, Paul, he wouldn’t have, would he? I mean he was a persecutor of Christians and claimed to have seen the light, no? He couldn’t have been serving the Romans, could he?

So, fast forward to the present time and we see Christianity is a formidable aspect of the current power structure in the U.S. supporting the status quo, keeping the same people (stand-ins for the rich and powerful) in power. In other words, still supporting the “empire.” The message is still “keep your head down, don’t complain, do your job, your reward will come after you die.” And people still swallow this clearly false message.

November 25, 2022

Soccer or Football?

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment — Steve Ruis @ 10:34 am
Tags: , ,

Yesterday whilst watching football, American style, on the telly, there was a glossy commercial/infomercial(?) featuring David Beckham and Peyton Manning. Both are retired “football” stars and they were engaged in a debate in which Beckham, an Englishman, insisted that “football was football” while Manning insisted the proper name for the sport was “soccer.” This is all because it is time again for World Cup . . . er . . . football or soccer, whatever.

They should have picked a different “football” defender than Mr. Beckham, however, because . . . wait for it  . . . wait for it . . . the English coined the term soccer in the late 1800s to refer to Association Football, the sport we now know as soccer/football. “Soccer” was picked as a way to differentiate from another kind of football—Rugby Football. For a similar reason, “soccer” became the favored term in America, as a way to differentiate it from our more manly gridiron football. (Soccer being cobbled together from the “soc” in association, and –er meaning a practitioner of whatever that is.)

For years both “soccer” and “football” were used interchangeably in England with football being the favored term, though “soccer” picked up use after World War II.

In the end, British fans gravitated to the term “football” because they wanted to distinguish themselves from Americans. As the sport picked up popularity in the U.S. in the 1980s, there was a backlash in England and “soccer” dropped out of use.

Now, I know we as Americans are often considered to be crass (because we are), but calling “soccer” a crass Americanism, is hurtful, especially when stated by a Brit, who invented the term!

November 23, 2022

The Fascist GOP’s Playbook

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:59 am
Tags: , ,

Recently Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview that Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, is “the most dangerous person in the world.”

“Who’s the most likely to take this republic down? It would be the teacher’s unions, and the filth that they’re teaching our kids, and the fact that they don’t know math and reading or writing,” the former top U.S. diplomat added.

So, the GOP’s paymasters hate unions because they stand against unbridled corporate power to pay whatever wages and fringe benefits they want, and so the GOP states that unions are evil. They are no longer “bad” or some other wishy-washy description, they are “evil.”

Teachers are “evil” too because they are teaching “filth” and their students can neither do math, nor read, nor write.

As usual, the GOP ignores all of the evidence to the contrary. And they disingenuously use data to reinforce their points. The recent decline in national test scores? All due to bad teaching. Apparently the pandemic and school shutdowns had no effect whatsoever.

So, the fascist’s playbook is to scapegoat enemies they create out of whole cloth. The enemies are Jews, or immigrants, gays and lesbians, or well any powerless group. They seek out the weak as they certainly want no opposition. They don’t claim corporation executives are the “enemy,” oh no. Execs have power and money to fight back. Yet, the evidence that many corporation executives are sociopaths, if not psychopaths, is very, very strong.

So, pick a weak group, say teachers, they are mostly women and effeminate men, and blame them. By declaring them to be evil, you then frighten them with violence. (Consider the recent shooting at a gay bar.) The threatened cower, hide, and don’t oppose the will of the fascists.

All heil the GOP!

November 20, 2022

What Freedom Did We Fight For, Exactly?

The MAGA/Freedom nuts keep referring to the Revolutionary War and the “freedom” that was at the heart of it. And they claim the freedom they want is to get the government off of their backs so they can do what they want, without interference.

Is that the freedom that our American forefathers fought for? I don’t think so.

Phrases such as “no taxation without representation” come to mind and some of the early requests of the American colonists were to have Americans added to Parliament to give the colonies some say, at least an ability to argue, about the policies the British government enacted for the colonies.

The final break was a contest for the ability to govern ourselves, and not be subject to an autocratic king or, for that matter, a parliament in which we had no say.

So, we fought for our freedom to create our own government. And the resulting government is a manifestation of the freedom we won.

So, how could the current MAGA/Freedom nuts get it so wrong? According to them “government is not the solution; government is the problem.” They, in fact, have been polled to be wanting an autocrat, preferably Donald Trump, but any MAGA Autocrat would probably due. They are admitting that they are not freedom loving and that they would rather kiss an autocrat’s ass, than go about the work needed to make sure the government is as we want it to be. They are basically saying “Scrap our representative government, give us a king.”


November 16, 2022

Won’t Voters Ever Ask Government to LEAVE PEOPLE ALONE?

The above question was used as a title for a online column by a Mr. John Stossel on Nov 9, 2022. I assume he is a right-wing commentator as he states that he is “the author of Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media.”

His post doesn’t have much to say about answering that question, it was more about wanting Republicans to defeat Democrats and “take control.” And, as we all know, Republicans are renowned for getting government to leave people alone.

The passion shown in the question, indicated by all caps being used (which is shouting in print), indicates a heartfelt desire to be left alone by government. But that is rather stupid. Allow me to explain.

We are what biologists call a social species. We bunch together in groups to our advantage. So, over the years we created things like fire departments to assist us when fires attack our homes or places of business. We created police departments to handle sociopathic members of our societies. We established rules under which people can do business so that people aren’t cheated or businesses unfairly competed with. We established . .  . I think you get the idea.

The “government” has been turned into some sort of bogyman that came from Mars to attack us by these very same people, or they are trying to convince us that is so. Instead, government is “We the People” acting collectively. None of us would survive more than a few weeks entirely on our own. Without using banks, paper money, credit cards or any of the other systems created by “government,” how would you acquire food to eat? Would you try to barter with the clerk at your local supermarket? Would you go hunting in your nearby national park? Would you gather nuts and berries from your local parks? Fish in the local streams?

How would you get around? Surely you wouldn’t deign to use “government roads” to drive on, besides how would you pay for gas to operate your vehicles?

The “government,” aka We the People, is interwoven in our culture and society. The people bemoaning this fact are actually bad actors who want to take advantage of the absence of government. Business are hell-bent on creating monopolies, so that they will dominate the markets they are invested in, and thus make all the money they want screwing over their “customers.” They don’t want government anti-monopoly functions interfering. They want “free markets,” which is code for markets free of government manipulations, so that they are the only ones manipulating them. They want government to “leave them alone,” but are working assiduously to get government officials to grant them special privileges, subsidies, special tax statuses, etc.

We are a social species. We thrive when we take care of one another. The only discussion should be “how” and not whether to do that or not.

These people are telling us who they are. We need to listen to them and act accordingly.

November 15, 2022

Christian Violence

The history of the Christian Church is larded with violence. (Yes, yes, I know they don’t teach that from their pulpits.) From the beginning, anyone who got in the way of the religion was removed, up to an including Roman emperors. Modern Christians often decry the violence associated with Islam, yet are totally ignorant of the violence in their own religion.

Things have been fairly quiet for quite some time. After all, they won. But the current supremacy of Christianity in this country isn’t good enough for the religious who have come to form the American extreme right-wing of its body politic. And violence is not only being advocated, it seems to be a keystone of their programs.

If you want to have the Bejesus scared out of you, read the following Religion Dispatch (From Shofars To Hammers: The Spiritual Warriors Of Maga Are ‘Reawakening’ To Political Violence)

Here is just a taste:

This is a spiritual attack, but we understand that we have power! The Bible declares that we have power to tread over demons and evil—even when they’re called Nancy Pelosi!” This was delivered by a “Christian Pastor.”

Religious Dogma Begets Political Dogma

The article below was reported in the magazine Freethought Today. One has to question what value a repetition of a pledge has. Do marriage vows expire? Do they need to be renewed? If so, how often. (I remember a player for the NBA’s Sacramento King’s basketball team that renewed his wedding vows annually (including a full wedding ceremony and reception). Yes, most people thought it odd.

When a politician or a soldier makes an oath to his country, does that wear out? Need it be reinforced?

I remember being a school child and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every damned day, first period. That practice lead to an undermining of the substance of that pledge as students created variations because of the boring repetition, e.g. “I pledge allegiance to the United States of Asparagus . . .”

Let’s see, 185 school days per year from the age of five to 18. Let’s see . . . carry the one . . . that’s over 2500 repetitions of that pledge, not counting assemblies and special sessions, etc. I wonder what happened over summer vacation. That pledge couldn’t last more than a couple of days (because weekends), so two plus months away from school and the pledge not being reinforced, why we must have become commie pinko socialist Marxists every summer!

There is no social value for repeating such a pledge at each and every damned meeting of a school board. Maybe at the first meeting of every academic school year, but even then, it is debatable what value it has.

apparently the god-fearing Christians, steeped in repetition of Bible stories and sermon talking points are reassured by such repetitions because they have been taught that the ceremony is more important than the substance.

Oh and “disgusting things” and “”threats” are now part of the Christian playbook. I am sure they have Biblical support for their tactics.

Fargo Reinstates Pledge After Public Backlash

Following a public outcry, the Fargo (N.D.) School Board voted 8-1 to resume reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of board meetings.

The decision, made during a special meeting Aug. 18, was prompted by the backlash that followed a decision by the board on Aug. 9 to stop reciting the pledge. Board President Tracie Newman recommended the board reinstate the pledge.

Prior to the vote, several board members mentioned they had received hateful and sometimes threatening calls and emails from all over the country.

Board member Nyamal Dei, who cast the lone “no” vote at the meeting, shared a voicemail recording in front of the board. The recording contained vulgar, hateful and racist language throughout.

Board member Katie Christensen, who attended the meeting by phone, said she had been called disgusting things and received threats. She said she had reported some of the threatening messages to the police. (Source: Freethought Today, October 2022)

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