Uncommon Sense

June 21, 2022

Ridiculing Jesus? I Would Never . . .

Filed under: History,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:38 pm
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I was reading a book last night (Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: A Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith by David Madison) which I will report on later but here reflect upon a rather disturbing statement. Here it is:

I can’t agree with strident atheists who ridicule Jesus for not knowing that the Earth orbits the sun, that demons can’t be transferred into pigs or that blindness can’t be cured by smearing diseased eyes with mud and spit. Truly, Jesus was a citizen of his time and participated fully in the superstitions of the day.

The author is a recovering minister and he seems to be taking comments by other atheists personally. This is a common attitude: people claim that as atheists we “hate God,” that “we just want to sin,” and other nonsense. They ignore the fact that since we are not convinced that their god exists, it hardly can whip up strong emotions in us. If I am disappointed in the behavior of a character in a book, a movie, or a play, I don’t get mad at the character, I get mad at the author. And, as to wanting to sin, sin is a violation of god’s laws. If we do not believe that this god exists, how restricted by “its laws” do you think we are?

And to casually call atheists who criticize what has been written about the character “Jesus,” as being strident, that is, well, hurtful. We have feelings, you know.

My good buddy, Merriam-Webster says “Some common synonyms of strident are blatant, boisterous, clamorous, obstreperous, and vociferous. While all these words mean ‘so loud or insistent as to compel attention,’ strident suggests harsh and discordant noise.” This sounds as if the author’s Christian sensibilities are still tender.

As I will report later, this is a book very much worth reading if you are an atheist. But this paragraph shows why we are leery of Christian privilege, the fact that if we gainsay them, we are “attacking” them, waging war on them, e.g. the War on Christianity, etc.

As to the meat of the quote, we aren’t criticizing Jesus for his lack of knowledge, because we don’t accept that Jesus was or is a god, so why would he know such things? We are ridiculing perfectly modern “believers” who believe that kind of thing rather than their lying eyes. Plus you cannot hold the idea that Jesus is part of the Trinity, being omniscient and omnipotent, and “Truly, Jesus was a citizen of his time and participated fully in the superstitions of the day” at the same time. Such cognitive dissonance is quite worthy of ridicule, although I prefer reasoned discourse over ad hominem slurs.

June 20, 2022

What Is In a Motto?

Filed under: Culture,History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:14 am
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On July 30th, 1956  we dropped the unofficial motto of the United States, E Pluribus Unum (translation “from many, one”) and adopted the motto, In God We Trust.

How has that been working out, do you think?

Well, a recent Gallup poll showed that 81% of U.S. adults say they believe in God, down six points from 2017 and the lowest percentage since the poll first asked the question in 1944.

On the unity front, we seem to be hearing many comments that the nation is more divided now than at any time since the Civil War period (1860-1865).

Gosh, do you think the changing of the motto caused all of this?

Oligarchs in Charge Now—Oligarchs in Charge Then

I think I have hammered away on my position that the wealthy are currently in charge of this country. Nothing happens of which they do not approve. They have bought the legislatures, the executives, and the courts. Whether I have convinced you of that I do not know, but I am going to expand upon my point by recognizing that each new generation (I am a Baby Boomer, the leading edge mind you) thinks they invented everything. My recognition that currently this country is run almost exclusively by the wealthy has been expanded. I now know that this country has always been run by the wealthy.

I have just started a fascinating book “Founding Finance” which has the subtitle “How Debt, Speculation, Foreclosures, Protests, and Crackdowns Made Us a Nation.” I have barely begun but have swallowed already their main point. The “Founding Fathers” were the oligarchs of the day and were determined to shape the country to their liking.

There were signs I recognized earlier but hadn’t put together. For example, the FFs were terrified of actual democracy, possibly with good reason, and included many anti-democratic elements in the Constitution. For example, voters were, of course, white, male, and property owners. They saw themselves as the logical class to steer the nation, rather than the “middling sort.” The term “middling sort” referred to artisans, craftspeople, etc. People who worked with their hands but not doing simple labor. The fact that the term existed at that time exposes some of the thought processes of the elites who ended up crafting the rules by which we operate. Those of the middling sort might own their smithy, or their print shop, but that was not enough property to get into the club.

That to vote, you needed to own a nontrivial amount of property made sure that property ownership would be protected. Many of the FFs and later “heroes of the republic,” e.g. Davy Crocket, were land speculators. Many of the immigrants who came to this country in search of land to farm, etc. found that almost all of the available property had been scooped up by wealthy Americans, leaving them to work for wages if they could find work. (Europe had been “worked out” mostly in that there was barely enough arable land under cultivation to feed the population, so the idea of a vast land, open for exploitation was intoxication to many thinking of emigrating. But alas, all the lands were already deeded to said wealthy men.

How slaves were treated was at the behest of the wealthy. How the economy and banking was to be handled was determined by the wealthy. How justice was to be served was at the behest of the wealthy.

Oligarchs now, oligarchs then.

Oh, and many of the FFs were wealthy enough to loan substantial amounts of money to the fledgling republic. They were determined to have their debts repaid, so no debt absolution was in the offing. Also, debt was raised into an unassailable position in our economic culture. (Debts must be paid!)

Everything crafted by the FFs supported their position in the new government and culture. Anything capable of challenging their pre-eminence, e.g. religion, was defanged.

And today, we worship the Constitution as if it were some sort of secular sacred literature. The worst are the “strict constructionists” of the legal sort. This attitude is self-serving . . . if you represent the oligarchs . . . because if you want things the way the FFs wanted things, you want things the way oligarchs want things.

As I have criticized Christians for not reading their “inspired by God/word of god/holy scriptures” I think we, as American citizens have failed if we haven’t grappled with who it was who created the Constitution and what their motives were when they did that.

May 15, 2022

Intelligent Design Goes Boom!

Can’t let a Sunday go by without a post about religion. I seem to do this religiously. Does than mean . . . nah! S

The theory of intelligent design has been promoted as a serious competitor to the theory of evolution to explain the current mix of biological species here on Earth. It hasn’t been taken seriously by scientists, however, because it isn’t a scientific theory, etc. But that is not the point I wish to make here (as it has been made over and over and over . . .). I have even made jokes that “intelligent design” might be something a sufficiently powerful alien might pull off because there is nothing in the “theory” of intelligent design that indicates the Christian God did it. The authors of the theory of intelligent design, of course, make no bones about this being the work of a god, specifically their god, the god of fundamentalist Christians. But I wasn’t aware that John Stuart Mill destroyed the theory of intelligent design 150 years ago! Here is a quote displaying Mill’s position:

. . . what is meant by design? Contrivance: the adaptation of means to an end. But the necessity for contrivance—the need of employing means—is a consequence of the limitation of power. Who would have recourse to means if to attain his end his mere word was sufficient? The very idea of means implies that the means have an efficacy which the direct action of the being who employs them has not. Otherwise they are not means but an encumbrance . . . if the employment of contrivance is in itself a sign of limited power, how much more so is the careful and skillful choice of contrivances? Can any wisdom be shown in the selection of means when the means have no efficacy but what is given them by the will of him who employs them, and when his will could have bestowed the same efficacy on any other means? Wisdom and contrivance are shown in overcoming difficulties, and there is no room for them in a being for whom no difficulties exist. (John Stuart Mill, Theism, pp. 33-34, 1874 Edition)

And to summarize Mill’s point, I offer another quote:

As Mill points out, there can be no obstacles to divine omnipotence—no difficulties that God must overcome—because God’s “will” is sufficient to produce any effect. The necessity of employing means to accomplish an end is the consequence of limited power; therefore, God cannot be said to employ means in any sense. Extending this argument, we also realize that God cannot be said to act in any manner, because actions are required only of a being who must resort to some means in order to accomplish a given end. Nor can God be said to have any kind of purpose, because “purpose” entails unfulfilled desires or goals—and these concepts cannot apply to an omnipotent being. (George H. Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God (emphasis mine)

So, can an omnipotent Creator God design anything? Apparently not. And, accordingly, He makes no plans as plans are a contrivance to accomplish something that couldn’t be accomplished without them. So, “God has a plan for you,” uh, not. No purpose, no plan, no designs . . . or omnipotence is off the table. I think maybe it is more than IDT that has gone “boom.”

Postscript I have made this same argument against the existence of angels because an omnipotent being shouldn’t need “messengers” as it would take more effort to explain a task to an angel than to do it itself.

May 12, 2022

Roe v. Wade Politics

I say fuck the GOP, and fuck the current SCOTUS. I also say fuck the Democrats because they decided that having a woman’s abortion rights in play was too important of a political football to be fixed, which they could have done long ago.

Lodging the Roe v. Wade decision in the privacy rights vaguely attested to in the Constitution was a mistake. They should have been lodged in the 4thAmendment to the Constitution, which begins “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”

The states considering laws making anyone who leaves their state pregnant and returns not so to be a criminal will be violating the 4th Amendment. “Alright, lady, turn out your uterus.” Similarly any search of a woman as to their pregnancy is protected from government intrusion. Any ban on abortion pills involves the same problem. To prove their case, they would have to search for a pregnancy before and after the event, which is not allowed. People are to be “secure in their persons.”

May 11, 2022

Judicial Activism Unchecked

In the 1960’s, the real conservatives of the time railed against “judicial activism” which basically meant that courts were legislating from their benches. Well, if that were true, those prior justices were pikers compared to the current Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS).

There are a number of checks on judicial power, the Congresses ability to legislate, etc., but one of the foundational checks on judicial power is the principle of stare decisis.

Stare decisis is a legal doctrine that obligates courts to follow historical cases when making a ruling on a similar case. Stare decisis ensures that cases with similar scenarios and facts are approached in the same way. Simply put, it binds courts to follow legal precedents set by previous decisions. Of course, following this principle, like so many things involving the SCOTUS, is voluntary. (Unlike all lower courts, for example, SCOTUS has no ethics code.)

Just to be complete, a precedent is a principle or rule established in a previous legal case that is either binding on or persuasive without going to courts for a court or other tribunal when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues or facts. (Source: Wikipedia)

Now, here’s the kicker: if the wording “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start” in the leaked Alito opinion remains intact in the final opinion, it basically creates a precedent that precedent no longer exists. It would effectively kill off the legal doctrine of stare decisis as a check on judicial power. All that would be necessary for the court to take off in any direction it wants is to declare that all of the precedents are flawed.

This is not a scare tactic. The court has been blowing off precedents in droves lately. In the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which declared that corporations had the right to donate unlimited amounts of money to political entities, but not candidates or parties, and that money was a form of political speech and so is protected under the First Amendment, the court actually sought out such a case and ignored a great many precedents in ruling on it. Same goes for (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby) which added to the concept that corporations are legally people with the right of free speech, to include that they have religious rights.

Some basic impossibilities are involved here. In the Hobby Lobby decision, the religious beliefs of a corporations owners were decided to be in play. While this may be the case for private corporations, what about pubic corporations? Are not all of the shareholders co-owners of the corporation? Would not any action in this arena therefore require a poll of the shareholders? Have you heard of such a thing?

In Citizen’s United decision, what is this “person” who has these political rights? Is it the owner(s) or just the CEO? Is it the Board of Directors? And, wouldn’t those people also have personal political rights? So, they are creating a class of citizen that isn’t in the “one man, one vote” class. These citizens have multiple votes and multiple channels of free speech. Could not the corporation grant the CEO a “bonus” (for performance, of course, wink, wink, nudge, nudge) which then gets donated to this or that candidate (which the corporation cannot do directly)?

Talk about creating an unnecessary nest of snakes. A fiction created in the 19th Century to facilitate corporations (actually to privilege them) is being turned into an über-citizen creation device. The SCOTUS has been pro-business in the extreme for a long time and we have no reason to believe they will not continue on that path. So, this is by far not the limit of their activism; they are just getting warmed up.

Freedom!

The rats are scurrying to follow-up on the pending gutting of the long-standing Roe v. Wade SCOTUS decision. Some states passed legislation restriction abortion severely, only to be triggered by the voiding of Roe v. Wade. They were thinking ahead. Other states are contemplating new legislation. For example, one state is considering legislation that if you leave the state pregnant and return not-pregnant, that you would be arrested and tried for murder. Other legislation is in the works to ban the sale of the abortion pill (the most common form of abortion currently). Laws making it illegal helping someone across state lines to get an abortion have already been passed. Laws making doctors susceptible to murder charges were they to perform an abortion, too have been passed.

All of these laws were promulgated by the Freedom Caucus of the GOP, you know the people who think that requirements to wear a mask or get a vaccination are infringements upon their personal freedoms. They also seem to believe that voting is not a right but a privilege, hmm.

Apparently “freedoms” are only to be supported if you are white, male, Christian, and vote Republican. And these are not people who believe in “freedom” just what they happen to believe in, the rest of the world be damned.

And whatever happened to “equal protection under the law”? Oh, Justice Alito doesn’t like the 14th Amendment, either? Well, I guess the clock is ticking on that, too.

May 9, 2022

Conservatives No More

I was reading a Medium post on the SCOTUS opinion leak and I ran across this: “In case you haven’t noticed, for the last six years, it has been conservatives consistently disrespecting all our treasured national institutions, precedents, and traditions, not liberals.”

Conservatives, going back to Edmund Burke, were originally trying to conserve things: things like foundational institutions, traditions, social structures, etc. They were inherently against change. They supported churches, the police, “Our Country Right or Wrong,” the military, prisons, schools (yes, schools). I remember arch conservative William F. Buckley saying “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” Occasionally I miss William F. Buckley; he was an honest conservative.

But as the original quote alluded to, recent conservatives seem only to be trying to conserve their political power, and the tool of choice is “the end justifies the means.” So, Republicans stiffing President Obama’s SCOTUS nominee, Merrick Garland, for no reason other than they wanted the power to appoint that replacement, was pulled out of their hat (or ass).

Then there was the Supreme Court, not yet at its full conservative packing level, declaring a number of nonsensical things. It declared certain provisions of the Voting Rights Act were no longer necessary. Sure those states had passed racial voter restrictive policies in the past, but that was the past and this is now. We can trust those states not to do those things again, because well they haven’t done those things in a long time. (Apparently the SCOTUS conservatives were ignoring that the courts didn’t allow those states to do those things as they violated the Voting Rights Act.) So, they abolished those silly, no longer necessary rules and within just days (hours?), a number of states started restricting the voting rights of minority groups. (Texas is nothing if not dependable.) So, did SCOTUS recognize their mistake and admit “Our bad!” and promise to fix it right away? No, what we got were <crickets, crickets, crickets>. What they did was launch a nationwide voter restriction effort by the GOP.

This same court declared corporations to be persons with political rights! Corporations were declared to be corporal entities for business purposes alone (in the nineteenth century). A corporation in trouble could die, thus absolving it of all of its legal problems (oh, and labor contracts), and then be reborn as a new corporation, even though it had all of the same management, employees, etc. The court went further and declared that these corporations had the right to donate unlimited funds to political bodies, because well, money was free speech, right? Right?

So, whether it worked or not, American institutions had to cave to Republican (not conservative) ideology.

Oh, and don’t forget how the SCOTUS, in Bush v. Gore, claimed the right to declare winners of elections, even when there was no precedent and their “winner” did not win the popular vote.

SCOTUS is showing disdain for precedents, even massive ones, and is becoming quite regal in its pronouncements, something the conservatives railed against when there was a fairly liberal court. They called it “judicial activism” and called it the work of the devil. Now that the SCOTUS is packed with conservatives, I hear no complaints from the GOP about judicial activism, even though this current court is far more “judicially active” than those past courts.

And, as to the leak of the SCOTUS opinion re Roe v. Wade, the author of that quoted post felt that it will prove out to have been a conservative leak, weakening those who wanted to soften the opinion, because it would look as if the court softened it in response to public outcries, and was not independent. Sounds like something a conservative, a modern conservative, would do. The end justifies the means, the end justifies the means, repeat after me. . . .

May 6, 2022

Saint Augustine, the Bullshitter

People are still quoting Augustine of Hippo, also known as Saint Augustine, for what reason I cannot say as his writings that survive show him to be a paramount bullshitter, of the highest water. Here is an example:

In the 5th century St. Augustine wrote of the “delayed soul” (originally an Aristotelian concept), this meant males were “given a soul” 40 days after conception, females only received theirs on the 90th day. (This has obvious relevance to SCOTUS deliberations.)

The question I always ask and recommend that you should, too, is “how could he know this?” As a higher up in the church, he could have asked God directly, I suppose, but then his “knowledge” would be based upon just God’s word for it and, being human, he might have got it wrong. However, I am suspicious about anything with the number 40 attached to it in the Bible. How many days did it rain on Noah? 40. How many nights did it rain on Noah? 40. How many days did Jesus wander in the wilderness? 40. How many years did each of the Kings of Israel: Saul, David, and Solomon rule? 40. The number 40 turns up in the Bible 157 times, so this is a suspicious number Augustine used. And why would the soul insertion process for male and female fetuses be any different? Apparently they believed if they didn’t hold women down, label them as inferior, and make them subservient they would take over and rule . . . better than men. (Hmm, that still seems to be the case.)

Augustine also provided us with “What then, brethren, shall we say of God? For if thou hast been able to understand what thou wouldest say, it is not God. If thou hast been able to comprehend it, thou hast comprehended something else instead of God. If thou hast been able to comprehend Him as thou thinkest, by so thinking thou hast deceived thyself. This then is not God, if thou hast comprehended it; but if this be God, thou hast not comprehended it.

Okay, repeat after me: “how could he know this?”

In order to come to this conclusion in any sort of valid way, Augustine must have had a complete knowledge of man’s cognitive powers (then and into the future) and had a complete understanding of who or what his god was. Since we are still playing the game “Define the God!” and our last contestant got to “the ground of all being” (WTF?), I think that if Augustine had nailed that down 16 centuries ago, we wouldn’t still be working on a description of god, now would we?

I have seen a number of impossibility proofs and they all seem to come from mathematics, a synthetic system. An impossibility is an absolute and nature abhors absolutes (with apologies to Aristotle). Proving that everyone is incapable of some task is quite a difficult undertaking. It doesn’t appear that Augustine broke a sweat in doing so.

Also, Augustine is a curious guy. He struggled mightily with his addictions to worldly pleasures, especially sex. He indulged, swore off, indulged, etc. (You know, lather, rinse, repeat, etc.) But his faith in God helped him overcome his weaknesses. Before you ask “the question,” we know this because Augustine said so. And, if you can’t trust the word of moral weaklings, who can you trust?

May 3, 2022

Voters—Is This What You Want?

The consequences of voting Republican are becoming more and more obvious. It this is what you want, then keep voting Republican.

Voter Suppression
Republicans do not believe that “all men are created equal” not even close. By that, by the way, it does not mean that all mean are created with equal abilities, far from it. It means that all people want a decent life, want to have a family and protect themselves and their families from harm, etc. Basically, it means that at a ground level, we all want the same things. Beyond that, for example, only men seem to want to be “the baddest dude in town” and “the richest man in the world.” I have yet to see a woman espouse those desires. But regard the basics, we all want the same thing.
And, like I said Republicans do not believe that, at all. They think some are way better than others: they think White people are better than Black people, they think straight people are better than gay people, they think Christians are better than non-Christians, and they think that people should be treated differently because of those differences.
Do you think voter suppression would be “a thing” if the votes needing to be suppressed were White person votes and not Black and Brown person votes?

Diminishing Women’s Reproductive Rights
The Republicans staged a disingenuous process to pack the Supreme Court with shallow, doctrinaire, political thinkers, meaning the Court’s reputation will continue to sink until people will have lost any faith in its role in our government. (This undermines our democracy, because the courts were supposed to be one of the “checks and balances” on the other branches.)
There is a reason the Republicans have resisted the elimination of the filibuster in the Senate. When the Supreme Court has gone rogue, cutting its ties with prior courts and dumping precedents right and left, then legislation must be passed to make up for that. But a minority in the Senate controls whether anything gets passed and thus we will stagger forward into rule of the minority.

The Rich Getting Richer at the Expense of Everyone Else
The Republican Party used to known as the party of the wealthy, but they have actually franchised the whole party out to its rich donors. The only laws that get past are those favoring the rich. Consequently, the rich have more and more money with smaller and smaller tax bills and the rest of us end up paying for anything we collectively want to do. And the only things the GOP wants to fund are the courts/justice systems and the military. So, they keep giving the military more money than they ask for while our schools are starved for funds and our infrastructure crumbles.

No Separation of Church and State
The GOP wants to give Christians special privileges and many exemptions from our laws, becasue they are so special. If you are a Buddhist, or Muslim, or atheist, or just “spiritual, whatever the fuck that means, well get in line, behind the Christians flying first class.

The Suppression of Unions and Worker’s Rights
They have been grinding away for forty years or more and now we are seek real negative effects. If this continues, we gonna hafta tug our forelocks and address our corporate masters as “massa” and give them no lip or feel the lash.

So, if that is what you want, then continue to vote Republican. Polls of the public and voters in particular show that those things are not what they want. So, let’s take down the Republican Party. If they want our votes, they will have to change their evil ways. If they do not, there are plenty of defunct political parties in the history books they can join.

And, if we reject the Republican Party, that means we are stuck with the Democratic Party, and that is no prize. The Dems dumped their historical foundational groups: working people, minority groups, teachers, and labor unions in the late 70’s, early 80’s. They, like the GOP, only serve their rich donors now. Well, they will have an opportunity. If we take down the GOP, the Dems could wake up and reform from within, and go back to serving all of us . . . in proportion. If not, then it is time for a new party. Yes, I know some people will suggest we go back to the Republicans, claiming everybody deserves a second chance. Well, the GOP is on it’s seventeenth chance, and doesn’t deserve another. Same with the Dems. Reform now. Serve us all, proportionately (No, Repubs, not proportionate to our wealth), or enjoy the view from the dustbin of history.

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