Uncommon Sense

June 11, 2021

The Rent’s Too Damned High

Economic myths dominate our political belief systems. Cory Doctorow recently addressed a number of them (on renting and home ownership) here.

Very much worth reading!

Here’s a taste:

The American middle class didn’t emerge thanks to property ownership — property ownership came about as the result of wage gains due to strong (and hard-fought) labor rights, and as a result of public subsidy for private homebuilding (the GI Bill). Homeownership is a good way to covert gains from the a worker-friendly labor market into something durable and insulated — but it’s no substitute for workers’ rights.

It only took a generation for the dream of homeownership to become a nightmare. Trading labor rights for asset appreciation meant that guaranteed pensions became market-based 401(k)s, turning American workers into the suckers in the financial markets’ casino. As these older workers retire, they are forced to supplement their wholly inadequate pensions by liquidating, remortgaging or reverse-mortgaging the family home. Social Security helps, but not much — without a powerful organized labor movement to defend Social Security, the program has withered, offering a sub-starvation cushion.

May 5, 2021

The Good Samaritan Story and What Everyone Misses

Filed under: History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:41 am
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A recent post on the Medium.com website addressed why Christians aren’t, well, Christians any more (Let’s Stop Pretending Christianity Is Even “Christian” Anymore by Benjamin Sledge). One passage really stuck out. Here it is:

“Here’s something to consider. A core tenet of Christianity is called ‘The Greatest Commandment.’ In it, Jesus commands Christians to “love God and your neighbor as yourself.” He explains everything hangs on this simple, yet profound command. A religious expert then challenges him and asks, ‘Well, who’s my neighbor?’

“Jesus tells a follow-up story that’s now become a pop culture reference entitled “The Good Samaritan.” The story goes that a man is traveling down a road, gets robbed, beaten, and left for dead. A priest and religious man pass him by, but a Samaritan stops and cares for him. Most people assume a Samaritan is someone who stops and does the right thing when others don’t. What everyone misses, however, is that a Samaritan was someone the Jews of antiquity reviled and hated. If we were to recreate the story in America today, it would be the equivalent of a white Klansman stopping to help an African-American member of Antifa. When Jesus asks ‘Which proved to be the neighbor?’ the religious expert is so appalled he can’t even say the word ‘Samaritan.’ Instead he says, ‘The one who showed mercy.’”

Hmm, “what everyone misses . . .”

If one were unaware of the fact that Samaritans were Hebrews, too, but despised by those wedded to the Jerusalem Temple, one hadn’t read much. The Samaritans went so far as to build another temple, when the first temple was torn down by the Babylonians and was not allowed to be rebuilt. When the Jerusalem temple was rebuilt (ca. sixth century BCE), the Samaritans didn’t want to give up their temple and so a war ensued. There was also some animosity between the Samaritans, who were Jews who didn’t get carted off to Babylon, and the “returnees” who wanted the positions their ancestors had when they were carted off. (This is more complex than I have portrayed here, but I suspect you know that, too.)

So, “what everyone misses. . . ?”

The real interesting part of this story is the question “Well, who’s my neighbor?” We all think “our neighbor” is just a stand-in for “our fellow human being” but it was not. You see, the Biblical commandments were for the Hebrews and the Hebrews alone. They did not apply to the other people, so numerously spread out around them. Any Phoenician you came up to and insisted they follow one of the biblical commandments would laugh at you. They had their own religions and their own rules. Hebraic rules did not apply to them.

So, the question “well, who’s my neighbor?” is not a gullible one and did not require the questioner to be “a religious expert” to ask it, because Jesus was implying through this story that God’s commandments applied to more than just the Hebrew people. Remember this is the same Jesus who said “For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished.” But “the law” applied to Hebrews only and here Jesus was making a really big change, claiming they applied to all peoples. The poor guy in the audience was probably thinking “Good luck with enforcing that!”

We Already Have a Word for It

Filed under: Culture,History,language — Steve Ruis @ 8:14 am
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Breaking News! Breaking News!

Napoleon had flaws!

The Guardian ran a recent article regarding the bicentennial anniversary of Napoleon’s death.

“France Still Split Over Napoleon As It Marks Bicentenary of Death, subtitled “President to tread fine line as he lays a wreath to ‘commemorate rather than celebrate’ anniversary.”

“Élisabeth Moreno, the equality minister, admitted Napoleon was “a great figure in French history” but added he was also “one of the great misogynists.”

Egad, mon dieu, say it is not so! Napoleon, a misogynist? Horreurs!

But look, we already have a term for this behavior and all of the others  we “discover” in our histories; they are called “normal.” The word normal has a certain connotation, so here is a definition: “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.” So, if we look at the antebellum South in the U.S. we would expect to find racist bias against black people because that was normal for that time. All around the world, women have been amongst the last “minorities” to receive the right to vote. So, gosh, do you think misogyny was not normal prior to and during those efforts?

Some positively faint to discover that Mark Twain used the “N-word” in his writing, as if that were not normal and Twain, aka Samuel Clemens, was crusading for the use of that word.

If we purge history of all of these flaws, what would be left? I think what you have would be akin to the “redacted” government documents that the government did not want to release in all current entertainments: a document that is black bars and almost nothing but black bars obscuring the text beneath.

Don’t you think that people, reading books set in older times, would discover the N-word, and recognize that word is no longer in use and that there is a reason it is no longer in use? Don’t we think that will be instructive? Or would it be preferable that the entire history surrounding the use of that word be blocked off so that no one would or even could be acquainted with it?

I think we all recognize that common sense is not at all common, but I think we need to create a new category to place some of this past washing efforts into: common stupidity.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

May 3, 2021

The “New” Left

Filed under: Culture,History,language,Politics,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 11:03 am
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In today’s post on the Dead Wild Roses blog, The Arborist, wrote:

“When I came back to Canada in 2014 . . . I left a culture that was steeped in a sentiment that could be summed up as, ‘I may disagree with what you say, but I respect your right to say it.’ I returned to a culture summarized by, ‘I disagree with what you say, so shut up.’ (Obaid Omer)”

“Quashing debate and argument seems to be the name of the game these days, as certain opinions have been designated as unapproachable or ‘settled’ topics. In a society that values the free exchange of ideas almost everything has to be on the table. Odious free-speech must be protected along with the prosaically milquetoast free speech.”

You do follow Arb’s blog, no? If not, you are missing some very good stuff.

Back to my main topic: I have seen comments about how intolerant the left has become and yada, yada, yada and I wondered what the source of these comments were. (I suspect they are from conservative spinmeisters.) Liberal dogma throughout my life has defended the right of those we abhor to speak, but is this changing? Certainly there isn’t much person-to-person public discourse going on during this pandemic, so much of this must be second hand.

I tend to think the anonymity of the Internet is a player once again. Back when discussions were face-to-face, if one said something despicable, there were immediate responses, most unpleasant. We had got to the point that outright racist comments were rare as the consequences were too dire.

But now, if you read something you disagree with, you can flame the author using language you would not get away with out in the open. And the discourse level is often set by the most vociferous.

I think we are still adjusting to social changes such as Internet communication. I remember when “cancel culture” was a feature of the right: book burnings, rock ‘n’ roll record burnings, boycotts against celebrities who took unpopular political stands (Jane Fonda, perhaps, is a good example), etc. The left didn’t do this so much. Now that some of the more liberal bent are using the same tool as the right previously used, the professional whiny bitch conservatives are decrying the “cancel culture” as if it were just invented. (They hate a level playing field, so when a field is leveled, they pivot ninety degrees.)

So, “cancel culture” is not even a thing, certainly not a new thing. It is just us expressing our opinion about another’s speech. In the old days, you got to direct it face-to-face and then through gossip. Today you can marshal many thousands of people’s efforts almost instantaneously.

What we will come up with to rein in this overly exuberant behavior I do not foresee but there will be something. There always is.

It Says So Right on the Label

Filed under: History,language,Medicine,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:00 am
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I was reading the label of an over the counter (OTC) medicine and right on the front it said “No Artificial Sweeteners” and “Contains 44% Xylitol.” Not being a chemist, you might not be confused here.

Xylitol is produced from xylose, a naturally occurring sugar, by both chemical and biological methods. In the chemical process, catalytic hydrogenation of xylose produces the sugar substitute xylitol. In the biological process, quite a few chemical “pretreatments” are needed before biological action (via bacteria or yeast) creates the desired product.

The distinction here between “artificial sweetener” and “xylitol” is “wafer thin” (“Waffer thin” as pronounced by John Cleese in the Monty Python masterpiece “The Meaning of Life.”)

The difficulty is due only to advertising, which is a form of propaganda (which it was called pre-WW2, then propaganda became a “dirty” word). In advertiser lingo there are “bad” words and “good” words. Only “good” words are to be used with one’s own products and only “bad” words are to be used with other products.

For example, here are some “good” words: natural and all-natural, fresh, wholesome, etc. And here are some “bad” words: artificial, synthetic, chemical, etc.

In the above instance xylitol can be found in nature, but it is hard to harvest, so it is synthesized chemically or biologically. Yep, xylitol (chemical names are not capitalized, btw) is artificial (the xylitol they put in that bottle certainly was anyway).

Now, before you go bonkers on me, do realize that butter is artificial. What? Butter isn’t natural? Nope, butter is not natural, certainly not “all-natural.” You can not go pick a pat or two off of a butter bush out back, you know. The word artificial means made through man’s arts. Many things you think are natural aren’t really. For example, you go out into your backyard and pick an apple off of your tree and take a bite. Hmm, natural goodness, right? It seems so (and I have fond memories of doing just that as a child; I can still recall the taste of those apples). But most often it is not. Most fruit trees have been artificially selected to produce “non-natural” fruit, hybrids. Almost all of the plants we eat were never part of nature. We created them though artifice. Artichokes were thistles, corn was this spindly little plant with inedible seeds, sugar beets were tiny little things, not the football-sized things we grow today, and all bananas and grapes had seeds. The change process is called artificial selection to distinguish our efforts from nature’s.

Take the case of aspirin. Aspirin, by far, is the most successful drug ever devised. It’s century plus history began from the recognition that a tea made from willow bark had analgesic properties (the Egyptians knew this). But the tea was bitter as hell and if you used a bit too much it gave you a very upset stomach. Much later, it was discovered that the active ingredient in the willow bark tea was salicylic acid. An effort was made to find a chemical variant of salicylic acid that was still potent by which didn’t have those side effects. Since salicylic acid is a carboxylic acid, one attempt was to turn it into an ester, a much less irritating class of compounds. Aspirin is the ester formed from salicylic acid and acetic acid, the active ingredient in vinegar, and a star was born. Aspirin is artificial and I am happy about that.

Just being “natural” is not a sign of “good” or “safe.” Rattlesnake venom, arsenic, and monkey dung are all natural but I don’t want any of them in my body. In foods and pharmaceuticals, if a natural substance shows some promise, it is studied to see if modifications could make it better. In the case of pharmaceuticals, if they are strictly chemical we look to see if we can synthesize it as a lower cost/higher volume process of creating it. Instead of extracting rare colored dyes from clams, we can synthesize what we want and have more variety and permanence. This is what we do.

Problems arise when what we synthesize isn’t recognized by the biological process responsible for the breakdown and recycling of our wastes (they are not natural you see). We are currently experiencing these problems with oceanic plastic waste and microfiber residues in all natural waters.

A Side Note Question—What kills more fish: chemical pollutants or plastic waste? The answer is: commercial fishing. We kill via this method orders of magnitude more fish than all of the sources of pollution put together. I mention this because we have blind spots and advertisers take advantage of them.

April 23, 2021

You Learn Something New . . . about Nazis . . . Every Day

Filed under: Culture,History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:45 am
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I have been reading an interesting book “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933–45” by Milton Mayer which I have commented on before. Most recently (I am a little over half way through), I learned something that contradicted claims I have made. In the past I responded to the claim that the Nazi movement was atheistic by denying that claim outright. I countered with the facts that Hitler was a Catholic and never renounced his religion and the SS belt buckle emblazoned with “Gott Mit Uns,” that is “God is with us” or, as we like to say, God is on our side, und so weiter.

Well, according to the actual Nazis interviewed in this book (in the 1950s), I was “somewhat wrong.” In the early days the Nazi leadership did not pick fights with the churches in Germany. Not that they would have gotten much of a fight; Germany’s churches were state churches supported by taxes and so were more than a little lax in their duties to parishioners.

But after a while, maybe 1940 onward, the Nazi regime started shifting to a stance of not a state-sponsored religion but a religion of the state, the Nazi’s own religion designed to take the place of the pre-existing religions, which would have been eventually banned out of existence. (Their plans extended to “after the war.”)

Of course, the Nazi leadership ran into a little hiccup, actually two: the Red Army in the east and the “Allied Forces” in the west and their plans never came to fruition.

Now, I must clarify, that the Nazis weren’t even thinking of creating an “atheistic” religion. Religion is too powerful as a tool to throw away its most powerful bits. They were designing a new religion in which the God was a thinly disguised stand-in for the German state or the German people. So, not atheistic except in the sense that your god is kinda-sorta being rejected. (Remember that Christians were considered atheists because they refused to recognize the other gods in the Roman panoply.)

So, I stand corrected . . . somewhat. :o)

Greed, Capitalism, and Fixing It

I will start by quoting myself:

The Achilles Heel of capitalism is that there is no limit to greed. (Me)

This is hardly a novel position. As evidence I offer:

“No bound is set on riches for men” (Solon)

“Money is like sea water: The more you drink, the thirstier you get.” (a Roman proverb)

“Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10)

The problem at the core of this problem is that wealth translates into political power. People with great wealth can use their wealth to buy political attention to their needs. Those needs always address their interests, the primary of which is maintaining and expanding their wealth.

So the big question is: “How do we fix this flaw” in the grand American experiment in self-governance? If greed results in the collapse of our society, as history shows that it will, how do we address it?

At first I was thinking of a bottom-up solution constructed of social pressures. One idea was that when people earn certain levels of wealth we would slap titles on them. Say, one a millionaire we would refer tot hem with the title of A Really Big Deal or Fat Cat. As their wealth increased with would come up with more and more disparaging titles that we would use publicly. Maybe at the ten million dollar wealth plateau, they would be Rich Assholes. At the Jeff Bezos level, maybe Filthy Rich Money-grubbing Obnoxious Asshole.

I have decided this won’t work as people have the attention spans of gnats nowadays and would be distracted by Brittany Spears news or something equally irrelevant, and stop following through.

There is a method that has worked for us and could work again and that is progressive taxation. During World War 2 the highest income tax bracket was close to 100%. Now, to clarify, that taxation rate was on earnings over $100,000 dollars when the average worker was making about $1885 per year (1942 figure). So, two points: this tax rate didn’t kick in until one had made $100,000 and only applied to the money earned after that $100,000 was earned. And $100,000 represented 53 times what the average worker made!

We generally craft tax brackets so there are small jumps in the tax rate between any two categories but that isn’t necessary. It could be 39% and then after $250,000 it could jump to 95%.

The consequences of doing this were made obvious when we had this system deployed. One consequence was that CEO salaries were about 20 time that of the average worker in their corporations instead of the 250-350 times we see now. And, instead of paying their CEOs ever more money, stock options, etc. They were treated with the trappings, or as they called them the perquisites, of their offices. They had lavishly decorated offices, with very expensive art work on the walls. They had company cars and trips on company airplanes, clothing budgets, and on and on. Many of these are now necessary to be declared as “income” for tax purposes, but they were not necessarily back then.

Of course to change the tax codes along these lines we would need to take back control of our Congress, but no matter what solution we come up with that task will be at the core, otherwise the wealth of the rich will result in laws undermining any system we set up.

And as part of the results of that “natural experiment” in economics that were our progressive tax rates after WW2, we found out that American corporations could be lead by leaders to become pre-eminent in the world without making 200 times or even 50 times, what their average worker made. CEOs have gamed the system to their benefit, not their corporations and not ours.

And, as you might not know, President Franklin Roosevelt brought the “captains of industry” and their ilk to the White House to strong arm them into accepting the high marginal tax rates with little to no protest using the scare of the Socialist Party of America, then one of the the largest socialist organizations in the world, and Labor Unions to make his point. They had to be given something otherwise labor chaos would result. (No business type likes labor chaos.).

Of course, priority one for the fat cats after WW2 was the destruction of the Socialist Party of America, which ceased operations on December 31, 1972 (and not because their goals had been met—Note another Socialist party rose from the ashes, in 1973, but it was and still is much smaller and almost entirely without political influence). And, as you probably know, union jobs in the US have shrunk from about a third in the 1950’s to around 7% today. This is due to a concerted effort on the part of the rich to de-fang labor unions, Our neighbor Canada still has the same level of union jobs as they had in the 1950’s, likewise about 33%, but they had no organized political effort to disempower their unions.

April 20, 2021

The Invention of Whiteness

Filed under: Culture,Economics,History,Race — Steve Ruis @ 10:02 am
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This is an excerpt from The Invention of Whiteness: The Long History of a Dangerous Idea in today’s The Guardian that renders the idea that religion is harmless a lie.

If you asked an Englishman in the early part of the 17th century what colour skin he had, he might very well have called it white. But the whiteness of his skin would have suggested no more suitable basis for a collective identity than the roundness of his nose or the baldness of his head. If you asked him to situate himself within the rapidly expanding borders of the known world, he would probably identify himself, first and most naturally, as an Englishman. If that category proved too narrow – if, say, he needed to describe what it was he had in common with the French and the Dutch that he did not share with Ottomans or Africans – he would almost certainly call himself a Christian instead.

That religious identity was crucial for the development of the English slave trade – and eventually for the development of racial whiteness. In the early 17th century, plantation owners in the West Indies and in the American colonies largely depended on the labour of European indentured servants. These servants were considered chattel and were often treated brutally – the conditions on Barbados, England’s wealthiest colony, were notorious – but they were fortunate in at least one respect: because they were Christian, by law they could not be held in lifetime captivity unless they were criminals or prisoners of war.

Africans enjoyed no such privilege. They were understood to be infidels, and thus the “perpetual enemies” of Christian nations, which made it legal to hold them as slaves. By 1640 or so, the rough treatment of indentured servants had started to diminish the supply of Europeans willing to work on the sugar and tobacco plantations, and so the colonists looked increasingly to slavery, and the Atlantic-sized loophole that enabled it, to keep their fantastically profitable operations supplied with labour.

The plantation owners understood very well that their cruel treatment of indentured Europeans, and their even crueler treatment of enslaved Africans, might lead to thoughts – or worse – of vengeance. Significantly outnumbered, they lived in constant fear of uprisings. They were particularly afraid of incidents such as Bacon’s Rebellion, in 1676, which saw indentured Europeans fighting side-by-side with free and enslaved Africans against Virginia’s colonial government.

To ward off such events, the plantation owners initially sought to protect themselves by giving their “Christian” servants legal privileges not available to their enslaved “Negroes”. The idea was to buy off the allegiance of indentured Europeans with a set of entitlements that, however meagre, set them above enslaved Africans. Toward the end of the 17th century, this scheme witnessed a significant shift: many of the laws that regulated slave and servant behaviour – the 1681 Servant Act in Jamaica, for example, which was later copied for use in South Carolina – began to describe the privileged class as “whites” and not as “Christians”.

One of the more plausible explanations for this change, made by Rugemer and the historian Katharine Gerbner, among others, is that the establishment of whiteness as a legal category solved a religious dilemma. By the 1670s, Christian missionaries, including the Quaker George Fox, were insisting that enslaved Africans should be inducted into the Christian faith. The problem this posed for the planters was obvious: if their African labourers became Christians, and no longer “perpetual enemies” of Christendom, then on what legal grounds could they be enslaved? And what about the colonial laws that gave special privileges to Christians, laws whose authors apparently never contemplated the possibility that Africans might someday join the faith?

The planters tried to resolve the former dilemma by blocking the conversion of enslaved Africans, on the grounds, as the Barbados Assembly put it in 1680, that such conversion would “endanger the island, inasmuch as converted negroes grow more perverse and intractable than others”. When that didn’t work (the Bishop of London objected) they instead passed laws guaranteeing that baptism could not be invoked as grounds for seeking freedom.

But the latter question, about privileges for Christians, required the colonialists to think in a new way. No longer could their religious identity separate them and their servants from enslaved Africans. Henceforth they would need what Morgan called “a screen of racial contempt”. Henceforth, they would need to start thinking of themselves as white.

April 17, 2021

We Are All In This Together

Filed under: Culture,History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:43 pm
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In a comment on another post, my friend shelldigger (he never clams up, have you noticed? :o) said this:

“Well, unfortunately the sort of thing that pulls people of differing views together, in the short term anyway, is some sort of disaster/immediately justifiable war/or tragedy of enormous consequence. Even then it won’t last long. We have to figure out how to overcome the lie machine that is right wing media.”

In response, I started by typing this “People seem to have come up with ideas for new religious concepts that have taken off and acquired a following. Could not a secular idea do the same? It is claimed that the feeling/idea of “we are all in this together” worked to fuel the US economy after WW2. It seems that such a concept could be used to create a new attitude toward one another. I am inspired, by myself, to write on this . . . :o)”

Okay, brace yourself, Bridget!

♠ ♣ ♥ ♦

We Are All In This Together
If your next door neighbor decided that he was going to dispose of his household trash and garbage by throwing it over your fence, would you like that? I picked this question because of its mind-numbing obviousness. Of course, you would not like that. Maybe if you were titanically confrontation adverse you might just pick it up and dispose of it with your household trash, but I don’t think that would happen all that much.

So, why don’t neighbors do such things? Maybe it is the repercussions, you know, your irate neighbor pounding on your door, or throwing your trash and garbage back into your swimming pool, those kinds of things.

Well, we have been doing exactly this for centuries now. We adopted the practices when we lived farther apart and maintained them as we have moved to living closer together. We have all dumped air pollution into our local atmospheres, to be breathed in by one and all. We have dumped our pollution, trash, and sewage in our streams and rivers to be shared with those downstream. (One of President Trump’s acts was to remove the stricture placed on coal mining companies from dumping toxic mine tailings into public streams and rivers. Thanks Donald!) A recent study showed that at best, about 3% of our planet’s surface has remained unaffected by man’s presence. There is garbage strewn all over the place on the summit of Mount Everest, for Pete’s sake.

And if you think we were any different in pre-historic times, think again. I grew up on the San Francisco peninsula. Researchers there discovered mounds, small hills, of shellfish shells there. What they learned is that the native Americans would set up a camp nearby, for months or longer, and strip everything edible from the landscape. All of the shells were thrown in a midden pile. When the pickings became slim, they packed up and moved on to another traditional “hunting ground.” After some time the area recovered and the tribes would return and do it again, and again, and again, leaving small hills of the shells of their efforts for future generations to find.

Studies show that rainwater and waters from high mountains now contain polyester and other microfibers in them, as do all of the fish we harvest from the oceans and lakes.

The time is right for the message “we are all in this together.” The CO2 dumped in the air in Florida, affects us here in Illinois. Pollution created in China, affects countries half way around the planet.

We are dumping our garbage over our neighbor’s fence.

Can’t we all get along? Rodney King asked this (after being brutally beaten by LA cops) but his question never got answered.

We are at a point in human history where this question seriously needs to be addressed.

Why?

Because we are all in this together and we can no longer ignore that fact.

April 13, 2021

Why Religion?

Filed under: Culture,History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:10 pm
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There are myriad reasons offered for why religions exist, most are unsatisfactory (even the ones I have offered. It is clear that the topic is worth writing about but most of the explanations for religion focus on people as its creators. This I can accept up to the beginning of organized religions, which created along with accompanying civilizations pretty much in lock step. I think the evolution of religious concepts passed from the people to the elites when we became “civilized.” What this means is if you are still asking questions about why people this or why people that when it comes to organized religions, you are probably looking in the wrong place for the “whys” you seek. I think the only power individuals have when addressing religious innovations is whether or not they accept them.

In Pascal Boyer’s rather brilliant book “Religion Explained” he does a survey of all of the common explanations for why religion exists and basically dispatches them all as being possibly part of the reason by not the main reason for the existence of religions. religion large, complex; explanations small, simple.)

One point Boyer makes is that “The main problem with our spontaneous explanations of religion lies in the very assumption, that we can explain the origin of religion by selecting one particular problem or idea or feeling and deriving the variety of things we now call religion from that unique viewpoint.”

“But we should approach the question from another angle. Indeed, we can and should turn the whole “origin” explanation upside down, as it were, and realize that the many forms of religion we know are the outcome not of a historical diversification but of a constant reduction. The religious concepts we observe are relatively successful ones selected among many other variants.”

“To explain religion we must explain how human minds, constantly faced with lots of potential ‘religious stuff’, constantly reduce it to less stuff.”

I feel that the cultural appropriation of religion as a tool to coerce the labor of the masses to the benefit of the elites is a major powerful shaper of religion. The example I give, possibly too often, is “would Christianity have been adopted by Rome as a state religion if it were anti-slavery?” Since Rome was the greatest slave state in the western world (possibly the whole world) at the time, I think not. If Christianity were not made a state religion of Rome, would it have been in position to flow into the vacuum left when Rome collapsed and thus become a major political force in Europe thereafter? Again, I think not.

So, is the current status of Christianity as a “major religion” globally due to the ideas it contains and how they resonate in the minds of individual Christians? I think not. I think it stems from the utility of Christianity in controlling the masses under the secular powers. To quote Boyer again “Churches and other such religious organizations are notorious for their active participation in and support for political authority. This is particularly the case in oppressive regimes that so often try to find some support in religious justifications.”

In my lifetime, Russia as part of the Soviet Union, was considered an atheistic regime. When the Soviet Union fell, the organized religions of Russia were allowed to reopen their churches, with the new regime’s support, but do you know the bargain that was struck for that to happen? When the Russian churches reopened, they all seemed to be supporters of their fearless leader, Vladimir Putin, and never direct an ill word his direction. Apparently, leash accepted. Unlike the Hebrews of the OT, the Russian Orthodox Church did not refuse the yoke with a stiff neck.

So, while the psychology of individual human beings is the field religions are planted in, it is no longer the source of the religious ideas. The elites provide these. (Remember limbo? It was and now is not a religious idea that is in favor. Did this change come from individual Christians? I don’t think so.)

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