Class Warfare Blog

October 15, 2017

Sunday Religion Tidbit: Jesus Hates Fags?

The problem with Christianity is Christians. The most obvious idiots that prove this point are the members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, KS. (Remember Fred Phelps, their pastor? Surely he is burning in Hell right now … if he was right about all of that.) These are the lovely people with the God Hates Fags posters. They clearly don’t know their scripture because in Mark 11:13 it clearly shows that God hates figs. Figs, people, not fags.

Idiots.

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October 7, 2017

Why Religion?

Christian spin doctors often ask: If there is no god, why is religion so popular, why are there so many believers? Good question.

Us philosophical types are often told the reason for religion is fear of death. There is even a book out now that blames everything on a subconscious fear of death. I find this argument dissatisfying because we have separated ourselves from death so much. In our past, death was very much more common. Children died more often than they lived. Adults died in conflicts, armed robberies, casual violence, accidents, child birth, etc. Most often, if one got sick, people merely prayed you got better, so disease claimed many. Malnutrition left people vulnerable to disease and in many places there was enough to eat (bread and onions was a common meal), but not enough variety to avoid malnutrition. And the number of women who died in ordinary child birth is enough to make you cry.

Now, most of those things are now rare (except deaths during births; among rich countries, the U.S. is #1). I don’t think we encounter death much at all. Our pets live decades instead of a few years. Local wild animal life has been driven out by car traffic and human occupation. (People who point to urban animals, e.g. coyotes in Boston, have no idea what the wild animal life density there was when Boston was a small town. Hint: it was much, much higher.)

We just do not experience death at the same rates as we used to. So, we just don’t think about it much at all as it is not brought to mind. We do, however, experience pain and suffering on a much more frequent and more personal basis than death. Until quite recently, ordinary people led lives in which there was almost unrelenting suffering for long periods. Think about a toothache that might send you to an emergency dentist and what it would feel like if you just had to live with it. Think about breaking your leg and, even if someone knew how to set the bones, you would not be able to work your fields for 4-5 weeks and you might lose a crop which means you might lose your life or your farm. You might be permanently crippled from a poorly set bone break or get gangrene and die. Think about the food-borne diseases you would suffer as you had no cold storage or access to fresh vegetables for months at a time as everything was seasonal.

Religion, I believe, is a response to widespread human suffering. (Talk about a market segment for your product/service: 100% of all humans.) Even royals didn’t escape suffering if our histories are to be trusted. They might have avoided some diseases because of their wealth but they found ones to replace them (gout, obesity, diabetes, etc.).

By offering solace and promising relief from suffering, religions have leverage on all human beings, with continuing reinforcement in the form of continuing suffering. Christianity cast suffering as normal. Buddhism offers relief from suffering as its main attraction.

But, other than false platitudes and false promises, is any relief provided? While I am sure theists will come up with something that appears to be relief, I can counter any list of such items with a much longer list of the exact opposites. Christian theists opposed the use of medicine because only prayer could exorcise the demons responsible for illnesses, for example. The successful use of herbs with curative powers got a woman categorized as a healer? No, as a witch. (You shall not permit a witch to live!) Just that one religious “practice” would take a long list of minor reliefs of suffering to offset.

But was the relief from suffering the end reason for religion or was it simply used as a tool? I argue that since no real relief was provided (in the best cases it was something akin to the placebo effect), it was not the object. The real object of a religion is power and because those seeking relief exchanged power (through obedience—Popes launched the Crusades, for example) for their faux relief, religion keeps working, and working, and working (the Energizer Bunny of scams).

But there is something new now and the religious feel it in their bones. A war on religion? No, in countries like Costa Rica and the Scandinavian countries, which are taking care of their citizens (“we” take care of “us”), religion is declining, rapidly declining. You want to diminish religion, get national healthcare! These and similar programs offer real, tangible relief from human suffering and in the absence of suffering, the fake relief sold by religions seems hollow and insubstantial.

There is a reason why religions have lasted so long and are still popular, but have faith … real relief is on the way.

Note I cannot but recognize that religion is strong in the U.S. simultaneous with massive wealth inequality and a total lack of political will to have “we” take care of “us.” There is a lot of back scratching being done between the religious and the greedy.

October 4, 2017

Guns, Guns, and More Guns … But of What Types?

The guns of the Las Vegas mass shooter, used and unused, have been recovered and, once again, we have to ask, what use is there for these kinds of weapons?

There are legitimate uses for firearms that I will not argue against. Firearms used for personal safety is one such category, although I believe that the argument for their effectiveness is based more upon fiction (books and movies, etc.) than upon reality, so I am just setting this category aside for the moment. Guns used for hunting I feel are legitimate. But what possible use is there for automatic or rapid fire weapons, often called (misleadingly) assault rifles? There are just two uses I see: for recreation and for killing large numbers of people. The second reason was why those weapons were designed in the first place. Before such weapons were supplied to soldiers, who became familiar with their use, there was no recreational rapid fire market at all. So, seriously, those weapons were  weapons of war designed to kill as many people as one could, as quickly as one could, and for no other purpose.

So, starting with the recreational uses, I support their use recreationally but in authorized and regulated sites set aside for that purpose. Just as you do not need to own an RV to experience a vacation in an RV … you can rent one … you do not need to own an automatic or rapid fire rifle to experience one. I think it would be great fun blazing away for an hour or so, and this would be much cheaper than owning the weapon. You just wouldn’t have access to one 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. Scattering thousands upon thousands of these weapons throughout our society is just asking for trouble, and that is exactly what we have gotten. (Note: from 2000 to 2010, approximately 2,000,000 rifles were manufactured “for domestic use” by American manufacturers, about 20% of which fit a description of “AR-15 type.” I also presume that foreign manufacturers haven’t decided to forgo the lucrative U.S. market out of the goodness of their hearts, so I can’t imagine how many “other” weapons of this type are in circulation. Do the math, people.)

There is another use for these weapons, a use which is of a subset of “killing large numbers of people” reasons: that of opposition governmental tyranny. I feel I must address this as some folks are putting this forward as a reason why they need these weapons.

Seriously? If you think like this, you are saying that you, with or without your buddies, armed with the semiautomatic weapons available today, have a snowball’s chance in Hell of going toe to toe with the Fifth Cavalry … successfully. Ask the people in Ruby Ridge how that worked out. The “guvmint” has men and weapons in quantities that would … and should … overwhelm any such uprising in milliseconds. Imagine your doughty little troop of patriots and how they would feel when an armored helicopter showed up with a couple of M61 Vulcan cannons capable of firing 6000 rounds per minute. They would probably have to identify your remains through DNA testing as there wouldn’t be much in the way of bodies left to identify through dental records and the like. And, remember, this is the Fifth Cavalry and the tanks haven’t shown up as yet.

The idea of “we need these weapons to oppose government tyranny” is likewise based more upon fiction (books and movies, etc.) than upon reality.

So, there are legitimate reasons why people should be allowed to own and possess guns, but in civilized countries, those owners and their guns are heavily regulated … for the protection of the rest of us. When the Second Amendment of the Constitution was written (and I will point out that since it was an amendment, it was not thought important enough to include in the first version) the population of the US was under four million people. I currently live in a city in which there are roughly nine million people living in a fifty mile radius of here. A gun fired off in 1789, at a deer, or a marauder, was unlikely to hit a bystander (although more than a few did, consider the Boston Massacre). Now, a gun fired off is almost guaranteed to hit someone other than a participant in the original dispute. Imagine the scenario in Las Vegas, if all of the concert goers were “packing heat” and “returned fire” when they realized they were being shot at, what do you think the consequences would have been. (Note—most people “hit the deck” when they realized they were being shot at, unaware they were being shot at from high above and were still exposed. Where they may have returned fire is anyone’s guess.) The conditions which that Amendment was written for have changed substantially.

Also, we have to get a lot smarter at this. Allowing Americans to be mowed down so that gun manufacturers can keep their profits high is insanity. Having hunting weapons in New York City is insane. There is nothing to hunt except other people. Having hunting weapons in rural Montana is sane. All of the rules need not apply in all locations, but there need to be sane rules. The Swiss have gun rules up the yin-yang, and they have almost as many guns as we do, but nowhere near as many deaths due to gun fire. They are sane; we are not.

October 3, 2017

GOP Gets What It Wants: Guns and Prayers

As we go through the usual fruitless discussions on the gun regulations we need but won’t get after yet one more mass killing using readily available guns, it is clear that the GOP is getting what it wants. In thrall to the NRA, a lobbying organization with fewer than five million members, the GOP wants no new gun regulations and has even moved to eliminate some of the ones we have. (It is puzzling to me that a lobby like the NRA, which has maybe one eighth as many members as, say, does AARP, has such power over a political party. Heck, it also wields great power over the Dems, too. It is puzzling.)

It is clear that Americans want sensible gun regulations in contrast with the NRA, which wants none. The motivation for the NRA is, of course, sales for its supporting corporations, the gun and ammunition manufacturers. So, Americans are dying in numbers greater than most other advanced nations combined, to support the corporate profits of those companies. And Congresspeople don’t care where their money comes from, apparently.

So, the GOP will triumph, again, as they will continue to receive money and votes for not passing gun legislation.

Which leaves people with nothing but their prayers, which have not been effective as is the case with all prayers, but if they are all you have, they are worth a try. These prayers further another GOP goal, that of moving us toward becoming a theocracy, a deep desire of the evangelical base of the GOP.

More guns, more prayers: the GOP agenda in action!

 

September 27, 2017

Failing to Ax Your Health Insurance the GOP Turns Its Gaze Onto Tax Cuts … for the Wealthy

Not only do they want to cut the individual rates for rich people, they want to cut corporate taxes that will result in those corporations funneling the tax savings to their executives and shareholders, yep, the rich again.

This is must reading! http://reclaimtheamericandream.org/2017/09/inside-tax-cut-job-growth-myth/

They will claim this will create jobs … all evidence to the contrary including according a Republican Congressional study in 2012.

September 26, 2017

Lying for Jesus, Part … Oh, For Pity’s Sake

I was wondering the other day how it is that the human population of the Earth could have reached its current level, ca. 7,600,000,000, from just the six survivors of the Bible’s Great Flood. Unsurprisingly, it was oh, so easy to find apologetic rationales of how that could have happened. By using quite reasonable numbers for estimates any number of sources can tell you that this is no problemo, bebé! But reasonable sounding numbers, picked out of a hat, aren’t necessarily accurate numbers.

So, I looked up a number of scientific population estimates for the population of the world in 2348 BCE, the presumed date of the Great Flood. The average estimate was 66,3001,302. This was based upon four careful calculations with the most liberal estimate being 90,205,000 and the most conservative being 21,512,000, with two others in between those extremes. These varied a great deal due to the unknowns involved. So, if one estimates global population by back tracking from historical records one ends up with about 60,000,000 people … not 6.

The title of this post includes the word lying, partly because there is a book using that phrase, but this is, at a bare minimum, a case of willful delusion. When I research a topic, if the numbers don’t support my premise, I generally shrug and move on. Sometimes I am motivated to dig deeper, but if I come up empty, I keep my mouth shut. This is not the case for Christian apologists. Often, if the numbers don’t add up, they look for numbers that do, and if those numbers sound reasonable, they use them to “make their point,” their real point being the presumption that the Bible is right, everybody else is wrong.

This pattern, well established for centuries now, is focused upon reinforcing the belief of the gullible, not on convincing unbelievers. And, it is manipulative, dishonest, and unbecoming of someone who promotes him- or herself as being morally superior. So, why do they do it?

My best guess is this is an intensely human activity. We all, from time to time, have the attitude of “What do those experts know? They are just a bunch of nerds.” or the equivalent. We disparage the messenger because we do not like the message. In politics, calling a politician a liar because we do not like what they say is acceptable, because all politicians are liars (it is part of the official job description: “Must be able to lie convincingly”). We just do not know whether they are liar on this particular point. But to claim that scientists who have studied a topic extensively are mistaken, because you have a back-of-an-envelope calculation that says so is violently hubristic.

We atheists are called militant because we dare to speak directly to theistic perfidy. It is time we refer to all apologists as “militant apologists” as they are conducting a campaign in which anything you do to “the enemy” is okay by their supporters. (This is war!).

September 21, 2017

Wealth Concentration Has Consequences, Severe Ones

I guess I can’t recommend to economic good sense of Yves Smith enough. In her latest post, Insanely Concentrated Wealth is Strangling our Prosperity she makes the simple point, and backs it up with irrefutable evidence, that the biggest problem with wealth concentration is that the wealthy don’t spend their wealth. As they accumulate more and more, that is wealth taken out of circulation, and becoming idle it does no one else any good. Job Creators, my ass.

September 6, 2017

On Dependency

He’s a good boy and a better science writer than I ever was. Go buy a copy!

I am reading my son’s new book (Eating to Learn, Learning to Eat by A.R. Ruis) which addresses the history of school lunch programs in the U.S. One of the “concerns” that comes up frequently in the political debates is the “fear of dependency” if kids were to receive a free lunch at school everyday. (Yes, I know. It just goes to show you how many fucking morons there are.) This was not much of a debate for parents but was for the rich (White) power structures of American cities.

The evidence that children showed up at school either malnutritioned or just plain hungry were readily available. Kids were also diseased and pest ridden back in the day. That many men couldn’t pass a physical to be inducted into the Army for World War I made school lunches a national issue as well.

This is not my topic. My topic is the “dependency” claim made by conservatives and conservative interests. The conservatives have used loaded and coded language for all of my life in these debates. The “dependency” fear mongering is steeped in racism and politics.

The reason conservatives eschew giving “handouts” to poor people is not that such will make them dependent, although they hammer on that drum insistently. Their real fear is that poor people will become politically dependent on the people who are providing the assistance and then will vote for them. Conservatives do not want to get into a competition as to which political party, say, can be in charge of the “handouts” because that will just inflate the size of the assistance through competition, so they do not want to play that game. But neither do they want the Democrats, say, to become the party that provides the assistance and then gets the votes. It is not about dependency but to whom they would be dependent.

On top of that they believe that the votes of poor people will be for ever increasing “handouts” that will then require increased tax revenues from the rich to support them. So, they fear monger: such assistance promotes “dependency, is “socialism,” etc. Actually they also believe that the poor are not worthy. The Black and Brown poor are obviously not worthy, but neither are the White poor, even the working White poor. In the mind of Conservatives, if those people were worthy, they wouldn’t need assistance! Talk about a prosperity gospel … in reverse.

We are all familiar with the parental advice to not feed stray cats and dogs as the family will soon have a new pet to feed. I spin this when visiting old friends or relatives I haven’t seen in a while when the topic of their children comes up. They are invariably bigger than the last time I saw them so I say “I warned you what will happen if you fed them!”

If you feed a child or a hungry adult, all you are doing is reducing the amount of hunger in the world and allowing them to grow or live normally. You do not draw the line there. If your Vegan neighbor crashes your barbecue party and complains to you about the menu … that’s where you draw the line.

August 17, 2017

Indoctrinating Children

Filed under: Morality,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:01 pm
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As I mentioned in my last two posts, I have been reading a fascinating book (Philosophers without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life by Louise M. Antony, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition.) which has already prompted a number of posts including this one (for now). All were prompted by ideas read in that very book. (I recommend that book to you if you are inclined to read philosophy/philosophers.)

This post comes from my response to a statement in Chapter 6: Overcoming Christianity by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. Obviously this snippet is only a small part of a much larger essay but I found it striking. Here it is:

My point is just that Christianity was so pervasive that any child who grew up in such an environment would be susceptible. Religious thoughts would become automatic. If someone had asked me if I believed in God, I would have answered, “Of course,” not because I had thought about it, but because I had not thought about it.

The author is describing his upbringing in one of the more Christianity-steeped regions of this country, one in which Jesus is woven into the culture down to the phrases people use when speaking. He points out that every child wants to please or appease these immensely powerful beings who are his/her parents and their adult companions. He describes a religious indoctrination that assumes what his beliefs will be because a religious instruction, unlike a secular one, is not designed to teach a child to think for himself, it is designed to instruct what one is to think, not how.

So, when such a child goes off to get schooling in even a different Christian community, well, things get learned and things get unlearned. In this case a great deal was unlearned.

Why do we allow children to be subjected to such indoctrinations? I tend to believe that even apostates and atheists have been trained not to speak up and the push back on these practices. It isn’t “nice” or “civil.” It is rude and an attack upon people who do a lot of good. (I have written separately on how little charity is done by religious institutions, much of which occurs in mundane circumstances, e.g. is a Catholic hospital a charity when they charge for services just like any other hospital?) Think about any nasty cult you have in memory: Moonies, scientologists, the People’s Temple and Jim Jones, etc. Would you want your children subjected to their indoctrination? Do you want any child subjected to such? Why are some indoctrinations acceptable but others are not?

I suspect fundamentalist Christians would disapprove of all Muslim or Hindu indoctrinations, socialist or communist indoctrinations, but be okay with Christian and conservative political indoctrinations. It all depends on whose scared cow is on the barbecue.

August 15, 2017

I’m An Atheist and I’m Okay ♫ (A Sing Along!)

Filed under: Morality,Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:50 pm
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There is some benefit to having what is called a “cartoon mind.” In the midst of yet another tedious discussion initiated by a Christian troll, aka Internet Christian apologist, I hear in my mind’s ear the baritone voices of the Monty Python Flying Circus troupe singing not “I’m a Lumberjack and I’m okay,” but “I’m an Atheist and I’m Okay.”

The standard trope of these apologists is that without a belief in a god (their god, of course), our lives have no meaning, with no moral compass, leaving us depraved and adrift in society. Our standard response is that because we know our lives are limited, we enjoy them more and work harder to create something of value to us and those around us. The end result of this exchange of position statements is, of course, no greater understanding or appreciation. It is like a set piece, a joseki in a life. (How’s that for an obscure reference? Go ahead; look it up.)

So, I felt I owed it to my sense of fairness to examine the position of the apologists to see what I am missing, if anything. So, here goes. Their view is rooted in the belief that they possess something called an immortal soul. This, apparently, is one kind of “soul,” an entity which does not seem to be definable, not is there any evidence of its existence. All of that aside, this immortal soul lives on after they die. It doesn’t stay here apparently, but moves to one of two places: Heaven or Hell. Heaven is a place of indescribable joy and Hell a place of indescribable torment. I capitalize these place names to differentiate them from more mundane uses of the words and I say indescribable in each case because there is no coherent description of either place, nor are there locations for them other than vague references to “above” for Heaven and “below” for Hell. I believe these “directions” are based upon a common axis available to human beings. Because of gravity, we all possess a common reference direction of up and down. Left and right are much more confusing as they depend on which direction we are facing, not so for up and down. So, we map all kinds of things onto up-down axes. We say things like “I am feeling up today!” and “The Stock Market is down today!” when both of these things have nothing to do with up or down directions. Also, our social hierarchies are mapped so, therefore as we “elevate” our position in society, we find more people beneath us and fewer above, so the ultimate is being on top. Conversely as we sink down to depravity, we find fewer people beneath us, so the worst situation is to be at the bottom. Heaven equals top, Hell equals bottom, emotional responses are built in to these directions and locations.

So, how would I act if I believed in these things: immortal soul, Heaven, Hell, etc? If I truly believed these were real, I would be desperate to avoid an eternity of torment. I would spend every waking moment trying to figure out how to get to Heaven and avoid Hell. We are told, in addition to this, that their god has “a plan” for each of us. Some argue that this individualized plan directs us to both places for eternity, that the names of those destined for Heaven, and hence also Hell, are already known. This makes no sense whatsoever. If this were true, then I would have to do nothing, I could do nothing, to affect the fate of my soul. In addition, as much as I wanted to I could not convince myself that I knew where I was headed. Most Christians seem convinced that they and their loved one’s are going to Heaven, but if the list of names has already been written and no one knows who is on that list, this seems to be wishful thinking at best and delusional bullshit at worst.

So, such a system is unlikely and it is immensely cruel. To have a god who creates sentient beings but who also relegates some to eternal bliss and others to eternal torment, before they are even born, is not only bizarre but it is also deranged. So, I am going to assume that those particular Christians got that wrong.

Another group of Christians tell us that the path to Heaven is determined only by whether one believes that Jesus, a character in a passion play in the Christian’s book, is their god playing a role. If you believe that, you are going to Heaven. If this is true, why is there also a plan for each and everyone of us? Why should we strive to discover and fulfill that plan, should we not instead focus on believing in Jesus? Still others tells us that good works and deeds are the way to Heaven, but again these deeds/acts aren’t specified, just vaguely referred to as these are apparently part of the damned plan, again.

If I were to believe one of these variations, I would be terrified that there are competing variations and that I may have picked the wrong one. (They can’t all be correct, can they? What does it say about the deity of they are?) In this worldview, our lives are an eye blink of time, and eternity unimaginably long. Some of these religions claim there are mortal sins, unforgivable mistakes we can make, but do not counter this with a list of approved “acts” that will advance one’s position in line to go to Heaven. But then that group, at one point, sold “get into Heaven” licenses and “get out of Hell” licenses for money, so they do not seem all that believable.

When I observe ordinary Christians in our culture, do I see them scurrying around, desperately trying to determine their own soul’s fate? They have a few short decades at best to do this, so there is no time to waste. But, I do not see this. I see them complacently leading the same kinds of lives we atheists do. They have jobs, homes in the suburbs, they have kids (even though they know their children will be subject to the same cruel system), they worry about politics and taxes, and wonder whether their football team will win this year. So, there is a disconnect between what the officials of these various Christian religions claim is the case and what Christians actually believe (and act upon). The “believers” either don’t believe in all of “that stuff” or they believe they have a Get Into Heaven card they can play when they die. (I have yet to meet a Christian who believes they are going to Hell, have you?) So, is it “grab a Get Into Heaven card and then go about your life as you will”? Is that what I am seeing?

Now, that sounds cynical … because it is. It is taking an honest look at the behavior of these groups and comparing it with what is claimed as their beliefs. I wonder what they actually do believe? Is anyone aware of surveys of what the various sects of Christianity actually believe (or claim to believe)? If so, I would like to see those.

In any case, I am glad I do not have to live in the constant or near constant terror of the world as they see it. I do not have to spend every waking moment studying the Bible to see if I can figure out which acts are safe and which are not. I do not have to try to determine their god’s “plan” and follow it. I am glad to be an atheist because ♫ I’m An Atheist and I’m Okay,… ♫

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