Uncommon Sense

September 12, 2021

If God Does Not Exist, Everything Is Permitted

Filed under: Morality,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:30 am
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“If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” This quote from The Brothers Karamazov (by Dostoevsky) is frequently invoked by those who believe in God. Without faith in a god which lays down the rules, their argument goes, we are doomed. “How could we possibly know the difference between good and evil without God,” they ask. (Apparently they haven’t read Genesis 1-2)

But . . . is it so?

If you look at European culture as it has been spread around the world as “western civilization,” has any act of depravity not been observed to have been enacted by Christians? I could have asked if any act of depravity not been enacted by Christians in service to Christianity, and the argument would have been no weaker, but I am sticking to generalities.

Those who “fear God,” as Christians claim, seem to have committed the most egregious acts, so where did the permission come from to do those things? (I can hear the apologists lining up to claim “No true Christian would have . . .” but that is clearly not true.)

Well, maybe it is not so much a matter of kind but of extent. Maybe far fewer atrocities have been committed because of this god’s restrictions. Here we have a lot of good data from around the world: basically, the more religious a country is, the higher the rate of crime, including assaults, murders, etc.

What about states within the United States? Again, when it comes to nearly all standard measures of societal health: homicide rates, violent crime rates, poverty rates, domestic abuse rates, obesity rates, educational attainment, funding for schools and hospitals, teen pregnancy rates, rates of sexually transmitted diseases, unemployment rates, domestic violence, etc. the correlation is solid: the least religious states in America tend to fare much, much better than the most religious.

Correlation is not causation, of course, but there is no evidence for the contrary opinion that those who do not accept god belief are less moral, because all of the data points the other way.

I guess I should point out that Dostoevsky was writing fiction and he was putting those words into a character’s mouth for a reason. If the character were a naïve, young, newly-converted Christian, they would mean one thing. If they were in the mouth of an authoritarian government official, they would mean another thing, no? (Authoritarians love them some authoritarian religion, as it removes blame off of them and onto some deity.)

On top of this, consider Yahweh’s list of permissions. No such thing? Okay, then Jesus’ list of permissions. Again, no such thing. Drat this is hard.

They did say “do unto others what you would have them do unto you,” but what if you are a masochist and like being humiliated and beaten with whips? And most cultures do not list the “golden rule” this way, they list it as what has been called the “silver rule:” do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you. (The assignment of precious metals here was obviously done by a Christian as gold is universally held in higher esteem than silver.) But, the majority of the cultures favor the silver rule formulation. They are telling us what is not permitted, as opposed to telling us what we are permitted.

If only permitted things could be done, we would still be living in caves or grass huts. The operative principle in our culture is “it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.” Basically, if you try something that hasn’t been “permitted” and it works, you will automatically be forgiven, so it is better to not ask for permission as it might be withheld.

And, think about it. If one is only allowed to do “permitted” things, one is a totalitarian subject. Again, this is part of the control mechanism which is this religion, part of the “obedience above all else” ethos embedded within it.

How would you like to have to solicit permission before doing anything? Would you resent that? I think you would, as it is an enforced child-like position you are forced into. You have no personal autonomy. (I remember refugees coming from Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union, and they showed zero initiative. They had been trained to wait for orders. They were nice young people by the way, just trained differently.)

Of course, there is still the debate over what is permitted in Christianity and what is not. Go back a couple of hundred years and slavery is permitted, even supported by various Christian religions. Today, slavery still exists but is considered illegal everywhere. Did Yahweh/Jesus change his mind as to what is permitted? If this happens again, how will we know? Are we supposed to accept the word of Christian officials? They do not exactly have a good track record.

The statement above is either vacuous or no longer has any meaning, if it ever did. It is being used as cannon fodder, being fed to Christian soldiers as if it were real ammunition, rather than blanks.

August 29, 2021

Learning from Others

I just learned that little Costa Rica has handled the COVID-19 pandemic very much better than we have here in the U.S. How is this? Costa Rica made a commitment to public health and through various initiatives has created the situation that Costa Ricans have a longer life expectancy that do Americans.

Costa Rica also had the uncommon sense to add a fourth branch of government to the one they modeled after ours. This branch, which is non-partisan, runs all of the elections. They schedule debates, set the rules, etc. No gerrymandering in Costa Rica.

But we don’t learn from good example or bad examples, because they are from other countries (Others, shoot them, shoot!) and they are trumped by American Exceptionalism. (We’re #1, we’re #1!)

We are also being dumb and lame when it comes to public policy. That is not by accident. Those who have gotten fat off of the current system do not want any competition, nor do they want any opposition, so more liberal voting laws? Nah. More sensible public health policies? No way! Honest elections! No chance, it will put too many party employees out of work.

August 22, 2021

Make Earth Sacred Again

Note—It is Sunday Sermon Time again, boys and girls! S

The title above is a proposed solution to greedy capitalists processing everything we need to live into profits. The Medium.com post was “Make Earth Sacred Again” with the subtitle “Reverence for Nature could stop Big Money’s destroying the world.” (Note I wish these people would stop saying “destroying the world/planet.” It is us they are destroying, not the world. The world will still be spinning on this same path long after humans are all dead.)

I have to assume that some sort of Native American religion is going to be involved in such an effort, because the dominant religions in the U.S. today don’t seem to possess this attribute.

Devout Christians often do say foolish things like this, “the Earth is sacred; we have the stewardship of the entire planet on our shoulders” and, my favorite “life is sacred.” (No, it is not.)

First “life is sacred.” Really? Says who? Certainly not the God of the Bible, responsible for killing millions upon millions of humans and at one point 99.99999+% of the plants and animals in the entire world.

To show you how far we have come from our hunter-gatherer roots as a family or at most a small tribe (<100 humans), consider this: is your life sacred? Sure. How about your spouse and children, your immediate family? Yeah, right on! How about your neighbors on your block? Well, kind of, I guess. How about all God-fearing Americans? Yeah, damned straight. How about Canadians? Well, I guess? How about Mexicans? Hell, no! The Taliban? The Chinese?

Basically, the farther a person gets from being a part of your family, by being adopted or born into, the less sacred their lives seem, no? So, since our hunting and gathering phases, we have changed not at all in this, other than in the capacity to know that other people exist quite a few kilometers away (and farther away). They are still “others” and are categorized as such, and they are not on the same level as you and your family. Moving back to the “Make Nature Sacred Again” bit . . . was it ever sacred? Certainly not to any of the imported Americans. One could argue that many native Americans had a concept like this but that also might just be a way of expressing what they knew to be pragmatic: take care of your environment and it will take care of you.

In my native state of California, archeologists dug up immense mounds of mollusk shells near the S.F. Bay. What they finally concluded was that a tribe of Native Californians would move to the area and eat everything in sight and then would move to another location to do the same there. While they were gone, the oyster beds and mussel beds recovered so that when they came back years later they could do it all over again, and being pragmatic, they always discarded the shells in the same place, which grew to the size of small hills. Not exactly careful husbanding of nature, but not totally destructive, either.

In the New England states, the Native New Englanders were careful to husband their crops. They would burn off the weeds and shrubs in controlled burns which encouraged grass and trees to grow and deer and other game to congregate to eat their produce. The Native Americans and the deer and whatnot ate a lot of mast, nuts from the trees, and whatever grew in the layer at the base of the tree (mushrooms, etc.). By being careful, they could make it through even a harsh winter, by losing a few pounds before things harvestable started to grow again and deer and other game came looking for the grasses and mast they could gorge upon in their hunting grounds.

Then came the “new” Englanders. Told that the streets were “paved with gold,” usually in the form of being able to hunt deer and moose out your back door, and harvest nuts and wild fruits a short walk away, more than a few “Christians” set up lodgings there. They didn’t do controlled burns and objected when the natives did. They over hunted, over fished, and over harvested and, within just a year or two, the entire regional system collapsed.

And the reason they did this is they believed their fucking God “would provide.”

The Native Americans new that the land was to be taken care of if they wanted it to take care of them. They thanked their prey when they shot a deer and used every tiny bit of it to honor the sacrifice of that animal. The Anglos, on the other hand, slaughtered millions of bison to provide lap robes for rich English people.

This solution to our existential problem will not work because the concept of sacred doesn’t exist in the American mind, especially the Christian mind. And there is no vehicle, that is no religion, that enough people subscribe to that can implement that concept. And, even if there were, the fucking greedy capitalists would allow it free rein, as it would hurt their bottom lines. They would mobilize the Evangelicals against the “pagan religions” that could save our asses and that, would be the end of that.

Whatever happened to the inventive capitalists who looked to the future and anticipating change, embraced it to make new profits. Today’s capitalists have no creativity, no imagination, and are sitting where they are like the buggy whip manufacturers when automobiles began to take over, wringing their hands and using their fortunes to prevent anything from changing. They, like the buggy whip makers before them, will have no luck in those endeavors. The future belongs to the prepared.

August 20, 2021

We Lost in Afghanistan?

I see article after article using the phrase that “we lost in Afghanistan.” Apparently they are using a different definition than I use for the word “lost.”

Consider a playground scenario: some kids are playing pick-up basketball and the kid who owns the ball says, “I have to go home.” The other kids, disappointed, ask if he could leave the ball or if a friend could bring it over to him later. I never heard anyone say “Sure, take your ball and go home, that means you lost and we won!” The reason I never heard that is it doesn’t make any sense.

So, when we arrived on the scene in Afghanistan (the first of a long string of mistakes we made), the Taliban fought back a little here and a little there. Once their leaders realized we were assholes who would take out an entire wedding party to kill someone we thought might could be a Taliban leader, they suddenly became very hard to find. They would occasionally engage in a little action, but only when the odds were very much on their side and only to send the message “Don’t forget about us.”

So, the U.S. (Us!) finally realized that the Afghani government was playing us for the cash we provided, and we got out. (It only took twenty years when it was obvious after six months . . . because Bin Laden was in Pakistan and there wasn’t much of anything in Afghanistan.) President Trump cut the deal (he did do a few things that were correct) and President Biden pulled the trigger, honoring the deal. That the Taliban just walked back into the seats of power showed that the whole thing was just the milking of a cash cow and that the “good Afghani government” never was a serious entity; they were just in it for the money.

So, we took our marbles and went home (making more mistakes as we went—the Taliban punishes screw-ups and replaces them; our military and government promotes them).

So, did we “lose?”

If so, what was the game? I still don’t know what our objectives were/are. G.W. Bushes “democracy making” was a joke, the Quran doesn’t allow democracy. Did anyone know what the game was other than a dick swinging exercise for American politicians and our military? (They punched us in the nose and we kicked their ass!) Of course, many of the 9/11 perps were Saudis and I didn’t see any sanctions there.

And which were the teams? On this side we have the American military, occasionally supported by foreign partners . . . er, team members. And on the other side? The Taliban did not play the game of war with us. They played a little Hide and Go Seek. They played a little Find the Bomb We Left for You. They played a little Firefight in the Desert Night, but there were no battles after the earliest phases; there were no set pieces from which we might be able to determine what the effing game was.

This is called asymmetrical warfare, and it was definitely asymmetrical, although I am not sure of the warfare. If it had been a chess game, one player would see all of his pieces on the board, but his opponents pieces are not visible and neither is the opponent. The Players I saw were Swinging Dick Politicians and war profiteers. The money spent in Afghanistan was a pittance compared to the money spent inside of our borders to the military industrial complex. And now that there are no official wars on the books, I am expecting those greedy whiny MIC bitches to be whining about getting our next adventure in Foreign Diplomacy—Arms Style under way.

There was a loss in Afghanistan. We lost the respect of many servicemen soldiers for spending their lives so uselessly.

August 9, 2021

Republicans Outraged, Threaten to Take Immediate Climate Action

Filed under: Morality,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:43 am
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comprehensive assessment of climate science was published on Monday, the sixth such report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Chane (IPCC) since 1988, has been eight years in the making, marshalling the work of hundreds of experts and peer-reviewed studies. It represents the world’s full knowledge to date of the physical basis of climate change, and found that human activity was “unequivocally” the cause of rapid changes to the climate, including sea level rises, melting polar ice and glaciers, heatwaves, floods and droughts.

Temperatures have now risen by about 1.1°C (2.0°F) since the period 1850 to 1900, but stabilizing the climate at 1.5°C (2.7°F) was still possible, the IPCC said. That level of heating would still result in increasing heatwaves, more intense storms, and more serious droughts and floods, but would represent a much smaller risk than 2°C (3.6°F).

Hearing this reported on Fox News made it all sound as if it could be true, so Republicans trumpeted their outrage. “Why weren’t we told?” they bleated. “If we had known we could have taken action sooner.”

Republicans introduced a bill in the Senate to withdraw U.S. financial support of the IPCC, “an agency that clearly has failed in its job,” claimed minority leader Mitch McConnell and scheduled an appearance on Fox News to explain the GOP’s position on this matter. McConnell also promised swift legal action from the DOJ against the “woke,” CRT spouting, left-wing terrorists who were responsible for the documented rapid changes to the climate.

Did Jesus Know the Commandments?

Filed under: Morality,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:38 am
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What we know about Jesus is attributable only to the gospels as nothing much is said elsewhere; In the earliest gospel, Jesus is asked “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” His response was: “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” (from Mark 10, emphasis mine)

Wha? “You shall not defraud”? To defraud someone is to illegally obtain money from them by deception. At first I decided the problem might be one of translation, so I checked all of my go to Bibles at Biblegateway.com and, lo and behold they had defraud there and not the “normal” eighth commandment “Thou shalt not steal.”

But the Catholic Church has an answer: “The seventh and tenth commandments focus on respecting and honoring the possessions of others. This commandment forbids the act of taking someone else’s property. The Catholic Church believes that this commandment also denounces cheating people of their money or property, depriving workers of their just wage, or not giving employers a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. Embezzlement, fraud, tax evasion, and vandalism are all considered extensions of violations of the Seventh Commandment.”

It seems that being a Catholic and a Republican are mutually exclusive.

In any case, why did Jesus use the word “defraud” instead of steal? He was usually out in the hinterlands and wasn’t talking to a big city audience, but this was a big city audience. Did he tailor his message to his audience, because surely a simple theft was a much easier thing to pull off than defrauding someone. I would think simple thefts were far more common than cases of fraud.

I also tend to think that the Catholic Church arrived at its interpretation of “thou shalt not steal” at least partly because of Mark 10 and not other sources. And, it does seem to be the case that Republican party donors are all in on wage theft, vote suppression, and tax evasion for sure, so why isn’t the Catholic Church taking them to task? Oh, you say those same donors are big donors to the Church, too. Ah, that probably explains it.


August 8, 2021

Would You Push the Button?

Filed under: Morality,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:16 pm

It is Sunday, so you know what that means . . .

I was reading “Death Bothers Me More as an Atheist” by Joe Omundson on Medium.com and he described a rather interesting thought experiment. But I’ll let him tell you:

“If there were a button I could push that would set up heaven and hell as real places, with the entry requirements I was taught growing up, I wouldn’t push it. I’d destroy the button.

“If the criteria for getting into heaven included following Jesus, that’d mean a large majority of humanity would not be going there. All those wonderful souls would instead be sent to a place of desperation and pain with no escape.

“As much as it feels sad sometimes to think that heaven isn’t real, it’s a massive relief to know that nobody will have to endure hell. I would much rather accept my finite lifespan than yearn for a system that forces most people into everlasting agony.”

So . . .

. . . if there were a button I could push that would set up heaven and hell as real places, with the entry requirements you were taught growing up, would you push it?

Would you?

August 3, 2021

If I Said It Once . . .

Filed under: Culture,Medicine,Morality,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 7:46 am
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. . . some problems take care of themselves. I read this in this morning’s The Guardian:

Health and government officials have in recent days painted the resurgence of Coronavirus as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”, highlighting that areas of the country with the most spread were those with lower than average vaccination rates, and almost all hospitalizations and deaths are now among those declining to be vaccinated.

I wonder when those most negatively affected will realize that they are being sacrificed on an altar of ideology.

July 31, 2021

OMG, We Are That Stupid?

According to surveys and modeling by The Economist magazine, the single greatest predictor of whether an American has been vaccinated is whether they voted for Joe Biden or Donald Trump last November.

Is there a better sign that we have taken a public health issue, a basic nonpartisan issue, and politicized it?

Are we that stupid?

Yes, we are.

Of course, a massive dose of demagoguery was involved but that is the direction our politics have been turning for quite some time.

Where were all of the anti-vax people when we developed the vaccination scheme for our children? For example, here are the common vaccinations that U.S. children are supposed to get:
Hib (protects against Haemophilus influenzae type b)
Hepatitis A
Hepatitis B
Influenza (Flu)
Pertussis (whooping cough)
And for Chicago School Children
In addition to the above:
Invasive Pneumococcal Disease
I assume your local community will have similar standards.

There were anti-vax people before, some screaming “religious exemption!” but they were a very small minority, not 40% of the population.

While researching the Chicago school vaccination requirements I found that religious exceptions are granted. So I downloaded the form and lo and behold, they require documentation! Here are the relevant sections on how to fill out the form:
How to complete the Certificate of Religious Exemption to Required Immunizations and/or Examinations Form
• Complete the Parent/Guardian sections, which include key information about the student and the school the student will be entering, and the immunizations or examinations for which religious exemption is being requested. Provide a statement of religious belief(s): for each vaccination/examination requested.
• The form must be signed by the child’s parent or legal guardian . AND the child’s health care provider* responsible for performing the child’s health examination
• Submit the completed form to local school authority on or before October 15th of the school year, or by an earlier enrollment date established by a school district.
• The local school authority is responsible for determining whether the information supplied on the Certificate of Religious Exemption to Required Immunizations and/or Examinations Form constitutes a valid religious objection.
Religious Exemption from Immunizations and/or Examination Form Process:
• The local school authority shall inform the parent or legal guardian, at the time that the exemption is presented, of exclusion procedures, should there be an outbreak of one or more diseases from which the student is not protected, in accordance with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) rules, Control of Communicable Diseases Code (77 Ill. Adm. Code 690).
• Exempting a child from health, dental, or eye examination does not exempt the child from participation in the program of physical education training provided in Section 27-5 through 27-7 of the Illinois School Code [105 ILCS 5/27-5 through 105 ILCS 5/27-7]. A separate request for exemption from physical education, if desired, would need to be presented.

The key part of this exception in my mind is: The local school authority is responsible for determining whether the information supplied on the Certificate of Religious Exemption to Required Immunizations and/or Examinations Form constitutes a valid religious objection.

So, the anti-vax people seem to be signing up to be home schooling parents, no? Oh, goody, the transmission of ignorance codified.

There are Always Consequences
The state of Montana recently passed what they, euphemistically, called their “Human Rights Act,” which does not bar discrimination based on sexual orientation or against trans children, but now protects a class of people who don’t want to get vaccinated, whether against COVID–19 or the measles. Yes, Montana’s “small government” Republicans have mandated by law that Montana’s citizens cannot refuse to hire unvaccinated people to work in their homes, or as caretakers for their elderly parents, or they will be in violation of the state’s human rights law. O . . . M . . . G!

Okay, let’s consider a hypothetical. Let’s say that a massive number of cases of leprosy break out in Montana and there is a vaccine. Who do you think would be first in line to get that vaccine? Those same assholes who passed this law and others like it under the false flag of “personal liberty,” which is a joke coming from the party that waved the flag of personal responsibility as a protection against government meddling in our public and private lives. Now they are employing government meddling to avoid having to recommend personal responsibility. That they consider COVID-19 and its variants to be basically a case of the flu, and a health basket case like Donald Trump pulled through it quickly telling them it ain’t so much, allows them to play fast and loose with the issue, milking it for political gain. But a nasty disease, such as leprosy, or one that makes your dick fall off, would have those very same Republicans trampling over other people to get their shots.

July 16, 2021

Outstanding in Their Field . . . Not!

Filed under: Morality,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:04 am
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U.S. farm workers lives are in jeopardy from the intense heat in the West. The Guardian ran a piece with the title “We’re not animals, we’re human beings” and subtitles of “US farm workers labor in deadly heat with few protections” and “Advocates want OSHA to issue federal heat standards, requiring water, shade and rest breaks.”

About twenty years ago my partner and I got a recreational archery gig at an Air Force base in Japan. It was summer and it was quite hot. There were also restrictions on how many minutes one could work outside before retreating to an air conditioned rest area (not just shaded), based upon heat and humidity. If I remember right, at the most extreme conditions we encountered, it was a little as 15 minutes outside at a time with a long respite to follow.

Since we were running a recreation program for the dependent kids on the base, we were informed of these restrictions with no “ifs, ands, or buts.”

So, the concept of restricting exposure to extreme heat and humidity conditions isn’t exactly one foreign to the U.S. government. I guess the Congress people responsible for dealing with such things are way too busy to consider the plight of the people who put food on their tables or really any other need of ordinary Americans.

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