Uncommon Sense

May 30, 2021

Abraham and Isaac Rewound

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:13 am

The story of Abraham and Isaac is well known. In summary it is: according to the Hebrew Bible, God commands Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. After Isaac is bound to an altar, a messenger from God stops Abraham before the sacrifice finishes, saying “now I know you fear God.” Abraham looks up and sees a ram and sacrifices it instead of Isaac. (Source: Wikipedia)

I did a Google search and the first hit that came up is from a children’s book of Bible stories (they tell these to children?). This is what came up: “Abraham and Isaac is an emotion-filled story of complete obedience and unreserved sacrifice. This heart-rending story is one of the greatest tests of obedience, faith and trust in God found anywhere in the Bible. Abraham passes the test and renews God’s promise that he will become the father of many nations.”

But. . . .

Some things just don’t make sense.

First, Yahweh doesn’t need to test anyone about anything because He is omniscient, that is He already knows the outcome. So, why is He bothering?

Abraham knows that Yahweh is omniscient, so he goes ahead with the plan because he knows that Yahweh knows that he is loyal, true blue, faithful, etc. and wouldn’t make him sacrifice his beloved son for no good reason. In other words, Abraham trusts that Yahweh won’t make him go through with it. So, Abraham trusts, that is has faith, that he will not have to sacrifice his son, so he is going through with the plan, knowing . . . knowing that Isaac will survive.

Next, Yahweh knows that Abraham knows all of this, because He knows everything, so why is this play acted out?

Apparently, the only sound reason is the Isaac is a little shit and needs to be taken down a notch or two. He is not told what is going on. He has to carry the faggots to be used to burn the “offering” not knowing that he is the offering. When he gets tied down to the altar (on one of the altars in the hills where child sacrifice was practiced, I presume, also the altars in the hills that were railed against when the Hebrews turned monotheistic) Isaac begins to twig to the fact that he is the sacrifice and experiences the fear of god (and his appointed regent on Earth, his father). Being saved at the last minute by an angel probably left him with a much better mindset, now knowing what will happen to him if he doesn’t get his act together.

This “lesson” is totally in line with the other lessons in the Bible, where stoning to death is the common treatment for any kind of disobedience. (Obedience is the main theme of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.) Got a rebellious teenager? Take him (of course, him) to the gates of the city and have your friends and neighbors stone him to death. Your bride has a ruptured hymen which you don’t discover until you are married? Take her out and stone her to death. These lessons are like the U.S. West’s practice of leaving coyote pelts stretched out on wire fences as a lesson for the remaining coyotes (and about equally effective).

At the time this story (and it is a fictional story) is set, neither human sacrifice, nor child sacrifice had been banned and were still practiced, “in the hills.”

As to this being “an emotion-filled story of complete obedience and unreserved sacrifice” well, this is what you get when you allow spin doctors to sign up in a religion. The only sacrifice was that of the ram. Abraham isn’t demonstrating extreme obedience because everything goes as he wishes. And Isaac getting the shit scared out of him isn’t even mentioned.

And, really, they tell this story to children? Amazing. I guess you have to just accept that anybody who will spin the drowning of millions of men, women, and children as a story of hope will say, and unfortunately do, anything.

May 13, 2021

The GOP Brain Drain May Kill Christianity in the US

There are many Republicans decrying the $300 per week unemployment payments that were prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. They claim that people will not work if they were being paid so lavishly not to work. Of course this is nonsense, typical Republican nonsense. If you use a 50 work week year, $300 per week equates to $15,000 per year. That is not even half of the average individual salary that people make. Would any of those complaining Republicans quit their jobs for that oh, so, easy 15 grand a year dole? I don’t think so.

On the flip side of this argument are those same Republicans who are pushing the idea of the U.S. being a Christian nation. This is different from being a nation of mostly Christians, but that there is some official role for Christianity as the official religion of the U.S. These people argue constantly for more and more special treatment of clergy and churches, more exemptions from taxes and compliance with labor and discrimination laws, etc.

But what they are arguing for is that Christian churches be put on the dole.

Aren’t they afraid that that would have the same repercussions as the “getting paid for not working” unemployment insurance does? Actually a recent study, published in the journal Sociology of Religion indicates that as governmental support for Christianity increases, the number of Christians declines significantly. It took ten years to do this study as they looked at data from 160 countries.

More and more I find myself wanting the old Republican Party back, the one which could actual think. I remember when the GOP had a liberal wing, and a cadre of public intellectuals who shared their thinking on ideas near and dear to the GOP. Now there seems to be only political hacks and Trump trolls in the rank and file of Republican leadership. Can they not see that they are attacking Christianity by demanding more and more government support and recognition?

If churches are put on the dole, where will the incentive come for the clergy to proselytize, and keep people in the pews? They will get fat and lazy, sitting around waiting for their government checks. Why do these conservatives want this future?

The GOP also don’t want black and brown people voting because they think they will vote to take away money from white people and give it to unworthy people (aka black and brown people). Aren’t they afraid that if they empower the clergy that they will rile up their congregations to pass legislation giving more and more to Christian churches, making them more and more dependent, and losing more and more Christians, leading to . . . a Muslim takeover!

Think about it. If the numbers of Christians decline, and the numbers of Muslims increase, couldn’t we then become a Muslim majority country (as so many others have) and then the Muslim clergy would be cashing those checks, and. . . .

Don’t they see? Most of Europe is rapidly becoming secular because of the support given by the various countries to their churches. We could be next.

Addendum If you want to read more, there is this: The Biggest Threat to Christianity.

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!”

April 27, 2021

Deepak Chopra BS

Deepak Chopra is a medical doctor of some sort (his certification is in internal medicine; he specialized in endocrinology) and yet he is better known as a new age guru who harkens back to being an old age guru (he is a fan of chakras and other aspects of Indian medicine). Note This is why I refer to him as Mr. Chopra below because his doctorate is not in a field that impinges at all with his opinions in this article. Were he writing on the pandemic and endocrinology, I would refer to him as Dr. Chopra.

In an online essay (A Reality Reset is Coming) Mr. Chopra emphasizes the “flaws” of materialism. He refers to a recent experiment on muons that “may” challenge the standard model of physics. I emphasize the “may” because such things come along with great regularity. And, also with great regularity, the predicted possible disruption of current theory does not happen. On the flip side, experiment after experiment confirms the standard model, but those experiments do not make the news. Maybe the last one that did was the “discovery” of the Higgs boson. I say discovery because its existence was predicted decades earlier and what was looked for was a conformation of its existence. Predicted by the Standard Model and then found. Quite a success.

But Mr. Chopra goes on to state “Materialism, it turns out, is just a plausible story, not a viable way to explain the world around us and certainly not the world “in here” where the mind operates.” He goes on to list many things that have not been explained . . . yet:
• No one knows where the Big Bang came from.
• No one knows how life began.
• The origin of time, space, matter, and energy remain totally hidden.
• The two leading theories in physics, General Relativity (which explains how large objects work) and quantum mechanics (which explains how tiny things work) turn out to be seemingly incompatible.
• The relation of mind and brain is as up in the air as it was at the time of Plato and Aristotle.
• The nature of consciousness and how it evolved—if it evolved—cannot be agreed upon.

I suppose Mr. Chopra thinks that these are trivial problems that should have been solved decades ago, but he glides over several thousand years of philosophy and religion having failed to solve these problems. Consider that roughly 100 years ago, we thought that our Milky Way galaxy was the entire universe. We knew nothing of the Big Bang. We had no evidence of planets existing around other stars. We knew little to nothing about quantum mechanics. Both special and general relativity had been postulated but at most fewer than 100 people understood those theories.

And Mr. Chopra is criticizing that which brought all of that knowledge to us.

He concludes “To boil things down to their most basic, if you don’t know where the universe came from and are equally baffled by where thoughts come from, how reliable is your explanation of reality? Intellectual honesty forces an answer: not reliable at all. Persuasive stories and unexamined assumptions riddle our current worldview.”

Okay, Mr. Chopra. Exclude materialism and explain . . . reality for all of us. Go ahead, we will wait.

And as to the reliability isue. I offer a test to Mr. Chopra. I will hold a 50 lb weight over his foot and ask him what he would do if I looked as if I were to drop that weight? He, like ever other person, would move his foot out of the downward path of that weight. That behavior, aka falling, is dependable, even though we still don’t know what gravity is. Dependability is based upon testing, not upon whether one knows where the universe or thoughts come from.

April 25, 2021

The Meaning of Life, Part Whatever

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:42 am
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If you have read this blog for any length of time you know my thoughts on “the meaning of life,” mainly that meaning is something we create, rather than something given to us or something we find.

Just to cover all of the bases, I decided to open myself up to a feeling of purpose, of meaning from outside of me. I tried not to force anything, like a source or even a meaning, I just opened myself to the possibility and went about my business.

Both my partner an I are long in the tooth (she is 67, I am 74) and have mastered taking care of one another and ourselves fairly well, and our children are launched into very nice lives, so what other meaning might present itself?

And then it came to me, apparently our meaning in life at this stage of our lives is to make her dog happy. When I see the two of them together playing and the dog is happy, I am happy. When he wants a treat or to be petted, I oblige and am happy to do that. He seems happy to be with me, also, although he has a bit of a licker problem. He likes to lick my chin very, very much, even early in the morning before I have shaved, so I assume he may just be cleaning his tongue off, but he seems to want that and I am happy to oblige.

Never having been a “dog person” through much of my life, maybe I missed the meaning in my earlier life of making my cats happy, can’t really tell.

Considering how much Americans spend on their dogs, maybe this is the meaning of life much of us share. So, is this meaning god-given? If so, it would have to be Anubis or Set if Egyptian, Fenris, or maybe Hecate, or the Morrigan (I am part Irish, you know), or, oh, in America it might just be Coyote, the trickster god. If so then this “meaning” we perceive from the outside may be a trick on our meaning seeking natures.

The search goes on!

PS I just realized that dog is god spelled backwards . . . a sign do you think?

April 23, 2021

Why Would God Care About Morality?

Filed under: Morality,Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:09 pm

This is a rather brilliant and novel essay on the question portrayed in the title above.

Why Would God Care About Morality?



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)

April 21, 2021

Where Morals Really Come From

Filed under: Morality,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:16 am
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Gee, the argument about objective vs. subjective morals rolls on! (I wonder who keeps bringing up the obviously impossible idea of objective morality?) Can’t we put this discussion to bed, instead of it living on as a zombie discussion for more millennia? Because for millennia, human beings argued and negotiated standards of behavior, and then when organized religion came along, it hijacked the topic. Here is how morals actually grow in each of us.

If you consider a child’s typical experience in the U.S. (I know typical does not mean all), you can see where a child gets its morals. When newly born, babies are never corrected. If they poop their pants or throw up on Grandma, well “isn’t that cute.” Once the baby reaches the toddler stage (crawling, walking), that is can locomote on its own, corrections begin. Why? Because they can get into trouble on their own. If they pick up an electrical cord and try to bite it, they are corrected. If they reach up to touch the stove, they are corrected. If they try to bite their sister, they are corrected. This is done by mother, father, older siblings, grandmothers and grandfathers, and aunts and uncles, sometimes the parents of other children do, too. (It takes a village, indeed.)

Children are taught how to behave, what is acceptable, and what is not. Children are taught table manners (We don’t throw food, child!). Once the child enters day care or school, additional lessons are taught. No, not just the three R’s, but how to get along with other children and adults not your parents. If two children get into a dispute, say as to which gets to play with a particular toy right now, they are taught dispute resolution. Each gets to tell their story and the judge (parent, child care worker, teacher) decides on how to proceed. They learn that they don’t have to like a decision, but they do have to abide by it.

Children are taught these lessons in various ways. When I was a child, corporal punishment was still in vogue. Now it is tantamount to child abuse.

If their family is church going and they attend Sunday school, children may learn more. The story of Noah’s Ark teaches them that there is this powerful Superparent that once killed almost all of the people and almost all of the animals. They may even learn that if they are not obedient, they may die and end up in a cave full of fire. They are taught to love them the Baby Jesus but the only one they can see is being tortured on the wall.

So, where do children learn how to behave rightly? At home and in day care and in kindergarten. Where do they continue to learn moral lessons? At home and in school and on playgrounds.

So, are the lessons taught by parents, et. al. learned from the Bible? Lessons like don’t bite your sister, don’t stick your fingers in electrical sockets, don’t pull on the cat’s tails, share your toys with your friends, don’t hit others, don’t run out into the street, don’t take candy from strangers, be kind to others, help those in need, etc. While some of these may be reinforced by church activities (winter clothing drives, food drives, toy drives for those less well off) I suggest the basic lessons were already learned. So, when do they receive their moral instruction from “The Bible?”

If We are Going to Pass Anti-blasphemy Laws We Should Know What Blasphemy Is

Filed under: Culture,Morality,Religion,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 11:07 am
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A number of high ranking officials in the Muslim world, most often it seems the President of Pakistan, have been suggesting that western nations really, really should pass anti-blasphemy laws.

So what is blasphemy?

Blasphemy is an insult that shows contempt, disrespect, or lack of reverence concerning a deity, a sacred object, or something considered inviolable. Some religions consider blasphemy to be a religious crime.” (Wikipedia)

But, you see, blasphemy is a religious crime, specific to each religion. You cannot generalize it. The churches themselves do not vehemently insist that you cannot blaspheme another religion. You can only blaspheme your own religion, they say. If you do try to generalize blasphemy so that it applies to all religions . . .
• Any Catholic who demeans a Protestant religion could be charged with blasphemy.
•  Any Hindu who demeans Muslims could be charged with blasphemy.
•  Any Muslim who demeans Hindus could be charged with blasphemy.
•  Any evangelical who bad mouths the Pope could be charged with blasphemy.
•  Any movie actor swearing according to script could be charged with blasphemy.
•  Political cartoonists could be charged with blasphemy on an almost daily basis.
•  Comedians could be charged with blasphemy on an almost daily basis.
•  Any one putting pineapple on a pizza could be charged with blasphemy.

Well, maybe not that last one.

Would we really want our courts bogged down with such cases? Plus, consider the complications. Would jurors be asked what their religion was during voire dire? (If so, what happens to the Constitutional “no religious test for public office/position” provision?) Would public defenders have to be the “right religion?” What would happen if the “church” of the religion so offended disagrees with the decision of our secular courts?

Think about what the standards for “showing a lack of respect” for a religion might entail. Where I come from, if you want respect, you have to earn it. Such laws would apparently give respect to all forms of worship (even worshipping Satan or the Flying Spaghetti Monster?) whether it has been earned or not.

Can you imagine the religious brought into court for demeaning the worship of Satan? (Oh, please, please, please let it happen.)

I have no problem if religions want to chastise or punish members of their churches for such infractions. But when they try to impose their rules on the rest of us, that is where I draw the line. What’s next? Country clubs trying to impose their dress codes on the rest of the nation? Book clubs deciding what we can and cannot read?

I think these people have become a bit too full of themselves. I do know that for officials like the President of Pakistan, that this is a form of virtue signaling, but some less observant think he is serious in his demands.

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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