Class Warfare Blog

May 21, 2019

The Direction of Biological History

Filed under: Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:59 am
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Many simplistic people characterize evolution as having a goal, namely us, as we . . . obviously . . . are the pinnacle of evolution. Ah, to which supposition I offer the Fainting Goats. If you are not familiar with said animals, here is a video showing How They Got Their Name (Fainting Goats Video). Basically, if startled, their muscles tend to lock up and if they were moving when this happens, they fall over, hence it appears that they “faint.”

According to Wikipedia “The fainting was first described in scientific literature in 1904, and described as a ‘congenital myotonia’ in 1939. The mutation in the goat gene that causes this muscle stiffness was discovered in 1996, several years after the equivalent gene had been discovered in humans and mice.[15]

According to the dictates of natural selection, this makes these defective goats “easy prey” and they should all be gone by now, no? So, why are they still around? The answer is simple: humans. We “like” them enough to protect them. For the same reason, the most common bird in the world is the chicken. We “like” them enough to make sure their population has expanded to gigantic proportions.

So, a possible evolutionary strategy, that didn’t exist before, is to “survive by being liked by humans.” You may actually possess many attributes that would make you nonviable if you were merely subjected to nature, but if you are liked by humans, you get to survive and carry on your genes. (As Exhibit A I give you the Westminster Dog Show.)

By this answer alone it should be clear that evolution has no purpose, no divine plan, no pre-conceived end product. If one acquires a mutation that allows one to survive better, one survives better (on average). If one acquires an “easy prey” mutation, one doesn’t survive better in nature. It is that simple.

Nature didn’t forsee that some species would take the route that computer companies took when those companies were designed to be bought out by Microsoft. So, in effect, we have hijacked any “original purpose” of evolution, had one actually existed. Our food plants and animals dominate the biosphere. Period.

 

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May 19, 2019

Jesus, The Myth

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:05 pm
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I am fascinated by the debate over whether the character Jesus in the New Testament was an actual historical person. I have reported on having read the book Caesar’s Messiah, which now is available in a video documentary form (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmEScIUcvz0). I got a couple of new perspectives from the video that lead me to recommend it to you. (I am not normally a fan of videos as they consume great deals of time and are linear, that is you have to watch them in a single order at a single rate because hopping around or skimming is not possible.)

One of the strongest points made that I had not considered before is that before the Romans embraced Christianity, they rigidly controlled seditious literature. Josephus reports that after the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem, they confiscated the Torah scrolls and other temple literature and set about to destroy any other copies that were available. This is supported by the fact that the earliest copies we have of OT and NT scriptures date from very late periods and are not original copies. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, however, gave us a look at the literature of the time (first century). The DSS are militant. There is even a scroll called the War Scroll. Couple this with the conception of a messiah being a war leader and the appearance of quite a few messiahs over the period in question, points to a period in which there was significant general opposition to the occupation of Israel by the Romans. This is punctuated by the uprising in the late 60’s, that the Israelites actually won. Think about that. How much effort and support are needed to field forces to overthrow a Roman occupation? Even though Rome ended up crushing the rebellion in 70-73 CE, it required a huge army to do so. (The motive for the Romans destroying all of the literature is that it supported messianic rebellions.)

And then we have the gospels, starting around 70 CE. The gospels are pacifistic, with the “messiah” teaching that the Jews need to “turn the other cheek” and “render unto Caesar what is Caesars.” When Romans are portrayed, they are portrayed sympathetically (e.g. the Roman Centurion, even Pontus Pilate who historically is characterized as a very bad man).

Why would a militant messiah, a war leader sent by God to overthrow the oppressors of the Jews, be characterized as a pacifist? Who does that serve? Who would want a kinder, gentler version of Judaism?

The basic argument of the book and documentary is that the gospels were written as a vehicle for Roman propaganda. Paul’s writings that predate the gospels only refer to Jesus as some sort of celestial being. Paul never quotes Jesus or mentions his mission or even presence on Earth. So, “Christianity” is around as an alternate form of Judaism, but there isn’t much there. (In 110 CE Pliny mentions that he has never seen a Christian in court so is perplexed as to how to try them.) So, why are the gospels as we know them produced ca. 70 CE and later? Why were they not being written forty years earlier by the followers of Jesus, while their memories were fresh (and they were alive). Why did Paul not seek them out for information to supplement his “revelations?”

These questions have answers provided in the documentary and there is much, much more, also.

I don’t find these arguments conclusive but I do find them compelling. It also seems that there may be a blend of more than one narrative possible. For example, the Romans may have produced the Gospel of Mark and left it to the normal forces at play for the others to be created. In support of my conjecture, there have been 5-10 times as many apocalypses, gospels, epistles, etc. discovered that were excluded from the Bible as not being authentic (aka forgeries, fictional, etc.) and that doesn’t even consider the number of “books” of the Bible that are now considered by NT scholars as being forgeries (2 Peter, a third of the Pauline epistles, etc.). In the Nag Hammadi library (aka the Gnostic Gospels) there is even a fictional story about Jesus that was in a state of mid-creation, including the document that it was being based upon! So, think of the Gospel of Mark as being a seed crystal, from which other crystals would grow naturally. The Romans, of course, could cull any such documents that lost the pro-Roman focus. Note, also, how the Roman Church developed an extensive program of document control.

May 10, 2019

You Need to Respect Our Beliefs!

Part of the War on Christianity™ (Fox News) is the much reviled and disdained severe atheistic/humanistic disrespect for the beliefs of Christians! This is abominable! We are told that we should “respect their beliefs.”

Uh, no, just … no.

I accept their beliefs. I even acknowledge them. But respect them, no. Respect is something that is earned. How is it that just because they believe something, it automatically has to be respected? Especially when it comes to batshit crazy notions like the fundamentalists have that the End Times™ are just around the corner (time wise). Really? The forces of good and evil are going to duke it out? On the plain of Armageddon in the Holy Land? Really?

Entities with supernatural powers are going to a place to meet up, a flat place where they can deploy their forces? This is about as realistic as having modern jet fighters having firefights while confined to the ground. (Okay, you can taxi around all you want, but you can’t take off; got it? Go get ’em, tiger!)

And on one side is a god who is “beyond space and time,” which means he cannot be found by his enemies, who can create whole galaxies with mere thoughts, and already knows the plans of all of his enemies, who he can unmake with a mere thought. Uh, who wants to be on this guy’s side? (Me, me, me, me . . .) How can such a battle take place, except in the vivid imagination of an iron age drug addict?

Respect that belief? No, ridicule it, maybe, but not respect it. And please do not think that these are ideas that have been set aside. There are fundamentalist groups currently acting on a political agenda toward Israel, based upon this very scenario. Some Jewish groups are complaining about the activities of some of these fundamentalist Protestant groups, so apparently they are being taken seriously.

Social tools are tools we all use to moderate bad behavior in society. If a member of a social community acts poorly, people talk to him about his behavior. If he persists, then ridicule and public shaming take place. If he still persists, shunning and banning take place. We have talked to theists about their beliefs, but they persist in trying to force those beliefs on the rest of us (We Are A Christian Nation, War on Christmas, War on Christianity, Dominionism, Special privileges for the religious written into law, etc.), so ridicule is next up. Ridicule is appropriate as it is a gentle form of persuasion that no one is immune from. If that doesn’t work, well the tools at hand provide many opportunities to ratchet up the pressure. In more advanced countries, religion is a private matter that doesn’t intrude into the public sphere, happiness results. This state is a worthwhile goal.

 

May 5, 2019

Social Controls and Religion

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:04 am
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Regular readers of this blog will know that I have stated many times my thinking that if a religion survives and thrives that it has become a mechanism to coerce the labor of the masses to serve the interests of the secular and religious elites, that is they are or have become instruments of social control. A few honest defenders of religions even claim this “feature” is their primary reason for supporting them.

You may have parsed that statement and concluded that I am against social controls, but I am not. Social controls seem to evolve around our needs as a society. For example, gossip is a mechanism to spread information about individuals that is needed to help people make decisions when those individuals become involved. Public humiliation is something no one cares to accept. We all abhor being humiliated in public. (We do not care for private humiliations either, but when those become public, we are doubly upset.)

I lay the current resurgence of racism in this country at the feet of the Internet. We had reached a point that people rarely made racist comments in public because there was a strong and immediate backlash . . . and it wasn’t positive and it did involve shaming and humiliation. But the Internet has allowed people to communicate anonymously or under an artificial persona, thus deflecting any social approbation away from the person making the remarks. More and more of this freedom to spout racist ideas has promoted racist behaviors. (The same holds for religious bigotry.)

Social controls are desirable. In the case of religions, I object to the end result of the controls, not the controls themselves. The object is clearly to promote the interests of the elites funded by the labor of the masses. Were the object to promote the welfare of all, I would be much less critical.

Also, I am not a fan of delusion-based social mechanisms. Religion, happy talk, the law of attraction, etc. contain the roots of other problems in their solutions to problems faced now. For religions, just ask anyone who has lost their faith in the religion, as to the problems that creates for them.

May 3, 2019

Some Have More Equal Rights Than Others

No, we are not talking Animal Farm here, we are talking about Republican court packing which has created a Supreme Court consisting of five Justices wedded to the Religious Right. If the Republicans win the next presidential election and retain control of the Senate, it is quite likely that Justice Ginsberg will retire from the Court and be replaced with a sixth Justice wedded to the Religious Right.

The consequences of this are huge. We are faced with avoiding taking cases on church-state separation to the Supreme Court out of fear as to how they might rule. (Look what they did with Citizens United.) And, once the federal courts indicate that they favor religious exceptionalism, look to the more conservative states to be making laws favoring religious groups by the score.

Right now, the recent history of the court has provided exclusions for religious groups from obeying the law. They say, everyone must obey the law . . . except . . . if you have a profound religious belief, you do not have to. Consider the Obamacare contraception coverage situation, as just one example. You must obey the law, they do not.

The whole idea of the separation of church and state was to keep religious squabbles outside of government . . . and . . . to not have government bodies deciding religious issues. It protects the government from religion and religion from government. Once that barrier is broached (and there are already holes in the dike) then where is the line to be drawn as to how much the government can favor the religious over the non-religious? There is no natural divide, so as the metaphor goes, the flood gates will be open. Once that happens, how long will it be before states pass laws favoring one religion over others? (You will only need a stopwatch to measure how long that will take.)

Any number of current justices believe that the religious can be favored over the non-religious under the Constitution. This leaves the non-religious in a second class status, with only the freedom of speech provision of the Constitution to protect us.

And so many of the religious wonder why atheists are so “hostile” to religion! Even when religious people, some–not all, are actively working to get the law to favor them over us. That’s one reason for the hostility. (D’ya think?)

Elections have consequences. If you want to continue the Repubs court packing practices, then indeed vote for Republicans for Senate and President. Ruth Ginsberg cannot live forever. If the Supreme Court gets packed with even more adherents for the Religious Right movement, then the GOP will have its fondest wish, for trickle down religiosity incorporated into our governments, to become the state of this country for decades to come.

April 28, 2019

The Purpose of Religion: A Follow-up

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:03 am
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Salon.com recently re-published an article that originally appeared on Raw Story. Here is a taste of that article:

Scientists establish a link between religious fundamentalism and brain damage
Religious beliefs differ from empirical beliefs, which are based on how the world appears to be
by Bobby Azarian

study published in the journal Neuropsychologia has shown that religious fundamentalism is, in part, the result of a functional impairment in a brain region known as the prefrontal cortex. The findings suggest that damage to particular areas of the prefrontal cortex indirectly promotes religious fundamentalism by diminishing cognitive flexibility and openness—a psychology term that describes a personality trait which involves dimensions like curiosity, creativity, and open-mindedness.

Religious beliefs can be thought of as socially transmitted mental representations that consist of supernatural events and entities assumed to be real. Religious beliefs differ from empirical beliefs, which are based on how the world appears to be and are updated as new evidence accumulates or when new theories with better predictive power emerge. On the other hand, religious beliefs are not usually updated in response to new evidence or scientific explanations, and are therefore strongly associated with conservatism. They are fixed and rigid, which helps promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group.

Now, before all of you snarkmeisters (My people, my people!) jump on the obvious points, the point I want to address is not that. It is “They are fixed and rigid, which helps promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group.” And it is not the “fixed and rigid” part but the “promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group” part.

When humans gathered together into larger than family groups, society was formed in a process I am sure took some time to hammer out. In all herd animals there are behaviors of both the individual and the group that promote survival. Sometimes they clash but if they clash too much, neither the herd nor the individuals survive. We are not herd animals but we are social animals. “Society” exists to get us to conform to rules that result in greater survivability of both us as a group and us as individuals. Once a society is formed, it is not hard to see that it can be hijacked by individuals who mold society more to their advantage, survivability be damned. Books and movies are rife with such scenarios, where groups are betrayed by individuals to their benefit. These betrayals can be direct or through changing the societal rules to benefit just themselves.

Currently there is a subset of very wealthy U.S. individuals who are reshaping our society for their benefit and their benefit alone, the rest of society left to suck eggs. Religion is a major tool in creating and maintaining a “stable” society. It has lost much of its power in this country over the years and since a power vacuum doesn’t exist long, that power has been sucked up, in this case by wealthy financial types with their own priesthood (economists).

In any society there are those who produce the needs for direct survival (food, water supply, housing, transportation, etc.) and those who produce “other things” (art, politics, music, books, etc.). Those who produce the food, etc. need to have the respect of those who do not and vice versa. In this country, this mutual respect has been lost (not by accident, mind you) as it has been elsewhere around the world. In powerful church hierarchies, the elites offer little in the way of respect for the masses as they “manage their brands” and, they think, husband their power. The same goes on in centers of political power. Studies indicate that a prerequisite for getting any idea through Congress is being rich. If you are poor or middle class your ideas and opinions will be ignored. (Polls? What polls? Polls are “fake news.”) And, monumental issues like climate change are ignored because the wealthy do not want to accept any uncertainty in their wealth accumulation schemes (business opportunities my ass!).

As a consequence, ordinary people, who are engaged in serving the needs of these elites are in various states of rebellion. They are attending church services less. They are voting less. They are paying less attention to those who pay no attention to them or they are attending but responding with anger and resentment.

I thought if we could revive labor unions that they could apply some leverage in the interests of ordinary people, but unions have powerful opponents who have shut that door.

So, what is the way out of this existential problem?

Really, do you see a way out?

April 25, 2019

The Purpose of Religion

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 1:44 pm
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I have written before that I think religions have a purpose. However they came into being, if they survived and thrived it is because they controlled the behavior of the masses. Their purpose came to be coercing the labor of the masses so as to serve the interests of the religious and secular elites. Basically these “elites,” whose jobs involve the production of nothing needed to survive (aka art, governance, music, rituals, etc. all of the “benefits” of civilization), needed ordinary people to gather or grow extra food, wool, building materials, etc. to provide for those not doing such work, aka the elites. This evolved into a class system in which the elites created a status system that elevated those who would not lift a finger to do anything manual, even so far as to getting dressed after a night’s sleep.

The religiously duped claimed that their religion has intrinsic purpose or value and ask “what can you secularists offer in its stead?” To which I offer “a life with no delusions” or as this lovely quote provides, a life not coerced by others.

“It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather our concern must be to live while we’re alive – to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.”
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

The religious often harp on their opinion of who and what we are and what our purpose may be. If you subscribe to that religion, you are judged by how well you shape your life to their prescription. That they can provide no proof of the benefits claimed should give anyone pause.

I hear many blather on about how their religion provides purpose for their lives. I always ask “What is this purpose?” Most answers seem confused or unclear. I can continue on to ask “When will you know this is true?” because it is only after death that most religions have scheduled their pay off . . . another fact that should give anyone pause.

It is also clear that most of the religious don’t want to talk about this topic. They prefer the vague goodness of their feelings to thoughts that lead to embarrassing conclusions, e.g.

Atheist: So what is this “purpose?”
Theist: To live in the presence of God and worship Him.
Atheist: Ah, so He needs worship?
Theist: Uh . . .

or

Atheist: So what happens to those who do not accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior?
Theist: They are denied living in the presence of God for all eternity.
Atheist: So, all of those scriptures describing the Lake of Fire are mistaken?”
Theist: Uh, I don’t know; I just think that being denied an eternity in God’s presence is our definition of Hell.
Atheist: And what will you being doing for this eternity?
Theist: Uh . . . I have an appointment I am late for.

And so on. The proscription on asking such questions in the various religions seems to serve only the purpose I claim above (the interests of the elites). I would think that the clearer people were on the benefits and trade-offs of a religion, the stronger their commitment would be, but understanding is not the goal, faith—which is subscription to the beliefs claimed by the religion without understanding or questioning—is . . . which should give anyone pause.

April 24, 2019

Why . . . ?

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:29 am
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Why is it that no enterprising evangelical or fundamentalist protestant has claimed that the fire that almost burned down the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France was “God punishing the Catholics for their failure to deal with the Church’s sex scandals (or fill in any other failing of the Catholic Church)?

These are people who have blamed natural disasters on gays, who have blamed political disasters on liberal Christians, etc. Why have all of the fundamentalists gone silent on this topic? Have they lost their cojones?

I did read that one such mouth breather didn’t realize that Notre Dame was a Catholic cathedral. He thought it was a museum or something. Of course, the stained glass and spires and the use of the word cathedral over and over were clues, as was the original build date for the “church” being 400 years before the Protestant Reformation. But I guess we shouldn’t expect people to put two and two together (or to get four when they do).

Come on evangelicals; there is still time! Don’t wimp out on us now!

And then there are the numbnuts who claim that the rain shower predicted the next day which held off until many of the art works that were exposed to the outdoors had been tarped or otherwise protected was an “act of God.” And the fire . . . it was what, you say? I’ll bet the insurance company will be arguing for “act of God” to avoid any payoff.

April 21, 2019

My Easter Message: Anti-Indoctrination Laws

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:02 am
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Currently there are folks who are promoting anti-indoctrination laws in several states. Apparently these are laws to make sure that the theory of evolution is not taught as if it were valid scientific theory (It is.) and it does not concern at all the various efforts of churches to indoctrinate the children of the church’s members.

Every church does this, that is they “teach” their doctrines to kids to young to understand them. No one waits for the age of consent or any point in time at all. It all begins at birth. In church nurseries for kids too young to attend services are kept in a nursery (and so their parents can attend services). These nurseries will have Noah’s Ark toys (stuffed animals, too, none of them being cute ones who got drowned) and age-appropriate children’s books full of Bible stories.

This came to mind as I was in a small shop where the proprietor was listening to a foreign language program (on a cell phone), a language I do not posses, and while I was doing my business a children’s choir broke out in “Jesus Loves Me” . . . in English. I found myself fully capable of mentally singing along with the children’s voices even though I have had a lifelong problem hearing and remembering song lyrics.

Here is a short version of that song’s lyrics (all repetitions left out):

Jesus loves me this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak but He is strong

Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes Jesus loves me,
for the Bible tells me so

Jesus loves me still today,
Walking with me on my way
Wanting as a friend to give
Light and love to all who live

Now, if you were to give a devoted Bible reader a Bible and ask them to find where in the Bible this message is delivered, would they be able to find it? If you were to give a non-believer a Bible and asked them to read it, would they come to this conclusion?

This song essentially delivers a message, rather a conclusion, one might get from reading the Bible. These messages serve a number of functions, one of which is that it is not necessary to read the Bible, all of the important messages have been packaged for you and delivered before you have an IQ.

By associating such catchy tunes with the carefree state of childhood, one immediately taps into nostalgia and good feelings every time that message/song is replayed. For the few seconds I was singing along (in my head, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket out loud) I had very positive feelings and I am a confirmed atheist.

Get them young before they start thinking for themselves, then when they do argue against that practice vigorously. If that is not an indoctrination program, I don’t know what is. And, of course, anti-indoctrination laws are needed because . . . evolution. Sheesh!

April 10, 2019

Other Ways of Knowing?

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:11 am
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As I read I am often presented with the dichotomy of the material and the spiritual, of the head and the heart.

“There is a wisdom of the head and a wisdom of the heart.”
Charles Dickens

And it appears to me that this is a consequence of some simple physiological facts. The sense through which we extract the most information is our vision. This gives us the impression that “we” (homunculus, whoever is driving this vehicle, whatever) reside inside of our heads. This illusion is very strong and quite understandable. Through our vision we may attend the entire world, from near to far and small to large in quiet contemplation. This ability does not seem to be a source of passion, rather “cold” intellect.

When we experience strong emotion, for whatever reason, it tends to affect our torsos in the form of restricted breathing or the reverse, panting, or a feeling of being punched in the stomach, generally accompanied by rapid heart beats. This creates the illusion that something else resides in our torsos. Since breathing is usually quiet, as is our heartbeat, they go unnoticed until their rates are jacked up to high rates and then we can hear them, internally.

Experience in killing animals and other humans points out the importance of the heart and lungs. Break or have a finger cut off and you will survive. Take a spear thrust in a lung and you will die, slowly. Take a spear thrust in the heart and you will die quickly. A hierarchy is therefore created as to which sources of the sounds of our life are most important: life’s blood, the breath of life, etc.

Is this the source of the idea of spirituality? Does anything qualifying as spirituality even exist? What is it really? As much as I love Joe Campbell’s writing on this topic I am still wondering whether spirituality is just an illusion we have become comfortable with, much as a number of philosophers now argue that conscious thoughts are illusions, possibly even consciousness as a whole being an illusion.

That spirituality is tied to strong emotions is no surprise. Using human passion as a lever to control people’s behavior also seems a workable approach for religions. Much of my religion’s tradition was wrapped in the words and imagery of strong emotion (Jesus loves you, the Passion, Brides of Christ, etc.).

Most religions diminish the role of the “head” and emphasize the role of the “heart” (or chakras, or stomach, or . . .). This war between the head and the heart rumbles on today in discussions between religious apologists and “secularists.”

Can this discussion be resolved? I suspect not soon, but it has clearly taken a modern twist, begun I think by William James (The Varieties of Religious Experience) and continued by the likes of Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell, et. al.). These worthies have been applying the tools of science, especially those of biological evolution, to explain the human experience of religion (with much resistance without and within the academic community). Will any of that discussion affect ordinary folks like you and me? That remains to be seen. Possible the rise in the numbers of Americans no longer claiming association with an organized religion (the “Nones”) is a sign, maybe it is not. Please note that an organized religion is not a requirement for having religious experiences. People had these things before organized religions existed and will likely have them after. Understanding their sources is therefore important.

 

 

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