Uncommon Sense

March 28, 2023

Another Mass Shooting . . .

Three adults and three children died as the result of a mass shooting in Nashville, Tennessee. The school was a private Christian school and the shooter, unusually, was a woman.

So as ye sew, so shall ye reap. The woman was armed with two assault-style rifles, probably AR-15s, the preferred assault weapon of Christian fundamentalists. And I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the woman was a member of the church sponsoring the school.

Maybe support for unfettered gun ownership will begin to sag in these circles, now that problems with such guns have come home to roost.

March 27, 2023

The Tower of Babylon and Biblical Sucking Up

I watched a documentary (from 2019 I believe) about the Tower of Babylon last night. The Bible was mentioned on and on, even though other records, records more reliable, exist. As it turns out the tower in question seems to have been built by King Nebuchadnezzar, a ziggurat to be specific. As the narrator droned on addressing various archeologists trying to “research” the topic, the Bible was mentioned quite often. I put research in quotes because the research mentioned had already been done, the on screen archeologists were just pretend researching for TV.

So, the tower was built. The documentary went into how it was constructed, that they had to use fired mud bricks because sun-dried mud bricks were not up to the task. An engineer calculated that a tower constructed as described (in the Bible!) could be as tall as 300 ft. There is no evidence that it was 300 feet tall, but it was referred to as the 300-ft tower from that point onward. (This is an ongoing problem with this entire series of documentaries—assumptions become facts in the mouth of the narrator.) Details of the building process were provided from the Bible! Look, there was an entire group of Israelites in Babylon at the time, due to the conquest of Babylon over Israel, and they were writing the books of the Torah down at that point (including the Book of Genesis, which contains the story of the Tower), having only oral knowledge to rely upon. Details of the construction were hardly secrets. The Babylonians were very proud of their constructions and all of the innovations involved.

So, the construction was addressed in the documentary, including how it could be thought of as being tall enough to “reach the heavens” (river mists made it appear as if it reached the clouds and, as we all know, the clouds are in the Heavens).

The Bible clearly points out that the heavens are much farther up than 300 feet, because every mountain worthy of the name was taller than that and so people could walk or hike up to the Heavens were they that low. But Yahweh gets pissed and instead of moving the Heavens up higher he confounds the workers languages and then blows the tower down with a giant wind. (However, the Tower was finished, so confounding the languages of the workers didn’t prevent that, and no wind knocked it down. I know, details, details.)

Then the documentary pointed out that local historians told how when Babylon was conquered by the Persians, the Persians knocked a hole in the tower! The Babylonian god’s temple was not the Persian’s god, so defaced the tower must be. (Another example of toxic religious thinking: Step 1 Kill or Destroy, Step 2. . . . The Persians could have reconsecrated the temple on top of the tower and then had a magnificent temple for their god, but no.)

Later Alexander the Great conquered the Persians and Alexander dismantled most of the Tower, intending to reconstruct it, but Alexander didn’t live long enough to direct that task and, well, things got complicated. The Iraqi people, being nothing if not pragmatic, saw a huge store of building materials just sitting there so up the wheelbarrows came and away went the Tower’s bricks went with them, to be incorporated into roads and buildings nearby.

So, at this point, one would think that the Bible’s story of Yahweh screwing with the workers and creating a big wind to destroy the tower would be debunked, yes? Of course, no. No mention of the rest of the Bible story being complete fiction was uttered. In fact once they got to the facts of the destruction of the tower, the Bible was not mentioned again.

Now, I can imagine in their production meetings that someone stated that mentioning the Bible over and over would boost ratings and pointing out that the Bible story was wrong could result in a backlash. But the blatant sucking up to religionists leaves one thinking, “So, the Bible was right.” Yes, it was right about the construction of the tower, the facts were clearly available, but dead wrong about the theological parts. Bible thumpers often gloat about all of the truths of the Bible, which validate it. But those truths are not theological truths. They are historical truths available to any witness alive at the time and their veracity does not reflect at all on the veracity of the Bible as a source of theological truths.

Postscript If you are wondering why not “The Tower of Babel,” the word Babel is Hebrew for Babylon.

March 23, 2023

The Danger of Religious Knowledge

Filed under: Religion,Social Commentary — Steve Ruis @ 7:58 pm
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Netflix just dropped a documentary “Waco: American Apocalypse” which I will not be commenting upon because it was a massive clusterfuck by all of the parties involved resulting in a great many people being killed.

What I will be commenting upon is a comment made by one of the survivor Branch Davidians. When interviewed she was asked whether her personal safety were of concern and she responded “I’m not a person; I am a tool of God.”

She apparently was told, and she accepted as a fact, that she was a “tool of God.” This factoid of knowledge was not something people were to examine, they were merely to accept it, like all other “religious truths.”

Now I do not know whether she felt proud to be so named or what her motivation was for accepting that status, but if one does apply reason one might ask why an all-powerful god needs “tools.” What can a lowly human do that couldn’t be accomplished more quickly and more easily by said god? How much arrogance do you need to believe that you are a tool that fits in God’s hand? And of course, no god was involved. A spiritual huckster claiming “son of god” status, was however.

This person claimed to be “the messiah,” a “prophet,” and a “son of God.” Messiahship is easy. All you need do is poor a little oil on your head and voila. (Use the right oil and it makes your hair shiny.) Messiah means “anointed one,” the anointing accompanying being chosen for a special task. (High Priests and Kings of the Hebrews were anointed ones. Their job titles tell of their special tasks.)

Prophets either announced themselves as such or were recognized as people making prophecies. Since prophecies are predictions, they cannot be fact checked, so you are good to go there. And to be a “son or daughter of God” was easy because everyone created by god was consider to be such and they considered everyone and everything to have been created by their god, so again, you are good to go.

Now to convince someone they are “tool of God,” you will need a little razzle-dazzle but not a great deal and you need some really gullible people, which, shall we say, are not in short supply. So how were these “tools” to be used? According to the documentary, their uses were manifold: they were to be used as soldiers, as human sacrifices (through suicide), and to do the dishes if asked.

People who think too little of themselves can be made into people who think way too much of themselves and can be made to do despicable things. Targeting them in a con is more than despicable.

It was/is sad.

March 19, 2023

Shucking Old Jesus

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:31 pm
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Note—Since it hasn’t hit midnight yet, it is still Sunday and time for another post on religion. S

Christians are fond of swearing and then saying “No, I didunt!”

I watch a fair number of home improvement shows on TV (get to go through a project with no cleanup) and the favorite exclamation when the rejuv is revealed is: “Oh, my God!” But the Christians will say, instead,  “Oh, my Gosh!”  or  “Oh, my Goodness!” Oh, my goodness? (WTF?) The substitute words for “God” all have the same hard g sound. Gosh is a truncation of an even older exclamation, “Land of Goshen!” Goshen is the embarkation point of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt and this makes no sense at all as an exclamation. It is like an American exclaiming “Washington, D.C.” when stubbing their toe.

Christians use a wide variety of substitute swear words in expressions such has:
Gosh darn it
Son of a gun
Shucky darn

Which I translate as:
Shucks (Shit)
Shoot (Shit, again)
Darn (Damn)
Dangit (Dammit)
Freaking (Fucking)
Crap (Shit, again)
Gosh darn it (God dammit)
Son of a gun (this is an old naval term referring to a bastard child of a sailor so it has no religious twist I can figure out)
Frigging (Fucking)
Shucky darn (???)

Now, the thing I don’t understand is, would this fool an all-knowing god? Instead of saying “shit,” you could substitute the British “shite,” would that fool God? Or if you used the German epithet instead “Scheiss!” (shit in German is Scheisse, and you get the benefit of the Germans capitalizing nouns still (English used to)). Would that fool God?

Do you think that this god would hear you say “Oh, my gosh!” and not hear “Oh, my God” in your heart?

Now the funny thing is, you will also hear Christians shout out “Oh, my Lord!” at some foolishness. Now Jesus is Lord, they say. And even old Yahweh says “I am the Lord,” or more straightforwardly “I am Lord.” And a great many Bibles render the word lord as LORD when it refers to you know who. So, this is common knowledge, no? And this doesn’t count as “taking the LORD’s name in vain”?

Hitler was an Atheist! Hitler was an Atheist!

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:01 am
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No matter how many theists claim this on the Internet, it still is not true. In fact you could quite easily place Hitler’s hatred of the Jews at the feet of Christian anti-Semitic propaganda.

Most people trying to debunk the “Hitler was an atheist” claim point to the SS belt buckle which stated “Gott Mit Uns” which transliterates to “God With Us” or in the vernacular “God is On Our Side.” I think it is more telling to show the personal oath Hitler demanded from every one of his soldiers.

The previous oath of German soldiers was:

I swear loyalty to the Constitution and vow that I will protect the German nation and its lawful establishments as a brave soldier at any time and will be obedient to the President and my superiors.

But Hitler need a bit more personal approach. The oath he crafted was this:

I swear by God this sacred oath, that I will render unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, the Führer of the German Reich and people, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and will be ready as a brave soldier to risk my life at any time for this oath.

Now assuming that Hitler really, really wanted to bind his soldiers to him and make them obedient to them, it had to be a strong oath, no? And it begins “I swear by God this sacred oath . . .” whereas the former soldier’s oath didn’t mention “God.” Now Hitler could have cynically being using his troops faith in their god as a tool here, but if Hitler didn’t believe in the same god, that oath wouldn’t mean as much to him either, would it? Plus there would be no personal impetus for him to include that opening phrase.

Hitler’s statements about his religion are a bit contradictory.

In 1928, Adolf Hitler said: “We tolerate no one in our ranks who attacks the ideas of Christianity. Our movement is Christian.

Hitler privately assured General Gerhard Engel in 1941 that “I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so.”

In a speech in the early years of his rule, Hitler declared himself “Not a Catholic, but a German Christian.” The German Christians were a Protestant group that supported Nazi Ideology, but Hitler could have been speaking non-specifically, that he was German (actually born in Austria but Austria was gobbled up during the war) and he was a Christian. Himmler was hell-bent on forming a religion based upon Nazi principles and I am sure Hitler would have embraced that.

That Hitler might have been confused about his beliefs was rather normal. That he could adapt his beliefs to meet his political goals was definitely part of the man’s character. Considering that Hitler was a man of his time, were he to have been an atheist, that is not a believer in a god, would have been very, very unusual.

In Christian apologetics the math is simple: Hitler was a very, very bad man, so he couldn’t have been a Christian. And the worst of the worst in the world are, to Christian apologists, atheists, so Hitler must have been one. They worship a god whose nickname was “logos” but they are hardly logical. And, trust me, they are not stating the above to smear Hitler. They are smearing atheists.

March 17, 2023

What the Heck is Scientism?

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:59 am
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I am a scientist (and a student of philosophy to boot) and I had never heard the term “scientism” until quite recently. What the heck is it? By implication it seemed to be a term used by theists of the same ilk as those who referred to those who accepted the theory of evolution as “evolutionists.” It was at least mildly disparaging and carried the implication of, “you scientists don’t know all that much.”

So, off the ‘Net I went and gathered some quotes:

The term scientism was popularized by F.A. Hayek, who defined it as the “slavish imitation of the method and language of Science.” Karl Popper defines scientism as “the aping of what is widely mistaken for the method of science”.

Both Bacon and Descartes elevated the use of reason and logic by denigrating other human faculties such as creativity, memory, and imagination.

The 19th century witnessed the most powerful and enduring formulation of scientism, a system called positivism. Its founder was August Comte, who built his positive philosophy from a deep commitment to David Hume’s empiricism and skepticism. Comte claimed that the only valid data is acquired through the senses.

But the core of the resurgence of this obscure philosophical term showed up finally in this quote:

Scientism today is alive and well, as evidenced by the statements of our celebrity scientists:

“The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” –Carl Sagan, Cosmos

“The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.” –Stephen Weinberg, The First Three Minutes

“We can be proud as a species because, having discovered that we are alone, we owe the gods very little.” –E.O. Wilson, Consilience

While these men are certainly entitled to their personal opinions and the freedom to express them, the fact that they make such bold claims in their popular science literature blurs the line between solid, evidence-based science, and rampant philosophical speculation.

Whether one agrees with the sentiments of these scientists or not, the result of these public pronouncements has served to alienate a large segment of American society. And that is a serious problem, since scientific research relies heavily upon public support for its funding, and environmental policy is shaped by lawmakers who listen to their constituents. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, it would be wise to try a different approach.

Ahah! Consider “the result of these public pronouncements has served to alienate a large segment of American society.” Since when has a large segment of American society paid any attention to science or the philosophy of science and what causes the alienation? Is it the arrogance of scientists like Carl Sagan?

I suggest that you need look no further than religious apologists. They contend that science is at war with religion because science keeps showing how wrong many religious “understandings” are.

And the eighteenth century in “philosophical matters” in the West was dominated by a gigantic battle between deism and traditional religion. Many deists (not all) claimed that nature was “god” and to show piety was to learn as much about nature as possible. This is supportable even in traditional religion who believed that their supernatural entity created all of nature and so to study “god’s creation” was to get somewhat closer to god, even to traditionalists.

So, this somewhat obscure philosophical term has been resurrected by those wishing to keep science at bay, to keep science from running amuck, to keep science from intruding on the theist’s bailiwick.

Scientism is not a term invented by scientists. It was invented by philosophers actually wanting to overthrow the tyranny of traditional religion.

A side effect of this battle was the creation of the Great Experiment in Democracy, the United States. (More on this later.)

Postscript The Sagan quote “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be” basically follows from the definition of universe: “The universe is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, galaxies, and all other forms of matter and energy.” (Source: Wikipedia) I do not think this shows an overweening “faith” in science or its methods. It is simply how we defined things. So Sagan may have sounded arrogant but this hardly “blurs the line between solid, evidence-based science, and rampant philosophical speculation.”

That’s Not What the Job Is

Since the Kim Davis brouhaha in Kentucky a while back, this has been a simmering issue in some circles. Well now, according to The Morning Heresy newsletter:

The Tennessee House passed HB 878, which would give county clerks the ability to refuse to solemnize a marriage if doing so would violate their ‘conscience or religious beliefs.

Tennessee law already allows religious leaders to opt out of officiating marriages they object to, but HB 878 would apply to anyone who can solemnize a marriage–including public servants like county clerks, who could outright refuse to certify marriages.

Wait, county clerks “can solemnize a marriage?” Since when? In order to do that, they would have to perform the wedding ceremony. In most cases, the county clerk’s job is to ensure that all state and local laws are abided by. In my state, Illinois, the county clerk’s office “issues licenses and registers marriages once they’re performed.” It requires a judge or certified religious official to perform the ceremony.

So, Tennessee is inserting government bureaucrats where they do not belong. Whatever happened to the “small government” Republicans? And why are these people of “strong faith” such snowflakes that their religious sensibilities are so dainty? Do you think they could just be one of the many Liars for Jesus™ looking to get their Spiritual Warrior Merit Badges?

March 14, 2023

Pantheism, Why?

I am reading a wonderful book on the religious stances of the founders of the US. In that book it is claimed that many, probably most, of the key players in the American Revolution were deists, which should be shocking because to those in mainstream religion, that is almost all other Americans, considered deism a form of atheism, which was a punishable crime in many places in the Colonies.

The deism most popular at the time would probably called pantheism today.

pantheism (noun) the doctrine that the universe conceived of as a whole is God and, conversely, that there is no God but the combined substance, forces, and laws that are manifested in the existing universe (Encyclopedia Britannica)

The book’s title by the way, is “Nature’s God, The Heretical Origins of the American Republic.”

This post is about pantheism (I will report on the book later). I can’t help but wonder why anyone would even bother. It seems that nature has already been labeled and calling it “god” doesn’t change anything. At first I was supposing this equation was because people were brought up with a concept of a god or gods and they just could see the universe without a god in it (or of it) somewhere.

Then I thought that this could be a form of weapon used against traditional religion. There are some advantages. The Abrahamic gods were claimed to be omnipresent, which makes no sense as I have written before. (A god which is omnipotent and omniscient need not be anywhere anywhen to observe or act. It already has seen and heard all there is to see and hear and can act from anywhere.) But if nature is your god, you can make a good argument for omnipresence, because it just is. No matter where you go, there you are, as the saying goes. Omnipresence is a brute fact of pantheism.

The book’s author, however, makes another argument, which seems plausible. He states “Radical philosophy really begins with the intuition that the great problem with the common religious consciousness is not that it thinks so highly of God but that it thinks so little of nature.”

Clearly we are completely dependent upon nature. Were major natural systems to collapse, whether any of us could survive is a real question. The Judeo-Christian religion gives nature to us as “something inherently inert, passive, mechanical, and therefore unable to give life meaning, and it congeals its nihilism in the hallucination of an otherworldly God.” We are told to go forth and multiply and nature is there to do with as we choose. And our exploitation of nature’s “resources” is unbridled and, we now see, doing real damage to our ability to survive.

Were we to consider nature to be god and therefore sacred, would we treat it differently? Possibly the Native Americans have shown us that we would have, as they did.

I am uncomfortable with this as it seems a form of self-delusion—“Hey, guys, I have an idea, let’s pretend nature is God!”

As you can see I see pantheism as an unnecessary complication, but it may be a useful interim weapon to use against traditional religion’s rape of nature. Obviously if we do not survive any fine points in this argument are moot.

What do you think? Are you a pantheist? (How about you, John?)

March 12, 2023

Where Did The Big Bang Come From?

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:16 am

Another Sunday post—a “two-fer Sunday.” Steve

A typical trolling question on Quora, of which there are many variants, is: If scientists don’t believe in God, where did the Big Bang come from?

I think of these questions as belonging to a “trolling for god” category. Here trolling doesn’t involve trolls of any kind, real or Internet, but trolling as in the fishing technique. You drag your baited hook through waters you hope are teeming with fish to attract one.

Questions I have in response to the above question are:
1. Do you know what caused the Big Bang or are you just speculating?
2. Did you have this suspicion before the Big Bang was postulated, e.g. “Dude, what if God created the universe in a gigantic quasi-explosion?”
3. Since the Big Bang is the greatest event in the history of our universe, what lesser events do you think were caused by your god?
4. What aspects of the BBT lead you to involve your god? Was it the “in the beginning” aspect or something else? Please provide details.
5. If you suspect that your god did create the universe, how was this achieved? If you think it was just for us, why is it so big? Why is so much tucked out of sight? Why do the rules not allow us to easily visit other stars? If you suspect your god was involved, it must have had reasons for doing what it did.

Enquiring minds want to know.

Oh, as to what caused the Big Bang? (a) I do not know, neither do I know of anyone who did, and (b) I have suspicious as to whether it happened or not. The theory, itself, doesn’t address this fact.

March 11, 2023

Parsing Love Thy Neighbor

Filed under: History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 1:23 pm

Hey, it is almost Sunday . . . and you know what that means. Steve

Since so many people have used the Ten Commandments as a club, I want to expand upon what they actually meant. I am just picking on “Love Thy Neighbor” because at least it has some social utility.

This “commandment” shows up first in the Book of Leviticus, namely Leviticus 19:18 – Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.

It is instructive, however to provide a little context, for example the previous five verses:

13 Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.

14 Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the LORD.

15 Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.

16 Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD.

17 Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.

The “speaker” keeps saying “I am the Lord.” Now this may be an affirmation or a signature. Some claim “I Am” is the holy named of their god, so this could very well be “I AM, the Lord” there not being any commas in ancient Hebrew.

In any case, most Christians and others see this as Yahweh, Lord of the Hebrews instructing “his people,” his “chosen people.” This is a key point. These are instructions to those Hebrews, which were not given to any other people. So, for “you shall not defraud thy neighbor,” it is assumed that his neighbor is a fellow Hebrew. This is well understood. Those Hebrews were instructed to not mingle with gentiles, nor live in neighborhoods with them, not break bread with them, and certainly not to marry one! All references to “neighbors” are “to other Hebrews.” These are rules of how these people were supposed to behave toward one another in the group of “thy people.” So, when the commandment “thou shalt not kill/murder,” the words “other Hebrews” is implied. It is perfectly alright to kill non-Hebrews, and Yahweh orders the Israelites to do just that, by the thousands. (It is also important that the scouring of the Promised Land is a fictional back-story, written to bolster the spirits of the oft defeated Hebrew nations. The genocides described in the Pentateuch did not happen, at least as described, and the fictitious descriptions were supposed to not only make the Israelites proud of their past, but also to fear and love their god. So, these were written as compliments. If killing all of those Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites involved violating a commandment of Yahweh, why would that make the Israelites proud of that past?

So, clearly, these “commandments” were directed at Hebrews and were with regard to how they should act toward other Hebrews.

“This will only stop when we are all in the same in group: a group in which it doesn’t matter what religion you follow, what color your skin is, what country you reside in, what language you speak.”

Now, some claim that since their god made these commandments, they are not human creations and they are objective. Without their being sourced in a god they would be “only” subjective and relative. (It is a poor argument, but I will leave that to another time.)

Charles Darwin had something to say about this (and I am paraphrasing): if two tribes entered into a conflict or competition and one tribe included a greater number of courageous, sympathetic members who were always ready to warn each other of danger, to aid and defend each other, then this tribe would succeed better and conquer the other. Selfish and contentious people will not cohere and without coherence, nothing can be effected.

Hmm, “courageous, sympathetic members who were always ready to warn each other of danger, to aid and defend each other” sounds a lot like they loved one another, no? People like me contend that our social behaviors were shaped by evolution to be what they are, not by religion, and I will go further in that the behaviors existed before the religions and therefore could not have been created by them. (Another example of religions co-opting preexisting behaviors and claiming them for themselves. I am fine with religions codifying these rules, but not with their claiming they invented them.)

Please note that the “Rules Hebrews Follow” did not extend to other groups. If you told a first century Roman that Love Your Neighbor was a commandment that applied to them, so they should follow it, they would laugh and probably respond with “You don’t know my neighbors!” Since those rules were based upon pre-existing social mores shaped by evolution, they only applied to the tribe. Those admonitions did not apply to those in the enemy camp, couldn’t go around loving them, no way.

Such is the case currently in the Russian and Ukrainian war camps. Each group is bolstering their coherence, “one for all, all for one,” is the watchword. To warn each other of danger, to aid and defend each other only applies to those on your side, on your team. So, even this “objective” moral code does help anyone in such a conflict, we are still addressing only the others in our “in group.”

This will only stop when we are all in the same in group: a group in which it doesn’t matter what religion you follow, what color your skin is, what country you reside in, what language you speak. This is a universal trope in Science Fiction: aliens attack and we come together as humans and survive (or we don’t and die like dogs).

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