Class Warfare Blog

September 19, 2017

Consuming Religion

In a review of the book Consuming Religion by Kathryn Lofton (University of Chicago Press, September 12, 2017) the author is quoted as saying:

And this is what I want to emphasize in my study of consumer culture and religion: religion is a word for how people consciously organize themselves in the world and unconsciously are organized by the world. Insofar as ours is a world built by material and immaterial networks and grids, I think we’re missing out if we think of those networks and grids as secular or irreligious.

We are missing out insofar as we are missing what I have found as the archival intention of designers. Namely, to organize themselves (and us) into a world they get thereby to organize. The problem of collectivity is the danger of assimilating into any grid. The possibility of collectivity is the strength we have to rewrite our frames, together, to design different societies.

I see in our country that conservative rich people have capturered or are capturing religion and our society, from which our recovery will be very difficult. They are indeed engaged in an exercise in which they get to organize themselves (and us) into a world they get thereby to organize. Consider Bill Gates and other billionaires disrupting public education, a subject they know little of and what they do know is wrong. Think of the Koch brothers reconstructing American politics along the lines their father, a founder of the John Birch Society, would approve.

I plan to check out this book.

Do think of the word consuming in the title as both an adjective and a verb.


September 18, 2017

Evolution Isn’t True, But Creationists and Christian Apologists Keep Referring to It As If It Were

Christian apologists are fond of claiming that evolution has adapted our minds for survival but not to recognize ultimate truth; for that we need religion/Jesus/whatever.

There are so many holes in this argument, that it makes me weary just addressing it. Before even starting, aren’t these the same people who say the Theory of Evolution is false? Well, let’s get started.

First, if one accepts that evolutionary processes have adapted our minds to allow us to survive and not to recognize absolute truth, how is it the Christians are so damned sure they have found the Absolute Truth™? And, just what the heck is absolute truth? The only examples they can offer are trite word games, e.g. there are no married bachelors. Is anything worth discussing regarding the world and our experience in it an absolute truth? I am going to need some non-trivial answers to that question before I consider this anything more than a rhetorical device to get the false idea of absolute truth slipped sideways into the discussion so that it will be acceptable. It is not.

Then, how the heck does one state the premise “that evolution has adapted our minds for survival but not to recognize ultimate truth” with a straight face? A premise is something that is obviously true, or provisionally true for the sake of the argument which will prove it to be true. If you start a discussion with a bald-faced unfounded statement, you aren’t going to get anywhere reasonable at all, let alone soon. This is a typical rhetorical con, one favored by Christian apologists, is to slip their conclusion into one of their premises in an innocuous fashion, and then voila!

Let me step back and address the science here: consider the metal facility of imagination. Then consider a human being, maybe a Homo erectus, who sees the grass rustle not too far away on the African savannah. Is that due to a zephyr of the wind … or is a predator stalking him? Only the power of imagination allows both of these interpretations. If one favors the wind interpretation and one is right, there is no harm that can come from that. Same is true if one thinks it is a cheetah and one is wrong. If one thinks it is a predator and moves away, that is a good result, but if one thinks it is wind and not a predator and takes no action, our erect man may end up becoming a meal. Clearly, there is a prudent path to take, and that is wind or predator, I will avoid that area. (Note that this is just Pascal’s Wager in a different guise, worked out by the being not even an Homo sapiens.)

Survival is favored by imagining that predators exist, even in cases where they do not. In other words, imagining predators has little down side and a possible big upside. Obviously this cannot be taken to an extreme as one would become paralyzed. If used judiciously, a being can survive and even thrive.

This survival-based mental adaption of imagination is what allows, or causes, us to believe in invisible agencies, just a step away from animistic gods. So, it is evolution that allows us to believe in gods or God, but not in absolute truth. The idea of absolute truth was concocted by people wanting to brag that their knowledge was better than yours. (Oh, yeah, well, I have Truth Squared™!) There is no such thing as absolute truth, it is just another weapon in the rhetorical tool bag of apologists. “Your puny truth is merely human concocted. I spit on your puny truth! I have Absolute Truth™, so there!”

There is no absolute truth or absolute morality, or absolute anything … outside of religion. Inside of religion there is but it is mystical and supernatural, aka make believe. I guess in this sense the premise of “that evolution has adapted our minds for survival but not to recognize ultimate truth” is true as there is no such thing as absolute truth, so evolution could not create an ability to recognize it (since it doesn’t exist!). Evolution did, however, supply us with a bullshit detector and this is what this argument clearly is.

Cultivate your bullshit detector. It will help you survive!

September 6, 2017

Slurs Against Atheists

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:50 am
Tags: , , , ,

There are quite a number of common slurs against atheists, coming so frequently and in the same form that I suspect there is a small pamphlet, The Book of Common Slurs Against Atheists, right next to The Book of Common Prayer in church pews. Since these come up so frequently, I have tried my hand as to how to address a few of them.

Atheists hate God. Uh, how can we hate something that does not exist?

Atheism is a religion. Show me a church.

Atheists deny the power of religion. Show me that churches are struck by lightning less than other buildings … or are flooded less … or burn less frequently. Show me the power of religion.

Atheists deny all of the charitable good churches do. No, we just point out that very little of the money collected from members actually goes to charity. If you want to deny this, go to your church and ask them to open the books (let’s see: minister’s salary, utilities bill, building fund, grounds keeping, telephone and Internet, Sunday School expenses, … , no taxes, of course, … ). Whenever there is a natural disaster, church goers are asked to donate more, but so are secular people, so that’s a push, not a credit to churches. Churches are not primarily or even substantially charitable organizations, people.

Atheists just haven’t attended the right church yet. This claim belittles the effort made in becoming an atheist and belittles the position itself. The best response I have ever heard was a rejoinder “How many dicks do you have to suck before you know you are not gay?”

Atheists have no morals. Hello? How many atheists does the person claiming this know? (Generally the number is zero.) If someone whips this one upon you, ask them how they know this. Ask them how many atheists from their personal experience can they use as an example of this claim. (Most immediate resort to “Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot” the holy trinity of atheism, which is why I insist on “personal experience.” Hitler was a Catholic, by the way.)

Atheists believe life has no meaning? So?

Atheists are arrogant. Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Hello? This isn’t even on topic. All kinds of people are arrogant.

Atheists are intolerant. Only of stupidity, my friend, only of stupidity.

Atheists can’t find god. This is true. No matter where we look, there is no evidence of his existence. There is a reason theists claim that their god is “beyond space and time,” namely that such a beast cannot be found within space and time. Just how the heck can something be “beyond space and time,” anyway? They keep making this shit up and pretending it is real.

Atheists are against the mysteries in life. Yep. Every time one is removed, life gets better. When people see the fall colors in the trees of the north, they appreciate their beauty. So do I, but my appreciation is deeper because I know why they change color. My reality is so cold and sterile without mysteries, like the mystery of why people get sick or why it looks like the Sun revolves around the earth but does not.

Atheists are smug and sanctimonious. Being right does have its consequences.

* * *

At one point even all Christians were considered atheists. (In pagan Rome, “atheist” (from the Greek atheos) meant anyone who refused to worship the established pantheon of gods.) Soon, we may achieve this exalted state again.





September 5, 2017

Finally an Explanation for the Christian Persecution Complex

White Christians are probably the largest subgroup of its type (racial religious?) in the U.S. and yet, they seem to have established a mentality that they are also the most persecuted subgroup in the whole country. This is, of course, laughable in that an argument can be made that they are also the largest group of persecutors. But why is does this attitude of persecution exist in the first place and why are people buying into it at all, as some appear to be?

An article in the The Guardian shed some light on this. Josiah Hesse, the author, describes himself as “a recovering Christaholic, 12 years sober from God” in his piece entitled “Donald Trump Is No Saint, but I Know Why Evangelicals Love Him.” I have no interest in writing about Donald Trump, so that is not my focus, but in writing why he thinks evangelicals support Mr. Trump, a number of very interesting points were made by Mr. Hesse. To wit:

“When I was a young evangelical Christian, I was eager to be oppressed for my faith. The Bible and my pastors had warned me to avoid “worldly” people – celebrities, intellectuals, scientists, the media and liberals. Those were the ones forbidding us from praying in school while indoctrinating us with communism and evolution.

“Jesus once said: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” So I went out of my way to piss people off – telling the Goth kids they were prisoners of Satan’s lies, handing anti-abortion literature to the “loose” girls, and forcing science class to run late while I debated evolution with the teacher. My entire identity became wrapped up in being disliked by a specific group of people.

“… the point of my witnessing to the lost souls of my public high school wasn’t to convert them to Christianity, it was to see how persecuted I could be.

“Which is a remarkably addictive sensation, one that became a competitive game for me and my fellow young believers. My youth-group friends and I would share stories of being punched, spit on, or called “the biggest loser in school” the way other kids would brag about sports or sexual conquests. Just as Morrissey fans discovered loneliness to be a fashionable accessory, we wanted to emulate the sociopathy of our messiah, who said in the book of John: “If the world hates you, know that it hated Me before it hated you.

“Justified or not, white evangelical Christians increasingly believe they are the most persecuted demographic in the US today. But I don’t believe that evangelicals are interested in rectifying their status as a hated demographic, and would never protest for better treatment (or consciously demonize any racial minority the way the white supremacists do). For them, being despised by the world is a badge of honor that will ensure them a heavenly reward.”

So, of all of the utterances from the New testament Evangelical leaders could have focused on, they chose persecution (not faith, hope, charity, love, or a myriad of other foci available). Clearly the persecution complex suffered by evangelicals is synthetic, created as another tool of control by various church leaders.

If you want to control a group’s behavior, an effective way to do that is to give them an identity, and then give them a source of pride about that identity. Think High School (We are the Gamecocks, the mighty, mighty Gamecocks, everywhere we go, people want to know who we are!”). Mr. Trump often uses “best” or “most humongous” or whatever to pump up that source of pride, but if you over use that, you end up sounding like, well, Donald Trump, a blowhard who is blowing smoke up your ass. But if you build a persecution complex, you can charge up a huge battery with power. Hitler did it in Germany: the Germans were being persecuted, he screamed. When he built up a big enough charge, he unleashed it upon Germany’s enemies, as defined by Herr Hitler, of course. He could have instead called upon Germans to repent and eschew their sinful ways of war making (and losing) but that message seems to have lost its edge.

So, as Christianity loses its grip on the behavior of Americans, it has turned to fomenting a persecution complex, with no evidence of persecution in sight, to get its people to circle the wagons, listen to no one but Christian leaders, and fight to the death for … yeah, for what? That is the big question. The problem I see is if you charge a battery it will discharge whether you want it to or not. The real question is “Why are Evangelical Christian leaders charging the persecution battery?”



September 4, 2017

Cherry Picking for Jesus

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:56 am
Tags: , ,

The recent eclipse of the sun, visible from the U.S., was accompanied by the usual creationist/apologist babble about how God made the Sun and Moon the same apparent size, and thus creating an amazing thing (an eclipse!) that couldn’t happen by coincidence! There are referring to the fact that if the Moon were farther away or closer to the Earth, such occurrences would appear quite different. Also, if the Moon were larger or smaller, same thing. What they don’t say is that, if it were different, they would be pointing to the different version of an eclipse and pointing at it while saying “See what God did, see what God did?!”

This type of cherry picking is common among Christian apologists and creationists. They claim, for example, that the laws of physics are perfectly tuned for the creation of life, when the laws of physics are perfectly tuned for this universe. (How could they not be?) And this universe was apparently perfectly tuned to create vacuum, of which there is more than anything else and more is being made every minute in a fashion that appears to be accelerating. Did I mention that vacuums are inimical to life?

On any planet on which sentient beasts existed, there would be guaranteed to be things that were unique, that would be easily noticed. That those unique things were special, though, requires magical thinking. That the Moon and Sun have the same apparent size is not quite true, but close enough for casual observers, but the Moon comes between the Earth and Sun once a month. Why were we seeing a solar eclipse for the first time since 1979, then? Well, there are a lot of facts the creationists/apologists leave out, for which they have no explanations. For example:

  • The Moon was much closer to the Earth in our past and will be farther away in the future. Why did God do that, that way? This means we will only have this kind of eclipse for a geologically short period of time. I am sure that the apologists will come up with something, but …
  • The Moon’s orbit is at about a five degree angle to the orbit of the Earth around the Sun. This is why we don’t have a solar eclipse every month. I am sure the apologists will come up with something along the lines that too many eclipses benefit human beings somehow.
  • A solar eclipse has no, I repeat, no actual effect on the planet, other than imagined ones in the minds of just one species living here … us. Solar eclipses aren’t “special” they are just rare.

So, instead of pointing to obvious coincidences and claiming “God!” how about all of the other observations they could make? How about, have you noticed how all mountains have different heights? That trees all have different shapes? That you can recognize your dog, even if it is in the company of another of its species, because no two are alike? That all things fall down, but the direct “down” is different depending where on the planet you are! (How do those things know which way to fall … puzzling?) Why are the rare things always signs of their god and not the mundane things. Why did their god make pebbles all different shapes, it makes them really hard to stack!

Hey, I have an idea, why don’t Christian apologists do something useful, like explain that if a Christian gets sick, a doctor is much better than prayers, which is why God made doctors or, I don’t know, how about it isn’t a good thing to rape altar boys, or condemn other human beings for things not completely under their control, or it would be a good thing to condemn non-defensive wars (such as every one we are currently engaged in). There is so much to do that might be useful, why wander into science when you don’t have any idea what you are talking about.


September 2, 2017

I Can’t Wait for the Rapture

According to some numb nuts Christians, they will soon be transported to Heaven as part of the Second Coming of Jesus™. This event is called “The Rapture.” (Don’t bother searching for this term in the Bible; it ain’t there.) Ignoring that the source of this belief is bizarre and unreliable and that Jesus hasn’t come the first time yet, I can’t wait for this event! In fact, I want all Christians raptured, not just the fundamentalist believers of this claptrap. Take them all and let their god sort them out, I say.

Think about the benefits!

All of a sudden 2.2 billion Christians out of 7.5 billion people currently alive, roughly 30% of the load on the planet, is gone. This would reduce the world’s population down to 5.3 billion, roughly what it was in 1990, which would give us a 27 year window to deal more effectively with our problems.

Regarding the population problem, basically we know that when people are secure, have enough food, and women are educated, family sizes plummet. That’s working now, so since there would be fewer people to share out resources with, we could ramp up our efforts there. There would be no food shortages anymore, with 2.2 billion fewer mouths to feed, other than one’s we cause ourselves by refusing to distribute it reasonably, of course. There would also be no housing shortages.

Socially, there would be no more whining/whinging about the War on Christmas™, or losses of undeserved Christian privileges. There would be no Catholic priests raping alter boys. Oh, and all of those Churches … they would all be abandoned properties, with the property owners all deceased (well, most anyway). All of the church property could be foreclosed upon and sold to benefit the poor and needy, a huge boon! (Damn, I would make the trip to the Vatican rummage sale, whew!)

Keep thinking!

No more would poor people be bilked out of their hard-earned money by slick preachers. (The preachers would still be with us, not being True Christians™ and all, but the cause wouldn’t be, so take your fundraisers and shove them up your asses, faux preachers.) Oh, and since Donald Trump would still be here, we would know his actual religious affiliation and/or the sincerity of his beliefs. Think about all of those politicians who pander to the Christian Right, with their Christian Nation and other stupid legislative efforts, who would still be here … and exposed for the hypocrites they are. Delicious.

Ah, there would be no more proselytizers, at least of the Christian ilk. (Are the Hare Krishna’s still around?) There would be no more people wanting to share their personal testimony with us. No Watchtower Society, Mormons on bicycles, etc. No more institutionalized hatred of gay people or LGBTQ-LSMFT people either.

We would finally find out how much work undocumented Mexican workers were doing as most of them would be raptured, too.

The biggest gift would be to take our foot off of the gas pedal of always “growing” everything (our businesses, the economy, our “carbon footprint,” etc.) which is the definition of an unsustainable path. That alone would be worth having all of those people take their exit, stage upwards.

Now if there were just a way to get Jesus to take all of the Jews and Muslims, too, hmm … I wonder if praying would work?

August 28, 2017

Put a Fork in It … Forever and Ever, Amen

Just as I was falling asleep last night, my bedroom was brilliantly lit by an actinic flash of lightning which was followed closely by a titanic blast of thunder. I was instantly awake with my heart beating a tattoo in my chest. I do understand why primitive people created a thunder god (which they eventually lost, which makes them Thor losers … sorry, I’ll get back on point). I do understand why we created invisible creatures to take responsibility for the epic natural forces that seemed so vast compared to our puny existences.

I have a harder time understanding how we got to where we are now with an incomprehensible god explained through a series of incomprehensible narratives. At least I was until shortly ago. The book I put down just before being flashed awake last night was “Jesus: Mything in Action, Vol. III” by David Fitzgerald—the author of “Nailed: Ten Christian Myths that Show that Jesus Never Existed”) has worked a small miracle; it has shown fairly conclusively how Christianity came into being without the messy details of actually needing an historical character named Jesus. That’s right, the reason the search for “the historical Jesus” has come up with so many different results is that since there was no such person, the results simply reflect the needs and wants of the searchers.

Most people, including myself, assumed there was a real person at the core of all of the narratives, but these books, written for lay people, but referenced for those wanting to follow up on references, seal the deal, slam the door, close the book, end the discussion. It is finito; put a fork in it.

The primary source of the ammunition used to bring down the tottering edifice which is modern Christianity is NT scripture itself, with a bit of OT scripture thrown in.

Even after finishing the first two volumes, in which the case was made that the narratives in the NT cannot possibly support a real person at the core of the fairy tales, I was still wondering, well, how the heck did it come to be so widespread, then? Here is a sketch of what might have happened. I wish to point out here that in a court of law, if one prosecutes a legal case based upon a theory of how things must have happened, that a defense can be made that provides a competing theory that is at least equally probable, thus showing that it didn’t have to happen as the prosecution claims it did. Since the “traditional” narrative surrounding the creation of Christianity has no hard evidence to support it, one only needs to provide a counter narrative to, in effect, win the case. The author admits his counter narrative is fictional, but it makes a hell of a lot more sense out of what facts we do have than the traditional story.

This is just a quick sketch, mind you. The amount of data and arguing points are book-length worthy, so this is just a taste. (Do go read the books, highly recommended if you are into the topic.)

In Judaism, prophecies form a one of the three legs of its tradition. The fulfillment of prophecies is used as evidence for the existence of their god, for example, so they take them very seriously. So, one particular OT prophecy implied that a savior, a warrior messiah, would come and deliver the Jews from their oppressors. Unfortunately this prophecy fell flat and didn’t even come close to coming true. This was actually not a rare occurrence but having literally hundreds of spin doctors working, most of these failures were spun away. But this prophecy seemed so important than another prophecy was made in order to redeem the first. This prophecy, too, fell flat. Instead of a Messiah rising up and leading the Jews to throw off the yoke of Rome, with Yahweh’s help of course, the Romans once again crushed the revolting Jews. The spin doctors went to work immediately to try to salvage what they could. Allow me to quote Fitzgerald here so I do not screw this up.

So Daniel’s prophecy, originally created to 1) salvage Jeremiah’s botched prophecy, 2) explain why Onias III was killed and 3) encourage the Maccabees’ uprising, inadvertently allowed later generations of Jews to re-interpret it again (and again); including certain groups of first century Jews looking for reasons why God failed to send his messiah to save Jerusalem in the War with Rome. The idea that there could have been a secret, spiritual messiah caught on among these Jews. The evolution of this spiritually victorious-in-defeat Jewish messiah is only half the story, however.

The key phrase is, of course, “The idea that there could have been a secret, spiritual messiah caught on among these Jews” (my emphasis). Yeah, that’s the ticket! The Messiah did come and He did triumph, it was just in secret. That’s why we still have Romans climbing up our asses. Really this means that Christianity was a typical mystery religion (the other half referred to). Again, quoting Fitzgerald:

If you were to ask someone in the Hellenistic world, “What would a Jewish version of the mysteries look like?” They’d say something like: you’d have a religion whose savior was a son of Yahweh, whose passion and death atoned for sins, and who now lived in the hearts of his followers, celebrated with typical mystery rituals like baptism and a sacred meal, whose initiates regarded one another as brothers and sisters, born again into a new life here, and awaiting a blissful afterlife in heaven. In short, you’d have Christianity.

All of those aspects are typical of the myriad mystery religions in the surrounding regions, promoted first by the Greeks and later by the Romans.

All of the early literature of Christianity, the letters of Paul, etc. do not mention an earthly Jesus. They do not mention a “second coming” but a “first coming.” Paul does not name or mention any disciples. He refers only to apostles, who are people who have communicated with Jesus spiritually, have received guidance (actually quotations from the OT), and proven this by having performed miracles (healings, etc.). Paul does not mention any relatives of Jesus or quote Jesus, or refer to any of his teachings. For Paul, Jesus is a spiritual being who exists in Heaven and who is promised to make a first appearance on Earth.

No actual references to Jesus being on Earth are made until the first gospel, the Gospel of Mark, is written. The Gospel of Mark has the structure of a Greek play as well as all of the markings (no pun intended) of a mystery religion. The subsequent Gospels, written later, bring in additional narratives, and change the tone of Mark until there is enough variation that one can shape any interpretation one wishes.

The observation that Christianity has all the structures of other mystery religions was made long. long ago and immediately denied by church fathers, who were, and are still, selling a completely different narrative. But the denials are weak and tepid because there is no basis for them.

Mystery religions were really popular, for very good reasons; the primary one is they promised a happy afterlife to all believers, not just pharaohs/kings/heroes. And all you needed to get this was an indoctrination into the mysteries, which of course, brings a source of motivation for the spreaders of the doctrine. Just as primitive farmers spread manure on their fields so later they could eat and feed their families, the religious promoters spread a different king of bullshit to support themselves and their families. The support for this “new” narrative is huge. Details such as Mark’s clueless disciples (representing the nation of Jews) stand in for people who do not understand the mysteries. How could his disciples be so daft when they had Jesus right there to explain things (magically, if necessary); plus things in that other narrative are rather simple, are they not? Well, the disciples could be so daft because there was no Jesus and they are fictional characters, providing a Greek chorus of those who do not understand the mysteries.

It all holds together, it makes sense of most of the NT scriptures, and since Christianity has all of the trappings of a mystery religion and all Christians know that the “other mystery” religions were made up, fictional, foundationless, etc. each of those religions (The Mysteries of Isis, the …) is further proof you can make up a religion and promote it with no factual basis whatsoever.

Oh, and why did Christianity triumph over those other mystery religions? Irony of ironies, Christianity got fortuitously adopted by a Roman emperor who made it the state religion of Rome, by imperial order. As we all know, it isn’t what you know but who you know that determines whether you succeed or fail.

August 27, 2017

Correct Religious Belief … or Not?

Filed under: History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:31 am
Tags: , , , , ,

All three Abrahamic religions seem to be worshiping the same god, just in different ways, so why is there strife between them? Why doesn’t one see any “Isn’t that cute?” attitudes or attitudes of “Isn’t that interesting, they do it differently.” Such attitudes abound in cooking, fashion design, home design, and myriad other endeavors such that “cultural appropriation” has become a topic being discussed because people borrow so much.

Why do religions condemn other practices as incorrect beliefs? On the surface they seem to be warning others that (a) those beliefs are wrong and will get you in trouble and (b) our beliefs are right and will lead you to salvation. But even fundamentalist Christian sects who believe that all you need to be saved is to “accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior” and voila! you are saved have this same behavior. Those sects have differences with other sects making the same claims.

These differences have led to and continue to lead to wars and war-like attitudes and activities. Wars broke out between Catholics and Protestants (kind of the Empire and the Rebel Alliance of Christianity) in the sixteenth century and the Sunni-Shia battles continue to this day and have lasted for over a thousand years. (The Catholic-Protestant wars lasted only a paltry century and a half for comparison.)

These facts seem to suggest that the differences between disputed are really important, but are they? If such differences were something other than the squabbles of small-minded people, that is they were really important, would not modern churches have education programs explaining the differences and why they are important to their own parishioners as well as to prospective new ones? I do not see a whole lot of “why we are different” or “why we are better” campaigns being voiced by churches. At the other end of the spectrum, I don’t see a lot of local programs addressing how “we are all one” or “we are all in this together” either. It is as if, all of these religious sects were in … wait a minute …

… it seems as they are all in competition with one another.

Competition for membership, competition for wealth, competition for political power. As in advertising, you never mention the name of your competitors (although that rule is breaking down a bit now) because you don’t want to bring other options up in the minds of potential customers. These sects don’t make comparisons, at least not often, with other sects because one would have to explain who they were, what they believed, how many of them there were, etc. Usually the are just dismissed out of hand (They are not True Christians™!). The goal is definitely not to convince others of what the right beliefs are so that we all will be saved, their goals are much more parochial.

I suggest that if these myriad religious sects were to actually try to convince people openly of the rightness of their beliefs, the differences being focussed upon would rather quickly become equivalent to the discussion regarding how many angels might dance on the head of a pin. They would appear silly and small-minded. It would bring ridicule into play and rather quickly.

The religious sphere seems to be drifting inexorably into postmodernism in which all beliefs need to be respected because they are all “sincere” and equally valid thereby. Each sect has it’s market share and the promise, false or true, of more membership in the near future.

If actual competition for “who has the correct beliefs” were to occur, who knows how that would go? Better to stick with the safe present rather and a possibly dim future, they think. (This thinking is the same as the thinking of the churches debating whether there should be separation of church and state during the debate over the U.S. Constitution. The evangelicals, including the ones calling for a Christian Nation designation now, were all for the separation because they could see themselves being losers in the battle for state recognition as the “official religion” of this or that state or the U.S. as a whole.)

Currently, the religions in this country enjoy tax relief (even the fucking Scientologists!), they are mostly respected (why I am not sure, other than it is traditional), and the know the rules of the game they are in. It would be a hard sell to get them to shove “all in” to try to win the biggest hand they would ever play.

Anybody can open a church with little forethought, and if they can garner enough support from those who live nearby, can make a go of it. Some of these entrepreneurial churches then seek affiliation with larger bodies for the same reason unions and other collective efforts affiliate with “parent organizations.” But a quick trip to perdition awaits those who do not play by the rules. They will be hassled to death by other sects and by the governments we have created. There is a definite “don’t rock the boat” message implying a “we have a good thing here, don’t mess it up” attitude. Even so, there seems to be a lot of room in the Abrahamic god’s tent, because otherwise, how does one explain “prosperity gospel” churches. (“Sure, Jesus said rich people don’t have a hope in Hell of making it into Heaven, but join us and we’ll explain what He really meant!”)

But it is key to note that to open a new church, you have to be offering something different from the competition, so this current system encourages increasing diversity in the religious message, so rather than bringing us all to the same correct belief, it is expanding the possible number of beliefs, each of which is almost guaranteed to be at least partly wrong.

Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if a church or denomination were to announce a conclave to determine which beliefs are indeed correct and lead to salvation? Who would get a seat at that table? How many representative voices would each entity get? (Giving one seat to the Catholic Church and one seat to the Church of What’s Happening Now would seem to be not balanced.) How would decisions be made? (Voting doesn’t seem very religious. Maybe on each item each stakeholder could light a candle and the one that burned longest would indicate God’s will? This is a tough one.) And, the really big one: if this conclave actual determined what the correct beliefs were, how many regular people would be convinced? I suspect there would be a wholesale retreat to the hills by guerrilla churches to continue the war. (Imagine them ending up going: “Dang, Islam was right all along.”)

Even if the correct beliefs have already been listed somewhere, what is the chance they would be recognized as correct? Since every danged sect has its adherents, it seems that there is no set of beliefs that will get some people to sign on to. There seems to be no way out of this trap, except for a lucky few, who I am sure when they got to Heaven would say, “Hey, where is everybody?” Maybe this is just another reason not to believe at all: there is no way to determine if what you believe is effective. In most cases, we don’t even know why it is we believe what we believe, so going the next step in correcting our beliefs, that is to make them more correct until one has perfected them, seems a hopeless task. (Hint: it is.)

August 21, 2017

Yeah But What Does It Mean?

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:19 am
Tags: , , ,

Today is the big (view one from the U.S. for the first time since the late 1970’s) solar eclipse day, so I might as well blog on it!


  • The Pomo, an indigenous group of people who live in the northwestern United States, tell a story of a bear who started a fight with the Sun and took a bite out of it. In fact, the Pomo name for a solar eclipse is Sun got bit by a bear. After taking a bite of the Sun and resolving their conflict, the bear, as the story goes, went on to meet the Moon and take a bite out of the Moon as well, causing a lunar eclipse.
  • According to the legends of the Batammaliba, who live in Benin and Togo, an eclipse of the Sun meant that the Sun and the Moon were fighting and that the only way to stop them from hurting each other was for people on Earth to resolve all conflicts with each other.
  • The ancient Greeks believed that a solar eclipse was a sign of angry gods and that it was the beginning of disasters and destruction.
  • The Tewa tribe from New Mexico believed that a solar eclipse signaled an angry Sun who had left the skies to go to his house in the underworld.
  • In Vietnam, people believed that a solar eclipse was caused by a giant frog devouring the Sun, while Norse cultures blamed wolves for eating the Sun.
  • In ancient China, a celestial dragon was thought to lunch on the Sun, causing a solar eclipse. In fact, the Chinese word of an eclipse, chih or shih, means to eat.
  • According to ancient Hindu mythology, the deity Rahu is beheaded by the gods for capturing and drinking Amrita, the gods’ nectar. Rahu’s head flies off into the sky and swallows the Sun causing an eclipse.
  • Korean folklore offers another ancient explanation for solar eclipses. It suggests that solar eclipses happen because mythical dogs are trying to steal the Sun. Traditionally, people in many cultures get together to bang pots and pans and make loud noises during a solar eclipse. It is thought that making a noise scares the demon causing the eclipse away.

Look, Mom, the sky has a zit!

And Now?
Many people around the world still see eclipses as evil omens that bring death, destruction, and disasters.

  • A popular misconception is that solar eclipses can be a danger to pregnant women and their unborn children. In many cultures, young children and pregnant women are asked to stay indoors during a solar eclipse.
  • In many parts of India, people fast during a solar eclipse due to the belief that any food cooked while an eclipse happens will be poisonous and unpure.
  • Not all superstitions surrounding solar eclipses are about doom. In Italy, for example, it is believed that flowers planted during a solar eclipse are brighter and more colorful than flowers planted any other time of the year.

But What Does It Really Mean?
Well, it doesn’t mean anything, but it is a sign, a sign that all is right with the solar system. Scientists have calculated the orbits of all of the planets and plantesimals and have determined the times and places solar and lunar eclipses will occur for centuries. It means that the orbits of these objects are dependable. We should only worry when they no longer become dependable.

And We Can Count On?
Some idiot Republican will point out that solar power is just not dependable, as dependable as oil and coal, for instance.

And Need I Say…
That all of these, uh, traditional “beliefs” about eclipses, which are rather mundane astronomical occurrences, have been incorporated into local religions to make sure that these superstitions are preserved: Religion … working to make people’s lives less understandable since the dawn of time!

August 18, 2017

Apologists: Making Stuff Up (Poorly) for a Living

I am still making my way through “Philosophers Without Gods” (Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life by Louise M. Antony, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition.) and last night I was struck by yet another comment in that book. The author of one particular chapter (which one isn’t relevant this time) was writing about the role Hell played in his life and shared a comment made by C.S. Lewis in “Mere Christianity.” Here it is:

The fear that engendered these types of thoughts was deep in my psyche. Lewis expresses it well when he talks about the idea that God is going to invade the world again: ‘Christians think He is going to land in force; we do not know when. But we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. … God will invade …. It will be too late then to choose your side.’”

Once you die, you see, there is no more repentance; you are screwed … for ever and ever, amen. What C.S. Lewis is addressing additionally is another common problem for apologists. In their scripture Jesus promises to return (The Second Coming) before people then alive had died. Well, so far he is late by about 2000 years. So, did Jesus lie? Was he mistaken? Why the delay? According to Lewis, “He” is waiting “to give us the chance to join His side freely.” Other Christian apologists have taken up this argument and delivered it to nodding heads in church pews, but on its merits it … makes … no … sense … whatsoever … (logically, scripturally, theologically, etc.).

Consider the simple fact that the entire Earth’s population in the first century CE was about 300 million people, so only that many people’s lives were in jeopardy of not being saved. That was also the maximum number of people who could be saved. Plus, after “The Return” the “game” is over and no more babies have to burn in Hell. Currently the Earth’s population is over 7500 million people, 25 times more people, so while we were “waiting” for Jesus to come back, for every one person in jeopardy of Hell, there are now 25. Sheesh!

But wait, there’s more!

Of the current world population, 2200 million are Christians, which means that 5300 million people of the 7500 million total Earthlings are non-Christians, all of whom have a guaranteed ticket straight to Hell. (I won’t argue at this time, which of the many thousands of versions of Christianity is indeed correct, all the rest being losers in “the game,” and so too end up in Hell.) This number alone is almost 18 times as many people as were alive in the first century! Waiting to give us time to “join His side,” my ass. The only argument one can make using this apologetic is that their god is expanding his herd to increase the slaughter come harvest time.

C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors and he came to apologetics late in his game, and he was not a man of limited intellect. But the allure of apologetics is subversive. Say anything, no matter how stupid, that reassures those sitting in pews on Sunday, and you will receive many, many (many) positive comments and thank yous for confirming their faith (and, well, there are those book sales).

This has not changed. I see many amateur apologists making the same lame, incorrect, and untrue arguments (now on YouTube, so you don’t have to go to church to be subjected to such thinking). The goal of these people is not an examination of “why” but a reassurance that Christians are on the right path. Repeating hoary old arguments, long debunked or completely contradicted by their own scripture, is still reassuring to those people needing reassurance. There is a new generation of rubes every 25 years or so. These constitute fresh audiences who haven’t heard the old arguments, or didn’t realize there were such arguments, and each generation gets larger, so the audience for such tripe gets larger, too.

The flock really needs to be concerned over the quality of its shepherds, as the wolves are real … if you believe in them.

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