Class Warfare Blog

April 12, 2017

Why Do People Ask Stupid Questions?

I was reading a book last night that listed several existential questions. You know the type: Why am I here? Why is anyone here? and so on. (This is the kind of academic question that was mocked by Bill Cosby’s brilliant bit ‘Why is there air?” The jock’s answer was that there was air to blow up basketballs, to blow up footballs.) But the last question struck me and not in a good way: “Am I just a robot or do I have a soul?”

Am I just a robot or do I have a soul?

Okay, I get the bit about “having a soul.” Souls are a variation on the “God of the Gaps” argument. The God of the Gaps argument is if there is any gap at all in our worldly knowledge, it is filled with “god” as an explanation for what we don’t know. Before we knew what lightning was we assumed it was caused by a god. That gap in our knowledge has been filled, so no more lightning gods are needed. (Sorry, Thor.) So, anything mysterious or puzzling about the nature of our experience as human beings and, yep, that’s caused by the soul.

Basically the idea of a soul is rather pathetic. It comes down to some very deep thinking (not). First off, no one wants to die. (The joke goes that there were people who wanted to die, but they died before passing on their genes, so we are the only ones left.) Innately, we want to keep living. But second, we all die. Even the people in literature who die and are brought back to life: Lazarus, Frankenstein’s monster, etc., eventually they all die (again?).

Let me take a moment out and concede that a number of people every year die and come back to life. “Being dead” is a medical diagnosis and such things can be got wrong. The consequences can be tragic. When his tomb was reopened, the philosopher John Duns Scotus (1266 – 1308) was reportedly found outside his coffin with his hands torn and bloody after attempting to escape. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) In fact, enough people were entombed who had not died that bells were installed in some mausoleums as well as various designs for “safety coffins” incorporating similar mechanisms were patented during the 18th and 19th centuries and variations on the idea are still available today. So “resurrections” are not necessarily imaginary. My point is, resurrected or not, everyone has eventually died.

And when we die, our bodies decompose. Our flesh molders away, leaving inert bones that, cartoons aside, never get up and dance again. Clearly no part of our bodies “lives on” so if there were to be a part of us that does live on, it must be invisible. So, souls stem from the facts that: no one wants to die (we all want to live on), everybody does die, and since no visible part of our bodies seems to survive, the part that does must be invisible. Voila, a soul is born!

Now, let’s look at the “just a robot” part of the question. Just a robot? This is a smear. This is a setup. This is a comparison like how much friskier your dog is than the dead dog over there. Just a robot?

Think about robots for a second. The term was invented by Karel Capek for a play he wrote in 1920, although organic versions can be identified going back to golems (a robot made of clay) and other creatures, but Capek’s play is the first instance of the idea of a mechanical robot in human literature. And in human literature robots stayed, through “Forbidden Planet” (a movie so bad it is good), and myriad science fiction books. Not long ago, though, “robots” started showing up in the news: robots that helped make cars, robots that did medical operations, etc. And fairly recently, we have been treated to robots for the home: robots that vacuumed our floors, robots who were pets, and the Japanese have been working on robotic people. (The sexual tastes of a significant number of Japanese men do not include the words “human” or “female” for some strange reason.) Soon, our cars are expected to be robots, driving us around like we are Ms. Daisy.

In just one hundred years robots have gone from the realm of imagination to household objects. Now, extend that line of development one hundred more years, then one hundred more and a couple of hundred more after that. Can you honestly say that “just a robot” would be a thing of derision? Such things could be physically more capable than humans and computationally more capable also. They may even achieve consciousness and we would then be debating their status in our societies (tool or slave?).

The phrase “Am I just a robot” exhibits a distaste for any description of human beings as being a product of biological evolution. But humans being biological constructs is a quite successful explanatory framework which has answered many, many questions about why we are the way we are and why we think the ways we do. This concept is the “go to” concept for scientific researchers looking for the roots of human health, disease, and behaviors. The reason for this is that it has been damned successful. You do not have to like it, but it is undeniable.

Have all human activities being explained through the “we are meat robots” hypothesis? Of course not. But we have been trying for only a little over one hundred years so far. Extend that line of development one hundred more years, then one hundred more and a couple of hundred more after that and we shall see. The categories of robot and human may not even remain separate. Currently there are research efforts to merge electronic modules into people’s bodies given the blind the ability to see and the immobile the ability to move. (Yes, now.)

So, what struck me originally with “Am I just a robot or do I have a soul?” is how are these two a dichotomy? Surely this question is at least multiple choice. Could not human beings be the result of an alien biology experiment? Could not human beings be an experiment of a god: creating conscious beings without souls to see if we missed them? Why is the list so small: I have a soul or I am a meat puppet.

Clearly, this is a false dichotomy. This is like the recent presidential election when we were presented with a choice of two individuals, neither of whom was at all desirable or suitable to be president. When you force a false choice such as this, the results are not at all helpful.

The question stacks the deck for us having souls. So why must we have souls? Well there is the argument (above) explaining the logic, but a more powerful urge is unveiled here. We have souls because we are special. (Cue the Church Lady.) Of all creatures, we are different. Not only are we different, we are better. We are better than those Neanderthals and other hominids because they didn’t have souls. Only we have souls. We have souls because a god loves us and wants us to live forever.

Pathetic, absolutely pathetic.

Right now people are debating the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in our society (as being on the path to artificial consciousness?—hey SkyNet was powerful enough to make Arnold Schwarzenegger an international star!). Maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves; maybe we should be spending a bit more time on the consequences of natural intelligence and the lack thereof.

April 11, 2017

Find Jesus … or Not

This series is propaganda and little more. (I should write this a dozen more times but I don’t want to waste my time typing or your time reading.) This series claims to be an investigation, but they only seem to find out what they already knew. (I’m shocked, I tell you, shocked!) The series states “Finding Jesus discovers fascinating new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research.” So, in this episode (Doubting Thomas) the singular scientific attempt to gain new information is the testing of a relic thought to be an arm bone of the disciple Thomas. The interesting thing is that it was found in India. Oh, and I have yet to observe a new insight, fascinating or not, but that is just my humble opinion.

As with all of the past episodes I have seen the first half hour of this show is a restatement of the scriptural account of the characters under examination. Of course there are re-enactments. I really have sympathy for the actor chosen to play Jesus because, try as he might he does come across as smarmy from time to time. Tough role to play. (I am not a god, but I play one on TV.)

The talking heads offer such gems as “Christianity came to India … why not by St. Thomas?” I don’t know, why not Howard the Duck?

They get the sciencey question out immediately, namely will C-14 dating of a relic support the Christian tradition of St. Thomas going to India, there to create churches and baptize many Indians? This is, of course, a tease as they will not answer this question until the very end of the show.

Since the New Testament drops the disciples of Jesus like a hot rock after the resurrection narrative, the show calls upon just snippets from the Gospel of John, you know the one written a hundred years after the actual events and many decades after the first three had been in circulation. (The author of “John” had axes to grind and grind them he did.) In addition they call on the Acts of the Apostles which, if you have read it, doesn’t say much at all about the apostles/disciples unless you consider Paul to have been one. (You know Paul, the “apostle” who only met Jesus in his fevered mind.) But not to worry, just because the normal sources have little to nothing to say about the disciple Thomas, we are rescued by The Acts of Thomas, written at least two hundred years after the supposed events of the gospels. This document was in circulation in the 4th C. CE and has been dated to the 3rd C. The surviving Syriac manuscripts, however, have been edited to purge them of the most unorthodox overtly gnostic passages, so that the Greek versions reflect the earlier tradition. I take note that such documents are considered apocryphal (translation: of doubtful authenticity, spurious) by official sources, at least until they are needed to support Christian arguments and then they become “Christian traditions.”

So, we are treated to re-enactments of events described in The Acts of Thomas as if it were holy scripture. Hey, its a good story, so what the heck.

We get breathlessly interrupted with breaking news that we now have evidence that a king who was mentioned in the Acts of Thomas, but who was thought to be mythical, seems to have been a real person. The source was the discover in the 19th C of coins with his name and likeness on them. So much for the latest scientific techniques. The coins were dated to about 60 CE.

But we are told about the Christians in southern India who have been there since the 3rd C. CE and possibly could have been there as early as the 2nd C CE and, oh, what the heck, could possibly even date back to the 1st C CE. Realize that to these people a possibility is a wide-open thing. One of the talking heads chipped in with “Since many people went to India, Thomas could have, too.” Brilliant!

It turns out that the spice trade had already established a healthy degree of contact between southern India and the west. (This is common knowledge.) There was even a community of Jews in place about that time, presumably mostly merchants.

Let ’em take a moment and establish a few time markers. The gospels do not list the ages of the disciples, but since these were all working members of the local communities of the area, we assume they were not children. This would be especially true since if the disciples were to be of any use, they had to have some standing in the community. So, as a rough guess, they would be around Jesus age. This would make Thomas roughly 60 years old in 60 CE, then.

Okay, gang, back to the show!

So, according to Indian traditions, Thomas did his missionary work establishing churches and baptizing folks right and left, but because he was converting many high cast people, he started receiving some negative attention. When he converted the local king’s wife and son, the king had enough and sent a troop of men to hunt down Thomas and pierce him with spears. He was supposedly buried in 72 CE. At that time, he would have been around 70 years old, but the enactment had him still a rigorous middle aged man. Maybe he has some of Methuselah’s blood in him or maybe they did a lousy (aka dishonest) job of re-enacting the scene.

They took the time to repeat the tease again, asking whether testing of the holy relic, said to be the arm bone of St. Thomas, would lend credence to this story?

Along the way they describe how the Indian Christians claim that Thomas was their source of knowledge and that they had two songs that mention his teaching, etc. and how they preserve the practice of the time of segregating women and men in the church. Apparently they hadn’t read Acts of the Apostles because the Jerusalem church was in all kinds of hot water with the Jews for allowing women and men to mix in must public endeavors. These people had preserved the Jewish tradition, not a Christian one. (Details, details.)

If only, more of the documents from the time of Thomas were available, but … hold on moment, I have to stop laughing … okay, wait … in 1599 the Thomas Christians in India were declared heretics by the Pope and the Portuguese came around and burned all of their documents! But the irrepressible commentators responded with, well, in the absence of documents, you just have to have take the events on faith! (Okay, just breathe, slowly, catching my breath.) No sense of irony was detected.

Along the way, they pointed out that the songs of the Indian Thomas Christians had been preserved for 1800 years and that many of the traditions in the region were in almost complete agreement, something that occurred almost nowhere else. This was delivered as if it were some kind of miracle, rather than, since it was so unusual, it was probably an example of contamination. Again, no irony was detected.

They also toss out the “fact” that Thomas, upon arriving in India was given an audience with the king. This is clearly made up as there were all kinds of Jews already in residence and Thomas was not even a merchant with something to sell. he was, in fact, a nobody who didn’t even speak the local language. Why would the king want to meet with him. The document doesn’t say, so this was inserted just to establish that everyone thought that Thomas was an important person. (Realize this is just a few months after the events of the death of Jesus and Christianity didn’t take off for many, many decades, so there is no way the king would have heard of Thomas or Jesus and been curious.

They also glibly tossed out that in those pre-literate times, there were bards (I doubt the Indians called them “bards”) whose task it was to memorize and preserve the songs, so that explained why those Indian songs about Thomas had come down to us, unchanged over 1800 years. Uh, no. Studies of bards have shown a very wide range of versions of stories being told by the same bards! The gist of the stories stayed the same, but the length  and details varied a great deal. Just like musicians who know how a tune goes, will improvise it different one nigh differently from the previous, bards seem to do the same, so I doubt very much that these songs are the “same songs” created regarding Thomas in India 1800 years ago. Hell we had a debate about the lyrics of Louie, Louie that wasn’t resolved when the song was till on the radio. YouTube currently has a video up entitled “The True Lyrics of Louie, Louie.”)

They also had the audacity to claim the snippet from the Gospel of John in which the resurrected Jesus presents himself to Thomas in which Thomas greets him with the words “my lord my god” as the only time in the New Testament in which Jesus is recognized as god. In a pig’s eye. John has Jesus referring to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as three entities within just a few pages. So, the utterance, if real could very well have been “My Lord, my God (has delivered you back to us). I am sure you can come up with myriad other insertions that would make sense. Realize that this was a community of Jews. If Thomas had claimed some man was really Yahweh, he would have been torn apart by a mob for the vilest kind of blasphemy. I can’t imagine that Jesus, even if he were god, would want anyone saying it out loud (and getting torn apart) and I am equally sure that Thomas would have swallowed his tongue before he said such a thing.

Shameless, utterly shameless.

Oh, and when Thomas is finally executed for pissing off the local king, we are treated to the usual “that’s just the cost of following Jesus” BS. But, how about arrogance, the chutzpah, the idiocy. Convert the King’s wife and son to a foreign religion? I can imagine there were warnings given, which were of course ignored, because to hell with anyone else’s sensitivities, he was on a holy mission from God! (Cue the soundtrack of The Blues Brothers.)

Oh, the C-14 testing of the arm bone of Thomas relic, remember that? The date? It came out 130-330 CE. I have to wonder if any of these supposed holy relics can pass even a basic test of authenticity. Are they all fakes?

Oh, the capper! What do you expect the researcher said upon delivering the news of the failed test? Are you sitting down? He said “Not Thomas … but it is really old, one of the oldest” (relics ever dated). “Wow, that’s great!”

Shameless, utterly shameless.

If I were a Christian, I would want these people taken out in a field and stoned.

If You Want to Understand Why American Education is Fucked Up—Read This

Filed under: Education,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:42 pm
Tags: , , , ,

(Hint: Follow the Money)

https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/08/standardized-testing-creates-captive-markets/

You May Want the Federal Government Run Like a Business But Do You Want It Run Like One of His Businesses?

A common GOP trope now is that the federal government, all governments really, should be run like businesses. This idea is quite silly but has caught on because of the general dissatisfaction with government, something brought about by a propaganda campaign against the government by the GOP. Interesting gambit that: drum up general discontent creating a climate for the solution you favor. (Can you spell Nazis, boys and girls?) Their solution, by the way, is not running government as a business but running government for business.

As a little experiment, list all of Mr. Trump’s executive orders and then force each of them into one of two categories: 1) good for the people (makes the government better or stronger) or 2) good for business owners. This, of course, is a false dichotomy as many of these things will ultimately prove to be bad for both, but just doing this will take the temperature of the current administrations actions. (Actually, most of the EOs are symbolic in nature and at the beginning of long paths to implementation of anything, but that is another topic.)

Back to my main topic. Mr. Trump runs his businesses by squeezing labor by employing undocumented immigrants, avoiding union contracts, etc. and by squeezing those who are in agreements with him: local governments all the way down to the vendors serving his businesses. He also uses the courts to create advantages for himself: for every bankruptcy he has actually begun, he has threatened many more. He has threatened to sue people so many times that he could be the senior partner in a law firm. When one has considerable capital and can hire lawyers, nuisance lawsuits provide a lot of leverage over people for whom the legal costs are ruinous or at least damaging. And, I do not think he could threaten bankruptcy for the federal government, but he could create economic chaos through government shutdowns, debt defaults, etc. All of these are the high drama, high profile scenarios Mr. Trump favors as his business style.

Businesses owners are often casual at best toward the externalities of their businesses. Externalities are the physical “commons” we all share responsibility for. So, historically, businesses have dumped their wastes into the air, into the water, and onto the land with no thought of taking responsibility for the problems those waste “disposal” processes create. Did businesses lead the charge to clean up our waterways? our air? our waste disposal sites? If you are old enough, you remember that the “business community” fought these actions tooth and nail and are still doing this. It was government that lead the charge. (I remind you the our governments are effectively “us” for the purpose of collective actions.)

It was government, especially the federal government, that passed things like the Clear Air Act and other sets of government regulations that have made our air quality far better than it used to be. When I was in the fifth grade on the San Francisco peninsula, I was sent home from school one day because of smog. LA was far worse as the SF peninsula was surrounded by water and had clearing winds. Such smog alerts no longer happen, thanks to government regulations. Then there was the regulation for unleaded gasoline to prevent lead poisoning (opposed by business), the regulation for unleaded paint to prevent lead poisoning, especially of children (opposed by business), the gas mileage standards (opposed by business), the acid rain regulations (opposed by business), … need I go on?

So, has Mr. Trump made us safer or healthier by his diktats? Let’s see, he has made it okay for coal companies to go back to dumping their toxic waster (laced with heavy metals, like mercury, etc.) back into streams, he has set aside higher gas mileage standards, he produced an EO that asks agencies to review any regulations that could “potentially burden the development or use” of oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources so that action could be taken to eliminate regulations. So much for wind and solar, who needs them and what’s a little pollution from coal power plants or nuclear ones; we can safely store radioactive waste, somewhere, we’ll figure it out. Doesn’t sound like a promising start, but then he did promise to “do away with burdensome federal regulations,” but not at any time being specific as to whom or what they are a burden.

So, if Mr. Trump’s Administration is being run like a business, who are the workers and who are the customers? If you are a worker, you will continue to be squeezed as that’s what Mr. Trump and his minions do in their businesses. Customers “buy” from a business, that is services or goods. If you pay taxes, then you are a customer. Do you expect better service? Mr. Trump has promised less of it (except military services and Homeland Security services). He has promised better service, but his budget proposal (actually Mr. Trump had almost nothing to do with the current budget proposal but it is traditional to attach the “ultimate cause” label to all presidents, so …), his budget proposal slashes services to “customers” right and left and then slashes the budgets of the agencies that are providing what remaining services there will be. How this equates to “better” is very hard to see.

So, do you think Mr. Trump is running the federal government as a business or for business? What do you think?

April 10, 2017

Running on Fumes

If you were expecting another Finding Jesus review this morning, I confess to running out of gas … but don’t worry, I recorded last night’s episode. The reason I ran out of gas is I binged on two History Channel programs, one called “God vs. Satan” and the other “Jesus: The Last 40 Days.” Apparently CNN and the History Channel are in a competition as to which channel can make Christians feel the best about their religious choice. This seems to be the early rounds of the world championships of religious pandering. (The History Channel has long since transformed itself into The Fake History Channel, so its place in this contest is earned.)

In “God vs. Satan” we are treated to a long, very long actually, diatribe on the epic battle that is shaping up between God and Satan. WTF? I must say straight off, that there are more than a few problems involved here … and they, of course, add many more. God is described as “all-powerful” or “omnipotent,” no? Can two supernatural entities share this title? Could there be another entity that was also all-powerful? In a word, no. If there is a tie in the World’s Strongest Man contest, then each is one of the world’s strongest men, but not the WSM. To be the WSM you must be stronger than all of the other competitors. To be all-powerful, you must be Number 1, not Number 1A. If there were another all-powerful entity, then there would be more than one god and there would be no monotheism, so this is not a trivial point.

So, how does one then handicap a contest between God and Satan. This one is simple, this is a little like predicting the outcome of a boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Rodney Allen Rippy. We are talking no contest here. Let me take just one instance: the “serpent” in the Garden of Eden is identified in this show and by others as being Satan. There is, of course, no evidence for this; it is just wishful thinking, not at all unusual for these shows. Now in the Genesis story the “serpent” royally screws up God’s plans (we are guessing here, the serpent could have been doing exactly what God wanted, we do not know) and because of that God strips his legs off, with a thought, and requires him to slither along the ground for the rest of all time. So, if this is Satan, he seems not to be able to lay a glove on God.

Also, uh, who created Satan? God did. Could God uncreate Satan? Yes, he is “all-powerful” which means there is nothing He cannot do. Then why will there be a final battle on a field outside Jerusalem between armies to determine the who will rule going forward God or Satan? If I were God, I would wait for Satan and his army to show up and detonate a thermonuclear device on his head, end of war.

Here are some of the breathless comments made during this “show:”
“The battle between good and evil has long intrigued scholars.”
“The epic battle between light and dark is upon us.”
“The cataclysmic end of the battle is just over the horizon.”
“Who will emerge the winner and what will it mean for the world?”
There’s more but, sheesh, these guys could give lessons in fear mongering to Republicans. Of course, they hired an narrator who has a voice of god in his repertoire, Avery Brooks (from Deep Space 9 to Armageddon!).

To their credit, they spilled the beans fairly early (they didn’t want a contradiction late in the program that could cancel out all of that expensive fear mongering). They pointed out what few people know, that the Hebrews were not monotheists at the beginning of the Bible accounts. The establishment of Yahweh as the sole and only God takes some time and quite a few books. (If this is news to you, go read the First Commandment. That commandment would be entirely unnecessary were there no other gods being worshiped. And to list something first is kind of a statement as to its importance, no?) But, as the show points out, if there is only One God, then He is responsible for all of the good in world and all of the bad. They state that “most people were a little uncomfortable with that.” God is supposed to be “all good,” so how can He even imagine something bad or … <drum roll> evil. So, Satan was invented and because any angel, fallen or otherwise, would be squashed like a bug in a confrontation with God, they had to pump up his resume. Over time, he just gets more and more powerful, until they reach a point that there will be a final battle between the two gods and the outcome is in doubt! (Pant, pant, pant….)

Now, if you, like me, find this quite silly, please realize that there are people taking political actions today that are based on this scenario being true. Much of the interest of American Protestants, say, in Jerusalem has less to do with the past than with what its role in the future will be. These people are investing time, effort, and a great deal of money trying to make this battle happen.

Of course, they also bring up the Book of Job, the book in which God and Satan are co-conspirators to ruin Job’s life. According to this show, “Satan is portrayed as an increasingly bold player in human affairs.” Right. Hello? Satan is a messenger boy, coming and going at God’s will in this book. Satan has to get God’s permission to do anything to Job and God proves himself a total asshat for not simply stating “I am all-knowing and I know Job’s heart and there is no doubt in Job, so Satan, go and take out the garbage, do something useful.”

They also do not point out that The Book of Job is last book in the Hebrew Bible (the OT books are re-ordered in Christian Bibles to create the illusion that the OT leads to the NT). The Book of Job being the last book of the Hebrew Bible basically tells Jews, they are on their own now, don’t expect any “hands on” help from God any more. Not a message that Christians want to hear.

Of course, they couldn’t address the End of Days without bringing in the Book of Revelations. This is the book written by John the Divine, consumer of hallucinogens/magic mushrooms/ergotamine, whatever. They get comments from: a Professor of Christian Bible, an Associate Professor of Religious Studies, the author of “Antichrist Rising,” a Professor of Religion, and an Imam from the Islamic Center of America along the way. These learned people talk about how the forty days in the wilderness so weakened Jesus that Satan could tempt him. So, Jesus was weakened by hunger? Not much of a god, being apparently the only one who needs to eat. And all Satan could do was “tempt” him? (Want some candy, little girl?) How about sticking a knife between his ribs, Satan? Be a mensch. But according to the narrative of this show “By taking on Jesus and therefore God, Satan had intensified their fight.” Really, Satan “took on” Jesus? with some high school taunting? And Jesus and God are not one? They are separate entities, is that what their narrative preaches? I think they had better watch out.

They wrap up this diatribe with comments like “Humanity prays for an end to evil.” Of course, believing in “good and evil” in the first place leads down silly paths like this, futile ones. But they end on a hopeful note with “For the true believer, there is comfort that it is all God’s plan.” WTF? Jesus riding a horse to battle at Har-Mageddon (aka Armageddon, yes, it is a place not an event), a battle with an uncertain outcome between good and evil, light and dark? One in which if Satan wins may result in demons eating the flesh off of our bones while we are still alive?  Sounds like the authors of the Bible got a little too close to Zoroastrianism and the mystery religions before they picked up their pens. If I were Jesus, I would ask for an F-16 at least.

The Pentagon has better plans than this one. And if these shows prove anything is that all of these “stories” including all of the “characters” in them, are creations of men. Any modern person expecting a final battle to involve gods riding horses … on the ground, for Pete’s sake, is more than a little deluded.

Oh, the show “Jesus: The Last 40 Days” was worse, far worse.

April 9, 2017

Inquiring Theists Want to Know!

Theist apologists are always coming up with questions for atheists, kind of like the questions Catholic kids come up with for their Catechism teachers, e.g. “If God is all-powerful can he create a rock so big even he can’t lift it, Father?” Here is one of the latest:

Without a personal Creator-God, how are you anything other than the coincidental, purposeless miscarriage of nature, spinning round and round on a lonely planet in the blackness of space for just a little while before you and all memory of your futile, pointless, meaningless life finally blinks out forever in the endless darkness?”

Gosh, as an announced atheist, this makes me want to go slit my wrists, but I am laughing too hard to undertake that task with any skill, so I will just tackle this question first.

Underneath all of the snark embedded in this “question,” is a feeling of superior knowledge, that the questioner knows that without his creator god, life is just futile. (None of the other creator gods will do, don’t you know.)

So, “a coincidental, purposeless miscarriage of nature,” hmm. Well, I can’t be a miscarriage because I actually was born, but coincidental, I’ll own up to that. My parent’s believed in planning their family and I was the third of the two children they planned, so, coincidental I am.

Now, “spinning round and round on a lonely planet in the blackness of space.” I can detect no spinning. There is a gym nearby that offers spinning but I do not subscribe for that. The planet is “lonely,” that I do not get. The solar system has eight major planets, some minor planets, and myriad moons, etc. This guy makes it sound like there is the Sun and the Earth and little else. He must be reading his Bible. Maybe he means that I am lonely. Well, if I am, then I am very picky regarding having friends with over seven billion other humans to chose from, plus myriad other non-human companions I could entice to come live with me (for free room and board). No, I am not lonely; he got that wrong.

“In the blackness of space?” We seem to be quite well adapted to the light-dark cycles on our planet. The Scandehoovians who experience almost no “dark” during the winter go a little batty behind that, so “dark” is apparently a good thing for us. I like looking up at the dark sky and seeing all of the pretty lights, so not really dark at all, so he got this wrong, too.

But, yes, in a little while (littler all of the time) I shall die and kinda-sorta be forgotten. I still remember my parents and grandparents and other deceased relatives, so I expect to remain in memory of my younger relatives for some time. I am named in a family genealogy that goes back to the 1700’s and am recorded in a number of diverse histories, so will be “remembered” that way to some extent, and I have written close to a dozen books, which will remain available for a very long time, possibly many decades, but really I will not give a shit as I will be dead.

I have to ask, are all of those people supposedly in Heaven and Hell enjoying their immortality? Are they “remembered” by the living? Is not everyone remembered by your God who cannot forget anything (otherwise He would not be all-knowing), so is not everyone, in your world view, remembered forever and ever? Very puzzling attitude then for for you, a believer, to have.

And “your futile, pointless, meaningless life finally blinks out forever in the endless darkness.” I am looking forward to the endless blackness, far preferable to the Lake of Fire you promise my kind. But where do you get “futile,” and “pointless,” and “meaningless” from? Are you saying that because you are a Christian, your life is automatically not futile, not pointless, and not meaningless? If so, you are going to have to provide some details. What is your purpose in life? If it is to end up in Heaven at the side of your God, isn’t that a little self-serving? It sounds a lot like “I am going to get mine and the rest of you can go roast in Hell.” Many of your ilk tell us that good deeds will not get us into Heaven, but faith will, so you exalt people who do not do good deeds by have faith over people who lack faith, like me, who do good deeds. Sounds a lot like “I am going to get mine and the rest of you can go roast in Hell.” It also sounds as if you believe that your God has a plan for you. (He believes in family planning, unlike our current GOP.) Can you tell me what your plan is so I can see whether or not you are meeting your quarterly goals? No? Another thing I just have to take on faith, I guess.

And, last, regarding “meaning” as applied to one’s life. Meaning is something that is created in the hearts, minds, and words of others. You can read about the meaning of people’s lives in Wikipedia, for example. These meanings are divined, if you will allow the use of that word, from others observing our deeds. So, one creates the meaning of one’s life by doing. I can live with that.

And, I can die with that.

 

April 7, 2017

Oh, Boy, Here We Go Again

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:06 am
Tags: , , , ,

The current administration has taken pains to emphasize that bombing Syria with 59 Cruise missiles today was a “proportionate response” to “the chemical attack.” The attack was apparently delivered through bombs and the victims were residents of a “rebel-held town,” Khan Sheikhoun. The attack killed at least 70 people, including children according to reports. No Americans have been reported to have been involved.

So, can you define what a Syrian “rebel” is? If there are Syrians fighting Syrians is this not a civil war? Why are we, the U.S., taking sides in a civil war? Were we attacked? No, the “rebels” were? Are any of the many protagonists capable of doing this as a “false flag?” Yes, I think all of the parties are. Hell, half of them could have done it by mistake. So, how are we so certain we are supporting the right people in this conflict?

When Mr. Obama became interested in the Syrian Civil War, the problem seemed to be that there were so many “rebel” factions, and that didn’t include ISIS which has territorial goals of its own, we didn’t know which of them to support. We were urged to “arm the rebels”? I asked “which ones?” And how were we going to ensure that those folks didn’t sell those arms to raise cash that they also needed? Apparently ISIS ended up with many of the arms we “provided” to whomever we provided them.

What are the interests of the U.S. here? Is it oil? (I don’t think so.) Is it World Peace? (A funny way to try to achieve world peace … making war.) Is it we have all of these arms and if we don’t use them, they will exceed their expiry dates? (Maybe.) The Pentagon seems to have been buying replacements for items they scrapped because they had no use for them, so maybe this is just part of the military-industrial complex’s procurement model. Sell weapons. Make sure they are used somewhere to “Protect American Interests.” Sell replacements for the munitions used.

Syria has been a Russian protectorate for quite some time, so I do not see what political or economic interests we could have there. I certainly haven’t heard any government official clearly explaining what those interests are.

And now we have the unthinkable just a few months ago … Trump’s War. Gosh, I wonder what use the Distracter in Chief would have for a war.

April 6, 2017

I Don’t Get It

The definition of “it” in the title is probably very, very long (very!). In this case it is our current debate about healthcare.

There is continuing support for certain functions of government to be paid by the government. Unlike knuckle-dragging conservatives, I do not see “government” as being some outside agency closely representing a skin cancer (something you want shrunk and or carved out), but as a representative of “us.” We are completely fine with “single payer” K-12 education. Citizens and non-citizens alike can register their children to attend a neighboring school and there the children receive an education with no further costs. (Yes, I do know there are myriad costs associated with a child in school, but those are not directly related to the education they receive.) This is, accurately, not a “single payer” system as multiple government agencies are involved, so maybe a better description is “government paid” for this schooling. We also have many other services that are “government paid.” For one, the military. For another, our government offices. When you go to your local councilman or alderman’s office for information or a complaint, there are no fees associated with those services. In all of those cases, the “government”—remember that means “us”—picks up the full tab.

The argument goes that those services are “essential,” that is we all need them and money should be a barrier to whether or not you receive those services.

Oh, there are also the police, fire services, the courts, etc. There are many things that fall into this category of “things we all pay so everyone can partake equally.” In some cases, this is the “many” protecting itself from the “few.” Many vaccinations are low cost, even free, to avoid the spread of diseases.

I don’t get why health care is not one of those things.

I understand that people, especially politically conservative people, have bought into a capitalistic “pay as you go” culture, uh, well, kinda sorta. The biggest proponents of “individual liberty/individual responsibility” are not all self-made people, many inherited money. If Donald Trump had invested all of the money he inherited in stock market index funds, he would have four times as much money now as he claims to have, according to some accounts. (So much for him being a good businessman, he has managed to lose only three quarters of his potential net worth. He is, at best, a mediocre businessman.) The Koch brothers inherited millions (and built upon those, yes). Mitt Romney, who claims that nobody helped him, was given two million dollars of “seed money” to help him get started as well as being given access to his really well-connected father’s associates. The Walton clan … well, daddy made the big pot for them.

For those without great wealth in this group are people who received help along the way from government (aka “us”) agencies. Help with their educations, help with business loans, help from other government agencies, etc.

But them poor people, they lack drive and ambition. They should go out and start a business. Really, you mean those business startups that have a 90% failure rate after three years? Where would they get the money to take that very risky venture? The banks? Wall Street? Venture Capitalists? (Sorry, laughing so hard my sides are aching.) If you haven’t noticed, over the last 30-40 years, businesses have stopped investing in their own business. They have accumulated trillions of dollars of cash reserves that are just sitting there. So, these are the people poor people are to emulate? (Step 1 Pile up a mountain of money. Step 2 Sit on it. Neoliberal Business Practices 101)

Poor people need to go out an get a job, then? Oh, do they mean the jobs conservatives have suppressed wages on for decades so they do not pay enough to meet a person’s expenses? Those jobs? All of the anti-union, anti-minimum wage rhetoric is not coming from poor people, it is coming from the same conservative ass holes who are insisting that everyone should “pay as you go.”

I do not want single-payer healthcare. (Currently I have Medicare and a Medicare supplement policy, and I pick up the slack those two do not cover, so there are at least three payers there, certainly at least two.) I want government paid health care. It is at least as important as an education for our kids, if not more so.

There’s more but my spleen just gave out.

* * *

Poverty is not due to a lack of character, it is due to a lack of cash. (I don’t know who said this first.)

April 5, 2017

A Class Warfare Blog Public Service: A Review of “Finding Jesus: The Bones of St. Peter”

Filed under: Entertainment,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:02 am
Tags: , , , , ,

I have just completed a review of Finding Jesus: The Childhood Home of Jesus, finding it puzzling and rather self-defeating. But a couple of nights ago, I was bored in the extreme and another episode of Finding Jesus showed up on the TV schedule. Well, “in for a penny, in for a pound,” I thought, “why not?”

You may recall that this CNN series has the following description: Finding Jesus discovers fascinating new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research. Finding any meaningful research in this series will be a miracle, I am afraid.

In this episode we are treated to one half of an hour of talking heads reciting the story of Peter from the Christian Gospels, there being virtually no other records of the man. Peter is not spoken of as a literary character but as a real person through all of this and since talking heads can be rather dull, they had actors re-enact parts of the story for the talking heads to talk over. (The parts of scripture were selected from here and there as there are myriad conflicts in this story, but I am setting that aside for the moment.) We are told that Peter was a large man, a strong man … because? Well, “he was a fisherman and fishermen have to be strong.” Well there is a good story line, might as well use it. The fact that the boats were small and one could not be quite large and still move around in a small boat, thus favoring small, strong men as fishermen seemed to escape the gentleman with the, uh, opinion. The average Israelite was about 5´4˝ tall. More than likely fisherfolk were about the same.

Peter also had long straight hair, and Anglo features, including blue eyes. Gosh, Jesus looked Anglo, too. Nobody looked particularly Palestinian in the enactments, instead they looked like Anglos in drag. At least Jesus wasn’t a blond (he was a hunk, though, just sayin’). The commentary focused on how Peter and Jesus were best buds, bros even. They claimed that Jesus gave Peter his new name (Simon being his old one) because he would be the rock upon which Jesus would build his church. I suspect the nickname Petros was more likely given because Peter was hard headed and obtuse, failing to understand Jesus’  teachings over and over. Plus the “foundation of his church” comment was the only such utterance or action taken that had anything to do with founding a church or new religion, which leads me to believe it was an interpolation of the author of that gospel and not anything planned by Jesus. Why Jesus would want to build a church is puzzling since he saw the coming of the new age in just a few short years and stated this over and over.

Jesus (above) was a stud, don’t you know. Peter, uh, not so much … but he did have blue eyes!

Anyway, we are treated to the “traditional” Peter stories for half an hour, peaking in the joy of Peter meeting Jesus after resurrection. They emphasized once again, the betrayal of Judas and Peter’s denial of Jesus … three times(!) … as if they were important actions. Hello? If Judas doesn’t lead the police to Jesus, how does he get arrested, executed, and resurrected? If Peter leads an armed resistance to Jesus’ arrest and is successful, no resurrection and no Christianity. If Peter says “Yes, I was Jesus’ chief acolyte,” he gets rounded up along with Jesus and ends up on a cross, too. Judas had to be Jesus’ best bud, because who else but your best friend would help you commit suicide?

They end up with the absurdity of Peter’s final execution insisting he be crucified upside down because he wasn’t worthy of dying as his master had. WTF? Being suspended upside down in such a brutal way would lead to a quick death, certainly one would be unconscious in short order. Crucifixion is designed as an extended tortuous death. Why would the Romans do Peter this favor and shorten his agony? Why would the Romans do anything Peter asked? It doesn’t end there, apparently, because according to Catholic tradition, Peter’s body was taken down from the cross by “Christians” and buried on the site over which St. Peter’s Basilica was eventually erected. Crucifixion victims were largely left to rot on their crosses, as a deterrent to other criminals. Why the Romans would allow the body to be taken down and buried is puzzling, but what the heck, they did it for Jesus, too.

Well, so much for the first half an hour. In the second half hour, we are treated to a parody of an archaeological

expedition into the catacombs under St. Peter’s Basilica. We are told stories about the finding of the bones of St. Peter! In the first serious episode, we are told of an archaeologist who finds a graffito stating that St. Peter’s bones are within some chamber and lo and behold, bones are found. Upon examination, they seem to be a mixture of the bones of two men, a women, and some animals. Oh, well.

But then another set of bones is found by Vatican sleuths and we are told that these are the real bones of Peter, no further investigations are needed. Hey, if we can’t trust the Vatican to tell the truth, who can we?

Well, not having those bones to do any fancy scientific testing on means there is no scientific evidence at all, so the researchers wind two teeth (in Belgium!) said to be St. Peter’s enshrined in a church. The church gives permission for carbon-14 dating and DNA testing, so … boy, oh boy, oh boy! We gonna do some science. The dating result? The teeth were part of a live person in … drum roll, please … 250-340 CE! (This range represents the error of measurement of about ±50 years for this short of a span from the present.)

So, the episode concludes with the lame claim that “without permission from the Vatican to examine what they claim are St. Peter’s bones, it is impossible to tell …” Pathetic.

Stop for a minute and ask. If the teeth had dated to first century CE, what would that have proven? Were they Peter’s teeth? Or Jesus’? Or Jehoshaphat the Carpenter’s?

What if the Vatican said, “Sure, take the bones, play with them all you want, grind them to make your bread, have at it.”? If they were carbon dated to first century, DNA tested showing they were of an Israeli man, what would that have proved? Hello, the Church believes Peter was a real man, having done the deeds claimed for him in their scriptures. It doesn’t need proof but it sure doesn’t want its “holy relics” proven false.

The producers did one thing rather well, pointing out there are no records whatsoever that Peter was ever in Rome or that he founded the Catholic Church. (Peter is referred to as the first Pope.) They go to some length to claim that the tradition is real, but what does that mean? It means that the word was handed from person to person down the centuries in a game of historical “Telephone;” that has to be accurate, right? (If you are not familiar with the party game of Telephone, look it up.)

Then you have to ask: why would the bones of a man constitute a holy relic? This passion to have a touchstone to important events leads to the modern practice of buying tee shirts at concerts and sporting events, so it is very human, but what religious function might bones serve? They do not speak. They have no message, etc. And this is from a group of people who have perpetrated myriad hoaxes involving weeping or bleeding statues, etc. As mentioned, enough splinters of the “one, true cross” have been sold to make an entire log cabin. But there was the current Pope displaying the bones of St. Peter (kept in a little coffin-like box) to rapturous crowds at the Vatican.

Can you imagine scientists bowing their heads if Einstein’s skull were displayed? Or how about Aristotle’s knuckle bones?

Amazing!

Again, the only purpose for an episode such as this is to make money from the gullible. No new facts were revealed (other than those teeth were not Peter’s), no wisdom was revealed, no nothing.

March 31, 2017

Finding Jesus … Holy Shit: Follow-up

CNN blurb for the series: Finding Jesus discovers fascinating new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research.

I recently posted regarding watching an episode of a CNN series called “Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery.” In this episode (S1, E9) the title of which is “The Childhood Home of Jesus” we were led to consider whether said home had actually been found. The sole line of evidence for this “discovery” was a reference in a 7th C. document about Nazareth which referred to two churches, one of which was still in existence, the other was lost. The other was reputedly built upon the ruins of Jesus’ family home!

An archeologist, Ken Dark, had been invited to view the ruins beneath the Sisters of Nazareth Convent which was in a building “said to be built upon the ruins of a church.” The examination of the catacombs under that building did indicate a former church being there but also there were “walls” within the walls indicating that the church might have been built upon the ruins of a house!

So the question got asked for the first time: “Was this the childhood home of Jesus of Nazareth?”

The motivation for the asking of this question is clear right off of the bat as a Jesuit cleric admits that if it were that house, then Jesus was not a fictional character, that “He led a real life.”

Whoa, quite a bit of validation there, I would say.

Let’s stop to consider if such an identification is possible. What they managed to prove so far is that a 7th C. document about Nazareth claimed a church was built upon what were claimed to be the ruins of Jesus’ family home. The authenticity of that document wasn’t claimed to have been corroborated, nor was any other documentation provided. But, what if a chain of documents leading back to the appropriate time were found, that could be authenticated, identified the site as that home, the home of an artisan named Joseph. Since that name was quite common, how could one verify one had the right one? Documents would not have included the names of spouses and children surely. There could have been two people with the same name, ten years apart, or twenty, or thirty that occupied the house. How would you know which was which?

If they found a message carved into the stone of the house’s original foundation that said : “This is the home of Yahushua bar Joseph.” Would that prove anything? The answer is always “no” because of the perfidy of human beings. If someone built a church on the foundation left of a house and that church got into financial trouble, could you not imagine someone carving that message into the stone, weathering it a bit, and then announcing the miracle of miracles, the discovery of Jesus’ childhood home, and reap a large number of new members to support that church.

Could you honestly say that a chain of documents could not be forged? (Such a chain is useless in any case as such documents were not made, let alone kept.)

My point is that the entire question is dishonest.

There is no possibility of identifying any common building from that long ago. Large, ornate public buildings might be identified from written descriptions. Other buildings might be identified from their structures as being a forge or a stable for horses or barracks for soldiers, but the home of a fairly ordinary person? Zero chance.

So, you have to ask yourself what the purpose of such a TV show is. What possible “new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research” could be had from such a bogus search? Apparently the purpose of the show is to make money off of gullible consumers of such shows. There is no scientific purpose, nor is there an historical, or archaeological, purpose for such a speculation.

It is the equivalent of going to the possible site of Goliath and David’s epic possible individual combat and picking up a stone asking: “Is this the stone that David used to slay the warrior Goliath?” Or could it have been ancient aliens?

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