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.

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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 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 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.

August 16, 2017

God and the Imagination

I have been reading a fascinating book lately (Philosophers without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life by Louise M. Antony, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition.) which has already prompted a post and my next three posts will be prompted by ideas read in that very same book. (I recommend that book to you if you are inclined to read philosophy/philosophers.)

This post comes from my response to a statement in Chapter 5: Life without God: Some Personal Costs by Daniel M. Farrell. You can tell from the book title that this is a series of writings by philosophers regarding their lives now that they have given up their god habit (or having never had one). This one is both poignant and informative in that the author was pursuing an avocation as a priest when he lost his belief. At one point he says this:

At this point, though, I want to briefly address the second question above: how might someone try to deal with the decision problems we’re concerned with here without having recourse to help from God, or religion, and what sorts of problems and challenges might he or she face? Begin with the question of how such a person might proceed, leaving difficulties with her procedure until later. Even this is not an easy question, and it would of course be ludicrous to suppose there is only one plausible answer. I can think of one answer, though, that strikes me as not only plausible but also as an answer that might help us with the question of why answers that are not based in some way on belief in God do not work for all of us. This is an answer that tells us to address the questions that concern us here by engaging in a certain kind of imaginative enterprise— by engaging in what we might call “thought experiments” of a certain sort. Specifically, it suggests that we should deal with the relevant questions— about how to arrange or “order” the things we value into some sort of life or life plan— by addressing such questions in a way in which many people in fact actually address them in everyday life: namely, by picturing or imagining one’s life as it might go, if one were to make certain choices over others, and then tentatively settling on the one that feels best.”

Here was someone who was in the habit of consulting his god whenever he had to make any kind of important decision. He commented that he also had more than a few spiritual advisors volunteering to tell him how their god wanted him to decide. (Apparently we can know the mind of God?)

My visceral reaction to this was that an intense religious upbringing was crippling. By offloading his decision-making process onto his religion, he did not develop what I would call a normal decision-making process until he lost his faith and then he was way behind the rest of us in that skill.

Many secular people think that we make most decisions through a concerted intellectual effort. We weigh the pros and cons and then pick the best option from among those we have carefully identified. Uh, … no. This is rarely the case, if ever. This is a fiction we tell ourselves about being rational people. Consider a mundane but important decision: buying a car. If one were to go about it intellectually, one would collect data that was important to us: costs, maintenance, safety statistics, cargo space, features that provide comfort to passengers and driver, etc. Then, … yes, what then? What you find is that one model of car is cheaper but another you are looking at has a higher Consumer Reports rating, while a third gets better gas mileage and has lower maintenance costs. How are these to be played off against one another?  Nobody, absolutely nobody, comes up with a rating system for each of these measures of values important to you. In addition, nobody works out a system by which each feature is rated as to its importance and then weighted as to how it affects the final decision. (Nobody.) I would especially like to see somebody evaluate how the color of the car gets factored in. People react very strongly to the color a car is painted (not the quality of the paint job, just the color). And what affect does the color have on anything of value? (Answer: none … but it does affect us.)

What we really do instead of this laborious, exhausting procedure is use our imaginations. (This is what they are for.) One’s imagination may even be running in the background while we are dabbling at data collecting and sifting. We imagine ourselves in that car, as driver or passenger, and imagine scenarios around that imaginary situation and then check out how it makes us feel. Feel? Yes, feel.

If we are a safety freak, we might imagine the car going into a skid and then you correcting that skid easily and safely. If we are into being noticed, we may imagine driving up at our high school reunion in our new convertible, oozing a picture of “success.” I think you can imagine more of these. (See, it works.) Basically we have to be comfortable “seeing” ourselves in that car doing our ordinary car things. This is what the test drive is for. Surely you do not think you are doing anything like a real test of anything with a test drive? You are trying it on for size and feel.

We learn how to use our imaginations to help us with decisions as we grow up. This is why we daydream of having a new bike (I did.) or some new gewgaw. But, in reality most of this is done sub rosa; we are not even aware of it as it is done subconsciously. Our author was used to praying for “guidance” from his god and seeing how his god “felt” about the situation. If you are like me, you can probably see where this is going. The “guidance” was supplied by his own imagination in the channel he had created for it. When he lost his belief in his god, he also lost this channel of help for making decisions. He had to learn how the rest of us do it.

My second “Aha” moment came right on the heels of realizing that his religious education had partially crippled him was that his imagining faculty, a faculty that I believe distinguishes us as human beings (having a highly developed ability to imagine, not that we are the only one’s who can) … invented his own personal god to consult. Obviously, his education promoted what he ended up imagining, but if you desperately wanted a god to help you, your powers of imagining would help you create that being … in your imagination … including powerful religious experiences, that is feelings, that seal the deal for you.

The irony is that an imaginary god can cripple the use of imagination for mundane purposes.

An Addendum Most of our “important decisions” are probably not that important, they are probably just vexing. Regarding my “career,” the most important decision I anguished over was whether I would teach chemistry in a high school or community college. This is not like deciding whether to be a burger flipper or a brain surgeon or whether to have a dangerous surgery or not. Such decision happen only rarely in our lives. Most decisions are much more mundane. The distinction in my decision between the two options was not exactly big and whichever I decided I could be happy in it (unless I chose not to be). I used to joke that I chose college rather than high school because if I got frustrated I could swear at adults in a college. For all I know, that might have been the deciding factor. More likely it was the fact that it was easier getting qualified to teach in college.

August 4, 2017

Listen Up Youse Guys

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:00 am
Tags: , ,

So a guy in a dark suit comes into your establishment of business and asks to talk to you. He has a business opportunity that you really need to hear. He then proceeds, in a somewhat foreign accent, to threaten your business with all sorts of calamities, which could be prevented by regular contributions to his sponsor. When you scoff and point out that such disasters are unlikely, he then threatens you personally and asks “Why should you suffer?” But you are brave and think that you can take the heat, but your counterpart then mentions that it could get ugly for your family. You begin to sweat and wonder what to do. Should you call the police? You don’t even know this man’s name and there are no other witnesses to corroborate your story. He might claim he came into your shop for a piece of bologna. You begin to fear that you are trapped. You decide to take the “solution” proffered by the man because it is a small amount to pay to escape the fear and protect your family.

“Believe me, you are doing the right thing,” says the man as he leaves your shop with an envelope of your cash.

So, you think this little story is about organized crime, maybe the Mafia? An extortion racket, you think. Someone comes in and explains a threat to you and your family that only he can solve, while implying that he is the threat himself, and he doesn’t identify his mysterious patron, or himself for that matter. Is this a summary of another one of those Netflix movies they keep making?

Or is it just another religious conversion. Bad things will happen unless you do as we tell you. Remember when the neighborhood grocery burned down? Don’t let that happen to you.

Every time I think of a situation in which the problem and the solution have the same source, I do not think of the human potential movement (I say unto you, get out of your own way!), I think of the religious bargain: do as I say now or you will suffer later. Every ordinary misfortune is portrayed as divine retribution on those who have not done what they were told to do. (That Indonesia tsunami? Divine retribution for homosexuality! I have Pat Robertson’s word on it.) So, fear is the coin of this exchange. Fear comes easy. It evolved, the sense of fear, to keep us alive when threatened. Those who are comfortable threatening people can use this response to line their pockets or to get others to act as they wish them to.

So, extortion racket? You be the judge.

August 3, 2017

Why Are Americans So Afraid?

I was reading an article over at AlterNet with the title above. The subtitle is “Facts Take a Backseat to Deeply Ingrained Fears.” That article takes a fact-based approach in that they point out that violence has been and continues to be on a decline (for a very long time, even including world wars). That is per capita violence, not necessarily total violence as the population is still growing rapidly. That article’s author concludes that the fear people possess is a belief rather than a conclusion from the facts. A bit of discussion of fear mongering and they were done. I am using the same title, but they were asking the question; I will try to answer it, in part.

They didn’t quite go one step farther and they really need to. Why is America so afraid? That is the emphasis they missed. What might be the basis of American fear? We have experienced far less terrorism than much of the rest of the world, yet we seem to be more afraid, for example. The connection that they missed is that the U.S. is also one of the most religious countries in existence. If you compare our church going rates to, say, Great Britain or France, we are way out in front. It may be the case that not even a majority of Britons believe in a god.

And what is the foundational basis of the form of religion we currently espouse? Fear and belief. And what has been happening in the world of religion in the U.S.? Currently there has been a major increase in market share of the “nones,” those who respond to polls, like the Pew Poll on Religion in America, that their religion is “none.” The Nones have doubled as a percentage of the population in the Pew poll for instance. Atheism is spoken about and written about widely. Conservative religion in this country, in response I believe, has upped the drumbeat. The standard message has always been “we are a sinful nation” and “we need to repent our evil ways or God will punish us.” “If we only were to accept Jesus as our Lord, we would be ‘saved’ from eternal torment when we died.” That sounds like a fear-based campaign if I have ever heard one.

And as churches close or they see large reductions in their numbers of parishioners, the pressure gets increased on the standard message. We are more sinful that we were in the past! We are in even more need of belief! The world is descending into a miasma of degradation! Church going rates are decried as being at all-time lows when, in fact, the church-going rates a little over one hundred years ago were a small fraction of what they are now. They mean a “recent low” but that doesn’t have the impact of “all-time low.” Often this message isn’t all that overt, but it is there. And it provides a base for the feeling of fear from the purveyors of violence. There are secular fear mongers, too (Republicans), but I won’t mention their names (Republicans).

This is not accidental. The cadre of very rich people who are trying to subvert democracy in this country, like fear. They also prefer fear that is not based in fact because real fears have real causes that must be addressed. False fears can be “solved” by the same magic that created them in the first place. You may wonder how long we can be kept in a state of fear. To me, the answer is clear: centuries. If you look at how long many in the South have feared the reprisal of Blacks for how they have been treated by the white community, you will see a history of fear management. During the slave period, whites were ever fearful of slave revolts and any hint of such a revolt produced a vicious backlash. After emancipation, vagrancy laws and sundown laws were used to keep Black Americans in a state of near slavery. Jim Crow laws kept Blacks and Whites from interacting and developing any real relationships. It also kept Blacks weak in that in this country money = power and if you don’t have any money, you don’t have any power. The term “poor Black” became almost an oxymoron in the postbellum South.

The latest manifestation of the fear campaign is to make sure that white Americans saw Black Americans, primarily males, as criminals. By jiggering the laws, a large percentage of the Black male population ended up behind bars. Even when they got out, they were ex-cons and had trouble getting jobs and, well, money = power. This stereotyping campaign has been so effective that many police officers are so afraid of Blacks that they shoot 11-year olds with cap guns and even shoot White women because they don’t take the time to really look at the situation. The laws have told them that if they feel fear, they can shoot. And we have made damn sure they feel fear, a lot of fear.

Feeling fear without reason is the tool of the cadre of very rich folks who are trying to capture our democracy. Trying, hell, they basically have captured our democracy. When was the last time Congress passed a bill that the American people supported? Polls showing 60%, 70%, even 80% public support for legislation which then fails to pass. For example, we cannot seem to deny convicted felons, or people with restraining orders, or the mentally deficient the right to bear arms! That would contribute to people feeling safer and where’s the upside in that? People are so in favor of reasonable gun laws that a majority of NRA members support some of them. But … nah, they really don’t want you to feel safer. People want government-supported health care? Too bad, that would contribute to an overall sense of well-being and safety, so, nope, can’t be done.

The politicians are running the show, but it is religion, American religion, that has provided the base for their fear mongering actions, and, interestingly the religious still support them. The minor fact the Evangelical Christians supported Donald Trump in droves tells you all you need to know. And if you think I am exaggerating read the book Democracy in Chains.

The money = power equation works quite simply. By accumulating a large fraction of this nation’s wealth, the people in this category can have a small cadre with enough wealth to exert more power than the rest of the country can. If you wonder why unions have become powerless. If you wonder why wages have been suppressed for so long, start thinking about money = power. It works both ways. Since we do not have it, we have no power. Since they have it, they have the power, enough power to get their money declared a form of “free speech” by the fucking Supreme Court. Now their expenditures to keep democracy in chains is protected by the Constitution!

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