Class Warfare Blog

June 11, 2019

On Purposes, Destinies, and Lots in Life

I stated something a few days ago, to which I now return. It was this: “Anyone, theist or atheist, who thinks that ‘purposes’ exist anywhere but in our imaginations is sadly poorly informed.” It must have had a bit of a ring of truth about it as it was mocked by John Branyan.

The whole idea of there being a purpose in life (Branyan’s will take eternity to fulfill, according to him) is part and parcel of a whole load of rubbish regarding what we do and why we do it.

At the top of the list is the Divine Right of Kings. Kings have fashioned themselves as having been chosen by god to be his very instrument. This was obviously part of a power play. The religious elites and secular elites contested for power (Gilgamesh, one of the oldest stories in existence, makes this clear. Gilgamesh had to seize power from the religious elites who controlled his actions.) It had to become clear to someone that these two power centers would be better off allied than enemies. So, in return for state power protections, kings were granted “divine rights.” In earlier societies that were theocracies, these two powers were often vested in one and the same person (a “god-king”) and that person could use whichever weapon that better suited a situation. One could either send in the priests or send in soldiers to resolve a “situation.”

Right next to this is being Called by God. I am sure many Popes and others of high religious office state that god has called them to their office. Obviously anyone challenging them would therefore have to be criticizing god’s decision making abilities. Another power play.

At the bottom of this hierarchy is someone’s “Lot in Life.” Basically, no one wanted to clean out the cesspool, so we drew lots and well, it was your lot in life to have to clean the cesspool. Only poor people have these. Poor people and slaves have a purpose or a calling only in fictional tales designed to give the poor hope, so they won’t riot or rebel.

In the middle of this spectrum is where we find “purposes.”

All of these designations are fictional (not actual cases of drawing lots, like drawing the short straw, but metaphor ones, in which someone is told that being a slave was their “lot in life”) and serve to flatter/appease the receiver or con the audience. These are all parts of social control mechanisms.

By having clerics declare the divine rights of secular kings, the clerics get to perform the crowning ceremony, implying they were the ones giving the office (and in the machinations of history this proved true on more than one occasion). And also, the “state” collected their tithes for them, and enforced ecclesiastical commands (e.g. the Crusades). The royals had their power reinforced from the pulpit. Every one of the elites involved acquired greater power.

Christian life purposes are part of the con, also. Christians are often told that it is their job to “spread the Good News,” that is to spread the religion. So, once you have a mark who has embraced the con, they get to spread the con to others, kind of like a multi-level marketing scheme. In return for this, Christians get pumped up by being given a purpose for their live, one provided by God! And they are saved! Their afterlife will be more clouds than barbecue. Their god has a plan for each and every one of us, don’t you know.

Since people often display photos of themselves in the presence of celebrities (as proof they have actually met them or know them?) so, I wonder whether people have such photos of themselves hanging with Jesus or Old Yahweh in heaven? To believe that a god has noticed them and written their name in a big book and knows who they are and has gone so far as to help them with a career plan, well that is the biggest puff piece of them all. (Hint: how do you get people to work for you without paying them? Flattery seems to work.)

I have done a great many things in my life. As a youth and young man I played baseball and basketball, but apparently it was not my destiny to play those professionally. At a young age (16, I think) I chose my profession that I practiced for 40 or so years. Was that my purpose in life? If so, why did I retire and stop doing it? What I am doing now is quite different from what I did for those 40 or so years, so is what I am doing now my true purpose? I became a husband and father, were those my true purpose in life? The fact that no one can tell definitively tells you that this is all make-believe. It is what we tell one another to reinforce life changes we make or are made for us.

Now, if I can only figure out a way to get Branyan to mock my analysis, I will know it is true. (See, fictional bullstuff. We all do it.)

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June 4, 2019

Religious Experiences

I am currently reading Keith M. Parsons book “God and the Burden of Proof.” In it he discusses Alvin Plantinga’s defense of religious belief. One particular excerpt has prompted this post. Here it is:

“What, then, are the circumstances in which Plantinga regards belief in God as obviously properly basic? He gives a number of such circumstances:

“Upon reading the Bible, one may be impressed with a deep sense that God is speaking to him. Upon having done what I know is cheap, or wrong, or wicked, I may feel guilty in God’s sight and form the belief `God disapproves of what I have done’. Upon confession and repentance I may feel forgiven, forming the belief `God forgives me for what I have done’. A person in grave danger may turn to God asking for his protection and help; and of course he or she then has the belief that God is indeed able to hear and help if He sees fit. When life is sweet and satisfying, a spontaneous sense of gratitude may well up within the soul; someone in this condition may thank and praise the Lord for His goodness, and will of course have the accompanying belief that indeed the Lord is to be thanked and praised.

“Plantinga claims that it is clearly rational for persons in such circumstances to form a spontaneous belief in God.”

To me this is nonsensical. Plantinga’s “feelings” of guilt, shame, gratitude, etc. are just feelings and are not deniable. But all of the rest are interpretations of the sources of those feelings. Allow me to reframe his statement:

Upon reading the Koran, one may be impressed with a deep sense that Allah is speaking to him. Upon having done what I know is cheap, or wrong, or wicked, I may feel guilty in Allah’s sight and form the belief `Allah disapproves of what I have done’. Upon confession and repentance I may feel forgiven, forming the belief `Allah forgives me for what I have done’. A person in grave danger may turn to Allah asking for his protection and help; and of course he or she then has the belief that Allah is indeed able to hear and help if He sees fit. When life is sweet and satisfying, a spontaneous sense of gratitude may well up within the soul; someone in this condition may thank and praise Allah  for His goodness, and will of course have the accompanying belief that indeed Allah is to be thanked and praised.

In a similar fashion, could not any religious believer make the same statement, invoking whatever god they have?

William James’ definition of religion—“the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.” I emphasize “whatever they consider to be divine.”

So, basically Plantinga is arguing for polytheism because his argument is “it is clearly rational for persons in such circumstances to form a spontaneous belief in God” or rather a spontaneous belief in their god.

But I do not even accept that as a reasonable conclusion. I think those interpretations are what people are taught to make and that they do not happen spontaneously. If you have had children, you have had the experience of a child who hurts. If they can talk, you probably had to work with them to find out what was wrong: “Where does it hurt?” “Does it hurt here? . . . or here?” “Oh, you have a tummy ache!” Children are always relieved that their parent’s know what was wrong and knew what to do to make them better. I can remember being sick as a child and enjoying the extra attention I got. And we teach our children in this fashion how to interpret what they feel.

Children in religious families are indoctrinated into the religion because that is what most Abrahamic religions teach you yo do. Sometimes this indoctrination is half-hearted, as mine was, and sometimes it is full tilt boogie, which I do not wish on anyone. Seeing little children coached in how to interpret any feelings they have as communications with Jesus makes me ill. But this does happen. Parents do praise their children for saying things like “I love Jesus,” and other inanities that cannot possibly be true. They are coached to feel Jesus in their hearts, to see Jesus around them, to hear Jesus in the words of the Bible. So, is it any wonder that many natural feelings get interpreted as being sourced in their god? But just how this in any way “forms a spontaneous belief in God.” I’ll tell you; it does not.

May 27, 2019

Artificial Pearls Before Real Swine?

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:40 am
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I have been inspired by Jim over at TheCommonAtheist quite a bit of late. (His site is worth a visit: go, go.) Quoting him: “Searching for god, we don’t discover who he is, we discover who we are. This aphorism brought to my mind a number of other “pearls of wisdom.” I have been perusing a book entitled “1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom” for some time and found more than a few that are self-serving nonsense. For example:

I can’t explain it, but spiritually it makes sense—though I don’t understand how it does make sense. —Kevin McDonald
In other words, it makes no sense but I believe it.

If somebody wants a sheep, that is a proof that one exists. —Antoine de Saint Exupéry
This seems to be an offhand “proof” for the existence of a god or gods . . . but if you take that sentence and modify it a bit you get “If somebody wants a unicorn, that is a proof that one exists.” You can have fun with other variations involving Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whatever. Bizarre thinking.

Every word, every image used for God is a distortion more than a description. —Anthony de Mello
Was it this guy’s intent to undermine all Abrahamic scripture? In scripture this god is described as a whirlwind, a burning bush, a blinding white light, looking like a man, etc. So, all of these are false? And this god is quoted ad nauseum, e.g. “I am the Lord your God, and blah, blah, blah.” All of those quotes are distortions rather than descriptions of what this god actually said? WTF?

For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation is possible. —Franz Werfel
Uh, says who? How does he know that no explanation is possible? Or are you just trying to get people to stop asking for explanations? And the Bible itself tells believers that they are to have reasons to believe, so screw the Bible and listen to my deepity, that’s the message?

The sheer number of these “spiritual” pearls of wisdom that are utter nonsense is an indication that the collector was daft or that there aren’t really that many actual pearls of spiritual wisdom to share.

I think Jim’s aphorism is spot on. It also has application elsewhere, for example to authors of books on finding the historical Jesus (Searching for the historical Jesus in these books, we don’t discover who he is, we discover who the authors are.) There is no better evidence for the lack of an historical Jesus than the dozens upon dozens of people who have written books on finding the Real JC™ with each effort coming up with a different result. Apparently the evidence is not conclusive one way or another. Not having enough historical records to establish an historical character doesn’t mean that one did not exist, it just means we have neither the evidence nor a clear idea of who they were. I tend to think Jesus is fictional but that belief (the ordinary kind, not the religious kind), at least, is supported by evidence (Jesus said nothing that had not been said before, Jesus’ miracles are based upon miracles described in the OT, etc.).

May 19, 2019

Jesus, The Myth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 10, 2019

You Need to Respect Our Beliefs!

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

Uh, no, just … no.

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

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

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

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

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

 

May 5, 2019

Social Controls and Religion

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

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

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

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

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

April 28, 2019

The Purpose of Religion: A Follow-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really, do you see a way out?

April 25, 2019

The Purpose of Religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

or

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

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

April 10, 2019

Other Ways of Knowing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

March 15, 2019

Blood Magic . . . I Wonder Where That Came From?

In the recent Christchurch, New Zealand, massacre of Muslims, one self-identified suspect posted a manifesto which stated, in part: “The origins of my language is European, my culture is European, my political beliefs are European, my philosophical beliefs are European, my identity is European and, most importantly, my blood is European.”

“My blood is European.”

Mate, your blood is red, just like the rest of us.

The role of blood in our cultural imaginings is deep and to its core bogus. For example, in this country’s history, we had laws establishing how African-American people were. We used terms like “octoroon” which now is defined as being “a person who is one-eighth black by descent” or basically having one Black grandparent. But the common people talked about one eighth of a person’s blood being Black. Others said that “one drop” of Black blood made one Black. (This was always puzzling to me because these same idiots claimed that white blood was stronger and better than black blood, so someone with a 50%-50% mix should be classified as white because the 50% white blood was stronger, no?)

Blood magic was borne of ignorance of all but a few basic facts (the primary one being if you lost enough blood, you died). It was promoted through superstition and bias and prejudice (your enemies had bad blood). But what keeps it going centuries after it has been debunked as nonsense?

Ah, culturally blood shows up as a mystical power in religions. Christians and Jews can read about blood magic in their Bibles. They can read about how menstrual blood makes women “unclean” for several days of the month. They can read about how we were all saved “by the blood of a lamb.” They can read about blood sacrifices. They can read about how being born carries sin which resides in the blood. They can read about dietary restrictions involving blood, such as the Torah forbids the consumption of the blood of an animal. (Imagine forbidding the glory which is blood sausage. Amazing.)

So, while us secularists are trying to reduce superstition and ignorance, the religionists are reinforcing it.

Oh, and the manifesto writer which claims “my identity is European” is apparently an Australian. His European language is rooted in the Near East. His DNA is roughly two thirds African in origin and one third Asian in origin. European political beliefs? Really? Is there any political belief you cannot find embedded in Europe? This poor sod is seriously confused . . . but he sure does know how to sling buzz words at a right-ring audience.

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. (Anonymous—please do not comment that it was Mark Twain, it appears nowhere in his writings or reporting upon him.)

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