Class Warfare Blog

April 18, 2018

The Supernatural: A Con Man’s Special Place

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 1:53 pm
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An alarming number of people believe that there is a realm called “the supernatural.” While I suspect people have different definitions for the term, the idea is rather straightforward. Here are dictionary definitions of supernatural and the prefix super-:

1: of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially : of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil
2a : departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature
b : attributed to an invisible agent (such as a ghost or spirit)

1a: over and above : higher in quantity, quality, or degree than : more than

[Source: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary]

The supernatural realm is always “above” the natural realm, never sideways to it or goodness knows, beneath it. Such a realm basically can’t have a location in the natural realm, so why the insistence on the “above” nature is beyond me. I think this relates to belief in a god which is “up there,” and also another god which is “down there.” The “up” being good and the “down” being bad. Of course, the bad gods and the good gods are in the same supernatural realm, unless there is more than one such realm, but why not? The more the merrier.

I used to hear the phrase “planes of existence” a great deal before the Internet drove us to a more common vocabulary. I think this came about from a pack of cards metaphor as it makes no sense otherwise. Why would one wonder about how realms of existence relate to one another spatially when they shouldn’t be interacting, and so no “fit” is required. Of course, fiction writers, even some of my favorites (Andre Norton was a past favorite), wrote about beings being transferred between these planes of existence via various “gateways.” As a narrative device, this allows the author a great deal of rein to “adjust” foliage, animal life, geology, history, etc. to their whim. But, hey, it is fiction.

All of this was before the “multiverse” became fashionable to talk about in rarified physics circles. The Multiverse was either an invention of Marvel Comics or possibly Jack Vance, maybe Michael Moorcock, I can’t say for sure, but it is now playing a role in cosmological theoretical speculations. I suspect, however, that just as invoking gods to explain the creation of the universe, making things horrifyingly more complicated, that invoking a multiverse to make sense of our one verse will also prove to be vastly complicating and, when that happens it seems to be a sure sign of a dead-end road into a theory.

Currently I consider anyone who mentions anything “supernatural” to be one of two types of people (well, maybe three): an entertainer (Think Ancient Aliens or whatever that show is.), or a con man (most serious religionists are in this category (Think William Lane Craig.). The third possibility is that someone has been, or just is, deluded. If all of your friends and family talk about Disney World as if it were real, you’d think it is, ditto for Heaven and Hell.

Anytime you hear someone talk seriously about the supernatural (beings, locations, occurrences, etc.) grab your wallet and back away briskly. Do not run, you may trip and actually hurt yourself interacting with the only reality for which we have evidence of its existence.



April 12, 2018

Evangelicals Denounce Godless Capitalism!

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:20 pm
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In a stunning reversal, the Evangelical Council of American Churches has denounced capitalism as a godless pursuit of money and power. Their statement pointed out that politicians deference to religion in general is just posturing as few of them lead lives that have Christian foundations. Instead the politicians are paid handsomely to support capitalistic practices that advantage the rich and disadvantage the poor. “Jesus said that the poor will always be among us, but that doesn’t mean that they should be treated like dirt,” the announcement stated.

Capitalism was attacked as having no soul, being a giant edifice to greed. “Only a change of heart,” it was claimed, “could preserve the economic system, one which would imbue more Christian virtues into the system. There needs to be considerations given to the relief of human suffering and not just shareholder value,” the document went on.

* * *

Yeah, in your dreams.

I was wondering why these churches were against godless communism and yet were pro (pro-, pro-) capitalism which has no whiff of god about it. Then I realized … tax breaks!




April 8, 2018

Avoiding the Narrative Trap

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:25 am
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I keep seeing people on the Internet arguing fine points regarding the Christian narratives surrounding the Garden of Eden, the Exodus, the Resurrection of Jesus, or Noah’s Ark. Too often it seems to me that people limit themselves to critiquing the fine points of the narrative offered. With regard to Noah’s Ark people ask: how such a small group of men make such a large ship? How could so many animals fit into such a small space? Where did they store the animal’s food? How did they shovel out all of the shit produced? Were there dinosaurs on the Ark? If one steps back from the narrative and looks at it from afar, one asks quite different questions.

Yahweh is apparently disappointed in his creations. He declared them “good” but now has decided to kill them all and start over. This seems more than a little like admitting a mistake that should have been foreseen, but even if you set that aside, there are fundamental criticisms of the entire episode. The killing is done is an extremely clumsy way. Not only does Yahweh take out all of the human beings (save the eight that end up on the Ark), but he kills off 99.99% of all of the animals, even the sea creatures are done in (the large addition of fresh water to the salty seas will kill most fish/creatures adapted to the salty water). What have these creatures done to be killed like this? Even animals in the Ark are destined to be dead before long as they were adapted to, say very cold temperatures (penguins, etc.) and they are released from the Ark on a mountaintop in the Middle East with orders to go forth and multiply, what? Of course, Yahweh could transport them back to whence they came but why have all of these details to deal with?

A supernatural entity with the powers attributed to Yahweh (omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnibenevolence) could do something like make all but the eight disappear such that they were never there in the first place. No big flood, just Noah and his family wandering around in a world empty of other humans wondering where’d they go and really, truly believing in the power of their god. No totally improbably clumsy event, just the act of an effing powerful god.

The Garden of Eden narrative is likewise daffy. Yahweh creates Adam to what end? In Genesis 1 the reason was “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (In Genesis 2, the reason is different. It starts by saying that there was no shrub or plant on Earth but Yahweh had planted a garden (again with the contradictions).) Going with the Genesis 1 narrative, Yahweh basically is creating an overseer for his garden. Obviously, wild creatures have no use of rulers, kings, queens, etc. On what basis does an all-powerful entity need a helper, a gardener? Admitting the need for help from other hands at all is admitting that one is not all-powerful. The same can be said about the tens of thousands of angels at his command. Why? What could they do that he could not?

If you step out of the narrative, you end up with questions like: “Why didn’t Yahweh want Adam and Eve to know the difference between good and evil? If Adam and Eve had been less adventurous, would all of us now be ignorant of the difference between good and evil? And that would make us better exactly how? Also, he created the two of them. Could he not foresee that they might misunderstand or be confused or be misled by a serpent he put in his garden? If these damned trees were so important, why did he not post guards around them as he did after he kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden?

The entire narrative is so full of holes as to be childish. And this is the event for which thousands and thousands of generations of human beings are being held to account and will be burned in Hell for not making it right. Talk about a scam.

With regard to the resurrection of Jesus, which is absolutely critical to the existence of Christianity, if you ignore the details and take a step back, again Yahweh is performing his miracles in an incredibly clumsy way, not using his transcendent powers with any finesse whatsoever. First Yahweh forbids human sacrifice, then when he is trying to figure out how to absolve humans of Original Sin, he says “Hey, Murray, I’ve got an idea. I’ll use a human sacrifice. You know how powerful blood magic is. Hey, it should work.” WTF? An all-powerful being could have made Original Sin go away in such a way that no one would remember it had ever existed. Or he could have set an expiration date on it retroactively (unto the seventh generation …) so it would have expired far in the past. Then he could have established a new covenant if that was his intent. Why this clumsy puppet show? The guy had tens of thousands of angels, one for every couple of hundred humans on the entire planet. Imagine all of them fluttering down from high above with a message. When they left they could have dropped leaflets, like we do in war times, with a summary of the new covenant. Now that would have made an impression … and left an account with every man Jack of us.

Basically, after the initial creation verse of the Bible, Yahweh never acts like an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent god at all.

How can a god which can create a man from dust require their savior to be born of a woman and wait 30 years to deliver a message that an angel could deliver more effectively? Is this god-like?

Why does a god who creates the entire universe make 99.9999% of it out of reach of mankind, so that neither it nor they can have any affect on the other whatsoever? Is this intelligent design or goofy design?

I suggest that atheists have to stop attacking religious scriptures on their narratives fine points because we end up just writing critical reviews of the Goat-Herder’s Guide to the Universe. I suggest that we ask more profound questions, such as “why did a self-contained, perfect god create us in the first place?” The only answer I have heard is that when we go to heaven, we sit at god’s feet singing his praises, so my best guess is that this god needed worshipers, which is just sick. This also makes me wonder if all of the gods have their own mega-network and status on that network is gained by the number of “Likes” recorded. Imagine that a giant Mark Zuckerberg created this universe …

April 7, 2018

Finally Finishing “Sapiens”

Filed under: History — Steve Ruis @ 9:31 am
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I have blogged on several issues I have encountered while making my way through Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” a book which I find both illuminating and irritating, although not in equal measure. If you want to know what I think of the effort, I have already bought the next book of his “Homo Deus.”

My latest quibble is in a discussion of how capitalism was at the root of empire and its associated oppressions, which are covered quite well. And in that discussion YNH states “At the end of the Middle Ages, slavery was almost unknown in Christian Europe.” He goes on to show how capitalism was at the root of the Atlantic slave trade and more. Fair enough but … the phrasing “At the end of the Middle Ages, slavery was almost unknown in Christian Europe” makes it sound as if Christianity had something to do with the elimination of the slave trade. I think not.

People use the phrase “Middle Ages” to describe Europe between the “fall of Rome” in 476 CE and the beginning of the Renaissance in the 14th century. And I take “at the end of the Middle Ages” to be roughly the year 1450.

So, why might slavery be “almost unknown,” if there were no prohibition movement or even anti-slavery sentiment, etc? Please do realize that the medieval serfs were basically slaves. They had no choice as to their labor, they did not get paid, they could not leave the land, and their lord and master could kill them with impunity. There was rampant “slavery” in the Middle Ages.

The reason slavery had basically disappeared in “Europe” was due to one simple thing: a monumental labor shortage. This was caused by plagues, the most notorious of which was the Black Death of 1347 to 1352. The Black Death was the first major European outbreak of the first of the great plague pandemics that occurred over the 14th to 18th centuries. The Black Death killed a quarter of the population of Europe, over 25 million people! A second major epidemic occurred in 1361, the “pestis secunda,” in which 10 to 20% of Europe’s population died. By 1430, Europe’s population was lower than it had been in 1290 and would not recover to pre-pandemic levels until the 16th century.

In order for slavery to work, you need surplus population to enslave, or you need to go out and get the slaves and bring them back. Then you need to control them, both of which require a great deal of manpower. The Europeans of the time (the end of the Middle Ages) fit for work were weakened by disease, malnutritioned, and not very healthy. Treat them poorly and they would either die or leave. Whole villages starved to death during the Black Death and other plagues because there was not enough labor to work the fields, even to harvest crops already planted.

Now YNH’s statement could be defended as “Christian Europe” being a designation of a region as opposed to being the reason slavery was on the decline, but that argument is weak at best. According to Wikipedia “From the Middle Ages onwards, as the centralized Roman power waned in southern and central Europe, the dominance of the Catholic Church was the only consistent force in Western Europe.” So, Christian Europe was about the only Europe there was.

Also, consider the fact that Christianity would never have gotten to where is was without the support of the Roman Empire and it would never have gotten that support had it not supported slavery. So, Christianity was “pro slavery” and not a basis for its abolition. The role of Christian ministers and whole denominations opposing slavery in the U.S. in the 18th and 19th centuries was in spite of scripture, not because of it.

So, what could YNH have said instead of “At the end of the Middle Ages, slavery was almost unknown in Christian Europe?” Easily enough he could have said “At the end of the Middle Ages, slavery was almost unknown in Europe (mostly due to population losses from plagues).” This would not have undermined his argument that it was capitalists who financed the slave trade, not governments. In any case capitalists worked hand in glove with governments as they both were “elites” who used religion to control the masses. The control mentioned was that civilization was built upon cheap labor coerced from the masses and religion was one of the more powerful coercive tools used. When that faltered, state power filled in.

When writing for a lay audience, especially a broad one, more care is needed with the use of language as misperceptions are easier.

April 5, 2018

Why Three, Christians?

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 1:48 pm
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The Holy Trinity was discussed, argued, and fought over (yes, with swords and clubs and mobs and riots), but wasn’t settled dogma until … well, it still isn’t.

The Holy Trinity is the “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” (Yahweh, Jesus, and Casper?) that forms the monotheistic god of the Christians. The concept that the three are one is still more than a bit inaccessible but I will leave that at the moment and ask the more fundamental question: why three aspects of the god of Christianity? I suspect this came about when the campaign (yes, it was a campaign) to get Jesus declared to be God as opposed to being an angel, a prophet, or some other supernatural being was just getting started. Since Yahweh was already “the one true god,” Jesus couldn’t also be the one and only, unless he an old Yahweh were one and the same. Ta da! (This has to be more than a bit embarrassing because Jesus referred to Yahweh often as “the father” and himself as “the son” as two distinct people … repeatedly in scripture. I guess it just adds to the mystery.) In any case, unification was necessary to politically bring all of the Christians together (to better serve the political states that were using state power to implement Christianity). Realize that they weren’t just depending on ordinary people to believe what they were told, they told people what to believe in rather “believe this or get out” statements. And there was also a sizable fraction who thought that their god was an ethereal spirit, so they had to gather in the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Ghost, to be able to claim they represented all of the Christians (the real Christians, that was).

But is not the Christian god all-powerful? Could he not appear in any guise he desired? Did not Moses have a conversation with a burning bush who then gave him commandments? So, why isn’t it the Holy Four, “the Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and Burning Bush?” And didn’t Yahweh visit a few characters in Genesis and wrestle with them? So, shouldn’t we have the Fab Five: “the Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Burning Bush, and Mysterious Wrestler?”

Enquiring minds want to know.

This is just one of a myriad questions/talking points that go unaddressed because we take the existing story lines of scripture far too literally. If we stop and think a bit, we would have to ask a great many different questions … such as (You knew that was coming, no?):

  1. Why would a god who can create a fully grown adult human male out of mud, have himself born from a woman and live 30 years in a desolate, uninteresting place to begin a mission to absolve people of their sins? Can you imagine waiting around for 30 years pretending to be taught the Torah, carpentry, and which hand to eat with, etc? And how many times did Jesus have to defecate to truly understand what that was like? Did he learn to masturbate to get the full human experience?
  2. Why would an all-powerful god need helpers? All of those tens of thousands of angels running errands, mopping floors, why?
  3. Why would a totally self-sufficient god create a race of intelligent beings for the sole purpose of worshipping him?
  4. Why would an all-powerful god pick an obscure people living in an obscure place to share a message to deliver to the rest of the world? This god has tens of thousands of angels; could not they have delivered the message much more efficiently?
  5. Why would a god fine tune an entire fucking universe, and then concentrate the “special life” (us) on just one little planet in one little galaxy, from among hundreds of billions of galaxies? If this is a “fine tuned for life universe,” shouldn’t we be up to our asses in aliens?

Like I said, enquiring minds want to know.

The Easter holiday must have brought out the atheistic team spirit in this blog!

March 28, 2018

What Would Christies Do?

Filed under: History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:08 am
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I read another Quora question based upon the questioner’s belief that Noah’s Ark, or evidence for Noah’s Ark, has been found. I believe I have posted before that this event is more than highly unlikely, first because the tale is almost certainly fictional wisdom literature (You better be good or God will kill you and your little dog, too!), but specifically because after the entire planet has been underwater for a year or more, there would be no suitable building materials available: no straw, no wood (not waterlogged), etc. although there would be some stone. So, what would Noah’s family’s shelters, livestock pens, and altars be made of? Piles of small stones? Well, there is this giant pile of lumber sitting there that no longer had a use, so I expect that, if this really happened, the ark would have been dismantled to provide a wealth of building materials. And as time wore on, I am sure having some part of the ark used to make one’s dwelling would be looked upon as being lucky or holy or some other nonsense and soon an expanding population woudl guarantee that the ark would be gone, dispersed, burned, carved up.

Now I have to think that this search is wrong-headed. First, finding that evidence would mean more to Jews than Christians and Jews are quite few in number. So, if you were going to go looking for tangible artifacts to support Christianity, what should you look for? Think about it; I will wait.

<insert Jeopardy theme music here>

If you came up with “remnants of the cross” or “the Holy Grail” or some such, you are a victim of indoctrination. I ask you: what was Jesus’s occupation? All say he was a “carpenter,” with that term not quite meaning what we think of today as a carpenter, but more of a jack-of-all-trades handyman, who worked a lot with wood. Jesus would have been taught his craft when he turned a certain age, 11, 12, 13 whatever, so he would have a body of work created over a 20-year span before he went off on his wild hare chase. So, over that time, he must have made a great many pieces of, say, furniture: stools on which to milk goats, benches, chairs, tables, etc. And being a good craftsman, perfect actually, would have involved a little self promotion so, on the bottoms of these pieces don’t you think he would have written or carved “Made by Jesus of Nazareth, 7 Goatherd Street, Nazareth” or some such? If a contemporary were to pick up one of these pieces second hand and wonder where he could get more, there needs to be a connection to its maker, no? And these pieces, I mean, made by a god! They would be beautiful to the eye, sturdy, long lasting, etc. Find one of these pieces and cha-ching! Can you imagine what such a piece would bring at auction?

What would Christies do?

(Hint: they would go out of their fricking minds!)

February 21, 2018

Running Jesus Memes

I just saw a blurb for the book “I, Judas” which was “The story of Judas Iscariot and the stunning betrayal that changed the course of history.” Why do these stupid memes keep coming up? Christians believe that their god controls every aspect of our lives. They believe “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son …” (John 3:16, emphasis mine). Clearly without the death of Jesus and his resurrection Christianity is nothing. The whole thing was set up; it was a plan! If you want to pull something like this off, you can’t leave it to chance. So, why was Judas’ “betrayal” so stunning, why is it considered a betrayal when it was all part of “the plan?”

Yet, Christians still say that “Judas betrayed Jesus,” and that “the Jews killed Jesus.” Surely there is no better examples of Christians using their religion as a cover for their own prejudices. The Bible clearly shows that their narrative is the Romans trying, convicting, and executing Jesus. But even this is hardly believable because the Bible also says that Jesus rose from the dead and his tomb was empty and he walked around for weeks and weeks and nary a Roman investigation of these clearly illegal activities. Then in the fourth century, when Rome is about to adopt Christianity as a state religion, it becomes politically inconvenient to claim “the Romans killed our god,” so who could they blame? Who was despised enough already that a little more shit thrown their way couldn’t hurt? Who had a version of Christianity competing with “the Church” of the gentiles? (Hint: it rhymes with “chews.”)

The narrative should show that Judas was Jesus’ best friend forever. None of the other disciples, pantywaists all, would have had the stones to do what was needed to be done. If Jesus hadn’t been fingered, what would the Romans do? I mean, you couldn’t expect them to have a soldier hanging out at the temple waiting for Jesus to show up, which he had done day after day. (If you want to control events, you need to control their time and place.)

Until Christians actively campaign against and punish their fellows for claiming “the Jews killed Jesus,” I must consider them anti-Semites of the first order (the Holy Order of Mel Gibson).

There is not much that can be done to correct Judas’s legacy, but some effort in that direction would be nice. Maybe an acknowledgement that Judas probably didn’t want to do it, but Jesus plead with him that the others were too incompetent to pull it off. So, Judas eventually agreed, knowing that he was incurring the wrath of the others as a betrayer (they weren’t all that bright apparently and even if Jesus explained the plan to them, they would probably forget it).

He deserves better.

February 15, 2018

Why Fundamentalist Christians are More Likely to Be Political Conservatives

I won’t be coy here; fundamentalist Christians and Conservatives find themselves in bed because they share an ad campaign. There are areas in this country in which Christians cannot believe one of their fellows is a registered Democrat, that is how closely the two categories have become entwined. This is not an accident either. This also tends to go unnoticed by the coastal elites who are in pretty much the opposite polarities.

Both fundamentalist groups, Christians and Conservatives, proffer a “the world is going to hell in a hand basket” worldview and blame their fictitious accelerating slide into mediocrity, immorality, and doom on the failure of us, their audience, to embrace their values and beliefs.

There is only one thing wrong with this: they couldn’t be more wrong … both of them. Not just wrong, but Titanically wrong. (Unfortunately, there is no iceberg to show them how off course they are.)

The thing I find amazing is how willing these people are to lie to establish that these memes of theirs are true. Lying and politics go hand in hand, so I guess that is not surprising, but the religious lying through their teeth, when the message is a slackening of morals, is rather jarring.

A recent book by Steven Pinker shows that violence has been declining for centuries … not total violence because the population has been increasing, but per capita violence. The earliest memory I have of a mention of the U.S. population was when I was in high school and the number was 148 million. Currently we are somewhere near 325 million, so I suspect everything has more than doubled since then. The number of cars on roads has doubled, the number of miles of roads has probably doubled, too. The number of postal workers, the number of pet dogs, all of those must have grown substantially. But when we are talking about social issues, the frequency is more important than the absolute numbers because of this population growth. The incidents of per capita violence have been dropping for centuries … even including the world wars and killing fields and all of that. This is one of the main topics of Professor Pinker’s book.

Crime in the U.S. has diminished substantially over the past 50 years, even in absolute terms. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, there is just no support for the declining morals/values whine from these two groups.

If you want to read more about the state of the world as it actually is, I recommend Dr. Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature. I am about to open his most recent book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, which is in the same vein. You can continue to listen to the utterances of President Trump, but I consider them to be worse than noise at this point and only pay attention to the official actions of his minion horde, drawn from the dregs of the Republican Party. Those actions aren’t noise and should be kept on lists so they can be reversed (better: improved upon) as soon as the clown and his circus are out of office.

There is one message and one message alone that the election of Mr. Trump demands be heard: people are fed up with the status quo. Mr. Trump is acting against that state, but in the direction opposite to how the people want to go and in the direction dictated by the wealthy elite in this country.

Addendum R.I.P. GOP, there seems to be nothing left of that party’s integrity, morals, and values.

February 14, 2018

Did Civilization Have to Be the Way It Was (Is)?

Filed under: Culture,History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:59 am
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This is a follow-up to my recent posts on civilization, whether it has been “driven” by a desire for immortality (I think not) or greed (I think so). The basic story of civilization shows elites coercing the mass’s labor at agriculture (first), skimming the benefits off for themselves. Karen Armstrong, author of many really good books on religion, says it better than I can:

But robbed of the fruits of their labors, the peasants were little better than slaves: plowing, harvesting, digging irrigation canals, being forced into degradation and penury, their hard labor in the fields draining their lifeblood.” Karen Armstrong, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence

Here is the scholarly argument, then, that it had to be this way, again from Karen Armstrong (same source):

Yet, historians argue, without this cruel arrangement that did violence to the vast majority of the population, humans would not have developed the arts and sciences that made progress possible. Civilization itself required a leisured class to cultivate it, and so our finest achievements were for thousands of years built on the backs of an exploited peasantry. By no coincidence, when the Sumerians invented writing, it was for the purpose of social control.

This is not just this simple argument, there is quite a bit of scholarship behind this position. Again from the same source:

But the (Sumerian) aristocrats had begun to study astronomy and discovered regular patterns in the movements of the heavenly bodies. They marveled at the way the different elements of the natural world worked together to create a stable universe, and they concluded that the cosmos itself must be a kind of state in which everything had its allotted function. They decided that if they modeled their cities on this celestial order, their experimental society would be in tune with the way the world worked and would therefore thrive and endure. The cosmic state, they believed, was managed by gods who were inseparable from the natural forces and nothing like the “God” worshipped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims today.”

But I note that various justifications are also being put in place. Again from the same source:

For these pioneers of civilization, the myth of the cosmic state was an exercise in political science. The Sumerians knew that their stratified society was a shocking departure from the egalitarian norm that had prevailed from time immemorial, but they were convinced that it was somehow enshrined in the very nature of things and that even the gods were bound by it. Long before humans existed, it was said, the gods had lived in the Mesopotamian cities, growing their own food and managing the irrigation system. After the Great Flood, they had withdrawn from earth to heaven and appointed the Sumerian aristocracy to govern the cities in their stead. Answerable to their divine masters, the ruling class had had no choice in the matter.

Aw, they had no choice! The poor, poor, elites.

Here is her summary of the whole magilla.

“It seemed like an iron law because no society ever found an alternative. By the end of the fifteenth century CE, agrarian civilizations would be established in the Middle East, South and East Asia, North Africa, and Europe, and in every one— whether in India, Russia, Turkey, Mongolia, the Levant, China, Greece, or Scandinavia— aristocrats would exploit their peasants as the Sumerians did. Without the coercion of the ruling class, it would have been impossible to force peasants to produce an economic surplus, because population growth would have kept pace with advances in productivity. Unpalatable as this may seem, by forcing the masses to live at subsistence level, the aristocracy kept population growth in check and made human progress feasible. Had their surplus not been taken from the peasants, there would have been no economic resource to support the technicians, scientists, inventors, artists, and philosophers who eventually brought our modern civilization into being. As the American Trappist monk Thomas Merton pointed out, all of us who have benefited from this systemic violence are implicated in the suffering inflicted for over five thousand years on the vast majority of men and women. Or as the philosopher Walter Benjamin put it: ‘There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.’”

Okay, do you buy this? That “Had their surplus not been taken from the peasants, there would have been no economic resource to support the technicians, scientists, inventors, artists, and philosophers who eventually brought our modern civilization into being.” That you owe your refrigerators, iPhones, TV sets, bath tubs, etc. to the elites who were basically forced by the gods to do what they did?

I have no qualms with the “Had their surplus not been taken from the peasants, there would have been no economic resource to support the technicians, scientists, …” part, but there are some holes in the argument. The concern that the masses would breed out of control and eat up the surplus is based in science (biologically, populations expand up to the limits of their food supply) but not history. These early civilizations were always, it seemed, starved for labor, resulting in widespread slave raiding to acquire it.

I also do not accept it was necessary to be done the way it was. Every step of the way, the elites lived better than the masses, usually very much better. Some might argue that using the greed of the elites was the only reliable pathway to get to where we are, but that is just a justification. The elites were interested only in creating civilization for themselves and this is the flaw in this whole process.

Was there ever a time that even just one elite chose to live as his/her “subjects” did? Was there ever an elite who worked harder to improve the lot of his subjects lives harder than his/her own? Was there ever an elite who didn’t husband his/her own power for his/her own sake rather than for the “good of the people”? If there were, it is hard to find evidence for it and it was, I suspect, very temporary. So, the argument distills down to basically the elites operated out of greed, using secular and religious power to make their lives better: more secure, healthier, better fed, housed, clothed, etc. And civilization for the masses … happened by accident.

I wonder how scholars, like Karen Armstrong, determine that “Answerable to their divine masters, the ruling class had had no choice in the matter.” How can you read intentions from 5-6 millennia in the past distance. Were their written records, diaries perhaps? She is writing about a time when writing was a rare thing. The elites basically invented writing as a method for accounting for their confiscations. Writing was not a skill widespread in early civilizations. Scribes were trained to work for the elites. Ordinary people did not have the wherewithal to afford the services of a scribe, not did they have the wherewithal to deliver a message once written. Only the elites had the capacity to place things into written records. So, I think it is no stretch of the imagination that the earliest non-accounting forms of writing were done at the behest of the elites, to serve the interests of the elites, and that those writings would be “self-serving.” Only much later did writing become something that could actually serve to undermine the interests of the elites (usually in the form of plays that conveyed messages to a largely illiterate population). So, how do these scholars “know” that the elites felt that they had “no choice in the matter” of how they organized society?

Isn’t it just like us humans, that “shit happened” and later we determine the “meaning of it all.”

To too many people, religion is a real thing in their lives. (Karen Armstrong flunked out of nun school.) They seem to think that religion is more than a tool, a vehicle to move some into the elite column of society and to keep others out of it. Some are inclined to give religion a pass as the religious elites were just trying to satisfy the dictates of the gods.

I do not.

I see very greedy people on the make for anything they can use to advantage them and their immediate family and disadvantage everyone else, especially those who competed with them for their oversized share of the pie created by the coerced labor of the masses. There was an uneasy alliance between the secular elites and the religious elites; sometimes these were merged but often enough they were not. (Why? Because their separation allowed for more elites and more elites allowed for more coercion.) The secular elites used religion’s rules to control the masses. The religious elites used secular force to enforce religious authority. Hand meet glove.

This is still the case, even though some of the benefits of civilization have “trickled down” to the masses (to the great profit of the elites who consider the masses to be “consumers” now).

As to the question “did it have to be this way” I answer, well it was that way (and still is), but it could have been different. Imagine a society in which the “aristocrats” consider themselves to be stewards of the lives of the masses (in democracies we call them “public servants”). These stewards spend all of their time trying to improve the lot of the masses, while simultaneously urging the masses to do the labor necessary to support that work. These stewards earn the trust of the masses by sharing the surpluses in ways unforeseen by the masses and by living austere lives themselves. Ordinary people saw the benefit of these wise leaders and bought into the better lives they could organize and didn’t begrudge their labor to serve the whole effort.

Under such, albeit imaginary, leadership civilization could have been something done for the people rather than to the people.

It still could.






February 10, 2018

4000 Prophecies … All True?

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:21 am
Tags: , , ,

One of the claims proffered for the existence of her god by a Christian apologist (I suspect a young one) was that the Bible contained 4000 prophecies and “all of them came true.” Prophecies are one of the three pillars supporting Christianity, the others being miracles, and the resurrection of Jesus. Should any of them fail, so would Christianity, so they “must be true.”

So, is this true? Where would such a statistic come from? I suspect the person offering it did not count them herself. I suspect that this was a factoid presented to her by another apologist. So, if this is a claim, one can check it for truth value. Just from memory I recall the prophecy made by Jesus in Matthew, that the Kingdom of God would come before all of the people hearing him make his prophecy had died. Well, if he did make it and there were people around to hear it in ca. 30 CE, then they are all dead and the Kingdom either did or did not come. I have read some rather contorted explanations of how that prophecy did indeed come true, but I suspect those were at best fanciful. If you were walk around and ask Christians at random “Has the Kingdom of God come yet?” I suspect they would all say “no,” certainly a large majority of them would say “no.”

So, that is one prophecy that did not come true, so the “all” part of the claim we started with is now gone. But it still could be “many” or “most,” no?

That leads to another question: how does one verify a prophecy?

I read a book in which a scholar tried to sum all of the human deaths in the Bible that could be attributed to the god of the Bible, either directly or indirectly. By the time he got to the end, he had a total of 2-3 million people plus the entire population of the Earth (minus eight) at the time of The Great Flood (est. at 80-1000 million people). These estimates are more than a little uncertain, because when the Hebrews were told to kill all of the inhabitants of a town, the description doesn’t say “kill all of the 1,862 inhabitants of Kreplach,” or whatever, it just says “all.” So, reasonable estimates needed to be made and the author was clear in his communication as to how he made those estimates.

So, to come up with “the Bible contained 4000 prophecies and all of them came true,” one would need to a) read the entire Bible (which one?), b) identify all of the prophecies, counting them along the way, and c) determine whether they came true. To avoid the problem of fraud, as Christian fraud is rampant, there are some absolutely necessary additional points needed. We need to know who is making the prophecy. We need to know who is reporting it (the author of the scripture). We need to know whether the author is trustworthy. And we need to know when the prophecy was made. The easiest prophecy to make and one that always comes true is the “after the fact prophecy.” For example, I predict the Eagles will beat the Patriots in Super Bowl 52. I have a perfect track record in making these predictions; I have never been wrong. (For the puzzled among you, the Super Bowl was two weeks ago and the Eagles did beat the Patriots.) When Jesus predicts the Temple will be destroyed, that is easy for the author of a gospel to write as the writer was writing after 70 CE the year the Romans tore down the Temple. Now, did Jesus say he was going to raise the temple again in three days or that he could raise it again in three days? Hmm….

Prophecies are rarely clear as to what is being predicted, which is a major problem. People wanting a prophecy to be true interpret it one way, while opponents interpret it another, so to be able to state unequivocally that a prophecy is true or untrue, the prophecy itself has to be very clear. Unfortunately, prophets have a very long history of making quite obscure pronouncements. The Greek prophets were notorious for this and had “priests” nearby who would help you interpret the prophet’s utterings … for a fee, of course.

Add to this the fact that we have no idea who the people writing the Christian scriptures were. Consider the books of the New Testament which claim Paul as the author. There are 14 of them. By analyzing the writing, scholars think that 7 of the 14 were written by the same person. Several of the remaining (and a couple of other extra-biblical “letters”) are clearly not written by this person, and a less than handful of the others are labeled as “probably not written by ‘Paul’.” There is no way to prove at this late date that the author “Paul” is who he says he is or even if he is a real person and not a pseudonym for some proselytizing early Christian. And this is basically the best it gets.

So, we do not know who wrote most of the Bible. We do not know whether they are trustworthy. We do not know whether the prophecies were written before or after the events they predicted. Many of the prophecies are at best vague and unspecific.

In other words, there is no way to verify the truth of most of those prophecies, so the “faithful” are back at square one (faith). As to the evidence “the Bible contains 4000 prophecies and all of them came true,” uh, no.

The Bible is also full of evidence of things being misplaced in time. For example, the armor worn by Goliath, of the David and Goliath fame, as described in the Bible won’t be invented for about 400 years after the time setting described. Understandably the author, writing 400 years, or so, after the “event,” describes what he could see when he was writing and could not imagine what a warrior like Goliath would have worn “back then.” The Bible, though it contains historical elements, is not a history book, nor can its unknown authors be trusted to tell the truth.

Unfortunately, the promulgators of the nonsense of the 4000 prophecies, deliberately cover up the nonsensical aspects of their source. For example, many people point to the miracle of the loaves and fishes, in which 5000 people are fed from a very small supply of food and from which the leftovers are greater than the amount begun with. Truly this is a miracle, even all of Jesus’ companions were agog at this event. What they do not point out is that the next story is about another miracle of loaves and fishes, in which 4000 people are fed from a very small supply of food and from which the leftovers are greater than the amount begun with. This, too, must have been a miracle because, even though it happened less than a week after the first one, all of Jesus’ companions were again agog at this event, just as if they couldn’t conceive of such a thing. How any sermons do you think have been given on the two miracles of the loaves and fishes?

So, you start with gullible believers desperately looking for confirmation of their beliefs and then you feed them bullshit such as the above, and this is what you get. So, if someone makes a claim like “4000 prophecies …” I suggest you simply ask a few questions:

  1. Did you count them yourself?
    2. Are you sure you can trust the author of the scripture? (If they claim divine inspiration, ask them how they can tell the difference between God-inspiration and Satan-inspiration; clearly Job couldn’t tell the difference.)
    3. How did you determine whether the prophesies were written before the events predicted?
    … and so on. I don’t think you will get past more than 1-2 such questions.
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