Class Warfare Blog

July 17, 2018

The Monty Pythonesque Administration

Comments have been flying fast and furious regarding the meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Comments ranges from:

One of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory,” Sen. John McCain’s description of the news conference.

to:

(What) the American people saw is that President Donald Trump will always put the prosperity and security of America first.” (VP Mike Pence)

That the two polarities, including the ones evinced here, are coming from Republicans; well at least this is new.

I am reminded of a Monty Python sketch, “Argument Clinic” from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman. Graham Chapman enters the office of the Argument Clinic looking for a good argument. John Cleese complies but no matter what is said to him, his response is “No, it is not.” or “No, you didn’t. (I am working from memory here, so if I am off on the details, no problem, it is the gist of the sketch I am getting at.)

Finally the paying customer complains that they were not having a proper argument as Cleese was just gainsaying everything sent his way. Cleese’s response was “No, I’m not.” No resolution occurs because they run out of their allotted time.

This, apparently, is the Republican strategy to run the Oval Office. No matter what anyone says, the answer is “No. it is not.” or “You are wrong.” If someone quotes sources, the response is “Fake news!” No matter what happens, the first things out of their mouths are outrageous lies.

Backing all of this up is Fox (sic) News propaganda machine and the various Internet “news” sites who back Trump’s version of reality. As a consequence, we have a significant portion of the American polity who believe Mr. Trump’s version of reality. Hell, quite a few of them even believe Mr. Trump is a Christian, all evidence to the contrary. (Jesus said it is okay to grab women by the pussy, if you are famous. Two Corinthians 6:66)

Then the talking heads lump it all together as us being a “Divided Nation,” as if we were the cause and not the lying, mealy mouthed politicians.

Mr. Trump is transforming American politics … and you are not going to like what you get. Whoever is in power just has to tell “the people” things that back up their performance (e.g. “The GDP has doubled on my watch.” DJT … when it has gone up 6% at most.) and then their propaganda machine goes into action to back it up or muddy the waters to make it seem that opinion is divided on the truth of that statement. (“After all, they will say anything to “prove” their point.” (stated by both sides).)

So, okay, conservatives. You have seen the way the Republicans have acted when they got back into power (and even before, refusing to address the nomination of a Supreme Court justice, for over a year). What will the country be like when the liberals get into power (the pendulum always swings back) … if they follow the same play book? Are you going to like it? Are you?

Or would you rather have the old, dull, grind it out politics that served us fairly well for quite some time. You know, the one in which if someone were caught in a massive lie they were expected to resign. (Compare Richard Nixon (then) and the still Senator David Vitter (now). You know Senator Vitter, the family values Republican who was a frequent client of the D.C. Madam’s whorehouse.)

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July 13, 2018

The War on the Theory of Evolution

In all of science there are just two areas that are in major dispute in society. The dispute over the reality of Climate Change is fueled by people making money in ways that exacerbate the problem and who do not want to change because, well, they are making a great deal of money through those activities. The dispute over the validity of the Theory of Evolution in biology is fueled by theists who claim their religious ox is being gored. This is about the latter more than the former, but also about magical thinking in general.

Interestingly enough, wisdom can be had in the words of someone who suffered no little mental and physical discomfort from the theistic opposition, Galileo Galleli:

I should have added only that, through the Scripture cannot err, nevertheless some of its interpreters and expositors can sometimes err in various ways. One of these would be very serious and very frequent, namely to want to limit oneself always to the literal meaning of the words. . . .

Thus, given that in many places the Scripture is not only capable but necessarily in need of interpretations different from the apparent meaning of the words, it seems to me that in disputes about natural phenomena it should be reserved to the last place.” (Galileo Galleli in a 1613 letter to Benedetto Castelli)

Those who argue against the Theory of Evolution are showing up to a gun fight with a knife and behave accordingly. They whine and criticize and nibble around the edges but eschew engaging fully (they know they cannot win because their rich backers would be backing actual research if they thought there was any chance of their position being supported by that research–the creationists/intelligent design folks no no (zero, zip, zilch) research). The attempts to establish the validity of Jewish scripture via science (by Christians!) are pathetic at best and disingenuous and harmful at least.

You may wonder “What’s the harm?” The harm is that if one engages in magical thinking about nature, when Nature Herself provides a wonderful, neutral referee, then what are the consequences of accepting such magical thinking in society at large. As just one example, our President just claimed that under his stewardship, our Gross Domestic Product* (GDP) has doubled.

Mr. Trump was elected in November of 2016  and began to serve in January of 2017. The GDP of the U.S in 2016 was 18,624.48 billion dollars. The GDP for the year 2017 was 19,390.6 billion dollars, a 4.114% increase over the previous year. The GDP for 2018 hasn’t yet been determined (year ain’t over, yet) but even if extrapolated to today, I can’t see it would reach a 100% over 2016, which is what would be necessary to achieve a “doubling,” maybe 106% of 2016, but not 200%.”

Now, you could argue that Mr. Trump misspoke or was misinformed, but here is the problem. Should not Mr. Trump know that a doubling of GDP in a year or a year and a half is batshit crazy magical thinking? Shouldn’t he know that before making the claim, not as Donald J. Trump, but as the Fucking President of the United States? (FPOTUS?)

Mr. Trump’s supporters may believe his every utterance and that is on them for believing in magical thinking, but we cannot afford to have a President who does.

Plus, while we are blathering on about the myriad piles of verbal bullshit created out of the fevered mind of this president, his minions are doing serious damage to our democracy. They currently are packing the federal courts with people they like, people who believe in magical thinking and by the time you find out you do not like those thoughts, they will be installed on federal judiciary benches with lifetime appointments (to immunize them from political pressure, which has already been applied and vetted).

* Gross domestic product (GDP) is the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy less the value of the goods and services used up in production. GDP is also equal to the sum of personal consumption expenditures, gross private domestic investment, net exports of goods and services, and government consumption expenditures and gross investment.

 

July 4, 2018

Republicans (Gasp!) Tax Churches!

Well, the Tax and Spend Republicans are at it again, this time accompanied by the howling from their evangelical Christian supporters. In their latest omnibus tax bill, you know the one in which they gave temporary small tax breaks to you and me and permanent large tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations, they also included this tidbit: churches, hospitals, orchestras and other historically tax-exempt organizations are to begin paying a 21 percent tax on some types of fringe benefits they provide their employees!

I am sure the Republicans will blame this on the Democrats because those organizations don’t pay income taxes, consequently lawmakers couldn’t take away fringe-benefit deductions, so instead they created a 21 percent tax on the value of some of nonprofit employees’ benefits.

The main benefits affected are transportation-related, like free parking in a lot or a garage and subway and bus passes. It also targets meals provided to workers and, in some circumstances, may affect gym memberships.

Apparently this is just the camel’s nose under the tent. Next up the major fringe benefits of parsonages, vehicles, and other benefits provided to clergy. And then, churches will have to pay property taxes because, well, fires aren’t satanic, so there is no freedom of religion distinction applicable to fees needed to support fire departments as well as police departments (needed to protect Christians from atheists and lesbians trying to take away their religious freedoms).

Ah, sweet progress! Let the sacred cow harvest begin!

June 21, 2018

Parsing Romans 13

Many people have chimed in on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ claim last week that separating children from their parents was a biblical gesture, citing Romans 13 of the New Testament supporting his administrations policy of separating parents from children when people cross our border without permission. Some critics claim to prove that Sessions’ use of Romans 13 is theologically incorrect. What most people seem to ignore is the question of why Romans 13 exists at all, being an unnecessary theological statement, and a purely political one.

“Romans” was written in the late 50’s CE as best we can figure such things. This was well before Christianity was adopted as “a” state religion of Rome in the early 300’s CE and then as “the” state religion of Rome in the later 300’s CE. After Christianity was adopted by the Roman Empire, the greatest persecutor, by far, of Christians was other Christians. Prior to that point, there were occasional persecutions of Christians by the Romans. These persecutions were exaggerated by the early Christians for effect, but they did occur. (Please keep in mind that the Roman empire was not a glitter and glitz parade that it is often portrayed as in movies, but a rather brutal authoritarian regime, one in which a blow to the face was the expected result of questioning authority.)

So, Christians of the time of the writing of Romans were trying desperately to not be singled out by the Romans for more extensive persecutions, examples of which abounded. So, the attitudes of Christian leaders were basically: keep your head down, obey the rules, pay your taxes, etc. not because the Romans had the right to rule but that they had the might to rule and exercised it regularly.  The only way Christians could be convinced to do this was to establish that they had the right to rule given to them by the Christian’s god, hence Romans 13 (which was a novel invention with no prior support in scripture … and before you start writing comments, consider that the Israelite and Judean rulers were “authorized” on as extensions of their god and only as long as they did God’s will; piss off the priests and you might be an ex-king in just a few days; the Romans were a pagan run civilization). Christians, however, had some real problems trying to fit in under this scheme as their religion forbade them from worshipping the Emperor, pagan cults, etc., all of which made them “trouble makers.”

It is not unfortunate that we are finally beginning to get a real grasp on the well-established conservative Christian view that modern government has outgrown its natural boundaries by usurping both the family’s role as educators and caregivers, and the church’s role as social service agency. This is bullshit, of course, because when you look back at how schools developed, they developed out of groups trying to provide a better education for their children than they could provide themselves. The bucolic view of fathers teaching their sons and mothers their daughters is all fine and good as long as all of these people were in the same place, but when fathers started leaving the home for work, as opposed to farming their own piece of land, this system no longer worked. Dad was “at work,” son was at home (and, of course, the girls didn’t count) so how much teaching could be done? So, groups of people, often springing out of church relationships found “teachers” and solved their problem by division of labor. These schools were “government” as much as anything was governmental when they were created but they weren’t governmental as we now look at things. They were merely collective. (This practice continues today, by the way.)

As warm and fuzzy as things sound, this system founded upon “the family’s role as educators and caregivers, and the church’s role as social service agency” would be about as well received today as a fart in an elevator. Basically, this is the libertarian view that we are all alone in this world, that we cannot depend on anyone else. Under this viewpoint, doctors are busybodies who should mind their own business and public transportation (buses, streetcars, trains, run by the government) is anathema. (Hey, if the Koch brothers are against it, you know it isn’t part of the Libertarian future.) Under this viewpoint collectivism is a dirty word.

But, then Christianity isn’t democratic in any way. It is the most authoritarian of systems, and all of the effing plutocrats want in on the power involved as recipients of the authority as middle men.

These people are dangerous, dangerous to any idea of collective behavior. It is astonishing that they even approve of church bake sales. Basically I think that religion is the horse they rode into town on and they will ride it until it drops, so anything goes when it comes to religion as long as it toes the line with regard to the authority structure in families and society in general (power needle points to men, white men, unquivering).

All hail the Libertarians!

 

 

June 17, 2018

Ignorant or Duplicitous? … You Decide

I ran across the oft repeated quotation from Isaac Newton just now “I have a fundamental belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by those who were inspired. I study the Bible daily.” This quotation is from the second edition of Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Latin for Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), one of the most important scientific publications in the entire history of western science.

Like Einstein, Isaac Newton is oft quoted as an example of a scientist who “believed.” Exactly what they believed is often overlooked.

Isaac Newton was notoriously thin-skinned and he received a great many objections and criticisms from the publishing of the first edition of the Principia with dismay (like Michael and Beyonce, the book only needs its first name). One of the criticisms was that Newton’s work explained the motions of the planets so well there was no longer a need for God’s guiding hand to keep the planets moving in their perfect orbits. In a direct response to that accusation, Newton inserted a new paragraph into his second edition making it clear that he still believed all his laws had been created by God. In other words, he didn’t think such a statement was necessary in the first edition!

Make no mistake about it, Newton was a creationist. He did believe in “God,” but this was the mid to late 1600’s and the consequences of not believing were quite dire. Plus, what Newton actually did believe would not pass muster with the theists constantly repeating the quotation above.

From Wikipedia, “According to most scholars, Newton was Arian, not holding to Trinitarianism. In Newton’s eyes, worshipping Christ as God was idolatry, to him the fundamental sin. As well as being antitrinitarian, Newton allegedly rejected the orthodox doctrines of the immortal soul, a personal devil and literal demons.

Now, what do you call someone who rejects the trinity, didn’t hold with Jesus being called a god, didn’t believe in immortal souls (and therefore the afterlife, Heaven, Hell, etc.), the devil, and demons? Is there a Christian sect today which can check off all of those boxes? Like Einstein, Newton was at most a theist viewing nature as the only god worth studying.

Also, Newton’s “daily” Bible studies weren’t exactly orthodox. Also from Wikipedia:

“Newton spent a great deal of time trying to discover hidden messages within the Bible. After 1690, Newton wrote a number of religious tracts dealing with the literal interpretation of the Bible. In a manuscript Newton wrote in 1704 he describes his attempts to extract scientific information from the Bible. He estimated that the world would end no earlier than 2060. In predicting this he said ‘This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail.’”

So, those who quote the above statement incessantly as an example of a “scientist who believed” thus supporting the idea that faith and reason are compatible, are they ignorant or duplicitous? Personally I think more people grasp upon anything that supports their beliefs out of plain old confirmation bias than there are theists who actually know what is what and who are deliberately obscuring the truth to show The Truth™. This I believe is a consequence of evangelism. Few are equipped to do it correctly.

June 14, 2018

What Harm Does It Do?

Often when the topic of religion comes up in online and other debates a point pushed is “It is harmless. What harm does it do?” I mentioned in a recent post that I have been working my way through Jerry Coyne’s Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible (Penguin Publishing Group, Kindle Edition). As to what harm religion does, Professor Coyne offered this rather brilliant quotation:

“John Shimkus, a congressman from Illinois, went even further, quoting from the Book of Genesis when testifying in 2009 before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment:

Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood, and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done. As long as the Earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease’ [Genesis 8: 21– 22]. I believe that’s the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it’s going to be toward his creation. . . . The Earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth. This Earth will not be destroyed by a flood. I appreciate having panelists here who are men of faith, and we can get into the theological discourse of that position. But I do believe God’s word is infallible, unchanging, perfect.

Arrogance on display. I get to punch this punching bag as he is from my home state.

Regarding “The Earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over.” This is scripture according to this person. Christian scripture says no such thing. And we are not talking about Earth ending, we are talking about leaving enough resources for our children to have lives that are relatively full. If you are religious, do you want your children living in squalor and danger as they await the Second Coming?

Regarding “Man will not destroy this Earth.” Of course not, it is fucking planet. We do not have the means to destroy it. But we can make it almost impossible for it to support a population of people of any size if we keep going in the rapacious manner we have been going. We currently harvest nature’s bounty, for profit, until the harvested resource is all used up, then we go make money some other way. Think about all of the abundant fishing sites that no longer have any fish to catch or lakes that have had all of their water “diverted.” Think about soils so depleted they won’t grow anything any more. There are spots in the Gulf of Mexico that no longer support life (they are called “Dead Zones”) because of all of the agricultural chemical runoff funneled to it by the Mississippi River. None of these actions will “end the Earth” but a few more like them will end life on Earth as we know it.

Regarding “This Earth will not be destroyed by a flood.” Scripture doesn’t say anything about destroying half of Florida or the coastal Northeast which will be underwater in less than 100 years. The Earth will not be destroyed, it says, but that claim doesn’t cover just the coastal plains; they can “die” any time.

So, according to this moron, our climate change playbook is to be a 2-2500 year old book that has not a single correct scientific fact in it. Ah, the power of faith, especially in an ignoramus with just enough brain cells to get elected to state office with the help of his Christian friends.

June 3, 2018

What Did the Romans Want?

Filed under: History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:25 pm
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I have commented often enough that Christianity getting adopted by the Roman Empire, first as a state religion (in 313 CE according to Roman records) and then later as the state religion of the Roman Empire (in 380 CE according to Roman records), held immense benefits for Christianity and Christians. (Of course this would not have happened unless Christianity endorsed slavery as Rome was a major slave state.) After these dates, the history of Christianity is rife with Christian prelates falling all over themselves to curry favor with the Emperor/Empire and in trying to get Roman state power to enforce their particular beliefs. (Prior to those adoptions the prelates pleaded for tolerance of all Christians, something that vanished thereafter.) If you haven’t read any of this first through fourth century church history a good place to start is the book Jesus Wars.).

I haven’t finished my readings on that era but a question comes to mind for which little in the way of answers has come is: what was in it for the Romans? It was Constantine who adopted Christianity as “a” state religion of Rome and I saw one comment that made sense. Constantine, apparently, admired the control Christian bishops had over their “flocks.” Pagan religions were just rite centered. Other than performing the rites necessary to propitiate the gods (and being paid appropriately for that service), they made no demands upon “believers.” The Christian prelates, on the other hand, organized their communities and demanded behaviors when not performing rites, etc. It makes sense that Romans would appreciate this ability to create order administratively. In addition Christians had been a source of Roman concern for their disdain for the other gods. As part of a polytheistic culture, Roman citizens were supposed to respect the worship practices of all of the other cults. Christians and Jews respected none of them. This respect was a major aspect of Roman foreign policy. When the Romans conquered a people, they allowed them to keep their gods and worship practices. In fact, Romans welcomed the “captured” gods into the Roman pantheon. Sometimes they did this by melding the conquered gods into pre-existing Roman gods and other times they just added them to the list of gods to be worshiped in the Empire. Rome had an official office of Roman cults whose role it was to keep track of all of these accepted cults and make sure they were being worshipped (thus protecting the Empire from angry jilted gods).

So, bringing a conquered cult’s gods into the fold, as it were, was a standard practice. But Judaism/Christianity had somewhat of a checkered past, which resulted in Roman oppression in several short stints. (This oppression was much overblown by Judaic/Christian propaganda. Nobody persecuted Christians anywhere near as much as other Christians.) So, what the Romans wanted was religious peace and the support for their civilization Empire that religions brought. Constantine even tried to help the Christians find their center in the first great Christian get together of their leaders. He took hundreds of them in at one of his plush villas and wined and dined them. He even attended and participated in some of their deliberative sessions and left the conclave thinking that he had helped them find their way (and his way to religious peace). Little did he know that the troubles were just getting started.

So, the Romans were looking to use the authority of the Christian bishops to rein in some of the disdainful behavior of Christians toward other cults and the Christians were looking for … what?

If you find anything in the histories to explain what Christians wanted from the Roman Empire (remember the Romans, the guys who crucified Jesus?) other than state power to enforce their particular orthodoxy, please let me know as I have seen nothing else so far.

This propensity by Christians to seek state power to enforce their religion continues in the U.S. to this day.

May 15, 2018

The Basic Problem with Our Religions

Filed under: Culture,Education,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:09 am
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A philosopher named Owen Flanagan quoted someone as saying that “A good human life is lived at the intersection of the true, the good, and the beautiful.” It seems that we all come equipped to determine what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful as part of our basic makeup, so if the aphorism is true, we all have the capability of living a good life. But if you ask a Christian apologist what is the true, what is the good, and what is the beautiful, they will respond that God/Jesus is the truth, only He is truly good, and He and His love are the beautiful. Humans, on the other hand, are depraved, sinful, and unworthy, and that none of those three (truth, good, beauty) come from anywhere but their god. Humans can be saved from their sinfulness, but only through faith in their god or at least obey the gods directives as interpreted by their gods servants.

I am reminded of a phenomenon of the 1970’s and 1980’s called Erhard Seminars Training or EST. This was a self-improvement program designed to improve the lives of the participants. The beginning of the course was described as being brutal as the participants were verbally abused into a state of pliable acceptance, then they were built up into different people, presumably better. Old school military training was similar, but the initial stages were more physical. “Recruits” were abused verbally and physically to make them more pliable for training into better soldiers (any number of movies have highlighted these processes—Private Benjamin, Full Metal Jacket, An Officer and a Gentleman, etc.).

The religions in this country favor depicting potential believers as being unworthy, sinful, even abominable, before offering the “cure.” They describe the world around us as being filled with temptations and dangers, for which they have, of course, solutions. They refer to their followers as docile animals, as their “flock,” as “lambs and sheep,” and as children, with priests referring to their parishioners as their children (My Son, My Daughter, My Child) and accept the title of “Father,” all of which disempowers the parishioners and puts them into the pliable state of a child, ready for indoctrination.

As a teacher I was taught that my primary goal was to provide a “safe learning environment” for my students, so they could learn free of coercion, bullying, sarcasm, and humiliation. I taught college kids, adults, so was that requirement because all of my students had already been safely religiously indoctrinated as children and it was now not okay to coerce them? Why does this “safe, learning environment” requirement not apply to religions, which terrorize young children with images of their loved ones burning in Hell. (Please don’t tell me this doesn’t happen, I have spoken to too many people who have confessed their nightmares regarding their grandparents or other loved ones roasting in fire.)

Why do not we use, as a theme for educating our children the simple phrase “a good human life is lived at the intersection of the true, the good, and the beautiful” and operate as if we believed that?

May 9, 2018

Marx Was So Right, So Often

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:52 am
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Even though I am a philosophy nerd, I read no works of Karl Marx when I was young because, you know … psst, he was a communist. When I was growing up (1950’s and 1960’s) if you wanted to defame someone you called them a communist, even though most people didn’t know what that meant, it was just an euphemism for “bad guy.”

Now that I know better I have decided to see if there is anything there and so I started reading some of Marx’s works. The first thing I picked up has the title of “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843-4).” Here a few excerpts:

  • For Germany, the criticism of religion has been essentially completed, and the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism.
  • Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
  • The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness.
  • Thus, the criticism of Heaven turns into the criticism of Earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.
  • What a sight! This infinitely proceeding division of society into the most manifold races opposed to one another by petty antipathies, uneasy consciences, and brutal mediocrity, and which, precisely because of their reciprocal ambiguous and distrustful attitude, are all, without exception although with various formalities, treated by their rulers as conceded existences. And they must recognize and acknowledge as a concession of heaven the very fact that they are mastered, ruled, possessed! And, on the other side, are the rulers themselves, whose greatness is in inverse proportion to their number!
  • Luther, we grant, overcame bondage out of devotion by replacing it by bondage out of conviction. He shattered faith in authority because he restored the authority of faith. He turned priests into laymen because he turned laymen into priests. He freed man from outer religiosity because he made religiosity the inner man. He freed the body from chains because he enchained the heart.

Is any of this not still true today? The phrase “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature” resonates strongly with what I see as the role of religion in coercing our labor to serve the interests of the elites. And “He (Luther) turned priests into laymen and laymen into priests” clearly shows that Marx recognizes the transition of the outward imposition of the shackles of religion into an inward one. No guards are needed anymore because we become our own slave masters under Protestantism.

I will continue to read up on Marx, who apparently has a bad reputation, not because of his ideas, but because of what certain autocrats did with them.

May 3, 2018

First Civilizations—Religion

Filed under: Entertainment,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:56 am
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PBS is airing two new series, one called “Civilizations (BBC created)” and the other “First Civilizations (PBS & BBC created).” I saw fragments of both and programmed my DVR to record episodes. Last night I started viewing an episode of “First Civilizations” with the episode title of “Religion.”  I settled in with a bucket of popcorn looking to become enlightened … which lasted all of ten minutes. I will finish the episode, I guess, but here is some of what I saw in just the first ten minutes.

In the intro they said “When people share beliefs they are more likely to be cohesive … which allows a civilization to form.” This is basically true but is said in such a passive way. It could have been put ‘When people are forced to believe the same things, they are more likely to be able to be controlled … which allows a civilization to form.” Their verbiage makes it sound as if people spontaneously got together and said “Hey, gang let’s share beliefs so we can make a civilization.”

Then they ask a rhetorical question, a rather good one: Religion is the glue that binds us together (they slipped in “religion” to take the place of “shared beliefs”) … but how did people come to this conclusion? Again, this is on the right track but it makes it sound as if “the people,” as in “We, the people, …” were the actors, the deciders here. I think not. I think people are told what to believe and are usually threatened with negative consequences if they do not.

They began their answer to that rhetorical question above with the claim that by and large we were animists for the vast bulk of our existence, that gods and spirits were all around us. This was short but, I think, fairly accurate. They went on to say, “Switching to herding changed the viewpoints of animists. They started building sacred spaces. (Their example is rock jumble in Egypt that predates Stonehenge by a couple of millennia.) By building them, they were saying that the gods were to worshipped in these spaces and only there. They went on to point out that a number of these rocks weighed over one ton, so cooperation was needed to move them into place. They concluded that the stones must have some spiritual significance (emphasis added).

Click. (That’s me changing channels.)

There are more than a few problems with their claims. For one, if there were gods or spirits everywhere, how would anyone be convinced that they could only be accessed in one place? That the stones were moved into place apparently has been established and the conclusion that cooperation of a lot of people was required is valid, but ask yourself, what reason would people have to drop the productive labors they were engaged in (herding, cooking, weaving, etc.) and enter into nonproductive labors, strenuous labors (moving rocks)? The creators of this program are selling these actions as “spiritually motivated,” but in reality this doesn’t play out this way. All religions are based upon threats. That may sound harsh but bear me out. Imagine some shaman of one of the herding clans telling the herders they have to leave their flocks and move some really heavy stones around the desert. Most of the herders would respond with the equivalent of “WTF?” Would the shaman plead or just ask? Would the shaman argue how much better things would be with the rocks moved? I don’t think so, the shaman is in a position of power. To keep it he needs to exercise that power. He would threaten the tribe, as he always had, with the terrible things that would happen if they didn’t do his bidding. Since terrible things happen with some frequency, everyone has these things in mind and the idea of placating the gods for these terrible things has already been established. The shaman has “protected” the tribe in the past and “knows” which gods need to be placated. I am sure this is the variant of the “Elephant Repellent Spray” con. (There are no elephants around here! See, it works.)

So the tribe’s members are threatened with repercussions if they do not do as the shaman asks. The more “religious,” aka the more fearful, help coerce the less fearful and there you are. The labor was not spiritually inspired, it was coerced through threats of retaliation from gods or spirits.

Another problem is: where would the idea of a scared space come from? These are animists, the gods are all around. Lift up a rock and there is a god there. If the gods are everywhere, you do not need special places. (This same question could be asked of Christians who go to their churches to light a candle and pray, while at the same time arguing their god is everywhere and can hear their voice no matter where they are.)

What might motivate the creation of “sacred spaces?” Here is a counter narrative: when we became pastoral, which is not a sedentary lifestyle like agriculture creates, even so we become somewhat restricted in our movements. Like the skateboarding kid taking selfies, it seems as it he is stationary with the rest of the frame moving (because he is stationary relative to the camera), if you want to find a herder, look for the herd. The herd keeps moving (to find forage) but the herders are always next to the herd, so they are unlike hunter-gatherers in that their movement is more restricted. And herders follow patterns: there is winter pasturage and summer pasturage and the routes in between. They don’t migrate into unknown lands too much, who know what dangers might be there, so they make loops. By the time they get back to a spot they previously inhabited, the grass has had time to grow back, etc.

These pastoralists were not isolated from one another. Groups traded with one another, stole cattle, stole brides, arranged for marriages, etc. There were spaces where these groups met for such transactions and these spaces became “truce” spaces where it became bad juju to pull any fast ones. The shamans in each of these tribes would quickly learn in these trading spaces that they had “competitors” in the form of other shamans. Each shaman, not knowing what bullshit was being purveyed in the next group, was inclined to disparage the other shamans as weak or false. But what if another shaman’s message gets overheard by members of your tribe and they like it better than your spiel, what then? I’ll tell you: trouble in River City.

At some point, as a power ploy, one of the shamans has what he thinks is a good idea, the idea to create “a sacred space.” None of the others would have one of these. But he needs to get his tribe to build one. He does this and other tribes take notice. What is going on over there? Why are they dragging rocks around uselessly. When their own shamans can’t answer the question, the entrepreneurial shaman gains prestige.

Interestingly, the Stonehenge-esque site in Egypt shows a large number of small rings of stones scattered in a much larger circle. Could it have been that when the first tribe built their sacred space, the next tribe built a bigger one? (Sound familiar?) Soon you have a half dozen of the damned things surrounding the former “safe trading space.” The shamans, realizing that if they stay in conflict with one another there will be winners and losers, come to a tacit agreement over what the sacred spaces mean.

Now, I cannot “prove” my narrative, not do I want to try, but which narrative do you think is more likely? The one powered by spiritual feelings of “the people” or the one coerced by shamans seeking power? (In a court of law you can win a case not by proving the other side is wrong but simply by supplying a more likely narrative.)

These programs, at least the ones produced most recently by the BBC, have a reputation for sucking up to the religious. So, they start from “religion is a good thing” and “religions wouldn’t use fear and ambition to shape humanity’s future,” and well, I am sure you get it. So things are framed to cut religion a lot of slack, a whole lot of slack.

In reality, the religions we know are all based upon fear and threats. The Abrahamic religions have a god who says straight out that “I am a vengeful god.” Isaiah 45:7 in the King James Version reads, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” This god is then described as being “all-good” and above criticism.

Believers are to be rewarded, nonbelievers get horribly punished. If you don’t want to be punished, you had better do as you are told. Threats. Many such threats permeate the Bible. (They do not care if you truly believe and will accept you if you fake it. If you think this is harsh just read the stories of people who lost their faith. They lose their faith but nobody notices, as long as they act as they always have. You will see this over and over. Then, if they don’t just run away, if they actually tell their fellow parishioners that they have lost their faith, the threats and punishments begin.)

The role of religion in the creation of civilization is simple. Religions are organized systems of coercion to get the masses to behave so that they serve the interests of the religious and secular elites. Mostly this is in the form of coerced labor. Coerced labor that accomplishes nothing of value to the religious (making circles of standing stones) is a display of power: “See what I can make them do? They placed all of these rocks in a circle at my behest.” It is no mystery that the first three civilizations in the “Cradle of Civilization” that is Mesopotamia, were ruled by religious elite cadres. So were Egypt’s. The earliest story ever recorded is that of Gilgamesh and Gilgamesh was originally ruled over by religious elites.

Fear and threats … coercion … what do you want to bet that these topics are not touched upon in the other 50 minutes of that program?

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