Thursday, July 23, 2015

More evidence of how religion harms mankind.

A friend of mine, Don Wharton, the coordinator of my monthly discussion group from WASH, the Washington Area Secular Humanists group, posted in an email thread on Meetup a link to a video of Neal DeGrasse Tyson demonstrating how Islam turned a progressive and successful Arab culture into "an abyss of intellectual darkness", as my other friend Lance, put it.

His methodology involved an examination of two things:

The scientific principle of naming rights.

The numbers of various nationalities/ethnicities with Nobel Prizes for scientific advancements.

First, he noted how the naming rights thing works, that whomever first works on something or discovers it has the rights to name that thing.  Which is why so many heavy metals are named after parts of the U.S.- cause the people who discovered them were working here in this country.  He noted that the constellations are largely named in Greek, because the Greeks were the first to really do that (at least in western civilization).

Yet, the stars themselves largely have Arab names.  Why?  Because the period in which they were discovered and named was during a period when Baghdad was the cultural center of the world.

Which ended when a fundamentalist form of Islam took over that culture and shut down the scientific inquiry.

He also notes the fact (which some have tried to call Islamophobic) there are only about two Nobel Prize winners of Muslim belief, while the rest are either Christian or (a full 25%) Jewish.

All of which he uses to drive home the point of Islam's tendency to harm the cultures in which it holds power.

I would like to expand on that thought, lest people think that this applies only to Islam.  Some may point out that almost 75% of Nobel Prize winners are Christian, and the founder of that prize was too.  Yep, no argument about that.

But I would counter that some politicians in this country, who are being courted by the Republican Party, have made statements to the affect of denigrating science, and in fact, have promulgated laws which are decidedly anti-science in their affect and intent.  Every one of those politicians identify themselves as devout Christians, and use that anti-science attitude to pander to a fundamentalist audience.

Remember that Arab culture?  How they named a huge percentage of the stars we now know?  How they invented advanced forms of mathematics, including the concept of zero?  Tyson's point was that they haven't done that for a thousand years.

Over a THOUSAND years.  Until Islam killed that culture's scientific progress, it was the one culture that was preserving mankind's scientific knowledge, after the fall of the Romans.  Think for a moment, how much scientific progress was lost.  How many advances in science were NOT made over that thousand years?  What might we now know, scientifically, had that progress a thousand years ago not halted?  Would we have invented chemistry over half a millennium earlier than we actually did?  Imagine for a moment if the Industrial Age had begun over five hundred years earlier.  How many medical advancements would have occurred, how many diseases defeated?  Would we now have a cure for cancer?

All of these things are now little what-ifs, because a fundamentalist form of Islam shut that all down.

Do we really want to do that here, today?  Do we really want to take the wealthiest country on earth, where the resources abound and we have already done so much, and make it an intellectual desert?  Do we want to allow a few (less than 20%) Americans to dictate to the rest of us what kind of a culture we will have going forward?  Do we really want to take the scientific community of which we have been so rightfully proud and set it back a thousand years?

Do the Christians of this country want their religion to be the cause of that disaster?  For history to record such shame?

Somehow, I doubt that.

But without a concerted effort, a minority of Christians in this country will use their religion's written tenets to do just that.

Which is why I have written about how harmful religion is and can be.  It doesn't have to be that way, but sooner or later, because the words are written in their holy books, someone somewhere will take those words and act them out, which will cause untold harm to individuals as well as the entire human race.

It isn't because religion is always used that way that is the problem, it is a problem because it always CAN be.  At any time, by anyone, anywhere.  And because those words are written in their holy book, people will take them seriously.

And the rest of us will suffer for it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

There's a hidden cancer infecting America

I've been doing some genealogical work off and on for decades.  I've managed to find ancestors (in concert with others on going back to the 15th century, at least on the German side.  Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of biographical info to be found going that far back, but given that the earliest I can find that do, my folks in that country were farmers.  I've got others in Britain, Ireland and Scotland, and the DNA says also in the Scandinavian countries.  (Given the history, they were probably viking settlers in England.  Yay, Vikings!)

So far, there isn't anything that indicates that very many, if any, of my ancestors had much education, nor that any may have been aristocrats.  There are a few pics of some Scottish folks going back into the 19th century who were wearing what appears to be suits, so they may have been fairly well off merchants.  One guy living in Ohio around the Civil War was a printer, and well known for starting a newspaper in Oklahoma before he moved back east again.  His brother was an Ohio Supreme Court Justice, according to his obit.  Probably the most successful of my ancestral line in this country anyway.

But, no evidence any of them got a University education.

I do.

So, I may be the first of my family in who knows how many generations to actually graduate from a University with a degree.  Yay, me!  (Thank you, again American taxpayers, who, through the GI Bill, financed that education.  I mean that sincerely.  It was a fair trade, I gave you four years of my life standing tall against the USSR, and you gave me a four year education.  Kudos all around!)

But.  (Isn't there always a "but"?)

There are those in the Republican party (and I ran into one earlier this week) who would have you think I am some kind of "elite".  That a University education will turn you into some kind of liberal (as if that is an insult - go figure...) atheist brat that is somehow a kind of moocher.  (???  I can't figure that out, if a degree gets you a higher paying job...?)  Maybe they're jealous or something.

Their accusations are even more wacky, given that the very politicians who are pushing that "elitist" bullshit are, themselves, grads of such places like Harvard or other Ivy League institutions.  Talk about elitist!

But, I want to address this crap.

I, and most of the people who graduate today, especially on the GI Bill, are not elitists.  We are your average American, trying to get ahead.

I worked hard, for over eight years, for that degree, and went to two institutions.  I worked during the day at a full time job (which did not meet all the bills by any means, and we had NO credit card debt) and went to school after work, evenings, and often on Saturdays.

I missed a lot of watching my kids grow up.  I spent a lot of time hitting the books when I could have spent it with my wife or playing with the kids.

And you DARE to call me an elitist?  Elite compared to whom?  What elite "club" do I belong to?  Oh, yeah, maybe you're talking about the alumni groups.  Well, the one (if there is one) for the community college I went to has never contacted me.  Some "club".

The alumni folks at the University of Texas (Dallas) where I got the degree have contacted me over the years, and I am probably listed in the alumni book.  But that never got me a job, it never resulted in any other advantages, save an opportunity to tour the CIA HQ facility at Langley.  Which was fun, but it didn't pay any bills.

So I am at a loss to tell exactly what that "elitist" tag is supposed to mean, except to try to set me apart from your average American.  It's the newest cancer infecting the body politic in this country, this distain and almost outright hatred for people with an education.  The funniest thing is, what sets me apart isn't my education - although it helped me get this job.  It's the nice pension I plan on cashing in on in the not to distant future.

You see, I worked for that too.  Forty-two years and four months when I finally walk out the door, to be exact.  Yeah, what sets me apart is that work ethic!  You know, that work ethic Republicans claim that only REAL Americans have.

But not liberals.  Nope, not liberals, at all.  We're "elitists", we're lazy as Federal workers, with no work ethic.

Well, screw you folks.  I'm voting for Bernie Sanders during the Democratic Primary, and if he wins, I will PROUDLY cast my vote for the first real LIBERAL to grace an American national ballot in decades.  If he doesn't, I'll vote for Hillary, and I'll spit in the general direction of the Republican National Committee Headquarters.


Monday, July 13, 2015

The Second Amendment Solution: Searching for the Right Problem

I could provide links to all kinds of places where the toll of firearm deaths in America are recorded and listed, sadness heaped upon tragedy.  I won’t, though, because this isn’t about the tragedy;  plenty of folks have written about that, and I doubt I could add much to that heap o’ words.

What I do want to do is to talk about my own feelings regarding the Second Amendment and the state of firearm ownership in America today.

When I grew up in Texas, starting in the 1950’s, private gun ownership was unchallenged.  Our TVs were filled with the Westerns in which every citizen carried a firearm;  my dad owned one with which he taught me the basics of firearm safety and how to shoot.  (bolt action 22)  His lessons on safety started out with, “Don’t ever point a weapon at someone unless you intend to shoot them.  If you DO point it at someone with the intent to shoot, don’t hesitate.  Do it.”  There were other details, including the same thing my Drill Instructors in the Army taught us, “There is no such thing as an unloaded weapon.  They don’t exist.”

If every firearm owner in the US followed just those two precepts, the numbers of firearm deaths in this country would be much lower.  Unfortunately, there isn’t an IQ test for buying a firearm in America.  Or, probably, anywhere.

Ok, that said, on to the Second Amendment.  So, yeah, I grew up with the assumption that firearms were the unchallenged right of every American to personally own.  Then I went to college and got educated, and in that Constitutional Law course, I learned that there were some wrinkles to that assumption.  Since, of course, serious constitutional Scholars have written online articles noting that many scholars had felt and understood that Amendment to mean exactly what it said about militias, and seeing the real, actual history about the Revolution, I can see the point.

Unfortunately for those folks, the SCOTUS ruled a few years ago that people DO have a personal right to own a firearm, while still leaving in place the rulings which give States and Cities the right to regulate firearms in the name of public safety.  This is, of course, an ongoing struggle to define what public safety means, requires, and what the Constitution allows.  It may never be decided.

Which isn’t a bad thing.  Unlike the most conservative of the right wing, it is obvious when reading the writings of the Founders that they intended the Constitution to be a living document (sorry, Scalia), and therefor provided a method for amending it.  They even made statements like Thomas Jefferson’s in which he hoped future generations would alter it regularly to stay updated with current political and social realities.  The man wasn’t stupid, he was a radical of his day, not a conservative.  He wanted us to keep it real, and relevant to our own time and reality.

Times change, people change.  When the Constitution was written and ratified, the Revolution was the biggest story, that and creating a new country.  The Founders wrote that document based on their experiences and based on how they felt about what they had just done.  The frontier of 19th century America wasn’t on their radar yet.  As time went on, the frontier got more and more important, and people’s experiences with pushing the natives off of their land made it apparent that anyone attempting the move west was going to need some kind of weapon to just feed themselves, not to mention protecting themselves from resentful natives.

I suspect that if that experience had been more on the minds of the Founders, the Second Amendment would have looked very different.

But wait about 50 or 60 years past the turn of the century, and things began to look different.  As the frontier States moved west, and the easternmost territories began to civilize, settle and become States, one thing became very clear.  Folks in settled towns and cities didn’t want a bunch of nutbags running around with firearms on their belts.  Most of them, as they became settled, enacted laws forbidding the open carrying of firearms, and I imagine concealed carry wasn’t far behind.  Even towns on the active frontier like Dodge City had laws forbidding open carry beyond certain limits.  They kept the riffraff on the other side of town to safeguard their homes.

It is a lesson apparently forgotten by today’s Republican Party and the NRA.

I won’t go over the stats about how many people we kill every year.  I don’t need to, they are well known.  The obvious conundrum we have today is how to satisfy the very large and politically influential gun lobby while still fulfilling the requirement for safeguarding public safety.  Now that the SCOTUS has ruled we can all own one, until that gets overturned (if it ever does) our task is to balance that right with the public’s rights to be safe and secure in their persons, homes and workplaces.  The problem we have is that the right wing doesn’t see it that way.  The NRA and other right wing interests have so stirred up their base that their only and main fear isn’t public safety, it’s preventing the government from taking their guns.

A problem that obviously doesn’t really exist.

Personally, I am torn on this one.  I do think people should have the right to own firearms, that right has been assumed for so long, it may as well be chiseled in stone somewhere.  But on the other hand, we MUST do something to stem the tide of murder, mayhem and negligence ridden deaths that annually top 25,000 people.

In case you have’t been paying attention, that is more than five times the numbers of soldiers we lost in Iraq.  EVERY YEAR.  Not in ten years, like Iraq.  Every. Fucking. Year.

Somehow, someway, we must find a way to stop murderous, crazy and incompetent people from getting their hands on firearms.  Not being an expert on making laws, nor law enforcement, I cannot really make any reasonable suggestions.

But it MUST be done. Somehow.

I will leave you with a thought.  I follow a blog called Stonekettle Station.  Jim Wright has a very interesting suggestion for how to at least begin to control our issue while at the same time changing the gun culture we have.  I recommend his solution to your perusal.

Friday, July 10, 2015

A Gentle Piece of Advice

As many of you know from my many articles about the harm religion causes our society, I'm not exactly a fan of religion.

I do, however, respect your right to believe whatever crazy things you might think appropriate.  Even if I do my best to debunk it.


I am a realist.  I do realize that Atheists' dream of a religion free world is at best, centuries away, and at worst, a pipe dream.  So, there will be, for the foreseeable near future, some form of religion to deal with.

So believe me when I say that I've got some advice for American Christians in light of both the SCOTUS' ruling on marriage equality and the new Pew Research poll released a while back, which noted that not only are Americans deserting their religion in droves (Pew's words!), but the trend isn't slowing down.

Back off from the extremism.  Forget the mythical miracles, the unproven Resurrection, the ghastly, bloody crucifixion, the misogynistic paternalism.  None of that is a winning ticket in today's America, and especially not to the new Millennials.  If you keep that stuff up, in less than a generation's time from today, your churches will stand empty, foreclosed on by either banks or local governments once your tax exempt status is revoked.

Which it will be.

At least some of the "nones" still do believe in some form of spiritualism and are probably actively searching for something - anything - that can replace that old comforting feeling they got sitting in your sanctuary, listening to the music and knowing that all was right with the world.

So, if you still crave that old fashioned secular power tug, enhanced by plenty of donated cash, you can still reinvent yourself into something the younger generation will buy into.

Literally, of course.  What good is popularity with no money?  I'd be careful, though.  Many of them are a bit more discerning, what with all the online scams they're used to dealing with.

I'd read a few Science Fiction stories.  Those folks know how to invent religion!  (After all, look what L. Ron Hubbard did with Scientology!). I'm sure there are some real good ideas floating around the genre these days.  Hey, and those Millennials do read that stuff!

You can't do any worse than Paul did 2000 years ago.

Everybody has an ideology, right?

I think by now, anyone who has spent any time reading my timeline and stuff I post on Facebook (much less my blog “The Cybernetic Atheist”) is aware that I am an unapologetic, out-and-out atheist.  No surprise there.  As I’ve explained before, I’m an atheist because of what I’ve learned about the Bible, and from the lack of any real evidence of the existence of God.  (From which I surmise that Christ cannot exist - no Father, no Son, right?  So, Christianity is man-made.)

But, as so many people have noted, and I myself have also said, atheism is not a belief, it is the LACK of a belief.  Over 8,000 gods/goddesses which mankind has invented over the millennia, and I don’t believe in any of them.  For much the same reasons, in fact.

But, isn’t it true that everybody has to have something which guides them?  Some moral compass?  Some (for lack of a better term) ideology?  I think that’s true, and mankind has come up with literally hundreds of such ideologies, if not thousands, in the course of our becoming humankind designing all of the myriads of civilizations (and accompanying gods) which have come and gone since.

Oh, what was that?  What do I believe?

Funny you should ask, I was just about to get to that.

For starters, it also isn’t a surprise to my Facebook friends to note that I seem to be a liberal.  I used to call myself an Independent, but the Republicans have managed to push me much further to the left over the last ten years (though mostly over the last six for obvious reasons).

But there’s more than that, a political ideology isn’t a moral one, as moral as it may be possible for political ideologies to be.

Morally, I like to identify myself with Secular Humanism.  The basic ideals of that group of people resonate with me closely.  Just to make it easier, here is one example of their beliefs:
* A conviction that dogmas, ideologies and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested by each individual and not simply accepted on faith.
* Commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence, and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism, in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions.
* A primary concern with fulfillment, growth, and creativity for both the individual and humankind in general.
* A constant search for objective truth, with the understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our imperfect perception of it.
* A concern for this life and a commitment to making it meaningful through better understanding of ourselves, our history, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the outlooks of those who differ from us.
* A search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility.
* A conviction that with reason, an open marketplace of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.
Obviously, there are other interpretations and versions of these, Secular Humanism is not a religion and has no universally recognized tenets or principles, though these are a good example of the general direction most Humanists tend to go.

Another principle I admire is one contained in the Hippocratic Oath, “First, do no harm”.  If there is one overriding idea which intertwines itself into virtually all of the above principles, that would be it.  As a human being, into whose DNA the very urge of being a socialist animal is cooked, that seems to be the best guide to living one’s life, if one had to boil it all down to its basic elements.

That, I think, is one of the major differences between Humanism and religion - Christianity being my focus because of where I live.  Why?  Well, just look at the Ten Commandments, which Christians tend to look at (at least the Fundies here do) as the basic guidance provided by their God.

Without belaboring the point, look at the second commandment:
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
Look at the passage I underlined.  That is the very opposite of “do no harm”.  To punish the innocent?  For the neglect and disobedience of their ancestors?  (I always kind of thought the jealousy was a sin.)

On the other hand, There is no example of jealousy or hatred in the Humanist principles above.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

Another reason why I think Humanism is better than Christianity (as well as others) is because of longevity.

Yeah, yeah, I know, Secular humanism is merely a couple of hundred years old at the most.  So, what gives?

As a movement, that’s true.  But the principles above are based on literally hundreds of thousands of years of human experience.   While our intellectual experience giving us the ability to express them well is fairly recent comparatively speaking, the basic experiences themselves derive from the totality of human experience going back over two hundred thousand years, fading back into our evolutionary past.  These principles are so well understood that they were expressed, discussed and argued over in various ways even as far back as the ancient Greek philosophers, who debated many of these very ideas well over two thousand years ago, predating christianity!

Yet, Christianity is only around two thousand years old, its Jewish antecedents go back perhaps another two thousand or so, and the developmental periods for both religions are rife with violence, tribalism, slavery and misogyny.  Hardly an atmosphere to encourage humanistic principles!  Granted, the Greeks weren’t a prime example of being a hotbed of modern liberal ideals either, but their philosophers fought for the idea of trying to make humanity better than we were, at least some of them did, and their example resonated with the fathers of the Enlightenment thousands of years later!

I firmly believe that religion is, to a general degree, concerned with one thing:  Its own survival.  For an excellent example, look at the first five of the Ten Commandments.  Every one of them are devoted to the preservation of the authority of God and his earthly representatives.  Keeping people in the fold, under the pain of death.  (Perhaps not an earthly one, but if hell isn’t a kind of eternal death, I don’t know what is.)

Certainly the fact that most if not all of His other dozens of commandments/laws in Leviticus command death as a punishment qualify as antithetical to Humanist principles.

Yet, Humanism is not.  Not a single principle above is devoted to ensuring the survival of a “Humanist religion”, mainly because there isn’t one!  The closest one can come is where it says, “A conviction that with reason, an open marketplace of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.”  Which does not at all entail a self serving principle of survival.

As you might have guessed by now, another focus of mine is that of anti-theism.  I am, admittedly, an anti-theist.  I believe strongly that religion, as a belief system(s) which encourages people to believe things which are false and contrary to reality, is harmful to not only individual humans, but humanity as a whole.  Much of my writing is focused on struggling to spread the truth about false beliefs and their harmful affects.

But even that is an outgrowth of my Humanist principles - see the next to last one above.  Religion is not a good introduction to ethical conduct - quite the opposite, in fact, as it encourages a plethora of unethical conduct, mainly by example, which precisely undermines its attempts at ethics through the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus.  There may be millions of Christians who defy this, by being good - but that happens because they adhere to the Enlightenment principles expressed by our Founding Fathers, ignoring the more harmful and violent examples and verses of the Old Testament.  (One can see that, because of the various examples of Christians who do the opposite - adhere to the Old Testament’s more intolerant and violent prescriptions of conduct, and do all they can to undermine and violate the egalitarian principles contained in our Constitution.)

So, to make a long story shorter, while my focus may be on the harmfulness of religion and my attempts to explain how I arrive at those conclusions, my very positive beliefs are what informs that fight, wishing with all my heart that more people could see how much better America and the world would be without the falsehoods of faith.

I hope this helps to make my efforts more understandable.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Society in Transition - from Religious America to a Post-Religious America?

Last week was a bummer for Conservatives.  Including today’s ruling by Colorado’s Supreme Court allowing citizen committees the delegated power to set voting districts (thus setting the stage for more battles over gerrymandering), the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) led the parade by granting petitioners’ suit for the right for gays to wed, on top of the ruling that saved the Affordable Care Act, as well as upholding a critical piece of the Fair Housing Act.

Any one of these would have been enough to set conservative teeth to grinding, but it was the victory over gay marriage that set off the fireworks.

First in the lineup is Rick Santorum, who says Supreme Court judges should face retention elections every few years.

Tim Brooks: Here is the only thing that will satisfy this agenda, and it's very clear — participation. We want you to come out of your house and participate with us. Now as I read this story, Lot was not forcing his lifestyle on them. Lot never tried to force his lifestyle on them, he never even brought that up. They are trying to force their lifestyle on him.
Rick Green: And so that goes even beyond "you have to celebrate with us. You have to actually participate with us."
Tim Barton: Yes, come out and have sex with us — have to participate. They're going to force participation and that's what we're seeing around the country.
It's unsafe in a city where the homosexual agenda has control.

Or on, of all places, Time, Inc., where Rod Dreher opined (in my favorite of the selection):

Obergefell is a sign of the times, for those with eyes to see. This isn’t the view of wild-eyed prophets wearing animal skins and shouting in the desert. It is the view of four Supreme Court justices, in effect declaring from the bench the decline and fall of the traditional American social, political, and legal order.

We live in interesting times.

I’m assuming he meant that in the sense of the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

No, that ruling doesn’t mean the decline and fall of the “traditional” American orders he mentioned, but it certainly does mean the decline and fall of the “Conservative” orders of both social and political influence as they’ve enjoyed them in the past.  

It has been well documented for some time now that the demographics of the American population is dictating at least two things conservatives loathe:

A growing number/percentage of young Americans are moving away from and actively rejecting the conservative set of ideals.

A similarly large percentage and number of young Americans are moving away from and rejecting religion.

Both of these herald the decline and fall of conservatism as we know it today.  It won’t happen before this next election, probably not within the next five years, but certainly in the next ten years, many conservative institutions now seen as bastions of conservative thought will fall, losing sufficient financial support to keep them going.   As the numbers of Americans willing to donate their hard earned dollars to the cause diminish, so will the institutions they now support.  Eventually even the wealthiest of conservative supporters will realize that throwing good money after bad is not a good investment as the numbers of politicians willing to pay homage to their money falls to unsustainable levels.

On what do I base these predictions?  Well, numbers help.  The US Census is part pof it, the PEW polls of recent weeks are there too, and I’ve posted this link before, which is a slide show from a site that is trying hard to alert American Christians to the dire future their religion has unless they take desperate measures.

Much like Mr. Dreher, above.

He tries to sound reasonable.  He uses a calm, collected tone, yet asserts the most ridiculous claims.

“One can certainly understand the joy that LGBT Americans and their supporters feel today. But orthodox Christians must understand that things are going to get much more difficult for us. We are going to have to learn how to live as exiles in our own country. We are going to have to learn how to live with at least a mild form of persecution. And we are going to have to change the way we practice our faith and teach it to our children, to build resilient communities.”

Of course, what he is talking about is the loss of the “traditional” privileges Christianity and its adherents have enjoyed in this country.

You know, the ability to know that every elected official is Christian.
That every legislative session is opened with a Christian prayer.
That every school day was begun with a Christian prayer.
That (as he mentions) Christian churches enjoy a decided economic advantage through their tax exempt status, even for their profit making entities.
That every hamlet, town, city and State can erect Christmas displays with Christian themes at the public’s expense.
That our currency reflects a Christian themed motto, which is emblazoned in every courthouse in the country, even in the Supreme Court.
That every one of our 44 Presidents have been (at least publicly) Christian.

There’s more, but I should link to a few sites that have extensive lists:

Here’s one on Tumblr:  

Whew!  That’s a lot!  Sure, quite a few are repeated in one way or another from site to site, but still, the list is extensive.

My problem with Mr. Dreher’s article is that once you look at a list like these, you realize that many of these aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.  It ill take a major shift in social norms before many of these fade into the woodwork so that being Christian isn’t so normal any longer.

Now, it IS true that the major ones which I listed first are likely to be the first to disappear, since they depend upon the ubiquitousness of Conservatives in government to maintain them, and a few elections going the other way will easily allow Progressives to turn those corners.  In fact, several of those items have already come under fire, and at times fairly effectively, too, through rulings by the SCOTUS.  School prayer and publicly funded Christmas displays, for instance.

But, given these things, how likely is it that Christians will see his dire predictions come about?

Some will, some are clearly bogus.  The claims of future persecution, for instance are pure unadulterated bunk.  Obviously, he is conflating a loss of privilege with persecution.  A common scare tactic.

His claim that, “Indeed, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito explicitly warned religious traditionalists that this decision leaves them vulnerable. Alito warns that Obergefell “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy,” and will be used to oppress the faithful “by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.”  is obvious bullshit, as the First Amendment will protect pure religious practice.

Now, to be fair, it is true that those who insist on discriminating openly against gays will eventually (and to an extent will now) be shunned by more progressive folk.  But that is a cultural consequence, which the Constitution does not guarantee you any protections from, and is something a lot of folk from groups who have been badly treated by Christians in the past can hardly be blamed for participating in.

This brings up, “For another, LGBT activists and their fellow travelers really will be coming after social conservatives. The Supreme Court has now, in constitutional doctrine, said that homosexuality is equivalent to race. The next goal of activists will be a long-term campaign to remove tax-exempt status from dissenting religious institutions. The more immediate goal will be the shunning and persecution of dissenters within civil society. After today, all religious conservatives are Brendan Eich, the former CEO of Mozilla who was chased out of that company for supporting California’s Proposition 8.”

Again, his warning is probably a good one here.  There is already a movement to eliminate the tax exempt status of churches, but that would apply to ALL religions, not just Christianity.  Shunning and persecuting?  Well, the shunning we’ll hardly have to worry about needing to do, given his suggestion for how they should deal with all this, but I’ll get to that.   Persecution?  Again, we’ll not go down that rabbit hole.  This is till, despite his protestations, America, and the Constitutional protections of religion will still remain in affect, though folks like him will consider having to live by the same rules as everybody else as persecution.

The reference to Mr. Eich is an example of the kind of social shunning and negative affects that non-Christians have been suffering for years.  Let an atheist in many parts of the country let that be known, and they’ll lose their jobs faster than you can say “lickety-split”.

It’s kinda tough to feel sorry for folks facing the realization that such things are no longer something they’re protected from, although I would bet that a future progressive society will prevent such things from happening.  It is, after all, unfair.

His third complaint about the future as he sees it, “Third, the Court majority wrote that gays and lesbians do not want to change the institution of marriage, but rather want to benefit from it. This is hard to believe, given more recent writing from gay activists like Dan Savage expressing a desire to loosen the strictures of monogamy in all marriages. Besides, if marriage can be redefined according to what we desire — that is, if there is no essential nature to marriage, or to gender — then there are no boundaries on marriage. Marriage inevitably loses its power.”

Again, I see this as something else he is probably right about.  There is a growing movement in this country for something called Polyamory, which has as a central theme the freedom of avery person to love and be loved by multiple people at once, and specifically teaches about marriage under such conditions.  Others do push the idea of marriages with multiple partners, either male of female, with strong protections against underage abuse and coerced conditions.

I don’t see this, myself as a problem, since my moral outlook is a bit more liberal than his.  I do envision definite legal changes to our system to account for new types of marriage for the protection of minors and to protect against scams.  But this is a problem only to those whose moral ideals cling to the one-man-one-woman theme.  To those with newer ideas, these complaints fall on deaf ears, and even may elicit cries of joy.

Will marriage lose its power?  Of course not.  Marriage, by definition, as it is known today, is a legal state joining two people for the purposes of simplifying the legal, financial, inheritance, and property affairs which may arise in the course of their lives together and any eventual ending of the marriage, either by divorce or death.  The change of the allowed sex of the parties or the addition of more numbers to the marriage don’t make it “lose its power’, but actually continues to enhance society’s ability to order the affairs of its citizens.

Which, of course, was its initial purpose for becoming a legal state of affairs in the first place.

So, are we beginning a period of Post-Chrisitanity?  Is Derher right?

Yes, and no.  Yes, we are entering a period in which more and more folks are challenging Christian privilege.  More and more folks are jumping ship in favor of more open and inclusive values, rejecting the intolerance and the false teachings Christianity offers.  The support which marriage equality gained in the last ten years is a good marker for how quickly the country is shifting gears and becoming more progressive.

The website from the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, has a page on How Many North Americans Go Regularly to Church.  On that page, they conclude, among other things:

How many people lie about going to religious services? 

Various studies in recent years have cast a grave doubt on the 40% value. 
Public opinion polls generally do not report real opinions and events. They report only the information that the individuals choose to tell the pollsters. Quite often, their answers will be distorted by a phenomenon called "social desirability bias." Pollees answer questions according to what they think they should be doing, rather than what they are doing. For example, a poll by Barna Research showed that 17% of American adults say that they tithe -- i.e. they give 10 to 13% of their income to their church. Only 3% actually do.  

The gap between what they do and what they say they do is closer in the case of religious attendance. It is "only" about 2 to 1.

Gallup has been telling us for 60 years that upwards of 80% of Americans are Christian.  In light of these results, I would conclude that we are closer to that post-Christian culture than we might think.

All this seems to indicate that the days of political and social influence of the religious right in this country are close to being numbered.  For the sake of the disadvantaged and minority groups, I sincerely hope that is true.

But when I look at the long lists of Christian privilege I linked to earlier, I have my doubts about who long it may be able to hang in there.

But, on the other hand, Dreher’s solution is quite different from what other Conservatives are bleating over.

It is time for what I call the Benedict Option. In his 1982 book After Virtue, the eminent philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre likened the current age to the fall of ancient Rome. He pointed to Benedict of Nursia, a pious young Christian who left the chaos of Rome to go to the woods to pray, as an example for us. We who want to live by the traditional virtues, MacIntyre said, have to pioneer new ways of doing so in community. We await, he said “a new — and doubtless very different — St. Benedict.”

Throughout the early Middle Ages, Benedict’s communities formed monasteries, and kept the light of faith burning through the surrounding cultural darkness. Eventually, the Benedictine monks helped refound civilization.

I believe that orthodox Christians today are called to be those new and very different St. Benedicts. How do we take the Benedict Option, and build resilient communities within our condition of internal exile, and under increasingly hostile conditions? I don’t know. But we had better figure this out together, and soon, while there is time.

Sounds like his solution is for Christians to come together and for their own little enclaves, like the Quakers or the Amish, both of whom have survived for a very long time as small close-knit groups within American culture.

Could that work?  Can what are literally thousands of denominations of Christianity within the US ever come together to form such a group?  Could they resolve their dogmatic differences for the sake of saving the faith?  Or would a few be able to get together, forsaking the others and letting the rest die out?

I’m not a sociologist, nor a political scientist.  Nor am I a seer with the power to peer into the future.  (If I did, I wouldn’t be working for a living.)

What I do know is that a growing number of Americans (and indeed people around the world) are leaving both religion and conservatism behind.  A greater percentage of the newest generation are also, and that trend shows no signs of stopping or slowing down.  This does seem to be part of a transition, or at least the beginnings of one.  Christianity isn’t dead yet, nor has it given up its overly large share of political power.

But the wrestling of that power from the grasp of religion, in the US at least, begun so long ago in Europe with the Enlightening, is bearing fruit today.  Rod Dreher, despite his alarmist rhetoric and his over the top predictions, at least has that much right.

Someday, we may see Christians living in their own little enclave, selling handmade furniture and doilies.

I think I’ll pass.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Ssshhh!! It’s a Secret…

It’s a hard thing to do, exposing people’s secrets.  It’s rude, tasteless, obnoxious, and utterly necessary.

In this case, the secret at hand is the answer to a question many folks I know on the left side of the political divide are asking themselves:  Why is it that otherwise respectable, educated and intelligent people are spouting the most extreme, batshit crazy opinions in increasingly painful amounts?  What could they possibly get from it?  Could they really believe it?

Of course they don’t.  Don’t be silly.  (Before going any further, read this.)

The secret is this:  All that batshit crazy nonsense does one thing, it keeps the racial, political and religious tension in this country at a fever pitch.  It keeps the extremist right wingers at a constant high pitch of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD).

FUD is useful stuff.  It keeps the faithful (this is NOT a slap at Christians - this one is about right wing crazy fundies) in the fold, ready and willing to donate their money and their political votes to the right wing “in” crowd.

The inner ingredients to the secret include one essential element - their sacred persecution complex.

Right wing Evangelists consider themselves to be the only “true” Christians.  All the others are either “watered down” Christians, or affected in varying degrees by Satan or one of his subordinate demons.  (Yes, really)  This results in the numbers of “true” Christians being down to an alarming (to them) 15% or so of the population.  Think about that for a moment.  This is why they talk so much about persecution, and “taking back” this country.  When you think the percentage of “real” Christians has shrunk from a majority of over 80% to less than 15%, you are talking about a truly alarming and horrifying trend of the country away from what they see as “the arms of God.”  In their little fantasy world, God cares about these things, and acts to destroy a country that He thinks has “turned away” from His true path.  The very idea frightens them to no end.

But, never mind, the Bible has a solution!

Fundamentalist Christianity has as a central element the idea that when a Christian is persecuted for his/her faith and does not waver, admission to heaven is almost guaranteed.  You become one of the favored few Christ will admit in the final days.

So, in order for them to be admitted to heaven in spite of their sinful ways, it is required for them to be persecuted so that their many shortcomings (which they are painfully aware of) can be overlooked.  Being a big fish in a very small pond is much better than being a small fish in a considerably bigger pond.

So, it is necessary to keep things going inside their own little echo chamber, where nobody dissents, everybody admires them for their strength in opposing the heathen, and are willing to donate money and votes to keep things rolling right along.  For somebody like Dylann Roof to suddenly come along and take their words seriously is a tremendous threat, believe it or not.

Remember, to themselves, they are good decent people.  They are (my generation of conservatives) living in a safe secure world where, in reality, they have little fear of personal violence, which is why their tactic of FUD is so effective.  When someone like Roof blows nine people away (after spending an hour talking to them) they are, once they wake up to the rest of society’s responses to it, quite horrified.  Not because of the violence done to innocents, but to the possibility that the violence will wake up the rest of the very liberal population, which might then take action conservatives do not have the will or power to prevent.

The possibility of being made personally responsible for the consequences of their own words is horrifying, not because it is consequential to themselves, but because it would end this neat little political gravy train they are riding.  The tension keeps the country off balance and prevents us from seeing the Conservatives’ lack of answers and inability to fix the country’s problems.  It keeps the faithful donating and voting them into office, and distracts the rest of us.  Remember, they LIKE having the rest of us so liberal, because it gives them a legitimate reason to claim persecution.  But we have to be distracted, so their fan base is able to gain the traction to get them elected to office.  Since they have no real solutions to the problems they would face, the prospect of actually being in charge and expected to perform is frightening.  Being a minority and persecuted is much better.

That’s the entire secret.  Obfuscation, distraction, projection all are tools of the Conservative mindset.  But don’t you dare upset the neat little scheme, the money is rolling in as planned…

Saturday, June 13, 2015

What is at the heart of religion's harmfulness to society?

I’ve written a lot about the harm I feel religion causes in society.  And, to be clear, there is a lot, familial strains and breakups, rejected children over LBGTQ issues, laws reflecting specific religious practices that not all citizens agree with, forced chipping away of the rights of certain classes of folks over biblically prohibited things of one type or another, especially sex, and a hundred other things.

But, in the end, I think there is one over-riding element of religion that makes all the other stuff happen.  One thing it does to us all, regardless of the specific religion, that creates the canvas upon which all the other harm is painted.

You see, Christian preachers proudly tell their congregations that all they need to believe, and thus be saved for, is to have faith.  Faith is the rock upon which belief is founded, or so they will say.

In reality, what is faith?  Some will say that it is the proclivity to believe something without evidence.  And, to en extent, so it is.

But really?

Faith is the training you receive from childhood that teaches you to believe whatever you are told by some authority is the truth.  No questions, no skepticism, just faith.  Shear, unadulterated gullibility, in other words.  From your childhood, you are taught that these authorities know what in truth, it is impossible to know, or so common sense would tell you.  But you are trained to ignore common sense.  You are taught that you cannot question these things.  They are simply taken as truth, by faith.

This allows those authorities to replace your own worldview with one of their choosing.  Like wiping a hard drive clean and replacing it with a flawed image of a brand new operating system - but one which includes some special programing.  Programming which allows you to live your life thinking you are doing good, even when you are not.  Programming which tells you that up is down, right is left, good is bad, and bad is good.

It is, in short, the programming that will allow a good person to do bad things, thinking that all of it is, instead, quite good.

Things like rejecting a family member, like a child, because they are gay.

Things like supporting a foreign war because god told the President to invade an otherwise innocent country.  Or so he said.

Or things like curbing the reproductive rights of women because god says women should be under the authority of men.

I could go on.  I could go on because this learning of faith is the basis for what society otherwise calls gullibility.  It allows you to believe all kinds of things without evidence, things like astrology.  Or ghosts, or ancient aliens.  Conspiracy theories like how Jews are supposed to have control over the world using some secret cabal.  Or the Illuminati.

Instead of children being taught to think for themselves, we are teaching them WHAT to think.  Not how, not how to be skeptical or to ask the proper questions, not how to verify something someone tells them.

Think of how much different our political system would be if we taught our kids to be skeptical of what they hear!  If we taught them how to verify things they’ve been told.  If we taught them how to use the Internet to scan the things politicians tell them to check for lies and prevarications.

How much different would our system work?  How different our elections would be!

That is the harm religion is doing to us.  It is teaching us to be gullible, to believe nonsense on faith.  To accept the authority of those preachers, to leave our kids in the tender care of clergy who often goes on to hurt them and sexually molest them.  To surrender the responsibility we have as adult human beings to examine the world around us to those who would instead harm us by teaching us harmful things, untrue things.

And, in the end, it teaches us to pass that harmful lesson on to our kids, keeping alive for one more generation the lesson of gullibility.

We don’t have to be gullible to be good.  We can let life teach us to be kind to others, to share our good fortune with those who have suffered the unkind hand of fate.  There are thousands, millions of good people whose examples serve to urge us to follow their good works with our own.

We don’t need superstition and fantasy tales to do that.

Let’s teach our kids to think for themselves.  Teach them to be skeptical.  Teach them how to ask questions and how to determine the right questions to ask.  Teach them that every claim of truth needs to be verified, then teach them how to verify those claims on their own.

In other words, let’s stop teaching our kids to be gullible, and teach them how to be strong and independent.

I think the world would be a better place for it.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

No True Christian

How many times have you heard he claim that "no true" Christian would claim X Y Z?

People from almost very denomination of Christianity have their own special little list of stuff that, according to them, no "true" christian would EVER say.

Some folks claim Jesus is all about love.

Others point to special favorite verses in the Old Testament that prove people who are members of their most feared group of "others" are going straight to hell.  Oddly enough, that group probably would include the people who say Jesus is all about love!

The folks from Westboro Baptist probably wish both groups would drop straight into Hell from where ever they're standing...

This kind of thinking is called the No True Scotsman fallacy, and this is what Wikipedia has to say about it:
No true Scotsman is an informal fallacy, an ad hoc attempt to retain an unreasoned assertion.[1] When faced with a counterexample to a universal claim ("no Scotsman would do such a thing"), rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original universal claim, this fallacy modifies the subject of the assertion to exclude the specific case or others like it by rhetoric, without reference to any specific objective rule ("no true Scotsman would do such a thing").

 The use of this fallacy is the result of the universal requirement in most religions that faith is required to believe whatever dogma that specific religion pushes.  Because faith is basically the belief of something without proof or evidence, a debate or argument between two or more people about matters of faithful belief is unending and pointless.

Virtually any holy book of scripture is written so ambiguously that nailing down a specific meaning is often hard to do, and many people do (and have) interpreted them so differently that history is littered (literally) with the remains of the wars and struggles resulting from those differences.

This makes it impossible for anyone to truly nail down a meaning that would actually hold up to the "No True Christian" statements.  Mainly because each of 40,000 differing denominations of Christianity each have their own private definition of what a "true" Christian should be!

As a result, any outsider, like me as an atheist, cannot possibly trust anything that comes after the words "No True Christian..." as pertaining to that statement, one man's truth is another man's belly laugh.

Or howl of outrage.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Gentle Piece of Advice

As many of you know from my many articles about the harm religion causes our society, I'm not exactly a fan of religion.

I do, however, respect your right to believe whatever crazy things you might think appropriate.  Even if I do my best to debunk it.


I am a realist.  I do realize that Atheists' dream of a religion free world is at best, centuries away, and at worst, a pipe dream.  So, there will be, for the foreseeable near future, some form of religion to deal with.

So believe me when I say that I've got some advice for American Christians in light of the new Pew Research poll released this week, which noted that not only are Americans deserting their religion in droves (Pew's words!), but the trend isn't slowing down.

Back off from the extremism.  Forget the mythical miracles, the unproven Resurrection, the ghastly, bloody crucifixion, the misogynistic paternalism.  None of that is a winning ticket in today's America, and especially not to the new Millennials.  If you keep that stuff up, in less than a generation's time from today, your churches will stand empty, foreclosed on by either banks or local governments once your tax exempt status is revoked.

Which it will be.

At least some of the "nones" still do believe in some form of spiritualism and are probably actively searching for something - anything - that can replace that old comforting feeling they got sitting in your sanctuary, listening to the music and knowing that all was right with the world.

So, if you still crave that old fashioned secular power tug, enhanced by plenty of donated cash, you can still reinvent yourself into something the younger generation will buy into.

Literally, of course.  What good is popularity with no money?  I'd be careful, though.  Many of them are a bit more discerning, what with all the online scams they're used to dealing with.

I'd read a few Science Fiction stories.  Those folks know how to invent religion!  (After all, look what L. Ron Hubbard did with Scientology!). I'm sure there are some real good ideas floating around the genre these days.  Hey, and those Millennials do read that stuff!

You can't do any worse than Paul did 2000 years ago. 

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Death Penalty, a Broken Justice System and the Constitution.

I was scrolling through Facebook the other day and ran across a post sharing an article about some folks testifying before a Congressional committee about the Justice system, and was struck by a statement by (I think) a Justice Department official which basically admitted that he agreed that our system of justice is "broken".

Now, thinking about that for a while brought up the question:  If our system of justice is pretty much the same organizationally today as it has been for the last century at least, why are we just now recognizing it as being "broken"?

What has changed?

A century ago, few Americans would have said, or noticed, such a thing.  So why now?  What's different?

I think most of us might answer that (of course) it is really American culture that has changed.  A hundred years ago, women couldn't vote, we lived in a heavily segregated culture, the US was hardly a world power (and was barely a regional one), and a significant number of Civil War vets were still alive - and few American soldiers had ever fought in a foreign war, save the Spanish American War just a decade before.

The automobile was in its infancy, the airplane was barely off the ground, the telephone was still a novelty in many communities, neither radio nor TV were even a sparkle in an engineer's eye, and the American monetary system was primitive by comparison to today's standards.

If it weren't for the railroads, it would still take longer to take a horse and/or wagon from New York to California than by boat.

And the number of Americans in this country who had been born in slavery was still a depressingly large number.  In fact, America was still oppressing its minorities (not only blacks) to a very high degree.

A glimpse of why we are today beginning to talk about our justice system as being broken is perhaps illustrated by the state of the death penalty in this country.
Leigh Bienen, JD, Senior Lecturer at Northwestern University School of Law, provided the following response to the question “Is the death penalty an area of our criminal justice system that, today, can be called racist or discriminatory?” published in the Spring 1997 issue of Focus on Law Studies: 
"The criminal justice system is controlled and dominated by whites, although the recipients of punishment, including the death penalty, are disproportionately black. The death penalty is a symbol of state control and white control over blacks. Black males who present a threatening and defiant personae are the favorites of those administering the punishment, including the overwhelmingly middle-aged white, male prosecutors who - in running for election or re-election - find nothing gets them more votes than demonizing young black men."

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) wrote the following in its release “Talking Points: Suspend the Death Penalty,” published on (accessed Aug. 4, 2008): 
“The death penalty is the most lethal form of social injustice in the United States. The race and class bias which permeates the American justice system result in this most extreme punishment being handed out almost exclusively to the poor…Nearly all of the 3,500 Americans awaiting execution on death row today have low-income backgrounds…The justice system is biased against those without the money to hire adequate legal defense. Nearly all death row inmates are poor and most are racial minorities. Temporary moratoriums are a temporary solution. There is only one fair resolution: the death penalty must be immediately and permanently suspended.” 
Aug. 4, 2008 - National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) 
 "...Since the reinstatement of the modern death penalty, 87 people have been freed from death row because they were later proven innocent. That is a demonstrated error rate of 1 innocent person for every 7 persons executed. When the consequences are life and death, we need to demand the same standard for our system of justice as we would for our airlines... It is a central pillar of our criminal justice system that it is better that many guilty people go free than that one innocent should suffer... Let us reflect to ensure that we are being just. Let us pause to be certain we do not kill a single innocent person. This is really not too much to ask for a civilized society." 
Russ Feingold, JD US Senator (D-WI)introducing the "National Death Penalty Moratorium Act of 2000"April 26, 2000

Since the year 2000, dozens more people have been released from death row across the United States due to improved DNA analysis - and this is ONLY for cases where there is DNA available for analysis, AND where judges or prosecutors have allowed that evidence to be re-examined.

It is obvious from these results that among cases where DNA isn't available, innocent people are very probably being executed for crimes they did not commit.

And it is likely that a majority of those cases are probably minorities.

So, what has this shown us?  What has changed?

The nation has gone through some very rough and profound changes in the last hundred years, especially those having to do with race.  Today, the general society is more concerned with how minorities are treated, and there is a growing trend to focus on the justice system and how it is biased against minorities, especially since a majority of Americans now carry smartphones with cameras.  This has resulted in a swarm of videos illustrating the horrific rate at which police departments are killing minorities for offenses which are often simply made up to cover the killing.  The overwhelming number of these videos depict minority killings, not whites.

Today, capital punishment is legal in 32 U.S. states.

Connecticut and New Mexico have abolished the death penalty, but it is not retroactive. Prisoners on death row in those states will still be executed.

As of October 2014 there were 3,035 inmates awaiting execution.

Since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court, 1,394 people have been executed. (as of December 2014)

Japan is the only industrial democracy besides the United States that has the death penalty. In Japan, the 2013 per capita execution rate was 1 execution per 15,809,458 persons.

Since 1973, over 140 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence.

My own opinion of the death penalty has changed.  Just ten years ago, I was solidly in favor of it.

Today, as a result of these and other facts, I oppose the imposition of the death penalty because of the racial and economic biases inherent in its imposition.  Due to the horrific misconduct of justice system officials, from the cop on the beat to the prosecutors to the District Attorneys across the country, I feel that an immediate halt to our use of the death penalty is needed, and indeed, is the only moral path open to a modern industrial society.  That includes everything from charging people with capital crimes to the actual imposition of the executions themselves.

Certainly until we fix our broken system.  Then, perhaps we can discuss and debate the moralities of the State taking the lives of its citizens.

So, it must be fixed, and all evidence of racial and economic bias eliminated.  This is necessary, not only for fixing the death penalty, but for the fair administration of justice everywhere.

The evidence of a growing movement for this is endemic in the radical changes in our society in recent decades.  The rate of acceptance of LBGTQ people along with marriage equality across the country in just the last ten years alone is astonishing.  The percentages of people calling themselves out and out atheists has more than doubled, and the numbers of people no longer associated with organized religion has reached astonishing percentages and numbers.  A growing and changing feminist movement has gained ground, evidenced by the front and center fight for women's rights from equal pay to reproductive rights and the right to health care - all of which are faced with a huge backlash from conservative circles due to the success of past generations of that movement.

So, you ask, why did I tack the Constitution onto the title of this article?

Because all of this illustrates why the idea of Original Intent is defunct and devoid of meaning.

More than once, the Founders noted in numerous writings and articles at the time of its creation and ratification that their hope and intent for the Constitution and its future was that each succeeding generation would examine that document in light of their new and changed views of the world and the country and make what changes they thought necessary.  The Constitution was not engraved in stone with no method of amendment.  It was written on parchment and included a clear and important manner of changing that document as future generations wished.

That has been done 27 times, with three proposed amendments still pending.  Obviously, the idea that the Constitution was intended to be limited to eighteenth century thinking is wrong and completely the opposite of what those people intended.

It should be noted that most of our Founders were NOT conservatives, as such were seen in their time.  They were radicals, and would have been treated as such if the British Crown could have caught them before the Revolution was successful.  Benjamin Franklin had a nice clear picture of what that meant when he chided his contemporaries that if they "did not hang together" they would definitely "hang separately"!

Given the spoken desires of the more radical conservatives (in California of all places) to ensure the deaths of those opposed to them, I would remind my fellow Liberals that Franklin's statement is as true today as it was over three hundred years ago!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What year is this, anyway?

I can't decide if I'm living in the USSR, Czarist Russia, North Korea, Medieval Europe, or some combination thereof.  Or at least in a developing something the designers can't make up their minds where they're going with it all.

It's bad enough that Dominionists have been trying to remake American History to show the US as a Christian country.  But now, Oklahoma's legislature is trying to ban AP American History and replace it with some crackpot version of a perfect Christian America.

It seems they object to the technique of learning from the past by pointing out where we went wrong so future generations won't make the same mistakes.

I can understand how seeing your most cherished values being pointed out in school as mistakes and wrong might be upsetting.  But as a past (but reformed) Republican, I can testify from personal experience that one can learn from one's past and one can move on to a better way of thinking.

It really doesn't hurt at all.  It's kind of liberating, in fact.  Oh, sure, one does get the odd pang of regret if current events smack you in the face with something you used to think was cool but was really harmful.  But I see those as reinforcing the initial lesson.  Kind of like reminders:  "See?  Weren't you stupid then?  But you're smarter now!"  In the end, they remind you that you've come a long way, baby!

But I guess some folks just can't get past it.

I can understand that, really I can.

What I can't understand is why you'd want to paint over those past mistakes by turning our lovely country into a totalitarian nightmare.  Remaking the past is something we accused the Soviets and the Maoists of doing.  You know, those dirty commies who painted out the totalitarian rulers of their countries' past and replaced them with monsters to contrast with their own "perfect" replacement?

In our case, the Dominionists want to replace the very real monsters on our own past with visions of lollypops, candy canes and unicorns farting rainbows so their kids will never question Jesus.

Probably because they want to keep making the same mistakes and call them "family values".  Or whatever.

But in so doing, they are destroying what they claim to love about our country.  Its liberty.  Its freedom.  Whatever happened to "Truth, Justice, and the American way"?  Somewhere, on the way to the forum, it got lost.  Or waylaid, or mugged or something.  Probably something, because it sure ain't what I was taught it was supposed to be when I went to school.

Nobody taught me that it was Ok to lie, cheat, and steal your way into office, and when we learned about politicians who did, it was never presented as an honorable way to act.

The one thing Conservatives always forget in their zeal to protect their way of life is that all things come to an end.  People change.  Countries change.  Societies change, often rapidly.  The one thing about American Destiny that Conservatives always are proud of (and justifiably so) is the huge number of technological changes America was responsible for in the 19th century.  We were instrumental in an extremely rapid advancement of humanity out of the horse and buggy days and the days of direct fire based energy into the 20th century where our transportation methods were advanced by hundreds of years in just a few decades, and we marched into the age of electricity almost overnight.

The problem for Conservatives is that such technological changes always - always - bring social changes as well.  Old technologies die.  Remember the old buggy whipmaker example?  As I typed that, Autocorrect wanted to change it to "chipmaker".  So old professions die, too.

A few hundred years ago, the very best swords you could ask for were made with Damascus steel.  A decade or so ago, some guys trying to relearn the old ways of the blacksmiths realized that the techniques for making Damascus steel had been lost.  Nobody knows today how those swords were made.  We have made guesses, but we don't know.  Not for sure.  We may never know for sure.

That's because we can kill people faster, better and from farther away with weapons using gunpowder.  You don't win a war by showing up with Damascus steel swords.  That's how you die.

These changes are not made in a vacuum.  The social changes that come from dying professions, new classifications of devices, better and faster ways of doing things are and have been immense and have caused the old comfortable Patriarchy to be shaken to its foundations.

Young people in America today are overwhelmingly progressive.  They accept and think little about the homosexual issues of the day and are accepting a more equal role for women in jobs, marriage, and politics.  Demographically, the old Conservative way of thinking is dying, and probably won't survive more than another decade or two.

Dominionists and Conservatives (especially the ones who are both) know this, and are doing all they can to stretch out the days before they lose power.  Education of one of their best efforts.

Unfortunately, their efforts are unAmerican and damaging to our democracy to an extreme degree.

We shouldn't really let them get away with it.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Freedom of Speech and Religion

By now, the world has had time to digest the horrific attacks on the Paris newspaper which has resulted in the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie in social media.  Twelve people dead, four of them journalists and one the founder of the paper.

Sure, the paper was known for its harsh graphic criticism of Islam in the past, and had been firebombed last fall over previous drawings of Mohammed.  But did you know that it is also known for some pretty harsh stuff criticizing ALL religions?

I want to make my stance here perfectly clear.

In EVERY case, freedom of speech trumps anyone's heartfelt beliefs, whether religious or secular.  No belief system is sacrosanct against criticism.


Not yours, not mine.

Criticism helps us grow, it points out our weaknesses, exposes our flaws.  Responding to criticism helps us sharpen our debating techniques, correct the flaws in our thinking and brings us back down to a human level, instead of existing in the clouds of our own perceived perfection.

I know, it's hard.  It often hurts.  Believe me, I am no angel when it comes to receiving criticism.

Ask my wife.  She knows!

But, really, at no time should criticism deserve a violent response.  Not a punch to the nose, not a pistol shot, not a firebomb.

Surely not a barrage of AK-47 bullets resulting in multiple deaths.

Any ideology or theology which requires, or even allows, the penalty of death for criticism neither deserves such protection nor can, obviously, tolerate it.

Our response should be to post the offending images, everywhere, spreading them as far and wide as possible, with the reason why posted prominently therewith.

Therefor, here is my contribution to that:

The Muslim world isn't sitting back silently, no matter what Fox News may want you to think. To quote:
“What have you really accomplished?” 
Yesterday you killed 12 people and freedom of expression. You say that you avenged the Prophet. You were violated because caricatures were drawn. Charlie Hebdo had a circulation of 50,000. You changed this yesterday. Those caricatures you thought were worth killing for, so that no one would ever again dare to caricature our prophet? Those cartoons had a circulation of 500 million yesterday. At the very least.
Newspapers worldwide have the cartoons on the front pagte today, online, on paper. Millions have changed their profile picture to a caricature of Muhammad . You said “Charlie Hebdo is dead.” The world responded by saying “Je suis Charlie,” “I’m Charlie.” You’ve made ​​Charlie Hebdo immortal. And freedom of speech has reemerged stronger than ever. And did you know that many Muslims, who in 2005 and 2006 were hurt and depressed over the Mohammed cartoons, yesterday wrote that they have changed their minds? They say that the killing of the defenseless is a far greater insult against Muslims than caricatures will ever be. They say: “Draw, draw, draw.” This is what you have achieved.
It's called the Streisand Effect, folks.  Try to suppress something today, especially on the Internet, and that WILL backfire.  So many more people will hear about it, you'll be sorry.

Instead of loading that AK-47, try sitting down and looking at yourself.  There is a reason millions of your co-religionists are also lambasting you on various Arab TV networks, including Al Jazerra.  Engage them, talk to them, learn from them.

By shooting your critics, you merely multiply them.  You hurt your cause, you do not help it.


Changing course a bit here, and bringing up the criticism some have brought up against those who are pursuing what they claim is "Islamaphobia", I will only say this:

The suffix -phobia is intended to indicate a fear of something.  I do not "fear" Islam.  I abhor it and all religions.  Religion condones, teaches, and advances non-critical thinking, subjection to unquestioned authority and adherence to non-scientific, superstitious beliefs which do not advance our knowledge of the material world.  Such beliefs cause us to advance solutions to problems which do not exist and stop us from pursuing solutions to real problems.

This has real and extremely harmful consequences to real people, billions of them, worldwide, which deserves the full and most scathing criticism and/or satire possible.  Wherever we can, however we can.

Harmful theologies, as with harmful ideologies, deserve no respite from criticism, nor protection from satire.

If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen.