Sunday, September 03, 2017

The Process of Morality?

A question that is often in the social consciousness recently is the Question being asked of Atheists: 

“How do you know what is right or wrong if you don’t believe in God?”

Of course, the “pat” answer is the one always pushed by theistic overlords, which says that atheists don’t know, so they feel free to act immorally.  Thus, to be an atheist is to be immoral and evil.  Naturally, atheists disagree, as we all do actually have morals, and many of us feel our morals are superior to those of religious people, in the main because we actually have to go through a process of decision making to get there, while theists don’t. (Theoretically.  As I will note later, people are complicated, and none of us are usually that dogmatic about this.)

But just HOW do we get there?  How to explain to theists who do not know (and to new atheists as well) what that process is?  What are the issues, and how does one make up one’s mind?  Let’s step through the process, talking about those issues as we go.  Be aware, this is a complicated issue, and to do this in any manageable manner, I’m going to have to simplify things a bit.

First, I am NOT a philosopher.  I am not trained in any professional sense in either the field of philosophy nor logic.  I was exposed at one time (high school) to both in my studies in Latin (because I had an awesome Latin teacher), but I can in no wise claim any expertise in either field.  So, the following is just me.  If you have such training, and see any obvious errors as a result of that lack, feel free to jump in.  I won’t be insulted, unless you intend to insult me, and it’s obvious.  Otherwise, I’ll be glad to discuss that problem.

To simply this a bit, I’m going to look at four subgroups of people.

Theists who make a decision that something is good.
Theists who make a decision that something is bad.
Atheists who make a decision that something is good.
Atheists who make a decision that something is bad.

Obviously, the category of “theists” is a very broad one.  Their morals are often different in particular ways.  But, mostly, their beliefs are bound by some sort of Scripture.  It may be something dictated by a deity, it may be something dictated by past masters (or clerics) in that particular religious practice.  The commonality is broadly the idea that morals are dictated by some authority.  It may be centralized, it may not.  But generally, people are guided by that authority, and not primarily by their own thought processes.

Also, with Atheism, naturally, that definition is one that encompasses mainly the belief that there are no deities.  Note here that atheists may have a widely differing spectrum of political thought and practices, and come from virtually every culture in the world.  Thus, the cultural influences will be broadly different.  We’ll get to that later.  But, the fact that atheists may have differing POLITICAL ideals certainly shows that other influences on their morals are as widely varied as the cultural influences.  So, keep these in mind as we examine these processes.

One last thing.  This is examining a process.  I’m not saying that any of these four subcategories are about a lifestyle of good or bad, either as theists or atheists.  People are complicated, and any or all of us are capable of making a decision about what to do in a particular instance that may, objectively, seem good or bad at any one time.  The NEXT time we are in a position to make such a decision, we might make the completely opposite one.  So, be aware that I am not making any value judgements here about lifestyles.  This is about how people determine morality - the decision PROCESS, and how that determines our actions.  On THAT, I reserve the right to make value judgements.

-  Theists who make a decision that something is good.

Now, in the popular paradigm of the Question, “How do you know what is right or wrong if you don’t believe in God?”, obviously, the implication is that people who believe in God are guided by His hand as revealed in the Bible. (Or, possibly, in a wider context, by a holy Scripture not Christian). This presupposes that all such believers take their morals from that Scripture, and ONLY from that Scripture.  I would contend that this is false, at least in general.  Everybody lives in the cultural environment in which they live.  (For the purposes of this essay, I’ll assume that is where they were born, and that as theists, their upbringing raised them in the most popular religion of their birthplace.)

As an example, let us look at Female Genital Mutilation.  FGM, as it is known, is a horrible practice that involves the mutilation of the female outer genitals - the Vulva, with terrible results.  (You can look this up, as the details are not relevant to this essay). It is practiced across Northern Africa and into parts of the Middle East.  It is NOT a religious requirement at all, as it is practiced by both Christians and Muslims in the countries where it is generally allowed, and neither religion addresses the practice at all.

But, it is considered not only common, but REQUIRED by the cultures in which it is practiced, in order to make women obey the sexual restrictions of those cultures.  It is considered “good”.  And not at all by Scripture, although some clerics in those areas may fall back on that excuse.  It is a strong influence, not from Scripture, but by culture.

Other cultures consider that practice anathema and forbid it, but, again, not as a religious practice, but as a cultural one.  In both cases, the resulting practice, either to do it or to forbid it, is very strong.  But, in actual practice, religious scripture is irrelevant to those decisions.

So, we see that even theists make decisions about morality based on things that are not “revealed” by their deity, but also on cultural traditions.  This is ignored by those who ask the above Question.  One can reinforce this point when one sees how Scripture often condones practices once considered “good” in ancient societies but “bad” in modern ones, such as slavery, or even genocide.  These formerly condoned practices are today illegal in virtually every society in the world, yet, at least in Christian Scripture, neither one has been removed or noted as currently discouraged.  Thus the waters are muddied considerably when asking people to use Holy Scripture as a guide.  Cultural influences in modern societies rarely coincide well with ancient writings.

- Theists who make a decision that something is bad.

Making a decision about what is bad is equally fraught with a minefield of such problems, if one is trying to use Holy Scripture as a guide.  Taking the Bible as an example (mainly because I am writing this in the context of a largely Christian controlled culture), there are some hard restrictions that do not match modern cultural influences, in which those modern cultural influences overshadow the biblical pronouncements of “badness”.

The most popular ones are the biblical restrictions on eating shellfish or wearing mixed fabrics.  Not being a Biblical scholar any more than I am a philosopher, I can’t tell you what the purposes of those restrictions may have been when the Hebrew priests wrote down those verses over two thousand years ago.  There may have been some very good reasons, perhaps having to do with either keeping shellfish fresh or with class restrictions on who could wear different fabrics.  Who knows today?  Biblical scholars or historians, perhaps.  Not me.

But the point is that in today’s Western societies, neither of these things are considered “bad”.  One is perfectly free to wear mixed fabrics, as much as one is free to eat shellfish or not, in spite of the very firm restrictions on them in holy scripture.  Oh, some clerics will tell you that the “laws” in the “Old” Testament are no longer valid, because of some verses in the “New” Testament.  But, those same clerics will turn the other cheek and tell you out of the OTHER side of their mouths that the Old Testament prohibition against homosexuality is still perfectly valid!

Which also muddies the water when good and well intentioned people try to use Holy Scripture to decide what to do or not to do.

- Atheists who make a decision that something is good.

One cannot pretend that atheists live free of religious influences.  All across the globe, in all cultures and in all religious places, there are those who do not believe the offerings of those who tout invisible magical beings for moral guides.  Unfortunately, in most places, those religions are the major influences on the legal and moral sets of values that the cultures they exist in require their people to live by.  In the US, it is relatively easy to camouflage one’s lack of religious belief and appear to conform to the common cultural practices of the locality in which one lives, at least in general.

In many places around the world, that is infinitely more difficult, as in some places being an atheist will get you seriously dead.  So, let’s just pretend for a moment that we are talking about those who, publicly, have the ability to choose their own moral values with which to guide one’s actions.  After all, having to camouflage one’s existence by copying the actions of one’s neighbors and family as they obey the strictures of their holy works isn’t having the freedom to choose one’s morals, is it?  Thus, for these poor atheists, the Question above is irrelevant.

But, in general, as one is free to choose, there are many ways in which one can reach out for information to guide one’s decisions.  One can look at history to get an idea of how one’s actions can work out in the context of one’s culture.  What works?  What generally turns out well?  What are, for example, the results of common practice on, say, marriage?  What is legal, what isn’t?  How do other people deal with a cheating spouse?  If it is legal, can I justify an affair?  What may that affair do to the welfare of my kids?  Or to the attitudes of my parents, or in-laws?  My boss?

One is free to look at all the data and decide that a course of action is perfectly fine - one may have married with an agreement together that an open marriage allows for sexual freedom, as long as certain rules are followed.  This may not conform with traditional ideas of marriage, but then American culture decided several decades ago that the government has no business poking its nose into people’s private lives, thus laws restricting sexual activity outside of marriage were done away with.  The same generally true in most Western societies.

Of course, cultural influences don’t always allow an atheist to perfectly follow their own ideals, as living in a more religious locality can restrict one’s ability to take free action similar to more restrictive countries in which religion is a major reflector of the law.  Social constraints are often harsh.  Just because the law says you can do something and the government cannot stop you doesn’t mean you don’t have social consequences to deal with if you violate social restrictions.  Of course, inside the US, those consequences rarely involve death.  For many, however, they can be severe on a personal level.

But even if mild, they are something atheists will probably take into account in some ways.  Generally, however, other considerations are paramount.  Who does this hurt?  Does this benefit me without hurting someone else, or will it come back to bite me on the ass someday? (Or perhaps someone close to me?)  Is this something that could help others while being good for me?  Or, how can I do this and mitigate the possible negative consequences for someone else?

The questions one asks will be consistent with one’s life philosophy.  Or, one’s political beliefs, alternatively.  There are atheists who are decidedly Libertarian in belief, and the questions they will ask are fundamentally different from the questions a Liberal atheist will ask.  Which will also be different from the questions a Conservative atheist might consider.

Believe it or not, it is entirely possible that an atheist could conform quite closely to the values of his/her community if their political philosophy is similar to the religious folks living in that locality.  In many US cities and States, one can see social values that are probably more due to political values than religious ones, and often, those values are diametrically opposed to “traditional” conservative Christian values.  The rapid rise of the acceptance of marriage equality around the US is an excellent example of this.

- Atheists who make a decision that something is bad.

Again, political values are often more important to this process than pure cultural values.  After all, in many families, that political culture is more important than religion in a growing segment of the public.  As the sheer numbers of people to whom religion is not relevant enough to matter to their lives (even if they nominally identify as theist) grows to an even greater percentage of the American public, one has seen a growing divide in relative values in political discourse.

At one time, one could count fairly well on the proposition that Christian values would be politically important to a wide segment of the public.  Religious leaders of Christian denominations enjoyed (and in some cases still do) wide acclaim and respect, and often influence a significant percentage of the voters.

In what I think is a significant development, the Conservative movement in the US has been reduced in percentage considerably in recent decades, to the point that the Republican Party has collectively decided that it is necessary for them to begin to depend on subterfuge such as gerrymandering and denial of voting rights to minorities likely to vote Democratic to remain in power.  More and more Americans seem to have decided that the dependency of the conservatives on the Religious Right is not a good thing, and this seems to have had a remarkable affect on the numbers of Americans abandoning religion and/or religious organizations in recent decades.  It is generally agreed that the majority of the category of “nones” have tended to move towards a liberal political set of values.

As with atheists who decide that something is good, those who decide something is bad are also using those influences of culture and politics to come to their conclusions.  Nobody lives in a vacuum, and atheists are no exception.  In fact, I believe atheists are increasingly becoming more influential in the body politic.  Not publicly, of course. It is still politically wise to mimic a Christian while running for office, but that doesn’t mean that closely held secular values aren’t beginning to be felt.   It is remarkable that even after the Republican Party has successfully managed to gain control of all three Branches of government, their failure to enact more than a handful of Conservatively leaning policies is so obvious.  The failure of the Republicans to repeal “ObamaCare” is only the tip of that iceberg, but is the poster child of their failure to force their values into policy.

It is my opinion that this is due to secular people in disguise acting secretly to confound and frustrate the right wing religious fanatics.  In other words, atheists (or nones) deciding that Conservatism is bad, combined with weaker believing theists using modern cultural influences to counter traditional Christian values in the public sphere.

In Conclusion

Life is complicated.  Nothing is ever simple, and the emotions, opinions, values, and actions of people are no exception.  While every person has something outside of themselves they hold to be most important in its influence on them (whether they know it or not), there are still multiple influences which combine to water down that larger element.

Yes, even religious people.  In fact, I would argue that there really isn’t a lot of difference between the religious folks and unbelievers in how they set the values they hold closest in influencing their actions.  One set of folks may hold one source more important, the existence of the others are often more important than they might realize.

However, the existence of those who are adamantly holding to written scriptures to make those decisions (and want to force ALL of us to do the same) is hugely influential in the world, and is a major threat to the ability of future generations to make better decisions about life, death, and how to live moving forward.  Any source of values that does not change and react logically to a changing population and cultural environments is a continuing threat to the future of mankind and its development.

So, “How DO you know what is right or wrong if you don’t believe in God?”

Get answers.
Decide for YOURSELF.

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life.  Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of someone else's thinking." (Steve Jobs, at Stanford University, June, 2005) 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Keeping it simple

The other day, I saw in a comment thread someone mention the following quote:

“The world always makes sense.  If something doesn't make sense, you don't have enough information. “

I did a quick search and couldn’t find who the author might have been.  But this comment brings to mind something that doesn’t make sense to me.

Yesterday, DT & Co. made a comment that the American Media is the “Enemy of the American People”.  Bill Maher made a video wherein he lamented over the nonsensical fact that the GOP, the Party of Patriotism, once the Defender of America, has flipped into the Party of Critics of America, who now support our once arch nemesis, Russia.  And all without so much as a mention or a bit of regret or so much as a facial tic.

DT & Co.’s remark is a slap in the face of the Constitution and one of the most important rights enshrined in that document - so important it was placed into the First Amendment alongside the guarantees of religious freedom and the freedom to petition the government and the right to gather with like minded people - the guarantee of a free press.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  

There it is, right there.  Enshrined in the Constitution, in the Bill of Rights, a document supposedly sacred to the Right Wing and Republicans.  Yet, when DT & Co. denigrate the press, calling it the Enemy of the American People, do we hear a peep?  A gasp?  Something of a facial tic?  Nope. Nothing, nada, nichts, not even the slightest of peeps.

None of this makes sense.  

Here we have a man whose entire life is a stain on the American business world, whose tactics are the epitome of capitalist greed that sparked the 19th century limitations on the worst of those peoples’ practices, such as the laws against monopolies, who both woos the press on one hand yet calls them Enemy of the American People on the other.  A man whose personal life has been a prime example of the evil that christianity and Jesus’ teachings have railed against for centuries.

And yet both the GOP, as the party of the Defense of the Constitution, has voted for and backed this man fully, even as he begins the process of dismantling the democracy the Republicans have supposedly devoted its life to protecting, and a huge percentage of Evangelicals - those devotees of Christ - not only voted for, but still enthusiastically support and defend.  In spite of his flagrant violation of the values Christ supposedly preached, thus destroying Evangelical credibility in moral issues.


Yet, why?  What makes that support for Trump worth it?  Worth in fact, condoning violations of the Constitution either group would have condemned outright not two years ago.  There may be some answers, and none of it will make you feel good.

John Podesta, Hilary Clinton’s chief of staff, said this today:

“Trump is deploying a strategy, used by autocrats, designed to completely disorient public perception,” Podesta wrote. “He’s not just trying to spin the bad news of the day; all politicians do that. He seeks nothing less than to undermine the public’s belief that any news can be trusted, that any news is true, that there is any fixed reality.” 
Podesta compared Trump’s aggressive stance toward the media to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the autocratic strongman whose government U.S. intelligence officials believe ordered the hack into Podesta’s email account during the campaign. 
“He is emulating the successful strategy of Vladimir Putin,” Podesta wrote, cautioning that Trump’s behavior puts the U.S. “in danger of experiencing an information void like Russia,” where people are so cynical that they “hear something on TV and assume it’s a lie.”

In the op-ed, Podesta urged Americans to “maintain a heightened vigilance” and be wary of things they read on social media, but also “be wary of any effort, particularly from the White House, to disorient or discredit reliable information.”

Journalists, in turn, must continue to fact-check the White House, he wrote.”

Trump has been accused of mental illness, as well as being incompetent.  This view makes the assumption that he is neither, but is working a plan.

Does the Republican party have a plan?

I don’t think so, but somebody else does.  Back on November 18th, I posted an article entitled “Once more into the breech!” in which I first noted this idea that our true enemy is the Corporatists, who are members of the 1% engaged in a long term conspiracy to turn this country into an Oligarchy.  One of the techniques in getting there is exactly what Trump is engaging in, according to Podesta.

Remember the first rule in examining something and looking for an answer:  the KISS Principle, also expressed as Occam's razor.  No need for long, complicated conspiracies, or convoluted multi-level plans.  The simplest is most likely to work, hence is more likely to be the best explanation.  The more complexity, the more likely points of failure there are.

In this atmosphere today, when the Chief Executive is doing his best to confuse, confound and create chaos, it is perfectly normal to be exactly that - its’ the intent, after all!   That;’s why we need to be alert, be aware, and on the lookout for clues to what makes all this make sense.

In the meantime, keep your other eye on the ball - the corporatist ball!

Once we have enough information, it’ll make sense.

Monday, February 13, 2017

All we have to fear is fear itself.

There are a lot of alarming things coming out of the White House this month. It is particularly alarming that this will go on the another 200+ weeks!
But today my focus is on fear.
There once was a time when Americans were born and bred into a form of national bravery. Bravery in some fashion was almost a national religion. We admired frontiersmen/women for their bravery in setting out to explore the unknown, we admired our military for their bravery in facing our enemies, and we built a national image of ourselves based on that admiration.
We faced down adversaries who were bigger than ourselves, who had bigger militaries and stronger national presences abroad. We invoked the Monroe Doctrine, which dared the much stronger and older European powers to face our ire if they meddled in the Western Hemisphere, and we did it at a time when we were not exactly a match for any of them.
We fought in WWI, sending our bravest into a war which literally changed the face of the world.
We used our tremendous industrial base, secure from foreign invasion by two immense oceans, as a powerhouse to allow us to fight and WIN against two opposing coalitions on the opposite sides of the globe, mobilizing the entire population to do so.
"Home of the Brave". That's what our national anthem calls it, this United States of America. We have made a national icon out of this.
We bolster our courage every 4th of July by parading this picture of ourselves through our streets and across our computer screens, patting ourselves on the backs for facing down our enemies.
Not any more.
For over thirty years, especially since the Reagan years, the Republican Party has capitalized on our fears. Fear of Big Government, fear of the different, fear of this, fear of that. Fear of anybody whose culture we don't understand.
Their constant mantra has been to stir fear about anything they could imagine that might in some way, change our country, or make something different happen. It is all touted as dangers to America, and threats to our Democracy, to The American Way of Life. Brown people, black people, yellow people, people with long hair, people who dress different. People who (gasp!) speak a different language! (GOD forbid we should have to select English with a tap of a button...)
We spend more money, combined, than the next 7 highest spending countries on our military (including both Russia and China), and we brag about having the largest and strongest military in the world. We imagine that we are still capable of taking on two wars at once. We have seven aircraft carriers to project American power anywhere in the world in mere days, if not a week or so.
Our machinations around the world have resulted in our development and establishment of hundreds of military bases around the world, which we can use to project our air power and often, special forces power, just about anywhere we need to.
Those machinations have changed history.
...and yet, fear.
The Republican Party has managed to turn us into a nation of fearful little mice, scurrying to hide behind any convenient excuse - a wall, a blanket ban, an ocean or two, anything to protect ourselves from these foreign horrors. We hold our military in front of us, like a shield, anytime we feel challenged (which is almost constantly) in our Supreme Position of the Defenders of Pax Americana. We shake those sabers at those who frighten us, and at those who even seem to be thinking about challenging our Supremacy.
What, what has become of the Home of the Brave? Land of the Free?
What has allowed us to let this happen to us? Why are we afraid? Our parents weren't afraid. Neither were our grandparents.
Why us, why now?
Why do we let nasty little men cower behind the White House doors and under the Capitol dome and pronounce unAmerican edicts and orders that violate the very values and principles that this country was founded on?
Is this OUR country, or are we going to let these nasty little men undercut everything we stand for?
We should be standing tall, beside each other, Democrats, Republicans and Independents, opposing all who would undermine our democracy. All who would violate the principles of democracy and fairness.
Those who bring fascism to our shores. Those who wrap themselves in the flag and lift up that cross in an effort to DESTROY the freedoms that really made this country great.
That cross didn't make this country great. Neither did the flag.
The PEOPLE did. People from virtually every ethnic group on the planet. People from every corner of the globe, almost literally. 
Immigrants. We are a nation of immigrants. If we allow these nasty little men to dictate to us who can come and who can go based on their nasty little prejudices and hatreds, we disgrace the memory of every person of every ethnic group who died to make this country what it is today. We disgrace the work and the blood, sweat and tears of the entire lives' work that went into what we have today.
Let's not let that happen.
Shed your fear.
Stand up. Face down the tyrants, those nasty little men.
Let's show them what real Americans are made of.

What a government is all about, including what public employees do and think.

This post was first posted a couple of days ago on my personal Facebook page.  At this writing, it has been shared 21 times, which I am honored to see.  I thought since Ophelia Benson had shared this also on her blog Butterflies and Wheels, I should probably put it up on mine, too!  (Thanks, Ophelia!  I appreciate it!)

So, (hopefully) enjoy.

A remark made on one of my posts, last night I think it was, caused me to stop and think about what your average American knows about being a government employee.
To start out, for those who don't know me or haven't checked my profile yet, I was a Federal employee for 42 years and 4 months. I served the US Army for four years, and the Food and Drug Administration the rest of the time, starting out as a mail & file clerk and ending up as a senior IT tech overseeing a group of contractors who kept the FDA desktops updated and secure.
Along the way, I worked with scientists, lab people, investigators, inspectors, medical personnel, lawyers, contracting officers, instructors, administrators, and in one capacity or another, others from almost every Center in FDA.
Many of those people had worked in other major Departments, including a supervisor who had once worked for the Justice Department, and a Branch chief whose former intelligence agency employer was so classified, he still was prevented by law from disclosing that to us.
As many of you know from the private sector, each organization, private or public, has its own culture. Much of that culture comes from the top down and is informed by its mission - what it does as a primary function.
But governments, whether local, State or Federal, are different than private companies, large or small.
Why? Because governments don't exist to make a profit.
Private companies do. That is the very reason they exist! If they cannot make a profit, eventually, they are forced to close and have their assets sold off to satisfy their debts.
Governments don't go bankrupt. At the worst, they have their credit ratings cut to nothing, forcing them to "live" and operate from cash receipts obtained through statutory incomes, like taxes or receipts from licensing activities, fines, etc.
Their mission is to provide for the safety, welfare, public peace and security of the American people.
That's a whole lot different from making filthy lucre to fill the bosses' pockets. That's why they operate differently, and that's why Republicans are wrong to try and make the US Government run like a business.
Because it isn't one.
That's why the culture of each governmental Department is different, and why each has its own take on transparency.
Yeah, Transparency. Believe me, that's a tightrope each and every supervisor in the government has to weigh on a regular basis.
Some agencies, by their mission's demands, cannot be transparent. Intelligence agencies are a good example. We cannot allow foreign governments to know if, when, or how we may or may not be spying on them. We want them to be guessing, constantly, and we want them to guess wrong, every time.
Others, like the military, have inherent activities and equipment that by their nature, need to be secret. Otherwise, their effectiveness in combat is greatly lessened. Enemies who have to guess about what you may bring to the table in a conflict will be cautious and very careful before committing themselves.
Civilian agencies which are by nature enforcing various Federal laws are bound to be secretive in some ways for two reasons: First, they are bound by law to protect proprietary information belonging to the companies they need to inspect as part of that law enforcement activity. Second, they don't want their enforcement activities to be publicly revealed, because sometimes a surprise inspection is what you need to catch someone who is willfully violating the law. Give them a chance to clean up, and you've got nothing for your efforts!
But other agencies have a tougher row to hoe regarding that word transparency. They have to balance letting the public know how they are operating in making policy vs. allowing either political opponents or foreign opponents know secrets that may allow them to counter those policies in ways harmful to the public.
Sometimes, getting that balance right is hard.
One of the things that turned me aside from being a republican early in my government career was their constant ragging on us for being lazy, or corrupt, or leaches sucking at the "government teat".
I've known hundreds if not thousands of people in my career, and with the exception of one or two, not a damn one of them was lazy, or corrupt or anything approaching the description of a leach. They all worked hard for their paychecks. Many of them could have gone outside and gotten much bigger paychecks working for large corporations.
But they stayed, most of them, and they do because they CARE. The mission of the FDA is, among other things similar, to keep your food, your drugs, your cosmetics, your radiation emitting devices, your medical devices, safe, effective and the best American companies can make them to be. Every single FDA employee I've worked with cared about that single mission, cared about how their job, whether it was leading a Center, running a computer, or inspecting Mexican produce crossing the border, and how their job impacted the primary mission of the Agency.
I cannot imagine anyone in any other governmental agency feeling any less, whether they are working for the Federal government or a State or local government.
So, folks, when you hear the Republicans continuing to belittle public employees, whether they are US Park Service Rangers, or EPA scientists, or federal Judges, remember this post. Remember that these people CARE - they care about you, me, and their neighbors. They are there, doing their jobs, probably making less money than they could on the outside, because they give a damn about OUR COUNTRY.
They each took an oath, which is very similar to the one Trump just took, to protect and defend the Constitution. Not an oath of loyalty to a President, or to an Agency, or to a boss. To the Constitution of the United States of America.
To serve YOU. That also includes Congress, by the way.
It's up to you to determine which of those public servants are upholding that oath.
And which are, very publicly, not.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Once more into the breech!

I know this election has a lot of people on both sides upset. Either over the results, or other people’s reactions to the results. Democrats are fighting tooth and nail to determine who will run their party going forward, and so are the Republicans, especially now that they’ve got a President elect who they are fearful will be both unpredictable and uncontrollable.
Politically, this country is looking more and more like a third world country. The only thing missing is the entry onto the stage of armed militias shooting at each other.
Give it time, though, I’m sure that’s part of the plan.
I’ll bet a whole bunch of folks are wondering why. Why can’t our politicians get it together? They’re smart people, can’t they understand what the REAL problems facing this country are? Sure, they may have differences of opinion as to how to deal with them, but it’s always been that way. Why the chaos NOW? What’s changed?
One word: money.
No, not bribes, although there is certainly enough of that floating around the system.
No, this money is coming from people Bernie Sanders has warned us about. The 1%. The wealthiest people in this country, who control the Corporations that basically OWN most of the politicians that run this country.
You see, the 1% didn’t get there because they’re stupid. They got there because they were largely born into it. There may be a few, like Bill Gates, who wasn’t, but he doesn’t count, since he’s guiltily giving most of it away. The 1% know that if we all knew who was behind this, that they wouldn’t last past the next election, and they are determined not to give up that power. In fact, they want ALL the power.
So, how are they doing that? Simple, they’ve got you and I fighting EACH OTHER, and mostly unaware that we are fighting the wrong people. Our opponents aren’t Republicans or Democrats. Take a good long look at the policies both parties have been implementing. (forget abortion, that’s not in their playbook) Haven’t you seen and heard a lot of folks expound that both parties are “the same”? If you’re Democrat, you respond that of course not, Democrats care about the little people. If you are Republican, you respond, no, we’re nothing like those Socialist bastards!
But, if you sit back and dispassionately look at what both parties have been DOING, you can get past the rhetoric.
Years ago, Republicans began to target unions. Democrats resisted at first, but eventually gave up. Today, fewer than 15% of American workers are covered by union contracts. Republicans targeted Welfare, and in Bill Clinton’s years, they succeeded in drastically reforming that, to the dismay of a lot of Democrats who simply had failed to fight it. Then they targeted labor through NAFTA, again, with Bill’s help. Since then, jobs have fled overseas at alarming rates, thanks to that and other trade agreements that have slashed the protections for American jobs. Democrats have either failed to fight those, or actively joined in.
Don’t even get me started on tax cuts, or slashed budgets which have crippled the Federal (and State) governments’ ability to provide services.
Today, one can reasonably point to the Democratic Party and call them “Republican light”. Which was a legitimate complaint about Hillary Clinton.
But stop and think about it. Why? Why would Democrats ignore and abandon their core constituencies (labor, the working class, the middle class) in favor of Republican policies which have so harmed those groups that almost all of them had enough people angry that Hillary Clinton couldn’t get enough Electoral College votes to win? Why would they abandon their core ideology?
The answer is relatively simple, but because we’ve been lied to and mislead and misinformed for decades, we don’t know who the real enemy is, or even, what to call that enemy! You see, in order to understand anything about someone - especially if that someone is an enemy of yours - you’ve got to know who he/she is, and key to that is knowing what the characteristics are that bring them together into a group.
Then you’ve got to know what to call them so you can TALK about them. It’s gotta be catchy and short and descriptive.
Bernie Sanders calls them the 1%. That’s both short and descriptive, but it isn’t enough, because it fails to lump together the groups that are on their side and doing their bidding. Folks who follow their “ideology”, if you will.
I use the term “Corporatists”, because it describes the corporations the 1% owns and use as their primary tools. They are the entities who support with cash the PACS and SuperPACs which contribute so much cash that has corrupted the political system. It describes the politicians, of either Party, who also support them and gladly accept all that cash just to stay in power.
Since the 1% actually control the Corporations, even the publicly “owned” ones, it describes the people who are behind all this chaos.
Is Trump a Corporatist? Nope. Don’t make those rich folks laugh. He’s a tool, hoping to be allowed into the lowest echelons of the club by playing his role. He has fooled the Republican leadership. He has fooled the Republican rank and file. Hell, he was describing himself as a Democrat less than five years ago. He is neither. He is a tool of the Corporatists.
His function is to contribute further chaos and confusion into the system, in order to advance the old Republican accusation that “Government doesn’t work!” by getting in there and throwing as many wrenches into the system as he can. That will frustrate Americans even worse than they are, and eventually, the Corporatists - not the Republicans, although you may be fooled into thinking the guys who declare that are - will be able to declare government to be so bad, so non-functional, that it will be the duty of the Corporations to step in and “lend a hand” to put things back in order.
By then, we’ll all be so angry and frustrated by our representatives’ failures that we’ll grasp at any straws which promise to fix the problem.
Kinda like Republicans did with Trump.
No, Republicans and Democrats, at least the rank and file of each Party, are most certainly not enemies. We should be out there starting a third party by lending so much support, the two major Parties collapse by the sheer weight of all the folks who abandon them. We should be supporting anyone who is willing to set the goals of such a Party as fighting the corporatists in favor of the American people.
Forget all the current catchwords of our past. Forget the term conservative, or liberal, or Independent. Forget Socialism or Capitalism. None of those describe the fight we should be fighting.
We need to toss out the Corporatists, elect Representatives who will represent US, the People and not them, the Corporatists. If we manage that, then we can discuss the best ways to advance OUR welfare, OUR economic success. The best ways to fix our infrastructure, our healthcare system, our political structure for determining who best represents The People. To fix the Economy to ensure that all people will be paid enough to live on, and eventually, to retire on.
If WE can manage to define the fight, then the other side is automatically on the defense, and we have the advantage.
That should be our goal. Not letting our real enemy continue to put us at each others’ throats.
That’s the way to Oligarchy. Dictatorship. The rule of the many by the few.
Don’t let them divide us. That helps them, not us.

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.