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.

However.

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."
(http://deathpenalty.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=001187http://deathpenalty.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=001187)

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) wrote the following in its release “Talking Points: Suspend the Death Penalty,” published on www.naacp.org (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.

None.

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.




Friday, December 26, 2014

The True Genius of Steve Jobs

Today's topic has nothing to do with religion - unless you see the popularity of Apple, Inc. as being somewhat akin to a religion.

Which for some, of course, it is.

One of the biggest disappointments - regarding Apple - of the decade, was the death of Steve Jobs.  Millions of us were dismayed that such a genius could be so stupid as to fail to use his significant fortune to get the best medical care possible, and instead allow quack science to delay that treatment to the point that a very treatable cancer could kill him.  Goes to show that genius has its limitations.

Since then, Apple, Inc. has been watched closely by both detractors and investors with one question in mind. Could Apple repeat its success after the death of its genius founder?  Steve Jobs was seen as the architect of that success - the man whose vision informed and pushed for the creation of some truly world changing devices - devices that have reworked our world into patterns that were comic book sci-fi just decades ago.

Now, lots of words - billions, probably, have been written about this, many of them by people smarter or more educated than I in business and psychology.  I am not under the mistaken impression that I am unique or smarter than any of these folks.  But I have been watching Apple for over twenty years, and I've got some observations about that company that many have not noticed.

So I wonder sometimes.  Most of the articles I have read about Jobs focus on his product genius.  The creation of the products Apple has released and his part in that creation.  How he pushed people to and beyond their limits in making things they never could have imagined they'd produce otherwise.  Products that have been attributed to that genius.

Then, this morning, I read a VERY short article in which the author had been asked one question:  What was the most surprising thing about 2014 to you?

His answer:  Apple has survived, and even thrived, after Jobs' death.

I'm sorry, but my response?

Moron.

I've never seen such a stupid, uninformed, pitiful excuse for an answer - EVER.

So, you ask me, what WAS Jobs' true genius, genius?

It wasn't in making insanely great products, although he was pretty darn good at it.

His real genius was in building the company he built.  He built a company that has survived his death and in fact, is STILL turing out insanely great products.  Without his guidance, apparently.

I say "apparently", because that guidance is really still there.  His genius was in institutionalizing that vision.  Building teams of people and infusing in those teams the vision of how to make insanely great products.

Thats why they made such great products when he was alive - HE didn't make them, his company did - because he infused his vision and his methods into the teams and the people who made them work.  It is the people - the employees - of Apple, who made the products - who designed them, tested them, redesigned them, retested them until they met the insanely tight and high standards Steve helped them set for themselves and their output.

That company - those teams - are Apple, Inc.  As long as management at Apple continues to follow that vision and maintains the institutionalized vision Steve Jobs gave them, they will continue to make insanely great products.  At least until economic or cultural conditions change that challenge Apple's management to alter that vision in order to keep up.

Then we'll see if that vision stands up.  If Apple's management at the time is flexible enough to see whatever handwriting is on the wall at the time.

But for now, continue looking to Apple, Inc. to continue to make insanely great products - it is what Steve Jobs built that company to do.

Thanks, Steve.



Monday, December 15, 2014

On Police Brutality

More and more lately, the subject of police brutality and killings is becoming something the bought and paid for media cannot ignore.  Millions of people around the country are constantly marching in protest over the almost constant din of what are often out and out murder cases in which police are almost universally absolved of criminal liability.

Mostly against blacks, but let's be clear - there are others being killed who are not black as well.

It would also be good to note that the issue of police brutality isn't just about killings, although those are the most egregious.  Remember the lady in California whose beating by a CHP officer went viral?  There are whole websites devoted to documenting these incidents.

And that isn't the most alarming thing about this whole thing.

What is the most alarming is the strengthening of the "thin blue line".  The police have tended, even in the past to have this "us vs. them" kind of attitude, that exists to protect each other from what they consider unfair punishment.

To an extent, that is understandable.  They exist in an ordered and very structured environment.  They are trained in discipline, the better for their bosses to control them.  After all, they are, each and every one, out in the community for eight or more hours a day, exposed to the possibility of having to confront the very worst elements of society.  People who are often armed and prepared to use those weapons at any time they feel threatened.

And police officers around the country die every year because of that exposure.  Such an environment tends to bond people together.  I understand that.

But in recent years, there is a sickness that has invaded that environment.

Militarization.  Arming and training our police with the arms and the attitudes of soldiers.

There is a meme that is making the rounds occasionally on Facebook.  It says, basically, that a country's military exists to defend it from enemies of the State.  And when the police and the military begin to blend together, the people tend to start looking like enemies of the State.

That sounds kinda familiar.

We need to remind ourselves, and our police, of the ways in which our government was designed and empowered by the Constitution to provide (as the constitution says) for the General Welfare.

First, the military is an arm of the Federal government, and is authorized by the Constitution under the authority of the President.  It is for the protection of the country from enemies of the State, generally protection from invasion.

Our police departments, of whatever level, are authorized under both the General Welfare clause for the Federal government and the "reserved powers' clause for the States.

Separately, all levels of the government are authorized a judiciary.  It is considered a separate branch of government at the Federal level.  Most States are generally designed the same way, so that judges and courts are their own authority and not under the executive power of the President or a Governor.

This is important, because the Constitution makes it fairly clear (and subsequent SCOTUS rulings further clarify this) that the Court system is supposed to be a defender and a protectorate of the people.

Police are, too, since their authority is generally under the authority of the General Welfare clause.

And when the police act against their authority and hurt members of the public, the courts are supposed to protect us, not side with the police.

Our Constitution is a document that sets forth the powers of the Federal government and allows for those powers not explicitly given to the Federal level to be reserved for the States or "the people".  This pretty clearly shows that the powers so delineated are delegated directly from the people.

WE, the people of this country, delegate those powers for OUR benefit.  Those powers are not there for the benefit of the officials so empowered.  They are there to provide for US.  For the general welfare - for everybody.

In spite of the original version having clauses respecting slavery, none of those clauses noted color of skin nor ethnicity as a condition of that status, and most certainly did not separate "the people" into differing classes based on ethnicity, skin color, sex, sexual orientation, social classes, or economic status.  It merely uses the term "We, the people".

In short, if a person works for a government entity at any level from city to State to Federal, they work for US.  They have their jobs for the purpose of providing for the General Welfare of the people of these United States.  Their jobs are there for OUR benefit, not theirs.

The police are not there to protect the government.  They are there to protect us from threats to society.  They are not there to force us into submission, they are there to protect us.

Not to shoot us, nor beat us nor subjugate us.  Their paychecks come from the taxes we pay.  WE are their bosses, ultimately.  All of us, regardless of economic status, color of our skin or ethnicity.

They should not be thinking of "us vs. them".  They should be thinking about policing their own, about getting rid of officers who make them look bad, who are not worthy of wearing the uniform.

Their "us" should include "we" the people.

Unlike in many totalitarian countries, our police do not live in guarded compounds.  They live among us, they ARE us, they are part of "the people".  They live next door to us, they marry our daughters and our sons, they eat at our backyard barbecues.  They shop at the same stores we do, they vote in the same elections we do.

It is time they rejoined us.  It is time they stop thinking of us as the problem, and realize that it is their attitude that is the problem.

They work for us, and it is time they started acting, again, like they do.

They should be our defenders, not our oppressors.


Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Racism

Today, in a FaceBook posting, someone made a statement that made me rock back on my heals and think hard about something.  It is a subject America has been struggling with since it's very founding, and before.

Racism.  Racial prejudice. Ethnic hatred, or however you wish to term it.

The statement went something like "us whiteys who aren't racist...", and something about it stuck in my craw, as we say in Texas.  It took me a bit to realize what it was, but once it did, it brought back an incident when I lived in Texas that truly did change the way I see other people and how our words - no matter how innocently we might see them - can hurt and wound others very deeply.

I was working at the FDA District office in the mail and file room, and there was an older black fellow that I knew from up in the lab I liked quite a bit.  He was always friendly, and we'd struck up somewhat of a gentle kidding around kind of relationship.

At one point, he came down to the file room, and said something I can't remember, kidding me, and I turned around, and in a kidding and jaunty kind of tone, said, "Hey, ni**er, how ya doin'?"

Instantly, his face turned ugly, and he growled at me in a furious tone of voice, "Don't EVER call me that again!"  And stalked away.

Apart from that being completely different from the reaction I'd expected, I was quite simply devastated.  I'd never thought I'd cause someone such hurt or ignite such anger, and I was just blown away once I realized what I'd done.

Fortunately, the man who oversaw the file room was not only black, but knew me, and the other fellow as well, and being also a minister, was able to (after I abjectly crawled virtually on hands and knees begging forgiveness) managed to help me to repair that relationship somewhat.

But it never was quite the same after that, and this is the first time I have ever mentioned it since that time.

But it illustrates exactly my point here.

Which is that once you've been introduced to an "education" that includes ethnic racism, you can NEVER quite wipe it out of your head.  You can become educated in a more enlightened point of view, you can meet, befriend and work with lots of people you were educated as a child to despise for their ethnicity, and you can very successfully train yourself to hide all that crap deep inside where it will never show its ugly face again.

But, try as you might, it will not ever go away completely, and for the rest of your life, you will fight it, inside.  You will hear that quiet little ugly voice say horribly nasty things, and you will cringe and dismiss it back to the garbage it came from, but the echo will still resonate silently in your head.

And you will keep on struggling to keep your ears from still hearing it.  You will successfully turn the snide little ugly thing back into the muck and replace it with a proper and more realistic reality, and over the years, that will get easier. The more you practice, the better you'll get at it, and the fewer chances that you'll let the wrong thing outta your yap and embarrass yourself.

But you have to be careful, or you'll say stupid things like "us whiteys who aren't racist".

Fact is, every human being on the planet is to a degree, racist, of one manner or another.  It may take the form of tribalism, or clanishness, or nationalism, but we all are infected with one form of it or another.  It is, as they say, fed to us in our mothers' milk.  We grow up exposed to it in the society around us, and we absorb it as we do lessons about the difference between cousins and aunts vs. the milkman.

It's just something we don't notice, until one day, we get our noses rubbed in it.  One day, you open your eyes and see how the other guy feels.

Which, really, is the key.  It's why racist attitudes are so ingrained in the South.

The different races live in enclaves, which, for whites, are usually, bigger, nicer and protected from the incursions of the "others" unless they have sanctioned business there, as, perhaps, a house maid or a gardener.

Places where they are rarely exposed to the other side as anything but servants.  As not humans.  Not being exposed to blacks as humans allows the old stereotypes to be engrained and not exposed as the racist bullshit they are.  Old hatreds can be allowed to fester.

On both sides.

Don't get me wrong.  America has come a long way, even if it is largely a thin veneer of legally protected rights and public behavior.

But, underneath, yeah, the old racism is alive and well, and the only way we'll ever get rid of it is to actually live side by side.  To be exposed to each other as human beings, with loves, hates, preferences and cultural differences.  To be forced to make public concessions to public behavior which allows us to interact with dignity and grace, even if we all will have that internal demon to fight every step of the way.

Because the real proof of civility and adulthood is the ability to win that internal battle, EVERY DAY.  To see clearly that racism, tribalism and such artificial divisions are no longer needed in civilized society and are the wrong way to see other human beings.  To be able to move forward into adulthood with dignity and resolve in defeating the demons of our childhood.

As they say, the first step towards solving a problem is to realize that there is one.

After that, it takes resolve, courage, and stamina.  Only the weak fail, only the mentally lazy trapped in the mesh of childhood trauma or propaganda fail to see what everybody else takes for granted.

Don't be weak.  Don't be lazy.  Fight your own internal battle, and strive to win!  Know yourself, understand where the ugly impulses come from, and fight to put them back into the muck they slid so stealthily from.

But above all, be aware.  Understand yourself, and understand others.  It really isn't so hard to do. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Of shirts and comets.

It's been a week since the European Space Agency landed their probe on the surface of a comet for the first time ever in human history.  A proud day for the Agency, a proud day for Europe and a milestone for human space flight.

Which will forever be tainted by the image of a team member wearing a wildly inappropriate shirt emblazoned with images of scantily clad women while being interviewed by the international media.

Almost instantly, social media picked up that image and noted its inappropriate nature, criticizing the man for his insensitivity.  Within a day, the scientist, Dr. Matt Taylor, had apologized profusely, even breaking down in tears on camera.  For many people, that ended the incident.  

But not for the apologists.

Social media exploded with apologies for his behavior, some even going to far as to weigh in with their opinions as to how innocent that shirt was, because the depictions of women were cartoonish instead of photography.  They opined that feminists were overblowing the incident, eclipsing the accomplishments of Dr. Taylor and his team.

And so today, a week after he appeared on camera, the argument still rages on social media.

More and more, louder and louder, the argument rages.  But, wait!  That loud sound you hear?  That roar?  The one that sounds like a hundred airliners going over?

That's not a fleet of 747's.  That is the sound of the entire point missing your heads.

Yesterday, a comment was made on a post on Facebook I have been following.  Here's the important part of it:

The only thing that strikes me as sexist in this is the fact that men don't seem to be expected to consider the implications of what they wear to the office, while women have to take the rest of the office into consideration.  Take a look at your company policy on dress and lateness.

This.  This is the point.  Somehow, someway, Matt Taylor managed to appear in front of a major media outlet's camera wearing a shirt that should have been considered inappropriate in any professional setting.  And yet, EVERYBODY, from his fellow team members to his team leader, to the head of the ESA (and don't fool yourself, that control room was literally crawling with management before those cameras ever got in the room.) completely missed the fact that he was wearing it.

Even at the last minute, somebody could have tossed the guy a lab coat to cover up The Shirt.  It would have been that easy.

Instead, the ESA missed numerous opportunities to notice The Shirt.  His team leader.  His team leader's boss.  HIS boss.  The ESA Public Relations Office.  Upper management on that morning's walk through.

So, what does that say about the ESA and its policies towards professionalism, given that literally nobody even noticed?  Anybody want to bet how quickly a female team member would have been counseled on her dress if she'd tried to wear something even mildly provocative on camera?  At the very least, she'd have been forced to wear that lab coat.

But not DOCTOR Taylor.  No, apparently The Shirt is so much a part of the environment in that team's space that nobody thought it was important.  That millions of women around the world would be put off by it, and that it might send a message to girls everywhere considering a career in the European Space Agency that sexism is such a normal part of life that a team member can appear on camera, representing the ENTIRE Agency, wearing The Shirt and nobody cares enough to even make him wear a lab coat. 

This isn't just a problem with Dr. Matt Taylor.  It isn't just a problem with the ESA. It is a problem within the entire world of science, wherever this kind of thing can happen.  It is pervasive and part of the culture, so much so that an entire chain of management can miss something that simple.

This very public conversation we are having is important.  You apologists out there, pay attention.

We aren't blaming the good Doctor.  Not now, he apologized and is moving on.

It's the rest of us who need to understand that the issue isn't just an ugly shirt.  The issue is an environment where that ugly shirt is allowed on a guy, ON CAMERA, while women are still judged by the clothing they wear and not on their professional abilities.

That needs to change.  Not only do we need to be more aware of things like The Shirt, but we need to change the atmosphere where men aren't judged by their clothing but women are.  We need for people to see how corrosive sexism can be and just how invisibly invasive it can get.

How unnoticed.  So badly unnoticed that a man can get away with representing his team and his Agency on camera while wearing a wildly inappropriate shirt and it takes someone from outside to see it.

We've got a lot of work to do. This conversation is important, which is why we are having it a week later.

Got the message?

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Why Democrats might lose this election, and why they shouldn't.

If the Democrats lose this election, I'm going to be pissed.

Not at Republicans, they're doing what any stupid animal does - what comes naturally.

No, I'm going to be pissed at the Democratic Party, because this (and every election going forward from now) are theirs to lose.  The Republican Party is so reactionary, so blindly stupidly conservative, pushing so many of the fear buttons, you've got to be an idiot not to notice.  They've managed to piss off so many different voting blocks, it's a wonder even white males are willing to vote for them.

Unless you've been propagandized, like so many Americans have.  The Republicans may not be able to govern their way out of a wet paper bag, but they are masters at obfuscating the truth and making everybody think up is down and right is left.

Along those lines, there is one truth about the Republicans' long and well trod road over the last 40 years nobody can argue against - they've managed to make the word "liberal" into a cuss word.  They've made everybody think that government is incompetent and constantly conspiring against us, both at the same time, all the while convincing us that it should be small enough to drown in a bathtub, and that it SHOULD be drowned in a bathtub.

How they've managed to claim that government is incompetent by gaining power in government and PROVING it is without the entire population of this country noticing that it has been Republicans' incompetence and not that of Democrats, I'll never know.

Republicans have managed to make almost every liberal position seem like evil incarnate.  Socialism is now a dirty word even though most Americans wouldn't know a Socialist if one bit them on the ass, and have almost no clue what they stand for.

If we lose this election, it will be because The Democratic Party has given up.

They have not even tried to call Republicans out on their stupidity or their lies or even the obvious hypocrisy on display almost every time a Republican politician opens his/her mouth.

Most egregiously, they have failed utterly to defend liberal, progressive ideas and principles.  They have stood by silently while the Republican Party and conservative Democrats have dragged the political discourse in this country so far to the right that there isn't so much as a dogcatcher who can be elected on a true liberal ticket.

Every single time Obama has managed to get a law passed in his Administration, you'll notice that they all were originally proposed by conservative Think Tanks!  Even the ACA, Obama's signature accomplishment, is based on the Massachusetts law, which came straight out of the Heritage Foundation!

Ya wanna know why the Democrats are losing?

Because liberals are staying home.  In droves, because there isn't a single solitary politician who is representing the true liberal position and principles in this country.

Not one.  Even Independent Senator Barney Sanders of Vermont can't manage to defend liberalism, no matter how hard he tries.

It is time to stop letting the Republicans set the agenda.  To stop letting them define who liberals are and what liberalism is.  It is time to explain to the American public what liberals stand for and why.

It is time for LIBERALS to set the talking agenda.  It is time for Liberals to define Republicans so that America and the world can see what they truly are and what they truly stand for.

Politicians today are afraid to stand up and defend their principles.  Poor things, they might lose and have to sit out a few years away from Washington!

NO!

Stand up!  Defend yourself, defend your principles.  DEFINE yourself, DEFINE the principles you stand for, the values you love.  Do it passionately, do it with feeling.  Shake your fist, pound the table,  rouse the crowd with passionate, earth rattling rhetoric!

Emotions are the key, and Republicans know that.  They are masters of the fear signal.  They can push their constituents' fear buttons and get the reaction they want immediately.

But passion and excitement can overcome fear.  Talk about the future!  Extol our scientific advances! paint visions of the very real utopia we can advance towards, if only we can give up our addiction to war and violence.  Describe the world we can build together if only we can cooperate together, and bring every American up to a better standard of living.  How much growth we can bring to our country by educating ALL of our children, and making this country a leader in science and industry again.

There is a lot to defend, and a lot to look forward to, if only we will get together and COMMUNICATE these things to our fellow Americans, who are sick and tired of hearing the negative and the fearful.   People want to hear about the positive things, the good things we can do, so let's tap into that and help them see what a wonderful future we can bring to this country together!

The Party which can bring a positive vision of the future can and will win.  Let's stop enabling the Republicans in their sick, negative picture of America.  Let's show America and the world what LIBERALS can do to bring us a bright and shining future!

The first step is for every liberal and every independent who cares for this country to get out and vote.  VOTE BLUE!  VOTE DEMOCRAT!

I mean, hey, it's only the welfare of our kids and grandkids at stake.


Saturday, November 01, 2014

But which core values? Yours, or...yours?

Hermant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist, had a fascinating take on an incident that occurred a while back.  It seems that in a recent debate, a young man, Chad, challenged Mr. Marcellino (the Christian debater) about the fate of people who do not know Christ.

You know, the question of Hell, and god sending those unfortunates straight there for eternity.

First, though, Mr. Clifton had asserted earlier in the debate that he didn't think Hell was forever.

Then, later, he admitted, at Chad's questioning, that he is a believer that the bible is literally true.

Chad followed that up by questioning Marcellino’s claim from earlier in the debate that Hell wasn’t really forever — doesn’t the Bible say it is? 
Marcellino: … Forever doesn’t really mean forever.Chad: … you said it was all literally true.Marcellino: Well, yeah, it’s not literally English true. It’s Hebrew and Greek. So you have to get into the Hebrew and Greek.
Apparently, Chad has done this before, challenging Christian debaters and flummoxing them into stumbling and making idiots out of themselves.  The Friendly Atheist has covered these debates, so if you want to actually see the video, go to the link above and watch.  It's cool!

Go, Chad!

Great stuff!

But that's not exactly what this post is about, though it did spark the old noggin a bit.

I've seen a lot of debate lately about whether the Progressive agenda, including Atheism, is really progressing (pardon the pun), or whether the right wing backlash has got us on the run.  Certainly, the narrow polls in this election are cause for concern, as there is a very real possibility the Republicans could win the Senate.

Or so the pundits say.  I do remember that the last election surprised a lot of pundits and pollsters alike.  Anybody remember the epic meltdown of Carl Rove on Fox?  It was, truly, something to watch!

I am, quite naturally, an optimist, even though I do take the engineer's position about that proverbial glass of water - I still insist the damn thing is just not the right size... but I digress.

One needs to take the long view in these things.  Cultural changes do not take place overnight, even though we did manage to upend things in the 60's pretty quickly.  Today's backlash is a direct result of the 60's, and it is a doozy!  But, it isn't the end of the struggle.  Not by a long shot.

227 years ago, the United States Constitution was ratified.  That is, arguably, the greatest success for the men of the day in their struggle for the spread and the social acceptance of the principles of The Enlightenment.  But the road leading to that day was long and bloody.  Historically, the enlightenment began with the Crusades, believe it or not.

Before that time, Europeans were pretty much (except for merchants, mostly) confined to Europe, and didn't do much traveling.  Travel was hard, dirty, and dangerous, and getting anywhere really interesting took months, and often years.  The nobility of Europe were mostly interested in warfare, politics and religion, pretty much in that order.  Few of them were literate, as most of their time was spent in the practice of martial arts, if not actively engaged in real fighting.  The rest was often politics and such.  There was a day when learning to read was actually discouraged for the nobility, as it was considered beneath their position.  That's why they hired monks and learned priests to do their paperwork.

Much of that was the Church's fault, because really, they wanted the ability to read strictly in their purview, which allowed them to interpret Scripture.  If you couldn't read, you had to take the priest's word for what was even written there!  In fact, in the earlier centuries of what we call the Dark Ages, learning to read was actually forbidden by the church.

But when the nobles who answered the Pope's call for the Crusades got to the Holy Land, they didn't find barbarous savages as the Church taught, but very learned Muslim nobility, who had safeguarded many ancient writings over the centuries.  Documents in Greek and Latin, often predating the Church, many of which were long lost writings of Greek philosophers.  Histories, too, in both Greek and Latin;  a lot of these men learned those languages, and took some of these documents to Europe when they went home.

The principles they learned, the ideas the Greeks had struggled over and debated about changed European thought and culture forever.

Looking at European history since those times, one can clearly see the slow but long term steady change from a society dominated by the Church and theocratic rule to one ruled by secular authorities which eventually denied the Church any secular authority at all.

Today, Europe is even more secular than the US, with some countries boasting fewer than 20% of their populations claiming religious belief.

I am not going to dive into the whys and the wherefores of how this took place, I'm not an historian.  But it is sufficient to this discussion that it HAS taken place, and the progression of western culture from the conservative and the intolerant to a newer more liberal set of principles is easy to see.

It wasn't an easy road, and it wasn't a straight one.  There was much backsliding and a lot of blood was spilled along the way.

But as of today, the culture wars (as Ed Brayton puts it) are still slowly and jerkily moving us forward, even if it is like clawing your way up a steep hill in the mud, fighting gravity every inch of the way.

American culture has moved through the 18th and 19th centuries, forging a new set of unique values. Values built on the movement of millions of Americans across this continent which has cemented our belief in the worth of the individual.  Past migrations across places like Asia were based on mass population movement.  Entire cultures were displaced and forced to move into other parts of the world, but they moved as a people, in groups.

In the US, we did it often as individual families or small groups.  Sometimes one by one, these brave people made names for themselves and the stories of their travels are legend.  They depended, though, on each other.  On the frontier, the old traditions of breaking bread together around a fire were rediscovered, and the ideals of helping those in trouble were there to ensure that everybody had help when they needed it.

Individualism tempered by tolerance and charitable assistance where trouble struck has always been an American value.  We are, therefor, a proud people.  We pride ourselves on being independent.  On not being led around like sheep.  The watchword for early America was Caveat Emptor - let the buyer beware.

We have a sense of fairness, of balance.  American frontier justice was swift, but fair, mostly.  It had to be.  Early communities depended on that.  Religion was an individual thing.  Preachers were rare, priests even more so.  With so few to preach at them and so much to do simply to survive, religion just wasn't very important in large part, until civilization caught up.

But by then, the principles were set, spread by the media and popular books and newspapers, extolling the "Manifest Destiny" of this country to spread west.  The exploits of the pioneers were read voraciously throughout the US and even overseas.  The principles of individualism and their liberty from authoritarianism were well set by the middle of the 19th century.

So, you say, just what does all this have to do with a young man named Chad and an embarrassed Christian debater?

Plenty.

The modern American Evangelistic movement likes to pretend it is a monolithic movement, spreading like wildfire and taking souls from Satan daily.

But it isn't.  There are at least three types of evangelicals.

The Fundies - committed believers.  Literal bible believers, they are the soul, if you will, of that movement.  They set the tone.

The Moderates - they talk the talk, but rarely walk that walk.  They make all the right noises, but really?  All they do is check the right boxes on those national polls, so jesus will win.  But they either stay at home Sunday or just pretend.

Then you've got The Cognitively Screwed.  Guys like the debater, Mr. Marcellino.  He knows the Scriptures by heart, he is admired by his peers and his fellow congregants.  He talks with Jesus!

But, deep in his heart, he is still imbued with those core American values.  The sense of fairness, the core belief in an individual's rights to his own mind, without being forced into a mold.  He is, in short, uncomfortable with the idea that anybody should be tortured forever for a short term sin.   Particularly if they never knew what a sin was!

His values aren't biblical.  His values are informed by The Enlightenment, as formulated by the American Revolution and forged in the heat of the American Frontier.

But he can't admit it.  He is also an Evangelical.  He MUST believe in the infallibility of the Scripture.  It is pounded into his mind every Sunday, but his American values are in his mother's milk.  His culture insists that America is the greatest country in the world, with the greatest values.

But those American values conflict with his Evangelical values.

So, when he gets confronted by someone like Chad, his mind cannot deal with that conflict.

There are millions of people like Mr. Marcellino.  Hard core fundies, until their core values are conflicted with their religion.  Then, they are confounded as to where to turn, what to think.

To me, that is encouraging.  The more we see people who are supposed to be very religious being confronted and failing to even reconcile basic beliefs, the more we will see those reconciliations being resolved in a way we will think of as favorable.  Many people doubt their religion.

It is our job to confront them and help them resolve those conflicts reasonably.  That way, Progressivism WILL win.

Just don't expect it to be overnight.



Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Shattered feet of clay.

It is always unsettling - and a bit sad - to see an icon fall.  Our society so badly needs its heroes and icons, and when one's feet of clay are finally exposed, a lot of people are often terribly disappointed.

But some icons need to be exposed, because the things they represent are so sordid and harmful to society, yet have been touted as being good.

Mother Teresa is one such icon.

Her public figure has always been a saintly one, so loving, so giving, the head of an order (which she established) devoted to caring for the poverty stricken in need of medical attention, and possessing over 400 missions around the world. Such goodness, such devotion to poverty, she was depicted as living as poorly as her charges.

Christopher Hitchens exposed her for what she really was - a hollow figure, callously sequestering millions of donated dollars, refusing to provide the medication and care her charges so badly needed, she essentially forced them into the suffering she felt was so central to her public faith.   But when she needed care, she got it at an American hospital.  One of the best, at that!  Flew first class, was feted by the high and mighty.  Especially by dictators and warlords, who lavished her with donations, which she gladly took and often funneled directly to the Vatican.

And talking about her public faith; privately, she agonized over a disbelief she admitted in letters and private writings, one which could never be made public.  In reality, she admitted she never heard Jesus or God speak to her, and wondered if they even existed.

Now, in a peer reviewed study, two Canadian researchers have revealed new information, corroborating Hitchens completely, and totally exposing the raw truth of her perfidy at allowing a media campaign which twisted her into a public saint.

What is worse is that the Roman Catholic Church not only allowed that campaign, but probably orchestrated it in a callous and deliberate attempt to create another saint.  A figure meant to illustrate and illuminate the church's dogma of poverty and suffering, which it claims brings its adherents closer to God.

A dogma which, in actuality, simply controls its members by helping them to be happy in their poverty, fooling them into complacence and compliance.

When I write about harm from religion, this is what I am talking about.  Policies and actions which take a true shameful condition of millions of people around the world - one which could be alleviated - and turns it into a control measure to avoid those unhappy people from upsetting the current political order.

While the current Pope talks about how terrible secular capitalists are about hoarding money and perpetuating poverty by paying poverty level wages, the organization of which he is the absolute monarch is busy propagandizing those unhappy poverty stricken millions into believing that their plight is a blessed one to be embraced instead of improved upon.

In the meantime, the world marches on, pouring billions and billions of monetary units around the world into military capabilities with which to grind those unhappy millions into human paste.

Thank you, Mother Teresa.  On behalf of a frustrated world population which yearns for a world at peace, thank you for helping to perpetuate a world at war.  A world which encourages poverty and suffering.

Like you did.