Monday, April 30, 2012

Ok, call me a conspiracy nut, go ahead.

You know, I followed the JFK assassination closely, in spite of being just ten years old.  I remember that more clearly than I remember my Dad in that same period.  Strange, how some things stick with you and others slip away.

When RFK was killed, some six years later, I was involved in high school at Allen Military Academy, and TV wasn't really available to us there.  So, I saw little of it and never really let it bother me too much.

But I always wondered if the two were, somehow, linked.  The idea that two brothers, one a President and one his Attorney general, were to end up assassinated, each by a lone, crazy gunman, just seemed a bit too much of a stretch.  I'd always doubted the Warren Commission findings.  Too many witness accounts of shadowy figures, shots from the grassy knoll, law enforcement figures at that location much quicker than one would imagine, acting oddly.  The Oswald assassination closely following the initial crime, so obviously intended to shut the man up, and the fact that his killer was so closely linked to the Mob, all just seemed a bit too obvious to me, a ten year old kid, for law enforcement to have ignored!

And now, a long quiet witness to the RFK crime has spoken up, alleging that the FBI altered her statement, that the number of shots fired were at least twelve to fourteen, instead of the eight that the authorities claimed Sirhan Sirhan fired.  She also notes that there were numerous other changes, including the directions of the shots, directly opposite of where the lone convicted gunman was supposed to have fired.

Once again, CNN has the story.

Her account is clear, and she claims to remember it as if it were yesterday.  Further, an acoustics expert says the lone recording shows, with modern computer analysis, as many as thirteen shots, many coming too close together to be able to have been fired from the 22 revolver introduced into evidence, which, in any case, only held eight rounds.

Yes, it is odd that the law enforcement authorities investigated these two cases, six years apart, determined that two lone gunmen each killed their targets independently of one another, and never even tried to investigate the possibility that the two may have been linked.

But both cases involve shadowy figures linked to the mob, and both RFK and JFK campaigned relentlessly against the mob, and eventually the FBI broke it, at least in New York.  Yet, strangely, nobody seems to have thought that the killings may have been payback.  I wonder why not, when the mob is the one organization in this country at the time which almost always answered such threats with violence, often against law enforcement officers, judges and prosecutors!

As Lewis Carroll would say, curiouser and curiouser.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Christian Atrocities vs. Secular Atrocities.

The three secular regimes of the twentieth century most often compared to the Roman Catholic Church and its reign of terror over the Western World are, in descending order, Hitler's Third Reich, Stalin's Soviet Union and Pol Pot's Cambodia.

I'll take these in order.

First, the most completely debunked is Hitler's Third Reich.  It was not a secular regime, even though legally, it was not "controlled" by a church.  Hitler was Catholic.  He was photographed at Mass, the major figures in the Nazi Party in his regime were mostly photographed at Mass, Catholic priests, bishops and Cardinals were photographed at Nazi Party rallies giving the Nazi salute to Hitler, and the Hitler regime signed a Concordat with the RCC, allowing such perks as priests being exempt from the military draft and service and the RCC being allowed to keep church schools in operation during the war - all in exchange for the RCC's support of Hitler, including the major Catholic political party in Germany providing the vote to give Hitler dictatorial powers.  Hitler wrote in his book, Mein Kampf (My Struggle) that his opinions about Jews was largely informed and inflamed by Martin Luthor's writings, which, in turn, were informed by centuries of Catholic invective towards Jews.

In short, Hitler's 6 million dead in the Holocaust belong in the Religious column.

Actually, to show that secular regimes have committed worse atrocities than religious ones, one would need to show that the purpose of the regime (and thus the atrocity) was secular in purpose. Given that both Pol Pot (in Cambodia) and Stalin (in the USSR) both espoused Communism, which was a cult of personality virtually wherever it was practiced, and which absolutely forbade the existence of any groups which might challenge the supremacy of the Communist Party, the “secular” purpose of those two regimes wasn’t, strictly speaking, about secularism, but about Communism, and aiding in its continued existence.
One can argue (and I will) as to which is worse – a greater number of deaths in a short period, or the complete subjugation of the entire Western World for almost two thousand years, with all the misery, death and deliberately inflicted suffering extending over the population thereof for that entire time, but the fact is, the occurrence of one does not excuse the occurrence of the other!  One cannot excuse one's actions because someone else committed the same crime.  A crime is still a crime.
The two regimes, Pol Pot's Cambodia and Stalin's USSR, which inflicted such widespread death in the twentieth century were opposed and destroyed by forces both internal and external, and neither lasted for a historically significant period – less than a hundred years for the longer, less than a half dozen for the other – and yet, the “regime” apologists seek to excuse lasted for at least 1600 years, kept itself in power through force, intimidation, murder, genocide, child indoctrination, torture, summary executions and who knows what all else, and the result of its power was the destruction of the highest form of human technology and application of science the world had yet seen, with the forced subjugation of the entire population of a significant portion of the world’s surface for that entire period. The suffering that resulted from the destruction of human knowledge in the realm of health care alone is unmatched by anything the twentieth century could boast in the category of human cruelty to itself. To add in the loss of the rest of scientific knowledge the Romans had learned and used is to compound that suffering to an astonishing degree.
By contrast, the USSR lasted for a mere 80 or so years, and while its early years were marked by the horrors of Stalin's years (and its twenty million dead), at least Stalin didn't deny science.  He may have limited the scope of the application of science and health care to an elite of the Communist Party, but health care wasn't limited to medieval levels, and the population of the USSR largely had such basics as electricity and some mechanical labor savers.  Primitive by Western Standards, they weren't living in the 12th century.   Once Stalin was killed, while the secret police never went away, the Communists in Russia never resorted to mass murder again.
Pol Pot's Cambodia was truly a horror.  It did deny science, it killed anyone suspected of being an intellectual, a teacher, a scientist or any of a dozen other professions deemed "anti-revolutionary".  It killed two million Cambodians, and at times in the most thuggish way possible.  Suffering was simply widespread and universal.  But it lasted only four years, an historically insignificant period.
I will not make lightly of the suffering of the Soviet people and the Cambodians during the periods of those regimes.  It was as bad as any suffering experienced by any humans at any time.   Do not misunderstand me here.
But, the Roman Catholic Church controlled the Western World from about 400 CE through roughly the 18th century, if one defines "control" as having the power to manipulate major power governments, bring overwhelming political power to bear on multiple countries and possessing the power to condemn citizens of those powers to death on its own authority and to force officials of those countries to carry out those death sentences.
That's fourteen hundred years!  One thousand, four hundred, give or take.  From the end of the first century in which it gained State Religion status in the Roman Empire until its power waned as secular power displaced it in the Enlightenment, which culminated in the birth of this country.  As to the last witches prosecuted in Europe, Wikipedia says this:
The last execution of a witch in the Dutch Republic was probably in 1613.[32] In Denmark this took place in 1693 with the execution of Anna Palles.[33] In other parts of Europe, the practice died down later. In France the last person to be executed for witch craft was Louis Debaraz in 1745.[34] In Germany the last death sentence was that of Anna Schwegelin in Kempten in 1775 (although not carried out).[35] The last known official witch-trial was the Doruchów witch trial in Poland in 1783. Two unnamed women were executed in Posnan, Poland, in 1793, in proceedings of dubious legitimacy.[36]Anna Göldi was executed in Glarus, Switzerland, in 1782,[37] and Barbara Zdunk in Prussia in 1811. Both women have been identified as the last person executed for witchcraft in Europe, but in both cases, the official verdict did not mention witchcraft, as this had ceased to be recognized as a criminal offense.

 It took a while for such superstition to die out to the point where supernatural powers weren't automatically assumed.

And yet, the witch trials still continue, in places like Sub-Saharan Africa, India, Papua New Guinea, and Saudi Arabia!

My youngest grand-daughter was baptized in the RCC, recently.  The Catholic Church where that took place is a fundamentalist one, and the priest said three exorcisms prior to the rite of baptism.  It was passed off as a ritual of little meaning, but he noted that its purpose is to divest the un-baptised infant of any demonic influence she may have been exposed to since birth.

Yeah, demonic influence.  In the 21st century.  In the United States of America, there are people who seriously teach their children that there are demons, and they can make you do stuff!

Is there any real doubt that religion is not only the main reason people do such insane things, but that it is still a terrible influence on human affairs that still kills people?

Sure, they only burn witches one at a time, while Stalin starved 20 million to death in a few weeks.  But stretch that one-at-a-time out by a couple of thousand years, and they add up.  Not to mention the terror people are subjected to who may be susceptible to such accusations.

Accusations of crimes which are completely imaginary.

At least Stalin and Pol Pot are dead.  Their numbers won't get any bigger.

The RCC is still here, still teaching imaginary crap about an imaginary universal hierarchy full of imaginary creatures.

Imagine that.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Secret Service Issues Enhanced Guidelines

Slow spin the wheels of bureaucracy, but, inevitably, they do spin.  It seems the Secret Service has issued new “enhanced standards of conduct” to regulate the behavior of its agents on protective details overseas for US officials.
“Called Enhanced Standards of Conduct, the new guidelines given to all Secret Service personnel make clear that standards of behavior required in the United States apply on missions abroad, the sources said.
Effective immediately, the new standards require detailed briefings before each trip that will include safety precautions and any necessary designations of establishments and areas that are "off limits" for Secret Service personnel, the sources said.
Also in the new standards, foreigners are banned from Secret Service hotel rooms at all times, except for hotel staff and host nation law enforcement and government officials on official business, according to the officials, and all Secret Service personnel are prohibited from going to a "non-reputable establishment."
The new standards specify that U.S. laws apply to Secret Service personnel when traveling, rendering invalid the excuse that specific activity is legal in the foreign country, the officials said.
In addition, the new guidelines allow moderate alcohol consumption when off duty, but prohibit alcohol consumption within 10 hours of reporting for duty or at any time when at the hotel where the protected official is staying, the officials explained.
An additional supervisor from the Office of Professional Responsibility will now accompany the "jump teams" that bring vehicles for motorcades and other transportation, the officials said. Agents involved in the Colombia incident were part of such a jump team.”
Not bad.  It only took them a couple of weeks to come up with the obvious, although I see a possible problem.
If something is illegal in another country and legal in the US, does this mean US law supersedes local law?  I know, I know, local officials don’t give flying fart about US law, and if a Secret Service officer violates one of their laws, they’ll arrest him/her anyway.  But could that give an agent leverage on US officials to try to get that agent transferred to US custody and then transported to the US and released without charge?  I would be wary of the diplomatic consequences of such a case.  We’ve ticked enough foreign countries off with such arrogance in the past, I’d hope that the new “enhanced guidelines” make clear that such conflicts won’t occur.
Anyway, good to see that officials have responded with some good sense.

Friday, April 27, 2012

I did it!

The count was two to one - or, if you count my vote - three to one.  The Cybernetic Atheist wins!

Thanks to all who voted!

Divide and Conquer

Ok, here’s one more item on the list of actions by the Republicans in their War on Women.

Yes, they passed the bill extending the low student loan interest rate, but decided to take the money from a health care fund that benefits women and children.
How many times must I type these words:  “Are these people crazy?”  Yeah, yeah, I know.  They are, but it’s really a rhetorical question anyway.
The real reason I write about this is something else.  It’s a pattern My Better Half noticed when this story broke.  In deciding to take the money from one disadvantaged group to give it to another, the Republicans are, once again, pitting one portion of the 99% against another.
This is a typical tactic they’ve used again and again, over the last few decades.   It is disgusting, reprehensible, dishonest, and just plain mean.  But it works.  Time and time again, they’ve managed to distract us with this loathsome scheme, and it’s about time we caught on and did something to call them out on it.
The first thing one can do in a situation like this is simply to recognize what’s happening and spread the word.  So, do it.  Link to the CNN article, post it on Facebook (which I’ll do too), email it to family and friends, tweet it if you can, until it goes viral.  We have the power to stop this, but only if enough people online move to make it known and make their displeasure known as well.
Let’s not let them get away with this one!

I'm in Trouble!

Well, not serious trouble, but doggone it, as soon as I change the name of my blog, post a few new posts and publicize it, I think of another name I like better!


Ok, I feel a little better now.

So, here's what I'm going to do.  It's up to you folks, cause you are the ones more likely to have bookmarked the old/new name/url, so you are the ones who will have to rebook mark the new/new one.

So here's the idea:

The Cybernetic Atheist

Whaddaya think?  Vote in the comments - keep the old/new name, The Atheistic Cyborg, or go with the new/new name, The Cybernetic Atheist.


A New Magazine Hits the Shelves!

I saw a post on Free Thought Blogs yesterday, where American Atheists, Inc. have started a quarterly magazine, and have begun sales of the first edition at Barnes & Noble!

Unfortunately, the blog accused the Faithful of hiding them behind other magazines, which I thought was a bit over the top, given the often poorly arranged condition of most magazine sales shelves in the first place, how customers come in, pick up mags and haphazardly put them back on the nearest shelf with little regard for where they picked them up.  So, I really don't think that accusation is particularly accurate until we see more evidence of any nefarious activities on the part of the Faithful.

But, the good news is, as you can see from the picture I took, at the Rockville, MD store I frequent (when I'm not buying books online that is), that the two copies I found were not "hidden", but fairly easy to find.  So I grabbed a copy and paid the $4.72 (including tax) they charged me as a member.  Not a bad price.

So, what was the lead story?  The War on Christmas, of course!  The fake one, which is the only one I know about.  As the author noted, nobody sent out a memo, so if there IS one, few of us atheists got the message.

The story is about the struggle at the Loudon County Courthouse over the Christmas displays, and the mostly poor reactions of the local christian groups, and the battle the local atheist groups have had in dealing with that bad behavior.  A good story, not too slanted towards the atheist side, telling the story in a fairly factual manner.  Nice to NOT see the usual christian reporter's snarky attitude and snide comments.

It kind of makes you realize just how slanted the mainstream media can be...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I Told You So!

Yep, I did.  I've been saying this for some time now.  It's on - one third of Americans aren't religious.  ...and these are the ones that will admit to Gallup that religion isn't important in their lives.  How many more feel that way, but just won't admit it to a pollster?

A few years ago, I first wrote an essay about the changing morality of the US, and it touched on the declining membership of churches, too, so I'm going to post it again:

An Essay on Changing Morality
First, let's look at a little history.

When most people talk of the Christian Church, they assume that its influence on the Western world has been firmly established for two thousand, one hundred years.

In fact, that influence has only been firm for perhaps seven hundred of those years.

No matter which history you accept - official church history or that of current critical biblical scholars - the church didn't cement its control over Western Europe until the 7th century.  Its first four centuries were spent in defining itself and just maintaining its existence until Constantine made it the official religion of the Empire in 324 CE.  It took another three centuries, at least, until one could really say that it had established firm moral and political control over the population of Europe.  In fact, there were still outposts of old way religions as recent as the 16th century in the British Isles.  But the majority of Europe was subdued by the 12th century, once Russia was converted.

That control lasted, in various states of firmness, until the onset of the Renaissance in the 14th century.

With the Renaissance, there began a resurgence of interest in classical thought and philosophy, fueled by classical documents newly found and translated through Arabic sources where they had been protected from church repressive pogroms against pagan religious and philosophical culture prior to the eighth century.

Also, in the centuries since the 7th, the nobility in Europe had begun a process of retrenchment from its early thuggish beginnings, slowly increasing its education levels in response to the increasingly complex demands in administering the more complex cultures of the Middle Ages.  Along with that increase in sophistication came a lessening of control from Rome.  While Papal politics remained a force for another three or four centuries beyond the twelfth century, Vatican control over the major fiefdoms of Europe had begun to wane.

It is a process that is still going on today.

It is said that the fall of the Roman Empire wasn't an event, but a process.  It took, scholars now feel, over three hundred years before the social fabric that had once been firmly Roman became, slowly, something different.  That something was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church;  in fact, it was the Church that was largely responsible for that change.

Beginning with the conversion of Constantine in 312 CE, the RCC became the official church of the Empire, both East and West after Constantine consolidated his control.  The conversion, however, wasn't instantaneous, as most people today assume.  It took until the 7th century for that process to be complete, and it was only that fast because the church used the power of the Empire to forcibly destroy the culture of the old Greek and Roman religions.  Temples were burned, priests were killed.  The church 'borrowed' old way holidays and substituted their own rites of celebration in their places.  Anything in writing that extolled the old ways were burned, engravings were broken to pieces and sacred places razed to the ground, and Christian Churches built over top of them.

And in spite of that power and brutality, it still took over three hundred years for the full moral conversion of the people of Europe to Christianity to be complete.  Records exist detailing the ordered burnings of temples and executions of priests as late as the eighth and ninth centuries, so the old ways took a long time to die.

So what does that have to do with morality and the social struggles in the US today?


One hears a lot of complaints about the moral degeneration of the US in the last hundred years from Christian groups.  The subject of sex is usually a major point of contention, so let's focus in on that.

How did the RCC view the old Roman and Greek moral characters?  What were the differences?

The Roman and Greek classical religions (not the mysteries, they were different) were not particularly religions of moral theology.  Their gods were very human in character, vain, selfish, mercurial and prone to jealousy.  The religious authorities were, in the main charged with obtaining the favor of the gods through worship and sacrifice.  One could be singled out by the gods through simple bad luck, so sacrifice and worship to head off such was the reason one paid attention to these rituals.  One could obtain good luck by paying close attention to a particular god for a specific purpose, but, in the main, one simply tried to appease the gods to get through life without too much bad luck.

There wasn't a clear, revealed moral code to live by that resulted in a happy afterlife.  Everybody ended up in the same place, so morality was something that the ancients found through philosophy, not religion.

Old way religions, including the classics, regarded sex as something that was glorified as befitted something that propagated the human race.  It was recognized by the ancients as important to the society, because from sex came the next generation.  Every ancient religion had its female and male aspects and their gods reflected that duality.

But another aspect of sex was that many religions regarded human sexuality as representing another kind of fertility - that of the earth from which their food came.   Some ancient rites included sexual intercourse as a symbolic ritual to invoke or transfer that fertility to the earth for the purpose of having a plentiful harvest, upon which the group's future survival depended.

The doctrines of Christianity, however, see sex differently.  It is looked at as sinful outside of the procreative process.  (I know that isn't necessarily true in some Protestant denominations, but we're talking centuries 1-4 here.) There is no symbolic fertility rite. 

So as the RCC gained power and influence, it demonized sex outside of that process, and made it sinful.

Sound familiar?  It should be, it is the same thing we hear from Christian churches now.  Sex outside of procreation, much less marriage, is sinful.  True, some moderate denominations don't carry it that far, but still look at sex with a jaundiced eye, even sometimes in marriage.  Somehow, sex has become evil.

But in the 20th century, things have changed.  With the increased education levels and sophistication of the general population has come a loosening of those values.   The divorce rate has climbed to over 50%, rates of cohabitation have skyrocketed - even some retired couples cohabit today - for tax purposes!  The number of single parents, never married, is higher than ever before.

Twelve Surprising Fact About the American Church

  1. The percentage of people that attend a Christian church each weekend is far below what pollsters report.
  2. The percentage of people attending a Christian church each weekend decreased significantly from 1990-2000. 
  3. Christian church attendance is between 1 ½ and 2 times higher in the South and the Midwest than it is in the West and the Northeast. 
  4. Only one state [Hawaii] saw an increase in the percentage attending church from 1990-2000. [California, Connecticut, Georgia, and Washington were close to keeping up with population growth.] 
  5. The percentage that attends church on any given weekend is declining in over two thirds of the counties in the United States. [Among the states with the highest percentages of declining counties were Minnesota, Wisconsin, and South Carolina.] 
  6. Evangelicals, mainliners, and Catholics are strongest in very different regions of the country. 
  7. Churches with 50–299 people in attendance are shrinking, while the smallest churches and larger churches are growing. 
  8. Established churches, from 40–180 years old, on average decline in attendance. 
  9. The increase in the number of churches is about one eighth of what is needed to keep up with population growth. 
  10. The church-planting rate has been declining throughout the history of our country. 
  11. Existing churches are plateauing and new church growth provides less than half of the growth necessary to keep up with population growth. 
  12. If the present trends continue, the percentage of the population that attends church in 2050 will be almost half of what it is today. 

So what does this trend mean?   To be sure, these facts, while probably accurate within the limits of the surveys used, do not cover enough time to delineate whether a long term trend is occurring.  Certainly not one sure to take over a hundred years to work itself out.  But look at the point that is noted at the end.  It does cover a projection of up to fifty years, and that trend fits the general direction of the decline of church influence since the 14th century.

Sources of morality

According to Christian teachings, God is the source of human morals.  The Ten Commandments are most often cited as the source of Christian morality.  For the period from roughly 800 CE through the 14th century, at least in the Western world, Christian values governed the social fabric.  Strict control of secular nobility through church decrees and threats of excommunication enforced Vatican rule.  In many countries, the secular head of state also claimed the role of church protector.  Church authorities such as bishops and cardinals wielded considerable secular influence, and continued to have authority to condemn to death as recently as the seventeenth century in some countries.

However, beginning in the 12th century, with the discovery and translation of an increasing number of ancient scrolls brought a broad awakening of interest in classical subjects, among them philosophy and study of the natural world.  Philosophical treatises on morality and the nature of man  were found and translated, resulting in a greater grounding of the nobility in ancient ideas, and loosening the bonds of religious control.

Further development during the Age of Reason, culminating in the founding of the United States on secular documents based upon Enlightenment principles has brought the influence of the church to new lows of public influence.  A balance to that has been the relative flourishing of religious organizations in the US due to the First Amendment.  While this seems to be a contradiction, the moderation of religious belief into less fundamental forms has actually decreased the dependence of modern churches in America upon Biblical morality by taking basic moral values straight out of Enlightenment principles, as most Americans have right up to the current period.

I would argue that the current apparent influence of the evangelical movement on American politics is the result of a backlash of concern on the part of evangelical leadership about the statistics mentioned in the above list of twelve surprising facts.  It is an attempt to stretch out their period of influence as much as possible, and the attack on US education by Creationists is part of a strategy to keep education levels low and Christian oriented to slow the adoption of scientific education that threatens to steal the very future of the Christian community - their children!

However, the backlash from the last eight years of the Bush Presidency on the part of a large number of Americans, both on the political left and the center as well, has a chance of curbing that influence, even given the current crazy religiosity of the Republican Primary.  In spite of the tendency of all of the Presidential hopefuls to pander to the religious right, if one reads a wide enough selection of media, there is an increasing concern about religious influence in politics being expressed in even national publications.  

In the end, it is the long term trend that matters, and it is clear that the influence of the Christian religion on Western society has been on the wane for a very long time.  It may be a slow erosion, but if current trends continue, left to themselves, people will continue to desert Christianity in a steady stream, and by the middle of this century, religious influence in this country should approach European levels of today.


I am not an historian, and do not attempt to claim any special knowledge here.  My statements are meant to illustrate general trends, and therefore, dates and such may be off by a bit.  This essay is meant to show a general historic trend, and is of course, my own opinion, based upon my own knowledge of history and current affairs.

A New Name, A New Identity!


I am the KING of procrastinators!  Over five years since the last post!

So, I changed the name from My Wonderful Life to The Atheistic Cyborg.  I'll probably forget the cyborg part regularly, since I'm getting old, but what the heck, you only live once.

Welcome to any new readers, and we'll see if any of the old ones figure out I'm back.

I've also posted a bit at the Washington Area Secular Humanists web site, called Secular Perspectives, so I may cross post between these two sites occasionally.

Great site, multiple posters at the same place.  WASH is a Secular Humanist community organization with an atheistic bent.  They meet once a month, and sometimes take a break in the summer, due to a lot of folks being out of town - hey, it's Washington in summer, what can I say?

Additionally, I host an atheist oriented discussion group on the third Friday of each month, and have for over three years.  We get a great crowd, which is enhanced through being advertised on  Anywhere from 8 - 23 folks, depending.  Starts at eight pm, ends somewhere between 10:30 to midnight. Quite a lively crowd, including my dog, Orion.

I often frequent a Facebook Secret Group, called Thinkers with No Malice.  Sorry, it's not an open group, but it IS a pretty cool group of folks.  Kinda liberal, but I like 'em.

This blog is going to bounce around between serious stuff, posts about Orion, or cooking, or news stories that catch my eye, or just random thoughts.  Since I'm an amateur photographer, I'l probably post pictures, too.  Maybe new stuff, maybe some of my older favorites.

So, enjoy, and if you like what you see, pass the link along.