Monday, March 31, 2014

Some page stats

This isn't the highest viewed page by a long shot.  Much of my traffic is fueled by Facebook, but it also comes in from other places too.  Some of it even comes from countries other than the United States!

Here's a graph of the traffic sources over the last week:

United States
Czech Republic
United Kingdom

Hello to my world-wide audience!

I hope you enjoy my posts, and I'd like to invite you to post your comments here on what you read.  Do you agree?  Disagree?  Do you have a different perspective based on the different culture you come from as opposed to the one I live in?

As I have a wife from Germany, I am aware of the different ways other cultures can look at the US.  I'd love to see your comments and views here!  The more the merrier!

And thanks for reading...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Violence Against Women and Girls.

No matter what you thought of President Jimmy Carter she he was in office, there is little doubt that he is one of the most active Presidents in recent history, having gotten involved in human rights, helping the homeless, various diplomatic ventures at the request of sitting Presidents, and so forth.

His latest venture, and one he recently called his greatest and most important venture in an interview on Public TV today, is all about the prevention of violence against and the advancement of the rights of women worldwide.

He cited some amazing statistics.

Worldwide, over 800,000 women and girls are traded as slaves internationally.
In the US, over 600,000 women and girls are traded as sex slaves.
in this generation, over 60 million female babies have been killed, other in abortions or as born babies, because their parents wanted a boy.  Most of those in either China or India.

There was more, but I got kind of overloaded at that point.

He is promoting a new book of his, just released, entitled, ""A Call To Action", which urges the end of discrimination and abuse against women, calling it the number one challenge in the world today. The book builds on the work of faith leaders and courageous human rights defenders who met last summer at The Carter Center to mobilize faith groups worldwide to commit to advancing women's rights. Religion, they said, should be a force for equality and human dignity not oppression.

Obviously, I disagree with them on that point - while it should, it rarely is, and I think the ones who are implicitly involved in oppressing women aren't likely to join any efforts in bringing their activities to a halt.

There is no doubt he is correct, and this country is one of the worse of the First World industrialized nations in the oppression business.  It is also getting worse, as the Republican Party does everything it can to make it worse.

Go visit the links.  One is to the website of The Carter Center, where the book and the subject it is written about are detailed, and the other is the amazon page where you can buy it, right now.

I fully support his efforts, as I am appalled every single time I read about this subject and remember how hard the Republicans in this country are working to set women's rights back as far as they can.

I will add my own point as well.  You know what is coming, don't you?

While I applaud his efforts to involve religious groups in this, and it is obviously the fastest way to get established groups actively involved, I am somewhat disappointed that he seems to have left out secular movements or simply groups which have no religious affiliations.

Obviously, I believe that religion is the prime mover in the oppression of women. As his page noted briefly, religions do employ specific texts in their holy books to justify such oppression, and the ones who do such are not likely to join his efforts, and will, in fact, do everything they can to resist.  It is valuable for him to try to enlist the more liberal religious groups in his efforts, as they can employ their own theological counterpoints in fighting this terrible scourge, but I see it as a temporary fix.  These efforts will not bear widely recognized fruit until religion worldwide begins to be pushed back and denied the political influence to continue this oppression.

Nevertheless, to have as public and as widely respected (worldwide!) figure as Jimmy Carter get behind this issue and begin to push for progress is impressive indeed, and very, very welcome!

As many people as possible need to get on board with this.  Women everywhere need to begin to push back.  Push against governments, push against churches, push against the politicians who back this backwards agenda of oppressive nonsense.

And don't let up.

I am human, hear me roar!

The photo you are about to see (or probably noticed already) was posted to Facebook this morning.  It sparked the desire in me to reply.

One of the mainstays of the Christian Proselytizer is to prey on the vulnerable.  The weak, the insecure, the ones who are hurting from some times years of failures or defeats in life.  Many times, those who have lost loved ones.

My answer to these apologist pleas:

Of course you stumble through life, you are human.  Life doesn't come with an owner's manual.  All of us are just doing the best we can.  If you look around and try a bit of self help reading, there are plenty of folks who can and do give out some very good advice about how to get ahead.  Go to your library, they're free.

The best advice you'll hear?  Get a plan.  Not someone else's plan, not a plan based on superstition, but one personalized to you and your circumstances.  Don't sit and whine about how you've been victimized, get out there and take action!  Prayer isn't action, it's a self-directed pity party.

Get off your ass and find help.

Professing weakness isn't a strength.  It's is an apologetic argument to pull you into surrendering your hard earned money and time to a community that needs the compiled time and money of others like you so it can keep on pulling in others..... Over and over and over again.

Professing failure is much the same.

Being weak and failing isn't something to be ashamed about, and it isn't a reason to seek imaginary help.  All human beings are, at one point or another, weak and fail.  We all have our strong points, too.  This apologetic argument plays to your weaknesses to pull you in.  What you need to do for yourself is to recognize your strong points and plan around them for a way forward in your life.

Misery loves company, don't fall for the oldest line in the book!

Oh, the sting of pain!  Look, all of us have at one point or another, lost a loved one, or a pet, or a job, or a best friend.  It's called living.  At some point, we'll all lose our parents.  Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to say its easy.  It isn't.  Living is hard.

There's an old joke, it says, you come into this life cold, naked and hungry, then it gets worse!

It isn't a joke, for millions of kids, it is a cold hard fact.  You think you've got it hard?

Millions of kids a year die of starvation, disease and neglect.  Many of them are already orphans when they die - they've already lost their parents to either violence or disease.  That is the reality for many third world countries.  Warfare, violence, starvation, disease, it is all in a day's living.

If you live in this country or another First World country, you've already got it good - automatically!  (With the exception of being one of millions of families living with incomes under the poverty line.  Even then, there are advantages of living here instead of someplace like, say, Somalia. Like a lack of civil war, for instance.)

But you know what?  It really isn't that bad.  There are billions of people on this planet, and the vast majority of them will live their lives in good health, find a mate, have kids and live what is to them a decent existence according to their culture's values of what a decent life should be.

The pessimism exhibited in the Christian Apologist's attempts to hook you and pull you in (fishers of men, right?) is misplaced.

Human beings are strong!  We live through and survive starvation, warfare, personal violence, the death of loved ones and often, institutionalized discrimination and oppression.  Humans get raped, beaten, stabbed, and attacked in an amazing variety of ways, yet still come out swinging.  We endure disease, injury, heartache, political oppression, personal insult and oppression, yet still, somehow, we  continue to live our lives and often prosper.

Every human has the ability to be strong.  We all are born with the strength to grow, learn, and be a positive influence in the society in which we live.  The trick is in how we respond to those indignities and travails that we are exposed to.

You can either allow yourself to be cowed and held down, or you can stand back up, look misfortune in the eye, and spit therein, with feeling!  You don't need outside help, you just need to look inside yourself - we are all born with that strength, we just have to find it.

Facebook is often rife with postings about sick kids, vets who have lost limbs, and others who have had misfortune visit them with disasterous results.  But they are still alive!  They persevere, struggle and push forwards.

How?  By dipping into that internal reservoir of strength all humans possess.  God doesn't grow limbs back.  Prayer doesn't work that way.  As a matter of fact, scientific studies have shown it has no affect at all on the recovery rates of people who are ill or injured.

What does?  Human interactions, human support.  If you've no family or friends, your doctor can help you find a support group.  Many hospitals have access to such groups, or you can google for groups in your area. 

The most important thing I can tell you is that in situations where one needs some support, the first action that has to happen is for YOU to reach out.  It takes YOU to make the first move, and to follow through.  Nobody is going to do it for you.

The most important person in your life is you.  Just you.  You have to get to know yourself, what you want, what your weaknesses are and what your strengths are.  What makes you happy?  What doesn't?  Find those things and make a plan.

Take that plan and DO IT!!  If things don't work out, find out what went wrong and make changes, then act on the changes.  Make friends, network yourself into groups that have interests similar to yours.

Most importantly, REACH OUT!  Nobody is going to knock on your door first, unless they want something from you!

This is the essence of humanism.  In order for the world to work, it takes people, networked into a tightly woven web of family, professional contacts, friends, neighbors, social contacts, and acquaintances.  All of us have to agree to do the best we can to foster those contacts in the best, friendliest and most productive ways possible, with the mutual value of working towards the greater good of society as a whole.

The first step is for the individual, you and I, individually and together, to make the first move and to do our best to make it work.

No gods needed.  Just people, working together for the common good, and helping each other in our own quest for the best each of us can be.  

We don't do that by encouraging each other to profess and exclaim our weaknesses.  That's apologetics, and it is an insidious part of an age old plan to draw in the weak and the insecure.

You're human, you don't need to be weak.  You are strong, let the universe hear you roar!

Friday, March 21, 2014

We are better than this.

Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps died the other day.

Since the word he was near death came out a few days before that, numerous posts on Facebook were published, some excoriating him, and others taking a more measured approach.  I saw one taking a very reasonable approach, refusing to say anything bad about him, and merely expressing sympathy for his family.

Needless to say, the comments were mixed, but largely tilted towards expressing a real hatred for the man.  Some bordered on the truly extreme end of the spectrum, even going so far as to use some very regrettable language.  There were a few echoing the more reasonable approach, though.

Come on, folks, aren't we better than that?  We are supposed to be skeptical, reasonable, and open to a better moral compass, informed by that which is better for the larger social group.  Hatred, people, is not better for the welfare of the larger social group.  It is corrosive and lowers the level of discourse, and truly puts us on the same level with the hatred the man founded and expressed publicly.

Is that how we wish to be seen?  Really?

Yes, eventually, his hatred came back and bit him on the ass, as he got tossed out by his own people, ironically, for trying to dial back the enthusiasm his own followers brought to his teachings!  There is, I think, a lesson there for anybody who tries to use hatred and the darker side of human emotions for building an empire.

But is that a reason for us to lower ourselves to his level?  I would argue not.  Our own problem in becoming more accepted by the general American population is to rebrand ourselves from the unfortunate nastiness formerly stuck to us by Christian churches in the past.

That will not be helped by images of atheists expressing hatred for people like him in the same terms (or worse) than Phelps himself used against his self-assigned enemies.  That, my friends, is counter-productive, as it perfectly illustrates us as exactly what theists have tried to paint us as in the past.

We really don't want to reinforce that image.

Much better is an expression of sympathy for his surviving family, no matter what they personally may think of him.  

Let history be the real judge.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

If Humans Aren't Unique.

There is a growing body of evidence to the affect that there are other species of mammal on this earth who may exhibit similar levels of intelligence to humans.  In fact, there are some biologists who investigate life which survives in extreme environments now advancing the thought that intelligence may not always exhibit the same characteristics as ours - that we may not recognize a similarly intelligent species when we see one simply because we won't be able to communicate with it.

Humans have this peculiar trait - we seem to only think someone is as smart as we are if we can talk to them.  Witness someone talking to a foreigner whose voice gets louder and louder as they try to make themselves understood - as if sheer volume helps.  And that's trying to talk to another human!

So, imagine how much harder it is for us to understand that another species is as smart as us if the methods of communication for us and the other species are not compatible - we use sound waves vs. another species using body movement or skin color.

They probably think we are as stupid as we think they are!

Fascinating subject - there is good evidence that dolphins, various species of hominids, elephants, some birds and even whales may also be as intelligent as humans.  We just all have quite different methods of communicating.

This, of course, blows the religious attitude that humans are special - that only humans have souls that are capable of surviving into an afterlife - right outta the water.  What is there to say, if those other species really are as smart as we are, that we are so special that only we can go to heaven?

That others are intelligent as well tells us that no, humans are not the top of the intelligence pyramid, no we are not special, and are, in fact, as the environmentalists have been telling us for decades, just a  small part of an ecology we are rapidly stripping of its ability to keep us alive.

To me, this is a double whammy perfectly illustrating the terrible harm that comes from vast numbers of people believing in superstition.

On one side, the religious belief that we are special and god made this world for us because we are made "in his image" harms us because people will do anything to go to this special place we call heaven.  They see the world through god-colored glasses to justify hurting others to prevent those others from jeopardizing their own chances of going to heaven.

The other side of that whammy is that they see the world as being ours to rape and pillage of everything of value, because not only did god give us "dominion" over the world, but that one day, he'll just come back and fix whatever we screwed up.

Both are short-sighted, both are harmful in numerous ways, and both are blown completely away by the knowledge that we are not the only intelligent species on this planet.

Because, if we are not so special, and there are others as smart as we are, that means that our traditional place at the top is wrong, unethical, and morally bankrupt.  It means that we must, at the very least, take the welfare of all those other intelligent species into account as we use the resources this planet gives us.

At most, it means that we must take the welfare of ALL life on this planet into account.

Which means that we are in for a major re-assessment of how we must live as a species, on this planet and among our fellow travelers on this beautiful blue-green ball we call home.  I've never thought of myself as an environmentalist.  But, I AM a rationalist, and one of my prime directives is that my world-view must change as new information comes to light.

Maybe being an environmentalist isn't such a bad thing to be after all.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Old Testament Insanity

One of the main reasons a lot of Atheists eventually see Christianity as an untenable belief is that there are so many ways to interpret Scripture; eventually, you have to realize that a sane, loving god would really and truly want to spare his children the obvious insanity of interfaith warfare over those details he has failed to sufficiently make clear.

But, really, with over 30,000 different denominations claiming to know what god intended us to read out of that literary mess, the one thing truly missing is clarity.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of religious folks ready, willing, and able to tell the rest of us they DO know the truth, and are also willing to tell us that not only are WE going to hell but in accordance with Old Testament strictures covering the Hebrews' covenant with god, we're going to drag the rest of the country down with us!

Of course, I fail to see how a covenant somebody ELSE made could possibly condemn a country not even imagined by the writers of that covenant, but then, who am I?  Not a theologian, that's for sure!

But I guess that Susanne Atanus, of Niles, Ill., thinks that she is.

Her opinion is that God dictates weather patterns and that tornadoes, autism and dementia are God's punishments for marriage equality and abortion access.  Given the facts that tornadoes are seen all over the world, that both autism and dementia both have been around for quite a long time, and that all three also predate Roe vs. Wade don't seem to faze her computations of divine retribution at all.

But she's not alone, there are plenty of both Republican politicians and Evangelical church leaders who are more than happy to inform the rest of us that if we continue to reject god, he is going to reject this country.

As I noted, above, this is very similar to Old Testament stories about god visiting his wrath on Hebrews who rejected him in spite of his covenant with the Hebrew people, and how the rejection of him by only a few Hebrews was enough for him to punish the entire Hebrew nation.  I know, I know, they'll tell you how god destroyed entire gentile nations for rejecting him, but that's kind of different.

There is a difference between god destroying a foreign, gentile nation that both rejected him and threatened the Hebrews and his punishing the Hebrews for only a fraction of that nation going rogue. One is not punishment, but essentially doing in the Hebrews' enemies.  The other is punishment for breaking what was essentially a contract.

These religious nut bags would have you believe that this country used to be a christian one, and somehow, that constitutes some kind of a covenant with god like the Hebrews had.  Come on, I'm certainly not a theologian, but even I know that's bullshit.  Even if we concede for the sake of argument their claim of a christian founding for the US, that does not constitute a covenant with god. The Hebrews had that because they were his chosen people;  Christians certainly were not god's chosen people, and Jesus never mentioned a covenant.

So, why do these nutbags make such ridiculous claims?

Because their position is the Dominionist position.  That god gave them orders to take Dominion over mankind and that provides the the excuse for them to enforce god's law in doing so.

Somehow, they fail to explain how both they AND the Muslims could possibly have the same marching orders... someone has gotten things mixed up, obviously.

More proof that Dominionists are simply fascists wrapped in the American flag and carrying a christian cross.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Be careful what you ask for.

I posted a quote I got from an email discussion in another venue this evening on Facebook, but I eventually couldn't let it go - I've got to talk about it here and expand it a bit.
"If we give the government the ability to tell us we can't have abortions, we are also giving them the power to tell us when we will have abortions and that opens up more doors that I care to open."
I know that Republicans have, in these last couple of years, lost their ability to discern such simple things as irony or hypocrisy, but for a political party whose defining principle has been a distrust of big government and a desire to see as little interference in private lives as possible, this obsession with abortion over the last several decades has been painful to watch.  It indicates that they almost never have been able to see those faults.

The standard counter that the pro choice crowd uses is that anti-abortion laws violate the integrity of a woman's right to decide the fate of her own body and how she will obtain the health care she decides she needs according to her doctor's advice.  How she will determine the course of her life, without being trapped by the desires and beliefs of others.

I fully endorse that argument.

But it ignores something Republicans themselves have ignored for over forty years.  A subject that otherwise is near and dear to the heart of every Republican - the subject of governmental power and its ability to overpower the rights of the citizens of this country.  Republicans have always felt the need to restrain that power - to keep the government out of our lives and to prevent it from interfering with our personal decisions.

Unless, of course, it is intended to control something else that Republicans feel the need to restrain.

Women.  Women and their unfettered power over themselves, which threatens the traditional power structures of Conservative principles.

Ok, so let's do a short thought experiment.  Suppose for a moment that Republicans win.  (Shudder)  They outlaw abortion in all 50 States and US territories.

Hooray for the Party!  (Hoots and whistles, guns going off into the air, etc.)

Now, let's look carefully at this for a minute.  What have they done?  Yeah, yeah, violated the rights of every woman in America, I know, but what else?  What power have they given the government?  When you restrain the rights of citizens, you allow the government more power.

The argument against abortion hinges on the supposed rights of the fetus to live - that it is human and has a right to life, hence the self-imposed name of the anti-abortion movement.  That principle raises the rights of the fetus to be superior to that of the mother who sustains its life.  She becomes, in the words of the pro-choice movement, a human incubator.

In this case, you give the government the power to place the life of that fetus above that of the mother.  You give the government the power to weigh those two lives and to make a decision on which is more important.

For now, the folks who are against abortion would be happy.  They control the conversation for now, and feel that abortion will be a thing of the past.  The women who may die as a result aren't important, they are just women.


Let's take a trip through time.  It's twenty years down the road.  Republicans have managed to contain abortion completely.  There hasn't been a legal one in decades.  But another worry has increasingly gotten their attention.

In spite of their efforts to restrain the voting rights of minorities, to cut back on programs that "encourage" the dependance of the poor on the government, they have refused to acknowledge that their outlawing of contraceptives has resulted in a massive increase in the numbers of poor minorities.

Things are getting out of hand.

As a last ditch effort to restrain that growth, Congress outlaws minorities from having more than one child and mandates an enforced abortion policy for all minority women who have already borne a single child.

Or, they enforce a one-child policy on people who make less than $100,000 per year.

Or on all Catholics.

Or on all non-evangelical Christians and non-Christians.

Or perhaps just on Hispanics.  Or just blacks.

You get the point.   Once that can of worms has been opened, and the government has that power, HOW they exercise it becomes a measure of what the power elite determine is in THEIR best interests.

Not yours.

Do you get it now?  In Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court ruled that women have the right to abortion.  That the government cannot make the decision for them as to which life - theirs or the fetus' - is more important.  SCOTUS said that the decision belongs to the individual woman.

Not the government.  That is a restraint on governmental power.  That decision protects us all from allowing the government from making the decision as to who may have an abortion or who may not - or who MUST.

Or who is exempt.

How much do you want to bet on who gets the exemptions and who doesn't?

Heads the rich win, tales the rest of us lose.

It's Photo Phriday!

Ok, just for grins, here are some of the many photos I've taken over the years... I thought that as close to spring as it is, most of you are probably as tired of Winter as I am!  (Unless you are south of the equator, of course!)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Once is an accident, twice could be coincidence, three times is probably deliberate...

In the last five years since President Obama was inaugurated, Republicans have been wrong on every single issue they have addressed in both the public eye and in Congress.  They met the day he came into office and agreed to work to make him both a one term President (which failed, miserably) and an unsuccessful one.  (Also a miserable failure.)

In short, and in practice, that means if President Obama is against it, they are for it, and if he is for it, they are against it.  Birthing (pun intended) the joke that all he has to do to rid himself of them is to come out in favor of breathing...

But, as one who has watched this sad soap opera fairly closely, this isn't the first time I've seen and noted that this is such an egregious indication of racial bigotry, it is surprising more people haven't noticed until now.

But I do think some folks may be getting the message.  The President's ratings are going up, ObamaCare is growing in popularity, and more and more folks are noticing that a lot of red States are not playing fair with health care by refusing to extend Medicare, resulting in massive numbers of people lacking insurance in those States.

Healthcare may be the Republican party's undoing.

Just the other day, the Republican dominated House voted for the 50th time to repeal ObamaCare, aka., the ACA.  A bill which will, for the 50th time, die in the Senate.  I hope the Senate has a nice cozy recycling bin for all that wasted paper...

Americans LIKE the ACA.  Millions of people now have affordable insurance for the first time.  Note that term, "affordable".  Not only is it affordable, but the policies have to meet a minimum standard of provided healthcare.

Don't forget the provisions of the ACA requiring the provision of contraceptives, which 98% of American women have used at one time in their lives.  And which Conservatives are madly contesting at every possible turn, filing suit in more than one State trying to overturn on religious grounds.

Win or lose, those lawsuits WILL cause a lot of American women to see the Republicans in a different light.  A much worse light.

Like jobs, healthcare is a subject that hits every American in the paycheck.  There snit a human alive who doesn't, at one point or another, need the attention of a doctor, or at the very least, need the financial assurance that accidental injury will be covered in case of accident.   Even if you are disgustingly healthy and never get sick for a day, you are still subject to the whims of fate and Murphy's Law - accidents do happen.

More and more people are beginning to see the inhumanity of not providing people with affordable health care, especially preventive care.  As Republicans continue to fight the ACA, more people see their efforts as willfully contrary to the welfare of the American people they have sworn (as officeholders) to uphold and protect.  Willfully mean, nasty and just plain ugly.

November can't come soon enough for me, let's get together and throw the bastards out.

Friday, March 07, 2014

It's all about me.

It occurs to me that much of religion is all about me.  No, not me, the Cybernetic Atheist, but the individual 'me' that each of us is primarily concerned with.  

Sure, the Ten Comandments does say to honor your parents, but that's more a control issue than a family thing.  In the Bronze Age Mediterranian, the clan was the important thing.  Not the immediate family, as we know it today.  The clan was headed by a patriarchal figure, always an older male.  Not all of the clan members were necessarily immediate family, many were loosely related, though with some by marriage.

Family was about ownership, not blood.  The male owned his wife and his children, and expected to benefit from the marriages his children produced.

Christianity, like all of the other Mystery religions preceding it, is focused on the fate of the individual, while the Roman and Greek religions were focused on keeping the gods happy and looking anywhere but you and your clan.  There was no code of conduct, the goal was to propitiate the gods.

But Christianity was different.  It focuses on the person, the individual.  The entire purpose of Christ's sacrifice was to take on the sins of each person in the world.  The fate of clans and families wasn't an issue.

It removes our concerns from the national or the community.  It tells us to surrender ourselves and let God take over.  It reassures us that He will provide and protect, and the promise of a return (which, by the way, was supposed to happen during that first generation of Christians, but never did) ensures that one doesn't have to worry about the future.

Thereby removing our concerns from such unimportant issues like pollution, global warming or the alarming rate of animal extinctions.

Somehow, this is supposed to reassure us, as we breathe, eat, and drink polluted air, food, and water chock full of carcinogens and chemicals.

I don't buy it.  Humans evolved to care about the tribe, the community.  We are supposed to gather into family units which work together, live together and provide mutual support, caring and defense.  But our religion teaches us to focus on the next life - for our own selfish benefit.

I know, a lot of Americans cleave to family and clan anyway, as a social culture inherited from the lands our ancestors immigrated from.  But that doesn't stop us from being influenced by that selfishness anyway.

Look at the modern Republican Party.  The newest and loudest ideals it teaches are exactly as selfish as one could wish, teaching that the poor, the downtrodden and the unfortunate are simply parasites to be discarded and scorned.  It takes the selfish themes of religion and magnifies them into a lewd caricature of the actual teachings themselves, twisting and moulding them into something barely recognizable - if not outright contrary to the original.

More proof that evil people will twist anything they can to benefit themselves.  Something religions everywhere are uniquely subject to.

More on that idea later.

Let's look at it another way.

If you haven't read my last post, go back and read it now.   This post is related, so I want it fresh in your mind as you read this.

Got it?  Good, let's get started.

This morning, I read a post over on FreeThought Blogs by Dana Hunter about why she wants to dump Religion.

Good read, huh?

I heartily agree.  My favorite line is where she says, "But without religion, we wouldn’t make our worst ideas, impulses, and mistakes sacred."

I think that is the money quote, right there.

Religion gives us the excuse for being bad while pretending (often even to ourselves) to be good.  That is compounded when we fail to call out those who are doing that when we recognize it.  Remember how I said that if you fail to speak up when you see oppression that you are complicit in the oppression - that you are therefor on the side of the oppressor?  

Yeah, that.

Even the worst of the extremists have to be sensitive to public and peer pressure when their fellow Christians, especially the mainstream religions, stand up and proclaim them to be wrong and acting contrary to God's word.  They might argue theologically, but when the demographics are demonstrated to be going against them - illustrated by a drop in support by those giving money - they will eventually have to back off and take stock of themselves.  Or at least shut up and stop looking like fools.

There are so many problems our society needs to be addressing now that allowing those extremists to distract us by pushing their own agenda is harmful to the country by allowing those unaddressed issues to fester and get worse.  The jobless rate won't fall by itself.  Corporations that see themselves to be above the law won't get reined in and forced to be better citizens without explicit and forceful government action.

And as long as we have religious extremists obstructing every move the government tries to make to address these issues, they get worse, and the extremists get bolder.  They do, after all, claim to have God on their side, right?  See what I mean about religion being harmful?  How we can take the worst possible behavior and make it sacred?  Untouchable?  Something that can't be compromised over?

This is a perfect illustration of my point.

So, what's the solution?  For normal people to get involved.  Stop allowing the extremists to use the name of your religion to push fascist policies that do nothing to solve current economic, financial, and foreign policy problems unrelated to those policies.  Do that by getting involved in politics on the local level and throw out the extremists.

VOTE!!!  Get your family and friends to vote, talk to them, help them to see how damaging the extremists are while they preach fascist political values as if it were real Christian theology.

While they do that, they not only harm the country, but they are giving your religion a bad name and forcing many of your Christian neighbors to want to leave the church because of values they cannot tolerate.  They are contributing to the death of religion in this country.

You may think that it is a bit strange for me to advocate for and predict the eventual end of organized religion while I encourage members of that religion to fight those who are advancing the end of it.  Even as I push for and favor that end myself.

But I do love this country, and I see those extremists as damaging to the very fabric of our society.  I do know that the collapse of organized religion will (and is) causing social unrest and confusion.  In times of rapid social change, that is inevitable, however.  I know that.

But we don't have to allow people to make it worse by obstruction and deliberate sabotage, and I would rather see that collapse be easier and take longer by encouraging people to fight those extremists.  Even if their participation is not helpful to my own agenda.

I like to think that my agenda includes making this country a better place, and if that means religion has to stick around longer because we defeat the extremists, then I can live with that.

In the end, what matters is making this world a better place to be, live in and raise our kids in.

That makes the fight worth it.  Will you help?

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

God is love, right? So, what harm does it do to follow him?

I'm going to deal with a subject tonight that might disturb a few folks.  If it does, I apologize ahead of time.

But I think that my reasoning on this subject needs airing.  I've written tons about the harm that comes from religion.  Much of that is regarding the obvious - pedophiles, sexual predators, extremists pushing intolerance and hatred, bronze age punishments for trivial offenses (or none at all), misogyny, patriarchy, and a dozen other things that most reasonable people can understand why I would label them "harmful".

But my overall position is and has always been that ALL religion is harmful, and a lot of folks find it hard to understand why the more genteel and liberal sects would be similarly labeled.

Allow me to try to explain.

Much of liberal Christianity takes the New Testament (and lots of them use only the New Testament) and tosses out the nasty stuff in the old.  Their bible classes only reflect the verses that talk about how Jesus brought love and caring to the world and emphasize the sacrifice of Jesus, without seeming to demand any sacrifice of his followers.  All of them believe Jesus is the son of God and that he resides beside his Father in heaven, and will return someday to bring that love back to us and banish all evil.

Nicely, of course, with little actual bloodshed.

Their belief in the Crucifixion and Resurrection is not all the same, either - some are pretty ok with the story and others kind of skirt around the actual bloody stuff and get right to the Ascension into heaven.  Believe it or not, a significant but small percentage of Christians do not actually believe in the Resurrection!  I'd bet those are most probably in this group.

I tread carefully here.  I do not want to denigrate the beliefs of those who are often allies in the fight for women's rights, gay rights or the Separation of Church and State in such a way as to burn any bridges.

But I want to explain why I think that even the most benign religious beliefs can be harmful.

Again, a disclaimer - I do not believe that the harm that is caused by this end of the Christian spectrum is intentional.  In fact, most of the harm caused by religion isn't intentional at all for most people.  It is difficult to see the forest when your view is blocked by all the pretty trees!

But there IS harm.  For instance, take one example.  Right now, in this country, there is a huge "culture war" going on, between the more extreme elements of Christianity and more liberal elements of the American population.  Every day, the social media explodes with the news of another extremist Republican/Tea Party politician making another profoundly stupid/ignorant/clueless statement.

I hear tons of my liberal friends, many of them Christian, howling in either laughter or derision over these statements.  Good for them!

But rarely do I see a story in the media about a liberal Christian leader standing up and denouncing these people.  I do not see angry Christians lining up in the streets outside of the churches or offices of these ignorant people demanding retractions.

To repeat a photo meme from Facebook, if you do not denounce and oppose oppression when you see it, you are taking the side of the oppressor.  Or, paraphrasing, if you do not denounce the ignorant, intolerant and hateful speech of the extremists, you are silently taking their side!  Even if your sect's teachings directly contravene the statements you hear, if you do not take action against them, your silence is consent and/or agreement, or will be taken as such.

By not fighting against these extremists, you allow them to count you, as a Christian, as a supporter!

That's one.

Looking at the subject as an atheist, I see even liberal Christians as believing in and worshipping in, an imaginary deity.  I know that's hard for Christians to wrap their minds around, but that's how I see it.  I see the Christian god as being as imaginary as say, Thor, or Athena, or any of eight thousand other gods mankind has ever worshipped since history has been getting written down.

That's a lot of gods to not believe in.

But your religion teaches that your god holds you in the palm of his hand, loves you, protects you, guides you, and is an all around great guy.

So you live in a world where you believe that is true.  To me, you wear rose tinted glasses, and you look at things that way.  You live, to me, dangerously.  You live as if this god is going to protect you against all things, especially things you can't see.

But in the real world, or at least the one I live in, there is no protector.  Your life is in YOUR hands, and it is guided only by what you do.  Unless you can attract the protection of a powerful human patron, you are at the mercy of chance and all of the other social and financial forces the rest of us are subject to.

Yes, you may be a miracle baby - the survivor of a plane crash.  But then how many others died that He didn't protect?

You may have survived an automobile crash - but how many Americans died in auto crashes that day who were not saved?  Statistics tell us that a majority of those in those other crashes must have been Christians too.  Why weren't they saved?

I could go on with other examples, but you get my drift.  Sheer chance saves a lot of people, and humans have a great propensity for seeing patterns that aren't there, such as the saving hand of a miracle when sheer chance is all that happened.  We all do it, and we have sayings that tell us we do - "Man, that was lucky!" or "It must have been the hand of fate!"

When things go wrong, we don't blame God, we blame fate - or maybe Murphy... it is called selective bias.  You see what you want to see.  Because you expect God to be watching, he gets the credit for the successes - yet oddly, nobody ever blames him for the failures...

But when you are convinced that your deity is going to watch out for you, you are less wary, less observant.

If you ever watch the Ed Show, or Rachael Maddow, you are familiar with their examples of how the rich have multiplied their income over the last 40 years, mostly at the expanse of the middle or working classes.  I'd bet that if this country wasn't so convinced, on an individual level, that God was watching out for us, more of us might have noticed!  But, God wouldn't let that happen, would he?

We also tend to put our clergy on a pedestal.  We expect great things of them.  We expect a high standard of behavior.  We also tend to ignore behavior that seems to violate those standards, for some reason, and some clergy takes advantage of that.

Most don't, but those high standards don't always treat the clergy kindly, either.  Many of them have issues with either failing to meet those standards, or even thinking they won't.  Many clergy leave the ministry due to these imagined failures, some after long careers and some after short ones.

Many people use the clergy as counsellors.  Most clergy are not trained as such, and often substitute religious stories or anecdotes in lieu of actual therapy.  A lot of people are often harmed by this failure.  Again, probably not intended, but the hurt is real.

I know a lot of this seems kind of picky, I know.  But again, look at this from my standpoint - if someone told you that Thor was watching out for him wouldn't you take the same position?  Shake you head?  Try to get him to see his error?

I am an atheist, yes.  That means that I believe that I am responsible for my own life - for the failures, the successes, for setting my own goals and for doing what it takes to meet those goals.  Because my experience tells me that the better I treat others, the better they will treat me, and if I am honest and act with good will, I will be protected against petty injury, I know that by conducting my life honorably and with integrity, I will have a better chance of success, because others will know that and  tend to be more honorable with me.

These things increase my chances of success.  These things are more likely to assist me in success than if I depend on someone else, whether that someone else is a deity or a mortal.

To me, self reliance is the best standard.  To allow your life to be taken over by another, even just in your mind, is to stop being yourself.  It is to betray all that you CAN be, because you can just let go.

Don't let go, stand on your own two feet.

Be human!

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Ukraine - worth fighting for?

Well, the world is again holding its breath over another stand-off between the US and Russia.  NOT the USSR, but the Russian Federation.  It seems that the invasion Putin has been panting for (ever since Palin "predicted" it five years ago) is on the near horizon.

Don't get me wrong.  This is another of those very complicated situations that gets simplified down to black-and-white by the nationalists on both sides and inevitably ends up with everybody concerned getting shafted.

In this case, the US is getting drawn into this by a complex mix of interests including the European Union, the Ukrainian government (the new one NOT aligned with Russia and Putin) and, of course, the old stand-by in the US, the Republican War Mongers Goading Obama.

In one sense, I get it.  A lot of ethnicities who are not Russian are threatened by an invasion intended to split Ukraine in two parts.  Inevitably, the line between Russians and non-Russians and where they live in that benighted country is not a clear one - there are large numbers of both in areas that are likely to be isolated from the side they'd rather be on once a line gets drawn, and the affects of being on the wrong side of that line are likely to be severe, no matter what your ethnicity.

So, yeah, this threatens to be a humanitarian disaster.

But then, isn't ANY situation involving troops and rattled sabers and slavering nationalists likely to end up as a humanitarian disaster?

In short, that is what makes me sigh, rub my face with both hands, look heavenward in a vain appeal to the Universe that, for once, can there really be a deity up there that gives a shit, and upon realizing that, no, there won't be this time either, drop my hands to my lap while I sit back and contemplate the multiple reasons why I hate nationalism.

No, I don't hate America.  I have lived here most of my life (less four years in Germany while in the US Army), and served this government for over forty years in both the military and civilian roles I have held.  I have driven across it either partially or all the way several times, and find the people to be in large part a wonderful group to be associated with.

Ok, I admit that there are some groups within this country I am NOT happy to be associated with, and I have distanced myself from them at every opportunity.  Republicans, Christians, Evangelicals, Right Wing theists and ::drumroll please:: Nationalists.

I use that last term loosely.  Mostly I use it to define folks who identify as rabid patriots to whom anything or anyone who doesn't identify as a white, Anglo-Saxon (kinda), Right Wing War Mongering Lover-of-All-Things-American is someone who must be either expelled as persona non grata or just shot out of hand.

Those kind of folks are Nationalists.  In other countries, that white Anglo-Saxon thing might be a bit different, depending on what ethnicity is the majority, but you get the picture - the rest of it fits just about any nationality - just change the country name.  And, make no bones about it, but the ethnicity makes a HUGE difference to Nationalists.

Don't forget - the idea of nation-states began as an extension of ethnicity where one had to hold on to territory that was the best for your culture's ability to use the resources available and make a good life.  It didn't matter that it might be a rock strewn, sandy dry piece of hell itself, if it fit your people's lifestyle, and if your people had been there since anybody could remember, it was YOURS, and you'd defend it to the death.

Never mind that you may have displaced someone else in your efforts to run from someone who'd run YOU out of an even older homeland - no, what mattered was what your generation could remember and where you were born.  You are there now, and by damn, you'll keep it.

Anybody who didn't look like you got run out or killed.

The problem is that during those hundred thousand years or so, none of the various ethnic groups of humans have managed to stay together.  Inevitably, when the group decides to move on, there's always some grumpy stay-at-homes who just don't have itchy enough feet, so they stay.  Or there are the women who've been raped by one side or another who bore children of mixed ethnicity, both in the group that's invading and in the group getting forced out.

Then some trouble maker in Mesopotamia about 5000 years or so ago got the bright idea of building a city.  For some reason, that started a whole new level of problems, because for some strange reason, when people build buildings, plan roadways, pave roads and build palaces, they get this feeling of "ownership".  "This is MINE, you can't take it!"  Whereupon, some testosterone laden fool with a sword takes the bet and the fight is on.

Well, thanks to a hundred thousand years of migration, exploration, sea faring, city building, and out and out invasion of just about every square piece of rock or soil on this wonderful green globe of ours, we've got almost all of it staked out and claimed except for Antarctica, which is just too damn cold.  Thanks in large part to our tendency to interbreed with anybody else in possession of two arms and two legs, regardless of the color of their skin or their hair or whatever (and sometimes because of it!) there just isn't a country in the world with a heterogeneous ethnic population.

So, when some rabid nationalist (see above definition for the reason I use the word "rabid") gets the idea that there's a piece of real estate he wants to call his own, there's going to be somebody that isn't going to fit his narrow vision of who should stay and who should leave.

All thoughts of past migrations, population movements, invasions, or peaceful vigorous lovemaking get tossed gleefully aside in the zeal to stake your claim to someone else's territory.

Hence the result of a humanitarian disaster.  In any past venture of this kind, NOBODY ended up happy.  Not a single soul.

Remember Bosnia?  Croatia?  The Balkins were exactly this sort of disaster.  Yes, we got involved, and in the end, nobody was happy.  Just like I expect it to be in Ukraine.

Damn it, humanity just doesn't learn.  Neither does the Republican party.

Other than as part of the major industrialized nations or the UN, this country must NOT get militarily involved.  Let's not let the War Mongers make more money off of another unfortunate third world country.

It just encourages the Nationalists for the next go-round in which nobody will be satisfied, but thousands will die.