Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell is dead.

Fuck you, Falwell! Over the next couple of days, folks with be eulogizing this racist, sexist, classist evil fuckwit sonofabitch, but you're not gonna get that here. He's dead. Good! The earth is better off without him.

This rat bastard said that "pagans", abortionists, atheists, gays, feminists and "secularist" were the reason why 911 happened. He supported apartheid. He attacked Martin Luther King, Jr., and the concept of civil rights and to his dying breath supported segregation. There was never a war he disliked, nor a person of color he did like, he worked tirelessly to attack the rights of the poor and minorities. He scammed people who were poor and desperate for millions to spread hatred. His fat hands are red with innocent blood. He was a promoter of madness and hatred, and because of the material support he provided for warmongers and murderers, and to make no mention of his ideological support for even greater injustices and villainies, people have died.

So, fuck you, Falwell. Your death makes me wish there was the very Hell you believed in.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Rational Response Squad vs. Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron

I'll do my bit to spread around Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron's embarrassment. Here is the "debate" between the Rational Response Squad and Comfort/Cameron. It is occasionally painful to watch, hehe. Were I given to feeling bad for idiots who intentionally put themselves in harm's way, I'd feel sorry for them. But I don't. So, here's the video, at any rate:

And because, y'know, if you don't know who Ray Comfort is, you can look here - because we all know a banana is an atheist's worst nightmare!

Funny stuff! This guy, this Ray Comfort guy, with failed child actor Kirk Cameron, decided to offer to "prove" without reference to the Bible the scientific reality of god! Like I said, it was almost painful to watch, but was funny, instead.

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Religion! Consciously Pointless?

On his last day in Brazil, the Pope said that the Catholic Church would attract new members (a pipe dream, right there, buddy boy) because Catholicism is "[N]ot a political ideology, not a social movement, not an economic system."

On one hand, and some Christian types have said this before, why on earth would I complain that Catholicism is getting out of politics and economics? Well, it's true that I don't! I mean, not that I believe it that Catholicism isn't a political ideology -- they're excommunicating legislators that voted to make abortions legal in Mexico, for crying out loud! So, it's a lie. But more than just a lie, it seems to me that the idea that Catholicism isn't politics, or a social movement, or economics begs the question, then, "What good is it?"

One of the reasons I'm not religious is that it doesn't do anything useful. Nothing comes of religion, nothing in the here and now, that couldn't be done as well without religion.

It seems to me that the Pope is admitting this. He's saying that you can't judge Catholicism on the same grounds that we judge politics, social reform and economics -- on it's results. He seems, to my way of thinking, be saying that you can't judge Catholicism on the grounds that it does something better than another system.

The vexing part of this is the obviousness of the lie, too. It isn't that Catholicism doesn't engage in politics, economics or social movements -- it does so quite often. All the time you'll have the Pope giving a pronouncement about some political issue or the other, weighing in on war, or abortion, or what corporations should or should not do. And in Mexico, the Catholic Church is excommunicating politicians that aren't voting their way . . . and the Pope thinks that is all right. So, the Pope is lying.

Which makes a certain sort of sense. The Catholic Church wants to continue to interfere with politics and society, but it doesn't want to be judged for doing so. They don't want people to apply the same reasoning they apply to politics, economics and society to the Catholic Church -- to go up to it and say, "Hey, these things you are doing, can they be done better another way? That doesn't include a religious monarchy" - MONARCH!! - "that tries to terrify people into doing things through threats of excommunication from a non-existent god." They don't want that sort of reasoning applied to them.

But, to me, the most interesting part is the nigh public admission by the Pope that religion doesn't actually do any good. That it is not a political, social or economic system.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Nietzsche and Slave Morality, Ressentiment and Christianity

I'm writing this in response to this post about morality. Nietzsche's name was mentioned thusly:

Nietzsche attacked the universal principles of Judeo-Christian morality. He said it could not not take into consideration the vast differences of individuality, & although it claims to encompass everyone, it is to the advantage of some & the disadvantage of others. I think some negative parts of Christian history illustrate this.

Nietzsche also suggests Christian morality is a "slave" morality, "vengeful, bitter & filled with self loathing."

That in it's self is a whole nother post because the idea is fascinating. But, here's a link on Ressentiment to get an idea.

I opined that Nietzsche was factually wrong and thus his premises untrue, and L>T disagreed. You can see it on the comments, if you care to look. I said that I could critique Nietzsche at great length and would if the world was given. It was given. So I opine. ;)

For what it is worth, for many years I considered Nietzsche to be my favorite philosopher and writer. I've read everything he's written, most things several times over, and a fair bit of scholarly critiques of his work. About a year ago, Nietzsche fell out of my favor while I reading Lyotard's The Post-Modern Condition. Some of the stuff that Nietzsche said is very interesting, and I consider him the father of deconstruction. He is certainly an absolutely brilliant writer. But he's also a racist, sexist and classist pig, whose work (I feel) supports a totally archaic and backwards ethic that praises brutal force and stupidity. While Nietzsche does not ignore the crimes of the aristocratic class, he does ignore the virtues of the lower class and invents calumnies to support the idea that the lower classes are vicious, cruel and filled with hatred. To the extent the argument works, it does so based on Nietzsche's tremendous wit - he is undoubtedly one of the finest writers in any language and in any period. Still, despite it all, he fell pretty hard from my graces.

In specific, one of the things he says about Christianity is that it is a Jewish religion, and Jews are a slave people, and their priestly society was poisonous to aristocracy, and thus to nobility, truth and beauty. This contains two statements that are ahistorical. The first is that the Jews were a "slave people" and the second is that priestly cultures are somehow uniquely Jewish.

OK, the slave people argument. The calumny that Jews were inherently a slave people is a medieval European invention - during which period the Jews were a fragmented people surrounded by enemies without a homeland. This was not the case during the development of Christianity. Indeed, before 135 CE, the Jews were fairly obviously quite a combative people - and even afterwards, really.

Jehovah, the Lord of Hosts, is a primitive Semitic war god, probably of Canaanite origin. This is plausibly supported by the Old Testament. No, excuse me, it is elaborately supported by the Old Testament.

First, because it needs to be dealt with, is the origin of the lie that the Jews were a "slave people" has a tiny bit of support in the OT. Specifically, the time they were in Egypt. They were slaves there. But, y'know, that's just a few brief chapters in Exodus. Once you're out of Exodus you're into the area of PURE JEWISH BLOODSHED.

Seriously, from Leviticus onwards, the Old Testament is filled with one of the most lurid records of absolute brutality ever written. Hardly a page goes by without the Jews fighting some horrible war, slaughtering some people or the other, or being slaughtered after a terrible battle.

The Hebrew Judges were chosen not for their wisdom, but their ability to kick ass. Some very shocking episodes of violence - heads getting nailed to the ground, for instance - can be found, here. And after the kingship is established, it's no better, a relentless record of civil and foreign wars and slaughters.

Even when the Hebrews were conquered by the Babylonians, it was only after an extremely brutal war. And during the Captivity, the Jews were not enslaved. At least some of them served in extremely high positions in the Babylonian court.

The Old Testament rounds itself out with the Maccabees overthrowing the Seleucid Persians and establishing an independent monarchy. That monarchy would, itself, be destroyed by the Roman Empire, at which point we're into history.

Even as members of the Roman Empire the Jews were extremely difficult to control. The history of the area is of a number of petty rebellions to Roman power and two major ones. The first, the Great Revolt, between 66 and 70 CE, took four years to bring to an end, and would have been even more bloody if not for the faction struggles inside of Jerusalem. The second, the Bar Kochba Revolt, from 132 to 135 CE, was worse because the Jews were much better organized. They managed to establish an independent kingdom for a couple of years, and resisted Roman arms so fiercely that the Romans had to engaged in a scorched earth policy to defeat them. Dio Cassius said that, ahem, 580,000 Jews were killed, 50 fortified towns were destroyed and 985 villages were burned to the ground. The Emperor Hadrian attempted to destroy Judaism entirely because of the frequency with which the Jews rebelled! The Temple was destroyed and replaced with a pagan temple, the walls of Jerusalem were torn down and Jews were forbidden from entering Jerusalem.

By 135 CE, Christianity was already distinct from Judaism. None of the persecutions of the Jews after the Bar Kochba Revolt was applied to Christianity. So, given that Christianity was already split off from Judaism by that time, where are these non-martial slave Jews? The Judaism of Jesus' day and the 1st century church was extremely violent, and they considered themselves a warrior people. The history of the Jews before 135 CE is one of almost constant warfare.

The idea that the Jews were not, themselves, a warrior people - with a strong reputation, really, for fighting - simply cannot be supported by history. Since it is not the case that Christianity learned slave habits from the Jews, a person has to question if they existed at all. Which will take me to my second point.

When a society does have a priestly class, it's almost always part of the upper class. Interestingly enough, the best example of this are the Aryans -- the very Aryans that Nietzsche calls the master race, yeah, those Aryans.

Most Aryan tribes were caste based and the priestly caste was not only high class, it was the highest caste. Examples of this are the Hindu brahmin class and the Median and Persian magi castes. The habit of putting priests in charge of society was, quite possibly, an Aryan development and the Jews learned it from the Aryans! When Cyrus the Great conquered the Babylonians and freed the Jews, they mimicked the Persians in many ways - including solidifying their hentotheism into monotheism following the model of Persian Zoroastrianism but also in the sense of elevating the priest to the highest of classes.

Nietzsche must have known the power of the priest caste in Aryan history - but he doesn't mention it in his own books, which is an extremely curious lacuna, shall we say. This is even true when he calls Zarathustra - another name for Zoroaster - the wisest of men. Zoroaster was a member of the priest caste and the inventor of monotheism! This also escapes mention in any of Nietzsche's writings.

Also, some of the earliest converts to Christianity were Germanic tribes. In 310 CE or so, Ulfilas was converted to Arian Christianity and he converted the Ostrogoths and Visigoths. Three years later, Constantine would issue the Edict of Milan.

Christianity would not stop the Romans and Germans from tearing themselves apart for the next couple of hundred years. When the Christian barbarians destroyed the Western Roman Empire, the scale of their slaughter was greater than anything they'd ever done as pagans. Then Europe settled into the Middle Ages, which was a thousand years of constant warfare - warfare so complete and total that the development of higher culture was stalled for literally centuries and many technologies were lost to Western Europe. This frenzied orgy of hyperviolence had two nightmarish climaxes. The first were the murderous rampages of the Crusades and the second was the nightmare of the Hundred Years' War.

Nietzsche says that the violence of the Christian aristocracy was a holdover from Hellenic martial virtues. But, like I've already said, the Jews were every bit as much a warrior people as can be imagined, with an elaborate history of intense violence. Who did those medieval knights engaged in their various orgies of slaughter really emulate? Greco-Roman virtues, pre-Revolt Jewish virtues, or barbaric German virtues? As far as I can tell, they were all the same.

Well, Nietzsche might have said, the ideology of Christianity was intrinsically pacifist and weak. L>T said that this was particular to Christianity. Well, that's not true. The idea that the ultimate ruling force of the universe is benevolent is common to most people, not just the Christians. There is nothing, after all, particularly original about any of the ideas inside of Christianity. It was common Greek belief that "God" was a completely benevolent being, as were the gods, and wickedness was a result of human moral degradation. This belief - Epicureans held it - was common in the Roman Empire as well. The promotion of humility as a virtue? All over the ancient world. The Stoics, also popular in the Roman Empire, taught it, for instance, and they weren't the only ones. Everything that Nietzsche and his followers suggest are unique to Judaism and Christianity are also present in Roman philosophy and religion!

Nietzsche might retort that it was the exclusivity of Christianity that enforced "slave virtues". Greeks and Romans might as easily, say, follow the example of Sparta rather than Dionysus. But the same was true of Christianity. Warrior saints and Jesus reified as the "Lion of Judah" appeared almost immediately in Christianity. St. George, for instance, was a soldier who endured torments that made Jesus' look pretty milquetoast in comparison. By the Middle Ages, St. George became a mythic dragonslayer. Christianity started to produce it's own monster slaying superheroes totally in the Hellenic mold immediately. And, just by inspection, it can't be said that Christianity actually stopped people from being violent. The fights between the Christian barbarians and the Christian Romans were not any less vicious because of Christianity - indeed, the violence was probably the greatest seen in Western Europe.

So, historically, the idea that the Jews were a "slave people" doesn't bear up when you study the history of the Jews as informs Christianity. It also neglects the fact that priestly cultures were not in any way uniquely Jewish, or associated with the lower classes in particular. Furthermore, the sustained violence of Christianity puts to a lie the idea that Christians were infected with a pacifist "slave morality" that undermined their martial aristocratic culture. Also, immediately after the death of St. Peter the Christian church came to be entirely dominated by the Greco-Roman upper class.

Okay, now on to ressentiment. Briefly, ressentiment is the idea that the underclass is filled with hatred towards their oppressors and engages in trickery and deceit to overcome their masters, poisoning their glorious aristocratic martial culture with the virtues of slaves - weakness and cowardice. This glorification of aristocracy and vilification of the workers is, again, simply untrue.

First and foremost, aristocrats are some of the most treacherous, back-stabbing bastards there are. Indeed, they're way more treacherous than the working classes. This goes straight back to those Greek epics that Nietzsche loved so much. How can you tell when Odysseus is lying? His mouth is open. Odysseus, one of the paragons of Hellenic aristocracy, was a low-down rotten bastard. He lied, cheated, stole. He possessed all the traits that Nietzsche attributes to the "slaves".

And the real articles weren't any better. For instance, one of the most common things to happen in the internecine warfare of the Greek city-states was for one leader to switch sides (sometimes in the middle of a war), go to Persia and ask for help to overthrow Greece and serve as a Persian vassal, all sorts of craziness.

Alcibiades will serve as an example. During the Peloponnesian War, he switched sides something like four times. He encouraged the Athenians to try to conquer Sicily but when it was obvious it was going badly, he fled to Sparta. In Sparta, he couldn't keep his hands off the Spartan king's wife and then went over to Persia and then he went back to Athens. This is aristocratic loyalty and honor? Not a string of deceptions, cowardice, venality and greed?

I could really go on about aristocrats and their ways for a long time. So, Julius Caesar was assassinated by the Roman Senate en masse because they knew that if they were all guilty of the crime, none of them would be punished. Foolish men. Because the Triumvirate that came into power after Caesar's death engaged in their own program of assassination to consolidate their gains. Again and again, you see aristocrats behaving in cowardly, manipulative, back-stabbing, venomous ways, you see them holding grudges for literally centuries in some cases, you see aristocrats doing all the things that Nietzsche attributes to the "slave morality" that supposedly Christianity brought to aristocracy in the West. And you see them doing these things again and again before Christianity existed!

In addition to ignoring the fact that aristocrats possessed - and have always possessed - the vices of Nietzsche's "slaves", you've also got to ignore the working classes, themselves. The very idea that a member of the working class, even a slave, spent most of their time plotting the downfall of their "masters" is absurd. It ignores the labor of their hands, their families, and their actual values - which tend to stress the importance of hard work, tending to one's family and things of that nature. The notion of the resentful slave plotting the overthrow of their aristocratic masters is a total caricature. It is quite literally the Nazi's image of the weaselly back-stabbing, squinty eyed Jew - a caricature taken straight from Nietzsche.

Lastly, it also sorta ignores that everything of lasting beauty in this world was created by the very working classes that Nietzsche hated so much. We'll say, nigh constantly, things like, "Lorenzo the Magnificent built this" or "the Emperor Trajan built that", but that's not true, is it? The warrior aristocrat class so beloved by Nietzsche didn't build anything. It was built by the workers, now wasn't it? When a person ignores that - as does Nietzsche, who never talks about work - is the only way to say with a straight face that the working classes are in some way opposed to beauty and culture. You have to ignore that they're the primary builders of beauty and culture, even when they're doing it at the orders of some murderous thug.

So, I think that this pretty much says everything I want to say about why I think that Nietzsche's master-slave morality is ahistorical bunk, and why I don't put any faith in the Nietzschian idea of ressentiment as a class construct.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Popery! Ratzy in Brazil

So, like, The Big Catholic Daddy was in Brazil. He was there to tell kids not to have sex, use condoms or get abortions, and there are lots of people out there that'll go on longer than I will about how depraved and fucked up that is.

What struck me, attenuated to classism as I am, is that the Pope also told people not to seek wealth and power. I came full stop.

See, here's the thing. The Pope is one of the most powerful and richest people in the world. He lives in one of the greatest palaces in the world. He has a set of solid gold coffee service made by Michelangelo. He leads a religion that has over one billion people. His entire career has been ambitious, constantly seeking more power, with incredible success.

And this person is telling people not to seek material wealth and power!

I mean, corporate, earth-destroying CEOs are more honest than this! If you listen to some CEO, he's gonna tell you to embrace the system and with hard work and sticking to it you'll be as rich as Croesus, too. Sure, it's mostly bullshit, but at least he's not out there saying that people shouldn't try to be where he is -- he's not ridiculing and attacking the very wealth and power he possesses.

But the Pope, one of the richest, most powerful people in the world, a man that lives literally like a king, heading a vast world spanning religion, is telling other people not to seek wealth and power! The hypocrisy of it stunned me.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bible Fight and True Komix

As I have had a day sufficiently productive and busy to justify not spending a lot of time blogging, I will bring you humor, instead! We're all pro-humor, right? Right!

First I bring you Bible Fight! Ever wonder who would win if Mary threw down with Noah? Now you can find out! Play some of your favorite Bible characters including Marh, Noah, Eve, Moses and Satan! Will it be you who unlocks the hidden character?! Will you master the Immaculate Deception or Rosary Whip? Only way to find out!

Second, and at least equally funny, though without nearly so much intentionality, is True Komix. True Komix were published by The Family, which is a Christian sect that encourages, er, Flirty Fishing which is a form of religious prostitution. Apparently, The Family encouraged its women to use sex to gain converts! Alas, for those of you who might want to be "converted" by The Family, they discontinued Flirty Fishing in '87 because of the AIDS scare, apparently.

However, at the True Komix link, they have komix of that lay it all out about Flirty Fishing! Included, fully frontal nudity! Unsurprisingly, this outraged Christians of the period. Still, it's nice of someone to collect all the softcorn porn Christian komix together in one place so that future generations of Christians can learn about the wonders of Flirty Fishing in such a graphical manner!

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Mitt Romney is going to be the next US President

Why do I say this? Because he's the stupidest person of the lot. How stupid? This stupid:

"It seems that Europe leads Americans in this way of thinking," Romney told the crowd of more than 5,000. "In France, for instance, I'm told that marriage is now frequently contracted in seven-year terms where either party may move on when their term is up. How shallow and how different from the Europe of the past."

Well, as it turns out . . .

The one Romney said he was “told” is ruining marriages in France?

Yeah. Well. Turns out it was from an Orson Scott Card science fiction novel.

About Mormons.

Set in outer space.

Glad we got that cleared up.

So, Mitt confused the French with Mormons from space in a bad SF novel. This man is so stupid and so Republican I conclude he can't be beaten in the Presidential race. In the tradition of other deeply stupid people like George Bush II and Ronald Reagan, he will be the American President.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Confessions of an Atheist #1: Atheists and Morality

This vlog is about how, y'know, us atheists get morality without having a divine force dictate it to us.

And, of course, comments are welcome!

Also, moved the crock pot. ;)

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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

King Herod the Great's Tomb

If you believe the BBC, someone is claiming to have found the tomb of Herod the Great. Herod the Great was a Roman client king who was unpopular with his Jewish subjects. He is called "the Great" because of the sheer number and scale of building projects that he started in Judea during his reign, including a massive rebuilding of the Temple.

And a note on his unpopularity. It was largely unjust. Herod was a monarch, certainly, and he had occasional fits of cruelty, but nothing to compare with the utter brutality of the Israelite Judges -- a self-appointed group of murderous enforcers. Indeed, during Herod's reign saw the end of banditry in Roman Palestine, making the country staff for things like the ministry of Jesus, but also trade and all that. The wealth of Palestine greatly increased during Herod's rule.

No, the center of the controversy was two-fold. First, Herod was pro-Roman. As a fact of politics at the time, any state in the area was going to be a client to either Rome or Persia, and Herod chose Rome. Still, this didn't sit well with the pro-Israel zealots who dreamt of their own kingdom. So, to some extent, that is certainly a legitimate beef. The second, and greater reason, is that Herod was only "half-Jewish". He was from Idumea, and despite his scrupulous observances of Jewish custom, tradition and law, the Jews never let Herod forget he was half-Idumean.

However, for me, the most interesting part of the article is this:

Herod was noted in the New Testament for his Massacre of the Innocents.

Told of Jesus' birth, Herod ordered all children under two in Bethlehem to be killed, the Gospel of Matthew said.

According to the New Testament, Jesus' father Joseph was warned of the threat in a dream and fled with his wife and child to Egypt.

Does this article remember the historical things that Herod did? The great works he built? His alliance with Rome? His successful campaign to end banditry in Palestine? His rebuilding of the Temple? Any of the historical things he did? No. They bring out the old fairy tale about his "Slaughter of the Innocents", recorded only in the Bible and ignored by secular historians. The evidence being, of course, that it didn't happen. The Romans were a harsh people, but under the reign of Augustus they were a very . . . legalistic people. Any client king who would massacre innocents would have been destroyed by the Empire -- and not only did this not happen, there is no record of it happening anywhere but in Matthew. It is fiction, but it is what the BBC chose to bring up about this utterly fascinating man.

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Trust in Science, a Brief Overview

Nowadays, we put a lot of trust in science. I think we place so much trust in science that we don't really grasp how recently it was science earned widespread trust.

The crossover was probably during World War II. It was during WWII that science fairly obviously made a difference. Not just the dropping of the atomic bomb – though, more than any other one thing, probably did “convince” people that science was a big thing – but also things such as radar, jet engines, rocketry and so on.

Before then, even engineers were apprenticed. To become an engineer, one first became a draftsman and people with the “right” talents would learn under an engineer. The great inventors of the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries were not scientists, by and large – people like Edison and Tesla were not scientifically trained and Edison, for instance, held science in some contempt. The Wright brothers were bicycle mechanics!

In the 19th century and earlier, science was, by and large, a dilettante's field. Roentgen did his work in the attic of his house – fiddling with big razor switches and exposed copper wiring hooked up to smoking capacitors and all sorts of vacuum tubes. He fussed around with barium platinocyanide plates and discovered x-rays. It was like Frankenstein's castle, no joke. The guy who started nuclear technology was hiding in his attic because he was fearful that his associates would think him mad.

A surprising amount of 19th century science was like that. When Darwin did his seminal work on evolution, it was a dilettante's work – he was the naturalist. The job of the Beagle was survey to produce naval charts for commerce and war. Darwin had to pay out of his own pockets to get the position of naturalist, and he was considered a kind of passenger. He was a scientific dilettante – a passionately committed one, but all of this science was done on shoestring budgets, and as such was normally done by people of some wealth.

Their studies had very little practical impact, at least initially. X-rays were developed – sometimes with fatal consequences – as a type of medical therapy for the rich and all sorts of snake oil claims about them were made. X-rays for the kinds of medical purposes we associate today, like checking to see where bones are broken and where bullets are inside of people, didn't get popularized until, again, World War II. Until then, x-rays were a dilettante's toy.

But World War II thrust science permanently into public consciousness as a force that would inevitably change the world. But before that? Yes, as early as the 18th century people like David Hume were proposing that the world was an entirely naturalistic place and forecasting that gods had no place in that world – but it is difficult to express how much of that was an aberration and most people during the Enlightenment seriously thought that religion lead to a proof of god's existence (they also believed this during the Romantic Era, but amongst scientists to a far lesser extent). And the ancient Greeks and Indians had several purely naturalistic philosophies. But the great mass of people were largely ignorant of science, and what scientists were doing was mostly irrelevant to them.

And when it did! It was this shock. Scientists had, for the first time ever, set their minds and wills to destruction, and created a weapon with which to destroy the world. It was not a midwifery to engender tremendous love of science – but fear. The 50s had tremendous nuclear anxiety – it was the time of air raid drills in school, children huddling under schools as if a desk could protect them from nuclear destruction.

So, even when people started to trust science they did in the sense that they trusted science to work, not trusting in science to make the world a better place.

Fortunately for the world, a full-scale war between industrialized nations hasn't occurred. Let us hope it never will. But science has begun to get people's trust in the sense that not only does it work, but it makes the world a better place. Now, while there is still some anxiety about nuclear destruction, scientists are see as people arguing to control climate change, they are the people who work on new drugs, they make us better, faster computers, things of this nature. Science has shown it's ability to build more than weaponry.

I think that a lot of people still don't trust science. I don't know how much this is due to the anxiety of science's power being demonstrated by nuclear weaponry – but during the 50s the definitive image of science was nuclear science, particularly nuclear weapons. Nowadays? Computer technology, which his far less immediately threatening. Computers help us, they entertain us, work with us, etc., which is somewhat different than the image of nuclear fire. But I think that science and people's trust of science has suffered because of it's nuclear aberrations.

The trust of science as a benevolent force, however, developed, IMO, during the 70s and 80s – and certainly not before the 60s. Before that, science was seen as fierce nuclear fire and before that . . . as useless dilettantes.

Again, while it is indisputable that science works better than any other epistemological force on earth in a material sense, with impressive predictive power and multifaceted technological implications, but until recently it hasn't been the least bit friendly. In the fight between science and other epistemological systems (and I'm sure the people who read my journal “get it” that I'm talking about religion, primarily), I think it's important to point out that until recently science was threatening and before that it was irrelevant. Friendly science has existed for less than forty years.

Which now strikes me as a bit jumbled, but containing an important lesson on why we have these struggles with science. The trust we have in science is still new, and it is raw from it's nuclear aberrations. But it is founded in an increasingly unshakable sense that it works, which distinguishes it from other epistemological systems. But this trust has been hard won.

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Monday, May 7, 2007

Photo update!

I have updated my gallery. It includes pictures from the trip we made a couple of months ago. There are galleries of Joshua Tree National Park, Arizona Sonora Desert Museum (which is a park where they have desert plants and such, not a museum with art), and the parts of our tour inside of Biosphere 2 (and then my camera pooped out because I forgot to charge the spare battery). Also are included some pictures of Carmel Beach. The camera was not quite able to catch the stunning colors of the ocean that day, alas.


Justification by Faith Alone

If you want to read something funny, and I'm trying to keep a little bit of humor in my blog under the hypothesis that my readers like a good laugh now and then, then read this critique of a Jack Chick tract from Enter the Jabberwock. It's good stuff.

The satirical critique is about a fairly common interpretation of Matthew 7:22-23:

22: Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23: And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

The interpretation is that “good works” don't get a person into heaven, only justification by faith alone. That repentance and “accepting Jesus into your heart” are the only ways to get to heaven.

Enter the Jabberwock gives some of the fairly obvious conclusions to this – that it justifies immorality being at the top of the list. No, really, it scans. If you only need to do something nebulous like “accept Jesus into your heart” (or, more properly called, justification by faith alone) and actively repudiate good works as a means of attaining heaven, you're basically saying the only thing that counts is accepting Jesus. Nothing else you do in this world matters. Just that.

I think it is important to emphasize this selfishness is one of the key tenets of American Christianity and, I think, is probably the key reason why so many of the most utterly backwards organizations in America are so rabidly pro-war, anti-poverty and generally more evil than Satan himself. It's because they believe, truly believe, that all you need to do to get into Heaven (which is the reason why most Christians are Christian, of course – they've been told if they don't believe they'll burn in hellfire forever, which would be a compelling argument if it had even a whiff of truth about it) then there's no reason to do anything else. Faith, alone, justifies oneself. Actions, other than “acceptance” of Jesus – which as I've said elsewhere is little more than the glorification of one's interpretation of the Bible to the point of unimpeachable “fact” – simply do not count.

(Of course, the general Christian response to this, when pointed out, is a big “uh-uh”. But it never stands analysis, because they'll then go on to agree that it is faith in Jesus, alone, that gets people into Heaven, and rejection of Jesus, alone, that condemns them to hell. If you but “accept” Jesus into your heart, he forgives you of all your sins; if you do not accept Jesus, he does not forgive any of your sins, and since you're born in sin, you go to the burning place.)

Since, then, deeds do not count, and a Christian's actions are never seriously held against them, anything is permissible. Oh, they say that isn't the case, but it is – Jesus forgives all sins, and if you join their religion any sinner is welcomed to the company of saints.

Interestingly, of course, is this is what Christians frequently accuse atheists of believing. I think it's a classic case of projection. Atheists – a few of the more nihlistic aside – generally believe that we work with other people to create a generally acceptable code of conduct based on human reason and human needs. American Christians, with their widespread belief on justification by faith alone, accept nothing of the sort. The accept that there is simply one thing a person must do to be righteous, just one, and it comes from a selfish interpretation of an old book.

No wonder Christians have made a mess of morality! From the medieval purchase of indulgences to the more clever justification by faith alone, Christianity has constantly subverted any attempt at all to make a coherent morality. It isn't just that Christianity has struggled with morality, but that it has by and large renounced morality. It is with Christians that anything is indulged, anything possible, because their god will always forgive me, and ever judge them by any act, save a simple statement of faith.

So, remember that the next time a Christian accuses an atheist of immorality. Atheists struggle with the concept of what is really moral, while Christians can just ignore it with, really, the full support of their religion.

None of this is original, but you can't expect me to have an original thought every day, do you?

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Friday, May 4, 2007

Media Representations, Violence and Response

A person on my friend's list on Livejournal, posted about violent media leads to violence. I didn't respond there because, well, you've got to choose your battles and I doubt I could have said anything to change her mind (and, as a matter of fact, since I originally wrote this, I did respond and, lo, I did not change her mind). I am also going to act as though the idea that violent media leads to real violence is largely a dead issue, because it is. At best, no bad research finds that amongst children under 12 years old that there's a weak correlation between media violence and real violence. Likewise, studies of actually violent people – or, at least, people who are violent enough to get put in jail or prison for their violence – massively underconsume media of all sorts, including violent media. When studying people who are actually violent, the correlation is between not consuming violent media and violence, and the general trend is the more media a person consumes the less likely they are to be violent. (For what it is worth, I think that the reason people who consume more media are less violent, or in prison less, is due to the fact that media consumption is a form of consumption. People who can afford to consume anything in quantity tend to be rich, and both have less reason to be violent and have better lawyers when it does happen.) So, in my book, the issue is largely dead.

What surprises me is how tired and worn out this argument is! Plato wanted to outlaw theater because writers and actors were “liars”. Augustus did outlaw theater, because it promoted “immorality”. The Roman Catholic Church forbade whole swaths of musical types – mostly things involving rhythm – on the grounds that music leads to sex (or, perhaps, that music leads to dancing that leads to sex). You take any time and you'll find people who want to stop other people from making the “wrong” kind of art – they'll want to shut up hip hop artists, burn Harry Potter books, stop kids from playing those new fangled video games.

In short, what they want to do is elevate their personal aesthetic tastes to the level of morality. As a sort of secular humanist, scientific materialist, atheist transhumanist, libertarian consensualist (read: as the intellectually autonomous person known as Chris Bradley) this sort of thing annoys me, and it annoys me because virtually everyone wants to do it, regardless of their political beliefs.

So, you'll have socialists railing against the injustices of capitalist media, you'll have capitalists wanting to outlaw socialist literature, religious folks wanting to forbid secular music, liberals wanting to stop those violent video games, etc., etc. The elevation of a person's person sense of aesthetics to the point of absolute morality is nearly ubiquitous!

I wonder why that is – why most people feel their own aesthetic choices should be universal. I KNOW there's a lesson in there, somewhere, but I'm having a devil of a time sussing it out. Of figuring out why art gets people so fucking pissed off, so pissed off that they feel the urge to engage in tactics ranging from emotional blackmail to legislation to burning books? Of why they feel that audiences are empty vessels into which artists do nothing but pour their own biases and ideals?

I don't know, but I want to know.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Immaculate Conception

Immaculate Conception is a short story (of 4461 words) written in the style of my current novel project, Simon Peter. It is meant to be a teaser for the novel, itself, showing the take I'm using for telling the story of Jesus, St. Peter and the origins of Christianity as being started by the same sorts of people that start cults in modern history: a group of religious fanatics, madmen, charlatans surrounded by a storm of sexual depravity, physical and psychological abuse.

"Immaculate Conception" is a story about the conception and birth of Jesus. The story contains nothing mystical, but offers a purely physical story about how it could happen. I am not saying it did happen this way. The birth of Jesus, even from Biblical sources, is confused. In one place Jesus is born in a house attended by kings, in another place he is born in a stable and attended by shepherds. I'm not sure I believe in the physical reality of Jesus at all. But in "Immaculate Conception", as in Simon Peter, I want to open a discussion about the nature of messiahdom, itself, and dispel the idea that Jesus as a historical person needs to be taken seriously as a social reformer, or rebel against Roman conquest or Jewish corruption. Most messiahs are charlatans, insane, or both. Most people who claim supernatural powers, in my readings, have backgrounds of neglect and abuse. For this story, and Simon Peter, I posit that Jesus came from such a family, and in "Immaculate Conception" I have written about his family as being typical of messiahs, born in pain and horror, leading to charlatanry and madness.

Warning: This story does have sex and violence. If you're offended by sex and violence, I advise either not reading it, or get prepared to be offended.

I am also thinking about putting a commercial for "Immaculate Conception" on YouTube and GodTube. See what that nets me. ;)

Now with video!

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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Becomin' a Webcam Ho

So, since it's May Day, I'm not really doing any work. It appears I'm becoming something of a webcam ho, however, because I've been doing webcam stuff. I've made two videos today. Both of them are responses to other people's stuff. Heaven knows I love mouthing off. Perhaps after a few more of these I'll actually get good at it.

Here's the first:

This is a response to a Christian who asked questions about the falsifibility of natural selection and DNA as the criteria of life.

Here's the second:

It's a video response to a text comment to my video about if atheists hate god where he proposes stuff like if gay people are allowed to marry it infringes on his rights as a Christian. Which is a silly argument, but common, I find.

Tomorrow I'm going to actually post a short story written in the fashion of Simon Peter, called "Immaculate Conception". It deals with the, ahem, birth of Jesus Christ, told in the way I am telling the story of Simon Peter. Unlike the other things I've posted here, it actually is pretty short, being about 4200 words. And after that, I promise I'll have a few more days of text content.

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May Day!

All power to the people!