Monday, May 14, 2007

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.

Labels: , , , , ,

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!

Labels: , ,

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. ;)

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

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.

Labels: , ,

Friday, April 27, 2007

Science: Still the New Kid on the Block, But Scrappy

I know it's easy for people to get really . . . freaked out about how religion still struggles against science, and the fairly obvious inequality of the struggle. Science is so right, after all, in just about any way a person puts it. Science is demonstrable, makes accurate predictions, can be replicated by anyone, can be falsified, etc., etc. Even if science was “another religion” (it isn't, but even if it was) it would be an altogether better religion – because putting your faith in science generally works. Like I've said before, let a Christian try to miracle their way to LA and I'll take a plane and we'll see who gets there first. When a person gets cancer, let one group try prayer and the other try modern oncology and see which group survives longer. Or, in other words, “Science. It works, bitches.” Which is something that religious folks just can't say about religion.

Given this truth, I know that lots of atheists and the saner theists out there get are confused when science and religion collide that religious folks keep fighting the losing fight. Even while, at the same time, trying to curry the legitimacy of science with stuff like creation science, intelligent design and arguments about “the appearance of design”. Even as religious people criticize science, they seek it's legitimacy, because the legitimacy of science far exceeds that of religion for most people (when you get shot, you call the ambulance and then pray). The fight, like I said, is one-sided and it's confusing to a lot of people why religious folks keep trying to fight it at all, rather than admit that religion is mystical (a field outside of science's purview) and have their cake and eat it, too.

I will now veer to talk about the Enlightenment. For a lot of people, the Enlightenment was a time when people used “reason” and it is seen as the pinnacle of human intellectual achievement. People were obsessed with reason. And a lot of our hassles come from this period, I think.

To me, the Enlightenment used reason much in the same way that Star Trek's Spock used logic – that what people in the Enlightenment meant by “reason” wasn't really that reasonable at all.

For instance, most of the Principia Mathematica, Isaac Newton's ground-breaking tome about physics and mathematics was mostly about astrology. Newton was seeking more accurate measurements of the planets and stars in order to make more accurate astrological charts. Not precisely the poster child of scientific reason. Indeed, it's rather like “flood geologists” using modern geology to try to justify the Biblical flood – any advance in geology they make must be separated from their non-scientific hypotheses before it can be useful (tho', to my knowledge, no flood geologist has advanced the field of geology – science is not what it was in Newton's day, which is sort of my point).

Likewise, it was the general consensus of Enlightenment scientists (who were all white upper-class Christian men, I should point out – though right now I don't intend to talk about the racism, classism and sexism of Enlightenment thinking) was that study of Nature – invariably spelled with a capital N – would lead to a scientific proof for god's existence. The whole enterprise of science was built on finding their god.

Unfortunately for them, the evidence actually took them in a wholly different direction. And it wasn't until the Romantic Era that scientists faced that. It isn't really the Enlightenment (also known as the “Era of Religious Wars”, which is often forgotten by cheerleaders of the Enlightenment that the worst Christian-on-Christian violence was during the Enlightenment – the Thirty Year's War destroyed Germany, for instance, which in terms of relative death made WWII look like a border skirmish; the horror rivaled the Black Death) that the scientific method was developed. It was during the foofy Romantic Era that scientists really broke away from religion. Those Enlightenment scientists looked for god. The Romantic scientists? Nope. They're the people who stopped looking for evidence of the divine because, after centuries of looking for such evidence, it became obvious that the conclusions pointed in the other direction.

So, for my own part, I actually see the creation scientists, intelligent designers and their ilk as being the heirs to the Enlightenment, still engaged in the fool's errand of trying to prove the existence of their god with “science”. Unsurprisingly, then, that these same people would gleefully plunge our world into a new Age of Religious Wars – armed with the material certainty that their god is the right one, it would follow with the mindless mechanical precision of Newtonian physics that they would use violence to spread their faith. Give me the Romantic view of science any day, which is sprawling and brawling, and, yes, passionate – but entirely material, without the faintest whiff of the divine, and thus absent of religious certainty and the raw material of genocidal religious conflicts.

And . . . to try to get to my point, modern science, as a Romantic invention, is about 200 years old. Christianity is 2000 years old. Science is a mere tenth the age of Christianity and every day, almost every hour, the strength of science grows. Science is a new growth compared to the mighty oak of Christianity (and other religions, but I tend to focus on Christianity because I'm American and Christianity is very relevant). It is largely cultural inertia that prevents religion from being discarded – for thousands of years, for a hundred generations, people have been told the religious lies. So, charting the progress of science vs. religion, the destruction of religion is nigh. The last thing we scientific materialists need to overcome is the Enlightenment baggage that Christians keep trying to project into religion – which is inevitable, because the evidence still points away from a higher power.

So, despair not.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, April 13, 2007

Capitalism and Conversion

I was reading this BBC article about Pope Rat's Easter celebrations. It appears, if one can believe the BBC, that the Catholic Church wants to focus on Asia. Allow me to quote: “the Vatican regards Asia as its most promising area for future converts.”

Then it occurred to me that is very nearly the same language that capitalists refer to underdeveloped markets. Corporations regard Asia, too, as this vast market waiting to be exploited, either as consumers or for raw materials.

In many ways, fascism is the right-wing merger of state, business and religion. The truth of that rushed on me, all at once, even though in my mind I've known it for a while. In the West, the exploitation of the New World was a state, business and religious prospect all at once. The Conquistadors came with state authority to convert Indians as well as rob them of their resources. The American conquest of the West was done in roughly the same way – missions preceded colonists that preceded reservations and/or genocide. Missionary activity has gone hand-in-hand with industrial exploitation.

Asia, in all ways, has been a tougher nut to crack than Africa and the Americas. Asia has a number of native religions and philosophies that, really, put Christianity to shame. Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism – in intellectual terms, in completeness, in almost all ways – make Christianity look like a primitive, second-rate religion, not to mention that monotheism is already well served in Asia with Islam. Asia boasts ancient civilizations and a powerful culture. So Asia has not been Christianized nearly to the extent as the rest of the world, just as Western style capitalist exploitation didn't work out as well there as in other places. Sure, both India and China were colonized, but they retained their own independent character and have taken the reins of industry into their own hands – both countries are averaging around 10% growth a year, currently, and the success of Japan and South Korea are well known. Nowhere has Western style capitalism succeeded outside of functionally Western nations (and not even all of those) except in Asia. So, with business as much as religion, Asia has been a tough nut to crack.

Which puts my mind onto two thoughts. The first is . . . is Western religion getting into a trap by going into Asia? No one doubts that India and China are going to become economic and perhaps military superpowers in the next twenty years or so. Both countries have managed to maintain their cultural and political identity against Westernization while adapting the industrial system of the West to their own purposes. Is the Roman Catholic Church's interest in Asia pure arrogance? Why do they think that Asia won't merely adapt the techniques of Western religion that suit them and turn the tables on the West, as they are currently doing with business?

This segues into my second thought. China is already a fairly large cultural exporter, nowadays. India is developing into one (not only with cinema and letters, but, interestingly enough, comic books – several Indians have decided to try to export Indian comics into the West, probably attempting to recreate the success of Japanese manga in America). How much longer will it take to occur to them to start the sort of cultural exportation that the West has done for centuries? Before they start to organize Hindu or Buddhist missions to flood the West with their own religious culture?

Those cursed lucky Europeans might be able to resist, because it appears that most Europeans simply don't care much about religion – even those that still identify with their traditional religion. So, in France, if one believes Stew's translation of those French graphs, and I do, 59% of the French identify as Catholic, but over half of declared Catholics have only ever been to church for marriages, baptisms and funerals, and only 23% of declared Catholics bother to attend church for even the big ceremonies like Easter, Assumption and Christmas. And only 38% of the French believe in the Christian god – which means that something like 2/5ths of declared Catholics don't believe in God or are agnostic! So, I doubt that Hindu or Buddhist missionaries would be terribly successful in that sort of environment.

On the other hand, here in America, where we are pretty religious and belong to a very backwards, primitive religion, they might find really fertile ground. Think of it. Nothing in, say, Hinduism or Buddhism requires a person to deny evolution, or that the earth is billions of years old. Modern science fits a lot better with most Asian religions than it fits with Christianity, and they are capable of the same level of spiritual comfort and community.

So, really, I find myself asking, “Right now, are there folks in India and China saying that the United States and South America would be perfect places to gain new converts?” Because if my thesis is true and missionary work goes hand-in-hand with economic exploitation, the West will soon become a big target for cultural imperialism from Asia.

A third thought also occurs to me, that it required the missionary zeal of Christianity to develop capitalism. Christianity is all about exploitation, about converting people, and about controlling them (religions being top-down systems of authority that have strict codes of conduct and such, I don't think it can be reasonably said religions aren't primarily about control . . . at least, not without invoking a god in an apologia). Most other places, prior to the advent of Christianity, had reasonably tribal religions or attempted to identify their own gods with the gods of other places. One of the fairly unique things of primitive Christianity was its exclusivity (there is but ONE god, and it is OUR god) combined with its missionary zeal. It is unsurprising to me that a people so used to exploitation, so used to destroying other people's cultures, came up with the idea that, economically, they're also fair game. It isn't something, I think, that would occur to people, otherwise, used to seeing them either as outsiders to be avoided or believing, as most in the ancient world did, that everyone's gods were the same but simply called by different names and under different faces. That religious conversation that destroys a culture's religious uniqueness would naturally lead to exploiting their labor and resources.

Though I doubt that Pope Rat would agree with this. After all, he's jump right into the apologia of his premeditated cultural imperialism against Asia as justified because his god really exists.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Talking to Christians and Literary Analysis as the Foundation of Belief

In the discussion of this post by Beep! Beep! It's Me!, things are getting into the endurance flames part of the discussion with a couple of Christians who post there. Eventually, it seems to me, virtually all discussions with Christians of conscience about their co-religionists that are fundie nutjobs boil down to a variant of the No True Scotsman fallacy. In this context, it's an interminable discussion about what constitutes a “true Christian”. This then goes around and around and around, with the non-Christians saying that all Christians think they're the true Christians and using the No True Scotsman fallacy on all other Christians, and the Christians asserting that through some interpretation of the Bible that you can deduce a true from a non-true Christian, and then the non-Christians saying that's what all Christians say . . . so forth, and so on.

I'm not going to focus on the No True Scotsman fallacy, but how Christians use literary interpretation as their epistemological foundation. Because, to me, that seems the bigger issue.

So, when a person asserts something that a Christian (or other religious person, it's just that in America a body almost always has this discussion with Christians) objects to, the fundamental authority that must be appeals to is the Bible, or, more precisely, that Christian's interpretation of the Bible.

So what happens is every discussion about a matter of weight with a Christian is transformed into a discussion about the true meaning of the Bible. Discussing the age of the earth? Go to the Bible. Discussing politics? Go to the Bible. Discussing feminism? Go to the Bible.

This is a form of conversation stopper, then. When a Christian brings up a Bible, what they're saying is they're appealing to an unimpeachable authority. And what I think is important, here, is the authority isn't the Bible. The Bible is a vast, sprawling work that is complex, and often contradictory. The Bible says a lot of things in a lot of language, and is literal in places, metaphorical in others, with no clear distinction between the two. The authority is the person's interpretation of the Bible.

Most people, of course, have not comprehensively detailed their interpretation of the Bible. To do so looks to me like a very daunting task. Indeed, most Christians don't know the Bible well enough to speak passingly about it, much less comprehensively about it. But even if the Christian in question does have a comprehensive, internally consistent interpretation of the Bible, it's almost always largely hidden in the mind of the Christian.

But, that's not how Christians present the argument, by and large. In my experience, they don't go, “In my personal interpretation of the Bible, which is a vast and confusing book with many seeming contradictions, I feel Jesus clearly says that fags should be butchered.” They go, “The Bible SAYS that fags should be butchered” when, in truth, what the Bible says is difficult to parse even for a lifelong dedicated student of the Bible.

So, when discussing the Bible with virtually all Christians, you're actually discussing a very particular, and usually hidden, interpretation of the Bible that has been elevated to absolute, unimpeachable truth in the mind of the Christian. And, with almost every issue of importance, a Christian will use their divinely revealed interpretation as an unimpeachable authority.

Unsurprisingly, this is a conversation stopper. When that happens, when a Christian pulls out their (hidden, undiscussed interpretation) of the Bible as the last authority, the other person has to either agree or the discussion ends. It ends particularly hard for non-Christians – almost no Christian is going to admit that a non-Christian's interpretation of the Bible is valid. So even when a non-Christian confronts a Christian with Biblical material, it simply doesn't matter because non-Christian interpretations of the Bible are automatically meaningless in discussions of the Bible. Christians largely believe that non-Christians have no right to interpret the Bible.

(Which is not true in other forms of literary criticism, I should note. In literary criticism outside of religion, different styles of interpretation co-exist. So, when discussing, say, Freud, a Marxist critique of Freud is not automatically dismissed by a post-modernist; the post-modernist might disagree with the Marxist, but they don't reject the legitimacy of the Marxist's right to interpret. Indeed, in literary criticism, a person might accept both interpretations! And, always, they are aware that it is an interpretation made by a human for human purposes, without divine inspiration or guidance.)

Thus, it seems to me that most religion is an epistemological system based off of chance prejudices that are sanctified by appeal to sacred literature, and this appeal to sacred literature is, itself, merely a biased interpretation of the religion's works. It creates an internally isolated epistemological world based on holy feelings, and any deviation from that world is regarded not merely as error but sin. Unsurprisingly, this makes it pretty hard to talk to religious people.

Which, again, puts me off the very idea of religion, at least how most Christians and Muslims practice it, at any rate. Because, even if a Christian believes something that is true, the reason isn't that they've reasoned it out, but that they have decided their belief coincides with the Bible, and then they elevate their belief to the status of divine inspiration against which nothing at all is allowed to intrude. They are right not because they have used reason, but merely because they have decided, and appealed to an ultimate authority. Religion seems to have nothing good about it, really.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Freestylin' Against Theocracy!

This is me freestyln' about theocracy. This is me just ramblin' on a bit.

One of the key things to bear in mind is that when those fundie Christians and their ilk talk about how the Christian god has always been part of American government, they've got a point. Sure, a number of the Founding Fathers were deists and reasonably suspicious of religion. A number of them were heavily religious, too. And at the writing of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, all states in the Union would only let white, Christian landowning men vote.

But, more than that, I think it's fair to remember, vital to remember, that the whole enterprise of government originated with religion. It is hard to find a people, anywhere, in the pre-modern world (and many in the modern world) that don't equate their rules were divine or sacred people. I'm not just talking the god-kings of ancient Egypt, or divine right of European kings, or the Chinese mandate of heaven, or the Turkish Emperor being the Shadow of God, or Roman Emperors being pontifex maximus -- well, maybe I will mention them. It is virtually ubiquitous to have governmental and sacredotal authority vested in the same person, or the office of ruler having a sacred quality.

I say this because I think most people fail to recognize how very new the idea of a truly secular government is. Even our Founding Fathers weren't aiming for a really secular government. If they had, they would have addressed the fact every state required a person to be a Christian to vote, but they didn't. Religious freedom was meant to avoid the Christian leaders of America from tearing it up; but it was never in doubt in their minds that Christianity was the religion of America. All states had laws to insure that was the case, and would continue to be the case.

I think that people, in failing to recognize the newness of secular government, also fail to understand how deeply religion is entwined even in technically secular governments. Such as here in America how the number of atheists in Congress that have ever been open about their lack of faith is . . . one. Out of thousands of congresspeople and senators. And no Presidents, no governors, no Supreme Court justices, only a few other officials. The entire elected apparatus of American society is firmly religious and overwhelmingly Christian.

I am not going to say that the US has a theocracy. But we're not far from it, either, y'know, because all but one congressperson, all senators, the President, virtually all judges, all governors, all but a tiny handful of state senators, county commissioners, mayors, etc., they're all religious and overwhelmingly Christian. The US has not, traditionally, needed an overt theocracy in order to advance religious points of view. So, during the fifties, advanced by our secular government, school prayer was enforced in schools, and "under god" was put in the Pledge of Allegiance. No, not quite a theocracy, but simply because a theocracy was unnecessary.

This is, fortunately, changing, but even as it changes I think we need to note that in almost all governments in the world, the origin of state power is indistinguishable from religious power, and in America we've very close to a theocracy in practice if not in overt structure.

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 26, 2007

Scientology Ahoy!

I've really been laying hard into Christianity in this journal because it is, without doubt, the most powerful religion in America as well as the specific religion that Simon Peter is about, obviously.

However, the character of Jesus in Simon Peter is definitely an amalgam of characters. One of the figures that plays a reasonably big role in the personality of Jesus, in my book, is . . . L. Ron Hubbard. A great online resource is The Bare-Faced Messiah. It's an out-of-print, unauthorized biography of Hubbard and an utterly fascinating read, and a good place to start to learn about Scientology in an entertaining way.

More than any other self-proclaimed messiah, Hubbard embodies the con-man who got suckered into believing his lies. No one believes that Hubbard, originally, was sincere. Enough of his former friends and associates have come forward and said, more or less, that he started a religion to make money – that the talents of a science-fiction writer were wasted writing stories when there were other sheep to fleece. (Since he died worth hundreds of millions of dollars, there's probably something to that. Assuming, of course, that you could look at yourself in the mirror after selling bogus spirituality to needy people.) By the end of his life, few will doubt that he was a complete nutjob, that he was a paranoid, a sexual deviant and quite possibly schizophrenic.

How was he paranoid? Well, after having legal problems in several countries – the US, UK, Germany, Australia – it occurred to him that “70% of the world was without government”. The ocean! So he made this little Scientology navy, the Sea Org, where he went for years going from port to port. Eventually, so many ports in the Mediterranean were closed to Hubbard that he snuck back into the United States where he eventually died.

The Sea Org had some . . . interesting facts about it. One of them was the origin of the Rehabilitation Project Force, the RPF. In Scientology, the two worst sins are “overts” and “withholds” -- which are lies and secrets in English. If you do overts or withholds during “auditing” (the crude bio-feedback enhanced therapy sessions of Scientology) it is possible that you'll be put on the RPF.

When you're on the RPF, you are used for slave labor. I am not exaggerating. You're used for unpaid labor for an indefinite period of time, usually with sleep deprivation and inadequate nutrition. Some people were (and perhaps are) in the RPF for a year or two. You can't leave until they let you. It's literally slave labor.

In the Sea Org, the RPFers would be kept entirely below decks where they'd do the worst jobs – cleaning bilges, chipping paint or rust in bilges and other inaccessible parts of the ships, things like that. Landward, RPFers are often doing manual labor like ditch digging or clearing land.

Another thing that Hubbard started on the Sea Org was the use of “messengers”. Messengers were pretty pre-teen girls that would serve Hubbard – they say not that way, but one of the things they would do is sleep with him. Naked. They would also be his mouthpiece to the fleet, giving his messages – more than a few of them got drunk with this power and became petty tyrants in their own right. But Hubbard liked 'em young, so when they got too sexually developed they got the heave-ho. He also, apparently, often publicly humiliated them if they didn't do things the exact proper way; several of Hubbard's messengers have left Scientology and appear quite emotionally scarred by it.

Speaking of heave-hos, one of the common methods of punishing people would be throwing them off the ship into the water. The main ship of the fleet was a converted cargo ship, and the drop was something like a hundred feet, and often the water itself was cold and choppy. This could happen to a person several times in a row. More than one port revoked their rights based on this punishment.

While in the Sea Org, Hubbard would also go on imaginary treasure hunts. He would say he had a past-life memory of some buried treasure or the other, order the Sea Org to the spot and start trying to find it. Due to the paranoia with which Hubbard regarded all governments, he didn't bother to tell the government or get permission to do treasure hunting and, as a result, caused all sorts of problems for himself because this was during the Cold War. His treasure hunting looked a lot like espionage and his evasions seemed to confirm it.

I could go on for a long time on this vein, but I think my audience out there is seeing what I mean. Hubbard is one of the paradigmic historical messiahs. A sexually deviant person that gets drunk on power and orders people to do the craziest things and acts self-destructively. It's really easy to laugh at the galactic overlord Xenu and body thetans . . . and why not? They're fuckin' funny! But Hubbard isn't funny, really. He was a power drunk madman who's destroyed innumerable lives.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, March 22, 2007

An American Solution to the Problems of Religion: Unitarians?

I was talking about Pete Stark – the East Bay congresscritter who recently had the guts to admit that, no, he doesn't believe in the Sky Fairy – with my wife, and it was mentioned that he was a Unitarian.

Opines I, “If all religions were like the Unitarians, I probably wouldn't have a problem with religion.”

Then it struck me: is this the American solution to the problem of religion? The problem, to me, isn't really that someone believes in a loosely defined god. The problem is that they do so at the expense of reason, experience and even their own senses - and that belief almost always says they must foist their faith off on others. And, in doing so, they become bigots and worshipers of authority. I think that is, in rough, the basis of my problems with religion.

Unitarians don't do that. They explore religious subjects, including various gods, but in a very humanistic way. They are so open that they do accept atheists, without condemnation.

The United States is it's own place. Part of me really would just prefer chucking out the idea of religion as important – as they're doing in a lot of Europe, so my European friends tell me – but some of that is the anger towards religion that many atheists in America get. However, the US has certain cultural institutions and churches are one of them.

Even beyond the whole god thing, there's a lot of reasons people go to church. I, myself, am of the opinion that one of the reasons religion has made such a resurgence in my lifetime is the destruction of normal social patterns. Adults in America, nowadays, on average, do three long distant moves in their lifetime. Each time they do a long distance move – or, to a lesser extent, even a short distance one – they tear up all connections with their community, they uproot their children, put aside friendships, etc., etc. Moving is a fairly traumatic event. And when you get where you're going, where do you go to make friends? A place that isn't a meat market, that's safe for your children, where you don't have to feel competitive or defensive – that's church! You can move wherever you want, but within a short distance of your new home there's going to be a friendly church with wholesome activities for your family, a good place to meet friends, etc. And to join this happy group of wholesome people, all you've gotta do is profess to “accept Jesus”.

Even if my hypothesis isn't true, it's obvious that churches in America provide a lot of support for the communities they're part of. They're a place to meet people, to socialize, to do good works with more immediacy than supporting government reforms. They're a good place to bring one's children without fear that they'll pick up bad habits (except, of course, the religious bigotry and arrogance I was talking about earlier). Churches are a place of support and love. America's got nothing else like them.

The Unitarians, then, might have hit on something important for the United States. The problem with religion is that religions teach intolerance and deference to authority, and they teach that a book is more important than reason, experience and the evidence of your own senses. Even the “moderate” and “liberal” versions of a given religion teach this. The Unitarians, however, do not.

If the Unitarians became the model for American churches, they would provide all the social infrastructure without any of the real downsides that most religions have (mindless adherence to mythical authority, that smug belief that they're better because they're saved or whatever, not to mention the fundamentalist aspects of a given religion).

To me, this isn't quite as good as rejecting religion altogether. But, ultimately, since I don't believe in re-education camps I'm going to have to accept in a free society that a certain percentage of the people are going to want to believe in things I find absurd (say, UFO or conspiracy cranks) and give them a space to do so without really hurting anyone. Unitarian churches could provide that – a place for people to be non-offensively religious. I think of it as harm reduction.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A new messiah!

A crazy self-proclaimed messiah.

Let us give snippets:

Tari, the leader of an obscure cult with 6,000 followers, had been on the run since last June, when he escaped from custody with the help of a Lutheran pastor. Suspected of raping scores of girls and carrying out sacrificial killings, Tari eluded police by staying on the move and hiding in far-flung mountain villages.

This is, in my reading, pretty par for the course. Murdering and rapist messiahs are the norm, not the aberration. For another example of this, read about Jeffrey Don Lundgren.

Police are investigating the murder of three girls whose flesh Tari allegedly ate after they were killed.

I have to admit the cannibalism is pretty rare, tho'.

Of course, religious folks will say that their particular messiah was different, and truly inspired by whatever god is said to inspire them, but this is keeping in line with my research on messiahs, generally. They are frauds, kooks or both.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Mr. Deity!

I got this from the God is for Suckers blog. It is v. funny. There are 8 Mr. Deities on YouTube.


An Ann Coulter spoof. Also from God is for Suckers. V. funny.


Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Where Do Gods Come From, Again?

In 1898, in Kenya, two lions killed around 140 people. The Tsavo brothers managed to do this in 1898 in a camp with a dozen people with guns capable of dropping a rhino. The Champawat tiger killed over four hundred people before being shot in 1907.

Could you imagine what it would be like living near something like the Tsavo brothers or the Champawat tiger not in the 19th or 20th century, but, say, the Late Stone Age? These cunning animals killed around six hundred people between them.

Could you imagine what would happen if a lion was terrorizing your community and one man went out and killed it? What would you do?

Well, you'd probably name him Hercules and deify him.

Likewise, a lot of early religions have the gods battling fierce animals. So you have Gilgamesh taking the bull by the horns and killing it. This is mimicked by Mithras defeat of Taurus the Cosmic Bull. Ragnarok is an orgy of wolf on god violence – and, overwhelmingly, the wolves win. Skoll eats the sun, Hati will eat the moon, Fenrir will eat Odin, Garm will kill and be killed by Tyr.

As an urban youth, I was actually slightly confused about the stories of the Nemean Lion and the Cosmic Bull. I thought to myself, “They're just animals.” I think this is commonplace. We have forgotten the power of animals, because for tens of thousands of years in our pre-history, humans waged a terrible struggle against these animals whose conclusion was not obvious to the humans at the time. We can't even imagine what it must be like to try to fight a bull, wolf, tiger, bear or lion with an underpowered bow and spear with a chip of stone for a tip – especially if that animal had already killed someone. Or, perhaps, literally dozens or even hundreds of people. How does a person face it? I suspect, usually they don't survive and either the man-eater destroys the community, moves on or dies of something else. Even a bull, which wouldn't be given to killing humans, could do terrible damage to a fragile neolithic community, quite capable of destroying houses and barns back when they were made of fragile mud and wattle, shattering the jars where grain was stored and generally creating an awesome fuss.

Now, two points. The first is that such an animal could easily be considered divine, either sent by the gods as an affliction or actually being the physical presence of a god. It would be considered unstoppable. Thus all the animal motif gods and goddesses in that old time religion. Before humans had technologically developed enough to protect themselves from animal attacks, there would be pretty good reason to at least consider the possibility that animals – especially large, dangerous ones – were divine. (And, if they were man-eaters, that they were akin to demon gods, thus the Norse obsession with god killing wolves or monstrous Nemean lions and their kin.)

The second point is that if someone did manage to kill one of these monsters they would take on special significance. If a man-eating lion is considered divine, certainly the person who fought and killed such a beast must, therefore, be divine – a god or sent by the gods. Hell, even today if someone killed a man-eating lion not with a gun, not even with a spear, but a club we'd be intensely impressed.

Usually, when people talk about the formation of religion they attribute it to crude attempts to understand the world around them. Arthur Schopenhauer pointed out (in On the Freedom of the Will and perhaps other places) that the difference between your body and all other matter in the universe is that your body is matter that obeys your will directly. So, in primitive times, the hypothesis goes, people attributed all motion to some will – the wind blows not because of differences of heat and pressure in the atmosphere over large areas but because a spirit (a word whose etymology, in nearly all languages, comes from “breath”) wills it to occur. The sun rises and sets not because the earth is rotating on it's axis in revolution around a star, but because a divine force carries it across the sky. The earth moves not because of tectonic activity, but because a divine force causes the ground to shake.

I suspect there is some truth to this. But in most religions before there is a sky god or an earth god there are beast gods. Thus, the neolithic gods such as Coyote or Raven. Or even the bestial Pan and Zeus' numerous transformations into animals (usually to rape some poor woman) and his frequent identification as a bull. Before most people started developing human-shaped gods we developed ones based on animals.

Mostly it has to do with technological development. In neolithic and moreso in paleolithic times, animals could seem to have it pretty good. Not just the big, dangerous ones, either. But while humans are freezing at wintertimes, man animals simply grow a new coat of heavy fur to survive the winter. Animals were, generally, faster and seemed stronger than humans, and rather than having to depend on crude tools they were naturally equipped with claws, teeth, horns – not to mention, sometimes, wings. Very primitive technology didn't seem nearly as good as the things animals were born having.

Also, before the invention of animal husbandry, how did anyone know how clever animals were or weren't? Was the howling of wolves singing in a tongue no person understood? The grunts and snorts of a bull a language unknown to humans? After all, animals seemed to have complex social rituals as well as knowledge of events humans didn't seem to have – such as running ahead of a fire before humans could smell, hear or see it. Without the knowledge of animal husbandry, before humans had prolonged contact with any animals, how could we judge their intelligence at all?

Our first gods were animals, in short, because they could kick our asses. Faster, stronger, able to survive without needing fire, or spears – independent and free – animals were often thought of humans to be superior to humans. I think it was only with the advent of animal husbandry and metallurgy – themselves acts attributed to divine skill – was it that humans started looking for humanocentric and then abstract gods. It took a while for us to be filled with enough pride in our own skill to believe human-like gods worth worshiping and even a little while longer to imagine transcendent gods. But in the beginning, humans worshiped animals because, well, they deserved it. They appeared divine.

Epilogue: I am also thinking that the very notion of placating gods (and the elaborate rituals around that) might have come from the animal worship phase of human pre-history. While it is patently absurd to placate the sun, it is possible to placate a dangerous animal. So, leaving a single goat tied to an altar so the wolves eat that, get their fill and then ignore the rest of your herd in the barn – well, that could happen. That could work. Then, when more human-like and then transcendent gods started replacing animal gods, the sacrifices were transferred over to the new gods even though placation is impossible (thus also the tendency, over time, for sacrifices to be useful to priests and not gods – sacrificing a goat makes sense if you're trying to give a wolf a full belly to save the rest of your stock, but there's only so many goats that a priest could possibly use so, y'know, why not give money instead).

Epilogue 2: The main reason I wrote this is because on a couple of different blogs have spread the sentiments of the post under this link relating Christianity to solar cults around. I am generally of the opinion that solar worship is a very civilized thing and while I think that Christianity does have a lot in common with solar cults (notably, Mithraism from which Christianity stole so much, from virgin births to last suppers to birthdays, tho' I also think that Christianity has been stripped of almost all it's solar content), I don't think that the origins of religion have much to do with the weather which wasn't nearly as important during the pre-civilized periods of human history during which religion developed.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, March 9, 2007

“Liberal Christians”

Over at No God Blog, I was briefly confused for being a liberal Christian. It was very brief.

I don't think a liberal Christians exist. Maybe before MLK took a bullet they existed, but since then it seems they have gone extinct – if they ever were at all. Today, liberal Christians must be lumped in with what, during the Cold War, were referred to as “fellow travelers” - but in league with the forces of fundamentalism. Sure, they might not be fundamentalist conservative Christians but they are part of the soil out of which fundamentalism grows.

This might be too harsh, but I don't think so. Fairly often in discussion, a Christian will go, effectively, “Not all of us are that way. A lot of Christians are good people of conscience who deplore fundamentalists at least as much as you do.” But it makes me wonder, then, why there isn't more of a visible sign of struggle in American Christianity? I'm sure that fundamentalists and liberal Christians will point to things such as the struggles that are convulsing a small number of churches for letting gays in or being authority figures. And, to them, I'm sure that those struggles seem quite epic. From the outside? It doesn't look so good.

From the outside, what I see, and what other non-Christians see, is a whole lot of fundamentalism. We see so much fundamentalism – only fundies seem to make the news and fundamentalism's influence on the schools and politics, how fundamentalists are courted by businesses and leaders, how fundamentalists are fighting back against secularism and liberalism. We don't see liberal Christians standing up against the fundamentalists. Which isn't to say that people who are liberal Christians don't stand up to fundamentalists, but they almost always do so from a secular position – as humanists, or Democrats, or whatever. Except in a very small number of cases (such homosexuality), liberal Christians fail to address the theological grounds that fundamentalists use to attack everything from evolution to the invasion of Iraq. At least, this doesn't happen publicly.

What does happen publicly is fundamentalists attack human rights, science, propose bloody wars, are sexists and racists. They do this loudly, and without shame.

The denunciations of fundamentalist Christians by liberal Christians are all mincing affairs. There are no nationally televised liberal Christian preachers going on about inclusion – but there are a dozen fundie conservative ones! They have their own network.

I don't know why this actually is. My experience is that liberal Christians are, well, to be honest, less committed to their religion than fundamentalists. They don't let it consume their life. They leave room to be things other than a Christian. Which might be healthy for them, excepting its consequences – that they are railroaded by their fundamentalist co-religionists and have totally lost control of Christianity.

Whenever a liberal Christian tries to defend Christians with the “we're not all that way” argument, I ask them, “Then why are you talking to me? Why aren't you saying this in church, to the press, to everyone who can hear you? Why aren't you trying to reform your religion? And if you are, why are you failing?” I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer as to why they'll often express tremendous anger and work hard to sway atheists but won't fight their co-religionists. (The usual answer I get is, “My church isn't that way.” In the Internet age it's easy to check that. In every case I can think of, they lie and their church is very much “that way”.)

I have a simple term for this: cowardice. Rather than face their neighbors with a fight that needs to get fought for the metaphorical soul of Christianity, they find it easier to brace atheists, or just to shut up and . . . what? Hope the fundies go away? That some metaphorical pendulum swing? I don't know. It just strikes me as entirely fucking gutless for liberal Christians, who claim to be the majority of Christians, sit down and take the shit that their fundie siblings in religion are forcing down on them. And the rest of the world.

So I say, liberal Christians are either extinct or nearly so, replaced by cowardly Christians. I guess they don't want to be the next Martin Luther King, Jr.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

"Why did you rape Jesus?" - sex and religion

A friend of mine was reading a draft of Simon Peter and asked, "Why did you rape Jesus?" Not really a question you hear every day, but I had an answer. I said that in studying messiahs that existed in history that many of them had histories of verified sexual abuse (like Jim Jones and David Koresh) and they all acted in ways that, to me, suggested such abuse even if it wasn't verified (after all, it's hard to verify sexual abuse, especially for historical figures who lived in a time when no one talked about that sort of thing) and each and every one of them had serious, deep and serious issues with sex.

Enter a story about Ted Haggard and the layoffs at his church. Ted Haggard - I guess I should say Rev. Ted Haggard - used to be the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, a body that has thirty million members. He was involved in a sex and drugs scandal. I'd summarize, but the quotation is too darling for me to pass up:

After initially denying the accusations, Mr. Haggard confessed to buying drugs from the former prostitute, Michael Jones, and admitted to what he termed “sexual immorality.” Mr. Haggard has since gone through counseling, and was declared “completely heterosexual” by a member of a panel of ministers appointed to oversee New Life.

Well, he's now completely heterosexual! Phew. For a while there I was worried.

Anyway, this guy had a three year gay sex relationship with a male prostitute from whom he bought crystal meth. Then he denied it and only after massive evidence was clearly available did he admit, if mincingly, to "sexual immorality". THEN he gets declared totally straight by a panel of ministers. If this whole process - the hidden gay sex, the initial lies, the retraction and then being "declared completely heterosexual" - isn't profoundly perverse, I don't know what is.

This is why I raped Jesus. All of these guys are like this.

Labels: , ,