Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Pastor Warren Dilemma

“A shrewd man has to arrange his interests in order of importance and deal with them one by one; but often our greed upsets this order and makes us run after so many things at once that through over-anxiety to obtain the trivial, we miss the most important.”
-Fran├žois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld

"Nil sapientiae odiosius acumine nimio."
(Nothing is so odious to knowledge as too much shrewdness)
-Seneca (Quotation best known from its use by Poe in "The Purloined Letter."


Much is being made about Barack Obama’s choice of Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church to speak at his Inauguration. Pastor Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” a book perhaps best known for defusing a deadly hostage situation (along with some methamphetamine of course) will be delivering the invocation.

(Incidentally, another copy of the book was found in Scott Peterson’s car…)

Pastor Warren is a vocal opponent of gay marriage, you see.

So the far left is up in arms that Obama would give such a closed-minded buffoon a podium at such an important event, and the far right is angry at Pastor Warren for even being seen as willing to stand up in the same room with Obama.

Both are good signs. Because Pastor Warren is the balanced choice. It makes sense that the balanced choice pisses off both extremes.

Obama needs to unite the majority of this country in order to get even a quarter of his agenda done, considering how ambitious that agenda it. This includes recalcitrant Christians that as of this moment are thinking of him as somewhere in between Osama Bin Obama, and Satan.

Pastor Warren, while having the common Christian myopia about gays, and having even publicly equated homosexuality to pedophilia and incest, is still a much more logical thinker than most of his Evangelical brethren, and far less hypocritical. And his church is enormous.

So he is the perfect bridge.

If Obama were to (for instance) speak to Pastor Warren about actually reducing the number of abortions drastically without making it illegal, I think that common ground can be found. And once the administration has Pastor Warren’s “blessing” as it were, a large percentage of Evangelicals will have something to think about. And they just might, too. Also, I do not see Obama ceding any ground to Pastor Warren’s side as regards the issue of Gay rights. He’s already made his move to the center on that issue by not technically backing Gay marriage while supporting Gay civil union with all of the equivalent perks.

Obama is as advertised, we are now seeing. He wishes to be a uniting force. We are not used to seeing anyone like this in American politics. We’re used to hearing people *talk* as if they were like this. Huge difference. The pundits are befuddled. Some of them seem angry and are apparently feeling betrayed. This will pass. He is not even the president yet, and already the country is straining at the bit for him to take over this leaking ship and steer it toward safer harbor. Or more like dry dock. Sometimes I think that some of the talking heads of the news business would like to see the President-Elect storm the oval office and physically decapitate Bush and proclaim himself President now, for the sake of the country of course.

(And oddly enough, looking at all the *horrific* “midnight regulations” that Bush & Co. is passing in their final days of power, they may be right; not that Obama really should behead Bush, but that, if he did, that we would be far better off, and that far more lives and treasure would be saved in the long run.)

If Obama were to alienate the evangelical community as the far left would have him do, perhaps justifiably, they can do a lot of harm to him. As it is, the RNC is already commencing its new life mission, to block whatever they can block, regardless of cost to the country, so as to try to “win” something, anything. They’re in the middle of one hell of an identity crisis, and they are desperate to gain back even a shred of their self-respect. (Perhaps if they acted respectably they wouldn’t lose it so easily) The Evangelical community would work with them against the common foe, as they often have in the past. Soulless people like Tony Perkins would come out of the woodwork and pronounce what is and is not moral to *us God-fearing folk* and would have no compunction in demonizing even a good man if it is in their political best interests. Florid-faced angry Caucasians would be on every television station casting aspersions on the very humanness of the man, spraying spittle sporadically as they splutter their specious spleen.

Pastor Warren is not of that ilk, which is why Obama chose him. He cares about the poor, or actually seems to. He seems genuinely to wish to live a Christ-like life, unlike so many who with debatable accuracy also call themselves Christians. He is reasonable on many issues, and is not an uncompassionate man, from what I can tell.

Now, I do not see Obama’s choice of the man in any way as an indication that he is moving toward the right. I see it as a validation that he will rule from the center-left, which is a far batter place to rule from than we’ve had in a very long time. He will accomplish this by not only creating a spirit of fairness and inclusiveness but also at the same time by, to paraphrase LBJ, having those who would stand outside his tent and piss in, stand instead inside and piss out.

I didn’t see it this way at first glance. It seemed an extreme choice. Pastor Warren after all, from the viewpoint of a gay American, is an espouser of hatred and ignorance. Indeed, his attitudes are appallingly closed-minded in many areas, in spite of his openness in some others. But at least he has his areas of openness. They’re hard to find in the Evangelical community. And it’s the very fact that he does represent or is at least related to by many people that hold hatred in their hearts for Gays and even for Liberals, that makes him such a valuable person to have “on the team.”

If he plays this right, both extremes will come around eventually, at least in part. And the middle will never have a qualm in the first place. So it would produce the maximum best-case-scenario result. Balance.

Obama knows that he cannot please all of the people all of the time. But then again, now that he’s been elected, he no longer has to. This is one tough, balanced, smart person that we’re dealing with here. Get used to it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The "Big Brain" Speculations

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
-Edgar Allan Poe

"In my head I know I'm me; no one else in here to see. But what if my head is just in my head, and everything else, living or dead, is just a dream that we all share? Could you believe or even care, that we're all one, and you are me and we're also all that we can see? Could you believe it, just a bit, that it's all in the head, but the head is it?"
-Saint Brian the Godless

"What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists?
In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet."
-Woody Allen


***

“The Big Brain”

Part 1: The Simplest Explanation for Everything:

What would be the simplest explanation for this universe that would account for the maximum number of observations that we've made of it? I used to ask myself this all the time. I felt strongly that the truth of it couldn't be something that we'd thought of before, since all of those theories have huge holes in them, even science’s theories in a way, though science is the best single way to look at the material world of all so far. But still science sees infinities in time and distance, and quantum paradoxes galore, along with things like the wave-particle duality and entanglement, which are hard to explain. So I thought about it obsessively for years and studied a lot of different sources, and this is what I finally came to think about our universe.

To me it seems that its all a vast mind, or very similar to one. A “Big Brain” with no body required. Or if you prefer, a kind of dream, only not like a “normal” sleeping dream. Now I know that's a hard thing for a Christian, or most anybody, to ever believe. But give me a chance to explain. If you’re unfamiliar with this sort of concept it will certainly appear eminently dismissible, but please bear with me.

Imagine it as if we're all complex thought patterns in a vast mind of some sort. We think of ourselves as matter, and the universe as matter and energy and space and time, but if it were all more like a mind, it negates the problems of the infinite. The universe would be as large as we think it is, and as old as we think it is... The more we looked, the more we'd find, but in a mind this is all interplay of consciousness and not the real traversing of space, so infinity is not a problem... We feel as solid matter and a rock feels hard and heavy, but they're consciousness or thoughts too, but since *we* are as well, the rock feels heavy and we feel solid to ourselves. As we've developed over the years we've formed this vast mind by our subconscious expectations of it, since it *is* us, and all other things as well. Thus it conforms to our expectations of it, follows logical rules, etc. We are individuals, yes, but only at the conscious and near-conscious levels. At the deep subconscious level we all share the same identity, as does everything else, since we're all made of the one thing, mind, in a world of the same. So, the person looking out of your eyes and calling yourself "me" is, at the deepest level, *identical* with the person that looks out of *my* eyes and says the same. God, or the universe, is One, and we're all a part of it, connected at every point. There's only *one* "sense-of-identity" in the universe. That's what that means. We just all have it and each of us thinks it is unique to us as individuals, but it's not. Now if in this vast mind or “dream” you manage to convince yourself that it's all due to an anthropomorphic God up in some nebulous heaven, this reality/mind will accommodate you and give you "signs" that you're on the right track, *even if you are not!* It will give you exactly what you expect it to in your deep subconscious.

(Or perhaps better to say, “our” deep subconscious...)

So this "dream" can be rather deceptive.

If I meditate strongly enough, I get the same types of signs, and I'm not a believer in any God whatsoever.. Strange coincidences, synchronicities, and actual events taking place that related to my meditation... Even at times, wish-fulfillment... You can produce this with prayers, if you *really* believe deeply. It won't matter that what you really believe in isn't true, either. You can pray to a big Shoe in the sky, and if you have enough belief, real-world phenomena can and will occur that seem to be an answer to your "prayers" with no God needed other than this universe, which in it's entirety, can be called God but more accurately is just the mind that we all call home. It's not a human mind, but it's composed of all human and non-human minds and all other things as well.

This seems simple enough to at least visualize if you have an imagination. Now tell me why it can't be true. You can't. Much like God, there’s no way to prove it wrong. However unlike God, there are actual scientific research results that point to it *possibly* being true, that seem to at least indicate that it’s not as unlikely as it seems on the surface. And it explains everything in the world. Not one thing left out. It's the only theory that can even come close to doing that. All scientific problems, the mind-body problem, the placebo effect, miracles, faith-healings, synchronicities, deja-vu, "signs," ESP, clairvoyance, all psychic phenomena including hauntings, and even your faith in your God.

It can’t be proven yet, but it looks like it might be provable in the near future, if it’s true, of course. The beginnings of proof are already there. Look at the quantum realm, with all its strangeness and problems, which vanish if we assume that the universe is all consciousness. But as of right now, it can’t be proven. Not yet. Neither can your God, or anyone else’s, but since it explains not only your God but all others, and science, and scientific fallacies and paradoxes, and indeed all unsolved “mysteries,” and actually even has hopes of being proven in time by science, it’s far superior to any other faith or religion. And it’s simple, when you understand it. By Occam’s Razor, it is most likely to be the correct theory, if you detach yourself from your habitual view of reality and just think of the probabilities from an un-reality-biased perspective.

For me, I was the agnostic almost-atheist that loved science and the scientific method, was completely skeptical of anything that even smacked of the paranormal, then at about age 36 started to get 'signs' or more accurately perhaps jungian type synchronicities in my day-to-day life, synchronicities that I soon realized always related to thoughts expressed when I was in an emotionally excited state, such as when I was joking around with friends. Oh, and since the friends involved saw them too and thought that they were creepy, I know that it wasn't just a delusion. All of this worldview of mine that I have expressed above came about in my mind as a *result* of my having these experiences and then investigating them with various thought experiments as my tools, all subjective of course, but compelling nonetheless. Very compelling indeed.

Part 2: The Design and the Designer:

We're the designer. All of us, together, designed this place, by our very attempts to observe and understand it, from time immemorial. We created the dream-reality within which we now find ourselves. It's not solid, dead matter and energy like we think it is; it's all just consciousness. All that exists is consciousness, a vast sea of consciousness in which we are patterns of consciousness within the larger whole.

The world's far from perfect because the designers are far from perfect.

There's no plan, other than seeking for it to make sense. That's why it makes sense. Because we need it to. That's why it looks designed. And the closer we look at reality, the finer detail we provide for us to see. The more powerful our telescopes become, the larger the universe gets. It's all in our expectations and we fix it in place with our logic and science.

That's where creation happens. In our observations and expectations. In our minds. It's all in our minds, but our minds are all one at the deepest level anyhow, so it all agrees. It has to. We're all one.

I know, I need to take my meds, etc... except that, it is not as crazy as it sounds.

What is this universe, if indeed God does not exist in an anthropomorphic sense and there is no personified creator, and if science has only part of the answer? I mean, weird things sometimes seem to happen that nothing can really explain. Psychic events. Healing through prayer. ESP. Ghosts. Out-of-body experiences. Sightings of the Blessed Mother. Or the devil. Stigmata. Personal "miracles" and occasional contacts with divinity or consciousness or spirit or SOMETHING that leaves us confused or exultant or suicidal.

What is this place? What is the most logical conclusion, when even science seems suspect, at least in explaining some phenomena?

I think that they most likely answer to that it that the entire universe is made of consciousness and not matter as we think of it. Like a vast mind of some kind. Or like a dream, if you will. Not a normal dream, but similar. More realistic, of course, for one thing. More consistent. More painful. More pleasurable.

But a "dream" in whose head? Who is dreaming it?

The only possible answer to that is that we are! In fact, it's a dream without a specific dreamer required, since to think one is required is missing the point of it *all* being a dream, including us. We *all* dream it together. We are the dreamer and the dream. It’s all “One.”

We are “reality-biased” knowing nothing else other than this “consensual” reality/dream, so we “naturally assume” that a body is necessary for a brain, and that a brain is necessary for a mind, because that seems to be how it works here in our reality, but if our reality is a mind or a dream and not a place, then the rest becomes superfluous.

We dream that we are bodies, and so of course we are bodies in our dream.

And since we're the most advanced life form participating in this particular dream, we're the best of the dreamers, the most able to construct a complicated dream like this, one that seems so “tailored” to us. No God required. We did it; as we looked at it, looked *for* it, it all became real, because that’s how reality works. We looked for something, and we dreamt it up as we looked, just in time to see it and think that we had nothing to do with it. The closer we looked, the finer the detail that we created. The farther away in space that our telescopes can see the more of the dream becomes real, the larger the universe becomes. We find new stars, but were they there before we had the telescope to look? What I’m saying is, incredibly enough, perhaps not.

And it's easy to see why some people think that God is real and claim to receive signs and communications to that effect, since if they believe it hard enough, reality will give them false evidence of it being true due to their preoccupation with the subject warping their vision of reality.

>>>UPDATE APRIL 25TH 2009 UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE:

Another way of thinking about the so-called "Big Brain" is to think of ourselves as dreamers by nature, pure and simple, nothing else to us really but that.

I read somewhere the Buddhists have this thing they call "Maya." It's a word that sort-of means the reality that we perceive that is a representation of what is real. The connotation that I got out of it is that all reality is a symbolic illusion, a story if you will. Or a dream; but not like sleeping dreams.

Perhaps we all are dreamer-beings by nature, and we all get to share in one dream and have as many others as we want to for ourselves. We have many dreams but we only have one common "interface" dream that we've all agreed upon is real. In the dream in which we all share and which we all agree is not a dream because it is not like our other dreams, rules have sprung up, because different dreamers had to reconcile and "average out" in order for there to be a consensus on "reality." So what we think of as reality is an illusion, another kind of a dream, but it is the only thing we've got, the only reality that we've ever had, and so we might as well think of it as real. It's as real as anything ever gets.

Oh, and one really important thing about Maya that I remember. The Buddhists have a saying about it.

"Maya seeks to deceive..."

I take from it to mean that since one's expectations can actually to an extent shape the dream as long as no serious conflicts arise, if one allows their expectations to dominate their thought, their expectations will be mirrored by Maya to some visible extent and thought to be proof of truth. Verification. So the religious man has the religious vision, but the vision was provided by Maya and not God, just giving the man what he's obsessed by... I've never expected the answer to the ultimate question to be the Christian God, not since I was a child. It became actually a silly concept in my mind. So Maya gave me a nice, generic, nonsectarian paradigm shift. If it is indeed for the better, then it will be growth. I have hopes. And even some pretty good subjective evidence.

(The only kind possible for something like this)

Monday, November 17, 2008

IS THERE IN TRUTH NO BEAUTY?

"It is easier to perceive error than to find truth, for the former lies on the surface and is easily seen, while the latter lies in the depth, where few are willing to search for it."
-Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie -- deliberate, contrived, and dishonest -- but the myth -- persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic."
-John F. Kennedy

"Science has promised us truth. It has never promised us either peace or happiness."
-Gustave Le Bon

IS THERE IN TRUTH NO BEAUTY?

(-Star Trek Original Series, season three episode title)


Today’s discussion is based on a simple question: What is Truth itself?

You have thirty seconds. No pressure.



Well, it certainly sounded simple, didn’t it?

This is indeed a complex issue, and so I hope you’ll forgive me if I ramble a bit. I will strive to not be too “disconnectedy.”

They say (whoever “they” are) that one man’s truth is another man’s folly. This seems to have a grain of “truth” in it, to me. The idea being that the Truth is a subjective thing. Or at least it is so in effect.

(Tangential conundrum, also derived from an old Star Trek episode: “This statement is absolutely true: everything I say is a lie…”)

(Don’t fry your brain over it)

At its most basic level, in the make-believe world of black-and-white, the truth is one of two choices, the other being falsity. Right and Wrong. Simple. Unfortunately the real world that we all live in is far from black-and-white.

In the world of mathematics, one plus one is always two. This then can be said to be a mathematical “truth.” However it is only so easily defined as such because mathematics is a “closed system” in that it is a ‘world’ that is in its entirety rigidly defined and explained by logical rules and axioms. It is implicit that the truths of mathematics are all within the contexts of mathematics. One cannot for instance, quantify love.

The real world is more complex by far than the mathematical one. One has to take the human variable into account along with a myriad of other factors. In many (if not most) situations, there is no black and white, there are only shades of gray to choose from.

How to choose? Therein seems to lie the difficulty.

The Truth can be defined as such only within the contexts of the question or statement involved. For instance, if I were to ask “Is your name John?” the context of the question is easily understood, as is the only true answer. Your name is either John, or it isn’t. If your name is not John, then it is not true that your name is John. And you can easily tell that your name is not John if it isn’t John. You would be in an excellent position to know what your own name is. In fact, you are the definitive authority on your own name. So if I were instead to make the statement, “Your name is definitely John” and your name is in reality Fred, then you can know that my statement is untrue. (But if you have amnesia...)

However if I were to state (for instance) that “I am certain that there is a God, and that He is Jesus Christ,” the definition of ‘Truth’ becomes more problematic.

If I am certain that it is true, then I can hardly be said to be lying as I maintain it to be true. But if it were to happen not to be true, then I am unknowingly telling, or at least repeating, a lie. And let’s face it; there either is or isn’t a God, and if there is one, then it either is or isn’t the Christian God. We may not be in a position to know yet, but these are the choices on the table, and all of them can’t be true. The possibility exists that there is no God whatsoever, and thus that all religions are wrong. If I cannot acknowledge this, then I cannot acknowledge reality itself.

If I try to investigate this question of God’s existence and even His divine identity using logic and science, agnosticism is the only rational result. Even complete atheism is assuming too much. There is just no way to tell, so there is just no way to tell, period. Anything more is, alas, wishful thinking. All indications may point to ‘no God or Gods,’ but in the end, there’s no real way to tell. So to claim such knowledge one way or the other is to be rather silly.

However the only real way to investigate the truth or falsity of anything, including the deity, is still by the application of logic and reason, and of course their avatar on earth, science. If these things fail, substituting faith is never a viable option. It may be an attractive option, but never a viable one.

The man of faith claims that he knows that his God is “true,” because of that very faith. In essence this is saying “I know it, because I know it.” This may sound fine to another believer, but to the unbiased it’s a complete absurdity.

One cannot claim the strength of one’s belief or faith as proof of that very belief or faith. This is a completely circular argument. It is less than senseless. It is ridiculous. If one believes something to be true, it’s still only a belief, and will not approach the strength of a truth until it is subjected to rigorous testing, and by that I mean logical testing and not religious. The believer certainly cannot point to scriptures as proof of their belief either, for the same reason. Scripture is a statement of faith, is designed to strengthen faith, and as such is hardly unbiased. The Bible is no more an unbiased view of Christianity than the Koran is of Islam. All religious texts are biased toward the religion that they represent, for what should be obvious reasons.

And I need unbiased, yes I do.

John Keats said in his “Ode on a Grecian Urn” that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” And yet, the truth is often ugly, or so it seems. And the beautiful is often a lie. The Easter Bunny is “beautiful” in that it brings eggs to little children and has a cute nose. Alas, it’s a lie. Bot flies are the Truth, and they lay eggs in little children's noses. Not much beauty there.

Perhaps the Truth is in reality always beautiful, but is perceived as ugliness by those of us that are incapable of understanding it. (Some can see beauty in even bot flies…) Or perhaps it is simply that while all Beauty may be Truth, the set of all Truth additionally includes much that is not Beauty. Maybe old Keats was saying that we should just ignore the ugly truths and concentrate on the beautiful ones in order to be happy. Perhaps even that we should concentrate on some beautiful “truths,” in spite of the fact that they may only be true in our minds.

Unfortunately if this is so, I’m one of those annoying people that can’t ever be happy with a pretty lie when I just know that the ugly truth is out there somewhere.

I think that in many real-life situations there is no precise formula to apply so as to always arrive at the absolute truth. To my mind it is usually a process of considering all possible options, of thinking laterally as much as you can, and choosing the best, “most true” option.

When confronted with a deep question with no clear resolution, to me finding the “truth” is and must be finding the best available option that works optimally in the given context, in our consensual reality. Note that I say “our” reality, meaning the reality agreed upon by the maximum number of unbiased observers. Note that I say “unbiased” meaning not followers of any particular belief system, as this would skew results.

(To those that would say that logic, reason, and science are also a belief system, my reply is “Yes, they’re the only one that gets real-world results, which is why I chose them over yours in the first place.”)

Getting back to religion as an example, if I were to choose a particular faith instead of my agnosticism and claim it to be true to the world and to myself, then I would be invalidating all the other many faiths by my choice of that one. I’d be saying that not only is my God true, but that all the other Gods are false. Yet, I can find no justification for doing this that doesn’t also work in the opposite direction, if I for example happened to be a believer in one of the other faiths instead of the one that I chose. This therefore to me seems a very bigoted and inherently flawed method of finding the truth. It seems mere wishful thinking, when you really look at it. The simpler and I think more “true” choice for someone like me in this situation is by default to reject all religions as highly unlikely, since there is not one that stands out as any “truer” than any other one, and to look back to consensual reality again for my answers. After all, none of the world’s religions are “necessarily” true, and indeed none of them have any real-world evidence of being true, except to someone that is already a believer in one of them and is therefore willing to accept the word of other heavily-biased believers or the evidence of their own biased feelings as their “proof” in lieu of actual verifiable evidence.

So what is Truth? To me the Truth is a word whose meaning is particular to the situation and context, because it is an indicator of the “least false option of all available options” and not some metaphysical absolute. Telling the truth as you know it may still not be telling the Truth. There is more responsibility to it than that. One must educate one’s self adequately in the given contextual paradigm in order to select the truest option, and if you haven’t done that, ignorance is no excuse. And one must doubt in all things, especially in one’s self, for the truth to eventually be revealed to you.

You have to learn to see the truth before you can tell it.

And to some people, that’s the hardest thing in the world.

Monday, November 10, 2008

RELIGUN NEWZ

Well, let’s look at the headlines. Lots of funny stuff happening.

An eight-year-old boy recently killed his father and another man that rented a room at their house with a .22 caliber weapon. Execution style.

More fun than Halo, I bet.

The boy was previously brought by his father to visit his priest, to try to get the boy to not fear guns. Because it’s important to have your eight-year-old armed to the teeth. God says so.

I think it worked. He definitely lost his fear of guns altogether.

Praise Jesus and pass the ammo.

No doubt there’s more to the story. I’d be surprised if there was no abuse. And since he killed not only his dad but the other man as well, I’d be surprised if they weren’t both abusing the boy.

(Especially in a Christian home)

God goes so well with guns, for some reason. Like peas and carrots. And so well with child abuse too. Religious authoritarians love nothing more than having a helpless child that they can utterly control in every way.

Or wouldn't it be ironic if, instead of the abuse scenario, it was as simple as the father teaching the son to hate homosexuals, and then the son accidentally seeing his dad and this other man locked in a gay embrace?

Link


Oh, and on Election Day, the day that blacks finally achieved so very much after so very long, some of these very same blacks helped to institute a ban on Gay Marriage in California. Many of the blacks voted both for Obama and the ban. In fact, if so many new black voters hadn’t come out for Obama, it’s likely the measure wouldn’t have passed at all.

It’s like, we’re free, finally! Praise the Lord! At long last we can enjoy oppressing another minority!

Reminds me of the stories of when the Romans finally stopped feeding Christians to the lions and they immediately went into the stands to watch other people getting fed to the lions.

The only reason that so many blacks would vote against gay marriage, is of course due to the fact that the majority of them are Christians. And God says it's icky.

It’s so blessed and holy to get involved in your neighbor’s personal life like that. It’s what Jesus would have done. If he were a complete asshole that was nothing like how he was portrayed to be, that is.

Well, at least it’s nice to see that the white Christians and the black Christians can now both enjoy having a particular irrational hatred in common like that. Now they can bond over it, and the healing can begin.

Link


And let’s see. Any more religious hate out there? Oh sure, there’s the black church in Springfield Massachussets, burned to the ground minutes after Obama won on Election Day. Arson.

How much you wanna bet that it was burnt down by a member (or members) of a white church? Just sayin…

Link


You know, when I see horrific news stories involving hatred or abuse along with incredible stupidity, I always look for the religious angle. And all too often I find it.

I wonder why that is...

Oh yeah! I keep forgetting that religion, in its extreme forms, is a psychosis. This is not an exaggeration for effect. It’s literally true.

A psychosis is when you are no longer in touch with reality.

A better definition of fundamentalist Christianity (or fundamentalist Islam, for that matter) is hard to find.

Too many Christians live in a reality where gays are evil, Liberals are socialists, hate America and love abortions, smart people are not worth listening to, and God is all we need. Specifically their version of God, of course.

This reality in no way corresponds to actual reality, but this in no way distresses the believers. They’ve decided to believe it, so it becomes a minor technicality that it isn’t really so. They wish it so, they have decided that it is so, and so it is. No amount of logical discourse can change their minds, since their minds are not based in logical discourse. So with eyes turned toward heaven, they stumble through life feeling better about themselves with every stranger they oppress.

All religions, especially the more authoritarian ones, when extended to their extremes, become cults.

If you think about it, anything that offers rewards in the afterlife in trade for obedience in this one just naturally lends itself to evil ends.

The real nature of Pascal’s Wager is a con, not a bet.

I always wonder how a believer can see the evil that another believer is capable of, and just dismiss it as utterly unrelated to them. They should be able to see that that other believer that did the evil both believed in God and believed that he himself was sane. All insane people believe that they’re sane. All psychotics believe that they’re not psychotics. One would think that, due to observing this, they’d want to check and see if they’re really sane themselves once in a while.

Nope. No need to. After all, they have faith.

Why is it that the only two men that I’ve known in my life that I also know to have committed child abuse, were both practicing Christians? Did they not glean anything from their faith that might have stopped them? Sadly no, and it is my opinion that they instead gleaned something from their faith that enabled them. One of them is to my knowledge still offering up communion to seniors at the local nursing home. I rank him as one of the most evil people that I’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting, but his faith is unshakeable. So is his faith in himself, by the way. He’s fine with himself. A very proud man. One of the biggest assholes walking the planet, but he’s cool with it. That’s faith.

No really. That IS faith. That’s what faith can do to a person. Faith is only good and positive when it’s faith in something good and positive. The down side to that is, if you happen to have faith in something bad and negative, you’ll never know, since its faith.

Faith means you won’t ever question it. Or yourself. Ever again.

Oh well, I didn’t really want to rant against the Christians again. I hope that I’ve made it abundantly clear in the past that it’s only the fundamentalist and evangelical types that these occassional rants of mine really aply to anyhow. Christians that actually try to act in a “Christ-like” manner are not part of the problem. They are, in fact, part of the solution. Those that understand that loving thy neighbor doesn’t mean that you get to pick your neighbor, and that the path of Jesus is a difficult one precisely because it demands that you give up your egotism and learn to focus on loving others instead.

If only the other kind didn’t keep making the news. It gives the whole religion a bad name.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Empathy and Intellect

“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.”
-Kahlil Gibran

“When a good man is hurt all who would be called good must suffer with him.”
-Euripides

“The most valuable things in life are not measured in monetary terms. The really important things are not houses and lands, stocks and bonds, automobiles and real state, but friendships, trust, confidence, empathy, mercy, love and faith.”
-Bertrand Russell

“If you cannot feel the pain of a stranger, it cannot be said that you truly love anyone but yourself.”
-St. Brian the Godless

Empathy and Intellect

I doubt that anybody can deny that many of the worst people in our history were intelligent. Hitler may have been stark raving mad, but his intellect was not in question. In fact, in order to be truly evil on a global scale, it may even be said that one must be very intelligent indeed, for evil on such a large scale requires careful planning.

When I was a child I revered intellect like most Christians revere Jesus. I thought it automatic evidence of goodness, indeed as inherently good in and of itself. I was sadly mistaken, as I learned later on in life. Many of the smartest people around are the worst examples of humanity out there. They dedicate their intellects to the pursuit of their selfish and egotistical ends rather than to accomplishing good in the world. To me this seemed a conundrum when I first encountered it. Why, when you have intellect, would you ever devote it to selfish ends? To me, it seemed illogical.

I didn’t realize at the time that there are two components to the balanced person, two factors which must be in an equilibrium of sorts within the personality in order for the person to truly be a good and decent human being while retaining effectiveness in the world.

Empathy and Intellect.

The ancient Chinese depicted this by the familiar but not well understood Yin-Yang symbol of blended opposites, and even ancient Jews had the concept of Chochma and Binah, kabalistic symbols of the eternal balance between male and female, or positive and negative. The balance between the emotional mind versus the rational mind. Intuition and empathy versus intellect and logic. Lateral thinking versus linear thinking. And even Liberal versus Conservative. Two poles or extremes, either of which by itself inadequate and harmful, but when balanced properly, the optimal most effective path in the world, both spiritually and materially.

We seem to have a good idea what knowledge and intellect is, and what an intelligent person is, but not so many of us understand empathy in equally clear terms. Very few of us give it the importance that it deserves in our minds, for it is the very seat of all human goodness. Without empathy, intellect automatically turns to evil ends, for without empathy logical reasons can be found to justify most any selfish action, even very heinous ones. Without empathy, there is no guilt. And without empathy, there can be no love.

What is empathy?

If a person sees a child suffering, they tend to feel compassion for it. This is a rather basic example of empathy, and most of us do possess it at this level. If a person sees another person carrying a heavy load, they might be inclined to help them with it. This is also a simplistic example of empathy at its most basic level. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that.

Now it may be said that to be Pro-Life is a form of empathy, since you’re hopefully empathizing with the unborn life. But when you talk to some of the people that declare themselves Pro-Life, they often reveal that they are only so due to ideological reasons, and not due to actual real empathy on their parts, since they feel nothing for the poor and starving already-born children in our society, falling through the cracks, receiving inadequate medical care and education, often turning to a life of crime and drugs, and dying violently at a young age. These same “Pro-Life” people are also often Pro-War, which is actually anti-empathy, the very opposite of it. And the Pro-Life movement is noticeably unconcerned with the health of the mother, and her choices in her life, and she’s a person too. So they feel selective empathy, if any at all. Perhaps they do feel something for the “babies’” lives that are lost, but let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to feel empathy for an imaginary helpless baby than it is for an autonomous adult, albeit no more important in the scheme of things. They care about the unborn babies, but once they’re born they tend to forget all about them. This is not empathy at all. It’s self-serving at best. It isn’t based in love of others, but in love of self. And of course, also based in love of their particular religious dogma, which is basically the same thing.

Real empathy is elusive. It’s not something easily defined. I think it is perhaps easier to get a handle on if you simply think of it as love. Not romantic love and not love of family or a pet, but simply love for all others, based in the idea of universal brotherhood. Love for others based on nothing more than the knowledge that the other person is a person too, just another version of ourselves, trying their best to make their way in the world like we are, and as such deserving of our love, as we are of theirs. And it’s a type of love that allows us to feel their pain and to celebrate their happiness, as if they were a member of our family. In its ideal form, this type of love can and should extend not only to all other people, but to all other life.

To truly love thy neighbor must mean to learn to see life through their eyes, to learn to use your imagination to picture how they see life, in order to relate to them. In order to accomplish this it is necessary to temporarily give up your own presuppositions and prejudices and to instead imagine having those (if any) of the other person. You must imagine being them, literally, in order to truly empathize with them, in order to love them. It’s an acquired skill.

The ancient Jews used to say to be careful how you treat a stranger, because the stranger may be an angel in disguise. This begins to get at the idea of empathy. If we treated everyone as if they were an angel sent here to test our love for others, we would at least develop the behavior patterns that lead to real empathy.

Now what if you happen to be a fundamentalist Christian and are confronted with an atheist? You are commanded to love them, but how can you love an atheist? After all, they’re against everything that you’ve been taught is good and pure.

Well, the interesting thing is, real love, real empathy, transcends Christian dogma. It has to. All Christians have been commanded by Christ Himself to love their neighbors, to thus love all others, and here such a command is in apparent conflict with the rest of their faith. However it is a direct, specific command from Jesus Christ, so it must be of some great importance, and as such must take precedence over the rest of the Christian dogma when such conflicts arise. So the Christian cannot condemn the atheist nor attempt to convert him or her to their faith, in spite of how much they may wish to. This would not be love. This would not be empathy. This would be selfishness and egotism, since it is incredibly egotistical to think that you are fit to judge others. Jesus specifically warned against this, lest we forget. Judge not, lest ye be judged.

Empathy is an aspect of the emotional or intuitive mind. This is in opposition to the rational, logical mind. Balance between the two is the key to personal growth. When you learn to see things as others see them, you eventually learn to see how they see you. And once you can see how others see you, and learn to average out the impressions that others seem to have of you, you then possess one of the most important keys to your own personality that you can ever have: An unbiased view of yourself. Once you have that and internalize it, you naturally start to change into being more of the person that you want to be, instead of merely being what you started out as. You start to evolve.

Empathy in a world leader is of paramount importance, and yet is one of the rarer qualities exemplified in such leaders. Too much intellect without enough empathy to balance it makes the tyrant; the opposite makes the ineffectual dupe. There must be balance.

You see, the problem is that empathy isn’t the most attractive trait in a candidate. In our society it’s usually confused with wimpiness, and nobody wants a wimpy leader. This is because of the fact that empathy in its most extreme form, unchecked by intellect, is indeed wimpiness, just as intellect in its most extreme form, unchecked by empathy, is utter tyranny. The voters aren’t perceptive enough to realize that a certain amount of empathy is absolutely crucial in order to insure that the leader’s intellect isn’t easily turned to selfish ends, and thus they throw out the baby with the bathwater. They see black and vote white, never thinking that the optimal choice is a balance of the two.

Too often we humans, when confronted by a choice, see something that we don’t like in one option and reflexively choose the other without sufficient reflection on all factors involved. We get into a lot of trouble that way.

On the surface McCain looks pretty good. War hero, experienced, a “maverick…”
On the surface Obama seems a bit wimpy by comparison. But as you delve beneath the surface it is clear that the more balanced individual by far is Obama. To McCain, everything is a war, everything is a fight. It’s all he knows. Such a personality cannot empathize with anybody but a soldier perhaps. They certainly cannot learn to feel the pain of the middle class, and the poor. And thus, they will never do anything to alleviate their suffering. Obama has sufficient empathy to balance his stellar intellect, and that’s a lot of empathy. He’s non-confrontational, but can confront when he needs to, and very effectively. He’s not a Jimmy Carter, who was after all a brilliant man, but lacked enough rational side to balance his emotional side. Obama has the right mix. McCain is a study in one-sidedness. He’s incredibly imbalanced, with no discernable empathy whatsoever. He even looks stiff when he hugs his wife. And his temper is legendary. McCain is self-focused. Obama is other-focused. McCain went to war in Vietnam, and when he got back he went into the senate, parlaying his POW experience into enough pity to get him elected. Obama had the world at his feet when he graduated Harvard Law, and chose public service at the community level instead of self-aggrandizement. He chose a noble profession, and excelled at it. His whole campaign is other-focused. That’s why his appeal is so incredibly broad.

We face a choice this Tuesday. Let’s hope that we have the sense as a country to finally choose a person with some balance, rather than reflexively choosing an imbalanced one-sided man with the potential to harm this country at so many levels, just because we think our president should act like John Wayne rather than John Kennedy.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The National IQ Test

"We've arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces."
-Carl Sagan

"It is not always easy to diagnose. The simplest form of stupidity - the mumbling, nose-picking, stolid incomprehension - can be detected by anyone. But the stupidity which disguises itself as thought, and which talks so glibly and eloquently, indeed never stops talking, in every walk of life is not so easy to identify, because it marches under a formidable name, which few dare attack. It is called Popular Opinion..."
-Robertson Davies

"There are two things which cannot be attacked in front: ignorance and narrow-mindedness. They can only be shaken by the simple development of the contrary qualities. They will not bear discussion."
-Lord (John Emerich Edward Dalberg) Acton

"Wanting to be right so badly that you come to actually believe that you are right, is not the same thing as actually being right.
If you can't tell the difference, you're hopelessly lost, and no-one can help you anymore."
-St. Brian the Godless

The National IQ Test

Watching the McCain-Palin campaign in action has made me realize that this isn’t just a contest between Republicans and Democrats, it’s a contest between the belief-based mentality and the thought-based mentality. It is a contest between those who do not habitually question things deeply to determine their veracity, and those who do.

It is a contest between those that think the cherubs are soap, and those who can tell that they’re plastic. (See previous post)

Now I don't know about you, but when I watch politics I pay attention not only to my candidate’s statements but also to those of his or her opponent’s. I look into the statements of the opponent deeply, to make sure that I’m backing the right person. I seriously consider the possibility that the opponent may be telling the truth, so I look their statements up on the web, read a lot of (often conflicting) data about them, and check out independent sources as well as my candidate’s rebuttal. I watch various sources of cable news. I read many different websites. I make every attempt to stay informed about both sides of every issue and even the related issues, and then I decide who’s telling the truth and who isn’t. By then it’s usually pretty obvious. And if the other guy isn’t telling the truth and my candidate is, this is not only a plus for the credibility of my candidate in my mind, but a minus for the other guy.

Now to my mind, there’s no other way to be. How else can one cut through the “spin” and see the substance other than by being a hypercritical skeptic? But to many people it’s a lot easier than that. They go with their “gut” instead. This is another way to say that they vote based on belief and emotion rather than on careful and unbiased thought. And they are legion.

How else to explain the fact that McCain-Palin is even close in the polls to Obama-Biden when by all rights with the vast amounts of easily-detectable distortions and outright lies that they’ve been tossing out there at their opponents they should be national laughing stocks by now? Not to mention the difference in message, and the obvious difference in the intelligence and judgment of the candidates? And the obvious fact, the undeniable reality that Sarah Palin is not anywhere near being ready to be president of this great country, and never will be, and that her selection was a mockery, a slap in the face to thinking Americans everywhere.

Apparently there are an incredible number of people in this country that do not see the value of skepticism and penetrating thought.

Oh, I see that Sarah Palin is finally getting close to being a laughing stock. About time. I was laughing at her the day she was introduced as candidate and have only stopped to vomit occasionally since. How long do some people take to see through such an obvious total and complete lie? Her entire persona is a carefully constructed fabrication. She lives the lie. She is the lie. She’s a puff of smoke in front of a mirror. A piece of eye-candy with an arsenic center. It worries me that people have been taking so long to see through her, though. She’s not a very good lie. She’s on the level of the toddler that says they didn’t eat the cookie with crumbs still on their lips. Transparent as glass and thus all the more appalling that some people can’t see through her at all, and that they can vote.

But good old John McCain is apparently a better lie. Oh, I assure you that he is now indeed a lie, as much as Sarah Palin is. He just has his past honor and glory and “maverickiness” to fall back on to make the lie seem more real.

(Hey, it worked when he was running for senate)

When you consider how much he’s broken from that past recently, how much he’s changed, it’s hard to believe that anybody would fall for it, but they still do. It’s sad, actually. He used to have a modicum of honor, but he traded it all for a chance at the prize. He’s sold his soul as much as Judas ever did, seeking to trade his honor and glory for power and fame. How is this not obvious to all? The man’s an open book, for all that have eyes to see.

Neither John McCain nor Sarah Palin is a very convincing lie, as lies go. Neither one is very hard to see through, if you’re a thinking individual. They’re not hard to judge as people. They’ve made it very easy, in fact. They practically dare us to spot them. They’re laughably obvious. Ms. Palin in particular is a caricature of vicious stupidity coupled with an egomaniacal drive. If people looked on the outside as they really are on the inside she’d look like Quasimodo instead of a pageant winner. The loathsomeness virtually drips off her. Just look at what she inspires among her base. She has the basest base in the country. When she called herself a pitbull with lipstick, I really didn’t think that she meant it literally. As in, she’s one vicious bitch if ever there was one.

Why aren’t more of us laughing? They're both very funny! Why do any of us even consider voting for them, when our only reaction should be amusement at their pathetic, childish attempts to fool us into thinking that they're competent when they're so clearly not?

I have to put this thought out there: If so much of the Republican Party wasn’t so religious, I don’t think they’d be so gullible and willing to just believe in someone without adequately examining them based on a few claims that appeal to them. They’ve been conditioned to have faith and believe in things without proof or evidence, as long as it “feels right.” And it “feels right” when it agrees with their preconceived erroneous worldview that they’ve been conditioned into in the first place. It even seems that some of them have little regard for the truth anymore, as in, they can’t even tell it from the lies, and don’t seem to see the importance of trying to. To them, the truth is whatever they believe it to be.

And of course, McCain’s white. That figures in here heavily as well, I’m sure. More ignorance at work.

This election is an important test. It is an IQ test for the entire nation. And it’s not like the usual IQ test. It’s not scored. It’s “pass or fail.” It’s “are we too ignorant as a country to merit survival as a world leader or even as a country, or are we worthy to be that "Shining City on a Hill" for the rest of the world once again?

If we fail, unfortunately we will deserve the consequences. And I fear that they will be dire.
________________________________

More ancillary stupidity:

-Apparently a McCain volunteer carved a “B” into her own face and tried to say a black Obama supporter did it after he mugged her. She just admitted the hoax after a polygraph. How stupid was she? The "B" was reversed on her face, as in she carved it as it looked in the mirror. Drudge jumped all over it of course, since it showed how hateful we Obama supporters really are… And the right had a field day talking about it, how maybe it meant that people should think again about voting for Obama... The little psycho even got a call from the Queen Psycho herself, Sarah Palin!

Now with the truth out there, it only shows how psychotic McCain supporters can be and how rabid their campaign has become. Nice going there Matt Drudge, on vetting your sources or even caring about the truth. Nice going there McCain campaign for trying to foment hatred when you thought you had a chance. Too bad it backfired like that. Guess that's the risk you take when you try to appeal to American's nutcases.

-Also, Joe the Plumber was formerly Joe the Alaskan. He used to live there. Do you smell a rodent yet?

-And Sarah Palin just bought more clothes Monday. That’s in addition to the 150k that the republicans have already spent on her. She’s an expensive lie, apparently.

In never rains but it pours.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Christianity and Perception

"You never see animals going through the absurd and often horrible fooleries of magic and religion. Dogs do not ritually urinate in the hope of persuading heaven to do the same and send down rain. Asses do not bray a liturgy to cloudless skies. Nor do cats attempt, by abstinence from cat's meat, to wheedle the feline spirits into benevolence. Only man behaves with such gratuitous folly. It is the price he has to pay for being intelligent but not, as yet, quite intelligent enough."
-Aldous Huxley

“Faith means not wanting to know what is true.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche

"Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything."
- George Bernard Shaw

"If you would be a real seeker after truth,
it is necessary that at least once in your life
you doubt, as far as possible, all things."
- Rene Descartes

"The fool doth think he is wise, but the wiseman knows himself to be a fool."
-Shakespeare, “As You Like It”

“Learn to think before you believe, or you’ll soon believe that you don’t have to think.”
-St. Brian the Godless

Christianity and Perception

I’ve told this story before, but not in this venue. I call it my “Soap Cherubs” story.

Oh, stop groaning…

“When I was ten my family used to talk about these two prized Italian carvings of cherubs that they had, hand carved in great detail out of soap. Being Italian themselves, they were rather proud of them.

One day I carefully dabbed some water on my finger and tested a wing. It didn't feel soapy at all. I then noticed mold marks. And a label "Made in Japan" on the bottom. I carefully bent a wing tip, and it flexed nicely. It wasn't soap. It was plastic. And it wasn’t carved. It was injection-molded.

I told my mom, tried to explain the facts as to why they couldn’t be soap, and it was like she couldn't hear me. I was just a kid, and she knew that they were soap, and I was just hitting her with way too much detail. Same with my aunt and my dad. But the cherubs weren't soap, and I know this today for a fact.

She didn't lie when she told me that they were soap all those times, but it wasn't true, and nothing that I could say could convince her that she was wrong. And yet she and the rest of my family were wrong. They just didn't see details in things like I did, so they were unable to see that the cherubs were not carved soap, even when presented with the evidence.

I learned that they were blind to many, many other things in addition to the "soap" cherubs that were not. One of them was the illogic of their religion.

Open your minds someday, people of faith. You're not seeing the plastic.”

Ahh, an oldie but a goodie…

Incidentally, I am adopted, a fact that has caused me much relief in my day.

I think this little (true) story of mine outlines the differences between the belief-based mindset and the fact-based mindset. The Christian mind versus the Atheist mind, if you will. Many Christians, having been taught to distrust or merely to ignore much of science, do not see the need to train themselves to perceive fine details well. They’ve been taught that the details of this reality are superfluous anyhow, since it’s all about the afterlife. Also that contradicting concepts can exist side-by-side. And that the Bible tells us all we need to know. And the most horrific, that to doubt any of this is not only wrong, but metaphysically evil, something you can go to hell for, thus making one of the bastions of intellect itself, critical thinking, a punishable offense.

But science teaches us to doubt in all things, including and especially yourself, at all times. That doubt in all things is the most intelligent attitude, and that the true skeptics are almost always the ones to find out the real truth eventually.

The two mindsets are diametrical opposites. And they are at war.

Having not studied science, many Christians cannot truly comprehend, cannot “internalize” things like vast spans of time, vast distances, the complexity of nature’s web of life, and our place in it. They are unused to the sheer mind-numbingly complex amount of fine detail that comprises even basic science, and thus for example see “irreduceable complexity” where the scientist sees the normal mechanism of evolution at work over vast eons of time, more than sufficient time to produce the contested results. The eye. The flagellum. Both easily explicable and even “common-sensical.” I can easily visualize the process of the evolution of a vertebrate eye, and I’m no scientist. I can intuit it from what I know about evolution and other examples of such appearances of complex traits. And incidentally, to think that a few light-sensitive cells would be of no discernable advantage to a creature living in a world of otherwise completely blind organisms is very “short-sighted” indeed. Same with the rotory mechanism involved in the euglena’s locomotive apparatus. Given enough time, the most complicated and seemingly improbable results are possible, and life on this planet has had an awful lot of time. A vast span of time. Eons.

An unimaginable length of time to some, unfortunately. If you think the world's only six thousand years old and therefore have trouble even imagining a million years, how can you ever hope to grasp the changes that can occur in four and a half thousand million?

Why can’t these Biblical Christians see how easily understood these “irreducibly complex” things are as the end result of this incredibly long process of nature weeding out that which does not serve the organism and its accentuation of that which does? Because they don’t have the tools to, nor do they ever want to posess them. Such tools themselves are considered sinful. Hence they are blithely unaware of so many of the fine details of this world, because you can only really learn to perceive these fine details by loving science enough for you to learn how to think in an ordered, scientific manner. You certainly can’t learn to see them by reading the Bible. When the Bible was written, nobody could see them.

(Which brings up the question of why, if the Bible was written by God, did He never mention in it anything more advanced than what the people of that day themselves knew...)

It’s actually an even more basic problem than human ignorance. It’s the age-old seemingly instinctual conflict between the belief-based and the reality-based. The people that turn away from the future and embrace the supposed security of the past, and the people that learn from the past and the present so as to create a better future.

As ever, when the "distant past belief-based mindset" meets the "future of our species fact-based mindset," it tries to kill it immediately out of fear of it eventually factually proving its precious beliefs wrong. Failing that, it hates it and calls it names, thus proving itself not only the most primitive modality of human thought, but also as you would expect from that, the most immature.

Names like terrorist, for instance. You betcha.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Liberal Dictator

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."
- Kenneth Galbraith

"Of all the varieties of virtues, liberalism is the most beloved."
-Aristotle

"As Mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality."
-George Washington

"Somebody came along and said 'liberal' means 'soft on crime, soft on drugs, soft on Communism, soft on defense, and we're gonna tax you back to the Stone Age because people shouldn't have to go to work if they don't want to.' And instead of saying, 'Well, excuse me, you right-wing, reactionary, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-education, anti-choice, pro-gun, Leave it to Beaver trip back to the '50s,' we cowered in the corner and said, 'Please don't hurt me.'"
-The West Wing (Television show)

“The Liberal Dictator”

Many conservative Christians label liberals as effete, snobbish, un-American immoral godless heathens ever in search of their own gratification, living by selfish “Darwinian” mores and dying alone with no solace of God or the afterlife to buoy them in their last hours.

According to them, we liberals are craven and pathetic indeed. Oh, and we’re all going to hell, of course.

Since religion has become inextricably intertwined with the conservative Republican Party we have to take that into account as well. Now they claim to have the moral high ground simply because they’re convinced that they’re the side that God is on.

Well, so was Hitler. “Gott Mit Uns.”

I’ve heard many Christian conservatives insist that Hitler wasn’t a Christian, that in spite of all the times that he claimed to be one and in spite of how he co-opted the religion and its symbolism for his Nazis, he was not a Christian, and even if he thought that he was, he wasn’t a “real” Christian, since no “real” Christian would act that way, would act in so “un-Christlike” a manner.

That seems a bit silly to me, since it reduces the number of real Christians in the world to like twenty-seven. But what the heck, I’ll play along.

Christians will also mention that Stalin, Lenin, and Pol Pot were all atheists. Which seems to support their point that being religious is not necessary to being a dictator.

And they’re right. Being religious is not a prerequisite to being an evil dictator. I will grant the point to them at long last. I finally agree. It can definitely help you to be a more efficient evil dictator, but it’s not a prerequisite.

Being a conservative is, though.

Hitler may have been a Christian, but even if he wasn’t, and instead was the “athiest” atheist ever to walk the planet, he most certainly was a conservative. There’s no denying that.

What of Stalin, Pot, Lenin, and all the rest of the known dictators past and present, religious and atheist?

All conservatives. It’s the common denominator.

In fact, the very definition of the word liberal runs contrary to the necessary tactics and philosophy of the dictator. It’s actually impossible for a dictator to be a liberal. There is no such thing as a liberal dictator. Not now. Not ever. Every single one in all of history has been a conservative. Authoritarianism is immiscible with liberalism. Like oil and water. They cannot coexist in the same individual.

Conservatives persist in maintaining that their way is the better path, that their way is the optimal, that their way is the only smart way to run a country. They continue denigrating liberals, and have made even the word “liberal” itself into a slur. A word that means “open-minded” and “forward-thinking” is now a slur. They foment anger and hatred and they just love the politics of division. They keep secrets from the people and approve of torturing our enemies. They attempt to repress the freedom of the press by making them out to be biased when they’re not. They refuse to testify when subpoenaed, claiming higher authority. And they have gutted our constitution and have given themselves as much power as they could get away with giving themselves, which turned out to be a lot. Not to mention the big one, starting an un-necessary war for a distraction. (oh crap, I mentioned it)

We were told that if we forget the past we’re doomed to repeat it, but the conservatives ask us to do just that.

Well, not me.

Instead, I’ll keep asking this question whenever a conservative tells me how worthless being a liberal is:

“Which one out of all the evil dictators, tyrants, and despots in the entire history of the world, past and present, was a liberal?”

I like the sound of silence that follows.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Nature of Pride

"I love the evil man who knows that he is evil more than the righteous man that knows he is righteous. Of the evil people that consider themselves righteous, however, the following is said: "They do not even turn away at the threshold of the underworld." For they imagine that they are being led to hell in order to redeem the souls there.
-Tales of the Chassidim

"The biggest egomaniacs always see themselves as being modest, along with every other good thing. It's inconceivable to them that they're really shallow and self-centered. That's precisely why they are."
-St. Brian the Godless

The Nature of Pride

One of the things you won’t have any trouble finding Christians to agree with you on is the notion that excessive Pride is a bad thing. In the Christian religion Pride is in fact considered to be one of the “Seven Deadly Sins” along with Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, and Envy.

As well it should be.

And yet do most people, including most Christians, truly understand the nature of Pride, and why it was considered such a Deadly Sin? I would say from my observations of people in general and Christians in particular that they do not.


Here’s what the Bible has to say about it:

“The LORD despises pride; be assured that the proud will be punished.
Pride goes before destruction and haughtiness before a fall. It is better to live humbly with the poor than to share plunder with the proud.”
Proverbs 16:5, 18-19
-Here we can see that to be humble we must relate to the poor and downtrodden and not with the successful and wealthy. Humility and grace are acts of lowering oneself to the level of the least among us, not raising ourselves to the level of the most powerful and wealthy. That way lies pure egotism.

"Anyone who wants to be the first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else."
Mark 9:35
-This hardly seems to refer to Joel Osteen and the Gospel of Prosperity, does it?

Jesus told this story to some who had great self-confidence and scorned everyone else: "Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a dishonest tax collector. The proud Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: `I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don't sin, I don't commit adultery, I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.'
But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, `O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.' I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored."
Luke 18:9-14
-This would seem to indicate that the Pride that the Bible describes consists of the type of thoughts and behaviors that serve to put ourselves above others, any others, even the very least among us. Even, and perhaps especially, those that we think are utterly wrong.
Incidentally it should be noted that in this passage Jesus chose to represent the Proud man as a Pharisee. The Pharisees were known to be strictly adherent to the scriptures and laws. They were the "Biblical Literalists" of their day.

Am I a victim of Pride? Most certainly. How do I know that? Because I have looked within myself for it, and have found it. Do I strive to eliminate it? Absolutely, with all my heart and mind. Why? Because I see what it does to others, and I also see that the others involved are always blind to it, and I don’t wish to fall into that trap. Pride is the most deceptive of all sins, or if you prefer, of all negative behavior patterns. It is the proverbial thief in the night. It is stealthy and almost invisible. Oh, it’s easy enough to see in others, but due to our human nature almost impossible to see within ourselves.

Now, as someone that battles with Pride, as we all should, I can also see that many Christians not only do not do battle with it, but actually mistake it for righteousness. They know that Pride is a sin of course, but they mis-define Pride in their minds as merely being too stubborn to believe in God as they do, and not as a general inflation of one’s ego that can happen to anyone, and which can in fact actually be due to one’s belief in God or in anything else for that matter. The problem here is that excessive Pride can form around any worldview that sets one’s self above any other groups. If I am told by my parents and my peer group that I am a member of the Chosen Ones, the Holy People that follow Jesus Christ and that this makes me a good person, and I come to believe that utterly, such “knowledge” on my part will inevitably inflate my ego and lead to excessive Pride on my part. It is not that dissimilar to being told for your whole life that you’re smarter than everybody else. Eventually you’ll come to believe it, even if it’s not true. And because it feeds the ego and because that feels so good, so "right," it’s pretty hard to resist if you don’t know the danger.

So I have to ask a question:

Is the man that knows that he is righteous, truly righteous?

If Pride is a sin, then by definition, he is not.

What of the man that maintains in his mind the attitude that he is not righteous, believes that he is just another sinner as we all are regardless of what we believe, and yet is not even concerned with that but instead simply loves people, all people, and strives to help them to the best of his abilities, regardless of whether he approves of what they believe about God?

If both men happen to be Christians, then which kind of a Christian deserves the name Christian more? And if the first one happens to be a Christian and the second man an atheist, who is in reality closer to God?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Belief and Faith

"When a man has once brought himself to accept uncritically all the
absurdities that religious doctrines put before him and even to
overlook the contradictions between them, we need not be greatly
surprised at the weakness of his intellect"
-Sigmund Freud: The Future of an Illusion

"The religious man has no trouble believing the ridiculous and only wonders why he's so much better at it than everybody else is. This he takes as a sign from God."
-St. Brian the Godless

What is a belief?

If I think that I have a belief, I’m not sure. But if I believe that I have a thought, it implies certainty.

Belief is a tricky subject. The words “belief” and “faith” both imply thinking something is true without evidence. Most of their definitions seem to entail this. And yet, most believers see it quite differently, as beliefs somehow trumping mere thoughts, as in being preferable and somehow superior to them.

If I think that there may be a God, or even if I think that there is a God, I am still open to discussion. If new data comes in, I can change my mind easily enough.

But if I believe that there is a God and have faith in it, there can be no more discussion. My mind is closed to new data that may disprove my belief. Forever.

In the Christian mind, belief and faith are seen as very good things indeed. They are held up as the optimal mindset. In my mind however, they’re anathema to human growth, both personally and as a society.

As little children we are asked by our parents to believe in many things. In a Christian home, belief in God is a central tenet. You have to believe, or you’re bad, evil, and wrong. You have to love God with all your heart and mind, even if you can’t see Him or really talk to Him, and even if the things that He does make no sense. Even if there’s not one shred of hard evidence for His existence. Even if people that call themselves believers and faithful seem to do a lot of bad things in the world. Against all logic and reason, you must not question. You have to believe, or you’re bad, bad, bad.

There are benefits to belief and faith in God. They make understanding an incredibly and possibly infinitely complex reality, utterly simple. GodDidIt. Period. Next subject.

Having belief and faith makes thinking about one’s own death much easier. If you’re good, you’ll live on forever in heaven, playing cosmic badminton on clouds and watching people you didn’t like in life fry in hell on the widescreen. Such bliss! Of course, if you’re not good you burn forever in hell, because after all, God loved you and you spurned him, and he’s a jealous, wrathful, shallow God who cares about such things a lot. But of course you’re good. You know this because you believe in God, so you’re good by definition. So no need to worry about the place downstairs. You’ve got Pascal’s Wager covered.

So what end product does this produce in a person?

It produces a person that is absolutely sure of their own rectitude at all times. They know that they’re right about their God and about reality, and thus that all other faiths and non-faiths are miserably wrong, and even evil. They do not question themselves, since to do so is considered evil. If you have the audacity to question them about their faith, they automatically "know" you to be evil and perhaps even satanic, so it will only reinforce their own position. They see this life as a game, a conflict between good and evil, presumably represented as God and Satan. If you point to any crack in that logic, you’re the stupid one in their eyes. And on the side of Satan as well. Nice way to dismiss it.

The end result of this is a self-serving egomaniac, not a spiritual person. Pride kills real spirituality like Raid kills roaches.

The senselessness of all this, the affront to logic that it represents to any person not involved in the religion, is astonishing. And yet, the faithful “know” that God is real, and all the rest, to the exclusion of all evidence offered. “God works in mysterious ways.” How many times did I hear that litany as a child? Too many to count. If you rephrase it to more reflect the reality of the situation, the more accurate version reads “God works in illogical and seemingly evil ways completely contradictory to how we insist on seeing Him in spite of all that.”

If we sometimes marvel at pederast priests, or at serial killers that are leaders of their congregation, or at the hypocrisy of an abortion clinic bombing, we need to remember that we’re not dealing with people that think about things at all; they merely believe and as such are enormously handicapped in this life. They are blind to reality, having willingly rejected it. They are easily led, by anybody that knows the right keywords. They have been taught never to question themselves, so how could they know that they’ve let themselves become deviant? They can’t even see the reality that we’re judging them against, so how can they know when they’ve deviated from it into a self-congratulatory psychosis? They cannot.

So in that light, I have a question for all True Believers, those with Absolute, Unshakeable Faith.

Can you think, or do you just believe that you can? And how would you know if it was only the latter?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Where Do We Get Our Morality?

Morality is doing what is right no matter what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told no matter what is right.
-H. L. Mencken

Fear of God is a barrier to real morality, not a path to it.
-St. Brian the Godless

I’ve heard so often from Christians “We get our morality from God.” In fact, it’s common to hear them say that atheists have no real morality since they (we) do not believe in God. They say that we atheists do not have consequences so we have no reason to be moral. That we believe in evolution, survival of the fittest, which they interpret as “nature red in tooth and claw” and so they assume that our atheist morality is based on survival and killing off the competition. They believe that they get their morals straight from God, and that we get ours from the animals. This allows them to see atheists in a bad light, as inferior to their clearly superior and God-Inspired system of morality. Which, of course, is how they wish to see us. Seeing atheists as posessing real morality is antithetical to their deeply-held belief that they are morally superior to us for their belief in God. And they need that belief. It’s what keeps their egos inflated properly.

Atheists argue that morality evolved as a necessary trait when we “went social” in a big way. When we started to live in tribes and communities and cities. We always displayed “moral” behavior toward our children and families as do many lesser creatures, but now it has evolved to also extend to complete strangers due to the necessity of living in close quarters to said strangers.

Perhaps. I mean, we certainly developed empathy as a survival factor, caring about others, being able to imagine being the other person, imagining looking through their eyes at their problems and situation. It’s an extension of caring for ourselves and our children. And if you’re truly empathetic, morality follows, unless you are unable for some reason to empathize with all others. For instance, if something blocks you, such as a belief that says that others are clearly inferior to you, are evil, or are otherwise lacking in goodness and rectitude.

Someone, a Christian, recently asked me “So where do you get your morality from?” and without hesitation I replied “From my empathy and my imagination. I look around me and see the problems that confront us and separate us and I feel the loss, the sadness, of all of us not being able to get along, and then I imagine a perfect world somewhere in the future where such problems do not exist anymore. Then I work backwards from there to here again and can thus see what is serving us now and what is not. For that perfect world to occur, we have to learn to love all others, accept all others, and empathize with all others without reservations. Period. It’s obviously the answer. So, there’s my morality.”

My morality is thus based in my empathy and my imaginative ability to see what we need to do and how we need to act, in order for the world to ever be at peace. I may have evolved my ability to empathize and my imagination, but my morality wasn’t so much selected for directly as it was a necessary result of those two things being a part of me already. My morality exists because I can empathize with all others and can imagine a perfect future where we all do, and cannot see any other way to get to that future but to start working toward it now. And I can see that it’s the only correct path. So could Jesus. Not so much many of His present-day followers, unfortunately. Since they believe that their morality comes from God, an outside source, they often cannot see any need to develop it within their own hearts. For them, the fear of hell is their morality. And fear-based morality is not morality at all. It’s obedience under duress. Not a fertile source for the love necessary to really be moral. But an excellent source for the egotism necessary to look down on all others and find them lacking. And that’s no way to Love Thy Neighbor, in my opinion.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

THE GOD OF LOVE

Gentle Jesus meek and mild
How come your old man's so wild?
Killing people left and right
Showing off his godly might
Destroying mankind in a flood
Cursing us with boils and blood
Froggies rain down from the sky
All of the firstborn must die
You're so nice and kind and good
Always doing what you should
You never even talk of hate
So why is daddy so irate?
With him it's threats and death and fear
He never even sheds a tear
One small misstep, one tiny sin
And then he doesn't let you in
He sends you down to meet his friend
And there you'll meet your fiery end
(It burns your flesh both night and day
Until the last stars fade away)
He loves us not, or so it seems
Unless he loves to hear our screams
He made us to be what we are
And punishes us when we get that far
You are his son, or so they say
And yet you're both like night and day
I wouldn't want to get you mad
But are you sure that he's your dad?
-St. Brian the Godless


We’ve all heard the phrase “God is Love” but what does that mean, really? If the God of the Christians is love, exemplifies love, then I think we have a problem. Because we will have to redefine “love” as something that in no way prevents God from punishing many of us eternally with searing agony for merely doubting His divine existence. We have to redefine love as something that allows for the loving Creator torturing His creations. How can torture ever be love? Especially when you consider that the torture will never end, so it’s not as if it’s to teach you a lesson. After you learn the lesson, you’re still stuck in hell forever.

Christians love to talk about how Jesus is God incarnate. By God we must assume that they mean Yaweh. (Or Jehova if you follow the error of early German translators) If that’s so, then why is Jesus nothing like His Father from the Old Testament? Compare Leviticus to any of the Gospels in content and tone. The latter sound loving, at least the parts with Christ’s message delineated in them. The former couldn’t be more evil if it were written by Old Scratch himself. Your son gets drunk and loud sometimes? Take him to the town and have the men of the town stone him to death. Problem solved. Your slave needed a beating? If he gets up in a day or two, no harm, no foul. If you kill him, then you’ve sinned. So don’t kill him, just beat the living crap out of him. Avoid vital organs as you pummel. There’s even a quote about throwing the babies of your enemies to the ground, onto rocks. Dashing babies to death is somehow love?

Nowadays, getting stoned doesn’t mean what it used to…

Modern Christians (of the hypochrist stripe) seem to have no problem reconciling the two extremes in one identity. God is love, but God is also torture. God made us all to love him, but if we don’t, or if we simply can’t find enough evidence for His existence in the creation that He made in order to believe in Him, then our Loving Father has no problem consigning us to the cosmic incinerator, for the rest of time. Sure. No problem with that. It all makes sense. Providing of course that your logical mind has been neutered.

Y’ever burn your fingers? It HURTS. Now imagine that all over your body, all the time, forever. Foever. Forever. Somehow, that is love. God loves us, except when he decides not to anymore. He made us to be what we all are, and then punishes us when we aren’t what he wants us to be? Can’t He get it right?

It’s all well and good to say that the ways of God are mysterious, but logic is like mathematics. It’s implacable, even in the case of the Deity. If the Deity behaves contrary to logic as regards to the question of love, then the Deity is proven not to love, at least as we understand the word “love” itself. There’s no mystery about it. Love never involves torture. The two concepts are incompatible with each other.

The words of Jesus Christ indicate to me a philosophy of loving all others unconditionally. As a skeptic I might try to make a case that even Jesus Himself never existed as an historical figure (we have virtually no hard evidence that he ever really walked the earth) but I cannot deny the beauty of the words attributed to Him. And as a logical person I also cannot deny the ugliness of rest of the Bible. So where’s the disconnect? Why does this disparity exist? And it’s not only between Yaweh and Jesus, it’s also between the words of Jesus and the rest of the New Testament.

The simple explanation is the one that Christians cannot allow themselves to hear. That the transcendental beauty of Jesus’ philosophy was recognized by the early church founders and was seen as the perfect bait for a trap set to ensnare the minds of the simple people. Starting with Constantine or even before, these people were the early precursors to Niccolo Macchaivelli. The Old Testament already existed of course, and by writing a new one with Jesus as the star but with plenty of control mechanisms implanted into the surrounding texts, and connecting it to the old, they gave it gravitas. They made it credible. They needed a carrot, and found Jesus. They needed a stick, and there it was in Leviticus and the rest of the Old Testament.

It’s brilliant, really. And it still works like a charm. No better control mechanism exists. Macchaivelli would be proud. Or come to think of it, perhaps old Niccolo learned his dirty tricks from the masters who practiced and perfected them centuries before. The founders of the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Does Christianity Dumb You Down?

"Jesus loves me, yes I know
Cause the Bible tells me so
That is all I need to hear
And so I know I'll never fear
Nothing else is in my head
Except a book by guys long dead
Science isn't telling me
What I can and cannot see
I never, ever take a look
Since I only own one book
Jesus is my only thought
When others ask me what I've bought
I’d rather pluck out both my eyes
So that I can't see the lies
That Science tells us are the truth
I think that Science is uncouth!
Telling me that things fall down
And how a cricket makes a sound
And how planets spin around the sun
And how the gears in watches run
I do not need to hear the facts
I only need religious tracts
And prayers to our Great Lord above
Who blinded me with Bible Love
It feels so good to be so dense
To live behind an iron fence
To shelter fragile minds from truth
(Indoctrinate them in their youth)
Feed them tales of God above
And all of His undying Love
And how he put things in this place
Plain as the nose there on your face
That seem to say that He's not real
That's just the lying Science deal!
He put them here to fool us guys
When we try to use our eyes
We know better, yes we do
Science is at best, untrue
At worst a strange Satanic plot
To show what is real, and what is not
Why should we care what is real?
We still have the Christian deal
Believe in God, at any cost
And look to others like we're lost
Hope for God to make it clear
When the Rapture cometh near
With nonbelievers left behind
You'll all be sorry that you whined
Of how we're descended from some beast
(I don't believe it in the least)
“No Thanks” I say to Science stuff
I think that I have had enough
Of facts and reason, Truth and Hope
I'd much prefer to be a dope."
-St. Brian the Godless

Does Christianity Dumb People Down?

Christianity needs it's believers to believe in it utterly and without reservations, but it cannot be proven in any way, being at its core completely unreal and fictional, so it necessarily must destroy a person's ability to reality-test. It accomplishes this by presenting side-by-side options to the believer which are contrary and negate each other, insisting that the person believe both, on pain of hell and damnation of course. So, God is Love, but if you doubt it He'll burn your ass in hell forever. This type of thing, over and over, will eventually erode the person's ability to even see what is real and what is not. Which is the point. The indoctrinated Christian insists on seeing the world as an expression of their belief system. They cannot merely examine the world and draw conclusions. They must make it conform to their beliefs. So when reality differs from their beliefs, they have to find a way to explain it to themselves somehow. They have to find a loophole. Thus we have the apologists, trying with all their might to make the unreal seem as real as the real.

For two millennia the religion has survived and flourished by convincing people that it's real. So it's pretty good at it by now. It has developed an "apology" for everything a rational person might advance as an argument. Christians often can spout chapter and verse of the bible in response to an argument. They've been told that the Bible is the Word of God, so while they personally won't tell you that they know everything, they will of course say that God knows everything, and since He wrote the Bible and they've memorized it, they can feel that, in effect, they do know everything, at least everything they need to know.

This is of course, PRIDE.

And it's funny. I've heard that it was a sin or something.

Opening Post on Religion from St. Brian

"Religion is most like a computer virus for brains. It comes complete with instructions for development and propagation of the virus, and code that prevents the person from deleting it or noticing that it doesn't conform to reality. It is orchestrated, organized, and officially sanctioned psychosis, made easily digestible and palatable to the masses." -St. Brian the Godless

This is a place for discussion regarding the effects of religion in general and Christianity in particular on society. All are welcome.

In particular we will discuss its deleterious effects on intelligence in general and how religious adherents often behave in a manner diametrically opposed to their stated moral principles. We will discuss the idea of programming and how the only difference between organized religion and a cult is the number of adherents.

We will also delve into biblical parables and stories and discuss how tenuous they are in the face of logic and reason in this modern age.

Whether Jesus ever even really existed as an historical figure will also come up from time to time.

Cultural hot-button issues such as abortion and gay marriage will of course be frequent topics.

Also a topic of discussion will be the increasingly rare variety of Christian that actually does adhere to the words and actions of Jesus Christ as extolled in the gospels. I wanted to make particular mention of this sort of person since they're not a part of the problem society faces, they're a part of the solution. So my DISCLAIMER on this site is that I have nothing against "real" Christians, and bear then no ill will whatsoever. In fact I welcome them as friends.

Spirituality in general will also come up, more in contrast to religion than as a part of it, since in my opinion religion is the opposite of real spirituality.

++++++++++++++++++UPDATED!!!++++++++++++++++++++

Writing a blog is an evolving process for me in more ways than one. For instance, I'm trying to soften the tone of this place. On reflection my initial post here was a bit too hostile and narrow-minded sounding. I'd rather focus on discussion rather than casting stones when I'm far from sinless myself. (I hope all the Christian readers appreciate my usage of that last line there)

Thanks for visiting. Please don't hesitate to leave a comment.

-St. Brian