Religion: Best Intentions, Useless Today

© Jordan Smith

I feel like religion definitely had a purpose, many years ago. Its inception was our first attempt at scientific exploration and philosophy. Before our species had the scientific knowledge to ponder such questions as why items fall to the ground? Or how does it rain? We first had the thirst for knowledge – curiosity. This is a lovely statement about the good nature of humanity and in fact most life on earth. We are a curious bunch. Ignorant of basic facts, and without any true measurements or understanding of life, we, as a species attempted to fill the gaps in our knowledge with explanations – sadly this lead to a one size fits all answer ‘God did it’

 

As we know from religious scripture, all 3 of the monolithic religions tried and completely failed to understand science. From the old Jewish bible which claims men come from dirt & women come from the ribs of men, to the Quran which claims the sun sets in the mud & sperm comes from the back bone & ribs (spot the copycat pattern?) To the new Testament which claims men can rise from the dead and walk on water.

 

Funnily enough, religious claims of astounding miracles happened often up until the invention of the camera and video camera, then suddenly, God stopped letting people walk on water or showing himself in the clouds – then Photoshop was invented, and back came the claims of divinity – along with airbrushed supermodels and images of teenagers with oddly placed beer cans in their hands. I’m not saying there is a connection between the fact miracles disappeared when humans had the opportunity to prove or disprove them … Actually I am, miracles are bullshit, the connection is clear.
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Seeing God at the Bottom of a Water Bong

Once again we are visited by our good friend David Goza who lights our way regularly from the dark pits of YouTube

Anatomically modern humans have lived on this planet for at least 200,000 years. During that time, our ancestors – or people whom our ancestors knew – have eaten, drunk, smoked, snorted, or otherwise ingested (use your rich imagination) absolutely everything on the surface of this planet. You know that’s true – hell, they’re still doing it! Now, some of those things caused the ingestees to die horribly. Those particular people were not our ancestors. Our ancestors no doubt learned from their unfortunate example, however, and the observations they passed along have become the received wisdom of later generations: don’t drink that, don’t stick that up your tookus….

 

But some of those things caused our ancestors to see the world in ways they might otherwise never have discovered, and to interact with it in ways that could not have been foreseen. Here’s an example: about 23,000 years ago, at the height of the last of the Pleistocene glaciations, there were modern humans living along the Atlantic seacoast in southern Europe – I’m talking about the Solutrean culture. If there’s ice year-round only a few hundred miles north of you, that means you’re living in a climate that’s similar to what present-day denizens of Wasilla, Alaska enjoy. People could live on the coast during the summer – and we have ample evidence that they did, and that one of their main sources of protein was fish. But it’s too cold to live there during the winter, so you go inland and upland and take advantage of the karst features. In nearby regions in what are now France and Spain, people weathered over in the limestone caves, taking with them whatever they could hoard over the course of the summer: dried fish, fruits, nuts, berries, tubers… and of course they supplemented their diet with whatever grows in the perpetual darkness of caves, in that growth medium so generously provided by roosting bats.

 

We all know what that is, right? Et voilà! – art is born! You know the art I’m talking about: art so extraordinary that it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the splendid cave paintings associated with such place names as Lascaux, Chauvet and Altamira. Do you imagine for a moment that there’s no connection between magic mushrooms and the birth of art? And can you think of any better event to fix as the watershed between being merely anatomically modern and being behaviorally modern, than the birth of art in a particular culture? The birth of art and the birth of truly modern humanity are two names for the same thing. I suspect that Mother Nature’s natural pharmacy has had much to do with the blossoming of human creativity. Please understand that I’m not fixing the birth of modern humanity at the birth of art in any one particular place: it happened at many different times and in many different places, and is in some sense an ongoing process. There’s a reason that the most fantastic symphonies – and I mean that literally – were written during the Nineteenth Century, when virtually every major European artist was coked to the gills on opium (which was perfectly legal and not overly expensive).
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I Might as Well Get This Off My Chest

Anyone up for a good rant?

 

If you are, by all means continue reading, and imagine the following delivered with flecks of spittle and appropriate pulpit-pounding. If you aren’t, by all means find something else to read. I can be diplomatic – even conciliatory – if the occasion demands but I’m not going to be in this case. I cannot un-see what I see, and sometimes I just have to vent. If you find my tone somewhat strident, I can’t say I disagree with you. What you are about to read reflects a very real side of me – one that I have to live with daily. It has largely been shaped by a fundamentalist Christian upbringing that I certainly did not choose to be born into and that I consider a form of child abuse. I hope I’ve been clear. Here goes – let’s see how many metaphors I can mix:

 

The most urgent task of our time is to kill the hydra-headed monster known as religion. Until we manage to drive a stake once and for all through the heart of the vicious Mesopotamian god who still holds sway over and commands the blind obedience of billions of Christians, Muslims and Jews, all our attempts to wake up an extinction-bound humanity and galvanize them to action will avail nothing. No devout Christian – I’m talking here about True Believers™ who seriously think that God has a perfect plan for this planet and every human on it, is in control of everything that happens and is going to intervene just in the nick of time – is ever going to give a rat’s ass about the looming climate change disaster, or the meltdown of nuclear power plants or the drawdown of ancient aquifers, or the collapse of civilization as the peak of hydrocarbon extraction is passed and our worldwide technological faux-perpetual-motion machine begins to sputter and creak: Jesus is waiting in the wings, ready at his father’s command to ride once again into human affairs, this time on a white horse, vanquishing Satan and setting everything to rights.
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Let’s Talk about Snakes!

Gather ‘round, young creationist True Believers™: time for a little herpetology lesson from the Blessed Old Leather-Bound Bible!

 

Genesis 3 begins with a description of a talking animal – one of two such wonders found in God’s Word:

 

//Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”//

 

There follows the story of “the Fall.” Later, when the blame game is being played:

 

The woman said, “The serpent tricked me and I ate.” The LORD God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,

cursed are you among all animals

and among all wild creatures;

upon your belly you shall go,

and dust you shall eat

all the days of your life.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and hers;

he will strike your head,

and you will strike his heel.”

 

That’s all we hear of this wondrous eloquent reptile in the Bible, unless that “old dragon” reference in Revelation 20:2 is intended to refer back to the creation story.

 

There are many things about “the Fall” that I find puzzling, but as much as I’d like to start listing and raising questions about them – the kinds of impertinent questions that tend to aggravate the hell out of True Believers™ because they aim at getting people to think about the notions they take for granted – I’m going to focus on the snake because that’s the kind of mood I happen to be in at the moment (that copperhead I encountered in the Ozarks last weekend might have something to do with it). Let me address a few serpentine questions to any creationists who happen to reading this:
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Raising Cain While I’m Abel

In the fourth chapter of Genesis, we encounter one of the most curious stories in the Blessed Old Leather-Bound Bible. This is the story of Cain and Abel, the divinely-inspired account of the first murder. Here are the first sixteen verses from the NRSV:

 

“Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying ‘I have produced a man with the help of the LORD.’ Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.’

 

“Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out to the field.’ And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ And the LORD said, ‘What have you done? Listen, your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.’ Cain said to the LORD, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.’ Then the LORD said to him, ‘Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.’ And the LORD put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”

 

The remaining ten verses of the chapter account for the descendants of Cain, including Enoch, who built a city and named it for his son (also Enoch), Irad, Mehujael, Methushael, and Lamech, who by means of his two wives Adah and Zilla whelped Jabal (the ancestor of those who live in tents and have livestock), Jubal (the ancestor of harpists and oboists), and Tubal-cain, who made all kinds of bronze and iron tools. The chapter concludes with an account of the birth of Seth to Adam and Eve, declared by the latter to be a divinely-appointed replacement for the unhappy Abel, and the peculiar observation that “at that time people began to invoke the name of the LORD.” (Hadn’t they already been doing that?)
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The Truth Shall Set You Free. But First It, Shall Piss You Off.

Bad Faith is the condition we’re in whenever we “lie to ourselves.” It involves a schizoid partitioning of our consciousness. In the process, we become both subject and object: the liar and the lied-to. What makes this state a dangerous one is that while we’re in it, it’s possible to dismiss evidence that (for instance) our behavior is self-destructive: not because we have better evidence to the contrary, but because such evidence is “inconvenient.” Those who grow up in religious households are taught to lie to themselves from a very young age.

 

I couched the preceding paragraph in the first-person plural because it applies to all of us individually and also collectively, as societies. For the individual crack addict, the evidence for his self-destruction is inconvenient and he therefore finds ways to ignore it. Should it rise unbidden into his conscious awareness and begin to nag him and make him uncomfortable, he will beat it down by every means available – including another visit to the crack pipe. If a whole society is addicted to cheap oil, the evidence for that society’s self-destruction is no less inconvenient, and denial becomes a growth industry. Industry shills masquerading as “scientists” assure us that we have nothing to worry about. Politics becomes an exercise in ad hominem and the messenger sometimes takes a volley in the career.

 

Can there be any doubt that we’re in collective denial about things like Peak Oil, aquifer depletion, topsoil loss, habitat destruction, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, overpopulation and anthropogenic climate change? The truth – whose consequences will shortly involve societal upheaval and starvation on a scale we’ve never before witnessed – is almost too horrendous to contemplate, so most of us can be counted on to look the other way while catastrophe closes in. (After all, there’s plenty of corporate-funded “science” to assure us that anthropogenic global warming is a hoax and that Peak Oil won’t happen for another two centuries. Maybe California will get a wet El Nino and Sao Paulo… well…. And anyway, why not just go on believing whatever makes us feel a little better since there’s not a damn thing we can do about either of those inconvenient truths?)
Continue reading “The Truth Shall Set You Free. But First It, Shall Piss You Off.”

Moving the Values of Myth: A Reflection on Easter

© David Teachout

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From moment to moment, our lives can embody any of the multiplicity of purposes that we can identify with. The stories we tell, from socially created myths to benign exaggerations expressed to friends and colleagues, project the particular purpose we want to make front and center. This can be due to a desire to express an idea to another or to make sure we’re on the same track we first set out upon. Whatever that purpose is, the values that come along for the ride, both in the telling and the type of story chosen, do so in the form the story takes. Thankfully stories are more than single-use thought-devices, else we would never be able to reuse them or get something new regardless of repetition. Because of a shared human experience, we are able to remember lessons imparted through literature or voice because they continue to resonate with new situations. Importantly, this allows us to determine whether the form the value took before is how we’d like it to continue. Take the example of a father telling a joke, a form of story, about how he’d scare his daughter’s date with shotgun in hand. The value on hand is paternal care, a value most of us hold in some fashion and have no problem promoting. However, the form it takes in the joke makes that value so prominent that it overshadows any other, for instance respect and personal integrity. As time has gone on the joke is no longer the best form to express paternal care, precisely because the values of respect and integrity have increased in significance in association with that situation. Consider it like a movable hierarchy, where the original story form presented paternal care at the top of the pyramid and respect and integrity being derived and below it. It’s not that respect and integrity didn’t exist, it’s just that rather than being equal, they were subservient to the form of paternal care being presented.

 

I know of no situation where a person’s values have utterly disappeared, though certainly they will rise and fall in conscious consideration as time and experience go by. I grew up with stories, my father sending me and my siblings to sleep with short made-up stories that imparted humor or whatever lesson he’d considered that day. I am also a voracious reader and, like the bed-time stories the form they take has changed over the years. There came a point when the bedtime stories stopped and simplistic fiction no longer sufficed. I still held the same values of honesty and valor, dedication to an ideal and perseverance in the face of adversity, but the way those values stood in form had become more complicated. For others the original form no longer made any sense.
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On the Scientific Revolution and the Journey it Demands of Us

Should any fundamentalist Christians happen to read this post, I hope you’ll find it both illuminating and entertaining.

 

For about five centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Church had an absolute lock on information so far as the Western world is concerned. (Emperor Theodosius had unwittingly seen to that by making Christianity the state religion a little over a century earlier. To this day, in secular America, there are Christians who think Theodosius had the right idea and pray for the rise of Mike Huckadosius to set things right.) That’s why we call that era the Dark Ages: it was an age of dogma and the uncritical acceptance thereof, an age of serfdom and tractable compliance therein. The prerogatives of barons and bishops went unchallenged. People’s beliefs weren’t founded on their Bible reading; they were illiterate, and they didn’t own Bibles. They just believed whatever the clergy told them to believe. And they believed in outlandish stuff, like faeries and witches and demon possession and the evil eye, in zombies and unicorns and sea monsters. Almost everyone was ignorant as shit.

 

Then after about 1000 C.E., when a calendric millennium turned without the skies being rent asunder by a rider on a white horse, and it thus became apparent that Christ’s promised return may in fact lie a long time in the future, people slowly but surely began turning outward. The earliest gains were almost exclusively mercenary, but with trade comes exposure to more of the world and a gradual relaxation of strictures, and people’s minds began to churn. But it would still be another half-millennium until the sciences were born, beginning with that first great generation of discoverers from Bacon to Newton, and including the likes of such pioneering luminaries as Galileo, Kepler, and Boyle. Despite a gradual, almost imperceptible, loosening of their shackles, most people remained ignorant as shit, and even the so-called scholars were more deeply versed in the black arts than in observable phenomena.
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Lucifer Dismantled: The Final Fall

The mere mention of Lucifer often strikes dread in the hearts of believers while arousing the scent of searing sulfur and eternal punishment. “He” is seemingly forever synonymous with Satan; although the two terms are not entirely equivalent to each other. Etymology is necessary to unravel the historicity of how the word “Lucifer” became adopted by early Christians.

 

Lucifer is derived from the Latin phrase “lucem ferre,” which means “bearer of light.” The 4th century Vulgate is a Latin translation of the Hebrew bible (its authorizer was Pope Damasus I) and there you will find that “Lucifer” translates literally to “son of the morning,” or “the planet Venus.” [1] The Hebrew word hêlêl—that the Vulgate deems as “Lucifer” in Isaiah 14:12—does not represent an all-pervading corporeal creature with cruel powers to possess and seduce souls. The Septuagint, a 2nd century BCE Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, also represents hêlêl as meaning “Day Star,” which is another fancy term for Venus. [2]

 

Ironically, modern versions of the Bible refer to Jesus with the infamous “morning star” title (New Living Translation, King James Bible, Jubilee Bible 2000, English Revised Version, etc.):

 

Revelation 22:16 – “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

 

Matthew 2:2 – “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him”

 

Revelation 2:28 – “I will also give him the morning star.”

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Congress Shall Make No Law…

A little over a year ago I ran into the following news item from the land that gave us David Hume and the Scottish Enlightenment: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/parents-outrage-extremist-religious-sect-2254926. I posted it on my Facebook page, thereby precipitating a winding, entertaining, and sometimes heated discussion with a Christian fundamentalist Facebook friend from England. His position is not uncommon, and certainly more prevalent in my country than in his, and for all I know there may be visitors to this blog who, like my friend, would find themselves in sympathy with the headmaster who allowed the proselytizing to take place. So I’d like to enlarge the scope of the conversation to include anyone here who’d care to chime in, with an especially warm invitation extended to any Christian fundamentalists who might happen to be lurking. (Whether you’ll bother to read a TLDR that raises troubling questions is itself a troubling question, of course; besides, in addition to hurling poison darts at your cherished beliefs, I tend to write in compound sentences and sprinkle my prose liberally with semicolons and parenthetical asides. I’m afraid people sometimes find me tedious.)

 

Church versus StateWhat’s at stake here is a principle that has come to define most of the Western world ever since the Enlightenment, and the consequent composition of the U.S. Constitution: a precious principle that has come under sustained attack during the past few decades by forces on the religious right, both in the U.S. and in a number of European countries. That principle is secularism. Fundamentalist Christians, I’m addressing you in the following paragraphs; atheists and others, I’d be honored to enjoy your company as well if you’re inclined to join me for the ride.

 

In the interest of helping you understand the position I take on this issue, I’ll ask you to consider the following (if you read the article I linked to above, you’ll understand that I’ve constructed an exact parallel with the soul-saving literature that was distributed at the school in question): suppose your child came home one afternoon carrying a book with a title like, “Why the Book of Mormon is True and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Is the Surest Way to Heaven,” which had been distributed that day to the students at his school. Or perhaps, “Why Islam Is True, the Qur’an Is the Word of God and All Unbelievers Are Destined for Hell.” Would you, committed to your Christian faith as you are, take offense at the proselytizing efforts that Mormons or Muslims had launched in your child’s school? Would you consider it acceptable that they were permitted to do that, or would you find it outrageous and impermissible, a breach of public trust? Would you acquiesce (however grudgingly) in such activities, or would you agitate to have them prohibited? If the latter is the case, then surely you understand why that prohibition should extend also to proselytizing by those who embrace the faith that you happen to espouse.
Continue reading “Congress Shall Make No Law…”