Monday, February 28, 2011

Jesus as humanist.

Definitions - Beliefnet

The problem with Christian theology is that it has nothing at all to do with Jesus. John was closest to Jesus, but even he tried to wrap theology around Jesus. It didn't work.

Once you divorce Jesus from theology most of the objections to his historical existence as a person evaporate. The miracles become mnemonics, the eclecticism from past religious traditions only shows he was aware of them and incorporated what he thought were the best parts in his ministry. Paul's hijacking of his charisma is for me definitive proof of his existence as a popular preacher probably named Jesus in Greek. The fact that the Synoptics survived in spite of their disagreement with all Christian theology is additional proof for me of the importance and historicity of Jesus.

I find Jesus to be quite human, quite humanistic, and radically respectful of all people. No wonder they killed him.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

ChooseYour Parents Well

The origin of self in relation to truth - Beliefnet

Why it is so important to pick your culture very carefully: A child will be necessarily be imprinted with the memes of his parents and their Social Support Group. It is called socialization and is critical if the child is to survive to puberty. This is in fact nature's plan. It in critical for a human to be a part of a tribe. A lone human is a dead human in the natural world. Nature has provided an escape hatch in the adolescent rebellion phase of any normally intelligent child. And if the child is exposed to other tribes as many modern children are in school, the rebellious child may find a better (or worse) tribe to associate with.

Obviously as a child this is a pipe dream, but as an adult anticipating reproducing the SSG that you will provide for you child will determine whether the child is warped into some form of aberration or becomes a useful, productive contributor to the larger society.

Religions can be acceptable SSGs but again it is important to choose, if you can, a religion that is aware of and trying to be a part of the larger society. Many are not, and treat the larger society as hostile and dangerous, even to the point of home schooling or religious schooling to keep the child warped into the aberrant group.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Internet as SSG.

Rationally Speaking: Massimo’s Picks:

Nice article on the internet, thanks. The revolution that is being missed is the fact that until the net social groups were chosen for individuals. You belonged to a family, a church, a university, a company, a political party, a country etc. With the net your social group is whoever you want it to be. Many of the most important people in my social group I have never met and probably never will. Yet they shape my thinking and I shape theirs. In particular the ERSSG seems to be heavily dependent on the internet for its cohesion and ethos. The articles people link on facebook, the blogs they cite and write are all critical to the functioning of the ERSSG.

The group seems to expand on the net as well. Two middle aged high school buddies hooked up on facebook. No surprise there. The comments of a "friend" of one of them appealed to the other and that person requested friend status for the second degree friend. The second degree friend suggested to others that the person was a good addition to the local ERSSG.

As we are seeing around the world, a social group determined to change their world with the net has no problem doing so simply by creating a group dedicated to doing so and gathering enough like minded people into it to make it happen. I see the momentum building on the net for supporting the unions in Wisconsin. Hmm. If they can do it to Mubarak and Qaddafi how will Walker hold up?

Addendum: Listening to Finlandia on the KDFC stream, the thought occurred to me that perhaps music performed much the social grouping function as the net does now. As everyone can type, everyone can sing. The Marseilles, maybe Yankee Doodle, and a few others that provided the unifying identifier for the revolutionaries.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What is an Atheist?

Definitions - Beliefnet

Let me make it as simple as I can. If a person believes in at least one God or god that person is a theist. It doesn't really matter to an atheist what sort of a god it is or whether it is imaginary, delusional, or stands naked on mountain tops throwing lightning bolts at humans that are not liked and occasionally has sex with a human,.

They are all the same to an atheist. Not contributing anything of value to our lives. As soon as you define theist as A, Not A is an atheist. Just like there are many kinds of theists, there are many kinds of atheists. Since theists hate us all, we don't spend much time in public discussing our differences. Frankly they are of no importance to a theist.

If I don't believe in their particular God or vuvuzela it makes no difference why or how I don't believe. Fundie theists will respond with bigotry and spend as much time as I will let them trying to convince me that I am a horrible sinner that will burn in Hell forever if I don't convert to their God or vuvuzela or in any case I torture women and children and have sex with men.

Reasonable theists will try to figure out why I don't believe so that they can point out the error of my ways in not accepting their God of vuvuzela. They don't care whether I think God does not exist, whether I think God is a numinous brain fart or whether God is simply worthless. They will try to find that God hole and try to fill it.

A few don't care at all and let me go to Hell in my own way.

A minuscule subset will ask intelligent questions about how I deal with important issues of living and dying, meaning, purpose, spirituality, transcendence and wonder. But they don't care about what kind of an atheist I am. They are simply trying to find out how I cope without God or god(s) as the case may be.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Clan of the Cave Bear

Modern DNA analysis, mitochondrial vs whole genome puts a pretty dark slant on the movie Clan of the Cave Bear. No mitochondrial Neanderthal DNA in humans means that no Neanderthal women mated with Sapiens men. 3% Neanderthal DNA in the whole genome means that a lot of Sapiens women were, shall we say, used by Neanderthal men. Maybe they were incorporated into the Neanderthal clan, but it seems unlikely to me.

Neanderthals seem to have been the apex predator, with Sapiens surviving pretty well on wit and guile. But as Neanderthals were bigger, stronger and possibly more intelligent I suspect that a Sapiens man trying to mate with a Neanderthal woman would lose some valuable anatomy parts. However a foraging Sapiens woman would be helpless if encountered by a hunting party of Neanderthals or even a lone Neanderthal hunter.

Tribal Issues

king of the universe(s) - Beliefnet

The basic human social unit has been the tribe or clan. Certainly tribes and clans competed for space and resources, just as religions and nations do today. But within the tribe or clan social compliance, that is being nice to one another, was absolute. A serious social error got you expelled from the tribe, and until very recently a lone human was a dead human. Even today, disfellowshipping or shunning can be a devastating experience that frequently leads to suicide or in some cases being killed. The social contract between the individual and the social group is critical to the survival of both. Even at the nation level an individual who violates the social contract no matter how powerful can be brought down by the tribe abetted by modern communication channels. See Nixon and Mubarak. There will be more. You got to be nice to your fellow tribespeople no matter how big the guns at your back are. Those guns are operated by members of the tribe.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Social Elites

Nails in the Religious Coffin: Sex, Drugs, and Contraception - Beliefnet

We are the world's sweet chosen few.
The rest of you be damned.
There's room enough in Hell for you.
We won't have heaven crammed.

If you don't teach your children that little ditty, or at least smile when they recite it. You had better find a new Social Support Group (SSG). It is necessary for the socialization of children that they think their group is the elite group in society. When they reach the teen rebellion years a few might question that concept. They may have friends whose elite seems more attractive or better than theirs and try to change their 'colors.' Or an attractive potential mate may make changing 'colors' a part of the deal. I use 'colors' as a designator for any elite, religious or secular. It seems to be a human trait to choose colors in clothing to identify the elite group to which they belong. In fact this may be main purpose of clothing. Certainly bundling up in cold climates is necessary, but even in tropical areas a sarong or breechclout is socially necessary.

This is how societies evolve, or in the memorable words of Niven-Pournelle "Think of it as Evolution In Action."

As an additional point of fact, should my SSG decide that it was superior in an objective sense to any other SSG - to the point of endorsing the sentiments of that song - it's personal utility to me would decrease dramatically.

Noted and agreed. But to use the personal utility sense of superior for you and those in the SSG would you not agree that is superior to other SSGs so that at least an ironic use of the ditty might be possible. (As intended in the original, irony in print is very problematical, I probably should not attempt it but it is just too useful.)

My Educated, Rational SSG is certainly not objectively superior to the uneducated faith SSGs that do not see the irony in the ditty. Nor is it objectively superior to many other SSGs in the community. In fact in many ways it is objectively inferior to, for example, the investment banker SSG. They make a whole lot more money than we do. And one cannot consider raping the poor and middle class to be objectively bad. Nonetheless, I will do my best to indoctrinate those that are important to me into the mores of the ERSSG so that perhaps in the evolutionary sorting out of SSGs it will survive.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pair bonding.

Nails in the Religious Coffin: Sex, Drugs, and Contraception - Beliefnet

The thing that religions generally do not recognize is that reproduction in humans is not just popping a litter out and seeing who survives. Reproduction in humans is a long term investment if the zygote is going to get to puberty. One of the main evolutionary purposes of pleasure in sex and the evolutionary reason for the hidden estrus in humans is that the pair bond is essential for reproductive success, that is getting a reproducing offspring into the world. Religions generally accept the fact that sex after the first rape will result in a pair bond, which is one of the reasons they insist on marriage prior to sex. But this pair bond is dysfunctional for the church since the loyalties of the pair will be to the family rather than to the church. Therefore the restrictions on eg contraceptive sex which might make the pair bond more important than the church.

Replacing the Church for Socialization

Nails in the Religious Coffin: Sex, Drugs, and Contraception - Beliefnet

I would agree that society has gone overboard in the nuclear family department church or no. But there are secular substitutes for the church. Have you ever walked through the student family housing area of a major university? Or gone to a popular family park in one of the good school districts in a city. I notice such things because I was the 'afternoon and Saturday parent' for two children in a large metro area. My support group was eclectic and as you might expect for an early Mr. Mom very unusual. I even found out it included the off-duty 'tourist services' ladies in a neighborhood SRO hotel. The Central Park playgrounds were our church once the ladies figured out that I had a right to be there. We all watched out for all the kids, and socialized them independent of whose kids they were.

Internet as a Social Group

Nails in the Religious Coffin: Sex, Drugs, and Contraception - Beliefnet
Let´s use this day to remind us of the importance of  friendship, brotherhood and unity.
The ciber space  has become the perfect instrument to achieve such a thing, because here distance, gender, race, nationality, beliefs, are not what is important  but the feeling of togetherness.
It will be interesting to see if internet resources like Facebook (The intelligent old fart's friend) will be able to take up the slack in putting together social groups of like minded people. For a while it was just keeping in touch with old friends that have been scattered around the country, but recently I have been searching out and finding local like minded people. Although occasional face to face or group meetups are fun and valuable, the internet takes the place of the Post Office or mall greeting or for that matter the church socials.

As for charity, there are plenty of opportunities to make a difference in the world, and I find the resources of the net valuable for vetting them. Many of the church charity events are more about making the church participants feel good about themselves and look good to the community than actually making a difference in other people's lives. In many religious charities I find very little 'teaching them to fish' and a lot of throwing them a fish with a verse attached.

I thought about throwing the internet into the title, but it didn't have the right ring. But it is there, along with smartphone networks, that are going to change the way societies form and maintain their ethos.

Looking at the current crop of young adults one wonders. I suspect texting and twitter are just a fad, but social networks, can be quite powerful and rewarding. I have never met several "friends" from beliefnet, but most of them are more important to my mental well being than most of my casual face to face contacts even those who get hugs. I will try to get the face-to-face and will go out of my way to do so, but even that meeting is more of a reunion with an old friend rather than making a new acquaintance. The reserve and hesitancy of meeting a new even highly recommended face friend, just isn't there. I have personally done this several times once meeting a friend for the first time in the car at the start of a 2 day 1500 mile road trip to a rock concert both of us wanted to see. I knew the lead singer, but he had never met any of the people that were going to be there except for a high school classmate, who was the unifying contact for us all.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Atheists Behaving Badly.

Blag Hag: When Gender Goes Pear-Shaped

Let's continue to flog the messengers here. That will allow us to continue to avoid dealing with the real problem which has nothing to do with feminism but the fact that atheists have become so full of their Atheist BS that they can't be wrong about anything. Bad behavior? Atheists don't do that. They have the righteous Atheist TRUTH™.

568 posts and counting worrying about whether a woman at panel discussion about making women welcome to Atheism© had the right to question their use of female in place of woman or women. The title of the post could have well as been Atheists behaving badly, although all the examples were men behaving as sexists as there were many other examples of inappropriate behavior by men, oh yes by women also for dressing provocatively (showing cleavage and causing men to stare at it.)

Jen actually had to delete the male half of the million dollar challenge "A $million to any man who thinks he could boff one of the attendee's by midnight." Apparently there was some controversy about whether the overall STRONGLY feminist tenor of the speech excused the challenge which would have been unacceptable at most bars. I objected to the original academic, dual sex challenge, as an inappropriate focus on a zipless fuck. In this day and age I think it would be inappropriate in any setting despite the excuse that we are genetically predisposed to fuck anything that moves. We may be, but anybody that has no control over that instinct had better find God to help. God will provide Burqas or Habits to disguise the fact that the moving thing is a woman. It might even work although available evidence says it won't.

One of the reasons I no longer identify as an atheist, is that many atheists seem to think that they have First Amendment rights to talk and behave any way they want to. The argument that fundies do it doesn't cut any ice with me. An asshole is an asshole no matter which God or NoGod is pushing out the shit.

Nails in the Religious Coffin: Sex, Drugs, and Contraception

Nails in the Religious Coffin: Sex, Drugs, and Contraception - Beliefnet

Controlling sex and drugs is certainly a huge issue for humanity. Which is the Achilles heel of religion. Religion wants the only source of extacy to be God or at least Herm humble representative on earth that little vuvuzela in the fancy dress in the over decorated balcony. Having fun in bed? God will send you to hell! A little too much booze at the party? Better spend a lot of time in the confessional.

The other related nail in the religious coffin is female contraception. If you can't keep them barefoot and pregnant, why on earth would they want to go to church and listen to all that sexist garbage.

Atheism's contribution to these issues is not so much providing answers, as exposing the religious answers as BS and stinking BS at that. Atheists have a variety of social groups that they can choose to provide the moral and ethical guidance on these issues. These days governments are as useless as religion for this purpose.

It will be interesting to see if social media will ultimately provide this function. The churches certainly think so. Every church has its Web2.0 network up. Some universities are trying to fill the gap for non-believers. Music and arts groups are also providing social networks outside the churches. Atheist groups are hopeless, they can't even agree on what an atheist is let alone what moral and ethical socialization should be for an atheist. See the Blag Hag discussion of gender issues at an atheist gathering

My guess is that self selected Facebook groups will emerge as the socializing force for the non-religious.

- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Power to the People

Matt Davies courtesy Gocomics

In today's world information is power. It is essentially free on the internet. 2012 anyone? Mr Bloomberg?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Feminist men.

Blag Hag: When Gender Goes Pear-Shaped

If feminist men don't speak out on feminist issues, the only ones left to do so are those rad-fem women who object to sexist language and treatment. I can call a sexist a prick and get away with it because I have one. (I try very hard not to think with it. Long socialization in a family of very strong women.) The women have to be oh-so-careful not to be seen as 'one of them.' Hang in there, you will get flack from both sides but that is the way entrenched mores get changed.

Feminist men have much more clout because we can't be simply dismissed as one of those hysterical women. We can even be polite about it. Simply reminding another man about a poor choice of words by suggesting a better one is frequently as effective as calling him a prick. If not and some men just don't get it either willful sexism or stupidity the fallback is always available.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Little Vuvuzela in the Fancy Dress

This phrase grew out of a comment by one of my favorite ministers who would talk about standing out on the church steps in a fuchsia dress shilling for the tinhorn in the fancy balcony. I thought the fuchsia dress was a little too specific, so changed it to fancy dress, losing the shilling in the process. One of the beliefnet members kindly pointed out that a tinhorn was obsolete so I updated it to a modern metaphor.
I have to admit that the Bb one note blare of a vuvuzela is a much better metaphor for a sermon than a tinhorn. You can actually play music(?) on a tinhorn.


That little vuvuzela in the fancy dress in the over decorated balcony

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Solving Existential Nihilism


Welcome to existential nihilism. You must solve this problem for yourself or you will fall prey to the first religion that provides the response that Unitarian Universalist minister Forrest Church noted that religion is: quite simply, "our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die."

Hint: on the wall of my shower I have the fossil of an invertebrate fossilized ~half a billion years ago. It ingested and excreted and died. Probably reproduced but we can't know that. Once you can explain that creature's contribution to a child's sand castle you can possibly be immune to the attraction of God. Otherwise enjoy the pie in the sky after you die. It will help you get through the day.

I have found the unique solution that works for me to avoid the trap of existential nihilism. It may not work for all others, but in fact others have found my solution useful in avoiding that trap without resorting to Pascal's wager. But it is not "the solution" to how to live life. It may not even be the best solution to how to live life. But for someone with my training and background or a similar background it may help them avoid existential nihilism and Pascal's wager assuming they find neither useful to live life.

No matter, if everyone in my tribe of educated rational humans finds meaning in doing whatever they can to improve the lives of all those in their chosen tribe that they can and improve their own lives in a way that others look to them for help, comfort, love and inspiration, the world would become a much better place in spite of the nihilists and the fundamentalists total lack of contribution to the welfare of the human tribe.

How much each achieves is really irrelevant. Some will be able to do more than others, some will be in the right place at the right time to make a huge difference in someone's life that will enable that person to go on to be a major player in the community. But like the invertebrates on my shower wall, by surviving they provide the foundation for something better than they are.

Objectively it might be better for the human race if all existential nihilists chose the Glock solution to their problem and those who chose to bet on Pascal spent their entire life on their knees begging for salvation. I am convinced that neither is better for the human race, or for the universe, than some solution that avoids both. Objectively it might well be better for the universe or at least the earth if no humans existed. I don't buy that argument but I cannot prove it wrong, objectively or subjectively.

The Value of Religion

No atheist "denies" the existence of any "God" - Beliefnet

Religion has been an avocation for me ever since I found out that my next door neighbor believed in God and tried to figure out why he and his family would waste so much time in abetting this worthless (to me) activity. Then I got into choral music, and most of the good stuff was commissioned by the church to keep the parishioners on their knees praying for salvation. It works. But in order to perform it I had to know why it worked.

I also was fascinated by what the composer thought of why it was working. It did pay the bills and provided high status, but that was a different issue from the meaning written into the music. I find an amusing correlation between composition and atheism. I certainly can't prove it, but my study of religious scores suggests to me the composer was serving herm patron the church by providing the music that kept them on their knees but also provided an opportunity for those whose knees were sore to find a way out. Not all, there are many whose music even with the most cynical atheist interpretation seems to be an unadulterated celebration of their God. It is quite clear that God gets them from one day to the next, and they find a calling in helping others do so.

The most important value of religion is that it helps people deal with their mortality. I think the religious solution is valueless, but a lot of people find it useful not to have to deal with finding meaning and purpose in a finite life span. They can go from day to day doing whatever it is they do to get from one to the next without having to worry about who cares, because God cares and will take care of them in eternity if not now. Existential angst is not pleasant for most people and it is easy to let God worry about it.

Lest I seem condescending, let me be clear that for those who can assign the worries about meaning and purpose to God and find a religion that lets them contribute to the welfare of all including us Godless heathen, I have nothing but envy. I spend way too much of my life figuring out the ins and outs of meaning, purpose, spirituality, transcendence, etc. For me obviously, it is a better choice, but it cannot be defended as the only choice or even the best choice.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Perspectivism II - Beliefnet

That is your problem. There is no absolute basis of ethics with or without God. Ethics are determined by the society which supports them. In the modern world societies are distributed and coexist with radically different ethics. Conflict is inevitable and that is how humans sort out ethics. Conflict is largely ideological these days and hopefully it will stay that way but that is a relatively modern innovation based on relatively free flow of information about which ethical systems work and which don't. Even the HRCC is finding out that absolute ethics based on God is a good way to go broke in a hurry.

Ethics are fundamentally based on the genetic imperative of the survival of the herd. This means that ultimately the survival of every member of the herd is an ethical imperative no matter what the cost to the herd. This is why hundreds of firemen and other rescue workers ran into the twin towers on 9/11. This is why ski patrol people risk their lives to save an idiot who tried to ski an avalanche slope. Even the overpowering mass of the cerebral cortex can't override the lizard brain that says the herd must survive.

Very simple, by committing the perfect crime, you are resigning from the herd of humanity. Even if your lizard brain would let you violate the imperative that every member of the herd is critical, the next time you need a loaf of bread you will not be able to fulfill the social obligations of obtaining it. That is you have self identified as a criminal, and thereby forfeited the social contract of the normal purchase of the bread. You would have to steal it, and continue stealing. There is no going back to the herd they won't have you and you won't have them.

And what do you have besides you non-existent charisma to convince the herd to ignore your antisocial behavior. You have resigned from the herd by your previous hidden antisocial act that you got away with clean, remember? Even an AK-47 doesn't last long enough to protect you with out a crowd at your back. I suspect that the baker wouldn't need much but a call to 911 to get the nut out of his bakery.

While, as you note, force has been a basis for a short lived civilization usually with God at the back of the force manipulator, although political philosophy has been a more modern adaptation of God. The vuvuzelas aren't what they used to be. But the herd is not powerless, and it is taking less and less time for the ethos of the herd to trump the despot, God or no. As noted there is no absolute ethical absolute other than the herd maintaining its integrity. The weak, the stupid, and the infirm will be culled without any action by the herd or any member of it. But the culling will be done by the blind, pitiless indifference of the universe (thanks Richard Dawkins) regardless of any action or lack thereof by any member of the herd.

The herd as far as humankind is concerned is the tribe. Practically tribes must have leaders that ultimately rely on the support of the members of the tribe. Particularly when leaders have God at their back force may appear to be a controlling factor, and historically that has been pretty accurate. But force depends on controlling the information available to members of the tribe to that which the leader disseminates. It worked for a long time as long as most of the tribe was illiterate or functionally so. Or why fundamentalists are trying to gut the school systems. But as more and more humans are becoming aware of their place in the world and their ability to affect other tribes by their actions, the game is changing. The weapons of choice are information and economics in the modern world. I doubt any individual will amass much power when all of herm power toys are made in China, herm economy is financed by China's banks, and herm computers are controlled in Bangalore.


Facebook (1)
Man! I went outside this morning and there is over 30 inches of sunshine on my driveway, I'd go shovel it out of my way, but the roads are all sunny over a layer of summer weather, so I am afraid I'd have trouble keeping my top up if I went anywhere. I guess I'll have to stay home and try to cover up with some sun screen and hole up till it blows over.
Andrew Latimer

Fire in Dallas

The Joke Thread - Beliefnet

News flash--A tragic fire struck the library of Dallas Theological Seminary last night. In spite of the best efforts of fire crews all three volumes were destroyed, including two that the students had not yet finished coloring.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

God Helmet Redux. Science at Work.

Michael Persinger God Helmet Questions... - Beliefnet

Electrical brainstorms busted as source of ghosts: Doubt cast on theory that magnetic fields spark religious feelings.

Although I suspect that there is a God/ghost hole in many people's mind/brain I was never impressed with Persingers experiment and even less with the pop sci reports of it. My theory is that there is a genetic predisposition for some maybe a majority of people to believe uncritically in a leader, usually that little vuvuzela in the fancy dress in the over decorated balcony, but perhaps a political/organizational leader. Ultimately God/ghosts come from control stories and myths parents use to socialize children again a critical function of nurturing a social animal. The God myths are typically maintained throughout life. Hopefully the ghost myths are shed with maturity but one does wonder given the popularity of astrology, psychics, etc.

Fortunately there is a genetic predisposition for some usually in adolescence to examine that God/ghost/leader belief predisposition, and figure out ways to express their disbelief. If done intelligently this can be way the societies grow and become more useful to members. If not done intelligently the rebellion is either suppressed or the person becomes a socially dysfunctional member of the society. One of the intelligent ways to express the disbelief is to become a little vuvuzela in the fancy dress in the over decorated balcony and change the belief system from within. This is not risk free, push too hard and a heretic's fate awaits. In today's society that may not be a bad thing, find a new age publisher, and see if it sticks to the wall.