Archive for April, 2011

Trust and Obey

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

- Classic Creepy Hymn

For a number of reasons, I’ve been thinking, recently, about my history with religion. I’m perceived as being hostile to (most specifically) Christianity and even accused of “hating” it. I honestly don’t feel like I hate Christianity–I’m not even sure what that means–but I wanted to think through the possibility and explain my opposition to religion and why it is often so fierce.

Most atheists’[1] primary objection to religion is that it’s not true. Believers are like our primitive ancestors who think the earth is flat. The atheist can’t understand why, when faced with very clear, logical, and conclusive[2] arguments against the existence of whatever god(s) are in question, believers refuse to modify their position or admit its obvious absurdity.

The argument is about what is factually correct, and most of the “wrongness” of the religious is thought to be in their lack of understanding of reality. In this context, the argument against religion is like an argument about where the 1928 olympics were held[3] (well, ok, an argument taking place before search engines . . . and away from libraries). Somebody is right and somebody is wrong–or both might be wrong–but if everyone is convinced of their “facts,” then there’s no means by which to end the argument or make progress in any direction.

And of course this is annoying and, if the individuals in the discussion stake enough of their identity in their positions, it can even be infuriating for them. Nevertheless, it’s often enough chalked up to a difference of “opinion,” or a matter of faith, or a to-each-his-own scenario or whatever.

Religion has a much, much darker side however, which is it’s training in obedience in the face of things one is told one “can’t understand.”

This isn’t a trait of hardcore evangelical faiths (aka fundamentalism), but is a common thread throughout all varieties of religion. Religions are premised on the notion that the universe we perceive and can bring our senses and mind to bear on isn’t “real.” Beyond the senses, beyond matter and energy, there is a much greater, majestic, and eternal reality filled with spirits and, most importantly deities, that determine the fate of your eternal soul and are very interested in your choices and actions[4].
Conveniently, these Gods can’t simply tell you what you need to do. Unless you’re a Moses, Mohammad, Joseph Smith, or L. Ron Hubbard, you’re going to want the guidance of an expert–a priest, minister or other clergy. These people will help with the interpretation of religious texts at the very least and may even be in a direct chain of communication to God himself.

Baby praying--super creepy
Even though a cursory lay-persons reading of, for example, the New Testament reveals a pretty simple message–don’t hurt other people, help children, the poor, the sick and the old–the primary message of every religion is, as the song goes, Trust and Obey.

Children, obey your parents; women folk, obey your men folk; slaves, obey your masters; church members, obey the church; and everybody, obey the government[5]. Submit and obey. Obey and submit. You have been put on this earth under the supervision of various god-appointed authorities. They exist to interface with the mysteries and complexities that are beyond your comprehension and to deliver to you divinely prescribed commandments that you are to follow.

Of course, religion is not alone in this endeavor. The other authorities at the top of the previous paragraph reinforce each other. Parents tell their children to obey the church (priests, sunday school teachers) and the state (police, school teachers). The government legislates, public schools teach and elected leaders constantly harp on the need for obedience to spiritual leaders and parents (or adults more generally).

Religion adds the mystery and ritual, however, and goes beyond right and wrong, legal and illegal to a special dispensation on what is transcendentally good and evil.

These two things–1. casting doubt on the biological means of comprehending the material world (senses and reason)[6] and 2. elevating blind obedience, faith and submission to authority into the highest realms of virtue–move religion from the category of factually-and-infuriatingly-wrong to that of fundamentally-destructive-of-human-well-being.

There’s much more to say, and it’s likely that my real-life conversations about religion will inspire future posts, but I’m going to wrap this post up and leave you with the dirge that inspired this post. Warning! If you know this song, think carefully about re-subjecting yourself to it–it can stay in your head for days.

  1. [1] For the purposes of this article, I’ll refer to all manner of non-believers as atheists
  2. [2] At least, as conclusive as any argument against the existence of anything can be.
  3. [3] I tried to think of a better example: evolution, global warming, geology, but most break down along religious lines.
  4. [4] One could argue that the “personal deity” is more a description of western, abrahamic religions, but even easterners seem to receive directions to kill based on religious differences, so I’m going to cast my net widely
  5. [5] On very rare occasions these things can be in conflict, but after a brief, usually violent, sorting-out they tend to self-correct and harmonize.
  6. [6] I may follow up about this, but a really good analogy can be found in this Stephan Molyneux podcast.

The Bikecast Episode #54: Whence Bigotry?

The evolutionary psych story about humanity is that war, genocide, and the divisive “-isms” that keep humans in a perpetual state of conflict are inevitable expressions of an “us vs. them” tendency that is simply a part of our biological makeup.

It’s indisputable that people can adopt an identity that is essentially oppositional to another nation, race, religion or ethnic group, but how much of this tendency is nature and how much is nurture?

Only one human trait is truly immutable: adaptability. Children learn very quickly what they need to do to ensure their physical safety. In our dominance based society, a major element of required adaptation is siding with proximal agents in society vs. outsiders, real or–primarily–imagined.

In fact, examining the volume of propaganda that is directed at Americans, from the cradle to the grave it’s unsurprising the kinds bizarre and absurd expressions of xenophobia that crop up whenever the “enemies of America” (or of “real” America) come up in conversation.


Download this episode of the Bikecast

Japan

Take, for example, this stream of . . . just really weird comments that popped about on Facebook and Twitter after the last month’s earthquake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown in Japan. Citing Pearl Harbor (Pearl Harbor? Seriously?) as the counter-balance in some twisted version of karma is really, really fucked up.

Anti-japanese propaganda from the Second World War
Where did this enmity come from? There can’t be more than a dozen people alive on the planet that participated in the fighting at Pearl Harbor. Japan has been a more than cooperative American colonial forward base in East Asia for over 65 years. There are very few who derived their prejudice against the Japanese from lived experience, but a quick glance at “educational material” and popular culture should give a clue about where the animosity comes from.

The facts, which one has to dig a bit to find, paint a different picture. The popular depiction involves a ruthless and brutal empire[1] that, in an attempt to enslave the entire pacific strikes out at a peaceful merchant republic. This depiction, crafted, as always, by the victors served to put the United States on a war footing. Pearl Harbor was a story meant to ease the resistance to conscription going into the war, and to ease the collective conscience after Japanese cities were incinerated by fire bombings and, finally, annihilated in nuclear blasts.

The truth is less useful. Objectively, two empires, one small and resource starved and the other vast, expanding and reaching the height of its powers met in the western Pacific. A faction of the leadership of the United States, including large parts of the executive branch, wanted to go to war in Europe and intended to do so by drawing Germany’s Pacific ally into a conflict.

This bikecast/post isn’t intended to address this issue in depth. It requires the kind of care and attention to detail that I can’t generally muster. Luckily, the issue has been researched to death by just the kinds of minds by which one wants important issues researched to death. The evidence is overwhelming and the objections, as far as I can find, are few and feeble (and rebutted). This page of links from the Independent Institute has alot of good starting points for the interested.

In any case, the nature of the war, fought thousands of miles from California against an island nation far and away the technological and economic inferior of the United States required an enormous amount of propaganda. In retrospect, as each new generation of Americans confronts the nightmare of history’s only nuclear strikes, the tale requires an arch-enemy so lunatic that no alternative was conceivable but to vaporize hundreds of thousands of people to bring the war to an end.

And that is the legacy that is echoed in the comments about Japan today. Jingoism generated by a ruling class to support their decisions and those of their predecessors three generations ago.

If we have to demonize the Japanese in order to distract from the reality of the war in the Pacific, how much more demonization is required to justify the enslavement of a race?

African Americans

The answer is, “quite a lot”–11 on a scale of 10 and we see the evidence for this in Western bigotry against blacks. This may be especially true in the United States where racial policy has been an political issue for three hundred years.

How does one justify the perpetual enslavement of a people? They have to be animals, unfit for a place in civilization, unable to control their impulses and desires, a danger to advanced society. If abolition is on the table, a strong and reliable political move is to drive into the public consciousness the most gruesome and horrifying stories of what will happen when the black race is freed.

If integration is on the table, the wise move is to tell these stories again. To create and fund “science” that supports racist conclusions, to integrate racism into every possible aspect of society: education, religion, community organizations, etc. The politician willing to do so and support others in doing so can have a long and prosperous career, since no one pays any heed to the wars he starts and the money he shunts to his supporters and allies.

The legacy of nationalized racial policy is what we see around us today. Racism isn’t a biological inevitability. It’s the result of an explicit policy of centuries of fear mongering for political power and financial gain.

The Entire Non-Christian World and The non-English-speaking Americas

Nowadays, our attention is turned to (at least) two new enemies who, we are told, seek to despoil our country. The muslims (or islamo-fascists) and spanish speaking central/south Americans and carribean islanders (aka mexicans or illegals).

Popular stereotypes of these people differ radically between 1900 and today. I go into some hand-waving detail in the podcast about my perception of these changes. Suffice it to say that the fanatical muslim and job-stealing mexican are inventions of the last 40 years. They were created specifically to allow monstrously inhumane treatment of human beings and vast appropriations of stolen money to the military-industrial-prison-security-congressional-complex. The amount of energy and effort being put into the new stereotypes assure us that, in 100 years, people will still be clinging blindly to these beliefs.

And why the energy and effort? Greater fear and anger associated with these groups means more power given to the police, military and surveillance state and votes for anyone who promises protection from these “threats.” Nobody can speak against this most destructive of enemy imagery and hope to be taken seriously by the corporate media much less have any chance at political office.

To sum up, the quantity and ferocity of enemy-making propaganda has to be such that virtuous choices like withdrawing western troops from the middle east, allowing free travel over the southern border (or not going to war in 1941 or not owning black persons before 1865) are unthinkable.

We’re still reeling from the propaganda of the past, and new bullshit is being constantly heaped on top of the old. The perpetrators and agitators are those that benefit from hatred–those whose actual crimes: mass theft, kidnapping and murder, necessitate the creation of unfathomably evil foes. Only by projecting their own wrongdoings onto others can the perpetrators escape from scrutiny. Not only can they commit the most horrific crimes against humanity, they can do so in the name of protection people from the harmful other.

In the podcast, I reference Lloyd DeMause who makes a similar argument with regard to enemy imagery historically directed at children. Here’s a page of his online books. I’ve read much of The Emotional Life of Nations and listened to some of the Origins of War in Child Abuse. Also, here’s a current example ad hoc ratcheting up of enemy imagery in wartime as various minorities are targeted as foreign mercenaries. Oh, and the movie I was trying to think of was Lawrence of Arabia

  1. [1] no argument there, btw

That’s Some Bullshit Right There

This episode of “That’s Some Bullshit Right There,” involves a dude who is charged with counterfeiting. Let me tell you about what dude did: he created coins made out of silver and stamped with a value of $1. Each coin contains 1 troy ounce of silver currently worth ~$35 (up from $10 after a decade of warfare and rampant money creation).

So if you are selling, say, a $1 candybar and somebody gives you a “$1 coin” that’s actually worth $35 dollars, can we really say that you are a victim of counterfeiting?

This is an old’ish man–67 years old. He’s going to prison for upwards of 25 years for making coins that, should you accidentally accept one, would make you 35 times wealthier than a paper dollar bill.

I understand that you may disagree with the man’s politics. You may not like that he “opened the Free Marijuana Church of Honolulu, giving away pot and calling himself a ‘high priest’”–high priest, get it?

You might not like that his primary customers are Tea Party/Ron Paul types who purchase coins made of valuable metal because they believe that, as trillions of dollars are created de novo by the Federal Reserve to pay for a global war, domestic police state and to shovel into the maw of the corporate and financial sectors, the value of the dollar will decline–as it has by 95% in the last century of global wars, an increasing police state and skyrocketing wealth of the corporate and financial classes.

You may think he’s goofy, you may think he’s stupid, but this man is clearly innocent of hurting anyone but those who benefit from maintaining the belief that the value of the dollar isn’t falling through the floor.

It gets even better: “Attempts to undermine the legitimate currency of this country are simply a unique form of domestic terrorism,” [US Attorney] Tompkins said in a Department of Justice news release after the conviction.

“While these forms of anti-government activities do not involve violence, they are every bit as insidious and represent a clear and present danger to the economic stability of this country,”

. . . the fuck? A representative from the institution that has heaped roughly a quarter million dollars of debt onto every man, woman and child within it’s borders (as well as the unborn and the not yet conceived); an institution that is owned lock, stock and barrel by the wealthiest ruling class in the history of the planet; an institution that is beggaring hundreds of millions of people to artificially maintain the wealth of a fraction of a percent of its population . . . a representative of this institution is saying that a hippie making silver coins is a clear and present danger to the economic stability of this country and that he should die in a cage for his “crimes”?

That’s some bullshit right there.

Oh, and PS. Morris Dees? Last I checked the SPLC was taking down evil fuckers like the Ku Klux Klan and shit. When did you start carrying water for the goddamn Empire? Jeeezus, with friends like these . . .