Monday, December 12, 2011

"The More I Learn About People, The More I Like Dogs"

Who said that? Was it George Carlin? Hunter S Thompson? WC Fields? Arthur Schopenhauer? Napoleon Bonaparte? Tecumseh? Voltaire? Thomas More? Julius Caesar? Aristotle? Confucius?

The answer is: yes. They all said that. As have countless other people, speaking and writing in many languages, all over the world, for thousands of years.

The date of the earliest known specimen of writing keeps being pushed further back, as older specimens are found. You think writing began "shortly before 3,100 BC, either in Egypt or Mesopotamia"? You're a little bit out of date. Right now it's not certain which artifact of writing is the oldest currently known, because, for one thing, the dating of these artifacts is not always very exact, and for another, there are some things upon which lines were carved before 3,500 BC, which could be the oldest-known writing, if we were sure that the lines are writing, but we're not yet sure about that. Part of the problem is defining what writing is. It developed from pictures, and mankind has been making pictures for tens of thousands of years, and occasionally a picture really does say a thousand words or so.

Anyhoo. One of the oldest known specimens which everyone agrees is writing is located on a cliff in Egypt, a little bit of graffiti scratched into the cliff. It may actually be the oldest piece of writing yet discovered. It's definitely older than 3,200 BC. Most often the oldest heiroglyphs we know have an official character, having to do with kings and religion, but this message is quite informal, as if a court scribe took a break from his official duties to write what he really thought. It's one short line of symbols, among which can clearly be seen a man and a dog. The dog is especially well drawn. He -- it is definitely a he -- looks happy and frisky, with his short tail and triangular ears standing straight up.

The graffiti says, "People stink and dogs are great." That's an attempt to give you the flavor and sense of the message. A much more literal translation would be, "People bring plague. Dogs bring the sun."

PS None of what I said in this post is true, unless I got something right by accident. One or more of the people I listed may actually have written the title phrase. But all of it should be true.

PPS I like dogs an awful lot, but I still like cats even more. And in rare cases, people are actually the best.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

BIG Questions? Really?

Brandon G Withrow, Christian theologist, Assistant Professor of History of Christianity at Winebrenner Theological Seminary and Huffington Post blogger, claims to think that big questions are good. I've got a few for him, we'll see whether he has any answers which inspire more than eyeroll or an irritated sigh. I'll be very surprised if he does, but we'll see:

I have a few questions: do you ever seriously consider that there may be no God, and that religion may be an outmoded system of problem-solving, long since overtaken by things like science, and philosophy which is no longer combined with nor allied with theology? (Please don't avoid answering that question by simply turning the tables and asking whether I, as an atheist, ever seriously wonder whether there might be a God. That would be disappointing and par for the theological course, and by the way, yes, I do.) Do you ever wonder whether religion (/spirituality, po-TAY-to/po-TAH-to) hinders people more than helping them?

Whether there is a God or not: do you ever wonder whether Jesus might never have existed?

Whether Jesus existed or not: do you wonder whether the teachings ascribed to Him might be completely unrealistic? For example, Jesus is said to have said: when someone strikes you, turn the other cheek. Is this good advice? We don't tend to think that it's wrong or sinful for someone to react to being physically assaulted by calling the police and having the assaulter prosecuted, do we? And if they don't do that, or fight back, shouldn't they at least cover up, protect themselves, or run away? Hopefully these questions suggest many other equally pertinent ones regarding the lessons of Jesus which supposedly are followed by billions, but of course rarely if ever actually followed by anyone, and that's a very good thing, I say.

To sum up, do you ever really question the essence of your profession, and whether it makes any sense to do what you do?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

So Very, Very Tired

As Amy-Jill Levine and Douglas Knight point out in a recent article on Huffington Post, and I quote: Such debates over the existence of God are not only tedious, they are also pointless.

Amen. That has been my position for some time. Actually, ever since Nietzsche very helpfully pointed it out to me in Morgenröte, erstes Buch, 95. Among other reasons, because the "familiar claims," of which Levine and Knight list a few in their first paragraph --

"humanity could not control nature, did not understand conception or birth, and feared death, and so we invented a God that brought order to chaos, purpose to life and comfort in death. Next, we developed religion to placate the God we invented to assuage our fears of what we could not understand or control. Then, we wrote the Bible to sanction the religion that placated the God that we invented. Next came clergy, to interpret the Bible"

-- are indeed so familiar, and so eminently sensible and convincing and proven in such ever-greater detail, their truth so obvious, that anyone not already convinced by them has already proven him- or herself to be resistant to argument. One would just get all dirty and the pig would have all the fun, if one failed to respect oneself sufficiently in such a case. I do indeed so fail from time to time, but for the most part I'm really talking to the other atheists and, among other things, trying to persuade them not to get all muddy in a futile effort. Not that there's nothing to discuss with believers. Often they know their medieval and ancient history and prehistory a tad better than those who are going from calling the OT bronze-age to calling it neolithic or older, or denying that it has any originality at all, or pointing out triumphantly that a Harry Potter novel mentioning London doesn't make it nonfictional, or another of their many very tired memes.

Levine and Knight:

"Rather than repeat either the tired positivistic arguments for atheism or the equally tired apologetic pronouncements that study is dangerous to faith"

-- instead let's repeat this no less tired assertion that there is some sort of equivalency between atheism and the most simplistic apologetics. In short, between everyone who disagrees with us moderate types.