Thursday, April 26, 2012

I've Figured Out Why Buddhists Are So Annoying

It's because they're agnostic, and as we all know, agnostics are the worst people in the history of the Earth.

Ask Buddhists what's up with this business about the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, for example, and you will receive long replies which, to be sure, in no way answer your question or are good for anything else either, but point out how you supposedly don't understand something -- could be reincarnation, could be the concept of reincarnation, could, be Tibet, could be all sorts of things. This is the essence of agnosticism: insisting that everyone else doesn't understand, and being useless.

And nasty. For example, read this. I'm sorry. I promise I won't link that bad man again. (He's agnostic.)

PS, 16. September 2012: Actually, he's an atheist, and agnostic on the question of Jesus' historicity, although leaning recently more to the historicist side. And he's actually not so bad. He was severely provoked when he wrote that. You should check out some other things he's written.

PPS, 22. October, 2014: Actually, I've heard that, although he doesn't believe that God exists, he doesn't consider himself an atheist, but rather a skeptic. Yeah, that doesn't make sense to me either, but apparently he's not the only one. Just as I consider people who call themselves spiritual but not religious to be religious and confused about what the term means and/or in denial, so I consider people who don't believe that God exists but to be atheists, and to be tiresome when they deny that they are. I still think think his writing is very much worth reading.

One Muses About the State of the Public's Perceptions -- Oh, One Does

For at least a few years now, due to Dan Brown,very many people have been thinking about the Templarsin association with the Holy Grail.Whether Brown alone is responsible for the dimensions of this current fascination, or whether he has just been riding a wave of great popular interest before him, I don't know.

I do know that at least partly due to Brown, and to people like those at the History Channel riding Brown's wave, many people have gotten the idea that the Grail, or at least the idea of the Grail, goes way back in time into the early Dark Ages, if not actually into antiquity, if not actually all the way back to Jeebus Himself,when in fact the Grail originated in 12th-century fiction. Dingbats like Brown and the folks working for and consulted by and associated with the History Channel are spreading the notion that the Grail is nonfictional, whether it's a jeweled chalice as in the popular Arthurian stories, or some sort of magic stone, or Jesus' great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter. There's all this awful bullshit about the mysteries of the Grail,when there's no mystery, and therefore also no need for any self-descriobed genius to come along and solve the mystery.Any decent introductory course in Medieval French litersture solves the mystery by informing the student that Chrétien de Troyes invented the Grail in his epic poem Perceval.There ya go, folks, Grail mystery solved, yr welcome.

Lately it occurred to me to wonder how many people may have been mislead in the opposite direction: they already knew that the Grail was fictional, either because they had attended a competent class in Medieval literature or because they generally pay attention, and now, having never heard of the Templars before this aside from their mention in fiction, the widespread hoopla about the Grail and the Templars has led them to assume that the Templars are fictional, that they also never existed.

I get the impression that a large portion of the public, and of the reporters of the mainstream public, have first heard of mythicists via Bart Ehrman's recent book-length attempt to discredit them.If this is correct then it may mean that Ehrman's attempt has in fact been quite successful.

But it's so hard to really know what the general public thinks. Public-opinion polls, even when they're done well, and Lord knows they aren't always, have serious shortcomings. Presidential elections less so -- but wait, how do I know that? Well, of course, I don't. I'm just guessing and speculating and poking around in the dark all over the place here, as is anyone who tries to gauge public perceptions. At least some of us know we're just guessing. Above I assumed that mainstream-media reporters had been pretty ignorant of the historicist-mythicist debate until Bart Ehrman recently succeeded in leading them astray -- but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the publishers and editors of mainstream media deliberately keep the sharper reporters far away from any stories about religion. That would be both bad and good news: bad, of course, because it would mean that media bosses are deliberately misleading us more than we might imagine, and good because it could mean that their nefarious attempts to keep us in the dark are not as successful as they or anyone else thinks.

Sometimes public opinion is suddenly and surprisingly revealed, in a good and reassuring way. When I was in the 8th grade it was assumed that either a certain rich girl, daughter of a physician, my primary-care physician as it happened, although the term "primary-care physician," to my knowledge, was not yet in use, would be elected homecoming queen, or one of two other members of her clique. Because they were the popular girls. Or so everyone assumed. But no, the other girl surprisingly on the dais with them as a finalist, not a rich girl, dressed much more like the rest of us because she couldn't afford to dress like the rich cliques, none of us could, was announced the winner and the place went nuts. Conventional wisdom was proved wrong.

Don't accept conventional wisdom just because it's conventional. And don't assume that the assholes and idiots have quite as tight a hold on public perceptions as Time magazine and The New York Times may have you believe. I'm not denying that things are often awful, just suggesting that maybe, maybe, good sense is more widespread than it may appear. bubbling under the surface. For goodness' sake, vote to re-elect President Obama.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"Betrachte die Herde, die an dir vorüberweidet[...]"

Herd behavior: people tend to believe all of the official stories about Roswell, the JFK assassinationor 9/11, or to disbelieve all of them. Actual independent thought, it seems to me, would have produced more people entertaining conspiracy cases involving the Federal government in some of these cases, and not in others. But the great majority of people, seeing Federal conspiracies either in all of these cases and in other cases, or in none of them, seem to be choosing sides and following party lines more than thinking.

In politics, similarly, people tend to think that their side can do no wrong and that the other side are horrible people. This applies to independents too, from whom one might expect more nuanced thought. Instead, one encounters the stereotype of the independent as the lone voice of reason, with fanatical ideologues both to his left and to his right.

Even more so with agnostics and Buddhists under their simpleminded banner; "Everybody Else is Wrong." Recently I read an article, written by a Buddhist, under the title "Is Buddhism Agnostic?" I thought about that for a while and had to conclude that, yes, it is, and that that's why I dislike it so much. Like agnosticism, Buddhism is primarily concerned with smugly pointing out the misconceptions of others. What do they themselves believe? Weeeeelllll... certainly not what is usually said that they believe. And straight back to the everybody-else-is-wrong hobbyhorse.

Human minds are so complex. Almost everybody is actually right about a great deal. Even, say I through clenched teeth, those damned agnostics and Buddhists. Even when they're following a herd and so are only right by default. You may know someone for decades and never once see them make sense, but don't assume because of that you know everything about what they know.

Christopher Hitchenswas a dingbat, but he was undeniably and admirably his own dingbat, clearly thinking for himself. (Did anyone else on Earth both support W's Iraq war and campaign for Ralph Nader in 2004? If so I'll give you good odds that they were just following Hitch.)

Anyway: follow me and help re-elect President Obama.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Maybe the Last Post About Jesus For a Little While

I'm concerned that I may have been boring the Hell out of regular readers lately, hammering away at one particular topic. So one more remark for the time being, with the hope that it doesn't seem I'm merely repeating what I've already said repeatedly lately:

It seems to me that Biblical scholars usually assume that Jesus existed, and then interpret everything they study in that light. As opposed to considering whether or not Jesus existed in the light of everything they study. And no, I don't have a PhD in New Testament studies or in anything else. But I'd like to think that even if I were the chairperson of a prestigious faculty of Biblical studies, I would still avoid the pitfall of arguing from authority -- or credentialism, a cool word I learned today. People insisting that it's certain that Jesus existed keep referring to their own or other people's credentials, instead of discussing the question. (And then the experts wonder why so many people aren't inclined to listen to them.) An opinion makes the same amount of sense no matter how many or how few people hold it, or how many or how few credentials those people hold. 300 years ago the scholarly consensus in Western civilization was that anyone who professed atheism should be put to death for it. A consensus, in and of itself, is no reason to agree with the consensus. I'm sure all of you can think of many examples where great majorities of this group or that all agreed and all were horribly wrong.

What is particularly disturbing in this case is that the professors who seem so closed-minded to me on this one question seem so reasonable and intellectually curious in general. It's not as if it were just more of the same from some demogogues who spew nonsense nonstop. No, these are very bright and highly-educated, highly-civilized people. Worse, they're people who are experts in some areas of study which particularly fascinate me. People I could talk to at great length about old manuscripts and debate textual variants.People who are fascinated by things I love, too, although they would put 99.99% of you swiftly to sleep. Lately I've felt like Dustin Hoffman near the end of Lenny,pleading with a judge to listen to the points he's trying to make, pleading to be heard and not treated like a random raving fool. Wondering whether anyone in the room even cares about what he's struggling so mightily to express as clearly as he can.

Well, that's a little over-dramatic on my part: I'm not that isolated and helpless, I'm not being hauled off to jail for the umpteenth time for saying what I feel is important.

(It would be nice, though, if some highly-respected professor or fourteen would join this chorus. All we're asking for is the beginning of a discussion.)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"Ve Haff Vays of Sreatening Your Tenure!"

John Dominic Crossanhas joined Bart Ehrmanin reminding us great unwashed types that the debate about Jesus' historical existence is over, and that the skeptics lost. In his latest screed for Huffington Post, Crossan refers in the first sentence to "the historical fact -- yes, fact -- that Pilate executed Jesus at Passover."

Are Ehrman and Crossan only talking to people like me who don't have PhD's, or are their pronouncements that this debate, which I can't find when it started within academia, although of course several prominent academics have been fired for trying to start it there -- Ah say Ah say are Ehrman and Crossan & Co only talking to us, or are their flat assertions that the debate is over thinly-veiled threats to their colleagues with PhD's and tenure or hopes of tenure, that trying to open the debate within mainstream academia will still, anno domini two thousand and frickin twelve, land the would-be opener quickly outside the mainstream where he or she will be ridiculed and compared to climate-change deniers? Richard Carrier thinks so. Carrier has a PhD, but he also has a big pair of brass balls, and if he cares about the tenure he's not going to get soon in a mainstream faculty, he hides it admirably well.

Not only do I not have a PhD, it's been at least fifteen years since I could remember what it had felt like to care about tenure, so Crossan and Ehrman aren't scaring me. I can very grudgingly understand that other people are cowardly pussies who always want to cover their asses. Hey, it's no secret. People are the way they are. But even cowards can gradually become embarrassed, and this shit is embarrassing. The claim that anybody who doesn't join in the chorus of "it's a fact, yes a fact that Jesus existed, there's no doubt among the educated and non-crazy" is like a climate-change denier is so desperately tired that people ought to be really embarrassed for not speaking up about it. Cowardliness vs this intense embarrassment. Eventually, surely, a few of the cowards will cease to be so cowardly. They'll trade job security for sleeping the sound sleep of the ballsy.

When meterologists and geologists are confronted by climate-change deniers, they don't refuse to discuss climate change, and they don't ask to see the deniers' credentials. They by Vishnu discuss climate change. They refer to data. Surely, by this year of two thousand and for crying out loud twelve, people like Ehrman and Crossan are beginning to make themselves irrelevant in intellectual debate, are beginning to more closely resemble televangelists in the public perception, by continuing to pretend that the question of Jesus' historical existence has been properly debated. Come out, all you people who know better! Trust me: having guts feels good. Point out that the emperors aren't wearing clothes.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Richard Carrier Has Become a Hare Krishna!

I've known Richard for many years, and frankly, I'm surprised it took him this long to snap. He was always much too delicate, emotionally, to safely lead the life of a public critic of religion. He was a brilliant writer and speaker in our cause, no doubt, and he rarely showed his private torment publicly, but every bit of unfair criticism from someone like James McGrath or Benny Hinn wounded him, all the more so as he failed in attempts to start a career as a tenure-track academic and as a televangelist. He felt taunted by their jabs. He shouldn't have. He should have been quite proud of his own unique career. And yet here we are this sad day. I think the final blow was Bart Ehrman's implicit ridiculing of Richard's supposed lack of academic credentials when he wrote in a recent Huffington Post piece that no REAL academics doubted Jesus' existence. (It hardly needs to be said that I'm worried about Bart too, as are many others of his good friends, what with his extremely erratic statements lately.) Last week Richard and I were having dinner with Jimmy Carter and Kate Capshaw. Out of the blue Richard put his head in his hands and began to sob. "I'm a real academic! I AM!" he shouted, startling the other patrons at Spago. And of course Jimmy, Kate and I know his is, and we all said so, and that Ehrman was being ridiculous, but Richard is the kind of tortured insecure soul who can only believe the bad things people say about him.

And now at last he's lost that brilliant, fragile mind and "given his life to Krishna." (His words.) Now instead of hanging out at Spago and Jai he'll be hanging out at LAX. You can read his sad announcement here.