Friday, February 28, 2014

NOBODY KNOWS WHAT JESUS LOOKED LIKE!!

(IF, that is, he ever existed!)

About this "Jesus certainly wasn't white" meme: nothing would please me more than if someday, somehow, if were proven that Jesus had skin so dark it was more black than brown, and a broad flat nose, and a big beautiful afro. (And was never actually crucified, cause, yikes!) The look on the face of a certain uncle of mine -- that alone would be a joy. But the black Jesus theory, or even the certainly-not-white-Jesus theory, is wishful thinking every bit as much as the lillywhite Jesuses we're used to seeing in Western art. There is no "typical Middle Eastern appearance" today, and there wasn't one 2000 years ago. The Jews were not an isolated etnicity before Alexander the Great. Greeks and Jews blended during the Hellinistic period, and then the Romans broadened the gene pool some more.

One of the things which makes me wonder whether Jesus was ever more than a fictional character is that no one in the New Testament says that he was tall or short or fat or thin or strong or weak or pale or dark-skinned or that his hair was black or brown or red or blonde or curly or straight or long or short, or that his beard was long or short or thick or thin, or that he didn't have a beard because he shaved.

If he existed, if Mary really did claim immaculate conception, then she was hiding the identity of Jesus' biological father -- who, between the Jews, Greeks, Romans (the Roman gene pool alone was very broad), Samaritans, Arabs, Persians, Roman soldiers from Gaul, Dacia, Nubia, and elsewhere, and others, could have had any human color of skin and hair and eye.

Over and over I encounter this resistance to saying: "We don't know." Ehrman -- along with, apparently, still, the vast majority of academics in the "relevant" fields -- still says that it's "certain" that Jesus existed. Many people say that Jesus "certainly" wasn't white -- whatever "not white" means. Is Diogo Morgado white? (He plays Jesus in the new movie Son of God and is touching off a new round of the debate over Jesus' ethnicity and appearance.) Is George Zimmerman white? I don't want want to to know where the supposed boundary lines are between white and not-white and black and not-black and so forth. I'm so tired of these boundaries. I want us all just to be people, and to really look at each other, and really see that we're all one species.

People want to be sure about so many things. That line in the liturgy about a "sure and certain hope of the resurrection to come" kind of gives the game away. For one thing, it's a case for the Department of Redundancy Department, because sure is certain and vice-versa, and for another, a hope is never certain. If it's certain it's not a hope anymore, it's knowledge.

"Certain" is a greatly overused term.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Biblical Schmiblical!

Jay Michaelson claims that Jesus had 'advice' for homophobes. What?! you're saying. Yeah, that's what I said: What did this joker just make up and put into Jesus' mouth? Turns out Michaelson is referring to Matthew 22:21 : "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." What?! you're saying. How does does that have anything to do with homophobia? It doesn't, of course, but in Christian theology, just as in punk rock, there are no rules. If you've sat through very many Christian sermons, and actually stayed awake and paid attention, you know that it's standard procedure to pick a topic from current politics, pick a Bible verse, and then invent a connection between the two. Such was the traditional authority of Christianity that it was seldom that a member of the congregation dared to say something so shameless, so wicked and surly as, "But Reverend, that doesn't make any sense," no matter how senseless the supposed connection between the Bible verse and the current political topic may have been. Sorry, Reverends, but those days are gone.

Nevermind the way you put a statement on gay rights into Jesus' mouth, Dr Michaelson -- as someone with a a PhD in religion from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, you ought to know how high the chances are that the author of Matthew put those words, about what to give to Caesar and what to give to God, into Jesus' mouth: Matthew was probably the last of the 4 canonical Gospels to be written, and many of the possible reasons for differences between Matthew and the other 3 Gospels, besides pure accuracy on the part of Matthew, are among the things taught to freshmen pursuing Bachelor's degrees in Biblical studies or Christian theology. They're also taught things such as how many changes were made to the New Testament over the course of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and many of the reasons, besides a pure concern for accuracy, why these changes may have been made.

Maybe it's time for me to stop taking umbrage at people like you for things like that, and finally accept how widespread "lying for the Lord" is, including the lie that the Mormons are more guilty of it than others.

But nevermind the complete non-sequitor of claiming that "give Caesar the things that are Caesar and give God the things that are God's" has some relevance to the, it now appears unsuccessful, thank goodness and common sense, attempt on the part of the Arizona state legislature to give legal backing to discrimination against gays on religious grounds. And nevermind the high probability that you know damn well that Jesus very likely never said anything like Matthew 22:21, and that you probably already know much better than I do why that verse is in the Bible, and nevermind the possibility that Jesus never existed at all -- yes, ?I can picture very well the sneer you would give me for saying that, I'm very much used to getting that sneer. Don't worry, Reverend: we're sneering right back. And we in fact are not climate-change skeptics or Holocaust deniers, we're neither scientifically-illiterate nor bigoted, and we can see quite plainly the difference between when an authority provides copious data, as meterologists do when asked about climate change, and the quite curious case of authorities appealing to authority, as Biblical scholars do when asked why they're so sure that Jesus existed -- nevermind all that.

Let's say for the sake of argument that Jesus existed, and that he made that remark about giving Caesar his and giving God his, and just for the sake of argument that there really is a perfectly clear statement in there about the the legal status of LGBT's -- so what? It was Christianity which introduced homophobia into Christian lands to begin with. Homophobia was foreign to most of them before they were converted. We don't need theological arguments to undo this damage which theology has wrought.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

ISBN 978-3-598-71346-0

Bibliotheeca Scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana, Eutropii Breviarium Ab Urbe Condita, recognovit Carolus Santini. It's the 2011 reprint of the 1992 of the 1979 edition.

The thing is, it's very wide and tall compared to earlier editions from Teubner's renowned Library. Aside from the Library, Teubner would publish a critical edition now and then in quatro, but the Library's volumes, from the beginning in the mid-19th century on, were small octavios, about 4 1/2 by 6 inches. They fit into many pockets, these old Teubners. Then, around the 1960's or 70's, perhaps, they suddenly grew to about 5" by 7", and in the 1990's some new editions were just barely larger than that, and now there's this Eutropius -- and, I assume, other recent titles: 6.1" by 9.1". That's not going to fit into any pocket of anyone I know. With small purses it'll be between dicey and impossible. Backpacks are needed.

Does this bother me? Yeah, kinda. I'm used to sticking the old, pre-1960's Teubners into a jacket pocket. I'll live.

A surprising detail on this 2011 reprint -- and other recent titles -- is that, apparently, De Gruyter has taken over the operation from K G Saur. In the past 2-3 years, I'd guess. La-dee-da, eh? In addition to growing the volumes to an unwieldy size, De Gruyter has given the covers a new design.

Since before 1900, a blue cover on a Teubner Library volume meant the text was Latin, and an orange or red cover meant it was Greek. And it mostly still does, but: now there's also at least one green cover, on: Papyri Graecae magicae. Die griechischen Zauberpapyri: Vol. I. Greek papyrii used to be in orange covers like other Greek material. Does the green signify papyrii? or perhaps that some of the apparatus is in German? Or perhaps something else? Beats me. And a couple of volumes look more yellow than orange or red to me. Chaos. Chaos and decadence, and change is bad. Unwieldy sizes and unnecessary proliferation of colors of titles, and apparatus in vernaculars. 2 books of Livy per volume. As recently as a couple of decades ago every Teubner volume of Livy contained 5 books. And sometimes a little more: the Mueller/Weissenborn edition, printed until the mid-20th century, also included the periochae and testimony of the missing books. Yr dang right that was cool. Use to be before that, before Teubner, centuries ago, 1 volume would more often than not have all 35 books. You call this a martini?! This is no way to run a railroad! Get off my lawn, you punks! *shaking my fist at a cloud* Seriously, though, it's bad.

And even more in earnest: even with all the decadence, Teubner still kicks the living shit out of the Oxford Classical Texts and every other publisher of ancient Classical texts I know. Here and there an individual volume by Oxford or even by (shudder, facing-page translation, decadence, decadence) Loeb may be the one you want, or one by Brill or Bude or someone else. But all things being equal, always check Teubner first, it saves time. Teubner is the big leagues. Teubner is the quality shizznit. It's the stuff. Still.

The index historicus of the 1979/1992/2011 Santini Eutropius, in addition to giving the location in the volume itself of its subjects, also refers in many cases to der kleine Pauly (dkP), and in a few other either to The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire (PLRE) or to the Pauly-Wissowa (PW).

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Bill May Become Law Soon In Arizona Which Would Allow Businesses To Refuse Service To Gay People If Their "Sincerely Held Religious Beliefs" Tell Them They Should

Who could possibly have foreseen it? Who could have foreseen that such intolerant homophobia would spring from a religion which stamped out so many other religions out of concern that everyone with different beliefs was going to face eternal torment after death, which for nearly 2000 years had a strong tendency to equate all forms of sexuality with sin, grudgingly making exceptions only for some very narrowly-defined sorts of sex (Does the phrase "missionary position" ring a bell?), and in which only over the course of the past several decades only a part of its membership has publicly, officially taken the position that homosexuality is natural and not a problem? Who on Earth could have seen something like this coming? And as if these extremists in Arizona weren't enough, on top of that, a few unspeakably snarky individuals are suggesting, for unfathomable reasons, that the religion itself is the problem! What's THEIR problem?!

Sometimes It's Hard To See The Forest For The Trees

A striking example of this occurred recently during debates I've had with apologists who point out that Charles Darwin's books were never put onto the Index, and claim that this is one of many things which proves that the Catholic Church is the greatest supporter of science of all time. The obvious, forest-for-the-trees answer to that is that THERE WAS SUCH A THING AS THE INDEX, from the 16th century to the 20th. Here's a webpage listing every author who was ever on the Index. That webpage is a little misleading: it claims to be the Index in 1949. Actually, many authors were put on the Index and then later taken off. I happen to have a copy of the official Index as it stood in 1854. Charles Darwin was never on the Index, but in 1854, when Charles turned 45 years old, his father, the eminent, world-famous biologist Erasmus Darwin, was on the Index. (Yes, Charles' very own Dad. No one can speak for Charles now, but is it really very far-fetched to imagine that Charles might have gotten just a little bit annoyed if someone tried to tell him that an organization which had banned his father's books was the greatest promoter of science of all time?) So were Bruno (opera omnia, of course: the complete works), Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, and, oh yes, also... Wait for it... Francis Bacon! ("We're the greatest supporters of science of all time! Don't read Francis Bacon, generally credited with the formulation of the scientific method, often called the 'father of modern science,' or you'll go to Hell!") And of course also Pascal and Diderot and Voltaire and Luther and Hume (opera omnia) and Bentham and Locke and Heine, and so many other illustrious writers that it is no exaggeration to say that it was a bit of an insult to an illustrious modern European writer if he or she were not put onto the Index. It is a Who's Who of the intellectual community of Europe. (Why not Charles Darwin? Why not Goethe or Feuerbach or Schopenhauer or Marx or Nietzsche? Didn't each of them deserve that distinction as much as Zola [opera omnia.]? Maybe because the people composing the Index rightly suspected that such authors would only be overjoyed and encouraged by being Indexed. Maybe because there's not much rhyme or reason here.) Over 400 pages long, the Index in 1854. Several thousand entries.

People who actually promote science don't ban books they dislike. It would never occur to them to do such a thing. They say: this book is terrible. Go ahead, read it for yourself and you'll see what I mean.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"Jesus Wasn't A H8er!"

You'll notice, please, that I put the title in quotation marks. That's because it's not saying that Jesus wasn't a hater. Some "progressive" Christians are saying it, as they argue that the Christian thing to do is to be nice to people. Even to the point of granting gay people the same rights as anyone else. And it's great that they're arguing for human rights. Even though Christian policy was consistently homophobic until a few decades ago, and it's still homophobic to a great degree. But these "progressive' Christians don't like it when you point out things about the history of Christianity when they're trying to tell you what Christianity is all about.

But let's not quibble about that, and really make an effort to understand where these good people are coming from. And obviously, they've got a point: the New Testament does not depict Jesus as a hater.

Except, of course, for the passages which do: the ones depicting him beating up on the moneychangers in the Temple, and saying that he hadn't come to bring peace, but a sword, and to set son against father and so forth -- but FOR THE MOST PART, the New Testament tends to show Jesus preaching love and compassion.

Well, but then again, most of the current scholarship says that we don't really know much at all about what Jesus actually said or did BUT LET'S ASSUME FOR THE SAKE OF ARGUMENT that the passages depicting a meek and loving, gentle and forgiving Jesus are accurate, and that the stuff about bringing not piece but a sword and so forth got into the Bible by accident somehow -- What?! you may be asking. Do I still have some sort of cotton-pickin' problem here?

Well, yes, I do. About 40 years ago, Bob Dylan wrote a really great line in one of his songs:

I try my best to be just like I am

And I try to do that too. And I don't mean that I try my best to act just like Bob Dylan. I can't speak for Bob Dylan, but I suspect that he might say that people who point to that line he wrote and try to be like him, are missing the point. I try my best to be just like The Wrong Monkey. I'm not claiming that I actually always succeed in being just like me, but I try to. It's not always easy, but I try.

And I'm not trying to tell any one of you to be like me. Or like Bob Dylan.

And I'm not trying to tell anybody to be like Jesus -- I'd advise against that, actually, but that's a different sermon -- and I'm not trying to tell anybody NOT to be like Bob Dylan, or to be just like themselves, if they'd rather not be like themselves.

I'd like people to be for human rights, including LGBT rights, and I'm glad when they are, no matter what the reason.

But if they're for LGBT rights because they actually made up their own minds and decided to be, I admire that even more than if they're pro-LGBT rights because they think Jesus would be, or Buddha, or Karl Marx, or Groucho Marx, or Ashurbanipal.

People actually making up their own minds about what they believe is right! Well, clearly, I'm insane and must be stopped.

Or am I? Who's going to stand up more tenaciously for those beliefs -- a follower? Or someone who actually made up his or her own mind, and is going to hold up that picket sign and march whether Jesus would've or not?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Looks Like HP Isn't Going To Publish This Comment

Actually, this is my 2nd, toned-down attempt to reply. Unfortunately, I didn't save the 1st attempt. (In that attempt I pointed out that Hitler was never on the Index.)

Below, the stuff in italics was put online by HP, the 2nd, apparently unsuccessful attempt to reply is in bold italics:

COMMENTER A: I'd just like to point out that the Catholics have never taught in the literalism of the creation story, and have never been against evolution!

COMMENTER B: Correct, except where it comes to what the soul, which Catholics are taught is created separately by god and that the Adam and Eve story is about this creation of the soul and the division this created between animal and human.

Second, is that Catholicism still teaches that man is god's pinnacle, ie the end game of evolution, which evolution clearly states is hogwash.

But, at least theistic evolution is better than creationism and ID.


ME: Hold on a minute, B -- A said Catholics were NEVER "against evolution." Are you going along with that? Has the Church actually been on the scientific cutting edge here -- since Darwin? since Lamarck? I think A is the victim of a Catholic PR campaign. I could be wrong, but I think Catholicism's official embrace of evolution actually goes all the way back to 2009, and still contains a few thoroughly unscientific if's and but's. But you covered some of that by pointing out "that Catholicism still teaches that man is god's pinnacle."

COMMENTER B: Actually it goes back to 1950 which is a surprisingly long time and an encyclical entitled Humani generis. And, let's not forget that Mendel was an Augustinian monk and Lamark was Jesuit educated.

While the RCC didn't exactly accept evolutionary theory until 1950, they never placed On the Origin of Species on their list of prohibited books list, so while there was no official acceptance, there was also no official denial. So, technically A is correct with the caveats I mentioned previously.


ME: The moderation doesn't seem to have liked my first attempt to reply to this, let me try again:

1950, not 2009, I stand corrected. But 1950 still isn't anywhere near the scientific cutting edge. It's more than 20 years after a large segment of the population was dismayed by the result of the Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee. And it seems that as late as 2009 the position taken in 1950 was still unclear enough to the average Catholic that another official Vatican statement on the matter was necessary. And as you point out, the Catholic characterization of man as the pinnacle of creation is unscientific and in complete disharmony with evolutionary theory. And finally, it is absurd to claim that the Church was never in opposition to an author merely because that author was never on the Index. There are many famous authors who never made it to the Index whom the Church in no way embraces: Schopenhauer, Marx, Nietzsche, to name just three.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Christians, And Homophobia, And Solutions

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush writes: Christians Are a Cause of LGBT Oppression So We Have to Be a Part of the Liberation! And it's great when anyone stands up for the human rights of any oppressed group. It's good when anyone speaks up against the homophobic policies of Uganda and Kansas and Russia and Nigeria, as Raushenbush is doing. He even admits that Christians are involved with the homophobia, which is almost enough to make you fall down in shock, a leading "progressive" Christian admitting such a link.

The thing is, Raushenbush doesn't trace the origins of this Christian homophobia back for more than a few years, when the plain fact is that until a few decades ago, homophobia was the UNANIMOUS official policy of ALL Christian groups. One reader actually responded to this story by bragging about how his Christian group, the Unitarians, had been pro-gay for "an especially long time." All the way back to 1970! Wowser. Around 1900 years of homophobia, and then, for the last 40-odd years, some Christians have begun to roll back their hostility to LGBT's in certain respects. Sorry, Unitarians, but once again, jazz musicians and gangsters have trounced you in the tolerance race, having accepted gays for decades before any Christians did.

As long as well-meaning, pro-rights Christians continue to deny that their religion was 100% homophobic in its official statements for around 97% of its existence, I don't see how they can expect their present tolerance to be anything more than a Band-Aid compared to the deep wound of the full extent of Christian homophobia. The plain fact is that the pre-Christian Roman Empire, as well as many other cultures taken over by Christianity, completely lacked homophobia as we know it.

But Christians never have been so much with the facts, have they. Well -- except for those of us who have become ex-Christian atheists. Raushenbush makes no mention whatsoever of the homophobia which characterized the vast majority of Christian history. Instead, he and the other pro-LGBT-rights Christians accuse the homophobic Christians of not being true Christians, of misinterpreting the Bible and thoroughly missing Jesus' message. Exactly the same things of which the homophobic Christians accuse them. Exactly as many, perhaps most Christians have always denounced other Christians. Some of the pro-rights Christians declare that the homophobes are not really Christians; conversely, some pro-rights Christians say that they are not Christians, but rather followers of Christ. "Followers of Christ," of course, is precisely what the term "Christians" means.

It's all just so very depressingly stupid. The ignorance of certain statements is just appalling -- and I'm talking about the pro-rights Christians, who are by far the more intelligent of the two Christian groups in conflict here. The utter lack of historical knowledge. One reader, a pro-rights guy, one of the good guys, claimed that before 1971, no-one ever referred to him- or herself as a Christian. I'm not making that up. And furthermore, that comment was posted for days before anyone thought to challenge it. Well -- unless the Huffingtom Post didn't publish any of the replies challenging it. (Surprisingly, they published my reply. I don't expect an intelligent answer, but at least someone is on record as saying something to the effect of, "WTF?! You don't realize that people called themselves Christians before 1971?!") The majority of the comments on Raushenbush' story and stories like it are from pro-rights Christians and homophobic Christians arguing over WWJD? -- What Would Jesus Do? -- and what did Jesus mean? and how are we to interpret this or that Bible verse. And very little discussion of what Christians have actually tended to do over the course of the past 2000 years. Well, again -- perhaps the majority of people who are not homophobic and who have looked into the history of Christianity are in fact no longer Christians. If they had, how could they still want to belong to such an outfit? And by looking into the history of Christianity, I mean looking at primary sources, and not relying solely on the piping-hot ahistorical bullshit served up in the sermons they hear and in the writing of popular "progressive" Christian theologians, in which they hear that Christians of earlier eras were basically identical to 21st-century progressives.

Friday, February 14, 2014

So, Did St Valentine Exist?

First of all, keep in mind that, as with the name Jesus, many people have had the name Valentine. The oldest source I have found so far for a St Valentine is the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, a list of martyrs. Google Books has a fully-readable online version of it right here. Its name suggests that St Jerome compiled the list, but that is no longer generally believed. The Martyrologium Hieronymianum was probably originally written in the 5th or 6th century, but in all likelyhood it was re-written over the next few centuries to conform to the popular legends of saints. So. As far as I know, this 5th, or 6th, or 9th century list of saints is the oldest source of information about a St Valentine. And all the Martyrologium Hieronymianum says about him is that he was from Rome and that his feast day is February 14th. Nothing at all about Claudius II or marriages. The earliest account I've found of interaction between Valentine and Claudius II is the 13th-century Legenda Aurea of Jacobus de Voragine. You can read that on Google Books also. I'm not claiming to be the best researcher in the world. (Although I'm certainly not the worst either.) If someone has more info on the early sources of Valentine than I do, that'd be great.

SEQUEL TO "CRASH" [SCREENPLAY]

Interior of BRENDAN FRAZER's office. BRENDAN, LUDACRIS and TWO UNIFORMED LAPD OFFICERS. It's been some years since CRASH was filmed, and the plot picks up just several days later, so BRENDAN's and LUDACRIS' roles may have to be re-cast. Unless they've been taking very good care of themselves, in which case, great.

BREN: (makes a slight gesture in the direction of the police officers, and they exit) We know what you did.

CRIS: (is unable to completely stifle a gesture of panic)

BREN: No, I'm not talking about you stealing a car, although I imagine you've stolen a few. I'm not talking about that revolver my guys took off of you. I've seen your arrest record. Not talking about that either. People in my office come across things like all of the above, day-in, day-out, and it generally doesn't warrant my personal attention. The reason I'm talking to you is those Thailanders. A dozen people, kidnapped in a small village out in the jungle back home, enslaved, shipped to LA like cattle, probably had some fairly horrible fates awaiting them -- but you, a guy known to my office so far exclusively for bad acts, you set them free, spring for a free meal for all of them and then disappear. Did you think those Thailanders would just forget about you? Think you were somehow going to avoid being a hero, to them, at the very least, if not to many other people? This is an extraordinary thing, a civilian rescuing a dozen slaves. I really haven't figured out yet how best to handle this situation, other than to try to convince you that we don't plan to prosecute you for anything in this case, no matter how extensively you may have been involved in it.

CRIS: I wasn't involved in it until I saw them in the back of the truck. We both know I'm not an Eagle Scout, but I'm not a fuckin slave trader either.

BREN: Like I said, we don't plan to prosecute you for anything. As long as you don't lie to us about this case.

CRIS: I'm not lyin! I never enslaved anybody! I found them in that truck.

BREN: After you stole the truck?

CRIS: Look, Sir, ("Sir" is spoken with some sarcastic emphasis) don't be offended if I don't completely trust you right away. I don't imagine you trust people you just met. So you want to make me into a big hero?

BREN: Yes I do.

CRIS: Probably including me helping you bust a slave-trading operation?

BREN: Yes. That's what I want.

CRIS: Well, cool. Let's get some lawyers in here and draw up an immunity agreement, and then we can talk some more.

BREN: Great! I know some good people in the Public Defender's office --

CRIS: Ahhhhh, no offense to those good people in the PD's office, but I got a guy. Got his card right here.

BREN: Julie! (JULIE comes in. She's either Angela Bassett or someone else about as beautiful) Get ahold of Mr Cris' attorney, would you, and get him over here. (JULIE takes the card from CRIS and leaves) You want some lunch? I was going to have something delivered.

CRIS: You askin if I want to have lunch with you?

BREN: Yeah.

CRIS: Well la-dee-da.

BREN: Yeah, imagine that. What do you want for lunch?

CRIS: I don't know. What were you going to have?

BREN: I'm the fuckin DA. You can have anything you want for lunch.

CRIS: Can we go out? You ready to be seen in broad daylight with your new pal the hero?

BREN: The answer is: no, I'm not 100% sure yet that I trust you. Let me just make sure first that you really are my pal and a hero. Then tomorrow maybe we'll go someplace fancy for lunch.

CRIS: One of those places they have reservations two years in advance?

BREN: Yeah. One a those.

A Man Tossing A Moleskine [SCREENPLAY OF A MONTAGE]

One man is seen in a 3/4 shot against the same background throughout. His expression remains deadpan throughout. The montage begins with the man casually tossing a Moleskine out of screen, a pocket-sized notebook with a black cover and a black elastic band holding it shut. From offscreen we hear a little *plop* as the notebook lands safely on the surface of a desk or table or counter. Then quick cuts to him tossing other things. Generally a second or less per shot, but sometimes a little more if the tossed object makes an interesting sound when it lands offscreen. At first the objects are appropriate things to toss: the Moleskine, car keys. Then shot for shot the objects get bigger and/or less appropriate for tossing: a can of beer. A sandwich. A full mug of beer. (this first time we don't wait for the offscreen crash.) A Dagwood on a ceramic plate. (Faint tinkling crash from offscreen.) A big expensive-looking camera. (Somewhat louder crash.) A cat. A large dog. A puma. A sledgehammer. (A thud and a yell of pain offscreen.) An elaborately-prepared Thanksgiving turkey on an ornate porcelain dish, and as the man tosses it he mutters, "Eat something." (Big ceramic crash offscreen.)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Yet Another Bit Of Real Dialogue Between Myself And An Actual Person!

(Most of these cut-and-pastes have portrayed discussions -- or should I say: hopeless attempts at discussion -- with some of my fellow atheists. A rejection of the prevailing metaphysical outlooks is a not inconsiderable thing to have in common with someone, I find, which is why I didn't give up after my first comment in these exchanges. My posting the discussions here indicates that eventually, with a great wailing and gnashing of teeth, I did give up, and I feel that there's nothing left to do but say, "Look, I tried." The following exchange is between me and a Christian. I usually don't debate very much with Christians on religious subjects. I simply don't see the point, the commonality of outlook necessary for meaningful communication seems to me to be lacking. Usually. However, the Christian in the discussion below -- I'm going to call him C -- is very intelligent and reasonable, on most topics. He and I have have had many long interesting conversations. He's a good upstanding liberal. However, he does seem to have a blind spot in the shape of the imaginary cross to which he thinks he has been nailed. You'll see. I'm calling him C, not to stand for "Christian," but because this is my second cut-and-past of dialogue today, and I kinda wish I could get C together with B from the previous post, and let them go to town on each other. Take some of the pressure off of the rest of us, you know? There is a news story about an atheist couple who went to a Catholic hospital and were told by the receptionist that atheists should not be allowed to reproduce. [Yeah, it is kind of ironic that the receptionist at a CATHOLIC hospital would say such a thing.] Responding to this story, C said the following.)

C: Now you know how it feels like being a Christian in academia.

ME: Please. I think the presidents of almost all the universities in the Big East and about half of those in the ACC are Catholic clergymen. No, I really don't think I know what it feels like to be a Christian in academia. Must be sweet. Christian self-pity is just so absurd.

C: Dismissing other people's experience with sarcasm is a sign of misanthropy.

ME: I was not being the slightest bit sarcastic.

C: That's even more misanthropic. At least limit your two minute hate to two minutes.

ME: You're making a fool of yourself.

C: Every atheist argument always boils down to a personal attack.

ME: Untrue again.

C: So did that one. Try getting an atheist to make an argument that does not involve either a) a personal attack, b) a double standard, or c) a metaphor. You can’t do it. It can’t be done. These three ‘arguments’ are the core of atheist thinking. To atheists, double standards invalidate the need for evidence, metaphors invalidate the need for logical analysis, and personal attacks invalidate the need for reasoned exposition.

(I repeat: C is very intelligent and reasonable -- most of the time. You wouldn't know it from the above exchange, but he is. And that makes him completely different from the usual atheists whom I have immortalized in posts like this.)

More Actual Yada-Yada With Real-Life Mipmipmips!

(As usual, all andsoforth guaranteed tarrifyingly lalala. Pleas note, A contributed only one comment here. The rest is me and B. B is the one really making a euphemism of himself here. For all I know, A may've grasped my point right away. As I say below, it ain't rocket science.)

A: People are so desperate to try to make Jesus real, even there is no real evidence that he ever actually existed. It was over 70 years after his supposed death that anything was ever written about the guy and then 20 years after that and no accounts were actually witnessed by anyone. No historians or government accounts exist either. Its like when they found a old medium size boat in Turkey, that wouldn't even hold but a few animals and claimed that it was noah's ark...give me a break!

ME: I'm not convinced that Jesus existed, but I do know how to add and subtract. If Jesus existed and lived for 33 years, then he probably died around AD 25 to 40. Paul's earliest writings dating from the early 50's, at most 30 years after Jesus' supposed death, probably more like 20 to 25. 70 years after his supposed death would be around 95 to 110, and almost all of the New Testament was written by then.

Honestly, this stuff isn't complicated at all.

B: SO, what does any of this prove or even suggest?

ME: It proves that some people can't add and subtract 2-digit numbers.

B: yea, I got that part....but beyond the math.....what does this prove?

ME: When I first heard about the New Atheists, I assumed I was one: I'm an atheist who doesn't hide his views about religion, I'm very critical of religion. I'd also read 2 of Dawkins' books -- on BIOLOGY. So many New Atheists are scientists, and repeatedly point the importance of peer review, and quite rightly, it is very important. The thing is, it's important in other fields besides science. History, for example. corkery said: "It was over 70 years after his supposed death that anything was ever written about the guy" What's the difference between 70 years and the correct number, 20 years? What the difference between "Bronze Age goat herders" and "Iron Age city dwellers"? It's the difference between an A and an F on a History 101 exam. New Atheists don't practice peer review in each other's statements about history. And as long as they don't, they won't be taken seriously. I don't know whether Jesus existed or not, but I do know that it was about 20 years after his supposed death that the first writings about him appeared. And so does everybody else with an elementary acquaintance with the facts. And if someone doesn't see the difference between 20 years and 70 years in this case, or doesn't care what the difference might be, why should anyone take them seriously on the subject?

B: So......you didn't answer my question. Thanks anyway.

ME: I did answer it. I don't know how I possibly could've made myself clearer.

B: No, you talked about numbers and math. You didn't answer my question (maybe you should actually read it). I asked WHAT DOES THIS PROVE? Why are you so obsessed with the math? Even if you're right on the math...so what? 20 years. 70 years. WHO CARES? It means nothing.

(Terrifyingly real. What do we do in a situation like this? I thought about suggesting to B to ask a third party to explain what I said to him, since I obviously was getting nowhere. Instead I just gave up and came here and told you about it. If anyone has any other suggestions, please chime in. This stuff has to be dealt with. B is by no means unique.

Monday, February 10, 2014

If St Paul Killed Christians --

-- that is to say, if Saul of Tarsus, before his conversion to Christianity, when he renamed himself Paul, killed Christians --

* Why do we know the name of only one of his victims: Stephen, traditionally the first Christian martyr? Well, actually, in one New Testament passage Paul says only that he stood by and watched with approval as Stephen was killed, and in another he says that he imprisoned some other Christians, both men and women -- whose names are never mentioned. And neither are any of the names of any of the people who stoned Stephen, nor of any of the Sanhedrin who condemned him to death. There are no names whatsoever associated with Saul famous horrible persecution of Christians except for his own name and Stephen's.

* Why do we hear neither of Saul's co-persecutors attempting to kill or imprison him after his conversion, nor of any Christians objecting to his conversion because of his persecuting past, nor attempting to take revenge for that persecution -- nor, for that, matter, attempts at revenge by non-Christian relatives or friends of Saul's victims?

It could be that we learn none of these details in the New Testament or other early Christian writings simply because Paul and the author of Acts, Luke, most likely, had other things on their minds as they wrote. Or it could be that Paul invented Stephen -- and all other Christians before him, and Jesus, and St Peter and a few other things too -- without it ever occurring to him that 2000 thousand years later, the absence of certain details in his stories might seem odd to some weirdo who posts on the Internet and calls himself a monkey.

* How many un-life-like details like these have to be noticed and commented upon before the experts -- the supposed experts, the academic Biblical scholars and theologians -- acknowledge that it seems possible that the entire story of the origins of Christianity, including all the earliest accounts of Jesus, may be fictional, mythical?

As I've said again and again, I'm not claiming to have proven a damn thing here about the origins of Christianity. All that I, if not many if not most if not all of the people referred to as mythicists, am saying, is that it doesn't seem completely certain to me that Jesus existed, and that I would like to see the question discussed by the aforementioned supposed experts. And as I've said repeatedly, since that's all we're saying, it seems misleading to refer to us as mythicists. People with open minds, would seem to me to be a more accurate designation.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

HOLLYWOOD!!!

"Whaddya got?"

"A mob comedy with somebody like DeNiro in the lead."

"Like Analyze This! ?"

"Definitely in that ball park."

"Lovin it."

"DeNiro's definitely a crook, he's connected, but he's not violent like most of his gumbas. He's a con artist."

"Lovin it more."

"Long cons, elaborate schemes, very theatrical. The Sting, Spanish Prisoner, think those kinds of jobs. But he cons the wrong guy. He didn't know it, but the last guy he ripped off is the son of a very high-up boss. It doesn't matter that he gave all the money back and apologized, the insult is still too grave -- all his friends are trying to kill him now. So he uses his skills as a long-con guy, and invents an identity he can use to hide. He figures, where is a place, a milieu, seldom frequented by wise guys? The fashion and beauty industry. He creates an identity like Dr Whatsisname, the guy with the miracle youth cream, who has the infomercials with Cindy Crawford and the melons."

"Yeah. I know the guy you mean. I can't think of his name either but I know who you mean."

"Yeah, so he's pretending to be someone with a European accent and a miracle anti-aging treatment, except he's not nearly as smooth as Dr Magic Melons. Much more like Jacques Clouseau, except louder and angrier. And he actually does get women to look a lot better, but it's not because of the 'special extract' he's claiming he made in his lab, which is actually Lubriderm put into vials he gets from a place that stocks chemistry labs. The Lubriderm does no harm to the ladies' skin, but he makes himself look like an age-defying genius with 2 things: 1, the placebo effect, pure and simple. He tells the women he's got a miracle cure, and they believe it's miraculous because they want it to be. 2 is where the loud angry yelling comes in. He waves his arms and yells at his 'patients' that in order to 'activate' the full effect of the 'extract,' they have to drink a lot of water and eat a lot of vegetables and exercise and stay out of the sun and so forth -- whatever they should've been doing to keep their skin looking nice but they weren't. So of course they look much better. And DeNiro takes credit for it. And DeNiro says that he uses the 'extract' himself, and people look at him a little funny, cause, ya know, it's DeNiro. He's not exactly peaches and cream. But then he adds that he's 105 years old and he didn't start using the 'extract' until he was in his 80's, and everybody's, 'Wow, he looks so good for a 105-year-old man.' And he gets a job as a columnist for a health & beauty mag. This is the gumba-free zone he's blending into for camouflage. I see somebody like Katherine Heigl as a scrappy, good-hearted co-worker, and Cate Blanchett as the over-the-top tyrannical publisher."

"Yes! I see it! Yes! Which one is the love interest, Heigl or Blanchett?"

"Hell, he's a con man -- why not both? Heigl because she's less than half DeNiro's age and this is a Hollywood movie, so it's practically a law that she has to fall for him hard, and with Blanchett, I see the two of them haggling over his contract. It has a clause where Blanchett's rag gets a percentage of any writing he does for anybody else. What percentage? He says, 'How about 10 percent.' She says, 'I was thinking more like 15.' He gives her a killer fake-French smile and says, 'Well zen -- how about 20?' And Blanchett has a little shudder like she's just had an orgasm sitting there."

"Oh, baby! Sold! Sold! Erica! Get in here! Call Bob DeNiro, Katie Heigl, Cate Blanchett and Bobby Zemeckis. Tell em to call me, I got a comedy for them with a script like they never dreamed about. Listen! Very important: tell each one of them that the other three are already committed, you got that? Okay, get outta here, go do your magic with the phones, Sugarpants. So, Mr Genius Writer, my new best friend, you got a title already for this blockbuster?"

"Of course: Moisturize This!"

"YES! This masterpiece is gonna go from pitch to production faster than any movie since Roger Corman stopped doing crank!"

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Why "Ancient Aliens" Sucks

Because much smarter people have asked the same questions and come up with much, much better answers.

Just because something is not easily explained is no reason to jump to conclusions such as "aliens did it." If you dig deeper into the work of academic historians and sociologists, I think you'll find that they've explained many things which the "Ancient Aliens" crowd calls "unexplained mysteries." For example, there's no mystery about why the Egyptians built pyramids: they believed in an afterlife. Pyramids were palaces for the Pharaohs to live in during that afterlife. They mummified corpses so that dead people would still have their whole bodies in the afterlife instead of being disfigured. If you're interested in eerie similarities between separate cultures, read The Golden Bough by James Frazer; you'll find a lot of very eerie similarities between separate cultures which have nothing to do with aliens. And Frazer was writing between 120 and 75 years ago, around the same time as Freud, who's also really good. More recently Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Peter Sloterdijk and others have attempted analyses of worldwide cultural phenomena, in addition to all of those people who are more specialized in the histories of individual cultures. The real scholars are so much more interesting than the ancient aliens bunch. I don't think it's impossible that aliens have been among us, not at all. I just think that any culture advanced enough to visit us from another planet would have no difficulty whatsoever in concealing every last trace of itself from the likes of Giorgio Tsoukalos.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Spinoza, Einstein And Nietzsche

Atheists and believers have been arguing a lot over whether Einsteinwas an atheist, or a pantheist, or a deist, or something else. Over the course of these Titanic struggles of the mind, it has often been pointed out that Einstein was a great admirer of Spinoza,and that Einstein's remarks on religion often closely resemble those of Spinoza.

It is perhaps somewhat less well-known that Nietzschewas also a big fan of Spinoza. He said that he felt a special kinship with Spinoza, that he felt Spinoza reaching across the centuries to him, one outcast genius to another.

As with Einstein, so too in the case of Spinoza it is debated whether he was a devout Jew, or a pantheist, or an atheist, or something else. Those who argue that he was an atheist point out that the conclusions he draws do not conflict with atheism. I have often pointed out that if Spinoza, or Hobbes, or Descartes, or any other 17th-century European philosopher, had been an atheist and openly, publicly said so, he would've been killed. He probably would've been extensively tortured first, then burned, and his ashes scattered to the winds. The only halfway-safe way to publicly express atheist positions in 17th-century Europe was to imply them between the lines. Some people, from Spinoza's time to the present, have concluded that that was exactly what he was doing: announcing his atheism by repeatedly, deliberately, systematically hinting at it. Pointing out that this and that and the other reality did not necessarily require certain traditional religious belief in order to be understood. Suggesting various novel ways to understand that which we mean when we say "God." Leaving certain points vague enough that it could lead some people to speculate that the positions he was advancing were atheist. And some people did, right away, and some people have ever since.

As I said, this approach was only halfway safe. Spinoza was excommunicated from the Amsterdam synagogue for it. I have not yet been able to find out any specific ways in which excommunication altered Spinoza's life. But it's hard for me to believe that some of his social connections weren't cut, at the very least.

Spinoza died in 1677. Nietzsche was born in 1844, and Einstein in 1879, which meant that neither of them ever had to fear any criminal proceedings for expressions of atheism. Nietzsche's atheism was pronounced to the point that he declared that even debating the existence of God was beneath an atheist's dignity. (He said that atheists before him had not understood this, which seems to imply that he may have thought that atheists of his own time, or serious ones, at least, no longer condescended to such silly debates. I think he was over-optimistic, and I wish that more atheists would at least consider whether debating the existence of God lends theists a credibility they no longer deserve.)

Einstein's remarks about religion tend to parrot Spinoza, without seeming to consider that Spinoza may often have been unclear for the sake of his life. I don't see the need for such unclarity, such vagueness in Einstein's case. I can only explain it by assuming that Einstein himself didn't really know whether he was an atheist, or a pantheist, or something else. And if I'm right about that then it's perfectly absurd for other people to argue about it. If I'm right, the debate can never be resolved.

Einstein ought to be read more for the sake of physics. If half of the time and effort which is currently expended debating Einstein's religious view were dedicated instead to studying what he had to say about physics, that would be a great leap forward in the education of the general public. As would it be if people devoted half the effort now spent on examining Darwin's and Dawkins' views on religion to seeing what they have to say about evolutionary biology. Between the three of them, Einstein, Darwin and Dawkins, I have yet to encounter one profound sentence on a subject related to religion. It's such a waste on the part of atheists to get bogged down in this, and all the more so when the wisdom of some others on religious topics, people such as Goethe and Marx and Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and Freud and Russell, is so boundless.