Monday, February 29, 2016

I Didn't Watch The Oscars. Here's My Report

I did see a black film award show on Fusion that aired when the Oscars were on. Robin Thicke won the award for Most Helpful White Person.

Mad Max: Fury Road was nominated for Best Picture?! That ain't right. I've seen it, and it was good -- but only compared to other George Miller movies. Not as wrong as James Cameron movies being nominated for Oscars, let alone winning them, but pretty wrong.

Fury Road is the only one of the Best Picture nominees I've seen so far. Spotlight won. I don't know if I ever even heard of Spotlight before this. I know I can't picture what it's about or who's in it. Same with 2 other of this year's Best Picture nominees, Room and Brooklyn. This is good: it means that the Academy is moving away from honoring films which are crap, just because they're commercial. (Fury Road, of course, shows that they still have a way to go in this positive regard.)

Okay, I remember now, I actually have heard about Spotlight and seen commercials/trailers for it: it's the movie about the reporters exposing child abuse by Catholic priests, with Mark Ruffalo.

Bryan Cranston was nominated for portraying Dalton Trumbo in a movie called Trumbo, another movie of which I was unaware before reviewing a list of the awards just now. It's nice to see Cranston get an Oscar nomination. That makes 6 Emmys and 1 Tony won, plus now 1 Oscar nomination for Cranston.

Of course, Leo won for The Revenant. You didn't have to watch the Oscar show to know that already: not living in a cave far from civilization with no neighbors and no hook-up probably sufficed for you to have heard lots of talk that he was the heavy favorite, and then that he won. And of course you've probably seen that commercial/trailer for The Revenant over and over too. I've learned not to base my opinions of movies or TV shows based on trailers, but man oh man am I tired of that trailer.

Oh, okay, Brie Larson won for Best Actress. I kept thinking of Bree Olsen. But they're 2 entirely different people.

I had also never heard of Alicia Vikander, the Best Supporting Actress winner. Mark Rylance's name (Best Supporting Actor winner) didn't ring a bell at all, but then I saw his picture and thought, Oh, that guy! I've seen that guy, sure. Just didn't know his name. Good for him. Now lessee, what have I seen him in? Then I looked at his filmography and televisionography, and, actually, no, I've never seen this guy before. I guess he has one of those faces that looks familiar.

Well, I think most of us can agree that this charade of a blog post has gone on long enough. I know that writing a post like this when I've seen just one of the Best Picture nominees and none of any of the pictures nominated in other categories just gives ammunition to the people who say that my blog is badly written and that I am... I don't honestly know: a bad person, a pretentious person, a ridiculous person, a fool, all of the above? I don't know exactly what bug is up those people's butts. But what those people don't know is that the thought that they think that I care about what they think is good writing makes me laugh and laugh and laugh.

Is American Anti-Intellectualism Growing?

I don't know. And I don't think you do either.

And I can't think of any good reason to start regarding Psychology Today as a valuable source of insight into America's intellect.

We know that anti-intellectualism has always been strong in the United States -- now, wait a minute. Do we actually know that? We know that it has been a popular assertion for a long time, but is anti-intellectualism actually stronger in the US than in other places? Again, I don't know. I don't even know what the assertion means.

Is anti-intellectualism stronger now in the US than it was in the mid-19th century? Back then, Herman Melville, after having started his career by writing 3 bestselling novels in a row, published Moby Dick in 1851 -- and it received unanimously negative reviews, and although Melville wrote several more novels, from a business standpoint, his career as a novelist was over. In 1955, William Gaddis published his first novel, The Recognitions, and the nearly-unanimously-negative reviews it received were eerily reminiscent of the strange case of Moby Dick, and resulted in very low sales for the novel for a least a decade. (jack green collected these reviews and published them along with some intelligent commentary, in what is now the book entitled fire the bastards! It's a great book, but its title, a to-the-point suggestion about what should be done with such book reviewers, misses the point in my opinion. The real problem here is the people who hired the reviewers who trashed Melville and Gaddis.)

But while Melville's career never recovered from the critical reaction to Moby Dick, which did not become widely regarded as a classic until long after Melville died in 1891, in the 1970's Gaddis won a National Book Award, in the 1980's he received a MacArthur Foundation genius grant and was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and in the 1990's he won another National Book Award. I've heard that Gaddis even started to make some appearances on bestseller lists in the 1980's (back when bestseller lists only went down to #10 or in a few cases all the way down to #20, not like today's Amazon Sales Rank which goes down to #7,592,613 or so), although that's just hearsay, I haven't been able to confirm it yet.

You might well respond that the cases of 2 individual writers don't say much about American culture as a whole. On the other hand, these days, unlike the mid-19th century, things like the genius grants exist.

On the 3rd hand, even mighty things such as the genius grants are a puny substitute for state support of intellectuals, just as even the mightiest charities (thousand points a light goin round an round) are a puny substitute for a government social safety net. There's no doubt that state support of the arts, humanities and sciences is much stronger in some Western European countries than in the US. And I absolutely do believe, with no if's, and's or but's, that those countries are much more sensible and fortunate than we are in that regard. University attendance should be free, painters and sculptors and poets should get government grants as a matter of course, orchestras shouldn't need to go groveling to corporations for funding. If the lack of such things means anti-intellectualism, then game over, the US is anti-intellectual, period.

But I don't think that the lack of such things in the US, or, for example, the climate-change skepticism of many of our elected officials, reflect a hostility to learning and good sense on the part of the US population as a whole. I think they have been imposed upon us by corporations led by MBA's who don't care about either the opinions or the well-being of the entire populace.

The hero, result and major role model of those same asshole MBA's is currently running for President. If he's elected, or if he even comes close, then I think that would prove that anti-intellectualism has grown since W's administration.

But lest we forget, in the last 2 Presidential elections, a man who was about as different from W as a man can be, a bona-fide intellectual, has won by wide margins. W was the poster boy for anti-intellectualism, the Tea Party is now its locus and Donald Chump is their man -- but is the Tea Party growing? If it is, then I think you could say that anti-intellectualism in the US is growing. Yes, the Tea Party did very well in the 2010 and 2014 mid-terms, but that's the fault of Democratic voters who act as if they don't know that there are elections in the US oftener than every 4 years, and of Republican leaders who should have known better, but "followed the base" rather than leading. They have "followed the base" -- the fringe, actually, not the base -- all the way to the Trump campaign, and now, finally, some of them are beginning to see their mistake and to do something about it.

I don't know whether anti-intellectualism is growing in the US or not. I don't know whether there is a meaningful way to measure such things. In my opinion, the latest wave of American intellectualism peaked when W was re-elected over John Kerry, another bona-fide intellectual. Today, even Republicans tend to be embarrassed by W, and even Republicans are speaking out against Trump. I think that The Tea Party (synonymous with the Trump campaign in my opinion), although there's no doubt that it's very loud right now, is getting weaker. Louder doesn't always equal stronger. More and more non-fringe Republicans are jumping ship. I think that the anybody-but-Trump voting bloc is bigger than Trump's block.

But whether I'm right or wrong, whether American anti-intellectualism is growing or declining, whether Trump will be elected President or cause a Democratic landslide, or neither, I think that pro-intellectual people should do very much the same things: speak up for intellect and learning, vote for better schools and for no tuition and for well-funded artists and scientists and for fact-based environmental and energy policies. Speak up (loudly), vote, campaign, petition, agitate, fight back against the bozos, whether we're a minority or a majority.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sagan And Bronowski On Animal Intelligence

In the Norton Reader, 5th edition, shorter, Carl Sagan's piece "The Abstractions of Beasts" is separated by only a single page containing some insignificant scribbles by Henry David Thoreau from "The Reach of Imagination" by Jacob Bronowski. The title of Sagan's piece is explained in its first sentence:

"Beasts abstract not,” announced John Locke, expressing mankind’s prevailing opinion throughout recorded history.

(It may have prevailed somewhat less in some other cultures than in Western Civilization but anyway) Sagan then goes on to convincingly disagree with this prevailing opinion. Perhaps not quite as uniformly prevailing now as when Sagan's book The Dragons of Eden, containing this piece, was published in 1977. The studies of Jane Goodall and the sign language skills of several apes which Sagan describes in the piece have in the meantime become extremely famous.

To my surprise, Brownowski's piece, published in American Scholar in 1967, does not deviate at all from the prevailing opinion that human imagination is special and different from anything possessed by any other species. Sagan describes the shortcomings in studies which had agreed with the prevailing opinion, concluding that human brains contain something unique, such as when researchers raised a human and a chimpanzee infant together, and actually thought that if the chimp were as smart as the humans, it would speak at around the same age as the human. Sagan gives due credit to Beatrice and Robert Gardner for pointing out that these studies ignored the differences between human and chimpanzee pharynxes and larynxes. As well as mentioning that the chimp, overcoming enormous physical difficulty, actually could say "Mama," "Papa" and "cup," which was news to me and which I find amazing.

Perhaps if Bronowski had lived long enough to read Sagan's piece he would have changed his mind about a few things. As it is, his piece records the failure of some experiments to demonstrate animal intelligence, and he asks, "Where is it that the animal falls short?" Unlike Sagan, he appears to have given no consideration to the possibility that it was the experiments which fell short in finding what intelligence was there in the beasts. In a piece entitled "The Reach of Imagination," his own imagination ironically does not reach far enough to question whether the experiments were sufficiently well conceived and performed to do justice to whatever intelligence the tested animals might have had.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Why Are Religious Believers Re-Defining Terms So Often These Days?

There's a been huge amount of redefining of the terms "God " and "religion" by believers lately, as well as of many other terms having to do with religion. (Look out, any time now they'll start re-defining "believer.") A recent OP in a FB group says, "God hates religion." Not too many years ago, most people would have found such an assertion utterly bizarre. Now, it barely occasions a batted eyelid. It's par for the course in discussions of religion: "I'm spiritual but not religious." "We're followers of Christ but not Christians." "God hates religion." "The authors of the Old Testament never meant to be taken literally; their intent was always far beyond that." Gibberish. Non-stop straight-up gibberish.

When terms are not clearly defined, or when the definitions can be changed without objection whenever anybody wants to change them, it's impossible to have a meaningful discussion about the subject at hand.

And I have long suspected that THAT is why so much of this willy-nilly redefinition of terms has been going on lately, as well as why many believers object to any of these redefinitions of terms so seldom: because the last thing that they want is a coherent discussion about belief.

And I suspect that the reason why so many people want so badly to avoid a coherent discussion about religion may be that they subconsciously fear that a coherent discussion with clear terms might be all that it would take to make them lose their faith. Except of course for those cases where people are only pretending to be religious in order to exploit those who really believe. Nobody denies anymore that some people are like that.

In the meantime, trying to talk about religion with a believer is a lot like Alice's Wonderland. Then again, making it up as you go, and not just an indifference toward reality, clarity and coherence, but contempt for them, has always been required in theology. Perhaps this wholesale redefinition of terms is merely the newest fashion in a stream of bullshit which is thousands of years long. 500 years ago people saw angels and demons. Today, they insist that words don't mean what they mean whenever we God-damned disrespectful atheists threaten to make too much sense of a religious topic.

What will they think of next.

Friday, February 26, 2016

In Case Any Of You Still Had Any Respect Left For Chris Christie --

-- he's just endorsed Trump for President.

There's speculation that Christie did some bargaining and got some favors in exchange for the endorsement -- oh Heavens to Betsy, could that possibly be true?! Clutch my pearls! Mendacity! A politician selling his word and bond, in this day and age! What's next -- used-car dealers cheating their customers?! Beauty-pageant contestants who've had plastic surgery?! Closeted gay homophobic men of God?! People marrying for money?! Cheating on their taxes?! Lying about their ages?! About their weights?! Non-chaste Catholic clergy?! Air pollution?! Unhealthy fast food?! Unscrupulous oil or tobacco companies?! Radio stations playing records because they've been paid to?! Global warming?! Government budget deficits?! I think Christie now has more riding on Trump's camapign than Trump does: Trump can always go back to New Jersey, but Christie is not at all well-liked there.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Religion Is The Believers, Not The Beliefs

I'm an atheist. I often criticize believers for their beliefs. And I'm not going for any of this "religion is the belief not the believers" bullshit. That's one of the appalling pieces of non-thought popularized lately by Sam Harris. I don't know whether he thought it up on his own or borrowed it from some other idiot. However it happened, many atheists are using it as an excuse for rude behavior.

I'm not saying that people should never be rude. There's a time and place for a very wide range of expression, in my opinion. But I own up to what I say. When I say nasty things, I don't claim afterwards that I wasn't being nasty, because "I was talking about people's beliefs, not the people themselves." Sorry, I call bullshit, you can't hit one and leave the other unscathed. Can't be done. I often say "God doesn't exist" and "religious belief is ridiculous in this day and age" and similar things. And I don't try to deny the feelings I'm hurting when I say such things, or say that those feelings somehow don't count. I say them when I think it's important enough to hurt people's feelings. Which is often, because people's rights are at stake because of other people's beliefs, and also just because it's important to speak the truth, and because I don't take for granted that the freedom to speak openly will stay around for ever. We're going to have to fight for that right if we want to keep it, same as with other rights.

But I never claim I'm not offending anyone. That's just weak. And in some atheist communities, it's the weak-ass excuse for some of the most appalling expressions of bigotry I've ever seen. Like calling Arabs donkey-fuckers and then saying, "Hey, I'm just attacking the beliefs, I'm not attacking any actual people." When I say that those atheists are appalling bigots, I'm not criticizing their beliefs. I'm criticizing the actual idiotic atheists themselves, as people.

"The dumbing down of America is complete."

That's what some Chicken Littles say, who are always saying that the sky is falling in one way or another. The dumbing down of the US won't be complete unless Chump is actually elected President. He hasn't been nominated yet, and if he is, how many Republicans will stay at home or actually vote for Hillary or Bernie on Nov 1? Greater than the number of Democrats who would stay at home or vote for Trump if their favorite isn't nominated, that much is certain at the very least.

What we're seeing here is the break-up of the Republican Party. Clearly, Trump is firmly in control of the dumbest and loudest part of the party, but it's not the whole party. The whole Republican party hasn't elected a President since 2004. One part of it hasn't got much chance.

Other than staying at home or voting Democratic in November, there could be a 3rd-party run by a Republican, which would amount to giving votes to Hillary or Bernie without the 3rd-party candidate admitting that that's what he or she is doing.

And I repeat: Chump hasn't been nominated yet. If he goes into the convention without a majority of the delegates, and it turns out the the number of delegates who hate him actually is greater then the number who love him -- which wouldn't surprise me a bit -- and Rubio or Cruz or Kasich or somebody else gets the nomination, what are the chances that Chump won't run 3rd-party? slim to none, I think. And Chump as a 3rd-party candidate with Rubio or Cruz or Kasich or somebody else as the GOP is even better for the Democrats than the other way around, I think.

So, instead of screaming that the sky is falling, just keep screaming about what a loathesome bigoted idiot Chump is, and trust that the louder you scream the more people will hear you.

Have You EVER Been Alarmed By A Car Alarm?

Yeah, me neither. Ever hear a car alarm and look in its direction and see a vehicle being stolen or broken into? Of course not. Neither have I. They shouldn't be called "alarms," they should be called "annoys," because annoy is all they ever do.

Okay , I take it back: I have seen car alarms going off while a car is being stolen. I've seen that in fictional TV shows and movies. Usually the person stealing the car is a rogue government official who fights terrorism and plays by his or her own rules, stealing the car because he or she has to in order to prevent the death of the entire human race. The agent picks the car door lock or smashes a window, the alarm goes off, the agent silences the alarm in a second and a half or less, and less than three seconds after that the car's engine is roaring and its tires squealing, and it's the sound of justice, dammit!

I'm not sure how realistic those shows are.

Back here on non-fictional Earth -- think of all the clear thinking which has been made impossible over the course of the past 40 years because people have been distracted by completely unnecessary, useless car alarms. If you're a conspiracy theories, please be my guest and go right ahead and suspect that car alarms are part of The Plot, that their purpose is to keep people from being able to think straight. In order to hinder their attempts to figure out and expose The Plot.

I personally am often inclined to suspect random widespread stupidity and unintentional chaos where others see intricate conspiracies. Still, think of all that might have been accomplished since 1974 if people had had the extra time to think clearly which car alarms have taken from them! Why, with that much more sheer rationality in the world, Nixon might have been the most recent Republican President of the United States. Wind and solar energy might have progressed so far that the 2 primary remaining uses for petroleum would be lubrication and the manufacture of plastic. Now, think an additional step ahead with me here: the absence of car alarms would have led to an increase in clear thinking which by 2016 would have reduced the rate of burning of fossil fuels by more than 99.9% compared to the actual worldwide rate in 2016; the improved air quality, however, would have allowed even more efficient use of our brains. Chimps and gorillas might have been speaking and typing by now. Think of the multiple paths of beneficial change caused by the decline in petrochemical usage. Why, by 2016 there might have been peace and goodwill all over the Middle East. Existence minimums -- money paid to every man, woman and child just for existing, intended to allow them to continue to exist without being exploited as wages slaves unless they chose to be -- might have been in place globally. Bingo, just like that: 40 years of no car alarms leads to the end of human poverty.

And Donald Trump would certainly benefit from the existence minimum, because with the raising of the IQ of the species in general, there's no way anybody would be foolish enough to hire him or do any deals with him, let alone vote for him for any elected office whatsoever.

Of course, we can't change the past -- not unless a whole lot of physicists are wrong, and time travel is coming. But maybe that little glimpse into the alternative time from 1974 to 2016 which might have been, will inspire us to take our destinies into our own hands at long last and abolish car alarms, so that the next 40 years will be more wonderful than any of us could imagine.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Donald Trump: 'I Love The Poorly-Educated'

This guy is a joke that writes himself. And he's not funny.

Of course he loves the poorly-educated. Of course he loves stupid people. Of course he loves chumps. His entire career has been about taking advantage of people, beating people, getting over, exploiting people. He's a very, very bad man. It's a terrible thing that he has so much power, and the more he gets the worse it will be.

The media should start doing their damn jobs: warning people. I know, some reporters are doing this. But many others are just marveling about how well Trump's been doing in the Republican primaries, without mentioning how he's been succeeding: with lies and hate. This guy is a fascist, and over on MSNBC -- with a few exceptions, like 8 to 10 PM weeknights, Hayes, Maddow and O'Donnell -- they're just sitting around and shaking their heads and laughing about it.

Alex Wagner, Chris Matthews, Chuck Todd, Steve Kornacki, Mark Halperin, John Heilemann: what's so funny about any of this? You aren't doing your jobs. In the name of "journalistic objectivity," which doesn't exist, you're not sharing your insights about the current and future leaders of the world, about whom you know more than anyone else, because you spend all day every day with them for a living.

Over and over, you mention that people don't trust Hillary Clinton. And you leave out the important part: you neglect to mention that they have no rational reasons for this mistrust.

You know that "social democrat" is just an exotic-sounding name for what is known in the US as a liberal Democrat. You know that in most of Europe, the politicians who correspond to the US Democratic Party are in the Social Democratic parties. You know that Bernie doesn't vote any differently than other liberal Democrats -- except that some liberal Democrats are actually further to the Left than he is. You know that Bernie's success has much more to due with hipster-doofus 'tude than with policy. Point such things out now and then. Let people actually benefit from your knowledge.

One thing you're certainly not is poorly-educated about politics. But in the name of this huge mistake you call "journalistic objectivity," you act as if you were poorly-educated about it, as long as the cameras are rolling, or whenever you write anything for public consumption. The only time we actually learn anything from one of you is when you don't realize you're near a hot mike, and you let slip what you really know and how you really feel about it. When you accidentally say what you should be saying full-time into the cameras, and writing full-time in your news stories and columns.

You're not doing your jobs. Stop following public opinion and lead it. Make your experience and insight actually count for something for once, and educate your audience.

Don't just lean back and watch while fascist idiots like Trump take over, and laugh about it. There's nothing funny about this.

PS, 7:17 PM: Just now on Hardball, Chris Matthews, Susan Paige and Sam Stein have concluded that Trump is unstoppable. They're laughing and laughing. Matthews sums up: "So what are we doing for a living now?" Big laugh from all 3. Good question, Chris! You open for suggestions about what you should do for a living now? Start speculating as concretely as you can about what a Trump administration would look like. By the way, Chris, WHAT'S SO FUNNY?!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Ancient Israelites WERE Dumb Enough To Take The Biblical Stories Literally

John Dominic Crossan says: "“My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.”

I, on the other hand, say that the ancient Israelites were dumb enough to take the Bible stories literally -- which is nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn't make them any dumber than the ancient Greeks with Homer or the ancient Germanic tribes with tales of Odin and Thor -- and that a lot of people today are dumb enough to take John Dominic Crossan, not to mention John Shelby Spong, seriously.

I'm sorry, I'm not going for it all all. A smaller percentage of Christians and practicing Jews are taking the Bible literally now than thousands of years ago, not a greater percentage. I do not believe that symbolic intent on the part of the Biblical authors would have been completely misunderstood for 2000 years until the late 20th century when then likes of Crossan could suddenly set everyone straight again. I do not believe that Biblical literalism was a completely Gentile thing, and that the Christians were simply too out of touch with the Jews, or that the Jews were simply too polite, for the misunderstanding to have been pointed out for 2000 years.

Crossan and Spong and other modern theologians don't want to let go of the privileged position of the Bible and other early Christian writings, and put them in the perspective of being just myths among other myths. And further, they don't what to admit that people thousands of years ago were more primitive in their beliefs than people generally are today. And so, since there is nothing actually in Biblical texts to justify seeing them as standing apart from other ancient myths, nothing to justify the way the Christians destroyed so many other religions, and since there is nothing in any ancient myths to justify denying that they are primitive and cruel and crude, Crossan and his ilk make things up like complex symbolic layers of meaning, and insist that those thoroughly modern things -- postmodern, actually -- actually are there in the ancient texts.

There's no reason to be ashamed of ancient texts. We've have thousands of years to learn since the Iliad and Genesis were written. We've built upon ancient texts in many large and small ways. They're wonderful things when seen for what they really are, they deserve a place of honor in the history of our society. (Just, not nearly as central a place as the Bible had in the European Middle Ages with its Inquisition torturing and killing everyone who didn't honor it enough.) They don't need to be gussied up by any of this modern theological bullshit. Hesiod's description of Achilles' shield doesn't contain myriad layers of symbolic meaning. It's just a vivid description of a wicked-cool shield.

Dream Log: Unexpressed Love From Long Ago

30 years ago in college I was in love with a woman and never did much about it. A few years later, during my grad school time, I was in love with another woman and actually touched her a lot, which was a very nice combination. And I told myself that this was the first time I had ever been in love. Then a few years after that I fell in love for a second time -- but let me revise that: for a third time. The woman in grad school was the second time. 30 years ago was the first time.

We were friends, she and I, or, at least, friends of friends. Groups of us got together now and then and drank some beer and ate some pizza, groups occasionally containing both she and I. During those get-togethers she and I did just a very little bit of snuggling. I don't think I ever kissed her, not once, and I don't think she ever kissed me. I think that if there had ever been so much as a kiss on the cheek given or received, I would've had shivers from the top of my head to the soles of my feet, and I would've thought about it every day for the last 30 years.

While we were both in college, she had some relationships with other men, relationships which, at least so it seemed to me, lasted for a long time. And I dated some women and it usually fizzled out very quickly. But even if I was going to wait until she was uninvolved before I tried to get something started with her, there was definitely at least one such window of opportunity when she was clearly unattached. A couple of times I started to make a bumbling pass at her, and both times I backed down in an even more bumbling manner, with my heart pounding.

I don't know how she felt about me. People make comments all the time and I don't know how to interpret them -- it's called autism. People also engage inn a great deal of non-verbal communication, most of which I miss entirely -- autism again. Back then, people did and said some things, and I've been wondering for 30 years what they meant.

Like a couple of those times when that group of us went out for beer and pizza. Once I massaged her shoulders for a little while, and people looked at the two of us and laughed, and someone commented, "You know that expression a cat gets on its face when it's being petted?" and a lot of people laughed. She had her back to me and I couldn't see the expression on her face at that moment. I'm not completely sure whether whoever was talking was talking about the expression on her face, or the expression on my face.

Another time with that group, people were talking about the shape of her head, and she said that the angle where the bridge of her nose met her forehead was "the perfect shape to do this," and she laid her head on my shoulder and the angle fit like a puzzle-piece on the corner of my shoulder. What should I have made of that? Nothing? Everything?

I don't know how she felt about me, or whether she gave me much thought at all, and I don't know how obvious it was that I adored her. Since being diagnosed as autistic in 2007, and having had some psychotherapy since 2010 with therapists specializing in autism, I've come to realize that for much of my life I've engaged in a very bad habit of pretending that I know what's going on in social situations. Starting long before the diagnosis, sometimes I considered saying to someone or other: "Look. I'm stupid. You may not have any idea how stupid. Please explain this to me like I'm 5 years old, because I have no idea what's going on."

For example, a friend of mine once got visibly frustrated with my moping -- visibly even to me -- and said that half of the women in the neighborhood wouldn't mind being with me. For 30 years I've been wondering what to make of that. Was he saying that this woman I was in love with was just waiting around for me to do something about it? Or that I should stop being miserable about her because plenty of other women were interested? Or was he angry because he secretly -- or maybe not so secretly, but just invisibly to me -- had feelings for the same woman, but thought my chances with her were better than his? For all I know, he might have been upset because he was in love with me. I have no idea how anybody felt about anybody.

At the time, I didn't put his remark together with this particular woman at all. And I'm not sure whether his remark had anything at all to do with her. I don't know whether he had any idea how I felt about her. It could have been obvious to a lot of people that I was in love with her, or maybe nobody had the slightest idea. Maybe she could see it and she returned the feelings, maybe she was flattered but uninterested, maybe she was appalled and really, really not interested, and let me rub her shoulders once in 4 years out of pity because she wasn't completely cold-hearted, and our group of friends easily saw right through me, and to them the two of us looked sweet and touching, like Esmeralda and Quasimodo.

Anyhow, the reason I realize now that I was in love with her back then is because I dreamed about her last night. I dreamed that there was a huge, very interesting-looking bookstore in my neighborhood which I had passed countless times, but for some reason I had never gone in. (I'm a real bookworm. In my entire life, there have been either few bookstores, or none, which I've walked past as many as 2 times without going in. Including newsstands at airports which sell books.) (Maybe going into the bookstore symbolizes expressing my emotions?) So in my dream, finally I went in -- and there she was, manning one of the store's many cash registers. Her register was by itself as opposed to being one in a row of registers. It was enclosed on 2 sides by walls covered with books and other merchandise.

She and I chatted pleasantly, and occasionally she rang people up. She seemed to have been doing this job for a while, she seemed to be in command of her turf. Once she chased a couple of men out of the store, twins in matching pinstriped suits and bowler hats, because she could tell, somehow, that they were pickpockets.

She had to go off to another part of the store. I waited by her station. A good-looking couple, a man in a suit and a woman in a dress, clearly not store staff, sat down in her station. He sat down in a swivel chair and she sat in his lap. I was a little indignant at them for invading her station. She reached for the phone next to the register, an old phone on a cord, held the receiver to her ear for a while, but didn't dial. I was about to confront them and chase them away, but shortly after the woman's strange behavior with the phone they got up and walked away. Only after they were gone to it occur to me that the woman's behavior with the phone might have been done to distract people from something else, like the man stuffing his pockets with merchandise.

There were 2 small steps leading up from the store floor to her station. I sat down on those steps. I decided that when she came back I was going to open up to her about my feelings for her. I got very nervous. I put my hands over my face and began to cry. Then I heard her voice. She was scolding and chasing away another would-be pickpocket. Then I woke up.

Monday, February 22, 2016

"Since [group I dislike] [do this, which makes me dislike them], I guess I should reciprocate."

1) Not all of that group do that thing.

----- 1a) In fact, most of that group dislike it when that aggravating minority does that thing, making them all look bad in some people's eye. (Such as yours.)

----------1aI) You said that in a FB group specifically designed to overcome animosity between us and that group.

--------------- 1aIA) There are plenty of other FB groups, lots and lots of them, tons of them, where you can rag all day on that group and get high-fived and get plenty of likes, because verbal aggression against that group is what all those other FB groups are for, it's what they're about.

2) If it's bad when they do it and makes people dislike them, what's going to make it great and make you popular when you do it (outside of the groups, mentioned in 1aIA), specifically set up for that kind of thing)?

----- 2a) All they're doing is talking. (Ya big pussy.)

---------- 2aI) Do you find it necessary to respond to every stupid thing anybody ever says about you, or just with these guys?

----- 2b) You and people like you keep claiming we're better than they are. Is this how you prove it -- by stooping to the worst behavior of the worst of them?

---------- 2bI) Are you actually envious because you feel like they can get away with some bad behavior you can't get away with? (Wow, you really have some ambitious dreams for your life, don't you?)

3) I hate you, you idiot!

----- 3a) I don't expect you ever to understand why I hate you (being an idiot, and all). But if you're actually curious, there are dozens of other posts on this blog besides this post labelled "stupid atheists."

----- 3b) I like lots of people in the other group a lot more than I'll ever like you. There a lot of other criteria which a re much more important to me than which one of these two groups someone belongs to.

---------- 3bI) Which one of the two groups someone was in seemed a lot more important before I actually met a lot of the people in our group. Frankly, most of you have been a horrible disappointment.

--------------- 3bIA) But I'm sure that a lot of people in our group simply never mention that they're in our group, because they're embarrassed by you and those like you.

4) I hope you have a nice day. (See? See what I did there, Chuckles? It didn't kill me. It didn't cost me a thing but a moment and a kind thought, you moron!)

73% Of All Internet Memes Are Factually Mistaken

I don't care if Lincoln said it, it's nonsense, because the Internet has made it infinitely easier to check the accuracy of quotes.

And that's what makes all these inaccurate memes so infuriating: people could have taken a minute or two to check the meme's accuracy before sharing it in your favorite Facebook group, and they didn't. They found the assertion made by the meme to be convenient to their arguments, or flattering to their subculture, and so they believed it and spread it around: 85% of Japan's population is atheist. Evangelicals have better sex lives. Tom Paine was a vegan. Constantine and the Pope wrote the entire Bible, start to finish, Genesis to Revelations. That photo of Hillary Clinton hugging Osama Bin Ladn was not photoshopped. Taco Bell is going out of business. Samsung devices are spying on us for the Japanese government. Obama gave Al Sharpton millions of dollars' worth of public funds. There are trillions of dollars' worth of gold ingots in the Vatican Bank. Hillary Clinton can't be trusted. Drinking lots of beer actually does make you sexy. Every one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence was an atheist and an Illumitatus. Karl Marx and Otto von Bismarck carried on a secret love affair for 30 years, and Bismarck is the actual author of Kapital.

Has the Internet made people more stupid? Or were they always about this stupid, and the Internet has brought me into contact with more of them? Or is it completely wrong for me to blame the Internet for any of this, because I could just as well have used it to contact brilliant people who are very scrupulous about getting their facts straight before they assert something?

Maybe all that the Internet has done is to demonstrate that I am an idiot, because this is what I have found after 2 decades with this remarkable tool. If I really am surrounded by idiots, does that mean anything at all other than that I have allowed a bunch of idiots to surround me?

One way or another: the search for intelligent life on Earth continues.

Why Assume That Humans Are The Only Religious Species?

Sometimes some silly atheists go blathering on in a silly Rousseauean vein about "Nature"'s "purity," and how an example of this is that humans are the only species so "depraved" (Can you tell that I really, really hate Rousseau? You can? Good!) as to have something like religion.

Ridiculous. How on Earth do we supposedly know that no other species have religious beliefs? We know nothing of the sort. The absurd assumption that other species lack emotions similar to ours seems finally to be losing currency among zoologists. Let's toss out this assumption about their lacking religious beliefs, too, until we have some reason to assume such a thing.

Don't forget: evolution continues. Even if humans once were the only species with religious beliefs -- that's a tremendously huge "if," but let's assume it for a moment just for the sake of argument -- for tens of thousands of years, humans have both been religious and had close contact with domesticated animal species. Tens of thousands of years in which they've been watching us closely.

I repeat: the assumption that other species have no religious beliefs is absurd, premature, unfounded.

If you're agreeing with me, and about to shout: "Yes! And Exhibit A are the so-called 'elephants' graveyards'!", No. What you may have heard about elephants' graveyards is mostly myth. The most likely explanation for these collections of elephants' skeletons is that they were dumped there by poachers after they killed the elephants and took their tusks.

I have no Exhibit A which is going to make people exclaim and slap their foreheads and insist that animals are religious. I, in fact, am not insisting that animals are religious. I am merely asserting that we have no reason to rule it out, and pointing out how many times already we have realized that certain assumptions about our non-relatedness to other species were incorrect.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Old And New Theological Nonsense

The people who wrote the Old and New Testaments and the Koran all thought that God was a being who looked like a man, who lived in the sky and watched us, and so did almost all practicing Jews, Christians and Muslims until a couple of centuries ago. Those Christians and Muslims, plus those of the practicing Jews who believed in life after death (never a unanimous belief among Jews) believed that Heaven was up in the sky where God lived, and that Hell was deep underground. They believed that angels and demons, who looked somewhat like people except that they had wings and the angels had halos and demons had horns, were flying around us all the time, the angels having come down from the sky and the demons up from deep underground. They believed that Satan, an angel who used to live in the sky with God and the other angels, had been thrown out of Heaven and now operated from Hell, deep underground.

All of those paintings and sculptures made over thousands of years' time of God and angels and demons and Satan and Heaven and Hell -- they weren't symbolic presentations of principles of physics which weren't elaborated until long after they were painted or carved -- they were realistic depictions of what people believed literally existed. People claimed to have seen God and/or Jesus and/or angels, and these people weren't thought to be liars or hallucinating or over-imaginative -- and they damned well weren't thought to have been speaking in parables either. What they said was taken literally and they were thought to be blessed.

The many people accused of witchcraft by the Inquisition and Protestant witch-trials, most of them women, were usually thought to have literally had sex with horned flying demons, as part of Satan's master-plan to conquer the world with evil.

Now, a few people still believe in all of the above. When "progressive" theologians say that those people are misunderstanding things which were never meant to have been taken literally, they're full of shit. It's as simple as that. When they say that the bible and Koran weren't meant by their authors to be taken literally, they're full of shit. When they say that God is physics or love or some kind of principle of idea, they're saying something completely different than the Bible and Koran authors. They've had the good sense to reject the literal existence of all of those supernatural things in the Bible and in all of those religious pictures, but if they remain practicing Jews or Christians or Muslims, then they hardly ever have the intellectual honesty to admit that they believe in things which are completely different than the things in their holy books. They've switched from the nonsense of preaching the literal belief in all of those things to the nonsense of preaching that those things weren't literally believed in for the great majority of the history of they claim are their religions. It's maddeningly seldom that a contemporary theologian will talk sense about the theology of past eras.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Atheists And Theists Trying To Communicate With Each Other

As you can see by the title of this post, it will have nothing at all to do with either New Atheist nor fundamentalist monotheists, because one of the signal things which makes both of those groups what they are is that they are not the slightest bit interested in communicating with people who disagree with them. They maintain a lot of contact with people who disagree with them, to be sure. But they're not communicating. Hurling insults and curses and twisting what opponents say as far as it will twist is not communication.

So let's turn away from all of that for the moment, and instead regard something much more pleasant: atheists and theists who are actually trying to understand one another on religious topics. I don't think this happens a lot, but it does happen now and then. The attempt happens. I don't know how much the attempt succeeds. In fact I'm not sure whether it ever actually succeeds at all. Maybe the two sides have experiences which are simply different. Maybe each side simply experiences things which the other side doesn't, and no amount of patient discussion will change that.

I started thinking about this recently while reading one of Nikos Kazantzakis' novels, with his detailed descriptions of the interior lives of believers. Kazantzakis is a wonderfully talented writer, and I began to wonder whether these descriptions of his of the thoughts and feelings of Christians might be significantly more accurate than many of the attempts on the part of theists to communicate their worldviews to atheists, attempts which, to us, often sound more or less like, "Look at that tree! Now how can you say there's no God?!" Kazantzakis' passages seem to come across more vividly to atheists. I've noticed that there are quite a few atheists among his fans.

But perhaps he's less convincing to many believers. Perhaps we atheists like him because, in addition to being such a talented writer, his faith never was genuine, and he was just fooling himself about it.

It seems to me that people very often greatly overestimate their ability to know what anyone else's experience is like. How do we know what someone else is feeling? Well -- we feel it. I'm very much inclined to believe that the emotional experience of cats and dogs and apes and monkeys is very similar to ours, not because I have any impressive empirical data to back this up, but, conversely, because I don't believe that anyone has a lot of impressive empirical data about what other humans experience. I don't believe we have any more convincing way of knowing what other people feel than by feeling it, and it seems that we feel very much the same when we interact with certain other species. Ergo, although our actual understnading of other people's feelings is tenuous, our understanding of animal's feelings is no more tenuous.

I see no convincing evidence that we do anything more than poke around in the dark when trying to understand the experience of any other creatures, human or not, other than our solitary selves.

To return to those atheists and theists trying to understand each other, being friendly, listening politely, squelching urges to mock and deride: perhaps there's a very great difference in the experience of atheists and the experience of theists. It seems that each side commonly is quite frustrated with the other, and thinks that the other side is either incapable of grasping certain very evident things, or unwilling to grasp them, or unwilling to admit that they grasp them.

Kazantzakis describes a breeze, or a sunset, or hunger, and he writes so well that an atheist reader feels it, and becomes enveloped in the experience of one of the novel's characters. And then he goes on to say how the character experiences God in that breeze or that sunset, and the atheist reader may be swept up in that for a moment and wonder whether he's having a religious experience.

But in my case, I've only been swept up for a moment or so at a time -- by reading Kazantzakis, or looking at Byzantine mosaics, or listening to a Requiem Mass while looking at Christian art after having read something by Kazanthakis -- and it's just been a matter of emotion, and not a matter of actually wondering: Hey, have I been wrong all this time -- Does God exist? Did Jesus redeem the world? Is Muhammed the greatest prophet?

I can have quite a powerful emotional experience, I can regard the pictures and music and literature to be wonderfully beautiful -- but with me it never comes close to being a religious experience. Because I never start to wonder whether all of those religious things add up to more than legends, stories from more primitive times.

I've started to wonder whether there is some fundamental difference between theists and atheists. I've started to wonder whether it is not just difficult for these two groups to communicate about religion, but actually impossible, because each group simply experiences things in a different way, a difference which mere words cannot bridge.

Yes, I know that there are atheists who used to be theists and theists who used to be theists -- but are there really? If you closely examine the stories of some saints who say that they used to be quite godless, the tales of their early sinning are often quite tame. John Hus, for example. Or Ned Flanders, describing the time he drank hallf a wine cooler and became "more animal than man." And if you look at some people who converted late in life from atheism to theism, you often will find things they said in their atheist phases which sound very theist -- for example, Alfred Doeblin and Joseph Roth. What I'm saying is that maybe Hus and Doeblin and Roth were never actually godless in the way that most of us atheists are. And conversely, maybe we atheists in our typically religious childhoods never really were believers in the way that most believers were. Maybe the two groups, atheists and theists, are fundamentally different in our experience of things, and maybe it's so damned difficult to communicate with each other because each side is describing experiences which the other side never had and never will have.

"Maybe." That's an underused term in general, and it's indispensable whenever one speculates about another creature's experience.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Charles Koch's Positive Remarks About Bernie Sanders

This is truly Bizarro-World stuff: Charles Koch says that he agrees with Bernie Sanders about income equality, and that both parties are to blame for this inequality.

I hope that Bernie doesn't accept Charles' compliments, and takes this opportunity to make it as plain as can be that Charles Koch is a huge part of the problems Bernie wants to solve. If he throws this right back in Koch's face, with no if's, and's or but's, I might even consider voting for Bernie in the primary instead of Hillary.

Probably not. But I would be impressed.

Sanders wants to raise the minimum wage. Way up. Koch wants lower wages. Sanders wants incentives for solar and wind energy. Koch has successfully killed legislation for some of these incentives. If they'd passed they would have increased the competition against the coal Koch sells to utilities. Sanders wants much, much more government regulation concerning pollution and the financial sector. Koch wants much, much less.

(By the way, Hillary wants all of those things that Bernie wants. And she's much better equipped to actually get legislation passed as POTUS, which is why I already take back what I said above about considering voting for Bernie. Demagogues talk a good game. Good politicians actually get things done. And painting Hillary as a Republican or a monster or anything other than a liberal is just as Bizarro-World as what Koch just said about Sanders.)

Theology Versus Communication

"I'm spiritual but not religious."

"We're followers of Christ but not Christians."

"Religion does not requires gods of any sort."

"Buddhism is not a religion."

"Christianity is pagan."

"Religion is mankind's most important function."

Theology does not require making sense. Quite the opposite, in fact: it requires a deliberate assault upon good sense, consistency, logic and coherence. When religion is approached with logic one ceases to believe, and religion becomes a thing of the past, to be studied by historians, archaeologists and anthropologists. That doesn't mean it becomes less interesting, quite the opposite, it becomes more interesting, in my opinion at least, when one has removed one's head from one's ass and begins to see religion as a stage in human developed which has been superceded (by some).

But that shrinks the number of believers, and that's bad for business for some people. And it's quite plain to see that vast numbers of people equate "mankind's most important function" with "what makes money for me," without at all seeming to know how ridiculous and petty this makes them seem. And for many others, maybe for most, who have no concern for the business side of it, or at least conscious concern, losing belief is painful. For me there definitely was a period of severe discomfort between being a believing child and an historically-minded adult.

So I'm saying that the confusing nature of much theological writing is not only not coincidental: it's the main point of that writing. Theologists do not object to each other's willy-nilly redefinitions of terms, because that's one of the primary ways in which the confusion is maintained, and hopefully increased. Whatever objecting is going to be done is up to us and those like us.

When, in spite of all of this constant theological effort to obfuscate, things nevertheless start to become clear, that can be very uncomfortable indeed. If this clarity is only temporary it is known as a "crisis of faith." If the clarity lasts longer, then the believer becomes an atheist. And after a while the discomfort lessens.

Everything I've said in this post has to do with theology now, in the twenty-first century of Our Lord. Lately there has been a lot of nonsensical New Atheist talk about religion having always been intended as a tool for the powerful to subjugate the powerless. This implies that those who hold power in religious organizations are always insincere about their belief, that it's just snake oil sold to the rubes. I think that's a very farfetched accusation when applied to religious leaders of the twenty-first century. Some of the leaders, certainly, are insincere, but all of them? That's an assertion without evidence, so, if we were to go about things in as slipshod and arbitrary a manner as Christopher Hitchens, we could simply dismiss it without evidence. And the accusation becomes steadily more farfetched the further back in time we go. The earliest clear indications of atheism we have are a little more than 2000 years old. The oldest signs of religion we've found so far are more than 30,000 years old. Today, certainly, there is a sharp conflict between religion on the one hand and serious scholarship on the other. The farther back in time we go, however, the more religion and serious scholarship are synonymous. One of the little things which New Atheists dismiss with contempt, which are taught in World History 101 classes and evident to any historian. As recently as 5000 years ago, religion may well have been mankind's most important function, and its surest path toward the scholarship which nowadays, paradoxically, is replacing it.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

"Trump Slams The Pope: 'He's Disgraceful!'"

Yeah, I think the Donald has peaked, and that people will look back to him slamming the Pope as being around the time it started to fall apart for him, the time when it became clearer that he actually couldn't get away with everything. I can only hope that he goes 3rd-party (claiming that he doesn't need to stick to his promise that he wouldn't do so because "the GOP cheated. The GOP went back on their word to me. It's disgraceful. The GOP is a bunch of clowns. They're real losers," yada yada yada...), taking the votes of millions of yahoos away from either Cruz or Rubio or Bush or Kasich and handing the Democrats a real landslide.

That'd be yuge.

People turn to leaders promising radical change in times of crisis. Late 1932 was a time of great crisis in Germany and the US. The US was lucky: the big political fish on the scene promising sweeping change was FDR. In Germany it was You-Know-Who.

Now, you may be asking: What great crisis? And that's just it: to most of us in the US, things seem to be going fairly well. But imagine how you'd feel if you were convinced that unemployment was several times higher than the official government figures, that millions of rapists and murderers were swarming completely unhindered over the borders into our country, and that the President was secretly working for ISIL. That might well feel to you like a time of crisis.

An imaginary time of crisis has been enough to keep Trump in front for the race for the GOP nomination because for years the GOP leadership has been following the right-wing fringe instead of trying to -- you know: lead. Trump is the monster they made. He may very well rip the GOP to shreds. I don't think he has a freaky orange snowball's chance in Hell of being elected President.

"Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby."

Not entirely. Because various atheists atheist in various different ways. Some atheists -- whom I and many other atheists call New Atheists -- have some tendencies which are reminiscent of religious behavior. Like repeating a handful of quotations over and over and over and over and over and over like fundies quoting their favorite half-dozen Bible verses. Like being blind and deaf to valid criticisms of Dawkins, Harris, Hitch & co the way that many religious believers simply refuse to see flaws in their leaders.

And of course, some atheists actually meet on Sunday mornings in places they call atheist churches, with services sometimes led by ex-Christian preachers. That's a particularly obvious way in which atheism is sometimes like a religion in some ways.

Some atheists, including Dawkins, Harris, Hitch & Myers, are unfortunately quite Islamophobic in a manner strongly reminiscent of Christian fundies.

New Atheists and Christian fundies share a profound ignorance on historical topics combined with an unceasing flow of clueless remarks about the history surrounding Biblical topics, New Testament and Old.

Seriously, New Atheists: if there wasn't quite a lot about you which reminded people of the fundies, do you really think that so many of them would say so often that there is? Astonish me: come to grips with some piece, any piece, of valid criticism aimed at you. Admit at long last that some of your critics might have had a point now and then.

I Gather That Christianity Is Not A Religion

After thousands of years' worth of general agreement that "religion" means what it means, all of a sudden people are telling us that Christianity is not a religion, that Buddhism is not a religion, that they're spiritual but not religious, that they're followers of Christ but not Christians. (I didn't make that last one up, there's at least one very silly rock group saying that. I forgot the name of the group. I haven't heard them, just read about them. I can't remember whether they're considered Christian rock -- by some. Not by themselves of course, because they're followers of Christ, not Christians.)

I think this sudden denial of the meaning of the word "religion" is related to the recent absurd assertion -- unfortunately, not nearly absurd enough to get theologians fired even from the world's most prestigious universities -- that Biblical literalism is no more than 200 years old.

It's as plain as can be that before the study of science and history began to give us more accurate ideas of things, Christians and practicing Jews believed that the world was 6000 years old. Including the most highly-educated Christians and practicing Jews. They believed that Moses led 600,000 families out of Egypt and parted the Red Sea, and the Christians, at least, although not all of the Jews, believed that Jesus rose from the dead. They believed that angels and demons were all around us all the time -- not metaphorical angels and demons but real ones. The real un-metaphorical torture and killing of the Inquisition -- unfortunately, even claiming that the Inquisition never killed anyone has not been enough to get academics fired from history departments, let alone theology departments -- had very often to do with this belief in the literal existence of those demons. And let's not let Protestants off the hook here. Those 20 people in Salem in the 1690's weren't executed over differences in interpretation of mythological tropes.

And all of the universities in Western Europe and the Americas were very firmly in control of Christian authorities until a few centuries ago. What happened about 200 years ago is almost the exact opposite of this very popular assertion among today's theologians: Biblical literalism didn't appear for the first time. Rather, it started to fade from its dominance as the default intellectual position in the West.

Both the Christians who deny that they're religious and the ones who say that the Bible was never meant to be taken literally, that all of it is parables, not just the parables but all of it, are sort of half-smart about religion. They sort of half-suspect that religion is not the font of all wisdom which it has always claimed to be. (They may well deny that religious leaders ever made such a claim.) But they can't bear to consciously admit it, they are too heavily invested in religion, it would simply be too painful and/or too damned inconvenient, and so instead of a rational perception of religion for what it is and a description of it which makes any damn sense at all, we have this mass tendency to deny that religion is what it is, and this massive falsification of the history of religion.

This is one reason why it's important to study history. And really studying history means mastering the languages which people wrote and spoke in other times and places. So that you can check for yourself, and let people know when theologians, and even some historians, are trying to hand them a crock. This is what Gibbon did, and Bury, and Runciman, and this is why all 3 of them have been attacked to this day by apologists, many of them posing as historians.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Chronological List Of Early Bible Translations

I had already known for a long time that Ulfila's translation of the New Testament into Gothic was older than Jerome's Vulgate; but that chronological tidbit didn't really strike me until recently, and when it did, I thought it might be fun to chronologically list some early Bible translations.

My interest in this topic is mostly linguistic, while the interest of many or most people who have looked into it has been greatly or mostly theological. It's difficult for me to sort out the more authoritative Biblical scholars from the less authoritative, in part because there are so many of them, and unfortunately, the biased nuts do not helpfully affix labels in bold print at the head of their papers saying WARNING: BIASED NUT. DO NOT USE FINDINGS. Despite the lack of such labels, gross bias is often easy to spot, as when a member of a particular denomination affixes a significantly earlier date than anyone else to the translation most closely associated with his denomination, and acts as if he has never heard of the more conventional dating.

We do not know when some of these translations first appeared, and can only say that they are first firmly attested at such and such a date, and more weakly at such and such an early date, and speculate about the translation's beginnings.

Such is the case with the oldest-known (to me) Bible translation, the Septuagint, the translation of the Old Testament into Greek. The best I can do is to tell you that this translation was made in the 3rd and 2nd centuries in and/or around Alexandria, where a Jewish community had resided long enough that many or most of them were more familiar with the Greek language than with Hebrew.

Next come Syriac and Old Latin translations of the New Testament. (The term "Old Latin" is used to distinguish the earliest Latin Biblical translations from Jerome's Vulgate.) There is evidence of translation of parts of the New Testament into both of these languages both as early as the late 2nd century.

Next, we have evidence of translations of parts of the New Testament into Coptic going back as far as the 3rd century.

And then comes the "Gothic Bible," or to be more exact, the Gothic New Testament translation by Ulfila. It is well-established that Ulfilia (ca 311-383) was the translator.

Next, Jerome's Vulgate, begun after 382 and finished by 405. Recently scholars have been falling all over each other in the rush to proclaim that it is not correct to call this work Jerome's Vulgate, because not every single bit of the translation is Jerome's work, which is true, but most of it is by Jerome, and he at least inspected and approved the rest in the "Old Latin" versions, and revised those parts to some extent -- so I personally have no problem calling it Jerome's Vulgate. Just be warned, some people do have a problem with that.

It is with no great confidence at all that I guess that Biblical translations into Armenian, Ethiopic and Georgian began in the 5th century. I could be wrong, for all I know they could have begin earlier or later. There may be some really great and authoritative scholarship on the origins of all three of those written languages, but I haven't found any of it yet.

And finally there are Saints Cyril and Methodius, Byzantine missionaries to the Slavs. They are said to have translated parts of the Bible into Old Church Slavonic in the 860's. But some sources say they did this, while other sources say they "are credited" with doing this, which looks to me like scholar-speak for "they didn't do it, but for a long time a lot of people have thought they did, and I don't want to get into the middle of a huge argument right now." So I'm going to guess (guess!) that biblical translations into Old Church Slavonic began some time before 900, possibly by Cyril and/or Methodius.

By 900, writing in vernacular German had begun, and it would soon get underway in French and Spanish, which meant some translations into those languages of some parts of the Bible, although the Vulgate was well-established all over Western Europe and would remain overwhelmingly the preferred version there for centuries to come.

And if you're asking, Well, so what?! then I say: Well, it sort of lends a little bit of perspective to the 21st-century squabbles, in some English-speaking regions, over the 17th-century King James Version, doesn't it? and to the uproar caused by the KJV and Luther's German Bible and by the great unwashed in England and Germany learning to read at last. Every one of the translations of the Bible I've listed above, with the single exception of the Gothic version, has been continuously used by a wide reading public ever since it was first made.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Empty Attacks On The King James Bible

A lot of people I know are disparaging the King James Bible, calling it a huge distortion of the texts it purportedly translates, and a cynical political project designed to support King James and monarchy in general. So? So for all I know both of the points might be valid, but I don't think that most of the people repeating those points can back them up. At all.

I don't mind you criticizing something -- if you know what you're talking about. If you don't, you're not really criticizing, you're just parroting talking points.

They say that the KJV was deliberately altered in thousands of places --

and they don't name any of those places.

Let's say for the sake of argument that they're absolutely right. Imagine that one of the most ardent and cynical of the supporters of James was also a Biblical scholar, and one of the creators of the King James Version of the Bible, and that he positively cackled with evil glee as he distorted the Bible into a piece of royal propaganda. Say that he was a relatively young man when the King James Bible was completed in 1611, and was still in England in 1649.

Imagine how he must have felt, seeing all of those Puritans led by Cromwell, thumping and quoting the King James Bible as they deposed, arrested, tried, convicted and executed James' son, King Charles. If the KJV was designed as a tool of royal propaganda -- and I'm not saying it wasn't, I'm just admitting that I don't know -- then at the moment of Charles' beheading it must have seemed a particularly ineffective tool.

Or when all those American readers of the KJV revolted in 1776 and in the next few years threw off royal control altogether.

Now at this point, some of the people I'm complaining about here, who call the KJV a gross mistranslation and a cynical tool of royal propaganda, will do something else which particularly irks me: they'll insist that the leaders of the American Revolution were hardly Christian at all, and/or that they objected to the KJV because it distorted the original texts in a pro-monarchial manner. And I KNOW that's bullshit. Anyway, back here on Earth, the supposedly extremely pro-royal King James Bible was, in fact, read by just about everyone in the British colonies who could read English, and it doesn't seem to have been pro-royal enough to have stopped the Revolution. Was the difference between Tory and Patriot a greater love for the King James Bible? Well -- no.

There are lots and lots of nuts today in the US who insist that the King James Version is the only valid version of the Bible -- I can't imagine what these people think when they think about the parts of the world where people's native language isn't English. Like the tens of millions of people in the US whose native languages is Spanish. Material for another blog post, perhaps -- but these fanatical supporters of the KJV don't seem to be calling for a monarchy in the US, other than that of the King of Kings, of course.

Now of course the ineffectiveness of a strategy does not prove that that strategy doesn't exist, and I haven't proven that the KJV wasn't designed as royal propaganda. As I said: maybe it was. But all of these people I know haven't proven to me that it was. And I think that the great majority of them are a few years' worth of intensive study of Hebrew and Greek away from beginning to be able to prove it to me.

In the meantime, if they could make this case by quoting some arguments culled from the works of some Biblical scholars -- scholars whom they name, and quote verbatim, naming the books or articles and the pages which contain those quotes -- well, that would be a huge improvement over what they're doing now. That might even be enough to start a discussion in which I'd like to take part.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Decline Of Religion

"Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid." -- Abraham Joshua Heschel

Heschel was Jewish, and the only religion I feel qualified to speak about is Christianity. It was always irrelevant, dull, oppressive and insipid. It is declining now because it has been refuted. And/or because after 1000 years of torturing and killing everyone who disagreed with them, Christian leaders gradually have been forced to accept more open discussion of these things. Without the torturing and killing, would Christianity ever have spread so far to begin with? In other words: did people EVER really accept it, or did they act as if they accepted it, because -- torture and burning alive? We'll never know. Because torture and burning alive as punishment for questioning orthodoxy don't encourage people to go on record with their real opinions.

That is far from a brilliant insight on my part, it's quite simple and evident. And yet it's one of the simple and plain aspects of the history of Western civilization which still is rather rarely acknowledged. Whether the Christian authorities stopped torturing and killing simply because they lost the authority to do so, or because they actually became more tolerant and merciful on their own, they still very energetically push a lot of nonsense. Where they have stopped actively combating the natural sciences, they now often turn to combating those of us who are struggling to make some sort of sense of history. Heschel is Jewish, but his statement quoted at the beginning of this post could have come from any of a number of Christian theologians and theologically-inclined historians of Western civilization who energetically, full-time, propagate nonsense about the subjects they ostensibly teach. Religion became oppressive? It has been 200 years since the Inquisition tortured and killed anyone. Clearly, religion is less oppressive in Western society today than it was in the Middle Ages. Few things could be so clear. But a lot of people who are supposed to be teaching about the Middle Ages are doing all they can to make them less clear.

Apologetics makes historical writing worse. Some scholars who in previous ages would have concentrated on non-stop invention of nonsense about "spiritual realms" -- that is, worlds of make-believe -- now concentrate full-time on shamelessly distorting those earlier eras, on making them seem less crazy and horrid than they were. They'll say that the beauty of Medieval cathedrals reflects an extraordinary level of piety and religious fervor in the time they were built. I agree with them that the Cathedrals are beautiful, but I say that they reflect a time in the dominions of Catholicism when the Church was far and away the biggest patron of the arts, and for very many artists the only patron who could ever pay them. Cathedrals are magnificent because when they were built, they were the only opportunity for most artists to express themselves. Art in Medieval Europe for most people equaled Catholic art, not because everyone was a fervent Catholic but because Catholic art was the only art that was allowed. Art must have been an especial comfort in that dull, oppressive, insipid time.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Should I Just Stop Responding To People Who Assume I'm A Theist?

It would save me a lot of time and energy. I mean a lot. A LOT. And it would reward those who pay more attention and who wait to decide whether a person is a theist or not until that person gives some sign about whether he or she is a theist or not -- or it would punish those more attentive people, depending on whether you consider my attention to be a reward or a punishment.

A Facebook group I'm currently in has far more actual communication on religious topics between atheists and believers than any other group I've seen. I don't think it's a coincidence that the leader of this group is a Christian who spends far more time criticizing Christians than non-Christians. It's clear that he cares about Christianity and recognizes the benefits for a group of self-criticism. Recognizing such benefits isn't rocket science, and they weren't discovered yesterday, but that recognition does seem to be entirely lacking from many religious and atheist groups.

The recognition of the downside of monotonous repetition seems to be lacking too. Have you noticed how atheists who say things like "atheists do not have a common belief system, sacred scripture or atheist Pope. This means atheists often disagree on many issues and ideas" tend to repeat a lot of the same talking points word for word -- for example: "atheists do not have a common belief system, sacred scripture or atheist Pope. This means atheists often disagree on many issues and ideas" ?

These people I'm talking about, who assume I'm a theist, they do so whenever I criticize any atheists or have positive things to say about any believers or any aspects of any religion. They do so in ostensible reaction to posts or comments in which I've gone to the trouble to say

"I'm an atheist."

Today it happened when someone responded to a blog post in which I had said

in the title of the post

that I was an atheist.

So maybe the reasonable thing to do is ignore them. Attempting to communicate with them seems to be pointless. I do put a certain amount of care and attention into my writing, perhaps it's not too much to ask for a certain amount of care and attention from my readers.

Perhaps you consider repeating talking points word for word to be communication. It sort of reminds me of some of the duller things that happen in churches, synagogues, mosques and other temples.

How Do I React, As An Atheist, When Someone Says "I'll Pray For You" ?

I usually just say "Thanks" or "Oh, that's nice" or something like that. Because, usually, it does seem like it basically amounts to someone trying to be nice.

In fact, I can't actually recall an instance where it felt like anything else.

If I exert myself, I can imagine -- barely -- a case where it might seem like something else. Where it might seem like someone is saying, "I'm going to ask my imaginary friend to smite you, you Godless sinner!!!" But you know what? That wouldn't bother me either, because the imaginary friend in question is, you know... imaginary. And therefore entirely unable to do my any harm. If someone says to me, "You're going to Hell, you Commie faggott, and I'm going to write to my Tea Party Congressman about you and you're kind," that would bother me. Not the part about Hell, because Hell is imaginary, but the part about the Tea Party, because, unfortunately, it is not. And them saying "you're" instead of "your" would bother me too.

I've seen believers say all sorts of hateful things to atheists, and sometimes they do more than just talk -- but "I'll pray for you" just doesn't seem to fit in with the hate. I've heard atheists talk about the phrase "I'll pray for you" being "spat at them" at the end of long and acrimonious debates. But even then, I'm not sure that it's hateful. It could well be the opposite: maybe it's the believer reminding him- or herself that the atheist who has been annoying him or her all day is, in his or her worldview, another one of God's creatures, whom God loves because God loves everybody, and who should be prayed for because everybody should be prayed for.

I don't get into long acrimonious debates with believers about religion. I just don't see the point. I have never seen or heard about a single believer being convinced of the atheist viewpoint over the course of a long and nasty argument with an atheist. I have at least one major viewpoint about religion in common with atheists, and so I sometime debate religious topics with them because I feel that there's a chance that the discussion might actually accomplish something. I or the other atheist might actually learn something. But I don't do a lot of that either, because the minds against which I'm debating don't seem all that much more open, usually. Instead, I come here to this blog and complain. I don't know whether this blog ever changes anybody's mind either, but venting makes me feel good, and people who already agree with everything I'm going to say can come to this blog and read it and feel validated.

But mainly, when I complain about other atheists on this blog or elsewhere, I'm just trying to make it clear that I do not share some position which seems to be popular among atheists. I'm just saying: I'm not with those bozos. When the most popular atheists in the world are Dawkins, Harris, Hitch & co, I've got a lot of that sort of complaining to do. 100 years ago, just imagine: the world's most prominent atheists were people like Twain, Russell, Nietzsche and Marx. That was sweet.

So, not expecting to change a single person's mind when I say this: I think that atheists who complain about people saying "I'll pray for you" are pathetic. If someone praying for you is your idea of a problem, or of being oppressed: congratulations, you ungrateful fragile flower, you have no real problems and no-one is oppressing you.

If an atheist responds to my saying that with asking me why I don't go do charity work like they do, and more than one has responded that way, then I call bullshit. Anybody even faintly familiar with charity work knows that it's mostly done by the very kind of kind-hearted religious believers who often say things like "I'll pray for you" out of no other motive than the goodness of their great big hearts. Bullshit, you don't do charity work, you have no idea what charity work is like. Liar, liar, spoiled brat atheist pants on fire!

When I say these kinds of things, the atheists who complain about people saying "I'll pray for you" say that I'm offending them. No surprise at all there: they're obviously very, very easily offended.

I've done some googling on this issue, and I'm happy to be able to say that it looks as if most atheists -- even most New Atheists for once -- feel very much the same about it as I do. Once again, it seems that -- and boy do I hope I'm right about this one -- as so often, a few nitwits have made a lot of noise about what is basically a non-issue, and made it seem as if their numbers are larger than they are, and that they speak for more people than they do.