Sunday, March 31, 2013


In a recent article in the Denver Post Mike Rosen, in his usual attack on rationality and sanity actually made a sensible point. First, he tore to shreds the new and proposed gun control laws in Colorado suggesting, for example that they were not perfect, that criminals and the crazy could still be able to acquire guns illegally. Thus, in his usually brilliant prose, he again pointed out that the good is never acceptable. Only the perfect must be achieved or the whole idea of limiting guns must be eschewed. Because he writes clearly, it is easy to assume he knows what he talks about, but alas not except for his one flash of, dare I say it, brilliance.
Instead of those, useless, mindless, imperfect gun laws, he suggests that we should all be prepared to defend ourselves should a shooter aim at us with evil intent. We, of a certain age, have all seen John Wayne, and others of his ilk, dispense with two or three black-hatted baddies with his six-gun, his six-shooter his peacemaker. We knew his town was a safer place because of him and his crowd of merry shootists. Hurray for Wayne and hurrah for Rosen.
But, now comes the brilliant part. His Waynesque solution, getting more guns into the hands of good guys is really a disguised way to keep the mass killers under control. You see, Rosen understands that without guns, the they can attack with fists and knives, but more, they can use flame-throwers or poison gas or IEDS, or loosen packs of hungry lions or dogs or pigs into a mall where they would munch on tasty us. You see, he understands there is no limit on the second amendment; anyone can own any weapon. Your disgruntled neighbor can defend him/herself against you with an rpg or a 20mm cannon because the second can never be weakened as a bulwark against tyranny. Lawsuits are expensive and one might lose, but ammo is cheap and essentially killing is instantaneous, problem solved.
So, Rosen is on to something. Let’s give him that melodious cheer from the Bronx for his wisdom.
We all know the constitution is sacrosanct, that it offers essential commands which may not, never be violated. That is the construction placed upon it by the NRA, an organization that holds us to the strictest construction of amendment 2. According to them, there can be no deviation; anything that hints at modifying it must absolutely be rejected. Thus, they oppose gun registration, they oppose the banning of civilian assault rifles, they oppose smaller magazines and they oppose background checks.
Yet, consider that our first amendment, that which guarantees free speech has restrictions placed on it. Slander and libel are actionable. The FCC determines which words are forbidden on our public airways. Shouting fire in a crowded place is illegal. Loud preaching in schools by zealous students is forbidden. And, I am sure there are many other examples.  

Or, notice that our Supreme Court has declared abortion to be constitutional. But, a number of states have laws that regulated when it may be accomplished. After certain dates, abortion is illegal.

Where is the uproar from our constitution lovers decrying restrictions on constitutional rights? Alas, they are silent; they don’t give a damn (whoops, a proscribed word) and often demand them because they violate their moral sense. Hypocrites, all of them.

Strict construction of our constitution
Must continue lest bloody revolution
By our friends with their guns
Who have threatened to be Huns
Their madness can provide no solution.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

POLYTHEISM: Where did it go?  

Polytheism came first; it was a logical extension of humans projecting themselves into the universe. If they had motives, desires and agency, they could only assume that such were ubiquitous. They built idols who literally were gods, but idols can break so the gods were elevated to the heavens. Just as there were leaders and followers, just as there were experts in a variety of tasks, the gods were arranged in a hierarchy and gods appeared whose expertise matched the human model.

Hinduism, perhaps the first organized religion grew by accretion. The concept calls for a single god with three manifestations and many other lesser gods. There is some argument that Christianity followed that model with its Trinitarian god and a host of lesser gods called saints. Both models are called henotheistic, having a main god but acknowledging their existence of other gods.

Because Hinduism is considered a tradition, because it gathered itself over centuries nothing occurred which produced major upheavals. Religious bigotry until recently had no place in its ethos and, if I understand correctly it was not designed to proselytize; they did not have religious wars. The Hindu system of polytheism worked until in the late nineties when it became the state religion and that always causes trouble; there has been considerable violence between Muslims since.

Ancient Greek polytheism, henotheistic with Zeus (or Jove in the Roman system) in charge of a group of experts worked quite well. There were no religious wars; depending on circumstances, prayer could go to this or that god depending on what was needed. No Greek city-state made it the official religion, so there could be no accretion of wealth and thus power. The Egyptians had roughly the same system, but had state recognition. When the pharaoh, Akhenaton proposed worshiping the sun, the priests conspired against him and that ended it. Egypt was essentially ruled by cooperation between religion and politics.

Generally speaking, the henotheistic system worked pretty well raising the question: Why did monotheism replace it?

For reasons not clear, the Greco-Roman system left the people dissatisfied. I suspect the earliest indications, fascination by Judaic religious belief because it presented a new concept of god provided them comfort. (Were it easier to become Jewish, perhaps it would now be a Jewish world.) Up until then, the gods cared not a fig for humans. The gods did what they did quite indifferent to human suffering. The universe had no warmth, no sense of purpose, no empathy for human pain. Judaism provided a universe that cared about people, became involved in their lives, provided help in terms of duress. That surely felt good, but as noted, joining up was not easy of accomplishment. The Hebrew people became first henotheistic, then monotheistic primarily as a way of unifying the tribes. Without such unification, the tribes could not successfully defend themselves; with it, they became formidable. Poor Pharaoh, poor Canaanites, the unified Hebrews, all under the same god, hammered them.

Then came Joshua, (Jesus, according to the Greek version of the bible) a rabbi who promised salvation, who promised heaven and by implication, hell, who promised love and resurrection all rewards for good and bad folk. People need not complain about a rough life, their reward, heaven, became the goal of living. If you were poor, or a slave or a gladiator, in Roman days many many people the message of salvation became irresistible. Still, only poor people resonated to the message and Christianity would have become only one of many. People could opt for one or the other religious understanding until Constantine, for purely political reasons declared Christianity the state religion. With enough on his side, he could rule more comfortably. The consequence of his decision meant that the Christians could wipe out paganism. Originally, the Romans had hated Christianity because they saw it as atheistic and realized they wanted to convert everyone.

Noted above, when the state chooses a religion problems arise. Church and state connive to get greater control over the people. The church gathers immense resources because there is no other organization competing for financial support. The church demands that others join up; remaining aloof often meant death. Religious tolerance disappeared. What we consider a matter of conscience became state mandate. Religious wars appeared; no competition could exist.

The three Abrahamic religions, often called “great,” could not find common ground though they all express worshiping the same god. Humans traded away considerable comfort for the promise of a caring universe. And, most still don't accept the notion that it does not give a rat's patooty for humanity. If we ever get back to the Greco-Roman system, I would worship Aphrodite.

If you're looking around for religion
Monotheism is a lousy decision
If you have lots of woes
It will lead you by your nose
And screw up the human condition.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

GOD How Come?  

This is not a screed against the existence of God. By now, most of you know that I doubt that such a being exists. In formal language, I'm a probabilistic atheist, that is, the chances are negligibly different from zero. Still, in spite of my enlightened opinion, it is clear that belief in God is epidemic among humans. But, the begged question is how did that happen. I must say that a cursory examination of the net provides little that informs so I will leap in here to explore what I think is a plausible understanding. Please note that plausibility is not evidence, I doubt if any evidence can be found and thus we are all entitled to our points of view.

Animals live in a state of nature. They know enough to find food, produce progeny and how to respond to danger. Lacking any one of three, the species could not exist. Think of the buffalo; they are with us only because of human sufferance; we slaughtered them. Animals do not wear clothing and do not have the capacity for abstract thought, so unfamiliar with predators they never figured out that humans became their deadly enemy.

Well, we are animals and thus we also lived in a state of nature. For millions of years our forebears reproduced, ate and survived enough so that they could change into us. These activities required that they learn the habits of animals and plants, that is, the regularities they saw around them. But, they also saw disruptions, sometimes violent and deadly: babies died, hunters died, people died, etc. With all their practical knowledge of nature, they faced considerable chaos; and chaos meant they could not make any sense of their world much less make useful predictions. Without knowing the why of things,l they could not determine solutions.

Still, they had a model at hand, themselves. They knew they had motives and made plans and thus assumed there was plan-fulness and motivation in the world around them. Why did a tree fall? Perhaps, in emulation of human experience, its spirit (Soul; Essence) died. Whatever, they shifted from state-of-nature living to populating living things with spirit and thus perceived orderliness. Again, using human models of hierarchy, they shifted to higher order spirits, they developed over-arching gods who could be asked for favors. May Poseidon give us fair winds. May Zeus favor my enterprise. Ares, let me survive the battle. And, it worked! Either the winds were fair or if not, they were angry for some reason and required atonement (recompense). In either case, the universe remained orderly. Remember how Oedipus staggered through life unaware of his crimes? Everything he did as king provided benefits to all, but the angry gods did him in. Unwittingly, he had broken their law and they broke him for that transgression. But, the gods had rules, motives and reasons; their universe was orderly.

The gods accounted for everything, had their own sense of justice and punished humans or rewarded them often capriciously. They were human writ large. Zeus was a womanizer and a rapist. He and his wife bickered and often opposed each other in marriage. The gods became angry, did stupid things, felt guilt and randomly interacted with humanity, but they explained things. Ares in charge of war, Aphrodite, love, Apollo, the sun, they kept things going. And, they could be urged to do to this that or the other thing. But, they also were perceived to be in conflict with each other with humans as their pawns.

The Greek Philosophers struggled with understanding the gods and humans' place in the universe. The Stoics thought the only difference between the gods and humans was that the former were immortal. Otherwise, no difference. Epicurus insisted that humans soul dissipated at death and that the gods had nothing to do with us. Aristotle offered a considerably more sophisticated version of an indifferent god and Plato talked around the topic and concluded that belief in god was good for maintaining civic order.

Things remained as they were for thousands of years. The Hindu religion has the distinction of the oldest extant, but Judaism has a strong claim. While the Hindus have a single god, she/he/it remains aloof with three manifestations and a multitude of other gods. Some have called that religion a tradition as well as a belief system. Judaism, following earlier manifestations of idea developed first henotheism (many gods with a preeminent one) and then monotheism.
More about monotheism v polytheism next week.

Through space we are inevitably hurled
On a planet we egotistically call our world
Tossed often into the pits
We can only live by our wits
Ignostically with flags unfurled.

Ignostic refers to ignoring the problem of getting god (if such exists) to help us. I emphasises that we humans have to solve our own problems.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

RELIGION: A Human Delusion  

Yes, it is a human delusion; other animals seem not to have such ideas. Of course, they might but we have no way of knowing, but animals have a hard enough time without worrying about a deity. I think there may be a religion that does not include the supernatural so if you think of one, what follows does not apply to it.
Still, I've called religion a delusion and it should be obvious why. No one nowhere has ever produced a scintilla of evidence that the supernatural exists. . and it is surely not for lack of trying. Human history is festooned with attempts to justify the idea but without any success. Believers believe and that's about it. I've written that supernatural explanations likely arose because life experience was chaotic; religion is an attempt to put planfulness into life with at least some possibility of influencing the results. Hence, prayer.

People, in their religious behavior gather together and jointly pray and it feels good to be one with the universe. There are protestations that morality comes from such and religious folk of all stripes insist they are more moral than others. And surely, good works are done in religion's name. Still, even a cursory glance at the evidence suggests that religion has been responsible for much of the ugliness in human history and surely so in daily life. Priests, rabbis and other paragons of virtue have behaved detestably and their misdeeds have been hidden by their coreligionists. Rumor had it that the resigned Pope wanted to gain immunity from prosecution because of the cover-ups of sexual malefactors. But, even in ordinary life what can we expect from the religious? In a newspaper report, we learn that those who strongly identify as Christians routinely stiff wait staff. Instead, they are more likely to leave good advice about reading certain sections of the bible or complaints that tithing takes less of their cash than tipping.

All the above is irritating and laden with hypocrisy. When has a rabbi denounced a fellow rabbi for nasty behavior? Or bishops? Or Wiccans? Like any other organization, they make sure to hide their malefactors.
Yet, the real problem is at the core of religion. Essentially, religious views about the universe (everything that has existed, existed or will exist) are polar opposites to materialism, and here I mean science. Both religion and science are ways of knowing and the religious claim to know what God wants of us; and such “knowledge” is inviolable. There is a devil. There are angels. If a religious expert tells us that God made marriage and that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman, that is a Truth not a suggestion.

Contrast such Truth with science. Scientists say that any of their theories can be profoundly in error; there is no Truth, only probabilities. Some of you may not know that if the Higgs boson had not been found, sub-atomic understandings could not be maintained.

This simple distinction affects every aspect of our lives. Religion and science persistently grind against each other; lack of evidence does not dismay the former and requires the latter to rethink their ideas.
I don't believe that religion should be outlawed; people have a right to their delusions. But, I think it incumbent on any society to challenge the absurdities religionists propose as universal rules.

People complain more about pigeons
Than they do about fanciful religions
The latter they enjoy
Because it gives them a ploy
To manipulate our civic decisions.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

 GUNS: An Astonishing Passion.  blog

A few days ago, an apparently solid citizen sent ugly, vicious, derogatory Emails to a black state legislator because he opposed her desire to put some controls on guns. And, if an anonymous letter can be ascribed to him, he seemingly sent threatening statements along with more vituperation. His attorney accused the legislator of using the incident to further her political career and suggested that as a public official, she should have a “thicker skin.” Did he mean skin thick enough to keep bullets away from vital organs?

What struck me is that such ugliness was perpetrated by a seemingly ordinary citizen who (likely) owns a weapon . . . and one might assume he would easily pass a mental health check.

So, what’s going on here? Whence the passion for protecting guns from a perceived legislative onslaught, as if the anti-gun crowd is eager to confiscate all such as soon as possible. Humbug! These passionate folks are frightened lest a “slippery slope,” which they perceive is part of a nefarious plot to deprive them of their weapons, start the slide to confiscation.

Their arguments are two-fold. First, they insist that the second amendment was put into place so that if our government becomes tyrannical, armed citizens could revolt and take back their freedoms. The second is the absolute right of self-protection, the image offered is a woman shooting an intruder who threatens her family. And, of course, she needs an assault rifle with a 30-bullet magazine.

The arguments speak of fear, fear of tyranny and fear of physical threats, and both are based on a profound sense of helplessness. Without guns in their hands, without the power of guns, they are terrified of personal disaster. And, the truth about us humans is that often our fears are transformed into anger. Both are a consequence of perceived existential threats; fear leads to avoidance and anger leads to violence. It is no surprise that the passionate gun owners talk tough about what would happen if an attempt is made to confiscate their source of power. They want to secede from the union; and, one way of the other, they threaten to fight.

Guns have become a symbol of both the hidden fear and its fraternal twin, public anger. Any shift leads straight to the imputed slippery slope so any change must be avoided. And, the constitution is on their side and does not permit the slightest variation.

Yet, there are constitutionally protected behaviors which have been somewhat curtailed. For example, the Supreme Court has said that a woman as a right to abortion, yet many states have concocted ways to make getting one more difficult and/or more uncomfortable of achievement. Or, we have constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech, yet we cannot shout “fire” in a crowded area, nor can we libel or slander others. The gentleman who denigrated the state legislator claims freedom of speech; it will be interesting to see how that plays out. But, the passionate gun lovers cannot even accept the notion of universal background checks. Do they really mean that mentally disturbed people should be eligible to own guns? Gack!

Even though the above curtailments and more exist, the passionate gun owners and constitution lovers do not go into rages and make absurd threats. Within varying degrees, there seems to be a general consensus that unrestricted access to abortion would not serve society well, nor would certain kinds of speech. But, the passionate gun owners, for example the NRA, insist that the only way to ensure the safety of our schoolchildren is more guns. Women should have assault rifles to fight off predators. Citizens should pack weapons so as to be prepared to fight off criminals and we are back to the horse opera, the oater, the movie western, the fantasy that good men shot it out with the bad guys and posses went into the badlands to capture the bad guys.

John Wayne or at least the characters he played epitomized a man who could out think malefactors, but if that didn’t work, he could blow holes in them in righteous indignation for their rotten behavior. He stalked through movies, the apparent essence of a good man with his ethics and morality, who was nice to children and courteous to women, the aged and the enfeebled. He had the power, and though a peace lover he was ready to slaughter the desperados who disturbed his peace. But, that tradition goes back to well before the movies. During the late eighteen hundreds, dime store novelists produced stories about gun-toting heroes who shot it out with Indians and bad guys. Such an idealized version of manhood dominated American thinking.

Is it not clear that such vision of manhood is well out-dated, that it no longer pertains to our industrialized lives? More guns to solve the problem would most likely make the situation worse. What to do? There is no quick solution, but a transformation of the ideals of manhood will ultimately reduce the problem. Imagine a society in which there are no assault rifles, guns and ammunition are registered, dangerous people cannot have access to weapons and magazines can hold a limited number of cartridges. That’s where we should be headed!

Some insist upon owning assault rifles
As if can’t having one in our lives truly stifles
Our freedom to shoot
Oh, to hell with fun shooting such rifles.