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Once again while eating a Subways, when discarding my trash, I found an issue of “Signs of the Times” by the Seventh Day Adventists.   And being the naturally curious sort of atheist that I am, I picked it up to look at.  And, as before, I found something to blog about.  The nature of Hell.

In an article titled “Hell, it’s not what you may think” the writer, Mark Bullock, provides Bible based reasons for not believing that Hell is a place where the damned suffer eternally.   Instead, Hell totally burns away the damned so that instead of suffering eternally they are rapidly eternally gone.

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At first glance I thought this an improvement.  And, to his credit, Mr. Bullock has a problem with the idea of being eternally happy when others are suffering eternally.  However, on looking closer there are several assumptions made which I still find bothersome.

“”The wicked….will be destroyed forever” (Psalm 92:7).  The punishment of the wicked is a destruction  that will not be everlasting.

How hot hell?  Hot enough to devour the wicked (revelation 20:9)… Hot enough to cleanse the earth and melt the very elements (2 Peter 3:10,12).  Happily, after the fire has burned up all evil and every evil thing, then those who love God may confidently anticipate that “in keeping with is promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a hew earth, where righteousness dwell’ (2 Peter 3:13)”.  Page 36

Or this bit here which creates a slightly different though related problem.

“Unrepentant people would not be happy in heaven, for they objected to the principles that govern His Kingdom in this life.  If they are not comfortable in the company of good people here, they would certainly be uncomfortable with them in heaven.” Page 34

So, while he at least gets rid of the cruel idea of an eternity of pain and torment for finite crimes, there are still three issues with this idea of hell.  First, there is the more minor issue of why burn at all –why not just never waken after dying?   I am though going to focus on the two more major problems with this idea of hell –who is considered righteous and who wicked and also who would be happy in paradise and who not.

It is the “wicked” who will be “destroyed” and “devoured”.  It will burn up every “evil thing” and “cleanse the earth” and create a place where “righteousness dwell”.

So, assuming, as is reasonable given the source, that those who go to heaven and are not burned are those who believe in Christ and God, then those that go hell for a quick burn are those who do not share this belief.  There is a problem here  though.

Consider two people.  Both give their time and money to various causes and charities, both care for their family and raise their children so that the children become good adults, both are never arrested, both are honest, both help others in need such as a person changing a flat tire, both  vote in almost every election, both do well at work, both harm few and help many more.  Yet one of these two will be burned away and be described as wicked and evil, while the other will be called righteous and go to heaven.

Huh?

If there were some way that this belief in Christ manifested itself consistently into believers acting better than those who differ in life, then you might have cause for such a distinction.  But, that is not the case.  The person who lived what we would call a good life and believes just right goes to heaven.  But their neighbor who has led an equally good life but believes differently burns briefly in hell.

Then there is this part, “Unrepentant people would not be happy in heaven, for they objected to the principles that govern His Kingdom in this life.  If they are not comfortable in the company of good people here, they would certainly be uncomfortable with them in heaven.”

Really?  I live and work with believers of this writers variety every day, and am most comfortable with them.  And, as I mentioned, we share most things in common in regards to behavior.  Truth to tell, I think I could be very happy in heaven.

Again there is an unstated and invisible assumption that somehow by believing the right way a person becomes a good person, values the good things, enjoys the good.  Whereas those who do not believe the correct way do not.

It reminds me of those who abuse the idea of worldview.  So often people talk about this worldview or that worldview and do so as if each worldview were totally separate and distinct.  The reality is that most worldviews have a great deal of overlap.  They confuse belief with behavior and ignore the commonalities that are more present than the differences.

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In other words, to truly believe this, one has to deny our common humanity.   And that is a problem.

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I was in the process of writing a blog about something else when I came across this bit of news and couldn’t resist.

Dennis Prager, founder of Prager University, has written a book showing that the Bible was written by God!

Wowsa.  The founder of a University has written a well  and thoroughly  researched book showing that God wrote the Bible!

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Never mind that his university has no brick and mortar buildings.  Nor any on-line courses.  Nor degrees. Nor certification.  No professors or teaching staff.  No required reading.  What is does have….ummm.  Oh yeah, it has a series of short videos narrated by various people on various subjects.   The ones I have watched have almost always contained serious mistakes and inaccuracies.

But, never mind.  I am sure that the book is of better quality than Prager’s university.

Now, I know that it is not really the thing to do to review a book solely based on what is being said about it.  But, this is from Fox News, so I am sure it must be right.

So, here is what  Fox said Prager said about his  book, The Rational Bible: Exodus.  Along with my commentary.

“The Bible is the “greatest book ever written,” according to Dennis Prager, a nationally syndicated conservative radio talk show host and writer…”

Well, technically, the Bible is a collection of books of varying types and styles.   Rather like a short story collection.

As for being the greatest, depends on your definition of greatest.  If you are talking about literary quality, that is debatable in regards to the Bible as a whole.  Now, there are certain books and passages that are indeed great.  And possibly the greatest.  But, those parts would have competition.  So, no cakewalk.

If you are talking about influence on the world and affecting world history, then you have a good case.  The Bible has been and still is highly influential.  However, the case could be made that the Qur’an is the greatest.  It too has had a rather sizeable impact on the world.  Of course, you could say that the Torah is the greatest since it predates both the Bible and the Qur’an and is the basis for both books.  Without the Torah neither book would exist.

So, there are definitely questions about this statement by Prager.

Next reported statement.  Or rather series of related statements.

“This is the first generation in human history … that is being raised godless.”

Considering that most people are Christian and are taught by their parents and relatives to believe in God, I think this is a great overstatement.  It also confuses schools being neutral, which involves being secular, with teaching that there is no God.  Not quite the same.  Further, I do not think many of us would like having God actually taught in the schools, not when it is not our god that is being taught.

“And the results I believe are the end of Western civilization as we know it.”

So Western civilization wasn’t done in by slavery, tyranny, basic enslavement of women, oppressive child labor, imperialism, and several other things.  But having a secular government that doesn’t teach god in school will do it iin.

Wowsa.

“People go to church or synagogue, they hear the Bible and most of them don’t know how to make heads or tails of it,” Prager said. “[Exodus] has the Ten Commandments and I am using reason alone to explain everything in there … [to] show how this is life transforming — that this was the source of wisdom in American for good reason,” he said.

Funny.  Those who wrote the Constittuion consulted a great many books to create this country. The Bible was not one of them.  In fact, the Constitution contradicts the Ten Commandments and is fundamentally in disagreement with it.  The freedom of religious belief and the requirement to have no other god before me don’t go too well together.  Roger Williams knew that.

But wait.  According to the headline of this Fox News piece Prager’s new book says that God wrote the Bible.  Where are his statements about that?  Oh, here it is.  At the end.

“The great way in which non-Jews are depicted in these five books and the negative way Jews are often, not always obviously… that is one of my many arguments for ultimately a divine author,” he said.

Wowsa again.  Might have to read this book again to see how he pulls that magic trick off.  The way non -Jews and Jews are depicted is evidence of a “divine author”.

Wowsa.

Don’t assume.  Assumptions make an ass out of you and me.

An old saying and one I have used a time or two. However, there is a problem with it.  It is impossible to live a life free of assumptions. Making assumptions is a constant in our lives –assuming that the person approaching the red light as you go through an intersection is going to stop, assuming your spouse is not going to slip you poison in your meal, assuming the person you are next to in the produce aisle of the grocery store is not going to pull out a knife and start stabbing you, assuming that gravity is going to work as it always has as you walk, assuming that you will wake up tomorrow and that the laws of nature are not going to suddenly change and what once worked no longer does.  Even science is based on assumptions.

So, instead of condemning all assumptions what we should be doing is taking a look at what constitutes a good assumption, a bad assumption, and how to use assumptions responsibly.

The first thing to realize is that there is one way both good and bad assumptions are the same.  Both can and will be wrong at times.  The difference here being that good assumptions will be wrong much less often than bad ones .

To illustrate how good and bad assumptions differ, I am going to use a real example from my own experience.  A person I know believes that I think all white conservatives are Christians.  So,why does he assume this?

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His primary piece of evidence is that I assumed that he was a Christian.  And I did, in that he is correct.

Now, he is also white and very, very conservative, two pieces of information I also knew.  From that, he assumed that I believed that all white conservatives are Christian.

However, I would point out that this was his assumption, that I was using his being white and his being conservative to conclude he was Christian.  It was a wrong assumption though.  Instead, this was my assumption process on this:

  • We live in the United States. Most Americans are Christian.  The last poll I saw had about 75% of Americans stating they were Christian.  Sixty two percent claim membership in a church organization.  Just from that alone, the odds favor those assuming that any particular American is Christian.
  • During our many conversations he expressed support for many positions held by conservative Christians. For example, a strong opposition to abortion. Other areas included a belief that the whole trans movement was ridiculous and wrong. Support for bakers who refuse to bake wedding cakes for gay couples.  And others.
  • This person believed in Intelligent Design. Again, a widely held belief by many conservative Christians.
  • Now, he also supports separation of church and state in the schools. But, I know of other conservative Christians who do the same.
  • In regards to abortion, gays and trans, and Intelligent Design, other religious groups also hold those same beliefs. But, I knew from our conversations that he was not Muslim and not an atheist. Which meant he was most likely either a conservative Christian or Jew.  And given the numbers, Christian was the most likely.

This is what I would call a good assumption.  Several accurate facts that work together to support that assumption; the first hallmark of good assumptions.  It was wrong though and he told me so (remember what I said above about how even good assumptions can be wrong).  When he told me he was not a Christian I changed my belief due to the new information.  I would say that although my assumption was wrong, I was not wrong to make it initially.

But this example also illustrates the responsible use of assumptions – being willing to change them when new information comes along.  This is another hallmark of good assumptions, the willingness to change them if new information comes along.

Now, with this person, I explained why I had thought he was a Christian.  Despite this, he did not change his assumption that I did so because he was a white conservative.  Instead, he introduced a second data point.

We had been discussing how child marriage is not just a Muslims thing, but happens here in the US too.  Among Christians. And is legal all too often.  I mentioned a state that had recently voted against banning child marriages.  I can’t remember which one other than it was a southern state – so, lets just say it was South Carolina.

He accused me of believing that I thought that the Christians did this because the representatives were white conservatives.  Yeah, I know. Kind of my reaction too.

Now,  I will admit it was an assumption that those voting against eliminating child marriage were Christians..  But it was based on the fact that:

  • This state is a very religious state, Christian religion being very strongly predominant.
  • I know that the vast majority of elected officials are Christian – both at the state and federal level.
  • From past history and my readings, I know that those who do not want a lower limit set on when a girl can marry tend to be both conservative and religious, including Christians. With this is the fact that of the religious groups supporting this, none has as much sway and power as the Christian groups.  .

The above seemed like the basis for a good assumption. However, when challenged, I dutifully went and looked at the religious affiliation of every state representative who voted against limiting the age of marriage.  This is the third trait of good assumptions, the willingness to check them out.  And this time, when I did, guess what?  My assumption was valid. They were all Christian.

So, this was the supporting evidence given by this person for thinking I believed all white conservatives are Christians.  The problem with his assumption are:

  • I never mentioned race at all in any of this, which makes his inclusion of white in this rather puzzling.
  • My basis for both believing this person a Christian and for believing that Christians voted against limiting the age of marriage were not based on them being conservative and white, but upon the facts that I already mentioned above.

In other words, the basis for this person’s assumption were not firmly grounded.  It was a poor assumption.

I went over this with him at the time.  And then I added the final fact showing that this assumption of his was wrong.  I have personally known and have read the writings of white conservative atheists.  I mentioned names of some of these, and even showed that there were white atheists who voted for Trump.  Given this, how could I believe all white conservatives are Christian when I know of white conservatives who are atheists, and have personally known some for literally decades?

Despite this, he persists in believing that I think all white conservatives are Christian.  A trademark of those who make poor assumptions, and then hold them poorly.  Irresponsibly even.

Wednesday, we were able to add another school shooting to the ever growing list of school shootings.  Wednesday, we were able to add another mass shooting to the ever growing list of mass shootings.

Wednesday’s child is full of woe.

However, increasingly, in America every day is becoming a Wednesday.  The number of mass shootings is increasing. The number of school shootings is increasing.  The number of dead children is quickly increasing.  The number of Americans dead, wounded, or mourning is quickly increasing.

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And so far, all we have gotten is thoughts and prayers.  There is a time and purpose for thoughts and prayers.  But, they are not enough to stem this bloody tide.  There needs to be policy and actions and laws too. But those seem in short supply, for many reasons.  Something that is not the purpose of this blog to explore.

In this blog I do not intend to present specific policies and actions.  I do not intend to wade into numbers and research.  I do not intend to provide a specific way forward.  While I do have some specific ideas in regards to policies and actions, and have some specific ideas on ways forward (none of them quick nor easy), I do not intend to present them here.

Instead, what I want  briefly present are a few  very broad ideas of what a true solution to our gun violence problem would have to include.

But, before doing that, I want to define what a solution to the gun problem is and is not.

First, it is not armed guards and metal detectors and training on what to do when the seemingly inevitable happens.  It is not passing out guns to all the teachers, all the students, all Americans to use for protection.  It is not good guys with guns. One of my nieces stated it very well when she wrote:

The issue is not the good guys with guns not being around, it’s the bad guys with guns posing a threat in the first place and our country’s failure to protect their subsequent victims by arming them.

A true solution is not reactive, as were all of the “solutions” I mentioned already. Instead, it is proactive. It strives to prevent the act from happening in the first place.

I guess I should now mention goals.  What is our goal here?  To have everyone living in fear and tension but protected somehow by guns and machinery and such?

Or is it to have every child be able to go to school without a nagging fear in their and their parents mind about whether they will come home again, alive and unscathed; to have families, couples, individuals, groups be able to go to restaurants, movies, and malls without a tinge of fear contaminating their enjoyment.

My goal is for the latter.

So, a solution to this problem needs to be proactive and to promote a sense of being able to live your life safely.

Now, for a reality caveat.  There is and will be no perfect solution. Perfection does not exist in human affairs. No matter how good or how thorough, there will still be some gun violence. However, if we reduce such violence by 80%, 90%, or more…well, that would be good indeed.  When our government first started studying car safety in the 1960s, they did not eliminate all car fatalities.  But, they greatly reduced it and made driving much safer now than it was 50 years ago. As a result many tens of  thousands of individuals are still enjoying their lives, and many more thousands of family and friends are visiting these living people instead of the cold earth of their graves.

Second reality check. There is no one solution.  Gun violence stems from a variety of causes and happens for a variety of reasons.  Instead of a single solution, there will need to be many changes, many “solutions”.  And that is the main purpose of this blog, to highlight, in broad stokes,  what areas need to be changed.

 

UNLEASH THE RESEARCH

Currently the CDC is hamstrung and effectively prohibited by Congress from conducting any research into gun violence, its causes and solutions.  For over 20 years Congress has kept any money from going to research into the causes of gun violence and possible solutions to such violence.

That must change.  If we want to quit spinning our wheels on this issue and to find new and real solutions, we need information.  Ignorance, in this case, literally kills.

 

UNLEASH OUR STARVED MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES 

Mental health is one of those things we love to give lip service to, but not money. It is usually one of those areas with the least amount of money allocated to it, but which, despite this, is still one of the first to feel cuts when the budget must be trimmed.

A caveat here though.  Most of the mass shooters were not mentally ill.  In fact, the great majority were not – for example, the Las Vegas shooter.  Also, the vast majority of mentally ill do not commit such acts of violence.  In fact, the great majority of persons who exhibit the exact same symptoms as the shooters  do not commit such acts.

However, this is still worth doing.  Further research and work may help us more accurately identify those at risk of engaging in mass shootings.  An even better goal though would be to create a system of mental health services where those who might have become so do not.

Consider vaccinations as an analogy. Even without a vaccination, not everyone would get sick.  Many would though. Yet with vaccinations most of those who would have become sick no longer will.

To make this a reality though is going to involve a great deal more money being spent in this area than there is now.  Money for the research necessary to understand better, both the conditions and its causes and its prevention.  Money to set up the structures and resources that can effectively deliver that knowledge in a timely manner.

In addition, the benefits resulting from the money spent on this research and for the resources to effectively use the findings of that research, would extend far beyond the effect it would have on reducing mass shootings and gun violence. It would improve the lives of millions and thereby help the nation.

 

UNLEASH OUT SOCIAL SERVICES 

We have too many cracks and gaping holes in our social services.  People do not get the resources and knowledge they need to deal effectively with what life has thrown at them.  Often this would work in tandem with the unleash mental health part of the solution.

The most recent school shooting in Florida is a good illustration of that.  Here is my one and only link in this blog, an article about how the shooter “escaped years of warning”.   It shows how the police and school and other services really had no way to effective deal with this young man.

This is something that happens all too frequently.  We should be looking at what can be developed and created to better serve our fellow citizens.  Again, like mental health, this would benefit not only individuals, but also our country as a whole.  But, it would cost money.

However, I strongly suspect that the costs of providing both better mental health services and better social services would, in the long term, not only pay for themselves but provide a net gain in terms of increased productivity, less crime, fewer people in jails and mental institutions, and so forth.  In other words, just as an industry will go into debt to purchase machinery  that it believes will result in better profits in the long term, so too should we consider the money spent for these two areas an investment in our human potential.  An investment that, truth to tell, even if it only benefited the individuals using those services and society, but not the economy, would still be well worth it.  However, as I said, I suspect that if done properly, this is not an either choice but an and choice.

A thought here too – new ideas will have to be found, created, and tried.  Some will work. Some will fail.  We must realize that failures are a part of the process and one of the ways in which we learn.  In other word, do not let the failure of one idea stop the exploration of others.  Or cause us to go back to the way we used to do things.   We already know how poorly those are working.

 

GUN CONTROL

Any solution to gun violence will have to include gun control.  In fact, I would imagine that this will be a large part of any such solution.  Let me now say though that gun control does not mean banning all or even most guns.

But it does mean creating better databases for background checks, and finding ways to make them more effective.

It does mean that it applies to all guns and all gun purchases.

It does mean that some guns may be banned (some already are), or that certain sizes of ammo clips, or types of ammo may be banned.

It does mean that other gun related items may have to have background checks, for example, ammunition.

It does mean all of these and more need a thorough look at and probably trial to see how well they work.

It does mean we do not give up when one law or approach does not work.  Instead, analyze why and see if only a modification is needed or is the whole idea bad.  As someone who has had to suffer through the installation and start up of new production equipment, and through the use of new computer programs, I know that initially there are always problems and issues.  Some of them major, all of them a major pain in the ass. However, to have stopped would have been a grave mistake in most cases, and after the issues had been worked out they proved themselves greatly beneficial.  We should not be making any grave mistakes of a similar nature here.

And let me quickly address the claims of many of those against all or most gun control laws that we already have hundreds or even thousands of laws on the books,  just enforce them.  The problem is that they are all local and inconsistent.  A city or state may have strong gun control laws, yet if their neighbors do not then they are not going to be effective.  Just drive across the city limits or state lines, buy your gun, and come back home again.   Instead of working together, these laws often work at cross purposes.

 

CONCLUDING REMARKS COMPLETE WITH A WARNING

I do not know if this covers everything that would need to happen for an effective solution to our gun violence crisis.  I do know though that these are the minimum.  And I do know that for most of those items listed above, the benefits to the people of the United States and to the economic and social health of this nation would extend beyond just controlling gun violence more effectively.

However, we do need to be sensitive to individual rights and work to ensure that we do not violate them in the name of safety.

I know that many will interpret this solely in terms of the second amendment.   I freely acknowledge that the second amendment does include the right of individuals to own guns.  This, by the way, is a change in my previous position due to numerous debates and discussions and readings and research.  However, that same research that changed my opinion on whether the second amendment applies to the individual also convinced me that gun controls, including the banning of some, and gun registration, does not violate that second amendment.

Which is my long winded way of saying the rights that I am most concerned about are not the second amendment rights.  My concerns are for the personal rights of the individual.

The right of the individual to be different, unique, eccentric without being labelled and treated as mentally ill.  The right of those who are mentally ill to be fully informed and to give informed consent to all treatments, to not be abused, and to live their lives freely.  The right of the individual to appeal any and all decisions made in regards to them.

Newtown Commemorates One Month Anniversary Of Elementary School MassacreIMG_7319_1507149137045_67979013_ver1.0_900_675

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida Town Of Parkland In Mourning, After Shooting At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Kills 17

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Finally, it seems to me that the best memorial to the many lives lost and families shattered by gun violence are not flowers and candles, not poems and pictures, not services and statues, but seeing people live who might have died had we not changed how things are done.

In the beginning, humanity hunted, humanity gathered, and they did so in family groups.  These groups were the earliest and most basic human social structure.

As time advanced, these groups grew larger through natural processes at work even today.  This natural increase was furthered and quickened by humanity’s growing knowledge and technology which allowed them to die less often and live longer.  And to support more people.

lepenskivirart2Larger groups had several advantages. With more people, some could be spared to become craftsmen or tradesmen – pottery, weaving, knapping, trade, etc.  This benefited the now enlarged family group.  Another important benefit is that having more people meant that it was harder for other, often competing, family groups to force you to move from favorable locations.  Or take away your resources and access to needed and important minerals and water.  Or, to just wipe you out.

And, being bigger meant that if felt it necessary, you could do that to them!

However, as primarily a hunting and gathering society, there were limits to how large your group could grow.  But, then along came agriculture.  Suddenly, those limits were gone.

But, as with most advances, there were problems too. Now a society could grow larger, but family groups could only grow so far and so fast. However, several family groups working together could grow quite quickly and with fewer limits.

But, you knew there was going to be another but, there was another problem.  How to hold these different family groups together when one family group became upset and mad at another. After all, their primary loyalty had been and was to their family.  Family feuds back then were often deadly.

The answer – Religion.  Well, really, the answer was to create a new identity that E0702 KLENZE 9463transcended  family loyalties so  that even when family groups got pissed at each other the society stayed whole and the conflict was largely worked out within the new, larger society instead of tearing it apart.  But, an essential part of that identity was religion.

This was a religion grown from the beliefs of these family groups but organized and made bigger.  And then used to create a new identity and to not only resolve potentially societal suicidal disputes, but to provide a means and motive to redistribute resources (even though abused, a necessity too – for example, irrigation).

For the most part I do not think this was consciously done, although at times I am sure that aspects of it were. But, rather, this was a natural growth.  Also, I would imagine that the attempt to create this new unity with religion failed often and the nascent society fell apart. But, some succeeded and when they did, well they were bigger with all the benefits mentioned above.  Further, they were more organized and able to have people do things not related to just providing food – arts, trades, trading, soldiers, etc

Religion was a success.  And nothing else worked as well.   It is why you never find an early civilization in which religion was not an essential part of its structure.  It had to be for such structures to exist.

Nothing human is static.  We change and grow and react in response to the non-static world around us. This holds true for religion too.  Religion started to move beyond largely societal commands and strictures and assume a more and more moral aspect to it. Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad and others are aspects of this changing nature.

One other aspect of this use of religion as national identity: those who were not of the same religion were then not a part of us, and thus dangerous and suspicious.  Reading the history of England as it switched from Church of England to Catholic and back again is an interesting read and an illustration of this truth.  It is why I say it is not so much religion that is the cause of so much violence, but its wedding to the state.

Which brings us to the gradual divorce of that married couple, once joined as one.  As Religious-Affiliationhumanity was more able to easily travel to other countries with other beliefs, and as humanity became better able to communicate about those other peoples – the printing press being the biggest boost to that – people within countries started to question their beliefs.  Which was a threat to the state – as mentioned earlier.

This warfare and violence though was abhorred by many good men, including some very religious believers.  And the idea started and grew and was developed that religion and state should be divorced, and then kept separated in order to control and lessen the violence and hatred.  Interestingly enough, the earliest proponent of a complete separation of religion and state was a Puritan theologian and founder of the Baptist Church in America, Roger Williams (he also founded the state of Rhode Island with that principle in mind).

A couple of hundred of years later a country was born in which the state and church were explicitly separate and forbidden to join together.   Note, by state I mean government.  And that is not the same as a society and culture.

Now, this was such a good idea that over the next two hundred years (a bit over actually) this idea spread and became the norm, or at least given lip service.  Secular non-religious institutions also grew that provided the same functions that only religion used to provide – education, healthcare, providing for the poor, etc. Abulcasis-blistering

However, a bit over two hundred years is a very short period of time. I imagine the transition from family groups to cities with religions took considerably longer.  Which is why we still see the remnants of the older attitude of identifying the state with a specific religion rise up.  It is why Buddhists in Myanmar are persecuting and committing genocide upon Muslims there.   Or why Muslims in many Islamic countries do not allow conversions.  Or why religious people in communist and officially atheistic countries were persecuted (what is the issue here is the identification of one religious view with the state, no matter what that view might be).

And why we still see it rear its head here in the United States.

Immediately after 9/11, the city of Fort Worth decided to hold a grand meeting of city employees to allow a sense of grief to be shared and supported by our shared unity. However, this meeting or ceremony was decidedly Christian, complete with the police Chaplain giving a prayer in the name of Jesus Christ amen.

My wife, who is an atheist, and a Buddhist friend of hers  were left with a sense of betrayal, of being left out. Were they not Americans too?  Did they not feel shock and grieve?   Instead of unifying all Americans, it divided.

It was just after this that God Bless America became a traditional 7th inning stretch song at baseball games.   A way to provide unity and show you were a true blue American. My wife and I, as atheist, refused to sing it, and even refused to stand for it because it came to symbolize the United States as a Christian nation.

Last Thursday was the National Day of Prayer, itself a relic of the old religion as national identity. Many presidents in the past have worked to offset that by trying to include other faiths in these prayers.  But, it still is a relic of the old identifying of the state with one religious view. 170x170bb

More recently our government has been more and more influenced and pandering to one specific religious group. Towards that end, they are working to make it easier to use religion as a justification for discrimination and injustice

I mentioned culture and society earlier and how they are different than governments.  But, while they are different, they do influence it.  This is especially true in a democracy and cannot be any other way.  It creates a bit of tension at times a lot of tensions at others, and it provides a challenge in regards to politicians and government workers at times.  For the most part though, the government has managed to stay secular and maintain that wall of separation. However, I believe that we are now undergoing one of those times when that wall will be attacked, and will be cracked.  Not destroyed, but cracked.

What this shows though is that the replacement of religion as a glue holding people together, as a way of providing a national identity and unity still exists and is still a powerful force.  However the difference between today and the past is that the population is diverse whereas in the past is was largely homogeneous.  That means instead providing a national identity and unifying us, it provides an identity for some and serves to divide us.

I do not think that religion will ever disappear (after all, the family has not disappeared, that primal beginning of all human societies) – nor should that be our goal (very far from it). But, I do think that our secular government with its secular institutions needs to be protected.  It is a necessity for the continued growth of a more peaceful and just world.

Recently I have noticed something that various disparate groups have in common:  climate change deniers, Biblical literalists, creationists, Constitutional literalists,  and most recently, Trump supporting conspiracy theorists.

While I am sure that they may share many traits in common, the one that I am looking at now is their belief that there is a plain and simple way to read words, even words grouped together in sentences and paragraphs and pages.  That such meanings are obvious and that anyone who doesn’t see the plain and simple meaning is either blinded by their own ideology or do not want to admit they are wrong.

going up or down

Going up or coming down?

This was brought home to me by my recent discussions with a Trump supporting conspiracy theorist.

Now, this person would and does say they are not a conspiracy theorist, that they have laid out the facts and timeline and are following clear and obvious facts; and that it is only my desire not to admit mistake or commitment to a certain political and social beliefs or hatred of Trump that prevent me from accepting what is obviously true.

The facts for the most part consist of words arranged in sentences, and statements reported in the press.

This person claims that the sentences’ meanings are obvious.  However, when I look at imagesthem, I see other possible explanations besides the one this person prefers. Of course, mine are wrong and just justifications and excuses and speculations while theirs are factual and actual.  I, obviously, do not want to admit the truth.

This person believes in literal meanings.  They believe it for the Constitution.  And for this.  They think that there is one and only one way to understand these words.  Never mind that they are often devoid of context that would help make the meaning surer and clearer.  And by context, not only the other words before and after, but also situational context.  All of that makes a difference.  But, not to Trumpian conspiracy theorists, creationists, biblical literalists, constitutional literalists and climate change deniers.

I must say though that this makes their arguments much easier for them.  Instead of trying to evaluate the situation and context of those words when challenged, they just say that it is obvious and no interpretation needed.  Just a plain and simple reading of the words.

Consider this though, that even when speaking to each other we often have to explain or say again in different ways; we misunderstand or don’t understand clearly what is being said.  There is at least a little back and forth, questions and answers.  And this is with the benefit of being able to hear tone of voice, see facial expressions and body language.  How much greater a problem is this lack of understanding with the written word?

Some things to consider for those who think that words do not need to be interpreted, that their meaning is plain to see, and that you are a fool blinded by ideology or ignorance to think differently.

The Bible is an atheistic book.  The Bible says so.

What is the one plain meaning of the word bark?  Or nails? Or Jam? Or stool?  Or….

Here’s a good one, showing how when words are woven into sentences and those sentences then applied to others and then to the world, there is not a simple and plain meaning.

“To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”

So then, what laws are necessary and proper for carrying out “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States”.  Plain and simple still?

Or what constitutes a religion, with all the Constitutional protections granted such things?

indexThe list goes on and on and on.  And it goes on because the idea that there is one plain and simple meaning that can be agreed upon by all reasonable persons is largely a myth.  There are few such things, especially when you move beyond simple descriptive statement such as red and blue (although even there are differences when the colors start to shade).

You can get agreement with most reasonable person on many things, but, usually there is discussion and sometimes debate beforehand.  You do not usually get it straight off the bat – unless of course, you limit the circle of those who are considered reasonable to your own.

Which, of course, brings up the question of what is a reasonable person?  Anybody care to provide their interpretation?

 

 

 

End Note Not Really Related to the Subject Above, But Thought I Would Toss In Because I Wanted To and Found It of Interest. 

The  Trumpian conspiracy theory is getting large, convoluted,  and very interesting.  It would be more interesting and less concerning if our President were not a member of it.

However, it now includes, from what I can figure without doing more in depth research, a story of President Obama hand picking his successor, Hillary, and, through cheating, getting her the Democratic nomination and then working to discredit and do in Trump – with the help of a “weaponized FBI and intelligence agencies” and most of the mainstream media.  Recently I saw where John McCain has now been included as part of this story.  Why it missed its timing in regards to do in Trump with the Russian story I am rather unsure of.  But, it includes a cast of President Obama (master manipulator and the most corrupt President in history), Hillary (no more need to said about “Killary”), Lynch, Comey, Bill Clinton, and many others, including McCain now apparently.

Recently a Facebook friend posted this article titled “Scientists Discover DNA Proving Original Native Americans Might Have Been White”, published in that stellar publication, The Citizen Press.

 

Well, the title definitely got my attention.

Especially since I felt fairly certain that the original natives to America were not white.  So, I read it. And in doing so found some other disturbing bits. Bits such as “…the descendants of whom went on to become the first white Europeans to settle the New World.”

Fortunately, among the disturbing bits, the article also provided a link to the actual research paper.   “Terminal Pleistocene Alaskan genome reveals first founding population of Native Americans” was published in the 11 January 2018 issue of Nature.  I imagine that The Citizen Press thought none of their readers would bother to check the original research.

 

Now, this gives just the abstract, unless, of course, you want to pay for a subscription.  Or do a pay for view.  However, even just reading the abstract I can see that the writer of the Citizen Press article had taken definite liberties with the original research.   I think he saw this bit here from the abstract.

 

Gene flow from ancient north Eurasians into all Native Americans took place 25–20 ka, with Ancient Beringians branching off around 22–18.1 ka

 

and thought to himself, “Hot Damn, Eurasians.  Europeans.  Hey, white guys colonized America!”   In fact, you can see what exactly what he was thinking since this article also did up a photo of a Native American who looks distinctly Scandinavian.  Probably Norwegian.

Screen-Shot-2018-01-12-at-2.11.27-PM

However, there are two problems with this idea.  First, the abstract itself makes it clear that things were much more complex than what this guy wants.

 

Using demographic modelling, we infer that the Ancient Beringian population and ancestors of other Native Americans descended from a single founding population that initially split from East Asians around 36 ± 1.5 ka, with gene flow persisting until around 25 ± 1.1 ka. Gene flow from ancient north Eurasians into all Native Americans took place 25–20 ka, with Ancient Beringians branching off around 22–18.1 ka.

 

In other words, you had the ancestors of both the East Asians and Native Americans being one before 36,000 years ago.  Then the one split into two groups.  Although at first it was not a complete split with some hanky panky going on between the two groups until about 25,000 years ago.  Now, about the time the hanky pankying between the East Asians and the ancestors of Native Americans stopped, a group from ancient north Eurasia came along and started intermingling with the soon to be Native Americans.  More hanky pankying occurred until around 22,000 to 18,000 years ago when the Beringians branched off and spread to the Americas.

 

So, were the ancient ancestors of Native Americans European?  Some, yes.  But, they were also Asian and something else that split from the Asian population 36,000 years ago.  From the way the article is written you would think that the Europeans blitzkreiged their way across Asia and into America.

 

The newly-discovered group, named “ancient Beringians,” appears to have split off from the Europeans around 20,000 years ago and made their way to North America via Alaska, when a frozen land bridge made the crossing from Europe and Asia into North America possible. The ancient Beringians then pushed south as the ice caps melted and mixed with other Native American populations, which is why many Native Americans today also exhibit physical characteristics more commonly associated with whites.

 

Notice how they use the word Beringians.  In the Nature article  Beringians are the result of East Asians, the group the split from them, and a group from Europe, with the mixing taking place in East Asia.  However, The Citizen Press article seems to move the ancient Beringians all the way over to Europe and have these brave European pioneers making their way to America, interbreeding with the  natives along the way.  Oh , what hardy Vikings these ancients must have been!

 

Now, they do provide a bit of lip service to what was actually said,and mangling it some in doing so, towards the end of this article.

 

They found that nearly half of the girl’s DNA came from the ancient north Europeans who lived in what is now Scandinavia. The rest of her genetic makeup was a roughly even mix of DNA now carried by the northern and southern Native Americans. Using evolutionary models, the researchers showed that the ancestors of the first Native Americans started to emerge as a distinct population about 35,000 years ago. About 25,000 years ago, this group mixed and bred with ancient north Asians in the region, the descendants of whom went on to become the first white Europeans to settle the New World.

 

That is mistake number one.  And this passage nicely leads us to mistake number two, white Europeans.

 

Mistake number two – supposing that these ancient European ancestors were white.  White skin did not evolve until about 8000 years ago, and the genes needed for white skin seems to have first appeared in the Middle East and around the Black Sea region.  In other words, Europeans at the time that a population of them migrated eastward were not white.  The whites hadn’t even come about yet, and when they did it would not be in Europe.

Even more disturbing though was this from The Citizen Press  article:

 

The findings which were published in the scientific journal Nature, are controversial and represent a growing body of evidence being discovered across the world that suggests the origins of the human race may have been Europe and not Africa as once believed.

 

My first reaction was “what the hell?”.  The Nature article says nothing about the origins of the human race, especially its origins being Europe and not Africa.  All the genetic and fossil evidence firmly points towards Africa being our original home, with groups of homo sapiens radiating out form there and having some intermingling with other homo species which had left Africa earlier.

 

So, no, hell no, this paper does not even hint that the “origins of the human race may have been Europe and not Africa”.   Unless, of course, you consider whites to be the only true human.

 

And that is what is most disturbing about this gross misuse of science.   I have a feeling that the writer of this article believes exactly that, and like creationists, will misuse scientific findings and discoveries to further this view.