05-22-16 1:04  •  Lost America

MelbaToast: Why are we so confused in this country? Have we ever faced a time when our country was so polarized? Have we ever faced enemies so dangerous? I’m angered to see that we live in a country where we have gone soft.

We cancel concerts and cost people jobs because we don’t agree with a law that the people of the state passed. We care more about protecting where someone can take a leak than we care about the safety of our children. OUR CHILDREN. We give out trophies to kids who come in 8th place. Eighth freaking place!

Enjoy your transgender bathrooms, people. We just lost America.

Did you look behind the couch?

MelbaToast: What....?

Sentient life has always been very confusing, even more so since we entered the global age and every problem is being presented to us all at once.

We are an infant intelligence, trying to learn how to do the right thing by trial and error. Each thing we figure out opens a door to new difficulties. It is a never-ending process.

We are still safer, more comfortable and freer than any humans have been in the history of history. I count my blessings every day to live in so wonderful a place at such an amazing time.

Cheer up! Reason is making huge inroads. Soon we will have the best possible tool to address all these issues. Then we can start bitching about the new problems that creates. It's all in good fun as long as we appreciate how very far we have come already.

05-21-16 4:20  •  Buddhism Stacks Up

Wendeyo: I took a comparative religion class this semester, and now that we are wrapping up, I just can't see how any one religion is more correct or close to the "truth" than the others.

I would say the closest thing to a "true religion" I have found is Zen Buddhism. The claims seem to correspond accurately to reality.

For example, the central claim is that suffering arises from attachment. This seems to be the case, as most people readily observe. Further claims are that suffering ceases when attachment ceases, and that a few tools of meditation and compassion help to guide action in ways that minimize suffering. This anyone can confirm, and I have certainly seen it working. The effect is so noticeable and pronounced that even studies show that Buddhism really works to do what it says it does, decrease suffering:

Scientists show: Buddhists really are happier

Buddhism as a whole is a big tent, and various sects do have some supernatural claims that cannot be shown to be true - reincarnation, boddhisattvas, etc. - but these are not at all important in Zen. Zen sticks to the real stuff which anyone could confirm is true and works. If you like the truth, there is nothing like claims which anyone can verify to make it happen.

You might also be interested in checking out Neoism. It is a complete religion which I invented myself to provide a religious framework based on the truth.

Wendeyo: Everyone still fights with each other over their view of reality.

Interestingly, Buddhism is a standout in this area. People and nations who identify as Buddhist are sometimes involved in conflict, of course, but very seldom about Buddhism. In the last 2,500 years, there have been few to no wars or persecutions in the name of Buddhism.

So I would not agree that no religion contains more truth than any other, or that all religions are equally violent. There is a range there.

Linda: Come off it, everyone knows you just don't like Christianity.

Tell me, what worries you so much about religions that teach people not to focus on self but on the greater good of humanity?

If you are referring to Christianity, I disagree that teaching salvation is not focused on self, or that it actually constitutes a "greater good" for humanity. Salvation could be entirely pretend and as far as anyone can tell it is a bunch of to do about nothing. There is no observable "good."

Linda: Some of those religions people like to hold as being peaceful such as Hinduism and Buddhism don't seem to have a problem with people living in poverty, and not being able to receive basic medical care or education.

If the implication is that Christians have more of a problem with those things then I disagree. In the United States at least, the more fundamentally Christian one is, the less likely one is to support public support services, public education and public healthcare. With our regressive politics, we can't even get a decent single-payer healthcare system like Canada and the more secular nations already have. Our majority "Christian nation" is not leading the charge in these areas.

U.S. health, poverty and education statistics rank among the lowest in the developed world, and the Christian voting blocks within this country are reliably voting against any improvement in the public systems.

By contrast, the largely Buddhist nation of Japan has universal healthcare, universal social support and full public education for all levels including university. Go figure.

Linda: But I guess when the main goal is about self, then why would they share their faith?

I disagree with the characterization of Christianity as about the good of humanity and Buddhism as about the self. Both are greatly concerned with self and with others, as most religions seem to be.

In Buddhism the First Fold on the Eightfold path is about practicing compassion and seeking to prevent and allieviate the suffering of others. Many of the other Folds are concerned with moral action - in all thoughts, words and deeds putting concern for the effect on others at the forefront. The goal is to treat others well, not because a "God" said so, but because it works better for them and for us to do so.

There is as much or more "do unto others" in Buddhism as there is in Christianity. What is different is the lack of focus on the unknown.

Linda: Not sure what form of Buddhism you are speaking of?

I am speaking of the main, central tenets of Buddhism, as attributed to The Buddha - The Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the Five Precepts, etc.

Linda: The goal of Buddhism is non attachment.

The goal of Buddhism is enlightenment. Non-attachment is one tool for this. Another is compassion.

Linda: In Buddhism doing good is no different then doing evil, both are viewed as forms of attachment.

Um, this is makes no sense. First of all, doing of some kind is required to live, it's not attachment. Secondly, Buddhism is not morally neutral, failing to differentiate between doing good and doing evil. Buddhism is, at its very heart, a moral system directly concerned with doing good and not doing ill.

The Folds in the 8-Fold Path are commonly called Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Livelihood, etc. You could call them Good Conduct, Good Livelihood. These are instructions to speak, act and even conduct ones career morally in all ways. The Five Precepts are a list of errors to avoid, such as stealing, sexual misconduct and causing physical harm to others. They are instructions to refrain from behaviors which are known pitfalls for causing suffering.

Even more than these lists, Buddhism represents a form of moral technology, to teach people the discernment to act morally even in complex circumstances without prior instruction.

Linda: Buddhism teaches suffering as being the fault of the individual.

Not at all, no more than being mute is the "fault" of a baby who has not yet learned to speak. Buddhism teaches that suffering is naturally occurring as a result of natural human mental activity. It teaches that suffering can be transcended by learning to change the mental activity. This has nothing to do with "fault." It is learning a more effective way to drive the mind.

Linda: If a person is born into poverty it's through their own fault.

There are a lot of supernatural ideas about reincarnation and karma mixed up in this and some Buddhist sects go in for that kind of thing. But, the Buddha himself did not posit reincarnation, gods, souls, or afterlives. He taught 'anatman' - meaning no soul.

In Buddhism, karma means effects have causes. I don't know what every Buddhist thinks, but the Buddhists I know see poverty as a confluence of socio-economic cause-and-effect factors having nothing to do with "fault" from "past lives."

Linda: So do you think the Buddha was a real person or just "made up" like Jesus?

What difference could it possibly make?

Linda: Are you really looking at this objectively? I am curious, what faults you see in Buddhism in comparison to Christianity?

The fault is unsubstantiated claims about the unknown, which exist in most of the traditional religions to lesser or greater degrees. Unsubstantiated claims exist in many areas of life, including business and politics, and they are problematic wherever they occur.

I am as critical of unsubstantiated claims in Buddhism, like "rebirth" and "boddhisattvas", as anywhere else. But there is a range. Unsubstantiated claims about the unknown are almost non-existent in Zen Buddhism, and relatively unimportant in many other kinds of Buddhism as well. On the other hand, unsubstantiated claims about the unknown are almost the entire content of the Abrahamic faiths.

Linda: I'm also amazed at those who are so judging of Christianity while being so accepting of other religions such as Buddhism.

What is amazing about it? Ideas have to be examined individually for their own merit. I wouldn't reject good ideas just because they happen to be part of a religion any more than I would accept bad ideas just because they happen to be.

05-22-16 12:04  •  Pursuit of Happiness

IdaKnow: What happened to the pursuit of happiness? Anymore the US economy, our whole society is based on the pursuit of material gain. There is spectacular wealth and excess in this country.

Yet we are the most heavily incarcerated, addicted society on Earth. We emphasize individual gain over social responsibility and we are generally miserable as a society.

We evolved in great scarcity. Accumulating resources was a biological imperative. The people who did it best survived. These were our forebearers.

It's hardly surprising that we continue to have strong accumulation behaviors, for we only discovered non-scarcity about five minutes ago, evolutionarily speaking.

IdaKnow: Does anyone have any suggestions as to how to change things as a society so that we stop looking at externals for our joy and start looking inside ourselves for the pursuit of happiness?

Post-scarcity will do it, but not quickly. In the meantime, the answer is reason, like always. Eventually what is and what works are so obvious they can't be ignored. Practically every moral advancement is no more than a discovery of this.

IdaKnow: What you say makes sense, regarding the accumulation of resources and people who did it best surviving. However, in the US economy (as an example), it has moved way beyond survival to simply the accumulation of....stuff, unnecessary stuff.

It has, but we are still ruled by the behaviors that helped us survive in the savanna. A few paltry hundred years of surplus is not nearly enough to rewrite the DNA on such an important skill. People are still programmed by the greed and avarice that kept our ancestors alive in scarcity. The accumulation of unnecessary stuff is what happens when biological programming meets technological surplus.

Which is not to say that we cannot override our biology. Our culture overrides our biology all the time, that's what it is for. But, even our culture was geared toward addressing scarcity for so long, it has not had time to catch up to non-scarcity. In particular, the idea that every person has to work really hard to get by, used to be very important, but is now creating all kinds of problems because it is far from true.

IdaKnow: And yet we are still miserable as a society. We are generally well fed, well watered, mostly sheltered and clothed (there are obvious exceptions even here in the US) yet, we live life full of obligations in pursuit of the almighty dollar and it is seemingly never enough.

I think self interest, greed, the idea that success is tied to material gain.....it has led us down a miserable path.

Self-interest is important, but it is only half of the equation. We are also social animals and the interest of the group is important too. Right now our culture is deeply steeped in self-interest. Part of this is because we had to pull very hard in this direction to win the Cold War, against a nation that was (ostensibly) pulling very hard toward collectivism. We pulled so hard for individualism against collectivism, we still need a little time to snap back.

But the truth is we have always needed both and that will not be changing soon. Especially with the success in social health that has been showing in the Nordic Model countries, the logic and utility of harnessing BOTH - our individual concerns, aka "capitalism," AND our collective concerns, aka "socialism" - will be unavoidable.

Ultimately we are veering toward a kind of Nash equilibrium, where everyone is looking out for themselves AND the group at sufficient levels. But, who knows what those levels are? The only way to find out is by trial and error.

That's where we are now, veering from side to side, figuring it out. Eventually we'll get it.

IdaKnow: Do you think its possible as a society to provide/produce/create/grow/build/work at providing the essentials for survival while being able to pursue intrinsic happiness or are those two opposing needs?

Think "Star Trek." We can imagine what that would be like. We've almost got it.

05-16-16 5:24  •  Pretty Big Problem

Momto9smiths: And since you think He is a myth, why do you care?

What people think matters.

Momto9smiths: Well, I don't believe He is a myth. I believe this whole world thing is His gig, and therefore, I care greatly about what He wants and expects.

That is a pretty big problem. If you are relying on belief and hearsay, there is nothing that can be checked.

MyMy: The Christian God is a vengeful, murdering psychopath.

Momto9smiths: MyMy, what are you so angry about!?

Well *I'm* not angry, I'm always very nice. Why don't you talk to me instead?

Momto9smiths: MyMy, I'm wondering why you even bother with the religious posts; seems like an exercise in frustration.

I can tell you why I participate in discussion of religion. I am trying to find a way to communicate about important topics. As I said, what people think matters. It effects how they vote, how they conduct their lives, what they understand about cause and effect and what kind of solutions they are willing to consider. It seriously affects what timescales people think in and what they consider the future to be.

Those things matter to how we conduct our business now and going forward. There is no chance of getting anywhere near the same page if people are not willing to discuss it. Are you?

Momto9smiths: MyMy, I know you really do believe in God, you wouldn't be having hysterical tantrums and name-calling if you didn't. You can't even have a civil discussion.

And yet for some reason that is the conversation you prefer to have, ignoring me completely.

Momto9smiths: MyMy, stop howling and spitting and think about WHY God acts like He does. It is always because of sin!

Why do only Christians know all this about God? Why didn't He explain this to the Hindus? Does He have a different system for them?

Momto9smiths: Oh, hello RaverLady. God had to start somewhere, I guess.

Why did He start by giving the Vedas to the people in India?

Momto9smiths: No, Jesus' followers were given the Great Commission, to go and tell the world... some listen, some don't.

Are Hindus bad listeners by birth or do they learn it in their culture?

Momto9smiths: No clue... interesting question though, wish I knew someone in the Hindu community to ask.

Do you know any Jewish people? Are they as bad listeners as Hindus?

Momto9smiths: If I were Jewish or Hindu, your attempts at humor would really be ticking me off about now... just sayin'.

The last thing I find claims of exclusive salvation to be is funny.

What do Christians tell themselves about this? If Christianity is true, how can good people be Hindu, or Jewish, or anything else?

Momto9smiths: Exactly right... salvation (or lack thereof) is not a funny subject at all, which is why your attempts at humor are falling rather flat. Discuss seriously, or not at all; we can make lame jokes about lots of things, but not this.

The fact that you keep blowing off my questions as jokes is very disturbing. I am not attempting to be funny or make jokes. I am attempting to find out what the Christian explanation is for why there are good people who are Hindu. Is it because they just "won't listen?"

Momto9smiths: Wow, I am really sorry! Since this is actually a quest for information, I will treat it as such!

To answer your question, God's view of what a "good" person looks like, and ours, is very different. No person is pure or perfect enough to be in the presence of God... []

...that's the Christian gospel in a nutshell. Neither good Hindus nor good Christians are good enough; we all require an intercessor.

I understand, but that is not what I am asking. How is it that you are able to tell that Christianity is correct, but Hindus are not able to tell that Hinduism is not correct?

Momto9smiths: I answered what you asked, God looks at "good" differently than we do.

This does not explain why good people are Hindu. I don't mean supernaturally good, pure, perfect, or any of that. I just mean ordinary good people like you. My question was, why would an ordinary good person, who cares about doing the right thing, choose a religion that is wrong?

Momto9smiths: As for your next question, about how I can know Christianity is correct, and Hinduism is not:

Can't, at least not in the way you're asking.

Well then, the actual answer to why a good person would choose a religion that's wrong is, they are not checking. But, neither are you. So you have no more reason to think your supernatural claims are accurate than they do.

Momto9smiths: However, I can tell you that those who seek, find.

Funny how what people find is almost always dictated by continent.

Momto9smiths: No proof whatsoever. Can't test it in the lab, can't run an experiment... in both cases, our beliefs are based on faith alone, and in all honesty, neither of us will factually know until we die, what the whole story is really about.

How is that a good system?

Momto9smiths: As to why 'good' people choose the wrong religion, first of all, what we call 'good' is subjective.

Then please don't worry about it. That is really tangential to the question.

The actual question is, why would a person choose a religion that is wrong?

The answer is, it's not because they are evil, stupid, etc. It's because they are not checking.

Momto9smiths: They may not have checked, but I have.

If that was the case, that would make them a lot lamer than you. So I can't agree. Why would people in other religions be different from you?

The fact is, there are Hindus and Muslims and Jews who also do lots of research, etc. They find lots of information which affirms their faith, too, just as you do.

However, that is NOT what I mean when I say checking. I am talking about looking at reality to see what actually is occurring, and comparing it to the statements made about it to see how accurately they correspond.

This isn't checking to see what people said. People can say anything. It is checking to see what is actually the case.

What you found when you checked what is actually this case is this:

"...how I can know Christianity is correct, and Hinduism is not: Can't, at least not in the way you're asking."

"No proof whatsoever. Can't test it in the lab, can't run an experiment... in both cases, our beliefs are based on faith alone, and in all honesty, neither of us will factually know until we die, what the whole story is really about."

"Never said I was right."

I really appreciate your honesty here, and I agree with you. This is what everyone finds when they check reality. They find there is nothing to see that shows, nothing but words, spoken by humans, and a choice to believe these human words or those human words.

Momto9smiths: Christianity is the only religion that makes sense based on the world as I experience it.

People in other religions say exactly the same thing about their religions.

Momto9smiths: For example, nothing else but the concept of original sin explains why we are as bad as we are, and why we aren't getting better.

Well, any Hindu person could tell you that from their perspective, nothing but the law of karma really explains it. They could support it with logically relevant examples, and quote chapter and verse of their scripture to back it up, too. There is nothing in Christian apologetics that isn't done exactly the same way in other religions.

However, there is really no need to bother with any supernatural explanations at all. Why we are how we are has a readily understandable natural explanation. We appear to be biological creatures who learn by trial and error and have evolved behaviors which were very beneficial to small bands scraping out a living and competing with others in great scarcity on the savanna. Some behaviors which were very adaptive twenty thousand or a million years ago are maladaptive at our current level, but biological changes take place much more slowly than cultural changes, so our biology has yet to catch up with our discoveries.

This is where the natural explanation allows better accuracy, because the fact is that we ARE getting better, amazingly so, all the time. Our form of learning and culture is based on error-correction, and so as we learn and see what works and what doesn't, we are able to radically change our culture to produce better-working behavior. Once we emerged from the Dark Ages, we quickly used our new systems of reason to establish democracy, abstract trade, revolutionize industry, end slavery, enfranchise women, empower workers, burgeon the middle class, establish civil rights, institutionally protect children and end marriage discrimination. Obviously we haven't addressed every problem - yet - but that's still a lot of moral progress in just a paltry few hundred years!

Martin Luther King, Jr. said that the moral arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice. The reason for gradual and continuing improvement is error correction as we go.

Re: the wrong guess=eternal damnation system

How is that a good system?

Momto9smiths: My input on the design was not solicited, and whether I think it's good or not is irrelevant.

No one thinks it is a good system, not even Christians. However they are "stuck" with it because it is part of the story told by a tiny group of humans from thousands of years ago which they adopted.

You get to choose what story to have faith in. You are choosing the small-minded, tribal ingroup story of exclusive salvation to believe. You could pick something nicer.

Momto9smiths: I'm not happy with gravity at times, either, but it is what it is, and I can either go with it or spend a lot of time and energy fighting the inevitable, without changing the outcome.

There is no reason to think "what it is" is what you are saying it is, and because of that "going with it" anyway is not working.

Do you remember way back at the beginning of this discussion when I said there was a big problem? This is part of why. You are resigned to a bad belief which you admit you are not happy with and have no evidence for and which can't be verified.

Multiply that by the number of conflicting, unverifiable beliefs of other religions, each with no form of error correction, none of which can be reconciled with observable reality, and you have a recipe for human conflict and misunderstanding and turmoil which will cause strife and suffering forever, until we address it.

You admit you really don't know any more about it than any other human being. That at least is brave, honest and true. Why not stop there?

Hey Momto, great to see you again! So glad for the chance to look more deeply into these points.

Momto9smiths: Actually, it was you that inferred that neither one of us is checking.

Believers are not doing what I meant by checking, which is looking at reality and comparing the descriptions to see how accurately they correspond and then basing conclusions on the correspondence.

Momto9smiths: Speaking for myself, not true at all.

Your observations are the same as everyones, that none of the supernatural claims of religion can be verified. However you are not basing your conclusions on these observations.

Momto9smiths: Remember this from my last post, when you erroneously said people tend to find their truth on their own continent?

I said what they find is determined mostly by continent, meaning that people overwhelmingly choose the religion that is practiced locally and taught by their parents. People who seek are NOT just finding Christianity, they are finding a variety of things, mostly depending on where they are.

Momto9smiths: China is estimated to become the largest Christian nation on earth in the next 15 years...doesn't make any sense, does it? And yet.... it's happening.

Islam is blowing it out as the world's fastest growing religion, projected to leap from 1.6 billion to 2.76 billion by 2050. That makes even less sense, and it's happening even more. Does that mean Islam is even truer? Christianity is on the rise in China, but in decline in the U.S. Does that mean it's truer over there than here?

The Abrahamic Faiths have some catchy ideas, no doubt. However, catchiness doesn't lend them a shred of veracity.

Momto9smiths: We are "getting better" technologically, not behaviorally. Yes, we certainly have developed lots of new toys, but moral progress? No. Not seeing it.

I'm sorry you can't see it, because the moral advancement we have made in in our behavior as a country is enough to bring a tear to my eye, in awe at what humans working together can accomplish. Giving blacks equal rights was a huge moral advancement, giving women the vote was a huge moral advancement, even establishing democracy in the first place was a step in a far better direction for human well-being than anything which came before.

Our modern behavior of legally regarding others as equals means we all treat each other that much more equally, that much more morally, than we would be doing otherwise. It's a shame you can't appreciate such astounding moral progress because it is a human triumph.

Momto9smiths: ...look at the behavior on CM!

Individuals are still running on the biological brains we inherited from the savanna, remember? But collectively, as a culture, we can error-correct much faster, and we are error-correcting at accelerating rates as our knowledge and systems improve.

The point is, there is no need to invoke the supernatural to explain any of it. We make mistakes because we have to acquire all knowledge by learning, but we can and do accumulate learning and improve our behavior. It's not magically bad, requiring a magical fix; it's just the natural result of being a biological being.

Momto9smiths: As for picking something "nicer" to believe, again with the subjective terms! Nicer by whose standards?

Start with your own. Is exclusive salvation truly the nicest afterlife outcome you can possibly imagine? If so, perhaps you should stretch a bit.

Momto9smiths: What if the story I believe turns out to be the right story? I admit I can't prove it is, but you can't prove it isn't. What if it is like gravity -- real, unchangeable, and inevitable? What if you are expending a whole lot of energy fighting against the tide, or the wind, that you cannot change?

What if the story the ancient Greeks believed turns out to be the right story? You can't prove it's not. What if your need to be buried with coins for the Ferryman, so you won't be left on the wrong side of the River Styx, is real, unchangable, inevitable? What if your concerns about the Christian afterlife are expending a whole lot of energy fighting against the tide, or the wind, that you cannot change?

So...are you now making arrangements to be buried with coins for the Ferryman? I mean, just in case?

Insert next religion's afterlife specs, rinse and repeat.

Momto9smiths: It's obviously not your thing, but It's working for me, and for a lot of other people.

We invented religion to fill important human needs, so of course having a religion does work for people to fill those needs. However, what is not working is the system of deciding what is the case by what people said a long time ago. In order to keep believing the things they thought, we have to dismiss reason, the system that actually works to get accuracy. When our society spurns reason that is your loss as much as anyone's.

The greatest threats to humanity right now all involve a lack of widespread understanding of how fundamental systems like biology, economies and climate work. People need reason, or accurate conclusion by observation of reality, more than we have ever needed anything. Conclusion by authority is not working because not only are the conclusions not accurate, but they also have no system for error-correction.

We are long overdue to stop emulating prehistoric tribesmen, and start respecting and using the most powerful tool we have to increase our understanding.

Momto9smiths: I am not at all unhappy with my beliefs;

I meant specifically the Christian doctrine of exclusive salvation, which you compared to gravity, as inevitable even though you are "not happy with it at times."

I am saying that since there is no reason to think it's true, it is not like gravity. If you don't like it, you can change it. Lots of people do, even Christians - look at the Unitarian Universalists, who have at least upgraded to Universal Salvation.

Thanks again for sharing this important discussion with me Momto9smiths!

05-20-16 6:44  •  Those Bailouts

Cora: Now, the Democrats are trying to take credit for "saving" the economy that Bush crashed. But how did they save it? Bailouts!

You do realize there are many, many people who didn't and still don't agree with the auto bailouts, or the bank bailouts, or any bailouts?

Generalizing about "bailouts" is an over-simplification. I disagree with bailouts on general principals, and I'm no fan of the auto industry, and yet I still understand that there are emergencies when the undesirable becomes necessary.

I have looked into the details of the bank bailouts and the auto bailout and, in the emergency context of the financial crisis of 2008, they were morally - and fiscally - justified. Failing to act would have resulted in real-world suffering and calamity for billions as the global economy spiralled into collapse. Acting decisively to maintain the underpinnings of civilization was a good decision. And it worked. So I think they should celebrate it.

What we must reject is to doing further bailouts. It can't become SOP, or whenever financiers gamble, everybody will lose. Preventing bailouts can be done, and has been done, by regulating the kind of speculative financial shenanigans that result in "too big to fail" private institutions in the first place.

Since this kind of regulation is part of the Democratic platform, I think they can celebrate the effectiveness of collective effort to save the global economy in a crisis without endorsing "bailouts" generally.

05-13-16 10:41  •  True Confidence

Tara: How much confidence can we have in scriptural accounts of Christ? Plenty! There were A TON of eye witnesses to the events.

Around AD 55, the apostle Paul wrote that the resurrected Christ had been seen by Peter, the 12 apostles, more than 500 people (many of whom were still alive at the time of his writing), James, and himself (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).

One guy reporting what 500 people or 600 people or 60,000 people saw is not impressive. That one guy could have been lying about it.

Tara: It was not just one man's word, it was many and some were not even followers of Jesus that he appeared before and spoke with. During the time Paul wrote this NOT ONE disputed the existence of Jesus.

Paul wrote this. He is one man. It is his word. It is one man's word.

Tara: Do you realize that if each of those 500 people were to testify for only six minutes, including cross-examination, you would have an amazing 50 hours of firsthand testimony?

Do you realize that this is completely meaningless? The veracity of testimony has never been measured in length.

The point about all this "eye witness testemony" is that it is beside the point.

If you wanted to know if Newton was right when he said that an object falls at 32'/sec^ - minus drag, you don't try to find 500 eye witness accounts of him saying it. What good would that do? He said it, so what? People can say anything.

If you want to find out if he was right, you don't look at what people said. You look at what actually happens. You do it yourself. You can take an object up high and watch how it falls and you can work out every single thing about it on your own. You can personally verify, not that he said it, but that he was right.

It doesn't matter who said it, how many times. What matters is if it was right.

I cannot find one tiny shred of any kind of evidence that Christianity is right. And I have really looked. If it was right there would be something.

Unless I can personally verify that Christianity is right I have no reason to think it is.

But what really intrigues me, and makes me wonder, is why other people are willing to accept it without that.

Tara: Well you see, the thing is, you must FIRST have faith that He is real before you will see the evidence. That's all.

I am not debating whether God is real or not, and I never have been. I am not concerned with the realness of God. I am not an atheist.

I am not talking about evidence that God exists. I am talking about evidence that Christianity is true.

Tara: Like, when our plumbing was broken and we called all over town and we could not afford to have anyone come out. I prayed to God, please, help us. Then, a neighbor we didn't even know saw all our wet rugs and recommended his brother, a plumber on the side who did a great job at a price we could afford!

I truly believe that God intervened in this situation. And he heard my prayer. That's physical proof to me.

Well, it's not physical proof, but whatever. It might be proof of something. My concern is that it is not proof of what I'm talking about, that, say, hell exists and that non-Christians go there, etc. Maybe it was the Powers That Be personally intervening with your plumbing. It would still not prove that Christianity is right.

Donna: Of course I can't *prove* it's true. I don't think anyone can.

Then why think it?

Donna: What do you mean?

If neither you nor any else can demonstrate any reason for believing this is true then why do you think it is true?

Donna: I just do. Some people get it, some people don't.

Why do you "get it"? What is different about you? Smarter?

Donna: I don't know why I and many others "get it" and others don't. I'm not any smarter, any more special or any more anything than any one else.

Then how could your claim that "you get it" and "I don't" be true? If you have no idea what is happening, or why it happens, or how it works, if you have no understanding of the factors involved, then how can you claim to "get it" ?

Donna: I don't get why people are atheists.

That is very different. I asked atheists why they think what they think too. They didn't say, "We don't have any reason to believe this that we can explain. We can just tell. We just get it and you don't."

They explained why they think what they think. They backed it up with sound reasoning and showed how the laws of the universe are in utter alignment with what they propose. They used mountains of provable facts and physical evidence to contradict religious posits. It was perfectly explainable.

Donna: You, otoh, obviously "get" atheism.

I don't just get it. I am not even an atheist, but I now understand exactly what they are saying. I "get it" because I found out what it was until I understood. It was easy to understand. It was readily explainable.

Donna: I don't.

If you were to learn about it, there is nothing that you would not be able to "get".

Donna: I don't know why I and many others "get" Christianity and others don't.

There is at least one possible explaination. I think it is possible that you don't "get it" as well as you think you do. You have no way to demonstrate that you get it. If you cannot explain any part of it in any way that could ever help someone else to understand or verify it, your claim that you actually "get it" is suspect.

Donna: What makes you think I have no idea and no understanding?

Because you said that you cannot explain it and nobody can explain it. How can you claim to understand it if you cannot explain it?

Donna: Are you insinuating that I lack the proper intelligence?

No, I am specifically saying that you cannot demonstrate that you "get it." Your claim that you "get it" is as empty as your claim that there is something there to get. If you can't show that you get it there is no reason to believe that you actually do.

Donna: Until someone can show me hard-core evidence that He is a fake, a fairy-tale, a myth, then I will continue to believe in Him.

Do you need hard-core evidence that the Tooth Fairy is a fake, a fairy-tale, a myth, before you stop believing in her? Do you need hard-core evidence that Ganesha and Krishna are myths to stop believing in them? Or do you already not believe in them?

Do you understand the logical fallacy of proving a negative?

Donna: Oh, I know what atheists believe and I can see why they believe what they do but I still don't 'get it'. Not like I get Christianity.

What is there not to get?

Donna: You said, "If I were to learn about it..." About what? Evolution? The Big Bang Theory? Atheists? Yes, I know all about those.

What is there not to get about them?

Donna: Plenty of people are actually able to understand what I mean when I talk about Christianity.

If they cannot explain or describe it and you cannot explain or describe it, how do you know they really get it? Just because they say they do? Their claims are as suspect as yours.

Donna: It's only those that don't get it that have a problem.

You are the one making a claim. Unless you can show that there is something actually there, which they are just "not getting", then your claim that they are the ones with the problem is as suspect as your previous claims.

Tara: Right! You are lacking the comprehension of Jesus and very easily i'm not!

That's easy to say but repeating it doesn't make it true. You cannot show it.

Tara: I do comprehend him and he does dwell in me!

But since you can not explain how that is the case, or demonstrate it, or show evidence that this is in fact true, or back it up with any kind of support, how are we supposed to tell the difference between you, the comprehending, and someone who is just making shit up and talking out their ass?

Tara: You WILL find this to be true and you will remember everything that was ever told to you by believers in Christ! I PROMISE you that!

Future promises don't mean much. I am here now.

Tara: Right, but one day you will be there then.

So you say.

Tara: well, actually.........that's what God says.

Second verse, same as the first. :-)

Tara, I know we do not see eye to eye on this, but as always, I appreciate the exchange, thank you.

PearlJammer: Wow. Interesting reading Raver. Thank you !

05-12-16 10:41  •  Astrology Like

Charmer: Christianity is great! Why do you keep saying it's nothing special?

I'm saying that there is nothing special about Christianity that justifies accepting it as it is, or as a major cultural force in our society. It seems to be, at best, a superstition, and, at worst, a scam. I am saying that our society could do with a lot less of it.

Studies across societies show that lower levels of religiosity correlate with higher levels of societal health.

Zuckerman study - Atheism, contemporary rates and patterns

Gregory S. Paul study - Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies

Now, If Christianity was regarded in the same manner as, say, astrology, I don't think it would be as problematic. Some people believe in astrology and use it to guide their actions, others don't believe in it at all, there is no evidence to support it, but it doesn't matter...it doesn't influence social policy and it doesn't create much conflict. It serves a role, and without much social cost.

However as long as Christianity is expected to be treated as Truth by society, it will continue to extract a cost in actual understanding.

I'm glad your experience with Christianity is positive, but I am concerned with the deficit in reason which it creates for, basically, no net gain. The last thing our country or our species needs is more flailing around, doing things that don't really work. Because of this, I think Christianity as the status quo in this country should be challenged, and our society should focus on solutions which can be shown to work.

Charmer: What I struggle with is the derogatory position that Christianity is a superstitious toll on society and one that we could do without.

I said, we could do with less of it. Studies show that less religiosity in general correlates with higher levels of societal health. Our society could use some of that kind of health.

Charmer: further, good to do away with the Christian influence on "being good."

One, I never said, do away with. Obviously there is room for belief systems, like astrology for example, to exist in society without exerting a great hold on social policy or taking a great social toll.

Two, many societies don't have the Christian influence on "being good" and yet most of the people in those societies manage to be good anyway. We have many systems and formulas in place for instilling goodness, from our laws to our schools to our structure of social taboos. Most people come up in our system okay even if they are not raised in any religion. Christianity doesn't appear to be influencing more goodness than we just get from people anyway.

05-14-16 6:11  •  Stop Drinking Your Way

Greta: I think I need to stop drinking. Is anyone out there a drinker, or know any drinkers?

Tons of alcoholics in my family, and at every job I ever worked. Everyone I know who drinks does it to excess.

I used to drink to excess but I quit. I did it on my own without therapy or group meetings.

One thing that helps is weed. Seriously. It works better for what you are using alcohol for, and it takes way, way less in tolls on the body, mind and spirit. I suppose some might sanctimoniously pontificate that total sobriety would be better, but who cares? I have been living the good life ever since I quit drinking, like twenty years ago, and weed has never caused a problem in my life, ever. Alcohol is a brutal jailor - weed is a chummy roommate.

Good luck, however you decide to get alcohol out of your life, you will be better off!!

Greta: It's illegal where I live. :-( And I live in an apartment.

Don't do anything risky. That said, you could vape, or injest. At least once in a while? Just sayin.

Point is, straight life whether tragic or boring is grueling to get through. There is nothing wrong with seeking relief from the strain, but there are different ways to do it. Alcohol is a shitty one, one of the worst. Weed is way better.

Anyway, good luck with whatever plan you make.

Greta: I thought about weed but the smell... Id be so worried.

It may not be for you, not everything works for everyone.

But there are other ways. You just have to find a way to make a plan that you can live with. Things that work with substance problems are "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy" and "Mindfulness Practice" but they really just mean "Training" and "Meditation." Like any drill seargeant knows, when you panic, you will do what you are trained to do. Train yourself to do something better, have it all worked out and practiced in advance. Then, after you quit, when you feel the urge to drink, you can do the plan you practiced instead, and feel very proud of how your plan worked!!

After awhile you won't need it but the plan and the practice help a lot at first. And keep up hope for fun in the future. Vacation in Colorado.

Greta: What do you suggest? What kind of things can I do instead?

Take a long walk. Or a hot bath. Or make some special tea. Etc. None of these will necessarily mean anything to you, it has to be something special that you feel you can do. Meditate in front of an altar, do yoga, watch emergency stand-up comedy routines or cat videos on YouTube. Write letters to the editor, protest injustice, make art, study Japanese. Etc.

Point is, ANYTHING is better than drinking. Literally anything. If you can get your mind and hands focused on literally anything else for awhile, you can wait out the urge without drinking. You just have to have your mind firmly made up that booze is NOT on the list, no siree.

If you are firm, really firm in your plan and your practice, it won't even be that hard. Life without the soggy threat of booze looming over it is so free, so healthy, so fun! Best wishes to you, for now and whenever you choose to begin that life!

05-14-16 11:30  •  Be Good

Winkie: If everyone is going to spend eternity, either in Heaven or in Hell, what is the point of this short life on Earth?

Sentry: Looking for an uncomplicated, short "point" to a religion is unrealistic.

Except Buddhism. The point is to transcend suffering.

Charmer: Since so many people have somehow managed to miss the point of Christianity, I'll sum it up:


Why does the Christian system take a simple message like "Be Good" and fuck it up so bad that people miss the point entirely?

Christianity has no monopoly on good, does not appear any "gooder" than any other system, does not produce any discernable increase in goodness in adherents, and is actually known for producing a lot of BAD.

If the point is "Be good," but there is no particular correlation between the message "Be Good" and Christianity, then what is the point of Christianity? Perhaps the message "Be Good" would be better off without it.

Charmer: The point of Christianity is to give you the tools, with which, to recognize the good within you.

There is no evidence that it actually works this way. Christians do not act like they are "recognizing the good within" any more than people naturally do, or any more than they would be otherwise. Statistically, they are just as likely to steal, lie, commit adultery, murder, divorce, etc. as people in other faith categories. There is no evidence that there are any special "tools" in Christianity that are actually working or are doing anything good.

Even if there are tools, they don't seem to be very good tools, if they can't produce any measurable increase in good at all. Perhaps the way they are usually applied is causing more ill than the good which is being obtained from them.

Or maybe hiding the message "be good" inside a terrifying structure of superstition, threats, lies and fantasies isn't the best way to get it across.

Charmer: But if I can, by using it, access the good within me, it has served it purpose.

At what cost to society? Perhaps you should consider something besides just you. Historically, Christianity is not a particular force for good. It has often been a force for the terrifying and terrible. Just because some people like it is no reason to cut Christianity any slack.

There is just nothing special about it. Certainly nothing that makes the inquisitions and witch trials and predjudice and unresolvable conflict and the devaluing of reason worth the cost to society of crediting it.

Christianity is dragging the "be good" message down with hysteria, fear, and superstitious claptrap. Why not set it free? Be good for goodness sake!

Charmer: I think the message "be good" needs all the publicity it can get.

How is Christianity publicity for "Be good"? It does not have anything uniquely good in its history or teachings. In fact there is a lot of evil there.

Will "being good" get you to heaven? Not according to the central tenet of Christianity - salvation through Christ. If it's not gonna get you the main prize it's not the main message. The main prize you are supposed to get from having faith, not from "being good."

At the very least, this is sending out a far more confusing message than you would get from simply explaining "Be good".

In any case, Christianity does not appear to be such a force for good, or such a great set of tools, that it justifies the cost to humanity of having to pretend it might be true, or that it works, or that it is somehow special.

Christianity should be called what it is - nothing.

Charmer: You say there's no evidence it works this way. Well, there's no proof that it works this way, but there's plenty of evidence (both for and against).

That seems like a pretty good reason not to claim it works that way.

Charmer: The reality is, no one will ever *know*, without a doubt, if Christianity works that way or not because you can't unbreak the egg.

If you are saying there is just no way to tell if Christianity is really a set of tools for producing good or not, then that seems ridiculous. "Good" is not invisible. People are what they do. Good is doing good.

The way you can tell if people have good moral tools is by examining the people to see if they have good moral behavior. It's not a big mystery. There is plenty you can examine to see by what measures people are doing good. It is when they choose honesty instead of lies, buying instead of stealing, walking away instead of escalating violence. Failures in those choices are obvious evidence of "not good" happening.

When you examine people across societies, it's easy to see that Christians are not stand-out in any way for their supposed access to moral tools. Christians do not commit less crime, or have less divorce, less domestic violence, less infidelity, etc. than anyone else. If these tools are adding anything, they are serving only to bring Christians up to average with other people. And that doesn't seem likely.

In other words, regardless of religion, most people are pretty good folk. Most seem to be "finding the good within" at the same rates with or without Christianity. It's not adding anything to the "be good" message that people can't figure out without it. So what's the point?

Charmer: But how can I know if I would have recognized it without Christianity?

You can look at billions of other human beings, who are not really that different from you, who recognized it without Christianity. Do you think millions of good-hearted Hindus, and Muslims, and Shinto, and agnostics, and Buddhists, and atheists, could have found a way to be pretty good folks without Christianity, but you just couldn't? Unless you are different, you probably would have managed, like most people do.

Charmer: In this matter, I am the only one I need to be concerned with.

I disagree. I think we should all be concerned about our society, in which Christianity plays a major role.

When Christianity stops being the religion behind anti-trans bathroom laws, then perhaps I will be less concerned. If it stops being the religion behind the anti-science movement, my concern will be less. If Christianity changes its main tenet from divisive claims of exclusive salvation - as the Universalists have done - then, I will be less concerned. If Christianity stopped making unwarranted claims of magical knowledge and divine intervention, and expecting everybody to act like it's somehow warranted, then I will be less concerned.

Now, however, while Christianity is the justification for oppression and ignorance affecting my whole society, and I am expected to go along with it, I will continue to be concerned with it.

But that's just me.

Charmer: What have I cost society by being a Christian?

The cost to society of supporting an ideology which devalues reason and creates great ill.

It's along the lines of the cost to society for those who voted for George W. Bush. They had a very small part of supporting a crazed ideology which has never been shown to work, and by following it we destroyed the economy, nearly bankrupted the country and cost hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.

Such is the cost of abandoning reason and just doing things based on ideologies which can't be shown to be true or to work.

Charmer: Christianity has its history, but Jesus' teachings were, I believe, an excellent source of the "be good" message.

If Christianity was just that it would be very different institution. Perhaps that is what it should be.

However, Jesus' "be good" message nothing special. He is hardly the only figure in history who has ever taught compassion. In fact, placing all the emphasis on this one compassionate figure, and suggesting that he was capable of this level of goodness only because he was magical, really undervalues the ordinary human capacity for goodness.

Charmer: Some of us are good for reasons that have nothing to do with "getting me to heaven".

That's true, and that's great, but the tenets of Christianity are clearly playing to the lowest common denominator.

Charmer: I love a lot of things about Christianity and I'd change a lot of things about it.

Then do.

Charmer: You must not know any Christians! Seriously, how much time have you spent investing in Christians and getting to know their personal stories? How much of a data bank of individuals do you have?

A very great one. Almost all the people in every branch of my family are Christian. I have had Christians as friends and colleagues and coworkers and correspondents for all of my life. I live in a Christian culture. In fact, I am among a very tiny number of people in my life that are not Christian. I have no shortage of exposure to Christian personal stories.

Charmer: I would venture to guess you'd have to put away the word "few" when discussing successes.

We were talking about the success of Christianity as a system to deliver the message "Be good." I'm sure most Christians are successful at being good, just like most people everywhere are sucessful at being good. That doesn't make Christianity the reason. As you said, you can't even tell if they are acting good because of Christianity or in spite of it.

Charmer: I suggest taking the faith to the individual level and asking a Christian personally how it works for them.

That is anecdotal. Sure, there are a few success stories about SlimFast too. That doesn't mean it works. They still have to post a warning on their commericials..."Results not typical."

Perhaps Christianity should come with a disclaimer.

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