Unity – a.k.a singing Kumbaya with the insane.

It seems that the airwaves are bursting with calls for unity after the horrific events of January 6th. This rhetoric is coming from both sides of the aisle; both Democrats and Republicans are pleading for unity, for a spirit of forgiving and healing to spread over our land, and a firm commitment to let bygones be bygones as we fasten our eyes on the future and move forward. It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? It tugs at your heartstrings in much the same way as do high pressure sales pitches for timeshares, Multi-level Marketing ‘success plans’, and, of course, your good old fashioned Ponzi scheme with its can’t miss guarantee of making you a millionaire in a few weeks for a small upfront investment.

Here’s the thing. If someone is of the mind that “Jews will not replace them!” I have a hard time find any sort of common ground upon which unity might be built. I happen to think that if someone’s anti-Semitism is so consuming that it makes them get out and march and chant such nonsense, they are, in a very real way, insane. When someone claims to have gone to heaven and had a talk with Jesus about, as it happens, Donald Trump and Jesus opined that Donald Trump would be re-elected, my first reaction is to make sure my grandchildren stand behind me. This is nonsense, every bit of it, and of the sort of hallucinations that could very well get one committed. In fact, my personal thought is that someone who claims this is, in a very real way, insane. It is certainly not the sort of thinking that I would expect to hear from members of Congress and yet, if the news is to be believed, there we have it. If you want to know what God thinks, you’ll have to come to them and they’ll tell you, for a fee, of course. Sinister doesn’t begin to describe someone who claims to have this sort of knowledge. I see no common ground with someone who thinks like this and wants this narrative guiding the politics of the United States. I do not want them in the halls of power; they should be standing on a street corner handing out menus.

What I see are a group of theocrats and fascists who tried to take over the government of the United States but failed and now want everyone to simply move on.

No.

Today starts the Senate trial of Trump’s second impeachment. If unity is what is wanted, then nothing less that a guilty vote with a lifetime ban from holding political office is acceptable. This is firmly on the shoulders of the Republicans, many of whom spread Trump’s lie that the election was stolen. These Senators were complicit in the events of January 6th and now they have their moment on the stage of history to repudiate their actions. We shall see if their actions square up with their pleas for unity.

Apostasy – The Triumph of a Free Mind

“The most tyrannical of governments are those which make crimes of opinions, for everyone has an inalienable right to his thoughts.”— Baruch Spinoza

“People who change their religion should face the death penalty.”
― Zakir Naik

Apostasy seems a strange word to someone raised in the United States. As we go through our lives both we and some of the people we know question the religious beliefs they were brought up in. As our friends and neighbors progress through their education and lives, it is not unusual to hear of some abandoning their religion of birth and becoming members of some other religion: Catholics become Protestants and vice versa, some may even leave the Abrahamic religions and search out New Age or Eastern Religions. Some even abandon their religious beliefs entirely becoming, as survey results are calling them these days, ‘nones’. This searching and experimenting with different belief systems strikes the rest of us as nothing out of the ordinary; no different than choosing a different sports team to root for or even rooting for a different sport entirely. The freedom to pursue whatever avenue the mind wishes to go down is one of the privileges of living in a society that holds to Enlightenment values, specifically the ideas that traditional authority is not always correct and humans can and should improve themselves through reason. When the claims of religion contradict reason and by extension science, the child of reason, we should be and are, in fact, free to reject those claims.

Every reader knows that this freedom is not a given in other places of the world. Depending on the religious fervor of the country in question, leaving the “official religion” (another strange concept to those of us raised with Enlightenment values) may and, unfortunately does, come at the cost of one’s life. Many religions contain commandments that demand apostates should be killed. The Old Testament and the Koran both contain verses instructing the faithful to do just that. Leaving the religious plantation (apostasy) is as illegal and life threatening in some countries today as it was for slaves attempting to leave the Southern plantations during the time of slavery here in the United States. This egregious behavior is not limited to theism; political religions such as Communism engage in this behavior. Having lived in the shadow of the Berlin Wall I know this all too well. Many paid the ultimate price at the foot of that filthy wall, their flight to freedom ending in a hail of bullets or an explosion from stepping on a mine. These days Saudi Arabia and Russia, both noxious and festering cauldrons of theocratic and political fascism, respectively, are shining examples of this barbaric behavior. Jamal Khashoggi’s murder at the direction of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and Putin’s attempted murder of Alexei Navalny, both for political reasons are clear indications that coming to the wrong conclusions about a political regime and voicing them will ensure a secular fatwa will be issued against you demanding your death.

“The totalitarian, to me, is the enemy – the one that’s absolute, the one that wants control over the inside of your head, not just your actions and your taxes.” – Christopher Hitchens

Those who would charge others with apostasy (religious or political) and demand the required punishment of death all seem to claim a certain right over others. This right they claim, whether explicitly or implicitly, is the right of ownership. The purpose of your existence is to advance the goals of whatever system, political or religious, claims ownership of you. If you fulfill your duties, you will be allowed to live; assert or act in manner which repudiates that claim of ownership and you will either be imprisoned or killed, oftentimes both. This is, at its core, what apostasy really is: the assertion of self-ownership and the repudiation of fascist claims to the contrary. Each and every man and woman is free to think and question everything they have been taught to determine the direction of their lives. Against that are those who assert you are their possession, like some farm animal, and, like some farm animal, when you are rebellious, they will snuff out your life. Questioning their right of ownership over you is an immoral act of the highest order and deserves a like punishment. Every thinking person finds that claim of ownership and the people who make it and punish those who dare disagree with them disgusting.

“Freedom is self-determination.” — Baruch Spinoza

Secular individuals who can speak freely and inquire as their minds see fit owe this freedom to the Enlightenment values that created our modern society. It is the rediscovery of these values and the dedication to them, both as individuals and society, that will allow us to confront apostasy and the idea which underlies it, the claim to own people as chattel.

We must rededicate ourselves to the values of the Enlightenment and advocate them in the face who dare claim the right to own others. While no human endeavor is perfect, we can point to the new Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris, to show the power of these values and what they can accomplish. Amanda Gorman, the inaugural poet at the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris, pointed out that we are in, “...a country and a time where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.” Every lover of freedom and self-determination should have stood up and cheered at that utterance. Though the light has dimmed and ebbed, it is still burning. It is up to us, if we truly want to purge our world of apostasy, to advance that light forward in whatever way we can. The simple enumeration of the values of the Enlightenment will start a fire in all those yearning to be free and will crush the forces opposing freedom no matter where they are or how entrenched they may appear to be.

Worship Music – The Glue That Binds

These days, if you are looking to open a church, music is what is going to get people in the doors and music, more than anything else, is going to keep them there.

This was originally submitted for the upcoming issue of Secular World.

Having grown up in the Roman Catholic milieu of Long Island, New York during the 1960s and 1970s, worship was and always had been the Mass. Vatican II changed all that. Gone was the Latin mass and news ways of doing things were being introduced. The Ecumenical Movement in the Catholic Church, among other things, brought what was considered ‘new and daring’ ideas into the Liturgy. One of the biggest changes was the addition of the ‘Folk Mass’ into the Sunday cadence of services. Gone were the hymns accompanied by the ubiquitous pipe organs. In their place were several of the younger parishioners strumming acoustic guitars and belting out Kumbaya and other quasi-religious folk tunes. All in all, it was rather tepid although it did improve the attendance numbers of the younger demographic in the parishes.

My wife and I moved to Greenpoint, Brooklyn from Long Island after we were married. Not soon after, our new neighbors invited us to attend a service at their church. They, like us, were raised Catholic and told us about the wonderful services at their church which was just a few blocks away. What I did not know is that the church, Christ Tabernacle, was part of the Brooklyn Tabernacle family of churches. The main church is probably best known for its choir, The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. Their information page can be found here. They have recorded numerous albums and CDs, winning five Dove Awards and six Grammy Awards. At the time, the main choir in Brooklyn consisted of a number of singers both from the main church as well as singers from Christ Tabernacle and the other churches in the fold. Christ Tabernacle’s music ministry was led by a Julliard-trained pianist and consisted of professional NYC musicians. The choir was about 100 strong and it was well rehearsed. The sound system was state of the art and the people that manned it were professional sound engineers. The performance that day was incredible and you left with the overwhelming desire to go back and hear it again and again. In between the musical offerings were various ‘words’, or sermons, first by elders and then by the pastor. These consisted of expositions of various passages of scripture all centering around a common theme for that Sunday with each followed by one or two songs by the choir. After the pastor’s sermon four to five rousing numbers by the choir ended the service. The most moving musical experience I had up until that time was seeing the Rolling Stones live in West Berlin in 1982. This was just as moving.

That desire to hear more of that music was the driving force that kicked off a two-year stint of me and my young family attending that church. For a brief while I played bass during the morning service and got to know the musicians and choir members well. As time went on and I read the scriptures for insight, doctrinal issues started to rear it’s ugly head. Questions directed to church leaders about different interpretations of scripture were met with, “This is what we believe. If this is not what you believe you are welcome to find another church.” This presented a dilemma. Finding a church that aligns more with one’s reading of scripture is the easy part; walking away from that music was not so easy. There were a number of people who stayed in the church for exactly that reason: for the music they would hear every Sunday. Most would attend both the morning and evening services. It wasn’t the gospel or the various ministries doing ‘the Lord’s work’ that kept them there; it was the music.

Not soon after we stopped attending Christ Tabernacle we moved to North Carolina, a place which has been described by some as the buckle of the Bible Belt. Over the past two decades, I have seen the complexion of religion change from the traditional Baptist churches that dotted the landscape to the new mega-churches. I’ve seen these mega-churches grow in number and watched friends who attended the old fashion Baptist churches leave them and start attending these new houses of worship. A few of the larger traditional churches saw the writing on the wall and, like the Catholic Church did decades earlier, yielded to the modern trends and began having services with a worship band and professional sound systems. In the local music paper you will always see advertisements for musicians to join these worship bands interspersed with the regular ads by secular bands looking for musicians. These days, if you are looking to open a church, music is what is going to get people in the doors and music, more than anything else, is going to keep them there.

The Trump Coup and Why It Will Not Happen

The cover story for the November 2020 issue of the Atlantic, The Election That Could Break America, has been making the rounds all day on social media along with dire predictions of how The Great Experiment, our United States, is doomed. My Twitter feed is completely covered with this and political pundits from all sides are weighing in on how this will be pulled off by Trump and the Republicans and there is nothing that can be done to stop this. They are wrong.

Trump is certainly up to his usual tricks by refusing to commit to accepting the results of the upcoming election unless, of course, he wins. There is no doubt that the Republican political machinery is in high-gear figuring out ways to try and steal the election with tactics ranging from outright voter suppression to back room machinations in the various battleground states. All their work will be for naught, unfortunately for them.

In his Atlantic article, Barton Gellman outlines the various ways Trump and the Republicans will try to steal the election. I won’t dispute a single thing in the article; his research is impeccable and the different scenarios he paints are extremely plausible. From having the Boogaloo Bois and other right-wing groups show up at the polls to intimidate voters to throwing out thousands if not millions of mail-in ballots, as well as all the other nefarious tricks that Trump and his supporters could possible use to subvert the will of the American people, Gellman’s article is like a Mike Tyson barrage, the end result being Trump getting another four years or the US Government grinding to a standstill with no exit strategy other than capitulating to Trump and his demands. Make no mistake about it, a second Trump term is the most dangerous prospect this country faces. The fact that Trump is actively trying to subvert the election now should be taken as a signal that Trump knows how precarious his position is. A large voter turnout would, as Trump himself has said, “be the end of the Republican party”.

So what is the source of my optimism that Trump’s efforts to steal this election will fail? Simply this: Back in August, Politico and the New York Times reported that Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson reached out to Trump regarding the Corona virus situation and the effects it was having on the economy. The conversation grew increasingly confrontational with Trump accusing Adelson of not contributing enough and Republicans are now very concerned that Trump has alienated Adelson and that Adelson’s cash has stopped flowing. Adelson, who is the CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, was concerned because the revenues from his casinos had taken a significant hit due to the Coronavirus and the subsequent closing of the casinos. Adelson’s bio can be found here. While Adelson’s support has centered around getting legislation passed to further the interests of Israel, this spirit of philanthropy went right out the window when he saw the coffers of his casino empire starting to diminish. Hence the call to Trump. Trump, unaware of the tens of millions of dollars that Adelson has given in support of Republicans became antagonistic and, in typical Trump fashion, blamed Adelson for not contributing more. Adelson reportedly hung up.

While this story received very little coverage in the press and the little it did receive was quickly forgotten, the importance of the exchange is not diminished in the least. Adelson is a multi-billionaire and the huge transfer of wealth that we have been constantly hearing about has resulted in many millionaires becoming billionaires and billionaires becoming multi-billionaires. Most of this income growth has come through Wall Street, primarily the stock market. The stock market has a very fragile psyche and nothing causes investors to turn tail and run more than political unrest. If Trump makes good on his threats to undermine the democratic process the resulting backlash will render this country ungovernable and the economic hit will be catastrophic. Trillions of dollars will vanish with little or no hope of recovering it. You can be sure that all this wealth and power is not going to let a conman and huckster like Trump destroy their fortunes and the lifestyles they live. They will turn on him like they turned on Bernie Madoff who is currently serving a 150-year sentence in Federal Prison for running a Ponzi scheme that bilked these very same super rich clients. There will be no coup, the election will proceed as all elections have and, hopefully, the Trump nightmare will be over along with the Republican party.

Critical Thinking – Time for a Comprehensive National Curriculum

“If someone doesn’t value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide that proves they should value evidence. If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument would you invoke to prove they should value logic?”
— Sam Harris

It seems there is no shortage of existential crises facing us here in the United States.  Some of these are global in scope and require a global response much in the same way the discovery that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halons, gases which were used in aerosol cans, were destroying the Ozone layer required a global response.  Climate change, ocean acidification, wanton destruction of forests and other habitats, pollution of the air, ground, and water for short term economic gains are just some of the issues that modern civilization has to deal with.  Each one, if allowed to proceed unchecked, is more than capable of destroying most of humanity’s habitat, if not all of it. All of these issues, in spite of the gravity and pressing nature each one holds, have been stubbornly resistant in gaining the global consensus that will be needed to successfully solve the problems they each present.

When we look into the situation a bit further, it becomes even more depressing to those of us who want the human race to exist and flourish rather than become extinct in a handful of generations. When I talk about a consensus I do not mean solving disagreements among groups as to the most effective way to mitigate the effects or which technologies would be the best to embrace in the short and long term.  No, the consensus I am talking about is way more basic than that:  It is gaining a consensus that these issues even exist.  But wait, there’s more!  The inability of our society to agree on what is real and not real is not limited to facing existential crises.  This intellectual paralysis has infected just about every aspect of our lives and, as with all paralysis, the effects couldn’t be more damaging.

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

― Issac Asimov

Since Issac spoke those words the cult has become a full-blown religion with mega-churches and celebrity pastors. The ideas they preach to their millions of followers are a full-throated defense of anti-intellectualism and the moral duty of each congregant to advance this Zeitgeist into the culture at large.   In a particularly bizarre example of this celebrity grifter Franklin Graham engaged in a bizarre attack on Dr. Anthony Fauci, the county’s leading epidemiologist. The issue for Graham?  What is truth and who has the monopoly on it.  Graham posted this to his Twitter feed during the brush-up:

Truth

So let’s stop and take a look at the claims being made.  One one hand we have Dr. Fauci and the science of epidemiology.  This science has eradicated diseases that have plagued the human race for thousands of years. On the other hand, we have Franklin Graham who offers us, “Pestilence is caused by sin.” Now, while others may justifiably go after the utter moral bankruptcy of Graham, the fact we really need to consider is that millions of people unquestioningly accept Graham’s claim and actively reject the evidence of Dr. Fauci and science. Why this is so and, most importantly, what can be done to change this and get the nation as a whole back on the road to sanity is where we should be directing all our efforts.

A brief look at why this is so will allow us to put everything in focus. We’ll be able to see that the primary battleground is not in the political, scientific, or religious arenas. These are all secondary skirmishes.  The real fight is for the contents of our children’s education. This is not a recent battle; it has been going on for decades.  Anti-intellectual interests have been trying to get their narrative into the school system with such ploys as Intelligent Design buttressed by a well-coordinated political campaign against Boards of Education exhorting them to “teach the controversy”.  The defense against this effort has failed miserably and the result can be seen all around us from anti-vaxxers, flat earthers, homeopathic medicine, just to name a few.  While there was a robust defense in the courts with rulings all in favor of the science, there was no response to the attack by the educational system to the ideas that were introduced while the controversies raged. If, at the time, the educational system would have responded by instituting a mandatory national curriculum of Critical Thinking skills we may never have had to endure things such as the anti-vaxxers and the subsequent reappearance of childhood diseases in epidemic proportions that were virtually non-existent, for example. Certainly, the correctly predicted re-appearance of said diseases should have resigned the anti-vaxxer narrative or fable, as I like to call it, to the intellectual septic tank where it belongs.  Yet, they persisted as preventable disease after preventable disease made their reappearances.  They know the science; they wield all sorts of technical jargon in their vacuous arguments.  It is a lack of critical thinking that is the culprit.  Those educated in critical thinking could see right through their nonsense arguments and could have dispensed with it and their attempts to hijack actual medicine long before any child needlessly contracted a preventable disease.

Now, the stakes couldn’t be higher.  We are decades into this anti-intellectual mess and the halls of power in this country are filled with people who pride themselves on how little they know.  Worse yet, conspiracy theories and the people who push them, are now gaining political power if the recent primary elections here in the United States are any indication. We need to equip our children with the tools to stop and reverse this and we need to start now.  The most effective way of doing this is by making Critical Thinking Skills a required core curriculum nation-wide, K-12. A majority of the educators, the teachers, in this country would sign onto this effort wholeheartedly.  Many are already advocating for it. If we graduate a generation of children equipped with the robust education available to them augmented by the ability to reason correctly the intractable problems we now face will disappear and we will be able to find the needed consensus to tackle any problems we face. Finding a cure for Polio and putting a man on the moon are the results that critical thinking has given us. It can give us so much more if we put the effort into teaching it to all our children starting now.

Sic Semper Tyrannis|The cry of cowards.

Where were the Sic Semper Tyrannis patriots coming to the aid of the protesters to defend their Constitutional right to be there protesting? No where to be found. 

Sic Semper Tyrannis, which means “thus always to tyrants”, is a shortened version of Sic Semper evello mortem Tyrannis.  This Latin phrase, which means “Thus always I bring death to tyrants” has been attributed to Marcus Iunius Brutus ( et tu, Brute!), one of the people who participated in the murder of Julius Caesar.

Karl_Theodor_von_Piloty_Murder_of_Caesar_1865

Let’s fast forward approximately 1900 years to the Ford Theatre where John Wilkes Booth has just shot Abraham Lincoln.  Before jumping on his horse he shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis! The South is avenged!”

lives-of-the-presidents-of-the-united-states-of-america-from-washington-to-the-present-time-sic-semper-tyrannis-1-rushed-across-it-inthe-terrible-confusion-which-ensued-mounted-a-fleet-horse-at-thedoor-and-esca

Today we see Sic Semper Tyrannis being sported by various right-wing militias, white supremists, 2nd Amendment advocates, and various other ‘anti-government’ organizations.  Their existence, they claim, is to prevent a tyrannical government from taking over the United States and taking away our constitutional rights.  For this, it is argued, they need guns and not just any guns.  These guns need to be military-grade weapons in order to stand a fighting chance against the fascist soldiers and secret police who will certainly be armed with the same. This is and has been the claim. Recently, the clarion call to defend first amendment rights has been issued.  It is interesting to see what has happened. Before we look at that, a little background information on your’s truly, the author.

I’ve had some first-hand experience with fascist and totalitarian governments.  I was a Russian linguist in the United States Air Force and was stationed in West Berlin from 1979 to 1982.  Berlin, both East and West, was a geopolitical hot spot, with the Berlin Wall being an ever present reminder of the state of the world: fiercely divided

Berlin_Wall

Looking across that no-man’s land full of “vicious dogs and ominous weapons” was the Soviet-controlled East.  The East Germans were subjected to not one but two Secret Police organizations, the East German Stasi and the Soviet KGB.  These are the people who would come for you in the middle of the night if you were a dissident or a reporter who was not following the party line and writing “subversive” articles.  On that side of the Wall, there were none of the freedoms we have. The desire to live in a world where those freedoms existed motivated many to try and get across that wall.  Many made it, others did not. We were told that the government in the East was a fascist and totalitarian one and rightly so.  They were. A brief study of history is enough to show that repression, fear, and control of information are the tools of the trade of any fascist regime no matter what flag they fly.

Fast forward to the present day.  The streets of America are filled with protesters exercising their Constitutional First Amendment right to “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The press are also out in the streets documenting the happenings and the goings-on.  This is the same press that has been under attack by the current administration for the last three years. At night, the protests turned violent as clashes between the police and protesters escalated.  The President and the Attorney General both issued statements that elements from Antifa, a far left organization, were responsible for the violence and took no questions from the press regarding that claim. Soon enough, the President wanted to designate them a ‘terrorist organization’ as are groups such as the Taliban and ISIS.   But as the FBI gathered intelligence and arrests were made a different picture began to emerge.  Right wing groups were the ones responsible for the violence.  A number of specific right-wing groups, according to an ex-FBI agent interviewed on TV. These right-wing groups were using social media to tell their members to go down and cause havoc. Their job, as they saw it, was to turn peaceful protests violent.  As the violence escalated, the police turned their weapons on the press.  One officer, when asked why he was shooting at a press crew filming, apologized and said, “he was just following orders.” Freedom of the press was being trampled on by barrages of rubber bullets. Where were the Sic Semper Tyrannis patriots defending the press? No where to be found.

Lafayette Square, where peaceful protesters were fired upon with rubber bullets, tear-gassed, and attacked by riot police so the President could get a photo op holding a bible in front of a church, has been renamed Black Lives Matter Square. While history is still being written, BLM Square will be remembered as the spot Freedom to assemble was trampled on.  Where were the Sic Semper Tyrannis patriots coming to the aid of the protesters to defend their Constitutional right to be there protesting? No where to be found.

As it turns out, these “patriots”, as they often describe themselves, had the opportunity they have supposedly been waiting for.  An authoritarian government was and is trampling on our Constitutional rights.  Here they were, aiding the government, by trying to cause havoc to validate the government’s narrative. Riot troops, with no insignia or identifying patches, began roaming the streets.  Who they were and what government organization they came from was a secret, in other words, they were secret police. If you haven’t felt the urge to fly the American flag upside down, now is the time to start thinking about it.  Where are the Sic Semper Tyrannis chaps fighting this no-name army of secret police patroling our streets?  No where to be found.

 

 

 

COVID 19 and Science Denialism

“Isn’t it sad that you can tell people that the ozone layer is being depleted, the forests are being cut down, the deserts are advancing steadily, that the greenhouse effect will raise the sea level 200 feet, that overpopulation is choking us, that pollution is killing us, that nuclear war may destroy us – and they yawn and settle back for a comfortable nap. But tell them that the Martians are landing, and they scream and run.” Isaac Asimov, The Secret of the Universe

As of today, May 20th, 2020, COVID 19 has killed 324,962 worldwide.  Almost a third of those deaths, 93,533, have occurred in the United States.  We are currently conducting what I call the Grand Experiment here in the States.  In spite of the unanimous opinion of scientists and doctors, we are opening the United States back up, giving the virus back vectors that allowed it to spread and quickly threaten to overcome both the healthcare system here in the states as well as other healthcare systems around the world.  In the interest of higher stock prices, we are willing to risk both American lives and the sure destruction of the economy if the virus gets out of control.

Donald Trump has called this effort a “war”.  His critics claim he is simply using hyperbole so as to cement his legacy as a “war-time” President. In this instance, however, I agree with him.  Invaders can take all forms and come at us in many different ways. It doesn’t necessarily have to be rival gangs of mammals equipped with guns, aircraft, and explosives.  It could be an invasive species of insect that preys on insects beneficial to our agriculture or, as with the Zika virus, the insects can transmit a virus directly. In the case of the Coronavirus which causes COVID 19, we are the carriers as the virus spreads throughout our environment. So this is a war in every sense of the word; our opponent uses stealth so it is invisible.  Science, until it develops a vaccine or a treatment, such as Tamiflu for the influenza virus, has given us clear instructions on how to slow down the spread and, when followed to the letter as the South Koreans did, even stop it in its tracks.

Most countries have recognized the seriousness of this Pandemic and followed the science.  Three countries, the United States, Russia, and Brazil have not.  We are about to experience the full force of the virus while Brazil and Russia are at the very cusp. While the United States still leads the world in the number of new daily cases, 20,289, Brazil is second with 16,517, and Russia is third with 9,263.  Brazil is poised to start passing the United States in many of the categories, the most sobering being new deaths each day.  It is interesting that all three countries are led by a self-proclaimed Strong Man who is quite willing to ignore the scientists and other experts and instead follow his ‘instincts’.

While I could write volumes on Putin or Bolsonaro, living here in the United States I am way more concerned with the consequences here.  Each day the internet is filled with right-wing websites, blogs, and social media pages vilifying the science and the scientists who are tasked with fighting this war against COVID 19.  Their recommendations are viewed as liberal assaults on ‘freedoms’.  The issue of wearing a protective mask illustrates this anti-science/anti-expert sentiment like nothing else.  It is as if there were Londoners during the blitz who refused to turn their lights off to help stymie the German bombing runs in the name of ‘freedom’. No one could be that stupid, you say?  Hold to that claim and I can guarantee the right-wing in this country will make a fool out of you. Even if a vaccine is developed, it is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans would refuse it.  Why you ask?  Because the anti-vax community has convinced them that this is a surreptitious way of introducing a microchip into people in order to track their every move.  This they tweet, post, and IM from their cell phones that they willingly carry around with them everywhere they go.  Mad, isn’t it?

“I have always found it quaint and rather touching that there is a movement [Libertarians] in the US that thinks Americans are not yet selfish enough.”
― Christopher Hitchens

There is an exception to this anti-science rhetoric by the right-wing.  One of the more common canards you hear is that modern medicine is hiding the cure for cancer and that all one needs to do is a search on Google and YouTube for both the proof of this claim and, more importantly, for the myriad of cures that are out there. One of my favorites is German New Medicine which claims, among other things, that “mainstream medicine is regarded as a conspiracy promulgated by Jews.”  You can find out about it and others here.  There is a notable exception to this narrative about cancer and the medical community. It happens when they or a loved one gets diagnosed with the disease.  Gone are the posts about the nefarious medical mafia and their schemes.  Suddenly we are all extorted to pray for the doctors so God will guide their hands and to pray for the unfortunate victims.  They sit silently in front of the cancer surgeons, oncologists, and radiologists, mouths shut, hanging on every word. “We must pay close attention and do what we are told by the experts in order to beat this terrible disease.” But what about the coffee enemas?  “Shut up, you are not a doctor!”  Sorry, I was just repeating what you told me a few months ago.

You can cut the hypocrisy with the same knife the surgeon uses to remove the cancer.

The Greatest Discovery Of All – Part 1

I’ve often posed the question to people, “What do you consider the greatest discovery in our species’ history?”  The answers are all over the board; all of them very good ones.  Many point to writing, some go even further back to the discovery of language.  Some point to our building skills, clothing, various monetary systems, and such.  Some will dive into science where there are a plethora of ideas all seeming to vie for the moniker of “Greatest Discovery”.  Darwin’s evolution, Semmelweis’s nascent discovery of antiseptic, the discoveries of anesthesia, vaccines, and the pathogen theory of disease are but a few that could be named. Astronomy would strenuously wave the flag as well, as would Physics and I could devote paragraphs delineating the many history-changing discoveries of both.

I’m sure the reader has thought of a number of things that they might offer as “the greatest”.  Let me ask the reader:  were the discoveries that came to mind discoveries about the world we live in?  Discoveries that changed how we lived, discoveries that lessened the suffering that for thousands of years seemed to be our lot?  I humbly suggest an answer that it was a discovery about ourselves, not the world external to us, that was the greatest discovery of all.

“The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species.”   — Christopher Hitchens

Up until this discovery, certainty was a hallmark of our understanding of the universe and our place in it.  We only needed to ask the religious leaders of whatever land we found ourselves in.  We can even do it today.  Take any religious leader that you know.  Are they absolutely certain about what they know?  This claimed knowledge and the certainty of it were beyond questioning.  In the cases of religions that were in the position of making an offer no one could refuse, questioning this certainty would cost your life.  Not giving verbal assent to those certainties would cost you your life.  There are places in the world today where this is the state of affairs and in those places where it is not, the religious continually yearn for a return to those days and are actively working on making that happen.  The discovery that I would offer rejected that certainty and in its stead claimed to be certain of nothing and to know nothing about the world operated.  It was that seminal grasp of our ignorance when looking out at the universe we found ourselves in is what I would claim to be the greatest discovery of our species.  It was that intellectual cornerstone upon which all the future great discoveries depended on.

Can we pinpoint in history when this happened?  No, I don’t think we can and even if we could point to a specific example, I would suggest that this epiphany has happened many, many times, over many centuries and in many lands. It happens today. It is the driving force behind science and the search for truth. The understanding of how little we know about the universe lights in us a quest to fill that void with knowledge. This knowledge has turned our existence from what Thomas Hobbs called, “nasty, brutish and short” into the lives that we experience today.

More to come….

Review |Beyond God – Why Religions are False, Outdated and Dangerous by Peter Klein

Beyond God - Why Religions are False, Outdated and DangerousBeyond God – Why Religions are False, Outdated and Dangerous by Peter Klein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great subtitle to this book would be, “An Antitheist Manifesto.” Peter Kline has written a book that is required reading for secular activists. Contained within its 266 pages is a point by point evisceration of religion and the harm it causes across the spectrum of human existence. Not just informative, this book is both inspirational and practical. Each chapter discusses how religion and its barbaric views poison just about every area of human life. Example after example is given along with the plethora of religious texts that support these backward and draconian views. This is also one of the best books to give to your religious family and friends when they ask about why you hold such stringent views towards religion.

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Atheist or Anti-theist?

“I’ll tell you what you did with Atheists for about 1500 years. You outlawed them from the universities or any teaching careers, besmirched their reputations, banned or burned their books or their writings of any kind, drove them into exile, humiliated them, seized their properties, arrested them for blasphemy. You dehumanized them with beatings and exquisite torture, gouged out their eyes, slit their tongues, stretched, crushed, or broke their limbs, tore off their breasts if they were women, crushed their scrotums if they were men, imprisoned them, stabbed them, disemboweled them, hanged them, burnt them alive.

And you have nerve enough to complain to me that I laugh at you.”

Madalyn Murray O’Hair

 

“Many religions now come before us with ingratiating smirks and outspread hands, like an unctuous merchant in a bazaar. They offer consolation and solidarity and uplift, competing as they do in a marketplace. But we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and were making an offer that people could not refuse.”

― Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

 

In his book, Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World, David Silverman makes the argument that non-believers should self-identify as ‘atheist’ with the caveat “when it is safe to do so”.  He contrasts ‘atheist’ with other terms that are sometimes used such as ‘freethinker’, ‘humanist’, ‘naturalist’ and various others.  His argument, and it is a compelling one backed up by data, is that most people have absolutely no clue what someone means when they label themselves as a ‘freethinker’, let’s say.  On the other hand, everyone knows exactly what you mean when you tell them that you are an ‘atheist’.  I can attest from personal experience that Silverman’s observation is accurate.  I’ve used terms such as ‘humanist’ and eventually the question comes up, “But you do believe in God, right?”“No, I’m an atheist” has always my reply.  These days, however, in addition to stating at the outset that I am an atheist I always say that, furthermore, I am an anti-theist.  So what’s the difference?  An atheist is someone who rejects claims for the existence of god due to the complete lack of evidence.  An atheist thinks much the same way regarding trolls, fairies, angels, and Leprechauns as they do about god:  no evidence at all so the claim of their existence is rejected.   Things would be fine if both sides left at that.  Unfortunately, the religious never do.

“Religion is not the belief there is a god. Religion is the belief god tells you what to do.”
Christopher Hitchens

While many atheists hold to a live and let live philosophy when it comes to theists, anti-theists view the beliefs of theists as positively harmful.  In fact, were it not for theists being so active in proselytizing and expecting special privileges for themselves, their beliefs, and their institutions in society there would not be any anti-theists in the world.  It isn’t what theists believe but their insistence that everyone else believes as they do and acts accordingly that is the problem.  While religious theists tell you that it is the eternal destiny of your soul and the life after this one that concerns them over and over we see this is just a lie.  They discriminate against women in this world. The seek political power in this world so as to require everyone to believe as they do or suffer the dire consequences of being convicted of blasphemy, which is another word for thought crime.  Not only do they presume to tell you how to act they even claim the right to tell you what you think.  The are after power and property in this world, the most valuable property by far being the inside of your head.  They will stand in front of your claiming to ventriloquize the divine and issue commands at you telling you how to live and what to think as they point to “god’s word on the page.”

The anti-theist will have none of that and will let the zealots know in no uncertain terms that he or she will do everything possible to stave off this poison using the antidotes of science and reason where ever it is found.  This anti-theist refuses to go back to the time when religion “was making an offer that people could not refuse.”