Here’s What Happens When We “Pull Back The Lens” — And We NEED To Pull It Back NOW…

Lack of perspective kills.  A swimmer who sees only the immediate water around them – lovely and turquoise – but not the school of hungry sharks circling that lovely bit of turquoise?  That swimmer is chum. 

Religionistas will insist that their deity wants them to live according to the rules set down by ignorant (by our standards) iron age desert dwellers because everything anyone needed to know was “known” and set down in the texts those iron age desert dwellers produced.  But, what if those iron age desert dwellers, before they sat down to write, had had access to all the information we take for granted today? 

What if those scribes had known that microbes and pathogens cause most human diseases?  What if they knew what RNA and DNA are? What if they had a Hubble Space Telescope and every bit of its remarkable data flow to chew on?  Would they have written texts that killed people with magical plagues or put the earth at the center of everything?

If the men who wrote the OT had read Darwin or Stephen Hawking, if they had taken in a geology text book or a scientific paper on genetics, if they had ever gotten a chance to use the internet – would they have sat down and written the texts they wrote the exact same way?

Doubtful.

The people who wrote, edited and put together the canonical New Testament used significant portions of the old texts as the basis for their new texts.  The mythology Paul created leaned heavily on the Pentateuch.  The whole basis for original sin is Eve and the Garden of Eden.  If the men who wrote the originals never wrote those originals – because they were better informed about how the world really worked – the course of human history would have been radically different.

We may not have been any less self-destructive (homo sapiens are still homo sapiens) but at least we would have been denied that particular flavor of bullshit to use as an excuse. 

So – if the people who wrote the religious texts so many Americans say they rely on as the basis for their lives had been just a teensy bit more educated via access to modern technologies – had they been able to “pull the lens back” even a little — human history would have been spared the chaotic, illogical darkness that certain religions have repeatedly inflicted upon humanity.

By the same token — if our Main Stream News Media were able to find the widest possible lens they can find, they might finally be able to tell the story we’re all living through.  Nearly three years in to this nonsense, there are STILL reporters (like NBC News’ well-meaning but hopelessly feckless Kelly O’Donnell) who repeat back Donald Trump’s words as if he spoke gospel truth.  It never occurs to them to contextualize Trump by saying – before repeating his words – that nothing he says is reliable. 

They don’t.  They position their reporting lens inside Trump’s bubble – where bullshit is true just because Trump says so.  They report from inside the lie with the lie as their only apparent frame of reference.  Either they genuinely believe the lie is true or they lack the perspective to see and report the relationship between lie and truth.  Either way, they render themselves useless to We The People just when we need them most.

At the end of the day, when the smoke can finally clear and we see this story with whatever perspective we can before our generation literally dies off (and real perspective finally has a chance to flower), I bet we’ll post mortem the press this way: they failed on two major counts.  First – Lack Of Perspective. Too often, our press has turned a laser focus on a piece of the larger story.  While their focus was admirable, the fact that they lost perspective while focusing in so intently was not.  For all the detail a guy like NBC’s Steve Kornacki can tell you about how voters vote, he never places them in the context of their times.

We have never lived through what we’re living through now.  We have never had elections stolen by foreign countries before (at least not that we’re aware of).  We have never experienced one party tossing out the Rule Of Law in a desperate grab for permanent minority rule.  When these things happen, it kinda changes things.  It’s like someone shitting in the pool.  Is swimming in it – with turds bobbing around – the same experience?

No, Steve Kornacki, it is not.  Steve epitomizes this sort of “intense focus” journalism.  He can tell you everything you want to know about a particular grain of sand.  Ask him where the grain of sand IS – on a beach?  In the middle of the Sahara?  In some kid’s sand box in a suburb somewhere?

Steve has no idea.  That’s a problem where storytelling is concerned.

Second – Failure Of Imagination.  It’s directly related to the first problem – lack of perspective.  It’s kinda the “ouch” to lack of perspective’s “pinch”.  If you can’t really see what the problem (or the story) is, you can’t possibly solve it (or report it accurately). 

What happens when we pull back the lens on most of our Main Stream News Media is we see that they’re failing us – failing their Constitutionally mandated role as final check on power.  I suggest we keep the lens back here.  Their close up is really, really ugly.

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People Who Believe In Magic Can Never Be Trusted — Because They Believe In Magic

Oh, look — It’s the SS Ooga-Booga!

You’re lying on a gurney, about to be wheeled into emergency surgery. The surgeon appears — big smile on his face — just before they put you under.

“Nothing to worry about,” he says (a little too loudly), “You’re gonna be fine — I just know it! I prayed as hard as I could and god said — ‘you got this!’ — so ya see? You’re gonna be okay!” Then he mentions that he’s never actually performed this particular surgery before. Hell — he’s never performed surgery EVER — he PRAYS instead.

He doesn’t have a “track record” of success per se but there’s a lot of road kill where his patients used to be.

As they go to squirt the anesthesia into you — how’s it feel knowing this is probably it for you because the guy performing your surgery BELIEVES IN MAGIC instead of reality?

The same goes for your airline pilot. As he rolls you out toward the runway, the last thing you want to hear is that he decided to forgo refueling the plane (fuel’s so heavy anyway) because he believes you can all get from where you are to where you’re going on faith alone.

People making policy decisions — or going to war — because their core value is magic are dangerous. In America, perversely, we encourage magical thinking in our public officials. Up until very recently, it would have been political suicide to even hint that you were an atheist — even as a mere constituent. The ironic assumption that people with no religious faith are automatically inclined toward violence and chaos is hilarious considering all the violence and chaos religious people cause.

Let’s be absolutely real here — if you tell me that at the very core of everything you believe — that the basis for what you think and do — is a fairy tale so absurd and illogical that a child could pick it apart — that’s so fragile a construction that they had to invent a word (“blasphemy“) to describe realistic reactions to the nonsense — then it’s going to be hard to take ANYTHING you think seriously.

If you deny evolution because it’s not mentioned in a text written by ignorant desert-dwellers 4000 years ago or insist that the earth is only a few thousand years old, that an actual man named Adam and an actual woman named Eve lived for a time in an actual garden called Eden where a talking snake screwed the pooch for humanity — your gullibility is shameful. So’s your lack of critical thinking skills.

If you honestly believe that the NT is literally true — that a sky deity named Yahweh had sex with a virgin human girl in order to produce a man-god that would have to die to forgive the “original sin” committed by an imaginary woman in an imaginary garden — then you’re going to have to understand why your opinion on how I might live my life is totally irrelevant. Your opinion about anything is meaningless because you think total bullshit is true.

We should know more do what you think as go into surgery knowing the surgeon’s an incompetent fool.

America has lived too long in Christianity’s thrall. We are not now and never have been a Christian nation. That was part of the point. But Christians — as opposed to followers of Jesus (a completely separate group of people) are a pushy lot. Proseltyzing is baked into their culture (going all the way back to Paul). “Have ya heard the ‘good news’?” they want to know.

If you haven’t, can they spew it at you? If you don’t want it, can they force it down your throat anyway?

I wish our leaders were deeply spiritual. I want them all to feel connected in every way to their real constituents — the people they represent. I want them to cast off their religion though — because the first has nothing to do with the second.

America is the place where Ooga met Booga and produced a mother lode of bullshit. Mormonism was created here. So was Scientology. So was Branch Dividianism and the cults of Jim Jones & Charles Manson. These are all religions that demand their followers surrender all reason — and accept the magic.

Maybe Nancy Reagan had it right — “Just Say No!” Her problem was she should have been talking about religion, not recreational drugs.

Hi — I’m Mike Pence’s Vibrating Butt Plug And I Have A Story To Tell…

It’s not exactly a revelation that Donald Trump is a gold-plated fraud. It shouldn’t be a revelation that Mike Pence is an equally big fraud.

I bet Mike Pence never thought twice about staying at Trump’s shitty golf property in Ireland — then flying 168 miles ffs to get to the meeting he was there to attend. Mike’s a beta dog’s beta dog. He doesn’t even have to know you. If you’re more alpha than he is (and everyone is) — Mike will do whatever you want him to no matter how humiliating.

If the Trump White House is a Rogue’s Gallery, VP Mike Pence is the Elmer Gantry character — without any of the charm or self-awareness of what a damnable con he really is. I dare you to conjure the words “hypocrite” or “sanctimonious shit” and NOT think of Mike Pence almost immediately.

There’s a way of speaking Evangelicals take on — PreacherSpeak, ya could call it. It’s got an oiliness to it — a big bright squirt of emotion but no substance beneath it so the emotion feels staged and phony. There’s a sing-songiness to it also — to distract, I suppose, from the complete & total lack of substance. And the compete & total lack of logic. It’s a vocal delivery that surfs giant waves of hubris and self-satisfaction like a pro. And if it needs to bring on the tears? Wait, wait — is that Noah I see, building another boat?

That voice sounds like this (I enter, as evidence, Pence’s speech at the 2016 Republican Convention — a classic in the annals of complete & utter bullshit). In fact, Mike took sanctimony to bold new heights in this speech. It’s still feeling puke-y and vertiginous from being up so high.

Now, to be fair to Mike (as much as it pains me), I don’t know for a fact that Mike Pence is a closeted gay man. I’ve known many over my life. It’s not fun being them. They shouldn’t have to be “them”. Everyone should be free to express what their biochemistry makes them feel. No one chooses their biochemistry — it’s a package deal. It comes with the DNA that forged us.

Religious faith and science are mutually exclusive propositions. That’s not true of spirituality, mind you. One can be spiritual and scientific without any conflicts. But religious? No. Religions (unlike spirituality) flows from religious organizations. Churches, let’s call them.

One could, in fact, follow Jesus on a spiritual level (by doing unto others) while ignoring all the church’s mythmaking and ooga-booga. I’ve pointed out in other posts that Jesus preached against the need for a “church”. A big part of Jesus’ message was “speak directly to God, the father — you don’t need the priests or the temple interceding on your behalf”. The guy who “built” churches was Paul. Paul was the one who, taking his version of Jesus out to the gentiles (who had no idea who Jesus really was or even if he really was), invented The Early Church as a series of communities spreading throughout the Roman world.

The bulk of the NT is Paul writing to those far flung communities as he invents what we now call “Christianity”.

Mike Pence is a church-goer but he ain’t going there for Jesus. FFS, the last thing Mike Pence wants to do is “DO” unto others. Nope. Mike sees religion as a way to turn others into him. Like a god.

That’s the dirty, dirty secret about the extremely religious — about every single televangelist — about Mike Pence himself. They all think THEY are “god”. Not “a” god — “God”. They may tell you that “God” (or Yahweh — that’s the god character’s actual name, “god” being his job description) speaks through them — they’re lying. No one or nothing is speaking through them. The “god” you hear spewing from their mouth parts is them, all them and nothing but them.

What makes these “gods” so much worse is that they’re all so screamingly ignorant. Why can’t these “gods” have a little knowledge in their pockets to go along with the sanctimony & judginess? I guess that would be too much to ask of men for whom sanctimony & judginess are their principle skill sets.

If you’ve never heard Mike Pence On Evolution — you kinda owe it to yourself. You should know how “god” “thinks”.

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The Problem With Thinking YOU Are Created In A Perfect God’s Image Is — NEITHER OF YOU Is Perfect

First things first: perfection is a myth (unless we’re talking about a perfect baseball game or Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah”). “Perfection” is as pulled from our asses as most every other human idea or invention. We’re making it all up — some of us even as we go along.

The innovation of monotheism took the schizophrenic panoply of gods — with all their personalities and skill sets — and crammed them into one omnipotent, bi-polar crybaby — Yahweh. Strangely, the biblical Yahweh knows he (he’s clearly a “he”) isn’t the only deity out there. If ya think about it, this supposedly ALL POWERFUL “god” — the one-and-only god — the god who created everything in creation — bitches and moans constantly because the Hebrews occasionally flirt with other gods.

Call me nuts but — that’s a really mediocre deity we’re talking about. Good lord, Yahweh, man up (or deity up if that’s what deities do) — put on your “big deity pants” and get on with it! Whose idea of “perfection” is this anyway?

The collected texts we call the Old Testament & the New Testament are all important cultural literature. The pages are filled with interesting ideas and what were new ways of thinking when they were written. When they were written.

We have to remember — when they were written, the knowledge base available to the writers was extremely limited compared to what a writer today would have at her disposal. For instance — the men who composed the biblical texts had no idea that microbes or pathogens or bacteria or viruses existed. They honestly believed that everything in the visible universe revolved around them. They hadn’t a clue that other civilizations existed on continents they’d never know were there (but, of course, were there). The whole notion of Yahweh — the poster deity for monotheism — was crafted by human males who knew virtually nothing (all their good intentions aside).

The deity “we” hold up as “perfection” is the very opposite. Even if we charitably allow for “divine inspiration” — unless the human go-between is perfect — how can the theist really know that the literal word o’ god was translated exactly? While we’re at it, how many angels can headbang on the head of a pin? The biggest “problem” with “the bible” is that although it was written as a religious text, “we” came to think of it as a history book. And that has screwed us up profoundly.

“God” is not perfect. Our genome isn’t perfect either. It’s malleable — so malleable. It screws up routinely because it’s not perfect. It’s evolved into what it is — and will continue to evolve into something else. There are creatures here on earth that have stopped evolving (maybe because they reached a kind of “perfection” eons ago) — sharks… cockroaches.

Humans on the other hand — there’s research that suggests the horrors of the Holocaust caused changes to the DNA of its survivors. Think of it — the cruelty humans were doing to each other was impactful enough that it caused changes in the victim group’s DNA — that was passed on to their children.

This bullshit idea of “perfect” sits at the heart of our cruelty toward those we deem “imperfect”. Gay people, for instance. People born with disabilities. People who acquire disabilities… The whole idea of virginity — as it pertains to a woman’s vagina and who “owns” it…

Maybe the larger problem is that this whole notion of “perfection” sprang from a male mind — and not a female mind.

If the men who wrote the biblical texts had been as informed about science as we are today, I feel pretty sure that knowledge would have been reflected in their writing. The ignorance that has tracked along with Abrahamic religion would never have been born as it were. By the same token — if the writers had been informed — and female — just imagine what we’d think “perfection” was today.

An Atheist’s Easter Sermon: Why REALITY Matters More Than Ooga-Booga

Christmas is a pagan holiday redirected.  For all its “holiness”, all its fanciful storytelling about Wise Men from the East and stars that shine above spots on a planet light years away from them, Christmas still celebrates something; it’s a happy holiday.  Easter, on the other hand, is about Christianity’s core message: “Jesus died (but then rose from the dead – as YOU can, in essence, IF you agree to accept the story we’re pitching you as ‘gospel’ truth.”

Jesus being born and having a life is all well and good.  He can preach all he likes.  But it’s dying that gives the Jesus character purpose.  If Jesus never dies the way he dies (if, say, the NT celebrated his living a long life, dying in his bed surrounded by loved ones), there’s no Christianity.  It doesn’t happen.  But it wasn’t Jesus who told his own story.  Most of what we call “The New Testament” was written by Paul.  13 of the canonical texts are ascribed to Paul though only 8 can really be ascribed to him.

In 1985, the bible scholar Robert Funk created a group of 150 similar scholars.  The Jesus Seminar wanted to coax a historical Jesus from the NT texts.  They discerned a Jew whose core message (they found a dozen-and-a-half sayings that Jesus could have said — that weren’t clearly PUT IN HIS MOUTH BY OTHERS (like, say, PAUL).  What they also saw clearly — “According to the Seminar, Jesus was a mortal man born of two human parents, who did not perform nature miracles nor die as a substitute for sinners nor rise bodily from the dead.  Sightings of a risen Jesus represented the visionary experiences of some of his disciples rather than physical encounters.”

The historian A N Wilson wrote a biography of Paul that I highly recommend — if only to create the proper context in which to understand Christianity’s creation.  The bottom line is simply this: Jesus did not “invent” Christianity.  Paul did.

Paul took the notion of Jesus as a messiah — threw out Jesus’ core “Do Unto Others” message and focused his proselytizing instead on making Jesus The Messiah the basis for a whole new religion that he sold to non-Jews for whom Jewish tradition was meaningless.  But, to prove, HIS invention’s “truthfulness” (maybe “truthiness” is more warranted), Paul based his mythology on Jewish mythology.  Paul needed Jesus being prophesied as part of his branding.  To make the “prophecy” part of Jesus’ story stand up, Paul had invent a story for Jesus because Jesus’ actual story just didn’t fit.

Paul didn’t worry himself with his story’s lack of authenticity.  He wasn’t selling real.  He was selling magic.

But part of Paul’s mythology involved making Jesus’ death important — more important than his life, really.  Jesus needs to rise from the dead to garner the star power needed to front Paul’s new religion.  To rise from the dead, Jesus needs to die spectacularly — even more spectacularly than mere crucifixion. And, because Paul was now committed to selling his story to non-Jews, it mattered nothing to him if Jews became the villain in the STORY he was inventing.

The early church fathers who bought & then themselves began selling Paul’s story loved having a villain.

As a member of the “villain” tribe — I have issues with this.

Jesus preached a simple message.  Even a humble atheist can easily (and happily) “Do Unto Others”.  Most do, actually because, humans are social creatures.  We recognize that behaving one way versus the other makes your life better.  There’s no reason to muck that message up.  It doesn’t cry out for explanation.

It requires no magic.

It stands — resolutely — without any need for Ooga-Booga to justify it.

So here’s the deal.  Believe whatever you like, Christians — it’s your “god-given right”.  But what you do with that faith — how you manifest its teachings out here beyond the walls of your church — it matters.  When your pervert “Do Unto Others” into “Kill The Jews” — you’re doing it wrong.

True Fact: I’m An Atheist Who Loves Churches

I’m always fond of saying (or selling t-shirts that say) “I am grateful to Hebrew School for making me the atheist I am today” (the t-shirts also have “…grateful to Sunday School…” & “…grateful to Sunday School…” versions because I’m all about being inclusive).

I have always been grateful to Hebrew School

I suspect I was born an atheist but whatever lingering doubts I might have had as to atheism’s core truths were quickly tidied up by my religious education.  I attended Hebrew School in one form or another for 8 years.  I was bar mitzvah-ed.  In fact, I was so good at doing the “bar mitzvah song & dance” that the synagogue my family belonged to invited me — at age 14 — to recite torah portions several times.  I was fully immersed in my religion’s ooga-booga — the “conservative” (as opposed to reform or orthodox) version that held onto traditions like the orthodox but didn’t quite turn the synagogue service into a  wannabe church service like the reform temples did.

Mind you, I don’t view my religious education with any animosity.  At all.  I mean what I say: I am grateful for that education.  I consider myself a cultural Jew.  I am damned proud of my tribe’s culture.  I have no use for its religion however.  To a large degree, I have Hebrew School to thank for that.

My fascination with Christianity began with being hated by it.  It seemed a natural question for a curious kid to ask: “Ummm, I get that you hate me, but why?  What did I ever do?”  When you get down into the “why”, if you’re honest about the history you’re reading (as opposed to the religious text — one of my Hebrew School teachers, Mr. Hymen, was very clear on that; the Pentateuch is a religious book, not a history book), the whole reason that Christians hate Jews — the “Jews killed Jesus” story — is absolute rubbish.

Quick diversion… It’s a fact: none of texts of the Old or New Testaments magically wrote themselves. People — men most likely — wrote them. Call their inspiration divine, call it gas. Call it whatever. A person thought it up and wrote it down — inspired in whatever way you like.  Jesus did not write a word of the New Testament.  Paul (the former Saul of Tarsus) however did.  The bulk of the NT is Paul — writing to the new, far-flung churches he was creating and instructing on the just-invented rules and mythology of Christianity.  That HE was inventing.

Back in the 1985, American biblical scholar Robert Funk put together a group called The Jesus Seminar. The Seminar’s 150 members focused on the New Testament’s historicity — and what, if any, of a historical Jesus could be drawn from the texts. The Seminar settled on about a dozen-and-a-half of Jesus’ sayings that all the gospels agree on — that Jesus said (versus things the gospel writers — or Paul — put into Jesus’ mouth).

The Jesus that emerged from the Seminar’s work was big into doing unto others. He wasn’t into forming churches.  Why would he be? He was a lifelong Jew who, actually, hated the institution of the Temple because, to Jesus, no one needed a go-between.  The believe could/should go directly to the god character.

Churches exist for the sake of their own existence — like any institution.  Whatever its founding principles, once you get past the abstract, it all comes down to survival.  Churches need money and believers to remain in the church business.  They are motivated first and foremost by the need to continue “being”.

The Catholic church was brilliant — once it created its message — at selling its message.  One of the ways they sold their message was in the way they ultimately imagined their own sanctuaries.  If money permitted, they imagined them BIG.  Big was the point.

These are from inside Notre Dame de Paris — before the fire.  See how enormous the cathedral is vs how small each individual human is?  That’s the point.  To put a single human in his or her place relative to the power and awesome size of the institution and its church.  It’s a not-so-subtle kind of psyche war the church launches against its own believers.

But, I love it.  I adore the use of architecture to create a visceral feeling.  Churches are all about that, of course.  To put you in the right frame of mind to approach the divine.

There’s a church in Venice – San Pantalon. Like lots of the churches in Venice, it’s beautiful. But this one has something quite special — a painting that fills the entire sanctuary ceiling. The painting depicts an opening to heaven — into which all the people and creatures in the painting are being sucked.  It’s as if a portal to heaven had opened directly above the church — and the painting was revealing that fact.

It’s a brilliant affect.

So, yeah — I’m an atheist who likes visiting churches.  I wouldn’t sit too, too still when the magical incantations began, but I do appreciate the artistry of the people who imagined the church then manifested their vision out here in reality.  For what it’s worth, I’m a big museum-goer, too.

Dear Christians: Stop Listening To Paul; Listen to JESUS Instead

It sucks that an atheist has to explain Christianity to Christians. But — the fact is — atheists have a perspective on Christianity that Christians intrinsically lack (and can never get). THIS atheist — having perspective — sees a distinct difference between Jesus (the supposed “inventor” of Christianity and “Christianity” (his supposed “invention”).

Oy. Where to begin…

Back in the 1985, Robert Funk (an American bible scholar) created The Jesus Seminar. Funk wanted to promote “biblical literacy” via a “historical-critical” approach that viewed Christian orthodoxy with extreme doubt. Funk wanted the Seminar (composed of about 50 critical-thinking biblical scholars and 100 lay people) to identify (if they could) and draw out a “historical Jesus” from the texts — a man apart from any mythos. While the Seminar was most active in the 1980’s and 1990’s, its work has continued up to today.

The Jesus Seminar concluded that (this is taken from Wikipedia’s page on the Seminar) —

The seminar also concluded that at best we can put a dozen to a dozen-and-a-half sayings into Jesus’ mouth — as things Jesus might have said (vs the self-referential things he almost certainly did not say because it would never have occurred to him).

That means that, effectively, most of what we think of as Christianity had nothing to do with Jesus — and everything to do with Paul who was the one person hard at work creating far-flung churches (among the goyim) made up of goyim. The overwhelming majority of the NT is Paul communicating with and building his church communities. And he’s mythologizing Jesus as he goes — converting “Historical Jesus” into Christian Church Jesus.

Real Jesus despised the “church” (in his world – the Temple authorities). Jesus’ whole message was “You don’t NEED a church to have a relationship with god”. Since that’s the case (according to the Jesus Seminar), then why on earth would Jesus advocate for the creation of a “church” to speak for him? It’s ludicrous on its surface.

Jesus preached a simple message — that’s why it’s endured. Simple & doable. Why, even a humble atheist can “do unto others” without contradicting themselves.

For “Christ’s sake” — following Jesus is incredibly simple (and rewarding). I bet following a church can’t hold a candle to it.