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Saturday, October 28, 2006
 American Capitalists Opposing Rights in China

Topic: Commentary

It has recently been reported that the Chinese government is finally moving to improve rights and protection for Chinese workers. This should be hailed by Americans and the Bush administration as a great advance in China, but, of course, it's not. Now, in theory, if American interests in China really wanted the things that they claim they want, "freedom", "human rights", "democracy", "success", "happiness", etc., then they would support these advances, but, of course, this isn't really what American interests in China want, they want a large pool of cheap labor.

This issue has been covered by the New York Times, and a few other alternative media outlets, as linked below:

http://www.commondreams.org/views06/1013-27.htm

This is one of the major issues that I have addressed on this website. In fact I have written about labor conditions in China fairly often, though I haven't given it exclusive attention. The following articles discuss the exploitation of Chinese an other foreign labor by American corporations:

American Prosperity: Made in China

Understanding Capitalism Part III: Wages and Labor Markets

Labor in foreign countries

The reality is that all Americans benefit from the exploitation of Chinese workers. Every single person in America benefits from Chinese exploitation, whether they know it or not, and whether they buy Chinese made goods or not. American corporations and executives that directly use Chinese labor, however, benefit the most. Essentially, you can think of it like this: American corporations pay the American public bribes in order to get the support of the American public.

Why do I say that and how does this work?

Well, basically, Chinese workers are massively exploited and underpaid by American corporations. They are not fairly compensated for the value that they produce. When a worker in China creates $10 worth of value, they only get paid 50 cents for it, a small fraction of the true value of their labor.

American companies pass a small fraction of that savings on to consumers, so that the exploitation of Chinese workers benefits American consumers both directly and indirectly, both through the purchase of Chinese made goods, and through the other effects on the economy that come from the use of Chinese made goods by others, i.e. the savings works its way through the economy.

So, the Chinese worker basically gets $9.50 stolen from him by American corporations, and of that maybe $1.00 is passed on to US consumers. We the consumers share in the theft, and the fact that we get something out of it leads to complacency on the part of American consumers. We go along with it because it benefits us too, at least it seems that way in the short term.

The majority of the stolen value, however, goes into the pockets of investors and executives. So, for a small payoff, "we the people" agree not to rock the boat or demand change, and indeed we know that we really benefit by stealing from the Chinese and others, so even "we the people" look with suspicion at talk about more rights for Chinese workers.

The reality, however, is that American workers have many more rights and protections than Chinese workers do now and we will still have many more rights and protections even if China were to pass the new laws. So, how in the world can American corporations complain about the Chinese government wanting to improve the rights and working conditions for Chinese workers, even though they will still be behind American workers? Well, they complain because they can I suppose, and this demonstrates that as capitalists the basic labor relations have still not changed in all these years. When it comes down to it, American corporations show that they still oppose improvements in working conditions for workers.

The other reality is that American corporations love the prospect of Soviet style State Capitalism, which is the economic model in China. American corporations would love to have a government that had monopoly power over the economy, they dream of this. China is a type of paradise for American corporations. Its a paradise filled with corruption, bureaucracy, and pitfalls, that may be turning on them to a small degree, but overall American corporations love the fact that the Chinese government can grant them huge contracts, can negotiate labor deals for them, can provide them with employees, can keep environmental regulations down with impunity, can worker's movements, can prevent the enforcement of their own minimum wage laws, etc. The lack of democracy in China is a real draw for American corporations.

Their problem now is that the Chinese people are gaining political power, which is why the Chinese government is making this move, in order to placate the growing discontent and opposition in China. So, its a real irony. American capitalism has an interest in maintaining the so-called Communist government in China, indeed I would not doubt that the American government and American corporations are propping up the Chinese government, because the reality is that "we" don't want democracy in China, that would be "bad for business".


Posted by rationalrevolution.net at 4:54 PM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, October 28, 2006 5:02 PM EDT
Friday, October 27, 2006
 Support to Secularists and Progressives in the Middle East

Topic: Semi-random Thoughts

You may not realize it, but there are actually many Arabs and Middle Eastern people who support secularism, free thought, and who are even atheists.

One example of this can be seen on the now popular Al-Jazeera newscast linked below:

http://switch3.castup.net/cunet/gm.asp?ai=214&ar=1050wmv&ak=nul

If this does not work for you also try:

http://www.flurl.com/entry/view/1248618/Dr_Wafa_Sultan

Dr. Wafa Sultan, the woman speaking in the linked video above, does live in America, but this interview was aired on Al-Jazeera. I have yet to see a similar interview aired on American television directed at American religion.

Everyone in the Middle East is not Muslim, and the people in the Middle East that America and "the West" should be dealing with, interviewing, working closely with, and sponsoring, etc., are the secularists and humanists in the Middle East. One major problem that I see in the American media is that our only knowledge of the Middle East and Arab people is of them as religious extremists. They are not all religious extremists, and in America it seems that we are simply tossing the secularists whom we should be supporting to the wolves because we don't even acknowledge that they exist. There are millions of people in the Middle East who are also opposed to religious extremism, and these people exist in every single country in the Middle East. We have to at least be aware of these people in America before any further progress can take place. Hopefully, with increasing awareness, these groups will get increasing recognition, media coverage, and material support.

It is not as though secularism and humanism have been unknown in Middle Eastern history or that Middle Eastern cultures don't know how to approach these issues, indeed many aspects of the European Enlightenment and movement for secularism came from Middle Eastern culture and various texts, both Greek texts and original Arabic works, which had been transmitted to the West in Arabic.

Please, take the time to visit some of the websites below to become familiar with secular and non-religious groups in the Middle East and Arab speaking world. Even just writing to these organizations to show support can be a great help and boost.

Secular Islam Summit

Women's Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan

Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)

Liberal Demokratic Party of Afghanistan

The Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI)

Women Against Violence

Arab Atheists

Network of Secular Arabs

Maryam Namazie (Iranian Humanist)

Tariq Ali

The Center for Inquiry is one American based organization that does work with secularist groups in various countries, including the Middle East.

http://www.centerforinquiry.net/


Posted by rationalrevolution.net at 7:22 PM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
 The Origins of Christianity and the Jesus Myth

Topic: Announcements

The Origins of Christianity and the Jesus Myth

This is a multimedia presentation based on material that I have used for live presentations on the origins of Christianity and the Jesus story. The presentation is given here is two parts, the first part covering information prior to Christianity and the second part about Christianity itself. The combined length of the presentation is about 3.5 hours.


Posted by rationalrevolution.net at 11:18 AM EDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Monday, October 23, 2006
 Why Iraq is worse than Vietnam

Topic: Commentary
The Vietnam War started when the Vietnamese people declared independence from a century of French colonial rule. Ho Chi Minh was a widely popular leader, whom over 80% of the Vietnamese people supported, and who had put together a government which had the support of the Vietnamese people. The Vietnamese wanted independence and to be left alone. Vietnam had literally been a slave colony of the French for 100 years, where the native people were slaves in their own land. They wanted freedom, and they wanted to kick all of the foreign powers, who had been exploiting them, out.

After the Vietnamese people had successfully defeated the French, the United States decided to step in to prevent Vietnam from obtaining independence, because of the fact that the vast majority of the people supported Ho Chi Minh who was nominally a Marxist, at a time when the Cold War was at its height.

American involvement in the Vietnam War lasted about ten years, during which the American military killed over one million Vietnamese people, mostly civilians. When the United States finally decided to pull out, the Vietnamese did what they had always intended to do, secure their country and go back to living their lives. No doubt the manner in which this was done would have been much more peaceful and beneficial had they not suffered 15 years of attack from Western powers and had they instead been helped into a transition of independence instead of thwarted at every turn and relentlessly attacked.

The reality is that Ho Chi Minh and his government were always well organized and had the support of the population. The overwhelming majority of the people supported the regime of Ho Chi Minh, which is why they won the war. The only people who really opposed the regime of Ho Chi Minh were those Vietnamese who had ties to French and American interests, and those who had been raised in Catholic missions and taught to fear their non-Christian countrymen. The objective of the Vietnamese in the Vietnam War was, from the beginning, to gain independence, and once the United States left that's exactly what they did. When America left Vietnam order was relatively quickly restored and the Vietnamese people quickly settled-in to mind their own business and take care of their own affairs.

The situation in Iraq, however, is completely different. You see, America could have pulled out of Vietnam at any time, and the worst case scenario was always that Vietnam would "become Communist", however there was never a possibility that there would be a power vacuum, that it would create regional instability, that the country would descend into chaos, that it would become a terrorist state, or that there would be on-going civil war.  The war in Vietnam was a war started by the Vietnamese people against foreign occupation. It was a war for independence, much like the American revolutionary war was. America's only role was to try and thwart this process. Failure for America in this war only meant the failure to thrwart the Vietnamese from establishing their own country as they saw fit.

The war in Iraq, however, is completely different. It was started by America, and the conditions in Iraq are such that if/when America pulls out, it is likely that there will be chaos, civil war, and regional instability. The Iraqi people did not ask for this war, America brought it upon them against their will, and America destroyed their country even beyond what had been done to it in the previous Gulf War and by the sanctions. There is no respected authority in Iraq as there was in Vietnam. The likelihood is that in a power vacuum fundamentalist Muslims will take power in Iraq, resulting in a dramatic rollback of progress in the country, and the loss of human rights even beyond what had been the case under Saddam, whereas in Vietnam, when the Communists came to power conditions improved over what they had been historically, though things were obviously not ideal. Women's rights were improved and the slave like conditions under French rule were eliminated. Obviously things could have gone even better, but things certainly did not get worse in Vietnam after the war, they got better.

The point is that, as much as the "quagmire" in Iraq may resemble Vietnam, the situation is really quite different. Vietnam always had a respected leader and government, from prior to the start of the war, throughout the war, and after its end. America could have pulled out at any time and the country would have been fine. America never overturned the Vietnamese government and thus the "nation building" phase never even began in Vietnam. In Iraq, however, the government has been completely crushed and the country is in chaos. Not only is the country in chaos, with no clear Iraqi authority to bring the country under control, but the country is in a particularly sensitive region, with a neighbor who is antagonistic to America and Israel. There is a real possibility that if America pulled out of Iraq, the Iranians would invade. If the Iranians did invade, there would be no way for the Iraqis to defend themselves against it, only the US or a NATO force really has the ability to fend off an Iranian invasion in Iraq. Even if Iran did not invade there is the problem that Iraq could become a real haven for terrorists, illegal activity, and civil war, overflowing into regional wars throughout the region, especially into Syria and Turkey (where the Kurds would likely move the fighting).

So, in reality, the situation in Iraq is much worse that the situation was in Vietnam. There were many more casualties in Vietnam, over 5 million Vietnamese people killed or inquired, and 200,000 Americans killed or inquired, so Vietnam was worse in this sense, but the repercussions of this war are much more grave than those of the Vietnam war. The idea that America can just "bring the troops home" simply doesn't pan out. There is no way to bring the troops home, probably not for at least 10 years. There really is no good solution to this situation. In Vietnam, as I said, pulling out was always an option because Vietnam was always capable of taking care of and governing itself, but Iraq is not and Iraq is in a much more sensitive area to boot.

I believe that America has just gotten into its own Palestinian/Israeli conflict, where there is no way forward, and no way out, at least no way that the people in power will accept, and I suspect that we will be fighting this war or the remnants of it for decades. This not even to mention the fact that the Taliban are taking control in Afghanistan again...

Needless to say, the Bush administration's wars are a true disaster.


Posted by rationalrevolution.net at 8:09 AM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, October 23, 2006 9:11 AM EDT
Monday, October 16, 2006
 Regarding the Israeli / Palestinian conflict

Topic: Commentary

About a month ago I posted a an entry in support of Israel titled, Why I support Israel. I received a lot of feedback from this entry. Unfortunately the hosting company that I am using has made a change recently that has caused the feedback function of this blog not to work, so the feedback was in private e-mails instead of publicly posted entries. (I'm working to resolve this by the way)

At any rate, most of the feedback was negative.

One reply included a link to a documentary which you can watch over the Internet titled Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land.

I have been aware of Leftist criticism of Israel for a long time, but as I explained in my previous post on this subject, I have always generally dismissed this criticism. Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land, however, may actually have changed my mind, or at least opened it, on this matter.

As someone who has been a critic of the American "Mainstream Media" (MSM) and who is very skeptical of it, I was quite shocked at the level to which I myself have been misled on this subject by the mainstream media. I think that one difference between American coverage of the Israeli / Palestinian issue and other issues, is that I have always been able to turn to primary sources on other issues, which accessing reliable primary source material on this issue is more difficult, and this issue is has been shaped in the American media for such a long time, some 30+ years, that it is much more difficult to understand the imbalance of coverage.

One problem that I have in dealing with this issue is that so much of it revolves around religion, which leads me to discount the interests of both sides to the extent that their motivations are religious. I certainly do not support religious militant or religious motivations on either side, and thus I changed sides on this issue recently when the Palestinian opposition moved to a much more religious basis. I touched on this issue in my blog entry Regarding Demise of the Palestinian Left.

The Palestinian opposition used to be led by secularists, and now it is led by radical Islamists, which is no doubt a result of the failure of the secular Palestinian opposition to achieve a result that was beneficial to the Palestinian people.

The main point of Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land, however, is not just to present the Palestinian side of the story, but to show how American coverage of the story so radically misrepresents the Israeli / Palestinian conflict.

So, to the critics who chastised me on my support for Israel, I will say that my support was too uncritical and it was highly influenced by the misrepresentation of "Arab/Israeli" issues the American media. I certainly do not support the occupation of the Palestinian territories as they are being occupied today and I take a much more critical view of Israeli activity in the region.

I'm not really sure how to approach the issue now, but I can say that perhaps the very best approach would be to give a bigger voice and bigger role to the Jews in Israel who are against the occupation and genuinely want a legitimate two stat solution. Unfortunately that seems unlikely in America, but that seems to be the place to start, to at least get the other side of the story exposed and to make it known that this isn't so much an issue of "Jews vs. Arabs", as it is portrayed, but of specific American and Israeli interests (which not all Americans and Israelis support) vs. a population and a region. Unfortunately this issue really requires a change of position by the American public in order to change the dynamic on the ground, and in order to change the mind of the American public, we have to hear a voice against occupation from Jews in Israel, because Americans are already against the Palestinians. Hearing from Jews against the occupation is the key to changing the reception of this issue in America.

Thank you to those who provided feedback to my post in support of Israel.

You can watch Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land by clicking on the following link:

Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land


Posted by rationalrevolution.net at 7:13 AM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, October 16, 2006 7:21 AM EDT
Thursday, October 12, 2006
 Regarding "Tempting Faith"

Topic: Commentary

David Kuo, former assistance director of the Faith Based Initiative, and self-described conservative Christian, has written a book which claims that the Bush administration has been using Christian conservatives to gain votes, while actually ridiculing them as "nuts" and using Faith Based funds for campaigning and political propaganda instead of for charity programs.

See: Exclusive: Book says Bush just using Christians

I must say that I am not surprised at all. In fact, I have told friends for years that I thought the Bush administration comprised the most atheists that have ever been in the White House. Perhaps it takes one to know one, but pretty much everyone on the Bush cabinet struck me as pragmatic atheists from the beginning, especially Rove, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, even Cheney, and of course many of the other neo-cons. Neo-conservatism is a branch of thought that emerged from ex-Marxists after World War II. The founders of neo-conservatism were atheists. I mentioned this in my 2005 article on religious criticism in Western civilization, stating:

http://www.rationalrevolution.net/articles/religious_criticism.htm

After his change from Marxist to extreme anti-Marxist, [Sydney] Hook became one of the ideological founders of American neo-conservatism. Many of the other neo-conservatives, including members of the current Bush administration, are known to have at least been atheists at some time. Their current views on religion are well guarded however.

I also covered the fundamental issue of Republicans using and abusing the Religious Right for economic and political gain in my 2004 article on contradictions within the American conservatism:

http://www.rationalrevolution.net/articles/contradictions_inherent_in_ameri.htm

Again and again Christian "conservatives" seem to be coming out in defense of the most corrupt elements of American society, of widespread corporate corruption and increasing assaults on the environment and small businesses.

Here is a clue: abortion is here to stay. Conservatives can vote for Republicans forever, but abortion is going nowhere. Don't conservatives realize that Republicans use the abortion issue to string them along to get votes that are used instead to support corporate corruption and economic policy that promotes an ever more competitive and exploitive marketplace, where violent video games, porn, and sexual music continue to thrive because, guess what, it makes money!

The Christian conservatives are used and abused by corporate America to get support for its exploitive policies that the rest of the country refuses to back. The Christian Right shouldn't really want to back these policies either, but they have been duped into doing so. How can Christian "conservatives" continue to vote in a way that primarily supports Wall Street and the wealthiest Americans when according to the Bible Jesus Christ said that "the meek shall inherit the earth," and "I tell you the truth, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Yes, I tell you that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."

...

Christian conservatives are never going to achieve any true political success in America because they have formed a political and ideological alliance with a group that stands for the opposite of conservative goals, and its all about the money. Conservatives oppose social change, but the group they are allied with is the main group that is causing the types of social changes that they oppose, so they just continue to get frustrated and can't figure out why all of this political effort that they have put in for the past 20 years seems to be going nowhere. Conservatives may "win issues", they may be successful in getting various measures passed, but these measures don't have the impact on society that the conservatives are hoping for.

Its for a very obvious reason, its because the group they are allied with has ended up working against them at every turn. Sure, they keep pointing the finger back at "the liberals," but all you have to do is follow the money trail. The money trail leads straight to corporate America, who walked off with the piggy bank, while the Christian "conservatives" stood guard.

MSNBC also covered the book recently, saying:

Tempting Faith: Chrisitian Conserveratives Duped by BushCo.

In fact, Christians who voted for Mr. Bush based on his religion, may have ended up hurting the very people Jesus sought to help: the poor.

But when Senator Chuck Grassley tried to rewrite Mr. Bush's 1.7 trillion dollar tax cut to include six billion in tax credits for groups helping the poor — tax credits that Mr. Bush himself had publicly proposed — Kuo says Bush's assistant told Grassley to drop the charity tax credits. The White House had no interest.

The cuts Mr. Bush did want made things worse for charities.

Kuo claims that the estate tax cuts discouraged charitable giving, costing charities an estimated 5 billion dollars.

The ultimate impact of Mr. Bush's tax cuts, he says, was to brutalize the very charities Mr. Bush once identified as his top priorities.  After only a year, charitable donations were down dramatically, and some charities had shut down.

In The War Is About So Much More, written in 2003, I noted the following in regard to Bush's annoounced plan to make it easier to claim charitable decuctions for non-itemizing filers : 

http://www.rationalrevolution.net/war/bush_tax.htm 

This comment is an insult and a slap in the face. Firstly, it is well documented that the estate tax is a major proponent of charitable giving; it is estimated that over 12% of all charitable giving nationwide is influenced by the estate tax. If he wants to promote charitable giving then keeping the estate tax is a fine way to do it. Secondly, it is well known that virtually all of the people that do not itemize are lower income Americans. Virtually every wealthy American itemizes and already takes full advantage of the write-offs for charity. So, what Bush's plan is really saying is that he intends for America's poor and middle class to give more to charity. Gee thanks George. And where will these billions of dollars come from that the poor and middle class will be so happy to give away in order to get meager tax breaks? It is also already well documented that the poor and middle class give a disproportionately larger amount of their income to charity than the wealthy. On average, poor families donate the largest portion of their income to charity already, and yet Bush is proposing a plan that says he wants to encourage the poor to give more? 

What may be useful is that more poor and middle class families could be able to take advantage of deductions for the charitable giving habits that they already have in order to reduce their taxable income, but this certainly won't help the tax collection situation and also shouldn't be seen as a way to try and induce the least wealthy segment of society, who already donates the largest portion of their income to charity, to give more.

Look at what is really happening.  By taking away the estate tax donations by the wealthy can be expected to be reduced, and to make up for this he is proposing a plan that will attempt to encourage the poor and middle class to donate more. That's outrageous.

This is the biggest problem that I have with religious people, they set themselves up to be taken advantage of, but in a democracy its not just them that gets hurt, we all do. All that Christians do by insisting on spreading and believing in their views, is blind themselves to reality, which means that they will never be able to truly be happy because they are constantly going to be taken advantage of and misled. Their only happiness lies in their delusion.

I also believe that there are basically two types of atheists in this world, those that oppose religion because it is false and misleading, and those that support religion as a means to control and manipulate the public. I believe that governments around the world today, and historically, have been dominated by the second type of atheists, who, ironically, are the ones supported by the religious public!

I would not be surprised at all if the Bush administration were filled with non-religious people who view religion as a tool for political and economic gain, which is perhaps even more unsettling than people who actually believe in religion, because at least they have some good intentions, whereas those seeking to use religion as a tool have no altruistic purposes, or at least it seems unlikely.

I don't know what the real religious beliefs of the people in the White House are, but I have long suspected that they are not true believers, but instead are just using religion for political, and thus economic, gain.


Posted by rationalrevolution.net at 9:22 PM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, October 12, 2006 11:33 PM EDT
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
 Misunderstanding Religion

Topic: Semi-random Thoughts
I find that most people, even non-religious people, completely misunderstand religion and religious history. This is no accident, because most of the religions that exist today completely misrepresent themselves and religious history.

Most people seem to believe that people were initially highly religious, and that we have become less religious over time.

This is, in fact, the complete opposite of the truth, but people believe this because this is what most present day major religions claim. The major religions today (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism) are based on the idea that "truth" was revealed at some time in the past. They all claim that their religion has some ancient origin and that the original people were the most devout followers of the beliefs, etc., and that we have since strayed from these beliefs.

These are completely bogus claims however. Most of the present day beliefs of these major religions have developed relatively recently, in some cases within the past couple hundred years.  These religions have become more and more sophisticated over time, developing increasingly vast and encompassing views of "God", and then taking the modern views of God and imposing them back on an ancient past, in which those views never actually existed. They then tell us that, in fact, our view of God today and our religiosity today has "degenerated" from the past, yet really the opposite is true.

The reality is that in every society around the world, religions have become more sophisticated, more controlling, and more defined over time (with the exception of recent scientifically based distancing from religion). If you look at religion in the pre-Columbian Americas, the most elaborate and powerful religions were the ones of the most advanced civilizations. Some of the least advanced tribes actually had no religion at all, and not even any words for "gods" or even "spirits".

Religions are constantly adding more ideas and more justifications for belief and developing deeper and deeper psychological holds on people's minds, but at the same time they claim that they are rooted in the past. The reality is that religions were very weak in the past, and they have become stronger over time.

Religions become stronger and more pervasive as societies become larger and more complex.

Christianity and Islam are very new religions. These are religions that developed during, and shortly after, the peak of Western Civilization in the Roman Empire. The concept of God that is a part of Christianity and Islam is very much a product of 500 years of Greek philosophy, its not some primitive notion that has been a part of the human psyche for thousands of years. "Civilization" goes back about 10,000 years, with modern day religious concepts having been invented mostly within the past 2,000 years, after a high  level of civilization had been achieved.

Most primitive cultures around the world still had little or no concept of "a God" as recently as the 1800s, and some of them had no religion at all. If you look at where true formal religions existed historically, they existed in the most civilized areas, in the Middle East, the Mediterranean, parts of Asia, and Central and South America.

Most of the tribes of North America, Africa, and Northern Europe had little or no defined religions and few concrete notions of gods until relatively recently. They had superstitions and various "animal spirits" that they were concerned with, but that's about it, and in fact prior to the late 19th century there were still several tribes of people in the world who had never even heard of the concept of gods or religion. These tribes have all been either completely wiped out or converted within the past 100 years.

The African Pygmies, Zulus, and tribes of Cameroon, the Fuegians of  Tierra del Fuego in South America, Australian tribes, and several North American tribes are all recorded to have either outright denied the existence of "gods" or spirits when asked about them, or they stated that they did not worship gods because they couldn't affect anything.

One of the real ironies of all this is that the major religions themselves, when you read their texts, tell us that there used to be many non-religious people. The texts of major religions all complain about "non-believers", and "those who do not acknowledge gods".

The reality is that religious belief has become pervasive through the concerted efforts of religious believers who have spread such religions, often by force and war.


Posted by rationalrevolution.net at 1:46 PM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Tuesday, October 3, 2006
 Understanding and Appreciating Christianity

Topic: Semi-random Thoughts
Christianity was a movement of, by, and for the poor and oppressed within the Roman empire. It began as a Jewish movement, among the poor and oppressed immigrant Jews who lived throughout the empire, but it struck a chord with others as well.

Christianity was not the first or only movement for the poor and oppressed in the Roman empire, but it was one of the first that combined this type of movement with religion and sacred texts. The Jews had a history of revering texts as sacred and using those texts as a grounding for their beliefs and their culture. This was not the case with most other cultures, whose beliefs were more fluid and more open to change. There is no Greek or Roman equivalent to the Pentateuch, no "official" text that defines their beliefs. This tradition of sacred texts helped to cement the Christian message in ways that were uncommon among the "gentile" cultures.

It would be too much to call Christianity be beginning of class consciousness among the poor, because there was class consciousness among the poor before Christianity, but Christianity is perhaps the first merger of class consciousness among the poor with a significant written framework that was used to universalize the movement and spread it throughout the empire.

Christianity represents a step in the evolution of class consciousness and class warfare, which was specifically produced by a merger of Greek and Jewish tradition. Christianity gives us a look at the ancient world from the perspective of the outsiders, and in doing this it is one of the the most significant ancient examples that we have of the views of the oppressed in their own words.

This is in part because we had a class of people, immigrant Jews, who were at the same time non-citizens who opposed the status quo, and educated enough to read and write in Greek.

This is both a virtue of Christianity and also its problem.

The rise of Christianity in Rome is what it would have been like if a movement among southern slaves in America had overturned the government and scholarship of the United States.

Would there have been some justice to this? Yes, there would have been.

Would the views, beliefs, and teachings of slaves have been representative of the most well educated and enlightened individuals of the day, or indeed even of the average freeman? No, of course not.

Both the early Christians and the American slaves had very valid moral platforms, but moral platforms don't provide knowledge, education, and an understanding of how the world works, etc.

Christianity was a morally virtuous movement of the uneducated masses, who, like American slaves, used the words of respected thinkers of the time to point out the hypocrisy of the times.

The so-called words of "Jesus" are like American slaves quoting the Declaration of Independence, which they did in their writings, and using them to show the hypocrisy of the times, to rub the words of the respected thinkers in the eyes of the citizenry and in the eyes of their oppressed brothers and sisters to show that the words are good, but meaningless because they are empty in their application.

Christianity puts the words of Plato in the mouth of God. Christianity cursed this world because the Christians saw the hypocrisy of the earthy systems.

From a scholarly perspective, however, it is just as wrong to take the writings of American slaves, where they roughly quote Jefferson, and claim that these were original ideas of the slaves, as it is to take the words of the Jesus character where he roughly quotes Plato and claim that they are "his" original ideas.

They weren't original ideas, but they were, perhaps, original applications.

This is where I believe having a scholarly understanding and appreciation of Christianity and the Jesus myth affords a greater respect for the religion than actually believing in the religion itself.

Christianity isn't the teachings of one "man", some otherworldly leader; it is a collective expression of class consciousness, and the work of many different writers and thinkers among a class of oppressed people. To take the words of these people, these real human beings who were struggling for justice, and put them in the mouth of a god is an insult to humanity.

That these people themselves did this, however, is nothing more than a reflection of how stories were told at that time, and a reflection of their own abused lack of self worth.

These people had to create a god to say the things that they felt too powerless to say themselves.

This is why the gospels, indeed almost all of the writings in the Bible, are anonymous. They are anonymous both out of practical concern and out of a lack of self worth, which is very clear in the New Testament writings.

To take a moralistic movement of the uneducated underclass of ancient Rome, no matter how deserving of respect the movement might have originally been, and elevate it to the status of the most sacred set of beliefs and a paragon of both virtue and knowledge, however, is absurd, blind, foolish, self-destructive, and, I would argue, irreverent!

The poor and the oppressed and the disadvantaged deserve our respect. We should be working to help these people and to put an end to the institutions and social structures that contribute to the conditions of poverty, ignorance, and discrimination. However, the poor, oppressed, and disadvantaged, while they can teach us things about respect and human dignity, are not sources of education, knowledge, governance, and institutions.

The problems created by the rise of Christianity are the same problems that we have seen with the movements of the poor and oppressed in recent history, most notably the Communist movements. Christianity and Communism are very similar, both historically and ideologically. Both were movements of poor and oppressed people, who despised the existing social systems and sought to overturn them. The problem is that when people who have been oppressed come to power they tend to undermine and destroy the fruits that had been created by their oppression. A certain amount of social, cultural, intellectual, artistic, and material wealth is created by empowered members of society at the expense of the exploitation of others, however these creations themselves are good and valuable.

Greek scholars were able to study and investigate nature and understand how it worked because of the system of slavery that afforded them the luxury of being able to spend time and resources on investigation and education.

The under classes were deprived of this education, and indeed some of them came to despise it. Unfortunately, when underclasses or underclass ideas come to power, as in both the rise of Christianity and Communism, wealth (of all kinds), though perhaps ill-gotten originally, is destroyed and lost.

Yes, Christianity represented the hopes and dreams of oppressed people, but it never did, and never has, represented the knowledge and tools of enlightened people. The challenge is, and has been, to unite these principles, but this can only been done by bringing the oppressed up into a wealth of knowledge, not by bringing knowledge into the poverty of the oppressed.


Posted by rationalrevolution.net at 6:20 AM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, October 3, 2006 7:06 AM EDT
Monday, October 2, 2006
 Regarding State of Denial

Topic: Commentary

I have not yet read State of Denial, but I have seen the Woodward interview on 60 minutes and read some reviews of the book.

 See: Secrets, and the obvious, revealed

 All I can say is that the overall picture it paints does not surprise me at all, but some of the details are very illuminating and fill in the the questions of "how" and "why" for me.

As you know if you are a long time visitor to this website, this website began with the paper This War Is About So Much More, which was written in opposition to the war in Iraq, in opposition to the Bush administration, and, perhaps most importantly, to explain how it was that the American people were mislead into supporting the Bush administration and its war campaign.

Significantly, I began writing my exposition on the Bush administration and the march to war starting on the first day of official conflict in Iraq, and I had the core of it completed within a month's time. Since that time I feel that my major premises have been proven correct. Bob Woodward's new book, State of Denial, is yet one more piece of supporting evidence.

What else is significant about This War Is About So Much More, is that, unlike Woodward, I am not a reporter and I had no inside connections or any information other than what could be gained from public sources, yet I was able to, based on purely public information, develop a reasonable assessment of the Bush administration and the Iraqi situation, which was contrary to the accessment given by every major news network in America.

The questions that I have continued to explore and continued to try to answer on this website, which the Woodward book does not address, are why did the American people support this war, why did the American people believe the Bush administration, why does the American public continue to struggle so much politically?

Every article on this website, either directly or indirectly, seeks to answer these questions and seeks to explore these issues.

I believe that the America of today will be looked back upon and studied by sociologists in a way very similar to the study of Nazi Germany. I believe that America today, as a whole, despite the relative availability of information, is one of the most mislead, manipulated, and delusional societies in history, and I think that the presidency of George W. Bush proves this fact. The discrediting information about the Bush administration and the Iraq war were present before the official war in Iraq ever started, and it has been present all along ever since. All that you have to do is look and you can find the needed information to completely refute the claims, beliefs, and assessments of the Bush administration and the entire so-called "conservative" movement in America, but people aren't doing it in meaningful numbers.

Regardless of the availability of information, the majority of people in America are still manipulated by propaganda. I am indeed reminded of a quote by Julia Sweeney about her introduction to Bible study. Her statement was something to the effect that the proof that Christianity is not an inspired religion is not hidden away in some secret tome, but rather it is displayed in the most popularly published book of all time, which almost every American owns, The Bible.

I believe that religion and capitalism are really at the core of the problems in America. The American public is overwhelming ignorant of history, science, and cultures. This ignorance is due in part to poor education and in part to a culture entrenched in commercialism.

The poor education in America in relation to social studies, history, and science is due to the fact that conservative and religious parents will not tolerate schools teaching their children things that contrdict their beliefs. As a result, ignorance and misperception are passed on from generation to generation. Children in America are also not given the proper critical thinking tools or material understanding of reality that are needed to form intelligent views of the world because this also contradicts the religious sentiments of American parents.

Furthermore, the commercial culture in America, a product of our style of capitalism, appeals to lowest common denominator mentality, it promotes distraction, it tells everyone that "they are right and need not worry about others", and, most importantly, it inculcates our population into a culture of deception and manipulation from the earliest of youth. Marketing is a form of propaganda, it uses deception, manipulation, and behavior modification techniques at an unprecedented scale in human history, and it permeates our entire lives. In fact, it is so ubiquitous in our culture that most people don't even recognize it or acknowledge that it is a problem, but indeed it is, even at a physiological level. Our culture of marketing actually impacts the physical development of the brain.

So, we live in a culture that is conditioned from birth, both through religion and marketing, to be manipulated and to "have faith".

That is why the American public fell for the Bush administration. Now the question is, can we change our society? Getting George Bush out of office, or even getting the Republicans out of power, won't really change anything. These are just symptoms, they are not causes.

State of Denial  shows us what Americans have been in denial of these past few years, but it doesn't address why Americans are in a state of denial, which, actually, is the real issue...


Posted by rationalrevolution.net at 11:58 AM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, October 2, 2006 12:27 PM EDT
Sunday, October 1, 2006
 Commentary on Pope Benedict XVI's Speech (Part III)

Topic: Commentary

As promised, I am including further analysis of Pope Benedict's speech on "faith and reason", which he gave on September 12th.

In addition to pointing out the violent history of Islam while misrepresenting the history of the Catholic Church as peaceful, the Pope engaged in a quite typical framing of history in which he portrayed the Catholic faith as "founded on reason", and as the rightful inheritor of "Greek philosophy".

Firstly it must be stated that this is actually quite an old argument coming from the Catholic Church, and secondly, it was very likely presented here in this context because of the Catholic Church's attempts to get God into the constitution of EU. The Catholic Church, as usual, tries to present itself as the "mind", "body", and "soul" of Europe, without which, we are to believe, all of Europe would be lost to barbarism.

Let us specifically address the statements made by the Pope. The Pope begins his approach to the subject of reason and philosophy with this statement:

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor [Manuel II Palaiologos], as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident.

By the 14th century, when Palaiologos was emperor, the Western world had already long been converted to the Catholic faith by the sword and by destruction, so, of course, at this time, there was not much need for conversion of any kind and "reason" had already been completly subjugated to the faith as well, such that "reason" which contradicted the faith was simply not considered.

At this point, as far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we are faced with an unavoidable dilemma. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?

It is certain that this is a Platonic idea, and it is indeed true that Christianity, from the very beginning, was influenced by certain elements of Greek philosophy. Indeed the Christian concept of God has much more in common with Platonic philosophy than it does with Judaism.

I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the Word".

Much is implied with the phrase "Greek in the best sense". By this the Pope undoubtedly means the non-materialist branches of Greek thought. The introduction of the Gospel of John is clearly patterned on the works of Philo and the neo-Platonic Greek philosophers, this is true, and shows the earthly, rather than "divine", origin of the work.

Thus, despite the bitter conflict with those Hellenistic rulers who sought to accommodate it forcibly to the customs and idolatrous cult of the Greeks, biblical faith, in the Hellenistic period, encountered the best of Greek thought at a deep level, resulting in a mutual enrichment evident especially in the later wisdom literature.

This certainly can be disputed. The early Christians, while using some of the language of the idealistic philosophers, denounce philosophy and "earthly knowledge", they did not embrace the use of philosophy to examine the world around them, they instead required believers to "have faith" and "not listen to the philosophers". The early Christians mimicked the language of what was at that time the products of established and respected forms of thought in order to try and gain legitimacy.

Today we know that the Greek translation of the Old Testament produced at Alexandria - the Septuagint - is more than a simple (and in that sense really less than satisfactory) translation of the Hebrew text: it is an independent textual witness and a distinct and important step in the history of revelation, one which brought about this encounter in a way that was decisive for the birth and spread of Christianity.

The Septuagint is indeed important, but not in any way as a "step in the history of revelation", it is important in understanding how Jews who had integrated into Greek culture began mixing the ideas and culture of Judaism and Greek Hellenism to produce Christianity, showing that it came out of a cultural context, and indeed is not a product of "revelation" at all.

God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love, as Saint Paul says, "transcends" knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Eph 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is Logos. Consequently, Christian worship is, again to quote Paul [text unclear] worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Rom 12:1).

Here, of course, the Pope has gone far out on a limb. "Love", the Pope claims, transcends knowledge, and is capable of "perceiving more than thought alone". Clearly now, we are not only leaving the realm of Greek philosophy, but of reason in general. Claiming that an emotion transcends knowledge and logic is not, in any way, keeping with the traditions of philosophy. To claim that "love" can reveal truths that "logic" cannot is not, in any way, in accordance with "reason".

But, let's take a closer look at the words of Paul in relation to reason and philosophy:

2 Corinthians 10: 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 6 And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

Colossians 2: 2 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. 5 For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

Paul was hardly a friend to philosophy or reason. Paul encouraged people not to trust their own reason or to trust the arguments given by others, but instead to blindly follow faith. Indeed Romans 12:1, which the Pope cited in his speech, tells people to offer themselves as living sacrifices to God, it says nothing about reason:

Romans 12: 1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Paul's words here do not sound reasonable at all, but rather like the words of a cult leader madman.

Moving on with the Pope's speech, we see that he begins his sell on the idea that the Catholic Church is an integral part of the European Union, which should be formally recognized.

This inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history - it is an event which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: this convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.

First of all, the Christians did not in any way incorporate Greek philosophical inquiry, they shut it down. What they did do was incorporate a small selection of Greek philosophical concepts and constructs, which they used to give legitimacy to their religion, since this was required to gain some measure of acceptance with the existing culture, by claiming that their beliefs had points in common with existing views.

It is true that Europe today is a product of both the pre-Christian Roman world and the post-Christian world, it can be no other way, but clearly the greatest advances in Western culture have come from the rejection of Christian dogma and the rediscovery and re-embrace of pre-Christian knowledge and thought.

The thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a dehellenization of Christianity - a call which has more and more dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age

This is true. This occurred when the "inmates took over the asylum". With the Protestant Reformation there was a desire to push the Christian system, which was already only nominally rooted in philosophy, completely over the edge and away from reason for two reasons. In the first place because, with the re-embrace of reason it became clear that the Christian faith was not reasonable, and secondly, there was the view that the religion was supposed to be a product of divine revelation, not human thought.

What it is able to say critically about Jesus is, so to speak, an expression of practical reason and consequently it can take its rightful place within the university. Behind this thinking lies the modern self-limitation of reason, classically expressed in Kant's "Critiques", but in the meantime further radicalized by the impact of the natural sciences.

This modern concept of reason is based, to put it briefly, on a synthesis between Platonism (Cartesianism) and empiricism, a synthesis confirmed by the success of technology.

On the one hand it presupposes the mathematical structure of matter, its intrinsic rationality, which makes it possible to understand how matter works and use it efficiently: this basic premise is, so to speak, the Platonic element in the modern understanding of nature.

This is a highly confused, and indeed incorrect statement. Modern science and the modern understanding of nature have nothing to do with Plato, indeed they are anti-Platonic. Modern science is rooted in a merger of Aristotelian philosophy and the philosophical materialism of the atomists such as Democritus and Epicurus, which the Christians opposed from the very first days, whose works they destroyed, and whose ideas that completely denounced.

On the other hand, there is nature's capacity to be exploited for our purposes, and here only the possibility of verification or falsification through experimentation can yield ultimate certainty. The weight between the two poles can, depending on the circumstances, shift from one side to the other. As strongly positivistic a thinker as J Monod has declared himself a convinced Platonist/Cartesian.

This gives rise to two principles which are crucial for the issue we have raised. First, only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. Hence the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity.

A second point, which is important for our reflections, is that by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question. Consequently, we are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and reason, one which needs to be questioned.

 Actually, this is false. The early "scientists" and natural philosophers, such as Newton and Galileo did believe that God fell under the purview of objective verifiable experience. Indeed there was an extended effort during the 14th, 15th, 16th, and even 17th centuries to "prove" the existence and qualities of God through the use of mathematics and evidence. Indeed this effort still goes on to a lesser degree. What we have found, however, is that there is no evidence that supports the existence of the Christian god. So, scientists did not exclude "God" from their framework, the lack of evidence for the God that the looked to find resulted in the conclusion that God cannot be verified to exist.

Continued below due to length... 


Posted by rationalrevolution.net at 7:35 PM EDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, October 4, 2006 10:42 AM EDT

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