For some time visitors were unable to post feedback comments to the blog, but this problem has been corrected and you can now post feedback comments again.
This article examines the evidence for the historical existence of Jesus and puts forward the case that the story of Jesus Christ is best explained as the product of developing Messianic stories and mystery religions within the Hellenized Jewish community.
Special thanks to many people at the Internet Infidels Biblical Criticism & History who helped with finding documents, proving translations, and offering criticism and advise.
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:
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:
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".
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:
If this does not work for you also try:
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.
The Center for Inquiry is one American based organization that does work with secularist groups in various countries, including the Middle East.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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 :
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.
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.
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