left biblioblography: January 2008

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Tamed Horses - A Peek Inside The Gestalt Behind Religion

Cross posted at God is for Suckers!ghede

We are often puzzled, befuddled, nonplussed, and otherwise bewildered at the way religious folks cling tenaciously to their beliefs (much like a terrier worrying a dead rat). Obviously this isn't something as simplistic as intelligence - history abounds with examples of incredibly intelligent people who were religious. There are valid points to be made here - upbringing usually has a deep sway over people. It's difficult to admit that the people we grew up with and around are trapped in a morass of superstitious anachronisms.

The other piece of the puzzle, I think, lies in the participation of religious rituals.

Let's talk about possession. This is a predilection of mine (of sorts): hopefully when I'm done, you'll be nodding and telling yourself, "Hey, that makes sense."

This link is one I discovered years ago. It's a fairly well written piece about how high priests, preachers, shamans [insert-head-of-hierarchal-religion-of-your-choice here] and their ilk manage to sway masses of believers at gatherings. (Editor's note: yes, Sutphen is indeed a New Ager. Yes, he indulges in that romantic nonsense of 'past lives', and yes, he's got a blurb from a publisher that he's the 'foremost psychic researcher'. Be that as it may, his insights into this matter make a great deal of logical sense.)

Three distinct and progressive states of transmarginal inhibition were identified by Pavlov. The first is the Equivalent phase, in which the brain gives the same response to both strong and weak stimuli. Second is the Paradoxical phase, in which the brain responds more actively to weak stimuli than to strong. Third is the Ultra-Paradoxical phase, in which conditioned responses and behavior patterns turn from positive to negative or from negative to positive.

With the progressions through each phase, the degree of conversion becomes more effective and complete. The ways to achieve conversion are many and varied, but the usual first step in religious or political brainwashing is to work on the emotions of an individual or group until they reach an abnormal level of anger, fear, excitement or nervous tension.

The progressive result of this mental condition is to impair judgment and increase suggestibility. The more this condition can be maintained or intensified, the more it compounds. Once catharsis or the first brain phase is reached, the complete mental takeover becomes easier. Existing mental programming can be replaced with new patterns of thinking and behavior.

Other often-used physiological weapons to modify normal brain functions are fasting, radical or high sugar diets, physical discomforts, regulation of breathing, mantra chanting in meditation, the disclosure of awesome mysteries, special lighting and sound effects, programmed response to incense, or intoxicating drugs.

The same results can be obtained in contemporary psychiatric treatment by electric shock treatments and even by purposely lowering a patient's blood sugar level with insulin injections.

It sounds quite a bit like psychological alchemy, does it not? It takes no degree to see how people get swept up by their environment - the attendant synchronization sweeping across the five senses, triggering a plethora of chemical responses, your neighbors grooving to the beat, all those scents, sights, sounds pounding into your brain until you feel that sweet sensation that everyone else is feeling - ever been to a concert? A festival? Any large gatherings of like-minded folks? Ye ken me drift, moving onwards.

For a more skeptical look, here's a bit from the Church Of Reality.

Further out in left field, I'm going to drag in (as some of you may have guessed by the picture in the right-hand corner) an example from a religion little-discussed in most atheist blogs: Vodou (or, as it's better known, Voodoo). This is, as some of you know, a syncretic religion composed of Catholicism and a wide variety of pantheistic African religions. More interesting still, it contains multiple instances of spirit possession, by supernatural critters known as Loas. The phrase is that the loa is 'riding the horse'. Even more intriguing is that, unlike the more Westernized Catholicism, possession is not feared - indeed, it's accepted with open arms.

There are hints, rumors and whispers that sometimes outsiders (read: non-believers) sometimes 'fall under the spell' and become possessed. This isn't very well documented. Mostly anecdotal - no names, places, dates, etc. I found this bit via Googling - but I fear it may be suspect, as missionaries tend to let too much of their own biases creep into the observations. Sutphen mentions it in the link, but no attribution, name, etc.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, the human mind can be tricked into displacing itself, and also, our species tends to experience hallucinations on a fairly frequent basis. So, it also seems that we can indeed be conned into thinking we're a completely opposite identity too? A supernatural one at that?

Confusion seems to be a steady element in the human condition.

Color me confused, and turn the page.

Till the next post, then.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

EVERYONE'S A Critic, These Days...The Strawman Cometh


Cross posted at God's For Suckers!

I was trolling the 'Netwaves a few weeks ago, in lieu of the Pekka-Eric Auvinen tragedy - because let's face it, folks, we get blamed for every frackin' thing under the sun. This dipwad was an alleged 'humanist' who hated humanity - an 'anti-human humanist' to be exact. Which, by definition, means this loser was a serious wack-job. Let's never mind that this phrase runs contrary to the law of noncontradiction.

I won't go into any extended analysis. The kid was a loon. Atheism wouldn't have 'driven' him to it - likelihood is, he could've been a Mormon, a Baptist, or any other denomination. Mentally ill is as mentally ill does.

Anyways, I didn't have very far to go. This site features two fellows, Scott Ragan and John Sexton. It turns out that John has a big problem with atheism. It also seems that he's actually currently pursuing a Masters in Science and Religion at Biola University. Surprise, surprise! Another oxymoron! 'Biblically Centered Education'! (note that here, we have that already worn out crap about a 'former atheist'. This allegedly 'scientific' university even has a page about ID!)

For now, I'll bypass how ridiculous the damn book is (as I've gone on at length about this in prior posts). How it fails miserably as a scientific textbook (hold your jeers, folks!). Or the Intelligent Design 'debate' (didn't last more than a few weeks in court, gimmee a break here!). For now, I'm calling strawman.

What our dear friend John does in his 'criticisms', is what just about every religious critic does when they critique atheism. They take the more outspoken among them, do a dervish dance, and poke holes in either said proponents actions, or said proponents words, and use these items in a manner to cast some form of aspersion on the individual, thereby incriminating any others (inferred or otherwise) that fall under the umbrella of said movement.

Which is a fine and valid technique if you're going after an actual epistemology, but fails miserably in this case. Why? Because of the lack of cohesion amongst us. Because atheism trends towards the individual, rather than the hive-mind. True enough, what binds us together is an absence of belief, and certainly, most of us agree on certain items, but for the most part, we agree that the supernatural is just some romantic arrested development on the part of most individuals. That's about it.

A consensus of opinion on one matter is not necessarily a consensus on all matters. I've rejected moral relativism, I support Israel, I've even pointed out where Muslims have contributed to civilization, and have even disputed the concept of Qiqong as 'woo'. Oh, and I'm pro-life and pro-choice.

I think it's probably quite frustrating for the religious critics, who approach us from the angle of the tu quoque, only to have the blow land on nothing. Or perhaps they simply imagine that they're striking a blow for truth and justice? Probably, seeing as they have imaginary relationships with entities that don't exist.

Let's get back on track here.

Johnny boy obviously misses the whole point here when Harris challenged 1 billion people to pray a limb to re-grow. (Prayer doesn't work.) He also doesn't seem to understand that the Golden Compass isn't really an 'atheist tract' - in fact, he claims the author (Lev Grossman) 'is a fan of the books and was worried they wouldn’t be anti-Christian enough.' Actual quote is: 'My chief worry going into the movie was that they would soft-pedal the anti-church aspects of the novel.' Not quite the same thing. Then there's this weak-ass critique of how the 'Amazing Atheist' didn't act in time to prevent the Jokela (or act appropriately - Jokela's in Finland, dude!), though judging from this sordid little bit, the guy's anything but 'amazing'. And his piece about 'Atheists Behaving Badly'? Well, for starters:

A. Watson's an asshole for making that claim about African Americans,
B. Stark isn't the only politician who's said some pretty stupid things (but he's one in a thousand in this respect: he fucking apologized, at least. Larry Craig's still denying he's gay, for one thing: I could go on at length about all these 'family values' hypocrites).
C. George Carlin's comment was completely taken out of context (what a surprise! What was that thing, you know, about bearing false witness?).

As to this ridiculous study, it's obviously not taking the actual statistics into consideration - Canada's seems not very forthcoming as the latest serious stats date back to 2001. Anyone have anything more recent?

So these mushmouths (like that last dweeb I exposed as a lying twit has already declared 'victory', see under Reasons for Examining My Persuasion in his blog - somehow he won! Nary a valid point was raised...I criticized his parroted right wing talking points only) really can't figure out why we're so pissed off? Why we can't just be those precious little 'casual secularists' they snivel about? Waaah, waaah, waaah!

Hey, far as I'm concerned, kid gloves are off. They have been for some time. The carnies have a saying: "You wanna play? You gotta pay."

This is the Apostate, signing off.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Deathwatch Daze...

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. - Hamlet

As many of you may have noticed, I've not been keeping up with my blogging. Some of it is work-related - my job entails a great deal of mental gymnastics and social interaction (to the point where I'm usually blasé about responding to commenters on my blog, or visiting and commenting at my usual digs), but lately, there's been another item that's been distracting me tremendously.

My mother's been diagnosed with cancer.

Being 75 years old, this is pretty much a death sentence.

Around Thanksgiving, she was still hale and healthy, and then BOOM! Seemingly overnight, she became enfeebled. I used to joke around about "I've fallen, and I can't get up!" That's simply not amusing in the slightest anymore, when you have to rush over and help an elderly relative to stand.

At first, she'd slur her words in the evening, which I chalked up to her drinking wine (she never got 3 sails to the wind, I might add), and her doctor thought it was the onset of a stroke. Then they found a tumor behind her ear, and then a spot on her lungs. All those years of bad habits accumulated, apparently.

Then one morning, I got up at 8:00 AM on the weekend, and she was sitting at the dining table, and there was a huge wound ground into her forearm. Seems she'd gotten up around 4:30 to go to the bathroom, fell, and spent a great deal of time fighting her way back up. She went to the hospital that day.

She didn't want to bother me. So she didn't holler. Tough old bird.

My little sister and I were alternating - she'd watch mom during the week, evenings and weekends I scurry about, supplying her with what little she requires these days.

She goes under the knife today. Not terribly clear on the details yet.

Certainly, her bad habits brought her to this pass. Hardly an argument, there.

I think this is the cruelest system ever - not enough that we're slated to expire at some juncture, but that this cloak of flesh is heir to a million diseases, and as many weaknesses. It clearly reeks of non-design, a thorough testament to a lack of a guiding force, or a caring universe.

So the religious among my readers can drape it under "the deity moves in mysterious ways" all they want - they can just shove that right up where the sun don't shine. Superstitious nonsense is less than comforting - I find cold comfort in spurious, unprovable lies. Unless some sort of 'miracle' occurs, I stand convinced:

There is no god. Capital or lowercase G.

So put that in your smoke and pipe it.


ADDENDUM - as of Saturday, my mother got through her operation with flying colors. The poor dear is still somewhat bewildered, but she aced the thing. The operation was for a tumor behind her ear. The carcinoma, however, still limits her remaining time to 6 months to a year.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Allegories Gone Wild - Humping The Mirage


Here's a little ditty from the Quran, that you might find amusing - I'm reminded of the story of Balaam. Courtesy of a Muslim by the name of Ezzatoa, whose cute little stories I've eviscerated here, here, and here.

I was perusing his rather baroque meritocracy, when I chanced on this little gem:

"[17:59] What stopped us from sending the
miracles is that the previous generations have rejected them. For example, we
showed Thamoud the camel, a profound (miracle), but they transgressed against
it. We sent the miracles only to instill reverence

and Thamoud is a a tribe who witnessed a camel emerging from a solid rock.

Double-blink. Say whaaa...?

Shore 'nuff, it's a 'real' story all right - though there are different versions (some of them are even more fantastic, like this one for instance).

So here's the less...embellished version:

God granted Salih this miracle and a huge, unique, camel appeared from the direction of the mountain. The Quranic commentators said that the people of Thamud gathered on a certain day at their meeting place, and Salih came and addressed them to believe in God, reminding them of the favors God had granted them.

A stray camel is a sign from on high?

Then pointing at a rock, they demanded: "Ask your Lord to make a camel, which must be 10 months pregnant, tall and attractive, issue from the rock for us."

Sounds like these cats had a menu in their hands, don't it? Why did it have to be attractive? (The mind shudders.) Why pregnant? Why not ask for a freakin' unicorn? (I'm guessing he had a few shills planted in the crowd, if this even happened at all.)

Salih replied: "Look now! If God sends you what you have requested, just as you have described, will you believe in that which I have come to you with and have faith in the message I have been sent with?"

They answered: "Yes."

Eenie beanie, chili weenie, the spirits are about to speak!

So he took a vow from them on this, then prayed to God to grant their request. God ordered the distant rock to split asunder, to bringing forth a great ten month pregnant camel. When their eyes set on it, they were amazed. They saw a great thing, a wonderful sight, a dazzling power and clear evidence!

Couldn't find a tophat big enough, ey?

A number of Salih's people believed, yet most of them continued in their disbelief, stubbornness, and going astray. God said: We sent the camel to Thamud as a clear sign, but they did her wrong. (Ch 17:59) and also: Verily the dwellers of Al Hijr (the rocky tract) denied the messengers. We gave them our signs, but they were averse to them. (Ch 15:80-81 Quran)

Let me guess...here a pregnant (attractive too!) camel emerges from the rocks, and yet, a large percentile of folks didn't buy it? Hmmm...
(Note that the gestation time of a camel is one year.)

There are a number of ancient accounts of this camel and its miraculous nature. It was said that the she camel was miraculous because a rock in the mountain split open and it came forth from it, followed by its young offspring. Other accounts said that the she camel used to drink all the water in the wells in one day, and no other animals could approach the water. Still others claimed that the she camel produced milk sufficient for all the people to drink, on the same day that it drank all the water, leaving none for them.

Nobody seems to be able to get the bloody story straight. Gee, what a surprise.

At first, the people of Thamud were greatly surprised when the she camel issued from the mountain rocks. It was a blessed camel, and its milk sufficient for thousands of men, women and children. If it slept in a place that place was abandoned by other animals. Thus it was obvious that is was not an ordinary camel, but one of God's signs. It lived among Salih's people, some of whom believed in God while the majority continued in their obstinacy and disbelief.

Doubtless because it was all fables.

Their hatred of Salih turned towards the blessed she camel and became centered on it. A conspiracy started to be hatched against the camel by the disbelievers, and they secretly plotted against it.

A conspiracy was hatched against a camel? Are you kidding me? I can see the marquis now - "The Hunt For Beige October!" "The Dromedary Conspiracy!"

Salih feared that they might kill the camel, so he warned them: "O my people! This camel of Allah is a sign to you, leave her to feed on Allah's earth, and touch her not with evil lest a near torment will seize you." (Ch 11:64 Quran)

"Plus she's having my kid," Salih let slip out.

For awhile, Salih's people let the camel graze and drink freely, but in their hearts they hated it. However, the miraculous appearance of the unique camel caused many to become Salih's followers, and they clung to their belief in God.

A group of people short on hobbies, I'd gather.

They laid a plot to kill the camel, and sought the help of their women folk to tempt the men to carry out their commands. Saduq bint of Mahya, who was from a rich and noble family, offered herself to a young man named Masrai Ibn Mahraj on condition that he hamstring the camel. Aniza, an old woman, offered one of her daughters to a young man, Qudar Ibn Saluf, in return for killing the camel. Naturally these young men were tempted and set about finding seven others to assist them.

So women were actually parceling out sexual favors to get rid of it? Really? Oh, for fuck's sake!

They watched the camel closely, observing all its movements. As the she camel came to drink at the well, Masarai shot it in the leg with an arrow. It tried to escape but was hampered by the arrow. Qudar followed the camel and struck it with a sword in the other leg. As it fell to the ground, he pierced it with his sword.

A 6th century SWAT squad was dispatched to exterminate the dromedary with extreme prejudice.

The killers were given a hero's welcome, cheered with songs and poetry composed in their praise. In their arrogance they mocked Salih, but he warned them: "Enjoy life for 3 more days then the punishment will descend upon you." Salih was hoping that they would see the folly of their ways and change their attitude before the 3 days went out.

They'd already done the deed, hadn't they? But then, 'they' (the entire cabal) decided to go after the camel lover:

They also plotted to kill Salih and his household as God stated: "So they plotted, and we planned a plan, while they perceived not." (Ch 27:50 Quran) Allah saved Salih and his followers from their wicked plans. Heavy hearted, they left the evil doers and moved to another place.

Get the hell outta Dodge! Of course, the inevitable, predictable climax:

Three days after Salih's warning, thunderbolts filled the air, followed by severe earthquakes which destroyed the entire tribe and its homeland. The land was violently shaken, destroying all living creatures in it. There was one terrific cry which had hardly ended when the disbelievers of Salih's people were struck dead, one and all, at the same time. Neither their strong buildings nor their rock hewn homes could protect them.

So let's nutshell this:

Prophet produces a 'miracle' pregnant camel from the rocks, which produces wonders. Evildoers plot against and kill said camel, plot against the magician, and get smote dead.

This doesn't even qualify as a decent Archie comic, let alone a 'miracle'.

Anyone who even accepts this ridiculous story as reality, needs to stop smoking hashish.

Let the mockery begin.

This is the Apostate, signing off. 


Sunday, January 06, 2008

Allegories Gone Wild - Homing In On The Homunculus

Cross-posted at God is for Suckers!


For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of the homunculus, in occult lore, it's the creation of a human being by supernatural means. Paracelsus was rumored to have created one. As a window into how primitive man viewed himself as well as others of his species, the following description is not for the weak of stomach:

To manufacture one, Paracelsus stated that the needed spagyric (a term probably coined by Paracelsus implying an alchemical process using semen) substances should be sealed in a glass vial and placed in horse dung to digest for 40 days. At the end of this time something will begin to live and move in the bottle. This is sometimes a man, said Paracelsus, but a man who has no body and is transparent.

Nevertheless, he exists, and nothing remains but to bring him up—which is not more difficult than making him. This may be accomplished by feeding him daily (over a period of 40 weeks, and without extricating him from his dung hill) with the arcanum of human blood. At the end of this time there should be a living child, having every member as well proportioned as any infant born of a woman. He will be much smaller than an ordinary child, though, and his physical education will require more care and attention.

I could not tell you to save my life the how's or whys of why I stumbled across this: but the following entry caught my eye (from the Philosophy Dictionary):

A small person. A bad idea in the philosophy of mind is to explain a person's agency, or intelligence, or experience, as if there were a smaller agent, or intelligent thing, or experiencing subject ‘inside the head’. But homuncular functionalism decomposes complex functions into simpler ones, thereby avoiding the obvious regress.

Thus, I realized; this is a perfect description of that ineffable, abstract conglomeration the religious refer to as a 'soul'.

The concept of our being able to survive this life into another is an attractive one. However, this concept is rich in imagination, and piss poor in actual facts.

One person actually tried to weigh in on this (pardon the bad pun):

Dr. Duncan MacDougall was an early 20th century doctor in Haverhill, Massachusetts who sought to measure the mass purportedly lost by a human body when the soul departed the body upon death.

This is one of those pernicious arguments that the more romantic 'souls' pursue - it's hard to fathom, that we're gone, turned off like a light switch. Often as not, someone trots out the inevitable Conservation of energy, to wit: "The principle of conservation of energy states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, although it can be changed from one form to another." Which is pretty much a sad effort. Information is lost. Shred a CD (or a DVD), and you pretty much have the same energy/mass, but access to the info contained in that mass is lost.

The other problem encountered, is: what exactly gets saved? The selective swipe of a scalpel can drastically alter a person's personality. This saved template would draw on...what, exactly? That person as he/she is, or as they were prior to the surgery? What if they were reduced to a mere vegetative state, as was Teri Schiavo? Reduced to a mere collection of neurons, a chemical stew,  a primitive Bunsen burner with the flame burning dimmer?

Or, for a famous example, Phineas Gage?

Phineas P. Gage (1823May 21, 1860) was a railroad construction foreman who suffered a traumatic brain injury when a tamping iron accidentally passed through his skull, damaging the frontal lobes of his brain. This injury is supposed to have negatively affected his emotional, social and personal traits—leaving him in a temperamental and unsociable state, so much so that his friends said he was "no longer Gage".

(There was one skeptical doctor who disputed this, but given what we now know, especially about lobotomies and electroconvulsive therapy, the chances that this disrupted Gage's...mindset are highly probable. I doubt I'd be very sunny or rational after all that.)

As per usual, the supernatural disappears quickly under closer scrutiny. Small wonder it never gets used in the laboratory.

So there is no afterlife - no choir of trumpets to greet us, no tearful reunions, no kaleidoscopic flights to gates of any sort. More's the reason, then, that we should live, love, and care about one another.

Till the next post, then.