left biblioblography: 2009

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tuesday Funny – A Bit Of Fry And Laurie

For those of you unfamiliar, A Bit Of Fry And Laurie is the comedic teaming of Hugh Laurie (yes, the star of House) and Stephen Fry.

The following is a favorite bit of mine (and the Tick’s cry of “Spoon!” comes to mind, don’t know why):



Monday, December 28, 2009

My Year In Review

So, it’s going on what? Holy crap, four years. It flies, does time, regardless of having fun or not.

I am going to title 2009 (for myself) as the Year Of Living Lazily.

I was laid off in February, and have been surviving off a small inheritance. I thought to myself, hey, learn Chinese, write more, go out and be more social, but all those hard intense training sessions of Tai Chi have made me – more laconic. I was warned about this, so no complaints.

I have now been a non-smoker since October of 2008, so it’s about 14 months since I’ve smoked a cigarette. Mind you it’s not since I’ve touched a cigarette, but put it in my mouth and smoked one. There’s been moments where I scrounged a butt outta an ashtray (hey, addiction’s addiction. I maintain Cocaine is the only drug that makes people eat their boogers), looked at the thing, and tossed it. I tried to bum one, but a real friend who smokes said, “You’ve gotten this far – why waste it?” I even broke down and almost bought a pack 4-5 months in – the cashier plopped it down, I looked at it, announced “I quit!” and left. I am, however, popping Commit lozenges, but I can now go to sleep without listening to the phlegm rattle about in my lungs. On the down side, I picked up some weight which I still haven’t gotten rid of.

I hit a lot of tournaments in the spring and summer months, and I’m now up to 31 medals, and 9 plaques (the medals are rotting away in a drawer somewhere). It’s a nice feeling to know that I have a few gold medals (and some silver and bronze as well) in my martial art of choice.

Chances are strong that I’m going to get another shot at a position that I didn’t get in 2006. Therein lies a tale:

In 2006, I was hired by a job placement agency to work at a big telephone company (I’m not naming names, don’t ask) as a technical support person. So I went in for two weeks of training. Little was I to know, that this would be the equivalent of a boot camp and a shining example of social Darwinism. Swim or drown, baby. They pounded info into a group of about a hundred people, and then we had to take tests – and no squeakers (or mulligans) allowed. I’ve always been a squeaker – I do well in classroom environments, but tests, they ain’t my thing. So I scored around 65-70%, they said sorry. The agency then sent me to work for the Registrar of Voters for the 2006 election. I did okay, they made me Precinct Director in Berkeley (which consisted of me visiting polls, and staring stupidly when asked questions). After that, they shipped me off to Long’s Drugs to tie Xmas trees to people’s cars in the pouring rain and refuse tips. Seriously. Long’s management has this thing where you don’t take money people throw at you. Three days, and I had to beg off. It was too wet, and it was definitely a young man’s game (I was having serious physical issues – pounding a base onto one tree isn’t so much, but you do that 20-30 times, and cramps set in right quick). They then shipped me off to the Chabot college book store as a parking attendant monitor. Everything was fine – I threw a little freight (and felt extremely old around all those yowwens) right up until I caught a horrible flu. It was so bad, I could barely keep broth down. Two days, I called in sick. Then the weekend. I called in Monday, weak as a kitten, ready to work, and was told the client ‘wanted someone reliable’. I protested that I’d gotten ill, not my fault. I tried to pester them to give me more work, but I’d become persona non grata. Sadly, a lot of agencies will do this. Fast forward to this month. I sent off an old resume, to the same guy who brought me on 3 years back. We talked on the phone, he asked me to come in, and yes, he remembered me. We went over the technical stuff, and then he asked me why I wanted to try again. I told him that A. I’ve always wanted a second crack at this, B. I still have my notes from 3 years ago, and C. I know exactly what I’m getting into. I’m still awaiting confirmation for my eligibility (the guy said if the company doesn’t mind, I’m in), but given how they treated me last time, I’m withholding bragging rights until I know for sure.

I tried out for my black belt, but didn’t get it (about 80% – again, no squeakers allowed). Maybe I’ll try again.

It’s now been two years since I’ve disowned my family. I’m managing okay, I don’t get in the holiday spirit like I used to, but I tell people, hey, the big trick is getting along with yourself, which is (in my opinion) a big problem in the world today. I’ve gotten the odd email – I’m usually terse and to the point, but it doesn’t look like reconciliation will happen any time soon.

As for the blog, I should apologize to my regular and long time readers. I’ve been terribly lazy, and I average about 2 posts per week, when I could be rattling my sabers more regularly. 2010 may be the year that I start getting stoked up again, but we’ll see.

Questions, comments, or general natter will be acceptable.



Sunday, December 27, 2009

And The Jury’s In – Again – Religion Improves Nothing


Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers!

I rather enjoyed this article by the author (authoress? Is it PC to use that term?) of the Meme Machine.

Are we better off without religion?

Popular religious belief is caused by dysfunctional social conditions. This is the conclusion of the latest sociological research (pdf) conducted by Gregory Paul. Far from religion benefiting societies, as the "moral-creator socioeconomic hypothesis" would have it, popular religion is a psychological mechanism for coping with high levels of stress and anxiety – or so he suggests.

I've long been interested in Paul's work because it addresses a whole bunch of fascinating questions – why are Americans so religious when the rest of the developed world is increasingly secular? Is religious belief beneficial to societies? does religion make people behave better?

I’d assume that there’s a number of variables – it’s likely ingrained into our collective consciousness because of the Establishment cause, appears on our money, and there’s a degree of diversity among the religious that possibly rivals the amount of biological diversity of the coral reefs in Australia.

Many believers assume, without question, that it does – even that there can be no morality without religion. They cite George Washington who believed that national morality could not prevail without religions principles, or Dostoevsky's famous claim (actually words of his fictional character Ivan Karamazov) that "without God all things are permitted". Then there are Americans defending their country's peculiarly high levels of popular religious belief and claiming that faith-based charity is better than universal government provision.

Citing G. Washington is an argument from tradition, and nobody needs the supernatural to be decent folks.

Atheists, naturalists and humanists fight back claiming that it's perfectly possible to be moral without God. Evolutionary psychology reveals the common morality of our species, and the universal values of fairness, kindness, and reciprocity. But who is right? As a scientist I want evidence. What if – against all my own beliefs – it turns out that religious people really do behave better than atheists, and that religious societies are better in important respects than non-religious ones, then I would have cause to rethink some of my ideas.

This is where Gregory Paul and his research come in. I have often quoted his earlier, 2005, research which showed strong positive correlations between nations' religious belief and levels of murder, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and other indicators of dysfunction. It seemed to show, at the very least, that being religious does not necessarily make for a better society. The real problem was that he was able to show only correlations, and the publicity for his new research seemed to imply causation. If so this would have important implications indeed.

In this latest research Paul measures "popular religiosity" for developed nations, and then compares it against the "successful societies scale" (SSS) which includes such things such as homicides, the proportion of people incarcerated, infant mortality, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage births and abortions, corruption, income inequality, and many others. In other words it is a way of summing up a society's health. The outlier again and again is the US with a stunning catalogue of failures. On almost every measure the US comes out worse than any other 1st world developed nation, and it is also the most religious.

Read the rest – it’s a good article, and it illustrates all the nonsense we’ve been discussing here for years. Religion improves nothing and no one. We share morals, none of this ‘borrowing’ folderol. Superstition is the fear of death, dimly cloaked, a ruse and tool of the alpha shamans, who shake their book at us and expect that we shake in fright as a response. It may have served some purpose in centuries past, but our species has evolved to having no need of shadowy wraiths and ghosts of Xmas pasts to keep us in lockstep anymore.

It is good to be free. To breathe, to know that our lives are our own, and the shackles of anachronism are broken.

Be free. Breathe. Our lives are works of art, to be made beautiful.

Be free.

Till the next post, then.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tuesday Funny – Seinfeld’s ‘Festivus For The Rest Of Us’

Perhaps the funniest season was the made-up holiday, ‘Festivus’.



Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Blast From The Past – Of Mithras, Mythology, And Muddled Meanings

Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers! 


Be gracious to me, 0 Providence and Psyche, as I write these mysteries handed down for gain but for instruction; and for an only child I request immortality, O initiates of this our power (furthermore, it is necessary for you, O daughter, to take the juices of herbs and spices, which will to you at the end of my holy treatise), which the great god Helios Mithras ordered to be revealed to me by his archangel, so that I alone may ascend into heaven as an inquirer and behold the universe. – The Mithras Liturgy

Anyone who has walked down the blogging path of atheism has, at least in the beginning (while rooting about in historic data), heard the name of Mithras. Or has had more than one spirited debate with the religious about the matter of mythological parallelism.  So, in the alleged spirit of the season, I thought it fitting to pull down this old topic from the shelf, blow and bat the dust off it, and give it a going over.

The archeology is actually quite slim, as evidenced here. And from here:

The first surviving ancient author to mention Mithras is Statius ca. 80 AD, who makes an enigmatic reference, possibly to the tauroctony.

And theories about how it originated are, sadly, all over the place:


The Greek biographer Plutarch (46 - 127) was convinced that the pirates of Cilicia, the coastal province in the southeast of Anatolia, were the origin of the Mithraic rituals that were being practiced in the Rome in his day: "They likewise offered strange sacrifices; those of Olympus I mean; and they celebrated certain secret mysteries, among which those of Mithras continue to this day, being originally instituted by them." (Life of Pompey 24). The 4th century commentary on Vergil by Servius says that Pompey settled some of these pirates in Calabria. But whether any of this relates to the origins of the mysteries is unclear.


According to 3-4th century AD philosopher Porphyry, Mithraists considered that their cult was founded by Zoroaster. But Porphyry is writing close to the demise of the cult, and modern scholar Robert Turcan has challenged the idea that Porphyry's statements about Mithraism are accurate. His case is that far from representing what Mithraists believed, they are merely representations by the neo-platonists of what it suited them in the late 4th century to read into the mysteries. Merkelbach and Beck believe that Porphyry's work "is in fact thoroughly coloured with the doctrines of the Mysteries."

Cumont's hypothesis

Scholarship on Mithras begins with Franz Cumont, who published a two volume collection of source texts and images of monuments in French in 1894–1900. Cumont's hypothesis, as the author summarizes it in the first 32 pages of his book, was that the Roman religion was "the Roman form of Mazdaism", the Persian state religion, disseminated from the East.

Cumont's theories were examined and largely rejected at the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies held in 1971. John Hinnells was unwilling to reject entirely the idea of Iranian origin, but wrote: "we must now conclude that his reconstruction simply will not stand. It receives no support from the Iranian material and is in fact in conflict with the ideas of that tradition as they are represented in the extant texts. Above all, it is a theoretical reconstruction which does not accord with the actual Roman iconography."  He discussed Cumont's reconstruction of the bull-slaying scene and stated "that the portrayal of Mithras given by Cumont is not merely unsupported by Iranian texts but is actually in serious conflict with known Iranian theology." Another paper by R. L. Gordon showed that Cumont severely distorted the available evidence by forcing the material to conform to his predetermined model of Zoroastrian origins. Gordon suggested that the theory of Persian origins was completely invalid and that the Mithraic mysteries in the West was an entirely new creation.

Boyce states that "no satisfactory evidence has yet been adduced to show that, before Zoroaster, the concept of a supreme god existed among the Iranians, or that among them Mithra - or any other divinity - ever enjoyed a separate cult of his or her own outside either their ancient or their Zoroastrian pantheons."

Beck tells us that since the 1970s scholars have generally rejected Cumont, but adds that recent theories about how Zoroastrianism was during the period BC now makes some new form of Cumont's east-west transfer possible. "Apart from the name of the god himself, in other words, Mithraism seems to have developed largely in and is, therefore, best understood from the context of Roman culture."

I use the term ‘sadly’, because it does tend to be one of those overworked but inadequate talking points when debating with the average theist. There is no proof that any sort of pilfering went on from either side. It’s an engaging thought, but a dead end:

The idea of a relationship between early Christianity and Mithraism is based on a passing remark in the 2nd century Christian writer Justin Martyr, who accused the Mithraists of diabolically imitating the Christian communion rite. Based upon this, Ernest Renan in 1882 set forth a vivid depiction of two rival religions: "if the growth of Christianity had been arrested by some mortal malady, the world would have been Mithraic," Edwin M. Yamauchi comments on Renan's work which, "published nearly 150 years ago, has no value as a source. He [Renan] knew very little about Mithraism..."

The philosopher Celsus in the second century provides some evidence that Ophite Gnostic ideas were influencing the mysteries of Mithras.

Mithras and the Virgin Birth

Joseph Campbell, who was not a Mithras scholar, described the birth of Mithras as a virgin birth, like that of Jesus. He gives no ancient source for his claim.

Mithras was not thought of as virgin born in any ancient source. Rather, he arose spontaneously from a rock in a cave. In Mithraic Studies it is stated that Mithras was born as an adult from solid rock, "wearing his Phrygian cap, issues forth from the rocky mass. As yet only his bare torso is visible. In each hand he raises aloft a lighted torch and, as an unusual detail, red flames shoot out all around him from the petra genetrix."

David Ulansey speculates that this was a belief derived from the Perseus' myths which held he was born from an underground cavern.

And December 25th was not the alleged birthday of this man-myth:

Mithras and 25 December

It is often stated that it was believed that Mithras was born on December 25. Beck calls this assertion "that hoariest of 'facts'". He continues: "In truth, the only evidence for it is the celebration of the birthday of "Invictus" on that date in Calendar of Philocalus. 'Invictus' is of course Sol Invictus, Aurelian's sun god. It does not follow that a different, earlier, and unofficial sun god, Sol Invictus Mithras, was necessarily or even probably, born on that day too."

Clauss states that there were no public ceremonies of the mysteries of Mithras: "the Mithraic Mysteries had no public ceremonies of its own. The festival of natalis Invicti [Birth of the Unconquerable (Sun)], held on 25 December, was a general festival of the Sun, and by no means specific to the Mysteries of Mithras."

Steven Hijmans has discussed in detail the question of whether the general "natalis Invicti" festival was related to Christmas but does not give Mithras as a possible source.

And the shedding of blood is a reference to….?

Mithras and Salvation

A painted text on the wall of the St. Prisca Mithraeum in Rome contains the words: et nos servasti . . . sanguine fuso (and you have saved us ... in the shed blood). The meaning of this is unclear, although presumably refers to the bull killed by Mithras, as no other source refers to a Mithraic salvation. According to Robert Turcan,Mithraic salvation had little to do with the other-worldly destiny of individual souls, but was on the Zoroastrian pattern of man's participation in the cosmic struggle of the good creation against the forces of evil.

So, the short version is – there is no evidence that Christianity borrowed from Mithraism, nor is there any vice versa. I am convinced that Theodosius I’s implementation and enforcement of the Nicene religion led to the destruction of a great many documents and monuments that would have given us substantial proofs one way or another, but alas I cannot prove it. As a talking point, it’s a fair illustration of not only how parallels occur (or are borrowed, or pinched, or whatnot), but also how incredibly sketchy historical veracity becomes when the Christians took over.  Outside of that, it’s not the sort of factoid that will slap the reader into some sort of admission. Then again, as we all know, facts are for the pragmatist and the realist, not the religionist.

Till the next post, then.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday Funny – Greg The Bunny

This was a short-lived show that I actually very much enjoyed. The basic premise was that puppets were very much actual people, replete with idiosyncrasies, idiocies, and general bad behavior. It’s odd humor, but very funny. Also note, that the syndicated series was much funnier than the IFC production (even though I loved the name of the producers – Monkies With Checkbooks).

The ‘Count’ is obviously a send-off of the Sesame Street character, even though the mention of him sends Count Blah into a wild rant every time.



Saturday, December 12, 2009

Allegories Gone Wild – The Shish-Kebab Of Destiny

Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers!

Spear_of_Destiny “ESOTERIC, adj. Very particularly abstruse and consummately occult. The ancient philosophies were of two kinds, -- exoteric, those that the philosophers themselves could partly understand, and esoteric, those that nobody could understand. It is the latter that have most profoundly affected modern thought and found greatest acceptance in our time.” – Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary.

As an extension of pareidolia, humanity has ever sought succor from symbols, amulets and talismans. Possession itself is an outgrowth of mammal territorialism, and we’ve all no doubt heard people claim that ‘their’ team (how it can be ‘theirs’ is a stumper, since they’re not on the bloody team itself) will only win if they paint their faces or sit on a ‘lucky’ couch, or mumble some arcane formula to a rabbit’s foot. It seems to be our lot to suffer the fools who seem to think that some scapular or wafer contains a potency against unseen unproven forces.

Herein is a bit of a tale – that spear that allegedly pierced the mythical man-child of Christianity.

According to Christian texts, the Spear of Destiny (also known as the Holy Lance, Holy Spear, Lance of Longinus, or Spear of Longinus) is the spear that is reported in the Gospel of John (19:31-37) as having pierced the side of Jesus during his crucifixion.

In the oldest known references to the legend, in the Gospel of Nicodemus (of uncertain date, possibly 5th or 6th century), the soldier who pierced Christ's side is identified with a centurion called Longinus (making the spear's "correct" Latin name Lancea Longini). Later Christian tradition, harking back to the novel The Spear by Louis de Wohl (1955), further identifies him as Gaius Cassius. It should be noted that there is a historical figure named Gaius Cassius Longinus, one of the conspirators responsible for the death of Gaius Julius Caesar. Another "Longinus" is credited with the authorship of the treatise On the Sublime. Roman names held little variety, especially among members of the same family.

The Gospel of Nicodemus is categorically rejected by the delusionists – but this is old news.

There are many prototypes and analogues of the spear in other legends, it can be compared to the ancient Irish weapon, the Spear Luin, and is similar to the Bleeding Lance of Grail mythology, which was eventually claimed to be the Spear of Destiny.

Mystical swords and spears litter the legends of history. There are a few tridents and bows, , but nowhere near the profligacy of the first two.

Back to the Spear of Destiny. Lo and behold, nobody can agree on which one is the item in question (Surprised? No? Me neither.):

One such "Holy Lance" was allegedly unearthed by a Crusader named Peter Bartholomew in Antioch in 1098 while the Crusaders were under siege from the Seljuk Turks under Kerbogha. Peter Bartholomew reported that he had had a vision in which St. Andrew told him that the Holy Lance was buried in St. Peter's Cathedral in Antioch. At the time some were skeptical, but others were convinced. In any case, after much digging in the cathedral, Peter Bartholomew took a hand and, in a few moments, discovered the lance. For some of the Crusaders this was a marvelous discovery. At the same time, dissension had begun in the ranks of the Muslim army besieging the city. This combination of factors resulted in the Christian army being able to rout the Muslims a few days later when they joined battle, allowing the Crusaders to decisively capture Antioch. That object is now at Etschmiadzin in Armenia. Scholars believe that it is not actually a Roman lance but the head of a Roman standard.

As Frank Sinatra put it, “Imagination is crazy, your whole perspective gets hazy.”

Another of the many Spears of Destiny is the one in The Vatican. The earliest reports of that Spear were circa A.D. 570, described as having been on display in the basilica of Mount Zion in Jerusalem adjacent to the Crown of Thorns. The point of the spearhead was alleged to have been snapped following the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in A.D. 615. The point was set into an icon, and found its way to the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. It was later transported to France, where it remained in the Sainte Chapelle until the 18th century. The icon was briefly moved to the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris during the French Revolution, but it subsequently disappeared. The lower section of the spearhead was allegedly conveyed from Jerusalem to Constantinople sometime in the 8th century. It was sent by Sultan Beyazid II as a gift to Pope Innocent VIII in 1492; Innocent had the relic placed in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It still resides there. The Catholic Church makes no claim as to its authenticity.

The holy spear that was used by the Holy Roman Emperors (cited from Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor on, the one most often referred to) as a part of their imperial insignia found its way to Vienna, Austria, where they are kept in a museum. Dr. Robert Feather, of England, a metallurgist and technical engineering writer, tested that Holy Lance in January of 2003. He was given unprecedented permission not only to examine the Spear in a laboratory environment, but was also allowed to remove the delicate bands of gold and silver that hold it together. The silver band bears the inscription "Nail of Our Lord". It was added to the Holy Lance by order of Henry IV, the third German Holy Roman Emperor, in 1084. Around 1350 King Charles IV Of Bohemia had a golden sleeve put over the silver one, inscribed "Lance and Nail of the Lord."

In 1411 Sigismund was made Holy Roman Emperor. In 1424 he announced: "It is the Will of God that the Imperial Crown, Orb, Scepter, Crosses, Sword and Lance of the Holy Roman Empire must never leave the soil of the Fatherland." This collection of relics, known collectively as the Reichkleinodien or Imperial Regalia, were moved from his capital in Prague to his birth place, Nuremberg.

When the army of Napoleon Bonaparte approached Nuremberg in the spring of 1796 many were terrified that Napoleon would seize the Spear and rule the world with it. The city councilors decided to remove the Reichkleinodie to Vienna for safe keeping. The collection of relics was entrusted to one Baron von Hügel, who promised to return the objects as soon as peace had been restored and the safety of the collection assured.

The Holy Roman Empire was officially dissolved in 1806. Baron von Hugel took advantage of the confusion over who was the legal owner of the Reichkleinodie and sold the entire collection, including the Spear, to the Habsburgs. Baron von Hugel's perfidy did not come to light until after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. When the city councilors of Nuremberg asked for their treasures back the Austrian authorities' response was a curt rejection. And there they stayed until the Anschluss, when Adolf Hitler claimed the Spear of Destiny as his own.

Another purported Holy Lance has been in Krakow since at least the 1200s, though German records indicate that the lance was a copy made from the German lance under Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor, with a small sliver of the original embedded. Another copy was given to the Hungarian king at the same time.

Far be it from the conspiracy theorists to take this and spin it into all sorts of malarkey:

Trevor Ravenscroft’s 1973 bestseller The Spear of Destiny has fixed his version of the legend in the minds of many today. He claims that Adolf Hitler started World War II to capture the spear, hypothesizing that Hitler's interest in the relic probably originated with his interest in the 1882 opera Parsifal — by Hitler’s favorite composer, Richard Wagner — which concerns a group of knights and their guardianship of the Holy Grail, as well as the recovery of the Spear. Though a number of historians cast doubt on Hitler's obsession with the Spear as it was reported by Trevor Ravenscroft et al, recent work by researcher and author Alec MacLellan has unearthed material from Ravenscroft's original source that seems to validate some of the stranger assertions.

Is it me, or does Ravenscroft seem somewhat…deranged?

Ravenscroft maintained that the spear came into the possession of the United States of America on April 30, 1945; specifically, under the control of the U.S. 3rd Army led by General George Patton. Later that day, supposedly in fulfillment of the legend that to lose the Spear meant death, Hitler committed suicide. Patton became fascinated by the ancient weapon and had its authenticity verified. Patton did not go on to use the spear, as orders came down from General Dwight Eisenhower that the complete Habsburg regalia including the Spear of Longinus were to be returned to the Hofburg Palace, where it remains today. It is interesting to note that George Patton, in his poem Through a Glass Darkly, curiously posits himself as Longinus in a previous lifetime.

This is a direct reference to the Vienna spear, which was dated to the 7th century CE. Oh, and the crazy gets crazier:

Ravenscroft repeatedly attempted to define the mysterious “powers” that the legend says the Spear serves. He found it to be a hostile and evil spirit, which he variously referred to as the Antichrist and the Spirit of the Age. Smith and Piccard similarly attempt to identify what they too perceive as a malignant spirit reaching through the Spear. In a mishmash of quantum physics, Christianity, and the New Age they offer a handful of ideas, from the Spear channeling the “angry God of the Old Testament” (Jehovah) to it somehow transferring a part of The Crucifixion to the Spear, with the Spear becoming a Doppelgänger for the Holy Spirit, becoming, as they put it, an Unholy Spirit.

See children? This is what happens when you don’t have healthy hobbies. Buechner proves to be a little less flamboyant, but still something of an overactive imagination:

Dr. Howard A. Buechner, M.D., professor of medicine at Tulane University and then Louisiana State University, added a strange chapter to the tale in his two books on the Spear. He claims he was contacted by a former U-boat submariner who in turn claimed to have helped take the Spear of Destiny to Antarctica in 1945 and to have helped to recover it in 1979. Buechner was a retired Colonel with the U.S. Army who served in World War II, and had written a book on the Dachau massacre as a witness to the event. He was presented by the pseudonymous “Capt. Wilhelm Bernhart” with the log of the 1979 Hartmann Expedition and photos of some of the objects recovered.

According to Buechner, the Spear currently on display in the Schatzkammer in Vienna is a fake. He claims that he had evidence that Heinrich Himmler, head of the Occult Bureau of the SS, had formed a circle of Knights dedicated to the Holy Lance and further, had Japan's greatest swordsmaker create an exact duplicate of the lance. Buechner claimed that the duplicate went on display in Nuremberg while the real one was used in arcane black magic ceremonies in a specially appointed castle in Wewelsburg, Germany. Even wilder, he wrote that Hitler personally had selected Col. Maximilian Hartmann to send several of his most prized possessions, including the Spear of Destiny, and Hitler and Eva Braun's ashes to Antarctica. According to him Col. Hartmann recovered the Spear of Destiny from the ice in 1979 and it is now in hiding somewhere in Europe, in the possession of the Knights of the Holy Lance.

After contacting most of the members of the alleged expedition and others involved, including senior Nazi officials and close associates of Adolf Hitler, like Hitler Youth Leader Artur Axmann, Col. Buechner became convinced the claims were true and that he was either the victim of an elaborate hoax, or the Spear of Destiny really did reside for a while in Antarctica and may well be in the hands of one or more individuals who believe, as Col Hartmann may have said “the Holy Lance points ever towards our eternal Deutschland.”

He may as well start waving it around and yell, ‘ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn’.

Smith and Picard are a bit more to the point, but no less wild:

Col. Buechner's story is examined and partially corroborated by both Alec Maclellan and the research/writing team of Jerry E. Smith and George Piccard. These writers focus on the mysterious surrenders of two U-boats to Argentine authorities months after the war’s end and how they may have been part of the “Fuehrer Convoy” taking high ranking Nazis and maybe treasure, to Argentina and/or Antarctica.

Spear legend meets Urban legend in the writings of the two conspiracy theory authors, Smith and Piccard. Their retelling of the Spear myth stretches from its purported creation in 3061 B.C. by Tubal-Cain, seventh generation grandson of Adam (the Spear was forged from a meteorite at the same time that he made the sword Excalibur), to Admiral Byrd’s battle (Operation Highjump) in the Antarctic against Nazis in their underground fortress in Neuschwabenland. Their version is replete with Nazi UFOs and the search for Atlantis. They connect the Thule Society (a Nazi secret society) to the Yale University Skull and Bones fraternity and the horrific events of September 11, 2001.

So…is that enough crazy for ya? That Hitler may have evinced some pointed interest in the artifact is likely. However, imbuing the bloody thing with magical powers is…well, foolish and pointless (pun intended). Even if it were the actual article, only one has been dated (the Vienna lance), and the Krakow lance has been declared a copy of the former.

In summation, Man tends to imbue inanimate objects with personality, a vain attempt to project himself onto the world around him. And when it appears that more positive statistics seem to occur in the vicinity of specific objects, religious people begin spinning tales about miraculous properties, unaware that it’s really all down to probabilities. Five million crystals do absolutely nothing, but a few might be in the general circle of a positive outcome, and voila! We got us an amulet, folks! Multiply that by a few millennia, overactive imaginations, and the snowballing effect of embellishment, and it results in eerie Theremin music, some thoroughly ridiculous memes, and the occasional out-in-left-field Fox series.

I hope this has been somewhat educational, because here the lesson endeth.

Till the next post, then.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Tuesday Funny – Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles

A very irreverent and down right bizarre comic strip. That’s all the intro it needs. If you have issues viewing it, the original can be found here.



Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Troubled Genius Of Horselover Fat

Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers!

It is not often that I write of other writers, better writers than I – and it saddens me when I read of the degree of mental pain and self-torture that these geniuses were subjected to. Nijinsky had schizophrenia, Tolstoy had a small but impressive litany of issues, Van Gogh and Newton suffered from bi-polarization, Dickens suffered from clinical depression. It seems that great creativity springs from great pain, which is indicative of how badly the world is wrought.

As I was sprouting from muddled middle-schooler to troubled teen, I chanced across the writings of Philip K. Dick, and was completely tumbled by his strange visions and his eclectic command of the language. Many of you (as avid bibliophiles) are no doubt aware, Mr. Dick was the author of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, which became a major movie title Blade Runner. He was also the mind that created the concept of Minority Report and A Scanner Darkly. A personal favorite of mine was the Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch, and the novel Valis was my first (albeit brief) encounter with the concept of exegesis. 

For the most part, the art is usually a reflection of the artist, but as a rule, the artist is not the art, but the art is a facet of the creator. However, Valis was actually somewhat autobiographical in nature (in which he named himself Horselover Fat, "Horselover" echoes the Greek etymology of the name Philip, while in German, Dick's surname means "fat". )

It is a little known fact that PKD actually had some serious mental health issues:

On February 20, 1974, Dick was recovering from the effects of sodium pentothal administered for the extraction of an impacted wisdom tooth. Answering the door to receive delivery of extra analgesic, he noticed that the delivery woman was wearing a pendant with a symbol that he called the "vesicle pisces". This name seems to have been based on his confusion of two related symbols, the ichthys (two intersecting arcs delineating a fish in profile) that early Christians used as a secret symbol, and the vesica piscis. After the delivery woman's departure, Dick began experiencing strange visions. Although they may have been initially attributable to the medication, after weeks of visions he considered this explanation implausible. "I experienced an invasion of my mind by a transcendentally rational mind, as if I had been insane all my life and suddenly I had become sane," Dick told Charles Platt.

In 1974, even admitting the onset of visions was a stigma – most likely that exists to this day. Again, religion provides an umbrella for the disturbed to hide under.

Throughout February and March 1974, he experienced a series of visions, which he referred to as "two-three-seventy four" (2-3-74), shorthand for February-March 1974. He described the initial visions as laser beams and geometric patterns, and, occasionally, brief pictures of Jesus and of ancient Rome. As the visions increased in length and frequency, Dick claimed he began to live a double life, one as himself, "Philip K. Dick", and one as "Thomas", a Christian persecuted by Romans in the 1st century A.D. Despite his history of drug use and elevated stroke risk, Dick began seeking other rationalist and religious explanations for these experiences. He referred to the "transcendentally rational mind" as "Zebra", "God" and, most often, "VALIS". Dick wrote about the experiences in the semi-autobiographical novels VALIS and Radio Free Albemuth.

None of the explanations seem overly rational.

At one point Dick felt that he had been taken over by the spirit of the prophet Elijah. He believed that an episode in his novel Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said was a detailed retelling of a story from the Biblical Book of Acts, which he had never read.

One has but to read the novel to see how delusional that is. Or, just read the synopsis.

In time, Dick became paranoid, imagining plots against him by the KGB and FBI. At one point, he alleged they were responsible for a burglary of his house, from which documents were stolen. He later came to suspect that he might have committed the burglary against himself, and then forgotten he had done so. Dick himself speculated as to whether he may have suffered from schizophrenia.

Strangely, there’s no motive listed for why two high-powered Intel groups would be interested in him.

Many of his works showed several powerful themes running through them:

Dick's stories typically focus on the fragile nature of what is "real" and the construction of personal identity. His stories often become surreal fantasies as the main characters slowly discover that their everyday world is actually an illusion constructed by powerful external entities (such as in Ubik), vast political conspiracies, or simply from the vicissitudes of an unreliable narrator. "All of his work starts with the basic assumption that there cannot be one, single, objective reality," writes science fiction author Charles Platt. "Everything is a matter of perception. The ground is liable to shift under your feet. A protagonist may find himself living out another person's dream, or he may enter a drug-induced state that actually makes better sense than the real world, or he may cross into a different universe completely."

Alternate universes and simulacra were common plot devices, with fictional worlds inhabited by common, working people, rather than galactic elites. "There are no heroes in Dick's books," Ursula K. Le Guin wrote, "but there are heroics. One is reminded of Dickens: what counts is the honesty, constancy, kindness and patience of ordinary people." Dick made no secret that much of his ideas and work were heavily influenced by the writings of Carl Jung, the Swiss founder of the theory of the human psyche he called "Analytical Psychology" (to distinguish it from Freud's theory of psychoanalysis). Jung was a self-taught expert on the unconscious and mythological foundations of conscious experience and was open to the reality underlying mystical experiences. The Jungian constructs and models that most concerned Dick seem to be the archetypes of the collective unconscious, group projection/ hallucination, synchronicities, and personality theory. Many of Dick's protagonists overtly analyze reality and their perceptions in Jungian terms (see Lies Inc.), while other times, the themes are so obviously in reference to Jung their usage needs no explanation. Dick's self-named "Exegesis" also contained many notes on Jung in relation to theology and mysticism.

Mental illness was a constant interest of Dick's, and themes of mental illness permeate his work. The character Jack Bohlen in the 1964 novel Martian Time-Slip is an "ex-schizophrenic". The novel Clans of the Alphane Moon centers on an entire society made up of descendants of lunatic asylum inmates. In 1965 he wrote the essay titled Schizophrenia and the Book of Changes.

Drug use was also a theme in many of Dick’s works, such as A Scanner Darkly and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Dick was a drug user for much of his life. According to a 1975 interview in Rolling Stone,[31] Dick wrote all of his books published before 1970 while on amphetamines. "A Scanner Darkly (1977) was the first complete novel I had written without speed," said Dick in the interview. He also experimented briefly with psychedelics, but wrote The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, which Rolling Stone dubs "the classic LSD novel of all time," before he had ever tried them. Despite his heavy amphetamine use, however, Dick later said that doctors had told him that the amphetamines never actually affected him, that his liver had processed them before they reached his brain.

A sad troubled genius was Horselover Fat – he spun wild tales that ran rampant with weird conspiracies, and challenged the concepts of reality. It was unfortunate that these were bizarre echoes of his personality, a pastiche of a fragmented person, struggling, ever struggling, and that the baroque meritocracy of his vision resulted in some of the best science fiction ever put to pen.

I do not have it in me to mock his pain, or his inability to cope. It poses the question, however: if he had been privy to the advanced psychological treatment we have access to today, would he have then still penned the works he had, or been reduced to a drooling patient in a psych ward?

It is food for thought, it is.

Till the next post, then.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Tuesday Funny – Futurama

One of my all time favorites is Futurama. The following clip is from Bender’s Game.



Saturday, November 28, 2009

The League Of Militant Atheists – A Sobering Look At History

Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers!militant_atheists Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. - George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905

In today’s PC-proactive world, the slightest critique of religion is viewed as being the metaphorical equivalent of jack-booted thugism, and bellows of “Persecution!”, “Intolerance”,  and “Hate Crime!” can be heard in the echo chambers of the internet. As the comic illustrates, it’s very much a non-sequitur. As a rule, we atheists are fairly quick on the draw to disavow any connection to monsters like Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao, inasmuch as there were far more complex variables in play than the simple lack of belief. (In an Ayn Rand interview, she avowed that despite the atheistic state, Russia was deeply entrenched in mysticism, for one example). Atheists of course, come in all sizes, shapes, temperaments and ideologies. However, I stumbled on this blast from the past, and I see some actual parallels between then and now. Mind you, I’m talking about specific items: obviously not our culture, nor the politics, but specific thought processes (not the actions taken, be clear please) that are startlingly similar. I will outline those in bold (and items in underline that I think to be of interest), so as to be clear.

So firstly: yes, Virginia, there WAS a League Of Militant Atheists, AKA the Society of The Godless:

Society of the Godless (Russian: Общество безбожников); other names include Союз воинствующих безбожников (The Union of Belligerent Atheists or The League of the Militant Godless[1]) and Союз безбожников (The Union of the Godless), was a mass volunteer antireligious organization of Soviet workers and others in 1925-1947. It "consisted of Party members, members of the Komsomol youth movement, workers and army veterans"[2]

S.o.G. was an antireligious movement that developed in Soviet Russia under the influence of the ideological and cultural views and policies of the Communist Party.

Hold your cheers – it wasn’t quite the ideological utopia one could hope.

S.o.G. embraced workers, peasants, students, and intelligentsia. It had its first affiliates at factories, plants, collective farms (kolkhoz), and educational institutions. By the beginning of 1941, S.o.G. had about 3.5 million members of 100 nationalities. It had about 96,000 offices across the country. Guided by Bolshevik principles of antireligious propaganda and party's orders with regards to religion, S.o.G. aimed at fighting religion in all its manifestations and forming scientific mindset among the workers.

Sounds good, no? No:

It popularized atheism and scientific achievements, conducted 'individual work' (a method of sending atheist tutors to meet with individual believers to convince them of atheism, which could be followed up with public harassment if they failed to comply) with religious people, prepared propagandists and atheistic campaigners, published scientific literature and periodicals, organized museums and exhibitions, conducted scientific research in the field of atheism and critics of religion.

Mind you, when they say ‘public harassment’, it’s not similar to our culture – a spirited debate on PBS, the BBC, or somebody’s blog. We’re talking Stalinist Russia here.

The debate on how to best combat religion was argued across the Soviet leadership, until in the late 20s and early 30s, it was resolved by Stalin who condemned the extremes of both sides, and Yaroslavsky followed suit. The do-nothing approach of the rightists who thought religion would die away naturally and the leftist approach to attack all forms of religion as class enemies were both condemned as deviations from the party line. Yaroslavsky argued against the leftist (who had earlier criticized him) that if religion was simply a class phenomena there would be no need to combat it if a classless society was truly being produced. He affirmed that an all-sided attack on religion was needed, but did not subscribe to the leftist deviation that had been condemned.

I find it terribly difficult to envision Stalin as a moderate of any sort.

The League did not only attack religion but it also attacked deviations from what it saw as the proper line to combat religion in the USSR and in effect set the 'proper' line to follow in this sphere for party membership. Early marxist beliefs that religion would disappear with the coming of a tractor (claimed by Trotsky) were ridiculed by the League.

I assume the tractor in question was metaphorical?

The popularity of religion among nationalistic intellectuals was pointed out by Lukachevsky (LMG) and he claimed that if religion was only rooted from ownership of property, it could not explain the growth of the renovationists.

I’ve never taken a class in psychology, but even I could tell you that religion’s rooted in identity issues.

It employed the powers given to it by the CPSU Central Committee at the 1929 congress to dictate orders to schools, universities, the armed forces, the trade unions, the Komsomol, the Organization of Young Pioneers, the Soviet Press and other institutions for the purpose of its anti-religious campaign. It criticized many public institutions (including the Communist Party) for failing to adequately combat religious belief and instructed them on how to be more effective. The People's Commisariat for enlightenment was heckled and Glavnauka, the Chief Administration for Science and Scholarship was also singled out for criticism. A spokesperson for the latter tried to justify their behaviour to the LMG by claiming that they had reduced the total number of historical buildings under its protection (mostly ancient churches and monasteries) from 7000 to 1000, by destroying them.

The next time someone claims we’re militant, you can point this out as an example, and see how it epically fails when applied to today’s standards. Property damage? Really? Wow.

And boy, were these folks busy. None of that ‘herding cats’ nonsense for those people:

In 1931, the LMG boasted that 10% of the nation's schoolchildren were LMG members.

The LMG underwent great growth between 1929 and 1932, partly as a result of the requirement of Komsomol members to join it. The LMG's hold over the Komsomol is reflected in the latter's programme at its 10th congress that state 'The Komsomol patiently explains to the youth the harmfulness of superstitions and of religious prejudices, organizing for this purpose special study circles and lectures on anti-religious propaganda.  The League had grown from 87,000 members in 1926 to 500,000 in 1929 and it reached a peak of 5,670,000 in 1931 (it had intended to get 17 million, however, as its target). It declined to 2 million in 1938, but rose again to 3.5 million in 1941.

The enthusiasm of its new members was notably poor, however, as its dues were left unpaid and only a minority appeared to have great interest in anti-religious work.

The League printed masses of anti-religious literature. The weekly Bezbozhnik reached 500,000 copies per issue in 1931. The monthly Bezbozhnik, grew from 28,000 in 1928 to 200,000 in 1931, dropped to 150,000 after 1932, climbed to 230,000 in 1938 and went down 155,000 in 1939. The Bezbozhnik u stanka consistently ran 50,000- 70,000 copies per issue, however, it changed from a monthly to a fortnightly in 1929 and continued to produce until it was closed in 1932. Yaroslavsky's scholarly monthly for the LMG central committee 'Antireligioznik' (The Antireligious) appeared in 1926, and reached 17,000 circulation in 1929 (it was a 130 page publication), 30,000 in 1930 and 27,000 in 1931. Its material was often repeated over different issues and it was more primitive in its scholarly material than it had beeen intended. It was reduced to 64 pages in 1940, and produced between 40,000 and 45,000 in 1940-41 before it was finally cancelled.

The League also printed anti-religious textbooks. An 'Anti-religious Textbook for Peasants' was produced between 1927 and 1931, with a circulation of 18,000 for the first edition and 200,000 for the sixth. A similar textbook for urban people was created in 1931, followed by a universal amalgamated textbook.

LMG member, I A Shpitsberg began publishing a scholarly journal in the late 20s called Ateist. It was changed to Voinstvuiuschii ateizm (Militant Atheism) in 1931 and it was published by the LMG central council. In 1932 it was swallowed up by Antireligioznik.

From 1928 to 1932, a journal for peasants named Derevenskii bezbozhnik (The Rural Godless) was produced. It was claimed to be so popular among the peasantry that it was 'read to tatters', and contradictorily it ceased publication in 1932. The supposedly popular nature of the atheist propaganda was also contradicted by cases of reported lynchings of anti-religious propagandists and murder of LMG agitators[. In a similar vein, in 1930, the LMG leadership advised that social surveys of believers in schools classes where the majority of pupils were believers was harmful, and that such data should not, as a principle, be used.  Another such anecdote can be found in the 1929 Moscow religion survey, in which 12,000 industrial workers were surveyed anonymously and only 3,000 returned the survey, of which 88.8 % claimed to be atheists, and it was then declared that 90% of Moscow industrial workers were atheists .

[Author’s aside: skewing figures is decidedly a human condition, because the human animal sees what it wants to, not what is contrary to itself.]

The non-serial LMG literature grew from 12 million printed pages in 1927 to 800 million in 1930. In 1941 sixty-seven books and brochures of antireligious propaganda were printed with a total circulation of 3.5 million copies.

A textbook produced by the LMG in 1934 admitted the existence of sincere believers among the intellectuals, however, this was contradicted by Yaroslavsky in 1937 who claimed that all scholars and scientists who believe in God were insincere deceivers and swindlers .

The League trained a massive number of anti-religious propagandists and anti-religious workers. This work included lecture cycles.

The LMG had successfully reduced the number of religious communities of all faiths from 50,000 in 1930 to 30,000 by 1938 and 8,000 by 1941. The last figure includes, however, 7,000 communities in the annexed western territories (thereby making only 1,000 remaining in the rest of the country) .

It sure sounds incredibly successful, yes? Not really:

The climate of the campaign against religion was changing in the late 30s and early 40s. The regime slowly became more moderate in its approach to religion. Yaroslavsky, in 1941 warned against condemning all religious believers, but said that there were many loyal Soviet citizens still possessing religious beliefs. He called for patient and tactful individual work without offending the believers, but re-educating them. He claimed that religion had disappeared in some parts of the country but in other parts (especially in the newly annexed territories) it was strong, and he warned against starting a brutal offensives in those areas.

He claimed that there were very few attempts to re-open churches and that this was a sign of the decline in religion. He branded those who tried to re-open churches as former kulaks and falsifiers of figures . This report was contradicted, however, by the LMG's own figures that found perhaps half the country still held religious beliefs, even if they had no structures to worship in any longer and they could no longer openly express their beliefs.

And the next time you hear that hoary old chestnut that Nazis were atheists, trot this little factoid out:

A glaring answer to this report was found when the Nazis invaded in 1941, and churches were re-opened underneath the German occupation, while believers flocked to them in the millions. In order to gain support for the war effort against the German forces that were effectively liberating religious believers from the persecution against them, Stalin ended the anti-religious persecution and the LMG was disbanded. All LMG periodicals ceased to publish by September 1941. It's official disbandment date is unknown, but traced somewhere between 1941-1947 .

There’s a moral to the story here – you can’t change hearts and minds at gunpoint, by property damage or force. Violence as a rule tends to breed a silent resistance, and religion tends to thrive under these circumstances, when people are shorn of hope and forced to silence. No, it will likely require long years of waging a (metaphorical) war of attrition, chipping away at the memes like drops of water eroding a brick – it will take time and patience. It’s likely why a great many of us waging this war of words are so cranky.

Be that as it may, take the lesson seriously – Santayana’s aphorism may seem cliché and time-worn, but it most assuredly is not.

Till the next post, then.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tuesday Funny – Edward Current

I’m sure that many of my readers are familiar with Edward Current, YouTube sensation and master of Poe’s Law. Here are two of his vastly amusing clips.

The first one is titled God Doesn’t Exist? Prove It!

The second – An Atheist Goes To Heaven:



Sunday, November 22, 2009

Anselm’s Ontological Argument – What Ought To Be, Isn’t

Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers!

The consciousness of God is the self-consciousness of man; the knowledge of God is the self-knowledge of man. Man’s notion of himself is his notion of God, just as his notion of God is his notion of himself – the two are identical. What is God to man, that is man’s own spirit, man’s own soul; what is man’s spirit, soul, and heart – that is his God. God is the manifestation of man’s inner nature, his expressed self; religion is the solemn unveiling of man’s hidden treasures, the avowal of his innermost thoughts, the open confession of the secrets of his love. – Frederick Feuerbach, The Essence Of Christianity

The ontological argument is one of those strangenesses of religion – it is indeed an item that illustrates the essential difference between believer and non-believer. The believer cheers! The non-believer says, you gotta be kidding.

In summary:

The argument examines the concept of God, and states that if we can conceive of the greatest possible being, then it must exist. The argument is often criticized as committing a bare assertion fallacy, as it offers no supportive premise other than qualities inherent to the unproven statement. This is also called a circular argument, because the premise relies on the conclusion, which in turn relies on the premise.

It is no wonder that the human animal thinks in circles. The world rotates: the sun goes down, the moon comes up, this reverses, and goes again. There are four distinct seasons, readily apparent (except for perhaps Manipoor, which has five), that come and go in intervals. Circles are ubiquitous – they’re everywhere.

This would also go to explain why we’re such a dizzy species.

Anselm’s ‘argument’ is as follows:

1. God is something than which nothing greater can be thought.
2. God may exist in the understanding.
3. To exist in reality and in the understanding is greater than to exist in the understanding alone.
4. Therefore, God exists in reality.

As ridiculous as that sounds, Descartes (of course!) comes up with some real head-splitting sophistry:

  1. Whatever I clearly and distinctly perceive to be contained in the idea of something is true of that thing.
  2. I clearly and distinctly perceive that necessary existence is contained in the idea of God.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

Interestingly enough, some have employed Hume to dismantle this:

In David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, the character Cleanthes argues that no being could ever be proven to exist through an a priori demonstration:

[T]here is an evident absurdity in pretending to demonstrate a matter of fact, or to prove it by any arguments a priori. Nothing is demonstrable, unless the contrary implies a contradiction. Nothing, that is distinctly conceivable, implies a contradiction. Whatever we conceive as existent, we can also conceive as non-existent. There is no being, therefore, whose non-existence implies a contradiction. Consequently there is no being, whose existence is demonstrable.

Though this criticism is directed against a cosmological argument similar to that defended by Samuel Clarke in his first Boyle Lectures, the point applies to ontological arguments as well.

I’m going to employ Hume in a little bit, in a different way (hence the title of this essay), but first, let’s expound on the problem of evil:

Classical theism states that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. Ontological arguments, both old and revised, have also assumed this explicitly or implicitly. Many philosophers are skeptical about the underlying assumption, as described by Leibniz, "that this idea of the all-great or all-perfect being is possible and implies no contradiction."

For example, moral perfection is thought to imply being both perfectly merciful and perfectly just. But these two properties seem to contradict each other. To be perfectly just is always to give every person exactly what he deserves. But to be perfectly merciful is to give at least a person less punishment than he deserves. If so, then a being cannot be perfectly just and perfectly merciful.

To resolve and dissolve this, I’m going to employ Hume’s Is/Ought problem. Using the guillotine, we can pare this down accordingly.

We ought to live in a perfect world – but it isn’t. We ought to be perfect in some way (though this can digress into multiple subjective observations) – that is to say, we shouldn’t become ill, catch viruses, ever go hungry or homeless or jobless. Nothing’s perfect. Then again, perfection is a hollow fantasy, entirely contingent on the individual’s perception.

Perfection is, broadly, a state of completeness and flawlessness.

We ought to be complete and flawless, but we are (subjectively speaking) most certainly the opposite. And given that we live in a world where there are counterpoints, Yin to a Yang, hot to cold, solid to fluid, we assume that there has to be a polar opposite of our existence – in other words, a perfect being that has none of the flaws and foibles we manifest (and likely doesn’t drool in its sleep). But the other problem arises: perfection is static. It would have to be. Interaction with the imperfect would introduce flaws into the hypothetical flawlessness. Nothing escapes creeping entropy, after all. Even a hypothetical flawlessness would eventually be worn down to a sliver – and then the hypothetical flawlessness would be flawed, as that item or person would be much less than itself and ergo, not perfect.

And, as I am a non-reductive materialist, understanding (See Anselm’s #2) is entirely contingent on the physicality of the brain, and when that brain is gone, poof! so is the understanding. Not that imagining something makes it real (would that it were – Angelina Jolie materializing in my apartment dishabille would certainly make a believer outta me!), but humans tend to reify these illusions.

So hopefully, much of this (or I’d settle for some of it) has been useful to the gentle reader, and perhaps it can be used to mystify and stupefy any religious folks (usually pretty easy to do) who use this supercilious piece of fluff as a talking point.

Till the next post, then.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tuesday Funny – MADTV

Highlighting the show, ‘Touched By An Atheist’, with George Carlin:



Monday, November 16, 2009

Discerning The Anti-Semite – Signs And Portents

This is a great video, frankenspliced to portray crazy Mel as an anti-Semite.

It’s no secret that I support Israel (and, I suspect, it’s likely the reason I lose people off the feedburner that shows how many people subscribe to my blog, but I’ve been wrong in the past). But I’ve noticed tip-offs when someone on a blog comments about Israel and/or Jews. Patterns emerge. It usually goes a little something like this:

1. Generalized derogatory comments on Jewry. They can be subtler hints, like “I think that there is no doubt that there are many american citizens that have greater loyality to Israel than the US.” (My subsequent challenge to that assertion consisted of getting absolutely no evidence other than the assertion, I might add). Then there are more flagrant commentaries like “If for whatever reason, the USA entered into military conflict with the foreign nation Israel, could we count on all the Jews in the US military to support and not sabotage the operation?” I have seen some truly idiotic and despicable comments that state that ‘Jews are over-represented in Hollywood’. You ken me drift, I think.

2. Usually, I point out that Jews are a race and an ethnicity, not just a religion. Don’t believe me? Look it up. Without exception, I hear this: “You can convert to Judaism, that makes you a Jew, so you’re WRONG.” Never mind that if your mother’s a Jew, you’re born a Jew. This is pretty much a false dichotomy: there’s more than one way to be a ‘member’.

3. Entering into discussion with these folks and calling shenanigans usually ends up degenerating into a pissing contest. I get accused of being brain damaged, rabid Zionism, and other ridiculous nonsense. Even of not being a ‘True Atheist™’

4. Usually this devolves even more into ridiculous comparisons: Israel commits genocide, accusations of apartheid, comparisons to Nazi Germany (that last part should Godwin a thread, but doesn’t, as the clown is usually building up some lather).

Now, as a qualifier, some people go directly to number 4. Once upon a time, I was one of those folks. And someone challenged me on it. So I did the research. I’ve other posts on the subject, so before you take a swing at me, do a little reading up. I have valid reasons for ‘switching sides’.

One of the issues you’d imagine I’d have as an atheist, is this: they started the whole shebang, the whole monotheistic trinity of nonsense we have to endure and combat in the name of reason and rationality. More correctly, their ancestors did that, and I’m not a big fan of children inheriting the ‘sins’ of their fathers folderol. The other fact of the matter, is that aside from the latest problems occurring in Israel, Jews aren’t in the news. Or rather, they’re more sporadically in the news – outside say, the Madoff scandal, the contrast of bad press from either Islam or Christianity (or the variants thereof) outnumber the bad press from Judaism by at least 20 to 1 (that’s a guessed margin – feel free to correct me).

Have no doubt, I’m firmly against religion. As Einstein so succinctly put it, "the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions." My major beef is that folks (especially on the left) indulge themselves in (sometimes unknowingly) distinctly racist (yes, Jewish is a race) scapegoating, which I might add, is a religious practice, and one that should be tossed in the garbage with all the Talmuds, Korans, and bibbles. I do have a sort of empathy for them as a people, because I’m fairly sure no other group gets blamed for so much on so little evidence, and anti-Semitism is an evil Christian legacy that atheists should not espouse.

Make of that what you will.



Saturday, November 14, 2009

Allegories Gone Wild – Of Papists, Popes, And Puerile Prophecies

Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers!

SpacePope In the wild weird and wooly world of woo, the Catholic Church has had some truly bizarre ideas. From stigmata to the cilice, from the flagrum to exorcism, these people seem to have all sorts of crazy ideas.

One of the major fantasies of the monotheists is the concept of the end of the world. As we see lives begin and end, we project this cycle of life and death and rebirth onto the larger world, and the theists among us re-interpret wildly to retrofit reality to their pre-supposed peccadilloes.

Among the odder oddities one can stumble across in the laundry lists of lunacy, is the Prophecy of the Popes, as given by one alleged Saint Malachy:

The Prophecy of the Popes, attributed to Saint Malachy, is a list of 112 short phrases in Latin. They purport to describe each of the Roman Catholic popes (along with a few anti-popes), beginning with Pope Celestine II (elected in 1143) and concluding with a pope described in the prophecy as "Peter the Roman", whose pontificate will end in the destruction of the city of Rome.

Are there issues with this? You bet your sweet aunt’s fanny there is.

The prophecy was first published in 1595 by Arnold de Wyon, a Benedictine historian, as part of his book Lignum Vitæ. Wyon attributed the list to Saint Malachy, the 12th‑century bishop of Armagh in Northern Ireland. According to the traditional account, in 1139, Malachy was summoned to Rome by Pope Innocent II. While in Rome, Malachy purportedly experienced a vision of future popes, which he recorded as a sequence of cryptic phrases. This manuscript was then deposited in the Roman Archive, and thereafter forgotten about until its rediscovery in 1590.

‘Cryptic phrases’? Is this facepalm time? facepalmua8

On the other hand, Bernard of Clairvaux's biography of Malachy makes no mention of the prophecy, nor is it mentioned in any record prior to its 1595 publication. Some sources, including the most recent editions of the Catholic Encyclopedia, suggest that the prophecy is a late 16th‑century forgery. Some have suggested that it was created by Nostradamus and was credited to Saint Malachy so the purported seer would not be blamed for the destruction of the papacy. Supporters, such as author John Hogue, who wrote a popular book titled The Last Pope about the claims, generally argue that even if the author of the prophecies is uncertain, the predictions are still valid.

How so? Let’s take a brief look into it:

Interpretation of the mottos has generally relied on finding correspondences between the mottos and the popes' birthplaces, their personal arms, and the events of their pontificates. For example, the first motto, Ex castro Tiberis (From a castle on the Tiber), fits Pope Celestine II's birthplace in Città di Castello, on the Tiber.

Pope Celestine II (died March 8, 1144), born Guido di Castello, was pope from 1143 to 1144. Self-fulfilling prophecy there. Next.

Pope Clement XIII, referred to in the prophecy as Rosa Umbriae, the rose of Umbria, is stated to have used a rose "as his personal emblem" (his coat of arms does not include one, however, nor was he from Umbria nor had any but the most marginal connection with the region, having been briefly pontifical governor of Rieti, at the time part of Umbria). The technique of word play was evident in instances where interpreters find a phrase fitting more than one explanation.

‘Word play’ is christlation for ‘let’s make it fit!’

It is notable that where the interpretation of the prophecy is clear (as is the case for almost all of the Popes prior to 1590), the reference is almost always to some characteristic possessed by the Pope prior to assuming the Papacy -- e.g., his birthplace, his arms, his surname, or his cardinal see. However, for more recent Popes, efforts to connect the prophecy with the pope have often focused on the events of his pontificate.

This sounds more like a literary version of cold reading to me.

In recent times, some interpreters of prophetic literature have drawn attention to the prophecies, both because of their success in finding connections between the prophecies and recent popes, and because of the prophecies' imminent conclusion. Interpretations made before the elections of recent popes have not generally predicted their papacies accurately.

Small wonder that.

For those interested, the popes and their ‘corresponding mottos’ can be found here. And the skepticism kept on coming for the prophecies of Saint Malarkey:

Spanish writer father Benito Jerónimo Feijóo wrote in his Teatro Crítico Universal (1724-1739), in an entry called Purported prophecies, that the ones by Saint Malachy's were a shameful forgery, claiming that they were created ad hoc during the 16th century. As a proof, he offers an accurate fact: that the first time the prophecy is mentioned is on a handwritten account by patriarch Alfonso Chacón (a.k.a Alphonsus Ciacconus, 1540-1599) in 1590 (this account would be later published, in 1595, by the abovementioned historian Arnold de Wyon); in this account, Chacón only comments the prophecies until the papacy of Urban VII (whose papacy only lasted September 1590, and was the current pope at the time Chacón wrote the comment). According to Feijóo, Chacón, who held a great intellectual prestige at the time, was lured to comment the prophecies by someone who wanted to help cardinal Girolamo Simoncelli (1522-1605) reach the papacy. By showing them to be accurate till Urban VII, it was expected people to believe the next ones; that way, Girolamo Simoncelli could be easily elected pope, since the prophecy after Urban VII's one tells about a pope Ex antiquitate urbis (from the antiquity of the city), a fact that seems to fit him, who was cardinal of Orvieto (literally "old city", urbs vetus), or at least better than Gregory XIV, who was elected pope after Urban VII. Thus, the forgery would have been useless, since Simoncelli was not elected pope. Jesuit father Claude-François Menestrier also claimed that the prophecies were forged in order to help the papal candidacy of Girolamo Simoncelli, offering similar reasons to those of Feijóo. Spanish historian José Luis Calvo points out that the prophecies seem to be very accurate till Urban VII, fitting perfectly even the antipopes, but that afterwards great efforts have to be made in order to make the prophecies fit their pope. Feijóo's explanation is usually regarded as being the most probable proof of the forgery.

So, nutshelling it: said ‘prophecies’ were forged in the 16th century, and were eerily accurate (if you accept the 12th century publication fib) up to Urban VII who was pope during…drum roll please…the 16th century.  Many many tickle up the raisin (if I might use a little wordplay on an old bibble saying). For those of you who don’t get the esoteric mangling: it’s easy to see the writing on the wall, and it’s mostly graffiti that adorn the smoke and mirrors.

And one has to but Google this topic, to see that this obvious hoax has survived nearly 5 centuries, even though anyone with half a mind (or half a critical eye) can see that this is an utter fraud.

The ubiquity of stupidity is appalling.

Till the next post, then.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tuesday Funny – Comfort’s Nightmare!

I’m convinced that Ray Comfort sees this on one of those bad nights:


Actually, this is from the show, That Mitchell And Webb Look. 

Also, I find Sir Digby Chicken Caesar is particularly amusing (yeah, I know, not particularly PC):

And of course, the game show Numberwang: