Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wealth is "relative" - NOT!

According to a Wall Street Journal piece, 'Wealth-Less Effect: Earning Well, Feeling Otherwise' (April 16, p. A11) we are now supposed to shed tears and feel sorry for those making 250 grand or more per year, when millions have to line up for food stamps, or face foreclosure or losing their health coverage.

The basic proposition of the article is that wealth or rather "prosperity", is all relative. To quote:

"To a family earning $50,000, $250,000 a year is well off, but for the family earning $250,000, rising college and medical costs and dropping home values make the perception debatable"

Really? Says who? The family earning only $50,000 a year - which will be roughly $42,500 after taxes, also has to face rising medical costs. Indeed, because they have far less disposable income because they start out with so much less, they have far fewer options. Going to an ivy league college, for instance, is already foreclosed to their offspring unless they can get a full ride scholarship.

Meanwhile, the quarter mil family can garner even more disposable income simply by letting Junior go to a state school instead of Harvard, if s/he doesn't get the scholarship.

So the whole basis for comparison is false.

But then that depends on the definition of "well off", doesn't it? To me "well off" means that a person can, without desperate measures, live off half his income if need be. The changes made to their lifestyle, in other words, don't have to veer into the realm of food stamps, going to thrift shops or visiting food pantries. No $250,000 family need do those, since they can easily live off half their income (meaning half is disposable) if they have to.

Half their income would be $125,000 which after taxes (as currently pegged at marginal rates) is: $79, 375 which is still nearly TWICE the after-tax income of the family earning $50,000.

Again, this means they need not make drastic or draconian choices. (Possibly excepting re-financing a mortgage or moving to a lower cost home - and everyone ought to be simplifying or downsizing anyway!)

An even more glaring example in the article is the Duran family which earns $400,000 a year in Silicon Valley. According to Mr. Duran: "I am barely getting by". A hard sell to make to a guy in Miami whose just lost his job, his home and his health insurance, and is barely making it with food stamps and unemployment benefits.

Another family cited, the Parnells, only earned a measly $260,000 last year. As the article notes, "taxes, premiums for medical care and deductions for their 401k cut the gross to about $12,000 a month."

The poor little Parnells are left with "just over $1200 each month" disposable income, after they shell out for their mortgage ($4000 a month), college funds, and $1,300 to their church.

I am thinking here, $1,300 to a church? Reduce that to just $300 (which is still $3600 a year) and you have $2200 a month left over and no more whining! No church should be getting that much per month unless they are using it to directly feed and house homeless people.

All of this discloses how skewed and mangled the wealth concept is in the U.S.

That is, people making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year are professing some hurt, while low wage earners can't make ends meet because they aren't paid a living wage.

As the author of 'Nickel and Dimed' - Barbara Ehrenreich, noted, working at Walmart didn't even help her pay both food and rent at a dump motel. She had to go on food stamps to survive. (At least with that one 40 hr. job). There is a real moral problem here too, since without a living wage, economic warfare is all that remains- with each little person fighting and struggling against each other little person for survival.

Another point: why should the wealthy be exempt from the so-called financial 'laws' of nature? When most of them (94% by Michael Parenti's reckoning, in his 'The Dirty Truth') achieved their wealth not via labor or even competition in a labor market but via inheritance. How come a fluke of luck in life's draw enables them not to have to suffer, and work long hours at two or more jobs, but not the rest?

Extrapolating from this one beholds the loathsome moralizing issuing from certain wealthy enclaves whenever one of the hoi polloi slacks off, or refuses to seize a dirt job.

"They are too lazy! They feel too entitled and disdain a work ethic!" the wealthy moralists caterwaul.

But perhaps, they are simply too smart and perceptive and behold how much undeserved wealth inheres to a few who don't have to do a jot to earn it. Merely produce a birth certificate.

As Charles Reich poignantly notes in his book, Opposing the System, Crown Books, p. 103:

"When society itself comes to be modeled on economic and organizational principles, all of the forces that bind people together are torn apart in the struggle for survival. Community is destroyed because we are no longer 'in this together' because everyone is a threat to everyone else. "

In such a capitalist-driven, consumerist organizational economic model, wherein the resource “pie” for the non-wealthy elite grows ever smaller, the young are threats to us oldsters, as we are threats to them, as neighbor is to neighbor. It can't be otherwise. This capitalist model has seen fit, in other words, to destroy our areas of commonality and common cause, usually replacing neutral civic space (public halls, parks, libraries, rec rooms etc.) with demeaning commercial space and commercialist, capitalist values.

Reich then describes the visceral 'dog-eat-dog', endless economic warfare that ensues between people in the never ending quest to 'make it' and not be left behind. A tragic game wherein every one, every man, woman and child has a 'market value' and all abiding principles, social or moral, are reduced to economics. Alas, the cost resides in devastated marriages, families and communities.

The capitalist driven “rupture” can occur as quickly as when your neighbor builds a large recreational pool, or puts in a hot tub, and you can’t afford one. Or when he makes a great home improvement add-on while you are left to humble by with the status quo.

How do the wealthy, or even relatively wealthy, get away with their whining and feeling so downtrodden when millions of their countrymen have to dumpster dive to survive? The core reason is that too many have a meager comprehension of economics and their economic station relative to the whole.

Evidently, many working class people especially, have no remote concept of where they stand in the financial, economic spectrum. If they're ignorant of their economic position, then it follows that they can't know when that position is being compromised, far less HOW. A case in point was a survey conducted by The Economic Policy Institute some time ago. It asked generally where people thought they were in the economic spectrum: upper 1% (earning $320,000 year or more); upper 5% (> $80,000) or where.

A full 19% in this random survey claimed they were in the privileged class of the top 1%. A virtual statistical impossibility in any random study. In fact, internal survey cross-check questions on income category showed many of these working at a little above minimum wage, and even the highest at barely $44,000/yr. Nowhere near the 1% threshold.

Other commentators on this study (e.g. Froma Harrop, Ellen Goodman) have pointed to this ignorance as a basis for supporting such crap as the Bush tax cuts. Thus:

A) They didn't know where they themselves fit, and indeed inflated their wealth and positions and

B) they actually believed they'd be millionaires one fine day and be able to partake of the tax cuts. (Or 'death tax' benefits).

In fact, they are deliriously out of touch with reality. As author Michael Parenti noted ('The Dirty Truth') 94% of all wealth comes by way of inheritance not paid work. So, they are fooling themselves.

One good thing to arise out of this recession is that it has scaled down people's earlier unrealistic wealth expectations, and also toned down consumption. Now, even if a rich man wants to do a boffo major new home improvement, including putting in a dozen hot tubs, he thinks two or three times about how he will be perceived.

The more we can get the "relatively wealthy" to fret over how their ignominous consumption or tempted consumption is perceived, the better!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Ten Myths About Atheists

Myths and reprehensible misinformation persist concerning Atheism and Atheists, and are regularly spread through the media and especially on the Net. It seems at times as if there is little accountability, and some of the most outrageous violators tend to be religious zealots and extremists who have fixed preconceptions about us embedded in their heads.

One of the most articulate disposals of such myths was published in the LA Times of Dec. 24, 2006. It listed each of ten major myths regularly circulated about Atheism, and a compelling rebuttal to each. Given there is little I can do to improve on any of them, and "re-inventing the wheel" appears unproductive, I provide them here for readers' convenience and invite comments you may have:

Ten Myths About Atheists

1) Atheists believe that life is meaningless.

On the contrary, religious people often worry that life is meaningless and imagine that it can only be redeemed by the promise of eternal happiness beyond the grave. Atheists tend to be quite sure that life is precious. Life is imbued with meaning by being really and fully lived. Our relationships with those we love are meaningful now; they need not last forever to be made so. Atheists tend to find this fear of meaninglessness … well … meaningless.

2) Atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in human history.

People of faith often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were the inevitable product of unbelief. The problem with fascism and communism, however, is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.

3) Atheism is dogmatic.

Jews, Christians and Muslims claim that their scriptures are so prescient of humanity's needs that they could only have been written under the direction of an omniscient deity. An atheist is simply a person who has considered this claim, read the books and found the claim to be ridiculous. One doesn't have to take anything on faith, or be otherwise dogmatic, to reject unjustified religious beliefs. As the historian Stephen Henry Roberts (1901-71) once said: "I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."

4) Atheists think everything in the universe arose by chance.

No one knows why the universe came into being. In fact, it is not entirely clear that we can coherently speak about the "beginning" or "creation" of the universe at all, as these ideas invoke the concept of time, and here we are talking about the origin of space-time itself. The notion that atheists believe that everything was created by chance is also regularly thrown up as a criticism of Darwinian evolution. As Richard Dawkins explains in his marvelous book, "The God Delusion," this represents an utter misunderstanding of evolutionary theory. Although we don't know precisely how the Earth's early chemistry begat biology, we know that the diversity and complexity we see in the living world is not a product of mere chance. Evolution is a combination of chance mutation and natural selection. Darwin arrived at the phrase "natural selection" by analogy to the "artificial selection" performed by breeders of livestock. In both cases, selection exerts a highly non-random effect on the development of any species.

5) Atheism has no connection to science.

Although it is possible to be a scientist and still believe in God — as some scientists seem to manage it — there is no question that an engagement with scientific thinking tends to erode, rather than support, religious faith. Taking the U.S. population as an example: Most polls show that about 90% of the general public believes in a personal God; yet 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences do not. This suggests that there are few modes of thinking less congenial to religious faith than science is.

6) Atheists are arrogant.

When scientists don't know something — like why the universe came into being or how the first self-replicating molecules formed — they admit it. Pretending to know things one doesn't know is a profound liability in science. And yet it is the life-blood of faith-based religion. One of the monumental ironies of religious discourse can be found in the frequency with which people of faith praise themselves for their humility, while claiming to know facts about cosmology, chemistry and biology that no scientist knows. When considering questions about the nature of the cosmos and our place within it, atheists tend to draw their opinions from science. This isn't arrogance; it is intellectual honesty.

7) Atheists are closed to spiritual experience.

There is nothing that prevents an atheist from experiencing love, ecstasy, rapture and awe; atheists can value these experiences and seek them regularly. What atheists don't tend to do is make unjustified (and unjustifiable) claims about the nature of reality on the basis of such experiences. There is no question that some Christians have transformed their lives for the better by reading the Bible and praying to Jesus. What does this prove? It proves that certain disciplines of attention and codes of conduct can have a profound effect upon the human mind. Do the positive experiences of Christians suggest that Jesus is the sole savior of humanity? Not even remotely — because Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and even atheists regularly have similar experiences.

There is, in fact, not a Christian on this Earth who can be certain that Jesus even wore a beard, much less that he was born of a virgin or rose from the dead. These are just not the sort of claims that spiritual experience can authenticate.

8) Atheists believe that there is nothing beyond human life and human understanding.

Atheists are free to admit the limits of human understanding in a way that religious people are not. It is obvious that we do not fully understand the universe; but it is even more obvious that neither the Bible nor the Koran reflects our best understanding of it. We do not know whether there is complex life elsewhere in the cosmos, but there might be. If there is, such beings could have developed an understanding of nature's laws that vastly exceeds our own. Atheists can freely entertain such possibilities. They also can admit that if brilliant extraterrestrials exist, the contents of the Bible and the Koran will be even less impressive to them than they are to human atheists.From the atheist point of view, the world's religions utterly trivialize the real beauty and immensity of the universe. One doesn't have to accept anything on insufficient evidence to make such an observation.

9) Atheists ignore the fact that religion is extremely beneficial to society.

Those who emphasize the good effects of religion never seem to realize that such effects fail to demonstrate the truth of any religious doctrine. This is why we have terms such as "wishful thinking" and "self-deception." There is a profound distinction between a consoling delusion and the truth. In any case, the good effects of religion can surely be disputed. In most cases, it seems that religion gives people bad reasons to behave well, when good reasons are actually available. Ask yourself, which is more moral, helping the poor out of concern for their suffering, or doing so because you think the creator of the universe wants you to do it, will reward you for doing it or will punish you for not doing it?

10) Atheism provides no basis for morality.

If a person doesn't already understand that cruelty is wrong, he won't discover this by reading the Bible or the Koran — as these books are bursting with celebrations of cruelty, both human and divine. We do not get our morality from religion. We decide what is good in our good books by recourse to moral intuitions that are (at some level) hard-wired in us and that have been refined by thousands of years of thinking about the causes and possibilities of human happiness.

Most of these, of course, I have addressed and prior to this piece was written in the TIMES. I addressed points in book reviews, as well as in exchanges conducted on other blogs I have posted on such as, and

So it isn't as if these are new to me, in fact, I elaborated my own myths about Atheists in my (2007) book 'Atheism: A Beginner's Handbook' - most of which dovetail with the above. I listed 7 myths as follows (with brief rebuttals much shorter than in the book):

1. Atheists Deny God

Impossible - since one cannot "deny' that which has no evidentiary basis anyway. Do we "deny" Easter Bunnies? Fairies? Leprechauns? No - because ab initio they are groundless and preposterous and no evidence has been offered to change that.

2. Atheists reject morals

More nonsense, since any persistent observer of human social interaction will note that the vast majority of people are law-abiding and decent folk who naturally practice a common-sense, utilitarian ethics similar to what has been described. No supernatural law or commandment ordains this behavior. Instead it is the conscious and deliberate recognition that the promotion of the welfare of others is directly linked to the one's own welfare. Compromise others' security, and you in effect compromise your own. Undermine their welfare and you also undermine your own. No god is necessary.

3. Most criminals and insane are atheists

Totally wrong, since the statistical evidence shows unambiguously that most criminals and insane are religious believers (e.g. McLoughline, Emmett, 1962:” Let the Statistics Tell Their Tragic Story,” in Crime and Immorality in the Catholic Church, Lyle Stuart Books, New York, pp. 189-214)

4. Atheists Always Recant Near Death

A myth created and fueled by bible punchers. See any issue of American Atheists, which monthly has a profile on a real, 'Foxhole Atheist'. Soldiers in action now in Iraq and Afghanistan who are Atheists.

5. Hitler was an Atheist.

Wrong! Technically Hitler was a Roman Catholic. Robert Payne notes [1]:

Adolf Hitler's birth certificate records that he was born at six o'clock in the evening on April 20, 1889, and goes on to record that two days later, at a quarter past three in the afternoon, in the presence of Father Ignaz Probst, the boy was baptized in the local Catholic Church”

As is known from standard Roman Catholic doctrine, once one is baptized a Catholic, he or she technically remains a Catholic unless excommunicated, or until death. Payne later documents Catholic Church attendance by a number of Hitler's luminaries, including Gregor Strasser, Erich von Ludendorff and others.

6. Atheism is a Religion

This claim is absurd on its face. The misplaced strategy, however, is always to attempt to place atheism within the same logical context as religion and then attack it on the basis of occupying an analogous “belief” spectrum. In the end, this is a fool’s errand.

For one thing it turns the very meaning and basis of religion on its head. We know all religions embody centralized beliefs or dogmas that issue from some sacred scripture or a body of theology based on scriptural interpretations.. Atheism has none of these, since there are no central propositions or beliefs with which all atheists agree.

First, atheists withhold belief, they do not invest it. This alone separates atheists from religionists or people of faith. Second, atheists make no positive claims for any transcendent existent that requires their worship or obeisance. They simply acknowledge no god or entity with which to build a religion in other words. Third, atheists maintain no sacred works, scriptures, or ancient artifacts, from which their “truths” are extracted. They have no analog to a Bible, Qu’ran, Talmud or anything remotely similar.

If religionists insist on calling atheism a "religion" they essentially destroy the very meaning of the word they are trying to use.

7. All Atheists are Materialists

Nonsense, because there is no single form of Materialism. Hence it is absurd to say this without qualifying which form of Materialism. And once one does that he automatically concedes ALL Atheists cannot adhere to a single version! For example some discrete types include: hylozoism, which ascribes vital characteristics to all matter, and panpsychism, which attributes a mindlike character to all constituents of material things. Then there is epiphenomenalism, according to which sensations and thoughts do exist in addition to material processes but are nonetheless wholly dependent on material processes and without causal efficacy of their own.

Then there is physicalism, which asserts all agents, entities that exist must be some manifestation of physical cause- either by way of matter, energy or fields.

[1] Robert Payne: 1973, The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, Praeger Publishers, p. 15

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A World Without Math - None I'd Choose to live in

Take a close look at the image of our planet, seen from space. It shows as no other the isolation of our little orb against the vast blackness of the cosmos - and that we are all passengers (crew) on Spaceship Earth.

Now, consider this: In a world without mathematics we'd never have been afforded such a view. It would have been impossible. It is mathematics (specifically differential calculus) that enabled us to engineer the rockets that attained an altitude to snap our world from space.

A world without math, featuring creatures evolved with no left-brain abilities to quantify or analyze, would be impoverished indeed. Truthfully, we'd not even be aware that our planet is spherical -curved and not flat, since the geometry necessary to attain that awareness (as performed by Eudoxus, Eratosthenes etc) would never have existed.

It is math that has opened the doors to the level of analysis needed to expose facets of the world and universe otherwise invisible.

Consider just trigonometry. No trig and no ability to plot altitudes or find heights! No ability to find distances between different levels. Think of a humdrum skyline for our cities, as opposed to the exotic and geometrical spires that populate most of the world's urban centers, from London to Paris, to Seattle to New York.

Calculus! No differential calculus or differential equations, and no ability to do celestial mechanics - which is the basis for actually sending a rocket from Earth to any other planet! Indeed, the equations of celestial mechanics from Kepler's equation: E - e sin(E) = n(t - t_o)

to the energy integral: r' x r" = - u/ r^3 [r' x r]

to the angular momentum defined for a 3-body system:

h = r x r’ = r x dr/ dt =

(y z’ - z y’)
(z x’ - x z’) = (C1 C2 C3)
(x y’ - y z’)

so (r x r’) = (C1/ h, C2/ h, C3/h)

is the whole basis for not only predicting the future positions of planets, but for launching spacecraft to other worlds, and landing them. Minus such advanced math, we'd have no close-up images of Saturn, or Neptune, or Uranus - nor would there be any Mars Rover plodding the dusty surface of that planet and sending back surface images.

In a world without math, most new medical devices would never have emerged. There'd be no MRI machines, no stereoscopic machines, no x-ray machines or radiotherapy-brachytherapy cancer treatment machines, or software.

There would be no computers, nor any software to run them, since the latter requires math-based code, and the former a level of engineering that makes use of everything from quantum tunnelling to quantifying thermal processes and inputs.

No telescopes would exist, or microcopes, or TV sets.

A world without mathematics would be so barren, so devoid of richness, it would be nearly impossible to imagine.

Blog Marked as "spam"?

What gives? Why would THIS blog be marked "spam" for a review? Nevertheless on trying to sign in, this was the message received! If one were to allow his paranoia to run riot, it would translate into certain religious psychos (my brother) being annoyed at the content and sending in a complaint to Go ahead, Mike, give it your best shot!

There is NOTHING here that is spam, all the blog entries are my own, and merely because the content might offend some sensibilities is no reason to remove it!

Has free speech gone the way of the eddoes, as the Bajans say?

We will see.

I do hope whichever "reviewer" examines the blog will do so carefully and come to understand that it is serious, imbued with intellectual content and NOT SPAM!

Nothing gets my dander up faster than the swatch of little easily offended folk across the net who now register complaints at the slightest whiff of controversy.

This is sad. The country was founded on free speech, and if a person objects to some of what may be posted here, let him (or her) enter the fray with their own arguments, challenges.

But don't run to the authorities to try to get the blog removed because you are exercised and annoyed at the content.

Newsflash: If this blog is too intense for you, don't read it!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Time to Stop Protecting Religions

I was intrigued to read a recent comment by harleyman in which he references some of my preacher brother's (Pastor Mike's) latest fulminations against "blasphemy" and insinuating I am lax because I refuse to control the content of comments on this blog. It perhaps escaped my brother's attention that: a) this blog is intended to promote free speech not circumscribe or delimit it artificially, and b) I have never, ever accepted the validity of the "blasphemy" concept.

In a word, blasphemy is phony. There is no such thing, it is made up merely to provide special protective cover to religious beliefs and ideas- which if forced to stand alone and compete freely in the idea marketplace, would likely fall under their own absurd weight.

Given this, the invocation of the charge of "blasphemy" to protect religions is scurrilous. It presumes that religious belief itself merits protection but not believers. It effectively places the belief ABOVE humans! But what truly needs to be protected is not this false belief that blasphemy is real, but rather that anyone has the right to express any belief he or she so wishes.

If some of my commentators on this blog express beliefs that are radical (to Pastor Mike) or inveigh drastically against his own, that is their right. It isn't his business to try to remove it or entice me to clamp down (like he does) and censor their expression. If they believe that all King James bibles need to be burned up, then so be it. Given how god-awful (in terms of historical fact) the KJV bible is, and how bereft of value, one can understand the belief that it needs to be consigned to flames. (Not that I would do it. I happen to think the KJV bible is one of the finest works of English literature, but so is Camelot, the Legend of King Arthur. )

One of the most salient and compelling references to the perversity of religious faith was rendered by Sam Harris in his superb book, The End of Faith (pp. 65-66):

"Faith is what credulity becomes when it finally achieves escape velocity from the constraints of terrestrial discourse – constraints like reasonableness, internal coherence, civility and candor

In the absence of evidence, to the highest place in the hierarchy of human virtues goes ignorance – the true coinage of the realm (e.g. John 20:29): “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed”. And so every child is instructed that it is at the very least – an option - if not a scared duty, to disregard the facts of the world out of deference to the God who lurks in his mother’s and father’s imaginations..

This is the very same faith that will not stoop to reason when it has no good reason to believe….

This proves that these beliefs are not born of any examination of the world or the world of their experience. It appears that even the Holocaust did not lead Jews to doubt the existence of an omnipotent and benevolent God. If having half of your people delivered to the furnace does not count as evidence against the notion that an all-powerful God is looking after your interests, it seems reasonable to assume that nothing could"

Now, if nothing else, the holocaust ought to have shown once and for all that no ‘super Being’ exists other than as a phantasm in the imaginations of the weak-minded – those unable to face the reality of a purposeless cosmos on their own. A cosmic “Santa” if you will. But my umbrage doesn't inhere with such folk, but rather those who use religious belief like a cudgel to bash and seek to intimidate all others into THEIR fold. And they are then given all manner of respect in the press, in the wider culture and especially kowtowed to in the political realm.

As Harris points out, the fact we give any credence at all to such institutional madness, shows our civilization is headed for a new Dark Age – wherein reason’s light will finally be dimmed.

If this is indeed a threat, as I believe, then it surely is a monumental mistake to include a clause prohibiting the "defamation of religion" in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights - which for 60 years has otherwise provided a sound framework for a number of international agreements protecting the world's civil, economic and political life.

However, establishing a provision or resolution against the defamation of religion is inimical to the cause of establishing human rights. It doesn't even take a genius here to realize that it is wide open to abuse of power, especially in fundamentlist Islamic states which already are over the top with their "Sharia" laws (e.g. ordering females to be whipped 75 times if they are unmarried and found in the company of males).

Forget the whipping punishments, and the fact that recently in the Kingdom of Saud they were applied against a 72-year old lady, just consider the potential for suppression of ordinary dissent under "blasphemy" prohibitions such as Pastor Mike wants established on this blog. They also inveigh against a citizen's right to express legitimate criticism of practices and laws that may be in drastic violation of human rights. (Such as people in Saudi Arabia protesting the whipping of the 72-year old, or more recently in a Taliban-occupied region of Pakistan, thousands protesting the whipping of a 17 year old girl).

IF indeed, people are exercised about verbal abuse hurled at their religions or beliefs, they can exact justice by appealing to regular civil courts. If there is a law against the harsh criticism they have seen, let them use it, or their lawyers, to halt it. If not, there is no need to appeal to specious blasphemy rot and canards.

It is high time people understand that no one has any absolute right not to be offended. And those who don't grasp that have no business mounting defenses invoking the irrelevant, nonsense issue of "blasphemy". This is simply a blatant excuse to censor those who would legitimately criticize an aspect of a religion, while leaving the worst purveyors of religious mulch untouched..

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Who the HELL cares? NO sane person!

One of the readers on this site just sent me a link for a new Pastor Mike screed about "Hell". Seems the goodly pastor is fully exercised (exorcised?) that not enough people are taking that infernal abode seriously. Those who can stomach it, can read more here:

One thing that comes across from this dreck, as my notifier observed, is that (according to the Pastor) MOST humans are DAMNED! Evidently only about a handful of our species will walk through those pearly gates, and enjoy ....what? I guess sitting on a cloud, playing a harp whilst occasionally glancing over to see 100 billion fellow beings burning - while basking in an unseemly air of self-righteousness. (No wonder when faced with this option, people prefer Hell by 5 to 1)

Again, this is absolute nonsense. The Roman Catholic Church wisely moved away from Hell-bending and obsession with good reason. It was undermining their rational stance, and making them appear like the medieval demagogoues so many critics claimed. It didn't help that creepy exorcisms were also sometimes televised, such as a memorable one about fifteen years ago on a Larry King show about the Devil and Hell.

On that show, skeptic author Paul Kurtz totally pulverized his RC padre opponent and made him look like someone who just came through a time machine from the middle ages.

Here is what we do know: Hell isn't even an original concept. Christians hijacked it from early pagan mystery cults-religions sometime around the Second Council of Constantinople. Up until then, the early Christian Fathers (e.g. Origin of Adamantius, Clement of Alexandria) had taught the more subtle and sane doctrine of metempsychosis. Which when you delve into it, makes vastly more sense than the juvenile "heaven and hell".

In metempsychosis, the soul is held in abeyance for some interval - which could be from 1 day to 100,000 years - before being allowed to "emigrate" into a new body via conception. As we see from this, the soul does not originate at conception, but rather is pre-existing and externally transferred to the new zygote. Is it possible to have a soulless human? Yes, according to metempsychosis it is! There may in fact be humans who have not been subsequently habitated by a soul, for whatever reason.

One can think here of total monsters like Adolf Hitler, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer. In each of these cases, the degree of monstrosity in their assorted acts is concomitant with nary an ounce of regret, and discloses the existence of a soulless monster. Or does it?

To the atheist-Materialist such as I am, this is all specious nonsense, since we don't accept "souls" or afterlives or transferral of the intangible energies of souls via metempsychosis or reincarnation for that matter (which differs from metempsychosis in that the SAME soul is given to return time and again to different bodies.). However, we do recognize the relativity of nonsense. Not all nonsense is create equally, in other words.

For example, metempsychosis may be nonsense, but on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the most egregious nonsense) it is maybe a '2' while "Heaven-Hell" occupy a 10.

Similarly, Bigfoot may be nonsense, but it is at maybe a '4' or '5' while fairies are a '10'. Alien abductions of suburban white matrons to harvest their eggs may be nonsense, but it is at a 1 or 2, compared with werewolves wreaking havoc.

It's all relative.

Unfortunately, the other main problem with Hell belief as espoused and laid out by the goodly Pastor, is that it is a sure symptom of psychosis. I went into this briefly in an early blog spot concerning a teen girl in Barbados who "lost it" because she believed demons were pursuing her.

I later had occasion to speak with her then pscyhiatrist - not about the girl personally- but rather the whole meme of Hell belief and promotion.

The psychiatrist, a Dr. Pat Bannister, informed me that while not all Hell believers she had met were psychotics, nearly all psychotics were strong Hell believers. And not just any old "hell" but the old fire and brimstone variety.

In fact, John Wayne Gacy - when he confessed to the 29 or so murders he committed, was heard to say: "Now, I am gonna burn forever in Hell!"

A key component of a Hell-psychotic, as Dr. Bannister put it to me in 1972, was that they not only believed in this abode themselves, but believed it applied to all who didn't fit into their behavioral mode. That usually meant, in the case of hyper-religious folk (who could also be classified as partial psychotics): Unbelievers, or....good faithful Christians who merely believed Jesus was a great man and not a God.

The other key attibute of the Hell psychotic is manifested when they are hypnotized, and convinced during the hypnosis that there is NO Hell.

On coming out of the trance, they typically go bonkers - shouting, pulling their hair out, cutting themselves with razors. According to one therp - one such person even tried to jump through a window. The only solution was to put them back into the trance and re-introduce the Hell belief for their survival.

Why? Why did the presence of the Hell belief matter to their sanity? One would have thought the opposite.

As Dr. Bannister put it, the reason is that Hell is the ultimate sanction and backstop for their morality. If there is no ultimate sanction, their morality is meaningless. In other words, screwy as it sounds to a rational mind, the morality these pathetic dregs follow is contingent on an ultimate place of punishment for all those who DON'T follow it! Their mental peace resides on knowing that all others face eternal destruction if they don't follow the same rules.

In addition, no rational appeals based on a loving God are any use. The crazed, psychotic Hell believer will simply rationalize away all challenges and find a reason that even a loving God HAD to invent Hell.

Is it possible to rescue these pathological people from themselves? In an unpublished manuscript entitled The Hell Delusion, written ca. 1979, I actually included a chapter wherein I dealt with this issue. I suggested that all of these extreme Hellists be rounded up and implanted with electrodes in their limbic systems.

While in 1979 this perhaps sounded preposterous, it no longer is with the advent of quantum dot electrodes - which can easily be inserted into a brain synapse or neural junction. Although you don't hear very much about it (we can understand why!) it is now possible that negative emotions emanating from the brain's amygdala or hippocampus can be suitably regulated or modulated by properly installed quantum electrodes or even micro-chips.

Within such devices also resides the possible end to all prisons. Instead of squandering so much in the way of money and resources to keep the anti-social locked up, electrodes-chips are simply implanted in their brains to regulate behavior. Ordinary people may also wish to seek the benefit of these devices, which once wedded to the neural chassis, are bound to make for a more productive and efficient being.

In the meantime, the most important use for these chips, electrodes and quantum dots is surely to control and manage the Hellish ideations of those like Pastor Mike. At the very least, so they don't spread their mental contamination and craziness to more vulnerable and impressionable minds. We don't need any more psychos in this country!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"Evil" - the natural outcome of innate brain defects

While assorted religious crazies and insane people foment their fake umbrage at "evil" (some so insane that they go so far as to invent a personality to embody it, e.g. "Satan") more level -headed and rational beings have always been aware it's a con. "Evil" exists, but not as an infinite negative absolute, or personified in an entity, but rather as a dynamic of our own brain.

What people refer to as “evil” is easily explainable in terms of brain evolution. Thus, Homo Sapiens is fundamentally an animal species with a host of animal/primitive instincts residing in its ancient brain or paleocortex.

Meanwhile, the paleocortex sits evolutionarily beneath the more evolved mesocortex and neocortex, the latter of which crafts concepts and language. One clever person has compared this tri-partite brain structure to a car design welding a Lamborghini to a Model T Ford chassis, with a 1957 Chevy engine to power the Lamborghini. If an automotive engineer can conceive of such a hybrid beast, I'd be interested to know exactly how he thinks it would run.

Given the preceding brain structural defect, there is much evidence that the aggregate of human behavior will get progressively worse as the complexity inherent in technological and globalized societies increases, but brain evolution is unable to keep pace with it. Basically, we are a species with the capability of making nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles – but with Cro-Magnon brains – and a swatch of reptilian tendencies.

Indeed, the mixed brain design, in terms of adaptability to technological society, is already theorized as one major cause of depression and mental illness in such societies (e.g. The Noonday Demon, Chapter 11, ‘Evolution’, p 401)

The behavior resulting from this hybrid brain is bound to be morally mixed, reflecting the fact that we literally have three “brains” contending for emergence in one cranium. Behavior will therefore range from the most selfless acts (not to mention creative masterpieces) to savagery, carnal lust run amuck and addictions that paralyze purpose.

The mistake of the religionist is to associate the first mode of behavior with being “human” and not the latter. In effect, disowning most of the possible behaviors of which humans are capable.- and hence nine tenths of what makes us what we are. Worse, not only disowning these behaviors – but ascribing them to some antagonistic dark or negative force (“Satan”) thereby making them into a religious abstraction.

The neocortex then goes into over-drive, propelled by its ability to craft words for which no correspondents may exist in reality. Suddenly, our “souls” are at risk of being “lost” to “Satan” who will then fry us in “Hell”. In effect, the religionist’s higher brain centers divide reality into forces of darkness and light, just like the ancient Manicheans.

As the divide grows and persists, certain behaviorally idealistic expectations come to the fore, and a mass of negative or primitive actions is relegated to “evil”. Humans tuned in to this Zeitgeist, which is soon circulated everywhere, being to suppress all behaviors that they regard as defective or “sinful”. They don’t realize or appreciate that humans are risen apes, and not “fallen angels”.

Are we all “sinners” as assorted fundamentalist crazies and zealots claim? No, we’re an animal species saddled with a tri-partite brain whose higher centers often become self aware of the gulf between the base, atavistic and primitive behaviors (emanating from the reptilian brain) and the ideal, non-atavistic behavior conceived by the neocortex. The neocortical language centers then craft the term “sin” to depict the gulf between one and the other.

In this context, the concept of “sin” makes eminent sense. Sin emerges as the label placed on specific brands and forms of “evil”. In reality, “Sin” itself is predicated on an exaggerated importance of humans in the universe. Thus, it elevates (albeit in a perverse way) the importance of humans in an otherwise meaningless cosmos. With “sin” the overly self-important and morally smug, self-righteous human has at least the potential of offending his deity – thereby getting its attention – as opposed to being relegated to the status of a cosmic “roach” (which any advanced alien sentience would regard us). "Sin" is thus an attention getter to a Big Cosmic Daddy.

“Sin” then is localized and reactive behavior at the personal, individual level. “Sin” impinges on and affects the deity that so many believe in. Take away the deity, and sin loses its allure and quickly becomes redundant. How can there be “sin” if there is no deity to offend or to notice “sin”? To tote up all the little “black marks” in its “book of future judgment”.

“The Devil” or “Satan” is simply the projection of the most primitive brain imperatives onto the external world. And yes, this imperative (which I will soon get to in more detail) is capable of mass murder as well as genocides. A supernatural Satan need not be invoked here, only the ancient brain residue of reptiles – acting collectively – aided and abetted by a newly perverted neocortex, which now does the reptile brain’s bidding, as opposed to attempting to halt it.

In fundies' parlance, this projected entity is indeed “like a lion seeking someone to devour”. Think of the T-Rex and its insatiable appetite for flesh. Think of components and aspects of the T-Rex brain in each of us. Lying in wait for the right trigger to set it off – like in the Virginia Tech massacre. Now, project that horror and its instincts to tear, rip and kill anything different or vulnerable outside yourself. Voila! We have "the Devil” incarnate. Only really a psychological embolism adorned in reptile tendencies we have within us. So alien and terrifying we have to project it outside to a nameless “Devil”. Too horrific to take ownership of!

Interestingly, some authors turn these concepts back on themselves and arrive at mind-boggling conclusions. The authors of the book ‘Mean Genes” for example, make the case that genetic imperatives often drive the most fundamental (epigenetic) morality. The hybrid brain in this sense is merely the facilitator of the genes’ imperatives. Perhaps there is a method behind the “madness” of the brain’s disjunctive function: To aid and abet a primal, epigenetic morality.

On the local level, the genetic imperative means I protect my family first in the event of disaster. The welfare of others is secondary, given limitations of time and resources. It is my family’s genes that must prevail. To the extent they do, epigenetic morality is satisfied. A certain pool of genes has increased its survival value.

In the larger societal sense and deformed to an extreme, the epigenetic imperative leads to horrors such as the Holocaust, where Jews were depicted as inimical genetic “aliens” to “true Germans” and the German Fatherland. (In a trip to Germany in 1985, I still found a number of WWII era Germans who accepted this.) And hence could be dispensed with as serious threats, once their own humanity was removed. Likewise, the genetic imperative running amuck explains the Rwandan genocide, where Tutsis could be dispensed with as the “genetic aliens” to the REAL Rwandans, the Hutus. (In this case, Hutu talk radio played a key role in spreading the memes for the epigenetic morality- another reason why we may be well advised to bring back the "Fairness Doctrine" in this country - to allow opposing viewpoints to be aired in the same time spots as the most off the wall talk radio screeds.)

Examining these genocides at the detached, objective level one cannot but help notice the analogies with ant (or bee) species that invade the habitats (e.g. hives) of others, kill them, make off with their queens and seize their resources.

In this sense, the epigenetic morality and imperative emerges as the real “god” articulated in the Bible, while the perfecto, “goody two shoes” posturer (invented later by the clever, angelic leaning neocortex) is the fake. This was the contention of author Lloyd Graham in the last chapter of his book, ‘Deceptions and Myths of the Bible’, 1979.

For example, as Graham observes (p. 315):

“Satan is matter and its energies and the (Temptation of Jesus in the desert) story is but a mythologist’s way of telling us…that in the inanimate world matter and energy dominate….The only consciousness here is the epigenetic and this is – as yet- wholly incapable of controlling violent forces. This explains why our imaginary God of love and mercy allows these forces to destroy us”.

Graham’s depiction of the material and epigenetic god is one embedded in carnal lusts, revenge and avarice – so how can humanity be any different?

As Graham earlier notes (p. 272):

Man owes God nothing, not even thanks. Whatever is, exists because of necessity and not divine sufferance. And whatever exists suffers because of nondivine Causation. Our world is full of suffering, tragedy, disease, disaster, pain; we demand a better reason than religion has to offer.”

Perhaps for this reason, Graham insists that it is the de facto “creations” – humankind- who are the genuine authors of workable morality (“dynamic justness” not moral justice) not the claimed “Maker”.

Religious scholar Elaine Pagels makes much the same point in her book, ‘The Gnostic Gospels’ pointing out that the Gnostics regarded the biblical deity as a degenerate sub- being which they called “demiurgos”.

Of course, the Christian reading this will no doubt chime in: “What about free will? Can we not resist the epigenetic imperative?”

Maybe, but it’s by no means clear that any such entity as “free will” exists other than in limited domains. (E.g. I have the “free will” to choose a vegetarian diet over an all mear diet)

Even Einstein, writing in his marvelous book ‘Ideas and Opinions’ was suspicious that humans were genuinely free agents. As he noted:

The man who is thoroughly convinced of universal causation …..has no use for the religion of fear and equally little for social or moral religion. A God who rewards and punishes is inconceivable to him for the simple reason that a man’s actions are determined by necessity – internal and external- so that he cannot be responsible….any more than an inanimate object is responsible for the motion it undergoes"

The beauty of atheism is that it dispenses with both demiurgos (the petulant genetic “evil god”) and “Satan”, and atheists emerge as grown up enough to assume responsibility for their own actions, rather than whining that “the devil made me do it” or worse, projecting Satanic motives and attributes onto fellow beings. (We know where that sort of demonization leads!) We know the real “devil” inheres in those untamed genetic imperatives, and we also know that to the extent we are self-aware – we can often defeat the more parochial and self-serving tendencies and sometimes aspire to greatness. Leap-frogging and circumventing our human limits.

Thereby we can avoid blaming every major human tragedy and back step on some imagined supernatural “dark force” permeating existence and just waiting to catch us unawares.

There is a dark “force” in the cosmos and we call it “dark energy”. But it is something that can be discerned by physics and has no supernatural attributes. Intelligent humans would do best to invest their time investigating the nature and mystery of dark energy, rather than squandering time on silly phantasmagorias and fabrications of the mind like “Satan” and “evil”.

Responding to Libertarian Dreck

In 'Port-of-Call' - a subsidiary Newsletter (March issue) of Intertel, the top 1% IQ society, I had published an article entitled 'The Tattered Illusions of Knowledge', examining in depth the basis for what are called "toxic assets". I was specifically addressing one Libertarian's claim that there was no such thing and that the term "toxic assets" amounted to a travesty of language.

My original article and the Editor's response can be found here:

The Editor, Kort Patterson, also a hardcore Libertarian, totally missed the boat in his remarks - but never published my reply to his off-base criticisms. I presume because he didn't wish to carry on the debate further. Not wishing to let a good response go to waste, I therefore provide it below in its entirety:

As usual, Editor Kort amuses me with his rejoinder to my recent article (‘The Tattered Illusions of Knowledge’, March) and his claims that I have evinced little demonstration that I know what Libertarianism is about. Well, Kort, I do – but to have put all that into perspective would have required about doubling the article.

But let me stick to the basics here: I regard Libertarianism (after its main progenitor, Ayn Rand) as little more than an economic creed. Roughly the political-economic equivalent to creationism.

Before I go on to Libertarianism proper I want to demolish a few of the Editor’s early claims made to do with regulation, deregulation and “free markets”.

Kort avers (page 7): “there hasn’t been any meaningful deregulation of the American economy in the last half century”

Evidently he conveniently forgets (or perhaps doesn’t know – since we are on the topic of illusions of knowledge) that massive deregulation was ushered in under the Reagan administration, from the Bank Holding Act(1984) to rescinding “Regulation Q” – for which, as G.P. Brockway notes (‘The End of Economic Man’, pp. 156-57) state usury laws were suspended and banks were allowed to sell money market funds. There was also massive relaxation of restrictions on branch banks and – by 1984, “the New Deal reforms were in a shambles”. (Brockway, ibid.)

Brockway further points out (p. 157):

“Competition is by no means a universal good and in the case of banking it is almost a universal disaster. Ordinary businesses compete with each other more at the selling end than at the supply end. The competition at the selling end forces them to exert downward pressure on the prices they pay for supplies. In the case of banking, the shape of competition is significantly different – because its supply (money) is different.”

As Brockway goes on to note, the core competition in banking is for deposits, and this means banks try to out-do each other in interest rates offered. The dealie here is you don’t want the interest rate offered to Joe or Jane Public to be anywhere near the “spread” or interbank rate.

As he observes (ibid.)

“Competition forces banks to pay higher and higher interest rates and to offer more and more expensive services. As their costs of funds increases, so also rates charged borrowers must increase.”

Of course, Kort ignores or forgets the most egregious deregulation of them all, which paved the way for CDS (credit default swaps) to multiply in the first place: the repeal of the Glass –Steagall depression era law that prohibited mixing investment banking with commercial banking.

This leads into Kort’s next charge that the selling and dispensing of these (CDS) derivatives was simple “fraud”. No, it wasn’t – once the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed (unless one interjects the assignment of ‘AAA’ bond ratings as I noted in my article) all such inventions were allowed. The cruel fact and irony of the matter was that Glass-Steagall's revocation ok’d all activities that would be common to an investment bank and that included the creation of novel instruments to enhance yields or returns.

The tragedy is that Glass-Steagall’s repeal enabled the contamination to spread to commercial banking as well. And, as I noted, they are now holding $55 trillion of these toxic assets.

Kort may be further amazed to know that in a number of financial quarters (e.g. The Financial Times, The Economist) clarion calls have been made NOT to outlaw CDS!! If the calls have been made not to outlaw them then clearly they are still valid and legal instruments. You do not demand entities not be outlawed if in fact they are ALREADY outlawed. Hence, their creation cannot be “fraud” and in particular cannot be “willful and intentional fraud”. (Though I do agree that the bond rating of the SIVs or structured investment vehicles – by insurance companies like AIG, most likely was!)

To reinforce this, I refer the Editor to John Dizard’s column on ‘Wealth’ in The Financial Times of Dec. 30 (page 6). Dizard observes:

“Just because we have had a global financial crash caused by a credit meltdown, accelerated by the workings of credit default swaps and their unholy offspring, doesn’t make it quite fair to condemn a whole risk management program”

Dizard instead argues for more transparent information on bond issuers, and rating agencies. As he puts it, if this is done, along with small “lot trading size” then the demand for CDS as a hedging tool will diminish. Again, the point is the existing CDS are not “fraudulent” as Kort makes them out to be, but their hidden use in SIVs and instruments is, if bond ratings do not reflect the risk.

Let’s try to understand what is happening here: the dismantling of a Depression-era law (based on the then experience of investment banks – especially in offering certain vehicles then, known as "investment trusts”) prohibited mixing investment banking and commercial banking. This is deregulation no matter how one (even a Libertarian believer) chooses to parse it.

With the Glass-Steagall regulation gone the way of the dodo, there was nothing to hold back the flood, a point reaffirmed in the FORTUNE article I cited (‘The $55 TRILLION Question', October).

Kort in another paragraph displays a gross misunderstanding of the issue and perhaps this is my fault for not making myself clearer, or expatiating at more length, in my article. He asserts the victims “did not know what they were buying”. But my point was they didn’t know what they were buying because the derivatives were buried (concealed) in the legal instruments or CDOs. (collateralized debt obligations) comprising the quite legit bond funds purchased.(For the gory details on this I recommend Kort and others interested get hold of The Financial Times from Monday, December 17, 2008, wherein they will find – on page 8- the Analysis, ‘Out of the Shadows: How Banking’s Hidden System Broke Down’)

In the same way, I am 100% certain that neither Kort nor any of his Libertarian friends know the extent to which they own untold $$$$ of derivatives (all unregulated by the SEC) in the mutual funds they currently have! These derivatives are so obscure that not even the highest ranking financial advisors are able to fully explain where and how they are integrated into a typical fund or its components. Does this lack of knowledge make Kort cease to purchase mutual funds? I doubt it. Does their lack of SEC regulation and transparency make him scream “Fraud!”? I doubt that too. Since like most other Americans’ he has been conditioned to believe that only by owning equities (usually via mutuals) will he be able to afford retirement. Never mind how the equities as mutual funds are constructed. We don’t wanna know ‘bout that!

As Kort so aptly puts it:

“Hardly a free market of VOLUNTARY transactions based on real value and accountability”


And, of course, inhering in this insight is the core defect of all Libertarianism: that in order to really work to any effect it requires 100% transparency in all transactions and markets. Something that is totally and ultimately a fantasy. It can never happen, nor would ever happen – even if the country were now being run by Ron Paul as President and Jacob Sullum as Veep instead of Obama-Biden whom Kort casts as “authoritarians” – one of the most astounding pieces of hyperbolic aspersion ever rendered. (He also lamely tries to disparage FDR as being the culprit who “prolonged” the Great Depression, totally oblivious to the fact that the Fed’s then deflationary interest rate policy was at the crux. I refer him to Chris Farrell’s excellent monograph: ‘Deflation’, page 103, the Chapter, ‘The Great Depression’)

Another beef I have is this notion, permeating Kort’s remarks, that a “free market” exists. It does not. More Libertarian delusions. What we have is a coercive market. In this sort of perverse artifact, corporations create demand via the gimmick of mass market advertising. They can also create artificial shortages and hence, spike higher costs (say for oil) whenever they want. Having worked in an oil company once, in the late 60s, I can first hand vouch for that. I used to hear the laughter of the honchos echoing from their 7th floor offices as I made my rounds as a geologist’s assistant.

William Wolman and Anne Colamosca in their book: The Judas Economy: The Triumph of Capital and the Betrayal of Work, Addison-Wesley, 1997, detail the coercive market in labor and the horrific costs it has imposed. Chief culprit is the usurpation of the productive economy’ by the speculative one on Wall Street. From the era of “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap companies have had to tow the Street’s line and that usually means cutting workforce to the bone to increase share value. Never mind the poor slobs laid off, in the Libertarians’ dream world they can land on their feet if resourceful enough.

Exhibit A: the de-regulation of the energy industry ca. 1997 and later. Hyped as the greatest benefit of the “free market” ever for the small, residential consumers, since now - for once - the great market would determine cost, and not "greedy local utility companies." But no one could have foreseen or predicted how the likes of Enron would manipulate the energy markets - by shutting down access, energy in one state - and re-selling it in other states at robbery rates. This energy manipulation cost the state of CA more than $4 billion over 2000-001 alone. Not to mention untold customer misery, even as Enron shylocks were caught on tape laughing about how many 'grannies' they managed to get thrown out of their homes'.So much for your great “free” markets.

Kort’s most glaring and egregious misstep is saved for later when he insists:

“the citizens of the Weimar Republic failed to understand that their crisis was the result of government inflicted corruption of the free market”.

He compounds that with an earlier canard that “the Weimar Republic suffered from aggressive interference in its economy by a socialist popular government”

The truer story, as noted by Ian Kershaw in his magnificent account of Hitler’s rise to power (‘Hitler Nemesis’) is that Weimar constituted a weak democracy which had little or no control over the most radical Rightists, especially Hitler’s NSDAP party. They would regularly beat Marxists, socialist, any leftists on the streets while holding up signs that read: “Tot dem Marxem” (Death to Marxists)

With no strong government (a kind of Libertarian ideal, no?) Weimar was hit from pillar to post by the polarizing forces unleashed between Left and Right, after World War I. As Kershaw puts it, a “political culture of violence” had taken root. A political law of the jungle dominated, since inevitably the biggest, baddest and strongest were the ones who wielded power. Who were these bullies? Not any “Socialists” (more often then not the victims along with Jews) but the NDSAP party of Hitler and crew. [1]

Kershaw (p. 328, ‘Hitler Hubris’ – the first volume of his Hitler history) notes that the Nazi leaders didn’t immediately recognize the significance of the stock market crash in the U.S. in 1929. The newspaper, Volkischer Beobachter, did not even mention Black Friday, according to Kershaw. (ibid.)

This didn’t halt the financial carnage, since before long the reverberations struck - given Germany’s dependence on American short term loans. Within weeks, as Kershaw points out, “industrial output, prices and wages began the steep drop that would reach its calamitous low point in 1932.” Coincidentally, it was on July 31, 1932 Hitler and the Nazis achieved their highest ever vote totals in the Reichstag, 13,745,800 votes or 37.4 percent.

A result of Socialist “meddling” in free markets? Hardly. Rather an inevitable result based on a canny understanding of Weimar’s inherent political instability and the exploitation of brute force and propaganda to gain total power and intimidate the actual government. (Another reason why as an unabashed “statist” I advocate powerful central power- with the instant ability to take down bullies in whatever form they may appear) Hitler nonetheless kowtowed to the capitalists and industrialists to finally gain the measure of support he needed to finally attain the Chancellorship (with the unwitting help of Paul von Hindenburg)

How happy were the capitalists and German industrialists? Kershaw again (‘Hitler Nemesis’, p. xxxiii):

Leaders of big business, though often harboring private concerns about current difficulties and looming future problems for the economy, for their part were grateful to Hitler for the destruction of the left-wing parties and trade unions. They were again ‘masters in the house’ in their dealings with their work force”

Well, looks like a Libertarian capitalist’s wet dream to me! And how exactly did the assorted industries of high capital fare under der Fuhrer? Well, boffo times were afoot except for one little segment. Now, let us hear from Clive Ponting (‘Armageddon: The Reality Behind the Distortions, Myths, Lies and Illusions of World War II', p. 333):

The only major purge was in the newspaper industry

Of course, this is the industry charged with reporting the truth to the people. I don’t think it needs to be added that the journalists were also among the first to be dispatched to the concentration camps!

Let’s now move on to Libertarianism itself. Truth is there are so many assorted Libertarian voices of the past and present, one never knows who speaks for most current day followers. One can perhaps look at Ayn Rand, in her treatise ‘The Virtue of Selfishness’, but I’ve had freethinkers Libertarians at cocktail parties tell me in no certain terms I should not use her as the standard for their credos. Rand herself once insisted she was “not a Libertarian”. So who else?

Well, how about Charles Murray writes in What it means to be a Libertarian (p. 6):

“It is wrong for me to use force against you, because it violates your right to control of your person....I may have the purest motive in the world. I may even have the best idea in the world. But even these give me no right to make you do something just because I think it's a good idea. This truth translates into the first libertarian principle of governance: In a free society individuals may not initiate the use of force against any other individual or group”

Of course, this is also undoubtedly where the pet Libertarian canard that “taxes = theft’ comes from. But look at it objectively (not to be confused with ‘Objectivism’) this is arrant twaddle and illogical to boot.

I mean “libertarian principle of governance”! This is an oxymoron! Governance presumes and demands the non-passive act of governing, which means someone is actively setting standards of expected action, and also providing the means to uphold them. Else, what’s the point? It’s all an exercise in mental masturbation. In other words, unless someone (coercively) enforces governance, it will be meaningless. Now, maybe there IS a docile libertarian principle of “governing suggestion”- but this in no way is the same as “governance”!

Anti-statism is a central tenet of libertarianism, but it rests on no foundations, other than the so-called libertarian principles babbled by Murray and others. For example, Frank Chodorov, quoted by David Boaz of CATO Inst. in ‘Libertarianism: A Primer’, goes so far as to write:

Society is a collective concept and nothing else; it is a convenience for designating a number of people... The concept of Society as a metaphysical concept falls flat when we observe that Society disappears when the component parts disperse

Boaz himself joins in on what the “individual” means:

“For libertarians, the basic unit of social analysis is the individual.... Individuals are, in all cases, the source and foundation of creativity, activity, and society. Only individuals can think, love, pursue projects, act. Groups don’t have plans or intentions”

But, as Prof. Ernest Partridge puts it in his blog piece on ‘Liberals and Libertarians’ cited in my earlier article:

“Now consider the implications of this denial of the "independent existence" of "the public" and "society." If there is no "public," then there are no "public goods" and there is no "public interest." If there is no "society," then there is no "social harm," or "social injustice" or "social (and public) responsibility." It then follows that government has no role in mitigating "social injustice" or promoting "the public interest," since these terms are fundamentally meaningless. Poverty and racial discrimination, for example, are individual problems requiring individual solutions”.

I can assure Kort and his brethren that if Boaz’ concept held sway and government force was not used in Alabama in Sept. 1963 (JFK nationalizing the Alabama National Guard to enforce school integration) we would still be a segregated nation, with blacks sitting in the back of the bus, ‘colored’ water coolers and restrooms, and the rest. Only someone totally divorced from reality would claim individual African-Americans could have obtained their civil rights with mere individual effort and no government input.

Meanwhile, The Libertarian Party Principles state:

We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.”

Again, more inherently contradictory twaddle and piffle. Interference with the lives of others is permitted, so long as it’s not “forcible interference”. Anti-coercion libertarians do not simply oppose coercion they also claim to legitimately define it. Their definition excludes much that others would see as coercion. To me, the TABOR law in Colorado, because it continuously and aggressively scales back tax support for the public domain (based on the past year’s population and growth) is coercion and very vicious besides. Right now, thousands of disabled people across the state stand to lose their services thanks to TABOR and controls like it. All with the best intentions of course, that we not “take by force” those hard-earned gains of the filthy rich bastards ensconced in one of several of their 45.000 square foot mansions in Aspen!
As one critic has put it (to do with Libertarians’ convoluted principles):

“Libertarians make exceptions for defense of property and prosecution of fraud, and call them ‘retaliatory force’ But retaliation can be the initiation of force: I don't need force to commit theft or fraud. This is a bit of rhetorical sleight of hand that libbies like to play so that they can pretend they are different from government”.

Libertarianism clearly posits initiation of force for what it identifies as its minions interests and calls it righteous retaliation, and uses the big lie technique to define everything else as “evil initiation of force". (As they would certainly call JFK’s nationalization of the AL guard in ’63 to force school integration) They support the initial force that has already taken place in the formation of the system of property (e.g. the seizure of Native American lands and violation of umpteen treaties), and wish to continue to use force to perpetuate it and make it more rigid. It is this inchoate ethics that translates into the system’s weakness and exposes Libertarians as true hypocrites – just maybe a slight cut under the fundagelicals.

The long and short of it is every belief system has its evangelistic “scriptures”, designed to help proselytize the unwashed masses to their cause. The Campus Crusade for Christ uses Josh McDowell’s ‘Evidence That Demands A Verdict’, Scientology uses Ron Hubbard’s ‘Dianetics’, and Libertarians use ‘Libertarianism in One Lesson"’ (I am also cracking up just writing the words)

In the absence of counterargument all these tracts are semi-convincing. However, they can all be easily rebutted because of their weak, exposed flanks: the many exceptions that must be omitted in order for their so-called principles and dogmas to be convincing.

I warrant Libertarianism and its fanciful world of minimal force might work, in a fantasy world-universe where all citizens are equally educated and have equal access to facts and information, and equal opportunities to advance their social-economic station. But that is emphatically not the world we inhabit, whether Kort concedes it or not. This is why Libertarianism will remain the province of the very few, though it is disturbing to behold all the inroads it’s made into the high IQ societies like Mensa and Intertel lately. To read some of the letters or articles is almost like witnessing a collective mind-virus unleashed, and by people whose “bible” is ‘Atlas Shrugged’.

Thankfully there are still many of us who don’t buy this bunkum, no matter who tries to peddle it. Call us proud “statists” if you will, but we will continue to advocate expanding government so that it serves all citizens – not merely the corporations, the rich, and not so rich, or any who can afford the luxury of Libertarian codswallop.

Finally, to anyone out there whose mind hasn’t been infected by the Libertarian mind virus, I commend Paul Kurtz’s excellent Editorial (‘Overcoming the Global Economic Tsunami’) in the February-March issue of ‘Free Inquiry’ magazine, page 4. Kurtz has it exactly right in his proposals, especially when he avers:

Effective regulation must be reintroduced to protect the public interest”.

[1] It is a somewhat tragic fact that too many Americans, full of naivete and very little historical or political comprehension, mistakenly believe the “National Socialist Party” (NSDAP) of Hitler were valid Socialists. Nothing could be further from the truth! They were out and out FASCISTS who detested Socialists, as well as their kin, the Marxists. Amazing how language misuse can pervert the careless brain!

Friday, April 10, 2009

More on Stock shams: The Short Sellers

In two previous entries, I discussed the lure of stocks and why people were unjustifably invested in what can only be called "phantom money". The example was given of Joe Schmoe who seemingly lost over $174,000 but the bulk of that ($139,000) didn't even exist as hands-on cash, but as inflated share value. When the "money" was lost, Schmoe didn't actually "lose" anythng real - only the hard money he actually used to purchase shares.

The winners of the stock game, then, are precisely those able to "time the market" and cash out while most are still in. In this way they can reap real rewards, meaning converting the phantom money on paper into real money in the bank, given there are many more "buy and hold" investors to support the cashout.

Thus, like many recent scams in the news (Bernie Madoff, Shawn Merriman etc.), the stock market is also a giant Ponzi scheme, in which the lucky few who time out on the high share end benefit from those buying in (violating the buy low - sell high mandate) and other who simply have surrendered to the "buy and hold" mantra - hoping for some magical stock redemption windfall just before retirement.

But wait, apart from phantom money another financial shark lurks in the backwaters of Wall Street! It is none other than the "naked short seller"! These denizens have the ability to purchase shares they don't really own, then drive stock prices down by betting on their demise.

These "traders" - if they can be called that - typically bet against certain stocks by borrowing money from a brokerage then using it to bet against the stock's shares, forcing the selling of millions of shares they themselves don't own (And you thought phantom money was bad!) This selling of shares not truly owned is known in the Wall Street parlance as "naked short selling").

As a result of it done en masse (to targeted stocks) stock share value plummets, and the long term investors lose even more money (Okay, at least their paper money!). Look at what has transpired with the big banks such as Citibank the past few months.

The short seller game is simple: Borrow money to buy shares of what is perceived as a weak stock, then sell the borrowed money shares betting they can be replaced with shares bought at a lower price.

Thus, Company XYZ sells shares at say, $10 each, and a short seller borrows 100,000 shares, thus $1 million worth on paper. He then unloads all those shares on the market, bringing down the share price precipitously, since obviously that much selling will have a negative, or downside effect. All the other investors who are legit then lose.

As the share price plummets, to let's say $5 a share- when he clocks out, the short seller has effectively made $500,000 [($10 - $5) x 100,000 shares).] Since the share price of XYZ has collapsed, in effect, then the actual money owed for the borrowed shares is now only $500,000. The short seller pays back the borrowee the half mil, then keeps the half mil from his trickery. Meanwhile, millions of proper investors hoping to pay for Janie's college or Pop's retirement get shorted.

The effect is even more pernicious with naked short sellers who bet against stocks to depress prices by selling millions of shares they have not even borrowed. Thus can they wreak unmitigated havoc on stock share prices while the legitimate holders remain blissfully unaware. Critics have rightfully pointed out that - via the assistance of brokerages - these short sellers incept delivery failures by shorting stocks without first borrowing shares, thereby flouting securities law.

Thankfully, the future of this aspect of the stock shllling game may at least be soon over. The SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) has begun at last to stymie the ability of short sellers to depress stock share prices by using money to sell millions of shares they don't actually own. Part of this stymie ability will likely include reinstatement of the "uptick rule". Until 2007 that rule had required short sellers to wait for a rise or "uptick" in a stock's share price before betting on its decline.

Finally, some sanity is evidently going to return but not in time for the many millions who have lost half or more of their money (okay, phantom money) in the Maul Street Casino.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Why Few Will Make Money with stocks

In my February blog article on 'The Real Ponzi Scheme', I noted a number of unsavory and disturbing points to do with purchasing stocks and stock ownership, and especially reaping the rewards of such. The example given was for Company "XYZ" which goes public and issues 10 million shares of stock to 2 million people, for $50 a share. The market capitalization here is therefore $500 million.

What I went on to note is that this total capitalization is what determines payouts in the end. If all the people want out with their redemptions at once, then the payout for each is the minimal value per share. A simple principle is at work, the more redemptions (sales, sellers) the less the payout per share. If all wanted out at once, though the stock price might originally be $50 per share, the payout for 2 million people would amount to no more than $1,243 each on average.

The entire assumption of stock ownership is predicated on the gamble that not all will cash out at once, and in fact, there will be many more "buy and hold" investors than stock share redeemers. As long as say, ten times as many buy and hold, others can use the inevitable stock gyrations and a knack for timing, to get the most bang for the buck on a cashout. On the average, only about 0.01% of the total number of investors can do this without penalty.

Say, for example, the original stock share plummets after ten years to 50 cents a share. The market capitalization has now decreased a factor of 100 ($50/ $0.5 = 100) to $5 million. If there are no 10 million investors, the share price can be no more than 50 cents a share and that is the maximal cashout (redemption) amount. Thus if all ten million stock holders cash out at once they will (theoretically) get 50 cents a share. However, since stock managers do demand to take profits, commissions, and don't intend to part with all the money, they use a formula pegged to the volume of selling such that the share value is inversely proportional to the volume.

Thus, what theoretically might look like 50 cents per share on paper, for a mass redemption, will really end up as probably only ten cents per share.

If all the buyers (of company XYZ stock) initially bought stock at $50 per share, then watched it collapse to $1 a share, where did the money go? (A clue can be found by reading the 'Real Ponzi Scheme' piece! )

The (Duh!) answer (see also the recent 'Ask Marilyn' column in PARADE, April 5) is that the sellers (redeemers) got it. Well, who else would? The other aspect is that this scenario only accounts for a tiny fraction of the total money "lost".

Remember, as per my example in the earlier blog article, that when all the 2 million purchasers of XYZ stock bought it (at $50 per share) they actually artificially inflated the worth of all the shareholders. Obviously, they also inflated the worth-value for all those who bought it at $48, $24, $15 and $1! The reason? Everyone's stock is valued at the last share price times the number of shared owned. Thus, at any time in that transition interim, IF one of those lower purchase owners had the prescience or good fortune to cash out in time, they would have reaped a relative reward. This, despite not having bought the stock at a lower value.

In like manner, Janus World Wide Fund sold shares at one time for as high as $75. When I bought in (in 1997) they were still high but not as high as the inital offering rate. As they began a down swing I cashed out (in 1998) at least 100 shares for $70 a share- enough to finance a holiday to Yellowstone National park. Eventually the shares crashed to below $30 a share, by which time almost all share holders were selling (which was why the share price was being driven lower).

Back now to what I noted in the previous piece: Joe Schmoe similarly, may be elated at beholding a $174,000 balance after his 10th year of holding XYZ stock, but he needs to understand that the bulk of this:

$174,000 - $35,000 = $139, 000

is phantom money.

By the same token, if the following month the share prices collapses back to $5, Joe has not lost $174, 000 but only the money he actually put in up to THAT point, or $35,250.

It is this larger value, based on a "misleading multiple" of inflated share value x shares, that leads many to believe they have lost money they never owned in the first place. It only appears they did. Such is the stuff of stock hocus pocus which has nearly every modern day "investor" bamboozled and starry -eyed.

What if all sellers sold at once, does that make their losses real? Never in a million years! As I noted earlier, if all sold at once they'd all be victimized since as sellers outnumber buyers the share price drops according to inbuilt formulas used by the companies to correct for diminishing share volume. Diminishing (held) share volume = diminishing returns. Zero sum game anyone? The true and hard fact, again, is that only the prescient or early sellers, are able to obtain the top share price. This is possible because there are many times more "buy and hold" investors to support those sales.

Bottom line: If you own stocks you either better: a) be sure you receive regular dividends so you can collect at least something over time, or b) develop mind-reading powers tuned into the optimum time to cashout, so you are among the few who do when the share price is highest!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Mental Health for Extreme Fundies

"The God Experience is an artifact of transient changes in the temporal lobe”

M. Persinger, in 'The Neuro-pscyhological Bases of God -Belief', p. 136

With that single declarative sentence by Michael Persinger in his grand book, the origin and source of all God-talk and ideation was at once set forth: it resides in the brain's temporal lobes and is generated there, via temporal lobe transients, a kind of mini-seizure. For the first time, the source of all religious insanity and wars, extremist acts was traced to its source: the BRAIN!

Persinger himself places TLT experiences along a hypothetical continuum. Extreme symptoms would include circumstantiality, a sense of the personal (e.g. egocentric references, divine guidance), perseveration, hypergraphia, altered affect, and most importantly an overwhelming sense of religiosity. Carried to extremes, this sense translates into a meme (mind virus) that effectively asserts: "I am RIGHT! YOU are wrong, and since you are wrong- and we cannot both be right- you are gonna burn forever!"

And so the insidious nature of religious insanity sows its first seeds in a fertile brain which already is hamstrung by dysfunctions it cannot even see (just look at some of the comments on this blog from the irrepressible Preacher Man and his sidekick, Rene)

In a way this is very analogous to the approach (in physical models) to solar flare triggers. They are placed in a continuum that ranges from “mild” disturbance effects like a low grade coronal mass ejection (CME) or erupting prominence, to a full blown type X-9 solar flare with all the collateral damage that entails. But whatever the place on the spectrum, the trigger ultimately gives rise to all of the above. And so it may well be with brain TLTs as well, and to suppose or hypothesize such is, imho, not to abuse Persinger’s work.

In a 'WIRED' interview with Persinger, Jack Hitt notes:

“Persinger is not the first to theorize that the Creator exists only in the complex landscape of the human noggin. In his controversial 1976 book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes, a Princeton psychologist, argued that the brain activity of ancient people - those living roughly 3,500 years ago, prior to early evidence of consciousness such as logic, reason, and ethics - would have resembled that of modern schizophrenics"

Schizophrenia, as we know, is among the most pernicious of mental diseases. Generally, it strikes in the early to mid-teens and gets progressively worse over time. Why it strikes is a mystery but there could be genetic factors, and it could be the brain is most ripe for any mental illness immediately after the so-called "brain pruning" in which billions of neurons are shucked off so new ones, of a more mature being, can take their place.

We simply don't know the final answer.

In the same (1987) work 'The Neuropsychological Bases of God Beliefs', Persinger noted that the God Experience "promotes passivity, and because of the random emotional associations will lead to unreasoned decisions". He gives an example of a horrible scenario in which a pivotal world leader undergoing one of these religious, brain micro-seizure states irrationally decides to trigger a nuclear disaster. Why wait for Armageddon, when you have the little red buttons to induce it yourself? (If you can also coerce your higher staff to comply with your insanity, as depicted in the movie, 'The Dead Zone')

Right now, with the polity so contaminated by extremist religious drivel and refuse, we are not far from such a drastic phase. Just add:

(religiously besotted populace infecting political stage) + (presumed 'god-man' in the WH who believes he has a personal line to his real 'Father')

Anyone who disputes such a creature could exist ought to visit Pastor Mike's ("All Souls I-Net Church") site and read some of his aberrant screeds. It is clear from those that my bro suffers from a form of self-righteous neurosis and megalomania that beggars the human imagination. His castigation of all manner of faiths from Catholicism to Mormonism to Islam, reads like a hate tract scribbled by Josef Goebbels of Nazi fame. The difference is that while Goebbels' screeds were designed to send Jews into the gas chambers and ovens at Auschwitz, Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen etc., Pastor Mike's are designed to justify dispatching Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Hindus, Atheists, Muslims etc. to the perpetual ovens of "Hell".

Never mind now that no such place as Hell could ever exist, other than in a disturbed mind. It is the thought that counts. The intent to have masses of billions dispatched there!

What one has here is not an abiding reality but rather a viral, infectious, malignant meme. A mind virus masquerading as a valid thought or concept. The point is that such malignant memes are based on BELIEF systems - NOT on knowledge!

Memes in the more general sense are basically beliefs transmitted from the recipients to others (not yet affected). Religions can do this via conversions, foisting their bibles down various populations' throats and threatening them with hellfire(in the case of promoting or embedding malignant memes).

Knowledge doesn't fall under this rubric nor is it 'self refuting'. The litmus test of that, as I've uttered til blue in the face - is that actual scientific devices, technological systems and devices (like MRI machines, telephones, planes, linear accelerators etc.) WORK! And they do so in the real world! These are all based on scientific knowledge and principles that have been transmuted into practical applications. If the knowledge underlying these were simply 'self refuting' none of these devices or sophisticated machines,instruments would be worth a damn. Their results would be spurious. But - as we know from their use - they are not.

Moon rockets really do reach the Moon and return. Satellites really do transmit pictures - other information from one place to another. Computers really do store information and allow its retrieval as well as speeding calculations. MRI machines really do provide medical diagnostics that otherwise wouldn't be available. In other words, the very existence of these devices, systems shows that the knowledge on which they're based CANNOT be self refuting. These are the realized PRODUCTS of science and scientific KNOWLEDGE!

OTOH, the 'products' of (malignant) religious memes and their belief systems include: the hair shirt, the rack, the "Virgin" (a hollow box in the shape of a woman with 8" spikes fitted to its interior so when it is closed they impale the poor wretch inside....usually an atheist or heretic) chastity belts, rosaries, mosques, cathedrals- not to mention plenty of statues that are venerated by the 'faithful'. Oh, and the loopy, mistranslated King James Bible. None of these have any efficacy - other than to reinforce and feed the already existing memes.

But let us return to the matter of religious insanity. How do we treat it? How do we rescue the hijacked brains of those like my brother and Rene? History does not provide a very optimistic giude.

For example, in the 70s thousands of kids had to be rescued from cults such as the "Moonies" and deprogrammed. Deprogramming usually lasted a month to a year and entailed the most traumatic methods to drive to regain autonomy for a brain that had lost it. As one can ascertain by reading the vile and vicious crap posted on Pastor Mike's blog - compliments of himself and Rene, the same malignant mind virus is at work there.

In my own experience, a young student I knew while in the Peace Corps, serving in Barbados, suddenly went over the edge with Hell and demon obsession. What began as simple occasional bible reading transmuted into a pathology of the first order. Whereas she originally read much of the bible in context, this soon changed to merely ferreting out all demonic and Hell references.

By the time she was found one evening, she was drooling at a church door, pounding on it and begging someone to rescue her from demons. In her mind, she literally saw and perceived demons coming after her, in much the same way my brother ("pastor Mike") insinuated I was an "agent of Satan" because I had posted a full bodied defense of atheism on his site.

The girl required being taken to the island's lone institution for housing the psychotic and mentally unbalanced, being put on a strict diet high in B-vitamins, with combined electro-convulsive therapy, and being given an anti-psychotic drug known as "largatyl".

Sadly, I am not even the least bit sure that any of the above could salvage the brains of either Pastor Mike or Rene.

But, one can always hope!

Separating Sheep from Goats

Here's the real question to ask an unctuous pud who insists he or she is 'above it all' and merely looking out for the "advancement" of humanity (by which they really mean being "personally saved"):

Do you have a "hard on" for afterlife exclusion, segregation? Dividing humanity's dead into the permanently "saved" and "unsaved"? The former sitting at the "right hand" and watching on as we ("unsaved") unbelievers, along with Buddhists, Hindus, Jews get cremated for eternity? Is this important for your own spiritual satisfaction? Or, can it be dispensed with?

In other words, if you believe in "Heaven" and "Hell" your words are already hollow and show that - whatever your "hard-on" requires- it inevitably means more than five billion frying in a nuclear holocaust initiated in the Valley of Megiddo. It means > 100 billion crisping in fires for eternity as some snotty little "elect" self-righteous goombas enjoy sitting at the "right hand" of their little lord and master watching the infidels writhe and burn over and over. And then these miscreants will have the nerve to say: "Oh, but we hate the sin and love the sinner!"

Yeah ,right. Whether many want to admit it, or realize it or not, many Christians' entire life is bound into and promotes and defines their ultimate salvation. I have no problem with that, until they also posit I need their salvation lest I attain "damnation", based on my unbelief. (Never mind the exclusion may be from an unreal existence from my Atheist POV, the point is not the existence per se but the person's absolute mental exclusion in the first place!)

In other words, fine, if you want to believe you're "saved", but don't pillory or condemn me as "unsaved". Don't grab your "heaven" ticket, by handing me my "hell" ticket. (E.g. you're attaining the heavenly clouds, means I must descend to the hellish pits). I also totally question the premise that anyone can "behave with decency" in this world, if they also believe in their heart of hearts that a good portion of humanity will be condemned at the end of time - for either never having heard of Jesus, or not believing in him. (And lest Pastor Mike or his croney, Rene, read this and think 'Why worry if they don't exist to you?' - I don't. However, the mere fact that one could conceive even an imaginary torment for a fellow being makes one no better than the most visceral and depraved racist)

That makes a mockery of any decent acts they might do, and makes them hollow at core, since their governing belief is whatever people they help (or cooperate with in helping others) will ultimately be destroyed in some eternal holocaust. How does that reconcile? It doesn't - unless one is a madman. Are Christiano-Nazis madmen? There is good evidence they are.

There is enough evidence in now to show that the vast bulk of those who practice extreme religiosity and its expressions have brain dysfunctions centered in the temporal lobes as epiphenomena. Experiments by J.M. Persinger at Laurentian University have exposed these, by stimulating the temporal lobes of numerous subjects with specially designed helmets. In each case, religious visions or "insights" emerged, as well as beliefs. Eventually, Persinger had to call it quits after receiving death threats (according to a 1989 OMNI piece, 'Transcending Science'). For more of Persinger's complete work, get hold of his: 'The Neuro-psychology of God Belief'.

One would think people wouldn't get so lathered up at this. Beholding the sheer wonder of the brain as a 3 lb. mass of gray matter. Packed with over ten billion cells - able to deliver everything from the most advanced tensor equations of general relativity, to building space majestic works of art.... to well, providing the most exquisite visions and beliefs on demand. (Read some of Telhard's writings, like The Divine Milieu, to see how his own temporal lobes excited his neocortex and conjured up his marvelous visions of the Alpha and Omega).

But people (devout religious believers) almost uniformly 'lose it', perhaps because - as Daniel Dennett once noted - they want to build their world and universe on "skyhooks" not cranes. Cranes, after all, have to hoist from the ground up. They're prosaic, dirty material-mechanical flotsam and jetsam like cells, electric signals and chemicals. But oh those skyhooks! To toss them upwards and hook on to the ethereal, immaterial realm in the hyper yonder beyond the clouds and matter!

"BWAAAAAA....We don't want that! We wanna be GRANDIOSE beings! Made of sky and spirit not filthy matter! "

They fail to comprehend that for humanity to be one in harmony - no single subset can elevate itself as "more special" or More worthy" or more "grandiose" than any other. Irrespective of who or what they believe. And while it might be nice or appealing to believe ALL humanity is skyhook-engendered, in practice it never works! Because once the skyhook meme is admitted, one segment yearns to claim its supreme grandiosity and specialness for itself, and exclude the others! Much better to look at basic evolution out of the mire by natural selection, and how we all came to have the same basic DNA in our cells. "Brothers in DNA".

How we all came to share the same basic chemical arrangement. Indeed, this sharing can be extended to all living things on the planet- removing the specialness of humans as a species.

Meanwhile, we must allow openness to criticism and exposure of religion - any religion - if for no other reason than what Persinger's experiments suggested: that most of it arises from micro-seizures in the temporal lobes, and those aberrant manifestations are therefore akin to those of a mental disease, including hallucinations.

And just as we look rational askance at the babblings and mouthings of a drunk in the throes of delirium tremens so we must do the same for anyone who talks or writes on religious behavior - in the effort to validate some aspect of it in a way that necessitates the material or other destruction and demolition of all other humans.