Thursday, May 25, 2017

No One Will Buy My Book

First off, I won't write a book about my approach to the Bible, so my prophecy in the title of this blog post will be fulfilled due to my own inaction. The reason I won't write it is I see what kinds of books people buy about the Bible. Most of them confirm what has been being said for hundreds of years. A few of them say they have something new to say, then they say how amazing it is and how you will discover God and Jesus by looking at it this way. I don't want you to discover anything that isn't true. Most people find reality pretty boring. Too bad, they don't know what they are missing.

In Rob Bell's latest book, he manages to both give this message to the church and tell you that he knows what God thinks and knows how you can know that too. He has the advantage of once having preached at a mega-church and he's studied the ancient languages and been seminary school. But I don't think you need to do all that to understand what he gets right and what he gets wrong.

Most organizations that say they are teaching something about reality that you can only find by following their ideas, their practices, will tell you anything except that you can find it on your own. John Prine may be one of the few people who could tell you that and still sell albums. Churches and fortune tellers and gurus and snake oil salesmen and politicians have a goal of self preservation.

The Bible does not teach you to hang on to one way of thinking. It teaches you to give things up. It teaches you that your tradition is corrupt. It teaches you that your leaders have an agenda that does not further the needs of the community. Sometimes, while doing that, it recommends fixing it by returning to the tradition, but in some more pious or more devout or more self-sacrificing way. This is one of the more commonly ridiculed flaws, but focusing on those just becomes a mask for the major theme, found throughout, that to make progress, you have to leave where you are.

Being a slave may be comfortable, but it's not who you are. Your family is great, but it needs to spread itself out over the land and maybe not get together as much. And later, you may find visiting that long last relative and reconciling old wounds may be just the ticket. Whatever it might be, getting together every Sunday with the same people and singing from the same hymnal is probably not it. Celebrating the glory of what someone said thousands of years of ago is not progress.

Rob's sub-title is about transformation, mine would be something like, "An ancient library that has some useless and wrong history and some stories that changed things in important ways a long time ago and just a few stories that can still inspire some people today." Probably not a blurb that is going to sell anything.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Critical Thinking

This is just some notes I threw together. I might spice it up.

I’ve gathered facts and I’ve determined that I have most of the information available on this topic.
                Great, you’re done.

I have some information, but I don’t have all of it. Acquiring more data would require months or years of study.

                Decide if you want to do that study. Or, use the listed items below.

The issue may not be settled. The people who are the best minds on this issue do not agree. They might even say they don’t know enough to make a judgment.
1)     
How do you know who the experts are?
a.       Degrees from accredited institutions
b.      Honors, awards
c.       Appearances to the public, intended to help the uneducated understand the issue
d.      Participation in setting public policies that can be evaluated
e.      Publications that provide real world, understandable examples and illustrations
f.        Historical precedence

2)      When those experts disagree, do they do it respectfully, or are they claiming bad motivations or hidden agendas?
a.       Do both sides have a body of evidence they refer to, or does one concentrate mostly on pointing the flaws in the other?
b.      Can you at least follow a logical flow to the arguments?
c.       Are the two sides willing to debate?

3)      Can you identify any other facts behind those motivations or agendas?
a.       Are they pointing to anything written or recorded, can you verify their data?
b.      Are they using words like “some” or “always” or “stupid” or “commie”?

In the best case, you have a friend or acquaintance in the field in question. Someone you can trust to clarify anything specific.

Second best is to attend a public lecture and ask your question face to face. Sometimes you can find very intimate settings for these types of discussions. For example, a farmer might be willing to show you their operations, a lab worker might take you on a tour, or someone good with numbers could show you where to find data and how to interpret it.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Unsealed documents

I haven’t written a Monsanto blog in a while, but it seems things are heating up, and this article came through my feed. I’ve heard people being accused of being paid trolls in online discussions and unscientific sites like Natural News, but this site has an appearance of being a legitimate news site. They accuse people of being tools of the pesticide industry, and specifically mention the Genetic Literacy Project.

I had a little trouble identifying the source of the article, but Quora did not have answers that settled me at all. https://www.quora.com/Journalistic-Ethics-and-Norms-How-legitimate-is-The-Centre-for-Global-Research Other debunking type websites did not give it nice reviews either. http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Globalresearch . http://fakenewswatch.com/ lists it as a “Clickbait Website”.

Here’s the article. Please limit your clicks on it, it just encourages them.

May 3, 2017
http://www.globalresearch.ca/monsanto-accused-of-hiring-army-of-trolls-to-silence-online-dissent-court-papers/5588396

This article is almost devoid of facts, except the ones presented by the Monsanto quotes. It almost seems like someone disguised a pro-Monsanto article as an anti. It uses a facebook quote as evidence and notes that earlier evidence says a “single comment” was taken out of context, but now they have more. I couldn't find that much "more".

It linked to a website of court documents that were recently unsealed.
https://usrtk.org/pesticides/mdl-monsanto-glyphosate-cancer-case-key-documents-analysis/

Clicking on it gives a long list that looks impressive. This is a tactic of using a bibliography as if it is evidence itself. Many people will see that and accept it as legit and move on.

The first one I looked at (4th in the list) was “Order denying Monsanto motion to increase page limit”. It was 4 sentences long, saying “FURTHER ORDERED that Monsanto Company shall be permitted …. in opposition of up to 25 pages in response to Plaintiff’s Rem..” I couldn’t read it all because there was a big “DENIED” stamp over it.

So, I started going through them. The first was a motion to keep some notes sealed, saying, “Compelling reasons and good cause exist to redact portions the Motion to Compel and the Rowland Rough Transcript”. There was no scientific information and no specific evidence of anything.

The next was a lengthy answer from Monsanto of allegations and amounts to nothing more than a legal denial. Studies are cited, but the document could not be used to determine truth of either side.

The third is about a 1996 case of false advertising. You can look that history up anywhere.

The 5th one says they can question a guy. I skipped a couple because they looked like more of same.

Then “Monsanto’s motion to strike plaintiffs’ reply exhibit 1…” is interesting. They are accusing their accusers of making a frivolous and illegal filing of an irrelevant document. It would be interesting to see how that one turns out.

I skipped the back and forth about Rowland.

In the request for the production of all original re-cut slides in study BDN-77-420, something is redacted. I don’t know if the request is reasonable or not, so I’ll withhold judgment on that one.

“Monsanto discovery dispute” is a long discussion about the IARC ruling on cancer risk. That could be interesting if you haven’t already read up on it.

I thought maybe I finally found the evidence discussed in the article at “Jess Rowland documents unsealed”, but this was 100 pages about the review by IARC that led to the cancer ruling, and other studies that conclude glyphosate is not carcinogenic.

Documents “unsealed” (227 pages) looks like a general declaration of what the IARC is about. That entry also says “key documents on pp. 203-4”. The words “involving experts” and “ghost-write” are used in that memo. That was the only remark I found that was relevant to the article.

I found nothing to indicate Monsanto concealed anything, or any evidence of pseudo-science. The article correctly states that “plaintiffs allege”, but I didn’t see the links to their studies. There were over a thousand pages, so I might have missed something. It seemed a bit misleading to me to mention 50 lawsuits, and that court documents have been unsealed, but then find those documents are mostly very common legal wrangling. The article states the papers are “being gathered” on a whistleblower website, but that site is run by RTK, which is affiliated with this globalresearch.ca, which looks shady. This is “guilt by association”; create an accusation, create a group that documents accusations, document it there. The documents themselves don’t contain much as far as I can tell.

None of this helps me make any decisions about what I should eat or what I should buy, or who I should believe. My opinion; eat whatever you want, but don’t use articles like this to help you decide. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Doubt

From the book, Doubt by Jennifer Michael Hecht, her closing statement:

Cicero ended his study, “The Nature of the Gods”, by picking a winner among the doubters and the tradition is worth keeping up. The contest I want to judge however is not between various doubters but between the great doubting tradition and all the other traditions of religious thought. Theistic religions all have in them an amazing human ability; belief. Belief is one of the best human muscles. It can be very good. The religions are all beautiful and horrible, filled with feasts, sacrifices, miracles, wars, songs, lamentations, stained glass, onion matzahs and intense communal joy. Everyone kneeling, everyone rocking, everyone silent, everyone nose to the floor.

The religions have also been the energy behind much generosity, compassion and bravery. The story of doubt however has all this too, it also has a relationship to truth that is rigorous, sober and when necessary, resigned. And it prizes this rigorous approach to truth above the delights of belief. Doubt has its own version of comforts and challenges. From doubt’s beginnings it has advised that if you create your own desires and model them after what you actually experience, you can be happy. Accept that we are animals, but ones with special problems. And that the world is natural, but “natural” is just an idea that we animals have in our heads. Devote yourself to wisdom, self-knowledge, friends, family, and give some attention to community, money, politics and pleasure.

Know that none of it brings happiness all that consistently. It’s best to stay agile, to keep an open mind. Anyway, if you live long enough you’d likely find yourself believing something that you’d never believe today, or disbelieving. In a funny way, the one thing you can really count on is doubt. Expect change, accept death, enjoy life. As Marcus Aurelius explained, “the brains that got you through the trouble’s you have had so far, will get you through any troubles yet to come”.

Throughout history many great thinkers have argued that the study of these questions could give life meaning, grace and happiness. Many heartily suggest, indeed insist that doubters should do some practices, some therapy, some art to tune themselves to a manageable relationship with a universe that very possibly has no humanness at all. Doubters in the modern world have all sorts of philosophies and communal experiences in which to engage and participate. And it is not uncommon for doubters to compose a sacred but secular for themselves out of reading philosophy of some sort, taking part in psychotherapy, art and poetry, meditation, dance, secular solemnities and festivals.

The only things such doubters really need that believers have is a sense that people like themselves have always been around, that they are part of a grand history. I hope it is clear now that doubt has such a history of its own and to be a doubter is a great old allegiance deserving quiet respect and open pride for its longevity, its productivity, its pluck, its warmth, its service to friend and foe and its sometimes ruthless commitment to demonstrative truth. I give the palm to the story of doubt.

Monday, March 27, 2017

My Bibliography

In case your wondering where I get my ideas. This is about 20 years of reading.

             Christian days
Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time – Dominic Crossan
Something by Marcus Borg
The Doors of Perception  -
Religious America, Secular Europe? Peter Berger and Grace Davie. 2007
Iron John – Robert Bly
The Gospel of Inclusion – Carlton Pearson
The Great Emergence- Phyllis Tickle
Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis
Abraham: A Journey to the – Bruce Feller – Well researched look at how the 3 monotheisms draw from one tradition.
Jesus for the Non-religious John Shelby Spong
                Not so Christian days
Blessed Unrest Paul Hawken – about organizations working for peace and justice
Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
The Imitation of Christ Thomas Kempis
Dante's Divine Comedy – actually, I couldn't finish it
Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach
The Meaning of Life A Short Introduction – Terry Eagleton
The Story of Philosophy Will Durant – excellent complete coverage
Reason, Faith, and Revolution – Reflections on the God Debate by Terry Eagleton, 2009
Spinoza on Ethics - Surprisingly strong emphasis on god and the impossibility of uncaused events.
50 Voices of Doubt
                Definitely not Christian days
If You Meet the Buddha on the Road Kill Him – Sheldon B Kopp
The Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follet – fiction, but paints a picture of the time when there were two Popes
Siddhartha -
What's So Great About Christianity – Dinesh D'Souza – Terrible, complete cherry picking of history, ignores anything bad about it. It was recommended by a liberal Methodist Bishop so I include only as an example of something that a Christian could be fooled by.
The Daily Show and Philosophy – not that great
Fire, Water, Spirit – Malidoma Some. A biographical story, not theology, some history, mainly mythology.
Banned Questions from the Bible – mostly for teens, a few high points.
Compassion – Karen Armstrong (I think I read her History of God)
Critical Thinking books recommended by Russell of ACA
                Demon Haunted World – Carl Sagan (read parts of it)
                Innumerncy –John Allen Paulos (ways people are fooled with math)
Who Wrote the Bible - Friedman
Mistakes were Made but not by Me – About psychology of belief
Not the Impossible Faith – Richard Carrier. Why Christianity flourished.
Tony Jones A New Atonement
The Jesuit and the Skull: Teilhard de Chardin – Amir D Azcel – this was more history of the man and his political problems and not much about this religious philosophy.
How the Irish Saved Civilization – Thomas Cahill – fills in a few gaps in history
The Liberation of Theology – Leonardo Boff – religion is politics
The Botany of Desire – Michael Pollan – has a great bit on the Genesis creation story as a metaphor for the dangers of pagan rituals involving hallucinogenic drugs
Sir Gwain and The Green Knight
Bertrand Russell History of Philosophy – Comprehensive, reviewers have said it contains inaccuracies
God’s Philosophers – James Hannam – A rare look at early science in the Middle Ages, but it has some historical errors and leaves a lot out.
Everything Must Change – Brian McClaren
Thomas Sheehan, The First Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became Christianity
Quest for Jerusalem – about recent histiography on Columbus
Free Will – Sam Harris
Infidel  Ayaan Hirsi Ali amazing story of a woman escaping Islam
I am Malala – the girl who was shot in Afghanistan for going to school
Wittgenstein’s Poker – A fun history of 20th century philosophy, including Karl Popper
Sense and Goodness Without God – Richard Carrier – rare idea for philosophy incorporating all modern knowledge
Wild – Cheryl Strayed – Not about religion, but a about a journey of healing.
And God Said Billy – Frank Schaeffer – bizarre, but a look into the fundamentalist mind
Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God – Frank Schaeffer. Cherry picking, but at least he admits it.
Snowy Tower – Martin Shaw
Branch from the Lightning Tree – Martin Shaw – these are about myth, they are essential
American Gods – fiction, but a fun play on mythology and how the European gods followed people to the US
Think – Simon Blackburn Descartes to modern era
A.D. 381 Charles Freeman – covers the history of the theology of the 4th century. Amazing.
In Faith and In Doubt – Dale McGowan – for mixed secular/religious relationships, but also has some interesting data on belief and how it doesn’t match the given identified denomination
The Brothers Karamzov – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Man's Search for Meaning – Viktor E Frankl. Totally amazing.
Why I am Not a Christian – Richard Carrier
Hitler Homer Bible Christ – Richard Carrier
The Tao of the Dude – Oliver Benjamin – fun, just sayings mostly
The Christian Delusion – John Loftus, a collection, got it for the Carrier chapter mostly
Eve – William Paul Young (Author of The Shack), fiction. Uses Genesis creation narrative to tell the story
The Way of the Heathen – Greta Christina
Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World – Miroslav Volf, disagree with it, but it's still interesting
Islam and the Future of Tolerance – Sam Harris, Maajid Nawwaz
How to Defend the Christian Faith, Advice from an Atheist – John F Loftus, very sarcastic
Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower – Tom Krattenmaker. Disappointing, very religious.
On the Historicity of Jesus – Richard Carrier
A Christian and an Atheist Walk Into a Bar – Shieber and Rauser.
Doubt – Jennifer Michael Hecht
Why I Left, Why I Stayed – Tony Campolo, Bart Campolo


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Resistance is inevitable

I was at a Christian camp the other day, not as a Christian, it was a cross-country skiing group. I like to poke around their libraries. This one was just a bookshelf will old Bibles, old Sunday School guides, except one book from 1982 by Francis Schaeffer, The Christian Manifesto. I didn’t have time to read the whole thing, so I’m not sure just what the “manifesto” was, but I’m pretty sure he was promoting violent overthrow of the US government. That might sound like something from a 60’s radical rather than a leader of evangelical conservative Christians, but it was definitely in there. His justification was that the government was allowing, and in fact supporting the killing of innocent children, via abortion.

I’m not going to dwell on the violence part too much, and he doesn’t lay out any kind of plan. What was interesting was how he made parallels to those 60’s radicals and lots of other radicals through history. He kinda of made violently overthrowing your government sound completely rational and logical. I’ve seen this sort of thing in my travels with counter cultures. When I took a paid position as a canvasser against the transportation of nuclear waste for example; it would have been right about the same time Francis was writing this book. One night, an anarchist joined us and took a few minutes to explain that she thought the only way to ultimately end the nation’s support of nuclear weapons was to violently overthrow the government, take control of said weapons, and of course, she and her minions would do the right thing and dismantle them. She didn’t say too much about killing untold numbers of people in gaining that power, but it seemed to be her plan. No one joined her army that night and I have no idea what became of her.

Schaeffer takes a longer view of history. In this book for instance, he builds his case by listing many of the wars that took place between Protestants and Catholics. When the Protestants won, he tells the story about an evil Catholic King who was deposed and the people of that kingdom were saved further oppression, because they now had a Protestant ruler and were free to be, well, Protestants. When the Protestants lost, he said they were martyred. Just as modern news of war talks of the brave soldiers defending freedom and is less generous about those who die daily from our constant shelling, these stories soften you up for the call to action.


He then further builds his case using a “just war” theory from Lex, Rex, or The Law and the Prince; a Dispute for the Just Prerogative of King and People, published in 1644. Apparently this is a quite famous work. As shown in the bottom paragraph here, Shaeffer, using Rutherford’s logic, believed it was the duty of the people to execute God’s will when the government body does not. On the next page, he compares this to Bob Dylan. He says the differences in language changes nothing, although I would say Rutherford is a little stronger in his suggestion of an actual uprising, and Schaeffer later minces no words at all.

There certainly were those who listened to Dylan and were inspired to shot at cops or bomb government buildings, but Dylan was not telling them to do that anymore than the Beatles were sending secret messages to Charles Manson. I couldn’t copy the whole book, but on page 110 Schaeffer says it is time to use appropriate forms of protest, and in other places, he is definitely leaning toward what Rutherford called “lawful resistance”. He was suggesting doing more than marching around with cardboard signs. On this page he is talking about how the ACLU  has taken God out of the schools. In later pages he speaks to the problem of the government supporting abortions.


To be very clear, I advocate none of this. I don’t want people to have abortions, but there are better ways to reduce the need for them than by picketing abortion clinics. Until it becomes a regular part of our government to throw people out of their homes, or force people to worship one way or the other, or to lock people up for their thoughts, I’m not ready to take up arms against them. I know those things happen, and more often than I’d like, but we still have legal means to undo them and to punish our police when they need to be policed. There was a time in my life when I broke the law on a daily basis, but I never thought that the system of law itself was unjust. It has unjust aspects, but that’s part of living in a democracy, you aren’t supposed to like everything about it. Nor are you required to. If you don’t, you can work to change it.

So, back to this book. I could be wrong about what Francis Schaeffer actually meant. A central point of it though, and I think he does a good job of making this point, is that the idea of there being a higher law, one that transcends temporary governments and power structures, has been around for a long time, perhaps for as long as there have been power structures. There has always been a resistance of some sort. Most of them we don’t hear about, because they don’t have the power and never get it.

It doesn’t matter if that resistance is fighting for “free love” or for “moral power”, the rhetoric will sound very similar in either case. They will call the law makers law breakers, or worse they will call them rapists and murderers. What Schaeffer is a little less quick to mention, is they, or someone who hears them, will then justify bending the rules just a little in the name of their higher authority. When you can convince someone that you have tapped into the transcendent reality, and that they are now privy to that special knowledge, you can get them to do just about anything.

I’m trying to present all of this without judgment. When you are unfamiliar with the background information of a culture, something like a doctor being shot in cold blood for performing abortions or a protest erupting into violence can be a shocking story with no rhyme or reason. But rarely do such things come out of nowhere. Manifestos by people living in shacks in the woods are rare, and typically less coherent. Anarchists like the one I met, show up, break a few windows and fade into the background. But organizations like the ACLU and the Evangelical Church will probably be around for a while. We’re going to need to find ways to get those two camps together.

If you click around the link to the L’Abri Institute above, it’s more than just an introduction to who Francis Schaeffer was. It tells of his work that included trying to understand just what the 60’s counter culture wanted, something I'd like to see more of from that side. If you follow the link to the ACLU, you’ll see they fight for everyone’s rights, not just against religion or for liberal causes. And as we found out last November, there is something they are not listening to either. If you are unfamiliar with one or the other of these histories, I can see how it would seem like there is some evil force in the world that needs to be countered. If you are unfamiliar with both, the world would seem chaotic indeed.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Compromise is Anathema

I'm just going to park this here, so I don't lose it. It's a story as good as Romeo and Juliet or Ruth from the Old Testament.

Ex-Westboro TED talk