A difference of opinion

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Some have taken to styling the difference between the religious and non-religious worldview as a mere, difference of opinion. It is as if we believe it is on the order of rooting for Alabama (roll tide) or Auburn (War Eagle). To avoid the debate altogether, we engage in the conversational cowardice  of agreeing to disagree. But I contend that it is so much more than that. We are not talking about a matter of opinion or angle of perspective. We are talking about the basis of law, social mores, and human rights. It is not just a difference of opinion, but a fundamental understanding of how the universe works. And that is worth risking a few verbal bruises in the arena of meaningful debate.

Equal footing

To say that a faith-based worldview versus a science-based worldview is merely a difference of opinion, is to place them both at the same level. It pretends that both world views are on equal footing with one another. They are both mere matters of opinion. The suggestion is that it is wrong to assign one opinion more weight than the other. After all, it is only an opinion, and everybody has one. Yours is no better than mine. At least, that is how the reasoning goes.

This strategy only favors the one with the weaker argument. It allows them to lose the battle, but win the ceasefire. Religion can lose every argument. But if the battle ends with the other side treating religion as an equal, that is a major victory for religion. Such a ceasefire should never be allowed. Faith is not equal to physics. Religion and spirituality are not just other ways of reaching the same, universal truths.

Substance and evidence

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. He. 11:1

The bible attempts to place faith on equal footing with science by referring to faith as substance and evidence. This is an attempt to enlist the words of science to bolster the claims of faith. In the above passage, hope is placed on a level playing field with substance, and unseen things are elevated to evidence.

Reality, however, makes quick work of this juvenile sophistry. Fill one hand with the hope of a million dollars, and the other with a dollar, and it becomes readily apparent which handful buys you a cup of coffee. In court, defend yourself with unseen things while the prosecution convicts you with evidence. How many phone calls will you be allowed to make after the trial is over? Exactly!

Something you believe vs. something you know

To further make this obvious point, let’s do a thought experiment. Think about the closest house to yours that you have never been inside. Now, let’s place a bet on how many bedrooms you think it has, $1 being the smallest bet, $100 being the largest. Once done, think about the number of bedrooms in your own house. Place a bet on that number. Did you make the same sized bet on both propositions? Of course not. Where you were unsure, you place a small bet. Where you were certain, you bet everything.

Even if you looked at the construction, compared it to houses with which you were familiar, and was fairly convinced there were two bedrooms, you couldn’t be sure. In your own house, there was no room for doubt. It was not a mere difference of opinion. One was what you believed; the other was what you knew. There is no equality between what you believe and what you know.

Removing the labels to reveal the truth

Labeling is one of the most effective tools of debate. An the US, the debate over abortion does not come down to science or morality. It comes down to reductionist labeling. Pro-life is defeated by pro-choice. For Americans, life is good, but choice is better. Reduce your argument to a winning label, and more often than not, you win. The reverse is also true. Reduce the other side to a losing label, and they lose. Ronald Reagan did not lead the battle against another nation with different ideas about governance. He fought a holy war against the evil empire.

To be honest, non-believers like myself use the word, “religion” as a pejorative. In all fairness, religious people use “atheist”, and even “science” in the same way. A religious person might say, “Your science leaves you cold and without answers in matters of the spirit.” A non-believer might say, “If we used religion to launch rockets, we would have never left the atmosphere.”

But what happens if we remove the labels? If we are forced to talk about science without using the word, we would be left with other words like observation, measurement, experimentation, repetition, and falsification. Take away religion as a word, and what we have left are other words like faith, hope, believe, wish, invisible, spirit, and miracle. One ounce of repeatedly observed measurements outweighs a ton of invisible spirit miracles. Not the same!

Conclusion

Declaring a thing a difference of opinion assumes that neither side has the facts. Arguing over the number of bedrooms in my neighbor’s house is a difference of opinion because neither of us knows for sure. My opinion is probably better than yours because, at least, I’ve seen the outside of his house. You, most likely, have not. However, disagreeing over the number of bedrooms in my own house is not a difference of opinion. It is your opinion against my fact. It is your magic mind weapon vs. my nuclear bomb. You can try to say that it is just a difference in weaponry. But once both are deployed, you probably wouldn’t finish the sentence.

Agreeing to disagree is weak sause. Unprovable opinion is never equal to repeatedly observed fact. Religion and science are not on an equal playing field. Religious education is oxymoronic: a subject I will write about at another time. I will not sit idly by and have my laws, social mores, and human rights be determined by people who believe that the bible is on a par with Isaac Newton’s Principia. Nor should you!

David Johnson

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For all the good little boys and girls

santas-listThe Christmas story is a non-religious, but just as magical story as the Christian story. By now, everyone knows how I feel about the Christian story. It is only a story of good news and hope for the very few. For those not numbered among the very elect, it is a nightmare story of endless horror, fear, and pain. The Jewish story left the vast majority of the world outside of God’s good graces. The Christian story is even more explicit in leaving the vast majority of humans on the broad path that leads to destruction. Only few are set to enter the narrow way that leads to salvation. And that’s the best that news can ever get.

I contend that the Christmas story is equally horrendous. It is only a story of good news and hope for the best of the good little boys and girls. The rest are on the naughty list. And what exactly does it mean to be on the naughty list? It is worse than you think. Though no explicitly horrors such as Hell await the naughty, the terror is implied. For a better understanding, take a look at what awaits the good little boys and girls.

The reward for being good is that you will receive almost anything you wish for. All you need to do is wish for it, and believe with all your might that you will get it. It is a lot like prayer and faith. Of course, you have to be on that all-important list of good kids. It is unclear what is required to secure a spot on that list. One assumes that things like doing your homework, chores, and obeying your parents are the kinds of things that are monitored.

Speaking of being monitored, that is the other part of the prerequisite. Like it or not, you are going to be closely monitored every moment of your life. Everything you do is watched by Santa and his helpers. Meticulous lists are made of everything you do, say, and even think. School time, bedtime, shower time, he’s watching you little girls and little boys. You are always under his gaze. Don’t be shy. He’s seen it all before, and looks forward to seeing it again. You have nothing to hide. You’re beautiful in his sight. Yep, it’s that creepy.

For your loss of privacy, and a sense of being constantly judged, you might just get that Tickle-Me-Elmo. However, if you are very good, you might get something even bigger, such as a cure to grandpa’s cancer, enough food to eat for the next month, or maybe even your dad will stop hitting mommy. These big gifts are reserved for the truly exceptional. Honestly, I’m not sure how you get on that list.

Here’s the thing, if you’re not on the good list, part of your punishment, by omission, is that grandpa is going to die, you will not have enough food to eat, and mommy is going to continue to get the crap beat out of her. Because you were on the naughty list, these things are your fault, at least a in part. Now, based on the reality of their lives, extrapolate the percentage of kids on the nice list, and on the naughty list. I calculate that it is about the same percentage of people on the straight way that leads to salvation, vs. those on the broad way to Hell. Funny how the two stories parallel each other.

I call for us to stop telling this horrible story to children. What of the children whose parents can’t afford the Tickle-Me-Elmo doll? Should they assume that they are on the naughty list? Should they assume that the purveyors of the Christmas story are bald-faced liars? Let’s face it; the Christmas story is only for the wealthy, and those with wealthy benefactors. Asking a poor child what she got for Christmas is as narcissistically insensitive as asking an unemployed man what he does for a living.

Before closing, I have just one brief aside. From a Christian perspective, where does Santa get his magical powers? Christians come from a tradition that place all magic not from God into the category of witchcraft. Witches and warlocks were to be put to death. We barely tolerated “Bewitched”. We boycotted “Harry Potter”. Why on earth do we champion Santa Clause? His power is not from God. He does not promote God. He takes all the credit for his miraculous deeds. Why do good Christians support this particular sorcerer? Hmm…

David Johnson

My thoughts on the NSA, privacy, and human dignity in the modern age

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In case you’ve been wondering, of course I’ve been following the NSA story since the first Snowden leaks. I have simply chosen not to make a career of it as some blogs have done. For wall to wall coverage on everything related to the NSA, let me suggest theverge.com. It is my intention to keep this piece concise, with only a handful of points for you to consider.

NSA Inc.

Trust me, I have a lot to say about the NSA spying on you through your own cell phone. Most of it will have to go unsaid. I will reduce my grievance to the fact that, without your knowledge or permission, the NSA has assimilated American businesses into stealth agencies of the NSA. It has completely bastardized the relationship between you and the companies with which you choose to do business. Thanks to the NSA, the business arrangement you think you are entering is not the one you actually enter upon signing the dotted line.

You are not buying an iPhone from Apple, or service from AT&T, or broadband from charter. You are purchasing surveillance equipment that has already been secretly modified by a shadowy agency that is accountable to no one, certainly not you. The NSA has forced us to question the relationships we thought we had with our favorite companies and services. I thought I paid AT&T for personal communications technology that allowed me to privately communicate with friends and associates via text and voice. As it happens, I am paying AT&T to funnel all of my “private” communications through a government agency. Regardless of what I thought I was paying for, I have no private communications. My relationship is not with AT&T, but the NSA.

The same is true for every communications based product or service. You bought an Android phone knowing full well that Google was going to be monitoring everything you do on it, from checking your calendar, to sending an email. You accepted that because the phone was cheap and the services were free. But what you didn’t know was that Google was passing that information on the the NSA as fast as they could collect it. You said “yes” to Google, not to the NSA. You went with an iPhone because Apple respects your privacy, and encrypts iMessage end to end. The idea that the NSA has inserted itself into that relationship is even more offensive.

This is pretty much true for all technology you purchase from the big tech companies. You can no longer be sure if you are dealing with them, or with a subsidiary of the NSA. We can no longer do business in a country when we can no longer be sure with whom we are dealing. This has to end!

Privacy: never surrender

It has become hip among certain members of the technorati to claim to have no secrets, or need for privacy whatsoever. They claim to live their lives in public, and trust Google with all of their personal data. They are liars and hypocrites! Don’t believe them! They have an agenda that has nothing to do with you. First, as fans of Google, generally speaking, what else could they say? Google and their advertisers believe that they have a right to capture, share, and monetize your every keystroke. They believe that because they give you free email, they have a right to read your email, and sell the important bits to the highest bidder.

Yet everyone of these people are secretive about much of their private information. They are happy for you to have their business address, digital and physical, but would scream bloody murder if someone leaked their personal information. They are not forthright about their intimate relationships, finances, or eccentricities. You see them on camera, hear them on podcasts, and read their blogs, but you don’t know anything of substance about them. And that is exactly how they intend to keep it.

Everyone is trying way too hard to convince you that whatever privacy you had has already been lost, and that there is no point in fighting to hang on to it. But it is not just the fatalism that I find troubling. It is the insinuation that privacy is a thing not worth fighting for. It has no value, and you should be happy to give it up. You are almost treated as some sort of shady character for daring to want to keep your personal information close to your vest.

There is also the assumption that everyone has a right to your personal information. People who were once just happy to accept your money at the register are now demanding you give them your zip code before you can pay for your charging cable at the big box retailer. If you’ve surrendered, you just tell them anything they want to know. Did you even know you could refuse to give any information, and still purchase your item? You can. Try it.

I have yet to encounter an application of any kind in the last couple of years, that didn’t demand at least a half a page of information that was completely irrelevant to the thing for which I was applying. Even doctor’s offices are guilty of this invasion of privacy. They have no medical reason for much of the information. Like every other business, they want free information for marketing and demographics. I routinely leave blank lines on applications. Sometimes I am compelled to ask why they need a particular bit of information. If I am not convinced by their answer, they don’t get it. Your privacy is worth a lot, and it is absolutely worth fighting for.

Human Dignity: a casualty of the privacy wars

Sell your privacy cheap, and you throw in your dignity for free. Without privacy, secrets, and personal space, you are little more than a child to the person or company that gets to monitor your every word and movement. My partner has her own smartphone, computer, and iPad. I do not read her mail or go through her contacts. Her life on Facebook is her own. She could plan an affair right under my nose and I would never know a thing about it. She is an adult, and has the freedom to use her tools anyway she pleases, without my approval. That is a basic necessity for human dignity. I have to give her that space, and trust her with her freedom and dignity to not act against my interests.

The government sees things differently. To them, you are little more than a child that needs to be constantly monitored, lest you do or say something they don’t like. When such monitoring is applied, you have about as much human dignity as an inmate in an asylum. That is what your wire-tapped smartphone does for you. That is also what unfettered use of Google and Facebook products do for you. You think you’re in control of this relationship? You’re not even in control of your own identity!

There is more to this than brand loyalty and political idealism. Your privacy is not just a few facts you sell for a free, online calendar. It is an essential part of who you are. And without it, you lose a little of your humanity, a rare commodity that should not be for sale at any price.

David Johnson

Net effect of good

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Allow me to start with my conclusion, a conclusion I didn’t have when I started this series. I suppose this is why I write. Goodness is a dangerous thing, best avoided by amateurs. That does not mean that one should intentionally be bad. One should just be, and allow good to flow as a natural byproduct.

There is a saying: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” This is so often, tragically the case because so many people are convinced that good is something that they can do, or even be. It is a little like love. You cannot purposely conjure it. It either exists or it does not, You cannot intentionally make it or do it or be it. Love is a byproduct of favorable circumstances. The best you can do is try to recognize it, and cherish it when you have it. When people make a concerted effort to fall in love, or do loving things, the consequences are often disastrous.

The same is true for goodness. It is a condition of favorable circumstances, not an activity. You cannot “do” good. There is no action that is inherently good. Every action can lead to positive or negative results. There is nothing about feeding a hungry person that is inherently good, or ignoring her that is inherently bad. The intent can be known. But the action, itself, can only be judged according to its outcome.

Feeding a hungry person might end up being a good thing. Once back on her feet, she might remember your act of kindness, and devote her life to the discovery that ends hunger throughout the world. Or, remembering how easy it was to get a free meal, she may have a half a dozen babies she can’t afford, knowing that there will always be someone who will come along and take care of her needs for free. Which is least beneficial: the tragic death of one starving woman, or the creation of an entire community of entitled beggars? I don’t know.

The problem is with the religious formulation of doing good. It is a bit like the boy scout trying to fill out his merit badge by finding a little old lady to help across a street. The catalyst for doing good has nothing to do with eliminating the suffering of geriatric women. It has to do with the boy’s need to do something good. His doing good is more important than the good being done.

The little old lady most likely does not want, or need help crossing the street. I have encountered no news stories about old ladies being run down during their attempt to cross a street. Very likely, you make the elderly woman nervous. You might also end up making her feel older than she really is. If she is old, and happens to be crossing a street, she is exercising a bit of independence that has probably become very important to her. The last thing she needs is for some presumptuous youth to come along and take that away from her. In her attempt to avoid your good deed, she may cross prematurely, and meet her grizzly end. The net result is anything but good.

Good vs. beneficial

When we attempt goodness, our focus is always inward. It is about what we do or who we are. It is about the act that we do, rather than about the consequences visited upon someone else. Benefit is all about the net effect of what we do. When considering benefit, we have to think one step beyond the self-gratification of the act. Is it a good thing to put a coin in a beggar’s cup? That is the wrong question. A better one would be, is it materially beneficial to the beggar for me to toss him a coin.

It may make you feel good to place a coin in the cup. But tomorrow, you will still be rich, and he will still be a beggar. The unhealthy cycle continues. At least you feel good about it. What happens when we think about the net effect of our actions? If a coin would not benefit the beggar, what might we do that would? Might we offer him a ride to the nearest DHR? If you are of the belief that everyone is capable of contributing, why not get to know him a bit, and help him find a way to contribute? If you believe that what he really needs is a good coat, a bath, and a dry place to sleep, why not offer that? If you believe he would be better off not begging for pennies, why keep filling his cup? All too often, the beneficial thing is not the easiest thing, or the thing that makes us feel good.

Between the last paragraph and this, I encountered the perfect, horrific example of what I’m talking about. While walking along a downtown sidewalk, I walked passed a very interesting, high-tech beggar. It was a person in a tricked-out, motorized wheelchair with all the trimmings. The person in the chair was contorted in a position that bespoke a disfiguring disease. As I approached, a very clear, artificial voice called out to me in an attempt to sell me candy. It was the modern equivalent of blind people selling pencils on the street corner.

I have to reiterate, this was a very high-tech and expensive operation. I could hardly wrap my mind around the irony. Any person who could afford to purchase such a setup would have no need to beg. Anyone else would have had to go through some type of government program or charitable organization. The tens of thousands of dollars that went into this setup served to do nothing more than to turn a hopelessly handicapped person into a hopelessly impoverished, terrifying beggar.

Somewhere in this process was a person who was bound and determined to do something good. Who knows; they may have even received an adult-sized, merit badge. No doubt, the organization can use this triumph of goodness to raise even more money to do even more good. Left unnoticed in their wake, was the disfigured shell of a human being, bereft of all human dignity: an object of fear and pity, but not enough pity for an honorable existence, or a meaningful death. Goodness be damned!

In some person’s mind, every atrocity started out as an act of goodness. Today, what passes for goodness is selfishness in disguise. We do the good that does us the most good. We give money to the local church, though less than 5% of it ever serves a charitable purpose, much less. Even if that money mostly goes to support a boy-buggering bishop, we sleep well at night because we contributed.

As a nation, we feel good about ourselves because we fund social programs for the less fortunate. Never mind the fact that with that good, we produce more people who need social programs than we had before we started. Never mind the fact that the most likely outcome of giving money to a pregnant 16 year old is that she becomes a mother of three by the time she is eighteen, just in time to drop out of school, and become a full-time dependent of the state. Never mind that the daughters she produces will almost certainly follow in her footsteps, only younger, and her sons will be a menace to society, with a police record by the time they hit puberty. Can we please stop pretending that it will turn out any other way?

Around the world, the good done by America is either driven by revenge, or conveniently coincides with our political or military interests. There is a reason why we spend so much of our time and resources in the Middle East, and so little effort rooting out the little Hitlers in Africa. We are less interested in the good that offers the most benefit to the most needy recipients, and more interested in the good that best serves our agenda.

I am tired of intentional, conspicuous acts of goodness. This is my call to action. Before engaging in any overtly good deed, stop, think, and follow the chain of consequences resulting from those actions. Before you place that unwrapped gift at the base of the community tree, ask yourself if the toy does more for you or the child. Will her life become materially better because of the doll you anonymously gave her this year? What is her real need? Exactly what are you doing with that spare bedroom? Didn’t you put a toy under the tree last year? Won’t you be back to do it again next year? Every year, you are in a position to give a toy to a stranger, and she is in a position to need a toy from a stranger. Where is the lasting benefit? Has it ever occurred to us that children need more than one toy a year? When the good deed is easy to see, but the benefit is hard to describe, it may be time to stop being good, and start being beneficial. It makes all the difference.

Conclusion

Is capital punishment an obvious good? Is goodness defined by the fiat of a deity, or the consensus of the community? None of it makes a bit of difference. No formula for goodness produces less pavement for the road to hell than any other formula. The only measure of goodness that matters is the net result at the end of the day. Did your good deed result in a meaningful benefit to another human being? If not, no matter how well intended, it was not a good deed at all.

Those who are trying to do good or be good, do so for dangerously selfish reasons. They are trying to earn merit for themselves from a scout leader or god. They are trying to make others regard them with higher esteem. They are trying to boost their own self-image. They have a self-motivated agenda. The person on which the good is perpetrated is of secondary concern.

Benefit, however, cares nothing for motive. A philanthropist who unloads his ill-gotten fortune in an attempt to rehab his tainted image, will likely benefit more people with his cynical aid, than a stadium full of fasting monks devoted to acts of goodness. A hungry person receives more tangible benefit from a hateful meal than a loving prayer. On the other hand, a beggar may be one rejection away from hanging up his tin can, and signing up for Labor Ready. Our good intentions be hanged! Let us measure goodness not by our actions of the moment, but by the results of those actions at the end of the day. Only then should we adjust our activities accordingly.

David Johnson

The Source of good

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We cannot discuss the source of goodness without, first, sorting out the nature of goodness. There are three definitions of good that I will consider. I’m sure there are more; but, these will suffice for this particular exploration:

Good is a set of rules and conditions decided by fiat of an ultimate ruler. It is good because he says it’s good.
Good is the natural, ideal condition of a being or system. It is good because that is the way it is supposed to be.
Good is the most beneficial condition of an individual or group. It is good because it benefits the greatest number of people, most of the time.

These are three, very different things, and have three, very different sources. The first is the formula most favored by religious people. God decides what is good. Nothing is good by its nature. It is only good if God wills it to be so. Genocide is good when God says it’s good, and bad when he says it is bad. He never said it was bad, and practiced it often. Yet, in our wisdom, we have declared it a war crime, an atrocity. Good by fiat only works as long as everyone agrees with the authority of the ruler. Different rulers mean different standards of good.

The second definition implies a type of idealic, Platonic form for everything. It assumes that nature has an ideal condition to be attained, or reproduced. Is it good for humans to marry, pairing off into lifelong, monogamous couples? If you were convinced that monogamous pairs were the natural state of the human animal, you would answer in the affirmative. But, who gets to decide what is natural, and therefore, good? Furthermore, it requires a giant leap of presuppositional logic to accept that all that is natural is good.

The third is the definition we live by most of the time. A thing is good because it is what is most beneficial. Very seldom do we declare a thing bad that is greatly beneficial to us or our tribe. Slavery did not seem like a bad thing to anybody it benefited. Illicit drugs seem rather benign to the people who produce, sell, and consume them. No participant in the drug economy is legitimately, actively involved in the war on drugs. Prostitution seems like an excellent idea for those seeking anonymous comfort from a stranger.

The same is true for tribal and social good. Laws are past by individuals who represent societies. While many individuals are actively, happily involved in the drug economy, we have decided, for the moment, that illicit drug use is not in the best interest of society as a whole. What is good for some individuals is not necessarily what is good for the tribe. In this case, goodness is defined by the voice of the tribe. It comes neither from the fiat of a powerful alien, or a naturalistic, ideal state. Rather, it comes from humans, and evolves as we do.

Because we disagree on the nature, and therefore, the source of good, we can find ourselves agreeing on what is good, while remaining on opposite sides of a fierce battle. Take homosexuality as an example. One says homosexuality is not good because his ruler declares it not good. Another says it is wrong because nature has not designed us that way. Still another decries the practice on the basis that his community needs breeding pairs to stabilize the population. There is no disagreement on the good. But they still find themselves at war over the source of good.

Agreeing on a particular good only buys us a moment of peace. The challenge becomes deciding on the next good. Two people who agree on gay marriage will not necessarily agree on abortion. Furthermore, their uneasy truce may not last, as their basis for the truce is at risk of shifting. The ruler can change his mind. Homosexuals were once abominations that were to be put to death. Now, the ruler has a bit more tolerance. The naturalist now realizes that homosexuality and biology are not the enemies they were once believed to be. The Humanist recognizes that society has evolved its views on the matter.

Until we can agree on the source of goodness, then we do not stand a chance of a long-term treaty on the particulars.

More to come…

David Johnson

Obvious good

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On the one hand, we have religion, and religious frameworks that are morally certain about what is obviously right in any situation. On the other hand, real life. In the context of life as we live it from one moment to the next, from a current local, to a historical global perspective, the right thing to do at any given moment is anything but obvious.

Today, it is obviously good to support the freedom of all mankind. The very thought of slavery produces a feeling of disgust and revulsion. Not so very long ago, it was obviously good to hold men and women as slaves, who were too weak to maintain their freedom by force. So, which is true? Which is right? Which is obviously good? History, it seems, has no moral certainty about anything.

If we only focus on the religious side of the equation, we find that the way isn’t any clearer. Members of the same family, separated by a few generations, who practice the same religion, are on opposite ends of the spectrum of what is obviously good. The fundamentalist in the 1800s has no doubt that both the letter and spirit of God’s will is for slavery to exist as an institution. The progenitor, a few generations removed, could not be more certain that slavery is an obvious evil, and that freedom is the obvious good. Both rely on their knowledge of God, the bible, and the natural law.

Hitler was not the only one who thought his actions against the Jews were obviously good. The people of Germany were fairly convinced that it was the right thing, as well. They had no trouble sleeping at night because of the atrocities. The leadership of the Catholic Church also had undisturbed dreams over the torture and extermination of the pesky Jews. America also had no problem turning a blind eye to what was going on. At the very least, we did not find the morality of the situation very obvious. It was an internal matter, and not our problem.

Speaking of the Church, at one point in our history,, it was obvious that certain types of infidels should be put to the sword. It was obvious that eccentric men and women should be labeled warlocks and witches, and as a result, burned at the stake. Obvious! To those who had a hand in writing the Jewish scriptures, it was obvious that disobedient children should be stoned to death, alongside adulterers, fortune tellers, homosexuals, and countless others. To the Psalmist, it was obvious that the babies of the enemies should be taken by the ankles, swung about, and smashed into rocks with their heads. All, obvious good!

No religious person considered sane, believes any of those things are good things. Neither do they believe those things were ever good things. For all people, at all times, were those things obviously bad. The irony is that both groups claim to worship a god who has made his opinions of good and evil, well, obvious.

God’s moral law is supposed to be obvious. We may have trouble carrying it out due to our sinful nature. But we should never have trouble knowing what it is. Yet, it seems that throughout the better part of the bible, God’s actions, and those of his representatives were not obviously right or good. Our prayers reveal the disconnect we have with our religion and life.

In the bible, we read about a god who had no interest in cultivating peace between all the warring factions. He had no problem taking sides. Yet our prayers, today, are peppered with requests for world peace. We tend to think of world peace as an obvious good for someone with the power to achieve it. God didn’t. The same is true for disease. While the modern religious person prays for a cure for AIDS and cancer, the one who could have brought such cures about, never considered doing so a good thing, as he didn’t cure a single disease. To be clear, Bill & Malinda Gates have eradicated more diseases than God and all his men.

The challenge is even greater. According to the bible, the one who has an opportunity to do good yet does not do it, has sinned by omission. That places even more pressure on the individual to know what good is, especially the obvious good. If I see a beggar on the street, is it a good thing for me to give him the pocket change he asks for, give him considerably more money than he asks for, or give him no money at all? I don’t know. I’ve done all three, and more. Yet I have no idea which act is good, if any. I simply made it up as I went along.

In the above example, goodness was based on my mood at the time. It was never based on what Jesus would do. I do not recall any examples of him and his disciples giving money to beggars. Does that mean that it is not good to do so? I don’t know. My point is that there is nothing obvious about good. The right thing to do is a complete mystery. Religion is no help. To understand why, we need to break down the problem even further.

Three types of good

Based, solely, on my own experience, I can talk about three types of good: There is personal good, tribal good, and social good. All three are distinct, and often work at cross purposes. In practice, the highest level of good is of the personal variety. “Looking out for #1” is not just a figure of speech, but a fact of life. Very seldom do we intentionally act contrary to our own self-interests. If things are good for us, then for the most part, the world is a pretty good place to be. The first way we determine if a thing is good is by deciding whether it is beneficial, or detrimental to us.

Tribal good extends to whatever in-group we happen to be considering. Is it good for my family, my community, my state, my country, my race, my political party, my tribe. If we see a beggar with whom we have no affiliation, we are highly unlikely to extend aid to the point of inconveniencing ourselves. If, however, that beggar happens to be our son or daughter, we will be more inclined to clear our schedule, open our homes, and invest considerable, financial resources to solve the problem.

Social good is far more abstract. It is most likely to get our rhetorical backing, but least likely to inspire us to act. It is the activist who speaks out for the ethical treatment of animals, while caked with makeup rendered from some animal’s remains. It is the tree-hugger who prefers a wooden, baseball bat. It is the one who preaches that we should be kind to beggars, while devoting no rooms in their own house for sheltering strangers. It is what is most good for society, but is often least good for ourselves.

Slavery was not an issue of good versus evil, but of good versus good. It was social good versus personal good, with a bit of tribal good thrown in. For people who owned plantations, slavery seemed like a pretty good idea. Even if they didn’t like the institution, it was in the best interest of tribal good. Those plantations supported several generations of families, and were the backbone of the economy of an entire region. Slavery was most definitely in the best interests of personal and tribal good.

However, there was social good with which to contend. People who’s livelihood and communities were not dependent on slave labor, had the freedom to consider a more abstract kind of good. They could be social activists, acting on behalf of the good of others. They had no plantations to lose. It might be said that future, Northern, robber barons stood to benefit from the influx of strong-backed, cheap labor. That is not to take away from those who sacrificed much for the cause. It is only to acknowledge that it is much easier to join a social cause when it does not violate our personal good. It was not plantation owners fighting to free the slaves.

In some ways, social good is the most dangerous of them all. It is the kind of good that fuels wars. We did it for their own good. Such excuses have justified all kinds of atrocities and abuses. Parents beat children for their own good. Husbands beat wives for their own good. Settlers attack and subdue the native Americans for their own good. Popes order conversion by sword for the infidel’s own good. Drug addicts are criminalized and punished for their own good. This was once done for everyone who drank adult beverages. That failed because personal good outweighed social good. Social good run amuck, is indistinguishable from evil.

And there lies the rub. The same can be said for personal good and tribal good. But there is still more nuance. I am the arbiter of personal good. My tribal leader determines tribal good. But no one can define social good with any certainty. When we disagree on tribal good, we elect a new leader, When unsure about personal good, we flip a coin. But where there is disagreement on social good, we go to war, or at the very least, experience social unrest.

I will leave this post on a cliff-hanger: One person is bullied and taken advantage of by a hundred. The one cries out for help. A thousand take notice. After diplomacy breaks down, the thousand frees the one, by subjugating the hundred. Ten thousand are offended. After diplomacy breaks down, the ten thousand decide to annihilate the thousand. Here’s the question: was it right to do the good of aiding the one? It was a good thing, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it? Wasn’t it? I’ll write the second part to the post when I can answer that question.

David Johnson

Confessions of an anti-semite

latuff_anti_semitism

Don’t judge. You may be one too, and not even know it. I don’t even know that I qualify as an anti-semite, because semitism refers to race, not beliefs. I have no emotional reaction to any race. Such false distinctions are irrelevant to me. I do, however, respond unfavorably to particular beliefs and behaviors. I am anti Jewish, not anti-semitic. To me, there is a huge difference. One refers to religion. The other refers to race. While I make that distinction, I know that most do not. To most, anti-Jewish is indistinguishable from anti-semitic.

Provocative title notwithstanding, I am not anti-semitic. I do find Judaism a particularly offensive religion. We live in an environment where one cannot be critical of Jewish politics and religion without being considered anti-semitic. That is a particularly foul use of the race card. Let’s have a better conversation.

What is jewishness?

There are three levels of jewishness that are not well delineated. The first is race, like caucasian, negro, asiatic, or semitic. It is what you are. The second is nationality, like American, British, or French. It is where you are. Third is religion, like Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist. It is what you believe. Jewishness is the only one that is so vague, it could mean any of the three, or some combination of all. The same cannot be said for Christian. That simply speaks to religion. If we say that a person is a Christian, we know exactly one thing about that person: what they believe. If a person identifies himself as French, we know where they are from, and only that. If a person self-identifies as jewish, we have no idea what that means. It could be what he is, where he is, or what he believes.

My type of bigotry has nothing to do with who one is or where one is from, but is entirely based on what one believes and does. I find Judaism to be personally offensive, and aggressively hostile. Jews have a problem, and it is one that they have created and perpetuated. They have blurred the line between who they are and what they believe. No other ace has done this. If one chooses to hate negroes, they must do so on the basis of race. There is no negro nation to oppose, nor negro believe system with which to argue.

Kosher

The very word is offensive, separatist, accusatory. It is something that a good Jew is, and you’re not. Ostensibly, it has to do with the observance of Jewish food laws. However, it has come to mean so much more. It encompasses not just the kitchen, but the house, and by extension, the people within it. The word suggests that a thing is safe, clean. To be non-kosher is to be unsafe and unclean. If you are not kosher, a good Jew could not even enter your house, let alone, share a meal with you.

Kosher has nothing to do with health, safety, or taste. It is strictly religious. Furthermore, it is not religious on the basis of morality or a better humanity. It is religious on the basis of God-ordained separatism. It serves no other purpose but to set the Jews apart from the other nations and races. They were to be distinctly God’s people. They were to where circumcision as an external mark of that separatism, and use kosher laws as a way to enforce social separatism. They were also not to intermarry with non-Jews.

Gentiles

The fact that there is even a word for non-Jew speaks to how deeply Jewish separatism runs. Even among religions, “gentile” is unique. There is no word for non-Christian or non-Buddhist. A gentile is an outsider in every way that matters. It is an ugly epithet, with no redeeming quality. Anyone who considers another person a gentile is my enemy. Calling me, and the people I care about outsiders, is practically a declaration of war.

A nation of priests

In the bible, the Jews were not simply a race created by God, but a nation. Furthermore, they were not just any nation. They were his chosen nation, set apart above all other nations. To believe this is literally true is to be dangerously, certifiably, stark-raving mad! The NSA really should be monitoring all of your communications. May you never enjoy a moment’s privacy.

Judaism embodies the worst kind of arrogance and narcissism. There are many people who are anti-David because they think that I think I am better than they are. To be clear, some small handful of those people happen to be right. I am better than them for reasons I do not have room to enumerate in this post. To be even more clear, they are right to hate me. Sometimes, I am a very hatable person. I have a concentrated personality that can only be taken in small doses. I get that. But even my arrogance has its limits. The arrogance of Judaism knows no bounds. If people have the right to hate me because they think I’m arrogant, why would they also not have the right to hate practicing Jews for the universally known arrogance of the religions beliefs with which they take pains to identify?

Conclusion: anti-religious

Understand that I do not advocate the hatred of any human, even me, especially me. I recognize hatred as a part of the human condition. It doesn’t have to be, and I do not advocate it. What might appear to be my hatred of Jews is nothing more than my hatred of all religion. I am no better friend to the Muslim or Christian. I am as much anti-Christian as I am anti-Jew, perhaps more so. If your worldview is based on receiving messages from God about who you are, and your relationship to others, then you are equally as dangerous as a religiously motivated, suicide bomber. It is only a matter of time before your god convinces you that I am a representative of the devil. You may not murder me, but you can effect my life in other very real, unpleasant ways.

I am gentile to fundamentalists of every stripe. People like me are perennial outsiders to religious people, everywhere. It seems unfair to call me anti-semitic when practicing Jews, based on their founding principals, are so very anti-everyone else. I do not consider Jews, even practicing Jews to be outsiders, just misguided. They are outsiders and enemies to the extent that they make themselves outsiders and enemies. If some people distrust them without good cause, it is at least in part, because they have made a separatist cult of themselves. It is exceedingly hard to get to know people who regard you as unclean.

Finally, I am very uncomfortable around people who, quite literally, where their religion on their sleeves. It is not enough for Christians to believe what they believe. They want you to know that they are a believer in those things. Therefore, they wear crosses, fish symbols, and anything else that declares their faith to the world. By their conspicuousness, they demand that I regard them, not merely as fellow humans, but as believers. They go out of their way to associate themselves with a worldview that I find offensive. This creates conflict before a word is ever spoken.

Many Jews and muslims are also conspicuous believers. They have their symbols and clothing, hats and veils. They do not want you to miss the fact that they are muslim or Jew. They purposely associate themselves with the tenets of a particular faith system. They want you to know what they believe, and they dare you to reject them on the basis of those beliefs, no matter how disgustingly foul those beliefs may be.

If that is what is meant by anti-semitic, then I suppose that is what I am. But I am also anti-every other whackadoodle worldview. There is just not a convenient word for it. However, I am pro-people. Just don’t throw your controversial belief system in my face. I do not wear jewelry symbolizing my atheism. Nothing about the way I present myself provides any hint to what I believe, religiously, politically, or socially. Let us get to know one another as fellow humans, with as few, artificial barriers as possible. Do not conspicuously associate yourself with beliefs that label me an outsider, and you will always be welcome at my table.

David Johnson