What’s That Sound? Oh, Shofars. Cool. Now Everything Will Be Better.

Someday I’m going to write a long, detailed piece about something I call “the 180-degrees-opposite thing.” Religion is mostly based on it. Once you become an atheist, you see it everywhere.

For instance: Rather than “Yeah, it’s sad, but people die. They just stop existing.” it’s “Oh no, death is just the beginning! We live on! We live on FOREVER! In paradise! With all our loved ones!”

Yeah, like that — 180 degrees opposite reality.

So here’s this:  Sound the Shofars in the Nation’s Capital

( BTW: According to Wikipedia, “A shofar is an ancient musical horn made of ram’s horn, used for Jewish religious purposes.” —Hey, if I want some musical instrument played in The Nation’s Capital, I want a CHRISTIAN instrument, possibly a pedal steel guitar borrowed from a smoke-and-beer-smelling honky tonk, or a red-white-and-blue banjo made from the casing of an unexploded artillery shell. Not some nancy Jewish instrument made from a ram’s horn that nobody even knows how to play a tune on. /snark )

The event itself is this:

Nov. 6, 7 and 8—three nights leading up to the most important presidential election since the Civil War, concerned citizens will be gathering at the Upper Senate Park across Constitution Avenue from the U.S. Capitol to pray for the election and the nation’s future.

The rationale for the event is this:

The organizers believe that prayer, not politics, is the only hope and answer to America’s problems. “Where people are praying, there is hope. When people pray things happen,” says Pastor Dan Cummins, an associate pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, California, and the onsite pastor of The Jefferson Gathering Worship Services which are held weekly in the nation’s Capitol building for members of Congress, staff and all federal employees.

There’s the 180-degrees thing.”When people pray things happen.” From seeing to the medical needs of children to having some real effect on the larger world through hands-on action, this is the exact opposite of the truth.

But, hey:

“Skyline Church is involved because we understand that America is in a crisis moment. The nation—as we know it—is gasping for air.  This is neither melodramatic nor defeatist. It is simply fact,” says Dr. Jim Garlow, senior pastor of Skyline Church in San Diego and oversite pastor of the Jefferson Gathering. “The kingdom of God will be fine—with or without America. But America may not survive. We pray for voters to enter the voting booth with a healthy reverence of God, casting a ballot for biblical concepts and principles.”

Wait, that wasn’t a shofar. Sounded more like a conservative dog whistle.

Though the event is advertised as “non-partisan” the focus of its prayers will be for the nation and the election. Organizers believe that it was upon the influence of Judeo-Christian ethics that America was founded. They hope that this election will be influential in bringing the nation back to its core values.

Let’s see. Careful denial of partisanship. But then “bringing the nation back to its core values.” Yeah, that does sound dog-whistley. And ooh, there’s that clever mention of “the most important presidential election since the Civil War.” And sure, I guess we have gotten far away from those “core values,” what with this NEGRO in office, and this WOMAN poised to continue his anti-American policies.

“There is a steady undercurrent of targeted efforts to remove God from every vestige of American life and culture. These battles confirm a tangible reality that the things we hold sacred are slowly eroding away all around us,” says Lea Carawan, president and executive director of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation. “Thankfully, God’s people are unifying with one heart and one voice in prayer for the country and those who lead her. God has been and always will be our only source of hope.”

The focus of evening prayers will span from the White House to every house in America. The Supreme Court nominees and the judicial system will be a center of focus.

Heh. Heh. Heh. “Supreme Court nominees.” There’s a whiff of anti-abortion if I ever smelled one.

This bit tickles me:

The organizers ask that no political clothing, apparel, banners or signs be worn or brought to the event. This also includes any type of musical interments or shofars.


But don’t bring any shofars.


Surprise! —Trump Supporter Dishonesty

I saw this on Facebook.

Hillary FBI meme

I replied to it:

1) Nobody is “rigging” an election. If that were possible, don’t you think the Democrats would CONTROL Congress? (Also, “the fix” is not in for the Clintons. If the fix was in, they never would have impeached Bill Clinton.)

2) The FBI is not “reopening an investigation into Clinton.” The messages were neither sent by nor received by Clinton, did not appear on any computers used by Clinton, did not involve Clinton, and contained no classified info

About every 3 days during this election cycle, a new “story” has appeared, trumpeting >>> THIS IS IT!!! THE SMOKING GUN THAT WILL BRING HILLARY CLINTON DOWN!!!! <<<

… and NOT ONE of those stories has turned out to be anything other than smears and innuendo. Hateful lies.

Listen carefully: The GOP hates Hillary Clinton with a blinding passion. During the 25 or so years they’ve been after her, they have controlled the Senate, the House, the White House or all three for some substantial portion of the time. She’s been accused of everything from murder to selling off American parks to the Russians.

IF IF IF there was anything they could have nailed her on — hell, jaywalking, a simple parking ticket — SHE WOULD HAVE BEEN INDICTED.

The fact that she hasn’t even been charged with anything in all those years, with all those breathless stories about her supposed crimes, is just about rock-solid proof that there have been precisely zero illegal acts.

You’re letting people lie to you — over and over and OVER. Doesn’t that bother you?

Hillary Clinton is going to be our next president. She’s going to beat Donald Trump by a wide margin BECAUSE MORE AMERICANS ARE GOING TO VOTE FOR HER.

Including me. I will be so glad when this election is over and Hillary Clinton is president.

The replies were … typical. Here’s one, by the woman who posted the pic:

LOL was the only response I could muster knowing that when you’re that far gone, there’s no helping you anyway.. But I still find a bit of humor in it.

1. I think he’s a troll.

2. “he” might not even be a he.

3. Only a Hillary supporter has enough time in a working man’s day to write a big long essay like that… On Facebook… On someone’s Facebook who they don’t even know or are friends with. I guess he’s trying to get her in office so his welfare check doesn’t get cut off.

4. I’m not stating my political stance either way, and I’m not here for a debate. I simply found a bit of humor here and decided to share it..So, my most serious question… What kind of person takes a meme so.. seriously!

I wrote a reply:

First, regarding the “big long essay”: I’m a professional writer and editor, and this “big long essay” took very little time.

Second, regarding writing during a “working man’s day”: This was on a Saturday, my day off. I worked on my house, climbing under it and repairing some insulation. I also installed a towel rack in the bathroom and did laundry. Went out to eat. And still had time to write this “big long essay.”

Third, my “welfare check”: I’m 64 years old and have been working — often in blue collar jobs — since I was about 16. Still waiting on that big, sweet welfare check.

Next, that big long essay “on someone’s Facebook who they don’t even know or are friends with.” Besides the fact that it showed up on my own Facebook wall, making it fair game for a reply … lies are lies, and you have to fight them wherever you find them. Otherwise you and everybody you know will have to live in the world they create.

Finally, I don’t get the bit about me being a troll, or “he might not even be a he.” That’s some serious Way Out Of Left Field shit.

A bit later, I added,

Take note that my reply contained facts and solid political analysis, but that all the responses contained nothing but personal attacks. Not one of you made any attempt to refute my reply. Instead you went straight for the insults. Which sort of implies you’re not able to argue with any of it, right?

I came back later to see if there were any replies. My reply had been deleted. I wrote:

I notice you’ve learned to delete replies that embarrass you.

Came back later and that had been deleted too.

White Whine in the Sunset

I’m not liking the fact that the Trump candidacy has set off this sneering assault on White Men.

Yeah, I get it that there are a certain number of Trump supporters — “white” men — out there who are making some bad decisions this election cycle.

But there are a lot of OTHER white men — I suspect a majority — who are kind, decent, intelligent, diligent, respectful, generous and caring. I know a LOT of them. (This does not mean they will agree with you on every possible thing you believe, or support everything you support.)

There’s a thing that happens with every catastrophe, where one or more people leap instantly on stage and attempt to USE the tragedy to sell their own position.

Horrible deadly tornado? —Gays caused it.
Economic meltdown? —Tax and spend Democrats.
Deadly plague? —Atheists.
Sept. 11? —Squishy liberals who want to destroy this nation.

The Trump presidential campaign? —Oh, that’s because of racist, misogynist WHITE MEN.

This is the kind of thing someone with their own agenda — quite different from the central issue — would say.

I have yet to hear anybody say SOME white men, or CONSERVATIVE white men, or even THOSE PARTICULAR white men, the ones who actually support Donald Trump.

Oh no, this is WHITE MEN — ALL white men.

You know, the way ALL Muslims are terrorists.

So just watch where you fire those rhetorical bullets, okay? Some of us are standing out here in the target area.

The Root of Transcendence

Dan MountainsAs an atheist, you hear it all the time – the in-your-face assertion that Humans are “wired for God.” We believe in gods, we’re told, because it’s natural to us. Because we have something in us that NEEDS a god or gods. Maybe because it carries some evolutionary advantage, so we evolved to have it.

The conclusion, in the mind of any faith-professing Christian, is that we’re this way because there really is a god, or at least some sort of “something bigger out there somewhere” that makes it so. We believe because we need to, because we have to, because to do anything else makes us less viable organisms. Lacking a god-need is an evolutionary dead end.

In how many conversations have I had someone tell me “Well, I don’t necessarily believe in God, but I think there’s something out there. Something beyond anything we know.”? I’ve heard that a LOT. Even people I would otherwise consider full atheists have said such things to me.

I’ve felt that pull myself. I’ve thought many times, “We live our lives on a human stage. Everything we do is for other people. But is that enough? Isn’t there anything … more?”

I actually think there is. But it’s not God or gods or mystical superbeings of any sort. It’s this whole other thing, something real. But it’s something so much a part of us we fail to notice it.

I’ll tell you what I think it might be.

First, here’s me: Atheist. Beyond atheist, in fact. I independently came up with the term “antitheist” to describe myself 20 years or more ago, long before it was in vogue. Rather than the current fashionable pronunciation, “an-tee-THEE-ist,” I pronounced it “an-TITH-ee-ist.” I described it humorously as “Not only do I not believe in gods, but I don’t think you should either.”

But I’m also a realist. You have to face the real world and take what it gives you, even if you don’t like it, even if it flies in the face of things you think you know. So whenever I’m presented with a woo-woo idea, something I know isn’t right as presented, but which nevertheless seems to have some sort of substance to it, rather than dismiss it with “No, despite what it looks like, there’s nothing there,” I have to 1) accept whatever realness it presents, and then 2) see if I can figure out a real-world explanation for it that makes sense.

So do we have a need for gods? Are we wired for that? If not, what is it we DO have? Let’s explore a couple of conceptual trails and see where they lead.

Most of us, when we talk about going hiking in the woods, or camping in the wilderness, talk about it in terms of “going out there.” We live in cities, and we “go out” when we head away from the city into the wilds.

But it’s the other way around, isn’t it? Because cities are NOT our natural environment. Our natural environment is … the natural environment. It’s where we grew up, where we evolved to be. We’re not going OUT when we go to the wilds, we’re going BACK. The only time we go OUT is when we trek from the wilds into a city.

Our home, our real home, is in the woods, on the mountains, in the midst of trees and creeks and blowing wind. It is out in the sun and rain, in the dirt and dust, the pollen and bugs and mud. It’s out where we can stomp around in our bare feet, filling our toes with mud, seeing wild animals and birds and distant valleys, blue sky and fluffy clouds, nights filled with full moons and stars. Where we can taste berries and ripe fruit, where we can smell waterfalls and flowers and our own sweat, but also skunks and even blood and death.

I know you’re thinking all this is some kind of artsy-fartsy poetic allusion, but I’m dead serious. CITIES ARE NOT OUR NATURAL ENVIRONMENT. Cities are alien. Artificial.

They’re not even all that good for us. Yeah, we’re comfortable in our engineered and sanitized ’burbs, but we’ll also eat until we weigh 300 pounds, and then whine that we feel sick all the time. We’ll tolerate noise and pollution and chemically-adulterated foods until it weakens and kills us.

Think about all the animals we’ve invited out of the wilds, bringing them into towns and cities to live with us. Compared to their wild cousins, domestic animals are almost invariably weaker and dumber. More fragile.

Wild animals are generally tougher, stronger, faster and fiercer than our pets and livestock. We’re used to how soft and cuddly kittens and puppies are, but pick up a baby raccoon – which I did, years back – and you’ll be shocked at how hard it is. The little bastards are tough as boiled leather.

Just as our pets are, we humans here in cities are soft. Less robust. And probably a lot dumber than whatever wild cousins we once had.

But there’s a deeper point than that our real home is in the wilds. It’s this: That we’re a part of the world around us – profoundly inseparable from it. We’re no more alive without the world around us than a toe is alive when removed from its foot.

Allow me to argue the point:

Say we wanted to define “human.” We’d probably have a fairly involved description, possibly accompanied by a picture of some individual person, maybe some other animals for comparison. But what we wouldn’t have is a full understanding of what being a human means. Because we never really even think about it.

You’re sitting there right now believing yourself to be a complete individual, a discrete quantity of personness, probably picturing your exterior, your skin, as the boundary between “you” and “everything else.”

But your skin is NOT the boundary. In fact, when you really think about it … well, think about this:

Take a human. Hang a large sign around his neck, “Human.” Have him stand on a stage with no other person around, and take a picture of him. QED, this is a human, right? This is all a human is, all there needs to be. No, because you still haven’t separated him out from a great deal of other stuff.

But take that same human and drop him through a portal that deposited him someplace where he could REALLY be alone – say 50,000 lights years away, out in the space between galaxies. What do you have? A dead person.

We never think about it, but the definition of “human” has this hidden implication – that the human is alive, and that quite a lot goes into that aliveness. We never think about the food and water, the gravity and atmosphere, a solid place to stand, other people around to make life work, other animals and plants, a lot of them, somewhere nearby to eat.

The atmosphere we breathe doesn’t just go in and out of our lungs, it seeps into and out of our skin, penetrating us on a cellular level, maintaining a pressure without which we’d die in seconds. The food and water we consume, and later excrete, forms a flowing river of input and outgo, without which we’d also die in short order. And the thing is, the food and water comes from somewhere, the air comes from somewhere.

So we are linked, bound into, an entire system of processes that extends backward in time and outward in complexity in a way that no end can really be found. The oceans? Part of us. The mountains? Part of us. The rainforest, the arctic, the deserts? Part of us. The clouds, the rain, the snow, the bees, the plants, the rocks, the crustal plates, all part of us.

The sun? Oh, yeah, part of us. BIG part of us.

And WE are part of IT. We don’t just live on Earth, we’re nailed into it, soaking in it, connected to it in a way that allows no separation. Even the International Space Station astronauts can live for only a brief time before they start suffering serious health effects – and they get continuous supplies from Earth.

There is only one way to define “human” without also including all this other stuff – the way that specifies “dead human body.” To have a live human, you have to include everything else … at least as far out as the sun.

We say “we” and we say “I” but those are rhetorical conveniences that have no true reality. The view of ourselves as separate and individual is purely subjective – a view which is fantastically, stunningly, titanically oversimplified from the real situation.

The truth is, our mysterious and powerful “something out there” is the natural world. Yet here we are off in cities, acting in our vast ignorance as if we’re discrete individuals, separate from our larger inclusionary selves.

On some level, I think we know this. We yearn for that larger part of us. We reach for it. We desire to be a part of it, to touch and be touched by it.

But divided from the natural world in cities, ignorant of it, we think the missing “something out there, something larger” is a god, or gods, or some other mystical formulation.

It’s a drastically wrong, tragically misleading answer. But sadly, it’s all most of us can understand or accept.

Donald Trump & The Adaptive Limit

dead endI’ve recently been toying with the idea that each of us has an “adaptive limit.”

The adaptive limit is that point at which growth and change becomes impossible.

Some people are flexible and adaptable for almost their entire lives. They’re the ones who can take on new ideas, new thoughts, new viewpoints, and not get bent out of shape by them. They can hear arguments that don’t agree with their own and calmly consider them. They can be creative, they can change and grow.

Others have a lower adaptive limit. For these people, new or contrary ideas, new conditions, literally cause a stress reaction. The way they avoid that stress — which might be mere discomfort, or might rise into fear that can verge on panic — is to avoid the new idea or situation.

The adaptive limit can change within one’s lifetime. Education — the gaining of new knowledge or skills — can raise it. Conditions that enhance personal empowerment, such as better diet and physical fitness, can raise it. But various other kinds of of stress — illness, injury, aging, emotional trauma, the death of a loved one, fear, even simple poverty — can lower it, temporarily or permanently.

Those who reach or approach their adaptive limit become less able, sometimes unable, to think about new things. They simply reject them. All they can handle is simple, or simplistic, concepts.

That rejection, by the way, can range from simple refusal to think about a thing to violence — an attempt to destroy the new thing, or the person who embodies it.

The thing is, reaching one’s adaptive limit is probably not something you can hold against a person. For instance, I don’t think people voting for Trump are necessarily evil or stupid. It may be (probably is) that they’ve reached their adaptive limits, and simply can’t think about contrary new ideas. They’ve grown comfortable in that Fox News / Teabagger cradle, and can’t even imagine leaving.

One of the things this means is that calling them stupid or evil is actually counterproductive. It stresses them more and causes them to react with even greater stubborn (or even violent) adherence to whatever position they hold.

Another thing is that if you WANT to lower someone’s adaptive limit — in order to make them easier to control or manipulate, for instance — you just need to scare them, to keep them scared and paranoid. You end up with a bunch of people who are neither creative nor thoughtful. People who will take no chances and who, when in doubt, will default to obedience to traditional leaders or beliefs. Willing drones, in other words.


Side Note 1: Nothing I’ve said above implies that you have to enable whatever sort of destructive effect an adaptive limit victim visits on you. You have to stop them, but it’s because of the destruction rather than because you don’t understand their plight.

Side Note 2: Also by the way, I don’t think Donald Trump’s problem is a low adaptive limit. It’s more that, as a child of vast privilege, he’s grown up with stunted empathy and conscience. In short, he’s a rich asshole.

Last Day to Donate to Reason Riders Blanket Drive

Reason RidersMonday until 5 p.m. is your last chance to donate to Reason Riders Blanket Drive for Homeless Veterans.

Reason Riders is the one-and-only exclusively atheist motorcycle riding club. First established in Arizona, the group is in the process of welcoming several new chapters elsewhere in the U.S.

If you’re not in Arizona but want to help, you can donate here via the PayPal button at the lower left. A $10.00 donation will purchase one blanket for a homeless veteran in Arizona, and each donor will receive a 3-inch leather Reason Riders support patch.

Reason Riders has a Facebook page, a MeetUp group (with 92 members taking part in rides and events in Arizona!) and an Instagram site with a lot of photos of group events new and old, showing the patches, the members, the bikes, and the shenanigans.

More about the Reason Riders here: Get Your Motor Runnin’: Reason Riders Going National.

Beta Culture: Updating a Previous Post

Beta-Culture-JPGI posted a 4-part piece on Beta Culture back at the end of July. Conceived as a submission for a book coming out early next year, it serves as a pretty good description of Beta, the why and the how of it.

The first version was less tight than I’d wish. Rather than post ANOTHER 4-parter, I went back and wrote over the old with a new and better version.

It starts here:

Beta Culture: New Intro — Part 1

Trump’s Latest and The Mob Response

Trump3I’m interested in this latest development in the Trump saga. Some part of me appears convinced this is the end for Trump, because I’m actually feeling a little bit sorry for him.

I mean, what’s happening is well-deserved and all, but … there’s something of the hapless, coddled child in him. I don’t think he’s bright enough to have known that one of the possible outcomes of all this — saying and doing the things he’s saying and doing, out in the blowtorch of public view — was his utter destruction. Meaning: Not just the loss of this political race, but the loss of his fortune and, potentially, even the loss of his freedom via a prison sentence. Not to mention the complete evaporation of respect for him, such that he becomes a living joke, so nobody will ever again do large-scale business with him. I have to doubt even Fox News would hire him after this; his brand is that damaged.

There’s another element I find slightly disturbing, though, and it’s the same thing Hillary’s faced for so many years — The Mob. In this case I don’t refer to any criminal organization, but to a mass of people acting in unison while consumed by blindingly powerful emotions — spitting visceral hate in both these cases — which overturn reason and produce instead an undiluted rage when the hated person prospers and a sort of furious glee when anything bad happens to him/her.

The Mob scares me. Not only do I never want to be part of it, it disturbs me when I see OTHERS caught up in it.

I’ve watched The Mob hate and lie about President Obama these past 7 years or so. I’ve watched it attack and attack and attack Hillary Clinton.

I got to see it up close and personal when I got sideways with a bunch of feminist bloggers a year or so back. I was completely flummoxed at watching people I knew personally — women and men I had formerly considered extremely rational — turn on each other with a viciousness I’d never witnessed. They would come after you in a screaming mass for using a single WORD they considered inappropriate. Thanks to them, I will never call myself a feminist — despite being completely in agreement on the subjects of women’s rights, equality, safety, health and choice.

Now I’m watching The Mob savage Donald Trump.

Don’t get me wrong — Trump is a nut who would pose an immense danger in the White House, and he has to be stopped.

But I don’t like that THIS is one of the prime tools by which it is being accomplished.

It makes me feel like I’m watching some very dangerous children at work, blindly wrecking things. Today they’re wrecking something I might want wrecked, but they will still be here tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, their need to wreck something perpetually unsatisfied, always looking for some new target.

Yew Cain’t Trust Yore Lyin’ Eyes

Watch this video:

I’ve been seeing optical illusions like this for something like 60 years, and the never-fail tagline is always “You can’t trust your eyes!” The thing is always presented as a profound scientific lesson in human perception.

But it’s SLANTED science, science with a somewhat false editorial built into it, the whole aimed at achieving a little funhouse-type prank on the viewer. When I figured this out 30 or so years back, when I understood the REAL lesson, I stopped being impressed by optical illusions.

The real lesson is: Yes, your eyes can be fooled … on rare occasions. Note how much work has to go into these contrived examples. Someone has to work very hard, probably going through dozens of trials, before hitting on the final form of the “illusion.”

Note also that the illusion works only from a single, sharply limited viewpoint. Move a few inches to the side and the illusion breaks down completely. Rather than the eyes being fooled, they verify our sense of the real — even in the face of a significant effort to deceive.

Finally, we aren’t really talking about eyes, are we? We’re really talking about eyes hooked to a human brain, which is VERY GOOD at seeing the real world around us — better than just about anything alive. Presented with an optical illusion, natural or contrived, we naturally experiment with changing viewpoints, observation over time, other senses, the observational assistance of other people, and a certain amount of careful thought, until we see through the illusion.

The truth is, it’s actually very hard to fool a human’s eyes for very long. This is something we unconsciously know — so well that when we DO meet up with an optical illusion, we enjoy it immensely, playing and laughing at it, walking around it, studying it, until it loses its luster and becomes just another part of our sensory knowledge.

Contrived examples like this are useful, but the sole conclusion should never be “You can’t trust your senses.” It should be “Look out for these rare occasions when you can be briefly fooled but, other than that, you can trust your senses as THE prime tool for observing and understanding the world. Never let anyone tell you not to trust your own perceptions.”

This is one of an array of quasi-mystical declarations that tell us not to trust ourselves, either implying or outright saying we should instead trust some god, or some “authority” who speaks for that god.

Nobody’s saying human vision doesn’t have its limitations. But the real world is the real world, we evolved to live and prosper in it, and every one of us is qualified to witness and appreciate our surroundings.

Reason Riders Benefit for Homeless Veterans

Reason RidersReason Riders, the exclusively atheist motorcycle riding club, is holding a blanket drive for homeless vets. With winter coming on, this is a critical moment. The group will complete the drive on October 15 and hand out the blankets a few days later. The attached poster has the details.

If you’re not in Arizona but want to help, you can donate here via the PayPal button at the lower left. A $10.00 donation will purchase one blanket for a homeless veteran in Arizona, and each donor will receive a 3-inch leather Reason Riders support patch.

I had the idea for Reason Riders a couple of years back, and some really cool people took the idea and ran with it.

Reason Riders has a Facebook page, a MeetUp group (with 92 members taking part in rides and events in Arizona!) and an Instagram site with a lot of photos of group events new and old, showing the patches, the members, the bikes, and the shenanigans.

Chapter One president and founder Brian Christian — “Bishop” — tells me there are several Reason Riders chapters elsewhere in the U.S. readying for official launch. If you want in, contact him directly at rrprezaz@gmail.com.

More about the Reason Riders here: Get Your Motor Runnin’: Reason Riders Going National.

(Click the poster to enlarge it.)

Reason Riders Blanket Drive