Category Archives: Superstition

Thou Shalt Not Be Naked!

Whose idea was it to proclaim nakedness a sin? The Catholic Church and the various Protestant organizations began sending missionaries to faraway places to establish their prestige and increase memberships and tithes. That is nothing more than good business practice. The God of the Bible never proclaimed nakedness a sin. Reading your Bible, however, will give you the impression that people decided that for themselves.

What is fascism? Although the word fascism only dates from the 1920s, the dark ages provide a good example of its effects. The church had complete control over most populations and was not squeamish about murdering dissenters. This is history that everybody knows about. The way things are going, it could easily happen again.

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Tax-free Churches? There’s No Such Thing!

You pay what churches don’t! US churches* received an official federal income tax exemption in 1894, and they have been unofficially tax-exempt since the country’s founding. All 50 US states and the District of Columbia exempt churches from paying property tax. Donations to churches are tax-deductible, making for a double-dip loss of revenues by the government. They are not tax free. YOU pay their taxes.

Grant’s prophecy prediction (below) seems to be off by at least a couple hundred years. We can poke fun at that, or see if there’s any sense in the rest of the quote:

I would call your attention to the importance of correcting an evil that, if permitted to continue, will probably lead to great trouble in our land before the close of the Nineteenth century. It is the acquisition of vast amounts of untaxed church property…. In a growing country, where real estate enhances so rapidly with time as in the United States, there is scarcely a limit to the wealth that may be acquired by corporations, religious or otherwise, if allowed to retain real estate without taxation. The contemplation of so vast a property as here alluded to, without taxation, may lead to sequestration without constitutional authority, and through blood. I would suggest the taxation of all property equally, whether church or corporation.” (Ulysses S. Grant, 18th U.S. President [1869-1877], Message to Congress, December 7, 1875; Congressional Record, Vol. 4, part 7, page 175; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1983, p. 288)

In a sense, an unrestricted religious or corporate leader could exercise multiple votes—his own, plus whatever he could influence from his employees or congregation from his power position. That said, why are religions allowed property-tax exemptions? I would suppose the threat of taxation had been expected to keep them from acting like ordinary people with an interest in the works of government, and so would prevent religious groups’ hands from interfering. It appears that cannot work without a government agent posted in every edifice during every meeting to assure complete adherence to the law. That would happen only at great expense and set a regrettable precedent.

The various layers of government perform many necessary functions for which they prepare annual budgets. Many of those layers suffer deficits even while billions are handed out to religious and corporate enterprises for questionable reasons. Overall, our government seems senselessly generous with our money, with both parties equally guilty. Allowing massive acreage to go untaxed while some favored enterprise holds the title is but one example. The government should maintain titles to all properties from which it does not collect full taxes, and collect rent otherwise.

The following quote inspires questions about how it leads to governmental interference in religion, still at taxpayer expense:

The government has leverage on religious groups because of the tax-exemption privilege. Church leaders, eager for the church to be free to be the church, should ask for the removal of this privilege. If there were no tax privilege for religious groups, hucksters and people who are using religion as a cover for political movements would be discouraged.” (William Stringfellow, lawyer and lay theologian, as quoted in the Dallas Times Herald, December 9, 1978, p. A-27, according to Alan F. Pater and Jason R. Pater, compilers and editors, What They Said in 1978: The Yearbook of Spoken Opinion, Beverly Hills, CA: Monitor Book Co., 1979, p. 447.)

Religious institutions take undue advantage of their tax-free status when they invest in property that far exceeds their needs and become rentiers. I believe it’s obvious that making investments is an activity the scope of which is outside of what can be considered ‘religious’, in the same way as is a pastor’s earnings at a job, for which he is (or ought to be) taxed the same as anybody else. In my opinion, the grounds immediately surrounding the religious or corporate edifice for a reasonable distance (which others must determine, that may allow for expansion, the inclusion of a graveyard maintained by the members, a parsonage, etc.) and that all other properties are expected to produce eventual income outside their normal religious purview.

The quote expects religious leaders (and the government) to do the right thing: the leaders who wish to involve themselves in political activism to renounce their special status and pay taxes like everybody else, rather than yield to temptation and break the law. And, the government to hold their feet to the fire and actually impose fines and demand taxes when they do break the law. Otherwise, the government acts as if to acknowledge the religious claim as correct, that God’s is the higher law, and that all the various kinds of preachers have a right to act upon their arrogant insistence of that as a fact beyond substantiation.

We must recognize the importance of this. Our country’s early churches insisted on, and backed, the wall of separation that kept the new government away from their business. A variety of moves took place early on to insert chaplains into congress and were rejected. Prayer in public schools is still a hot topic. Efforts to insert religious edicts into law (Tennessee voters just approved a sneaky attempt to control abortions via a constitutional amendment) continue to apply every possible twist of logic to their agenda toward preeminence.

I expect their freedom from taxation was intended as part of the “wall of separation” between religion and government. If that is not the case, I see no other legitimate purpose for it, and hate that it depends on voluntary self-governance by those whom, even in Ben Franklin’s /Tom Jefferson’s time, have shown themselves to be dishonest manipulators. According to former White House senior policy analyst Jeff Schweitzer, PhD, US churches own $300-$500 billion in untaxed property. [1] New York City alone loses $627 million in annual property tax revenue due to 9,500 churches being tax-exempt, according to a July 2011 analysis by New York’s nonpartisan Independent Budget Office. [2] [3] What affects citizens is the way they are expected to make up these losses from their dwindling wallets plus pay for all the giveaways to the already wealthy. It would better serve justice to impose the taxes, and to write into law exactly what actions are illegal for religious enterprises to engage in, what actions are illegal for the government, then actually enforce fines against that, and let the courts develop it from there.

Our Own Eyes

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Our Own Eyes

There are different levels of belief that vary from fully-on starstruck gullible certainty to the extreme opposite in disbelief. Atheists with whom I have discussed religious issues tended to regard belief as something that stands alone, irrelevant to anything else. No one ever mentioned a relationship with any other words. No one at all hinted that belief and disbelief are the two extreme conditions of acceptance involving a continuum between related ideas rattling around in our brains, with abeyance as a center position. That’s the scientific method at work.

Maybe it’s too hard to acknowledge that religious and atheist people share an interest in the same things. Or, maybe it’s too much easier for both sides to see each other, and themselves, with dogs’ eyes as in a black and white world, where acceptance or rejection are always total and complete. Pay attention to the world around you and the people in it. Take off your judgmental lenses and just watch and listen. You will soon see that’s not the way things work, except for liars. Those waffles in your fickle, vacillating heart have afflicted the multitudes. Relax and take solace in your normalcy.

My point with this message is, none of us are perfect, and rarely, if ever, will any two people exactly mesh on all their beliefs and disbeliefs. It may shock you to learn there are believers who disbelieve some things; and there are atheists who do believe some things, even if they do believe they don’t. The important point at which this message aims is that is that those people on all sides of any issue —of those who would not be found guilty of politicizing an issue —if they are not actual frauds and hypocrites —actually believe in whatever they believe.

Democracy was developed to permit and enhance debate among its citizens, but we get poorly taught on how to go about it. And, so, we follow the only examples we have, those set the politicians and politicizers. We don’t know to stick to the issues, so we resort to personal attacks and disparage each other and our candidates, instead. We don’t recognize decoys, and so we end up distracted by those introduced by an opponent while tossing fistfuls of our own into the frey. We get so far off track we can’t find our way back onto the original road. We end up on a lesser topic than we began with and wonder why, and how we got so lost.

It is easy. One or both of you don’t want the other side to win and leads the other away from the topic. Feeling defensive in unexpected territory, the other follows the challenger’s lead by taking the bait. Wanting to appear strong, knowing, innocent and right, does not prevent anyone from making this common error.

It is helpful to learn the tactics most likely to be used against you in an argument. It could be even more helpful to assess debates by what they accomplished rather than their entertainment value. But, we won’t. We all are human beings. None of us are perfect. All of us are some ways different. And, that’s the best thing about us. Why not love that?

Labels

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Labels

People unaware of the atheists they know have been mistaught a one-dimensional view of us. Since it is impossible to sense a one-dimensional object, maybe that’s why we escape notice. The worst people are the aggressive ones who deny that we understand ourselves and strive to gas-light us into believing “in” their description of atheism. What gall people can have, that drives them to insist that other people don’t know the thoughts in their own minds.

Think of people carrying their knowledge and opinions around in buckets, each of which bears a label naming the contents. The atheism bucket is empty. Call me ignorant all you want, that changes nothing. Empty remains “full of nothing but air.” There is nothing to discuss. Take your gas light and your own hot air back home.

I am what the religious people call an “apostate”. That label means I once had religion in a bucket but turned it over to dump. It didn’t pour as easily as I expected, as it was full of a stinky substance I saw once when a commode overflowed. It has been draining more than fifty years, and most of the religion is gone. Looking at the blob of poop that encircles my upturned bucket, I can see why the religious would expect atheism to be a set of beliefs that drive an agenda. They really don’t know how well off that makes them for that to not be true. I can see how the poop oozed out in layers of beliefs, all of them bound into the religion, a united concoction all tied to the main belief. With that being true of all religions, it must also be true of atheism. This requires an experiment.

I find a new bucket and fill it with water, which I then dump. When I look inside, the bucket is empty. Verification: Maybe water is not a thick enough substance? I fill the bucket with grain and dump it: Empty. I try sand and dump it out, with the same result: Empty. After that, I get inspired: Mud is about the same consistency as poop! I carry my shovel to the garden, fill it up, dump it and … empty but for some crap stuck around the edges. Excited to be so vindicated, I return to my old religion bucket, kick it loose from the ground, peer inside, jump into the air, and sing, “I’m free, I’m free, I’m free!” My religion bucket is very old and shows its age. I can go empty-handed, now, so I toss it toward the trash bin. I don’t need to carry an atheist or an apostate bucket. I am free to think my own thoughts.

To get to the point of this, take a look around yourself next time you’re with a group of people. Imagine each of them carrying a bucketful of beliefs. If you know their various religions, try to imagine then voluntarily joining forces to take over the world.

Next, try to imagine attempting to gather up people of all faiths to form an army intended to conquer a territory in the name of one that is not involved. Now, study that idea and you will find a few of the beliefs that some atheists follow. Notice how the incompatibilities between those beliefs duplicates what you find with religions.

So, yes, atheists have beliefs, philosophies, even religions; all of which bear their own labels, none of which is ‘atheism’. Think of ATHEISM as “absence of beliefs about gods, including that gods exist and that gods do not exist.” Think of ATHEIST as “a person who asserts that no demonstrable evidence supports the existence of any gods, nor of any realms designated ‘superior’ to nature.”

Each belief bears its own label. There are no ‘kinda’ beliefs. To my mind belief is either present or absent. When belief in gods is absent, people of all sorts apply ATHEIST as a label to name something that does not exist. Whatever individual atheists may happen to believe “in” bears a different label according to what each accepts as true. Rather than engage in foolish arguments, why not perform a simple experiment: Ask an atheist. Science will give you much truer answers than any religion.

Normal

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Normal

Actually, we can accept the normalcy of participating in collective insanity. We can observe examples of it in a variety of forms all over the world. What we cannot assume with no evidence is that it is healthy, nor that our local form of it is exempt, nor that mass hallucinations are real.

While still an inquisitive young lad, my head filled with conflicting pictures of gods, a god named God, angels, a choir of thousands, some mysterious things called genies, fairies (all of whom apparently moved to San Francisco, joined the Catholic Church, and utterly adore their current Pope), cherubs, pixies, and all manner of strange creatures haunting humanity from mid-air wherein they are said to exist in a form akin to that of ghosts. That is, they are made of some immaterial material that exists in something, or some place, called the aether.

I can remember a summer when I visited my grandparents in their rented home on the Allegheny River. It was a moist place that seemed like it could support life without rain. Grandma and I took a walk, late one morning, to fetch the daily mail. “Watch out for the Faeries,” Grandma warned me.

Afraid to dance another step, I looked all around. “Where are they?”

“Right under your feet.”

I looked where she pointed and wished I could lift myself off the ground. “I don’t see anything.” Thinking maybe Grandma was fooling me, I looked up to see.

“You don’t see the little webs where you were walking, nor all the places you stomped them flat?”

I couldn’t tell if Grandma was fooling me or not, but I could see the darker green places that marked the trail I had left. I bent down for a closer look at what appeared to be a cobweb suspended on several blades of grass.

“Those are tables where the Faeries eat their breakfast,” she said. “They must not be home. I don’t see any injured or dead.”

I took great care while crossing her lawn the rest of that summer, and expect that she might have enjoyed great fun as a result of gas-lighting her grandson. While beautiful to imagine, I can find no one who has ever seen any portion of a surreal magical realm in a verifiable way, nor any of its inhabitants except for fairies, who turned out to be some of the pleasantest, most conscientious workers I’ve ever met on a job. Without sufficient reinforcement to keep it going, the dream fizzled out, one character at a time until all that is left are gas-lighters and their farts.

Written entirely with OPEN OFFICE.

Burden

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Burden of Proof

To start with, proof gets defined around “evidence that convinces.” The burden of proof refers to whomever owns the onus. Onus, in turn, in this case, names the parties responsible for providing that evidence. In a civil court, where trials will be about assertion of denial (of benefits, rights, ownership, etc. or positive assertions to claim those same things, both adversaries will be expected to provide support for their claims. The types of claims the adversaries make in all cases are referred to as positive and negative. Positive assertions are those affirming an incident. (“I paid him in full. I have all my receipts” is a positive statement to deny the negating claim, “She still owes me money.”)

Negative assertions are those attempting to negate (deny) a claim. It must be understood that, in a civil suit, negative assertions require a positive response in the form of evidence. That is true because, due to the nature of the materials, it is reasonable to expect evidence to be available. “My lawyer has all my receipts.”

Criminal courts, for logical reasons, are tied to a different standard of onus. Since only positive assertions generate evidence with the rare exceptions met in civil cases, negating assertions cannot be expected to produce an evidence trail. The accusing side, in criminal cases, always bears the onus to prove guilt; the accused is assumed “innocent until proved guilty”. “I am innocent” equates with “I did not do it,” a negating assertion of denial. The only negating evidence that can trump whatever the accusers assert is proof of her presence elsewhere at the time the crime or incident occurred.

Keep that important point in mind. Proof of presence is necessary.

What constitutes evidence and what does not? Proof is always derived from evidence that can be verified.

  • Firsthand witness testimony constitutes evidence; hearsay accounts are only gossip.

  • Signed and notarized documents, signed documents recognized as official may be evidence; unsigned documents and those executed on plain paper may be considered forgeries and rejected.

  • Evidence in hand”, artifacts recognized as pertinent to the case or discussion may be evidence; unverifiable anecdotes about such artifacts are not.

  • A relevant experiment that demonstrates a point or prediction produces evidence that can be verified. Unverifiable assertions are never evidence.

  • Any concrete response to a “Show me” challenge, whether it affirms or negates, may be considered as evidence. Failure to respond to a “Show me” challenge shows the challenged assertion to be untestable for so long as the challenge goes unanswered. The assertion will be regarded, at most, as an opinion until such a time may arrive that the necessary demonstration can be made. Science advances by sticking with this process, even though generations may come and go between the challenge and demonstration.

  • Negating assertions, referred to as “negative statements”, are those that belie, deny, dispute, disaffirm, or contradict accusations, assertions or claims about an action, deed, consequence or event requiring a named presence, known or not, as its cause.

  • Affirming assertions, referred to as “positive statements”, aid, defend, support and display concern that the assertion be believed of the guilt, existence or presence at the event referenced in a claim in such a way that she could reasonably be assumed guilty, or a contributor.

    • Here, again where it is unreasonable to expect evidence to be available, the onus remains the property of the side making the positive assertions.

  • In science, the setting aside of untestable assertions is called “abeyance”, which means to set them aside and regard them as frivolous until a meaningful test has been developed. Science, a very frugal and conservative discovery process, does not waste ideas, nor will it waste more time and resources than necessary on bad ones.

Therefore, even in a civil court, as the foregoing demonstrates, the claimant making a positive assertion bears the entire burden to provide proof. Doubters have no responsibility for another’s assertions. “Faith is the evidence of things not seen” sounds pretty, but is only meaningless jibberjabber that won’t stand up in court — even if allowed to go to trial.

Written entirely with OPEN OFFICE

Justification

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Justification

If it’s real, we can find a way to prove it. The truth is whatever most correctly describes reality, whether or not that is known.

The key to understanding this sign is to correctly identify the knaves. The SAGE defines a knave as “a deceitful and unreliable scoundrel.” Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus offers as synonyms: “VILLIAN [villain misspelled] *bastard, blackguard, heel, lowlife, miscreant, rascal, rogue, scoundrel, *son of a bitch.” I have been named all of those in my lifetime, always with no other evidence than that I stood my ground against the conniving ignoramuses who yelled them at me.

The conundrum for onlookers of a discussion about a subject of which they have little of their own expertise and about which they want to learn the truth, is how to learn a reliable way to accomplish that. They need to learn how to avoid misinformation. They need to recognize on which side the shysters lurk and on which are the truth-tellers. They need to ask themselves a simple question, “What does each side use for evidence?”

  • Many arguments seem to have no evidence on either side. They are about differences of opinion. The side that will ‘win’, right or wrong, will be whichever most closely matches the opinions of, or most appeals to the onlookers. The correct result requires for neither side to win, since neither can demonstrate its rectitude. Opinions are not evidence.
  • Whatever accords or disagrees with personal experience, which inclines onlookers to accept or reject the evidence. Personal experience, being entirely subjective, is open to the influence of many factors that lead to formation of opinions. Opinions are not evidence.
  • Testimony from a trusted authority or eyewitness requires the backing of objective (having reality independent of the mind) evidence. Opinions are not evidence but may rightly or wrongly influence acceptance of other evidence and opinions.
  • One side uses rhetoric (persuasive words) to argue against mathematical formulas. Although numbers generally trump letters, formulas need to be understood to be persuasive. Words and numbers are subject to errors and manipulation, but numbers may be tested. Only formulas that have proved themselves in tests are convincing when the tests are well understood. Words are not evidence but may, rightly or wrongly, provide support or refutation for evidence.
  • Hearsay and anecdotal evidence (secondhand stories about what someone said or was heard to say) may be trusted if they corroborate other evidence. By themselves, they are not evidence.
  • A documented history from a trusted source may provide much useful information, but only for those who trust it. Those who have learned, by whatever means, to mistrust it will pick it apart and generate endless disputes.
  • A demonstration, especially if accompanied by smoke, an explosion, fire, or all three provides convincing-enough tangible evidence for most people. Did the demonstration accomplish its expressed objective? Was it irrelevant? Did it leave you feeling skeptical? Why?
  • Objective evidence represents the aspects of reality accessible to the direct senses. It can be measured, weighed, and subjected to all kinds of tests to discern what we can know about it. Indirect senses like memory are fallible and cannot be shown to others, and so cannot be trusted. Only directly accessible reality provides evidence.
  • The Scientific Method generates predictions using arguments and hypotheses to develop tests to settle matters of interest. This powerful approach is responsible for most of today’s technology, but, like all other approaches to evidence, cannot apply to that which resides only in the imagination.

Time-related and abstracted features of reality, however, are indirectly reviewable as evidence, especially if they have been recorded using appropriate equipment. Abstractions such as an act of ‘evil’ can then be viewed and assessed to see if they match their definitions, or which definitions they match, if any. Time-related events and processes of relatively short duration can be recorded and their reality through time made obvious. Think: the recorded singing of a song; a robbery; the building of a house—all furnish, through time, indirect objective evidence.