Forest, Meet Trees

Bible

What a damned bunch of hypocrites!

Whenever I read an article which describes a conflict between a branch of religion and the public at large, I’m often struck by the hypocrisy shown. It is difficult to know whether it’s honest, gullible, naïve, ‘have faith and believe what I tell you’, or the more serious, intentional lie to save face and retain control.

Some Bishops have sharply criticized proposed guidelines to help transgender students in schools. The Education Minister says he had a ‘frank conversation’ with Calgary Bishop Fred Henry.  Henry has called the Province ‘totalitarian’, pursuing what he calls ‘narrow-minded, anti-Catholic ideology’.

Imagine the nerve of the Province, telling the Church that they can hate the sin, but have to help the sinner. The very thought of the Catholic Church accusing any other organization of being totalitarian and narrow-minded just has me on the floor.
Kettle….->….Pot!  Pot….->….Kettle!  That one’s gotta show up in the highlight reel on the Comedy Channel.

PAST PERFORMANCE IS NO GUARANTEE OF FUTURE RESULTS

But I’d be willing to bet that, if the government declared abortion illegal, banned the sale of contraceptives, and rescinded the law allowing divorces, the good Bishop would not find that totalitarian and narrow-minded .

***

A letter to the Editor, defending a controversial columnist’s right to an unpopular opinion, recalled the writer’s first-ever letter of complaint about her.

I was so mad I swore I would never read The Record again. The article concerned a young man handing out Christian literature at a local high school.
She thought it was wrong; I thought it was right….
By the way, after 25 years, I still think the kid was doing the right thing at the school.

And I’m also pretty sure that if it had been Jewish tracts, or Muslim literature, or Atheist promotion being handed out, he wouldn’t have thought the kid was doing the right thing at the school.

Oh, those poor beleaguered Catholics/Christians. (Insert sarcasm here.)  Non-Catholics and non-Christians object to being treated poorly.  If our children only get one side of a story, it is not education – we could call that propaganda – or being bullied into one way of thinking. Protestants protested, and separated from the Catholic Church so that they had freedom of thought and worship.  They have no plans to give that up.   😈

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Book Review #5

Finally, a book I can be proud to admit I read.

The Author – Jonathan Haidt

The Book – The Righteous Mind

Subtitled – Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

The Review

4-The Righteous MindI might as well start with the book itself.  The dust cover is printed with what looks like a knife slash from corner to corner, with a black gap, showing how “good people” are “divided.”  Despite the subtitle promising to tell why people are divided, nowhere in the book is it explained.  That folks are divided on many topics is emphasised, and the How and Where is demonstrated, but the Why is never given.

On the blurb page, a promise is given to show how to win an argument against someone whose views you do not agree with.  I read it very carefully.  It involves empathizing with your opponent until you Become them, and then slowly and gently lead them away from their position, towards yours.

Sort of like, if I want my neighbor to stop kicking his dog, I bring him over to my place to watch me kick my dog, to show him how much the dog hurts.  I don’t want to lose my morals and empathize till I become the narrow-minded asshole I’ve come to hate.  I’d sooner use the direct approach, and just kick the neighbor till he agrees to stop.

The book itself is a hardcover, each page with twice as much printing as my little paperbacks.  A quick check at the back shows 420 pages, equal to 840 pages of my normal reading.  If I’m not careful I might end up learning something before I’m done.

But wait, it’s been a while since I read a book like this.  The final 110 pages aren’t actually part of the book.  A third of it is a list of people and their research that he stole from, to formulate his theories.  Another third is notes to explain how he twisted their square ideas to fit his round pigeonholes, and the final third is an index to guide you to where you can worship his multifaceted brilliance.

That leaves only 310/620 pages of real reading.  Perhaps I’ll only get a clue when I’m done.

The author is a moral psychologist.  This doesn’t mean that he gives a damn if you’re screwing the neighbor, drinking, drugging, or even dancing.  He’s the guy who explains why and how we make decisions about what we feel is acceptable and non-acceptable behavior, for ourselves and others, even in the face of conflicting opinions, or facts.

The Atheist/philosopher, Richard Dawkins wrote a book called The Selfish Gene, in which he claimed that evolution insists that everything we do, from love, to altruism, to charity, must somehow benefit the individual.

Haidt raises this thought a couple of levels by comparing human society to biological evolution.  Single-cell organisms united to create multi-celled ones, right up to humans and large animals.  Groups of specialized cells and organs allow achievements that single cells could not achieve.

Humans first grouped by family, then by clan, then village, right up to nation.  Things like sports, politics, religion and armed forces create focused groups through synchronized sounds – prayers, hymns, chants, etc., movements – dances, marching, calisthenics – rituals and sacred totems – salutes, uniforms, crosses, even cheeseheads.

Successful groups outperform, and absorb or drive out lesser ones, and can cause actions that are not beneficial to the individual (suicide bombing), but are, to the group (Islam).

To the scientist, for any group, hypocrisy is a good thing.  For the liar, whether group or individual, it gives them a chance to reap their desired ends and feel good about it.  That makes for more confident leadership and an increase in following and obeying.

About the strange, often conflicting beliefs of every religion, including Christianity, the author says:

The memorable nymphs and fairies and goblins and demons that crowd the mythologies of every people, are the imaginative offspring of a hyperactive habit of finding agency wherever anything puzzles or frightens us.  This mindlessly generates a vast overpopulation of agent-ideas, most of which are too stupid to hold our attention for an instant; only a well-designed few make it through the rehearsal tournament, mutating and improving as they go.  The ones that get shared and remembered are the souped-up winners of billions of competitions for rehearsal time in the brains of our ancestors.

Haidt shows that, once we learn something, even if it’s wrong, it takes more mental energy to unlearn it, than to merely absorb the correct information.

The researchers saw similar results when they told participants that pressing a button would reduce the chance of shock by as much as 90%. Those participants who had to make a proactive choice to press the button opted to leave it untouched about half the time, even though it meant they had to withstand shocks they themselves rated as highly undesirable.

It gave me a slight, momentary sympathy for those I’ve viewed as merely too lazy or bull-headed to accept apparently clear proof of their invalid stances.  Then, he went on to state that, having taken a stance, we will expend even more energy to come up with, sometimes very convoluted, justifications for it, all in the name of support from and for, “our group.”

Since there are limits to most people’s ability to reach outside themselves, there are limits to how large the groups may grow.  The book crystallized and explained why I am a non-joining loner, just shy of being a psychopath; yet rail at Quebec for not “joining” Canada, or the Baltic States for each wanting to rule their own little valley.

This was deep and enlightening reading.  My hopes for an informed quick-fix were soon dashed.  Rather, as I wrote in a long-gone post, if we can keep the momentum in the right direction, thousands, millions, billions of tiny steps and nudges may make mankind a better race.

Don’t Be Sad

The Toronto Sun has a regular columnist who writes about a variety of issues.  When he writes about politics or social concerns, he is as clear as crystal.  Occasionally though, he strays off the well-traveled road, and into the religious minefield, where his work immediately resembles Beijing smog.

Several years ago, he wrote of being Jewish.  Six months later, he claimed that he was Catholic.  When called on it by several readers, he “explained” that his family had Jewish ancestry, but he had converted to Catholicism.  Oh good, just what we need, another gung-ho turncoat.

He quickly learned the Catholic method of the straw-man argument, to belittle those who did not agree with him.  Call them names; assign a definition, then make fun of them, to justify making himself feel better.

Just before Christmas, he took a swing at committed atheists.  He called them the most unhappy, lugubrious, neurotic special-interest group he’d ever encountered.  Then he corrected his accusation, and listed feminists and socialists first, truly an all-you-can-offend-buffet bigot.

He has decided to call atheists, Sads.  They must be sad; it’s an atheist’s nightmare, Christmas coming just two weeks after Pope Whasshisname was named Time’s Man of the Year.  He is convinced, that atheists are convinced, that the world is a dark, hateful place, where everyone is against you.

It’s sad that he doesn’t see, that atheists enjoy the commerce and conviviality of the season, without the need for a supernatural crutch.  He says they don’t grasp irony, but it’s ironic that atheists don’t care that the Pope received this honor. (?)  It’s much like Clay Aiken winning the American Idol crown, nobody with a three-digit IQ, and a life of their own, really gives a damn.

People in the past have sent him “misspelt emails” and they really should learn to master the apostrophe.  He’s a master at turning the subject from criticism to punctuation.  He’s heard the one about God being like the Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny, that Hitler was a Christian, that Jesus didn’t exist, bad things happen to good people, and more wars have been fought in the name of religion than anything else – blah, blah, blah.  Doesn’t sound like blah, blah, blah to me, and many others.  It sounds serious.

He has dismissed these claims in, not one, but three, books; not “dealt with”, dismissed!  Yet Hitler was a Catholic, bad things do happen to good people, prayers are unanswered, and religious wars are still fought.  He wants critics to come up with something new, and challenging; religion is a game to be won, to him.  How about admitting to, and dealing with the old problems first?

It apparently makes him feel good to think that those who disagree with him feel bad.  Not exactly a loving Christian outlook, but then, he’s not exactly loving – or loved.  He admits that Easter is more theologically significant, that Christ probably wasn’t born late in December, and that the whole thing has been clumsily commercialized and secularized, but says he cherishes and believes in it because the show supports his “faith.”  That’s it fella, don’t let reality get in the way.

He would be sad to admit that Atheists quietly, happily, productively, co-operatively, are getting on with their lives, and making of them, as much as they can, without a vague promise of a second chance on the other side of the great divide.  He speaks of “all that is the pure, sparkling joy of the season, gloriously plump with giving, loving, forgiving, enjoying, rethinking and celebrating,” but then denies that they are available to any but his Good Christian compatriots.

He thinks nothing of launching attacks like this, but, should anyone have the temerity to express different thoughts, he falls back on another “Definition” defense – Religism.  This is defined as an attack on any or all organized religions, but, in his case, simply means somebody said he might be wrong in his heart and head.

A Protestant New York minister played this game recently.  He raised such a fuss that he was allowed to be on The View, where he railed to Liz Hasselbek that a bookstore had a shelf label on The Bible, showing it as “fiction!”  After his televised furor, he admitted that “it might have been a simple clerical error.”

The Sun columnist is a sad, shrivelled soul!  It is sad that he gains so much twisted happiness in spewing his bigoted hatred, and taking so much joy in his belief in the imagined pain and suffering of others he deems unworthy.  It is sad that he is not unique, and that there are so many more judgmental, condemnatory Christians like him.

I, on the other hand, would be very happy if you drop lots of likes and comments in the collection plate.

 

BTW, FYI – Lugubrious means mournful, dismal, gloomy, sorrowful or melancholy, especially in an affected, exaggerated, or unrelieved manner.  Sounding pompous doesn’t make you right.

Food Service

On the third Saturday of November, we went to the Farmers’ Market.  They have the steel frame of the temporary replacement building up, and the plasticised canvas cover over it.  They’re just working on heating systems and internal power supply.  It should be ready for re-opening soon.  We later made several more shopping stops, and we all, but especially the daughter, had a big day.

The brunch meeting of the Free Thinkers was the next day, but she was nearing her next pain-med infusion treatment, and was just too weak and sore to attend.  She urged the son and me to go without her.

After parking, we picked up three beer bottles and three cans which had been left, after parties had spilled outside the night before.  We walked downstairs to the door that is always open, to find it locked, because of sewer work being done outside, so we walked back up two stories, to the door which is usually locked.  It’s a good thing the daughter didn’t come along.

Since we didn’t stop to pick up daughter/sister, we were early, arriving at 10:20, for a 10:30 meeting.  Something about the new hotel’s service caused them to begin the meeting at ten AM.  The son and I are not “members” so we weren’t notified, but we weren’t the only ones.  Other members continued to amble in after us.

Two full tables and a part table, where we soon joined the meeting in progress, greeted us.  Sitting across from each other ensured that both the son and I were surrounded, and well supplied with copious, varied conversation.  A later move to an emptying table, as the early birds left, garnered us more erudite, and non-Atheist, discussion.  My “boy”, who is almost BrainRants’ age, wants to go again.

The room was set up.  The coffee was ready.  The buffet was available, and more Sterno heaters were under the chafing dishes.  The food was warm.  Scrambled eggs with cheese had been replaced with eggs Benedict, a dish I refuse to touch.  The (cheap) ex-Mennonite lady demonstrated that there is menu service, something I may look at in the future.

She wears a pair of glasses, but took them off to read the menu.  I don’t know what the glasses do for her, but, if her nose had been a quarter-inch longer, she wouldn’t have been able to see it.  She is working with the chapter president to produce a Humanist/Atheist study module for the regional (and Ontario) schools.  No school, or teacher, will even mention it without having authorized course paperwork available for preparation.

She wants to have a list of influential people who are Humanists/Atheists.  The SOFREE website mentions Canadians such as actress/director, Sarah Polley, Canadian rock group Rush’s singer/songwriter, Geddy Lee (attn. Madame Weebles), actress Caitlynne Medreck, and scientist/oncologist/linguist, Rob Buckman.

She asked the room at large to send her names of others, especially Americans.  She has a Smartphone, but no computer, and has never seen a movie nor ever watched any TV.

There will be another meeting on Dec. 15, another early, third Sunday, but it will be overshadowed by the Winter Solstice party they have scheduled.  The calendar, this year, allows them to celebrate the 21st, on a Saturday.  We have decided to skip the December brunch, and not return till January.  We’ll have to check the website, or email someone to find out if they’ve returned to Waterloo, and what the start time is.

Because the two top (male) execs are members, the solstice party will be held at the premier local curling club.  They offered to take anyone interested, out for a quick instruction and practice session.  I picked up, and investigated a variant word usage.  The one man mentioned “a quick jitney”.  I was aware of meanings of that word being about unlicensed cabs, bus-type van-cabs, and small motorized non-autos.

In this usage, it refers to an unscheduled, fun match/game, with teams picked from a pool of attendees, particularly referring to curling, or lawn bowling, which is where I first saw the term as a child.

Shortly after I started working 40 years ago, at the building the son now works in, at the corner where you turn off the highway out of town, a six unit strip mall was erected.  Recently, it has changed hands.  Taking advantage of the destruction of the Farmers’ Market building, the internal walls were torn out, and it became a pretentious new boutique Market.

A recent newspaper had a two-and-a-half page congratulatory, Grand Opening announcement.  It has two meat vendors, one specializing in beef, the other in pork.  It has a seafood outlet, a coffee company, and a deli/cheese sales and lunch seating area.

Part of their advertising tries to pull disappointed patrons of the Farmers’ Market, but, it’s bright and cute, and I assume, more expensive.  A few might make the switch, but it just doesn’t have the same look/feel, and there are no vegetables, plants, Mennonite baking, or much parking.

That was my weekend (two weeks ago), how was yours??   By sheer coincidence of an every-three-days posting schedule, today, December 2, 2013 is our 46th wedding anniversary.  Don’t I get frequent flyer miles or something??   😉

I’ve Been Thinking

We attended the Free Thinkers luncheon again, recently.  I was seated beside a new member, and was guessing his country of origin, based on his accent.  Score one for the old guy.  He was Russian.  He studied English and German in University, and is qualified to be a professor in either, or both.  So, that means he’s working as an assembler in a plastics plant, similar to the son’s.  Always nice to know we’re putting the skills of our immigrants to the best use.

The reason I didn’t immediately place his accent was that he said he comes from Eastern Russia, Southern Siberia.  He said he could look out his back door into China.  I worked at the stamping shop with a young Russian who described his home town almost exactly the same way.  At least he had got a job as an engineer.  Thinker Russian said that he had decided to get rid of his TV, because there was nothing good on, and asked (told) his kids if they should sell the TV.  Engineer Russian did the same thing – scary!

The young lad across the table asked him what the name of his town/city was, apparently because he had some knowledge of the area.  He said he was from Kusnetzk.  I asked him to repeat the pronunciation and translate to English if he could.  I had heard correctly.  My name in Russian is Kusnetzov, not merely Smith, but (son of a)Smith.  He was from my namesake Russian city.  Please, hold your applause.  I’m only 50 miles from Smithville, here in Ontario.

The Mennonite lady was also there, although she’s actually an ex-Mennonite now.  As close as the Brethren are, I asked what the rest of the congregation thought she was doing while they were at church.  She says they’re waiting for her to repent of her errors and rejoin the flock.

She says they can go flock themselves!  She ain’t going back.  She’s moved to the big city with hot and cold running sin, and taken an apartment.  I must remember to ask what she’s doing to support herself.

Mennonites are cheeeap, at least the local ones are.  They could give my Scottish kin lessons.  They’d shit themselves rather than use a pay toilet.  The women make their own modest, ankle-length dresses with whatever fabric doesn’t sell, at the fabric shop. So here she is in a dress made of cloth which makes her look like an overstuffed sofa in a brothel, and a bright white pair of Avia sneakers poking out underneath.  They’re all air-cells and sparklies, not really completing the modesty theme.  She hasn’t completely left the entire mindset.  She says she’ll continue to wear the dresses, because that’s what she’s used to.

When I was setting the daughter up in the park, for the Non-Violence Festival, I met a dog-walking club/group (?).  As I was trying to carry her stuff from the car to the bridge to the island, I was cut off at the pass by 25/30 humans leading 15/20 dogs on the paved walkway around the lake.  The dog leading the parade was a beautiful Golden Lab, with his own Golden Lab, a stuffed toy half as big as he was in his mouth.  Later, I saw Mommy carrying, when his jaws got tired.  One couple was walking two dogs.  He had the leash for one, and that dog had the leash for the other in his mouth.

There was a young man who liked to view the lake and feed the birds.  He had some muscular dystrophy, and got around in a power wheelchair, similar to the daughter’s.  He liked to roll the chair near the water, and then sit on the raised bank and toss bread to the ducks and swans.  The week before the Non-Violence, he had been found drowned.  He was always happy, and had made future plans.  It is thought that he exited the wheelchair and had a muscular spasm at the brink, fell in, and, of course, could not save himself, and no-one else noticed.

I have a couple of blogs “in the can”, which will require the wife to help me add pictures.  We (She?) went through the digital photos on the computer, and set up a file for my posts.  We realized that some of the shots we wanted were in a scruffy, ignored pile of “bricks and mortar” photos, from before the arrival of the digi-cam, and scanned them in.  This impelled the wife to spend the best part of two days, organizing, labeling, and properly storing, envelopes of negatives and prints.

A short while ago, Ted @ SightsNBytes said that, when he started blogging, he intended to post recipes, and photos of his area, and trips.  Then he discovered he had constructive writing ability, and has never got around to it.  The wife asked if I was interested in using pictures of some of our trips, to post some photo-blogs.  Since I still haven’t discovered much constructive writing ability, hopefully with Ted’s permission, and your acceptance, I thought that I’d start working some into the rotation.

The white-elephant LRT has to pass under the ring-road expressway.  The region was just going to bore a hole through the embankment, and arch it with concrete.  The Ontario Ministry of Transportation insists that they must use special soil stabilization methods.  We haven’t moved one shovel of dirt yet, and the cost, for that one little section, has risen $2.5 million.  I think we’re screwed.

I went with the son to the Bulk Barn store today.  He spotted a new Aztec hot chocolate powder, with some hot pepper added, as the Aztecs used to drink chocolate.  I think I’ll try some tonight as we watch our British crime-show.  I think I’ll survive to post again soon.

I think that’s all the non-information I want to impart for today.  You’ll see me (I fervently hope.) again in a couple of days.