Are We Aborigines?

Many years ago, I watched a documentary of an anthropologist who was traveling with a group of aborigines.  They were trekking across some stretch of land, I don’t remember where. The purpose of their trek was to find food.

There were women and children in the group and the tribe’s leaders noted that signs of  weakening were showing up so it was imparative that food be found soon.  In the evenings, the groups elders or leaders would sit around in a circle and discuss things.

The part of the video I remember was the evening meeting after a long hike and a luckless search for food.  The direction of the aborigines’  discussion that night was the question of why they had not located food.  More specifically, the question was, “Why hasn’t god (s) provided us with food?”

Various leaders gave explanations.  A consensious was reached that food had not been found  because the group had displeased its god.  The god had been displeased over something the group was doing or saying, I have forgotten what it was.  Anyway, this consensus raised the spirits of the group considerably.  Now that they knew what the problem was, they could correct it and tomorrow would be a much better day.

The antropologist’s  comments were that this was a wonderful thing to watch–the ability of  the human mind to manufacture a fictional source of a problem, then come up with a fictional solution. By creating this fiction,  people’s spirits rose.  The optimism probably generated energy  and energy was needed to overcome the adversity.

Do we do anything similar to these aborigines?  In my opinion, yes.  The adversity we all face is our inevitable death.  We are able to overcome the effects of this fact on our states of mind by pretending it does not really happen at all.  We just move to a “better life”.  While not all of us (me) are able to move our heads into this fictional realm, it it still a mavel how the human mind can figure out a way around the most formable obstacles.

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Where Does Your God Live?

One little corner of the human experience I’ve followed since graduate school is the location of various peoples’ gods.  Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in this area of anthropology, it’s just one of my quirky curiousities.

The Christian God, of course, is in the sky. Some native cultures find their spiritual beings on or in the ground or in the animals they hunt.  Then, there are isolated groups who know their god is in the cave on that hill and so on.

Is there something in the nature of our psych that points us to a god at one location or another? As an economist, who studied graduate anthropology, I have my own theory on the location of gods.  When I was in graduate school, I spent quite a while one semester on a paper about the Incas.  The Incas were in and  around the area we now  know as Peru. They and other native groups had complex societies and quite a high standard of living compared to some others of that time.

The Incas were so prosporous they could afford to have their religious leaders do nothing but study the sky and plot movements of stars and planets. From this they came to believe that their god or gods were living and doing things in the sky.

From this limited study, I came to a conclusion that is probably not justified, but it’s mine nevertheless.  It’s that societies who believe their god is in the sky are ones that studied the skies.  If you did not study the sky carefully, you would not see that things out there are moving around, and, come to the conclusion someone is moving them.  Societies that are on  the verge of starvation and are in a race against running out of food do not  have time  to study the sky. 

They have the same need as the sky god people to find a spiritual demension to things, but they see it in the rabbit they are chasing because they don’t have time to look elsewhere.

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Atheists Don't Have No Songs

That’s the title of a new song written and performed by Steve Martin.  Yes, that’s Steve Martin the comedian.

Martin’s new interest is performing music professionally. He tours with the Deep  Canyon Rangers, a blue grass group.

I happen to be a big blue grass fan and listen to it at every opportunity.  One of my own little private interests in popular music is listening for themes and trying to determine what themes are most popular.  In “folk music”, by which I will here use the 60’s definition, there are all kinds of themes, religion, anti religion, love, politics and on and on. 

In country music, religion themes are popular, but the drinkin’ and cheatin’ are worked in, either to enhance, but sometimes to reject, a religious message.

But in bluegrass music, to target is dead on  Christian religion.  It seems like maybe a fourth or  fifth of  the songs have deep Jesus themes.  That’s what makes Steve Martin’s “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs” so funny.  It’s bluegrass.  If you want to hear the song, go to UTube and enter “Steve Martin Atheist Song”.

If nonbelief has made it into bluegrass, it’s everywhere.

Who Knows the Bible Best? SURPRISE

Researchers from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, an independent research group, polled 3,400 Americans and asked them 34 questions about the Bible. 

The people who got the most answers right were….ATHEISTS.  This was the case even when controlled for educational levels. 

This throws into confusion all kinds of theories and strategies for spreading either Christianity or atheism.  For example, the Gideons hand out copies of the New Testiment on street corners and leave Bibles in hotel rooms.  Could it be that the more people open up these copies and read them, the more likely it is that will they become nonbelievers?

That is exactly the theory of Dave Silverman, President of American Atheists. In the New York Times today, he  is quoted as saying, “I’ve heard many times the atheists know more about religion than religious people.  Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge.  I gave a Bible to my daughter.  That’s how you make an atheist.”

I don’t want this bit of information to discourage people who receive something important from their faith to leave it behind.  To the contrary, use that gift to it’s fullest.  It’s just that from an intellectual level, the books upon which our religions are based have holes, which up to now, remain empty.

Why Freethinkers Soldier On

Once in a while, I reflect on our project to get the Ten Commandments removed from their location on public property.  I review the reasons we are devoting so much time and money to a project very few people in the community care about.  Most people have not seen the stone and don’t care whether it goes or stays.  Advocates of the stone staying where it is believe they represent the majority’s view in the community.  They may well be correct.  But, there has never been a city-wide vote.

Today I was reminded again why we believe the stone, located on City property, containing the message that we should believe in the Christian God and no other God, should be moved to private property.  I read a brief review of the comments of the man who led Germany into World War II.  In order to side-step the spam software here, I’m going to spell his name this way, A-duff Hit-lear.  I’ll refer to him as A. H.

In the 1930’s A. H. was asked why his Party was not one of socialism.  A. H. replied that there is no need to socialize the economy. It is easier, he said, to socialize the people.

How this is done, his political message chief, Joseph Goebbels said, is to divide up the message into small parts and repeat each part over and over again.  Soon, the public will accept it as being self evident. 

Poitical elements in our country that continue to use the techniques of A. H.  There was a period of time when most people in the U. S. thought there was a link between 9/11 and Iraq. It was repeated often.

Then, there is the permanent effort to socialize the American public into the view that this is a “Christian Nation”.   This was not true when the Nation was founded.  It is not true today.  Nevertheless, it is repeated many time each day. One place you will find it repeated is on the lawn of Fargo’s City Hall. 

We Freethinkers refuse to be socialized by our Government.  That’s why we soldier on against the City’s Christian message on the Ten Commandments.

More on Morphing

In the social sciences, there is a field called Social Change.  Courses are taught in this field. Scholarly papers are written.

The field deals with topics the average lay person knows a lot about.  Why do certain attitudes or ideas take root in society and grow?  Why do others not take root.  This can be about political ideas, tastes in art or the moral values we hold.

Back in the 1950’s college courses about the phenomenon were taught in Colleges of Agriculture.  This was because new ideas about farming were coming out, chemicals, crop rotation and so on, and these Colleges were looking at ways to convince farmers to accept them.  

The field is more complicated today, but one thing is sure.  There is always change going on.  Individual groups may freeze their values for periods of time, but the attitudes, values and tastes of societies just keep moving on.

Do you suppose this is an ancient thing?  In prehistoric times, did attitudes just moving along as they have since we have begun to record them?

We don’t know everything about these societies.  We do know that societies moved around alot.  They made a living in different ways and ate different food as the millions of years passed.  Our contemporary study of “premative” people finds them with many different religous beliefs and moral values.  Based on this, it would be reasonable to surmise that social change was taking place in human societies all along. 

What about the period of the Bible.  The Christian Bible’s main character, Jesus, is credited with changing the course of history with his admonition to love one another and so on.  The Bible’s narrative is that he was taking  different positions than those of the establishment at the time.

But, did his words reflect the views of most ordinary citizens of the time, or, were they new ideas to those people.  That is, was social change taking place at the time, and Jesus’ views were merely a reflection of those changes, or, did he actually cause changes?  Since the Bible was written many years after the time he was supposed to have lived, we will never know.

The Theological Morph

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America has changed its views on gay clergy.  The evangelical church I grew up in now thinks dancing is OK.  Early Christian churches in the U. S. thought salvery was Biblically based.

Churches have morphed along with the general society, changing their views as time and attitudes have changed.  This is as it should be.  A cross section of the general society provides the money to keep chruches going. 

What have atheist been doing while these churches have been changing their minds?  Atheists have been doing the same thing.  Atheists among the founding fathers, at least the one we know most about, Thomas Jefferenso, believed in slavery just like the church people of that time.  

So the two groups, believers and nonbelievers, more or less followed the same path in the change of moral and ethical views.  But, they were different in one respect.  Atheists did not attribute the new views to a better understanding of what God wanted them to believe.  I suppose you would say they just figured is out by themselves.

Believers are just as smart as nonbelievers.  My personal guess is that, actually, they figured it out by themselves as well.  It just does not seem like the church is necessary to figure out what is moral and what is not.

Pray Not For Publicity

Matthew 6:5: “And when you pray, do not do like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on street corners to be seen by men.”

I was reminded of this passage when I saw the picture in this morning’s Fargo Forum of a row of men “praying” in front of the Red River Women’s Clinic where abortions are performed. The press releases and coreography of the “praying” leads one to the conclusion it has but one purpose, to violate Matthew 6:5.

Of course, I am not an objective observer.  I have little personal “issues” with antiabortion protesters.  They go way back, to the 1980’s when I was Mayor here in Fargo.  This was the period of time when the Lambs of Christ put on a full court press to close the Clinic when it was located Main Avenue.  They filled up the jail and court system,  forced the police to carry them on stretchers and refused to give their names when asked by the court.  They also played a nasty little game with me.

It started when an annonmous caller said, “So, you have the Police out there to protect your wife’s investment!”  Then, I started getting local letters with the same accusation.  After that, there were calls to our house from California and New York with the same thing.

The local protesters were in and out of my office during that time with their various concerns, so, I had opportunities to ask them who started that story.  No one would admit to it. One said, “We know it’s true. You just won’t show us your financial records.”

“Oh yes I will,” I replied.  “I will bring into the Mayor’s office all our family income tax records, cancelled checks and anything else you would like to see.  You can bring in accountants and attorneys. The only rule is that no copies leave the office. If you find any hint that we own the Clinic, I will make a public apology.”

I made this offer, perhaps, to a dozen different people.  No one ever took me up on it.

Why Does the Church Miss the Moral High Ground?

One of today’s big newspaper stories is about this region’s Catholic Bishops sending out video discs with the admonition that the faithful should oppose gay marriage.

Here we have a set of people, gays, who through no choice of their own have some trait that makes them different from the majority.  The Church’s response is to punish them.  This is not a moral relativeism. This is the moral low  ground, absolutely.

Actually, it is not hard to understand how Christian Church leaders land on the moral low ground so often.  They are trained by the Bible.  God takes the moral low ground often in that book.  He drowns everyone except Noah and his family.  He murders often.

We’ve seen various parts of the Chruch  fight equal treatment of races and women. The current target is gays.  It’s all starts with the Bible.

The Hypothetical Hindu

“Hey, Lindgren,” the older guy at the lawnmower shop said, “What have you got against the Ten Commandments?”

“What I have against the Ten Commandments on public property is that they say you have to worship the one God, the Christian God.  Not everyone in Fargo is a Christian” I replied.

“But that’s the American God. If you don’t like it, move to another country.”

“Look, if a baby is born in Fargo in Hindu parents, she will probably be a Hindu.  She will be an American citizen, right?”

He stopped to think for a moment.  “Yea. I guess that’s the rule. I guess she would be.”

“And, she will pay taxes just like you and I.  She should not have to put up with that Commandment.” I said.

He said he liked it when people paid taxes instead of using taxes. I agreed.