The Mittster and His Taxes

The Romneys have decided that they will release no more tax returns. So far, what they have released indicates that they pay perhaps 13% of their income in taxes. There are many ways of looking at this number. For example, one might say that because we’re talking about millions of dollars of income, that figure means that Mitt and Ann pay more dollars to the Treasury than most people.

Another way to look at it is to say that the number, 13%, is meaningless.

The wealthy have something that the rest of us don’t. They benefit from deductions. By the time a tax rate is figured on adjusted gross income, those deductions have erased a large part of what the rest of us think of as income as if it never existed.

We have heard about the tax deductions for the dressage horse. Over seven hundred thousand dollars was deducted for expenses of owning a horse. I wonder how many people have realized that this is the equivalent of simply erasing monies derived from income? I wonder how many people have thought: if they got freed from the taxes on a horse, how many other deductions did they get?

Let me give an example that has nothing to do with the Romneys. I once attended a local seminar where the speaker explained to the audience how we could have an airplane for free. Thanks to government largess, income credits could pay for the plane, hangar fees, even fuel and other expenses and all one has to do is to prove that an airplane is necessary for business use.

Think about that. How many corporations and small businesses use these tax credits to own and operate a multi-million dollar vehicle at taxpayer expense? And by “taxpayer,” I mean those in the middle and lower classes who have no such government benefits.

It’s been said that ownership is overrated. Having the use of such things as airplanes and limousines and offices and valets and assistants and automobiles and land and anything else one can imagine without actually owning them is the way to go. Meanwhile, your millions only increase and you can pass those along to your heirs.

So the wealthy have influenced the tax code by squeezing any benefits that might go to the less fortunate. It is no longer easy to own rental properties or to have an office in your home. No breaks for you. Many right-wingers are trying to remove the standard deductions from wage earners. They complain that some people pay no taxes, while in fact all of us do pay taxes, whether property taxes or sales taxes or even Social Security taxes.

Imagine that. The rich pay Social Security taxes, too. But the taxes have a cap, so they only pay the same as the median workers. And although they don’t need Social Security to survive, they can still collect it. Given that the wealthy are far more likely to have good and unlimited health care than the working poor, they might live longer to collect more of the Social Security pot. And still they want to eliminate it. Why?

If you make a decent living and pay into Social Security all your life, what are the chances that you will live long enough to recoup the money that you paid in? You wait until you qualify for your full amount to retire, and you’re dead two years later.

My point with all of this is that the system is set up so that the very wealthy can benefit so much that their wealth will never be in jeopardy, that they would have to be complete incompetents to ever be reduced to poverty, while the “average” Americans are only one health care problem or bank crash from losing everything they own.

Now, if I were the Mittster, and I could get away with only releasing one or two years’ of taxes, I’d certainly not pick the years that were the most damning. I’d pick the ones with as little information as could be used against me. So the threat is real. At present, the types of perfectly legitimate yet onerous deductions and breaks are unknown to the press and the public, but those other years’ taxes could be so egregious that only mental patients could possibly cast a vote for the Romney.

Of course, the first thing that comes to my mind is, that is already a truism.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

World with no Religion

Watching a video by atheist vlogger “crazypills” I realized that I didn’t agree with everything he said, and thought, hey, I’ve got a subject for another blog post.

He seemed to think that there is little evidence that a world with no religion may not be a better place, that there was no evidence for it. Well, I think there is evidence for it, such as it is. I know of no country completely untainted by religion, but many countries are more atheistic than others. We find that, overall, they have healthier societies, whether it be in the realm of working hours or sensible laws or health care. Yet, my own country, arguably the most religious country on earth of the Christian persuasion, has delusions of empire and constant attacks on any sensible laws that exist.

To my mind, there is no doubt that a lack of religion (or other ideological fervor) can only be an improvement to society. There is a pervasive myth that religions provide a lot of human services and charity that atheists do not, and it is often the case that religions do not always provide as much charity as their members think or that atheists often are more charitable than seems obvious. For example, atheists giving to charities can be masked by the religious nature of those charities. Many charities do not keep track of the beliefs or non-beliefs of their donors.

To my mind, the best of all possible worlds is one in which laws and societal norms obviate the need for charity, since the society is egalitarian enough to remove serious need or serious problems.

I can, however, think of one reason that at least some amount of religion should remain. In my book collections, I have a great many bad mystery stories. I keep them around to remind me how not to write. Religion seems to me to be the sort of thing that would be handy to have around, just to show us how not to behave.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Our Christian Nation

Singer/songwriter Stevie Nicks has been credited with lyrics that beautifully make very little sense. It’s sort of art as glossolalia. Landslide was an emotional interpretation of angst within her relationship with Lindsey Buckingham. The song leaves you wondering, what did she mean by that? 

It may seem odd to look at Christianity as an art form. But its lexicon involves unusual use of words and phrases that are unique and have special meanings. Amazing grace, how sweet thou art. Who talks like that? In many religions, the garb hearkens back to a bygone era, and so does the language, as if using phrases from the Victorian or Jacobean eras lends credence to an established body of truth. 

And following this arrow of thought, I have to ask: what, precisely, does one mean when one refers to the United States of America as a Christian Nation? I suspect that the answer is less than precise. Could it mean that it’s a nation with a high per capita percentage of Christians in the population? If that’s the case, then I agree completely. America is indeed a Christian nation. 

However, I also suspect that this is not at all what is meant. It seems to me that the claimant is declaring that this nation is not only inhabited by Christians but that their group status conveys particular rights and privileges that accrue only to Christians; that it is akin to ownership of some sort, perhaps custodianship of this country with the charge of making sure that Christian values, whatever those may actually be, must form a framework that will lead to a heavenly kingdom here on earth.

There is the belief, both spoken and unspoken, that this country somehow has inherited the mantle of responsibility for the future of the world, and that future involves making the Christian religion ascendant over all others. 

Although there are those fringe people or fringe cults who think that only a theocracy can properly run a government using the immense wisdom of supernatural creatures as a guide, most Christians do not go quite so far. They’re content to accept that things will progress according to the will of the creator, but of course in the direction of Christian principles being the root of all society.

And here’s the part where I inject a little reality into the mix. 

In any modern society, it is my opinion that multiculturalism is absolutely necessary for progress. Any attempt at homogenizing the populace leads to both stagnation and an aversion by outsiders to either have to deal with the society or visit it. There are many examples of this, of course. Saudi Arabia is becoming more multicultural not as a result of western influence, but as a necessity of commerce. 

The Founders of the United States were of varied mind – some anti-religious and some religious, but they came together to make a country that was welcoming to both. Of course, when I say Founders, I am not referring to settlers. The original European settlers were sometimes Christian and sometimes multicultural. The more religious of the groups, such as the hateful and draconian Puritans, have died out, while the more open and accepting survived. 

And Christians today who might say that we are a Christian country must hold in their minds a picture of Christianity that simply isn’t accurate, for Christianity is composed of many thousands of sects that seldom play well together. Now we have evangelical Christians who have reached numbers capable of making waves, and claims, but they are most assuredly not a cohesive lot. And I think it is accurate to say that most Christians are only nominal – they do not attend church, do not pray daily, don’t really think much about the religion that they may claim to be a member of. 

So we are what we always were: a motley melting pot that, rather than becoming more Christian is actually becoming more Hispanic. The suburbanites of the fifties would hardly recognize the country by the year 2050. The WASP culture is becoming the minority. 

Perhaps it would be more clear if those who claim a Christian country would say, “I am part of a group of fundamentalist Christians who would like to do whatever we like without having to answer to anyone who is not Christian,” or, “I live in an area of the United States where you can drive for miles without ever encountering someone who is not Christian, therefore it appears to me that this is a Christian nation.”

The flaw in Pastor Charles Worley’s rant about imprisoning lesbians and gays behind an electrified fence so that they will die out is that otherly-sexed people are continuously born to heterosexual people. The supply never ends. And so it is with non-believers and non-Christians. Even in those places steeped in virulent Christianity, atheists will appear. We are as pervasive as the gay and we aren’t going away. And it’s our country, too. 

“Well, I’ve been afraid of changing,
’cause I’ve built my life around you.
But time makes you bolder,
children get older,
I’m getting older, too.
I’m getting older, too.”

What do we mean by that? 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Prang! You’re Healed!

Ever wonder why God doesn’t heal amputees? I thought about it the other day for at least thirty seconds and came up with the answer.

Obviously, if you believe that your body is going to be resurrected and then you’ll live for eternity, replacing a limb is actually a mistake. I mean, think about it. Here you are, working away when some mindless machine rips off your leg. A moment of carelessness and a lifetime of misery. But then you pray, O please, God, make my leg grow back. And it does.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, er, in heaven, your dead leg has arrived at the Pearly Gates. Now, there isn’t much it can do but wait for you to die and be rejoined with you. But horreurs! When you die, you already have a leg! How is your other leg going to feel about that? Worse, where are you going to put it?

So there you are, walking around on three legs, hitting on the houris and blushing at the laughter.

Alternatively, you’re stomping around in the desert and boom! Your arms and legs are blown to Kingdom Come. Prang! You grow new ones and hop around all happy. But then that final day comes and you’re reunited with your other limbs. Reunited and it feels so good. But no, it’s a bit awkward. Now you have to crab around like a spider on eight limbs. This is definitely a case of be careful what you ask for.

Now I know what you’re thinking. There must be some system in place to take care of the extras. Really? Where does it say that? Reanimating a corpse? No problem. Curing leprosy? No problem. Too many limbs? Problem. 

Do you suppose there could be a Heaven just for extra arms and legs? Maybe bits of brain tissue and an occasional ear or nose? Hard to play a harp, nu? Maybe you could combine the extra parts into more people but we all know that God sticks a soul in at birth. If you whittle a boy out of wood, does it have a soul? So it’s Golem Heaven then. Soulless Frankenstein monsters in their own little come-to-Glory habitat. 

For those believers out there who keep getting asked about why God doesn’t heal amputees, feel free to use these arguments. My gift. 

On a related note, suppose you get a dead person’s heart. Do they have to use your old one in Heaven until you finally kick the bucket and you can trade back? Are there missing books of the Bible that might explain this? Inquiring minds would really like to know.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to Oceania

I’ve often said that I consider apologists liars and apologetics lies because you have to start with a lie and then tell more lies to support it. I doubt that the apologists themselves think that they’re lying, but I also doubt that they consider their own dishonesty, being buttressed by the false overlay of their religious belief. 

So we’ve seen the cherry-picking that goes on, from the Bible or from science and scientists. We’ve seen the twisting, where no matter what an opponent says, its meaning becomes something entirely different when repeated by the masters of deception. Sometimes, they have to go back decades or even centuries to find some factoid that they can twist to their satisfaction, while ignoring entire bodies of work. From William Lane Craig to Dinesh D’Sousa to Matt Slick, these purveyors of smoke concoct elaborate presentations based in a bastardation of their own mythology combined with the misapplied and misread bits of wrongness that they equate with factual knowledge.

And over the past few years, a new pretender to the throne of misinformation has appeared and has far too much influence to be ignored. David Barton may not be the first out of the clown car, but his misinformation is taken by many as just too good to pass up in the war against reality. 

His chief enterprise is the tearing down of the wall of separation, which he claims is a one-way wall that keeps government interference from religion while allowing religious influence in the government. This idea is so nefarious because it is entirely contrary to Jefferson’s ideas of separation and is completely at odds with the many pronouncements of the Founding Fathers and its purpose is to allow what those founders feared most regarding the co-option of government by the forces of religion. It ignores the entire purpose of Jefferson’s battle to end the supremacy of the Church of England over the taxpayers of Connecticut. 

To achieve his ends, Barton lies, misquotes, and simply invents what he cannot find. When confronted with his use of invented quotes, he claims that the quotes are in keeping with the attitudes and positions of those he’s quoting. He doesn’t just cherry-pick quotes, he invents them or uses quotes that have been invented.

Barton has claimed that Jefferson is presented as an atheist, an obvious strawman, although some have said that were Thomas Jefferson living today he would have been an atheist. We all know that he was, or at least presented himself as, a deist. In Barton’s imaginary world Christianity is persecuted and misrepresented.

Barton cites a case where a child was yanked out of school for praying over his lunch. It’s an outright lie, of course, the child in question was suspended for fighting, not praying. As an argument about how Christians are being persecuted this is specious since it’s actually over twenty years old. Is it possible that Barton has never been confronted with this lie? It doesn’t matter because his world is not our world. 

Barton is in league with Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition. They simply love this stuff. The usual suspects support him: Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed, Doctor James Dobson, et al. If you wonder why religion is dangerous or evil, this sort of historical revisionism is a strong example. Although Barton claims to be an expert on things historical and Constitutional, he has no degrees in these subjects, His only degree comes from Oral Roberts University in Christian studies. (Bachelor of arts in religious studies.) When it comes to prayers in school, Barton jumps in it. Too many people are on board with Barton, and the influence on Texas textbooks and the adoption of pseudohistory is obvious. Barton’s Ministry of Information does not yet hold complete control, but it competes in the marketplace of ideas. Barton’s recent appearance on The Daily Show illustrates how he is able to spew his nonsense with little challenge. Stewart was lacking in not only the basic understanding of secularism, apparently, but weak in American history. 

The Founders were products of their times. Presented with the exegesis and historicity of the Bible in modern times I have no doubt that most would have immediately abandoned their deistic leanings. Adams and Jefferson discussed the possibility, as expressed by one of Adams’ teachers, that we would be better off with no religion at all. The discounted the idea then, but if they lived today it is my considered opinion that they would not. 

And as to Barton and his ilk, I’d curse them if I could. I would wish that whatever punishment they deserved would be given to them, and that would be enough. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Religion-colored Glasses

We’re all familiar with the argument that religion is a source of morals and conveys a moral compass on adherents. I’ve often taken umbrage with that, since the sort of distorted morals that religion conveys are specious at best.

The main thrust of this argument will be the infamous Sermon on the Mount, which is the largest collection of moral teachings of Jesus. Even Dawkins points to this as a good thing. I beg to differ.

The SoM sounds good on its face. It’s like “free.” Who doesn’t like free? So anything with the word free in it appeals to everyone. But there’s no free beer, and that’s a point that should be kept in mind with every statement that Jesus supposedly made.

When you take off the religion-colored glasses and read the sermon, you see that it’s really nothing but feel-good homilies that have no meaning at all. Let’s take a look:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”

Warm fuzzies, right? What, exactly are the poor in spirit? I’m interpreting this as people who are having daily problems that are becoming overwhelming. So, when you’re overwhelmed, you can hope for pie in the sky. How wonderful is that? This is an obvious empty promise. Fear being a main component of religion, and whether you’re poor in spirit or not, you are always kept in the dark as to whether you actually qualify for the kingdom of Heaven or the Lake of Fire. Somehow, this beatitude becomes a bit less of an encouragement if you think about it in that framework.

“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

This one’s really empty. It doesn’t say that the person for whom they mourn will be returned to them. It just says that someone (another follower?) will pat them on the shoulder to help them get through their loss. Since that’s normal hominid behavior, there’s no explicit promise here except that other humans will have empathy and they already do have empathy.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Well, when the non-meek finish with the earth, the meek may not want it. This is another empty promise since there is no sign that in Jesus’ day or in modern times any meek will inherit anything and may actually be left out of their parents’ wills because nobody likes a mouse. Show some character, people!

“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be fulfilled.”

Not happening. Sorry, but there are a great many people who hunger for such things, and occasionally they organize and actually receive righteousness to some small degree, only to have it snatched away again later.

I wonder if in this passage the righteousness in question is the coming of the kingdom of God on earth, in which the Romans will be overthrown and the Jews will be ascendant? Because yes, the Romans eventually perished at the hands of Christianity, but the Jews are still not doing very well. Remember, the Holocaust came after Jesus’ pronouncement.  It’s difficult to find a time in history when the benighted tribe of Moses wasn’t under someone’s thumb. I can see why the Jewish Jesus might think that things were about to be changed for the better, but that was the expectation for centuries.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

How does this work, exactly? Someone owes you money, for example, and you tell them, “Look, I know you’re having a hard time, so I’ll just forgive the debt.” So then you lose your home because you couldn’t pay your mortgage. The only way that this makes sense is to assume that the brutal Yahweh will notice your small contribution to the general welfare of the world and somehow reward you for it. Maybe move your heavenly chair a few inches closer to him, though you’re still out in the wings somewhere.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Nice promise. But I can make an equally valid promise. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see Daffy Duck. There. Mine’s just as worthy. Trade one mythical character for another and it’s just as good. You can get a pretty feeling in your bosom if you’re a believer, but from the outside looking in, this statement is just vapid.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

This one is particularly odd because it seems to me that those who would be sons of God are the warmongers. Jesus seems to have forgotten that the penalties for breaking the ten and the 603 commandments is death. What peace, in a brutal world where the slightest infraction leads to torture or death? Jesus may have meant well, but the actions of God’s earthly princes have been deplorable.

The peacemakers of history are poorly remembered and they are usually trying to make peace after a war!

“Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”

Selfish, isn’t it? Go ahead and put yourself in danger and you’ll be better off for it. If only you’ll be a steadfast follower of mine, it will make you a better person. Sounds like the rantings of Charles Manson.

The remaining statements are just mystical blatherings about how nifty we followers of me are. Salt that lost its savor? Where can I find some of that? Any group’s leaders will insist that they stand out and be counted, so the light on a stand rather than a bushel or the city on the hill are tactical in nature. And Jesus’ final statement that he comes not to destroy the law seems to have been completely ignored by the Pauline tradition. The Jewish law and its consequences were stricken from the Christian lexicon. This is particularly odd because Matthew, where the Beatitudes are found, was of the Petrine school of thought that Jewish traditions should be preserved, unlike Mark, who followed the Pauline line of thought.

If the Beatitudes are the best Jesus has to offer, he isn’t giving much. There is nothing here that can’t be found among the first-century Jewish thinkers or other philosophers or the Kingdom Movements of the day. My opinion is that the Jesus movements were mere extensions of these movements anyway – a sort of offshoot of them who believed that the time was not only at hand but that it had already come.

The religion-colored glasses work equally well on any part of the Bible. Ancient biblical heroes were those to whom genocide and murder were the order of the day, but to the believer they are placed upon pedestals because they were furthering the cause of God. Abraham was a hero because he was willing to kill his son if God so commanded. Contrast this with modern-day men and women who kill their family members because God told them to. We think they’re insane. But for those heroes of old, well, take off the glasses and see them for the mythical avatars they are: scriptural decrees that break the rules of morality in favor of obedience and submission.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Down the Rabbit Hole

It’s spring. The birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and all’s right with the world. OK, maybe that’s a bit overstated. We’ve had more snow in the last couple of days than we had all winter. Still, there’s warmer weather on the horizon and maybe winter’s back is broken.

So, on with it.

The phrase, through the rabbit hole, is one I’ve used a lot of late because it means, to me at least, to examine things in depth, to deconstruct them and see how well the parts look closeup. It comes from Alice in Wonderland, of course, which I’ve always loved, and I highly recommend Martin Gardner’s annotated version of it, which puts it into the context of the times in which it was written and explains the less obvious.

And I’ve been going down a lot of rabbit holes: origins of Mormonism origins of the universe, origins of the Jesus myth. The deeper that you travel down any of these holes, the more wonders that you find. Curioser and curioser, as Alice so wonderfully put it.

In Mormonism, I like the Spalding-Rigdon theory, where much of the Book of Mormon was already written, or perhaps stolen, even before the small group of men found Joseph Smith to use as their expounder and spokesperson, with others adding small bits to it. I used to blame Joseph for the incredibly bad writing, since it was said that he was functionally illiterate, but as it turns out, the original fictional tale, “Manuscript Lost,” contained all the bad writing before its content was lifted and published in the Book of Mormon. The level of known, or suspected, detail is amazing.

In the Jesus myth, there is little of the story of Jesus, if anything at all, that can be considered historical. Mark’s gospel was, apparent to me, written entirely as a fictional story, and whoever “Mark” was, it’s clear that he would have known and expected his readers to know that it was fictional, or at the very least based in the works of others. The other gospel writers copied Mark, adjusting the story to fit their own positions and politics.

And finally, on the universe origins, I find a rabbit hole that never ends. A lifetime of study can only touch on the vagaries of theory and speculation about the whichness of what and why are the wherefores.

Now, when asked, “So, do you believe that everything just came from nothing?” I can answer with aplomb: Your question is meaningless. You do not know what everything is, and you do not know what nothing is, and therefore the question, as posed, is null.

I expect my questioner to reply that they know exactly what nothing is, and it’s obvious what they mean by everything. Then I will take them down the rabbit hole. “Everything” seems composed of molecules, made up of atoms, and finally of particles. What’s a particle made of? If you cannot answer that, and I certainly cannot, then you obviously do not know what everything is. 

And nothing is worse. Suppose I hand you, dear reader, a shoebox. I tell you, “There’s nothing in here.” You know exactly what I mean: there are no shoes, no wrapping paper, no bank records, no marble collection. In other words – nothing. But there is something, isn’t there? There’s air. Perhaps there’s an old dried-up spider’s leg that’s too small for you to see. Dust mites, maybe. Dust. There are particles passing through the box, unobserved and unfelt. There is quantum flux, whatever that may be. So it doesn’t really contain nothing, does it?

In fact, I would challenge my questioner to point to a place in the universe where there is nothing. Even in the vacuum of space we find light everywhere, particles flying on their way to somewhere, perhaps popping in and out of existence or travelling forward or backward in time, because particles, whatever they may be,  do no seem to be limited to a particular time direction. At the quantum level, everything you think you know breaks down and you have to begin to understand things in ways that the human mind did not seem to evolve to understand. Nothing is intuitive and anthropomorphic thinking is useless. For those of us deaf to the scientific formulae, it just doesn’t make sense anymore, and the closest we can come to finding “nothing” is the empty space in the quantum flux of a proton, which, as I recall, contains about 80% of the mass in the universe. So even that isn’t really nothing, is it?

If everything were to come from nothing, we’d first have to find some nothing. Otherwise, it’s just another hypothesis in the dustbin.

Then there’s the difference between infinity and eternal. It appears that infinity is a mathematical construct, and not much use in practical terms. If you count the moments between one thousand years ago and today, no matter how big a number you come up with, you can always come up with a bigger one, depending on your idea of a moment. 

But eternal, now there’s a horse of a different color. Is the universe eternal? Are matter and energy really indestructible? Is the universe a product of quantum tunneling or was there a big crunch before that big bang? I don’t know. And not only do I think that no one knows the answers to these questions, I don’t think that there’s enough data that anyone could know the answer, and I’m not certain that any human being could comprehend, ever, the exact nature of the universe. 

I’m fine with that, as long as somebody keeps trying. And then I’ll go a little further down the rabbit hole again.

“I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”  — Alice

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments