Month: July 2015

About Reagan

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Ronald Reagan is without a doubt a conservative icon who, as President, had many victories but one victory currently relevant does most emphatically not belong to Reagan, even though it’s often attributed to him.  Once again the United States finds itself negotiating with Iran.  Americans are considering whether the negotiations have accomplished their stated goal: To keep Iran from building a bomb.  The question is, is the deal a good one?  Could we have gotten a better deal?  Could Reagan have gotten a better deal?  “Reagan didn’t need a deal” is the slogan running through Conservative circles.  The implication being that Reagan achieved release of the hostages in 1980 through sheer force of personality.  Surely any rational person knows what a farce that is.  But let’s go through the events anyway.

Most people are familiar with the first part.  The secular leader of Iran, the Shah, supported by the US and very friendly to western powers, was overthrown in a religious coup.  The Embassy was stormed and 52 American were taken hostage for over a year.  They were released the day Reagan was sworn in.

In one respect Conservatives are correct.  Reagan did not need a deal.  Because Carter had already signed one.  It’s called the Algiers Accord.  It’s a simple document.  We promise to stay out of their business. We release 7.9 Billion dollars of Iranian assets and sanctions.  They also get some immunity in civil courts.  In return, they deposited one billion dollars in an escrow account as part of arbitration agreement to compensate Americans for assets lost in the revolution. Iranians would receive assets held by the US belonging to the Shaw and Iran would honor their international debts and obligations.  Oh, and the hostages would come home.  Because the Iranians refused to negotiate with the US without an Algerian intermediary (it wasn’t called the Algerian Accords for nothing), and the numerous linguistic barriers the negotiations took a great deal of time.  It also took a lengthy amount of time to physically transfer some of the assets (such as 50 tonnes of gold).  Additionally, Iran was in a war with Iraq which also complicated safe transportation.

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In the end it was Carter who secured the release of hostages through a reasonable and complex deal.  It was also Carter who was generous and statesman enough to allow Reagan to make the announcement and implicitly claim credit.  The next time Reagan would negotiate with Iran he would sell our enemy weapons and transfer the funds to murderous death squads against the explicit orders of congress.  This was not a success.  If there was any justice in the world, the Iran-Contra scandal should have brought down the Reagan administration.  Beside Carter, Only Obama has successfully negotiated with the Iran.  He’s created a medium term impediment to Iranians acquiring a nuclear weapon.  In theory the Iranians say they don’t want a nuclear weapon, they only want nuclear power.  Which is fine.  It’s very healthy on the part of the Iranians to wish to diversify their economy.  However, there’s no reason we should trust them.  So these negotiations are necessary.  I won’t go into the finer points of the treaty in this blog.

The point is that the near mythological status that Reagan holds has corrupted the history of our dealings with Iran and have created entirely unreasonable expectations. Without respect, even for an enemy, and compromise, negotiations mean nothing.  It’s time to understand a deep history of the world instead of knee-jerk short-term politicized reactions.

What God?

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I have heard in my time many arguments for the existence of God.  From a science perspective we have many variations of the Anthropic principle, which is a very weak tautology.  If humans are well suited to the world, then it must be assumed that it was created for us.  These apologists often base these arguments on some sort of calculation of chance, (The odds of human evolution are some ridiculous number to 1) which is also completely specious and we can go into the specific reasons later.

There’s another argument that appeals to human psychology.  Usually you get this a lot from the likes of CS Lewis who felt that a sense of wonder was, by definition, proof of god.  Which is also pretty specious.  You can live quite wonderful fulfilling lives without the baggage of religion.  Possibly quite better lives than your religious fellows.  Even if this was not true it wouldn’t matter.

One of my  favorite arguments it appeal to the authenticity of the bible.  Perhaps the ultimate tautology.  Well if the Bible says that it’s trustworthy… how could we go wrong.  Generally, claims of Biblical authority are backed with prophesy.  Prophesy is where you chose any two points in time and create an artificial sense of significance between them.  Generally you might have to jigger the math a bit.  A year is equal to a day is a common trick.

Here’s my problem with all of it.  If we assume god to be an all-knowing interactive deity dedicated to guiding humanity, then there are some pretty glaring problems.  One always hates to assume something about god.  How do you know something that is inherently unknowable? But we can certainly evaluate the claims about him. If god is going to deign to give humanity vague and unhelpful clues about the future, why not something useful?  How about forms of government? God says very little about it other than to follow his laws and he’s got your back.  He also begrudgingly tolerates the development of the Israeli short-lived monarchy.  Maybe he wasn’t so tolerant after all. Jesus will later tell the Hebrews to tolerate the Roman empire. God could have let us in on the monarchy or the democracy.  Both innovations in their time would have been terrific advancements and could have halted a tremendous amount of suffering, especially if god set out an orderly progression.

He also makes an extraordinary number of ethical errors.  For example, this was a fantastic time to state unequivocally that slavery is bad but… he didn’t.  Why?  God couldn’t figure that one out?  Speaking of which, genocide would have been another thing to put out there as something you absolutely should NOT do, except that it’s explicitly endorsed by the Bible. My least favorite is something god specifically commanded. Circumcision. There’s no excuse for genital mutilation. Speaking of genitals, some healthier guidelines on healthy sexual expression and the LGBT acceptance would have been fantastic.  Sorry, God drops the ball again.  The treatment of women as second-class citizens is a phenomenal failure that with a few words could have been halted.  Things like being forced to marry your rapist? What the hell god? you have to answer for that. The notion of universal equality was something that took over 17 hundred years from the birth of Christ to develop.  How about tips for world peace? the closest we’ve come is commercial and diplomatic ties are critical but you won’t find that in the Bible.  God couldn’t suggest a more equitable profit sharing arrangements for distributing wealth? This also would have saved untold suffering in the world.

How about medical and technological insights?  It wouldn’t have been difficult for god to weigh in on how to make primitive vaccines, or procedures for quarantining patients with communicable diseases.  Something as simple as soap and water can prevent a tremendous amount of infection. Clean water, boiled water, sewer systems, cleaning trash, developing some infrastructure, all these things would have been within a bronze age level of technology and would have prevented many of the plagues that devastated humanity.  In fact, science is as much a mental discipline as it is a collection of technologies.  That could easily have been communicated to Bronze Age cultures.  Certainly Iron Age cultures came very close to this kind of discipline. There’s any number of facets of psychology, environmentalism, medicine, health, education, and more that god just apparently forgot to mention.

Actually, the more you look at the Bible the more one realizes that god didn’t really know anything more about life and the future or even the past than your average Bronze Age warlord.  In fact, much of the the history, science, prohibitions, legal philosophy is just wrong -as in verifiably incorrect.  If we consider the Bible “useful for instruction” then this instruction must be limited to how to evaluate mythologies.  Clearly thinking critically isn’t on the curriculum.  If the proof for god lies in the bible then we can easily conclude there is no god, or that he has chosen not to involve himself in our lives in this way.  The fact that there are so many ways to have made society so much better that an all knowing god could have imparted and chosen not to, brings to light the ridiculous of a literal interpretation of Christianity.

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

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Many, I would hope, recognize the title of the blog as a bible verse from the New Testament.  If you go back and read the entire chapter 4 in 1st John you’ll find the author expounding upon the duties of the Christian which is to love each other.  It’s a great touchy feely passage that Christians, particularly the liberal strain, really likes.  After you’ve had your fill of blood and death, and genocide and stoning and smiting that fills the pages of the Bible, you come to near the end (before the truly crazy part) and you have a lovely little sermon on love.

As a former Christian I gave a tremendous amount of lip service to loving neighbors and enemies, and turning cheeks, and giving tunics, as did most of my friends, parents, pastors, and other members of the congregation.  I was certainly sincere in my lipservice and I believe that today  most Christians are sincere in their lip service.  If you were to interview the Westboro Baptist church, as has been done, you’ll find that they are a church of love.  They believe their message of hate and condemnation is an act of love.  It’s a warning of the hell that awaits the LGBT community should they persist in “rebelling” against god.  What could be more loving than that? Same as the Ku Klux Klan.  They’re all about bringing the love to people and I believe they are sincere.  Totally confused, but sincere.

What I think Christians do not understand and can not understand is the necessity of ending tribalism.  It’s certainly something that the Disciples couldn’t understand, and the early church began dividing up people into groups in a hurry.  As soon as Christians achieved a smidgen of real power, they began using tribalism to massacre other groups.  — oh, you thought the pagan religion disappeared because of the strength of Christian evangelical and missionary efforts? oh I’m laughing so hard it hurts.  Even today with the denominational structure Christianity is obsessed with US and THEM.  At best the “they” can be converted into an “us”, at worst they’re demonic and need to be exterminated.  It’s probably most obvious in America’s geopolitical enemies, but only because it’s easier to see our own faults in others.

Liberals can be plenty racist.  Intellectually ideologically liberal individuals know this, but they’re usually a little confused as to how.  The how begins with the division between “us” and “them”.  I’m not suggesting a cultureless melting pot.  Being unable to appreciate the unique attributes of the people we come across is incredibly racist.  If you can’t “See color” I suggest you learn.  The difference is the separation.  When you use social and economic factors for your own benefit it ends up excluding others and tribalism is born.  Think “I’m moving to a neighborhood with better schools, lower crime, fancier restaurants….”.  This is explicitly moving away from people of color and into your own little tribe.

It was only when I left Christianity did I realized how locked into my own tribe I really was.  I went to Africa to turn more of “them” into “us”.  Quite successfully I might add. I was warned about the people “out there” meaning in the secular world in secular universities.  Not a day goes by conservative christians say something incredibly offensive toward the LGBT community.  Not that you care if you offend one of “them”.

No longer can I separate myself from humanity.  Not the gays, not the blacks, not the muslims.  Not ISIS, Iran, Iraq, Somalia and all the other groups that hate us.  I understand them, in part.  Enough to know that I can not hate them back.  I feel no need to convert others to  my beliefs, and alternatively, feel no need to those who refuse to condemn them to an eternity of hell.  There are Christians who believe this, or at least say they do.  But in my experience it’s rare.  There are certainly immoral and hateful atheists.  The world has seen more than it’s fair share of evil being generated by that ideology.  But if you go back to the Bible, to perfect love casting out fear, then you must intrinsically acknowledge how much fear there is in the human heart.  Hate is bred from such things.  Tribalism is bred from this.  When you finally have perfect love… when you have no fear, you find yourself in love with the human race.  I’m not perfect.  I may be an arrogant sumbitch, but I’m not so egotistical I’m unaware of my own failings, fears, and frustrations.  However, I see the death of Christianity in the birth of love.  True love that is.  It’s a thing to be wished for.  It’s a slowly realizing hope that we can end the separation and tribalism of the world.  The question that comes to me is which comes first, the death of Christianity, or the birth of love.  Either way I’m convinced the two are mutually exclusive.