Reason Rally: Reasonable?

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A free exchange of ideas

Gad Saad tweeted today that the Reason Rally has a code of conduct that prohibits “speaking against religion”. This, I thought, seems unreasonable, so I did a quick Google search and found the text of their Code of Conduct. Read it for yourself. To me it smacks of a great deal of the opposition to free speech and social justice we see on campuses and in the social media today. Here is why.

The Reason Rally Coalition is committed to presenting spaces that are fun, friendly, and informative for all participants. This is the first sentence and summation of the conduct expected of participants. Unpacking this are the ideas that everything that occurs in a Reason Rally happens in some ill-defined “safe space”. Where have I heard this before? Oh, yes, places, usually an especially prepared room, in which those who are uncomfortable, challenged or angry with differing opinions can retreat to play with puppies, eat wholesome snacks, listen to soothing music and bitch about the evil opinions still loose in the world. Perhaps the Reason Rally people don’t actually mean this kind of “safe space”. We will see what they say.

The space must be fun. What is fun? Something that is continually enjoyable, happy and puts a smile on that face. But, is reason always fun? Many times it is not, since it may run counter to fun stuff that people take on faith or rumor, and that’s certainly not fun for them. Fun is what you go to Disneyland have.

The space must be friendly. Nothing much wrong with friendly. However, like with fun, friendly may run afoul of differences highlighted by, and defended with reason. It’s not exactly fun to have your religious beliefs, or other favorite ideology run smack into smart people who come armed with reason and look more deeply, more reasonably, into those memetic collections of bad ideas.

Next: This includes creating an atmosphere that is and [sic] harassment-free. On the face of it, this appears to be a reasonable demand. No one likes (well, with the possible exception of people like Trump and his ilk) to be harassed. It is neither fun nor friendly. But, I’m not sure what the Reason Rally folks define as harassment. They attempt to define it by:

Prohibited conduct may include—but is not limited to—harassment related to gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, religion, sexual images in public spaces (not related to convention sessions or materials), deliberate intimidation, stalking, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.

Harassment appears to be defined as harassment. Not helpful. So, if we, for example substitute fun for harassment, we get this:

  1. Prohibited conduct may include—but is not limited to—fun related to gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, religion, sexual images in public spaces (not related to convention sessions or materials), …
  2. I’ve excised the definitions of what reasonably can be defined as harassment: … stalking (legally defined activity) , , sustained disruption of talks or other events (violation of freedom of speech, disturbing the peace and downright doltish behavior),…
  3. Of dubious merit, because of the modifiers deliberate, inappropriate and unwelcome are: deliberate (defined how and by whom?) intimidation (also undefined), …inappropriate (again, what constitutes inappropriate and who gets to decide?) physical contact, and unwelcome (yes, same…) sexual attention.

As we can see, the basic problem is, who gets to define these terms. Who establishes what is deliberate and what is accidental? Is accidentally bumping into someone in a crowded space inappropriate or innocent? Who gets to establish intent? We have cases on college campuses in which consensual sex was later declared to have been forced, or even rape, because one of the participants had a change of mind hours or days after the event. Are people supposed to ignore obvious characteristics of other individuals such as age, sex, race, disability? Why? I may not like it when a twenty-something socially inept trans-Muslim-atheist calls me old, but I am old and can deal with dissonance and hurt feelings.

Take the prohibition against religious harassment. Say you’ve got your Moslem on. You mention that I’m going to hell because I’m not a believer. I say don’t talk to me about your primitive superstitious beliefs. You call harassment. I say you are making me unsafe in this safe space, which is prohibited harassment. We have had a difference of opinion regarding the usefulness and history of religious belief. Should we both be kicked out for voicing opinions?

From harassment, we move on to sex.

Please listen to trans* people’s needs and stories when they are volunteered; but please respect people’s privacy and boundaries and do not ask questions that you wouldn’t ask of anyone else. Do not make assumptions about other people’s gender identity or expression. Please ask which pronouns a person prefers.  Do respect and call people what they ask you to call them.

 First, I’m not sure what trans* means. So, leaning on my friend Google, I find this from transequality.org:

Transgender: A term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. Transgender is a broad term and is good for non-transgender people to use. “Trans” is shorthand for “transgender.” (Note: Transgender is correctly used as an adjective, not a noun, thus “transgender people” is appropriate but “transgenders” is often viewed as disrespectful.)

Gender Identity: An individual’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else. Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others.

 So, unpacking these rather dense and recursive claims, it seems that:
1. One’s gender and gender behaviour is relative to one’s sex, and one’s sex is somehow assigned at birth. Who does this assigning? What about before birth? Is one sexless before birth? How can a baby’s sex be known before birth, as it frequently is, if sex is assigned somehow at birth?
2. Gender identity is a social construct and has no reality in the history and taxonomy of families and species other than hominidae, and it is a small and very late behavioral trait at that. Gender is an invention defined as encompassing ways of describing and perceiving male and female humans that guide societal and cultural roles and behaviours. So, it does make sense as the Code of Conduct says that one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others. This is evidently why the Code requires everyone to ask everyone else what gender they happend to be at the moment. Maybe it should be like an AA meeting. “Hi. My name is Xenon. I’m a neutral gendered being. Please refer to me as AetherChild.”
I guess what I don’t understand is why it is up to me to find out all of this personal information about another person whom I am not intending to establish a friendly and intimate relationship with. How often should one check? Once a day? An hour? With each interaction or verbal exchange? Really. Courteous and sane social interaction does not require that I know or care about who or what you believe you are at any moment. If your actions toward me arise from these factors, I may in fact care and respond, but otherwise, go about your business and stop demaning that I recognize all that you think you are at that moment.
I support your right to define yourself however you like, as long as you do not attempt to prevent me from exercising my freedoms of speech, religion, association and rights as another human being and don’t presume to expect me to conform to your ideas.
I must digress for a moment. This has nothing to do with the Reason Rally Code of Conduct, but I found another definition of gender on transequality.org that is particularly interesting. Holding a degree in cultural anthropology this one illustrates the conflation of history, culture, new-age crystal-gazing goodness vibrations like none other:
Two-Spirit: A contemporary term that refers to the historical and current First Nations people whose individuals spirits were a blend of male and female spirits. This term has been reclaimed by some in Native American LGBT communities in order to honor their heritage and provide an alternative to the Western labels of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
1. A contemporaty term. Obviously. No one who is, or knows anything honest about native people could come up with this stuff.
2. “… the historical and current First Nations people…” First, the historical people whom this seems to assume were the first native people, were not the first. We have no history for humans that crossed the land bridge from Asia into North America. None. Artifacts. Scarce and fragile remnants of camps and butchering sites perhaps, but nothing more than educated inferences. The “historical” first people were far distant relatives of those actual first migrants and in many ways extremely different in behaviors, beliefs and cultures. “Nations” is a western white term. The Cheyenne, also far distant from the “first people” referred to themselves as, and this is a white man’s translation into english, ‘the human beings’. Note that others, not part of their group, were not humans. Think about this.
3. “…people whose individuals spirits were a blend of male and female spirits.” The big error here is in thinking that all “First Nations people”, are and think the same way. Do we include the Inuit, the Paiute, the Mohawk, the Seminole, Comanche, Aztec, Olmec, Inca and subsistence groups living in the disease infested Amazon basin in this group? Evidently the people who wrote this definition do. How do we know what all of these diverse human cultures and societies thought about the human spirit? We know much of that due to ethnographic studies by anthropologists and they are wildy different. If any did think that humans are a blend of male and female spirits they were few and far between.
That’s enough. Willful ignorance and loose connection to rational evidence is evident to all but committed believers. Minds will not change unless open to reason, evidence and rational discussion.
In conclusion, I support the underlying philosophy behind the Reason Rally, and I respect many of the speakers and attendees, but I don’t like the way the organizers structured it so that actual reasonable, factual discussions are prohibited or severely inhibited by their code of conduct.  Instead of conduct, these rules seem more  directed at feelings than facts. As Ben Shapiro often says, “facts don’t care about your feelings”.
Facts don’t need safe spaces in which to hide. Facts attempt to describe reality, and when that description is proven to be in error, facts change, they don’t flee to the puppy room.
That is called reason and science. They actually work.
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The Beginning and End of Christianity

250px-Pilate_Inscription_JPG_1325999623_842967Two years ago I finished three years of research into the history of Christianity, concentrating on its beginnings.  I cast the results of that research in an historical novel about what might actually, historically have happened during the life of a Jewish prophet, Jesus from Nazareth. There is a surprising amount of research on this topic, given that most people just accept the standard Christian writings, gospels, books and religious documents that support the church and its many manifestations. Some of these documents are obviously rather recent fakes like the Book of Mormons. Some are confused and amateurish attempts to discredit the entire idea that Jesus of Nazareth was an entirely mythical and made-up figure who never existed historically. These later myth conspiracies have been almost totally ignored or debunked by legitimate scholars and I do not intend to provide their adherents with any exposure here.

The question remains though: what happened in the first century Judea to the prophet Jesus from a one-donkey village in Galilee that eventually made such an important impact on western civilization? Was it because of the man himself, or what happened in the decades following his death?

If there was an actual person about whom the Gospels, the gnostic writers, the early Jews and Christians were so obsessed, who was he and what actually happened before what we have now became the “official” story, a story that became increasingly removed from the realities of the time and the accuracy of historical events? How does one find these things out?

The big problem is that there is no actual evidence of Jesus’ life, no accounts by anyone there who witnessed anything. Nothing from friends or enemies. In fact, there is no unbiased reference to Jesus or his followers until almost a hundred years after his death. Why? If he was so important, why didn’t anyone other than those who had a vested interest in various stories about him write anything?

Nothing about his life, journeys, and actions has been preserved or recovered as evidence. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 there was much anticipation over what they would reveal about Jesus, his followers and early Christianity. They contained nothing about any of those topic. No a word.

Confusion and disagreement engenders controversy even after almost two thousand years. There disputes continue about where the “tomb” and Golgotha, the “place of the skulls” are located. From our trip to Israel in 2009 I recall that the Church of the Holy Sepulcure in Jerusalem is located where it is because Constantine’s mother, visiting Jerusalem in the fourth century CE was told by locals this was the spot on which the crucifixion had taken place. An event few remembered or witnessed at the time, and one that happened at least three hundred years before Constantine’s mom arrived. We depend upon stories, legends and hearsay passed down through generations of mostly illiterate people.

Interestingly, we do now have one hard piece of evidence that connects to the New Testament stories. This is the recently discovered “Pilate Stone”. This is an block of limestone, 82 cm by 65 cm, found in 1961 at Caesarea Maritima, the seat of the Roman prefects in Jesus’ time. The stone is inscribed with “To the Divine Augusti Tiberium…Pontius Pilate…prefect of Judea…has dedicated…

Given where it was found, its age and mentions of both Tiberius and Pilate there is little doubt that Pilate was an actual historical character when and where he as been thought to be. But that is it.

My story, The Q Fragments, springs from this lack of physical and authentic documentary evidence of the life and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth. The idea is, what if another piece, or pieces of actual material evidence was discovered, much like the Dead Sea Scrolls or the documents at Nag Hammadi in Egypt were to be discovered. And, what if we  also had some way to know what actually transpired in most of Jesus’ life. Given actual evidence, what would it say?

Using current biblical, historical, anthropological and critical textual studies, I have answered that question with a well-supported theory cast in a novel with characters, dialog, plot, and mystery based on what evidence we have available to us today.

I have begun uploading the novel as a series of podcasts on my site, and soon to be on iTunes for those who enjoy listening as well as reading.

Please take a look: http://theqfragments.com for the podcasts, more information on this fascinating topic and means to contribute to the work or buy the book on Amazon.

 

 

The Long Goodbye

free speech

In the 1940s we were embroiled in a world war fighting against cultures and nations that were fueled by ideologies that were anything but open, humanitarian or free. Japan was in the throes of a theologically based monarchy supported by an authoritarian military class. Germany had been consumed by Nazi ideology drunk on world superiority and religious hatred of Jews. The Soviets were little better but having been attacked by one of our enemies, became as a result of that, one of our allies against the Japanese, Nazis and Italian Facists. After millions of casualties which destroyed cultures, countries and philosophies and produced mountains of bodies, the war ended and a new world emerged.

We all know the general story of what followed: the cold war, revolutions and coups in distant and mysterious places, the never ending drive by Islamic hate groups to continue the Nazi work of killing all Jews, decline of certain former world powers, the ascendance of others, the self destruction of communism in most parts of the world. On the positive side, we saw the steady advance of science, medicine, literacy and humanitarian movements, counterbalanced of course by the entrenched forces of conservatism, fundamentalism and ignorance. There has been much good and much evil since that world war ended, but until recently, the overall trend had still been positive. But now, it seems, all that human progress may have been an aberration, a momentary high in our civilization, and we are seeing many movements adopting the oppressive and ignorant values of former ages. Are we now saying a long goodbye to tolerance, intelligence, freedoms and appreciations of real differences, and instead breaking into absolutist, self-absorbed and intolerant social tribes?

Religion

Perhaps the most divisive and harmful of the forces that continues to captivate the minds of most of the world’s human population is religion. There is little doubt that millions upon millions of otherwise sane people on the planet feverently want everyone to share their own particular brand of medieval theology or be punished, perhaps killed, if they do not. And, to bring their point home, many of those millions are now engaging in outright warfare against and the torture and execution of those who oppose their beliefs. Worse, killing non-believers is believed to be sanctioned by God to the extent that those who die in God’s service will be amply rewarded in the afterlife, a sure fire ticket to heaven.

As far as I can tell, all religions that posit a divine creator who concerns him or her self with the daily affairs of humans, especially their sexual practices and possible thought crimes, is intolerant of all others who refuse to believe in their stories or follow their prescriptions. Most are openly hostile to anyone who refuses and refutes all religions. Atheism is a curse. This is not a problem in itself except they can’t leave others alone and insist on trying to impose their particular religious requirements on everyone else thorough local and national politics, among other means. Some are worse than others as the current global struggle with armed Islamists will attest.

Science

It is almost beyond belief that there exist millions of people, religious and otherwise, who not only do not understand basic science, but who are skeptical of it, suspicious and mistrustful of the role science has played enabling us to live longer and healthier lives, cure disease, provide machines and technologies to enable us to lead better and less stressful lives, travel almost anywhere on the planet, grow enough food to feed ourselves and provide the tools to more deeply understand our world and the universe we inhabit. We have actual medicine and rational, science-based health care, but sadly we also have “alternative” medicine. Alternative to what? If it works to prevent or heal illness and disease, it is called medicine. If it doesn’t, or is too complicated for the simple minded to comprehend, it is called “alternative”. Non-medicine (that’s the “alternative”) must be more of a religion, an article of faith, for its believers because even if a so-called alternative medical practice cannot be demonstrated to actually work, that doesn’t seem to matter. Certain people will continue to believe it works because they want to think it works. Acupuncture, for example, has never been realistically proven to do what its practitioners claim, but still many people ‘believe’ in it. Actual, science-based, peer reviewed studies show no actual medical benefits from acupuncture beyond a placebo effect. Believing doesn’t make it true.

Thousands of people, perhaps more, I don’t know, believe that contrails left in the air from airplane engines when the hot exhausts cause water vapor to condense into trailing clouds believe these contrails are actually chemically loaded clouds dumped at the dictates of some shadowy Illuminati group to either control the weather or our minds. Perhaps both. These people don’t (or won’t) understand basic high school science. Their minds are so open their brains have fallen out.

YouTube, for example, is full of chemtrail crap along with even weirder stuff like the flat-earth people. Yes, there are people so ignorant or stupid or willfully obstinate that they  will try to convince you that the earth is actually flat and anyone who says otherwise is part of some huge and evil conspiracy. One mindless splinter group thinks (and I use that term loosely) that this is a result of a conspiracy to hide the existence of God. Which god they mean isn’t too clear as they haven’t given that aspect much thought either. One rut at at time for them.

Freedoms

The gods help you if you should offer any real or perceived disrespect or discomfort to certain individuals or self-defined groups. Some of these groups are composed of privileged unemployed college students pursuing incomprehensible and realistically useless courses of study in our more expensive and prestigious schools. They are encouraged and supported by the faculty and administration in these universities. Want to highlight racism or poverty or religion with some satire? Better wear your earplugs and body armor because that isn’t “safe” and you will be disrespecting something that someone doesn’t want to be made fun of.

Have a different opinion? Be prepared to be insulted, vilified and shouted down, hounded through the halls of Twitter and Facebook, vilified with lies, distortions and profanity on YouTube. If you are unlucky enough to be employed in an institution of higher learning, you will probably end up being fired by weak and myopic administrators. Don’t believe this? Spend a little time on one of the social media outlets, especially Twitter and YouTube. See for yourself.

Look up the videos and Twitter streams about the disgraceful and probably criminal opposition to Ben Shapiro’s appearance at the University of California — on —. The university which should be a bedrock protector of freedom of speech and freedom of thought showed the world that it is exactly the opposite. This University is overwhelmingly liberal both in its student body politics and administration. Mr. Shapiro is a well known conservative. OK. Liberals. Conservatives. Different philosophies. Be interesting to compare and discuss these opposing views. No. Not going to happen, especially at a University for Christ’s sake. Mr. Shapiro might make someone uncomfortable, threaten their safe zone, become the object of aggressive opinion, maybe even have their ideas and cherished ideologies “attacked”. So, solution? Blockade the lecture hall. Assault anyone who might want to attend. Yell. Scream. Cry. Threaten. When that didn’t stop Mr. Shapiro from coming to talk, someone pulled the fire alarm in an unsuccessful attempt to stop him from speaking and empty the hall where he and his audience had gathered anyway. Didn’t work.

I do not agree with all of Mr. Shaprio’s politics or conclusions, but I listen to them first so that I can understand what they are. Then I decide. This is more than the regressive leftists can stand to do. They are offended. Perhaps I may be offended too. But I can handle that and discuss it, then perhaps still be offended. Even so I can still defend his right to express thhis opinions and his right to say them. As someone said recently, “Progressives self flagellate at the altar of non-offense.”  Substitute “self signaling” for “self flagellate” and I agree. One of the pathetic aspects of people shouting for their rights to free speech to drown out someone else’s right is that they are mostly signaling to their like-minded brethren (yes, I’m also including women in that category for purposes of non-turgid discourse) that they are members of that particular in-group. Look at me, I hate racists (facists, gays, white men, conservatives, etc.) too. I included gays because they really hate Milo Yiannopoulos who is openly gay, smart, funny and a conservative. The regressives may claim consistency, but they fail at this too.

As Mr. Shapiro noted, the left agenda appears to be stopping free speech. At Amherst, for example, students demanded that anyone who put up posters advertising “free speech” be prosecuted. I’m not sure how these people managed to qualify for a spot in higher education. At Mizzou the campus police wants a call from anyone whose “feelings are hurt.” Maybe this is part of a suicide prevention process. Or just stupid policy on the university’s part. Either way…

You may be a conservative or a liberal or an independent thinker and you may or may not like Mr. Shapiro’s opinions or politics, but you don’t have the right to stop him from saying them or anyone else from hearing them. That’s not being liberal, that’s being facist regressive babies. Go home. Come back when you are ready for an adult education.

It’s like working on Maggie’s Farm.

Not all groups who engage in this kind of social censorship are privileged youth attending expensive universities. Take Ferguson, for example.

The collection of memes tagging what happened at Ferguson as unfair, racist, as normal police brutality tactics still prevails on social media and in the minds of many who heard those memes but did not hear about, nor care to believe, the actual facts as they eventually emerged from that incident. (This is another attribute of the social justice police and social radicals: facts don’t matter. What they believe is all that counts.) The Ferguson facts are out there for those who would like to actually know. I won’t detail them here except to say that physical evidence and the testimonies from people who were actually there at the time show that the police acted within their rights and responsibilities and that the victim was not the gentle giant his supporters claimed. As they say, look it up. Have there been incidents of unacceptable police violence? Yes. Does racism still exist? Of course. But each incident must be evaluated on its actual merits and evidence otherwise we have the situation we are in today. Identity politics.

Freedom of thought? Forget it. Freedom of expression? Not a chance. Freedom of the press? Who needs it? Freedom of speech? Call the cops.

Literacy and knowledge

It is a fool  who believes that complex problems have simple solutions. They do not. Complex problems are difficult to resolve because they are complex. How to put men on the moon? Simple, send them in a rocket ship with enough fuel to get them back again. How to resolve the problems inherent in the solution? Very difficult. And complex. How do we free ourselves from dependence on petroleum? Simple: switch to another form of energy like solar or wind. How to resolve the problems inherent in that answer? Difficult, complex, costly in money and in global societal impact.

In order to understand and address complex issues one must be able to know what relevant information already exists, which always involves reading, and reading to a level greater than that of following one’s finger along the string of words on the page, reading with comprehension and understanding. Reading many different sources both pro and con. Being able to acquire, store and understand information stored in written form is an essential element of the intelligent human brain. It goes deeper of course. Remember the complex problem problem. One has to be able to tell knowledge and fact from bullshit. Education and critical thinking are essential tools but it appears that those two components are in danger today. Education is not friendly to information and opinion that trespasses those held to be good by many of our universities. Even worse, those contrary ideas are not attacked in an intellectually fair arena by using freedom of speech and press, but are blocked, vilified and hounded out of contention by their opponents.

Long ago someone noted that information is any difference that makes a difference. A thing that rises above the random noise of existence and gets noticed. Some of these things are good, and some are not. Good is a relative and social construct that changes through time and is mutated and nurtured, sometimes destroyed, by the cultures it inhabits. Are there any human universal goods? This is probably one of the foundational questions of philosophy and remains elusive and relational to this day. With the dominance of the internet, we are now awash in information. Much of this is information that does not rest on any objective standards or evidence but ebbs and flows with the prevailing cultural and political tides, and those tides now are enormous and come at increasingly frequent intervals. Trusting to the social media or web-based opinion storms to provide reasonable and factual information is a fool’s errand. Real information, objective fact and evidence is available there, but one has to be armed with reasonable criticism and skepticism and the time and energy to dig and research in order to find the truth, or the most reasonable positions. Who does this? Certainly not the Twitter warriors or social thought police that have taken control of many of these media.

There are a few dedicated souls who continue to stand for openness, reason and evidence based decision making and truly suffer the slings and arrows of the internet thought police and social and religious thugs who assail their enemies with distortions and outright lies. I salute them will continue to support them and their right to freedoms of speech, thought and press.

A Liberal Says Goodbye

I’ve been a liberal since I discovered the City Lights Books store and the beatniks whose works they published in the 1950s. I am a Viet Nam veteran who thinks now, and thought at the time, that the war was wrong, that we were on the wrong side, but, having been committed we should have fought it better with full support, gotten it done and then let the politicians sort it out. I supported the civil rights movement in the 60s and later on,  and think that everyone should have equal opportunities, free education, health care and that the government should take a leading role in making sure that the free market forces did not get the monopolistic upper hand and enforce profit over human values and health. I value free speech, freedom of the press, the real spirit and intent of all the Constitutional amendments including the second one and inherently don’t trust government to have the best interests of the citizens at heart, that it requires close supervision and transparency by the people.

Now, things have changed. Too many liberals have adopted a self-righteousness that I find to be unappealing and counter to actual liberal values. Many have shifted far to the left and become regressively imperialistic and dogmatic and bought into identity politics to an extreme degree. This is wrong and unhealthy. When differences of opinion and healthy debate, even necessary political compromises are decried, insulted and vilified, the game has changed. It’s become “us” or “them” and “them” are likened to monstrous criminals against whom unprincipled, unethical and even illegal acts are condoned. This is wrong whether one is a liberal or conservative.

Being able to listen to, engage and evaluate differences in ideas and information, politics and social philosophies is the mark of a balanced individual, whether conservative or liberal.

Until something changes and sanity reappears, I am done. I will seek out, listen to and engage anyone’s ideas then evaluate those ideas for myself based on reason and evidence. In today’s political and educational environments, that doesn’t make me a liberal or a conservative. I’m declaring myself an independent.

It has been a long time since the 1950 and it has taken a long time to say goodbye to my self identity as a liberal, but the time has come.

Goodbye.

Flags, Fears, Fanatics, Fools and Freedoms

It has been a while since I posted. There are many reasons for it, including ending my successful fight against cancer. So far, so good it appears. During that time I, and undoubtedly the rest of you, have been continually bombarded with news, issues, controversy, anger, pride, outrage and just plain stupid shit. Yes, it’s gotten that bad.

It appears to me that Toffler was more right than we ever believed, future shock is not only here, but it just passed by at the speed of comprehension and the waves it creates are fracturing the world into ever-expanding virtual communities that all have something to say and are able to say it right now. In fact, if you don’t get on your favorite social media engine and say it quickly, or tag onto what others in your speeding digital community are saying, the future will be the past and you’ll lose your spot on the bus.

Remember the bus? You are either on the bus or not on the bus. Now, however, there are thousands upon thousands of busses all traveling the digital highway, loudspeakers blaring, signs waving and rapidly dividing into more busses like a fertilized cell on steroids. You can get a ticket on the bus for the price of a Twitter or Facebook account, or with one of the other many social media (SOCMED) apps vying for your attention in the App store. Thought, consideration, reflection, rationality are not required, just an account, password and some kind of digital gizmo that will provide you with an onramp to the superhighway of dire clownage and knee-jerk bellowing train wrecks you will be certain to enjoy. There are plenty for everyone.

You can expect to find street fights like battle lines drawn up over one of the Confederate States of America’s Civil War battle flags by people who are ignorant of the reasons for that conflict; the civics-challenged governor of Oklahoma breaking the law by keeping the advertisement for one of the many the Ten Commandments posted on government property; like-minded science deniers who avoid understanding climate change or the fact that not providing real medical care to children is a crime; legislators and elected officials who are getting themselves prepared for Jesus’ next arrival when they will be whisked off to heaven and the rest of us will be in deep, deep trouble; fearful and ignorant people who believe all guns are evil and shoot people all by themselves; sappy new-agers who firmly believe that American Indians were all “native americans” who shared a basic culture and all believed in the “great spirit”; that acupuncture actually works and Sharia Law is good for you.

Everybody has a soap box. Don’t know what that means? Google it.

I can’t keep up. It’s like watching an explosion happen in ultra-slow motion. Something is happening, but we don’t know what it is. (You can look that one up too. Hint: Dylan) So, I’m going to focus on one topic today for the rest of this post.

When I got the idea to write The Q Fragments, it came primarily from my curiosity about what other information might be discovered in the world that would lead to actual evidence-based understanding of the life and times of the apocalyptic Jewish troublemaker from Nazareth who was co-opted by his followers into the popular modern idea of Jesus Christ.

Except for a certain number of followers of this blog, everyone knows that I am not a theist. It’s not that I’m an atheist, although I guess that’s a good definition, but it’s more that I put gods, divine beings, the supernatural and all who sail in them into the same category as the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, Odin, mermaids and the aliens to love to make crop circles. Please, if you want to congratulate me on finding Jesus, read my damn book first.

I felt that there was a very good probability that an actual Jew probably named Yeshua from Nazareth, a one-donkey town in the Galilee, did exist, was a local prophet, part of the apocalyptic tradition at the time, who collected a few followers, made enemies of the local Jewish temple authorities and eventually took his anti-establishment harangues to Jerusalem during Passover. Jerusalem, especially during Passover, was a tinderbox of bad vibes over the Roman occupation as well as a dangerous place for those who were outspokenly opposed to the requirements of Temple worship.

Jesus got into trouble with the authorities. We don’t know why. Like most people who crossed the Romans, he was promptly nailed up and left to die. Nobody really cared except for the few who were his friends and most of them ran away and hid. As Crossan said, those who knew where his body was taken didn’t care, and those who did care, didn’t know.

The story obviously didn’t end there. Anyone critically (objectively as possible) reading the later official accounts of Jesus, the “blessed” and official versions currently found in the Christian New Testament, will readily apprehend that the story comes quickly apart after the crucifixion. There are differences, some huge ones, prior to that, but really nothing like what is supposed to have happened afterwards. The stories are all different. They are not historical accountings of course, but one would think that at least the basic events would be similar when the writers try to explain what happened to prove that Jesus wasn’t actually dead. Or, maybe he was dead, as far as mortals are concerned, but then came back to life, or at least re-inhabited his body, and did contradictory things to prove to a few people (his followers, mostly) that he was really still alive.

All of the Gospels are made-up tales and of course don’t stand up to any kind of rational analysis or explanation. They don’t have to. The underpinning support depends on the belief that one of the supernatural beings, the Jewish god in this instance, can do anything, being all-powerful and all-knowing, so whatever outlandish, irrational and unprovable assertion is to be accepted on face value, without doubt, because if you doubt, you know what’s going to happen to you, right?

However, if one stops the tale with Jesus’ death at the hands of the Roman authorities, it is plausible that the actual events of his life served as the underpinning of the fantastic tales written decades later by people with no firsthand knowledge of him or his deeds. I attempt to show what some of those fantastical stories might have derived from – simple and ordinary events that were later twisted to serve religious agendas.

I don’t say too much about what might happen were something like the Q fragments discovered along with incontrovertable evidence that the Jew Jesus from Nazareth was a mortal, like the rest of us, and some objective accounting of his life and deeds were discovered. I think Walker’s final words serve well enough after Orem comments, “This is going to create a lot of trouble.”

“Yes,” Walker said sitting back in his chair. “Yes, it will.”

Body of Evidence

So, last year I published a book that I had been writing and researching for three years. It’s a good story. It’s got good characters, good dialog, action (guns and swords), mystery, spans two millennia, delves into the historical origins and subsequent beliefs that underpin Christianity and offers a sensible, although not orthodox alternative to how Christianity could have derived from a fairly ordinary sequence of events involving real people. Not divine intervention. Not holy miracles. Not superstitious tales of supernatural events. Just normal, human stories that have been warped beyond recognition after two thousand years of lies and wishful thinking.

I didn’t write it to prove or disprove anything but to show that as time goes on and knowledge and evidence accumulate, that the facts will show the Jesus story to be really a human story, not a religious one. To do this, I leaned on precedent: the continuing discovery of evidence and information that comes to us, all too infrequently, from the ancient world. Archeology. Ancient documents discovered in a kindling pile in an out of the way monastery. Ancient scrolls hidden in the Israeli desert. All of these things happened, and more will happen in the future that will light a little more of the darkness that enshrouds our past histories.

It was quite simple, really. What would happen if more documented information originating from Jesus’ time were discovered. The Dead Sea Scrolls were such documents, but had nothing whatsoever to say about Jesus or Christians. Or about Jews who were followers of Jesus. But, what if another scroll were to be found that was actually written by someone who was present at the time, who knew Jesus and some of his followers, and was present at the end of his life? What if this person had no vested interest in telling the story, beyond wanting to record what actually happened? Who would have been best placed to do this? A Roman. One of Judea’s occupiers in the first century, and that was the birth of my character, Lucius Quintus.

What would give Lucius’ story the authenticity it would need to be recognized as a true document, a factual recounting, from his perspective, of what happened to Jesus from Nazareth, and how, after he was executed by the Romans, did his body come to be hidden for two thousand years in a cave near the ruins of Khirbet Qumran? You will, of course, need to read The Q Fragments to find out, and I hope you will find it a rousing and entertaining tale if you do.

Old as this tale is, the repercussions of it are increasingly felt today. Christianity was loosed upon the earth, sprung from it’s father, Judiasm. Later, Christianity’s evil twin, Islam, was created as God’s last word on the subject. These three competing versions of reality continue to haunt us today. All claim to spring from essentially the same source, an all-seeing, all powerful, all male being in the sky who rules all the earth with an iron-age hand. Reason, science and skepticism are his enemies and his weapon is mind control. Control over those who have been conscripted into his army young, or cannot, or do not, think for themselves.

They are all three different and at war with one another over which is real. And, they are also at war with anyone who do not accept them. For Jews and Christians, this war has lately been fought with emotion, argument, and the governing bodies of humanity. This has not always been so, as their bloody history will attest. But with Isalm, things have continued to be much more personal. While it is true that the believers of Islam follow the dictates of the Koran, and there is some difference about what all of those dictates may mean, there have always been the core believers who are convinced that they have the perfect word of God and that those who do not accept that word deserve to die. They go further. Those who, in their opinion, disabuse or disrespect any part of their belief, deserve to die, and many of the Prophet’s followers are quite happy to help one along to that end.

When these people were few, and had little access to communications, money, travel and modern weapons, the world had not much to fear. Suicide bombers, assassins, riots over newspaper stories, women shot for supporting women’s education – localized events, mainly, that could be deplored, but largely ignored by the rest of the world. But that’s changed. Introduce the internet, automatic weapons, tanks, bombs, rockets and, get ready for it, the ever increasing likelihood of access to and possession of nuclear weapons, and events just got a lot closer to home.

If you think this is hyperbole, pay a visit to the World Trade Center Memorial and read the names of the innocents on the wall. Then think about the fact that all of the hijackers were educated men, some with PhDs. They were not the downtrodden, economically and politically repressed. They were religious fanatics. It was Isalm that flew those planes into the buildings. Nothing more.

So, I wrote this book to say that the claims of religion, Christianity in particular, don’t necessarily have anything to do with supernatural or religious events, that there is most likely a relatively ordinary explanation for Jesus and his life, and his death, and my tale is just one of those possibilities. But, I’ve found that it doesn’t make much difference to some people. They go on believing what pleases them, regardless of evidence. Or reason. Mostly, this is all right if they keep their ideas to themselves, but when they begin to push them and force them on others, it’s not all right and should not be given special status to do so.

For some, they see it as their holy mission to force their beliefs on everyone else.

Or else.

Pesky Facts

When I was fairly young, I remember going to my mother with the news that I had (somehow) figured out that Santa was not real, but was a fiction made up by parents to deceive their children. Why this was, I was not sure, nor am I today. Thas was so long ago that I can’t remember what facts led me to blurt this out to my mother, but facts there were for sure.

Stories, legends and entire histories are sometimes built on imaginings, fiction, self interest, desire and desperation, to name but a few. These may survive for generations, growing and morphing into things unrecognizable from their beginnings. As they grow and are established through time, they become ever more difficult to change and highly resistant to actual facts and evidence, until some undeniable, pesky fact comes along to demolish the entire edifice.

Origin of Species, Australopithecus africanus, Copernicus placing the sun at the center of the solar system, Einstein demolishing the idea of objective time and simultaneity, the Earth isn’t flat after all, these and more were established by objective evidence that can be ignored but not refuted. That’s the good thing about evidence, it is there until refuted by other, better evidence and it’s better than wishful thinking.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were unearthed in the late 1940s and, once they collected and finally translated (a saga in itself consuming almost twenty five years of academic bickering and back-biting), the world was treated to, well,… not much. Christians especially were very interested in what the scrolls would reveal about the origins of their faith or at least what happened in the earliest days to establish their religion. But, there was nothing. It was as if the Christians didn’t exist, which of course they didn’t really. There was evidently a tiny group of dissident Jews centered in Jerusalem and scattered in small villages and farms in Galilee who knew of that particular prophet and followed some of his teachings. His brother and a few of his friends and followers continued to follow, and to quickly change, some of his teachings, forming a community (now referred to by modern Christians as a “church”) in Jerusalem. There were bickerings and interlopers, the main one being a Jew, Saul, who persecuted Jesus’ followers and evidently suffered a significant mental and emotional breakdown, then turning to the dead Jesus as the most significant of the people Saul had persecuted, flipping to the opposite track, changing his name to Paul, and embracing Jesus as his master. Not only that, but declaring that Jesus was actually the Jewish god’s son and had a special message and meaning for everyone. And, you had better listen, or else.

No wonder Jesus’ brother and close friends thought Paul/Saul was crazy. Jesus never talked about himself like Paul now talked about him. They should know. They were there, not Paul, who never met Jesus. Paul’s only authority came from the visions in his head that told him what to say. Paul was, more than likely, mentally deranged, but in a special way.

We had a neighbor whom I’ll call Frank, who had suffered a severe and traumatic brain injury. He is unable to recall what happened, only that he was in his home one night with some other people and came to a few days later in a hospital. Evidently, someone had bashed in the back of his head, inflicting severe brain damage. Through treatment and therapy he became able to function generally, but he has clear, bright, and to him, real experiences of things that aren’t real. Like, Jesus appearing frequently, sitting on the handlebars of his motorcycle, holding conversations with him. Really. I’ve talked with Frank about this and he is totally serious, to the point of tears when he recalls how much Jesus loves him and talks to him, sitting on the handlebars of his bike. Paul didn’t ride a Harley, but I’m of the opinion that something much like Frank’s injury happened to him on the road to Damascus. Robbers? Bandits? Falling off his mule, hitting his head and thereby conjuring visions? We will never know, but most reasons we can put forth are better than Paul’s.

So, I thought a few years back, what would happen if evidence was to come to light, like the Dead Sea Scrolls did, that explained what actually happened in Judea those two thousand years ago before Paul, and James, and the early Jews and Christians put their spin on things? What would it say and how could that information have survived two millenia to come intact to us today. If the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other ancient documents, could survive, then it is quite possible that more scrolls survived and one might be discovered that was written by a person who was there, who saw the significant events in Jesus’ life, and wrote them down in a relatively unbiased way. That meant that my supposed author had to have a non-Jewish, non-Christian, non-religious attitude. The best type of person for that who lived in Judea at that time, I thought, would be Roman, hence one of my main characters, and author of the scroll, Lucius Quintus.

So, the main part of the story, Part 2, is my dramatic retelling of Lucius’ part in the last days of Jesus of Nazareth, and of how the scroll Lucius wrote and Jesus’ all too human body were hidden in the desert near Qumran until discovered in the twenty-first century.

Untold, as yet, is what effect such a discovery might have on the world’s religions, especially in light of the growing religious wars that inflcit our civilization today.