Thursday, September 24, 2020

Zoroastrianism has its myths too

Via Pocket, this piece from The Guardian illustrates.

First, yes, it is likely that IF Zoroaster existed, he probably lived closer to 1500 BCE than 600 BCE. However, per that IF? It's more likely yet that ... he's much more mythical than Jesus of Jesus mythicism or Buddha of Buddha mythicism. (Wikipedia's piece claims that some scholars put him back as long ago as 6000 BCE, which would only confirm that he didn't exist.)

Second, it's omitted that Zoroastrian scriptures didn't become written until Sassanid times. Just as we probably should speak of Vedic religion, not Hinduism, in the oral period of its transmission (and probably should speak of Brahmanism or something during the period from the writing of the Indian epics to the Gupta Empire and the triumph of what became Hinduism over Buddhism and Janism), so we need another term for pre-Sassanid Zoroastrianism, like Magism, or Mazdaism. (Before Ezra, scholars speak of Israelitism or Yahwism, not Judaism, so this is not unique to one or two religions. In Christianity, we have the term pre-Nicene Christianity. Chalcedon is a better cutoff, and a separate term would be better. It's a catch-all, and it's already used for a "heresy," but calling the whole earlier belief system "Arianism" would be accurate.)

Third and on to the Parsees of India, the focus of the piece. Did they really promise not to proselytize? Given that the first history of the Parsees was written 600 years after the first move to Gujarat, hard to say, isn't it? (This is similar to other insular religious minorities, such as Jews and Alawites, making similar claims. They usually have a degree of truth, but they're not 100 percent true.)

Fourth, the author claiming that Parsees were intransigent? Actually, they ditched much of their Zoroastrian caste system after moving to India. (Side note: Shows that maybe Zoroastrianism wasn't so enlightened after all, to have a caste system.)

The likely reality is that:
A. Zoroaster never existed.
B. The Gathas probably aren't as old as claimed, given that the Vedic Sanskrit which is the uncle of old Avestan lasted into the first century BCE.
C. One or more Mazdakite priests, parallel to Ezra, codified a mix of writings and oral poetic traditions, and the mythic personage of Zoroaster, in the early Achaemenid Empire. Darius or Xerxes would be likely target periods, and could then be inspiration for Ezra approximately a century later.
D. This religion then underwent a reform during Sassanid times. The reform was driven in two ways: the royal house saw a priesthood too independent and too powerful, parallel to how in Parthian times, often, the king was like a Holy Roman Emperor with unruly nobles; and, by internal cleansing.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Arguing the bible with fundies on social media

I'm not generally a Gnu Atheist type, but I do occasionally play one on Twitter.

And, so I did a couple of weeks ago, when "Son of God" was trending. I quoted my catchphrase riff on Muhammad from this blog and added Psalm 82:6, in response to several people, including here:
Well, that person responded to my response. His second response tweet said I didn't quote anything from the bible, even with the link, but his third did.

His next response after that? Self-embarrassment:
As shown by my reply tweet:
Said fundy came back at me, with the claim that I didn't know the context, and still refusing to admit he knew nothing about Hebrew. When I checked his feed and saw he was a MAGA, too? Block.

Seriously, fundies? Even if you don't believe that the King James Version/Authorized Version is itself inerrant as a translation? If you don't want to make Apologetics 101 rookie mistakes, learn at least a modicum of actual knowledge about the biblical languages.

Besides, yes, contra Mr. Fundy Zionist, I know that it's a Psalm of judgment. It's judgment on one or more 'kings" or other rulers. Per Psalm 2, rulers in the ancient near East were generally known as "sons of god." Isaiah 9 is lifted straight from the Pharaonic coronation ritual.

So, knowing the basics of Hebrew and Greek writing is a minimum. Knowing the true details of common biblical language at the time they were used is second.

Monday, September 07, 2020

I'm against theologically based natural law, but I cite a religion oriented journal

OK, in my second most recent piece here, I talked about Massimo Pigliucci and his 30 years in America.

Well, asterisks are needed, starting with one big new one, per the header.

Massimo has a clunker, in his most recent readings roundup, on natural law. He cites a conservative Presbyterian oriented journal — John Witherspoon himself was more of a Unitarian — in defense of natural law, while admitting in comments he rejects theologically based versions of it. Myself? In parallel with the idea that I believe parts of human psychology are driven by biological evolution, not just cultural, but rejecting the phrase "evolutionary psychology" because of its baggage, I reject "natural law" as the term for legal-philosophical ideas derived from biological and cultural evolution. Wittgenstein would have a field day with this.

He also, in the same comment to me, claims I'm wrong in criticizing the piece's take on Hume. Rather, I was specifically focusing on the idea that Hume "rejected" such things as it claims. Rather, he rejected any proof that such things existed, but is well known — as I know Massimo knows — for telling people how he could live with this, that it was quite simple, and that he went to bed at night without a worry.

Anyway, he can claim to reject theologically based natural law, but ... he sure didn't look hard for a non-metaphyisical, non-theological journal of natural law to talk about first principles. I mean, Media Bias Fact Check has a page on it that says, in short, it sucks. In short, Massimo, on this? You sawed off your own limb.

Per late friend Leo Lincourt, my philosophy of life (with the addition of a variety of nature and aesthetics issues) is to be at the center of that Venn diagram at left.

I sometimes give in to temptation on acting a bit Gnu-ish, I'll confess. But I generally hold to all three of these targets.

And, Massimo?

I don't know if this is your biggest failure since defending NATO bombing the shit out of Libya, in 2011, followed by remaining unapologetic six years later, but it's up there.

And, THAT, in turn, is why he and I disagree on duopoly vs non-duopoly politics. And, linking to the Witherspoon Institute leads me to question where you're at, at times, on the lower left circle.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

WRR turns 100 in a year ... and ??

Dallas', and Texas', oldest radio station, WRR, is one I listened to regularly when I lived in the Metromess in the 2000-oughts, but now that I'm close enough to get it on a lucky day on car radio, I'm more likely to want a CD.

Per D Magazine, as the station gears up for the approaching centennial, it is a "unicorn." I knew that it was one of the few commercial classical stations, or one of the few non-NPR classical stations, period. The old one in St. Louis, the FM side of the dial of the paired stations at least formerly owned by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is now contemporary Christian; a non-commercial non-NPR station of some sort has filled the void there.

More here from NBC-5, which notes it moved to the FM dial in 1948 and became all-classical in 1964. As the second-oldest federally licensed radio station in the country, one that precedes the FCC, ti's one of the few west of the Mississippi to keep a "W" rather than a "K" call sign.

And, I knew it is the almost the only, if not the only, municipally owned radio station, any format, in the US.

But the programming, and even more the announcers, have gone downhill since Scott Cantrell, classical music freelance critic and formerly of the Morning News, decried some issues there, with which I totally agreed, 15 years ago. (I interviewed one of the announcers there at this time. Lovely lady. Pretty good knowledge of the genre. Better than any of today's announcers. Probably still could have been better. I don't know about how that compares to non-commercial NPR stations that run classical, other than the packaged broadcasts from the top 10 or so symphonies in the US, whose stations do have good announcers.) Still plays "blue haired lady" music even more than the DSO, though I did hear Schnittke on there once relatively recently. (Back in the 2000-oughts, when Sundays were listener requests in the afternoon, I phoned in and got one of his "tamer" pieces played.)

Classical is being hollowed out less by syndication and web broadcasting than other genres of FM radio, but it is being hollowed out somewhat. The station has one less announcer and more canned music than before.

I also don't know how much non-classical fine arts broadcasting could be done. I do know that the Kimbell Art Museum has special nights for museum members on occasion for some of its new special exhibits and the DMA might do the same. Why not have an announcer tag along on those tours? And do NPR stations do that in other big cities? Sounds like a missed opportunity.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Meet Massimo Pigliucci

This is from a few weeks ago, but he wrote about it now being 30 years in the US for him.

A few thoughts I pull from that, having long followed him, and been stimulated by discussions philosophical and beyond on various websites and locations of his.

I've always thought of myself as a bit Europeanish, and his take on generalizations in temperament confirm that, in that I too have a sort of (muddled) optimism for the short term, but more worries about the longer term. I told him on Twitter that, per Yenta the Matchmaker's "oy we muddle," that Judaism (in Europe! I don't know about America) reflects similar ideas, or so it seems.

Many fellow Americans halfway confound me in this way, in fact. So does the attitude of "joining" as described first by de Tocqueville, even as Americans at the same time exulted about, and worked to further develop, "rugged individualism."

Back to other thoughts about Pigliucci.

One main point is his "seeking."

Raised Catholic, but apparently not too much more than a "C and E Catholic" (think about the top two religious days), he eventually moved to secular humanism. But, he wanted something "structured," so after moving more into philosophy, became what I'll call a Neo-Stoic. It's "neo" in the sense that surely for Massimo, and I think that for most devotees, it's been denatured of things like the Logos as a literal metaphysical entity.

I will confess that, 30 years ago, within Christianity, I had an eye for Stoicism. Today, things like behavioral psychology have shown me that human nature is far more irrational than Stoicism would have us believe. Quantum mechanics has shown the same about the universe lacking anything close to a quasi-logical structure, too. We've talked about this. I'm not the only one with a different take than him. But the talks have always been friendly.

It's also interesting to find that he was looking at Buddhism, too. I've noted strongly and repeatedly in these pages that Buddhism is, indeed, a religion. To make it not one takes a lot more denaturing than does Stoicism, and it's then arguable that what you have isn't Buddhism anymore. To be honest, Massimo, that one surprised me to the point of being semi-stunned.

Now, something that would call itself (neo) Stoicism could "denature" itself as much as what some people call (wrongly) Buddhism, by tossing out not only an actual Logos, but the idea of an ordered universe in general and a semi-rational humanity in particular. That said, I would no more call that Stoicism, even with a "neo," than I would call what Robert Wright, Stephen Batchelor and BuJews peddle Buddhism. You're really more in the vicinity of a personal psychology adapted from cognitive behavioral therapy or rational emotive therapy. Why not just call it such? (I could accept RET as a psychologically based "structure," but CBT comes off as ... too Stoic-like, especially without an "E"!)

Massimo did note back, via Twitter, that others than Wright (and Batchelor) for that matter, have made denaturing Buddhism a project. True. But, I think he may recall that I've carefully used adjectives, for sayings like "Buddhistic" or "Buddicizing" humanism or whatever. I haven't been fully accurate on parallels elsewhere, but Christian humanists don't claim to be peddling a truly non-religious philosophy of life, either. So, in that sense, I haven't been INaccurate on language either.

Finally, one small side note: A fair amount of people who believe in elements of pseudoscience aren't necessarily religious, or at least not driven primarily by religious considerations. Antivaxxerism comes immediately to mind.

In any case, the amateur semi-philosopher has appreciated the stimulations the professional has provided both inside and outside the realm of philosophy.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

RIP Ed Brayton

I've long since stopped following "movement" skepticism or most "organized" atheism, especially anything that tilts Gnu-ish. I knew Brayton had been in somewhat declining health for some time, indeed, even from when he split off from the Freethought Blogs he co-founded with P.Z. Myers.

And now I see he died the early part of August, three days after his last blog post. Unfortunately, his dying reportedly was not as pain-free as he had hoped.

My take? He'll be missed to a degree, but not as much a degree as many paeans would have you believe.

I wrote about problems at FtB when Ed was still large and in charge. But, he had his good points, and he wasn't fully a Gnu, and he called out Islamophobia in people like Dawkins and Harris, which is why some weren't fans of him at all.

That said, contra some full-on Gnus who disliked him, his battles against things like Islamophobia were battles for social justice.

The big thing I have against Ed, per the link above, is from my main blog, and that's Ed getting into bed with PZ in the first place. And, the loonies he let stay there far too long. And the hypocrisy a year before that. (Per the first link in the graf, he and PZ were both cheap asses to the late Leo Lincourt in not paying his surely reasonable price to make FtB better as a website.)

I also, per this piece, had disagreement with Ed on something related to the Seth Rich conspiracy theory. Can't remember what it was, but I think it was twosiderism, in that he believed not only Trump wanted Putin's help, but Putin gave it. Nope. It was probably related to his thinking being confined to within the duopoly parties, and being a Dem tribalist there, as he showed in discussing American exceptionalism.

Probably what I'll miss most about him is what most of us miss about ourselves later in life: The could have beens. That would mainly be, in Ed's case, a FtB that never had PZ involved in the first place. Can't say you weren't warned, Ed, from this small corner of the blogosphere; as I noted, from the start, you were turning over too many of the keys to PZ. Had that been the case, Greg Laden and Stephanie Zwan might not have been part of FtB, as well, and the problems never would have reached that point. In other words, a secular humanist version of Panda's Thumb or something.

Patheos wound up kind of fulfilling that, but not really. The Patheos "nonreligious" vertical doesn't have some of the broader secular humanism and civil liberties focus Ed did himself, and that he surely originally intended for FtB. Nor does it have a personal "face."

I've said before that being an atheist is no guarantor of either moral or intellectual superiority. Ed was above average on both, but again, nothing was guaranteed.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The NYT and sheltered big media coverage of religion

On my primary blog, I recently discussed a New York Times story about President Donald Trump's continued support among the religious right, especially in rural heartland areas.

Here, I'm going to shift that focus more to the New York Times' coverage of religious issues, to the degree they're exemplified by this.

"Christianity will have power"? Yes, it's a nice phrase, but ... was one line in one speech in Iowa enough to elevate the speech into Donald Trump's version of a Cornerstone Speech vis-a-vis his relationship to the Religious Right? And, if so, why?

The New York Times would have you think so. But, I don't see it making the case, and its "marketing" efforts don't sell me any more than the story itself.

First, two of those marketing Tweets and my responses:
Uhh, no. I don't "need" anyone.
There you are, Mr. NYT National Editor Marc Lacey.

Then this:
Sorry, but no translator needed, Ms. Deputy National Editor Yang.

Here you are:
Just what did Dias leave off the table?

First, why Trump instead of Ted Cruz? That speech was in January 2016, before the Iowa caucus vote. On paper, Dominionist Ted Cruz and his Seven Mountains daddy were the ideal candidates for the Religious Right to back. So, why didn't they? (Pew notes that, in polling, the most devout among the evangelicals DID tilt Cruz, even though, overall, the Religious Right tilted Trump. Obvious deduction? Lots of these people may be sincere in their belief claims but don't go to church that often!)

If you're going to have someone with a graduate religious degree from Princeton work on this story for, I presume, several weeks, and you can't answer that? The story comes off as election-year pandering, in my book. True, you would still want the focus on Trump, but if you can't explain why him, not Cruz, then you can't fully explain "why still him" today, can you?

That said, assuming some of the lower-star ratings of a book that Dias edited are true, maybe that Princeton degree is not worth that much. A decade ago, I came across a friend of a good online friend who was in the graduate program at Harvard Divinity and who insisted that Plato's Euthyphro dilemma didn't apply to Christianity, so this isn't a "sour grapes" issue, it's a real observation. And, no, religious right idiots, claiming that good is good based on god's nature does NOT avoid the dilemma.

Second is Dias claiming that this is all new:
The Trump era has revealed the complete fusion of evangelical Christianity and conservative politics, even as white evangelical Christianity continues to decline as a share of the national population.
In reality, with data research sites like Pew having written about this for three or four years straight now, the "Rise of the Nones" (which is a broader issue than just the decline of conservative evangelical Xianity, and blogged about me three years ago, as well as last year) is yesterday's news. Indeed, the piece of mine three years ago noted that, by this year, per Pew estimates, "nones" would equal Catholics in the American population.

The problem is not just that the NYT is behind the curve on Nones. It's that a lot of people who might fall into "Nones" territory may not know this if they get much of their religious news from the Times, or from outfits following its lead. This ties to how politicians think their constituents are, overall, even more conservative than is true.  

As for the "complete fusion" issue? Forty years ago, the Religious Right backed for president a man who had expanded abortion access while governor of California, who never went to church and who consulted astrologers. (Ronnie turned Nancy on to that, not the other way around.)

Whether Dias personally believes this or not, I don't know. But, this is a common trope from the MSM, and from much of national Democratic leadership, and not just about religion. Trump is indeed an outlier on the vulgarity of expression of his stances. He may be a minor to moderate outlier on the degree of severity of some of his stances. But, no, nearly complete fusion within today's Republican Party on a lot of issues was around long before Trump.

Now, onto my original Twitter thread, with this blogpost being added to the end of it after being finished.

See, that "bully" part is important. Per "The Rise of the Nones" issues, the Religious Right has been losing power for some time. Rather than sidle up to Hillary Clinton and her conservative DC prayer circle warrior background with The Fellowship, though, because she was pro-choice, and ignoring that Trump long had been so, they backed Trump.

This, too, was not really covered.  Nor were related issues. Looking from January 2016 to the fall general election, Dias appeared to ask none of the interviewees if they knew what Clinton's beliefs were, or even cared, which would itself be an issue. (That said, Clinton's lack of focus on Iowa allowed these folks to not even ask themselves what her beliefs and values might be.)

She does note that just 11 percent of people in Sioux Center caucused for him. But, she doesn't discuss why Trump instead of Clinton — or the option of not voting — was the choice in Novemer.

The bullying? Bullying and shaming people into expression of religious belief in small town America, even in blue states (Galloway vs Town of Greece) was and still is a real thing. Remember, most members of the Religious Right hate atheists even more than gays, and may hate non-Christians, especially Mooslims, almost as much.

The desire for bullying is far from new.

All one has to do is go back 1,800 years and read Tertullian's description of Christians in heaven rejoicing over the torments of the damned in hell. Maybe Princeton graduate divinity school grad Dias didn't want to look too much under that hood.

Anyway, again, when a lot of the most urban parts of blue America, or beyond, like Green or Socialist-red America, get a lot of religious news from sources like this, they get a skewed image.

They also get other skewed images. Even I did.

Did you know that Sioux Center isn't THAT small? More than 7,000 people and growing quite nicely since 2000, per City-Data. Did you know that, including the college students who claim residency there, it's still better-off than the Iowa average? Did you know it's less than an hour from Sioux City, Iowa, population 80,000 and metro area 180,000, and a flat hour from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, population 185,000 and metro 265K?

In other words, Sioux Center isn't the Idaho Panhandle or something.