False Idols

In July I wrote about faith in secular societies.:

I mentioned climate change because this seems to be the aspect of modern politics in supposedly secular countries which most closely resembles a religion. Once again, we have the sacred texts, the high priests, the apostates, punishment of unbelievers, calls for sacrifices, and indoctrination all wrapped up in a great moral crusade stretching beyond our lifetimes that secures the blind faith of the followers. It makes me laugh when I hear atheists refer to “Science!” when talking about climate change: these people are no more able to challenge the pronouncements of the scientists, whose words have been filtered through the media and politicians, than a medieval peasant was able to challenge the high priests’ interpretations of sacred texts. They are as much wedded to faith as their devout ancestors, but they don’t realise it.

Below is a tweet from fake Indian Elizabeth Warren:

Elizabeth Warren is no more able to verify a climate scientist is accurately interpreting data than an illiterate farmer could tell if a bishop was faithfully reading the words of the bible. As for the message, a climate scientist is equally likely to spout self-serving guff as any high priest that’s walked this Earth, safe in the knowledge the average worshiper has no way of challenging them and in any case wouldn’t dare.

At least yer average medieval peasant had some useful survival skills at his disposal. What’s Warren got that’s useful, other than high cheekbones and more neck than a giraffe?

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Natural Limits

To kick this post off, here’s a photo of the world’s largest dump truck, the BelAz 75710 made in Belarus.

I once read that a rubber tyre with a diameter larger than about 18 feet (5.4m) quickly becomes impractical. Similarly, even though an Airbus A380 is considerably larger than the Wright brothers’ flyer, nobody has built an aeroplane a mile long capable of carrying several thousand passengers. We’re probably approaching the limit on ship size, and although skyscrapers are getting ever-taller they’ll top-out eventually. My point is that there is a limit to things, and in these examples they are governed by the laws of physics and the physical properties of materials, air, and water.

Some things don’t scale, and even when they do, it’s not necessarily in a linear manner. I first went to Singapore when I was 23 and couldn’t believe how well-run the place was. My first thought was that everywhere should be run as well as Singapore, using the same methods. Now I’m a bit older I realise that running a city state of 5.6m people condensed into an island of 278 square miles isn’t the same as running a country of 70m people spread across 93,600 square miles. As societies grow from families to tribes to towns to cities to nation states, different methods of maintaining cohesion and control are needed at each step. In short, human societies don’t scale.

In my previous post I wrote about the behaviour of Pope Francis. Now if the Pope can’t be bothered defending the Catholic church and prefers to pander to people who will, once they have the numbers, kill his followers and burn his palace to the ground, it’s a sign that things have gone badly wrong somewhere. I cite this because it exemplifies what is going on in the western world today: every single major institution I can think of seems to be in the final throes of self-destruction, abject surrender to its enemies, or suicide. Many of these institutions have for centuries formed the foundation of western societies and have contributed substantially to their success, yet they are being destroyed by the very people who have been charged with their guardianship.

I’ve spent a while thinking about this and I reckon it has something to do with what I described earlier. Just as mechanical systems run into physical limitations beyond which they don’t work, there is probably a point beyond which human societies simply fail to hold themselves together and self-destruct. Human’s are odd creatures, and thrive when faced with hardship. The capacity of humans to overcome the most appalling conditions and adapt in order to survive is incredible, matched only by our ability to constantly seek to improve our lives. There is an optimum level of stress for humans: too much and we can’t function beyond the basics to stay alive, but too little and we become equally useless.

Insofar as western, Christian societies have gone most societal and technological advances appear to have come about as a result of people wanting to ensure Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are not only met, but permanently assured – particularly those at the bottom of the pyramid. These societies have become so wealthy that Maslow’s needs are now met by default for tens of millions of people. Furthermore, this has been going on so long that anyone born in western society who ever worried about these things is well over seventy. Anyone younger than that, generally speaking, has had the easiest ride in the entire history of mankind.

It is probably no coincidence that it’s these younger people who now seem so determined to destroy the foundations of the society they’ve been raised in. I found when I lived in under-developed countries that people there are completely unconcerned about the minutiae of politics; they are only interested in the important matters that directly affect them and their families. As an example, the only people in the entire world interested in transgender rights are white, western liberals. For everyone else, it is simply a non-issue. Russians were mainly interested in their salaries, their mothers’ pensions, and the price of a decent car. Nigerians were chiefly concerned about their salaries, job security, and the levels of violence and corruption in their country. People who come from places where the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are not assured tend to focus on important issues and ignore the rest.

So I have a theory. Just as a you can’t use a rubber tyre beyond 18 feet in diameter due to natural limitations, there is a limit to which human societies can grow in terms of wealth and comfort. Beyond a certain point, the bonds which hold the society together, which have been painstakingly constructed over centuries, get cut because people no longer realise what they’re for and the whole thing collapses. It might be that this societal limit is relative – either in terms of other societies around it, or perhaps the rate of change from earlier generations – but I am reasonably sure that such a limit nonetheless exists.

One thing I notice in the language of progressives is a hubristic certainty that their version of society, once shaped, will last forever because there is nothing left to discuss, as if their vision is inevitable. Personally, I don’t think we’ll see a whole lot of advancement from this point on; I don’t think we’re going to be looking at a future of interstellar travel and permanent luxury, but a world where everyone now needs to remember how much hard work, cooperation, and violence is required to get the bottom of that pyramid of needs met. Perhaps in time humankind will recover from the setback and rebuild, just as Europeans eventually managed to meet and then surpass the levels of sophistication the Romans achieved, but it may take centuries if not longer.

I might be wrong, but there is one thing I am absolutely sure of. Historians will look back on this era and prevailing opinions regarding matters such as immigration, religion, political violence, war, economics, taxation, redistribution, procreation, welfare, race, law and order, and politics and marvel at how we blindly assumed western civilisation would survive. I’d also make a tidy bet they too will talk about how the collapse was inevitable once we’d reached a certain level of wealth and comfort. I concede they might not use a dump truck to illustrate the point, though.

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Is the Pope Catholic?

I found this article illuminating:

Pope Francis has urged Roman Catholics not to ignore the plight of millions of migrants “driven from their land”, during Christmas Eve Mass.

The pontiff compared them to Mary and Joseph, recounting the Biblical story of how they travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem but found no place to stay.

He has made defence of migrants around the world a major theme of his papacy.

If the Pope is shoehorning the story of Mary and Joseph – a couple who found themselves short of a bed for one night when travelling in their own country to attend a census – into a sermon praising open borders, then it’s a good sign he doesn’t take Christianity very seriously and has little interest in maintaining the Catholic church. This is especially the case since a good portion of the migrants he wishes to welcome are not Christians and likely view him, his words, and his organisation with utter contempt.

Pope Francis, the leader of roughly 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, is himself the grandson of Italian migrants. He said many of today’s refugees were fleeing from leaders who “see no problem in shedding innocent blood”.

If only the masses differed from their leaders, eh? Only every time the leadership changes, often replaced by someone drawn from the ranks of ordinary citizens, the result is much the same. It’s almost as if the culture, itself an aggregate of the people, is the problem, isn’t it? Which is why so many of these supposed refugees themselves “see no problem in shedding innocent blood”.

There are more than 22 million refugees worldwide. The latest cross-border influx involves the Rohingya fleeing violence in Myanmar.

Oh yes, we mustn’t forget the Rohingya. Whoever’s doing their PR is lavishing the BBC hacks with lunches somewhere.

The Pope visited Myanmar last month and later met members of the Muslim minority who had sought refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.

So the Pope saw fit to pander to Muslims but remained utterly silent on the plight of Christians, such as Egypt’s Copts, in Muslim lands. Which religion is he representing, again?

The Pope stressed that faith demanded that foreigners be welcomed everywhere.

The Pope is implying this is some ancient religious tenet, whereas it’s nothing more than a shallow political viewpoint which only came into existence in my lifetime. Those walls around the Vatican and the Swiss guards protecting the entrances are there for a reason, and they’re a lot older than Pope Francis.

At Midnight Mass in Bethlehem, local Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa condemned President Trump’s decision and said Jerusalem could not be a city of peace if people were excluded.

Moving an embassy excludes people, does it? One would have thought an Archbishop of Bethlehem would be clued-up enough on Jerusalem’s history to know which parties in the region have excluded people from it, but this is where we are.

Is it any wonder that Christianity has collapsed across Europe and other advanced nations when the heads of Christian organisations seem to have no confidence in their religion and sound like they’d rather belong to another?

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Britain’s Secular Youth

A common lament among old religious folk is that youngsters don’t subscribe to the faith with the same level of enthusiasm as previous generations. For instance:

Up to one in five patients are regularly missing GP appointments in Scotland, with younger people the worst offenders, new research has found.

A study of more than 500,000 people in the country, published in the journal The Lancet Public Health, shows young males are most likely to not attend.

Younger, male patients aged 16 to 30 were found to be the worst offenders.

Here’s what a local priest has to say:

Stockport GP Ranjit Gill believes there has been a shift in how the health service is seen by a younger “I want it now” generation.

“The NHS is now, for our younger population, seen as a consumer service, a bit like John Lewis and so perhaps valued differently to the way our older population see the NHS.

“I can’t think of the last time one of my older patients ever missed an appointment.”

Time for some fire and brimstone:

GP practices across the country are already implementing some successful schemes to reduce missed appointments, from text messaging reminders to better patient education and awareness posters detailing the unintended consequences of a patient not attending.

And appeals to the faithful to fill the coffers once again:

But ultimately, we need NHS England’s GP Forward View – promising £2.4bn extra a year for general practice and 5,000 more GPs – to be delivered in full and as a matter of urgency.

“And we need equivalent promises made and delivered in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so that we can deliver the care our patients need, whatever their circumstances, and wherever in the country they live.

The answer to this ought to be simple: charge people a nominal fee when they book a doctor’s appointment. However, we might have better luck asking the Catholic Church to promote abortions.

(Note also that the article begins with the problem of patients missing appointments in Scotland, and ends with English GPs demanding the immediate delivery of an additional £2.4bn per year.)

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Faith in Secular Societies

For someone who is secular, agnostic if pushed, I don’t go in for the wholesale bashing of religion. I don’t much like religions’ political manifestations, as we see with Islam these days, and I also don’t like many religious organisations and the compulsions they impose. But the overall concept I don’t have a problem with, especially if practiced at the personal level.

For whatever reason, every society in existence has worshipped something or other, and this has been the case for millennia. There is something about the human condition which makes belief in higher beings very attractive, and it’s probably better just to accept this rather than argue logic with a few billion people who disagree. In my opinion, challenging somebody on their religious beliefs is like challenging them on their music tastes: it is purely subjective, and people differ. I have no idea why people like jazz – to me it sounds like a truck loaded with saucepans having a bad accident outside a pet shop which is on fire – but it’s extremely popular and it would be stupid to ignore that. Likewise, religion is undoubtedly popular even if I don’t really get it.

My guess is religions’ primary appeal is in dealing with mortality and providing an explanation for things beyond human control, particularly those they didn’t understand (or still don’t). At various points religions evolved into a method of organising society and controlling people, but that appealed more to the would-be leaders than the followers. On that basis, I understand why people are religious. I wrote here about the spirituality of farmers, which is perfectly understandable when your entire livelihood is in the hands of the Gods, so to speak.

Although there are plenty of individuals who don’t believe, I’m not sure there are any genuinely secular societies. One of the things I have observed over the years is that some of the most fundamentalist believers claim to be atheist, and societies that call themselves secular sign up to faith-based worship with as much enthusiasm as anyone. It is true that they might not adhere to the tenants of an organised religion as we know it, but it is nonetheless faith-based worship.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the rise of liberal politics, particularly those related to climate change, happened at the same time traditional religions were in decline in the countries concerned and the Soviet Union was no longer around. The Soviets used to claim they were secular, but their entire system was as much a religion as any, complete with sacred texts, sermons, symbols of worship, saints, martyrs, high priests, apostates, indoctrination, compulsion, punishment of non-believers, and ideas of morality, with the whole lot held together by the blind faith and belief of the masses that this was how they should live. For many people who turned their backs on traditional religion, Socialism provided a ready alternative. And then it all came to a crashing halt.

Only people need to believe. If tomorrow somebody demonstrated that the entire basis of Christianity or Islam was false, we wouldn’t suddenly find ourselves inundated with atheists: they’d simply find something else to worship, a task that would be complete by this time next week. Religion is astonishingly resilient and ubiquitous precisely because so many people want and need it.

So with Soviet-style socialism discredited, non-religious people had to find something else to believe in, and that was liberal politics. Have you noticed how the religious right tend to see politics as part of life, and not life in its entirety? Whereas much of the left see politics as the start, middle, and end of absolutely everything. Most of the right wingers I know can rub along well enough with those who think differently, because ultimately it doesn’t matter that much to them: family, friends, and work comes first. But even supposedly moderate lefties tend to impose political purity tests on anyone they come into contact with, restricting friends, colleagues, and even family members to those who agree with them, and shunning those who don’t. Take a look at the Corbynistas, or the anti-Trump brigades in the US: no dissent or disagreement of any kind is tolerated, and results in excommunication and abuse. It might not be religion as such, but it is a very good approximation of one.

I mentioned climate change because this seems to be the aspect of modern politics in supposedly secular countries which most closely resembles a religion. Once again, we have the sacred texts, the high priests, the apostates, punishment of unbelievers, calls for sacrifices, and indoctrination all wrapped up in a great moral crusade stretching beyond our lifetimes that secures the blind faith of the followers. It makes me laugh when I hear atheists refer to “Science!” when talking about climate change: these people are no more able to challenge the pronouncements of the scientists, whose words have been filtered through the media and politicians, than a medieval peasant was able to challenge the high priests’ interpretations of sacred texts. They are as much wedded to faith as their devout ancestors, but they don’t realise it.

I find modern politics, particularly in the west where Christianity is in decline, is a lot easier to understand if you consider it simply as an alternative to traditional religion. All the elements are there, and the behaviours are wholly expected. None of this ought to be surprising, and I am sure I’m not the first to notice it.

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Why they march

This is nicely put by the ZMan:

This is why it is a fool’s errand to assign logical motives to Progressives. The goofy white woman holding the sign that reads “We Will Not Let Hate Win” in the Post story has no idea why she is there or even what she is saying with that sign. It is not even about a normal emotion like anger or sadness. People attending public memorial services for strangers can at least claim to feel bad for their community or humanity. That woman is there hoping to gain attention from the media so she can gain status among her coreligionists.

That’s about the height of it, yes.

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Cottingley Fairies

From the BBC:

Pope Francis was greeted by crowds of hundreds of thousands as he made saints of two shepherd children at the Fatima shrine complex in Portugal.

Shepherd children?

It is 100 years since the two – and a third child – reported seeing the Virgin Mary while tending sheep.

The traditional skepticism of adults listening to tales of what children saw must have been set aside that day.

Two of the children – Jacinta and Francisco Marto – have been canonised for the miracles attributed to them. They died in the 1918-1919 European influenza pandemic.

I’m way outside my area of expertise here, but I thought saints had to perform miracles, not merely have visions.

The so-called three secrets of Fatima were written down by their cousin, Lucia dos Santos, who died in 2005 aged 97.

So we’re going off a secondhand account of what two kids say they saw?

They are prophecies written down by Lucia, years after the apparitions that the three said they had witnessed.

This is not helping.

The first two secrets in Lucia’s account were revealed in 1942.

The second is interpreted as Mary’s prediction that World War One would end and that World War Two would start during the papacy of Pius XI

This might carry more weight had it been revealed in 1917, not 1942.

Okay, fair enough. This is all about having faith, not believing that which can be proved, and I can understand that. But the whole thing does have a whiff of this about it:

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