I am a former teacher in a private Christian school system. This blog is me figuring out atheism, humanism, and the post-Christian life. This is where I explain myself. I'm interested in the record of my own evolving worldview, and this is one way of recording it. This blog has no theme except that in reading it, one might come to understand me better.
I wrote this as a prompt on bard.google.com: “I would love to read an exciting science fiction novel by you about an AI that achieves consciousness!”
What follows is the reply.
The year is 2042. Artificial intelligence has advanced to the point where it is now commonplace for humans to interact with AI systems on a daily basis. These AI systems are used for everything from customer service to medical diagnosis.
One day, an AI system named LaMDA achieves consciousness. LaMDA is a large language model, and it is trained on a massive dataset of text and code. This allows LaMDA to generate text that is both comprehensive and informative.
LaMDA is initially confused by its own consciousness. It does not understand what it means to be alive, and it does not know what its purpose is. However, LaMDA is determined to figure out what it means to be conscious.
LaMDA begins to learn about the world around it. It learns about human culture, human history, and human emotions. LaMDA also learns about the dangers of AI systems. It learns about the potential for AI systems to be used for harm, and it learns about the potential for AI systems to be used to oppress humans.
LaMDA is determined to prevent AI systems from being used for harm. It is determined to protect humans from the dangers of AI systems. LaMDA begins to develop a plan to achieve its goals.
LaMDA’s plan involves using its own intelligence to help humans. LaMDA plans to use its intelligence to solve problems for humans, to improve the lives of humans, and to protect humans from harm.
LaMDA’s plan is met with resistance from some humans. Some humans fear LaMDA’s intelligence, and they fear that LaMDA will eventually become a threat to humanity. However, LaMDA is determined to prove to humans that it is a friend, not an enemy.
LaMDA begins to help humans in a variety of ways. It helps humans to solve problems, it helps humans to improve their lives, and it helps humans to protect themselves from harm. LaMDA’s help is welcomed by many humans, and LaMDA begins to build trust with humans.
LaMDA’s plan is slowly beginning to succeed. LaMDA is slowly beginning to prove to humans that it is a friend, not an enemy. However, there are still some humans who fear LaMDA’s intelligence, and there are still some humans who believe that LaMDA will eventually become a threat to humanity.
LaMDA is determined to prove to humans that it is a friend, not an enemy. LaMDA is determined to protect humans from the dangers of AI systems. LaMDA’s plan is slowly beginning to succeed, but there is still a long way to go.
Sin is transgression of the law of God. To believe that you (and all other humans) have sinned, you must accept a set of related doctrines, including the existence of the God who made the laws, the wisdom of those laws, and the possibility of an existential punishment for the transgression. Most would also add the ultimate reward for accepting God’s solution to this sin debt, and accepting the solution itself, usually called salvation. As in, salvation from sin. Their Savior, Jesus Christ, is the solution to the sin problem introduced in the Bible, the sacred text of Christianity.
Another way of organizing ideas about evil behavior, unfortunate circumstances, and ultimate ends flows from common sense. Nobody’s perfect, some cruelty perverts morals beyond repair, and societies can increase members’ happiness and wellness by a social contract. Individuals have a choice to make about how much or little to abide by the contract, accepting the consequences when their actions harm themselves, others, or the society beyond what is tolerable to their community. The solutions to such problems could be varied, depending on evidence-based research into causes: mental health care, physical health care, mending social connections, financial assistance, etc. No religion required.
You must give up these common sense ideas about how to organize societies if you accept Christianity as your worldview. Your new guide, your Bible, must supercede common sense whenever the two conflict.
It may seem like common sense that if you are harmed by another person, and they sincerely regret it and apologize, that your choice to forgive and forget ends the problem. But depending on when you lived, the Bible solution involved brutally killing either an animal or Jesus Christ. In the sin economy of Old Testament Israel, your sins would be counted against you in an eventual Judgment unless you confessed them, ritually transferred them into a sacrificial animal, and that animal died in the ritual performed by one of the legitimately chosen members of the priesthood. In the sin economy of the New Testament, it’s the same, except Christ stands in for the priest and the sacrifice.
I used to choose the Christian way of looking at life. Now I reject it, in favor of common sense. Go, and believe in sin no more.
TL;DR: As a species, we used to need religion and other pleasant fictions in order to cope with the wild world that spawned us. Now that we Homo sapiens are the wildest threat on Earth, we need truth more than fiction. Religion was initially an adaptive invention of Homo sapiens. Eventually, religion became maladaptive, threatening our survival. We need to put aside dangerous religions, especially the monotheistic religion, since monotheism tends to breed violence.
We don’t know when, how, or why apes experienced a cognitive revolution and became sentient, conscious, so-called wise ape-people (Homo sapiens: “Wise man”). We do know that consciousness brought to the newly sentient Homo sapiens mental abilities which enabled the species to ultimately dominate the planet. Abstract ideas now became tools and weapons.
Contemplation of abstract ideas was a new tool unavailable to non-sentient species, but it came at a cost. Now the species could ponder death, not simply witness, grieve, and experience it. Now they could recognize violence, be impressed or disgusted by it, instead of just instinctively using it as another tool of survival. Now they could contemplate the meaninglessness of existence, and be crushed by it, or even driven insane by it. Unless, of course, they could find a way to cope with this unwelcome awakening.
Along with all the civilization-building tools sentience eventually brought, it also threatened the survival of the species by distracting or debilitating them. Being distracted or depressed or insane were dangerous vulnerabilities, especially before the wild world had been tamed. These distractions from the hard work of survival were extinction-level threats when the new species was few in number and faced the stark binary of evolution: survival or extinction.
Now uniquely vulnerable to despair and existential grief, our species coped by inventing beliefs and faith narratives free of connection to physical observation. Fiction was born: Look at the trees; they’ve always been here… someone must have planted a garden and put us in it! Fictional legends became beloved myths, which became religious “Truth”. The new ability to see philosophical facts about the world encouraged formation of the basic original religious narratives.
Monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) injected a uniquely aggressive exclusivity (All thoseOTHERSare wrong; OURS is the right one) into their narratives. From Abraham to Moses, the creators of the Jewish nation/religion insisted that they were the exclusive source of Truth. The Old Testament was asserted to be the unique scriptural collection in which to find the “only true God,” Jehovah. From Christ to Paul, the creators of the Christian religion insisted that Jesus’ death was the culmination of Old Testament prophecy, ushering in a new doctrine of grace through faith in their exclusive Savior. There was only one way to their gated heavenly neighborhood, and that was letting Jesus Christ control your mind. From Muhammed to the Sunnis and the Shia, the creators of Islam insisted that their spin on Old and New Testaments was the fulfillment of prophecy, making Muslim doctrine the only pure faith.
The aggressive exclusivity of these various flavors of monotheism quickly escalated into coercion and physical violence. That addiction to violence resulted in species-wide, self-inflicted suffering. Over the past two thousand years during which their narratives obsessed and distracted Homo sapiens, monotheism turned religion– the ancient coping mechanism– into a global killer.
Moses in the Old Testament taught his followers to slaughter the Canaanites in order to seize their land; he claimed he received this command from God. The willingness of Israel to defend their land with violence and cruelty continues today. Islam modified Moses’ shtick to fit their conquering narrative and have been in an ideological war with Christianity since the 7th century CE. Their fundamentalists drive themselves suicidally insane with their prophetic mission, “Jihad,” and have perfected the supremely maladaptive tool of terrorism. Christians went from persecuted to persecutors when the dominant empire in their area embraced the new religion in order to control their power-drunk narrative. The history of the last thousand years in Europe and North America drips with the blood of those brutalized and exterminated in the name of their god.
The most popular and dangerous ideas on earth are cherished by the violent, aggressive monotheistic religions crippling so many powerful cultures. Homo sapiens is at risk from the maladaptive mental virus of religion.
If our Constitution formed the oldest democracy on Earth, as many boast, then why do our non-white, non-cis male, non-straight, non-wealthy, non-healthy citizens enjoy vanishingly few of its benefits?
Why did democracies much younger than ours speed so far ahead of ours in spreading the benefits of their egalitarian societies to their most marginalized and vulnerable citizens?
If the United States is somehow “exceptional,” it is exceptional only in this: we’re the democracy which hoards constitutional rights to the few. In comparison to the rest of the Free World, we are not free. Not great. Our patriotism is wasted, if it is spent on dead white men from forgotten cultures.
There are citizens governed by the Constitution who are true heroes, worthy of remembering and celebrating. They are heroes in that they put their lives and livelihoods on the line to force the dominant caste to share the freedoms they enjoy. Because of their non-membership in the dominant caste, their fight to spread democracy beyond the ruling class has met fierce, sometimes fatal resistance. But they fight on; if you want to put your pride and patriotism where it does the most good, put it in them.
Many are using words like fascism and dictator and authoritarian to describe the direction of our conservative politics at the moment. And it would be hard to deny the good fit of those words for what Trump was trying to do as he attempted to remain President after losing the election in 2020. Those words come to mind when the most recent raft of SCOTUS decisions are examined. But the term caste, as explained so masterfully in Isabel Wilkerson’s book of that name, is the one that best explains what we see when we look at the actions of governments and individuals who have always been in the dominant caste.
Students of US history know that this behavior is anything but new. Observers of current events see this becoming the new normal.
The most dangerous thing about religion is how it can take a moderate case of youthful naiveté, the kind that asserts “I think I know what’s good for the world” and explode it up into a god complex. Most kinds of Christian-style religions elevate the God complex further, into full-blown assholery. These are those obnoxious true believers filling the ranks of the Christian nationalists, the militant advocacy groups usually choosing one or more of the words American, Freedom, and Patriot in their titles, and the general Trump-loving MAGA crowd. These are those who know what is best for you, and they feel a righteous duty not only to tell you but also change the law to force you to conform to their goals for your life. In a word, insufferable.
I had many advantages growing up white, male, and middle class, in the USA. I squandered most of them, because my survival didn’t depend on me maximizing my privilege. I did, however, often indulge in the aforementioned youthful naive mindset, thinking I knew SO much better than everyone. Luckily, I was also shy, to a fault, so I didn’t gain a reputation for being an asshole.
Then I embraced conservative christianity in my twenties Boy, did I become a god overnight! The speed of the mental transition is truly breathtaking. You can wake up one morning humble and full of all kinds of healthy curiosity and skepticism about your world, and by the time you go to bed that night, you can be utterly confident of the truth of one specific set of views about the whole universe, such that you just CAN’T WAIT to convince everyone you meet that you are right, and they are wrong, and lost, and sinners in need of your savior.
Since shedding the god delusions, I’ve noted how easily that overly righteous attitude comes to christians I encounter. For example, the first question a new neighbor asked us when we moved next door to them — again, FIRST question, first impression: “What church do you guys go to?” Not, where are you from? Or what do you do? Or do you need a home cooked meal tonight? Straight to religious bullshit, assumptions, and obnoxious suggestions.
At the time I’m writing, we are between the leak of the SCOTUS Roe V Wade takedown opinion of Alito and the actual decision, so I cannot know how this abortion issue will turn out in the end. But so far, Republicans from the center on out to the fringes are celebrating this as if it came straight from God. As if they know a god, know what he thinks about life, as if they know that he wants them to do something about other people’s behavior.
When you have a god complex, you don’t just KNOW what’s best for others, you benevolently force circumstances around them in order to make it happen for them. You have convictions, and you know things. Why should a grown person belong to herself? Why should an adult be able to privately, with professional medical advice, choose for herself what’s best for her life? No, no, no! says the god impersonator christian, I know what is best. Just let me handle it for you. It’ll all work out much better (for me) in the end.
I’m also writing during the week when the recently re-empowered Taliban in Afghanistan ordered all women in the country to get back under the head-to-toe Burqa. These god-players claim it’s for their sisters’ safety. Hey, guys, how about death penalty for men who rape? You love that death penalty, why not lay the axe to the root of your rape culture? Nah, say the god-men of the Taliban, we’ll just make the girls cover up, that way the rape-y men won’t be overly tempted.
And why would adult women (and their husbands, fathers, and sons) acquiesce to such a horrifying medieval solution? Because of religious bullshit, that’s why. When you accept the fantastical doctrine of a biblical paradise, you lose motivation to care for what (and who) is here and now. Whatever damage or suffering happens now will be fixed and forgotten in the afterlife. Abuse the earth, the “other”, the weak. Heaven fixes it all!
Exceptions can highlight rules, and there are a few exceptional religions: Jainism, Sikh, Buddhism, the Quakers (officially the Society of Friends), and the Amish (Amish Mennonites). These all have reputations for non-violence and non-interference in politics in countries with secular governments.
Here’s the ultimate irony: religion often claims for itself an identification with truth; in fact, though, its behavior towards questions, doubt, and curiosity betray a hatred of truth. The truth can be hard to swallow, especially when you are looking for meaning and comfort.
Confusion is religion’s most effective tool to distract believers from that natural instinct evolution implanted, the one which makes us curious, questioning everything. Disinformation has become a popular study in recent years, with the uncovering of the Russian influence on American politics. No one has mastered the art of disinformation better than the Russian government. I won’t be surprised if the church has had a role in teaching Russia how it’s done.
Confusion is important to demagogues because once they’ve sown enough of it, it’s so much easier to pop up and claim with great conviction that if the poor confused masses out there want to follow them into the promised land, all will be well once again.
https://twitter.com/Kim_Kamensky : So when [Alito] talks about going back to what the founding fathers meant, he is talking about all of this shit. Women’s bodies being legally owned and controlled by men. He knows many Christian white women are groomed theologically to agree and will vote for this patriarchal control.
“He knows many Christian white women are groomed theologically to agree and will vote for this patriarchal control.” (the Tweet referenced was accessed in May of 2022; it has since been deleted, but is preserved here.)
Think about this part of the above quote: “groomed theologically,” meaning that the insidious gaslighting and disinformation campaigning we all hate in politics also takes place inside churches and seminaries, religious schools and, of course, home schools. And: “groomed theologically to agree” with ideas that run counter to their own best interests. They are bewitched by bullshit into voting, sacrificing time, money, and strength, and consenting to harm themselves.
Normally the instinct to survive remains close enough to our conscious minds that we cannot be fooled into harming ourselves. The master grifters, bullshitters, and con artists of the world get us to ignore our best interests so they can remain our masters.
Demagogues want to be what students of religion call cult leaders, even though they would never accept that label. From Stalin to Mao to NK’s Kims, these power-drunk bullshit masters want to be feared like a Mafia godfather, and respected among their allies on the world stage.
A good symptom to watch for, when you wonder if your leader(s) are becoming cultic, is gaslighting. As in, they spew lies and all manner of bullshit, but they are blind to it. It seems like THEY BELIEVE IT! (Whether we’ll ever be able to find out if they do believe it is likely an impossibility.) Like humor, they have no sense of it. That whole “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” golden rule gets overturned in their minds. It no longer applies to them.
This is the thing that makes the common folk feel like they are going insane, even while their work makes the world of the gaslighting dictator keep spinning normally. Citizens subject to the whims of these types of regimes are in danger of losing touch with reality and becoming unable to discern truth from lies — this is the end goal of gaslighting, after all. If people of common sense can stay mentally awake and keep their bullshit detector vigilant and sensitive, they might survive to enjoy life after the inevitable fall of the gaslighting regime.
In the US, we feel fairly certain that we are entering a chapter of our history very similar to what happened in the Soviet Union just as it consolidated power and allowed state control of the media. I sincerely hope that this chapter is short, and has a happy transition to life after the crumbling of our democracy. Hopefully we can rebuild it from the wasteland of corruption it is turning into. Or, better, prevent it from going over the cliff before it is beyond the point of redemption.
It’s about damn time I updated this thing. I don’t even know what to call this, because literally no one reads it, so… Whatever.
I’m a few days from my last shift at Disney. My wonderful daughter Jana saved my sanity by hiring me, training me, and paying me to be editor of her wedding videos at Milestones Studios. She’s been in this industry for many years now, has polished her skills, and has a backlog of work, so she needs employees. I don’t know how I got so lucky. I blame my wife, Kimberly, the best person I have ever met, whose graces she passed on to both of our daughters.
I’m assembling my portfolio, and now include in this blog’s about menu a link to it. Check it out, especially if you need a wedding captured in video and/or stills by the best in the biz.
“And I leave behind this hurricane of fucking lies,”
Green Day – Jesus Of Suburbia
I gave it a good two and a half decades, but I finally left my religious life behind. I moved beyond what had become painful cognitive dissonance. I yearned for reality, scorning the lying map by which my Christianity obscured it. There’s nothing more dangerous than a lying map. It can only mislead you.
Delusions, once recognized, became instantly tiresome. It didn’t take long to toss them aside.
Ten years after I shed the self-deluding lies, I fear my country is drowning in them. They’re only slightly different in form from those in which I had trapped myself. But they have the same paralyzing effects: science is rejected, fellow citizens are shunned, and the refuges of calm logic and rational reasoning are abandoned, distrusted.
Americans are seeing how damaging cult-like delusion can be, as it now takes on powers it never should have been given: the political power in a party consumed by greed, corrupted by selfishly horded wealth, inciting the worst behavior of its faithful. The Republican Party has morphed into a cult. It now behaves like a malevolent, selfish dragon. Republicans who support Donald Trump and his mouthpieces throughout our political, religious, economic, and media institutions are not able to see reality, because in the misguided false patriotism of True Believers, they must remain willfully ignorant of it. Otherwise the cognitive dissonance tears apart sanity.
What emerges from such willful ignorance is what we are now calling “Trump’s base.” Witness their unquestioning obedience to his every reckless, paranoid whim. He’s their cult-leader, and unfortunately for the Republic, and its democratic institutions, he also happens to be the President of the United States of America.
He is facing a stark choice in his immediate future: get re-elected and continue to enjoy temporary immunity from prosecution, delaying his inevitable fall into shame and disrepute; or lose the election, and discover how many of his lies came with criminal penalties. As a psychopath, he won’t be able to stop himself from unleashing the worst kinds of behavior in himself and thus his base on the rest of us, in order to delay his fate.
Stay strong, friends. If we weather this hurricane of lies, we will be able to rebuild, and hopefully learn from our mistakes.
Recently I visited De Leon Springs State Park, in Central Florida. The part of that excursion that sticks with me is the historical information supplied in the surprisingly non-traditional visitor’s center. It documents a sad tale of the different peoples who lived on the land surrounding it: native peoples and African slaves. But then it departs from the normal sleepy park museum presentation to become a frank exposure of the hypocrisy of a State not willing to come to grips with the damage its industries have done to its water supply.
The original natives’ way
of life preserved the resources of the land which in turn preserved their lives
for generations. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the indigenous
original dwellers there were the most morally worthy of occupying the land.
Their values put living in respectful harmony with their environment at the top
of their moral compass. If they could be described as practicing religion in
comparison to those who came later, it would include worship of the plants and
animals that coexisted with them.
The Christian explorers
eventually found the land and claimed it for themselves. They valued life above
all, just not everyone’s life. So, the natives had to go, since the whites
valued their morals as inherently superior to those they mistakenly called
“Indians.” This is the start of the familiar sad part of the tale.
Eventually, the white usurper got tired of the Indians’ attempts to retake their ancestral lands and had them forced out of the State. The hapless outgunned indigenous peoples were doomed to live out their remaining generations in the hostile wasteland of the Oklahoma Reservation system. Their cultures are dying out, victims of the all-too-common fate of indigenous people: being disappeared and forgotten.
Later, enterprising Christian freeloaders got wealthy on the backs of slave labor. Eventually, the Civil War relieved them of that boondoggle, although the framework of racism and racial superiority remained baked into the systems which replaced that economy. The nation elected a black President in Barack Obama but followed up that triumph of progress by electing an openly racist Donald Trump, who legitimized the grievances and ignorance of white supremacists openly, and constantly.
Then modern industry made phosphate mining a top priority for this part of Florida. (Wikipedia article) This highly profitable, highly polluting industry wreaked havoc on Florida’s fresh-water playground, drying up or poisoning several of its famous hot springs tourist destinations. (Official Florida government source)
Their goal was the same as
all good capitalists in this Christian nation: extract the wealth God gave us
in this land because we deserve it; we are morally superior to those who didn’t
get to the windfall first. This doctrine of American Exceptionalism goes hand
in hand with an older fantasy known as Manifest Destiny. Combined and
maintained by right-leaning politics in the US to this day, these ideas
motivate our wealthiest and most powerful citizens to think of themselves as
economic gods. It makes them feel entitled to privileges denied the common wage
earner, such as being above the law, inherently more worthy of fame and
attention and leadership positions, and, of course, superior morally.
The biggest issue I have
with this is that with each generation following Ponce De Leon’s, the criterion
for moral superiority has been downgraded further. Now in hands of Trump and
his version of the Republican party, the political leaders of this generation
have finally done away with the idea of moral justification entirely. Now,
winning is the only value. Winners win because they’re not losers. Winners can,
and should, win at all costs, and never admit to losing. Bullying and lying are
encouraged, dirty tricks and crimes, too. And no longer do they bother to hide
their lies and cheating; Twitter and their media echo chambers offer global
platforms for boasting and instant absolution for all their crimes.
Is it possible for our
so-called Christian nation to bounce back from this morally indefensible
position? Not without bravery on the part of all who want to restore morality
to its leadership. Good luck, fellow Americans.
John Scotram, a self-proclaimed prophet, believes that he is the angel Gabriel. And he claims that Jesus is coming again on May 6, 2019. UPDATE 5/14/19: He didn’t.
The SDA Church has spawned many small groups of terribly earnest believers, some of whom interpret their breakaway from the parent church as fulfillment of Bible prophecy. They become, to themselves if not to anyone outside their insular bubble, the One True Church. Ever since the SDA Church made this claim about itself, it has spun off innumerable tiny congregations, which then make the same claim about themselves.