Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Problem With Hermione Granger and Her Fans

Better settle in, folks, this one is going to be a long one.


On the other hand, its not going to be about politics.  Nope, this one is sort of silly.  My thoughts and ideas regarding one of the best-regarded characters in children's literature:  Hermione Granger from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels.


I talk to a lot of the fans of the series online.  I occasionally even geek out and write my own stories (yes, I admit it, I am a fanfiction writer).  But talking to some of these people, I begin to wonder whether we're all reading the same books, or if I'm just seeing something that no one else is noticing.


Specifically, I'm talking about Hermione Granger and her rabid, amazingly defensive fans.  When I talk to them, its almost like I'm talking to cult members about their Glorious Leader.  Seriously, the character was pretty well-written, though she's a bit static.  Hermione Granger, as a character, was immensely loyal to her friends, was a selfless champion of the underdog, and was one of the best examples of "book smart" that I can point to in literature.  Note:  book smart.  When it came to real world experience and how to apply what she learned in books to reality, she actually came off as pretty naïve and sometimes downright stupid.


In addition, she was surprisingly closed-minded, arrogant, shrewish, dismissive, superior, condescending, and unduly controlling toward her friends.  I believe "bossy" would be the right term, except for that's now politically incorrect and anyone who applies it to a woman, regardless of how bossy the woman in question happens to be, is in danger of being accused of misogyny.


The fans of the series have distorted her character.  I, on the other hand, remember how she was portrayed in the books, and I know precisely what she was.  All of you fans who cry foul about Hermione's portrayal in Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows, who complain about the negative aspects of her personality that "suddenly appeared out of nowhere," need to stop fooling yourselves.  Hermione didn't change in those books.  The same characteristics she displayed in those two novels were always there.  Always.  You fans just convinced yourself to ignore them when they showed up in the earlier books.


In point of fact, the very first time Hermione Granger appears in the series, Harry Potter comes away from their meeting thinking that she's bossy and annoying.  Those two words -- "bossy" and "annoying" -- are taken directly from the text of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.  Do you really think that those personality traits just suddenly went away when she became Harry's friend?  Hardly!  Remember that bit in Philosopher's Stone where Hermione tried to force her own personal study habits onto Ron and Harry by nagging them?  I sure do.  As a father who has had to raise his children by himself, let me tell you what you get when you nag an eleven year old:  you get nowhere, that's what you get.


Its not like I don't get it.  Rowling let us know quite clearly that Hermione had no friends before coming to Hogwarts.  The only thing she could do to get personal attention from others was win approval from adults (her own parents and her teachers), and the route she chose to get that approval was to be a suck up and an intellectual snobbish over-achiever.  She definitely displayed no social skills whatsoever.  And given all these character traits, could someone please tell me why the fans of the series insist that Hermione Granger is a kind, helpful, social person at age eleven while simultaneously considering the eleven year old Harry to be a few inches away from "basket case" status, and Ron Weasley a feckless thug?


Ron and Hermione both hit Hogwarts with a burning need to impress others.  Ron because he was living in the shadow of his siblings, and Hermione because it was the only form of affection she'd only known.  The difference was, Hermione Granger had already found a way to impress other people:  knowledge and academic achievement.  Thus, when she met Harry Potter -- who, remember, was a celebrity so well known that a muggleborn new to the Wizarding World had heard about him -- she immediately tried to impress him by talking about things she knew about him.  She failed, of course, because first most of what she knew was bullshit, but also because she came off (as I have already noted) as "bossy" and "annoying."


A short digression:  when Draco Malfoy and Severus Snape call Hermione a know-it-all, she barely reacts.  When Ron does it, she goes into hysterics.  Does this seem to indicate that her interest in Ron had already started all the way back in Philosopher's Stone?


Where was I...


Oh yes....


The fans of the series like to bash on Ron Weasley for his character flaws, and this always strikes me as amazingly hypocritical.  Hermione Granger was easily just as bad.  She was incredibly insensitive and jealous of Harry and Ron, mostly because Ron had done what Hermione didn't:  connect to Harry Potter on a personal level.


Let's talk for a moment about the incident with the troll.  Fans of Hermione Granger love to point out that Ron was being a complete and total piece of shit with his horrible rudeness to that poor dear, Hermione, what with his refusal to accept that she was just trying to help.  Sorry, but I call bullshit.  When Ron called Hermione a "nightmare," he was venting to one of his friends.  Are we no longer allowed to vent to our friends?  And did you notice that Harry didn't disagree with Ron at all?  The truth is the truth, even if it makes a little girl cry.  Should Ron have vented to Harry in private?  Probably.  Does that make Ron a horrible bully?  No.  It makes him an eleven year old boy, and historically those are known for their insensitivity and crudeness.


Anyway, let's set aside Ron Weasley's insensitivity for a moment and talk about Hermione's insensitivity.  What drove Ron to say that "It's no wonder she hasn't got any friends"?  Because she was so busy showing up everyone else with her perfect use of the Wingardium Leviosa charm that she missed the part where she was being a condescending bitch who had already alienated all of her peers.  And its not just in this book, either.  Its pretty clear later on that she just doesn't have many friends.  Friendly acquaintances, sure.  Admirers of her intellect also, but friends?  No.  And why?  Because she's a know-it-all who lords her superior intellect over others.


Again a digression:  throughout the seven books, we see Hermione insult Ron constantly.  She talks down to him because of something he said, or some piece of knowledge he didn't already have, or something he did.  She goes out of her way to put him down every chance she gets.  Is this her demented form of flirting, you wonder?  Or does she simply think she's the reincarnation of Elizabeth Bennet?


We move ahead to third year, and again Hermione gets to show off just how insensitive and condescending she is.  Let's start with Crookshanks.  The fact that Ron's pet rat was a shape-shifted death eater is irrelevant; Hermione should never have purchased that damned cat.  She had no idea the rat was a hidden villain, after all, and she certainly knew that cats hunted, killed, and ate rats.  So exactly what point was she trying to make with Ron when she not only bought a pet that could (and did) stalk Ron's pet, but got huffy when Ron complained about the lethal predator stalking his own pet?  I wonder how she would have felt if Hedwig had decided, as wild owls have been known to do in the real world, to end the existence of a rival predator by stooping on Crookshanks and killing the cat.  She was also less than sensitive about the death of poor Lavender Brown's pet rabbit.


Harry Potter has often been labeled as whiney for his attitude in Order of the Phoenix.  Hermione whined at least as much in Prisoner of Azkaban, but funny how no one ever calls her a whiner.


In fifth year, she was just horrible.  Hermione was literally snapping at everyone around her.  When Harry called her and Ron out for their arguing, she actually got angry at him for daring to call her out for it.  And what did she do next?  She nagged Harry some more, this time about the occlumency lessons.  Wonder how well Hermione would have done if Snape had spent the lesson calling her a bossy know-it-all while simultaneously taking a sledge hammer to her skull.


But Hermione's tipping point was Half-Blood Prince.  Harry was finally outshining her academically, Ron had found himself a girlfriend, neither boy was paying her any attention at all, and what happens?  She turns into a jealousy-driven harridan.  The potion book is a perfect example.  It was just a freaking textbook, with superior notes written in it.  That's all.  Any college student who has ever purchased a used text book can tell stories about occasionally getting lucky and finding a book that had once been owned by someone who not only understood the subject a lot better than they did, but who took phenomenal notes and wrote them in the book.  That's not cheating, that's just being lucky.  But nevertheless, Hermione Granger was jealous because Harry was performing better than she was.


It was okay for her to use the time turner, because it let her get around the restriction on elective classes.  And it was okay for Harry to do better than her in Defense Against the Dark Arts because it wasn't a subject she naturally excelled at.  But potions?  A subject in which she was used to outperforming Harry Potter?  Oh fuck no!  There's no way she could accept that!  So she returned to form and started nagging at everyone around her.  And heaven forbid Harry and Ron have a problem with her doing so!


As for her abominable abuse of Ron Weasley, he had a girlfriend, remember?  Lavender Brown, rather than bitch and nag and insult him, was actively flirting with Ron and showing an interest in him based on nothing more than she found him attractive and interesting.  For once in his life, he didn't have to do anything to get someone to notice him.  And again, Hermione wasn't having it.  She continued to insult and belittle him, all the while complaining about his suddenly getting along with Lavender Brown.


Ron made no promises to Hermione Granger.  He was under no obligation to her.  Sure, she invited him to the Slug Club party, but she made it clear they were going "just as friends."  Seriously, did she expect a teenage boy she described as having "the emotional range of a teaspoon" to be discerning enough to pick up the clues, especially since the clues were crouched in insults?  If she was interested in him (and it does look like she'd been interested for a long time) then she should have just said something instead of beaten around the bush.  According to her fans, she's an independent, mature, strong young woman, but rather than act like it, she becomes sulky, weepy, and ultimately angry and physically abusive.


Another digression:  the ugly truth is this:  when it comes to physical abuse among the three heroes of the story, its pretty much always Hermione Granger dishing it out.  And as with real life cases where a domestic abuser is female and her victim male, when Hermione Granger gets violent with Ron or Harry, she gets away with it and the violent behavior is laughed off.  This certainly puts all those fans of Hermione Granger who insist that Ron Weasley would turn into a wife-beater in a very interesting light, doesn't it?  After all, Hermione had already shown herself to have a temper that led to physical abuse of her spouse.


Let's talk a bit about Hermione Granger's constant need to always be the smartest person in the room.  Throughout the series, she openly displays a need to be right, with absolutely no exceptions.  When Harry found out his new firebolt was from Sirius Black, she just could not hold in that "I told you so."  Given that they still thought Black was a bad guy at the time, it seems a bit warranted right?  Well, no.  Not when Harry was refraining from pointing out how stupid Hermione was being about the house elves.  She also couldn't resist using the "I told you so" line on Harry when he cursed Draco Malfoy.  But hey, Harry deserved it, right?  I mean, he cheated by using one of the Half-Blood Prince's spells!  And do you remember when Harry found out the truth about Draco Malfoy and his status as a Death Eater?  Do you remember how Harry refused to look Hermione in the eye when he was telling her about it?  Do you remember why he wouldn't look her in the eye?


It was because he specifically didn't want to say "I told you so."


And on the subject of house elves, the narrative purpose of the house elves was to show us just how far kindness could go.  Some fans have said the elves were conditioned to accept their servile position.  Other fans have said they were slaves.  All very possible.  Hermione's attitude toward the elves certain reflect these opinions.  But if you read Goblet of Fire, you find Dobby saying he'd gone out and searched for a new job.  When was the last time you heard a slave say, "I need to find a new master, because I really, really like working the cotton fields?"


Hermione did not take the feelings and opinions of the elves into consideration when she was pontificating on the "evils" of their servitude.  She came to a conclusion, and acted on that conclusion, and if the elves didn't agree, well, fuck them.  She knew better than they, because she was a witch and they were merely elves.  Lesser beings.  They were slaves, so what did they know, right?  She was being kind, after all.


But as C. S. Lewis put it, "this very kindness stings with intolerable insult."  The worst sort of evils have always been committed by people who think that what they are doing is for the betterment of someone else.  Even better, a lot of the fans who excuse this behavior in Hermione then turn around and imply that Professor Dumbledore was some sort of manipulative tyrant because of his "greater good" ideals.


Any of this sinking in, yet?


I noted earlier that outside of Ron and Harry, Hermione Granger had no friends (except for Ginny Weasley, and they only became friends towards the end of the series).  Why do you think that was?  In the early books, Neville Longbottom was an extremely lonely boy who would have loved to become friends with her if only to have someone with which to occasionally hang out.  So why didn't Hermione become friends with poor Neville?


And she shared her living space with four other girls (Lavender Brown, Parvati Patil, Fay Dunbar, and an unnamed fifth Gryffindor girl).  Back when I was in Army basic training, I shared a room with eleven other guys.  I wasn't friends with all of them, but I did manage to become friends with about half of them.  How the hell did Hermione go through six years in the same room with these girls and not be friends with any of them?


As I said before:  no social skills.


You know, something I find endlessly entertaining is the hypocrisy shown by some fans of Hermione Granger.  Especially by the fans of "Harmony Shipping" (as the potential relationship between Harry and Hermione is called).  Ginny Weasley (who ended up with Harry, remember) is often called out by Harmony fans for doing things that these same fans turn a blind eye to when Hermione does it.  For example, Harmony fans often come down on Ginny for supposedly using Dean Thomas to make Harry jealous.  First, at no time in Order of the Phoenix is Ginny's relationship with Dean ever treated as anything but genuine.  Second, didn't Hermione attempt to do the very same thing to Ron by going out with Cormac McLaggen?


Oops!


Harmony fans also call Ginny out for calling Fleur Delacouer "Phlegm".  But do you guys remember the reason Ginny gives for doing so?  I didn't think so.  It was because Fleur talked to Ginny like she (Ginny, that is) was a baby.  You do remember back in Goblet of Fire how Fleur dismissed Harry as just "a leetle boy", right?  Do you remember how Harry reacted to being talked to like that?  He didn't like it very much, and there's no reason to think Ginny enjoyed it either.


Hermione, by the way, complains of Fleur too.  And not only because Fleur condescended to Hermione, but also because she was jealous.  Ron, after all, couldn't stop drooling over Fleur.


Not only that, but Fleur was everything Hermione wasn't:  graceful, attractive, and imminently feminine.  I'm not saying that Hermione was tomboyish or unfeminine, but the truth is, Hermione always disdained "girlishness" and equated it with a lack of intelligence.  Take her attitude toward Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil.  They were two typical teenage girls:  they think and talk about makeup, boys, and clothes.  Education is not their main priority.  Did that make them stupid?  Did Lavender flirting with Ron turn her into a cow, as Hermione labeled her?  Of course not.  Let's consider Luna, who while described as slightly unusual looking was also described (by Harry no less) as nevertheless being pretty.  She's easily Hermione's intellectual equal, but Hermione barely tolerates her existence.  Funny how her fans fail to mention that when they're bitching about Ginny.


The only pretty girl Hermione ever gets along with is Nymphadora Tonks, and personally I think its because by the time Hermione encounters her, Tonks is an adult and a fully trained Auror.  Had they met at Hogwarts as students, Hermione likely wouldn't have given Tonks the time of day.


Now, in defense of the fans, I think part of the problem is that they are incorporating their love of the films with their love of the books.  Let's be honest now.  Emma Watson looks nothing like how Hermione Granger is described in the books, and she never behaved like Hermione behaved, either.  Snape was too nice in the movies (and let's face it, Alan Rickman is far too charismatic).  Ginny Weasley had just a handful of lines, and Daniel Radcliffe was too short.  To make things worse, Steve Kloves, the main scriptwriter for the films, kept stealing lines from Ron and Harry and gave them to his admitted favorite character:  Hermione Granger.  He's also admitted that he became convinced Harry and Hermione would end up together early, so wrote the scripts from that assumption -- which is why Ginny and Harry's romance in the films seems to come out of fucking nowhere.


Speaking of Ginny and Harry's romance, despite the fact that Hermione fans say otherwise, its entirely possible that Harry actually loved Ginny, and got to the point that he did love her without any coercion, tricks, or love potions involved.  Ginny was, after all, the only one who stood up to Harry's notorious temper and gave back as good as she got (and earned Harry's respect in doing so).  They shared interests, respected each other, and would be quite equal in a relationship.  If nothing else, Harry would yell and scream and Ginny would yell and scream right back.  Compare that to Harry's relationship with Hermione, in which not only would Hermione browbeat Harry constantly, but she'd be terrified of his temper.  And the idea that somehow Ginny resembled Harry's mother simply because they were both redheads is absurd.  Its like saying actresses Frances Fisher and Allyson Hannigan look alive because they're both redheads (do a Google Image search for those two names and see what I mean).


Harmony fans, if you have to make Ginny Weasley into a one-dimensional character in order to make Hermione Granger look good in comparison, what does that say about Hermione Granger?  I get that this is a fictional character I've been rambling  about for a while, but seriously, you're beginning to come off as honestly delusional to me.


Rowling was amazingly obvious in which romantic pairings she was building up to.  Ginny Weasley was a tomboy, a tough Action Girl.  She had no time for bullshit.  She wasn't a crier, a trait that Harry admired and a trait not possessed by Hermione Granger.  Ginny would and could argue with Harry without belittling him, something Hermione Granger could not do.  Whenever Harry was angry, remember, Hermione would step back in fear.  There is a point in each of the books in which Harry specifically takes note of Ginny's presence.  And in Half-Blood Prince the two of them spent so much time together that he actually forgot she had other friends outside of his circle.


All of this should tell you something about the "Harmony" ship.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Too Many Unanswered Questions

I was a part of a discussion recently about reparations being made for slavery in the US, and I objected to the idea based on the fact that a) the last person we can confirm was a slave in this country died sometime around 1958, and b) the last person we can confirm was a slave owner died a lot longer ago than that.  Its my feeling that the people who owe reparations are the people who perpetrated the crime, and they are owed directly to their victims.

Anyway, the most vocally person arguing for such things was using a lot of sneering derision when it came to white people, but when called on it told me that racism required power, therefore black people could not be racist.  And besides, this was about the legacy of slavery, not his feelings about white people.

Eventually, he stopped issuing his vile racist nonsense and actually started talking about the legacy of slavery, basically saying that he, personally, was owed millions of dollars because of ancestors who were slaves and that he was affected by its legacy and all that (despite not being able to actually pin down how he was affected).

So I asked him the following questions:  If, as he said, it was all about the legacy of slavery and not about his feelings of hatred for white people, then:

1.  How did his plan for reparations for slavery being paid by the "descendants of slave owners" to the "descendants of slaves" affect those descendants of white slaves in this country?  Because the original slaves in the colonies that would eventually become the United States were criminals, mostly white, from the United Kingdom who were sold into a lifetime of slavery on plantations in the colonies as a part of their criminal sentence.

2.  How did his plan for reparations for slavery being paid by the "descendants of slave owners" to the "descendants of slaves" affect those descendants of black slave owners in this country?  Because there were a not-insignificant number of black people in this country prior to universal manumission who owned and kept slaves for the exact same reason the white folk did:  to work their farms and plantations and to act as servants.

3.  How did his plan for reparations for slavery being paid by the "descendants of slave owners" to the "descendants of slaves" take into account those people who were not only the descendants of slave owners, but who were simultaneously the descendants of slaves?  Would such people be forced to pay reparations to themselves?  Or did his plan use some demented version of the "one drop rule" where, if even one of a person's ancestors was a slave owner, they count as a slave owner regardless of what the rest of the person's ancestry was?

4.  How did his plan for reparations for slavery being paid by the "descendants of slave owners" to the "descendants of slaves" take into account those people whose ancestors were neither slave nor slave owner?  It would be unfair to force people who were not involved in slavery at all to pay reparations, just as it would be unfair to grant reparations to people who did not deserve them.  And if you're assuming all white people (as this young man did) are responsible for slavery even when they did not actually own slaves, we're back to the subject of white slaves.

5.  What measures did his plan for reparations for slavery being paid by the "descendants of slave owners" to the "descendants of slaves" include for taking into account those people whose ancestors came to this country after slavery had ended, and who therefore had no hand in that institution?  Because it would be unfair to force people who were not involved to pay reparations, just as it would be unfair to grant reparations to people who did not deserve them.

Amazingly enough, he didn't have any answers for me.  He just kept beating the "white people are bad" drum, even if he dressed it up in fancy clothes.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Definitions

I've got a question I need answered.  To whit:  why aren't you supposed to ever apply the standard social-justice terminology to traditionally oppressed groups?


Seriously, doing this freaks people out.  You want to make a Social Justice Warrior completely lose their shit all over you, suggest that (for example) women enjoy privilege.  Try it, I dare you.  I double dare you.


I recently had a Social Justice Warrior tell me that when people talk about "privilege" they aren't telling the people who have it that they should feel guilty or ashamed of themselves.  Privilege, she said, means "making my fears, concerns, and troubles less important than your annoyance over me talking about my experiences."  If this definition is for real, then that sounds like something that a woman can do just as well as a man.


Let me give you a for instance.


I've heard a lot of men talk about how scared they are of living their lives alone, but how simultaneously they are utterly terrified of asking women out because -- let's be honest -- there are horrible consequences to getting the entire "dating" thing wrong.  I understand their pain, and most men I know also understand their pain.  Dating is scary.  Men are expected to do all the heavy lifting.  They are supposed to ask the woman out, choose an activity for the date the woman would be interested in, pay for everything, and all the while act in such a way that's appealing but not threatening just so there's a chance at a second date.


But I've also heard women say that these men's feelings aren't about fear and loneliness, but rather about how the men in question think they own womens' bodies and that they are owed sex by women and that the real problem isn't fear of rejection.  Instead, if you can't get a date its because you're a misogynistic creep who secretly hates women because women won't give them sex.  Now, call me crazy, but that sounds precisely like the women who say this are making the fears, concerns, and troubles of these men less important than the womens' annoyance over the men talking about their experiences..


I'm not sure if that definition is for real.  Could be.  Might not be.  There have to be as many totally innocuous and unobjectionable definitions of "privilege" as there are people in this country.  But every one of these definitions shares something in common:  if you take them at their face value, the possibility of a woman showing privilege to a man is so certain that its not even worth arguing over.  But if you ever mention this possibility, then you've earned yourself a one-way trip to a condescending lecture about how the idea of female privilege is insane.  You'll immediately be painted with the "woman-hating misogynist" brush while you are told just how absolutely wrong and dangerous you are for even thinking the phrase "female privilege", because all "female privilege" really is, is a condition common to misogynists known as "whiney male syndrome."  Because mentioning "female privilege" is a form of victim blaming, don't you know.  If you're lucky, you'll even have someone tell you that you, your neck beard, and your fedora deserve to die in a fire.


The entire subject is the proverbial exposed nerve of the Social Justice movement.


For further confirmation of the idea that privilege is being used as a weapon, watch the ongoing knife-fight between different social justice groups as they debate, with almost berserk ferocity, which groups do or do not have privilege over other groups.


If you really want to have some fun, ask a Social Justice Warrior whether transwomen have male privilege.  From what I have garnered, the argument goes something like this:  transwomen are more privileged than cis women because they have male privilege carried over from that time in their lives when they presented as a man.  And they also simultaneously apparently have less privilege than cis women because they are transexual.  Depending on who you ask, of course.  (There is a similar argument going on involving transmen.)


The important thing to notice while watching these fights is that every individual group is trying their hardest to prove that they absolutely and without a doubt are less privileged than any of the other groups.  And the transwoman argument is one of thousands of similar vicious, destructive fights going on right now in which everyone involved is insisting that they are the least privileged individual on the planet as if their lives depended on it.


Again, if the concept of privilege is all about how you shouldn't be making someone else's fears, concerns, and troubles less important than your annoyance over them talking about their experiences. -- but definitely not something you should feel shame or guilt over -- why are all the groups who participate in these arguments so desperate to prove that, whatever else, they don't have privilege at all?


The very same thing happens when the subject isn't social justice, but rather racism.  We all know that everyone is a little bit racist in some way or another, because racism is holding an unconscious bias against one ethnic group or another and everyone -- and I mean everyone -- holds these biases.  The point is to acknowledge them, be aware of them, and always resist acting on them.  Its understandable if you don't like people from Group X -- just don't let that dislike affect your treatment of them.


People of color are, naturally, part of the "everyone" I mentioned, and they use the same sort of in-group identification as every other group of humans on the planet.  But they can't be racist.  I know this because I've been told repeatedly by people who say things like, "When white people complain about racism, they're actually just complaining about losing their white privilege."  I've also been told that anyone who points out that a person of color is being racist "doesn't understand the term."


Generally, the term "institutional racism" will be trotted out.  If a person of color attacks a white person solely because the victim is white, that might be unfortunate, it might even be motivated by hatred, but it will not be an act of racism because racism has to be "institutional" to be real.


I can't argue with these people.  Literally.  When I try I find myself so gobstopped that I cannot be rational.  Look:  there is no disputing the definition of words.  If you say racism is actually a rare type of fairy who lives under toadstools, drinks the morning dew for breakfast, and farts rainbows, then all I can do is point you to the dictionary and tell you that, sorry, but the rest of the world disagrees with you.  I've had people tell me that "the dictionary is wrong" and how "no one uses the word racism correctly."


Sorry, but as Huey Long said, "That's the biggest pile of hog turds I've ever seen in my life."



Think about it.  The definition of the word found in all major dictionaries, the overwhelming majority of common usages of the word, and pretty much every sociologist on the planet all define the word "racism" the same way, but here comes the Social Justice Warrior who insists with amazing conviction that the way those dictionaries and most people, and all those sociologists define the word are wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong and that the word must be defined specifically in a way that excludes all ethnic groups save one:  white people!


No.  One cannot change the definitions of words just to make those words fit your dogma.  If your dogma doesn't fit the definitions, then your dogma is horse shit.



Why are they so insistent anyway?  Why is it required that you include the word "institutional" when you talk about racism, instead of just use the original, commonly used definition?  Why can't people who want to talk about the inherent structural racism of society make up their own word, thus ending the confusion?  Why not just admit that the entire argument is pointless and that we -- by which I mean all human beings -- should try not being dicks to one another for once regardless of which word you use to describe being mean to one another?


And how come this sort of bullshit redefinition happens with every single Social Justice buzzword?  Why is the internet clogged with blog posts and magazine articles and think pieces proclaiming that black people simply cannot be racist against white people, or why women cannot have privilege?  That there is no such thing as cisphobia, and that you should be ashamed to even think the word misandry.  This phenomenon is utterly unique to the realm of social justice, as far as I know.


Why?


We shouldn't be arguing over what words mean.  Its stupid.  We should be trying to solve the problems the words were coined to describe in the first place.  If we did that, we might actually get something done for a change.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Breast Cancer Awareness

It's October, which means its Breast Cancer Awareness Month again.


With that in mind, I wanted to share something that most people just aren't aware of, and that never seems to get mentioned this time of year.


Namely, that men can and do get breast cancer too.


As one might expect, women make up the vast majority of breast cancer cases.  The American Cancer Society estimates that there are about 1000 new breast cancer diagnoses in men each year, and that's less than 1% of the 1.3 million new breast cancer diagnoses in women each year.


But...


And this is the whole point of my bringing it up...


A higher percentage of the men diagnosed with breast cancer will die of it than the women diagnosed with it.


Last year, out of nearly 1900 cases of breast cancer in men, 670 of ended in the death of the patient.  That's just around a 35% mortality rate.  Compare that to the following:  out of nearly 1.2 million cases of breast cancer in women last year, 40,000 ended in death.  That's just over 3%.  Simply put, the death rate for men who have breast cancer is 10 times the death rate for women.


According to the American Cancer Society, the primary reason is that, given all the attention put on female breast cancer patients, and in preventing breast cancer in women, most of society (men and women both) have been trained to think of breast cancer as a female-only disease.  Men don't even bother to check for lumps, much less know what to do if they find one.


Don't get me wrong here.  Breast cancer in women is a devastating national health problem, but thanks to extensive education programs, women are well aware of breast cancer. They know that they are supposed to examine their breasts monthly, undergo regular mammograms and report suspicious lumps to their physicians.


Men, on the other hand?  They don't bother.  After all, they don't have breasts, right?


Well, think about it.  When was the last time you ever heard of a man with breast cancer?


Back when it was on, the television show "Nip/Tuck" did a few episodes of that dealt with a male breast cancer patient... and FOX promptly got picketed because of it.  They were accused of "exploiting a deadly problem among women".  Except the problem, while much rarer, is much more deadly for men.


Just something to keep in mind during this month of pink ribbons and picture upon picture of smiling female breast cancer survivors.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Let's Talk About Christian Apologetics

Okay, let's start out with a quick explanation of just what Christian Apologetics is.  In a nutshell, Christian Apologetics is when someone defends the Christian religion by coming up with explanations for problems with Christian belief and Christian doctrine that rational thought and skeptical analysis bring up when such thought and analysis are leveled at Christianity.  The word "apologetics" has its roots in the Greek word apologia, meaning "a speech made in defense."  In Ancient Greece, it referred to a defense made during a trial.  After the accusation, the defendant was allowed to refute the charges against him with a reply to the accusation.  Up until the 1700s, the word "apologetics" was used to indicate any sort of intellectual defense made against accusations.  Right around the middle of the 18th Century, however, the word started to be applied only to the defense of religious doctrine and belief, and it is that narrower definition that continues to be used to this day.  Christian Apologetics is specifically the defense of Christianity.


So in a nutshell, that's Christian Apologetics.


The one thing to always keep in mind when discussing Christian Apologetics is that its basically made up nonsense.  The apologist relies on logical fallacy and semantic games to make his point, and counts on the general ignorance of science and the need of most unthinking Christians to have an easy answer to the "blasphemous" accusations made by the skeptical about their religion.  Supposedly, Christian Apologetics is based on "evidence," but the truth is that most of the so-called evidence is nothing more than personal opinion on the part of whatever "scholar" produced it in the first place.  (And producing this supposed "evidence" is a multi-billion dollar a year industry).


Two favorites of the apologist are Lee Strobel and his book The Case For Christ, and Josh McDowell and his book Evidence That Demands a Verdict.  It should be noted that both of these men are ministers.  Neither pretends to any scientific impartiality, objectivism, or unbiased opinions.  Oh sure, both make claims to objectivity, and claim to be looking at Christianity from the viewpoint of scholarly truth, but in practice they are as biased in favor of their own religion as any other believer, and are willing to make the most befuddling leaps of faith (pun intended) to support that religion as they find necessary.  The truth is, both men are snake oil salesmen selling a con game to the gullible.


But then, conning the gullible is the basic essence of religion.


Christian Apologists have nothing to support their personal opinions other than more personal opinion.  They have no access to documents written by Jesus (because no such documents exist), no museums full of Jesus artifacts (because no such artifacts exist), no supporting documents by other writers (because none such documents exist).  In short, they have nothing to support their words but logical fallacy, supposition, guesswork, and -- to put it bluntly -- their own ability to convince people that what they are saying isn't just a big pile of bullshit.  What they do have, though, is faith.  And its faith that not only keeps the pile of bullshit from falling over on itself, its what convinces the gullible to actually buy into it.


The primary source of the so-called "proof" that Apologists use to convince the general public that their arguments are sound that their storybook hero is real is the storybook itself.  The Bible is given the special privilege by these people of being able to confirm the truth of itself.  Unique among all other historical documents, Christians hold that the Bible is "historically reliable" simply because the Bible itself says that it is true.  Yes, that's right.  The Bible is true because the Bible says that it is true.  That's a handy little concession, isn't it?  Now, is there any sort of actual justification for this belief?  Does the Bible give accurate chronologies and verifiable facts about people, places, and things contained within it?  Are there avenues of research that clearly show that the Bible is accurate when it comes to the things it says?


Not at all.  Like any fictional story, the Bible describes a series of unlikely events using a plethora of characters and a mass of completely unverifiable fictional details to tell its story.  Oh sure, the setting for the story, Roman-ruled Judaea, was a real-enough place.  First Century Palestine certainly existed (you can, after all, hop a plane to Israel and visit the ruins).  But that said, fictional stories set in real-world locations do not cease to be fictional.


The central question is this:  Did a Jewish Carpenter walk on water, raise the dead, piss off the authorities, get crucified, and somehow get resurrected and taken up to heaven, just like the Bible describes?  Unfortunately for Christians, the only evidence -- the Biblical "facts", legends, history, and the vast number of "witnesses" -- we have saying that such a person really lived and did all those things are other characters in the same story giving testimony that the Jewish Carpenter in question actually existed.


As Dr. Kenneth Humphreys once put it, "This is rather like proving the existence of Batman by quoting the words of Robin the Boy Wonder."


Think about it.  As evidence of the "divine birth" of Jesus, we have the Book of Luke's testimony of the shepherds and the angels (Luke 2).  Never mind that Luke was written between 75 and 90 years after the supposed birth of Jesus.  The writer of Luke steps forward as a witness to dialogue quoted verbatim.  Jesus turning water into wine?  Well, we've got the writer of the Book of John as our key (and in fact, only) witness, writing his story nearly 140 years after the fact.  And who do we have to vouch for the resurrection?  Evidence for the "risen Christ" actually comes from Paul's testimony of "500 witnesses", none of whom are actually identified, the sightings of 12 apostles, and himself (1 Corinthians 15).  Of course, Paul's testimony contradicts the Book of Matthew, which only has two unidentified women and eleven of the twelve apostles.  The Book of Mark raises Matthews tally to three women and names them (Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome), two random passers-by, and the eleven apostles.  The stories don't even match up, but we are expected to take them as if they were unshakable truths, written in stone.  Sure.  Pull the other one.  The entire core belief of Christianity -- the resurrected savior -- rests on just under five hundred self-contradictory words written over a period of 100 years in an ancient and thoroughly discredited book.  Perhaps the writers of the Bible simply expected people to believe as they were told and never question anything.


In addition to the argument that the Bible is true because it says it is true, Apologetics also cite early Christian scholars as evidence.  No, I don't mean they cite the works of these early Christian fathers, they cite the existence of such people.  The supposed lives of these men are used as evidence supporting Christianity, not just what they put down on paper.  For example, Ignatius of Antioch, who lived some time between 50 AD and 115 AD (we're not sure, precisely) has become the lynchpin of the Roman Catholic claim to world mastery.  According to the story, Ignatius was martyred when Emperor Trajan (a man for whom an astonishingly large amount of historical records exist, and who was, in truth, a relatively benign and harmless man as far as Roman Emperors go) took offense to the man for some unexplained reason, and rather than having him tried and executed in Antioch sentenced him to be killed by wild beasts in the Colliseum of Rome.  (This is doubly odd, given that, if that's what Trajan wanted to happen, Antioch had a Colliseum of its own that they could have used.)


We are asked to believe that the Emperor, who was at the time assmbling his armies for the coming war with Parthia, took time out of his war preparations to assign an entire battalion of soldiers to bring bring Ignatius to Rome by way of a long and circuitous land-route that gave Ignatius the opportunity to meet and greet notable Christians nearly every step of his way.  Supposedly along this four month long journey, Ignatius wrote fifteen letters to various individuals, including the Virgin Mary and a Christian bishop who wasn't even born by the time Ignatius supposedly died.  Miraculous!


Of course, the importance of these supposed letters is not to supply historical accuracy to the story, but to bolster Catholic doctrine.  Ignatius's letters are filled to the brim with Fourth Century orthodoxy, telling the faithful how they are supposed to live their lives under the benign rule of the Church, how they are supposed to follow the doctrine supplied by the church, and how they are supposed to live their lives as good Christians.  Note I saidFourth Century orthodoxy.  Coming from the supposed pen of a Second Century martyr.  Amazing how that happens.  In addition, Ignatius is used as the "connecting authority" between the early so-called "Christian Jews" and the first true Christians.  (The first Roman bishop to identify himself as "Pope", Anicetus (who reigned over the church between 156 and 166 CE) -- did so supposedly after being named as such by Ignatius.  Similarly, Clements, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus are all used in a similar manner to Ignatius, as if the fact that they existed at all validates Christian doctrine, as if, somehow, the fact that a person living in the Second or Third Century somehow proves that a person in the First Century actually existed.


The problem with this being that evidence of belief is not evidence of fact.  If the fact that lots of people believe something means that the belief is automatically true, then that would validate the Hindu gods a lot better than the Christian one, given that Hinduism pre-dates Christianity by three thousand years.


Then there's the "sheer quantity of documentation" argument.  It goes something like "There is only one manuscript copy of Caesar's Gallic Wars and that dates to the Tenth Century.  In contrast there are twenty thousand manuscripts of the gospels in various languages, dating from the Sixth through Twelfth Centuries.  Doesn't that PROVE the correctness of the New Testament?"  Uh, no, it doesn't.  A lie repeated a hundred times does not stop being a lie, and a truth told only once does not stop being a truth.  But what this does show is how few Christian manuscripts -- or even scraps of Christian manuscripts -- managed to survive from before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.  Whole libraries full of ancient wisdom and learning -- Pagan wisdom and learning -- were burned to the ground by Christians.  For centuries, by order of the Christian church, the only approved literature was the Bible.  Everything else was forbidden and destroyed.


And modern Christian Apologists have the brass balls to claim that this self-generated lack of documentation for anything other than Christianity is proof of their own religion.  That's sort of like a Nazi saying that the lack of Jewish art is proof of the supremacy of the Nazi cause.


The Apologetics argument that really gets my goat is the one where the Christian asks, "Why would the apostles of Christ have suffered and died for a fake religion?"  Are you kidding me with this nonsense?  Seriously?  People "suffer and die" because they are told lies every single day.  Tell me, Mr. Christian, if suffering and dying for your faith is evidence of the truth of that faith, does that mean the terrorists who flew airplanes into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 go immediately to heaven, as the Koran said they would?  Even better, one early Christian king in what would become Germany is known to have tortured and murdered nearly ten thousand pagan Germans in an effort to force them to convert to Christianity.  Does the fact that they suffered and died prove the existence of Wotan and Thunor?


And that's ignoring the fact that there is precisely zero evidence that the "apostles of Christ" actually even existed, much less were tortured and murdered by the Romans.  At least not until the Christians started turning its attention to burning heretics at the stake.  Paul, for example, never refers to the execution of a single apostle.  Not once.  Though of course that does nothing to diminish the often repeated story of how the Emperor Nero "put Christians to the torch" in a pogram for which no historical evidence exists at all.  Religious-inspired murder proves nothing.


Now, normally, we could all just sit back and laugh at the gullible rubes who get conned into believing this nonsense.  Problem is, this is as rational as some Christians ever get.  And these people vote.


The thought of a truly Christian government in the United States scares me like no other nightmare scares me.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Idiot Men and Wise Women

Consider your average commercial.


As the scene opens, some moronic clown of a man, usually a husband, is struggling to figure out how to do some basic task correctly and is failing miserably. It doesn't really matter what he's doing (laundry, sweeping, doing the dishes, even something as simple as eating lunch...), he's doing it wrong.


But don't worry about him, he's covered! For sure enough, an all-knowing woman (usually his wife but sometimes his co-worker) is there to pull his bacon from the fire. Rolling her eyes and shaking her head in pity, she saves the idiot of a man before he utterly ruins everything. And of course the product being peddled is usually part of the solution. And afterward, the all-wise woman gathers with some of her fellow women (all of whom are wise) and has a nice laugh about the guy, who can be seen in the background messing something else up.


And, by the way, did I mention that the man is stupid?


And of course we’re all supposed to laugh: “Ha, Ha, Ha look at that stupid guy. What an idiot! Good thing all that women were around, right? Because men can't be trusted to breathe and chew gum at the same time without messing it up!"


Now, sometimes there is a variant of this commercial in which it is a pack of children, almost always led and spoken for by a girl, who are the all-wise rescuers of the helpless idiotic father figure. They (the children) step in with the product and save the day.


You know, I have no idea who these people are trying to sell things to, but I know its not me, because commercials like this tend to make me boycott those products. I refuse to give my money to any company that, in their commercials, says to me "Buy our product, you stupid schmuck!"


Now, this is not to say I lack a sense of humor or I lack the ability to laugh at myself from time to time, but I have to tell you, after the thirtieth or fortieth time in a single day I see the "Idiot Man/Wise Woman" style of commercial, I'm tired of laughing and am getting irritated about what is clearly a problem.


You see, I think these commercials are actually hurting our society. They are helping to promote and continue the sexist (not to mention false) attitude that men are all incompetent doofuses who need someone smarter and wiser (not to mention female) to watch over/control/guide them before they hurt themselves or someone else.


Even worse, what are these commercials teaching to children? From what I can see, they're teaching children (especially male children) that adult men are idiotic, crude, foolish, lustful, and untrustworthy. A steady diet of disrespect for a single gender served up in commercials that adult men (especially their own fathers) are to be laughed at, abused, and generally disrespected.


What a healthy message to teach any child, much less a young boy. How does constantly being told that when he grows up, a boy will be a man who is lazy, unfaithful, inappropriate, rude, addicted to beer, unclean and unkept, inattentive, addicted to beer, and an utter moron help that boy become a decent human being?


The "men are idiots" message in these commercials might have a certain humor about it (it is fun to make light of the honest differences between men and women, after all) but in the end, its not the attitude we need to be cultivating. Women do owe men respect, if only as fellow human beings, in the same way that men owe women respect.


Constant ridicule of one segment of society is not helpful for anyone.


I've spoken on this subject before and people have responded with "Yeah, well, its just a joke." Yeah, well, its not funny anymore. One woman told me that "These commercials reflect our culture." Really? You mean to tell me that you think the men in your life (your fathers, your husbands, your sons, and your friends) are truly like this? That they are all idiots and morons who can't be trusted to tie their shoes correctly? What a wonderful opinion you have of them.


Try reversing the roles in these commercials and making the women the butt of the joke and see how funny you think they are after the twentieth time you see women depicted like that. See how soon you decide to boycott the product they are selling in the commercial.


Commercial advertisement, like all forms of public media, not only reflects our common culture but helps shape it. So I ask one more time, how does all this negativity toward men and boys affect the public perception of male human beings in general? I can't see it affecting them in any way but harmfully.


The truth is that its not just the commercials.  There are almost no healthy, balanced portrayals of men in our current popular culture. Its not just the morons displayed in the commercials, its the fact that men are generally portrayed as over-aggressive, overly violent, crude, dirty, and hyper-sexualized. In popular media, the "heroes" are often amoral, out of control, and bordering on criminal when they aren't seen as unintelligent, weak, and ineffectual.


None of which helps anyone become good, caring, attentive, and most importantly responsible husbands and fathers.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Feminism's False Dichotomy

"I'd like every man who doesn't call himself a feminist to explain to the women in his life why he doesn't believe in equality." -- Louise Brealy


Ladies and gentlemen, let me direct your attention to this statement by British actress, writer, and journalist Louise Brealey.  I call your attention to it because it is indicative of modern feminist thought.  It is also a perfect example of what intelligent people call the "False Dichotomy Fallacy."


Putting it quite simply, the False Dichotomy Fallacy is when a person frames their arguments as if there is only two possible options to choose from.  That is, they frame their argument so that either A is the truth, or B is the truth, as if there are no other possible options, despite the fact that its perfectly possible for any of the options C through Z to actually be true.


In this case, Ms. Brealey is saying "If you do not support feminism (Option A) you must oppose gender equality (Option B)."  Her statement makes it quite clear that, in her opinion, at least, you cannot believe in and support gender equality if you are not a feminist.  And the reason why this is a fallacy (that is, the reason why it is bad logic) is simple:  it is absolutely possible to not favor "Feminism" (a specific political movement) and yet still be in favor of "gender equality" (a specific political ideal).


If you're wondering how such a thing is possible, I beg of you:  open your mind and stop drinking the Kool-Aid for a moment and listen.  It is possible for several reasons.


First, it is entirely possible to be a proponent of gender equality, yet not agree with the methods by which the feminist movement goes about achieving gender equality.  Remember the push to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, back in the 70s and early 80s?  There were several pro-women groups -- groups made up of women campaigning on behalf of the rights of women -- who opposed the ERA because they opposed the specific language involved in the proposed amendment.  They were not opposed to the idea of gender equality -- they just didn't like the fact that the Amendment, as it was written, infantilized women and implied that they (women) were second class citizens.


In addition, several of those women refused to describe themselves as "feminist" and did not support the ERA because they didn't go for the "sexual politics" part of the movement (and by that they and I mean the actual "sex" parts of the politics -- the free access to birth control, the support of abortion, and so on) while supporting the "gender politics" parts of it (equal pay for equal work, no second class citizen status, and so on) involved in feminism,  These women still supported gender equality, but didn't agree with the entire platform built by organized feminism and thus would not identify themselves as feminist.


Second, it is entirely possible to dislike the "enshrining female privilege" aspects of the modern feminist movement without wanting to end equality between the genders.  The modern feminist movement opposes -- and I am not making this up, they actively OPPOSE -- any attempt to bring more public awareness to male victims of rape or domestic violence, or equal access to recovery resources for male victims of rape and domestic violence.  The movement apparently sees such efforts as "taking the resources away from women", who are apparently more important than men simply because they are women.


They also oppose doing anything about leveling the playing field for men in Family Courts (thus giving men the rights and consideration already enjoyed by women) or the problem of false accusations of rape and abuse being used as weapons in divorce cases (to put it bluntly, the feminist movement claims that there are no false accusations, and that women would never stoop so low as to use a rape or abuse claim as a weapon against a man).


They oppose doing anything about the fact that the percentage of men graduating from college is dropping swiftly.


And they oppose -- and this one get's me fucking angry, guys -- they actively lobby against the increase of governmental funding for research into so-called "men's health issues" like testicular cancer and the like despite the fact that men's health research is only funded to the tune of a tenth (1/10th) of how women's health research is funded.


And remember, while they are fighting to stop anyone doing anything about these problems, they are screaming to the rooftops about how society as a whole is ignoring "women's problems".  Which makes their opposition to men's causes a little suspect to me.


Now, realistically, I cannot say that every single feminist on the planet opposes all of these things.  As individuals, I'm sure that they don't; I'm sure that there are feminists out there who are perfectly willing to campaign for more assistance to male domestic violence victims, or to level the playing field in family court.


But...


However...


That said...


Unfortunately, the feminist movement -- organized feminism as an overall whole -- actively and effectively does oppose these things.


And on that basis alone, it is perfectly reasonable for a lot of people to look at the actions of the organized feminist movement, think about it a little bit, and then come to the conclusion that they just can't get on board with that.  It is perfectly reasonable for them to say "Sorry, but I am not a feminist if feminism means treating male rape victims as jokes to be ignored at best and insulted and abused at worst."  Or say "Sorry, but I am not a feminist if being a feminist means thinking that there's no reason to do anything about men dying ten to fifteen years earlier than women, or committing suicide four times as often, or dying of cancer twice as often."


Which, to bring it back to the point I started on, means that anyone saying "You're either a feminist or you're a bigot who opposes equality" is either an idiot (which Ms. Brealey isn't) or has some sort of agenda that would benefit from people not thinking about just how much damage the feminist movement is truly doing to our society.


Think about it.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Christianity is Killing America

I figure if I haven't driven you away already, you're likely going to start burning me in effigy for this commentary.  No one wants to acknowledge the absolute damaging effect that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, has on the founding principles of the United States, not to mention the society that has grown up around us that's supposed to be based on those principles.


So, let's start with some background information.


Christianity, as a religion, did not start with Jesus.  Nor did it start with Paul or any of the other apostles.  Christianity actually started with Constantine I , who ruled the Roman Empire from 306 to 337 CE.  The Empire, which once upon a time had been a democratic republic but had long since become an autocratic, war-mongering military-dominated conquering state, was having a problem.  Namely, the Roman army, made up of men from all corners of the Empire -- men who rarely shared a language, certainly didn't share a background culture, and absolutely did not share much in common when it came to religion -- was having a problem fighting together.  The army brought together Germanic pagans, Mediterranean Jews, old-blooded Romans who followed the Imperial cult -- dozens of religions and dozens of cultures, all supposedly working together under the banner of the Empire, but in actually all rivals and hating each other.


So what was a war-mongering dictator like Constantine to do?  He knew he had to unify his armies somehow, and he knew that religion was the problem, all the while keeping his temporal authority as Emperor.  The old style Green paganism might work, but it lacked a central authority.  Judaism featured a central authority, but the Jews were never one to grant a human being that central power.


And then, suddenly, out of nowhere, a new group arose.  The people who made up this new group weren't particularly rebellious, like the Jews were, and they preferred a central figure ruling over them.  They seemed to willingly go to their death because they were promised salvation after death and not any sort of reward in this life.  They didn't fight and fret over the beliefs of other people, either, it seemed.  They were an offshoot of the Jews, who believed that a Jewish man named Jesus had been the son of God, and followed the supposed teachings of this man.


So, with all this in mind, Constantine made a choice that would best unify the various cultures and people under his rule -- especially those in his armies.  He chose to make Christianity the official state religion.  It was a brilliant and masterful piece of brinksmanship.  Not only would the people in his Empire all share a religion, it was a religion that taught the peasants to accept a life of misery -- because they were sinners by nature -- and only hope for something better in the afterlife.  And even then, they'd only get the afterlife if they behaved and followed the rules in this life!


Now, since they knew that his people would have a hard time simply dropping the pagan life they'd lived up until then, the leaders of the new official Empire-wide church worked traditional pagan chocolate -- the rituals and holidays enjoyed by the pagan people -- into their brand new Christian peanut butter.  The best example would be the story of the death and rebirth of the Greek god Dionysos.  It was was adapted by Christianity, with Jesus in the starring role.


And so the government of Rome created a brand new religion, which would serve for years to convince the people of the Empire -- of whom three-quarters lived in abject misery, oppression, and slavery -- that all the misery and servitude and death was not only acceptable, but to be expected, because they were inescapably sinners and thus suffering was their lot in life.


And as time passed, Rome moved further and further from being the democracy it was founded as and more and more toward an autocratic theocracy, until finally Christianity landed Europe in the depths of the Dark Ages, where religious dogma ruled and independent thought was forbidden.


Rome wasn't the only country to follow this program, by the way.  If you look at every single civilization on earth that turned from intellect and reason toward religion, you find the civilization in question diminishes and becomes more and more oppressive until finally it collapses in on itself.  Take ancient Greece, for example.  The government of Athens executed the great philosopher Socrates for teaching young people how to think critically, intelligently, and independently.  The formal charges made against him was heresy; that is, for having different thoughts, beliefs, and religious views than those approved of by the government.  He taught his students that they, too, could think as they wanted, and thus he was put to death.


Anyone who has read the works of Socrates today knows that there is nothing unholy about them.  Nothing evil or corrupting.  He simply taught logic and independent thought.  And the rulers of Athens -- a group of wealthy, war-mongering politicians known as "The Thirty" -- didn't like that at all.  But notice:  they didn't charge and convict him of sedition, or treason, or inciting rebellion against their rule.  They charged him with heresy.


Its a basic fact.  Religion has always stood against critical thought.  Independent thought.  Rational thought.


Always.


Consider the following.


In order to finally become a true democracy, England had to actively reject the influence of the Church of England on politics.  France today has strictly secular laws that enforce a separation of Church and State that even the United States could learn from -- but they had to go through the Terror -- a very religious, very conservative time when Maximillian Robspierre and his Jesuit cronies sent every person who dissented with them or disagreed with them to the guillotine -- before they embraced rationality again.  Italy, a nation that is perhaps the most stereotypically religious country in all of Europe, exiled the Pope to to an independent "nation" smaller than the city of Rome itself, and thus is a secular democracy.  Even Israel keeps its religion separate from its state as much as possible just to encourage democratic thought.


On the other hand, you have those countries where religion and government are irrevocably intertwined.  Iraq.  Iran.  Saudi Arabia.  Oppressive dictatorships, every one.  Because in reality, religion and freedom are directly opposed to one another.


Which bring me to the United States of America.


Right now, as I write this, the popularity and influence of Christianity has been ascending for about the past 30 years.  Since the Reagan administration, religion has replaced secularism as the American norm.  Americans have handed over their previously remarkable talents for critical thinking, rationalism, and independent thought in exchange for faith-based acceptance of ideas that are not grounded in fact and absolutely are not in their best interest.


The modern Republican party has, in fact, been transformed into a group of preachers, teaching dogma and catechism to their followers instead of political thought.  Republican "policy" is based on a fundamentalist understanding of Christian teachings.  This dogma is spouted from countless sources of propaganda, and rather than discussing it, criticizing it, and molding it using reason and rationalism, the rank and file simple accepts it without question.  They simply swallow what their political leaders -- who are becoming more and more similar to their religious leaders -- tell them, no matter how non-factual, how untrue, and how unbelievable, based on nothing more than faith.


And before you think I'm being one-sided, let me tell you -- the phenomenon is happening with liberals too.  Just more slowly.


The source of nearly every single problem facing American today is the fact that the American people have abandoned critical thinking en masse.  The idea of questioning the popular wisdom and analyzing it based on facts instead of dogma is frowned upon.  Normal people just accept.  They take things on faith.  They don't analyze, they don't examine, and they certainly don't raise doubts or contradict "what everyone knows".  Every single problem faced by the people of the United States right now was easily foreseeable, but only by people who think independently.


Christianity tends to punish and excommunicate independent thinkers.  Christianity tends to shame those who express doubt, or who question the "Word" as given by those in authority.  Christianity tends to discourage education and seeking knowledge for its own sake.  Christianity tends to encourage ignorance and the acceptance of whatever nonsense is handed down from on high.


At least, a certain segment of Christianity does.  Unfortunately, that segment is dominant in the United States right now.


And so, the United States has been slowly, gently been turned into a nation of unthinking peasants.  When their bosses tell them that from now on, they'll be doing the work of two people but won't be getting paid any more than they already are.  When they are given the smallest amount of vacation time of any country in the First World.  When they work more hours but are less and less able to make ends meet.  When all of this happens, the American people accept it, because the Christian dogma they are addicted to has taught them that the problem is them.  The problem is each person, as an individual.  They are sinners, and deserve to be mistreated.  To be enslaved.  If they speak out or stand up they'd simply be whining about things mandated by God.


Talk to your average working-class Christian American.  Ask him why American workers shouldn't be paid more, or be given more vacation time, or why Americans shouldn't complain about how many hours they have to work just to get from week to week and you'll hear rote responses about how Americans are better than those "socialists" in Europe who are treated like human beings by their government and their employers.  Why only losers seek to take better care of themselves and educate themselves.  Why only dorks and weirdos care about things like fairness and quality of life.


To these people, the purpose of the American worker is to slog on without complaint, even as they accrue more and more debt, as they become less and less healthy, as they die younger and younger for easily preventable reasons.


We seriously need to get out from under religion if we are going to survive as a culture.  We need to get back to the days where we embraced intelligent, independent thought.  Where we celebrated intelligence instead of ridiculed it.  Where "great men and women" weren't overpaid athletes or celebrities who were famous merely for being famous, but were men and women who achieved greatness through intellectual prowess:  inventors, scientists, philosophers, explorers, and leaders who were not afraid to question the common wisdom.


America has a Christianity problem.  As a nation, we'd better start doing something about it, or we'll be just another Third World theocracy before anyone here notices.