Mutual Fund Vs. Index Fund

Posted by Phil Ferguson on October 8th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Investing Skeptically

Index FundsNOTE: This post is part of an ongoing education series. This information is for educational purposes only. This information does not constitute investment advice. Please consult with your financial advisor before taking any action. For planning advice contact Polaris Financial Planning.


Before we get into the two main types of Index Funds (Managed vs. Index) I want to take a step back and define what a stock is. We have this definition from Investopedia…

A type of security that signifies ownership in a corporation and represents a claim on part of the corporation’s assets and earnings. Also known as “shares” or “equity.”

In plain English you own a part of a company. Usually a VERY small part of a company but, you are still an owner. If the company does very well you can make a lot of money but, if they do poorly you can also lose all of your money. Remember Enron?

Mutual Fund

egg-basket_optThis is why you don’t want to put all of your money into one company (or one stock). It is risky! Like the old saying…”Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.”

A simple way to reduce specific stock risk (as measure by volatility) is to own more than one stock. Studies have shown that owning 10 stock can limit your volatility (risk) by half and 30 stocks reduces your stock risk to almost the same level as owning 500 stocks.

For more on the value of diversification read this….

If you bought 30 stocks and invested $10,000 in each one, you would need $300,000 to have a diversified stock portfolio. Each time you want to add money you would have to buy more shares in one of the stocks (or all 30) and pay commissions. If you are in a taxable account you have to keep careful records of all of the prices so you don’t pay more than required in taxes.

For most people this is just too difficult and they are better off is someone else does the work for them. This is what a mutual fund does.

According to Investopedia the modern mutual fund began in 1924.

The creation of the Massachusetts Investors’ Trust in Boston, Massachusetts, heralded the arrival of the modern mutual fund in 1924.

A mutual fund allows people with small amount of money (<$10,000) the ability to invest in the stock market and reduce their risk (vs. one stock). You can easily add (or remove) money and the mutual fund does all of the work.

Wikipedia lists these advantages for mutual funds….

  • Increased diversification: A fund must hold many securities. Diversifying reduces risks compared to holding a single stock, bond, other available instruments.
  • Daily liquidity: Shareholders may trade their holdings with the fund manager at the close of a trading day based on the closing net asset value of the fund’s holdings.
  • Professional investment management: A highly variable aspect of a fund discussed in the prospectus. Actively managed funds funds may have large staffs of analysts who actively trade the fund holdings.
  • Ability to participate in investments that may be available only to larger investors: Foreign markets, in particular, are rarely open and affordable for individual investors.

I agree with all of the above points but, they add one more…..

  • Ease of comparison: Picking a mutual fund is a lot like judging a dog show. You select the best of the breed which has the qualities you seek.

I disagree. It is very hard to pick a good mutual fund and they can have high costs.

Index Fund

An index fund is a specific type of mutual fund. Here is their definition of an Index Fund from Investopedia….

A type of mutual fund with a portfolio constructed to match or track the components of a market index, such as the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P 500). An index mutual fund is said to provide broad market exposure, low operating expenses and low portfolio turnover.

Common SenseI’m not sure why they say, “… is said to provide…”. An Index fund actually does these things. I get some of the numbers below from and I highly recommend “Common Sense on Mutual Funds” by John C. Bogle. (Note: The title is indeed a nod to Thomas Paine)

Broad Market Exposure

The S&P index fund invests in 500 stocks. 500 different US companies. This is very broad exposure. If one of those 500 stocks goes to $0.00 in just one day it will only bring down your portfolio ~0.2%. The whole market can move more than that in a day. This also works on the upside, if one of those 500 stocks double it will only give you about a 0.2% bump. This broad market exposure effectively eliminates your stock specific volatility (risk).

Low Operating Expenses

The average mutual fund can have many types of expenses.

The first thing you need to look out for is the load (usually a fee you pay to invest) and this can be as high as 8.5%. This comes out of what you “invested”. You now have to make 9.3% just to break even.

Many managed funds add a fee called 12b-1 and it can be as high a 1%. Via investopedia…

Back in the early days of the mutual fund business, the 12b-1 fee was thought to help investors. It was believed that by marketing a mutual fund, its assets would increase and management could lower expenses because of economies of scale. This has yet to be proved. With mutual fund assets passing the $10 trillion mark and growing steadily, critics of this fee, which today is mainly used to reward intermediaries for selling a fund’s shares, are seriously questioning the justification for using it. As a commission paid to salespersons, it is currently believed to do nothing to enhance the performance of a fund.

To manage your money the mutual fund collects a fee called the “Expense Ratio”. The industry average is 1.50% per year and 25% of all stock funds are above 2.20% per year. There is no limit on how high this fee can be. As of 6/30/14 there were 220 Mutual funds with a fee of 3.00% with the highest at a stunning 23.00%! You can get the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index for an Expense Ratio of 0.05%!

Trading Costs

Every time your mutual fund buys or sells, you pay the fees. This is not listed anywhere and it is hard to calculate but for the average fund this costs you an additional 0.50%.


If you are in a taxable account trading can really hurt your performance. If a stock is held for more than a year than you will only pay capital gains of 0%-20%. However, a stock sold in less than a year can be taxed from 10% to 39.6% (depending on your income level)! An S&P index fund may change only 2-4 % of the funds in a given year. An average mutual fund can change 100% or more of its stocks in one year. Even if your managed fund beats the market you may get killed on taxes.

Political Religious Prejudice to Atheists

Posted by Jim Newman on October 7th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in atheists

religious offenseRebuilding old windows and doors that have been replaced so they can be reused is a means of preserving history while lessening resource impact. It probably costs more because of labor but often I learn much by looking at how things were done differently many years ago. This house has many 14′ fluted, solid wood columns on the porch. When people visit and I tell them they were hand fluted it becomes a time to consider how skilled the labor was to make flutes that appear perfect.

Then when they see the old kitchen in the basement and they hear of how slaves were treated here as elsewhere it becomes a sense of balance and fairness. Long before EuroAmerican slavery, skilled labor or craft labor was considered the lowest of classes. It wasn’t until labor productivity and value increased by the industrial revolution that mechanical skills were merited real wages.

In those days being Irish, Italian, or Polish was not white. None of them were white in spite of similar skin color. Whiteness was a concept of class more than color. Now the largest immigrant population is Asian but they are considered white while African Americans are not.

While the religious nones comprise some 20% of the US population only a handful of them are seen in politics. The kiss of death is to say you are nonreligious. All other minorities are better represented in politics than atheists.

Whether it’s because some consider their atheism, agnosticism or indifference a deal-breaker and don’t even try for office, or whether it’s because some non-religious candidates fudge the truth for political viability, this much seems clear: Candidates have to at least feign some religiosity to qualify for prominent political office, despite our Constitution forbidding religion tests of this sort. And atheism and related forms of non-belief are about the worst thing a candidate can be associated with.

If only atheists were a different color then they could be physically differentiated. If only they held a consistent expressionism like Jews they cold be spotted. If only they spoke out they could be known as an ideological group. My Grandfather was a bigot but he grudgingly admired minorities that worked hard and succeeded. This seems to be the goal of Openly Secular.

Just in time for the “silly season,” otherwise known as the elections, a coalition of secular organizations is launching a campaign to destigmatize non-belief in the public square. It’s called Openly Secular, and if that brings to mind people coming out of closets as we saw with the gay-rights movement, well, that’s the idea.

Explaining the need for the campaign, Carolyn Becker, spokesperson for Openly Secular, points to polling data showing that 53 percent of Americans think it’s necessary to believe in God to be moral. Other survey data show that being an atheist is more injurious to one’s shot at political office than being an adulterer.

These trends would likely bend if more Americans got to know people who were openly non-religious and saw them working hard, taking care of their kids and neighborhoods, and being generally kind and honest in their dealings with other people.

Many have said that if others knew atheists then acceptance would come. If they saw immoral atheists doing moral things. But how? If you define morality as following a holy book then how can that be? Yes, Jill or Joe might not murder but you never know because they don’t follow a sky daddy. Would religious prejudice just be replaced by religious bigotry?

Decades ago, President Eisenhower articulated a principle that still holds sway today. “Our form of government,” the World War II hero and 34th president declared, makes “no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

Our new, more secular century calls for an update to Eisenhower’s idea: Our democracy cannot function well unless its participants have deeply felt ethical commitments that get them beyond their own self-interest. And I don’t care where they get them.

Jews had huge success rates and it only convinced prejudiced>>bigots that they were succeeding in taking over the world, taking jobs and accolades from other more worthy people. But maybe these are different times?

image source

Jim Newman,

Nobel for Work on Internal Mapping

Posted by Jim Newman on October 6th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Uncategorized

Old-World-map-1689I spent a day collecting metal from broken or obsolete equipment. I collected about 2,200 lbs of it. There is still much left but it was another chunk. A few years ago another trip collected 8,000 lbs. Metal at $7 a lb means we have a little cash to help with expenses. I am always anxious about removing equipment. Railroad iron that could be made into anvils or used as weights to make equipment more effective; sawn up metal oil tanks that could be cut again and used for other projects; gears, pulleys, and wheels that can be repurposed to new projects. All balanced against the need to not make the farm look like a junk yard or free up storage space. Or there simply isn’t enough labor to keep up with growing infrastructure. *Junk* is both a resource and a liability.

I fantasize about how this or that could be used if there were a global disaster, the economy collapsed, society crumbled, disease wiped out half the population. Then I’d want those muffler bearings. Naww, toss them, waiting for the apocalypse is a fool’s game.

What we do with these things of our material world often relate to what we think is important in separate considerations. A gear, pulley, or mower blade have a built-in designed capability or expected use but someone can explode that with creativity. A tempered mower blade can be made into a knife or a dear hide scraper or support meal for equipment repair.

It seems like we can view this through a lens of singular or manifold use, this gear is for a King Kutter 6′ mower, or manifold use, this gear can be used for many many purposes, including returning it back to its basic material, iron. This mapping of use seems a lot like mapping of position. Many people have seen religion as a kind of mapping, showing the correct direction. Knowledge and morality, or direction of use, are more intertwined than we think.

Anglo-American John O’Keefe and Norwegian couple May-Britt and Edvard Moser won the 2014 Nobel Prize for medicine on Monday for discovering the brain’s internal positioning system, helping humans find their way and giving clues to how strokes and Alzheimer’s affect the brain…

“How does the brain create a map of the space surrounding us and how can we navigate our way through a complex environment?”

When Western explorers met native navigators they could not understand how the natives found their way over vast distances or water or blank jungle, desert, ice. The compass and various types of sextants allowed Western explorers to calculate magnetic and true North as an absolute reference point to direction. They then could triangulate their position and the position of other stars, planets, land masses, and so forth, to create more accurate maps of their world.

Natives often used relative positioning for navigation; where are they in relation to what is immediately around them? Polynesian navigators would use wind, waves, birds, clouds, water motion, fish, and a host of other clues that allowed them to know where to go for awhile upon awhile in what seemed like a blank ocean without reference points.

The Western way is much like the belief in a primary god where direction is found by determining an absolute entity, True North, and every thing moves or is in reference to that. How easy then to think that everything in life is measured by an absolute entity. Entertaining to consider whether this system was found because of an inclination to monotheism or absolutism or if it really was the system that best fit what they were doing at the time. No doubt some combination.

Relative positioning is like the multifaceted lives of native groups with their animism, multiple gods, and constant conversations with their environment. Western explorers found and then imposed upon nature, using a distant star, while natives looked close and followed local clues. Of course the dichotomy of imposition is not real as natives could be just as destructive. The real difference being mobility and familiarity. The less you can move the more likely you are to seek resource balance, or die back to subsistence level, or disappear.

Nearly a decade later, the Moser team discovered cells, in the entorhinal cortex region in brains of rats, which function as a navigation system. These so-called “grid cells”, they discovered, are constantly working to create a map of the outside world and are responsible for animals’ knowing where they are, where they have been, and where they are going.

Animals then have several means of knowing direction. Small internal compasses that detect magnetic North intuitively, internal grids that codify positioning, and conversations with evidence that lead along a local path where ongoing information tells you how to move along. Sounds a lot like brands of world philosophies.

Jim Newman,

Religious Meaning is Not Special

Posted by Jim Newman on October 3rd, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Uncategorized

life cycleFall is a tough time for outdoor work. The days get shorter, the temperatures swing from hot to cold and back again. The summer maintenance projects that got left behind come to the fore as the regular work must continue. As our family gets used to being in school I become more empathetic to their vicious schedules and try to compensate more by doing more house chores until frustration over my growing list drives me to abandon preserving garden food, better meals, and a cleaner house.

I spent part of yesterday trying to repair a leaking faucet. The field hydrant needs to be changed but even with the water off there is a leak. The valve has been changed and works yet there is a trickle. Either some other leaking pipe attaches to it in this old make shift maze of farm plumbing or there are two leaks and the only solution will be to shutdown the entire line and lay new pipe. A daunting task in this rocky, hard-clay soil that eats up carbide teeth on ditch diggers.

Living on a farm has meant spending less time backpacking, kayaking, mountaineering, bicycling and other outside pursuits. Working in nature much of the time makes me less inclined to be in more of it for leisure. What makes up my meaning in life is swayed simply by living my life in a different material way.

John Gray’s review of Karen Armstrong’s “Fields of Blood” well reveals the blindness of religious expressionists to secular, or any different, expressionism.

“Neither the Greeks nor the Romans”, Armstrong reminds us, “ever separated religion from secular life. They would not have understood our modern conception of ‘religion’. They had no authoritative scriptures, no compulsory beliefs, no distinct clergy and no obligatory ethical rules.”

This simply isn’t true. The mideast was a polyglot of distinct and competing religions with many syncretic sects becoming locally viable and dominant. Priests, like shamans, medicine men, sorcerers, leaders, and wise men were all distinct and frequently were a separate, and privileged class with their own rules. The name Cohen means rabbi and a rabbi has always been privileged and a sought out status, for example.  The phrase “chosen ones” has significance in most religions as they promote their sacred over other’s profane. “One god,” “jealous god,” or educate to godliness are all distinctions like football jerseys that help create alliance and loyalty.

What’s more insulting is these folks seem to feel that a closely held philosophy is more superior if it is religious. Saying that religion is integral to meaning in life is no more than saying everyone lives by a philosophy, even if unspoken and intuitive. We all bring meaning to life. It’s how we do it and how we resolve clashes between them that matters. It’s not my meaning is more intense than yours because it just feels so much more meaningful. Religious meaning is not special meaning that is above philosophy, world meaning, or life view, or peculiar to godliness.

If one meaning means to bind women’s feat and another meaning means to set them free, when these two groups live together and intermarry or witness each other’s expressionism, this clash of meanings must be met by more than saying my meaning is more real or this meaning has always been so.

Either these separate people can become balkanized again with the inevitable commingling and resultant clash, or syncretism, or another set of meanings are developed that enable them to live together without destroying each other. Civil law is a means of maintaining peace that supersedes a particular group. Rather than insisting that one’s meaning is more real or more integral, time could be spent reasoning to find what is meaningful for both or what can be tolerated by both or not. If not, then, how do we keep them sufficiently isolated from each other that offense doesn’t escalate to war?

Reason and science simply because they are not subjectively solipsistic, and there is a there there, allow people to work through living and growing, through meaning, without isolation or violence.

image source

Jim Newman,

Rape and Nature

Posted by Jim Newman on October 1st, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Women's Rights

it's not sexHalf a day yesterday was spent repairing fences. Sawing fallen trees out of the way was the largest task. Just getting tools out and getting to the fence was a task. Wild rose bushes make the work unpleasant as they claw at everything. Soon my arms are a mess because it’s just too hot to wear long sleeves. I can’t move slowly enough to not engage them as they dangle and spring about with an alacrity that is impossible to avoid.

My daughter springs live trees upright that have been bent over by falling dead ones. Later, on seeing Osage Orange sprouting in a hay field, I comment that the fields need to be free of trees taking over and she responds that trees have rights too. If I were a tree would I want to be removed? I am never sure how to respond to the inevitable clash of life. She is clear that humans have done too much and somehow nature must return. She has big empathy.

It’s difficult to say often what is natural or not. Often it doesn’t matter and is used as a talking point. I never cared politically whether being gay was natural or not. It simply should be supported as a human right.

On another front it is infuriating to see the push back against those trying to prevent rape. And that’s my trigger warning.

Camille Paglia is back in the news with a Time piece that advises us that rape is natural. I’m sure some men are pleased to hear this. Paglia lambasts the current campus drives against rape–presumably all rapes, though date rape (used to be spousal rape) seems to be the litmus test of whether one is really for or against rape as natural. Luckily, no one seems to support the rape of dead people, or rape in war, or rape combined with violence. But all sides do seem to say that rape is rape whether the subjective experience of it defines its horror, to a point. Some women seem to be less affected by their rape while others are never whole again. Men talk about being assaulted and meh, others say it defined their sexuality. Consensus is that more people, by far, are affected negatively by rape. And yes it affects nonraped men because men must help the survivors and help resolve the issue, since men are by far the largest instigators of it.

Paglia harkens back to Hobbes by saying there is great evil in the world and we all are a wisp away from outright war to whatever human elimination can be technically managed. Like animals we are. Indeed, Jane Goodall was disappointed that her seemingly pleasant chimps could become quite aggressive. Yet, bonobos seem to engage in near constant sex to sway aggression while the retiring gibbons use distance to maintain peace. The harem-oriented gorilla hides away but nevertheless maintains size, on many levels, to keep other males in their place.

I am not sure how all of this relates to human rape. Nature only provides inspiration of what has become natural because of cultural survival or what has become cultural because of natural tendencies. Humans are indeed competitive but how that expresses itself is rich with variety, including becoming less competitive. Wars have a way of rewarding the returning-valiant in more food and women. I suppose in isolated combinations of warring groups there would be changes of valiance that are favored. But this is a bit like saying that since men are naturally bigger, they are naturally aggressive to women when in some human groups the size difference is minimal, if not the opposite. Which group when, how, and why? And does that relate to another group?

Laws in democracies and republics are created precisely because people determine a behavior must stop. It really doesn’t matter whether it’s natural or not. Restorative or punitive justice decisions may be affected but not the elimination of the behavior. Law simply doesn’t care if people are naturally murderous, thieverous, dishonest, or all of the other negative behaviors we prohibit. Why a law is necessary certainly involves research and observation but in some cases not. Do we really need research to support we don’t want murder or that we would prefer consent? Well, OK, we do to some as some really do believe that war is required for human thriving. They think preserving competitive and predatory behavior ensures sufficient will to provide aggressive self-defense should war happen to occur again. That would be Paglia when she is not apologizing but promoting. Nor is it true. A peaceful warrior is less likely to go overboard, encouraging negative pushback and spiraling, escalating wars.

Science does inform that sexual crimes have a high recidivism so there is good reason to continue remediation of those who are convicted of sexual crimes. Perhaps even to restrict some who would not be recidivistic (how would we know in the individual until too late) simply because mass human management is difficult. But we haven’t returned yet to castration for sex crimes or death for murder–though some see that as a solution too.

Demonstrating that patriarchy is still alive and well helps. That men still hold the most power in our society should be obvious. Yet men feel they are oppressed too. This binary view on these issues belies the spectrums and probabilities that are part of statistics. Perhaps statistics should be taught instead of precalc in high school as that seems far more useful in life. More importantly would be bridges showing how everyone is affected as well as those who are the worst.

Paglia’s notion that men return to predatory hunting, warring, and the capturing of women does condone that behavior. Rape in war is an often used tactic. That men can rape and physically harm screaming, wounded, women is indeed a tough thing to believe is possible at all. Surely it must be some biological thing of conquest? Who could be trained to that? No. Inculcation works to any level. It’s not a good and evil thing. It’s an adaptability and malleability thing.

To say rape is normalized in some wars should not mean that it is then somehow tolerated at their homes. It’s tough enough to get veterans to not be sound shy, trigger happy, angry, reclusive, or free of nightmares. We don’t resolve those issues by leaving them untreated, as being a natural result. To further the nonsense and say that all men have these problems because of an inherent evilness in people is too much like all people are full of unresolvable sin. It continues the religious notion that sin is inevitable, a thing, and humans can’t ever change.

Evolution shows that to be wrong and the incredibly diversity of individuals within groups shows just how much so. We will most definitely change over time whether we like it or not. But by rewarding behaviors we create incentives for success that do affect how we change and who will thrive.

Carol Tavris gave a talk on the apparently too-common case of where both parties are so drunk that no one knows whether consent was asked or made. It becomes impossible to prove rape when no one can remember? Is it fair to try? That’s not really true and some courts have a lower bar of evidence for rape and sex crimes. Hell the bar is even lower in drug laws where police can forfeit your possessions-money on your person and in your vehicle until you can prove they were not gained by drug deals. By this bar a man would have to prove it wasn’t rape simply because penetration occurred. I don’t think that’s what we want in both cases for different reasons. Well, on the other hand, rape is a worse problem than drug use.

Unconscious date rape is resolved by education, law, and social cohesion. We teach not to steal or murder. What makes rape less educable? Other people simply should not tolerate what appears to be oblivious rape as it happens and they see it. Further, men (all) must be educated that getting drunk on their part is worse than a woman getting drunk. Alcohol as a date rape drug is a problem and frankly I would say men should not get drunk if undiscussed sex is even remotely an issue. If a woman is drunk the guy can still know he shouldn’t go after her. I mean really, why in hell would you want to capture-rape a drunk woman? If that’s satisfying competitive urges then buying food at the store is hunter-gathering.

Saying that men are weak provides legitimacy to isolating women and reducing their freedom. Women can well counter that they are so blinded by male sexuality that men should never be bare chested or have even a bump in their pants displayed. That dancing is too much. That seeing their eyes is too much. That simply never being in the same room would guarantee there would be no rape. Paglia is returning us to this state where genders are balkanized because there just isn’t another way.

But there is a much better way. We can educate and we can treat each other with care. We can root out ancient traditions and values that encourage negative behavior. We can reward good behavior.  Women’s studies. Sexuality classes. Morality and ethics classes. Critical thinking and statistics classes.

Jim Newman,

The Myth of Religious Violence

Posted by Jim Newman on September 30th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in religion

religious violenceRebuilding windows yesterday, a neighbor came over and said our horses had got out again. Our fences are difficult to maintain with deer breaking through them, trees crashing down, and lightning strikes destroying fence charges. I got them back without using halters. They are like little kids prancing around me, fighting for position close to the snacks I brought. I wish I had the time to spend with them. They enjoy the company and like to work. Today I must go chainsaw up the fallen trees and repair fence. Yet, I linger on this device unhappy that Karen Armstrong’s big reviews are almost always positive.

With 2-3 politicians openly atheist, it’s hard to imagine that atheists are such a cultural problem. With so much damnation that if secularism were true it would catch on like a smart phone… With popular atheists acting as wrongly sexist, and more so than the general population, her arguments will no doubt appeal.

It is quite unlikely that I will read “Fields of Blood” by Karen Armstrong. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t agreed with what she has said so far. Perhaps, it is because I am on a limited budget or what seems limited to me. The reviews of her book appear in the Guardian, the Spectator, Kirkus, the Telegraph, the Scotsman, and whyevolutionistrue. The Scotsman states her premise

Armstrong is right – very right – to point out that all societies are founded on theft and intimidation, and that a systemic violence underpins and upholds the concept of civilisation itself. That we have science, art, culture, engineering, cities and philosophy at all is bought by the blood of billions of anonymous humans who died tens of thousands of years ago.

The growing trend of excusing religion and attacking secularism often pins on the insistence that cultural, political, material, and biological reasons create the massive violence, xenophobia, misogyny, and general dishonesty in the world.

The difficulties ensue. If religions don’t foster violence, or provide cover to violent urges, how do we begin the discussion with those who say their violence is most definitely for religious reasons?

Relating that religions were never separate from culture before the axial age is a bit like saying there has always been science even in hunter-gather culture because they saw things and made hypotheses, tested them, and then kept what was true or useful. It’s true but doesn’t describe the evolution of science in culture. Perhaps we should eliminate the word religion and call the phenomenon “world view” and religion an industrial world view or commodified world view or politicized world view or what? It really doesn’t matter in helping decide whether modern or old religion is a cause of human violence and suffering. Certainly the trust in a shaman or sorcery that caused harm still caused harm just as the trust that a jealous god demands no competition creates harm.

Armstrong maintains there are secular wars that have nothing to do with religion, which is true in some cases. But saying Germany and Hitler had nothing to do with Judaism or religion is just plain false. Based on the belief that the Jews had a disproportion of wealth and intellectual accounts doesn’t mean Hitler and others did not see this religion as both a means of identity and a scourge. He certainly didn’t forgive marginalized, disenfranchises, or Jews that were by relation only. He certainly didn’t go after wealth, the means of achievement, or the basic support of the system that created the wealth. He went after a people, and a religion, because they were religious, and the people followed that hook.

Too many say that it is the action that is unsupported and the knowledge-base is irrelevant. Thievery is bad and whether they do it for need, religion, or life-vitality is most relevant. It is convenient to do this to allow some sort of acceptance of contrary views, or those who have left a view but value its tradition, but at some point you have to acknowledged that it is the knowledge base that empowers, delineates, and formalizes the action. Would Christians have gone for Jerusalem if they didn’t have a Christ they thought born there? More importantly what other outlet would there have been for their cultural and political issues? Certainly more peaceful outlets could occur. An individual, when losing their temper, can beat their spouse, kick the cat, go for a run, chop wood for the fire, meditate, or seek their therapist. Which you do makes all the difference in the world, and which you do depends on the culture that uses their religion or world view to define what is appropriate. Much like TV may not create violence but violent acts are copycated. If they had known a positive resolution they likely  have imitated that.

Religious rituals can embrace material causes. Marvin Harris rightly noted that pigs were hated after their habitat was gone. The aggressive and surviving animals wrecked havoc on cities, and became so great a nuisance, and so quick to replenish, that some massive cultural change was needed to prevent any outliers from starting the whole problem over again. A modern example would be to use religion to create universal vaccination without exception, or climate change prevention. This is why religious people call big tent issues religious. They seem all embracing, and evidence of a basic world view.

But this isn’t what secularists are saying. They do not say religion is bad because everyone follows one to create universal change. If the manifold and many religions of the world collide together there must be some sort of means of resolution to get things done that must be available to to all. Democracy requires a majority to agree, and that the balance of that tyranny is met by rights. The only way to do this with modern mobility is to not allow any one religion, culture, or politics to dominate. Does it matter if you call it a religion? If the people who vote say they are voting because their sacred text says so or their religious culture says so you do have to take them at their word. Yes, the religious view can be deconstructed to other causes to help the case; your religion says to stone adulterers, we don’t do that now. But there had better be some good reasons not to other than it just seems better not to, or my religion says no to stoning. Discussion has to center around whether stoning is effective or desired, and why, in a way that everyone can relate to, or make some sort of effective opinion, or create change. Reasoning must have a place or we might as well stop talking.

Reasoning itself is an antidote to outright violence. Religions deny the value of reason for sorcery, magic, and the primacy of the subjective experience as universal.

The push against essentialism and biology holds to a point. We wish to avoid stereotyping and not treat individuals as such. Why? It is easy to mistake the motivations and reasoning of the person(s) involved. If there are 10, 20, or 100 variables that make up a person’s decision process, focusing on the ones you think they may be jumps to conclusion. Yet, acknowledging that biological anger (if it exists) or patriarchy (if it is cultural) are very real systemic or endemic problems helps inform remediation and restoration. If a culture shows great evidence that sexual predation has a high recidivism then those crimes and restitution would be different than thievery which shows to have low recidivism. That this is a state or dynamic issue acknowledge that it could eventually be different and require knew rules and processes. It is also wrong to assume that every sexual predator will be recidivistic. If you don’t know the actual reasons you have to have multiple resolutions until you do. And some things become so serious they monopolize the conversation.

The modern difficulty is the abstraction of knowledge of the individual to laws that apply to all. In once case Jill makes a bad mistake, really knows better, and will unlikely do it again. In another, Joe may be going to do it again without question. It’s one of the reasons that analysis of character applies in sentencing and even in assessing guilt. In societies where people no longer closely associate with each other it is near impossible to provide good analysis. The easiest solution is the demand to follow authority, whether it’s a person, a people, a law, or a culture. Indeed the current trend to virtue ethics is just that. To divorce the individual from having to reason, which is time consuming. It makes sense as a way of treating people as whole units and not judge by ether personality, situation, or motivation. We simply don’t care because it’s about building a character that generates good action.

But that may not be helpful in the long run. Virtue of care, healing everyone becomes dust when care is met by retaliation, destroying the caregiver. People, need their reasons and so called emotions. Change also creates outliers and outlier communities that are going to create friction. Mobility has to give way to creating consensus for decisions that affect multiple disparate groups and some will not be pleased. A misogynist being told they are naturally that way, or that their sacred text caused them to be that way, is not going to create the change until they recognize themselves that they are even misogynistic. You have to sling a bunch of causes to them and assume that what sticks is at least a start. We have to deal with individuals, their individual reasons, and somehow create a coherent, effective,  society that spans across religions, cultures, politics, biology, situations, and environment.

If a religion says to do something for some reason we must address that just as secularists must address their own issues of, for example, embedded sexism. If atheism really means “no gods” and nothing more that is as vapid as saying everything is field and energy. How are you going to grow corn with that? There is a way. It means understanding the structures entailed by the ideology as it is experienced now and observed by others.

Jim Newman,