Atheism as Religion in Law, Cicero Lives

Posted by Jim Newman on November 5th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Church and State, religion

religionThis is the time of year where my get and go has done got up and went. Demotivation from work stress, increasing cold, and short days makes it difficult for me to even know about, much less achieve, the many things to be done. This spirals into depression where self-criticism rules and it becomes difficult not to see fault in near everything, and to feel how near everything really needs to change to make the world and me better.

That this midterm election was perhaps the most important one since Eisenhower didn’t help. The growing trend towards conservatism makes it worse in my case, since I have few leanings towards it anymore. That Obama has spent less money than any president since Eisenhower, as reported by Forbes, doesn’t help. One reason is it’s a bald-faced lie to say Obama has been the biggest spender in history and another is the recovery would have occurred faster and better if Obama could have injected money into the work force and created incentives for businesses to relieve their hoarding. Not to mention less tax relief for the uberwealthy.

Cicero’s brother wrote a little book “How to Win an Electiontelling Cicero to basically promise anything, appeal to the privileged, flatter all,  surround yourself with support, be a chameleon, and accuse opponents of sex scandals. This perhaps apocryphal book almost seems like a parody right down to it being written by a scoundrel brother to a politician that promoted honesty, virtue, and restraint. Yet, Cicero, in his later works speaks of ambition, ruthlessness, and temptation as constant motivations in his life. Note that Karl Rove recommended this book on the cover of Freeman’s edition but Garry Wills blasted the book for being disingenuous to real politics. What do you think? It seems the practice of honesty is a virtue only if you’re surrounded by like minded people…

Much like including atheist displays on public property as equal time with religious displays, a Federal District court allowed an atheist prison inmate to form a a humanist group.

In a decision issued Thursday, Senior District Judge Ancer Haggerty ruled that prison officials violated inmate Jason Holden’s constitutional rights under the First and Fifth Amendments, and moved to recognize secular humanism as a religion for “Establishment Clause purposes.”

This seems like a victory, a big victory. Especially since prisons use religions so strongly that there are virtually no atheists in prison. Which doesn’t necessarily mean there are no atheists in prison but you aren’t allowed to be one.

The case, co-filed by the American Humanist Association, marks a victory for secular groups seeking access to the same legal rights afforded to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims — all of whom are permitted to organize under the current federal prison system.

Making humanism, secularism and atheism religions does disservice to their definitions but it also supports the idea that specific social justice issues, or morality, are part and parcel of these groups–far beyond revealed or not. It also means the government lists approved religions for personal rights.

In siding with the plaintiffs, Haggerty cited a 1961 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Torcaso v. Watkins, which referred to “Secular Humanism” as a religion in its landmark decision to prohibit state and federal governments from passing any laws that impose religious requirements on holding public office.

“The court finds that Secular Humanism is a religion for Establishment Clause purposes,” Haggerty, a Bill Clinton appointee, concluded on Thursday. “Allowing followers of other faiths to join religious group meetings while denying Holden the same privilege is discrimination on the basis of religion.”

The only way to defend against the insistence of religious-oriented support legally is to call them religions. There are no phrases like philosophy, world-view or social moral code in this kind of law. Everyone is a group, much like zero is an amount or baldness is a hairstyle. All of which are true in some ways. It sidesteps the real misuse that government shouldn’t be in the religion business.

I suppose it is a wedge which allows the presence and acknowledgement of secular interests, but it only fuels fire to the idea that atheism is competing with religion in morality, when many atheists don’t want any specific morality included in the package–they just don’t want to be preached to or do theological therapy.

For now this is how it must be as a political tactic but I find it troubling and wonder if it won’t cause problems in the long run. It takes away from the point of a secular public space that allows religious tolerance. It gives credibility that atheism and theism are just two peas in the same pod.

It will be interesting to see secular groups spawn and form their own groups much like local, regional, and national churches. I wonder how the system will handle them when they want their own brand of support?

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Socially Responsible Mutual Funds

Posted by Phil Ferguson on October 30th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Investing Skeptically

Socially Responsible Mutual Funds

NOTE: 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.

What are Socially Responsible Mutual Funds?  (also known as Socially Responsible Investing – SRI)

Socially Responsible Mutual Funds often invest in companies that pay attention to things like….

Ethics

EthicsHuman Rights

Environment

Product Safety

Or, they avoid companies that invest in….

Gambling

Tobacco

Alcohol

Weapons

 

I have been telling people for years that Socially Responsible Mutual Funds are a bad choice but, as a good skeptic, I have to double check.  I have to make sure I just don’t look for evidence that confirms my view I have to look for evidence that confronts my position and evaluate it.  I begin with a Google search and found a very positive story about Socially Responsible mutual funds from Kiplinger.

The author tells us that it is a growing business.

In 1995, there were only 55 mutual funds that engaged in SRI, with $12 billion in assets. Now there are 493, with assets of $569 billion.

That is amazing growth but, is it an appeal to popularity.  Maybe it is just the result of good marketing.  I need to know more about how these funds work.

Unfortunately, There is also a serious problem in defining what can be bought in Socially Responsible mutual funds.  Each fund is different and has different rules.  Some say you can’t buy stock in Apple because in uses kids in low income countries others say you should by Apple because it helps people in low income countries.  I found this in the Kiplinger story….

Lately, some of the largest SRI funds have been straying from their dogma and injecting more subjective judgment into their decision-making. Or maybe they’re just hedging their bets. For instance, the Web site of Domini Social Equity (DSEFX), founded in 1991, contains this disclaimer:  “Domini may determine that a security is eligible for investment even if a corporation’s profile reflects a mixture of positive and negative social and environmental characteristics.”

Huh?  So, they can invest in anything?  What is the point.  You may find another fund that invests in what you wanc but, they can change later – after they have your money.  You cannot control what they buy.

The Kiplinger’s story featured a few of the best Socially Responsible Mutual Funds (and ETFs) and looked at their results.  Unfortunately, they used different time periods (sometimes 5 years sometimes 15 years)  when looking at the different options and I did not like that they kept comparing results to the S&P 500 index.  The S&P 500 is only large companies and for the last 10 years it has slightly lagged the whole market.  I think a better comparison is the Wilshire 5000 index.

Some of the funds Kiplinger mentioned have loads (an extra fee you pay to buy) of around 5% and one required an initial investment of $1,000,000.  (note: Kiplinger did not reduce returns to account for the load.)

Let’s look at their first example….

Consider iShares MSCI USA ESG Select Index (symbol KLD), an exchange-traded fund that tracks an index of companies that it says follow high “environmental, social and governance” standards. Over the past five years, the fund returned an annualized 2.3%, compared with 1.7% for Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index.

I realized that this story was published in May of 2012 (2.5 years ago) and those 5 years included the horrible year of 2008.  I was curious, how did this investment do since then?  From June 1, 2012 to Oct 29, 2014 KLD returned 44.43% and the S&P 500 Index returned 52.64% (NOTE the Wilshire 5000 was up 53.03%).  KLD under performed by more than 8% – ouch.  Remember what they always say, “Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results”.

I decided to take a bigger look and found a good basket of Socially Responsible mutual funds.  I used the site Socialfunds.com to help me find some of these funds.  I only wanted to look at funds that had a 10 year track record (ending June 30, 2014) and invested just in the US stock market.  Here is what I found….

Fund Name                                                10 Year Average

TIAA-CREF Social Choice Equity Fund 7.90
Calvert Social Index 6.41
Domini Social Equity 6.63
Walden Equity 7.08
Ariel Funds 7.18
Dreyfus Third Century C 6.38
Green Century Equity 6.19
Legg – Mason Social Aware C 4.79
Parnassus Fund 9.78
Sentinal Sustainable Core A 6.89
Vanguard FTSE Social Index 6.46
Walden Social Equity Fund 7.08

The overall performance of these funds was 6.90% per year.  The Wilshire 5000 was 8.50% per year.  The under performance is about 1.6% per year.  This is about the same result for mutual funds as a whole.  This is one of the many reasons I recommend Index Funds.  You may have noticed that one fund (Parnassus) did better than the market.  1 out of 12!  There is no reason to think this is anything but chance.

Why do these funds do so poorly?  An important factor is costs….(via Investopedia)
Socially responsible mutual funds tend to have higher fees than regular funds. These higher fees can be attributed to the additional ethical research that mutual fund managers must undertake. In addition, socially responsible funds tend to be managed by smaller mutual fund companies and the assets under management are relatively small.
The final problem with Socially Responsible Mutual Funds is that you are not actually helping.
Let me explain….
When you (or the mutual fund) buy a stock, you buy it from someone that already owns the stock.  NO money goes to the company.  This does not apply to IPOs (Initial Public Offerings).  With an IPO the money goes directly to the company but, the IPO price is set in advance and any increase in demand does not directly benefit the company (unless the company can’t sell all of the shares).  You could argue that the increased demand in a specific (socially responsible) stock could increase the price and provide a benefit to the CEO or other big investors.  This is also unlikely because there are other investors that will sell shares if they think the stock’s price has gone up beyond the perceived value of the company.
In summary we have these problems…
1)  You can’t know for sure if the funds do (or will do) what you want.
2)  You will likely under perform the market by 1.6%
3)  You are not actually doing any good.
The solution….
Invest in index funds and take 1.6% out each year and give it to the charity of your choice!  You will have control over the money and you will know that you are making a difference.  Everybody wins!

Fall Wood, Plato, Choosing, Priority

Posted by Jim Newman on October 29th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Personal Stories, Uncategorized

oak treeFall is overwhelming me. With two fields being mowed, chisel plowed, disked, disked, disked, disked, cultipacked, seeded, and rolled by our contract farmer, the fields have never looked so clean. I can’t keep up with the fire wood, garden conversion from field to greenhouse, outside-income work, and general farm chores. I wonder about the choosing of priorities in work and politics.

A farm of more than a few acres is best as a community entity. Though isolated and short term the various big chores benefit from many hands and minds. Rotating seasonal work around farm lines creates a community of shared types and desires based on how and what is farmed. The large contract farmer takes on several farms.

Communities that extend to others, particularly, past geologic and geographic boundaries have different interests. When they get together they want to talk about different things. Perhaps even a hurt or sick relative is all they can think of.

Choosing politics here seems like choosing the next task I should do on my list. What’s going to affect me soonest, worst, longest? Perhaps whatever task holds my attention can’t be interrupted? Perhaps some past issue causes me to remain moot? Perhaps sheer anger at having to do the task silences conversation. Many ways. I seem to do poorly at resolving these priorities but for reason or I would’t need to think about them.

Reason includes providing information and evidence. Yet, the reasoning is about what to do. You can’t begin to do what you don’t know about. What it is and what to do are intertwined in a braid so tight it can only be cut. Further, you see value in both as attraction, or beauty; even the ugly serves as guide to what is beautiful; you are disgusted about what is not true or right to do or beautiful. Restraint, amidst exploration, follows. Art as well. All to choose what to do next.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Michael Sherlock’s Atheist Atrocities

Posted by Jim Newman on October 24th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in religion

gottMitUnsMichael Sherlock writes a rebuttal against the popular misconception that Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot were atheists and had they been real Christian their atrocities wouldn’t have happened. If they were Christians, they weren’t good Christians.

Atheism is exploding into sects, branches, and social syncretes of the tautologous but facile idea that atheism just means no gods. Yet atheists want to say they are more moral than the religious or at least as moral to show social and political acceptability. Social justice types go further and say that atheism must include some definitions of morality, or that atheist groups must pay attention to other issues, often member oriented, besides the constant screaming of there is no god.

The easy thing is to pick through history, find the tyrants-conquerers, and then discern whether they were really religious or not. The difficulty of this is that those who follow a religion rarely follow all of it; they prefer to follow certain parts of their faith and reinterpret others. The easy ploy, like “it’s all faith,” is kin to claiming “that’s not my religion.” In conquest the balance of using local religions versus imposing another is difficult. A new religion is like having a common ally against others–the alien theory of social cohesion where everyone bands to gather to fight or endorse yet another party. Or conquer lightly and infiltrate over time.

We have to look over the manifold expressions of a religion to discuss the dogma, or ideology, of the religion. If there is immorality there, then it has to be excised or others can at any time refer to the ideology as support, even, or especially, when many don’t follow that particular part. The difficult part is the response to Hitch, that atheists can’t be moral because they do not make a covenant with god. That’s why religion is systemically poisonous–its premise is no matter how you behave, unless you do it for Jesus you’re immoral–natural morality can be followed with praise but you will not be saved.

Want to make a difference? Take a small part of a religion and elevate it to high status. Old followers see commonality and comfort in familiarity and radicals see the newness and progress towards what they value. All of the time insisting that these truths are absolute and revelation or divinely inspired intuition has motivated the epistemic change.

Hitler is a fine example of a conflicted religious follower. It is unlikely that he was a devout Christian, in the common sense, (does avoiding communion mean you’re not Catholic?) though he does claim such, he does work with the papacy, and he does claim to follow god in his wars to elevate true Christians to world dominance. He mimics Luther’s hatred of Jews in a long history of Christians hating Jews. They were the Christ killers, and they were a competing religion that was having too much success yet were insular, conversion not allowed.

“Besides that, I believe one thing: there is a Lord God! And this Lord God creates the peoples.” [1] ~Adolf Hitler

“We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations; we have stamped it out” [2] ~Adolf Hitler

It would be impossible to deny that John was antisemitic.

From all of the evidence available in the volumes of historical works, both Christian and non-Christian, it is clear that there is an unbroken chain of hatred, intolerance, and racism toward the Jews, which began with “John’s” Gospel (see also the Synoptic gospels) and continued all the way down into the twentieth century, ending with Hitler’s bloody campaign against the Church’s most despised enemies. [7]

More than a few bible scholars have made mention of the virulent anti-Semitism of John’s gospel. This anonymous and falsely named piece of work goes beyond its synoptic counterparts (Matthew, Mark and Luke) to directly accuse the Jewish people of being the “sons of Satan” (John 8:44), thereby demonizing the Jewish people and opening the door to a millennia of Jewish suffering at the hands of credulous Christian maniacs.

But we can better blame Luther for having created World War II against semitism. It goes back through all of the wars before.

“If we wish to find a scapegoat on whose shoulders we may lay the miseries which Germany has brought on the world, I am more and more convinced that the worst evil genius of that country, is not Hitler or Bismarck or Frederick the Great, but Martin Luther.” [24]

Hitler was the logical conclusion of a particular kind of German destiny. In a sense he was a perfect pawn. You can be sure the US didn’t join the war for Jews though. They joined because the Germans and fascists were including Americans as part, a haven, of Jewish culture.

If Christians don’t believe it could be true that a people would consider themselves world leaders or the bearer of good news to all, let them look to their own motivations to have everyone saved, or that only through Jesus can one be saved. “With god you can do anything.” Is this really helpful? Psychs say a sky daddy gives strength. Yes, including world domination. “With democracy you can do anything.” “With kindness you can do anything.” “With economic support you can do anything.” The structure becomes meaningless–all that is heard is “you” and “anything” until reflection and then it is the subjective god.

Indeed, the heavy castigation of atheists being so militant is that atheists show the totalitarian and fascist aspects of the religious. Even though atheists are hardly represented in politics even the hint that the religious aren’t the world’s most saved and blessed people is too much to bear. It’s still a huge competition for world domination by religious factions. To disarm the very premise of this causes the religious to ban together. At least some religiosity continues the competition–the only thing worse than losing is being told the competition is invalid.

A big reason atheists hate to claim an inherent morality is many do not want an absolutist morality other than vague abstractions like reason, evidence, and science. One of the reasons many older atheists are *difficult* is that they rebelled against authority and religion long before it was popular and they never cared for any particular moral climate that was impressed upon them. They don’t want to create yet another authoritarian morality. Let atheists be democrats or republicans they say. Yet, politics is the point and always has been. Knowledge without according action is empty. Atheism must show some sort of way to action or it is utterly meaningless like “how many angels on a pin.” Reason has to show itself to morality or why use it?

Sherlock provides a good summary that so called atheists dictators were religious either self avowedly or for reasons of conquest. An ideology of conversion, good news, and idiosyncratic salvation, helps subdue people.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Atheism as Quasi-Religion

Posted by Jim Newman on October 22nd, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in religion

religion as politicsI am adding foam between the framing of a shed to be converted into a play house or for overflow sleeping. It had been going to be a shop but the owners realized that was unlikely, and they really needed a separate space for visiting kids during holidays. They had considered building a yurt but that was equally expensive and less versatile for their needs.

Cutting out squares of foam so they fit and then spraying liquid foam to hold the pieces in place and fill voids is not a difficult task. It is pleasant compared to working with fiberglass batting which is one of the worst construction chores possible.

Though cheap, fiber-glass insulation should be banned. It creates silicosis-causing dust, is extremely itchy, hard to install properly, provides vibrant nesting material for insects vermin, and holds a fair amount of water after water intrusion.

It’s popular for many to call atheism a religion. A News24 post pretty well sums it up.

I believe that atheism, like Islam currently, is also concerned with politics. In politics, secular belief systems, especially, have the character that the world must be changed in order to achieve the perfect state – a secular state. Why else do secular humanists want a secular state if atheism is not a belief system?

I conclude that we deal with much more than a denial of something here and that atheism, shorn of all its semantics is in my opinion a belief system akin to religion and if you look at the nature of the beast you see nothing but a quasi-religious belief.

By this measure my proselytizing that fiber-glass insulation should be banned is quasi-religious. Or do I have to have written 10 posts against fiberglass, or gone on a speaking tour with a new book?

Does a String theorist who spends his life battling against the Classic model a religious proselytizer or just quasi-religious?

Does promoting universal health care or a political party display a religion? Are politicians religious? Educators?

If I am a pain in the ass to my friends, does correcting them when they make errors in critical thinking, memory, and observation make me really just more quasi-religious? Or just an annoying personality, or an oppressed personality that is still privileged enough to complain?

Is the climate change battle a religious battle on the face of it? One world view battling another? Was the morality of women’s and race’s suffragism a religious morality play? There are certainly religious inputs and justifications. Certainly there is prayer for guidance.

When religious dogma has advice on how to live life or what life-reality is then countering those claims do not create another religion. It is too easy to conflate religion as the top, umbrella, world view and every other world-view is a subset. These are epistemic or ontological questions, not choosing a religion.

It gets really tiring that in atheism anyone having a strong opinion, or wearing their opinion on their sleeves is religious. I suppose that makes all of those people wearing pink or yellow or red bands as jewelry religious expressionists, and not just promoting gay, MIA, or breast cancer research.

The more tiresome phrase, “it’s all faith,” tells us nothing about what to believe but attempts to make choosing impossible, there is no ultimate true faith, just mine and yours, no real proof, stop asking. But when a faith, just like a material, causes harm then demanding it to be banned or removed is nothing more than consideration of harm and benefit, along with mediation to freedom and privacy.

If we were talking taxes and why one tax system is better than another would that be a religious discussion? Tax systems embrace nearly all parts of our life including issues of social, government, and moral goodness and worth. Not just money, but ideology. The money lender fables are ubiquitous. The castigation to belief and faith is political and insular. Nothing more.

I saw this idiotic style present in computer wars where one side says they will never use Windows and another side says they will never use a Mac.  it became an all encompassing world view including the work environment (no Macs/PCs here), the real environment (the Green/Ruinous machine), and the user environment (ease of use, versus expert efficiency–doer vs tinkerer). More people spend time on their computers than in church by far. After awhile I wanted to make both of them use an abacus and pencil again.

Football, sewing circles, book clubs, all become quasi-religions by this measure. Which is nonsense. Religion is not the definition of social structure, it is an example of it.

When you hear someone whine faith or belief it is nothing more than a shield to halt discussion.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

 

New Pope, Same Vatican

Posted by Jim Newman on October 20th, 2014 – 1 Comment – Posted in Catholic Church

gays and bishops

Two hot waters fail in a week. Changes creates stress. In one case a user who turned up the temperature blames herself for breaking water heater. How easy it is too take responsibility or give blame for something of which we have little control.

The great thing about dogmatic institutions is how layers of control ensure no one layer can have excessive control. The Pope has been welcoming on many levels but then rescinded on many levels by high order Catholics, lackeys to the dogma–but ideology doesn’t drive discourse, right, moderates…

The synod’s final statement failed to include remarkably conciliatory language revealed a week ago that would have welcomed the “gifts and qualities” of gay Catholics and called on pastors to “avoid any language or behavior” that could discriminate against divorced Catholics.

While the language on gays had been softened during discussion in the meeting’s last days, the final document failed to receive the two-thirds majority vote it needed. The bishops did, however, praise conjugal love — love within the bounds of traditional marriage — calling it “one of the most beautiful of all miracles and the most common.”

Don’t you just wanna praise how USA Today contradicts their own “however” since Catholic traditional marriage makes sin many other kinds of marriage, sex, religious or not? Praise conjugal love as long as it’s hetero’s in the missionary position… Or is it Ok to go from behind, or cowgirl, now? I forget or was that Paul who said doggie style was Ok? The shifting dogma is hard to follow. It would be a good sign if it were in a better direction–the heels dig in like power affronted.

You have to to wonder which sex positions? If it’s all about economy, disenfranchised young men, honor, cultural vitality, why gay and conversely, why missionary?

image source

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com