Tag Archives: history

Christmas is a Really Weird Holiday

Currier And Ives Christmas Village
The ancient Romans had a problem. A new cult arrived, bringing with it the most distasteful practices. The members all were atheists. They were also incestuous, and they had secret cannibalistic rituals.

The new guys? Some jerks called “Christians”. That’s right: they refused to believe in the Gods, they called each other “brother” and “sister” and greeted with a kiss, and rumor had it that they took part in some kind of ritual that involved eating the flesh and drinking the blood of others. Most folks thought they were killing babies.

New people are always bringing in new ideas and messing things up.

Take Christmas. As far as we know, some kind of holiday around this time has been celebrated forever. Go back ten thousand years, and you’ll find humans dancing around a fire around this day. They just didn’t call it Christmas. Nowadays the best scientific name for this day is the Winter Solstice. It marks the shortest day in the year, and it’s something that any culture that watches the sky would know and wonder about. Would the sun continue retreating? What could be done to bring Spring back? People built bonfires (along with large “yule” logs), used trees in ceremonies, had great gatherings, built huge edifices to properly revere the sun and help bring back much needed warmth to the land.

Then those new guys showed up with this fancy concept called “civilization” (a word which was only invented centuries later!). They wanted everybody to kind of standardize the holiday. Some of them settled on “Saturnalia” It was a pretty fun holiday. Slaves got to play the role of masters, and masters got to be slaves. There was drinking, families visited together, and everybody was thankful to spend time together. Geesh! Did we really need human sacrifices and all of that crazy superstitious stuff this time of year when we had the God Saturn and the proper celebration that should be given to him at this time?

But that didn’t last. And it was those atheist cannibal Christian types that ruined it.

At first, Christians refused to have anything to do with celebrating the birth of Jesus. Why should they? The entire religion was based on the death and resurrection of Jesus, not his birth. The first gospel written, Mark, makes no mention at all of Jesus’ birth. Later gospels went big on the story, though, with wise men, jealous kings, and all sorts of other great themes. But even then, early Christians had little interest in the beginning of the Jesus story. It was the last part that was the important part for them.

“It is only sinners like Pharaoh and Herod who make great rejoicings over the day on which they were born into this world,” said Origen, one of the most notable early church leaders.

People have a hard time believing this today, but early on it was the story of Christianity that was far more important than the historical detail or places. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that visiting holy sites became much of a big deal. What would be the point of visiting a bunch of old places? Those things were trivial compared to the meaning of the story.

The Gospel of John helped to change that, but it took a long time. John was unlike any of the other three gospels (stories of Jesus’ life) in that it tried to join philosophy and religion together. Many scholars view John as being the product of an early Christian church with a heavy Greek influence. As science and the scientific method has progressed, people took this theme of philosophy and reasoning and started focusing on sourcing and facts. Christians are especially interesting in becoming more interested in “proving” that all these things have historical meaning and validation. Compare this to many other religions which to this day are not concerned with these matters. But I digress.

Because of this joining of philosophy and religion, or in spite of it, Christianity took off in a big way, eventually becoming the state religion of Rome, even though many still kept to the old ways too. Eventually this was a problem: fervent adherents wanted to know: why should we allow folks to keep celebrating this Saturnalia thing? People loved it, but it had nothing to do with Christianity. In fact, it was bad for the brand. It sowed confusion, it diluted the message, it hurt adoption.

So somebody came up with a great idea. “I know,” they said, “let’s keep Saturnalia and all that other stuff, but we’ll also have a celebration at this time for the birth of Jesus! We don’t do anything for that, and that way everybody can have a big party and at the same time be doing it the right way.” (Some scholars consider this the first great ancient marketing ploy)

So the organized, official Christian church used Microsoft’s embrace, extend, and extinguish strategy, but it still didn’t sit well with many of the troops. Why do we need to create some new holiday and do a bunch of pagan stuff? What kind of belief system is that? Indeed, most Christians refused to have anything to do with it. But it was great for converting the unwashed masses. For a long, long time, most Christians would have nothing to do with a mid-winter celebration in honor of Jesus’s birthday. In fact, in the New World, it was outlawed.

But slowly, over the centuries, most all of the Western World adopted this time of year as being appropriate to celebrate the birth of Jesus — if only in a muted way. Even though, of course, Jesus was not born at this time of year. It seems that when he was actually born had little to do with when his birthday should be.

But even all of that compromise wasn’t good enough.

First, people stayed upset about keeping the old traditions around. Geesh! Did we really need yule logs, trees, partying, and all that crazy superstitious stuff this time of year when we had Jesus and the proper celebration of his birth?

Second, for out on the lawn, there arose quite a clatter. Somehow in all of this arguing over when Jesus was born, or if we should actually care about it or do anything about it, one of the obscure Catholic saints, some guy called Saint Nicholas, took on a big role. He had a red coat, a flying miniature sleigh, delivered presents, and…

Wait, what? Where the heck did he come from? And what does he have to do with anything?

And that wasn’t all. The “Santa” story kept growing. He lived at the North Pole. His sleigh was powered by flying reindeer, one of which had a glowing nose.

Those Saturnalia folks have to be spinning in their graves. Would this crazy revisionist nonsense ever stop?

Of course, with modern education people are beginning to realize this silliness. And, just like people do, instead of consolidating something to celebrate, they are digging up all the old Pagan rituals and starting to celebrate them too. Of course, none of them have any idea what they’re doing, and it really doesn’t make a lot of sense, but, frankly, it makes as much sense as singing “Frosty the Snowman” while heading to a yule log ceremony following Christmas Eve church services (which you attended after watching the Macy’s parade, of course)

Meanwhile modern folks are asking if Christmas is a religious holiday after all. Geesh! Do we really need nativities, Christmas Eve Masses, Cantatas, Madigrals, and all that other crazy superstitious stuff this time of year when we have a wonderful inclusive secular holiday with this Santa guy and all this other non-religious stuff in it?

In programming we have a saying: the two hardest things to do are naming things and cache invalidation. What to call things and how long to keep ideas around before discarding them. Seems like programmers aren’t the only ones with this problem!

Our species has gone from animal spirits, to a Sun God, to the God Saturn, to the birthday of Jesus, to this big guy in a red suit, to this mish-mash of magic snowmen, glowing-nosed reindeer, and other nonsense. None of these have a dang thing to do with the other, but historically they all are part of the same thread stretching across the millennia from prehistoric darkness to today.

Like it or not, mankind is determined to have some kind of holiday around the time of the Winter Solstice, although what to call it, why to have it, and how to celebrate it seems up for grabs. Makes you wonder in ten thousand years, if some vestige of mankind still remains in the universe, what kinds of things we’ll be doing this time of year?

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Franklin’s Defense of Religion

I’m not a religious person, but I am interested in history and especially in how ideas play out in history.

I came across this today. In it, Benjamin Franklin responds to one of Thomas Paine’s essays against there being any sort of providence.

It’s well-known that many of the founding fathers were deists and were skeptical of religion. Jefferson, for instance, edited his own bible. Paine took the idea of questioning to its logical extreme and advocated atheism.

Franklin was quite a character — he made a lot of money on preaching various forms of common sense morality but was also quite a bit of a party animal, especially when he got to France.

So it’s interesting to see folks from the age that founded my country discuss the role of religion in social affairs.


[Date uncertain.]


I have read your manuscript with some attention. By the argument it contains against a particular Providence, though you allow a general Providence, you strike at the foundations of all religion. For without the belief of a Providence, that takes cognizance of, guards, and guides, and may favor particular persons, there is no motive to worship a Deity, to fear his displeasure, or to pray for his protection. I will not enter into any discussion of your principles, though you seem to desire it. At present I shall only give you my opinion, that, though your reasonings are subtile and may prevail with some readers, you will not succeed so as to change the general sentiments of mankind on that subject, and the consequence of printing this piece will be, a great deal of odium drawn upon yourself, mischief to you, and no benefit to others. He that spits against the wind, spits in his own face.

But, were you to succeed, do you imagine any good would be done by it? You yourself may find it easy to live a virtuous life, without the assistance afforded by religion; you having a clear perception of the advantages of virtue, and the disadvantages of vice, and possessing a strength of resolution sufficient to enable you to resist common temptations. But think how great a portion of mankind consists of weak and ignorant men and women, and of inexperienced, inconsiderate youth of both sexes, who have need of the motives of religion to restrain them from vice, to support their virtue, and retain them in the practice of it till it becomes habitual, which is the great point for its security. And perhaps you are indebted to her originally, that is, to your religious education, for the habits of virtue upon which you now justly value yourself. You might easily display your excellent talents of reasoning upon a less hazardous subject, and thereby obtain a rank with our most distinguished authors. For among us it is not necessary, as among the Hottentots, that a youth, to be raised into the company of men, should prove his manhood by beating his mother.

I would advise you, therefore, not to attempt unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any other person; whereby you will save yourself a great deal of mortification by the enemies it may raise against you, and perhaps a good deal of regret and repentance. If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it. I intend this letter itself as a proof of my friendship, and therefore add no professions to it; but subscribe simply yours,

B. Franklin

Paine, of course, went on to author The Age of Reason, which totally skewered religion. Then he went to France — which was fertile ground for the kind of meals Paine was dishing up. Franklin was known for his prominent role science in the colonies, the almanac, bifocals, the harmonica, the Franklin Stove, and so forth. The flamethrower, over-the-top rhetoric of Paine led to him personally attacking George Washington, conspiring with Napoleon on how to invade England, and widespread hatred from his fellow Americans when he returned home, just as Franklin had predicted.

The letter is a very interesting insight into how Franklin’s mind worked.

But still, perhaps Paine got the better end of the argument.

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The Test: Civilization at a Crossroads

Civilization is at the crossroads facing a great test. Technology is pushing us into areas where mankind has never gone before. Old social and governmental structures are slowly ossifying and crumbling. The rules are not only changing, the entire game is different.

People are beginning to figure out something is changing, but they seem completely incapable of figuring out what exactly is broken or how to fix it. In places like Libya and Egypt they are actually having a shot at changing the whole shebang. I imagine such change may come to the rest of us, and soon.

Change is mostly good, but without a theme of design, an idea of why things work the way they do, people will be unable to figure out how to make the future work. They just make the same old lame mistakes over and over again. When you look at a 300-year-old institution, you may see something broken and in need of replacement, but there are also really good reasons why it lasted 300 years. Too often we get people wanting to tear it all down — which very well may be required — without having any idea of how to replace it except for maybe something they saw on TV or heard a politician say once.

Computer systems architecture, organizational architecture, and studying history has taught that the reasons why something works is more important than the thing itself. But we live in a world where people are excellent at being upset while failing miserably at being very good at all at describing why exactly things are the way they are. Any good lawyer could argue any point one way or the other and the average listener wouldn’t be able to create much of a counter-argument at all — except for maybe providing emotion-laden, poll-tested talking points by way of rebuttal. The cable news channels are full of talking heads doing just this.

Here’s a list of a dozen or so principles that I would want most people to know going forward.

  • Being wrong is the most important thing a government can do. Elections and the regular change of power allows governments to be wrong and adapt.
  • More control and government should happen locally, less far away. If you want gun control, social health plans, and all sorts of other great ideas for improving our life, you should be able to do that at the local level. People who disagree can move to another town if they don’t like it. The structure of what happens where is critical. We need to separate what problem we want to fix from where the best place to fix it is. The structure question is much more important than the policy question.
  • Being able to speak freely and persuade others is the critical part of recognizing failure and moving forward. It is especially important when people say hateful, angry, ignorant, bigoted, or ill-advised things. Nothing should interfere with free speech and the free flow of ideas
  • Computers are an extension of people’s minds, not devices like a record player, typewriter, or printing press. Intrusion into somebody’s processing and data should be treated the same as intruding into their thoughts. It shouldn’t be done.
  • Nothing should interfere with people being able to assemble in public or online to organize political parties or ask for redress of their grievances
  • You can’t form a governmental system based on certain people being better than other people. If everybody is wrong and making a unscientific or stupid decision, it’s better than making the right one that most people hate. Consent of the governed is more important than most anything else.
  • Pure Democracy is a bad thing. A little bit of aristocracy can go a long ways. We need the old Senate back where cranky old white guys (or cranky people of all demographics) appointed by their states sat around thinking about and protecting the structure of the system, not getting re-elected. The Senate should not be set up to be a place for political pandering
  • Representative democracy, where (in the States) you elect somebody to go make decisions for you, should involve somebody who physically lives near you, who only works part time making decisions, who is not representing too many people (100K seems about right), and who doesn’t have a job for life.
  • Small, distributed, self-optimizing systems always win over centralized control. Always.
  • The system should be designed for corrupt politicians. Everybody should be assumed to be crooked and out for themselves and to hold and grow power
  • You can’t form a governmental system based on altruism. It has to be based on people acting in their own interests
  • Politicians should not be able to make decisions today that require my kids to pay money for them 30 years from now. If my kids aren’t represented, they shouldn’t be able to be taxed
  • The president’s term should be extended and he should be allowed only one term. That way he won’t spend all of his time running for re-election.
  • Decisions today often look stupid tomorrow, but nothing can be done about them. All laws should have an expiration date. That way each generation can be directly asked which things it wants to continue and which things it wants to change or discontinue.
  • Citizens must feel part of a larger whole. Some kind of mandatory national service should be established where every young person must serve two years after leaving high school. This is good for the young people, for the country, and for the future of the system
  • [ADD] There is one more principle that deserves mentioning. There are three things it takes to be a absolute monarch: the ability to make laws, the ability to interpret laws, and the power to execute laws. In the U.S., these powers are deliberately put into separate hands. Some kind of wall — or checks and balances — is required with these three things. Solutions may vary.

Of course, you can (and probably should) add the rest of the Bill of Rights in there. This list was just to underscore those parts we seem to have lost.

I’m not saying that all governments should copy the U.S. Constitution. Far from it. I’m saying that there are underlying principles — being wrong, having representative democracy, having an aristocracy, regularly changing power, and so on — that support any kind of underlying system. These are not American ideas or any of that. These are things observed in the natural state of man. We look back on history and see when they worked and when countries failed because they were ignored. From a core set of principles you can architect millions of possible governmental systems. But without principles, it’s like watching a monkey try to solve a math problem. There’s no sense of context and direction.

Back in the 1700s, smart people looked around through two thousand years of history and tried to draw lessons and extract forth principles that would work under any circumstances. They thought they were building a new science.

It didn’t work out as they had planned, mainly because once political parties were formed each party took this new “science” into directions of it’s own, making it say whatever pleased them.

Nowadays most people don’t know history, couldn’t name a dozen governments that rose and fell and the possible reasons why. They are unable to describe in detail how their own governmental system works, even though they know it doesn’t. At the same time technology is making possible things like controlling robots with your mind, fathering children years after you die, instantly and constantly collaborating with people all over the globe, and changing what it means to be human (or even what it means to be sentient).

The test is here. Are we ready for it?

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Friday’s Here! Time to Analyze Some Mother Goose

We all know the rhyme, but what does it mean?

Monday’s child is fair of face

Tuesday’s child is full of grace,

Wednesday’s child is full of woe,

Thursday’s child has far to go,

Friday’s child is loving and giving,

Saturday’s child works hard for a living,

But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day

Is bonny and blithe and good and gay

Remembering this verse, I did a little poking around the web this morning to learn more about it. Originally thought to be a Mother Goose nursery rhyme from the 1700s, as it turns out this little ditty can tell us a lot about our ancestors. It goes quite a bit farther back.

It was common for wives and older women to predict the fortunes of a child based on the day of the week they were born on. Most did this by rhyme, and there were dozens of such rhymes, of which only a few have come down to us intact. Because these go so far back, you can hear the old gods in the verse if you listen closely.

Monday – the second day of the week, day of moon goddess, Selene, Luna

and Mani. “Derived from Lunae Dies, day of the moon, the name reflects

the ancient observance of feast days dedicated to moon goddess or


Hence, “Monday’s child is fair of face”

Tuesday – the third day of the week, the day of Mars, associated with

Ares. Graceful and swift. “Tuesday’s child is full of grace” Graceful and swift in this context mean graceful and swift in battle, and some Tuesdays definitely feel this way!

Wednesday - the fourth day of the week, Woden (Odin), chief god of

Norse mythology, who was often called the All Father. “Wednesday’s

child is full of woe.” Odin’s responsibilities were such that he was

never attributed with any cheerful disposition.

“Woe” as used in the English language today is an expression of grief,

regret, distress, etc. (Every dictionary, take your pick, uses those

words to describe the word “woe”.) In the 17th and 18th centuries, it

was more an expression of deep concern, and heavy responsibilities,

and it has been suggested that “woebegone” might be more accurate; but

“woebegone” wouldn’t rhyme, instead we get “Wednesday’s child is full

of woe” You can also think of “woe” as just meaning Odin himself. Wednesday is full of Woe-din.

Thursday - the fifth day of the week, “… derives its name from the

Middle English Thoresday, or Thursdaye, corresponding to the Roman

dies Jovis. “Thursday’s child has far to go,” much like Thor, the only

god who couldn’t cross from earth to heaven upon the rainbow.

Friday - the sixth day of the week, named after the Odin’s mother,

Frigga (Roman equivalent Venus). Frigga means loving or beloved,

hance, “Friday’s child is loving and giving”. You can draw your own conclusions about the exact nature of “loving and giving” as it is intended here.

Saturday - the seventh day of the week, “corresponding to the Roman

dies Saturni, or day of Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture. Those

who worked the earth worked hard, hence “Saturday’s child works hard

for a living”

Sunday - the first day of the week. “From prehistoric times to the

close of the fifth century of the Christian era, the worship of the

sun was dominant. Sunday celebrates the sun god, Ra, Helios, Apollo,

Ogmios, Mithrias, the sun goddess, Phoebe. “But the child born on the

Sabbath day, Is fair and wise and good and gay.” Correspondingly,

sunny, fun, and loving – bringing joy to other people.

Here’s a version that’s believed to be a bit older. Note the changes in Wednesday, the elimination of Sunday, and the addition of Christmas Day.

Monday’s child is fair of face,

Tuesday’s child is full of grace,

Wednesday’s child is sour and grum,

Thursday’s child has welcome home,

Friday’s child is free in giving,

Saturday’s child works hard for his living.

And the child that is born on Christmas Day

Is great, and good, and fair, and gay

Finally, here’s more of a chant version of the same type of thing:

Born of a Monday,

·Fair in face;

Born on a Tuesday,

·Full of God’s grace;

Born of a Wednesday,

·Merry and glad;

Born of a Thursday,

·Sour and sad;

Born of a Friday,

·Godly given;

Born of a Saturday,

·Work for your living;

Born of a Sunday.

·Never shall we want;

·So there ends the week,

·And there’s an end on’t

Who knows? Maybe in another few hundred years there will be rhymes about what kind of person you are from your IP address. I hope not — IPv6 is going to be very hard to rhyme.

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A New Kind of History

Last week, while doing some other work, I had the History Channel on playing a 2-hour special entitled “hippies”

It was a great overview of the hippies from the 1960s, as usual for the History Channel. But something about it struck me as being different.

Then I realized: as opposed to most HC shows, these were people telling the story in their own words. It was history, yes, but it was interactive history.

Long gone were the old portraits and actors doing voice-overs to try to add drama. This wasn’t even grainy archival video footage cleaned-up. This was color, cinematic, and was narrated by people who were there.

It struck me that as technology records more and more of things as they happen, history is going to go from being a one-dimensional subject where the reader’s imagination is engaged to a multi-media topic where the reader may actually get to challenge historical figures on why they did certain things.

Wouldn’t that be great? Can you imagine questioning Thomas Jefferson on why certain pieces of the Declaration of Independence were re-written? Or talking to William the Great about his reasons for invading Britannia?

Of course, those figures are long gone to us now. But that’s not necessarily true for the future. We could act today to create a “New Kind of History” for those who follow us.

What would it require? Some sort of automatic questioning machine, probably. A program that predicts future questions and arguments and engages with the historical person right now, while they are still alive. Famous people today are already doing this when they sit down with biographers — although biographers create their questions around total sales of a future book, instead of future conversation potential.

Would such a device be too burdensome? Would the hippies of today — and the Occupy Wall Street folks seem closest to that group — have the time or inclination to participate?

I think so. I think such a service could also provide interactivity for current people observing things over the net. After all, much of the questions future generations might have are also questions being asked today.

This is the internet in reverse. So far on the net, people post one-liners, blog entries, or status updates. All of these are one-way traffic. You make the message and then people come and read it however you’ve assimilated it. What I’m talking about is providing the answers to questions, then people who ask questions could engage with those who have gone on before. It’s the starting of a conversation through the use of questions instead of the use of statements. Sounds kind of the same, but it isn’t.

A system of questioning could have a ontological map — one question relates to another one. What did Neil Armstrong say when he stepped on the moon? Was it “A small step for man” or “A small step for A man” ? If he said the second statement and not the first, why do we remember the first? If the problem is radio reception, how big of a problem was that during the Apollo years? What sorts of things are being done now to make sure we understand folks in space?

These questions are related to one another — one follows the previous one in a straight line. Of course, you can make it a lot more complicated than that. I can easily imagine “trees” of questions, each related to the previous ones.

A computerized system could then walk those trees with the user, in a format where the user asks questions and the computer answers them. We have this to some degree right now using Google, voice commands, and search. The difference here is that my plan calls for an effort to complete the tree of questions, instead of information being presented in category/narrative form. We could create a pre-canned conversation, including probable responses from the future consumer, instead of creating a bunch of random essays all over the place that some search engine like Google then tries to patch together.

Will it work? I think so. As I noted, it’s already working, just in hodge-podge fashion. Surely somebody can improve on what we already have.

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So long, Johnny Part 1

My step-father John Fullerton passed away Sunday. I will miss him immensely.

Johnny grew up in the 1930s in the middle of coal-country, West Virginia. Everybody worked in the coal mines. His dad was a good man but drank too much. His brothers all worked in the mine as they got old enough. That’s what John was expected to do also.

Johnny was a precocious little kid in school, never agreeing with the teacher and always asking smarteleck questions and goofing off. The shortest in his class, everybody thought that he would grow up and get a job in the mines like everyone else and he’d finally “settle down”

But Johnny was good with his hands — working on things, taking them apart and putting them back together. He found an old junk car that he fixed up and he loved it dearly. He dreamed of doing something else. Seeing more things. Finding out what was over the next hill.

Tradition is hard to break, though, and when he got to be 16 he went to work at the mine just like his dad and brothers. His first week on the job he went out drinking one night and wrecked his car, destroying a tree — a very special tree that the mayor and townsfolk of a nearby town loved dearly. In the cover of darkness he got out before people figured out who it was. But it was only a matter of time.

The next day he threw his shovel up on the stack of coal and said “You can have it. I’m not doing this any more”

Everybody thought Johnny was just being, well, Johnny.

He asked his dad to sign papers so he could join the Navy. His dad looked at him and smiled — “Son, I’ll sign this, and this will be ONE THING that you won’t be able to get out of”

The only problem was that Johnny wanted to sign up in California. So — in the late 1930s — he took that old car, with a few spare parts, and took off across country to California. Back then the roads were nothing but dirt and mud trails. You could go hundreds of miles without a gas station. Nobody thought he would make it, but he did.

And that started a pretty incredible life.

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The Other End of the Telescope

Colorized picture of president Abraham Lincoln

I’m a contrarian by heart — if everybody goes one way, I start looking the other way. Must be something interesting going on over there. If everybody is selling stock, I’m looking to buy, if everybody is telling me how bad person X is, I’m automatically interested in their good qualities. I’m like the guy looking at the first telescope, and instead of using it traditionally, I swing it around the other way and exclaim “Hey! This thing makes stuff look _really_ far away!”

Why? First, I have always been a bit of an anti-social person, but more to the point, from many years of observation, I have concluded that most of the time people oversimplify and overreact. If there’s some bad economic news, the market drops off — but it almost always drops off farther than it should. If some executive or politician is caught doing something wrong, people shun him. But they almost always shun him more than is reasonable. If the economy takes a bad turn, it’s the end of capitalism.

Especially when it comes to war and history, people think in the most crude and simplistic terms. It’s either good or evil. People think of wars as always moving civilizations forward. Winners are the good guys. Losers are the bad ones.

I’m not about to defend Nazism, but even the Nazis weren’t Nazis: there were some real and valid reasons for German outrage after the way WWI was settled. The allies didn’t want total victory, and some of the major issues weren’t settled, so the war continued many years later. In fact, many historians view both the first and second World Wars and being the same war. I digress. What I wanted to talk about was good and evil, history, and super heroes and ultimate villains.

Which brings me to Abraham Lincoln.

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DGE Review 3: Atheist Delusions, by David Bentley Hart

(This is the third in my “Does God Exist” series of reviews. There will be six or seven books on whether God exists or not. I’ll read them for you, give a recap here, and then try to draw it all into some conclusions at the end. This is not meant as a religious discussion, more of an examination of the way smart people argue about really tough subjects.)

“The problem with those Christians,” my friend told me one night, “is that they want to run all of our lives. I’m gay, and they even want to tell me I can’t get married!”

I’ve had this discussion, or ones like it, many times before. There’s usually some initial charge that involves current politics, like opposition to gay marriage, or abortion. Then “the list” comes out. We all know “the list” by now: the crusades, burning of the Pagan temples, the Thirty Year’s War, trials for witchcraft and sorcery, and my favorite, The Inquisition (which Mel Brooks made into a wonderful musical, by the way)

This video is much too silly for this article,
but the song is stuck in my head. Now it can be stuck in yours!

The conclusion is then “Christianity brings out the worst in people” or better yet “religion is a meme”. It seems very fashionable among modern authors to go down the list, often at great length, in order to draw the conclusion that all religion is a sort of evolutionary hangover that mankind suffers from. Once we completely free ourselves from such superstitious silliness, only then will we able to move forward together.

David Bentley Hart is having none of it.

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