Thursday, March 29, 2007

Maybe It's a Seasonal Complaint?

Synchronicity: the experience of two or more occurrences (beyond coincidentally) in a manner that is logically meaningful- but inexplicable- to the person or persons experiencing them.

I am a PC Network Support Person by trade. Over the ten plus years I have been doing this, the world of hardware and software has increasingly become a house of cards. One application’s functionality leans on other applications, until you cannot make a change to one without breaking another, or several others. E-mail, once a novelty, then a luxury, has become a mission-critical necessity. The users of these systems have, it seems to me, become increasingly petulant and bitchy when things are not working perfectly. This is not a perfect world. I do not know if they are looking for a scapegoat for lack of productivity, or an excuse to stop their furious pace for a moment, but I do know they are less likely to find another way, or find something else to do than they were in the past.

I don’t know anymore if the Blackberries and the PDAs of the world are making us more productive, or just making us busy all the time. A VP of Sales recently told me that he liked his Blackberry because he could (for example) read his e-mail while sitting in a parking lot, waiting for his wife to come out of the pharmacy. My initial reaction was to think, “Get a dime novel and a life!” I just today expressed these misgivings to my boss, wondering if we were fooling ourselves into thinking we were accomplishing so much just because we were so busy.

Then I saw this post on Edge of Faith blog.

Red pill, Blue pill, or Black Capsule? Extra points for knowing the origin of the third choice.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Yet Another Actor For The Morality Play

You might remember a War on Moral Relativism that took place on certain atheist blogs recently? Well there's a new player in town, and this one's not a philosopher in any camp, rather it's a biological/anthropological argument.

While this represents a good argument against the Olympian view of morality, that some superbeing handed morals down on a platter from on high, it also points to that "sticking point" in Human Beings where morality gives way to survival. While this does not mean that morality is relative, it does mean that there is a point where what is ethical gives way to self-preservation. The only fallacy is the rationalization that takes place to make the action morally justified when no such justification is possible or necessary. Instead, the justification needs to focus on actual versus perceived threats to individual survival. The attempt to find moral justification for these actions is the very mechanism that created moral relativism in the first place. Social groups tend to apply one set of rules within the group and another toward other groups that are traditionally seen as a threat. Certain self-appointed keepers of moral standards use propaganda to exaggerate this threat in order to obtain group cohesion and organize warlike behavior. Need I say more?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Beyond Belief '06 - Neil deGrasse Tyson

This is a first for me. I have linked to other people's content in the past, but I just had to jump through all the hoops and post this. This is the most comprehensive refutation I have heard to date and it's funny! I have a new hero. Thank you to Eddie at edge of faith for sharing this.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

We are the Christians

You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.
On this St. Paddy's Day, I was greeted with this tidbit from Yahoo Answers:

"There are several accounts of Saint Patrick's death. One says that Patrick died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland, on March 17, 460 A.D. His jawbone was preserved in a silver shrine and was often requested in times of childbirth, epileptic fits, and as a preservative against the evil eye."

Funny, believing that the odd left-over body part had magical powers must have been in a chapter of the Bible that I skimmed over. Must have been buried somewhere in the middle of the "begats" in Chronicles. Or, is this just another instance of warping local superstition into the Jezamagod myth?

I think this likely. There had to be some incentive for local shamans of whatever religion not to fight conversion to Christianity. The only way to establish a hold was to co-opt the local leadership, or a faction thereof. Those that played ball were rewarded, those that opposed were destroyed in one way or another. This meant a certain amount of "business as usual" crept into the local version of the Christian model of the religious scam. This also made the transition easier for the locals to swallow. The evolution of St. Patrick is also fascinating. He has gone from being the famous banisher of non-existent snakes to being the patron saint of drunken excess. Hooray!

Anybody have any trouble seeing the correlation between this drunken revel, the Festival of Bacchus, and the celebration of the Equinox by pagan and other religions?

Beware of Imitations, Part 2.

Welcome to Part 2 of my previous post, where I’ll be exploring the similarities between mainstream religious indoctrination and cult behavior. Previously, I discussed deception, fear and intimidation, love bombing and relationship control, and information control. The last four of what I consider to be the most damaging weapons in the cult indoctrination scam are, information control, reporting structure, time control, and identity blurring. Mapping these unethical activities onto the childhood world of religious indoctrination through Sunday School is not difficult at all.

Information control is accomplished by cult leadership by isolating members and restricting their access to information to “approved” channels. Socially accepted forms of child rearing do the same thing to a large extent. The method, in general, in Western society is to, “protect a child’s innocence.” This means, as far as I can tell, keeping a child ignorant of things that might cause fear, or cynicism, or knowledge of human reproductive nuances. I could debate the relative merits of this child rearing strategy, but the point is, this represents information control. It is by no means perfect. Parents (and “concerned” groups that are constantly telling parents what they should think), are constantly clamoring to plug the leaks in their ability to “protect” children from adult reality. One of the purposes that this serves is to prevent children from forming opinions that would be critical of the status quo. This partial vacuum of controversial topics gives churches and schools the opportunity to dictate opinion. One can argue that children are not qualified to have an opinion on broad social mores and beliefs, but that is really. in part, an argument for a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Reporting structure varies in different religious organizations. Cults encourage members to report undesired activity on the part of other members (like independent thought?) The leadership then uses this information to look smarter than they really are. They either come off looking clairvoyant, or they approach the situation obliquely, and work the victim until they wring out the confession that they know is in there. Catholics are encouraged to spill their own guts. I am not a Catholic, so I don’t know if Priests use information gained in this way against young accomplices. There is however, a similar tactic used against children and the occasional criminal. The interrogator pretends to know that which they only suspect in order to panic the suspect into admissions of guilt. It’s a cheap trick, but it works on a naïve mind with a guilty conscience.

Time control is used to make sure the cult member does not have time to encounter outside influences or think too much. This is accomplished through endless consecutive meetings, rituals, and planned activities. Small children, in most cases, have no control of their time. They are seldom unsupervised in social situations. Children are segregated in modern US society into peer groups of their own age. A cult of fear has been established concerning “strangers” and older kids. Some of these individuals really are a threat, but the end result is an atmosphere of mutual distrust where no adult can approach an unfamiliar child without creating suspicion. The current solution to the problem of dangerous people creates a self-fulfilling prophesy. The paradigm criminalizes social behavior, so now, only criminals engage in that behavior. I was once lost in a suburb of Chicago, and stopped to ask a kid where Lincoln St. was. All the streets had President’s names, so I was close. I did not get out of my car, nor did I ask the kid to approach the vehicle. I was talking out the passenger side window to a kid 10 feet away from the car. He ran. A child’s life consists of school, home life, Sunday School, and play activities with friends. More and more, children’s play time is taken up by supervised activities like team sports. Home life varies widely, and includes input from television. Most children’s television, post early childhood, is non-educational. It is a huge time waster geared to promote and sell toys. The point is, a child’s time is most often occupied and directed by outside parties that tailor the information given to children to conform with their beliefs as to what the child “should”, know, or “is ready” to know. This information very often serves the purpose of the giver, without any determination made as to the desires of the receiver. Whether or not you think that there is anything wrong with this model, it fits the definition of time control.

The final dirty cult trick that I would like to address is identity blurring. The cult leader will some times give a follower a new name, or convince the followers that their life up to the point of “full acceptance” in the cult was meaningless or counter-productive. This is a subtle but insidious form of ego diffusion. It throws into question and/or doubt every decision and thought that the follower has had up to that point in their life. Furthermore, it helps to throw into doubt any new independent thought the follower might have, as originating with the “old” personality and “unworthy” of the new one. This form of trickery is unnecessary when dealing with children. They are unsure of themselves, and their personalities have not formed to the extent of certainty. In other words, they lack experience, and therefore there is nothing that needs to be erased. Some analogues or vestiges of this practice do exist in mainstream religions. Some sects of Christianity take the whole “born again” craziness to a level that approaches identity blurring. Judaism has a tradition of tribal (re)naming surrounding the Bar-Mitzvah/Bat-Mitzvah rite-of-passage ceremonies. This could be a vestige of ego breaking used to help create willing and zealous followers.

The separation of adult and child populations in church and temple congregations suggests that a form of indoctrination is being employed on the children that is considered unnecessary or inappropriate for the adult population. Many of the objectives of cult-like forms of indoctrination are either unnecessary, or greatly simplified when dealing with children who lack experience and self-assurance. The implementation of these practices has become traditional, and it is quite likely that the people employing them have never examined the utility or the ethics of their methods. Since the adults in question have very likely gone through the same indoctrination that they are now perpetuating on the next generation, they too have been conditioned to believe in the rightness of what they are doing without question.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Another one of those freebie confusion of ideas stories has fallen in my lap. Mayan Priests in Guatamala are going to hold a purification ritual at the "sacred" site of Iximche after President Bush's visit there (story here).

According to the article, "Juan Tiney, the director of a Mayan nongovernmental organization... said the "spirit guides of the Mayan community" decided it would be necessary to cleanse the sacred site of "bad spirits" after Bush's visit so that their ancestors could rest in peace. "

Let that sink in.

The Mayan Priests, whose ancestors used to practice human sacrifice on this "sacred" site, are attempting to exorcise the Bush cooties after he leaves. The human sacrifices, by the way, were usually captives from inter-tribal warfare, and so not the inhabitants of this "sacred" site. The Preists will use the usual incantations, incense, and candles. They get that from the Spanish Conquistadores that subjugated their venerable ancestors by destroying their society and slaughtering at will. You can't make this shit up! I think they would be better served by a 55-gallon drum of Lysol.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Beware of Imitations, part 1

A short time ago, I commented on cults in response to another comment on this post at Atheist Revolution. I have been thinking about this off and on for a long time. As I stated in the comment, what defines a cult as opposed to mainstream cultural religion is often a matter of degree.

On the face of it, there are many things that differentiate a cult from generally accepted religions. This is mainly because these common religions have two faces, the one that adults see, and the one in the back rooms, that the children see. This other face goes by many names, I’ll just call it Sunday School for simplicity’s sake. This is where the cult-like indoctrination takes place. While the parents are attending church services, they are condoning the practice of techniques on their children that they would probably not condone if practiced against an adult. As far as I can discern, there are two main reasons for this. First, children are naïve, and have instinctual deference to large adult authority figures. They have not developed the critical thinking skills, or the experience-born cynicism that would cause them to question what they are told. Because of this, the more overt methods of mind breaking and mind control that would brand the religious organization a cult are not necessary. Second, the parents themselves practice forms of the same techniques to control their children. The ethical implications are rarely examined, and as often happens, are rationalized away with the, “end justifies the means” argument. Humans are fallible. If these small deceptions and abuses of trust prevent the parent from losing self-control and resorting to violence, then perhaps the end does justify the means.

According to, there are seven main mind control techniques that differentiate a cult from mainstream religion. These techniques are: deception, exclusivism, fear and intimidation, love bombing and relationship control, information control, reporting structure, and time control. To this list I add an eighth technique, identity blurring. Examined one at a time, one can see how some of these techniques are unnecessary, and how some have more subtle alternatives when practicing the induction of children.

Deception, as practiced by cults, is defined as having different beliefs and practices than are described to new recruits. The underlying assumption is, that the actual practices are harmful or undesirable, and are therefore hidden from the recruit until such time as they are drawn in too completely to turn back. This form of deception is unnecessary with children. Their parents have decided for them that this is desirable. They have absolutely no idea that they are being recruited into an organization that expects them to make a lifetime commitment of time and money to support it. There are other forms of deception practiced in the early stages of induction. If you were raised in a Western Christian atmosphere, can you remember when you thought Santa Claus was real? How about the Tooth Fairy? La Befana? The Easter Bunny? There are many parallels in other societies. The point is, you believed it because your parents told you so, and you had no reason or ability to doubt their word. Now, how old were you when you first heard the story of Adam and Eve (or insert your creation myth here)? Noah’s Ark? Jesus/Mohammed/Moses? Did the adult authority figure have to give you any evidence the first time you heard it? Subsequently, did you learn about the concept of faith, and were you shown a book wherein “it is written”? What if I were to write a book, and tell you that God told me to write it and therefore everything in it is true? Oh wait, that’s been done, and people do believe it. Deception is practiced differently on children. They are not drawn in against their will because they have no will in these matters.

“Exclusivism” is defined as a cult’s typical insistence that theirs is the only way to salvation/enlightenment/whatever. The differentiating factor here between a cult and mainstream religion is that mainstream religion does not have a huge problem with you if you decide to jump ship and join another church. There are exceptions that move some churches into a gray area. The Roman Catholic Church will have no problem if you want to move from St. Barnabus to St. Ignatious, but will tell you that you are endangering your alleged immortal soul if you switch to the First Presbyterian. I’m not sure, but I think there are parallels in the various Islamic factions. The overt practice of exclusivism is unnecessary in Sunday School. This is a captive audience. Children are introduced to this world at such a young age that they are unaware that any alternative exists. No threat is required to hold them in place; they are there at the will of their parents. They have no right to refuse.

Fear and intimidation are a lot simpler to accomplish against children as well. The relative size, physical power, and authority of adults give the adults a distinct advantage. Children are instinctively insecure when they know that they are overmatched. The earliest stage of moral development is fear of consequences. Religious indoctrination with its arguments from authority feeds right into this developmental stage. Cults use character assassination to break down resistance. This is hardly necessary when the child’s character is not yet fully formed. The only fear necessary is the fear of being singled out of the group. Not accepting, or questioning the authority of the adult in control can be turned into examples of “bad” behavior or thinking. The adult does not even have to supply well-reasoned arguments to support his or her position against a child that cannot well articulate their objections. The natural tendency of the other children in the room is to keep silent and side with the authority figure. In a faith-based environment, it is also common for the instructor to resort to inducing guilt over the lack of faith demonstrated by the student’s doubt. This is just a subtler form of the Ad hominem attack used by cults.

Love bombing and relationship control allows cults to secure exclusive influence and obedience from their members. Cults using this form of mind control offer their members all they could ever want to fill the basic human need for belonging and companionship. This love and friendship is contingent on conformity however. The group is trained to withhold their ego-stroking behaviors at the first sign of disagreement. To quote, “This unspoken threat influences your actions in the cult. Things that normally would have made you complain will pass by silently because you don't want to be ostracized.” The world in which children live is not the same as the world of their adult parents. Children live in the world of the schoolyard, and this point in their development is all about establishing pecking order and finding one’s relationship to the group. The threat of ostracism looms very large to children, and is intimately tied to basic fears of abandonment. The child is still highly dependent on the adult community for nurture, and easily feels threatened. No further engineering is necessary to obtain conformity in these early groups than that discussed in the previous paragraph. The other ingredient to relationship control is the cult’s ability to cut the member off from previous relationships. They do this by asserting that previous relationships with family and friends were actively inhibiting the member from obtaining salvation/enlightenment/whatever. This step is unnecessary in the Sunday School recruitment environment. The parents are willing participants in the process. The regional nature of the church community will insure that Sunday School classmates are also schoolmates. The bonding process is just occurring, so there is little or no need to break preexisting bonds. There is a greater probability that your early school friends will be some of the people in your Sunday School class simply because they are more familiar to you. This is because of the Sunday School equivalent to time control.

To be continued.