Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Backed Up, with a Sinking Feeling

I’m officially struggling with my next essay. I have an extreme aversion to the type of manipulative bastard that is my subject. I would rather clean hair out of the sinks at a college women’s dormitory (in summer when there’s no one around to break up the monotony) than think about this parentally-condoned exploitation.

Here instead are a couple of odds and ends.

I wanted to post a video of Zeitgeist’s “The Greatest Story Ever Told” for my contribution to The War on Christmas (Reg. US Pat. Off. By Fox News), but I was unable to find it. You-Tube just says “…may not be available.” I guess it’s mommy signed a permission slip and it’s on vacation. Seriously, did someone find this “offensive?” There was a lot of buzz when it first came out. Some people opined that some of the dots connected in this film were sketchy at best. Decide for yourself. Here is the transcript, including citations and supporting material. On the other hand, perhaps Zeitgeist had it pulled by exercising the copyright because they would like to make some money.

Best one-line summation of the Jesus myth I have ever heard:

“It’s a great story, in that a lot of people fell for it.”

A whole tapestry in a single thread!

A recent conversation about a less dangerous manipulator, Joel Osteen (I talked about him here), yielded this (paraphrased):

Q: These people seem to be happy in their delusion… a lot happier than I am. Where’s the harm in that?

A: The harm is, that it’s a lie. Joel is exploiting basic human needs for belonging and acceptance. Since God does not exist except as a concept, the top of the pyramid does not exist. When a preacher says, “You need God”, the real message is, “You need me”. That’s the big lie. None of those followers need him, but they have been conditioned to believe that they do.

Q: But he makes people feel good about themselves. How is that different from, say, what John Gray does?

A: John Gray does not create addiction. Joel’s ministry is not about sending people out with a clearer understanding of themselves and others. Joel makes between 30 and 40 million dollars annually from filling his stadium-church week after week, and from donations from his TV audience. He says he needs this money to “keep his ministry going”. In other words, everybody gets paid. This is a huge production. This is not a fresh crowd every week. He strokes their egos, but gives no lasting insights for self-direction, so they have to come back for more next week. This is a classic reinforcement trap. With someone like John Gray, once you get the message, you hang up the phone.

Another video that I wanted to post and discuss is not yet available on You-Tube. The United Methodist Church has created an advertisement showing a kid attaching a note to a kite and flying it. He reels the kite in, opens the note, and slaps an “Oh Wow!” look on his face, implying that he has received an answer from Big Daddy in the Sky. That doesn’t really happen.

Ok children, can anybody tell me what that’s called? Anybody? Starts with “Buh”…”Bull”… That’s right, it’s BULLSHIT! And who relies on bullshit to get their message across? Bullshit artists. Very good. Class dismissed.

For those who found the Zeitgeist link a bit overwhelming (I know I did!), Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth is a lot more fun.

Hair clog photo boosted from Chicago Thanks for doing the dirty work!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Argle-Bargle means, "Praise God!"

Handmaiden and I got into a brief discussion about the Pentecostals after my last post. Unable to locate my copy of Who’s Who on the Lunatic Fringe, I had trouble placing them at first. Like most successful scams, this one has fragmented into various franchises, Assemblies of God being the largest. Their mission is not too different from that of most religious organizations: establish collection points wherever grinding poverty, wishful thinking, superstition, and ignorance can be found. Like most franchises, they have found something to differentiate their mostly undifferentiated product. In this case, their “Ronald McDonald” is “Speaking in Tongues”. They also have a quart or so of other beliefs that they have cherry-picked from biblical dogma, which they hold as important to further distinguish themselves from other Christian sects. Snake handling is mostly passé.

Handmaiden’s comment:

“To Pentecostals the gist is in Acts, chapter 2. When the Holy Ghost 'possessed' people & they started speaking in tongues. The thing about it is, I've seen the gift of tongues & things more bizarre. Although I don't believe it's God induced, it isn't faked. (I've never spoken in tongues or participated in any of the other indulgences, myself ) I don't quite understand the dynamics, but it's intensely emotional, with some letting go involved & some self hypnotism. My best description is "spiritual masturbation". If you've never experienced a real Pentecostal service, I recommend it. :)”

My reply to this comment contains untested theories, so I’m posting it here in hopes of wider commentary.

No, it isn't faked. Speaking in tongues is a form or variant of post-hypnotic suggestion. Robert Heinlein used an analogy in Time for the Stars to explain telepathy that I use to describe moments of waking hypnotism. Imagine a boy throwing a ball at a picket fence. The pickets are just far enough apart to let the ball through. Most of the time, the ball will bounce off, but every once in a while, a "perfect" throw will allow the ball to pass through without touching a picket. Such, I believe, is the filter of the human brain. Every once in a while, the subject is in a hypnagogic state, and information makes it directly through to a subconscious level. This could explain both the success of organized religion in general, and its invariably repetitive nature. I have seen such behavior first-hand, when communicating with a schizophrenic person, and once also when communicating with a person in severe emotional distress. These people were suddenly in a receptive state. They believed without question that what I was telling them was true. (I’m not one to take advantage of such situations. My opinions were accepted as valid without personal verification. When I saw this happening, I was quick to point out that other opinions existed. I’d make a terrible Preacher!) If there is a performer near you like The Erotic Hypnotic, I highly recommend that you attend a performance. Pay close attention to how the subjects are prepared before their performance. Afterward, ponder the success of advertising, and ask yourself how much slips through the cracks in the fence when you aren’t paying full attention. You will learn a lot about human nature.

I think that there is one other major ingredient in the proliferation of the speaking in tongues meme. The participants have seen others do this before them, and therefore “know” that it is possible. The fact that the Pentecostal churches hold this practice in such high regard doesn’t hurt either. The subject is driven by a strong need to perform in this way. There is also the possibility that those that do perform this feat have received “special” or “personal” communion sessions from the Master of Ceremonies, the Preacher-in-Charge, and this is an actual post-hypnotic performance. I don’t put anything past hucksters and professional bullshit artists.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


Part One: Yeah, I’ve Been Lazy.

Handmaiden has shamed me into that admission with this comment:

“What I initially came here to say was, your busy excuse is wearing thin. Get on with it. :)”

Yes, and ok.

In my defense, I’m still picking up the pieces from the office move, staving off end-users that think I should drop what I’m doing and work on their stuff, dealing with a sick friend, trying to re-connect with blood relatives (we have ample reasons to be somewhat uneasy around each other), gearing up for Christmas, and trying to strategize about or deal with at least 6 other problems. Nice run-on, but that gives you the right picture to express my state of mind.

I could elaborate, but I think you’ll thank me if I don’t.

Part Two: A Tempest in a Pisspot.

While perusing Handmaiden’s blog, furry friends, I encountered this:

My first reaction was, “You have got to be kidding me.” It turns out, that’s not too far from wrong. According to Snopes, the assertion that this is “a popular drug in American schools” is false. So how did this rumor blow up into what threatens to become a national campaign to keep our school children (Won’t someone think of the children!) safe from excrement? Here’s what I think happened.

About 12 years ago, there was a story In National Geographic about Zambian children concentrating and inhaling sewer gas. Why? It was there, it was free, they were living right next to it and smelling it anyway, and it was cheaper than cannabis and gasoline, which they were also using to get high. This was part of a story about how fucked-up life was in Zambia. Some news hack picks up on this and grinds out an article on a wire service. It might have died right there, but the BBC is having a slow news day two years later and dusts this poo-poo story off. So does the New York times. Because of this heightened visibility, UNICEF decides that this is something to be especially worried about, so in 2002, they do what they do best and write a report about it. So now the practice of inhaling gas from fermented excrement takes its place among the 287,323 other fucked-up things in Africa. The story is regurgitated once more in 2004, then nothing until November, 2007, when Fox (Who else? Well, actually…) a CBS affiliate, and a CW affiliate, pick up on a story and start a media frenzy. It seems that way back in June, some Jackass wanna-be posted that he was going to try it. He then posted his adventures, but later retracted and said it was a hoax.

This is the kind of thing that gets talked about by 12-16 year-old boys.

“Did you know you can get high from fermented piss and shit?”

“No way!”

“Five bucks says I’m right! … Google ‘Jenkem’”

“Wow!… That’s disgusting!

Next thing you know, somebody mentions it in front of a grownup, and it’s panic in the streets. A Florida sheriff overreacts, the media runs away with it, and now everyone has heard of this crud.

The irony is, the media made this mess in the first place by repeating this weird poo-poo story until somebody noticed. If it weren’t for their recycling this story, the whole idea would have probably lived and died in Zambia. They will blame the Internet for its proliferation of course, and demand more regulation to protect their idiot children from reality.

If you really want to know more: