How did Jesus’ teachings turn into Catholicism?

Before I start, let me say I have a lot of respect for the modern Catholic church, and the work that pope Francis is doing.  If we look at the Roman Catholic church historically though, I think everyone would have to agree the the churches behavior diverged radically from Jesus’ teachings, and I’m fascinated about how that happened.

So, I was a little high the other day, and readying Robert Wright’s absolutely wonderful book “Why Buddhism Is True”, which is enlightening, witty and clever.  Everyone, really everyone should read it.  Go, buy it and read it now.  It will be a much better use of your time than reading this post.

Wecome back!  Wasn’t that a good read?  As someone who identifies strongly with Buddhism, but doesn’t have much knowledge or cultural investment in Buddhism, I was interested to learn about the existence of various schools of Buddhism.  This led me to think how this wasn’t much different than the existence of various sects of both Judaism and Christianity.  I’m sure the same applies to Islam, but being even more ignorant of Islam than I am about Buddhism, I can’t really pontificate on that.

From there my default mode network took me back to a conversation I once had with a young Swiss person who had made some disparaging remarks about Christianity and compared it negatively against Buddhism, saying something about how Buddhism didn’t lead to mass killings out of religious intolerance, or brainwashing people to follow governments, or some such thing.  Christianity’s violent and intolerant history is certainly troubling, and I sympathized with him on the topic, but I had to point out the (then) recent transgressions committed in the name of Budhism in Myanmar, and previously in Thailand.

Now as I learn the teachings of the Buddha, I’m quite shocked that such things could have occurred in the name of the Buddha, but then I thought about poor Jesus.  How the heck could anyone take the teachings of Jesus and decide yeah, Jesus wants me to go on a crusade, or heck, Jesus wants me to blow up an abortion clinic.   How did a commie hippie, who treated a prostitute as an equal wind up being the basis of a religion that treated women and sex in the way that Catholicism has.

No doubt many Muslims feel the same way about violent Islamic religious sects.

That would be a fascinating book:  the corruption of ideals — how various institutions corrupted the religious ideals on which their existence was founded.  Anyone know of good work on the subject?

What would we be talking about if we weren’t talking about television?

I don’t keep accurate statistics about how much television I watch during the week.  I suppose the figure would shock me, but I like to think it averages about 5 hours a week in the last couple of years.  It’s certainly significantly lower than the American average of 35 hours per week.  I found that figure completely shocking.

When I discuss television with friends and colleagues, I often feel the need to mention my feeling that commodity-media occupies too large territory in our mind space.  I generally refer to television, since television is most obvious culprit.  The television tends to be the most prominent feature of most peoples living rooms.  I haven’t been to the states in a while, but when I lived there it wasn’t unusual to find houses with televisions in the bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms.  I think my sister has a television in her bedroom.   I fear things have gotten worse in this regard since the advent of flatscreens, but perhaps the existence of tablets and smart phones has killed off that particular symptom.

Swiss tend not to have so many televisions, but tablets and smart phones are ubiquitous and typically one wall of the living room is dedicated to the television.  We don’t have a television, so when I walk by my neighbors and see their ginormous media systems I’m reminded of Fahrenheit 451 (the book, I don’t know the show), or of an altar with the television taking the place of god-statue.

I often find myself thinking about all of the hours I’ve spent on youtube, watching people discuss minutia of Game of Thrones.  I think back to my childhood, listening to people make complex analysis of sports teams based on an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the sport, the teams and statistics of individual team members.  Imagine that mental energy was being spent on more meaningful topics, like the harm we are doing to our planet, our decreasing chances of survival as a species, economic injustice, social inequality, famine, overpopulation, resource exhaustion, racial intolerance, teacher wages, the health of our local schools, the wellbeing of our children, what to cook for our next meal, the four noble truths of the Buddha… 

It’s not hard to accumulate a list of things that would be better occupiers of our intellectual landscapes, our energy, our time, our lives.   Even if you don’t agree with all the things that come to my mind, I’m sure you have some that come to yours, and no doubt there is some intersect somewhere between our lists.

Imagine if we had as many youtube channels dedicated to discussing those lists, and the content of those lists as we currently have discussing Game of Thrones?  I’m not picking on Game of Thrones here, it’s just that it is my particular sin.

So this post is me taking a little time away from the television to talk about something a little more important than television — the fact that we watch too much television, we talk too much about television, we let the television (streaming media and movies are all television) distract us from interests and activities that would make our lives better.  So let’s be aware of it and strive to do better.

Advocacy anti-patterns


A few years ago it became quite trendy to attempt to isolate succesful patterns in solving certain recurrent programming problems. Not long thereafter, it became clear that it was useful to identify identify harmful anti-patterns which frequently impede or halt the success of a project. Just as studying such anti-patterns can help the success of a software-engineering project, studying anti-patterns in human behaviour can help us be more successful in our attempts at social-engineering. Among the social issues for which I advocate I have noticed several such anti-patterns, which I will attempt to identify and describe.

The purpose of studying anti-patterns is self-analysis, not to provide a convenient vocabulary for attack within an advocacy group.  Indeed, in-fighting and splintering within an advocacy group is the mother of all advocacy anti-patterns.   I called it the “People’s front of Judea” pattern, and will write about it at a future date.

That said, a  comment at www.stopthedrugwar.org inspired me to write out the first few. The context is this: An editorial was posted discussing how illegal cannabis cultivation is destroying the ecology of our national parks. The article was specifically addressing the impact on Crystal Cave, but the problem is a general one. This is one of the negative consequences of cannabis prohibition, and will disappear once prohibition is repealed. A reader, ( primus) made a comment to the effect that “hey, we should try and get the Sierra club involved in this issue.”, a good point, and useful from an advocacy point of view, as it suggests an approach to bring more people into the cause.

Another reader (“James G”) replies:

I am more than sorry to inform you Primus that with the exception of our public lands,”thank God we do have those, for now” this world is not ours,”the common home of humanity,as it should be” but the” private property” of a small percentage of the human population who thouraghly believe they should be able do anything with their private property they see fit even if the rest of us is harmed.You must understand that these people are in favor of freedom and human wellbeing only to the extent that they can profit directly from such virtues.When freedom and the wellbeing of the 90 plus percent of humanity that does not belong to the ownership class threatens the power and or profits of the elite those virtues are cast aside in favor of totalitarian and facistic acts which insure that the masses never taste real freedom and wellbeing.

The facts are quite clear;the elite will first destroy humanity and the natural enviroment with their arsenals of nukes and biochemical weopons before they will loose or sucsede power to whom power rightfully belongs”,that is the people”.

Indeed this is not our world but the private property of the elite.This is why we now live in an age when a person can be incarcerated for the personal use of a plant ,”in the name of protecting the public wellbeing” while ultra wealthy manufactorers of the most deadly of weopons,”even nukes” walk scott free and enjoy the best life has to offer,all at our expence. It is really quite insane,but yet we still call it civilization !

Apathy of Despair

These three paragraphs can be summarised as “Dude, don’t even try and do anything because everything is so shitty you can’t possibly make it better.”. I like to call this “Apathy of despair.“.

Successful advocacy relies on people being engaged and working actively to a certain goal. People are motivated to work towards social change when they 1) see that there is a problem, and 2) have some hope that the situation can be improved. One often runs into people who start off claiming that there is no problem (apathy of denial). If one confronts these people with sufficient evidence to the contrary they move directly to despair (apathy through despair). What these two states have in common is a lack of action or effort. I get the impression the apathetic individual simply doesn’t want to take responsibility for their role society, and just wants to skate through without making an effort. Some accomplish this abdication of effort through naivite, and others through cynicism, but the result is basically the same.

The overwhelming journey

Laziness is not the only path to the apathy-of-despair. In James case, I believe he arrived there through a pattern of thinking that deserves its own anti-pattern, which I’ll call the “overwhelming journey”.  (I can’t think of a better name yet, but please feel free to make suggestions). The overwhelming journey occurs when an individual sees the problems involved, but can’t see the path to improvement.  They have forgotten that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with single step”.   They may be frustrated because they have forgotten that social change takes time, and is difficult.  Perhaps their frustrations with the problems they perceive leads them to an angry state of mind, and so they are unable to calmly and rationally analyse the problem and possible solutions.  The get wrapped in a ranting, raving, rabid froth.

Some additional gripes

James’ post suffers from some additional anti-patterns, which are difficult to point out in a kindly manner.  He rants and raves about the “elite”, “fascistic act” etc.  Basically he’s falling into the “grand conspiracy” AAP (which is a close corollary to the tinfoil hat AAP).   This kind of thing dilutes a movements credibility, and drives away potentially useful collaborators.

In the end, James post encourages prohibition-repeal advocates to give up and stop giving a shit, and drives people who are undecided on the issue away.