Monday, December 24, 2012

Why don't we celebrate the first time Jesus was born?

Sean Ewart

From left to right: Mary, God, Joseph the Cuckold.

It's Christmas. For those of us who are thus far unpersuaded of the evidence for the Christian conception of the divine, the 25th of December is an awkward day. Especially while interacting with Christian family members, Christmas is one of those days where the very real divide between our beliefs becomes incredibly evident.

"Remember, Jesus is the reason for the season."

While many of my irreligious compatriots are quick to point out the pagan beginnings of the Christmas tradition, I have chosen another route. Especially because educated Christians are well versed in the pagan beginnings, the argument that "your holiday is just a pagan crossover" doesn't hold much water. Even I'll admit that when you're an underground cult, it makes a lot of sense to use cultural camouflage - just look at the Mormons.

Instead let us approach the Biblical narrative as it is written. The essential plot points are by now well established: Mary and Joseph are engaged; Mary gets pregnant by God; Joseph gets a vision that the child will be the Messiah; Jesus is born in a stable (or whatever).

But let us not forget a crucial detail. Jesus, according to Christian doctrine (Catholic and Protestant), is God. Jehovah's Witnesses believe Jesus is the son of God, akin to Hercules; Muslims think Jesus was a man who received prophetic words from God; Jews think the man was a nutter; but Christians believe Jesus is actually God in human form.

Taking that into account, the details of the classic Christmas story become slightly more... confusing.

Mary and Joseph are engaged; Mary gets pregnant by God; Joseph gets a vision that the child will be the Messiah; Mary gives birth to God. In other words, God impregnated Mary with himself. Just let that sink in. Where is the traditional, family value message in that?

Why did God need a virgin for this process? Why did he pick a woman who was engaged to be married? Why did he decide that being physically born was the best option? Is God incapable of taking on human form without first becoming a zygote?

In fact, if the Biblical narrative is taken at face value (as it is done in nearly every church... ever), we know that God is capable of taking on the form of a human without first needing to impregnate an engaged virgin with himself. Genesis 32:22-32 describes an instance when Jacob, who would become known as Israel, fought with a man... who turned out to be God.

Granted, there is very little preamble to the story. All we know is that Jacob was alone in his camp and he wrestled all night with a man. When daylight came, the man told Jacob he was God. Fair enough. And it is entirely possible that there was a woman in the time of the Patriarchs who was likewise engaged, a virgin, impregnated by God with God and who gave birth to God.

So why don't we celebrate the first time Jesus was born? And if God had to die to save us from our sins, why didn't he do it on round one?


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Taming the human male: Sandy Hook and the problem of male violence

By Sean Ewart

It would be a tragedy if, in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we put the blame on guns.

Yes, we need to fix our nation's gun laws.

But better regulating guns will not stop the next Adam Lanza.

On the morning of December 14 there was another, less deadly, attack on school children. In central China a 36 year old man named Min Yingjun stabbed one elderly woman and then 22 primary students as they arrived at school.

Those advocating stricter gun control have been quick to point out that none of Min Yingjun's victims have died - if only America, like China, prohibited its citizens from owning guns.

Never mind the fact that in 2010 a full 20 schoolchildren were murdered by similar knife attacks.

But the attacks at Sandy Hook and in China and in Oregon and in Arizona and in Colorado and in Columbia and, indeed the world round, are all connected by one central and crucially important thread: violence is a male problem.

Male violence is so all encompassing, in fact, that the term itself is almost redundant. Besides the ability to give birth, violence is one of the starkest differences between men and women. Certainly women are violent, but not to the same degree and not in the same way as men.

In every nation on earth, in every civilization and culture that has ever existed, men are the more violent sex.

Azer Gat, the Israeli scholar of warfare, says, "In the USA, males comprise 83% of murderers, a similar share of those committing aggravated assault, 93% of druken drivers and about the same percentage of armed robbers."

Looking closer, most female violence is actually in reaction to male violence.

Take for example this report out of Istanbul:

"... 10 women, 4 men and 1 infant were reported murdered, 18 raped, 15 wounded and 9 harassed by men in November [2012]."

In response, three women took violent action against their attacker. One used a pistol, one beat the man and one used fire. (The full report can be found on Bianet, under the heading "10 Women Reporter Murdered, 17 Raped By Men in November.")

Gat says, "in comparison with men's violent aggression, that of women tends to be non-physical, indirect, and anonymous." And when women are violent, it is most often in defense, either of themselves or their children, or against other women.

Moreover, because these gender based differences in violent tendencies are true regardless of culture, pointing the finger at violent video games, MTV, easily accessible guns or pornography is missing the inherent truth: the human male is an animal that, through the forces of natural selection, is violent by nature.

We cannot hope to address the problem of male violence until we understand it.

Even calling into question the mental health of the violent offender is, while not unimportant, a distraction from the real problem. Only 4% of violence in the USA can be attributed to mental illness.

Mental illness is not the problem; male violence is.

Yet this is not as grim a picture as we might imagine.

Gat notes that in human populations living in the dawn of history the violent death rate was an astounding 15%. It approached 25% among males.

Look at modern hunter-gatherer and primitive agricultural societies. Eskimos in the Canadian Arctic have been shown to have a violent death rate of 1 in 1,000; fully 10 times the peak of violent death in America in 1990.

In highland Papua New Guinea the primitive agriculturalists had a violent death rate of 28.5% in men and 2.4% in women.

Contrast this with the most brutal episodes of violence in so-called civilized nations.

In the American Civil War just 1.3% of the population was killed or wounded.

In World War Two, a full 15% of the population of the Soviet Union was killed and 5% of the German population likewise perished.

But even that astounding figure merely approaches the average violent death rate in pre-state societies. Humanity is, whether we know it or not, doing something right when it comes to dealing with violence.

Despite what it looks like, we are curbing male violence. In fact, following the arrival of the state, humans have become the mammal least likely to kill other members of the same species.

So while we hopefully address the very real, very pressing issue of male violence, perhaps we should look to our own history. What is it that we did that reduced the average violent death rate from 15% in pre-state societies to .0065% in the United States of America today?

While we may not know the specific problems afflicting Adam Lanza, we know that by virtue of his gender he was already more likely to engage in horrific violence than if he were female, all other factors being the same.

Attempting to stop the next Adam Lanza is a question of how best to continue the project of taming the human race.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

God hates it when fags marry; Mexico is going to hell

Sean Ewart

She's only saying what 74% of evangelicals are thinking.
The Mexican Supreme Court unanimously ruled to approve gay marriage in the entire nation of Mexico on Wednesday.

This news comes as the Supreme Court of the United States contemplates whether or not it’s going to deal with the issue – and there’s no guarantee SCOTUS won’t uphold a federal law banning gay marriage.

Mexico is now, on the books, a less bigoted nation than the United States of America.

Not to shit on Mexico, because seriously, that’s awesome; but the U.S.A. is supposed to be the leader of the free world and yet we’re still being puritanical in our law books when it comes to the gays.

Not everyone would agree that “God Hates Fags,” but enough people in power agree that god hates it when fags marry that, well, they can’t.

Look no further than Protestants as the culprits.

According to a Pew poll, 58% of them oppose letting the gays marry. 74% of white evangelicals feel this way and 62% of black Protestants agree with ‘em.

Again, these bigots might not think toting signs declaring “God Hates Fags” is a solid strategy to win friends and influence people. But they can quote 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 for you:

“Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

… and they vote accordingly.

The same Pew poll shows that a resounding 72% of “unaffiliated” people – those, like me, who have a hard time basing their lives around a book that talks seriously about the existence of talking donkeys – support gay marriage. 

This is why any real push for human rights must include a push against, at the very least, fundamentalist religious faith. Religiosity and bigotry go hand-in-hand.

And it isn’t like Mexico doesn’t have religious people. It’s just that Mexico is showing the United States that religion doesn’t make for reasonable public policy.

Have fun in hell, Mexico, I’ll see you there.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

It Feels Good to Quit Sometimes

By Sebastian Sink

Today I quit grad school.