Monday, September 28, 2020

Shredding Ignorance

 A reader recently wrote me to ask about a statement in my book, Comparative Religion for Dummies.  He wanted to know how an African tribe was proved to be a remnant of ancient Israel, part of the “10 lost tribes.”

The reference was to the destruction of Israel in about 722 BCE and the subsequent dispersal of its inhabitants by the victorious Assyrians.  Historians into the 20th century had all sorts of theories what happened to those poor people.  The Mormon faith is based on the idea that some of them came across the ocean and became the American Indians.  That was a theory prevalent in New York when the founder of the Latter Day Saints was alive.

Others thought they were never really “lost,” but were assimilated.  That’s the idea expressed in the biblical book of  Jonah, where the prophet goes to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, to preach to the former Israelis now living there.

Modern technology has ended all speculation.  Researchers looking into the DNA of African tribes found that “ 50% of the males in the Buba clan (of the Lemba tribe) had the Cohen (Jewish priestly) marker, a proportion higher than found in the general Jewish population.”

Just like that, the debate is over: some dispersed; some were assimilated.

The Bubas also had tribal stories of having lived further north and fleeing to get away from an invading army centuries before.  Those tales turn out to be true.

Facts can be annoying when they contradict cherished ideas.  Nevertheless, they help us better understand the world and, on occasion, shed light of history.

Because they are facts, they also can be replicated.  Doubting scholars can do the same research and compare results.  When they turn out to be the same, the arguments end.  Scientists who have held strong beliefs have stood up at conferences to admit their error, such as in opposition to plate tectonics, which was once considered crazy and is now shown to be accurate.

Facts matter.  

Some people still prefer to ignore them.  In Petersburg, Kentucky, there’s a museum dedicated to the biblical account of creation and places human and dinosaurs in the same time period.  Wrong.  There’s plenty of data to show hominids first arose around 5 million years old while dinosaurs died out about 65 million years ago.  Similar evidence from human genomes shows Adam and Eve never met. 

Separately, a recent study reported that about half of Americans don’t know that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust.  That’s ignorance, pure and simple, since extensive documentation proves what happened.  Showing great foresight, General Dwight Eisenhower insisted on detailing every aspect of the horrific event so no one could claim it didn’t happen. 

Today, anyone interested can find the information on the universe and its formation, human evolution and virtually any other topic a person could imagine.  The internet provides access to encyclopedic knowledge our ancestors could only dream of.

Sadly, in a world where facts are readily available, folks who prefer ignorance decry the information as “fake news” or simply disagree based on their "holy" books.

That won’t change a thing.  Facts exist.  They help us shed old ideas and better understand (and care for) the world we inhabit.  That’s true for ancient wars and for modern pandemics.

The sooner we start relying on them, the better off we will all be.

 

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture.  He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University.   He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at wplazarus@aol.com. He is the author of the recently published novels Revelation! (Southern Owl Press) and The Great Seer Nostradamus Tells All (Bold Venture Press) as well as a variety of nonfiction books, including The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information and Comparative Religion for Dummies.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Fanatics On and Off the Racetrack

With the NASCAR racers roaring into town for the Coke Zero 400 at the end of August, now seems like a great time to look at the rapid fanaticism devouring this country.  NASCAR fans know all about that.

At a recent presentation, I received a first-hand view of such blindness.

My talk was about problems NASCAR has faced and overcome.  I concluded by explaining that the racing organization still has many concerns, such as finding sponsors and reaching out to a wider audience, but will likely survive them as it has done in its previous 72 years of existence.

When I was done, a gentleman in the front row loudly disagreed with me.  He insisted NASCAR was on the upswing and would continue to endure.  He was extremely passionate, so much so that he had ignored the fact I said the said thing.  He also ignored all the statistical studies that show attendance at races had fallen nationally before COVID, TV viewership is down and that, overall, car racing has lost some of its public interest, a fact not helped by the mandated empty seats at races because of the virus.

This person had no interest in mundane facts.  He had grown up in NASCAR; therefore, it was the best sport and could only continue to expand.

Substitute the name of any religion for NASCAR (which is a religion for some fans), and you can see the same kind of thinking that fuels world conflicts.  Facts don’t matter.  The reality of science doesn’t matter.  Only belief matters.

Armed in such a matter, an Islamic believer can slice off the heads of Coptic Christians.  An Evangelical in this country can support the worst elected president in anyone’s history at the expense of life, liberty and economic stability.

During my talk, I pointed out that the 2001 death of Dale Earnhardt, the face of NASCAR, nearly killed the sport.  My friend in the front row insisted that the death of his father in a 1957 race was just as devastating.

No, it wasn’t.

By 2001, NASCAR was a national sport.  Dale Earnhardt was an international know figure who made millions every year by selling merchandise bearing his name and car number to adoring fans. He had accumulated $300 million at the time of his death and was the most recognized figure in car racing.  His death while racing was a devastating blow to the sport.

In contrast, a racer’s death in 1957 was a family tragedy.  It didn’t merit more than a mention (if that) in any newspaper.  Cable TV didn’t exist then.  Today’s 24-hour coverage of sports was unknown and unimagined.  Racing was a minor sport, which gained national attention only briefly with the Indianapolis 500 in May.  NASCAR was unheard of; Daytona International Speedway wasn’t even started yet, much less the Daytona 500.

To my friend, though, the deaths were comparative.  Facts have no bearing on that narrow thinking either.

He went on to object to my explanation of how much drivers are paid to compete in the Daytona 500.  I know the figures; more than 15 years ago, when I worked for the company that owns race tracks, we did a financial analysis of the winnings.  My friend only knew the announced payments.  That doesn’t include sponsorship money, endorsements etc.  The real amount is many times the listed totals.

As author Bob Pockrass noted in his article on payments to NASCAR drivers, “Look at a NASCAR box score after a race, and it lists pretty much all the essential data. Where a driver starts and finishes and how many laps completed can give fans an idea of how the driver performed.  And then, at the end of the line, is how much money the driver ‘earned’ for that event. That amount doesn’t really tell how much a driver really made for the race.”

For example, in 2019, champion Kyle Bush was listed as winning $17.8 million along with $1.7 million in endorsements.  However, in 2012 Forbes magazine estimated actual income of the top drivers then:

  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.—$25.9 million
  2. Jimmie Johnson—$23 million
  3. Tony Stewart—$18.7 million
  4. Jeff Gordon—$18.1 million
  5. Carl Edwards—$13.7 million
  6. Kevin Harvick—$13 million
  7. Danica Patrick—$12.9 million
  8. Kyle Busch—$12.5 million
  9. Kasey Kahne—$12 million
  10. Brad Keselowski—$11.4 million

There’s no correlation to “winnings.”  And that was 8 years ago.

Again, facts and studies mean nothing in the face of self-interested passion.

My fiend’s stubborn resistance to knowledge is nothing new.  In this country, it’s commonplace to pretend there are no facts and to rely on emotion-tinged beliefs.  That’s why elected officials can deny Global Warming and say they don’t accept evolution, condemn mail-in voting while requesting the mail-in ballots. Facts don’t matter.  Decades of research can be ignored in order to maintain beliefs.

Such ignorance fueled ISIS and its murderous attacks in northern Syria and Iraq.  It feeds the emotions of conservative Christians determined to take over American society and force out dissenters.  It fires the NRA and its hell-bent determination to arm everyone, regardless of the number of people who are killed.  It also leads to voting for someone as ruthless and incompetent as Trump.

Such passion can only be doused with real facts based in solid, replicated research.  Facts aren’t sexy, but they are absolutely necessary to bank passions and provide the base for supported decisions.

That’s true for zealots and NASCAR fans alike.

 

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers such as Bold Venture Press.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

 

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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Controlling Society Through Hate

Jackson

Recently, Philadelphia Eagles’ receiver DeSean Jackson tweeted fake antisemitic quotes supposedly from Adolf Hitler.  He was promptly chastised and apologized.

That’s not the problem.

As evil as Jackson’s misguided tweets were, the hidden agenda is worse.  Jackson’s message isn’t what he said but that he said it.  Such odious comments reflect the continuing effort by prominent whites to sic marginalized groups against each other.  That, in turn, gives the majority a free hand to do whatever they want while everyone else is distracted.

It’s a common play used in poker, where big stack players happily let the small stacks battle with each other, eliminating themselves while the rich get richer.

Jews reading from the Bible
In this country, there has long been a concerted effort to pit African-Americans against Jews, both of who remain outside the mainstream.  Jews represented about 2 percent of the American population.  In 2019, Blacks represented 13.4 percent.

Blacks are not being held back by Jews, who are concentrated in the Northeast (New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey).  As an aside, I was surprised to note that the Gallup poll found that Florida’s population was just 3 percent Jewish given the stereotype of Jews congregating in Miami Beach.)

African-Americans have been restrained by systematic racism, the same kind of bigotry that held back Jews.  In the 1920s, for example, Ivy League schools had quotas to limit the number of Jewish entries. 

Douglas
In theater, the bigotry was more pronounced.  In the late 1800s, Jews grew angry at the depiction of “Yid” characters by Christian comics.  That led to an infusion of Jewish comedians.  They exaggerated stereotypes, most notably on radio with The Goldbergs, which starred Molly Berg.  The show also made it to television.

Nevertheless, movie actors for decades were advised to change their names to non-Jewish ones.  Kirk Douglas, for example, specifically chose one that had no Jewish connotation.   He was born Issur Danielovitch Demsky.  He was so successful in hiding his Jewish heritage that producer Robert Evans (who was also Jewish) was stunned when Douglas, an Orthodox Jew, flawlessly led a Passover Seder.

Danny Kaye was told to have surgery to look less Jewish.  He refused.

Douglas Fairbanks Jr., whose grandfather was Jewish, was appalled when movie moguls – many of whom were Jewish – refused to get involved in pro-Jewish films during World War II because they feared having the industry labeled as Jewish.  Even after the war, 20th Century Studios had to be pushed to produce Gentleman’s Agreement where non-Jew Gregory Peck experienced widespread antisemitism as an undercover reporter.  The movie won the 1948 Oscar as best film.

The only reason so many Jews got into movies was because respectable Christians initially looked down on the business.  Performing on stage was considered contemptible, especially for women.

As such, it was acceptable for Jews, who were banned from high society.

Cast of the Dick Van Dyke Show
In the 1960s, I caddied at a country club that was still exclusive – no Jews allowed.  That was not uncommon. 

The Dick Van Dyke Show has long been held up as a model of a situation comedy.  Written by Jews and containing a largely Jewish cast, the popular 1960s show drew the ire of TV executives who asked the show’s writers to make the character less “ethnic.”  The two stars, Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, were not Jewish. 

I remember being stunned to hear a reference  to Judaism during a Barney Miller episode in the late 1970s when one of the policeman realizes star Linden was not interested in the Christmas program because he was Jewish.  Linden was Jewish away from the set, too.
Douglass

In politics, antisemitism has held strong.  This country did not see a Jewish candidate for even vice president until Joe Lieberman ran unsuccessfully with Al Gore in 2000.  In contrast, Black presidential candidates have appeared on the ballot as far back as 1848, when Frederick Douglass stood for the position.

Jews have been battling antisemitism since the onset of Christianity.  It was kept alive to provide someone to blame for any calamity.  Massacres of Jews were commonplace for centuries throughout Europe, leading to the German-led Holocaust in the 1940s.

The antisemitic claims received a boost by forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which was rewritten in the 1800s to frame Jews.  It was endorsed in this country by such people as industrialist Henry Ford and purported to be an outline of Jewish plans to dominate the world.

That is what DeSean Jackson referred to in his tweets, in which he claims Jews were holding back Blacks as part of their effort to control society.

Anyone seeing the chaos in Israel has to realize that Jews have demonstrated minimal ability to run any country, much less the world.

Jews marching with Dr. King Jr.
Like all western religions, they would like to see everyone become Jewish.  Christians and Muslims have the same goal.  Yet, Jews are the only ones to provide an avenue for anyone to follow Jewish morals and ethics and yet not convert.  Called Noahide laws, they were developed when sages realizes Noah preceded the first Jew, Abraham, and yet is called righteous.  They educed rules for anyone to become “righteous” without being Jewish.

That’s the opposite of world domination since “God-fearers,” as they are called don’t have to be Jewish.

In reality, Jews have been in the forefront of the Civil Rights efforts in this country and other social movements, fully aware that limits on any group limits everyone. 

They have been successful because they stress education – a byproduct of being isolated in ghettos and restricted in society.  That has led to hatred and animosity when Jews should serve as models for anyone trying to succeed in a hostile environment.

I am not trying to argue that Jews face more discrimination.  That’s not true.  It’s far easier to disguise a religion than skin color.  My point is that all minority groups suffer from discrimination, including Catholics when they first came here, the Irish and Mormons.  Muslims face similar problems today.

It’s how the majority keeps control.

Jackson’s tweets reflect that continued effort to divide and conquer.  Apparently, given the support his tweets ave received in the Black community, it’s an approach that still works.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture.  A member of the Unitarian Universalist Society, he holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University.   He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at wplazarus@aol.com. He is the author of the recently published novels Revelation! (Southern Owl Press) and The Great Seer Nostradamus Tells All (Bold Venture Press) as well as a variety of nonfiction books, including The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information and Comparative Religion for Dummies.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.