Saturday, June 29


[edit: note that many of the issues I am raising here are historical - crude, crude things - hopefully we can do better than this. but I am writing here for myself, to help me get my head straight about some things, and crude is good enough for me for now.]

I grew up in a Mennonite family, without really knowing what that meant.

From a kid's perspective, we were boring christians (excuse me, "Christians" - that capital C is important for some people), and talking about religion is shameful. (And let's just say that I've spent some time looking at, and liking, other religions - most of them hated to some degree or another, and I've been ashamed of them. But that's just me.)

Looking at history, I think I can see how this came to be.

First, religion seems to be a popular activity for people. Around the world, and going way back in history, you can find views on religion, and people struggling with it. The vocabulary used to describe christianity often borrows from the vocabulary used to describe families, so that is how I often think of religion - as filling a need similar to our need for family.

Anyways, "Mennonite" turns out to have been a criminal designation used by law enforcement, back in the 1500s.  This was roughly a century after Gutenberg built his printing press. (It's not clear to me how much influence earlier work on printing presses had on Gutenberg's work.)  Other such designations include "Amish" and "Hutterite". In all cases, these were criminal groups and to the degree that a "leader" could be identified the groups were named after these leaders. You can go look up the words if you want to know about the people they were named after.

The crime being committed by these groups, back then, was heresy. This carried a death penalty. And, in fact, most of the people of this type were killed - the groups I mentioned above were among the few to survive.  And, as an aside, they were not the first to engage in heresy (the Waldensians, for example, predated them by many centuries).

As an aside, the things that were radical heresy, back then, seem to be extremely conservative nowadays. Back then, the "church" and the "state" were thought of as being the same thing. You revered the Bible, you respected your elders, and that's just how things were. But, with the printing press, people were reading this bible for themselves and - for better or worse - making their own interpretations of it. And, after years of study, many people apparently thought that their way was better than that of the authorities.

Two of the sticking points were:

(1) Infant baptism.
(2) Celibacy as a virtue.

In both cases, the problem that people were objecting to was the absence of informed choice. The baptism thing was largely ceremonial - it was about whether a person was a voluntary member of the church (which was everything back then: state and community) or whether many never even thought about why they would do so - and that led to the name that these criminals used to identify themselves ("anabaptists").

The celibacy thing is harder to reason about because topics of sexuality carry so many taboos. The rhetoric from back then, that I have read, simply states that this led to wickedness. (The structural change between anabaptists and the "state church" was that the anabaptists *required* that their leaders be parents, and also they sharply limited the "powers" of a "leader". There's a reason that you don't hear about amish armies, except in jokes.)

And I think you can see that to this day, in the news about catholic priests abusing children. By cutting themselves off from this essential aspect of their own lives, they've set themselves up with a distorted and misleading view of what sexuality is. Thus, for example, horror movies which are basically catholic morality plays (only the "sexually innocent" survive).

Of course, there's "good reason" for insisting that the pope not be married, and this has to do with the corruption of government that happens when a leader passes control to an unruly child. But in a sense, "celibacy" is just a hack and we (society) are suffering greatly from the consequences of this and of related decisions.  See also:

Anyways... Mennonites...

Back in the 1500s, government basically meant military government, and the way you dealt with opposition was by killing them. So, what this meant was that as people began to read, the first thing they would read was the governing documents (the Bible) and they would start seeing inconsistencies between what they were being told to do and their understanding of what they should do. And so we killed them.

We did a wonderfully good job of killing them. Not only were they killed by the Catholics (probably everyone has heard of the Spanish Inquisition - God Fearing Folks, the lot of them) but by the Protestants.

One approach for rooting out these clusters of dissent involved infiltrators, who would go and pretend to be converted to these "new religions" to find the names of those involved. (This, I think, relates to my own shame in discussing religious issues, though I do not fully understand the mechanisms that could have managed to propagate across all these centuries.)

But some of these "intellectuals" survived. (To this day, you can find all sorts of insults which are handy for demonizing intellectuals. I will not try to list them, but I'm sure you can think of some for yourself.)

Anyways, the approach that seemed to characterize the survivors was: work hard for their oppressors. This gamed the system, because now the people trying to kill them were hurting themselves. And, by not putting up a fight in return, good military leaders attacking them would give up in disgust. Military success, after all, requires that you have a winning set of priorities.

Or does it?

Most people have probably never heard of my grandfather. His name was Milton Vogt. He was a farmer (or, more properly, a tractor operator). I know very little of his story - you would have to ask other members of my family - but it is perhaps relevant that he went to India, to "minister" to the people there, back (I probably have the dates wrong) in the 1920s. This was well after Mahatma Gandhi had gotten going, so I certainly cannot claim that Milton had any great influence on Gandhi.

But influence is perhaps not the right concept to understand the pervasive effects that result from improvements in communication.

Perhaps a better place to focus attention is on that taboo subject: sexuality.


We're fucking screwed up, about sexual issues - about life. And that, I think, is why we are so afraid.

There's a sentence in the Bible which undermines every institution that has ever existed:

God is love. (with many saying, for probably good reason: omg, that's so trite! lol)

My take on this is: love people. And, try not to bother with anger except for the moments where it can make an immediate, helpful difference. Please don't be afraid of these aspects of yourself.

Work hard for them. And if you don't love them? Maybe just pretend or something, seriously, I don't have a solution for all problems.

If they kill you, or silence you, or shut you down? They lose (and, of course, so do you, but maybe others you love will have a chance. Check out John Wycliffe some time, if you want a historic example of this kind of thing.)

And, they will. For good reasons, out of shame, or whatever. (Those military folks that are out to kill you? Keep in mind that they are giving up their own lives for their concept of bettering someone's life.) It's probably wise to not antagonize people (if you love them, seriously, think this through)... but I'm saying "probably" for a reason.

On the positive side, the more interconnected we are, the sooner they will notice when they are hurting themselves. Nowadays, it's quite likely that we'll keep our heads on our shoulders. (Not at all certain, in some parts of the world, but even there I think it has been getting better.)

But there's a lot of work to do. Painful, tedious, back-breaking skin-wearing ugly, stinking discouraging work. (Speaking of which, I really need to get to cleaning. I'm scared of you all, and have been working to keep you all out, and it's high time I get over that. At least, somewhat.) Try to have fun doing it - you'll do a better job, and have more fun. And take care of yourself, these things build on each other.

It'll be fun!

(yeah, I can just tell how popular this idea is going to be...)

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