William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Old Lodge Skins’ Prayer Of Thanksgiving

The real Little Big Man.

The real Little Big Man.

In what is now a tradition, here is the death prayer from Old Lodge Skins, which comes at the close of Little Big Man by Thomas Berger (who died in 2014).

Then he commenced to pray to the Everywhere Spirit in the same stentorian voice, never sniveling but bold and free.

“Thank you for making me a Human Being! Thank you for helping me become a warrior! Thank you for all my victories and for all my defeats. Thank you for my vision, and for the blindness in which I saw further.

“I have killed many men and loved many women and eaten much meat. I have also been hungry, and I thank you for that and for the added sweetness that food has when you receive it after such a time.

“You make all things and direct them in their ways, O Grandfather, and now you have decided that the Human Beings will soon have to walk a new road. Thank you for letting us win once before that happened. Even if my people must eventually pass from the face of the earth, they will live on in whatever men are fierce and strong. So that when women see a man who is proud and brave and vengeful, even if he has a white face, they will cry: ‘That is a Human Being!’…”

I stood there in awe and Old Lodge Skins started to sing, and when the cloud arrived overhead, the rain started to patter across his uplifted face, mixing with the tears of joy there.

It might have been ten minutes or an hour, and when it stopped and the sun’s setting rays cut through, he give his final thanks and last request.

“Take care of my son here,” he says, “and see that he does not go crazy.”

He laid down then on the damp rocks and died right away. I descended to the treeline, fetched back some poles, and built him a scaffold. Wrapped him in the red blanket and laid him thereon. Then after a while I started down the mountain in the fading light.

Incidentally, eschew the movie of the same name, which shares only the title and the names of a few characters from the book, a book which is the moral and historical opposite of the politically correct film. It is a book which contains no anachronisms, itself a matter of great celebration.

Also highly recommended (as historical orientation) is the classic The Fighting Cheyennes by George Bird Grinnell, who was born in 1849 and who wrote the book in 1915 (it’s still in print). It is a non-patronizing, non-romantic look at the battles the Cheyenne fought, in, as much as was possible, their own words.

Berger wrote Little Big Man at a time (1964) when white boys still wanted to run off and be Indians. Nearly twenty years later, the TV show Grizzly Adams fulfilled the same escapist function. What little boys want to be now they had best keep quiet about or out come the pills (or awards).

Old Lodge Skins was Little Big Man’s adoptive grandfather. The scene takes place shortly after the Battle of Little Big Horn which the Cheyenne called the Battle at the Greasy Grass.

There is much in this prayer that still works. Men, remember to offer it or one like it as thanksgiving today.

Best Equivocation Joke: Open Thread


It being a slow traffic week and me being on the road and swamped—COP21 is coming up next week, working on a new book, news of the old one is coming soon, et cetera, et cetera—I didn’t have time to say anything of interest today.

What better time for a joke challenge? As I often say, the best jokes are built on equivocation. My all-time favorite: Two cannibals are eating a clown and one says to the other, “Does this taste funny to you?”

And that reminds me of one told to me by Ianto Watt, author of The Barbarian Bible:The True History of Man Since the Fall of Troy. Did you hear about the cannibal who ate his brother? He threw up his arms in despair.

Since much of the world is at war—and hey, even we might be—it’s time to be a little less serious. What are your favorite jokes? But only those based on equivocation, mistaking one word or sound for another.

For example, this one doesn’t count: One snowman said to another, “That’s funny. I smell carrots, too.”

But this one does: Why did Mozart kill all his chickens? Because when he asked them who the best composer was, they’d all say “Bach bach bach!”

Get cracking! (And don’t forget my mother reads this blog.)

Ridley Claims Materialists, Atheists, & Secular Humanists Don’t Preach

Books, not guns?

Books, not guns?

Matt Ridley has a curious piece in The Times (no, the better one), “Why Muslims are turning away from Islam“.

(Incidentally, Ridley and I both have chapters in the new National Association of Scholars report “Inside Divestment: The Illiberal Movement To Turn A Generation Against Fossil Fuels“.)

Ridley starts: “As scepticism and materialism replace blind faith, more people than ever worldwide are opting for atheism.” Blind faith, eh. As far as I have been able to discover, there is no such thing. No one believes a thing for no reason; no one, except for a fool or a drunk, believes just for the sake of believing. Even science, like mathematics, requires faith, i.e. the believing in things for which no observational evidence will ever be forthcoming. Skip it. Everybody knows “blind faith” is a euphemism for one of the monotheistic beliefs (for which, in the case of Christianity, there is ample observational evidence).

And materialism, what’s that? A coherent philosophy that nobody holds. Every nihilist is a liar—at some point. Materialism is the philosophy that only material substances exist. Accepting that leads to the rigorous conclusion that nothing matters. Not the good of the human race, not the bloody hijinks of terrorists. Nothing—as in nothing. No materialist or nihilist is ever consistent, though. In every instance, there is a call to a universal standard of good and evil, standards which cannot exist if materialism is true. Let’s see if that’s so with Ridley.

Quietly, non-belief is on the march. Those who use an extreme form of religion to poison the minds of disaffected young men are furious about the spread of materialist and secularist ideas, which they feel powerless to prevent. In 50 years’ time, we may look back on this period and wonder how we failed to notice that Islam was about to lose market share, not to other religions, but to humanism.

To disparage poisoning a mind is to lay claim to a universal evil, which is nonsensical if materialism holds. Of course, one can be furious under materialism, but it means nothing. Anger is merely another word for a certain configuration of chemicals in somebody’s nervous system. But anger or fury, and what comes of it in the form of action, it’s neither good nor bad if materialism is true. Kill or let live: it’s all the same under materialism.

Ridley is right that non-belief among monotheists, even among Muslims, is waxing. He notes this in an approving tone. (Be careful what you wish for, etc.) He says the rise of atheism is “all the more remarkable when you think that, with a few notable exceptions, atheists or humanists don’t preach, let alone pour money into evangelism.”

Atheists or humanists don’t preach?

Oh yes, they do. Constantly. You can’t shut them up! Their evangelization is vigorous, well-supported, and ubiquitous. Every secular cathedral—the bulk of our schools (at every level), media, and entertainment complex—preaches daily from pre-dawn into the wee small hours. There is a cataract of preachy propaganda gushing through the air.

Did we not just see muscular street-corner style soap-boxing at Mizzou? Flick on the dream machine and turn to any ad- or government-supported channel. Nonstop lecturing and hectoring on the essentials of non-belief. They even control the sports networks! The soldiers of secularism are indefatigable. Or maybe that should be spelled sexularism.

Ridley admits as much.

In the Arab world, according to Brian Whitaker, author of Arabs Without God, what tempts people to leave the faith is not disgust at the antics of Islamist terrorists, but the same things that have drained church attendance here: materialism, rationalism and scepticism.

Materialism we know; and skepticism merely means sexularism (or secularism, if you must). But rationalism doesn’t belong in the list. It is rational to believe in God—which ought to tell you what irrationalism is. Ridley quotes a guy who says, what I think is true, “Not a single advanced democracy that enjoys benign, progressive socio-economic conditions retains a high level of popular religiosity.” Yes: progressive democracies are nothing but trouble.

Hey: ever notice these guys love coming up with self-congratulatory names for themselves? “Rationalists”, “brights”, “humanists”. Sheesh. That reminds me a of a brilliant one-act mini play.

The Crybaby Fallacy (Which Atheists Often Use)

Possibly Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, that Pharnguligula fellow, Bill Maher, and a certain reader.

Possibly Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, that Pharnguligula fellow, Bill Maher, and a certain reader.

Many atheists are notorious for arguing from desire. (Be ever careful of the So’s-Yer-Old-Man Fallacy.) God doesn’t exist, they say or imply, because He’s a big meanie, because His demands are onerous, or because the atheist would rather not follow some “ancient” or “medieval” rule.

Take as a mild for instance this snippet from a review of the book Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World by Tim Whitmarsh, penned by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein:

The philosopher Sydney Morgenbesser, beloved by generations of Columbia University students (including me), was known for lines of wit that yielded nuggets of insight. He kept up his instructive shtick until the end, remarking to a colleague shortly before he died: ‘Why is God making me suffer so much? Just because I don’t believe in him?’ For Morgenbesser, nothing worth pondering, including disbelief, could be entirely de-¬≠paradoxed.

A more common form is this: “Why would I want to believe in a God that would send me to Hell for not believing in him?” Comedian Gilbert Gottfried built a (let us call it) joke which conforms to it which he calls “Jesus’s Theory”, and which goes like this: “I was talking to Jesus, and I said, ‘Jesus, I feel like no one will ever accept me.’ And Jesus looked at me and said, ‘You know what my theory is? Accept me or go to hell.'” I have seen him deliver a variant of this jest where he received not so much laughter, but a sturdy approving round of hoots and applause. This quip resonates—with just whom and why, we’ll see in a moment.

Another popular thrust is to directly disparage the notion of Hell. It’s easy to find examples. Hell, says one atheist, is one of the “cruelest of all concentration camps” and that it is “Certainly far worse than the ones created by the Nazis.” Conclusion? “[T]he existence of hell paints the Christian God as not fit for worshiping.”

Many know of atheism’s chief proselytizer Richard Dawkins’s antipathy. In the The God Delusion he said:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Therefore, implies Dawkins, God doesn’t exist.

The most popular version of all, used by non-serious atheists (agnostics, the uneducated, etc.), comprising the largest group of all, are variations on “I am a nice person.” Are you indeed. To the quarter- or non-trained atheist that he or she is “generally good” or kind or (the treacly) nice is proof enough that God doesn’t exist; or rather, is not worth thinking or worrying about.

Another name for this general argument for atheism is adolescent petulance, or, more formally, the Crybaby Fallacy. If God does not exist, there is no point—it is irrational—to (endlessly) say you don’t believe in Him because of what He does or doesn’t do or because of what He does or doesn’t require of His followers. Why? Because He doesn’t exist and therefore cannot require anything, least of all obedience! Nothing can demand nothing. And if God does exist, it is not merely silly, but asinine to go on and on about how aggrieved or burdened you are over the minimal, really the most trivial, and eminently rational, requirement to acknowledge His existence. It is rational because He exists. To not acknowledge His existence when He exists is the height (or really depth) of irrationality.

The Crybaby Fallacy is the same found in children the world over who rail and rant after being told “Because I said so” by their fathers. Many children think this reason insufficient justification for their tasks and therefore grumble, to themselves more than to anybody else, that the requirement is cruel or unnecessary because they cannot comprehend its necessity. They disbelieve in their fathers’ authority because they would prefer not to shoulder their burden. But even children don’t fall into the folly of saying, “My dad doesn’t exist because he wants me to take out the trash.” Or rather, only a minority of children think this way, wandering in the trenches of misery whether they were adopted.

The voracious god Quetzalcoatl, the Aztecs said, demanded human bodies for his supper. His priests saw to it that he was not stinted in his meals. The god Huitzilopochtli enjoyed having the beating hearts ripped out of his victims. And there are many more examples of such brutality from the world over and through history. Funny thing about these examples are their similarities. The Aztecs, for instance, “Before and during the killing, priests and audience (who gathered in the plaza below) stabbed, pierced and bled themselves as autosacrifice”. The bled their sacrificial victims, too, in the most gruesome manner. And we recall the story of how Elijah teased the priests of Baal, the god who could not, in the presence of Elijah, start a simple fire: “When it was noon, Elijah taunted them: `Call louder, for he is a god; he may be busy doing his business, or may be on a journey. Perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.’ They called out louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears according to their ritual until blood gushed over them.” Curious, no? Let that pass for now. These days, few people believe in the Aztec gods or Baal (those who do the systematic killing at Planned Parenthood may be an exception in the latter case). Why?

The reason is complex and beyond this small article, but basically it’s this: those that have abandoned the old gods believe in something else. They do this not because they have any proof of the non-existence of these minor deities, such proof being impossible in most cases to get, but because they have discovered their new belief to be superior and better supported. For instance, Our Lady of Guadalupe accounts for the flight from the gods to God in the case of the Aztecs, a move which did not so much take leave of the old gods, but gave them new explanations. Others more recently mistakenly worship (in the loosest possible sense of this word) Science, a system so weak that it can’t even explain itself.

It is not a conclusive argument against the existence of any god that he requires human sacrifice, nor is it sound argument against God that He requires acknowledgement (He actually only requires accepting a free, no-strings-attached, eternally rewarding gift). It is not a conclusive argument against the existence of any deity that what the deity requires is repugnant, strange, or even illogical or impossible. If the god does not exist, it cannot ask for anything. But if the god really does exist, what it asks for is what it asks for. If it asks for the illogical or impossible, it could just be that that this simple god has a poor sense of humor. He is a god, after all, and can do what he likes. The Greeks knew this well. And consider we do not say modern university professors do not exist because what many of them say or require is absurd (right, JH?).

How is the Crybaby normall rebutted? Well, it’s an obvious fallacy, so it doesn’t need rebutting, but words of a certain sort are usually found. In children, it’s the father telling the kid to suck it up, that life’s not fair, to do what they’re told and like it; that when the kid grows up, if it pays attention, it might understand. With God Himself, something stronger is called for. What do you say to a bratty adult who doesn’t want to believe because the adult can’t understand God’s simple rules? How about words like this, spoken by God to a man who suffered a hell of a lot more than any in our increasingly decadent, effeminate society?

Who is this who darkens counsel with words of ignorance? [Asked God to the man Job.] Gird up your loins now, like a man; I will question you, and you tell me the answers!

Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.

Who determined its size? Surely you know? Who stretched out the measuring line for it? Into what were its pedestals sunk, and who laid its cornerstone, while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Who shut within doors the sea, when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling bands? When I set limits for it and fastened the bar of its door, and said: Thus far shall you come but no farther, and here shall your proud waves stop?

Have you ever in your lifetime commanded the morning and shown the dawn its place for taking hold of the ends of the earth, till the wicked are shaken from it?

The earth is changed as clay by the seal, and dyed like a garment; but from the wicked their light is withheld, and the arm of pride is shattered. Have you entered into the sources of the sea, or walked about on the bottom of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you, or have you seen the gates of darkness?

Have you comprehended the breadth of the earth? Tell me, if you know it all…

Will one who argues with the Almighty be corrected? Let him who would instruct God give answer!

It’s at that point you either stop sniveling, act like a man, and take out the damned trash—or you descend into a narcissistic pit.

Stay tuned. So if the god truly doesn’t exist, who’s making the requests? That can’t be known unless you first have proof of the existence and the nature of the deity. More to come…

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