Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Book of Genesis: A Parent's Guide


In 2009, controversial artist and illustrator Robert Crumb – a man who has distinguished himself as an uncomfortably-subversive satirical commentator on traditional mainstream values – completed a four-year effort to produce an illustrated version of the Book of Genesis. The epic graphic novel attracted immediate controversy, for Crumb did not rewrite or leave out a single scene from the first book of the Bible. His complete faithfulness to the text resulted in a warning being printed on the cover: “Adult Supervision Recommended for Minors.”

The Book of Genesis Illustrated was condemned by religious groups almost immediately, and ultimately what The Telegraph described as a “Biblical sex row” reared its ugly head:
A sexually explicit illustrated Book of Genesis by controversial artist Robert Crumb, which features Bible characters having intercourse, has been condemned by religious groups.

The book, which is released this month, carries the warning "adult supervision recommended for minors", and is described as "scandalous satire" by its publishers.

It includes graphic illustrations of Bible characters having sexual intercourse, and other scenes depicting naked men and women as well as "gratuitous" depictions of violence.

Crumb, the book's author, is most famous for his creation Fritz the Cat, a sexually graphic "underground" comic strip. It was turned into a film that became the first animation to receive an X rating.

He has said he does not believe that the Bible is the word of God. "I take it all for myth from start to finish, with probably some faint relation to historical reality." he said.

"They're great stories. But for people to take texts as something sacred, handed down from God... that's pretty backward, I think."

The Book of Genesis illustrated by R. Crumb has been criticised by leading religious groups such as the Christian Institute.

"It is turning the Bible into titillation," said Mike Judge, of the Christian Institute, a religious think-tank. "It seems wholly inappropriate for what is essentially God's rescue plan for mankind.

"If you are going to publish your own version of the Bible it must be done with a great deal of sensitivity. The Bible is a very important text to many many people and should be treated with the respect it deserves.

"Representing it in your own way is all very well and good but it must be remembered that it is a matter of people's faith, their religion.

"Faith is such an important part of people's lives that one must remember to tread very carefully."

Other leading religious figures have been more supportive of the work. "I didn't think it was satire," said the Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Rev Nick Baines.

"He set out to say; 'this is important, fundamental myth' and it seems to me he's done a good job."

A spokeswoman for the Bible Society said she hadn't seen the book but that reviews had suggested that Crumb had "really engaged" with the Book of Genesis.

"It may surprise people but the bible does contain nudity, sex and violence. That's because it contains real stories about real people.

"If by reading the book people are encouraged to re-engage with the Bible then that can only be a good thing."

A spokesman for the Church of England said: "I haven't seen the book but I think trying to sell something by emphasising the sexual nature of some of the scenes doesn't seem to be a good way to pass on the message of the bible." [1].

What I find amazing and extremely ironic is the shock and offense with which Crumb’s work was received by certain religious people and groups who claim to know and revere the Bible as a divinely-inspired work. Why this reaction to an artist who merely reproduced through illustrated depictions, faithfully and without any omission, the entirety of a book from their guide to life?

The answer is simple on one level at least. Many of those Christians who identify with the conservative, right-wing persuasions and sensibilities do not fully know what is contained in their own Scriptures – the selfsame Scriptures they use to police and censor the creative output of others whose creations, whether literature, film, music, etc., even slightly disrupt their delicate worldview and challenges them to think beyond the box they have built around themselves and want to build around everyone else.

The warning label printed on Crumb’s graphic novel is certainly warranted. I applaud Crumb for confronting people with what needs to be said about the quality of a book that is revered by millions but read by very few. Crumb’s work has inspired me to write this overview of the content found in the Book of Genesis that justifies such a warning label, not just on Crumb’s graphic novel but on all Bibles. In fact, I am in favor of having the Bible classified as “indecent” by authorities, so that only those over the age of 18 could buy the book, which should be sealed in a wrapper with a statutory warning notice [2]. Of course, I do not endorse censorship or banning in any way, shape or form. My tastes being what they are, I would personally continue to read and enjoy the Bible.

Without further ado, let us dive into this overview of Genesis, which I strongly hope will be read by parents, religious or otherwise, who have not read the book and are concerned about what they expose their children to.

Noah's Nakedness - Genesis 9:18-27

Shortly after disembarking from the ark that saved him and his family from a global flood, Noah plants a vineyard. He becomes drunk from the wine he produces and passes out naked in his tent. His youngest son Ham comes into the tent, and upon finding his father passed out naked, approaches his two brothers Shem and Japheth outside to tell them. Shem and Japheth then take a garment and walk into their father's tent backwards to avoid seeing their naked father and cover him with the garment out of respect. When Noah awakes and finds himself naked and covered with a garment, he finds out what Ham had done and what he had failed to do. Ham had seen his nakedness, while the other two respectfully covered him. According to the story, Noah was a highly honorable man. He was so honorable, in fact, that God found him to be the only righteous man in the antediluvian world and destroyed everybody in the world except this naked drunk and his family. Because of this high standing Noah enjoys in the eyes of God, Noah decides to place a curse upon his son Ham, declaring that Ham and all of his descendants (the Canaanites) would be slaves to his brothers and their descendants forever.

The sheer insanity of the rationale behind Noah's curse is striking. Essentially, Noah puts the screws to Ham because he got drunk and was caught.

Lot's Incestuous Daughters - Genesis 19:30-38

This passage relates what happens to Lot and his two daughters after they escape the judgment that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Initially, the trio takes refuge in the city of Zoar. But Lot fears the city, and with his daughters he dwells in a cave in a mountain. The two virgin daughters, now isolated from society and thus from any possibility of a future mate, fear that teir father's seed will not be preserved. Their solution is to make their father drunk on wine and seduce him. One night, the older daughter sleeps with him in his drunken state. The next day, she reports that the plan was a success to her younger sister and encourages her to do the same. After causing their father to get drunk again, the younger daughter heeds the suggestion and sleeps with him. Both daughters become pregnant by their father.

This story is related with a very black-and-white straightforwardness. Lot's two daughters get him drunk and have sex with him, each conceiving a child as a result. But there are logistical problems I never hear addressed and which the otherwise straightforward text does not elaborate on. Lot's daughters manage to get their father drunk two nights in a row. In making sense of this story, how are we to believe that Lot did not learn a lesson the first night when the first daughter took advantage of him with the help of wine? We are told he allowed his daughters to get him drunk a second night! Another question that should be obvious is how Lot's daughters managed to procreate with their father while he was drunk to the point where he did not realize he was having sex with his daughters. If a person is drunk to that extent, he is not going to be very capable of performing sexually.

A more relevant question that should be asked about this story is whether there is not even the slightest trace of a creep-out factor for the ministers who believe the book that contains this story is the inerrant and perfect word of their God. And if, as many such ministers would say, the incestuous actions of Lot’s daughters were ultimately a part of God's plan for history, does that not make the story even creepier? Of course, this story and other equally obscene stories in the Bible sometimes are featured in the Sunday morning sermons of the Christians and the Saturday afternoon service of the Jews. But their rare willingness to illuminate such passages do not excuse the reason they often have for preaching from them. The fact remains that we are teaching our children these stories, and yet many of these people stridently wish that the secular community was not allowed to teach children real science in the classroom.

Like Father, Like Son - Genesis 20, 26

Many characters in the Bible were not very good at planning ahead, or in learning from their mistakes. In Genesis 20, Abraham journeys to the city of Gerar, where he pretends that his wife Sarah is his sister. Abraham had exercised this same deceptive routine in Chapter 12 of Genesis, when he and his wife sojourned in Egypt. His reasoning was thus: "Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, 'This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister, that it may be well with me, for thy sake; and my soul shall live, because of thee" (Genesis 12:12-13).

The two accounts of what transpired as a result of this lie are almost identical. In Gerar, Abraham allows Abimelech the king to sleep with Sarah in order to convincingly maintain his lie. Before Abimelech has a chance to sleep with Sarah, however, God appears to him in a dream. He reveals the truth to him concerning Sarah, and commands him to return her to Abraham if he wishes to avoid fatal divine judgment. Abimelech (who is inflicted by God with a sickness that will not be lifted unless Abraham intervenes with prayer on his behalf), heeds this warning and summons Abraham the next day to reprimand him for his deception. In addition to returning Abraham's wife to him, the fearful king gives them sheep, oxen and servants. Abraham then prays to God on behalf of Abimelech so that God will not put the king to death for the "crime" of believing Abraham's lie. This prayer also lifts the curse that was placed on Abimelech's wife and maidservants, who were not able to bear children while Sarah resided with them.

Interestingly enough, Abraham's son Isaac tries to use the exact same trick to the same person in Genesis 26 (or possibly Abimelech's son; the king in this story may have been the son with the same name). His motivation for lying is of course identical to his father's: "And the men of the place asked him of his wife: and he said, 'She is my sister': for he feared to say, 'She is my wife'; lest, said he, 'the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah,' because she was fair to look on" (26:7). In this particular case, Abimelech looks out his window and catches Isaac and Rebekah "sporting" in a romantic and intimate fashion. He summons Isaac and irately demands to know why he lied. He pointedly tells Isaac that this deception might easily have brought guilt upon him or his subjects, as Abraham's lie did. After reprimanding Issac, the king then charges all his people not to touch Isaac or his wife on pain of death.

Apparently, the Mosaic concept of "visiting the iniquity of the fathers to the third and fourth generation" (Exodus 20:5, 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9) has an equal application when it comes to the moronic deeds of the father.

Testicular Allegiance - Genesis 24:2-9

In this passage, Abraham beseeches his servant to place his hand under his thigh and swear an oath, which the servant does. This custom is repeated later in Genesis (47:29). The words "testimony" and "testify" both derive from the word testis, or testicles. This etymology is well established; the manner in which one swore allegiance and honesty in these ancient times was to place one's hand on the testicles of the person being sworn to. In the English translation, "thigh" is very closely related, both literally and physically, to the crotch region of the human body. This understanding is confirmed by passages such as Numbers 5:11-31, in which the word "thigh" is used in the context of a description of the procedure prescripted to be conducted on women to determine if they have been sexually faithful to their husband.

Because a man's genitals are his articles of procreation, they were considered highly sacred in biblical times. This explains why the swearing of a sacred and solemn oath would entail placing one's hand under another man's testicles, as in our modern-day custom of swearing on the Bible itself. This bizarre and obscene custom also sheds light on the harsh Mosaic pronouncement against women who touch the genital area of a man she is not married to, even if on accident. Deuteronomy 25:11-12 describes one example of a situation in which this may happen. The penalty for such a woman is to have her offending hand chopped off.

Jacob's Daughter Dinah - Genesis 34

In this story, we are introduced to a woman named Dinah, Jacob's daughter. While going out "to see the daughters of the land," she is raped by Shechem, the prince of the Hivites. After raping her, Shechem falls deeply in love with Dinah and asks his father Hamor to procure her as his wife. By way of crucial background, Dinah is Jewish and Shechem is a goy, which would render marriage between them an unlawful act on the part of the Jews. Hamor, accompanied by Shechem, goes to Dinah's father Jacob to speak with him as well as Dinah's infuriated brothers concerning the matter. Hamor proposes a peace treaty through marriage between Jacob's family and the Hivites: "The soul of my son Shechem longeth for your daughter: I pray you give her him to wife. And make ye marriages with us, and give your daughters unto us, and take our daughters unto you. And ye shall dwell with us, and the land shall be before you: dwell and trade you therein, and get you possessions therein" (34:8b-10).

The sons of Jacob, who have come in from the field, inform Hamor and Shechem that their sister cannot be given in marriage to one who is uncircumcised. But they agree to consent to Shechem's request only if he and his father convert and become circumcised. In fact, Jacob's sons demand that the Hivites as a whole must convert and be circumcised before any treaty is formed and before any daughters are married off between them. Evidently, Dinah was drop-dead gorgeous, because not only does Shechem agree to be circumcised, but his entire tribe also agrees to be circumcised. The entire Hivite tribe convert and are circumcised to compensate for one of their own raping a Jewish girl and to seal the peace treaty. In the light of what the circumcision process entailed, this is real dedication [3].

Three days later, "when they were sore" (v. 25) and possibly regretting their decision to convert and be circumcised, two of Jacob's sons come into their city bearing swords. They slaughter every male in the city, including Shechem and his father. After taking their sister Dinah out of Shechem's house, the rest of Jacob's sons show up and plunder the city. They take livestock and wealth, and take captive all the children and all the wives of the slain men. One wonders what Jacob's marauding sons planned to do with the women they stole and took captive. Seeing as they were treated as little more than objects of plunder along with the livestock and wealth, rape is certainly not to be put past them. Furthermore, this slaughter and raid was Jacob's sons' way of avenging the rape of their sister. Jacob's sons would be acting consistently with the general "eye for an eye" concept if their intention was to rape all these captured women, even though the scale is clearly disproportional. Then again, the price Shechem and his fellow Hivites pay for raping Dinah and then marrying her into the tribe is also extremely disproportional. As we discussed above, the punishment for the crime of rape was for the violator to pay fifty shekels of silver to his victim's father if she was not betrothed (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

Jacob is furious at his sons Simeon and Levi, the two who orchestrated the slaughter. He is understandably vexed at the possibility that they have ruined him. He had established a peace treaty with the Hivites and sealed it by having them circumcised, only to have his two sons murder every man in the city and plunder it. Jacob tells them, "Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land, amongst the Canaanites, and the Perizzites: and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me, and I shall be destroyed, I and my house" (v. 30). His sons answer him bitterly with a short rhetorical question: "Should he deal with our sister, as with an harlot?" This is their sole justification for everything they did. This is also the end of the story; Genesis does not enter into any more detail about what took place after all this, and neither does it elaborate via commentary on the morality or lack thereof of the actions committed by Jacob's sons.

Prostitution Intrigue - Genesis 38

Here we are presented with the brief accounts of two brothers, Er and Onan, the sons of Judah and a Canaanite woman named Shuah. Verse 7 of this chapter tells us that Er was "wicked in the sight of the LORD," so the LORD killed him. The text does not expound on either why or how God killed him. But because he died, Onan was then required by law to marry his late brother's wife Tamar so that she can conceive a child. Onan is not comfortable about this arrangement at all, knowing that "the seed should not be his" (v. 9). Whenever he sleeps with Tamar, Onan spills his seed on the ground instead of depositing it inside her so that she would not conceive. This highly displeases God, so God kills Onan as well. To this day, the "Sin of Onan" has traditionally (and erroneously) been interpreted to be masturbation [4].

Judah had a third son named Shelah, but for some inexplicable reason that is never explained, Tamar does not avail herself of this third option after the years go by and the young Shelah comes of age. Instead, Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute and sits in a public place outside the town of Timnath. Her plan is to trick her father-in-law Judah (whose wife had since died) into sleeping with her so she could finally conceive a child. Her father-in-law comes into the town and sees her. Thinking she is a prostitute by trade, he approaches her and says, "Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee" (v. 16). Tamar asks him what he will pay her with, and because he has nothing of value on his person, he promises to pay her at a later time with a goat from his flock and leaves her with his seal. Apparently, if one held a position of prominence in this culture, giving a seller a personal identifying seal as a token that he will return with payment later in order to then retrieve the seal was one convenient way of making purchases. But in the case of buying sex from a prostitute, this does not seem like the wisest course of action.

Tamar and her father-in-law have sex that night, and she conceives a child by him. Three months after this child is born, Judah is still without his seal. The prostitute has disappeared, and the citizens of the town tell Judah's inquiring servant that no prostitutes make their business in the town. Judah then receives word that his daughter-in-law hd engaged in prostitution, and that she is with child as a result. Judah responds bluntly: "Bring her forth, and let her be burnt." Judah virulently objected to prostitution to this degree . . . despite the fact that he himself had slept with a prostitute [5]. When Tamar is brought before Judah, she reveals everything (including, by the way, that Judah was terrible at planning ahead). She produces Judah's signets to prove it was him she had slept with, and tells him she is pregnant with his child and future heir. Judah acknowledges these facts and spares her life.


NOTES

1. Ben Leach, “Biblical Sex Row Over Explicit Illustrated Book of Genesis,” The Telegraph 17 Oct. 2009, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/6358134/Biblical-sex-row-over-explicit-illustrated-Book-of-Genesis.html. (accessed 23 April 2011).

2. Nathan Dickey, “The Unholy Bible: A Case Study in Obscene and Perverse Literature,” The Journeyman Heretic (blog) 25 March 2011, http://journeymanheretic.blogspot.com/2011/03/unholy-bible-case-study-in-obscene-and.html. (accessed 23 April 2011).

3. Experts on the circumcision custom as well as medical professionals say that the process is far more painful for an adult male than it is for an eight-day-old infant.

4. The religious injunctions against Onanism is a matter of much later interpretation of the story. The original issue at stake for the writer of this passage was not masturbation. The original issue was the obligation of a kinsman to continue his late brother's line of inheritance by begetting children with the widow. The offspring of this union were considered the dead man's heirs, not the heirs of their actual biological father. Onan was averse to this plan, so he discontinued ejaculating inside Tamar. The failure to meet this obligation was the real sin of Onan and the reason why God kills him. "Spilling the seed upon the ground" has not a thing to do with masturbation, which is never discussed in the Bible.

5. This aspect of the story actually has a number of real-life parallels today. One example that comes to mind is the gambling problem of William Bennett, who is widely considered the leading voice for the promotion of conservative morals. His best-known work, The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993) praised the virtues of moderation and self-discipline. Both he and the organization he co-founded and headed at the time (Empower America, renamed in 2004 as FreedomWorks) opposed the extension of casino gambling in the states. Yet in 2003 it became publicly known that Bennett was addicted to high-stakes gambling and had reportedly lost millions in Las Vegas.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Bible Story You Probably Never Heard in Sunday School

And he [Elisha] went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, “Go up thou bald head, Go up thou bald head.” And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the Name of the LORD: and there came forth two she Bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.

(II Kings 2:23-24, King James Version)

These two verses relate one of the most obscene stories I have come across in the Bible, on a number of levels. In this story, Elisha is walking into the city of Bethel. He is accosted on his way into the city by a crowd of children who tease or harass him (depending on how one wants to interpret the passage), saying “Go up thou bald head, go up thou bald head.” Elisha turns back upon the mocking children and curses them in the name of the LORD. In response, the LORD sends two she-bears charging out of the nearby forest to rip apart 42 of the children.

To place this scene in some perspective, an average school classroom today holds more than 42 children. The description of the children in II Kings differs only slightly between translations. The New International Version and The Living Bible render them “some youths” and “a gang of youths” respectively, in an attempt to soften the blow of the story. However, the King James Version, which calls them “little children,” is the closest in accuracy in this particular case. The original Hebrew word translated “little children” is na’ar, a word that denotes a boy between infancy and adolescence. This word is not isolated in the text, being qualified by the Hebrew word qatan, meaning “small” or “diminutive,” as in age or importance.

But it does not much matter if the mockers in this story are little children or mature gang members. According to the story, God sent two bears to rip 42 young people to shreds for the “crime” of calling Elisha “bald head.” Imagine the parents of these children arriving on the scene to make an attempt at identifying the pieces of their child from the pieces of other children in this 42-child mass of carnage. If my reader is grossed out, I have proven my point. This is a story contained in one of the most revered books of all time, a story that would be widely considered highly objectionable by most people if it was found anywhere else (for instance, this could not be shown on television, and any faithful and realistic film depiction would warrant an R-rating or worse).

The few Christians who are familiar with this story resort to their usual apologetic contortions in trying to justify the violent excessiveness on display in this passage. A common argument is the one hinted at above, wherein the apologist attempts to make a case that the “little children” of the KJV and most other versions is a poor translation, that these children were actually a group of teenagers and young adults who were threatening Elisha with physical harm. This is highly unusual coming from people who claim to take the Bible literally, because this reading is nowhere to be found in the text.

This story in II Kings is reminiscent of a threat levied by God in Leviticus 26:22: “I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children . . .” Why should God punish innocent children as a means of punishing parents?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spirit of Paranoia: A Critical Analysis of “Zeitgeist” (Part 3)

“Don't Mind the Men Behind the Curtain,” the third and final part of Peter Joseph's documentary film Zeitgeist, is by far the most fascinating of the three. The ideas and notions presented are so interesting, in fact, that even skeptical critics such as myself are liable to come away almost wishing some of them were true, because of the implications for life in our country. But this is precisely why we must take seriously the advice of Bertrand Russell: “Ask yourself only, ‘What are the facts, and what is the truth that the facts bear out?’ Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed” [1]. As I have done in reviewing the previous two parts of Zeitgeist, I aim to take that advice in analyzing the claims made in the film's finale.

The main thesis of Part III is that all debt is created by a seemingly never-ending money supply that the Federal Reserve produces out of nothing, and that the income tax was created not only as a means of paying off this debt, but also as a means of enslaving people to perpetual debt. The subject of war is also explored, as the filmmaker argues that World Wars I and II and Vietnam were provoked by central banking interests for monetary gain. The film then disastrously veers off the deep end into its conclusion, which posits a coming One World Government that tracks every single person on the planet via an ID chip that locks all people into a control grid.

Anyone who is familiar with the work of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones will immediately see his influence on the filmmaker in this section of Zeitgeist. Besides Jones' influence, most of the content in this third part of Zeitgeist originate from two primary sources (from which Alex Jones himself heavily draws, whether consciously or unconsciously). The first is the various anti-government militia movements that cropped up in the 1980s and 1990s. The other source is evangelical Christianity, many of whose adherents believe that the Antichrist will someday come on the world scene and create a One World Government with a one world currency, over which he will rule. Radical anti-government Christian organizations, such as the John Birch Society, greatly contributed to the ominous culture of dystopian right-wing predictions such as this that were in wide circulation over twenty-five years ago, when the expectation that a One World Government was just around the corner was widespread among the Religious Right. This expectation is still alive to this day, and now they are joined in the chorus by conspiracy theorists, people who for the most part cling to no particular religious ideology. Like the 2,000 year-old belief that Jesus is returning soon to earth, these people are proclaiming the same things they have been crying for a long time now. Even before the political rise of American evangelical Christianity in the 1980s, the neo-conservative movement dating back to the 1960s and 1970s engendered what we now recognize as a culture of paranoid anti-government activists, who are now more out in the open than in those early days. Before that time, one would be hard-pressed to find a significant number of people expressing irrational fear of innocuous government actions.

Almost all conspiracy theories surrounding the passing of the Federal Reserve Act in 1913 would have people believe that nobody knew about the act, and that it was passed under very secretive circumstances by only a handful of people. Zeitgeist is no exception. The narrator states,

[I]n 1913, with heavy political sponsorship by the bankers, Woodrow Wilson became President, having already agreed to sign the Federal Reserve Act in exchange for campaign support. And two days before Christmas, when most of Congress was at home with their families, the Federal Reserve Act was voted in, and Wilson in turn made it law.
The fact of the matter is that the majority of Congress was present, not “at home with their families.” Furthermore, the majority of Congress voted for the act, and it passed democratically after four months of being debated and discussed. The Federal Reserve Act was passed on December 22, 1913 with 298 yeas against 60 nays. Seventy-six Congressmen did not vote, which means even if all seventy-six had voted nay, the yeas would still have been a majority [2]. The act then passed the Senate the following day, 43 yeas to 25 nays, with 27 not voting.

The two figures involved with the Federal Reserve Act that are discussed perhaps more than any others among conspiratorial circles, including in Zeitgeist, are Congressman Louis McFadden and Congressman Charles August Lindbergh (the father of the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh). McFadden and Lindbergh, who both strongly opposed the Federal Reserve Act, attempted to establish an impeachment case against those primarily responsible for creating the act. Very few of the many people who speak highly of these two men realize that McFadden's opposition to the act stemmed from his belief that the Federal Reserve was part and parcel of an international Jewish conspiracy to undermine the economic integrity of the United States. McFadden in particular was an extremely shady individual who believed the Jews controlled the world market [3] and were responsible for economic upheavals and changes, especially in the United States [4]. He was also a major supporter of Hitler and promoted a number of Nazi policies that were specifically anti-Semitic in nature, most notably Hitler's attempts to put an end to alleged Jewish control of all aspects of the German infrastructure [5]. When McFadden ran for president in 1936, he ran on a platform of anti-Semitism, one of his campaign slogans reading “Christianity instead of Judaism [6].”

In 1932, McFadden and Lindbergh spearheaded impeachment proceedings against President Hoover in addition to conspiracy charges against the Federal Reserve Board. Congress took it to a vote, and the impeachment resolution was defeated 361 to 8. Only eight people in Congress voted with McFadden and Lindbergh [7]. Even Ron Paul draws in better votes in Congress with his unpopular fringe ideas.

The historical root of opposition to the Federal Reserve is grounded in anti-Semitism. Of course, most people who oppose the Federal Reserve, in the present day as well as in the last several decades, are not and have not been anti-Semites. The problem is that most of them do not realize that anti-Semitic motivations drove the initial oppositions to the Federal Reserve Act. And to portray figures such as Louis McFadden as heroes for freedom, as Zeitgeist does, is to confirm one's ignorance of history.

Today, the root of the opposition to government-run finance industries such as the Federal Reserve has its roots in a fear of the Central Bank concept. The conspiracy theories that are inspired by this fear, such as those concerning the Rothschilds, the Bilderbergers and the Trilateral Commission, stems from a fear of banking in general felt even by regular, common-sense individuals with their head on straight. I myself have very little trust for banks, and I tend not to trust very wealthy people at all. However, this does not mean that Zeitgeist is justified in making up “facts” and misrepresenting the process by which money is created is justified. For the film suggests that money comes from nothing and is based on nothing. This is skewed and incorrect; while there is no physical thing one can point to as the basis for money, the monetary concept itself is well-grounded and has a foundation, albeit a needlessly complex one [8]. Thus, the desire to have a system that is easier to understand and more trustworthy is quite understandable, for I myself long for such a system. The desire to end the private status of the Federal Reserve is also understandable. After all, why should anyone trust a private industry to protect the best interests of the people? However, to suggest that the Federal Reserve and Central Banks are actually evil entities out to intentionally harm us and control us is an unwarranted and unfounded leap to make.

Moreover, people who harbor such paranoid notions of government control tend to grossly underestimate the power of the democratic process as wielded by the people, and there is a very obvious psychological reason for this. The action we as a people engage in of electing people to government offices has a great deal to do with the directions national politics take, and it is surprising how often this obvious fact is not acknowledged or under-emphasized. For example, we as a country were treated to heavy doses of Neoclassical Liberalism as a result of democratically electing Ronald Reagan to the office of president, the effects of which we are still experiencing to a degree. Thus, the maximization of the role played by private business sectors in outlining the economic priorities of the state is ultimately traced to the will of the people, not to a conspiracy on the part of a shadowy elite class of bankers who control us like puppets. Of course, when Neoclassical Liberalism fails, the aforementioned psychological basis for the underestimation of the role of democracy comes into play. Rather than placing the blame on the individual we elected or taking responsibility for electing him or her, we tend to instinctively blame other people outside our sphere of influence. The irrational mindset is that we as a people never vote wrong, so therefore a conspiracy must be in the works.

On Microchips and a One World Government

Zeitgeist concludes with a brief discussion of microchips, which it is claimed the coming One World Government will utilize in tracking the every move of every person on the planet. In the words of the film itself,

In 2005, Congress, under the pretense of immigration control and the so-called “War on Terrorism,” passed the REAL ID Act, under which it is projected by May 2008 you will be required to carry around a federal identification card which includes on it a scannable bar code with your personal information. However, this bar code is only an intermediary step before the card is equipped with that very chip, RFID tracking module which will use radio frequencies to track your every move on the planet. If this sounds foreign to you, please know that the RFID tracking chip is already in all new American passports. And the final step is the implanted chip which many people had already been manipulated into excepting under different pretenses.

In the end, everybody will be locked into a monitored control grid, where every single action you perform is documented . . . and if you get out of line, they can just turn off your chip, for at that point in time, every single aspect of society will revolve around interactions with the chips. This is the picture that is painted for the future if you open your eyes to see it. A centralized one world economy where everyone's moves and everyone's transactions are tracked and monitored. All rights removed.

As mentioned above, these notions of tracking modules and implanted microchips that lock all people in a control grid originates from eschatological views held by adherents of evangelical dispensationalist Christianity. A major tenet of their end-times scenario is that the world's inhabitants will be required by the satanic world government to be identified with a mark of some kind in order to buy and sell. However, there is nothing particularly diabolic or draconian at all about a standard national ID card. Virtually every other industrialized country in the world has already implemented a national ID system in one form or another. Even the United States has adopted some forms of national ID, including Driver's Licenses, Birth Certificates and Social Security cards. In similar innocuous fashion, the whole point of the REAL ID Act, as well as of any other form of national ID, is to make available a national standard that works everywhere in the country. The REAL ID does not give the government any more control over people than a Driver's License does. In fact, the only difference between the two is that REAL ID establishes a national standard that renders scanning information a smoother process and makes mistakes less likely to occur. As matters currently stand, ID standards are different for every state. Of course, the more convenient single nationwide standard that Congress envisioned has not yet come to fruition, and the May 2008 date of implementation predicted by Zeitgeist has come and gone.

The views of right-wing religious organizations and personalities, such as the John Birch Society and Pat Robertson from The 700 Club, are the primary cause of the general fear a great many people have of a One World Government actually coming into existence in the real world, which will feature a chip or some kind of tattoo on the hand or forehead being required of world citizens and enforced by the Antichrist to make us buy and sell within the confines of his one world currency. In light of these sources of the fear promoted by Zeitgeist, it is astonishing that most of the people who are a part of the Zeitgeist Movement are either actively opposed to Christianity and want to see its demise (most notably Acharya S), or simply identify as non-Christian and leave matters at that. Yet they have also bought into the claims made in Part III of Peter Joseph’s schizophrenic film. And while it is true that there is no necessary connection between Christian end-times beliefs and notions of One World Government use of microchips, the film's discussion of the subject bears a striking and undeniable resemblance to the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Revelation, at least as far as its well-known dispensationalist interpretation among modern evangelical Christians is concerned [9]. This also raises an interesting question that has been raised many times before by skeptics: If the Antichrist (or the secular equivalent, take your pick) is going to orchestrate and carry out exactly what is described in the Book of Revelation, how does he or she expect no one to take notice? Since such end-times conceptions have become such a prominent feature of popular culture, how could any aspiring Antichrist or world ruler reasonably expect anyone to accept his or her system [10]?

Interestingly, another source of the fear surrounding government-issued microchips arises from comparisons that are often made to Adolph Hitler and his Nazi regime. It comes as no surprise that Zeitgeist draws comparisons between the Bush administration and Hitler, which is why I here find it illustrative to invoke Godwin's Law, which states,

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one [11].
Rather than showing that any actual comparison is accurate and warranted, Godwin's Law shows that such comparisons work very well for people or groups who are interested in demonizing anyone or anything. As a result of anti-government activists and conspiracy theorists demonizing things like microchip technology and identification cards in this way, people become concerned at a certain point about being tracked wherever they go at all times, as they should be if there were any evidential grounds for suspecting such a program as being in the works. But one must first bear in mind that neither Hitler nor Stalin required implanted microchips in order to find people and kill them. They managed to carry out these actions quite efficiently without such means, and they obviously lacked the level of technology we have access to today.

Thus, even if the state did want to control the population in every way possible, they do not need the ability to track every person at all times, and in fact any technological measures to achieve that ability would be overkill to say the least. Simply consider what would be required to literally chip and track the move of every single person on the planet. The amount of investment needed, the level of networking required, the kind of infrastructure that would need to be constructed, the size of the establishment that would need to be maintained, all yield staggering figures when calculated. It would be one of the most impractical schemes, if not the most impractical scheme, ever conceived. It would require thousands if not millions of IT personnel and other specialists, and trillions of dollars to put in place. And for what purpose? To control every facet of our day-to-day existence? Besides the fact that it would be exceedingly implausible to argue that all the personnel are paid off to remain quiet about the plot (after all, if Watergate could not be kept under wraps, a plan to track every single person on the planet is certainly not going to remain secret for too long), one does well to ask why the global or national elite would even want to go to such lengths to control us. Would we really buy or sell any more than we already do? What more would we have to offer the controllers once locked in their grid? Ultimately, it would be an utter waste of massive amounts of money that the conspirators would never receive a return on in the future.

NOTES

1. Bertrand Russell, BBC interview, 1959, video available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7I9pgqiLo0&feature=related (accessed 13 April 2011).

2. Changes in the Banking and Currency System of the United States, House Report No. 69, 63d Congress to accompany H.R. 7837, submitted to the full House by Mr. Glass, from the House Committee on Banking and Currency, September 9, 1913. A discussion of the deficiencies of the then current banking system as well as those in the Aldrich Plan and quotations from the 1912 Democratic platform are laid out in this report, pp. 3-11.

3. Robert Michael, A Concise History of American Antisemitism (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), p. 180.

4. Gulie Ne'eman Arad, America, Its Jews, and the Rise of Nazism (Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2000), p. 174.

5. Michael, A Concise History, p. 186.

6. Ibid., p. 142.

7. “National Affairs: I Impeach. . . .” Time 26 December 1932, available online at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,744826,00.html (accessed 13 April 2011).

8. For a detailed explanation of the basis for money, see Edward L. Winston's review of Part I of Zeitgeist: Addendum (the sequel film) at http://www.conspiracyscience.com/articles/zeitgeist-addendum/part-one/ (accessed 13 April 2011).

9. Revelation 13 (King James Version), Bible Gateway, http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+13&version=KJV (accessed 13 April 2011).

10. Given this consideration, if I were ever to become a Christian, I would have to take the Preterist position with regard to end-times theology as the most reasonable position. For information on Preterism, consult the Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preterism (accessed 13 April 2011).

11. Mike Godwin, “Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies (and Corollaries),” Electronic Frontier Foundation 12 January 1995. Archived from the “Net Culture – Humor” section of EEF.org, http://w2.eff.org/Net_culture/Folklore/Humor/godwins.law (accessed 13 April 2011).

Monday, April 4, 2011

Spirit of Paranoia: A Critical Analysis of “Zeitgeist” (Part 2)

Part II of Peter Joseph's documentary film Zeitgeist, entitled “All the World's a Stage,” describes the events of September 11, 2001 in much the same way Dylan Avery's film Loose Change describes it [1] (many portions were in fact lifted directly out of Loose Change). We are presented with the basic 9/11 conspiracy theories that most people have heard and are familiar with: 9/11 was an inside job, either a conspiracy directly planned and carried out by the US government or something they knew of beforehand and allowed to transpire. This section of the film tackles issues surrounding General Ahmed and Mohammad Atta, the financing of the attacks, the hijacker's passport, the claim that some hijackers were found alive after the attacks, the alleged fake Osama bin Laden video, the Carlyle Group, the Pentagon and others. This portion of Zeitgeist differs from the approach used in both Parts I and III. In those two parts, Peter Joseph provides commentary and attempts to make connections. Part II, on the other hand, contains little more than sound bites and many media clips. The discussion is so general, being a mishmash of interview clips, countless quotes and news pieces, that the filmmaker would have done well to leave this part out of the film altogether, or at least cover the subject more concisely in Part III.

Those watching Zeitgeist for the first time are likely to get a strong sense that they have been thrown out of one documentary and treated to another when they view as far as Part II. After all, what does 9/11 have to do with the origins of Christianity? This is also one reason this section of the film does a disservice to critical thinkers everywhere, particularly atheists. Here we are presented with someone who allegedly did some research on the mythical origins of religion (at least this is the allusion that is made) only to find ourselves immersed in a promotion of 9/11 Truther movements within the same film.

The belief that 9/11 was an inside job is a variation on a well-known common theme, reminiscent of the belief that Pearl Harbor was an inside US government job (a theory that Peter Joseph does promote in Part III of Zeitgeist). Those who promote a conspiratorial interpretation of the events surrounding 9/11 have for the most part been thoroughly debunked, and their tactics in debate indicate as much. After the data the conspiracy theorists want to utilize is carefully selected, they often focus on a single issue to the exclusion of other aspects of their theory they know have been satisfactorily refuted. The point of this tactic is to divert attention away from what is solidly understood to be devastating to the conspiracy theorists' claims, using rhetoric to establish a default case for other closely-related conspiracy theories.

The theories surrounding World Trade Center Building Seven stand as particularly illustrative examples of this tactic. Once virtually everything else in the 9/11 Truthers’ arsenal of argumentation was debunked, the center of their movement came to rest on the idea that the collapse of Building Seven was a controlled demolition. Because conspiracy theories surrounding the collapse of Building Seven are by far the most persistent and most dwelt-upon aspect of 9/11 among the Truther community, I will join the conspiracy theorists in focusing mainly on this subject, treating them to a refutation of this last line of defense.

In an online discussion thread on the Facebook profile of radio host Reginald Finley, our mutual friend D. Eric Harmon takes the position that 9/11 was an inside job. Harmon cites the exact same lines of evidence relating to World Trade Center 7 that were used in Zeitgeist, but states them much more succinctly and directly than does the film. This being the case, my commentary will be directed to his statements. He writes,

You act as if the burden of proof is on my claim. I suggest the opposite, and here is why, and I will only focus on WTC 7 (I am going to assume you have heard of this 3rd building that also collapsed in its own footprint on 9/11) . . . my claim is that building seven must have been brought down by controlled demolition . . . (1) it fit all the classic signs of controlled demolition (2) we have the owner of the building using demolition jargon in describing the destruction of the building (not conclusive, I know, but still compelling) (3) we have 100% proof that there was foreknowledge that the building was going to collapse (Rudy Guliani's [sic] testimony, warnings from firefighters and police that they had been told that the building was coming down, and at least 2 live broadcasts (Fox News local channel and BBC News) both reported that the building had already collapsed when in actuality it was still standing (4) NIST (National Institute of Standards and Testing [sic]) claims fire alone and minor damage caused a symmetrical collapse of a steel building, something that has never happened before or since--NIST also claims this was a new type of collapse and that it should be studied, but if this collapse was new and unexpected, how could there be fore knowledge that WTC7 would collapse? WTC7, which was not hit by a plane and less damaged than other buildings closer to the WTC Towers that did not collapse, is a complete mystery (except if explained by controlled demolition) (5) There was molten steel beneath the building weeks after the collapse . . . fire alone can not do this, but thermate and thermite can . . . now these are the reasons I believe 9/11 was an inside job, and everything I site is fact, not opinion. Please show me where I am in error, and also prove your claim that the buildings were brought down by the pancake theory and jet fuel . . .
The first fact that must be taken into account in responding to these arguments collectively is that nobody was inside WTC 7 when it fell, and no casualties resulted from the collapse. Therefore, why does it matter whether the building was demolished purposefully or not? If it was in fact a controlled demolition planned and executed by the US government, why would they not demolish the building while it was occupied with people in order to really make an impact? What exactly is the point of blowing up an empty building? But let us set this point aside for the moment, and address Harmon's specific points one-by-one.

1) [I]t fit all the classic signs of controlled demolition.

Fire was primarily responsible for the collapse of WTC 7, as well as the Twin Towers. According to the NIST, the buildings' trusses were sagged due to the heat from the fires, which bowed the columns inward and caused the building to collapse. While it may have looked like a controlled demolition, it was not. Massive buildings do not fall over as small buildings might; when a building's floors begin to collapse upon the floors below them with tremendous weight, the only way to go is down. This downward motion may have all the appearance of being a symmetrical controlled demolition. But WTC 7 and the Twin Towers fell in the manner buildings of the sizes we are speaking of fall generally, regardless of whether controlled demolition brings them down or intense heat from jet fuel. Consider also that the towers were built at or near the extreme end of our engineering capabilities. The design was such that the ability of steel to support a building was greatly extended. The loss of strength in the steel columns of these buildings did not even need to be substantial (even though it was) in order for the weight of the upper floors to lose their support. The domino effect resulting from the collapse of just one floor makes for a strikingly symmetrical-looking collapse, but it was certainly not controlled.

Moreover (as we will discuss in more detail below), fire was not the only factor that contributed to the buildings collapsing in a manner reminiscent of controlled demolition. Fuel was not the only thing burning in WTC 7 that day. The building was equipped with several large diesel storage tanks that served as back-up generators. Along with everything else in the building that was flammable (rugs, curtains, furniture, paper, etc.), these diesel tanks fueled the fires that contributed to the building's collapse.

2) [W]e have the owner of the building using demolition jargon in describing the destruction of the building (not conclusive, I know, but still compelling).

This claim refers to owner Larry Silverstein's decision to “pull” the WTC 7 building, allegedly meaning that he was responsible for deciding at what point the building was demolished. This is problematic for a number of reasons. First, “pull” is not a term used in the demolishing industry [2]. Second, if Silverstein had a sanction to demolish in mind, why would he give this sanction to the Fire Chief? The Fire Department is not in the business of demolishing buildings, and there is zero evidence that the Fire Department was in on any scheme to bring the building down. Even if they were, why would they bother to detonate a building that was already enveloped in a fire that could not be contained? Would it not make more sense to simply allow the building to burn?

Most importantly, the context in which Silverstein used the questionable term indicates quite strongly that by “pull it,” he meant “pull people out of the building” or “pull the operation.” This crucial context is provided in the 2002 PBS documentary America Rebuilds: A Year at Ground Zero, in which Silverstein tells the interviewer, “I remember getting a call from the, uh, fire department commander, telling me that they were not sure they were gonna be able to contain the fire, and I said, ‘You know, we've had such terrible loss of life, maybe the smartest thing to do is, is pull it.’ And they made that decision to pull, and then we watched the building collapse [3].”

The emphasis placed by conspiracy theorists on Silverstein's “pull it” comment is closely related to the theory that Silverstein made good profit on the collapse, drawing in billions of dollars from the building's demise. But this theory is completely wrong. The fact of the matter is that there was a negative payout. Silverstein only stood to make $4.6 billion from insurance, money that was provided for the purpose of rebuilding the site. At the time, the cost of rebuilding amounted to $6.3 billion, with construction costs escalating at the rate of 1 percent a month [4]. On top of this, the insurance holders said in June of 2006 that since Silverstein would not own all the buildings of the site at the time of payout, he may not stand to receive all the money they were prepared to fork over [5]. In addition, Silverstein continues to be responsible for paying a yearly lease of $120 million to New York's Port Authority, a yearly payment that must be met in order to maintain his company's right to rebuild [6]. Where is the windfall profit?

3) [W]e have 100% proof that there was foreknowledge that the building was going to collapse (Rudy Guliani's [sic] testimony, warnings from firefighters and police that they had been told that the building was coming down, and at least 2 live broadcasts (Fox News local channel and BBC News) both reported that the building had already collapsed when in actuality it was still standing.

Why is it so inconceivable that a prediction that the building was about to collapse would not necessarily be connected with a conspiracy? There is simply no need for anyone to have been privy to advance knowledge of a demolition in order to suggest that the buildings would collapse. After all, the initial impacts were at least as unprecedented as the collapses themselves. The falling of the buildings was a natural occurrence to expect following the impacts of the planes, not only among the general public but more importantly among structural engineers and Fire Department personnel. There is also no reason to doubt that reports of the potential collapse of the Twin Towers and of WTC 7 may have filtered through to Giuliani moments before it actually happened.

To invoke the two live broadcasts that both reported the building had already collapsed, when in actuality it was still standing, is to tacitly assume that the news media is infallible, and that coincidences are impossible. Mistakes are made in the news all the time. For example, comparisons have been made by others between early reports of WTC 7's collapse and announcements made in online news media in June 2009 that Jeff Goldblum had died in New Zealand. Of course, Goldblum was not dead. Does this mean that when he finally does pass away, the news media will be implicated in a conspiracy to end his life because they had foreknowledge of his death? Contrary to what conspiracy theorists seem to constantly imply, coincidences actually do occur. The fact that live reports were made on more than just one news source before the events in question actually happened does absolutely nothing to establish foreknowledge, especially considering what had already transpired at the time the reports were made. A much more reasonable explanation of the events is that suggestions began to circulate that the collapse of World Trade Center 7 was inevitable, based on the fact that two other buildings in close proximity to WTC 7 had collapsed. In the ensuing rush, confusion and mass hysteria, two news sources (Fox News and BBC's Channel 4) make a decision to report on WTC 7 before anyone else beats them to it. This kind of scenario happens in news media all the time. There is no end to the examples one can find of news personnel misreporting or making erroneous statements. I also find it rather curious that the same people who use this line of evidence to support their claim of foreknowledge are also those who tend to say that the media routinely lies to the public. At the same time, they will portray the news media as being absolutely right on every issue they report on when it is helpful towards supporting their claims.

This inconsistency is strikingly reminiscent of the methods of most creationists, who reject science when it contradicts their position (which means they reject most science), and accept the science when it happens to agree with or aid their position. This method, in addition to being dishonest, is also antithetical to critical thinking. The only way to honestly defend any position is to take all of the available evidence, pro and con, weigh this evidence objectively, and exclude biases to the best of our ability and as much as possible.

4) NIST (National Institute of Standards and Testing [sic]) claims fire alone and minor damage caused a symmetrical collapse of a steel building, something that has never happened before or since--NIST also claims this was a new type of collapse and that it should be studied, but if this collapse was new and unexpected, how could there be fore knowledge that WTC7 would collapse? WTC7, which was not hit by a plane and less damaged than other buildings closer to the WTC Towers that did not collapse, is a complete mystery (except if explained by controlled demolition).

Let us first address the claim that WTC 7 was less damaged than other surviving buildings that were located closer to the Twin Towers, for clearing up this point will demonstrate that WTC 7 is far less of a mystery than Harmon makes it out to be. The fact that most cameras capturing the 9/11 event were trained on the Twin Towers themselves, and away from Building 7, allows this claim to flourish. However, eyewitness testimony from several independent sources indicates quite conclusively that the claim is simply false [7]. From these lines of evidence, the idea that Building Seven did not suffer substantial damage as a result of the collapse of the first tower is clearly a joke [8]. In addition to the video footage cited in footnote 5 below, take special note of the damage, captured in this NIST photograph, at the edge of the southwest face [9]:

The damage captured in this photograph is consistent with many eyewitness testimonies, both from firemen working on or near the site and the general public, who were quite certain that the building was going to collapse based simply on their observations.

As for the claim that a symmetrical collapse of a steel building “has never happened before or since,” this is simply false. A prime example is the L'Ambiance Plazza, which collapsed during construction in 1987 [10]. Other examples include the Lian Yak building, which collapsed in pancake fashion in March 1986 [11] and Ronan Point Flats, in which a gas explosion on the 18th floor destroyed structural panels on the perimeter, resulting in the collapse of floors in pancake fashion [12]. Other collapses such as the Civic Tower (Torre Civica) of Pavia in 1989, St. Mark's Campanile in Venice, Italy in 1902 and the bell tower of the St. Maria Magdalena Cathedral in Goch, Germany in 1993 add yet more nails to the coffin of the Truthers' claim that pancaking is a rare or nonexistent occurrence happening only in terrorist attacks.

5) There was molten steel beneath the building weeks after the collapse . . . fire alone can not do this, but thermate and thermite can . . .

The claim that molten metal was seen in the basements of the building long after the collapse is closely related to the theory that controlled demolition is what brought the building down. How, ask the 9/11 Truthers, can fire alone account for this molten metal? It is true that jet fuel burns from 800 to 1500 degrees Fahrenheit, and that this is not hot enough to melt steel, which melts at 2750 degrees Fahrenheit. Retired New York deputy fire chief Vincent Dunn, author of Collapse of Burning Buildings [13], has become well-known among the 9/11 Truth community for a quote they often take out of context: “I have never seen melted steel in a building fire,” he said. The remainder of this quote is as follows: “But I've seen a lot of twisted, warped, bent and sagging steel. What happens is that the steel tries to expand at both ends, but when it can no longer expand, it sags and the surrounding concrete cracks.”

Thus, there was no need for the building's steel to melt in order for the building to lose its structural integrity. At 1100 degrees Fahrenheit, steel loses over 50% of its strength. At 1800 degrees Fahrenheit, more than 90% of the steel's strength is lost. This is more than sufficient to warp and sag steel. As we noted above, jet fuel was not the only thing burning in the building. Rugs, curtains, furniture, paper and other combustible material intensified the inferno that was initially catalyzed by the jet fuel. The study conducted by NIST showed that pockets of fire reached as high as 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit, temperatures high enough to reduce the strength of the steel in many places of the building to less than 10%. Hence, the pile of twisted, warped, bent and sagging steel in the basement area was the result [14].

Conclusion

There is something very compelling about conspiracy theories that appeal to some people (if not everyone to some degree) on some psychological level. Even to skeptics such as myself, there is something very romantic about a grand conspiracy. This is why a great deal of fiction features, as a core plot thread, the concept of seemingly random or disconnected events all being tied together by the dark hand of an evil conspiracy, and a hero or heroine who uncovers it by peeking behind the curtain and seeing what is really transpiring. This is one of the basic story types that people know how to tell and relate to. On the level of logical sensibilities, the majority of conspiracy theories do not appeal to skeptics, because the logic behind them is so twisted. But on an emotional level, they can be very satisfying to all of us. This is why it is important not to end our application of critical thinking when appeals to emotion confront us. In other words, we must recognize fiction for what it is, no matter how satisfying its explanations appear to be. The view presented in Zeitgeist of the 9/11 event is pure fiction, and Peter Joseph should have put that effort into a novel.

At the same time, the moment one attempts to defend the claims put forth in Zeitgeist concerning the 9/11 event, credulity is strained even on an emotional level. A case in point is the film's treatment of Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon. The film throws a great deal of information relating to this at the viewer in rapid succession:

No seats, no luggage, no bodies. Nothing but bricks and limestone.

The official explanation is that the intense heat from the jet fuel vaporized the entire plane. Flight 77 had two Rolls-Royce engines made of steel and titanium alloy, and weighed six tons each. It is scientifically impossible that twelve tons of steel and titanium was vaporized by jet fuel.

David Ray Griffin: “We were also told that the bodies were able to be identified, either by their fingerprints or by their DNA. So what kind of fire can vaporize aluminum and tempered steel, and yet leave human bodies intact?”

CNN Live: “From my close-up inspection, there's no evidence of a plane having crashed anywhere near the Pentagon, and as I said, the only pieces left that you can see are small enough that you can pick up in your hand.”

David Ray Griffin: “Shortly after the strike, government agents picked up debris and carried it off. The entire lawn was covered with dirt and gravel, so that any remaining forensic evidence was literally covered up. The videos from security cameras on the nearby CITGO gas station and Sheraton Hotel, which would show what really hit the Pentagon, were immediately confiscated by agents of the FBI, and the Department of Justice has to this day refused to release them. If these videos would prove that the Pentagon was really hit by a 757, most of us would assume the government would release them.”

For the sake of the point I am making in this conclusion, let us quickly dispense with the claims that are outright lies. Security camera footage of Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon is available for all to see, and the government never attempted to hide or confiscate it. Video 2 at the Defense Department footnote provided below clearly shows a plane in the right background seconds before impact [15]. David Ray Griffin and Peter Joseph apparently assume that their followers will never bother to investigate their claims for themselves.

The notion that the plane was missing, and that the official explanation was that Flight 77 vaporized upon impact, is simply false. There are plenty of photographs available on the Internet of the 757 wreckage. Of course, denying that a plane crashed into the Pentagon leads one to deny the fact that human remains were seen at the site [16]. There were also many eyewitnesses that saw and/or heard a commercial passenger jet crash into the Pentagon. Thus, the Truthers must also dismiss this eyewitness testimony [17]. Moving on, David Ray Griffin states nothing definitive when he suggests that human bodies cannot remain intact in crash that “vaporized” the aluminum and tempered steel plane they were in. Besides the fact that the plane did not vaporize, human bodies do not turn to ash until approximately 90 minutes of burning at 1800 degrees Fahrenheit [18]. Not only did the fires at the Pentagon never reach that temperature, but they did not burn in just one location for 90 minutes. Naturally, material would be left over from the inferno. Identification of the bodies, including fingerprinting and DNA analysis, was difficult but by no means impossible.

Of course, the conspiracy theorists can rationalize all of this away quite easily. They can look at the many photographs of the plane wreckage, and they can read the many accounts by eyewitnesses who saw the plane crash into the Pentagon. But then they can always argue that the pieces of the plane were dumped on the site by government agents and that all the eyewitnesses were paid-off government plants. But this is the point at which the conspiracy theory mindset becomes so far-fetched that it collapses under its own weight. This kind of reasoning is strikingly similar to young-earth creationists who argue that God planted dinosaur bones in a Geologic Column with the appearance of a succession of great ages in order to test the faith of those who defend the Biblical creation account. The Scientific Method relies on being potentially falsifiable; if no room is made for questioning or for building into one's analysis a means of knowing when the hypothesis has failed, a religion is the inevitable result. The Zeitgeist Movement is an example of a faith-based movement, not a scientifically-based one. This is why Peter Joseph is one of the most religious figures I know. For when you, like Joseph, censor all dissenting opinion and believe that you are always right and display at all times the inability to be wrong, it is likely you either ascribe to a religious dogma that you believe supplies you with absolute truth, or you have aspirations of spearheading a religious movement.

Another inherent logical fallacy inherent in the conspiracy-theorist mindset is a key self-contradiction. According to this mindset, the people who are carrying out the conspiracy are enormously evil, wield incredible resources, are masterfully clever, and yet incomprehensibly stupid simultaneously. How is it that the those conspiring against us wield such great and unimaginable power, influence and cleverness, yet commit countless stupid mistakes and blunders that make it obvious to that a conspiracy is in play? Furthermore, if the conspiracy theorists were truly on the right track with their ideas of all that the conspirators have to hide, we would not be hearing from them for very long in the first place. For example, Alex Jones would not have survived to say most of what he has said over the years, if he was right. One would think that big names in the 9/11 Truth movement on which Zeitgeist relies, such as Dylan Avery or David Ray Griffin, would have to fake their own assassinations in order to maintain their own credibility.

There is in fact a media clip in Zeitgeist of George W. Bush speaking at a press conference, which I am convinced Peter Joseph would not have included had he considered this key self-contradiction. In this press conference footage, a reporter asks Bush, “Why are you and the Vice President insisting on appearing together before the 9/11 Commission?” The Commission had requested that Bush and Dick Cheney meet separately, rather than together. In response, Bush sidesteps the question: “Because it's a good chance for both of us to answer questions that the 9/11 Commission is looking forward to asking us, and I'm looking forward to answering them.” The film goes on to point out that Bush and Cheney met with the Commission only on their own terms, which included appearing together, not allowing family members or the press to attend, not being under oath, and no recordings or transcripts were allowed. The suggestion is that Bush and Cheney were being extremely secretive about the process by which the 9/11 Commission Report was written because they had heinous crimes of a massive scale to hide.

Yet the only point this serves to indicate is that incompetence was running amok, both before and after 9/11, not conspiratorial preparations. It is far more likely that Bush and Cheney met together rather than separately, because Bush was not intellectually capable of handling the Commission alone. It is ironic that the Bush administration's attempts to cover their ass for the incompetent blunders made have done more to contribute to theories of a grand, master conspiracy than almost anything else. Thus, a cover-up to mask incompetence on the part of Bush is plausible, while a cover-up to mask a massive inside terrorist job is highly implausible.

In fact, it is my contention that the 9/11 Truth movement strains credulity so far that it would actually be more plausible to propose that the 9/11 Truth movement is a government conspiracy to convince the populace that they were not responsible for 9/11. This is the hilarious premise of the South Park episode entitled “Mystery of the Urinal Deuce,” whose convoluted storyline involves Cartman trying to convince his peers that the government orchestrated 9/11, while Kyle and Stan meet up with a conspiracy organization called 911truth.org (which is an actual website). After being seized by a SWAT team and taken to the White House for questioning, Bush shoots the 911truth representative in the head, and proceeds to describe the method by which they pulled off the attacks. As summed up by another character at the end of the episode, “[A]ll the 9/11 conspiracy Web sites are run by the government. The 9/11 conspiracy . . . is a government conspiracy.”

NOTES

1. Dylan Avery, Loose Change: 2nd Edition Recut (Louder Than Words, 2006).

2. Joël v.d. Reijden, “9/11 – My Own Review of the Entire Event” (version 6.0), 19 March 2005. Retrieved 4 April 2011 from the Internet Wayback Machine, http://web.archive.org/web/20050327052408/http://home.planet.nl/~reijd050/911_my_own_review.htm.

3. Seth Kramer and Daniel A. Miller, America Rebuilds: A Year at Ground Zero (Great Projects Film Company, Inc., 2002).

4. Charles V. Bagli, “New Rebuilding Plan Leaves Some Wondering What the Big Rush Is,” The New York Times 27 April 2006, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940CE7DC133FF934A15757C0A9609C8B63 (accessed 4 April 2011).

5. “Mayor Sends Letters to Insurance Companies Urging Them to Pay WTC Claims,” NY1 News 16 June 2006, http://www.ny1.com/content/top_stories/60290/mayor-sends-letters-to-insurance-companies-urging-them-to-pay-wtc-claims (accessed 4 April 2011).

6. For a collection of relevant articles on this point about Larry Silverstein, see the Mindfully.org webpage http://www.mindfully.org/Reform/2004/Larry-Silverstein-WTC6dec04.htm (accessed 4 April 2011).

7. Mark Roberts, “Eyewitness Accounts of WTC 7 Fires,” in World Trade Center Building 7 and the Lies of the “9/11 Truth Movement”, online at https://sites.google.com/site/wtc7lies/eyewitnessaccountsofwtc7fires (accessed 4 April 2011).

8. Debunking911, “WTC 7 Fires and South Side Hole” (video, 3:48), YouTube 27 March 2007, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Afb7eUHr64U (accessed 4 April 2011).

9. National Institute of Standards and Technology, “NIST Response to the World Trade Center Disaster: Federal Building and Fire Safety Investigation of the World Trade Center Disaster - Part IIC - WTC 7 Collapse,” NIST PowerPoint, 5 April 2005. Available online at http://www.nist.gov/el/disasterstudies/wtc/upload/WTC-Part-IIC-WTC-7-Collapse-Final.pdf (accessed 4 April 2011).

10. Frank J. Heger, L’Ambiance Plazza,” The Engineer 24 October 2006, http://www.engineering.com/Library/ArticlesPage/tabid/85/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/168/LAmbiance-Plazza.aspx (accessed 4 April 2011).

11. Standing Committee on Structural Safety, “Seventh Report of the Committee for the Two Years Ending July 1987,” SCOSS (1987).

12. David Scott, Barbara Lane, Craig Gibbons, “Fire Induced Progressive Collapse,” Proceedings of the Workshop on Prevention of Progressive Collapse, Multihazard Mitigation Council of the National Institute of Building Sciences, Rosemont, IL, July 10-12, 2002. PDF retrieved from Internet Wayback Machine 4 April 2011, http://web.archive.org/web/20040719180205/http://www.nibs.org/MMC/ProgCollapse+presentations/Scott's+revised+paper.pdf.

13. Vincent Dunn, Collapse of Burning Buildings: A Guide to Fireground Safety (New York: Fire Engineering, 1988).

14. David Dunbar and Brad Reagan, eds., Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up to the Facts (New York: Hearst Books, 2006), pp. 37-43.

15. “Flight 77, Video 2,” Judicial Watch, available at http://web.archive.org/web/20090212100831/http://www.judicialwatch.org/archive/2006/flight77-2.mpg (accessed at original location 4 April 2011).

16. Andrea Stone, “Pentagon Searchers Encounter Grisly Scenes,” USA Today 13 September 2001, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/washington/sept01/2001-09-14-pentagon-usat.htm (accessed 4 April 2011).

17. “Web Exclusive: Washington's Heroes – On the Ground at the Pentagon on Sept. 11,” MSNBC 28 September 2001, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3069699/ (accessed 4 April 2011).

18. Regulations for cremation can be viewed on the website of the University of Florida’s Environmental Engineering Sciences (EES) program at http://www.ees.ufl.edu/homepp/cywu/ENV4121/Project2001/Crematory/Regulations.htm (accessed 4 April 2011).

19. “Mystery of the Urinal Deuce,” South Park: The Complete Tenth Season, written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, directed by Trey Parker (Comedy Central, 2007).