Ten Reasons Humans Created Religion – Part A

Ten Reasons Humans Created Religion – Part A

To make sense of their world

Humans are meaning seeking beings. They want answers to questions: why did the sky erupt in fire? Why did the sun go dark? Why did my newborn daughter die? And the list goes on. For many of these occurrences, early humans felt pure terror. Even when we know what causes an earthquake today, it still causes fear and alarm for those affected. So how do we make sense of these events? Early humans created an explanation by positing the notion of some kind of a supernatural entity that was angry at them. Many of the early deities, not surprisingly, were sky gods—they lived “up there” and rained down fire and calamities on the humans living below. To appease these deities—to make them less angry—people developed practices such as animal and human sacrifice as well as other rituals. As Robert Wright explains, humans tried “to raise the ratio of good to bad.”[1] As our knowledge of our world grew, primarily through science, we learned that events such as eclipses are predictable and that the universe is immeasurably vast. As this happened, the sky god moved from the physical sphere to a more spiritual one. Unfortunately, some religions today have mired themselves so deeply in their stories, that they have become oblivious to new discoveries in science, with some believing that the earth was created in 4004 BCE because of the calculations of the 17th century Archbishop of Armagh (Church of Ireland), James Ussher.[2] 39% of Americans recently polled believe that the earth was created less than 10,000 years ago.[3]

To provide for a sense of belonging

Humans are not the only species on this planet that operate within social groups. They are also not the only ones that show empathy. Barbara King writes about the youngest son of Flo, an ape, who was unable to cope with his mother’s death. He stopped eating and died 3 ½ weeks after his mother. The roots of our dependence on others go deep.[4] Most scholars believe the word religion comes from the Latin word religare, which means to bind fast. While the word bind has both positive and negative connotations, it indicates something that holds people together. Modern religion has a myriad of activities that provide cohesion for a group: stories that trace the history of a culture, rituals such as communion, music in many forms, and ceremonies that cover virtually every aspect of life from birth to death. The negative aspects of the word to bind also come into play with the practices of some religions, such as disfellowship in Jehovah’s Witnesses, which banishes members from their families and friends when they leave the church.

To seek help in their endeavors

Imagine a Paleolithic cave. It is a refuge from a harsh environment. Evidence of fires near the entrance show where the people lived, ate, and gave birth. Female figurines, often with pregnant bellies, are mostly found in this area. In the back of the cave, one finds the wall paintings of animals, such as those at Lascaux in France. Some of these paintings show evidence of being painted over multiple times. This is the space for the hunters and the shaman. What can they do to assure success in the hunt? Does the shaman lead them in incantations? Does he perform another type of ritual? Shamans, as studied in existing cultures, are the first religious “experts.” It is likely they existed in the Paleolithic era as well. As Robert Wright explains, shamans are a crucial first step in the emergence of organized religion. They move the group from a “fluid amalgam of beliefs about a fluid amalgam of spirits and what religion came to be: a distinct body of belief and practice, kept in shape by an authoritarian institution.”[5] The shamans gave the hunters hope that they would be successful. Given the fact that even today we only notice when a good result comes from religious efforts such as prayer (and forget all those times when it does not), it is not surprising that the hunters became reliant on the shamans.

To unify diverse people

It is believed that hunter-gatherer groups were more or less egalitarian. As small groups, they were fairly homogenous. When our hunter-gatherer ancestors developed agriculture, they became more sedentary. Instead of wandering small bands, these tribes coalesced into larger entities. Undoubtedly, there was great diversity among these tribes who may have had little contact with others. Religion, with all that comes with it, can unify a group. As an example, as people came to the Nile, they brought their individual tribal gods with them in the form of a mascot or tribal fetish.[6] As the country unified these diverse groups, a more cohesive theology developed to worship Ra, the sun god, who also became the symbolic father of the Pharaoh.[7] Unity also makes it easier to defend one’s ground, which became a necessity once agriculture developed. It is always easier to fight “the other” when your leader is telling you that they don’t believe in your god. We see this today as ISIS attracts people from diverse nations to fight all who do not believe as they do. In some ways, nothing has changed.

To instill order

Settling in villages requires some type of order. The larger the community, the greater the need for a set of codes or laws to not only guide behavior, but to provide punishment for those who refuse to obey. Religion helped provide that. The very first laws were discovered in Elba (modern-day Syria) and date from 2400 BCE.[8] More well-known is Hammurabi’s (1792-50 BCE) code, carved on a stone tablet (and now in the Louvre in Paris), whose purpose is stated clearly from the beginning—”Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind …”[9] The Ten Commandments, which is found in two versions in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy and formed the basis of Jewish law, came much later around 1000 BCE. In Judaism, it was the Levites who served as priests in the temple. As priests, they served to enforce the rules and norms of the state. Temples were indeed the first statehouses. All of these examples, of course, predate any notion of separation of church and state.

See next week’s post for reasons six through ten.

Karen L. Garst

November 27, 2015

 

[1] Robert Wright, The Evolution of God (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 2009), 32.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ussher_chronology

[3] http://ncse.com/rncse/30/3/americans-scientific-knowledge-beliefs-human-evolution-year-

[4] Barbara King, Evolving God: A Provocative View of the Origins of Religion (New York: NY: Doubleday, 2007), 32.

[5] Wright, 31

[6] Don Cupitt, After God: The Future of Religion (New York: NY, Basic Books, 1997), 6.

[7] Ibid.

[8] http://www.ushistory.org/civ/4c.asp

[9] Ibid.

Ten Reasons for Women to Reject Christianity

Ten Reasons for Women to Reject Christianity

Most Christians believe that God is omnipotent which means all powerful. Most also believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God with some going further to state that it is the inerrant word of God with every word being true. Given these assumptions, God had a choice in choosing a woman, Eve, to be the person to eat of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, to be the cause of original sin, and to suffer pain in childbirth. Would an omnipotent God choose half of his creation to be maligned, abused, and subordinated throughout most of human history? Couldn’t he have come up with a better story to talk about making the right choices?

Or could Eve have been chosen in this story of Genesis because this book is not sacred or the inspired word of a deity, because it was written by men who believed women were their property, and because it was used to suppress the worship of the Canaanite goddess Asherah? A tree or pillar as well as a snake, often represented Asherah, as well as many other goddesses in other religions. Both of these symbols are found in the Biblical story of Eve lending credence to this latter view.

2. Virginity

Deuteronomy 22:21 states the following. If a man married a woman and the “tokens of her virginity” could not be proved, she would be killed. “Then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones.”

A woman’s virginity is lost when she has sex with a man. In this story, nothing happens to the male half of this equation. It is thus the law of God to treat women as inferior to men and to blame them solely for an act that it takes two to commit. In the Bible, only in the case of adultery is the man punished in equal measure to the woman. What untold horror has beset women because of this “law of God?”

3. Barter

In Genesis 19:8, Lot offers his two virgin daughters to the mob threatening to rape the two angels he is harboring. His daughters are used simply as barter.

Is this the story of parental love that you want your children to read? Wouldn’t you do anything to save the lives of your children? Yet this story resides in a book in church pews across the world. What does it say about a religion whose deities would sacrifice a man’s daughters to save themselves (as the angels did nothing to intervene)?

4. Women as cause of a plague

In Numbers 31:17-18, God tells Moses to “avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites.” After the battle Moses rebukes his soldiers because they let the women live. Because they were the cause of the plague, he orders his soldiers to “kill every woman who has known man by lying with him.” He allows the soldiers to spare the virgins and keep them for themselves.

How can this be interpreted as anything less than a lack of knowledge about disease and an opportunity for men to rape virgins? Today we know a virus causes the plague. Why wouldn’t an omnipotent God know that? Why would he let women be killed? Why didn’t he stop Moses?

5. Jephthah’s daughter

Jephthah makes a vow to God to give him the first person that comes out of his house if he returns victorious from fighting the Ammonites. He wins and sacrifices his virgin daughter who is the first person to greet him.

Isn’t this a vow to God? Couldn’t God have told Jephthah to go and sacrifice a lamb instead like he did in the case of Isaac? Why didn’t God act the same when a daughter was involved instead of a son?

6. Sacrifice of Isaac

Abraham is willing to follow the dictates of God to kill his son. Fortunately, in this case, God intervenes and Abraham is allowed to sacrifice a lamb instead.

Should any woman or man believe in a deity that would ask a father or mother to sacrifice their children to him? If this is a test, it is a cruel test indeed. And where is Sarah the mother? She is not present, she is not consulted, and she has no say in the matter. This is a book written by men and for men to justify their power over women. Isn’t it interesting how Sarah is barren and God even takes over the power to cause pregnancy?

7. Harlots and prostitutes

If a daughter of a priest “plays the harlot,” the punishment is severe – “She shall be burned with fire.” (Leviticus 21:9)

This concept of blaming the woman for sex outside of marriage still endures today. Prostitution is not legal in most of the United States and prostitutes are regularly arrested. It is the rare case, where the men who frequent prostitutes are arrested and charged with a crime. Isn’t this just another example of men’s power? Is this really something a loving God would condone? Or is it the means by which men maintain control of women?

8. Mary is a Virgin

Matthew states that Jesus was born of a virgin who is called Mary. Matthew explains in Chapter 1:23 that Jesus’ birth fulfills the Old Testament prophesy – “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” This virgin birth is a key tenet of Christianity today.

Unfortunately, Matthew used a mistranslation of Isaiah 7:14 to compose his text. The word in Isaiah in the original Hebrew means young woman, not virgin. The Revised Standard Version of the Bible now correctly translates Isaiah using the words young woman. Doesn’t this lend credence to the fact that men wrote these gospels? Wouldn’t God have known the correct translation? Why didn’t Jesus write down his own story?

9. Men Are in Charge of Women

1 Corinthians 11:3 states that the “head of every woman is the man.” This passage, as well as many others, has been used to keep women in a subordinate position throughout most of the last 2000 years.

Do women support this inferiority today? If they do feel they are men’s equals, how can they square that with the teachings of Christianity? While things have moved in a positive direction for women, there’s still a long way to go. Women should reject the place that’s expected by them from Christianity, and always keep positive self-esteem instead in relationships.

10. Women Should Be Submissive

In 1 Peter 3:1-2, women are told to be submissive to their husbands.

Women and men should be equal. Religion and particularly Christianity in the United States has been used throughout this country’s history to subjugate women. Even today, men use the Bible to justify their beliefs on issues such as access to birth control or abortion. It’s time for women to acknowledge that this religion, like most others, was created by man and by man alone.

If you would like to write a guest post, please contact me at karen@faithlessfeminist.com

Karen Garst

The Faithless Feminist

Exposing Accelerated Christian Education

Exposing Accelerated Christian Education

Guest post by Alexis Record. This post first appeared in theradicalnotion.com. It is reposted here with permission from the author.

A Reddit user, Trinaaz, recently posted an image from his niece’s school textbook. It says marriage should be a heterosexual union between a leader of the household and his obedient wife. Trinaaz’s niece is not a Christian, yet he says these Fundamentalist Christian textbooks are offered by her county for less than half the cost of other textbooks.screen-shot-2013-11-24-at-16-01-3014291680_1070683102968569_1931998237528705315_nscreen-shot-2013-11-24-at-16-01-30gender-roles-part-3 screen-shot-2013-11-24-at-16-01-30life-cycle maths-misogyny1 screen-shot-2013-11-24-at-16-01-30screen-shot-2014-01-07-at-15-27-13 xec9mgvscreen-shot-2013-11-24-at-16-01-3014352462_10210994575526257_7281245523659380530_oReddit users identified this as a PACE–Packet of Accelerated Christian Education.

This is not my first time writing about Accelerated Christian Education or ACE, and it’s also not the first time ACE has been in the spotlight for sexism. In 2001, Norway banned the curriculum for violating their Gender Equality Act. ACE teaches that:

Girl’s bodies are sinful.

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Women should submit in marriage.

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A woman’s place is being a homemaker.

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And it’s all God’s will or plan so it must be obeyed without question.

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The above lessons have directly lead to countless abuses of girls and women who learned under this system. It’s been talked and talked about.

Besides this being an unhealthy setup for women in marriage  and bad for girls wanting to go to college, ACE is a travesty in every other area of education as well.

Indoctrination tells a child what to think instead of how to think. These materials do not say “some Christian denominations believe” or “these Bible verses indicate,” but instead appeal to the highest authority which cannot be questioned. Why? Because God. Don’t question God!

Having beliefs stated as facts is not honest.

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This is how ACE “explores history.”

I can tell you from personal experience this kind of curriculum hinders a child’s ability to gather data and make informed decisions and discoveries. It leaves children vulnerable to being taken advantage of by others. I did not have the skills necessary to examine evidence after doing this program from the preschool materials all the way through high school.  I fell victim to a lot of scams, false claims, and pseudoscience parading as medical advice.

Religious teachings and sexism aside (and racism, extreme patriotism, science denial, child physical abuse, and homophobia aside as well), ACE is simply a bad system for learning. And no one has fought to expose this system longer and harder than Jonny Scaramanga.

I sat down with Scaramanga–him at his computer in the UK and me at mine in California–to discuss the last several years of his work exposing ACE, and his in-depth interviews with ACE students. After some initial pleasantries, and establishing limitations on the scope of the interview, we dove right in

Alexis Record:  Tell me about your PhD work.

Jonny Scaramanga:  I did my PhD at the University College London (UCL) Institute of Education, which has been ranked the #1 university in the world for education three years in a row. I did a qualitative study of the experiences of students who attended Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) schools in England.

The aim was more to discover what experiences former ACE students have had. It’s a totally under-researched area. I couldn’t find another study like it that’s been done anywhere in the world. So it was a little like early feminist research, a lot of which consisted of interviewing women about their experiences and taking them seriously. I’ve done that with ACE students.

RecordHow many years did it take to complete your work? How many interviews did you do?

Scaramanga: It’s taken me four years. The first two and a half years were spent on a literature review, learning how to do research, and analyzing PACEs, the workbooks used in ACE schools. Then I interviewed 23 adults who went to 10 different ACE schools between about 1985 and 2010.

Record: How did a US-based curriculum end up in the UK?

Scaramanga: ACE has quite aggressively promoted itself around the world. Although it is a very US-biased system, it is used in (they claim) more than 130 countries worldwide.

RecordWhat is something you would like parents to know who are considering this curriculum?

Scaramanga: Every independent academic study that has ever been conducted on ACE has concluded that it provides an inadequate or unacceptable education. And that’s not based on an anti-religious position. The Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) conducted an investigation and came to the same conclusion. The Canadian province of British Columbia commissioned an evaluation of ACE in 1992, and they employed a very conservative Christian, James W. Beeke, to do it. He concluded that the curriculum was inadequate on academic grounds

Record: Okay, time to talk about sexism. I still feel guilty for calling out ACE on sexism because I was taught that a girl should not be loud or complain, but submit to authority. This interview would be considered a sin. Even all these years removed from it, I still experience that fear.

With that said, let’s tear into the charges of sexism against the curriculum. What about ACE helps women? What about it hurts women?

Scaramanga: I can’t think of anything about ACE that specifically helps women. I mean, it is a system of education, and education definitely helps women, but ACE offers quite a poor education. The public schools in your area would have to be awful before ACE became a superior alternative.

There is some explicit sexism in the PACEs. For example, in seventh grade English, students have to select the correct verb in the sentence “A woman should (teach, learn) at home from her husband”. There’s a fair bit of teaching about traditional gender roles, lots of “wives obey your husbands” stuff.

The sexism is just a constant hum in the background of the curriculum. It never goes away. The curriculum writers just refuse to use gender-neutral pronouns, even where it would make more sense to do so. For example, their seventh-grade Social Studies curriculum teaches children about possible careers. The section on dentistry says:

“The student who successfully completes all requirements will be awarded either the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) or the Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.). After graduating, he must obtain a license allowing him to practice dentistry. 

It’s always ‘he’, for every career, apart from ‘homemaking’, where the writers switch to ‘she’. There have been numerous studies, dating back to the 70s, that indicate this use of language contributes to gender discrimination (e.g. this one).

There’s sexism in the science curriculum too. Up to and including 8th grade, all the science lessons are told in story form. A bunch of characters from the ACE universe will go somewhere to learn about science, so the science lesson is part of the story. In these lessons, it’s always men who are knowledgeable about science. The women in the stories almost never pass on any scientific information. In one 8th grade science book (Science 1087), a character called Ace is learning from his Dad. His Mom shows up once:

“Just then, Dad and Ace arrived back home. Mom met them at the door and said, ‘You two must be tired and hungry. Come into the kitchen, and I’ll fix your breakfast.’”

That is the only thing a woman says in the entire book. It’s the same with the students in the stories. Sometimes the girl characters ask questions, but it’s only ever boys who demonstrate that they already have scientific knowledge. In the cartoons that accompany the text, women are often shown doing domestic chores, while men never are. There’s a constant implied message that science is really for boys, while cooking and cleaning are really for women.

The former ACE students I spoke to agreed that this sexism extended beyond the workbooks and into the schools they attended. The staff expressed similar attitudes and the school rules were biased against women, with emphasis on female modesty

Record: That was my experience as well. What about the boys? Are you seeing boys getting the skills they need from this system to succeed any better than the girls?

 Scaramanga: Nope.

… OK, I guess you want a proper answer. I can’t really say it any more clearly than what I already said: every independent academic review ever has concluded ACE is inadequate. ACE’s idea of learning is that it is almost entirely about memorizing facts. I can’t think of any reputable academics in the field of education who believe that. There are educational conservatives who believe that education is about assimilating a body of knowledge, but even they don’t advocate the kind of robotic, parrot-fashion memorization ACE provides.

Record: What about students with different learning abilities?

Scaramanga: ACE claims this is a strength, but actually what ends up happening is that older students with learning difficulties end up doing work designed for much younger children.

Record:  I don’t remember ever learning about sexuality. What was the sexual education like in ACE? Was there any sex ed?

Scaramanga: This is the sex ed in ACE:

life-cycleACE Sex Education

I’m serious. That’s as close to an explanation of sexual intercourse as they ever get.

This and dire warnings about STDs, without explaining what sex is, and therefore no explanation of what ‘sexually transmitted’ really means.

Record: In my ACE school there was no concept of consent. I experienced a sexual assault by a student on school property that was witnessed by additional students who had no idea it was wrong. Is that the experience with former students you interviewed

Scaramanga: Yeah, one of my participants told me about how she was sexually harassed by a staff member over a period of months. When the school found out, they expelled her and retained the staff member. Another participant talked about a creepy situation where girls in the school were chaperoned by much older men in the church, and in several cases these older chaperones ended up marrying the girls in their care.

Record: Let’s move on to the false claims that this education will amount to a public school education. When I graduated from my ACE school, I could not keep up in any discussion on culture, science, or literature with my peers. Community college was my first taste of real education and everyone around me complained how the general ed classes were boring while I struggled like mad to learn the basic concepts.

The diploma I received from ACE felt worthless. I tried to use it years later when applying to become a 911 Operator, and going through a background check with the police department. They told me my diploma “wasn’t real” and asked for proof I even went to school. I had to get some community college credits to transfer to a four-year institution because I was afraid to rely on the ACE diploma. Have you met other students with this problem?

Scaramanga: Yeah, several of my participants described how the ‘qualification’ they got from ACE hadn’t been recognized, so they had to do things like Access to Higher Education Courses, which are for adults who lack the necessary skills and credentials to go to university. Actually ACE has been quite successful in persuading universities to accept their graduates (sometimes by providing misleading information about the acceptability of their diplomas). It’s worst for people who don’t go to university, who only have their ACE graduation certificate. Employers have never heard of it, so for those people it’s as though they never went to school.

Record: I also wanted to touch on child abuse. I was beaten several times in my ACE school to the point that the deep bruising affected how I walked. Fear of exposing ACE, and fear of being too loud (writing too much) as a woman can create painful psychosomatic pains in my backside and legs where my body is expecting a beating. What reports of child abuse have you seen during your research? In the survivors group there are a lot of victims of physical beatings in ACE schools in multiple schools.

Scaramanga: The corporal punishment was some of the most horrendous stuff. I can’t even talk about it at the moment. People told me about getting paddled for the most innocuous things. One person said she got the paddle for drawing a cat on her PACE. Another told me about how during a cookery lesson he was asked not to touch the flour. He poked some dots on it with his index finger (he was about five years old). Paddle.

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1993 copy of the ACE teachers’ training manual.

Record: Last question. In my experience with ACE, science was taught from the Bible. Instead of learning about fossils, we learned that humans rode dinosaurs, which only makes sense if you believe they were created the same day as Adam. In fact, since God was invisible and had no physical evidence, in order to make him a tangible fact, we were told that electricity was a mystery as well. God was compared to wind, and I was an adult before I realized God could not be measured or experienced like something as solid as wind. What are some of the most outrageous scientific “facts” told to ACE students

Scaramanga: I’ve done a couple of blog posts on this.

I’m trying to think if there are any I haven’t blogged about yet. I mean, there are loads obviously. I think it will be hard to top their claims that the sky used to be pink, and that it is possible to generate electricity from snow. Dana Hunter tracked that back to the source, and discovered that it came from a patent application by a pseudoscience crank who claimed to have invented a perpetual motion machine.

(Here’s one of Jonny’s posts. ACE teaches that science has disproven evolution, the Loch Ness Monster is real, solar fusion is a myth, and dinosaurs and humans co-existed.) 

(I thanked Jonny for his time and reached out to Dana Hunter since her blogging on the ACE science curriculum was mentioned. She’s taking on each PACE, one falsehood at a time.)

RecordI’m writing this piece about ACE for TRN that’s basically an interview with Jonny Scaramanga. I’m doing a bit of research and reading your science critiques. What made you start reviewing the scientific (I use that word loosely) curriculum? What’s your background in science? 

Dana Hunter: I did a lot of reading and took a couple of geology classes for my science fiction writing so I could build more realistic worlds. I even moved to Seattle because that’s where I set my stories and OMG THESE MOUNTAINS!! Years later, a friend and I took a trip down the Oregon coast, I wrote a series of blog posts about the geology we saw, and the geobloggers found them and declared me a geologist. Many of them have informally trained me. So that’s how that happened.

Record: How did you discover the dark world of ACE pseudoscience

Hunter: I decided to review ACE and other Christianist textbooks because Jonny and a dude at Wonkette named Doktor Zoom were talking about how awful they are. I’d also run into a lot of creationists through my biologist and geologist friends. I knew creationists were misrepresenting themselves and their agenda to infiltrate professional meetings like the GSA and AGU (Geological Society of America and American Geophysical Union). Then they’d go back to their church communities and claim these prestigious mainstream orgs were accepting their young earth creationist ideas, when they were doing no such thing. So I knew they were lying for Jesus and their biology textbooks were horrible, and wanted to see what they were teaching children about the earth sciences. I ran a fundraiser to purchase the books, and here we are.

Record:  Your take down of ACE’s volcano PACE (“Vacuous About Volcanoes“) remains my favorite. You are helping my family realize how little I was prepared for the world with these PACES, and helping me realize how sub par my education was. My eight year old is a little scientist-to-be, and we often learn things together since I am about at her level education wise when it comes to science. Thanks for what you do

Hunter: People like you make slogging through those textbooks very much worth it. I’m so glad you made it out! I wish none of you had gone through it, but I am happy to see so many of you thriving in spite of it.

For more information, check out Jonny Scaramanga’s blog here, and Dana’s blog here.  You can also check out the Accelerated Christian Education Exposed Facebook group to learn more. If you are a survivor of an ACE system, or homeschooling situation, let the Facebook group moderator know you’d like to be added to a secret support group of ACE survivors.

Thank you Alexis for this excellent an revealing post.