gods

As Flies Are We To The Gods – Part MMXV

As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods. They kill us for their sport.
– Shakespeare

The world has been drowning in the bloodshed of religious violence for thousands of years. Greece vs Egypt vs Rome vs Turks vs Mongols… Christians vs Muslims vs Jews… Shia vs Sunni… Catholics vs Protestants… eternal hatreds, endless wars. We like to think of ourselves as advanced and enlightened, but our medieval roots are showing.

Nine years ago, this commentary was published following the violent reactions of religious extremists to the publication of a Danish cartoon. So we don’t have to wonder what the late Christopher Hitchens would have to say about today’s massacre at the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo. It’s worth another read, and sadly just as relevant now as it was then.

“Therefore there is a strong case for saying that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and those who have reprinted its efforts out of solidarity, are affirming the right to criticize not merely Islam but religion in general. And the Bush administration has no business at all expressing an opinion on that. If it is to say anything, it is constitutionally obliged to uphold the right and no more. You can be sure that the relevant European newspapers have also printed their share of cartoons making fun of nuns and popes and messianic Israeli settlers, and taunting child-raping priests. There was a time when this would not have been possible. But those taboos have been broken.

Which is what taboos are for. Islam makes very large claims for itself. In its art, there is a prejudice against representing the human form at all. The prohibition on picturing the prophet—who was only another male mammal—is apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. This current uneasy coexistence is only an interlude, he seems to say. For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death.

I refuse to be spoken to in that tone of voice, which as it happens I chance to find “offensive.” (By the way, hasn’t the word “offensive” become really offensive lately?) The innate human revulsion against desecration is much older than any monotheism: Its most powerful expression is in the Antigone of Sophocles. It belongs to civilization. I am not asking for the right to slaughter a pig in a synagogue or mosque or to relieve myself on a “holy” book. But I will not be told I can’t eat pork, and I will not respect those who burn books on a regular basis. I, too, have strong convictions and beliefs and value the Enlightenment above any priesthood or any sacred fetish-object. It is revolting to me to breathe the same air as wafts from the exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers, or the sermons of Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger. But these same principles of mine also prevent me from wreaking random violence on the nearest church, or kidnapping a Muslim at random and holding him hostage, or violating diplomatic immunity by attacking the embassy or the envoys of even the most despotic Islamic state, or making a moronic spectacle of myself threatening blood and fire to faraway individuals who may have hurt my feelings. The babyish rumor-fueled tantrums that erupt all the time, especially in the Islamic world, show yet again that faith belongs to the spoiled and selfish childhood of our species.”

Read the full article at Slate:
Cartoon Debate: The case for mocking religion, by Christopher Hitchens

“Mockery of religion is one of the most essential things, because to demystify supposedly ‘holy texts dictated by god’ and show that they are man made, what you have to show is their internal inconsistencies and absurdities. One of the beginnings of human emancipation is the ability to laugh at authority… it is an indispensable thing. People can call it blasphemy if they like, but if they call it that they have to assume there is something to be blasphemed – some divine work, well I don’t accept the premise.” – Christopher Hitchens 16 May 2013

A Thorn Among The Roses

snoopyI’ve been doing this blog for about six months now. It’s a gratifying experience. Not just the writing. The unexpected pleasure has been the discovery of other bloggers, their endless creativity and forms of expression. Engaging with the people on the other end of those blogs can lead to rewarding and refreshing new relationships. It’s a unique form of friendship, really. Blogging demands honesty, and honesty often requires courage. Bloggers put themselves out there, certainly in front of the folks who follow them – but potentially in front of everyone on Earth with an internet connection. It can take some getting used to, putting yourself on a stage that big. But it gets easier as people begin to like your post on this or that… as they begin to follow your blog… and as everyone comments on each other’s blog posts. There’s a real sense of community – because unlike all the so-called “reality” fare in the media, blogs and their bloggers are real.

One of the real blokes I’ve bumped into in the blogosphere is Margaret Rose Stringer. M-R (don’t call her Margaret) hails from Sydney, and I tend to think of her as the Thunder Down Under. She is smart, snarky, even a bit bawdy. M-R never leaves you guessing, and never fails to make me smile. She seems to have lived several lifetimes – so far. I’ll know more about that once I’ve read her recently published memoir. And Then Like My Dreams is a remembrance of her decades of adventures with the love of her life, Chic Stringer. Their love, their travels, their life together, their work in the Australian film and tv industry… his death, and how she survives his loss. And thrives, as he would want her to. Here’s the Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/And-Then-Like-My-Dreams/dp/1922089028

PersonalBlogsofWebFriendsM-R has been in a particularly sharing mood lately, featuring some of her favorite bloggers in daily posts under the banner M-R’s Challenge: Personal Blogs of Web Friends That I Read. Early this morning, I noticed an unusual level of activity on my blog for that hour, and I soon tracked down the culprit. M-R had made me #12 in her Challenge! Now, there may be nicer ways to wake up – but none that involve blog stats and referring links. 🙂

So, it’s an honor from a fellow blogger whom I like and admire. I’ve already enjoyed reading and following some of the other nominees in M-R’s Challenge. And I know that being spotlighted in this way will cause more wonderful collisions in the blogosphere. At the risk of self-promotion, here’s the link to M-R’s appreciation of The End (so far).

http://margaretrosestringer.com/2014/05/06/m-rs-challenge-12/

I enjoyed reading the comments under her post. Some of the names are already familiar to me as members of the M-R community I’m happy to be a part of. Some new bloggers to check out. And then there was this… the turd in the punchbowl:

“Methinks he has already labeled me and my beliefs with a variety of names I don’t care to read, so I think I’ll have to pass. I can get beaten up enough in other places for being a conservative Christian. Sigh. – Janet”

Hmmm. Srsly? I started tapping out my reply: Janet dear, come down off that cross – your friends need the wood for a book burning! But that would only cause a tempest in the middle of M-R’s teapot. And I wouldn’t want to be so rude in my generous host’s blog-home. Isn’t that considered… un-Christian? So I’ve teleported Janet and her grievance here instead.

Ah, a thorn among the roses… Sorry you feel that way, Janet. Please don’t bear false witness to my blog, though. I don’t care what mythology you follow, if any. You can worship Jesus or string cheese or sunflowers or sea monkeys. That’s none of my business and it shouldn’t affect me. But so many ‘believers’ – especially, it must be said, conservative Christians – seem to want it to affect me, want to make it my business. I don’t “beat people up” because they are Christians or any other ‘faith’ flavor. I do take considerable pleasure in skewering pseudo-pious bigots and all those who would make ignorance a communicable disease, or a qualification for elected office. Of that I am proudly guilty.

Do you believe the universe was created in six days? six thousand years ago? Do you believe Noah gathered tens of millions of species on his wooden boat? Were the dinosaurs on it? Or do you believe that Satan scattered fake fossils around the Earth’s surface to deceive us? Do you believe a zygote is a full-fledged human being? Do you believe marriage is reserved for a man and a woman? Do you believe the civil laws of the United States should codify your supernatural beliefs?

If you understand only two things about me, please understand this: (1) I do not care that you believe such things or anything else; and (2) As an American, I defend your right to believe ANYTHING without any interference from the government. (I do think religious organizations should pay taxes, because they reap the benefits of a functioning society, along with the rest of us. But there is room for disagreement on that. Another time, perhaps.)

Not possessing any psychic ability (beyond the usual Pisces talents), how could I possibly know what things you believe? I could live my whole life in blissful ignorance of your ignorance… except that you tell me. You tell me. You tell everyone. You want everyone to know. You never miss an opportunity. In the street. On billboards. Radio. Television. You knock on doors. In newspapers, magazines. On your blog. In your comments on other people’s blogs. You don’t like the gay, so no one can be gay. You don’t like contraception, so no one can use contraception. You don’t like abortion, so no one can have an abortion. You don’t nevertrust.onebooklike evolution, so everyone must learn your ‘creationism’ fairy tale. That’s right Janet. I don’t care what you believe – but when you try to substitute your bible story for a public school science textbook, then we’ve got a problem. And it’s of your own making. When you try to substitute your twisted, angry, bitter Dark Ages ‘morality’ for our more enlightened 21st century American social mores, then we’ve got a problem. And it’s entirely of your own making.

In my book, that makes you not a Christian, but a “Xian”. Like an Islamist. You are someone who warps your otherwise innocuous personal religious beliefs (god and love and peace, etc) and turns it into a bludgeon, or a sword. Xians are like a virus in American society. The infection began when Reagan’s campaign manager, Lee Atwater, saw an opportunity to hitch evangelical passion to the Republican party in the 80s. That’s when – and why – the GOP became anti-abortion, anti-gay, pro-gun and pro-god (Xian god). It built on Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” which harnessed the ‘passion’ of white Southern racism. Lots of passionate hatred. Not very consistent with your holy books.

Yesterday, the US Supreme Court made its latest controversial 5-4 ruling (after ‘corporations = people’ and ‘money = speech’): allowing sectarian prayer in public meetings. Translation: if it so chooses, the Podunk town meeting or the New York City Council can legally open with a prayer – to Jesus Christ. (Or to Yahweh or Allah or any of the other 3,000 deities currently worshipped by earthlings… funny thing though, it’s always Jesus.) Now, it doesn’t mean that every public meeting must invoke Jesus before setting tax policy or parking restrictions. Many will continue with the standard (and utterly inoffensive) moment of silence. But the Supreme Court has now permitted this “Praise you Jesus” breach in the wall that separates ‘church and state’.

Xians may be dancing (is dancing allowed?) with joy over this ruling. They should be absolutely terrified. Because it’s not difficult to find examples of nations whose societies are organized with laws based on God Almighty. But not your god. Allah has trumped Jesus in these places. And Christians are just one step removed from having their picture on bags of Purina Lion Chow in places like Saudi Arabia. Iran. Most of the Gulf States. All the -stans. Last week it was reported that the Sultan of Brunei is so gung ho on sharia law that he’s bringing back stoning as a capital punishment for gays and adulterous women.

You think that can’t happen here? Laws based on the Christian bible might not be very fair or kind to non-Christians… but you can live with that? That ignorance will only protect you for so long. Maybe state-sanctioned religion in the United States will never result in Koran-based sharia law. But once you’ve allowed your government to pray to one deity, or to make laws based on one religion, then you’ve also given that government the power to ban other deities, or other religions – or all religion. The wall that we’ve always called ‘the separation of church and state’ was not built to keep Christians fenced in. It was built to keep the government out. Out of your religious faith. Tear down that wall, and you invite government in. History is awash in the blood of those – Christians included – who have had to defend their god and themselves against a hostile government.

Janet, you may feel ‘beaten up’ because I call out Xians on their dangerous ignorance, false piety and bigotry – but I’m not feeding you to the lions. Perhaps a little perspective would serve you better than that silly persecution complex.

religion is like a penis

The End (so far)

 

OMG! You’re More Atheist Than You Think!

By reading beyond this sentence, you agree not to misconstrue anything in this post as either (a) an advertisement for atheism, or (b) an attack on your beliefs, religious or otherwise. It is simply intended to offer a larger, factual context for the passionate beliefs that so often lead to misery in this world.

According to adherents.com, there are are more than 4,200 religions/beliefs/faith traditions being followed by the seven billion people on this planet. Most of the faithful in our time subscribe to one of the monotheistic faiths; but most of the world’s religions feature pantheons of many gods. For instance, there are more than 300 Hindu deities.

Now, when you extrapolate these numbers to reflect the supernatural beliefs of the 100+ billion humans who have walked this Earth over the past 150,000 years, the heavens start to get crowded. We humans have had more than 60,000 (mostly polytheistic) religions – worshipping something on the order of 30 million gods.

Take Christianity. Can we count that as one of the world’s religions? Not by a long shot. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations and organizations in the world. But, surely Jesus counts as a single deity? If we leave that up to his own believers, the answer would a resounding NO! Each distinct Christian sect believes it has the “one true God”, usually called Jesus – and they don’t cut the other Christians much slack. The Amish and the Catholics (Roman, Eastern Orthodox), Baptists and Pentecostals, Seventh Day and Latter Day, Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses, lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Their Jesus is not your Jesus is not my Jesus. (Remember the disagreements among American Christian denominations over whether or not Mormon Mitt Romney qualified as one of them?) And that’s just Christianity. 68% of the world’s people – 7 out of 10 – do not check that box.zachary-kanin-australia-s-short-lived-god-new-yorker-cartoon

Then you’ve got Islam (Sunni, Shiite, Ahmadiyya, Druze) and Judaism (Conservative, Secular, Reform, Orthodox, Reconstructionist), Jainism (Svetambara, Sthanakavasis, Digambaras) and Wicca, Zoroastrianism (Parsis, Gabars), Baha’i and Buddhism (Mahayana, Theravada, Lamaism), Hinduism (Vaishnavites, Shaivites, Veerashaivas, neo- and reform), Shinto (Seicho-No-Ie, Tenrikyo, PL Kyodan, Sekai Kyuseikyo, Zenrinkai, Tensho Kotai Jingukyo, Ennokyo) and Sikhism, Chinese and African traditional religions, Scientology, Juche, Spiritism, Cao Dai, Paganism, Rastafarianism… and so on and so on, gods infinitum.

We begin to see how the population of deities has skyrocketed. Gods, after all, don’t die. So as new ones come online, they just join an ever-less-exclusive club. No matter your favorite flavor of savior, I think we can all agree that divinity is a remarkably diverse enterprise.

To simplify the math, let’s say the world’s 4,200 religions worship a total of 10,000 gods.

As a nonreligious/secular/atheist (which, by the way, is how 15-20% of us – more than one billion people – describe ourselves), this is a true statement:

I do not believe in the 10,000 gods worshipped by humans.
I am a 100% non-believer.

As a follower of Mohammed or Jesus or Yahweh, you are a monotheist. Which makes this a true statement:

You do not believe in 9,999 of the 10,000 gods worshipped by humans.
You are a 99.99% non-believer.

So, you (a monotheist) and I (an atheist) are in almost complete agreement on the gods we do not believe in. That is why you are a much better atheist than you ever gave yourself credit for.

Now, I know you are not going to run around bragging about your newfound status as an almost-perfect atheist. And I won’t tell anyone if you don’t want me to. But I would like to encourage people – especially in America – to acknowledge the simple fact: Most people do not share your beliefs, and it is very much in your best interests to The_Golden_Rule.001accept that fact. Because, here’s the thing: Your freedom of conscience is inviolate – but only if mine is, as well. Any attempt to weaken my position will ultimately weaken yours. Of course, there is a much more elegant way of saying this.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

(It’s in all the books.)

Here are some links to the info included in this post:

How Many Gods? – atheism.wikia.com

Adherents.com