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Posts Tagged ‘christianity’

Hey, it’s Friday night, the weekend is here, and it’s time to paaaaaar-tay, if by paaaaaar-tay you mean find myself largely agreeing with a Christian voice article.

Seriously, I think their objections to the conviction of a street preacher for “delivering homophobic sermons” last year are basically spot on. And while this guy doesn’t sound like someone I’d generally find myself siding with, having the government take action to curtail your free speech in what seems like a pretty clear-cut case of unjust state censorship is the kind of thing that can quickly bring me on board as your ally.

I’m not going to join Stephen Green in praying that the judge in this case will repent and find Jesus, but I am going to keep looking out for chances to defend my principles at the expense of my personal biases. Threatening someone with jail time for speaking his mind in public should feel no less palatable just because I disagree with his message.

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I am so done with being in the middle of moving house.

We’re probably like 90% of the way through the overall, incredibly tediously and drawn-out process, if you count from the very start of the “hey let’s sell our house, oh and hey that other house looks nice let’s go and live there instead” impulse. But we’re currently stuck in an awkward interim bit where we’re moved out and into the in-laws’ guest wing, most of our stuff is boxed up, and we’re still waiting for the last bits of interminable legal wankery to be settled before we get to actually be living in our own home with our own stuff again.

I’ve got a bunch of half-started blog posts which I’ll get back to once I have a computer in a place where I can actually sit and work on things regularly again. Right now it’s sitting in an otherwise almost empty room, everything else having been packed up. The clacking of my keyboard has started echoing weirdly in here. I guess the curtains used to muffle that? I dunno.

Anyway. Christian Voice recently reminded me why I still read their blog. In an article about a suggestion to abandon the obligation for Christian assemblies in state schools, something which seems utterly bizarre that it wasn’t done years ago, they provide several unremarkable paragraphs of fairly straightforward, unemotional reporting on the objective course of events, and then completely out of nowhere they hit you with a sentence like:

However, it isn’t at all clear what ‘spiritual, moral, social and cultural’ values would qualify as ‘inclusive’ nor whom or what they could be founded on if not on the God who brought this nation victorious through two world wars.

Wonderful.

And then a week later, they actually end up being largely in the right (though perhaps by accident) on another recent matter – the right to turn down a commission without having to justify yourself seems a fairly clear one in this case – and come up with an interesting point I don’t recall seeing in any other analysis. Could the bakery have claimed they were afraid of breaching copyright?

Also the continued insistence with which some people put the quotes around gay “marriage” is just funny.

I’ll be better at this again soon. Until then I’m getting a new kitten tomorrow so I don’t give a fuck about any of you anyway. Seeya, losers!

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You’ve seen the slogan. You’ve read the bumper sticker. You’ve bought the cereal. You’ve collected the action figures. WWJD is everywhere.

It’s a global trend, a widespread meme, a constantly repeated rhetorical question, which exists primarily – it sometimes seems – to give atheists something to chuckle over, and marvel at the asinine, fantasy-driven approach that some people take to solving their problems.

Against the trend, I think there’s a really powerful idea buried in the cliché, and it’s odd how unnoticed it tends to go.

The baggage that comes with invoking Jesus is obviously a big hindrance. In some ways it renders the question moot, because Jesus never existed.

Or, I dunno, maybe he did. Different historical scholars seem to have different ideas on this. It may well be that the science is settled, and the controversy is an entirely artificial one which relies on people like me being bamboozled by the way both sides seem to have a significant presence, despite one of them being utterly wrong (cf. intelligent design). It doesn’t remotely matter.

There’s also the question of whether the character of Jesus is really such a wonderful example of the sweetness and charity he’s presumed to exemplify. The God of the Bible is a malicious, spiteful tyrant, after all, and it was Jesus who introduced the idea of sending people to Hell for calling your brother a dick (I’m translating for a modern audience).

The result of which is that most people (including me until, like, this week) don’t really get any further in their considerations of WWJD than being mildly amused that anyone might seriously use what Jesus would do in their situation as a guiding principle for their actions. Even moderate Christians often distance themselves from the phrase, finding their more extreme counterparts bothersome for all the same reasons we do.

But I think the basic idea behind it could do with a reboot, and a closer look.

WWJD comes from an awareness that we don’t always meet our ideals, in our natural, everyday behaviour. We plan to get things done, but flake out. We promise ourselves we’re going to tidy the house, but end up sitting and watching TV all evening. We make grand plans to eat healthily and work out, and then remember how much effort it takes to actually do all that. We want to resolve a dispute with a friend or partner, to apologise and make everything right, but find ourselves getting so wound up and infuriated that we end up shouting, or saying deliberately hurtful things to score a point and make ourselves feel better.

Very few of us can claim to be the person we really want to be. But we usually do have an idea of that person, a concept of the creative, industrious, charitable paragon of virtue we feel like we could be. Even if we regularly fail to live up to that construct in the moment, when it comes time to actually take action.

We could all be doing better. And maybe there’s a useful way to prompt ourselves to do better. If there’s anything about the current direction of your life in which you’re not entirely satisfied with your own performance, ask yourself:

If I were a better person – if I were the diligent, patient, paragon of virtue I wish I could be – then how would I respond to this situation? What would I be doing now?

If you have the time to pause for just a moment, and ask yourself the question… and if you can come up with an answer (which is generally the easy part)…

…then why not just do that thing, instead of whatever inferior thing you were going to do instead?

There are limits to this notion’s scope, obviously. It might be clear that the ideal you would punch out a bear that was threatening your family, or play a heartbreaking violin solo, or solve a quadratic equation for complex values of x – but simply knowing that fact doesn’t help you achieve any of those goals, if you aren’t already physically capable of them.

But surely some of your goals are more attainable. Maybe the ideal you would converse with arse-grobbling shitgibbons on the internet without spitting bile at them about what arse-grobbling shitgibbons they are…

And so maybe you can, too.

Maybe the ideal you would have more patience with the sonofabitch who cut you up and made you slam your brakes on that time, and make allowance for their various human failings without writing them off as a waste of atomic matter and bearing a grudge for the rest of the day…

So maybe you could start doing that now. You already know you’d rather do that than your usual thing.

Maybe the power to be awesome was inside you all along.

Of course, it can be really, really hard to remember this kind of thinking in the moment. When you’re angry or frustrated or frightened or upset, the natural thing is to do what feels, well, natural. Which is generally something other than positing a hypothetical version of yourself and planning a response around that. There’s a way you react to things which feels like the kind of person you just are. It’s not easy to remember to think things over when you’re busy reacting.

Which is why people wear those goofy wrist-bands and stuff, I guess. To help them remember the person they want to be, even – especially – at times when their instinct is to act like the less awesome version. The idea is to cultivate that more thoughtful reaction, the one you wish could be the way you react to stuff, until it becomes such a learned habit that that’s just the person you are.

It’s a really powerful idea… if you can just get past the whole Jesus thing. It’s a shame when religion makes good things so inaccessible.

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Poison

I think that to say, as Hitch did, that religion “poisons everything”, is overly harsh. As I’ve talked about, religion can do good things for people – nothing which can only be achieved by religion, certainly, but there are good things to be found in some isolated parts of it.

On the other hand, it poisons a lot. Enough that I’m not sure there’s anything that can be salvaged without removing it from a religious framework entirely.

Forgiveness is a wonderful thing, and in the right hands can even be a rather beautiful part of Christianity. Although there’s a lot of stuff in the “good” “book” (wait, why the second set of sarcastic quotes? nobody’s disputing that the Bible is a book) about vengeance and spite, it eventually gets on to some nice ideas about letting these things go, not holding a grudge, being magnanimous to your enemies and loving them even while there may be conflict.

Another positive and constructive addition to the world is the idea that anyone can repent, and be forgiven, of anything. It might not be as simple as uttering a few prescribed words of apology, but if you really mean it – if you feel sincere remorse, and your promises to be a better person in the future are heartfelt – then you’re never beyond redemption in the eyes of God. You can never go so far wrong that you can’t be brought back to the right side, if you really want it.

Which is all marvellous and commendable. Until religion proceeds to completely fuck up its own ideas.

You can be forgiven all your sins… but you’re still damned if you don’t say enough obsequious things to the right god. No matter how good you are all your life, if you didn’t have enough of the right kind of faith, you’re eternally worse off than someone who acted with none of your virtue but made up for it by seeing the light in their final moments. For all that forgiveness and grace and such are important in Christianity, they’re dwarfed by the overwhelming importance of blind, worshipful obedience to your lord and master.

And they don’t extend more than a moment past death itself, obviously. If you made the wrong choices and want to sincerely repent once the gates of Heaven are already closed to you, sorry pal, you’re outta luck. The forgiveness stand is shut to you. Forever. Shoulda done more sucking up before the deadline.

Oh, and make sure you don’t blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, because that one’s unforgivable. It doesn’t directly harm or impinge on the freedoms of other people in any way, but God’s ego is fragile enough that that’s the one thing which’ll make him irreparably sever all ties. This forgiveness shtick can only go so far, after all. And some things are more important. Things like doing exactly what you’re told at all times.

I’m not saying this is the only interpretation of Christian doctrine, but it’s a popular mainstream one. Many practising Christians do manage to filter the good stuff out pretty effectively, and act with commendable humanistic morals. But religion’s not their ally in those circumstances. It just endorses some nice ideas we could have come up with anyway, and infects it with pernicious tyranny and vengefulness.

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Okay, forget everything in my last few posts. Turns out I was completely wrong, and some people are just shits who need a fucking slap.

Fuck. Off. You fucking. Fucks.

Yeah, I don’t care if you are nine. Eat shit.

See, I hope it’s obvious that I’m deliberately overplaying my actual fury, and that the brunt of the joke is meant to be my ridiculous rage, not anyone else’s ridiculous persecution complex. But I’m still not feeling good about this, because it really does piss me off. I haven’t been prompted to anger by anything truly appalling, like those girls who were kidnapped for years, or Sylvia Browne who lied about it, or the global arms trade, or Syria, or any of that. I’m just impotently frothing about other people pitifully whining. I’m pathetic. Please still pay attention to me.

Okay, reeling it in. It does take a certain level of dickitude to get especially angry at kids acting entitled and overly aggrieved at a world that’s so unfairly picking on them. I’m sure they’re not that much worse than I was, when I was that young and definitely had my bratty moments.

Although, they are quite a lot worse than I ever was. Definitely a lot worse.

JT Eberhard has explained just what’s wrong with this inanity, and managed to keep his “good person” hat on much more firmly than I did, without throwing it to the ground and jumping up and down on it while imagining it was some smugly privileged moaning wanker’s head. A quick sample:

“Why can’t I pray in school?”

You can. Test it. The next test you have, bow your head and say a prayer before the test (don’t do it during the time when everybody is supposed to be quiet, because that’s when all noise is prohibited, not just prayer). I guess you’ve won and don’t need to go on with the rest of the documentary. Congratulations! I know exactly how a victory like that can feel. This very morning I fought for my right to eat corn flakes for breakfast. The government trembled before my determination and relented.

It definitely wasn’t because I already had the right for which I was fighting.

“Why do I have to tolerate people cursing my god, but I’m not allowed to talk about god and my faith?”

You are allowed to talk about god and your faith. Go ahead and test it.

“In public school people are rude and disrespectful toward Christians.”

Really? What people? Perhaps you could email Jessica Ahlquist for sympathy. She got death threats from her classmates for asking her school to obey the law (a judge ruled that her school was, in fact, breaking the law). She was so bullied (by Christians) she had to have a police escort at her school. What slings and arrows must Christians endure?

And on, and on, making the same boring but apparently tiresomely necessary point over and over, because the dictatorial majority are utterly determined to insist that they’re the ones being bullied and oppressed by us for demanding our own fucking space.

I’m regressing here. I’d hoped I was getting better than this. I’m just being as honest as I can about my deep, instinctive feelings for this kind of bullshit. But even that’s a rationalisation for just blathering it out into a post that only covers the superficially obvious, rather than doing the difficult thing that I’ve been espousing, and finding a way to come at this which people on the other stupid fucking side might be able to engage with.

Instead of just being angry and attributing my emotions entirely to negative attributes in the outside world.

I’m not thrilled about any of this.

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Why do atheists spend so much time attacking a god who they say doesn’t exist?

I wasn’t asked this one in the comments of my blog post soliciting questions a few days ago, but it came up in a Twitter discussion, and it is something a lot of theists seem to have trouble getting their head around. Just why do atheists care? If God’s not real, why do they get so angry with him, and go out of their way trying to prove he’s not there? If God isn’t real, how does he manage to bother them so much?

This is a very easy one. So easy that I’m baffled as to how any theist can keep asking it after hearing even the most cursory explanation, and yet they do seem to persist. I don’t imagine it’ll sink in for many of them with yet another iteration, but here goes anyway.

God doesn’t exist. Religion sure as hell does.

What many atheists oppose, and are angered by, isn’t God, but religion. It’s the massively popular worldwide belief systems, which require uncritical acceptance of implausible and unsupported claims, exacerbate and encourage failures of critical thinking, and relegate compassion and morality as secondary to obedience and monomaniacal worship.

The God of Islam doesn’t have to exist for the 9/11 hijackers to be motivated by thoughts of him, and to bring immense grief and suffering into the world as a direct result of their irrational beliefs. Whatever god you believe in probably has his fair share of crazy shit done in his name too, which has done real damage to real people in the world I live in.

I don’t hate God. I’m not angry with him. He’s just not there. But religion, I object to. The things that do exist and cause harm to people are worth fighting against, and the notion of God is often tied up in that.

I will admit that, if he existed, any god guilty of such dereliction of duty as to allow the kind of suffering evident in the world to continue unabated for millennia, without stepping in to help or offering any reason or excuse – let alone one that would permit such an infinite, unjustifiable evil as Hell – would unquestionably be my enemy. I would defy and despise such a being with all my strength, right up until the point where I started cowering in terror and doing every pitiful and obsequious thing I could not to piss the Supreme Fascist off and suffer the consequences. Which would probably be instantaneous, if I’m honest – I don’t imagine I’d have the courage of my convictions to actually stand up against an omnipotent tyrant of such casual malice.

In principle, though, I maintain my conviction that such a god would be an unimaginable bastard. But it’s much simpler, and hugely reassuring, to assume there’s no such bastard there. I’m no more angry with Yahweh than I am with Sauron.

And I think most people understand this, even those who keep asking the question, if they’d stop having fun scoring what feels like an easy point against atheists for long enough to actually think about it. Some of them have also decried terrorists acts by extremist Muslims, casting aspersions on the whole of the Islamic faith, even while the non-existence of Allah is just as obvious to them as it is to me.

I suspect, too, that there’s a non-trivial crossover between people who profess bemusement as to why atheists spend so much time attacking a god they don’t believe in, and people who are unconvinced by the argument of “If you don’t like abortions, don’t have one”. When it’s something you care about, it becomes obvious why your concern should stretch beyond your own immediate experience.

So, another brief and unhelpful rant accomplished. I’ve got a couple more brewing, at least one of which may be presented in an interestingly different format… Stay tuned.

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Let’s play God for a moment.

You can take a while to get into character, if you like. Feel free to dress up, put on a fake beard, kill some children with bears, whatever helps.

Okay. So you’re God. You’ve got a brand new universe to play with, fresh out of the box. You’re starting small, but you’ve got big plans. You know everything there is to know and your power is unlimited. It’s good to be you.

You’re going to create some people. Other minds, living beings. Tiny and barely significant compared to you, of course, but valuable in their own way. They’ll all be your children, though in a different way from how these life-forms will rear their own offspring eventually. You love them powerfully. You want them to do well and be happy.

You can pretty much fill in the blanks for yourself from here. Plan your cosmos. Think about how you’d populate the natural and supernatural realms that you’re creating entirely so that these beings can live in them, and love you. Feel free to take inspiration from any real-life examples of a deity creating everything that is, was, and ever will be. If you happen to know of any.

Remember: the people you’re creating are living, conscious beings, with wills of their own, and you love every one of them, and want them to love you. This is important.

I won’t pry into the details of how you’d arrange things. This is mostly just a fun little mental exercise.

…I do have one question though. Just something I can’t help but idly speculate about. If you wouldn’t mind indulging my curiosity.

In this universe – the one you’ve created using your infinite power and infinite knowledge, specifically to express your boundless love for your children with every intention of encouraging them to thrive and love you and revel in your glory – among all the worlds and wonders you’ve created, the sights and sounds and smells you’ve put in place to delight the senses, the atoms and galaxies you’ve finely tuned just so – in all the cosmos and beyond, created by you, a god of infinite love…

…is there a bit somewhere in your creation where millions of your children end up in constant endless pain forever and ever with not a single shred of hope for escape or relief?

I’m not saying there should or there shouldn’t be. Don’t let my questions influence your judgment; it’s your universe, you can do what you like with it. I was just wondering.

It’s just… I mean, forgive me for editorialising, I certainly don’t want to tell you how to do your job, but… if I was all-powerful, and all-loving, and had millions of children bumbling imperfectly around, who I want to love me but who I also care for in their own right, above and beyond my own ego, and who I’m amply capable of looking after as an omnipotent being…

…then I probably wouldn’t make it so that there’s this big fiery pit which they might blindly stumble into and scream in anguish for the rest of eternity and which I could let them out from but I never ever will.

It seems like, with all those resources at my disposal, y’know, the omnipotence and all, I could probably – probably – come up with some better way of arranging things than that. Something that didn’t require a one-shot, irreversible turning point in the existence of all my beloved children – at the point of their death, say, or whatever – where, if they’ve let me down in some way, they get sent away into some kind of hellish… well, Hell, with no reprieve under any circumstances, no matter how much they beg and plead and repent for the next trillion years of suffering.

Seems like I could be less of a dick than that to these beings I apparently love so much.

I don’t want to tell you how to do your job. I’m just saying.

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