Category Archives: Religion

Get the sand out of your vagina

One Katy Perry has made a music video that involved turning people who did not please her Egyptian Queen persona into sand. It’s a bit odd really, but not objectionable . . . oh wait.

The first suitor, bedecked in gold jewelry, approached the throne and offered a ridiculously large diamond. For reasons that I didn’t quite make out, he did not please Queen Katy, and she turned him into sand and he blew away. Still not particularly objectionable, or not to me. But to Muslims, blasphemy has occurred. One of those gold chains bore the name of Allah, and turning the name of Allah into dust is not a popular move in the Muslim world. Protests erupted, and the video was carefully censored to remove the offending bit of bling.

This kind of protest frankly baffles me. As an atheist, there isn’t any holy symbol or text to defile, so I don’t have any real parallels to help me put myself in their shoes. But I guess that the reaction to this is so pervasive and strong that it causes huge protests. Maybe it’s just a Muslim ‘thing’ that I can’t quite fathom.

Predictably, where there is Muslim outcry there is secular and Christian backlash, which can sometimes be told apart, and others not. Today, I’m guessing that what I’ve found could be from either camp. It’s a photo meme, with a screenshot of the offending video and the caption

Dear Muslims,

It’s a goddamned necklace. Get the sand out of your vaginas. What are you doing watching Katy Perry anyway?

Sincerely, Rational People.

I find this reaction a touch problematic. It says ‘the best way we can insult you is by painting you as female’. What the hell, “Rational People”? Is a chunk of nasty sexism rational? Nope, and if you don’t see that you don’t have any business calling yourself rational. Intending to demean men by giving them female characteristics is not insulting to those men, but to the half of the world that are female. There are more women than there are Muslims, and you’re telling every one of them that their femaleness is just worthy as an insult. For shame.

This kind of thing is rife in secularist/atheist/rationalist/etc communities. They get so wrapped up in pulling down the walls of theism that other issues are allowed to creep in unchallenged. If they’re not core atheist/anti-theist concerns, then they’re not given the time of day.

The world of atheism and related fields is still one dominated by straight white men. That tends to mean that there’s not much time for women, or people of color, or LGBT/queer people. That’s changing slowly, but what we could do with in the mean time is for straight white men to start thinking a wee bit about issues outside their immediate environs. They don’t need to be feminist scholars, but they need to start noticing the small ways they denigrate and invalidate the groups pushed out to the margins of the white male world. Little changes would make quite the difference.

So, “Rational People”, hold fire on making your meme photos for a wee while, and think about the groups that should matter to you that you might be damaging. And if you don’t think it’s important to respect women as much as you respect men, then there’s probably wives, girlfriends, mothers, sisters, and friends that would all like to have a wee chat.

Gentle media bigotry

Sometimes I look at our news opinion pieces and think, why do we let these people vomit their way into print? It’s making us all look bad. My shining example today is a piece by Mike Hosking, a radio DJ who probably has no business opining about anything even vaguely sensitive.

I’ve linked to the original article, but it has been artfully adjusted in a very Soviet Union kind of way. The editors removed an inflammatory comment made by Hosking, saying “This line has been removed so as to avoid future confusion.” Riiiight. This makes NewsTalk ZB, the publisher of the piece, look rather like they’re trying to make this all go away quietly, rather than having to own up to the blatant bigotry that their employee spouted.

The article was about a recent tussle between a primary school and some of its parents over their bible in schools programme, which is blatant proselytising intruding on school time. It’s not learning about religions, it’s not about learning morals and ethics, it’s about accepting Jesus as your personal saviour. A complaint has been made to the Human Rights Commission over it all.

Mr Hosking, mulling over the nature of the complaint (this is lifted from another article, which was not willing to censor the DJ’s bigotry), stated that one of that parents who complained to the HRC was “Muslim, which indicates perhaps a lack of tolerance, tolerance perhaps being one of the virtues her kids might have learned in Christian studies.”

Digest that for a moment. He’s saying that her religion automatically makes her an intolerant person, and that the way to remedy that is by teaching her kids another religion (My religion’s better that yours! Join me in being intolerant to everyone else’s beliefs!). That kind of tar-brush bigotry does not have a place in my multicultural country. Hell, it has no place in any society, because it’s just so backwards.

Do you have to be Muslim in order to not want your child indoctrinated in a religion? Well, no, but if you’re Muslim then not wanting anyone else’s religion shoved down your kid’s throats is intolerant in Mr Hosking’s world. For shame. Will he next tell us that Indians are only good for owning dairies and running restaurants, or does blatant racism seem a step too far? Blatant bigotry of other kinds seems just fine.

Of course, this all turned out to be even more ridiculous in that the Muslim woman is actually a Buddhist man. He couldn’t even gets his facts vaguely straight.

Why do we let people like him publish anything that’s not related to sport or entertainment? It’s a minefield, and they stomp around in lead clown shoes. Maybe not even sport and entertainment are safe.

Are you washed by the blood?

Wandering around today doing chores, a song fragment decided to rear its head into my consciousness. It’s a song that we used to sing in the church I went to. The bit I remember runs:

Are you washed, by the blood

By the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb?

Are your garments spotless, are they white as snow

Are you washed by the blood of the Lamb?

When we used to sing it, I never really thought about the lyrics very much. They were familiar, they had some meaning – after all, Jesus’ blood cleansed us of sin, and that was what it was about, really.

Looking back now, the entire idea seems both disturbing and a bit bizarre. When you wash someone in blood, they are not clean. They may be ritually pure, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re coated in death waiting to attract flies. It’s pretty gross. Get that on a piece of white clothing and you sure as hell ain’t pure – you just have a long date with the bleach.

Purifying things in blood, is a very old idea, and it’s one that has fallen out of currency with most of the world. Christianity itself tried to stamp out the ‘pagan’ cults who still made animal sacrifices, because it was abhorrent to them. Gradually, the entire western world dropped sacrificial practices. Somehow, though, Christianity still clings to the idea of blood sacrifice, idealises it even.

It seems wrong that it’s idealised in the modern world. In an age where people argue over whether it is right to deprive an animal of life to feed human beings, there are people who celebrate that a human being was slaughtered to cleanse them of sin. To people who don’t believe in sin, heaven, hell, or damnation, Jesus’ death looks barbaric and pointless.

I don’t wan spotless garments soaked in symbolic blood. I want to symbolically end my life with the stains of the world that I’ve enjoyed. I don’t want to be pure – I want to live life.

The thrill of the church experience

I recently came across some photos of children in a church, sobbing their hearts out as a band played. In an evangelical/fundamentalist church, this is an ideal. This is the Holy Spirit filling the room, and the children feeling His presence.

It’s easy to get caught up in that atmosphere. You have some that are more prone to feel intense emotions, who are the first to break down, and then it cascades from there. I’ve stood crying while the band played the same chorus of a song over and over again, feeling the presence of God. I’ve stood in a large auditorium feeling that power wash over me.

I don’t do that any more. I don’t believe any of that. But that leaves me with some powerful experiences that I need to account for. If it wasn’t God, what was it?

The music at the start draws you in, a sense of joy that unifies the group. A sermon preached that tugs a few heartstrings. Those who have felt that those tugs begin praying, weeping, going forward for prayer. The hypnotic sound of the band in the background, and portions of the group you have come to identify with breaking down, these contribute to a powerfully seductive environment, one in which even a non-believer can feel this mysterious power. It’s not mysterious though. It’s psychological tricks. They may not be used intentionally, but they are just psychology, not holy.

Raising pagans in a Christian home

I came across an article today. Just a wee short one, it says what it means quite concisely. It’s a message to Christian parents about how they are raising their kids. The article deals with teaching just what the Bible teaches versus teaching the fullness of knowing Jesus.

This sounds pretty ok to a fundamentalist Christian. Paragraphs like

Do you teach your kids “be good because the Bible tells you to” or do you teach your kids that they will never be good without Christ’s offer of grace? There is a huge difference. One leads to moralism; the other leads to brokenness. One leads to self-righteousness; the other leads to a life that realizes that Christ is everything and that nothing else matters.

Seems ok, because it’s about learning who you are in Christ and learning to lean on Him. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways follow him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6) and all that – the way unbelievers understand raising a child is not always God’s way. What is moralism when your child could taste all the gifts off the Holy Spirit?

I can’t go on, because the whole thing makes me feel sick. How can you want to teach a kid that the best they do will never be good enough? And why, in the name of all that’s good in this world, would you want your child to be broken?! Why break them down so that Christ can (but may not, because some people are never good enough to receive God’s grace) heal them, when you can instead raise a whole, happy, and good child? Teaching them they’re not good enough without meeting an arbitrary standard in any other case is straight-out child abuse. Why should a religious wrapper make it any better?

Teaching a child that they are not good enough like that is so cruel. It’s an unattainable goal, because there’s no visible sign that God’s grace has redeemed them. They will always be slipping and failing, and telling them to keep going back to God , makes them feel that they can never be good enough and that God just isn’t perfecting them the way it was promised.

I cannot abide by these ideas, and being raised in this culture makes me even more sick at reading these words. People believe this. People raise their kids like this. It breaks them. It broke me, and it was one of the things that pushed me out of the deep dark hole that was the church of my youth

Epilepsy and evangelical Christianity

In addition to having bipolar, I also have epilepsy. Not the scary grand mal  type – I have absence seizures, which mostly look like I’m staring right through you, until I waken a bit confused. It’s pretty well-managed, and I haven’t had a seizure in ages.

My diagnosis was one of the scariest things that happened to me in my teen years. See, my family was very Christian. and one of the things that they believed was that epilepsy was caused by demon possession.

I had already moved out of home, and started moving away from Christianity. But I was still involved enough to be afraid of what people would think, and what they might do.

I felt like if I told anyone, they might think that I didn’t have a ‘real’ illness, and that they would try to cast the demons out of me. I didn’t believe that I was possessed – I understood enough biology to understand that I was physically unwell, not under spiritual attack. But the part of me that still clung to faith was terrified. What if they were right? What if my sins were manifesting as demonic possession and I needed to have them cast out?

This delegitimising and stigmatising of a real illness, one that was affecting me, was part of what set me on the path to atheism. I couldn’t reconcile the fact that I had a real problem with the church view of brain problems as demons.

Evangelical Christianity treats many mental health issues the same way. They’re evidence of sin, of letting demons in to your mind by not guarding against them. Having real problems reduced to ‘you aren’t trusting God enough’ is disempowering for sufferers. It adds guilt to the already difficult process of accepting neurological and psychological problems.

It’s not ok.

The gods we create

The gods mankind write for themselves have to have a basis in something. Animistic gods are based on the powerful or cunning animals native to their area of power. The old Olympian gods reflected the culture and prejudices of their times. And the god of Abraham?

Dawkins puts it well in The God Delusion when he says

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

This god takes all of the worst characteristics of humanity. Notably, his worst characteristics are the things that are in keeping with the times – misogyny, homophobia, and infanticide were all part of Bronze Age culture to some degree, and so he is the epitome of these things. Many of the other characteristics reflect the fears of his age – pestilence was a great threat, so his ability to control it was symbolically important. Ethnic cleansing was another fear – peoples in that time enjoyed wiping each other out regularly, and to have a god that could control that was to have an advantage over other peoples, and to have a better chance at surviving.

But what about the god of the new testament? Christians often claim that the old testament is, well, old and that the revelation of the new testament shows us a more personal god, who is more about love than legalism.

The new testament god is often spoken of as a god of love, mercy, kindness, grace, and forgiveness. Why would the early Christians re-casting their god in this way? Much of it may have been to do with the historical context they lived in.

Christianity sprang up under the Roman Empire, at a time when Rome was expanding its rule over myriad new peoples. The Romans were not gentle rulers, and their gods echoed the people. Mars, most Roman of gods, led them to war and conquest.

Under the Romans, the Christians and the Jews they derived from were second-class citizens. They were alien, different, the ‘other’ to the Romans that ruled them. In this climate, what they needed, and what they created, was a loving and accepting god. Theirs was a god for the disenfranchised, who rose to become the god of the entire empire.

Modern interpretations of this god vary wildly, from the liberal “god is love” to the ultra-conservative “god hates [everything]”. Each of these interpretations is heavily colored by the context in which the god has sprung up – in China, they need a god of love, while in America, they have the freedom to call down a god of hellfire.