Movie Friday: The Mysterious Mysteries of Paranormality

It is interesting (to me, anyway) to note the similarities between different kinds of non-rational belief, and the way in which they seem to hang together. After all, if you’re willing to suspend skepticism long enough to accept a Palestinian carpenter walking on water (at least when he’s not turning it into wine for some reason), why would you suddenly throw up the logic shields when someone talks to you about the big evolution “hoax” being perpetrated by a nefarious cadre of high school biology teachers?

In the same way, if you’re going to take the word of medical expert Joe Mercola when it comes to vaccines, then why would you think that psychics and tarot cards are nothing but silly superstition? After all, they both have the same amount of evidence supporting them.

Mr. Sharp knows what’s up:

At times like these I think that laughter might not necessarily be the best medicine, but it sure is a handy innoculation.

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Oh boy… I made a stupid

On Tuesday I talked up the results of a survey that showed that Canadians are far more apathetic about religion and doubtful about gods than our southern neighbours:

It still remains fascinating to see that religion in Canada seems to be expiring without the need for a lengthy, showy campaign forcing religious believers into the margins of society. Like the Grinch’s Christmas, the ‘war on religion’ came without boxes, it came without bags – we didn’t have to steal Christmas, we just had to wait until it got a little long in the tooth and we sent it to a farm upstate to run and play with other faiths.

Sometimes I feel like I should wash my hands after quoting myself.

Anyway, I feel a little silly at this point, because as a self-proclaimed skeptic and anti-racist, I still left a giant gaping hole in my analysis of this result. Luckily, Douglas Todd from The Vancouver Sun is on the case: [Read more…]

A quiet milestone

Today this blog celebrates its 2-year anniversary. While technically the “official” birthday for the Crommunist Manifesto was the 4th of February, I started regular posting in April, so that’s when I start counting. Given that most readers here started when I was brought into the FTB fold, I have decided to have the actual celebration in October. For me, though, it’s been a great 2 years.

When I first began the Manifesto, it was really just a place to organize some of my scattered thoughts on race, religion, and politics. Call it a sort of written talk therapy. I find that my own grasp of issues improves a great deal when I force myself to move them from the kind of diffuse, scattered form where they reside in my head into sensical, written English. While I wrote as though I had an audience, I never wrote for an audience. In those initial months, I was surprised and pleased to have anyone reading my writing – after all, who was I?

In my first year I gathered nearly 50,000 hits – a staggering amount for me, especially considering that I’d done little by way of promotion. Thanks to some well-placed links from friends and passers-by (and some shameless attempts at promotion via Pharyngula), I had built a small cadre of regular readers, some of whom were strangers to me outside the confines of the blog. I had achieved some small amount of recognition outside my own personal circle of friends, which was a really neat feeling (albeit intimidating at times).

When I talk to people who mention that they’d like to start their own blog, I tell them more about what I did then than what I do now. Having this platform (and being able to share it with more capable writers) gives me a lot more freedom to slack off, which you saw this past week. Back then, I had to scrabble and scrape for every post for fear of alienating readers who were expecting a new post every day. The writing didn’t come nearly as easily then as it does now, and I was writing posts 2 weeks in advance just to make sure that I didn’t get ‘caught’ without something to post the next day.

Managing this blog still comes with its challenges today, but little by little those challenges are being overwhelmed by the rewards. I’ll be going into this in some greater detail come October, but for now I just wanted to mark this little celebration myself and share it with you.

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Islam is dangerous

The extent to which I object to any religious belief is more or less commensurate with the level to which it informs one’s daily life. If you privately believe that the universe is 20 minutes away from being devoured in a ball of flame, but you still do a good job filing my tax returns, it’s really not my place to get all hot and bothered by your delusion. This isn’t to say that, if given the opportunity, I won’t say something about how ridiculous your beliefs are. After all, the truth is important. However, it simply doesn’t interest me to put my shoulders into exposing the irrationality of your particular faith. After all, provided you make no (or comparatively few) life decisions based on it, it’s a bit arch of me to go after it.

Islam, at least insofar as I understand it (and have seen it practiced) is one of those faiths wherein daily observance and connection to day-to-day life is much more persistent. Christianity, by comparison, has fewer daily rituals and practices that mark someone as “a Christian”. There is no dress code, there are no dietary restrictions, few necessary public observances. It is far easier to be a “stealth Christian” than it is to be a “stealth Muslim”. Couple that with daily prayers and the phrase “inshallah” (which one of the guys I work with uses – to be sure, one branch of my family doesn’t talk about the future without saying “God willing”, so that kind of obeisance is not exclusively Muslim), and you get a religion that is very much a ‘live in’ one.

Perhaps the most visible signifier of Muslim belief is the head covering that many Muslim women wear (either by choice or by coercion). I’ve known sisters, both who would describe themselves as ‘observant’ – one wore the head scarf, the other did not. It was very much a choice for them, and I have no quarrel with that. The only thing that weirds me out about the whole practice is the fact that it is an open, visible sign to everyone around you that you subscribe to the belief that women ought to cover their hair for ‘modesty’ purposes. I would be, I imagine, similarly put off by a Catholic woman who wore a wimple or a Hindu woman displaying a bindi (although the bindi is often cosmetic rather than religious).

But one cannot escape the fact that, at least here in North America, there is a lot of danger associated with women who wear hijabs. Danger to the women themselves, at least: [Read more…]

Warm fuzzy religious tolerance

The great religious traditions of the world do not agree on much. They certainly don’t agree on the name, number, type, or behaviour of their various gods. They don’t agree on what happens after you die, what you’re supposed to do while you’re alive, and when life even starts. They disagree about how, what, and when you should eat, pray, and fuck. Even groups that are titularly similar – i.e., different sects of the same religion – have disagreements over how to properly interpret the same passages in their holy books. Basically, there’s a notable absence of convergence when it comes to religion as a method of learning about the supernatural.

One thing they can agree on, however, is the fact that the rising tide of secularism is the greatest threat to mankind. We are repeatedly exhorted to stand up for religious traditions in the face of the threat of atheist extremists pushing religious life to the margins of society. Of course it’s a secret agenda – they wouldn’t dare come for our bibles with guns drawn – the backlash would be unbelievable. No instead they do it by the trickiest mechanism possible – forcing everyone to play by the same rules: [Read more…]

Kicking and screaming

I don’t envy the Pope. While sure, it would be nice to wield as much power and influence as he does, it would come at the price of getting hated on by a pretty significant portion of the world. I suppose he tries to balance it out by focussing on his legion of sycophants blowing white smoke up his ass, but at some point you’d imagine he gets a bit down on himself for having to be such a prick all the time. If I’m rude or incivil to someone who, perhaps upon reflection, maybe doesn’t deserve the sharp side of my tongue, it follows me around for days. I can only imagine what it must be like to know you’re responsible for the deaths of millions of poor children and women following your boneheaded advice about condoms (for fear of hell).

Add to that the fact that you’re primarily responsible for an organization whose edifice is rapidly crumbling, particularly among places where the public education systems (which your organization had a hand in building, let’s not forget) are paying off and churning out critical thinkers. Perhaps the only organization in the world with worse PR problems than British Petroleum. An organization whose public face (besides yours) is that of ludicrous and notoriously unpopular failed U.S. presidential candidates. An organization that is the punchline to pretty much every paedophilia joke under the son sun, a reputation for which you made a significant contribution.

No I can’t imagine it’s easy wearing the big pointy hat. Not only do you have to carry around this completely justified international hatred, but you have to do it whilst simultaneously digging holes deeper and deeper for your organization to sink into. After all, what kind of religious institution learns to change with the times and find new ways of doing things without relying on centuries-old practices rooted in patriarchial attitudes and zealous political gamesmanship? Certainly not the Catholic Church: [Read more…]

Swedish sex models!!!

So there is a bit of a back-and-forth happening between Greta Christina and newly-minted FTBorg Taslima Nasreen. Ms. Nasreen wrote a piece essentially equating all sex work with exploitative slavery. Greta, a long-time sex work advocate, disagrees with a great deal of Taslima’s piece. So do I, for the record. However, I found it more than a little interesting and opportune that this issue has come up. Some of you will remember my buddy T who guest-wrote a great piece following the news of the Ontario Supreme Court’s decision to decriminalize brothels. T and I were going back and forth on a longer piece about the strengths and weaknesses of Sweden’s model governing sex work. Since Ms. Nasreen specifically name-checks Sweden numerous times in her piece, I thought it would be the perfect time for T to publish this work.

Hir thoughts below the fold: [Read more…]

God is dead, from natural causes

It will surprise nobody, I’m sure, to learn that I see myself as an anti-theist. Not content to merely disbelieve, I feel strongly that humans would be better off if nobody believed. Now usually when someone like me makes a statement like that, fingers begin a-waggin’, warning of the various dangers of forcing atheism on people. Folks begin sagely intoning the lessons learned from atheofascist regimes like Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, and the anti-theist zeal of the French revolution. They say that we must ‘live and let live’, since waging a crusade against religion makes me just as bad as those who would wage one for religion.

The point would be a valid one if I had any designs on snatching religion out of people’s lives by force. The fact is, however, that while I think religion is unbelievably harmful, that does not give me the right to demand that people give it up. Freedom of conscience must remain absolutely inviolable if we are to have any kind of progressive, equitable, and just society. Even had I the means to lock up every Bible in existence and ban publication of the Bhagavad Gita, I would never use it. First, because it is wildly unethical to punish people for thought-crime; and second, because I don’t think it would work.

No, the war against religion must be a campaign of the mind, not of military might. The fact is that the strongest case that could ever be made against faith is simply an honest look at what faith is. When stripped of its undeservedly exalted position in public life, religion reveals itself to be its own worst enemy. In the “Rumble in the Jungle” of ideas, religion is George Forman: punch-drunk and completely gassed, seemingly inviting the champ, truth, to push it over and administer a crisp 10-count.

At least, it seems that way up here: [Read more…]

Holy shit

Most of you may not be aware that in my wild younger days I was deeply involved in the Catholic church. It started innocently enough, playing violin in the choir on Sundays, an occasional youth group meeting. However, as the years passed, my problems got worse and worse. I began flirting with the idea of becoming a priest, ostensibly with the noble goal of reforming the organization from the inside (ah, the naiveté of youth). At my lowest point I found myself teaching a Sunday school class. It was an ugly period in my life that I’m not proud of.

At some point during my whole ‘experimenting with Jesus’ phase, I got myself appointed to read from the lectern during Sunday masses. Owing to my relatively young age and the fact that I had passable public speaking skills, I was asked to be one of the readers during the Good Friday Passion service. Unlike usual masses where the priest reads the gospel passages in their entirety, the Passion service has three readers: the priest who reads the words spoken by Jesus, another reader who reads the words spoken by anyone else, and a third who acts as narrator.

As I was standing at the lectern, reading the narrative bits as clearly and distinctly as I could, I remember being overcome with a deep feeling of dissatisfaction at the story. Where I had previously felt awed and humbled in the face of the story of ultimate selfless sacrifice, I instead was left with a familiar and unpleasant taste in my mouth. The more of the words I spoke, the stronger that taste became. No matter how I tried to find the beauty and majesty I had previously found abundant in the tale of a god humbling itself before its own creation in order to build a path to salvation, for some reason I just couldn’t conjure that feeling of sorrow and gratitude. [Read more…]