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I am the youngest of three boys raised by a working single mom in the 1960s and1970s. We lived toward the poor end of the spectrum, so much of my childhood was spent devoid of television (back in those days, TV was considered a luxury, not a necessity). Due to these circumstances, I was well into my teen years before I encountered the idea that women could be anything other than strong, intelligent and capable. It still baffles me when I encounter people who start from an assumption that women are not strong, intelligent and capable. Especially because so many of them actually consider themselves to be feminists.
Needless to say, I am often misunderstood by people when the discussion turns to sexism and women’s issues (yes – I am allowed to discuss these things even though I have a penis). Usually it’s because I don’t assume women need protection. And because I assume they are relatively intelligent adult human beings, so when they do stupid things my initial response is other than “Oh, you poor thing!”. In fact, I have a universal response to stupidity that is colorblind and genderless. Those of you who know me have encountered it frequently.
So I generally try to avoid these discussions, especially on the Internet. When I look at a situation and say “Why in hell did she do something so dumb?” I immediately get attacked by a half-dozen or so ‘feminists’ who demand to know why I’m “blaming the victim” and/or being such a sexist. Which leaves me wondering why these ‘feminists’ think their role is to gallantly provide protection for someone they claim to consider a strong, intelligent, capable equal.
A large part of the problem is the simple fact that the Internet is a piss-poor vehicle for human interaction and communication. This is no fault of the Internet but is rather due to the fact that most humans are not very good at communicating. And extremely few of us are skilled at communicating using only the written word. This is why people who are good at it get paid for doing so.
So when we do try to discuss important issues on the Internet we usually screw it up. As far as I can tell, the overwhelming majority of the ‘discussions’ on the Internet about sexism consist solely of people pointing out instances of sexism and screaming “Look everyone! A bad thing!”. Just in case we didn’t already know that sexism is bad.
I, on the other hand, want to know why the strongest, most intelligent, most capable, most badass woman on the face of the planet still occasionally needs someone else to tell her she’s pretty. And I think maybe this is the kind of thing we should be talking about. The parts of the issue that are complicated and that maybe make us a little uncomfortable.
Which brings us to Go Set a Watchman.
As should be obvious, the following will contain spoilers (although probably not anything you haven’t already heard). If you haven’t read Go Set A Watchman and intend to, you might want to stop reading at this point (I’m a Map Dork, so as a buffer I’ll throw in a map [found here]).
Still here? Good. I’ll get right to the point: Atticus Finch is a racist. I know this is not easy to accept, but it is, in fact, even evident in To Kill a Mockingbird (although not obvious. That is reserved for Go Set a Watchman). Before you get too upset, though, let me explain a couple things. First off, Atticus Finch is a racist, but only by today’s standards. By the standards of his own time (To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in the mid-1930s, when Atticus was in his early 50s. Go Set a Watchman takes place in the mid-1950s) he was something else entirely. Second, Atticus was what I think of as a ‘benevolent racist’. Unlike most of his contemporaries he didn’t consider black people to be subhuman (yes – I said black people. Political correctness is the process of white people sitting around deciding what the new labels should be. I don’t subscribe), nor did he in any way consider them to be undesirable or even unlikable. He just didn’t consider them to be equal. In To Kill a Mockingbird Jean Louise (a.k.a. Scout) states:
“Atticus says cheatin’ a colored man is ten times worse than cheatin’ a white man”
Later, Atticus himself says:
“There’s nothing more sickening to me than a low-grade white man who’ll take advantage of a Negro’s ignorance.”
Atticus’ racism is there, if you have eyes to see it. Go Set a Watchman just makes it more blatant and obvious. But it’s not any different. Atticus is not any different. His form of racism is a condescending one. He views black people very much as though they are children. Children who need our (read: white people’s) help.
Jean Louise, however, is not racist. She is described (by herself, in the interest of full disclosure) as ‘colorblind’. Despite growing up in Alabama in the 1930s and 1940s. How did this happen? Because she was raised by Atticus Finch. To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman are, in fact, two parts of one story. Jean Louise Finch’s story. The story of her relationship with her father. And how Scout, like every child, eventually comes to terms with her father’s humanity. How she finally realizes that Atticus Finch has as much right to be flawed as the rest of us.
Jean Louise eventually accepts the fact that her father is human and he therefore has faults. And she realizes that he is not defined by his faults. For his part, Atticus learns that he has succeeded in the task that all good parents set for themselves: he has raised a child who is better than he is (which, by the way, may not have happened if Atticus hadn’t actively defied the dictates of his family and community to allow his daughter to grow up to be exactly the person she desired to be). At the end of the day, though, Atticus lived in a time and place that was both extremely racist and extremely sexist, and he was years ahead of his time on both these issues. But not immune to them. And – truth be told – I’m okay with that.
I am finding, however, that many of the people I know are not. I am a little surprised and dismayed by how many of my friends are actively avoiding reading Go Set a Watchman (some of them have even concocted elaborate reasons for it). I wish I could say the reason for this is simply because they don’t want to face the fact that Atticus is a racist. The truth is that they don’t want to face what Atticus Finch’s racism represents.
We here in the Northeast live in a fuzzy pink bubble wherein we think we have largely beaten racism (we are wrong, and we are also not alone in this). Because of this, we believe that there are precisely two types of racists in this world: bad people and stupid people. We honestly believe that at least one of those two conditions must be in place before racism can even exist, let alone thrive. So the idea of an inherently decent and intelligent person (like Atticus Finch) who is also a racist is complicated and it makes us uncomfortable and we don’t want to look at it so we instead decide that it can’t exist.
Which only serves to prove that we are failing to understand the nature of racism.
See, racism is not rational. This is why it does not respond to reason. Nobody sits down, analyzes all the available evidence, then concludes that the only logical course of action is to be a racist. Racism arrives through a different vector, and for this reason we cannot combat it effectively with logic and reason. Also for this reason, otherwise decent and intelligent people can sometimes turn out to be racists. This invariably occurs during childhood. If you spend the bulk of your formative years surrounded by a certain way of thinking, there’s a decent chance you will come to believe that said certain way of thinking is normal and/or proper. Sexism often procreates by this method as well. As does religion.
Relax. Before you throw a hissy and accuse me of badmouthing religion, take a moment to look up the word ‘rational’. And know that most of the religions of the world will back me up on this. One does not reason one’s way to God. Religion is not logical nor does it desire to be. Belief is arrived at through other means.
This is why belief systems (good or bad) need to be kept in check via legislation. We cannot carefully explain the facts and then expect racists to become colorblind. We cannot throw logic at sexists and then expect them to suddenly support paycheck equality. We cannot reason with the religious right and then expect them to see the light in regard to marriage equality. It simply will not happen and thinking otherwise is just plain dumb. We need Affirmative Action. We need the Nineteenth Amendment. We need separation of church and state (make no mistake, folks – the Founding Drunkards were not concerned about freedom of religion. They were concerned about freedom from religion). Rationality cannot be applied to belief systems, so the only recourse a rational society has is to protect the general populace from them.
I am a pretty smart guy. The tests that are usually used to measure these things tend to place me somewhere in the smartest 5% of humanity, depending on the particular test and what kind of day I’m having. I am also smart enough to know the flaws inherent in these tests and am very much aware that they are not always accurate (unless, of course, you just want to run comparisons of middle-class, white guys of European descent).
So let’s allow for the less-than-perfect nature of intelligence testing. Let’s say I’m considerably less intelligent than the tests are wont to place me. For the sake of argument, let’s say that I actually place just inside the smartest 20% of humanity.
This means that every time I initially encounter another human being, there is an 80% chance that they will be dumber than I am. Although even the most determined moron isn’t stupid all the time, I think if we took the time to crunch all the numbers (and allowing for the relative nature of stupidity), we would end up with something like a solid 20-25% chance that any time another human being opens their mouth in my presence, something stupid will come out of it.
By now you may be thinking that I am arrogant. While I feel arrogance is too strong a term, I am the first to admit I possess an ego the size of Louisiana. However, my ego has nothing to do with with my intellect. Rather, it is a result of my upbringing. My family took pains to see that I developed a strong self-image. They did not foresee the monster they would create.
My intelligence, to the contrary, tends more often to have a humbling effect.
The smartest human being I have ever met (and believe me, children – she’s really fucking smart) once explained it to me this way: The universe is an enormous place full of stuff we don’t know. Somewhere in that immensity, we live inside miniscule bubbles made up of our knowledge. When we learn new things, the size of our bubble expands, but the net result of this is that the surface area of our bubble (the interface where our knowledge meets our ignorance) increases. Therefore, expanding our knowledge exponentially increases our awareness of just how much we don’t know.
This is why those who posses truly superior intellects are usually not prideful about it. Real intelligence instills humility. Real intelligence knows that it has arrived where it is through a certain amount of luck and is thankful for it. And real intelligence knows what it is – it needs no validation. This is why most people who are truly intelligent view their intelligence as just another physical attribute, like being tall or having blue eyes.
And then there are those who just think they’re smart. Those who are, in fact, not smart at all, but they believe otherwise because some test or web site or TV show told them otherwise. To be fair, they probably clock in at the smarter end of mediocrity, but they don’t actually ever cross over into the realm of intelligence. And stupidity that thinks it’s smart is the most dangerous form of stupidity.
You know the type – there’s no humility in this crowd. They’re oblivious to the vastness of their ignorance, mainly because they never look up from the shiny baubles of their amassed ‘knowledge’. They actually believe that they ‘know’ things. They speak of ‘truth’ and ‘fact’ that is ‘proven’ and ‘undeniable’ as if such things actually exist. And what really drives them crazy is when someone has the gall to question their so-called ‘knowledge’. This is when they leap to the attack, and their attack always takes the same form: they must prove you wrong. This is the only manner in which they can believe themselves to be right. The fastest – hell, the only – route to intellectual superiority lies in the ability to point to another human being and convincingly declare: You are wrong! It’s kind of sad, actually.
But here’s the thing that pisses off the genius wannabees the most: that it is unacceptable in our society to walk up to others and say “I’m really smart”. I mean, what’s the point of possessing a superior intellect if nobody notices? How will everyone else know they are inferior unless their betters point it out to them?
So the wannabees found themselves in a bit of a pickle. How can they show off their intellectual superiority without just coming out and saying it?
After applying their mediocre intellects to the matter, they eventually decided that the way to show off their brains was to be annoying. You know – needlessly correcting grammar. Obsessing on minute, meaningless detail. Memorizing acronyms and using the complete term instead. You’ve been exposed to the behavior. You’ve probably wanted to knee a groin over it.
Eventually, though, they managed to see through the fog of their mediocrity and noticed that all they were accomplishing was to piss everyone off. While they may have been exhibiting their superiority, the inferior masses were clearly not ‘getting it’. A new method was called for, and after much screaming and gnashing of teeth, one member of this ‘intelligentsia’ stood up and said “Um…what about this ‘God’ thing?”
After a brief fight, he managed to clear enough space around himself to offer an explanation: “I meant that we should profess ourselves as atheists. Everyone knows religion is for idiots. If we say we don’t believe in God, everyone will know we’re smart. And society allows us to go around saying we’re atheists.”
The rest – as they say – is history. Now the creme de la mediocre have adopted atheism as their own personal religion. And they cling to a few studies that support their primary idiocy, i.e., ‘smart people tend to be atheists’.
But what the mediocre minds really hate most is me. I show up and declare my atheism in complete (usually well-constructed) sentences, and they welcome me with open arms.
And then I go and ruin everything by explaining a few things to them. Like evolution is a belief, not a fact. Like unbelief is as much a matter of faith as belief. Like atheism is, in fact, a form of religion, as is science. And my personal favorite, the one they hate most:
The universe is a really big place. There’s enough room in it for more than one Truth.
Happy Walpurgisnacht, all. I don’t have anything to say, really, but I didn’t want the day to pass unacknowledged. For those of you who don’t know, Walpurgisnacht is (functionally) the Vernal equivalent of Hallowe’en. While Hallowe’en falls on the eve of All Saints’ (or All Souls’) Day, Walpurgisnacht falls on the eve of Mayday. In a vein similar to Hallowe’en, Walpurgisnacht is a night for the mischief-makers. It’s a night that belongs to the pagan/heathen partiers, who take full advantage of the knowledge that the mess will be cleaned up by the uptight prudes who pretend that the holidays were their idea all along.
So cheers, folks. Here’s to the pranksters, the heathens and the pagans. Here’s to the old gods and the old places in which they reside. Here’s to Walpurgisnacht, here’s to Hallowe’en, and here’s to pagan holidays that have successfully resisted Western religions’ attempts to co-opt them.
Here’s to the things that go bump.
Got into a discussion/argument with a random Internet pundit yesterday. He did a post on his blog about Islam, in which he stated that he thinks ‘Islamophobia’ is understated. He seems to feel that we should all live in mortal fear of Muslims. I wasted a few minutes of my life trying to reason with the poor guy, but realized that I was being stupid when he professed to have read the Koran, specifically referring to ‘the nasty parts’. He actually tried to convince me that within the pages of the Koran lies adequate reason for all right-minded global citizens to fear the ‘Muslim Threat’. Painfully obvious that he had never actually read the book. Or if he had, he had done so with extremely prejudiced eyes.
I actually kind of like the Koran. As religious texts go, It’s not too terribly offensive. It’s extremely dull, but not too offensive. The fact that it belongs to a western religion is a strike against it, but it’s actually more interesting to read than the perennial favorite of the western religions: The Bible.
Two quick facts, little-known to most Americans: 1) The Koran is not the only scripture of religious import to Islam. The Old Testament also plays a prominent role. 2) The word ‘Jihad’ makes an appearance a grand total of four times in the Koran. In none of those instances does it refer to an armed conflict (or a conflict of any kind). In the Koran, the term ‘Jihad’ refers to a struggle – specifically a spiritual struggle. And any idiot can tell you that a spiritual struggle is, above all, a personal one. It’s not something you do with a group. Especially a group with machine guns.
Anyway, this guy I was arguing with kept trying to convince me that Islam poses a threat to the world, despite all evidence to the contrary. Eventually, I realized where he was coming from. He had pretty much told me everything I needed to know with the first word he used. Or, rather, the second part of that word: phobia. The guy is just plain living in fear – even abject terror – of Islam. Or, more accurately, of Muslims. And his fear is irrational, a fact that obviously bothers him. So he professes to a knowledge of the Koran, which gives him the ability to claim his fear is a rational, reasoned fear. It’s kind of sad, actually.
Since I’m aware of the fact that this guy is not alone in his fears, I started to wonder about the nature of those fears, and their genesis. To be sure, they have roots that go back to the Crusades (you remember the Crusades – when the Pope saw that too many Christians were being killed by other Christians, so he invented an outside enemy for his flock to focus their considerable homicidal energies on), but while the seeds may have been planted in the Middle Ages, the Bush-Cheney cartel did a fine job of pouring Miracle-Gro on it. But the propaganda alone doesn’t really explain the fear. What – exactly – are so many Americans afraid of here? What is it about Muslims that strikes so much terror into the heart of Joe Sixpack?
Belief. Real, intense, white-hot belief. The Kind of belief that Americans never see in their own lives. The kind of belief that can drive people to obliterate themselves because they feel their faith demands it. Americans don’t get this. America has a different kind of belief – the kind that just asks you to show up on Sunday and perform the proper rituals. Americans feel drawn to religious institutions not out of any spiritual drive but rather out of a simple need to belong. And when we Americans are confronted with people who are willing to die for their beliefs, they scare the crap out of us.
Before anyone starts shouting, let me just say that I’m not talking about ALL Americans here. Just the majority of them. I know there are people in this country who are truly religious. I also know that there are people in this country who are truly spiritual. And I know that sometimes these are the same people. But I know that these people are – by far – the minority. Most Americans subscribe to one religion or another out of fear. Simply because they’re afraid that the Beard In The Sky will punish them if they don’t. Which is also the only reason most Americans behave themselves. The average American (possibly the average person) is lying, thieving, raping, murderous scum, and the only thing keeping them from acting upon it is the threat of retribution. Don’t believe me? Just look at any situation in human history in which the rules were removed. Riots. Wars. Show me any break-down of the social order, and I’ll show you the true face of human nature.
Now, this all got me thinking about the nature of belief. Specifically, the nature of American belief. What, if anything (I wondered) do Americans believe in strongly enough (or love strongly enough) that they would be willing to die for it? Religion? Not likely. Sure – there have, on occasion, been Americans who have willingly chosen to die for their beliefs – but they are so rare as to be statistically nonexistent. Their country? Another big ‘no’. While there are (and have been) plenty of people who will stand in line to fight and kill for America, those who have actually willingly died for it are intensely rare. Family? Sadly (and inexplicably, to my mind), also no. Hell, I know many, many people who can’t even be bothered to give up their bad habits for the sake of their family.
Which brings us to the True American Belief System: Hedonism. This is the belief that burns strongly enough in America that its adherents are willing to die for it. Americans have proven – repeatedly – that the one thing they are more than willing to sacrifice their lives for is their own pleasure. Here we drug and drink and smoke and eat and sex ourselves to death every day. Here we willingly risk our lives just to achieve the pleasure of the moment. This, my friends, is the true American object of worship: Personal pleasure. It is this, not money, that we – as a people – love most.