Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Beyond Belief

Quite often, we have encountered religious folks who, in their unwavering need to proselytize to the skeptical folks, invoke the subject of belief: In a religious context, a strong belief in a deity is a prerequisite for theists, who are of the impression that an unquestioning, unwavering belief in a deity is likened to a one-way ticket to paradise.

The subject of belief, however, can be as diverse as it is complex: Theists and secularists have very different perspectives of belief, and as I shall demonstrate in this post, belief occupies a unique similarity in the minds of both theists and atheists alike.

Types Beliefs

From a secular point of view, trust & confidence is often associated with belief: A belief system should only be considered valid if it is justified either through the existence of proof and other tangible, rational reasons.

1. Beliefs Based On Trust

If you believe that the store keeper will give you the right change every time you purchase items from his store, your beliefs may have stemmed from the fact that you have patronized his store countless times, and each time he has never failed to give you the wrong change. While the fact remains that this does not imply that he may never give you the wrong change in future, your trust and confidence is gained from the store keeper who exhibits a genuine sense of honesty and impeccable attention so that he has so far succeeded in giving in the right change, without resorting to theft or giving you the wrong change by mistake.

Beliefs of this nature is more aligned with friendships or other loose alliances: You don't know whether the other party will perform his allocated task, but you place your trust on him based on his or her impeccable record.

2. Beliefs Based On Statistics

A belief system can simply be a matter of mere probabilities: I trust the plane to fetch me safely from one destination to another, even if there is a remote possibility that the plane may crash into oblivion. Standard, rational behavior, however, tells us that such an unnecessary fear about a crash is irrelevant, although airlines may think otherwise (Think about all those mock-up documentaries teaching passengers about the safety procedures on board). In theory, a belief system based on mere probability is justifiable up to a certain extent, not so much as an expectation of something that is remotely improbable, but rather based on the success rate & in certain cases, failure of the belief system.

The idea that statistics becomes part and parcel of a logical, step-by-step routine to justify belief is also a scientifically, time-proven method: In any scientific experiments, tests are carried out on a repetitive basis in laboratories so as to reduce errors to the smallest possible denominator. Hence, beliefs based on statistics can be adjudged to be the most rational, and one would surmise that faith, in the context of unconditional, trust and confidence plays little part here.

3. Beliefs Based On Personal Convictions

From a philosophical point of view, a belief system may be more complex than the "believe in me and you will be saved" drivel sprouted by religious theists: Your philosophical outlook, as shaped by your personal beliefs, enables you to make an informed conviction to participate in a certain movement, social setting or even religion.

If one is a freedom rights activist, say in the 1800s, chances are, almost every rich, white-dominated household will be a slave owner. The law is on their side, and so is the moral impetus for owning slaves, which is supported by none other than the Christian denominations which are no doubt white-dominated.

Given such prevailing trends, plus the fact that slave trading and ownership was the standard norm in most colonial nations, it would seem to be quite preposterous for a human rights activist to scream bloody murder about the ill-treatment of slaves, much less the moral or ethic issues surrounding such an inhuman practice. Human empathy and a raised social consciousness was thus required to enhance the belief that human rights is the noble trait that we should all aspire to achieve, and such a belief could not have been derived from an existing slave-less culture. Even when there is little or no precedent to prove that slavery, or the subjugation of any other minority in general, there would have been enough observable evidence to prove that slavery is one of the most cruel and archaic practices handed down by generations of victors, who, after vanquishing their unfortunate foes, begins the process of assimilating the defeated populaces as an inferior race to serve as serfs for the victorious race (or tribe, for want of a better word).

Beliefs derived from personal convictions can also be gleaned from social trends and propaganda: A terrorist who is convinced that Jews are filthy little creatures probably watches enough Arab TV to make an "informed" decision with regards to his suicidal decision to join a terrorist group.

Beliefs borne out of personal convictions are usually the least rational: While they are not necessarily relevant, they are, at the very least, a genuine case of an endeavor to make society a more tolerable (at least from the believer's point of view) environment to co-exist with other human beings.

Justifying Belief With Evidence

Beliefs are part and parcel of the human psychological make-up. It is akin to a mental extension of a limb: A person needs beliefs in order to keep in touch with reality and his or her surroundings. For example, you need to trust that the bank will not abscond with your money before you can trust the bank with your hard-earned cash. Similarly, you will not take the taxi if you do not believe that the taxi driver will fetch you from point A to point B within a reasonable time frame safely. Both instances require a certain level of reasonable, justifiable belief: The bank probably has an outstanding track record, while the driver's state license indicates that he is competent enough to drive the cab.

For good measure, beliefs can also act as enhancements or boosters for flagging morale: For example, if you believe you can defeat the seven footer boxer in the ring, even if you are a five footer yourself, chances are, you will have raised your confidence level several notches however, which will no doubt help you to give a better fight than the monster of a boxer would expect. While you may not win the fight, at the very least, you wouldn't be a walk-over, which would have been the expected outcome of the fight.

That said, a belief cannot simply justify itself on its own: A person, for example, can believe that the moon is made of green cheese, but evidence gleaned from moon soil collected from Apollo expeditions will prove otherwise. Hence, any moron who expounds on the culinary benefits of cheese from the moon cannot be adjudged to have made a statement of profound truth. A five foot boxer can only hope to floor a 7 foot boxer only if he has a viable strategy and a well-worked training program prior to the fight.

While beliefs without evidence or justification is whimsical at best, Religion teaches us that such blind beliefs, lauded and coined as faiths, are virtues which are held in high esteem. We are told, in no uncertain terms, that Jebus died and rose from the grave after three days. Or that the Earth was once wiped out of all life by a deluge of rain that lasted for 150 days. Such superstitious phenomena, when stemmed with the indelible ink of religion, becomes irrefutable truth, and religion demands that a belief in such ludicrous stories be mandatory.

A belief system, whether it is based on personal convictions or one borne out of statistics or trust, must be justified with tangible, and better still, concrete, irrefutable evidence. As a stand-alone, a belief is can be as flimsy and dangerous as a house built on quick sand. As we have gleaned from the Noah's flood and crazy jebuz stories, supernatural tales from a bygone era cannot be taken literally as truth, even if one is to believe in such holy delusions. Worst still, when such religious nonsense are taken seriously enough, they can become a potent propaganda tool for all sorts of insidious schemes.

Beliefs: Not Fair Arbitrator of Rewards And Punishments

Because belief alone cannot lend credence to truth, the idea that a deity can justify a reward cum punishment system (i.e heaven and hell) based solely on blind faith (Belief without evidence) sounds absurd and ludicrous indeed.

Imagine this scenario: A mass murderer decides to embrace a deity on his deathbed: Fortunately for him (and unfortunately for his dead victims), he happens to believe in the right deity and presto, his evil soul gets whizzed up to the high heavens! Contrast this, then, with a philanthropist who spends his entire fortune helping the sick and the infirmed, hasn't committed any crimes (ok, maybe he indulges in food orgies and the occasional sexual fling) but finds his soul in the deepest bowels of hell after he is buried six feet under. How does one justify such a perversion of justice based on mere belief?

Imagine a legal system whereby the law punishes dissidents for not adhering to a specific deity or belief. Such a system, as applied in ultra-orthodox countries, merely sow seeds of discord between the official religious fundies and the non-believers, and acts as a detrimental barrier towards tolerance and social harmony.

While belief is part and parcel of the human psyche, it is imperative that one looks beyond mere belief in his or her request for the truth. After all, belief without evidence is mere faith, which is opened to all sorts of abuse from charlatans, hucksters and cheats.

"What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof."

-Christopher Hitchens

Monday, 17 December 2007

Who..what...where!? - How to Go About Choosing A God or Religion by Larro

I constantly run into (it seems) people (fundies) saying I'm gonna burn in hell and all that jazz. This because I don't believe in the Christian god. So what if I chose to believe in some other god. Would that be okay?

Let me start by laying out some guidelines. 1) I must adhere to the historic record or otherwise documented instances I can site or reference; 2) I can't go by what somebody else says is THE right religion or god (it has to suit my needs). So let me go about seeing if there's any one god or religion I could buy into...

How about the oldest in recorded history? Sorry Christians. It's not Christianity.

The oldest religion on record was the religion of Sumer (c. 4000 BCE). Hence the oldest divine being was either Apsu or Tiamat or both. It seems Apsu was more of a place than a personification of a deity. So I guess I go with Tiamat on this one. Oops, scratch me worshiping her. She's dead, killed by Marduk at Creation. Her dead corpse was used to form the heavens and the earth. She possessed the Tablets of Destiny, though, which conferred upon the god Enlil his supreme authority as ruler of the universe.

So let's move on to Enlil; he's the "Ruler of the Universe" after all (seems this story keeps getting more and more complicated). Enlil was also "Lord of the Command" (sounds intimidating).

So how do I worship Enlil? I can't find any information on this. I suppose I could just "claim" him as my god and be done with it. Could it be that easy? Oh, but I have to have faith that Enlil exists. Is there evidence to prove this? Probably not but there certainly is evidence that people worshiped Enlil. He was the first deity to be worshiped. Can't be all that wrong being the first, right?

What if I go with the earliest gods of my ancestors. I'm of French, German, Swiss, Irish, Scottish and probably English descent.

We find that ancient European people are derived from the Celts. What or who did they worship? Who was their supreme deity? Seems they held to a polytheistic tradition, much as the Sumerian's did.

...there are different types of deities, general and local. General deities are the gods and goddesses the Celts invoked for protection, healing, luck, honour or many other needs. The local deities or Genii loci, were more like spirits of particular feature of the world around them. Each mountain has its own protector, every ancient tree has its own spirit and every river is protected by its goddess or god. wiki

Oh boy! You should see that list!

Alright! Alright! How about we move ahead in time. Let's find out which is the biggest world religion. After all millions of people can't be wrong, right?

Christians, you may jump up from your chairs now and rejoice with glee! Thirty-three percent of world religious adherents subscribe to Christianity. Do I need to pick a denomination? Sure, why not.

Let's see here... According to there are around 968 million Catholics as opposed to 395 million Protestants (the two biggest Christian denominations). So we see that there are more people who put stock in Catholicism, that many people can't be wrong! Right?

Maybe I should just go with the most popular in my area. At least I can find like-minded individuals to share my religious beliefs with. Boy, this is proving harder than I thought. Okay, here we go. Where I live (the general area) there are 43,000 Catholic adherents (the 2nd biggest block of church-goers), but let me check Protestant denominations as Protestant is the biggest block of church-goers at 58,000 for Evangelical Protestants and 47,000 Mainline Protestant totaling 105,000 adherents.
The biggest Protestant denomination in this area is the United Methodist Church at about 14,000 adherents.

However, above all, there are approximately 299,000 individuals who don't identify with any given religion at all.


Thank you for reading.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Mass Breeding for the Church: Keeping the Religious Insanity of Indoctrination Alive

As I was sieving through a slew of religious and atheist blogs, I had stumbled onto a link which, in my opinion, provides a keen insight into the key reasons why Religion seems hell-bent on influencing society from the core denominator of society: The Family Unit.

The Modern Day Family Unit

One of the more unique features of the modern day family unit is its rather loose, less cognitive nature: Unlike the families of yesteryears, mothers today tend to be working mums, are more educated, and generally don't stay at home for 24/7.

Unlike her earlier predecessors, the modern mother is quite akin to a multi-tentacle octopus: Not only does she need to manage her office work, she is also required to prioritize with household commitments, and if financial ability permits, she may even be able to utilize her work income to engage a maid or outsource child rearing responsibilities to nannies or childcare centers.

While there are pros and cons to the shifting nature of the role of mothers, the evolving trends and economics of social progression requires fundamental changes and sacrifices from the everyday family, and according to some religious morons of the fundamentalist stereotypes, the "ideal" family unit would be a drastic return back to the good "ole" days, where:

1. Children are home-schooled in archaic, religious settings.

2. Women must "be fruitful and multiply", i.e: Breed like sows so that enough children can be bred to work in the cornfields or some other backbreaking, low-yielding jobs.

3. Become a matron and take care of the household, without ever coming out of the house except when required. In some cases, wearing burkas may be required, lest she arouses the insatiable desires of virgin-inspired, horny male monsters.

Cue the "Knowing Mother"

According to Julie Beck, the President of "Relief Society" (Relief what? Boredom?) is adamant that the married woman should have only one role and one place in society: At home as a yarn-spinning, child bearing and child rearing mother. Her reasoning, it seems, has more to do with proselytizing than mere conservatism.

Being a good mormon, Julie is perhaps the stereotypical fundie: One who wants society to move backwards in time, where children are less liable to live beyond mere childhood, folks have less access to clean drinking water, and women are subjugated both socially and politically.

In a bid to elucidate the depravity of her arguments, I will attempt to dissect certain portions of it. For those who are interested to read her morbid writings, click the link here.

1. Mothers Who Know Bear Children

Mothers who know desire to bear children. Whereas in many cultures in the world children are "becoming less valued,"2 in the culture of the gospel we still believe in having children. Prophets, seers, and revelators who were sustained at this conference have declared that "God's commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force."President Ezra Taft Benson taught that young couples should not postpone having children and that "in the eternal perspective, children—not possessions, not position, not prestige—are our greatest jewels."

Faithful daughters of God desire children. In the scriptures we read of Eve (see Moses 4:26), Sarah (see Genesis 17:16), Rebekah (see Genesis 24:60), and Mary (see 1 Nephi 11:13–20), who were foreordained to be mothers before children were born to them. Some women are not given the responsibility of bearing children in mortality, but just as Hannah of the Old Testament prayed fervently for her child (see 1 Samuel 1:11), the value women place on motherhood in this life and the attributes of motherhood they attain here will rise with them in the Resurrection (see D&C 130:18). Women who desire and work toward that blessing in this life are promised they will receive it for all eternity, and eternity is much, much longer than mortality. There is eternal influence and power in motherhood.

Here, Beck is in favor of breeding, to "go forth and multiply" for Gawd: Apparently, the idea that "women should not postpone having children" alludes to an all-out campaign for mass breeding mothers.

Beck seems to be traveling in a proverbial time machine here: A time when families till the lands, work on farms, and amenities which we all take for granted today, such as medicine and clean drinking water, are clearly lacking.

These Christian morons love to expound on the virtues of the "good ole days": Reminisce is one thing, but to hanker after a lifestyle which involves high child mortality, poor sanitation, low education levels, oppressive living conditions and the subjugation of women just stinks to the high heavens.

The idea that women used to (which included my mother's mom) breed like jackrabbits is simply a vicious combination of abject poverty, ignorance and mortality: Children tend not to grow into adulthood, most of them succumbing to diseases that can be easily cured with medication or better yet, vaccination against these diseases would virtually eliminate the chances of getting infected. The need to replace dead infants, plus the absence of contraceptive knowledge, meant that women living in the good ole days prior to the 20th century had little option with regards to their fates, and clearly such a deplorable style of life cannot be emulated in the 21st century.

While I am not against women who have numerous children, one must understand that raising a child in a city requires adequate financial resources: Food and lodgings aside, education is also mandatory. There is something inherently wrong about a large brood in a family which has hardly enough to feed the large army of suckling babies, let alone provide a decent education for even one bawling baby. Hence the need for family planning, and not the mandatory and largely insipid idea that the role of women is to breed like sows in a pigsty.

2. Mothers Who Know Honor Sacred Ordinances and Covenants

Mothers who know honor sacred ordinances and covenants. I have visited sacrament meetings in some of the poorest places on the earth where mothers have dressed with great care in their Sunday best despite walking for miles on dusty streets and using worn-out public transportation. They bring daughters in clean and ironed dresses with hair brushed to perfection; their sons wear white shirts and ties and have missionary haircuts. These mothers know they are going to sacrament meeting, where covenants are renewed. These mothers have made and honor temple covenants. They know that if they are not pointing their children to the temple, they are not pointing them toward desired eternal goals. These mothers have influence and power.

Ah, the good, old-fashioned days, where being a straight-laced and formal was formal attire, and girls turn up in schools and churches in nice little plaits, pigtails and the Victorian era varieties. Of course, the good mother has a role to play in all this: Enforce church attendances amongst her children, so that they can all turn out to be tithe-paying sheep when they become working class adults.

Keeps the vicious cycle of religious kowtowing and obeisance alive, not to mention the all-important tithes.

3. Mothers Who Know Are Nurturers

Mothers who know are nurturers. This is their special assignment and role under the plan of happiness. To nurture means to cultivate, care for, and make grow. Therefore, mothers who know create a climate for spiritual and temporal growth in their homes. Another word for nurturing is homemaking. Homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes and dishes, and keeping an orderly home. Home is where women have the most power and influence; therefore, Latter-day Saint women should be the best homemakers in the world. Working beside children in homemaking tasks creates opportunities to teach and model qualities children should emulate. Nurturing mothers are knowledgeable, but all the education women attain will avail them nothing if they do not have the skill to make a home that creates a climate for spiritual growth. Growth happens best in a "house of order," and women should pattern their homes after the Lord's house (see D&C 109). Nurturing requires organization, patience, love, and work. Helping growth occur through nurturing is truly a powerful and influential role bestowed on women.

While there is nothing remarkably offending about the old fashioned, home-making housewife, the problem I have with this kind of archaic, stone age perception is that women are rigidly segmented from the rest of society: Other than the home and the pious housewife bullshit role, a career in the workforce will "avail them nothing", according to Prez Beck, which is just a nicety way of saying: "Woman, stay at home, look after the kids, and live your largely ignominious life in abject obscurity".

4. Mothers Who Know Do Less

Mothers who know do less. They permit less of what will not bear good fruit eternally. They allow less media in their homes, less distraction, less activity that draws their children away from their home. Mothers who know are willing to live on less and consume less of the world's goods in order to spend more time with their children—more time eating together, more time working together, more time reading together, more time talking, laughing, singing, and exemplifying. These mothers choose carefully and do not try to choose it all. Their goal is to prepare a rising generation of children who will take the gospel of Jesus Christ into the entire world. Their goal is to prepare future fathers and mothers who will be builders of the Lord's kingdom for the next 50 years. That is influence; that is power.

Here, Julia apparently takes a swipe at the media and its "negative" influence to the family unit. Less TV, less computers and yes, more abject ignorance in an increasingly technologically-savvy world.

While she is not exactly wrong about the importance of spending quality family time, she punctuates that with more talk about preparing kids to be "builder's of the Lord's kingdom for the next 50 years".

If breeding a generation of mindless, bible-spewing and narrow-minded bigots and androids empowers housewives, then one would surmise that breeding vermin, rats and cockroaches is an empowering experience as well.

In a world which demands for doctors, engineers and other socially enhancing professionals, the last thing we need is a surge in priests, reverends and other minions of religious institutions to spread more ignorance and bigotry to the masses.

The True Role of Mothers

Whether it is the modern family setup (one working father plus one working mother) or the traditional family setup (one working father and a housewife), the true role of the mother is to empower her kids with the skills and requisites to survive in an increasingly modern, global world.

While older folks may reminisce about the good ole days when kids get all dressed up and strait-jacketed for their mandatory Sunday School services, the truth of the matter is that as society becomes more secularized, with adults becoming more aware and skeptical about the amorous behavior of priests, reverends and scumbags of the same irk, religion is bound to play a less pivoting role in society, even far less than Beck and her Mormon spewing folks can ever imagine.

The time has come for us to realize that women are not baby-bearing machines or household androids, completely devoid of rights and entirely under the subjugation of a patriarchal male husband, much less serve as indoctrinating serfs to sustain the church-going masses.

" The day will come when men will recognize women as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race."

-Susan B. Anthony, women's suffrage activist (1820-1906)

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Tales From The Paranormal?

From time to time, I do get "tagged" by bloggers who wish to pass on certain memes, or ideas down a long chain of bloggers.

Thanks in no part to Tina Burton from misterjebs blog, I have been tagged with a paranormal meme, a fairly hair-raising genre for those not accustomed to creepy tales from the crypt.

As part and parcel of the meme, the guidelines are as follows:

1. You should post these rules
2. Recall and relate a time when you experienced a "paranormal event"

3. Explain it rationally if you can

4. Inflict this meme on 5 other people

The Creepy Voice From Above

Something Strange......In The Neighbourhood

As far as I am concerned, I don't have that many creepy stories to narrate: Those "true ghost stories" phenomena I have largely scoffed at, partly due to the fact that I am a skeptic with regards to the paranormal event, and partly because ghosts, if they do exist, would have to exist in a different plane from ours, and should by and large avoid our dimension. This is an interesting diversion, but since I am not in favor of dragging the story till kingdom cometh, I shall proceed with my creepy little tale.

I guess I had to start with the year 2001: I was a recruit with the Republic of Singapore Navy, or RSN for short: Those days, all newbie sea crew were sent to the Sembawang Naval Base (somewhere in the North of Singapore, across the Johor Straits), a decrepit, dinghy left-over base consisting mainly of WWII era British housing, plus the spanking new diver school in the vicinity. It was an odd dichotomy, since the new diving school didn't seem to blend well with the rest of the navy barracks.

And very old they were, these old colonial houses, which were at that time converted to trainee barracks. While the block I was "dumped" into had few, if any circulating horror stories, one of the more notorious blocks was reputedly so haunted that the trainees could hear banging cupboards and moving furniture in the still of the night. A friend of mine, who was attached to that block, could testify to this, but since I am not in the mood to trust second hand testimonies, I shall move on.

And so it was, on this particular, starless night, I was handed the once-a-week guard post duty, which was as dreary as it was monotonous: Maintaining the guardhouse, reporting to the Duty Officer, doing the mandatory rounds..........yes, and that was where the fun really started.

Those more senior folks will tell you that certain locations were incredibly spooky: There was at this spot an unmarked grave just across the "Wolf" Block, a multi-terraced training centre converted from one of the more upmarket British homes in that area. It is located right in a central location, beside the furiously haunted barrack and the "Wolf" block, and frankly not many people relished going for rounds along that certain stretch of road. I vaguely remembered a friend who was superstitious enough to wear numerous amulets around his neck, simply as an extra protection.

On that "fateful" day, I was extremely peeved with boredom & sheer frustration: I had been drafted to do extra duty for some minor misdemeanor, and was just begrudging the fact that I had been covering for some of my smarter colleagues who seem to be getting away with their malingering asses. Clearly, I had an axe to grind, and anything, holy or otherwise, was going to be blasphemed, no questions asked.

After a couple of hours of incessant complaining, my senior trainee, hell bent on getting some peace, sent me out on my patrol with a friend, LY. LY was the kind of guy who would jump at even a squeak from a mouse, and on this particular night he seemed particularly edgy, which got into my nerves and irritated the hell out of me.

As we sent out purposely on our rounds, we brought our usual equipment along: A baton (God knows what batons are used for: You can't really kill someone who is armed to the teeth with a rod and no guns, can you?), a torchlight, a pen for signing the rounds book, and the walkie talkie.
And just to let everyone around know that my anger wasn't exactly dissipating, I went off into a ranting session, this time with a walkie-talkie. And just to spook my friend, LY, I had peppered my rant with some of the more blasphemous varieties, some of which included the quip that an encounter with a beautiful, female phantom would really relieve my boredom.

& right there and then, we heard it: Quite unknowingly, we had approached the wolf block, the reputedly spooky location. A girlish voice, very soulful, very subtle, was humming a little tune, followed by a soft gust of the wind. My friend was simply stiff: It seemed that he had been gripped by raw, unadulterated fear. I thought I felt the fear too, but I managed to gather myself, looking upwards towards a very ancient tree beside that damn spooky block. Nothing. Not a phantom sighted.

Just as we were looking at each other, our faces chagrined and spooked out, the walk-talkie crackled, and rather mysteriously, the humming stopped. My senior was apparently worried, because my rantings had suddenly grounded to a deafening halt. The loudspeaker (i.e me) simply had apparently gone offline for a few five minutes, and that was quite unlike me, even on my better days.

In the end, we really didn't see shit: LY was so spooked that he swore he would never go up to the Wolf block in the dead of the night, and so I had to clamber up all four floors of that accursed block and sign the rounds book. I wasn't sure whether it was fear that I felt, but I felt as if there were eyes locked upon me for the entire duration I was in the building.

Nervy as I was, I certainly didn't expect did see a floating phantom or some headless corpse walk pass me: The fear, as always, is unfounded, but the more superstitious folks would have chided me for spewing nonsense in the middle of the night, as my friends did later on.

Strange as it may seem, I did the mandatory (on my count) blasphemy everytime I had to walk my rounds, and not a single calamity or spooky activity have befell on me since.

A Rational Explanation?

At first glance, this seems to be a classic ghost story, minus the floating heads saga or the phantom experience: Haunted buildings, a cemetery and a rather starless night . I would have liked to explain this away as a fickle of my own depraved imagination, except that my rather mousy friend was there when we heard it, and believe me when I tell you that I am not easily spooked by such phenomena, which can usually be explained rationally without evoking the supernatural.

Thinking back, I presume that it had something to do with the wind: A low, slow gust of wind an object (in this case, a building and a tree) could trigger voice-like mimics that an already heightened and alert brain may interpret as an eerie, humanoid voice. Or perhaps, on that fateful day, fear had simply taken over us, and it was merely the nature of the environment and the haunted reputation which had preceded it, that was playing havoc on our impressionable minds.

Five Blogs Tagged:

1. Confusion of Ideas
2. Interested
3. Beep! Beep! Its Me
4. Crazy Christian Blog
5. Deeply Blasphemous

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Of Muhammads and Teddy Bears

Teddy Bears & Muhammads: Not The Best of Bed Fellows

Religion, it seems, has a peculiar desire to throw their weight around, like a petulant brat of a kid who, in a brawling, unreasoning mien, refuses to back down on the particular toy car he has set his sights on.

From demands to boycott supposedly blasphemous works, such as the Da Vinci Code, and the latest works by Philip Pullman, "The Golden Compass", Christians, it seems, are quite brow beaten by the fact that their religion no longer holds that much of a sway in the media and in particular, Hollywood, and they seem hell-bent on grabbing some of their old influences back.

Radical Muslims, however, prefer to take the "crash and burn" route: Protests and shootouts galore, when some infidel or kafir decides to depict Muhammad or Allah in an unflattering light: After all, pictorial representations of both prophet and deity alike are considered blasphemous in the beautiful world of Islam (Their aesthetic sense can perhaps be represented by the somewhat Martian-like dressing known as the burkha: A drab, shapeless piece of clothing that covers the woman from head to toe, leaving a slit for the eyes so that the poor woman doesn't knock herself senseless into onrushing traffic. Allah be praised).

When certain acts of blasphemy are allegedly committed by non-Muslims, Muslim radicals are apt to go bananas and take the accused infidel to task: Riots by ignorant buffoons against such supposedly unpardonable crimes are usually rampant in Muslim-dominated cities, followed by cries of execution against the alleged offender. Popular figures, such as Aryaan Hirsi Ali and Salman Rushdie, often have to live under the ominous shadow of a fatwa, or a religious edict, by some pompous religious leader who simply wants an axe to grind against those incorrigible infidels.

& so, the recent case of a teddy bear named Muhammad became the latest furore to rile the Muslim radicals yet again.... and once again, the ancient laws of blasphemy raises its ugly head.

Teacher Guilty in "Muhammad" Teddy Bear Case

KHARTOUM, Sudan - A British teacher in Sudan was convicted Thursday of the less-serious charge of insulting Islam for letting her pupils name a teddy bear “Muhammad,” and was sentenced to 15 days in prison and deportation to Britain.

Gillian Gibbons could have received 40 lashes and six months in prison in the case if found guilty of the more serious charge of inciting religious hatred and given the maximum penalty.

Blasphemy: A Criminal Offense?

It is quite unthinkable and frivolous to me, or any liberal-minded individual, that anyone can be sentenced to 40 lashes and 6 insidious months in prison for a rather innocuous act of naming a a teddy bear: One would even question the barbarity of such a sentence.

Religious intolerance, when interwoven with the web of secular law, becomes an ominous institution of unlawful abuse: Anyone who harbors a vendetta against a individual can manipulate a harmless act, such as naming teddy bears, or even whipping up a dish of bacon (Muslims don't eat pork. Us infidels who aren't vegetarians can hardly live a day without a few slices. Mama mia!), & condemn the act as a misdemeanor in the eyes of the Sharia Court.

Teacher Fled By Presidential Pardon: Questions Asked

Fortunately, Gillian Gibson had a Presidential Pardon from the President of Sudan, which granted her release, and sparing her from the whip. As if such a harmless act of teddy bear playtime ever requires an act of pardoning!

Whenever we read such outrageous news in the media, we should ask ourselves whether we can afford to grant religion any kind of respect: If respect can only be demanded through violence, torture and subjugation, then it is perhaps high time for us to stop giving such archaic, nonsensical teachings a wide berth and start questioning the need to even harbor such cruel and ridiculous dogma.

Now that I am finished with my rant, can someone come up with the name of my new teddy bear???

-A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.

Albert Einstein

Monday, 3 December 2007

The Dreadfulness of Death & The Unhealthy Expectation of An Afterlife

Like any other species on this planet, human beings are ardent survivors in a challenging environment. Evolution has bestowed upon us the gift of a more exceptional brain than our primate counterparts, allowing us to break away from most of the trials and tribulations which almost every species on Earth has to contend with: Without our superior technology, Man will most likely be at the mercy of ferocious beasts (and they still do: occasionally, and sometimes quite often, stories of humans being bitten and eaten by animals remind us that without our fancy blink-blinks and weaponry, we are as vulnerable as suckling babies) in the natural environment.

Because of our inane sophistry, most of us live in relative safety and comfort: Our homes protect us from the savage elements of Mother Nature. City dwellers purchase their food from the supermarkets, much of it derived from agriculture and farming, hence negating the need to hunt for food. We are insulated from pretty much the worst whims of Mother Nature, and in that respect Man has more or less detached himself from Nature and her food chain.

This detachment, it seems, has become etched into our human consciousness over the sands of time: As an almost separate entity (At least we like to think of it along this superior train of thought), human beings have become obsessed with achieving a higher form of consciousness, or truth, if you will. We start to question and reason within and without, something which lower orders of animals, preoccupied with the more mundane affairs pertaining to life and death, couldn't have done. Our technologies and advancements derived from our ingenuity and civilized way of life began to give way to human ego: Since we are so god-damned special and high-strung, couldn't it be possible, that perhaps, we can completely escape the ignominous fate that hangs upon every living creature and organism, the very ominous clouds of impending doom which we call Death?

Religion, Death & The Afterlife

Death's Advocate: The Grim Reaper

Death is defined as the cessation of life: Quite clearly, death is comparable to a full-stop in a single sentence. A single sentence will still resume after a comma, which represents a single pause, but a full stop spells the inevitable end. Death works the same way: When life ceases to continue, death becomes the inevitable end to life. From the tiniest of microbes to living human beings, death is an inescapable fate of living things.

And it is this end that as a species, humans seem to have trouble grasping, perhaps out of an understandable fear of death, or the implication of the human ego. As superior creatures on this Earthly domain, we like to think that we can somehow transcend death, even if it means believing in a more superior deity who shows an affable affinity and love for us. In order to vindicate this incredulous idea, we devise religions crisscrossing every culture on this planet, with their elaborate rituals and dogma, so as to give a legitimate front to the absurd idea that death is not the omega of life.

It is with this unhealthy obsession and fear of death that religion exploits to the fullest: Heaven becomes an utopia of eternal enjoyment, as contrasted by the dichotomy of hell's searing inferno.

An Unhealthy Fear of Death & The Obsession of the Afterlife

To be brutally honest, every sane person & sane creature harbors some form of fear towards the spectra of death. An animal which is dead can no longer propagate its genes, much less enjoy the fruits of it's labor. In short, a healthy fear of death is a good sign: It simply translates into some form of awareness or defense against external threats, & it is with this in mind that fear becomes an extremely viable tool for survival.

Yet, like almost every other genetic traits or memes, there is a downside to an overdose: The idea that death renders life finite becomes so preposterous to a mind that is closed to the possibility of death, that we begin to let our imaginations take root, instead of searching for new frontiers such as medicine to prolong life and eradicate disease instead.

Cue religion. With its army of charlatans, soothsayers and doom sayers, Religion feasts upon Gullibility, which in turn is a bastard child of Fear, the pantheons of deities begin to manifest itself, dominating our psyches with fairy tales and searing our consciousness with unhappy delusions and trepidations of an afterlife in eternal abyss, all of which are undue punishments pandered out by the respective religions to buy allegiance into their expanding flock.

If a person becomes unduly besotted with the afterlife, then the person ceases to regard this life with due reverence: After all, why be caught up with the mundane affairs of mere mortals, when I shall be able to inherit an eternal body (or soul) which will allow me to live for an eternity? If one is to believe in the rewards of eternal bliss, the tawdriness of a mortal life seems to pale in comparison with such a wondrous utopia of eternal, heavenly bliss.

The Dangers of Believing In An Afterlife

It is with this notion and unfounded triviality towards the only life we are supposed to expect, that terrorists and crooks who don the sacred beliefs of their respective Gods have been able to kill with almost wild abandon, with no regards to the lives they take (infidels, are, after all, unworthy of any redemption) as well as theirs.

Ask any hardcore terrorist who is about to blow himself up with a self-attached bomb in a civilian-crowded bus, albeit a Jewish one, and the expected answer will be the sight of 72, glistening hymens belonging to the God-bestowed virgins in paradise. The most abhorrent and horrendous of ideas, martyrdom is nonetheless a powerful tool for people to willingly blow themselves up, along with their enemies, into smithereens, and one can hardly be expected to carry out such acts of self-immolation without invoking some form of reward in the afterlife.

Accepting The Inevitable & Striving For Emancipation

If anything else, history has shown us that most, if not all ideas borne out of fear are usually poor concepts which are detrimental to society in general.

While death is an unpleasant fact of life, we should not expect to live beyond this ultimate threshold, anymore than a person should expect to survive a fall off the edge of the cliff and still emerge unscathed.

Rather than become transfixed with the prospect of an eternal life, medical science and technology should be harnessed to prolong life as well as enhancing the quality of life.

With this rational realization in mind, we will be better equipped to live this life to the fullest: There is but one life, live it, and live it well. Be nice to your loved ones, and they will be nice to you. There is nothing intrinsically difficult about such ideals that we need to invoke some deity to teach us to learn such social behavior. We are, after all superior creatures, and that itself should give us the impetus to live a emancipated life without any unnecessary delusions and unfounded fears about the supernatural.

"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear."

-Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), in 1787 letter to his nephew

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Religion Better Than Science: Religious Child Refuses Treatment, Dies From Leukemia

As part and parcel of the theme of this website, I have often been railed at for utterly dismantling ridiculous dogma in the face of a rapidly civilized and modernized world. While readers may have differing perceptions, I reckon that my anger against religious bigotry, ignorance and all manner of social ills pertaining to religion is very much justified.

Sometimes, the juxtaposition of modern day thinking and Bronze Age beliefs are so irreconcilable that, if one was to be perfectly frank, he or she will surmise that religion no longer contributes positively to our increasingly secular civilization.

Most of us, including religious folks, will not waste a single sec to visit the doctor first when they fall sick: Reverends and priests must make way and stand aside for medical professionals who have the expertise and knowledge to dispense medication to help the patient recover from his or her ailment. A perfectly logical move too: Gone are the days when patients will seek the help of priests to cure their diseases, whence the priests will prescribe exorcism, blood letting or even the killing of the perfidious Jew as a remedy for their ailments. 21st century Science is, after all, far superior than 13th century hocus pocus.

What happens, then, when ancient dogma clashes with modern day Science? Or in this case, a patient rejecting medical treatment in deference to an irrelevant religious dogma? The result: Unnecessary death caused by abject ignorance.

Boy dies of leukemia after refusing treatment for religious reasons
Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Life-Saving Transfusion of Blood: It Might Have Saved 14 yr-old Dennis. Sadly, he Got Brainwashed by His Aunt.

Because of his faith, Dennis Lindberg, 14, didn't want vital transfusions; his biological parents did. A judge sided with the son, who died last night.

His life began under trying circumstances. Now, at the age of 14, his life has ended the same way.

For Dennis Lindberg, most of his childhood depended on the kindness of strangers to help him survive. A few weeks ago, he made a decision that contributed to his death Wednesday night.

The Mount Vernon teenager was diagnosed with leukemia Nov. 8 and since then had been confined to Seattle's Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center.

Doctors said he needed blood transfusions to survive potentially lifesaving cancer treatments. But as a practicing Jehovah's Witness, Lindberg refused. Despite his age, he had been declared what is known as a "mature minor," meaning he was considered mature enough to make decisions about his treatment.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe accepting a blood transfusion violates God's law.

His aunt, Dianna Mincin, became his legal guardian four years ago after his father, now a recovering addict, was jailed for drug possession.

Mincin is also a Jehovah's Witness, and supported Dennis' decision.

The boy's biological parents did not.

Dennis Lindberg Sr. -- Mincin's brother -- and Rachel Wherry flew to Seattle from their home in Boise on Tuesday to attend a 9 a.m. hearing, hoping a judge could force the transfusions.

Wednesday morning, after hearing from the parents, the aunt, social workers and the boy's doctor, Skagit County Superior Court Judge John Meyer denied the plea. About 9 p.m., Lindberg Sr. called the Seattle P-I to say his son had died in his hospital bed.

With the transfusions and other treatment, Lindberg had been given a 70 percent chance of surviving the next five years, Meyer said in court, based on what the boy's doctors told him. Without them, he was likely to die. But his decision in what the judge called a "stunning case, which brings into play issues including, but not confined to, religious freedoms," was based strictly on facts.

Religious Dogma vs Medical Treatment

A couple of issues went through my mind, as I was reading and contemplating the loss of what I feel is a potentially savable life.

First of all, the term "mature minor" is legal jargon that doesn't register in my brain: If you are not an adult, then obviously you are a minor. But.........a mature minor? That sounds really ambiguous indeed. At what age is a minor deemed "mature"? A square circle may come in handy here.

At the tender age of 14, surely the parents ought to have custody over the boy's treatment, and in my opinion, the parents and the State ought to dispense medical treatment to the minor: With a 70% chance of surviving the next five years, I find it quite surreal that the judge had the audacity to agree on the side of the patient. The law, it seems, protects the lives of minors, right up to and stopping at the point where religion steps in to over-write all that is secular.

Origins of Anti-Transfusion Agenda

What makes it incredibly galling for me is the amount of influence the aunt exerts on the cancer-stricken boy: Apparently, Aunt Mincin is one of those incredibly brainless folks, otherwise known as the Jehovah's Witnesses, who will refuse blood transfusions even in the most dramatic of emergencies, citing "religious sentiments" as the critical reason. More often than not, the sordid act of refusing blood transfusions translates to death, & yet, these JW assholes are not the least perturbed. The reason, it seems, can be found in the most unholy of nonsenses: The Holy Babble.

Apparently, the JW's taboo on blood is based on the Kosher Law of the OT, which prohibits the consumption of blood:

"It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:
You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality." Acts 15:28-29

"For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life. 12 Therefore I say to the Israelites, "None of you may eat blood, nor may an alien living among you eat blood."" Leviticus 17:11-12

Poorly Written Bible: Opened to All Kinds of Interpretations

It is incredibly obvious to even the dumbest Christian that blood transfusion has nothing to do with drinking or consuming blood: After all, the early bible scribes couldn't possibly have know anything about blood transfusions (hence their low opinion of the fluid). But being staunch fundamentalists of the lunatic sort, the JW has found it prudent to impose a no-blood transfusion ban upon its flock, which in essence translates to a premeditated death sentence to those pious enough to buy into this nonsensically murderous bullshit.

The modern day atheist will argue that such religious stupidity would have been avoided if people would stop reading the babble: An utterly disjointed set of scriptures clobbered together by murderous popes and bishops & unscrupulously amended wholesale by generations of propaganda-driven translators, the holy babble is so poorly written that any moron worth his salt can interpret the babble in whichever way he or she chooses. One can, of course, blame the reader, but why blame the reader when the book lends itself to all kinds of frivolous interpretations?

Religious Taboos Against Science: Only The Masses Suffer

From spreading lies about the porous condoms, to the Religious Rights' opposition of cervical cancer vaccines as agents of promiscuity, Religion has often imposed itself upon medical advances with often archaic, morally slanted excuses. It is time for people, especially professional people from the medical and legal fields, to stop bending backwards and yield to religious bias at the expense of losing unnecessary lives.

After all, if respecting a religion means killing a human life indirectly, I'd rather kick religion in the ass and shove a butt plug up the ass of a bible-spewing priest. & if I ever have the chance to meet this fundamentalist aunt of the dead boy, I will spare no effort to remind her that the blood of the boy is on her hands. I hope she sleeps well at night, no doubt comforted by the delusion that she had sent the "soul" of the boy straight into the awaiting arms of Gawd.

-"A long acquaintance with the literature of the Witnesses leads one to the conclusion that they live in the intellectual twilight zone. ... Whenever their literature strays onto the fields of philosophy, academic theology, science or any severe mental discipline, their ideas at best mirror popular misconceptions; at worst they are completely nonsensical."

-Alan Rogerson