Friday, 30 January 2015

Theological musings

Warning: rants to follow.

1) Picture if you will, the following scenario. A man meets a woman; they fall madly in love and are married. The marriage lasts twenty years, after which time the woman contracts leukaemia and dies. Over time, the man grieves, recovers, and learns to love again. He meets another woman, is married, and the marriage lasts twenty years, at the end of which time both the man and his new wife are killed in an automobile accident.

The man, and both his current and former wife are good Christians, and just so happen to be members of the one religious sect out of the many thousands ever to have existed, that got it exactly right. They all end up in heaven, and they all rendezvous there after the accident.

My question is this: which wife does the man spend eternity with? Since polygamy is not permitted, does he have to choose? Do the women maybe have to fight over him? Of course, this scenario is equally confusing with former husbands. Do you have an answer?

2) I once heard someone say, nothing is impossible through god. I am curious as to how this could be, and am reminded of a question someone else once asked: can god create a rock which is too heavy for himself to lift? Because everything is possible for god, the answer ought to be yes. But then we would have to deal with a rock which it is impossible for god to lift, which is not able to happen because it would violate the ‘nothing is impossible rule’. Don’t it make your head spin?

3) Here’s something odd. Matthew 19:21 (KJV): Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. Howcome all the Christians I know are so rich? And I’m not talking Bill Gates rich, but rich relative to, say, certain people in Africa or South-East Asia. Why do these people own anything at all? Doesn’t that seems strange to you, that they ignore the words of the man while professing to live life according to his rules? Odd, no? Shit, if it truly is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, then all the Christians I know are hell bound.

4) Here’s something else. Matthew 5:39 (KJV): But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. I guess that’s the war on terror done then. And the army. All we should really have left is atheists in foxholes, and yet somehow the violence goes on. Have these people not read their own bible? Or do they just ignore the parts they don’t like? (Incidentally, there are many parts which deserve ignoring, in my opinion. The parts about stoning your children to death if they cuss you, about owning and correct treatment of slaves, about slaughtering enemy tribes and leaving alive only the virgin girls - kept as prizes no less. Warms the heart, right?)

5) One thing that bugs me (apart from the other things I’ve already mentioned, and loads that I haven’t) is the arrogance, the false humility. The idea that you can believe your way of interpreting things is correct and everyone else’s is wrong, brooking no argument. The idea that the creator of the whole universe (the incomprehensibly vast universe) talks to you in your head and changes his (presumably perfect) plans based on your petty needs and wishes. The assumption there is nothing else to believe in, beyond this invisible sky man. The assertion or implication that those who do not share these views are misguided or, in extreme cases, sub human.

For myself, I can’t see how a belief in the urgencies of this life is so wrong. I can’t understand how insisting that we get things right in the here and now, and show compassion for people who need it now instead of deferring it until they’re dead, is the wrong attitude. I believe in humanity, even if I sometimes am ashamed of it. If we truly accept that the best we have is each other, and that all we have a guarantee of is this one and only life, we become much more concerned with making the world a better place, instead of acting in the interests of another one which we really know nothing about and have no guarantees of.

But that’s just me.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo

First and foremost, must be condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of those who lost their lives.

We now have another horrible incident to add to the ever-growing list of murders and plots caused by, as the media dubs them, religious extremists. Men and women have been gunned down, for nothing more than the publication of cartoons depicting religious figures (principally, in this case, the prophet Mohammed, though I understand the magazine satirised other religions also). Amateur footage from yesterday's incident shows men screaming 'god is great', in between bursts of gunfire. And yet, somehow, we continue to hear claims that the people carrying out these acts do not represent the Islamic religion.

I want to examine the idea that these men cannot be considered to be representative of Islam in general. This may well be true, given that the vast majority of Muslims in the West go about their daily lives peacefully, and would not dream of taking up a gun or a bomb and using it to prove a point. The same comparison applies if we consider that those hard-line Christians blowing up abortion clinics are not representative of the members of the religion as a whole.

However, my claim is not that extremists represent the behaviour of all members of that religion. Such a claim is demonstrably false, or we would all be living in a war zone daily. My claim is that the system of thought which the (principally Abrahamic) religion uses on a daily basis is one which leads to atrocities such as the one we have seen. Not for all adherents of the religion, not even for most, but for a large enough portion that we need to ask the question: what is it about this way of thinking which allows a man to walk into an office and gun down unarmed men and women, or fly an aeroplane into the side of a building, and believe it is the right thing to do?

Were this an isolated incident, we could perhaps write it off as an aberration, mental instability, or something of the kind. However, this incident is of a kind we witness all too regularly. Religious extremism is now commonplace in our news broadcasts. Why?

First of all, it's very hard to define what a religion condones, when its holy texts are filled with exhortations to violence, and its followers themselves cannot agree on major points of doctrine (see the Sunni/Shia split, the various Christian factions). In the eyes of the people perpetrating these acts, they are the true adherents of the faith, and this view is one which may be supported by an interpretation of the texts.

The religious mindset does three things well: it teaches people to accept dogma without considering it rationally, it creates a sense of division from (and superiority to) those who practice other religions, and it allows, in extreme cases, the commission of atrocities to be considered as the morally correct thing to do. Make no mistake, these people behave as if they genuinely believe their actions are morally correct and justified by their beliefs. The evidence for this is, unfortunately, plentiful.

Therefore, we must consider what actions may be appropriate in light of recent atrocities. Each person must have the right to his or her beliefs, and to the peaceful practice of them, and while it is my opinion that the world would be a safer place without religion in it, it is not my contention that any efforts should be made to ban or restrict (peaceful) religious practice. In any case, such measures are never successful.

What I would argue is that a greater push is needed, both from governments and religious leaders, to reaffirm the importance of peaceful behaviour to their congregations, as it were. Only a radical culture change will have any real effect in removing the attitudes which lead to extremism in the first place.

In time, it is likely that Islam will follow the same course as Judaism and Christianity before it, (generally speaking) turning from the path of violence towards a more settled acceptance of other world views. The problem is that many more people are likely to be killed in its name before this happens. If we fail to see that extremist views can be justified by a certain interpretation of the religion, we fail to understand the problem. And how can you solve a problem you don't understand?

Monday, 5 January 2015

Fragment (consider revising)

I have thought about her a lot recently. It is tempting to rationalise too far, to say that I loved her because I wanted to save her, because she was vulnerable and alone, and my urge to protect her, to hold her while she cried and tell her everything would be all right transformed into something more. I could even believe that I wanted to control her, to mitigate that ever-present fear of having someone you care about leave you, because if she needed me so, she would never leave. But even through the selfishness of retrospect, I suspect that to give in to these reasons would be to do her a disservice. It would be to deny the things that made her who she was, rather than simply what she was. She was more than her problems, and she was stronger, more intelligent, and more beautiful than she gave herself credit for. Perhaps it was her vulnerability which drew me in at first, but it was her joy, her smile, her intelligence, the way she laughed and the way she looked, the way when I looked into those beautiful eyes my heart skipped a beat; these were the things which made me love her. These were the things which broke my heart when I knew she would never love me back.

If there is one thing in my life I both love and wish to avoid, it is paradox. This seems to be the theme of various periods of my life, as well as of my loves. If it is not inherent in my personality it is at least pervasive and very hard to alter. The idea that somehow life and love must always be bittersweet. This is not necessarily the nature of the universe, or of relationships. I know because I have seen these things for others, and it is different.

I think way too much. I have no idea how to stop this. Perhaps that is one of the reasons behind this expose. There are probably other reasons I have yet to realise, but I think one of the driving forces is the desire to put everything down and away for a while. To know I have dealt with it in some sense, and to know that I can leave it gathering dust for a while, until I am ready again to deal with it. Like an album you’ve heard a few too many times. Like a tune banging around in your head and needed to be shifted. Perhaps this will be a version of all those letters I wrote and never sent.

Another perhaps is that no one will ever read this. I think I love attention too much, I love the fact of having people know me too much to ever hope this to be the case. It is intended for publication. But it is also intended to help me organise and control my thoughts, to form them into something beautiful, to provide as best I can a sense and a feeling of that period of my life in which I thought the thoughts I could never control, because it, and the people who were there, have meant so much to me, and they deserve some kind of remembrance.

It would be hard for me to claim that this period of my life is any more or less important than any other, in determining who I am and who I wanted to be. I cannot say that about any particular period. What I can say is that it is by far the most extreme, in terms of the highs and lows I felt; or again maybe it just felt like that at the time. For better or worse, I have found a strange kind of definition in it; I will always be a product of, I will always be connected to that time, that place, those people.

There’s nothing remains but to show you. If you are still here at the end, you may be closer to knowing the people they were, the person I am or have been. Whether that is a good thing or not will be up to you to decide.