Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Sneering at dissidents: spiritual tonic for the modern bourgeoisie

June 11, 2010

As much as I love David McRaney for the challenge his blog poses to many of my misconceptions, one of his archived posts touches on a subject that winds me up.  It seems to be a cherished myth for those who would prefer not to reflect on the social and ecological cost of their lifestyle choices that there is no escape from the relentless onward march of global capitalism.  There is no rebellion one could engage in that impacts the big picture, no message one can communicate that isn’t fraught with hypocrisy and naivete, no behavior one can exhibit unmotivated by raw self-interest.

In McRaney’s (truncated, emphasis-added) words:

Wait long enough, and what was once mainstream will fall into obscurity. When that happens, it will become valuable again to those looking for authenticity…

You would compete like this no matter how society was constructed. Competition for status is built into the human experience at the biological level

You sold out long ago in one way or another. The specifics of who you sell to and how much you make – those are only details.

The subtext here is that the only way people can ever hope to express “authenticity” is by buying a shitload of pointless kitsch purposely designed for the “authentic” demographic.  Therefore, the story goes, we are all trapped.  There is no escape.

But what about simply being authentic?  It’s way cheaper and more effective than buying a T-shirt that says “I’m authentic!”  It requires only that we make a serious effort to determine what has real, immutable value to us and attempt to conform our behavior to whatever revelations unfold.

Adam Smith’s argument that pure self interest is the ultimate human motivator has captured the imagination of the bourgeoisie to such a breathtaking extent that competing philosophies are no longer seriously considered by most Western pundits, politicos and ideologues.  I suspect the idea is beguiling because, in a world where a minute fraction of the population sits on the lion’s share of the wealth, the notion that we can effortlessly advance the greater good simply by looking out for ourselves absolves us of shame.  If we can also embrace the delusion that it is impossible to free ourselves from selfish concerns, we can ignore claims that when “the self” is taken out of the picture, compassion flows as indiscriminately as rain and ethical behavior naturally arises.  We are not moved to contemplate how different our culture might be if it were structured around compassion rather than selfishness as long as we insist “compassion” is merely a deluded form of selfishness, from which there is no escape.

With the dogma of inescapable selfishness firmly entrenched, activists, dissidents and revolutionaries can be dismissed as childish, petulant attention seekers.  Even if some dissidents might have been partly motivated by lofty concerns to begin with, their message is entirely meaningless if it becomes popular or profitable.

Suffice it to say, I do not share this perspective.  I believe it is irresponsible, inaccurate, immature and empirically unsupportable.  While it’s true that the concept of individual self-interest underpins our current understanding of biological evolution, research makes it clear that selfishness is not our only motivator.  As it turns out, we are hard-wired to experience the joy and suffering of others as if it were our own.

As a dissident motivated by the desire to reduce the suffering of others, it seems obvious to me that the primary psychological force behind most forms of dissident behavior is empathy.  Whether for children laboring in unsafe factories, civilian victims of state violence, displaced or destroyed wildlife in a devastated biosphere or any other organism we believe has the capacity to feel pain or distress, we object because we feel it too.  It seems equally clear that the primary psychological force behind capitalism is indeed selfishness, exactly as its proponents would have us believe.  I have no idea how anyone is able to subvert their inherent capacity to feel the suffering of others when it interferes with their own personal gain, but I take great comfort in the knowledge that the pure selfishness embraced by the most passionate proponents of capitalism is not a universal and inescapable law.

To return to McRaney’s quote, if Ghandi could overthrow the British empire wearing nothing but a home-spun loincloth, surely there is more that is “built into the human experience” than “competition for status” and we have a great deal of choice in how we behave, regardless of how society is structured.  If the human psyche has a greater range of motives than pure self-interest, surely it makes a difference upon which specific values our society is constructed.  We have learned from our own experience that a society constructed on the principle of selfishness behaves selfishly.  It is not a great leap of imagination to propose that a society constructed on the principle of compassion behaves compassionately.


Andrew Sullivan hits the nail on the head

June 6, 2010

Responding to the opinion that sexual ethics are a key element of Christian faith, he writes:

And do I think that Christianity’s sexual doctrines are a corner-stone of the faith? Not in the slightest. Jesus was uninterested in these matters. True faith is not fixated on sex; it has left sex behind – along with money and wealth and pride – in the pursuit of the divine. The only people fixated on sex are those who wish to use its power to control others.

Thank God for Catholic girls.

May 27, 2010

That was an expression floated around high schools in my area when I was growing up.  (In case the meaning isn’t obvious, I’ll clarify that it was specifically used by boys who were not having much luck getting into the pants of secular school girls, in a province where Catholics have their own separate school system.)

Today I’m really feeling it though.  If I believed in a god I would feel sincerely grateful toward her for inspiring 40 secret mistresses of Catholic priests to petition the pope in an effort to put an end the twisted, arbitrary, mind-warping rule of clerical celibacy.

Of course I hold out little hope of their success.  What greying, impotent knee-bender, having spent his whole life trying to avoid sexual temptation, is going to finally agree at the end of his life that it was a pointless rule all along and ought to be forgotten?   Nevertheless, I am tremendously relieved to discover there are in fact some Catholic priests who are boning adult, consenting women instead of  all molesting children.  I was honestly starting to wonder.

Cardinal Ouellet lectures the rest of us on “moral disorders”

May 27, 2010

Dear Catholic clergy.

I have a great idea.  How about first you stop raping children, sheltering the rapists from meaningful consequences and denying accusations of wrong-doing , then you lecture women about how you can’t tell the difference between abortion and murder?

There is a definite trend here:  Catholic priests can’t tell the difference between pedophilia and homosexuality and they can’t tell the difference between birth control and murder.

In fact, at times Catholics react as if homosexuality is worse than pedophilia and abortion is worse than murder.  When Catholics openly celebrate the fact that a raped 10 year old child in some benighted Catholic corner of Mexico was denied information and access to abortion by the state but has been made to understand there is a baby growing inside her, (Hallelujah!  Break out the Jesus crackers!), it  only underlines their general lack of moral credibility in my view.

Cardinal Ouellet, how about you clean up your own damn back yard before you point your shriveled, pious man-fingers at women?  As with gay marriage, the abortion debate is over.  Your side lost.  Try to keep up.


Not careful enough, Steve

May 22, 2010

A few days ago I recalled Stephen Harper’s 2003 article proposing the gradual (“incremental”), discreet (“careful”) fusion of social conservative and fiscal conservative policies as a strategy for the budding theo-conservative movement.   To quote the man himself:

Rebalancing the conservative agenda will require careful political judgment. First, the issues must be chosen carefully. For example, the social conservative issues we choose should not be denominational, but should unite social conservatives of different denominations and even different faiths. It also helps when social conservative concerns overlap those of people with a more libertarian orientation.

So what did he pick?  Abortion.  Way to be careful, Steve!

Is it possible that Steve, sheltered as he is from the mainstream by a wide buffer of young earth creationists, anti-gay activists, Christian Zionists, criminals and racists, is a little out of touch with the concerns of average Canadians?

Having provoked an unambiguous smack down from the US Secretary of State, a raised eyebrow from the United Nations, and unanimous hostility from the entire provincial legislature of Quebec, Steve is stomping mad and looking for a way out.  Harper is shocked – shocked! – to discover that when you appoint a shameless horde of bona fide fundamentalist whack jobs to high-ranking government policy posts, you get government policies that reflect fundamentalist whack job values and alienate or outrage everybody else.

Of course Harper is making decisive public statements to distance himself from the entire fiasco.  But who is he kidding?  Anyone who has ever spent any amount of time with fundamentalist whack jobs will understand that in order to believe they can be reasonable, dispassionate, inclusive and competent policy makers you have to be a fundamentalist whack job yourself.  Judging by his appointments alone, I am confident in asserting that Harper is a fundamentalist whack-job and approves of the theocratic policies coming out of his benighted office, in principle.  I think he just wishes his minions would be more “careful” and more “incremental” with the implementation of their fundamentalist whack job agenda.

Anyway, hopefully Steve has learned there’s no “careful” and “incremental” way to sneak anti-choice policies under the radar of mainstream Canadians.  Whether it is through easily disavowed “private members’ bills” or bizarre foreign policy initiatives that you think shouldn’t upset Canadians at home, we are going to notice and make some noise, especially when you tell us to shut the fuck up.  So please just come out and say you hope to one day have enough of a mandate to outlaw reproductive choice in Canada and quit pussyfooting around.  The theo-cons’ endless maneuvering, message control, debate framing, and general furtiveness about their social conservative agenda is beyond irritating.  You’re not fooling anybody.

Mohammed’s looking shagadelic, baby.

May 17, 2010

It looks like those contemptible lunatics who physically attacked Lars Viks haven’t gotten the memo, because a few days ago they set his house on fire.  So, as promised, here is a corresponding shop:

Mohammed Powers

Yeah, baby.

Anti choice rally attracts thousands of people with no personal stake in the matter.

May 15, 2010

Pedgehog at Anti-Choice is Anti-Awesome made an interesting observation vis a vis the anti choice march in New Brunswick:

there was a noticeable age gap – I didn’t see many people between the ages of 12 and 60.

I was curious as to whether the same conspicuous absence of “people who would be impacted by changes to abortion law” occurred in Ottawa.  Observe:

Children and old folks.

So, do we of child-bearing age get any say in this not-to-be-reopened abortion debate or is Steve just going to proceed as if he can muster a majority by pandering to superstitious old folks who have nothing personal at stake but get a kick out of telling younger women what they can and can’t do?

Notably, many of the children being bussed in from their Catholic schools, which is a shocking misuse of public funds.  Consider this –  if secular schools had bussed in children for a counter-demonstration in support of reproductive choice how would these very same people react?  By screaming blue murder and quite rightly calling for administrative heads to roll, that’s how.  Children are not props for our ideological photo ops.

Harper’s “Maternal Health Program” not about maternal health?

May 14, 2010

Harper’s administration made headlines last week for announcing it intends to cut funding from any international NGO that provides access to safe abortions.  So far, there hasn’t been much analysis of how much funding we’re talking about, or what the impact will be, or where that budget is going to go instead.

Thanks to Olivia Ward at the Star, we can begin to get an inkling of the implications:

In London, International Planned Parenthood Federation is waiting for a call from Canada that will preserve life-saving programs that help 31 million women and children.

But nearly a year after the U.K.-based organization tried to renew its $18 million grant – and on the eve of a G20 summit Harper has focused on maternal health — the line from Ottawa is silent…

Planned Parenthood includes abortion in its wide range of services to needy women and girls in 174 countries…

Canada supplies a significant part of Planned Parenthood’s $120 million annual budget

If Canada provides 15% of the total budget, we can probably expect a corresponding decline in the total number of women and children who once were assisted by this organization but will have no access to family planning information or services once Planned Parenthood pulls up stakes. So, four and a half million women and children may lose access to essential reproductive health services as a direct result of Harper’s benighted foreign policy decision.

That is only the result of de-funding one organization.  How many women’s health NGOs can we expect to feel the pinch?  My guess:  all of them.  As CEO of Marie Stopes Int’l  points out, “You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health and (that) includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortions.”

Which begs the question, where is all that money going to go now?

I bet I know.


Harper has not been shy about funneling millions of your tax dollars and mine to domestic evangelical groups while giving prominent, internationally respected secular organizations the axe.  I’m guessing Harper’s “Maternal Health Program” is a massive transfer of tens of millions of dollars of funds once earmarked for “maternal health” to international evangelical groups which have absolutely no interest in anything that is of interest to women, let alone maternal health.

In the same vein, I am very much looking forward to acquiring a copy of The Armageddon Factor:  the Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada, which has Harper’s religious fan-base bursting blood vessels of indignation.  (Now that’s what I like to see!)

An exercise in desensitizing Muslims?

May 11, 2010

I wasn’t planning to participate in Draw Muhammed Day.  I’m not much of a joiner and (mostly) don’t try to offend and enrage tens of millions of people just for shits and giggles, but the recent violent attack on Lars Viks pisses me off so damn much I simply can not stand idly by while Islamists offer a bounty for deadly violence for a little bit of harmless blasphemy.

I wholeheartedly agree with  Thorbjørn Jagland when he writes:

As secretary-general of the Council of Europe, I strongly believe that freedom of expression is fundamental to our values, and something that all 47 member states must always defend, with neither compromise nor apology.

And in that spirit, I am introducing a new blog policy.  Every time some overheated Islamic lunatic perpetrates violence, or threatens violence, or offers money to someone else in order to perpetrate violence against anyone, Muslim or not, for the exercise of her fundamental right to freedom of expression, I’m going to take a picture of Mohammed’s face and shop it into something totally offensive to Muslims and totally amusing to me.  Like this:

teletubby mohammed

I am hoping enough of this sort of thing will amass that Muslims will become completely desensitized to ironic, amusing or offensive depictions of their prophet.  After all, they can’t slit everybody’s throat, can they?

Now, I can’t always keep up with all the religiously motivated, speech-suppressing murders, imprisonments, violent attacks and fatwas perpetually spewing from the bowels of Islam, so I welcome comments to keep me up to date.

A note to Muslims:  I am on your side when it comes to a number of meaningful issues.  The war.  Israel’s apartheid state.  Your right to wear religious garments. I write letters to my MPs, I demonstrate, I voice my objections.  I blog.

However, freedom of expression is non-negotiable.  When followers of Islam pull this outrageous behavior and the  majority of Muslims fail to condemn it, it completely takes the wind out of my sails.  It makes me not care what happens to the Muslim citizens of Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq.  Please, for your own sakes, I beg those of you who live in secular democracies to get used to freedom of expression and get used to it right now, today.

Jesus wept.

April 29, 2010

I know religious fundamentalists lie.  Everyone in their right mind knows this.  They have to lie in order to manhandle the world they see into the shape of myths so ancient and ignorant that they predate our realization the earth is not flat.

But there’s a small part of me – the part that believes human nature is basically good – that wants to believe they are not lying on purpose.  I want to believe they are the hapless victims of an incredible but sincere cognitive affliction preventing them from accepting things that are obviously true, like evolution, and forcing them to accept as fact things that are obviously untrue, like the preposterous story of Noah and his floating menagerie.

Then this:

“A group of Chinese and Turkish evangelical explorers say wooden remains they have discovered on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey are the remains of Noah’s Ark. “

OK.  Surely they found a few old logs lying about and due to their tragic cognitive disabilities jumped to an honest but mistaken conclusion?

But no.

“In the late summer of 2008 ten Kurdish workers hired by Parasut, the guide used by the Chinese… planted large wood beams taken from an old structure in the Black Sea area at the Mt. Ararat site… During the summer of 2009 more wood was planted inside a cave at the site. The Chinese team went in the late summer of 2009 … and was shown the cave with the wood and made their film. As I said, I have the photos of the inside of the so-called Ark (that show cobwebs in the corners of rafters – something just not possible in these conditions) and our Kurdish partner in Dogubabyazit (the village at the foot of Mt. Ararat) has all of the facts about the location, the men who planted the wood, and even the truck that transported it.”

Adam and Eve?  Word of God.  Noah’s ark?  Word of God.  Jesus walking on water?  Word of God.  Thou shalt not bear false witness?  Just a suggestion.

Amusing bit from the Star article:

Ararat has drawn a steady stream of explorers for decades. Many of them have “discovered” the ark.

“I don’t know of any expedition that ever went looking for the ark and didn’t find it,” said archeologist Paul Zimansky recently told National Geographic.