Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Family Reunion

March 16, 2008

I arrived at my aunt’s house in Glasgow for a family reunion, of sorts.  The whole family wasn’t there, but it was crowded enough.  My brother had found me in London and told me about it.  I’d been working on a movie, which was exhausting, so I figured I could use a getaway and some relaxation.  I must have been exhausted, because I’d forgotten that the words ‘family’ and ‘relaxation’ were incongruous.

Besides my brother, there was my sister and her husband, their daughter, a couple of cousins and their spouses, their mother, and my older cousin’s daughter.  Those were just the ones visiting from Canada.  We were all staying in my aunt and uncle’s house.  Then there was all of their children and grandchildren who were there most of the time, as well as other occasional visitors that weekend.  I’d have left the keys with someone and told them to call me when they’re clearing out.

Despite the chaos, it was nice to see my siblings and cousins after many years.  We talked and filled in some of the gap.  At some point on the first day, we Canadians were on our own and somebody told me that one of my Scottish cousins’ son, whom I had met for the first time a little earlier, was basically a sociopath.  His mother took a liking to me that weekend, and it was mutual.  I would have found it difficult to not like her.  Although she appeared to suffer from low self-esteem and, possibly, occasional depression, she had a lovable quality about her.  Maybe a need to be loved, too.

I thought back to the last time I had been in that house.  I recalled a late night conversation with my aunt years earlier.  She talked about her pregnant teenage daughter.  There are some words spoken that you just never forget.  They leave a mark.  They affect you.  They inform you about the world around you and become integral to who you are.  She said, “She made a mistake and now she has to pay for it.”  I grew at that moment.  If that’s the way that kid is going to be raised, I thought, what chance does he have?  If he’s going to be treated or made to feel like a punishment from god, what hope is there for him?

Now, I remembered why I hadn’t been back up to Glasgow since then.  I also remembered why I hadn’t been back to Canada to see my family.  This Catholic christian attitude that seemed to come with the territory was annoying, off-putting, and even offensive.  This kid, who was raised in an environment that considered him something dirty, was now being described as a sociopath and the description did seem to fit.

If he didn’t seem to care about other people, I was told there was one exception.  Before returning to London, I had another one on one talk with my aunt.  This time, she talked about her grandson, the sociopath.  She said that only she could get to him or tell him what to do.  She is the only one he’ll listen to.  Only she could teach him right from wrong.  The same person who created the idea that he was a punishment from god was now his only salvation.

My aunt can be a nice lady, but she is a personification and microcosm of her faith.  By being that, she seems to have undermined her own daughter’s self-worth and manipulated her grandson.  It’s no wonder my very likeable cousin seemed to need love.

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Spiritual Methadone

March 9, 2008

About a week ago, there was a story on the local news that followed up on a story from months earlier about a drug addicted beggar who knocked down an old man he had asked for money.  The old man was giving him $5, a generous enough sum, but when the guy saw the old man’s wallet he grabbed it and knocked him over, injuring him.  The incident, captured on security cameras, happened in a church.  Let’s ignore the presence of security cameras in an institution built on faith, for the moment.

Today, the mugger is in a religious retreat.  He can’t explain his actions of that day but now he is a changed man, he says.  He has found god.  Hallelujah.

Neither he nor the pastor at the home he is in made any mention of real world counselling, therapy, or treatment.  He doesn’t appear to be addressing any real issues.  What he is doing is reading the bible.

No doubt the pastor thinks he has done good work.  He has converted a man who was ‘lost’ and brought him into the fold.  A good get.  Another soul saved.  And, because his soul has been saved, he is cured.  In fact, the man is just hiding behind god.

I’ve written before about AA and other twelve step programs requiring addicts to trade in their old addictions for addiction to god.  This is no real solution, but it does increase the numbers of the Lord’s army.

It seems a rather perverse outcome for a man who would attack an old man in a church to find shelter in a Christian retreat.  He didn’t seem to think there was anything special about the church before.  Why should he think it can save him, now?  It can’t, and it won’t make him any better.  Only he can take responsibility for his actions and decide what to do or not.  Pretending that it was all part of god’s plan isn’t taking responsibility or control.  And substituting one addiction for another doesn’t address the real underlying problems.

Not So Passive Aggression

March 4, 2008

Passive aggression can be a dangerous thing.  The good people of the church appear to be quiet and peaceful, on the surface.  In practice, however, they are aggressively expansionist.  They want to spread the word, spread the faith, and convert the heathen.  One of their favourite methods of doing so is under the guise of Christian charity or aid.

Conditional charity is not uncommon.  Asking recipients to pray or attend a service in return for food or other assistance happens, as I’ve mentioned before.  This can lead to international incidents with consequences.  A while back, a group of South Korean missionaries were taken hostage in Afghanistan.  One was executed, I believe.  Their government negotiated the release of the rest, eventually, no doubt after paying a hefty ransom.

There is a debate going on in South Korea about this incident.  What the western media didn’t seem interested in reporting is that these missionaries weren’t just helping people, they were trying to convert them and spread Christianity.  Should the government be responsible for them?  Should they bail them out and pay taxpayers’ money to save them from a situation they got themselves into?  Why should the country pay for their aggression and mistakes?

South Korea has the second highest proportion of missionaries in the world.  As I’ve mentioned before, it is a growth market for Christianity.  How did it become so popular in a traditionally Confucian or Buddhist country?  It’s growth has its origins in the aftermath of the Korean War.  I use the term ‘aftermath’ loosely because, technically, the war is not over – there is only a truce.  After the cessation of hostilities, the U.S. military stuck around to keep North Korea in check.  With American soldiers on the ground, Christianity was able to spread.  This should come as no surprise.  Religion has often followed armies around and spread with empires.  Christianity spread throughout the Roman empire and expanded with it.  The pace accelerated after Constantine’s army, reputedly ordered to display the Christian logo on their shields, were victorious at Milvian Bridge and he took control of the empire.

Faith and the sword became partners again in the medieval age when Christendom responded to the spread of Islam with Crusades and Inquisitions.  I’m no expert on the subject, but I suspect this may also be when the death sentence for leaving Islam may have been introduced.  If you think you have problems today, consider yourself lucky that you weren’t a Moor given a choice between “Convert or die” and “Convert and die”.

Missionaries came to the New World, protected by European soldiers, to convert the indigenous populations.  The results were often disastrous.  From the New World the faith has spread to Asia.  So many souls to convert and save.  So many donations to collect.  The temptation is too great to ignore.

It’s not enough to keep the faith and live by the word.  They have to spread them.

A Caveman’s Theory

February 24, 2008

Thousands of years ago, the first gods were conceived.  The earliest known civilizations had their gods, often connected to the natural environment, the elements, and celestial bodies.  These gods were probably theorized by cavemen – sorry, cave people –  to explain the sun, moon, stars, tides, etc.  They had no concept of the world around them, let alone what lay beyond it.

All these gods were later consolidated into one god.  Monotheism was very convenient and useful for kings or emperors who wanted to consolidate and manage power.  Multiple gods gave priests more power as there was more for them to interpret, but a single god enabled a king to claim to be chosen by the one god to rule.  There would be no other gods with dissenting opinions, so there would be no justification or tolerance for people who dissent.

This occurred in Egypt, when the pharaoh Akhenaten proclaimed a single god.  Apparently, this was not popular with the priests, who had enjoyed power and influence.  It has been suggested that they probably also profited from the looting of tombs after the nobles were buried.  After his death, traditional polytheism was re-established.

Later, the Jewish mythology surrounding Moses and the exodus from Egypt came along.  This was followed by Christianity, which infiltrated the Roman empire all the way up to the emperor.  The Romans spread it across Europe and the idea survived the empire.  The monarchs of the kingdoms that emerged in the wake of the collapsed empire sought papal sanction.  If they couldn’t get it, some would replace the pope with one who saw things their way.  Later, they would break from the papacy and claim their own divine right to rule.

Challenge to papal authority was also integral to the enlightenment.  Ideas that contradicted church concepts of the universe emerged.  The church was not pleased and persecuted those with ‘heretic’ notions.  It, and kings who claimed divine right, enjoyed their power, influence, and accompanying wealth, just as the priesthood of ancient Egypt had.

Free thought endured and survived, leading to modern scientific method and theories.  Many of those who cling to gods and religions refuse to accept new ideas that fly in the face of their beliefs, no matter how cohesive the models or how much evidence is accrued.  But, honestly, who is smarter – a modern scientist or a cave person?

Am I Hearing the Voice of God Or Just Crazy?

February 8, 2008

You’re walking in the desert with your child.  The sun is beating down on your head.  It’s baking your brains.  You hear the voice of god telling you to kill your child.  You’re going crazy, right?

That may seem obvious, but if you place the story long ago and call the father and son Abraham and Isaac, many people believe it was nothing more than a test of faith and loyalty to god.  The fact that he didn’t kill his son proves it, apparently.  God intervened and stayed his hand.  Just testing ya – good job.  It couldn’t be, of course, that he recovered just enough lucidity to stop himself in the nick of time, perhaps because of his son’s terrified pleas, “Please don’t kill me daddy!”.

But that was a one time miracle, you may be thinking.  It could never happen again.  Really?  Well, it did happen again – recently.  But this time, god did not intervene.  A man in northern BC, Blair Donnelly, heard the voice of god telling him to kill his wife and children.  When his wife and one daughter were out, he came up behind the other daughter and stabbed her to death.

The worst part of the story is that the man told people at his church that he had been hearing the voice of god, and they were pleased for him.  Being people of faith, they believed he was actually hearing god’s voice.  Nobody suggested he seek counselling.  Nobody questioned his ‘good fortune’.  Faith can be a dangerous thing.

Maybe, rather than waiting for god to intervene, solve problems, or sort things out, we should realize it’s up to us.  Prayers before or after the fact do nothing.  They are a poor substitute for practical solutions or actions.

If you hear the voice of god, you’re not having a religious experience – you’re losing your mind.

Here is more info on the story from someone who knows him:

http://primordial-blog.blogspot.com/2008/01/sad-twisted-tale-of-blair-donnelly.html

The True Origins of a Specious Argument

January 29, 2008

The faithful often try to tell us that without god the world would collapse into chaos.  They claim that god provided us with laws or commandments to live by and that societies base their laws on them.  This strikes me as a rather arrogant assumption that overlooks some very basic history.

In fact, the relationship probably works the other way around.  Religion took its laws from those that already existed.  Let’s look at the ten commandments, for example.  It is claimed that they brought rules to a world without any.  The implication is that people ran around killing, stealing, and raping with impunity before them.  But codes of law had been written long before the alleged burning into stone.  Hammurabi’s Code was written 400-500 year’s earlier, and there were others before that.

Another thing about Hammurabi’s code that may seem familiar from the first testament is the eye for an eye justice it espoused.  Fire and brimstone Christians will recognize much of what they believe and stand for in it.  So, rather than codes of law being based on the ten commandments, it seems to be the other way around.

This is not the only time that the old was recycled into something new by a religion.  Many older ideas, stories and myths from various cultures have been integrated into them.

So, where did these laws come from?  What inspired them, if not some kind of divine intervention?  Where did the moral authority come from?  The answer is rather mundane, actually.  These laws were come up with as a practical solution for managing the problems of the growing city states in the ancient world.

As settlements grew into towns, and towns grew into cities, it became necessary to govern the behaviour of the growing populations.  A system was needed.  Property had to be recognized.  Order had to be established.  Rules were needed to make clear what was allowed and what wasn’t.

The fact that civilization emerged at all probably indicates that those who would kill their neighbours and take their property were always in the minority.  If they weren’t, they would have killed off the more passive minority and then fought each other.  So, it seems the majority of people have always been inclined towards co-operation and peaceful co-existence, at least at the local level.

Practical problem solving using rationality and common sense.  Isn’t that how most things get done?

God’s Free Gift

January 27, 2008

A couple of years ago, on my way to the supermarket one Sunday, I was walking along East Broadway and passed a church.  There was a man standing just inside the church’s property line facing a couple of young girls, who were probably about twelve or thirteen years old, standing on the sidewalk just outside the property line.  As I approached, I heard one of the girls say something like, “So, if we come in, do we get to keep the presents?”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  Had the religious really stooped to such new lows?  Luring unaccompanied children – without parental consent – into their churches with presents?  I glanced at the man.  Incredibly, HE shot ME a dirty look.  I guess I offended him by catching him doing what he must have known was wrong.  If he didn’t know it was wrong, he would have carried on nonchalantly and wouldn’t have noticed me passing.  Couldn’t he hear his own conscience?

Imagine there wasn’t a church behind the man.  You see a man offering young girls presents to come inside.  What would you think?  Utterly abhorrent, predatory behaviour.  For some reason, religions get away with things we would otherwise find offensive, or even criminal.

Although this was the first time I’d ever seen such blatant and crass religious marketing, I later found out it was by no means an isolated incident.  A Korean student told me last summer that it’s common in Korea.  Christian churches routinely offer children presents to come in and join a mass.  Korea and Asia are ‘growth markets’ for Christianity.  Make no mistake, they’re in the god ‘business’.

Looking back, the guy standing just inside the property reminds me of the legal fine line the girls standing in the doorways of the ‘hostess’ bars in London’s Soho district tread.  Now there’s a comparison to be proud of!

I feel a little ashamed that I didn’t do anything about this guy.  I wish I’d called a cop.  But, being the nice, tolerant Canadian that I am, I didn’t.  We have to respect religion, after all.

Why?

Pork on Friday

January 25, 2008

I like to eat pork on Fridays.  Not just because I like pork – which I do – but because it’s a simple way to defy the ridiculous dogma of four major religions at once.

Christians are supposed to eat fish on Fridays.  Jews and Muslims, when not trying to kill each other, actually agree that pork shouldn’t be eaten at all, let alone on their holy day.  Hindus are supposed to be vegetarian, a position I can understand when individuals freely take it but I don’t like any religion telling me what I have to do or eat.

So, by the simple act of eating pork on Friday I can thumb my nose at those who impose themselves on us.  It’s my little protest, and no one gets hurt – except the pig, I suppose.

It surprises me that these rules persist, but they do.  A few years ago, when my brothers visited Vancouver, we went for Japanese food.  It was Friday.  One brother had recently gone vegetarian for religious reasons.  The other brother and his future wife had sushi, but he seemed a bit surprised and slightly offended when I ordered katsu don.  I guess he adhered to the old rules and expected that I would, too.

But the rules are more deeply ingrained in other places.  Years ago, in the cafeteria of an organization I worked for in London, I was looking over the lunch ‘options’.  There was nothing but fish.  Not being in the mood for seafood, I mentioned it to the middle aged woman behind the counter.  When I asked if there was anything else, she replied in an Irish accent, “No, it’s Friday”.  When I furled my brow, trying to find the logic, she added, “Fish Friday”, in a tone suggesting I’m supposed to know this.  After more facial contortion I replied, “Why, because they both begin with ‘F’?”.  I had successfully forgotten fishy rules, having liberated myself from my upbringing.  Now they were being imposed on me again.

It ended moments later with her saying that if I wanted something other than fish she wasn’t going to make or serve it.  She absolutely refused to consider the possibility that someone else might not share her belief.  She felt she had every right to impose her beliefs on everyone else.  It was all about her, not the diverse collection of customers.

My peaceful protest may seem silly, but so are the rules the little act of defiance is aimed at.  That’s the point.  And where does anyone get off actually being offended by what someone else chooses to eat?  If that’s not a sure sign that religions and the religious take themselves too seriously, what is?

Oil and God at the Movies

January 24, 2008

The makers of ‘There Will Be Blood’ know how to end a movie.  There’s no mistaking it, the preacher was a charlatan and, unlike other movies I’ve mentioned before, the ending makes it clear what to do about it.  It doesn’t allude to or broadly hint at, it says and follows through.

Although the story is about a flawed man, a loner whose driven pursuit of his life work of developing oil fields and independent wealth causes him to miss opportunities to make a real difference to a few rather than a modest difference to many, he can still claim the moral high ground over the preacher Eli, the self-proclaimed Third Prophet.

Eli’s goal is, quite simply, self-agrandizement and power over the people.  He wants oil money to build his church.  Oil and god – where have I heard that before?  In his church, he is quite the performer and clearly loves an audience.  The world of the theatre would benefit from his presence.  He demands to be introduced by name and allowed to bless the oil well when it is about to be started up, thus presenting himself to his community as the bringer of wealth.

Unfortunately for Eli, our flawed hero doesn’t like demands or being told what to do.  He’s fiercely independent, remember.  So, he pointedly doesn’t call Eli forward at the gathering of the people and blesses the well himself.  This sets off a see-saw series of humiliations based on who is in the position of power.

Although they detest each other, they do business or cooperate when it’s expedient.  Eli doesn’t seem to have a problem with doing deals with the devil.  In fact, it’s quite profitable.  Following a $5000 donation to the church, Eli leaves on a ‘mission’ to other oilfield communities.  We later find him better dressed and with a large, bejewelled cross around his neck.

A Brahms violin soundtrack creates a constant air of menace and uneasiness.  It sustains you through a long build up.  You’re expecting something big to happen, and when it finally does… it is somehow satisfying, despite the hero’s continued imperfection.  Well worth the wait.

Absolutely Relative

January 21, 2008

We assume parents are always right.  Society is geared towards the idea of parental infallibility.  “Don’t do anything your mother wouldn’t do/would be ashamed of”, we’re told.  “Honour thy mother and thy father”, one of the Christian commandments reads.  It reinforces the ideas of authority and continuity.  The family is a module, a building block of society.

But what if your parents are wrong?  What if they are racist, for instance?  You love someone of another race, but your racist parents tell you it’s wrong or that they’re ashamed of you.  You’re mother would never get involved with someone of another race.  Do you follow the rule of honouring your parents and their example, or your conscience and heart?

Let’s subject the assumption to extreme scrutiny.  Hitler had children.  What if they had seen what a monster he was, and killed him?  Would they have been heroes for doing the world a favour, or patricidal maniacs?  If they’d had the opportunity to grow up, should they have honoured their father and followed in his footsteps?  We’re supposed to follow our parents’ examples, but not every parent sets a good example.

Moral absolutes simply don’t work.  As soon as you make a universal statement, it has to stand up in every instance – including the most extreme ones.  But there are always exceptions.  There are always special situations, extenuating circumstances to take into account.  Every case is unique.  The ethical landscape changes relative to these unique circumstances.

Surprisingly, people who claim to be moral absolutists are often some of the most strident supporters of moral relativism, when it suits them, without realizing it.  The god fearing bible thumpers who swear by the ten commandments are often the same people who defend their right to own a gun and use it to kill someone in self-defense.  The relevant commandment does not contain a clause regarding extenuating circumstances.  It is just assumed by those who think it should apply, relative to the situation.

Conservative thinkers don’t like to… think about such things.  That might encourage change, after all.