Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

There Goes the Neighbourhood

January 16, 2008

I found out a while ago that the building being constructed a couple hundred metres down the road is a Catholic church.  I groaned.  Just what the world needs – more churches when the existing ones are empty, in every sense.

Then I wondered how they pay for it.   If the churches are largely empty, the collection plates must be too.  Besides, shouldn’t that money be used for good causes?  I mean real good causes – like charity, feeding the starving, housing the homeless – as opposed to building unnecessary churches.  They’re not cheap – especially these days in Vancouver, where the superhot construction sector often hits cost overruns.

Some time later, a thought crossed my mind.  I’d heard that most of the money given to charities like the Red Cross to provide aid after the Asian tsunami a couple years ago hadn’t been distributed yet because they basically didn’t know where to begin.  The Red Cross has Christian affiliations, doesn’t it?  I gave them money to help those people.  They better not be using it to further the aims of the church, by building churches, for instance, or sending out missionaries to spread the word and convert people.

There was a story in the news the other day about abuse of aboriginal children by clergymen at government run schools they’d been sent to for conversion.  Apparently, the Catholic church has refused to pay $10 million compensation, their share of a settlement.  They claim they didn’t take the kids away from their parents and put them in those schools, the government did.  I suppose the government made them penetrate the children, too.  The church will not take responsibility.  They seem to think they’re above blame.

Incredibly, a new deal was struck in which the government would pay for the church.  Where does the government get the money?  Taxes.  Your taxes.  Money taken away from you is being used to pay a penalty the Catholic church refuses to.  How can the church get away with that?  Why would the government do that?

Although the church denies responsibility, they aren’t necessarily unaware of what their priests get up to.  A while back, on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart talked about a similar abuse case in the U.S. where the settlement was a whopping $600 million.  But, in that case, believe it or not, the church had SEXUAL ABUSE INSURANCE that covered the bill.  If you buy insurance, it’s because you know there is a reasonable risk of something happening.  To even consider something like sexual abuse insurance, you’d have to think it was likely.

The Catholic church seems to be very good at getting others to pay their bills.  They’re also a large organization that seems to think it has limited liability.  Sounds kind of like a corporation…  Maybe it’s time they started paying taxes… 

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How to End a Movie – With Conviction

January 8, 2008

I watched ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ last night.  This is a movie I ignored on its release, dismissing it as an attempt to glorify religion.  Sometimes, first impressions are accurate.  Sometimes, they’re off the mark.

To my pleasant surprise, it turned out to be the kind of movie I would like to make about the crusades.  My only complaint is that it didn’t go far enough.  Like some other films framed by a religious context, it pulls back from the brink of the logical, sensible conclusion.  The slaughter in the name of one god or another, carried out by fanatics obsessed with the idea of owning ‘heaven’, should be enough to put anyone off the idea of religion.  There are a couple lines in the film that drive home the fact that we’d be better off without it altogether.  “You have taught me a lot about religion…”, comes to mind.

But then, near the end, the main character’s Muslim counterpart, another one of the few ‘decent’ people able to see past the different brands of chicanery and superstition and that how one person treats another is a better judge of how good he is, says something like, “Why do you think god does not love you, with all you have achieved?”  Why reassert faith in god at this point?  It seems obvious to me that there were no gods willing this carnage – that we, and we alone, decide on a course of action, choose to take life or not, and achieve things.  Faith in oneself and one another seemed to be the message throughout the movie.  Maybe the producers were afraid of a backlash if they appeared to be advocating atheism.

A couple of Canadian films are guilty of the same thing.  ‘Water’ is an excellent movie set in a Hindu ashram, or widows’ home, in which one young woman is reduced to prostitution and a child, widowed before reaching puberty, is raped.  Yet, even this story of institutionalised abuse and confinement has a character saying “Never lose your faith”.  All I could think was, “For your own good, that child’s good, and the good of humanity, please lose your faith”.

‘The Black Robe’ is another Canadian movie about a 17th century Jesuit missionary who travels with Indian guides to a mission far from anything he recognizes as civilization.  It’s clear throughout the story that he is in the wrong and yet, at the end, when he seems to realize this and that his faith has been misplaced, the Indians, who have been ravaged by disease brought by the other missionaries and now have a choice of killing him or accepting baptism, choose baptism.  The closing shot is a cross with the sun shining behind it, which seems to assert the very religion which has been presented as inadequate and misguided.

Are we really so afraid of offending religious interests that we don’t even have the courage of our convictions to reach a logical conclusion?  Could it be that we have taken respect for religion too far?

A Blast From the Past, Indeed

January 5, 2008

I was listening to Talking Heads for a blast from the past.  The track ‘Listening Wind’ was playing.  It’s one of those songs that makes my skin tingle because it seems so true – it cuts through all the bullshit and tells you what’s what and tells it like it is.  It’s also very unique and, hence, ‘cool’.

But, it also got to me for another reason.  It got to me because it’s STILL true, about twenty-five years after its release.  It’s just as relevant and, in fact, could have been written yesterday.  Aside from the fact that I used to have hair down to my ass when I listened in the past and, well, now I don’t, nothing has changed.  Not a thing.  A quarter of a century.  More than a generation.  The middle east is still a mess with American foreign policy still fuelling resentment and making things worse rather than better.  And the news stories still invade my home.

 This may seem a bit callous, but I actually feel a certain resentment.  For my entire life, the middle east has dominated the foreign news.  Ever since I was old enough to notice the news the middle east has been the big story, with wars, bombs, civil wars, terrorists, religious nuts, revolutions, hardliners, and the rest getting in my face every day.  I feel imposed upon.   How dare they come into my home and dump their stupid hatred and arguments on me.  And all because they insist on a religious based state of one kind or another.

When will these idiots realise that religion and government are a terrible combination?  Religion is fuel for fires started by heated political debates or situations.  So, two peoples need water in an arid region?  A skirmish over control of the source of the only two rivers in the region grows into an extended, decades long religious conflict encompassing ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ wars.

Do you think people would want or support half the wars if they were presented with the facts – that they are about water, oil, resources, or land and, ultimately, money rather than religion or “To protect/defend our values/way of life”, as they’re told?  I doubt it.  There are lies, damned lies, and then there’s politics or business masquerading as religion.

“The wind in my heart

The dust in my head”

Less Than Humble Beginnings

January 4, 2008

They say a new year is a new beginning and this one has me thinking of my first beginning.  On New Years Eve I met a woman from the Scottish town where I was born, who happened to be standing next to another woman from the Canadian city I grew up in.

I was in the Cascade, a fairly new pub-eatery with a friendly enough vibe on Main Street here in Vancouver, where I exist.  She was asking about Absinthe.  Do they have it?  Is it the real stuff, like she’d had in Budapest, or the imitation?  I pointed out the two bottles behind the bar and that one looked like the stuff I’d had in Prague, which was unavailable in the west at the time.  I asked her what part of Scotland she was from, cleverly deducing that she was by her accent, and she said “Cumbernauld”.  Well, what a coincidence – that’s where I was born.  Apparently, Craig Kilborn, of Late Late Show fame, was too.  Or his mother was – I can’t remember, there was alcohol involved.

We talked some more and, as it turned out, she’d not only lived not far from the house I was born in, she had also lived in the Maryhill district of Glasgow, where relatives of mine lived.  Pleasantries aside, she then told me how lucky I was not to have grown up in Scotland in general, and Cumbernauld in particular.  If I’d grown up in Scotland, I would probably be an alcoholic, drinking whiskey for lunch, she said.  I recalled stories of visiting relatives for her, in which I was hospitably fed whiskey like it was beer.

She would later say something that reminded me of another unpleasant aspect of life in Scotland.  She asked about my religious origins, making an assumption on my name.  Apparently, in Scotland, people can, and do, guess your religion based on your given name and treat you accordingly.  This is just one aspect of the religious divide there, particularly in Glasgow, where soccer violence has been fuelled by religious affiliation.  The two rival teams – Celtic and Rangers – deliberately encouraged this to build fan support, thus profiting from religious hatred and violence.  I let her know that I rejected all religion as nonsense.

But Cumbernauld, she said, was a bad place within a bad environment.  In fact, it was a bad idea.  A great place to get raped, I think is how she put it.  With pedestrian underpasses replacing crosswalks, it seemed designed for crime.  All part of the ‘new concept’ design of the time.  The lack of foresight is astounding.  Even a child would instinctively know they were a bad idea.  My sister may be the proof.  I’m told her claim to fame is that she was the first person to be hit by a car in Cumbernauld, a town designed to prevent people getting hit by cars.  Probably thinking, “That tunnel looks scary”, the little girl crossed the road instead.  The driver of the car, probably not expecting a child to be crossing the road because he would have been led to believe there wouldn’t be any, hit her.  So, this ‘people friendly’ design actually seems to have been more car friendly, as it kept traffic moving, and put people at greater risk by creating a criminal friendly environment.  Maybe the drugs really were stronger in the old days.

Curiosity led me to visit Cumbernauld, once.  During a visit to Glasgow, where I drank much whiskey, I decided to go see the place of my birth.  For anyone who has never heard of it, Cumbernauld is one of five new towns built in Britain after the second world war.  Others include Eastkilbride, also in Scotland and home of postpunk pop band The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Milton Keynes, in England, which has a reputation for being rather dull.  Anyway, after waiting at least an hour for my connecting bus, I finally got there.  The driver, who had clearly been in no mood to explain the delay earlier, dropped me off at what I initially assumed must have been the wrong place.

Most cities and towns are established and grow in a location for a reason – there’s a good harbour, a river, or a useful resource or good farm land nearby.  Cumbernauld doesn’t appear to have any of these.  It sits in the middle of central Scotland, roughly at the centre of the triangle created by Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Stirling, but not close enough to any of them to be considered a suburb.  I could be wrong, but there doesn’t appear to be any water nearby.  If the land surrounding it is arable, it seemed it wasn’t being farmed.  I know this because the place I was dropped off by the side of the road was also beside open land, empty except for a power pylon near a hill.  On the other side of the road were buildings.  So there it was, in the middle of nowhere with no apparent purpose.

I looked at a map and found I was not only not in the wrong place, I was actually near the street I was born on.  It was just on the other side of the road which, as it turned out, was the main road.  To create the people friendly town that wasn’t actually very people friendly, it seems to have been designed with the main road going around the town rather than through it.  Now there’s a way to create a vibrant, people friendly atmosphere.  I left the emptiness of the main artery and walked into town.  One street in I turned into Lennox Road, walked a short distance and found it.  The house I was born in was a little pebble covered townhouse, identical to all the others around it.  A bit dreary, really, and hardly worth the pilgrimage.  Be careful what you look for, you might find it.  I came, I saw, I left.

This trip planted an idea in my mind that was confirmed on New Years Eve by the woman I met.  I am the product of a failed, terribly misguided social experiment.  This explains a lot.  But, on the bright side, look what it did for Craig Kilborn.  Alchemy?

As for the other woman, we agreed that Windsor is a place people come from.  More about that fabulous metropolis will no doubt come.  In case you’re really wondering, one is married and the other has a boyfriend so, no, I didn’t get my tongue down either throat.  However, it may come as no surprise that the Scottish woman is the one who stood on the bench against the wall and counted down the new year for everyone.