Shimoniac Jones

I didn't lose my mind – it fled in terror.

Archive for the tag “belief”

Heroes, not just sandwiches anymore!

A blogger I follow, recently published a post about an event that woke the demons that gnaw on his psyche. He was agitated and sorrowful, so I recycled some wisdom that I’d read somewhere else and clicked “reply”.

That was it.

A few hours later I found that he’d replied to my comment, as he replies to so many others, so I opened the dialogue box to see what he’d said. Usually, it’s a simple acknowledgement, sometimes it’s witty, occasionally it’s profound-ish.

Without any apparent irony or derision, he said that I was his hero. Now, it’s incredibly difficult to sense sarcasm in the written word, but I don’t think that there was any there. So I began thinking about this concept of “hero”.

A hero is a person known for courageous acts or nobility of character. A hero is also someone who has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal.

I recently read about a man, who rescued a three year-old girl from being trampled by a runaway team of horses. He ran into harm’s way, knowing that he could get hurt, possibly killed; but unable to just stand there and watch an innocent child get mowed down. He refused the label “hero”, because, in his mind, he only did what was necessary. The fact that he was then run down by that team of horses, collecting bruises, stitches, and broken facial bones was, to him, nothing big.

So, for this blogger to call me his hero took me aback. Then I read the second definition of hero again. I didn’t do anything particularly courageous when I typed my reply to that blogger’s post, but perhaps he thought that I’d demonstrated a personal quality that he admired.

That led me to realize that we can all be heroes to someone else. It doesn’t necessarily mean getting run over by a team of horses, or a huge expenditure of time or money. It can, in fact, be nothing more than offering a kind word to someone having a bad day, or offering an ear to someone who needs someone to talk to.

Of course, if you do want to dash in front of a team of runaway horses to save my flabby ass, feel free.  😀

Jihad This…

So the big international news story this week concerns `Al Qaeda in Yemen’, invading a stronghold of the great enemy of Islam and killing a score of unbelievers who were armed with that most devastating weapon… A pen.

I’m talking of course about a bunch of terrorists killing cartoonists who worked at Charlie Hebdo, a French satiric magazine that uses cartoons to lampoon politicians, celebrities, and others who find themselves in the crosshairs.  The so-called reason for this unreasonable attack was that the magazine had published cartoons that were deemed by these skid marks of humanity to be `insulting to Islam’ and `disrespectful of The Prophet Mohammed’, or maybe that was vice versa.

As sad as it sounds, the attack, per se, did not surprise me.  These scum have shown, again and again and again, that they are ready, willing, and able to commit any atrocity, for any reason, real or imagined.  What does it say about your, for want of a better word, movement, that what you’re best known for is blowing up innocent bystanders, kidnapping unarmed schoolgirls, and beheading journalists?

Of course, the blood hadn’t even dried yet, before the usual suspects were bleating in front of the cameras about how `this isn’t true Islam’ and `moderate Muslims deplore these activities’.

Seems to me, I’ve this before; many times.

I live in Canada, and back on October 20, 2014, a Canadian soldier, Patrice Vincent, and an unnamed comrade were run down by a man who then called 911 to dedicate his atrocity to Allah.  The Parliament Hill shootings two days later, which killed another Canadian soldier, Nathan Cirillo, was committed by a man who professed the Muslim faith, and who left a video explaining his motives, which included a reference to his religious persuasion.

So, as much as they would have you believe that they don’t support this aberrant behaviour, the fact is that it continues.  The very fact that these butt nuggets are somehow able to acquire weapons, ammunition, computer up-links, and the like shows that they are funded by someone.  Somebody has to know who they are and where they are.  Maybe it’s time for the moderates to put their money where their mouth is and start pressuring their friends, family, and other contacts to give the radicals up.

If they don’t… Well, then they’re just like other politicians, all sizzle and no bacon.

Atheist Churches

That’s right friends and neighbours. You read correctly. There is a small but growing movement afoot world-wide to create churches, or something, free from the tyranny of religion.

When I first heard about this brand spanking new phenomenon, all I could think was `everything old is new again’. Back in the nineteenth century there was a movement called the `Rationalist Church’, where atheist ‘preachers’ went from gathering to gathering denouncing God. It died out early in the twentieth century as atheism itself waned in Western society. This new movement seems to be a kinder, gentler version. Those involved simply gather together and socialize with those of their kind.

Humans are social animals. Atheists, denied the community of faith-based churches, need feedback and approval from those like themselves; so they have chosen to recreate a familiar and even comforting experience. Also, since life in heavily urbanized areas tends to be isolating, these gatherings provide what could be called face time with people who acknowledge your existence.

Proving the social nature of humans, many of these `churches’ have reached out to others like themselves, some have reached out to the broader ecumenical community, and a few have begun stirring the pot to see what kind of shit they can disturb.

They may be social clubs, but they’re not merely social clubs. Most examples that I’ve been able to research have a charitable and philanthropic bent. Some raise money for local charities, some for a national or international charity. They have speakers who talk about living ethically without religion, being kind to your neighbour, and that sort of thing.

There’s another fact about humans, we don’t like change. We prefer things to stay familiar. It’s all about evoking the familiar and comforting rhythm of ritual. The ritual, for want of a better word, of most of these groups seems to follow that of religious churches with a lecture, discussion, singing, and donating.

What I find highly amusing is the fact that these gatherings, which are for all intents and purposes social clubs, call themselves churches. It’s either an ironic misappropriation of nomenclature, a cynical thumb in the eye of the religionists, or an oblivious Pavlovian response; the last being that they call it a church because that’s what they’ve always called it.

To see some of these atheist churches in action, I have a couple of links to follow: here and here. I’m especially impressed by the fact that the Secular Church has Ten Commandments, just like the Christian Bible. On the other hand the Satanic Church managed to codify eleven.

So, since the motto of the militant agnostic is, “I don’t know, and neither do you.”, I’ll leave these fellow travellers to their mumbo jumbo and just wish them all the very best.

Tell me what you think.  Is this a good thing?  Is it a bad thing?  Or is it just some passing fad?

A New Pope, Same Old Story

So Pope Benedict the Whatever decided that he’d had enough of trying to save the Catholic Church, and pulled the pin on his career. He announced his resignation when declared his retirement. I note that he gave about two weeks notice, which is generally standard for professionals who resign, or quit, their jobs. As regards Pope Benny the Dick, I’m still waiting for the other red shoe to drop. What happened? Was it a financial fiasco, sexual impropriety, paternity suit, dealing in fake relics, did he exorcise the Holy Ghost? The possibilities are endless, and worrisome.

The conclave happened so quickly, that I barely got a chance to tell my favourite conclave joke. Yes, as a matter of fact, I do have a favourite conclave joke. If there’s black smoke, boo hoo, no new pope. If there’s white smoke, hooray, there’s a new pope. If there’s grey, greasy smoke, the cardinals are having steak. There it is, take it or leave it, I grant permission to use it next conclave. As a side note, my mother observed that the conclave occured during Lent, so steak probably wasn’t on the menu. Grilled salmon, on the other hand… 😀

The former Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, styled the first, got one hell of a promotion to Christ’s Vicar in Rome. Going into the first round of voting he was on the board, but as a 33 to 1 against long shot. Perhaps his papal motto should be Equus Tenebris Sanctis; that’s approximately Latin for Holy Dark Horse.

So, now we have Pope Frank. Wow. Of course, as an iconoclastic Militant Agnostic, I view all organized religions with a large helping of dubiousness. The more, and gaudier, trappings a religion has, the less I feel they have the welfare of anyone at heart; anyone but those at the top of the heap, that is. I tend to agree with Robert A. Heinlein in my view that religion is for the benefit of the priest-class rather than the congregation. The new supreme pontiff will have to put the church’s money, and a lot of it, where his mouth is, before I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

I don’t necessarily doubt Pope Frank’s honesty, honour, conviction, or anything else; but I do know about a phenomenon called bureaucratic inertia. It’s also called captured by the system. A reformer goes into a department to clean it up and make it efficient, but winds up embracing the established culture.

The Catholic Church is two thousand years old; they’ve had twenty centuries to become set in their ways. Assume an average human generation at twenty years. Boys and girls can sire and birth young sooner than that, but it’s a convenient rule of thumb to use. That means one hundred generations have passed since the founding of the Catholic Church. Another way to look at it is that the organization is more than twenty-five times the age of the guy leading it.

That sheer weight of numbers and the resultant ossification of procedure practically requires high explosives to shift.

My mother, who describes herself as a recovering Catholic, rather cynically opined that the reason the conclave elected such an obscure candidate was so that they (the bureaucracy) could pull the wool over his eyes and continue business as usual. Her version of business as usual was money-laundering in the Vatican bank, influence peddling, covering up for sexually deviant priests, and other similarly distasteful activities. Mom has what you might call a dim view of Mother Church.

If true, I think the PTB (Powers That Be) are in for an unpleasant surprise. Frank is a Jesuit, the Society of Jesus have a formidable reputation for scholarship, perseverance, and loyalty to the Pope.

So, as with so many other things, I wait and watch.

Religious vs. Spiritual

Ever since I was a young iconoclast, I’ve been thinking about this topic and pondering over it. I vacillated between the tags of religious and pious before settling on pious because pious has a certain feel. Piousness seems more extreme than mere religiousness. Piety, in fact, suggests, at least to me, zealotry; a definition of which is: fanatical partisanship. I’ve always been a little cautious of zealots, they’ll do anything they think they have to do to achieve their aims.

Case in point, a couple of weeks ago my mother and father went to a doctor’s appointment. In the lobby of the office building that held this doctor there were a random selection of magazines and other reading materials; Dad said that it looked as though most of them were forgotten by previous visitors.

One of the magazines that was there was an Evangelical Christian example. It was a slim publication, a medium grade periodical. Inside were a series of articles aimed at helping the reader live their life the way the authors thought they should. I managed to read less than a quarter of it before the cognitive dissonance almost ruptured my skull. The two main thoughts running through my head, chasing each other in circles, were: “How stupid are they?” and “How stupid do they think I am?”

There wasn’t a topic that was safe from their rigid, blinkered, dogmatic approach. I saw articles denouncing evolution, linking secularism with social and financial ruin in Europe, and one comparing the Titanic disaster with not believing sufficiently in God. There were ten articles in it but I could only stomach three before my personal limit for intolerance was reached. My father, Archon’s Den, actually managed to get all the way through it without having a stroke or killing anyone.

Clearly the writers, editors, and publisher are very religious people. Perhaps it’s unfair, but personally I can see some of them presiding at a witch hunt or book burning; the remainder would just watch.

There was a local man of God, now deceased, who wrote a weekly column in the local paper about a variety of topics usually based on some happening in a local church or in the wider religious communities. He was broad-minded and attended services for other denominations and even other faiths. He also studied them and applied lessons learned from them into his own life and sermons.

Now, being militant agnostic, I read his columns religiously. I think it’s always a good thing to know what they’re up to; it’s like with children, when they get real quiet, you know they’re doing something they shouldn’t be.

The topic of one of his columns was about how religion could be a force both for great good and for great evil. The column was, as they almost always were, intelligent, well thought out, and insightful.

He wanted to find a way to encourage the good and negate the bad. The problem of course was that he was inside the very box he was trying to examine the outside of. I wrote him a letter after reading the column. I was disappointed, but not surprised, when I didn’t get a reply. For a supposedly retired minister he was a busy man and surely received dozens of pieces of mail each week as a result of his columns, his ongoing activities, etc.

This is a letter I wrote him; it’s from about eight years ago.

Dear Sir: I am a regular reader of your weekly column and I always have to admire your self-honesty and your struggle to find greater truths in the familiar. This past Saturday’s column was a prime example of both and I would like to share with you an insight I had several years ago on this subject.

Please pardon any apparent errors in word usage that you may find. I have found that certain words mean different things to different people, and the words that I use have a particular meaning to me. So, to you these words may not mean the same as they do to me, but I think that you will be able to determine what I mean by context, if not by denotation.

I have found that there is a difference between being “pious” and being “spiritual”. It may sound self-contradictory, or even counter-intuitive, but I have perceived a difference.

Pious people burn books, and people, because they are closed-minded and afraid of any idea that hasn’t been given them by a religious leader. A spiritual person reads those books and listens to those people because there might be truth to learn from them.

Pious people have and will commit the most heinous atrocities because `those people’ don’t believe what we do and are therefore, by definition, evil and beyond the pale. Spiritual people will only try to persuade and teach by example the correct path.

Pious people are certain that since `unbelievers’ are evil, they will go straight to Hell to suffer all the pain and torment; the pious even experience a certain malicious pleasure in the thought of the “heathens’” suffering. Spiritual people believe in their hearts that people of good intent, whatever their religion, will go to Heaven, Paradise, Nirvana, or whatever, and that people of evil intent…, well the Spiritual hopes they get better soon so that they can join the party.

Pious people blow things up and kill people to make their point. A spiritual person will, at the most, lecture in a firm voice, or set themselves on fire to make their point, making sure that the flames won’t spread.

Pat Robertson and Osama Bin Laden are both, to my way of thinking, Pious people. Mother Teresa and Mohandas Gandhi are both, also to my way of thinking, Spiritual people. Therein lies the difference. Pious people believe that people serve the church. Spiritual people believe that the church serves the people.

Perhaps that is all that needs to be said, all the rest is window dressing.

Yours etc.

Shimoniac

Religious vs. Agnostic

You may have noticed that I claim to be a militant agnostic.  There’s a quote saying that an agnostic is an atheist without the courage of his convictions.  That’s simplistic and offensive.  It’s simplistic because it doesn’t think deeply into what agnostic means.  It’s offensive because it assumes that an agnostic is a moral coward.

The dictionary has multiple definitions for `agnostic’.  For convenience’s I’ve entered some so that you don’t have to navigate away look them up and not get back to me.

Noun:

  1. a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience.
  2. a person who denies or doubts the possibility of ultimate knowledge in some area of study.
  3. a person who holds neither of two opposing positions on a topic.

Adjective:

  1. of or pertaining to agnostics or agnosticism.
  2. asserting the uncertainty of all claims to knowledge.
  3. holding neither of two opposing positions.

Synonyms: doubter, empiricist, secularist, skeptic; disbeliever, nonbeliever, unbeliever; pagan, heathen, heretic, infidel.

The best simple definition of agnostic is, as far as I’m concerned, doubter or skeptic.  A skeptic is only a person who questions the validity of things claimed to be fact.  On a scale of 0 – 10, where 10 is an absolute unwavering belief in a god, gods, goddesses, or any combination thereof and 0 is a similarly absolute unwavering belief in the absolute lack of a god, gods, goddesses, or any such combination, I fall squarely at 5.  I don’t believe in them, or unbelieve.

In my opinion, and to me my opinion is the only one that matters, there is no evidence that any omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, supernatural, metaphysical being exists now or has ever done so; having said that, lack of evidence is not evidence of lack.

On an episode of Futurama, the character Bender is lost in space, and hosts a colony of intelligent beings who think of him as `God’, and no matter which path he followed, either direct intervention or absolute disregard, the beings are maimed and die off quicker than goldfish in a five-year-old’s room.  Later, as he drifts mourning the passing of his worshippers, he notices that the universe is blinking in a binary pattern.  He holds a conversation with an unseen being who, eventually, asserts that as a god to do it right, it has to look like you’re not doing anything at all.  That could be what whatever magical being is ordering the universe is doing.

How can we possibly know?  I can run a toaster, or a light switch, and I think I’ve even got doorknobs and dead-bolt locks figured out; an entire universe is just a little beyond me.  Watch the episode, it’s marginally worth it and I’ve over-simplified it to the point of being meaningless.  Besides, I may misremember key points.

I like the additional `militant’ tag because, to me, knowledge is based on objective proof or empirical evidence.  What people who believe have is faith.  While I have faith in the perversity of the universe, I also have proof of said perversity because I’ve seen it so often.  Besides, I’m pretty far from militant; people who have opinions just go around bothering each other.  I have views, outlooks, and things like that.  I try to be willing to change the way I think, or do things differently if someone comes up with a way that is better than mine.

If you keep an open mind, you never know what will drop in.

My sister and father attend, on a fairly regular basis a meeting of Free-Thinkers.  What are Free-Thinkers, you ask.  Well, Free-Thinkers are generally atheists who have banded together to oppose the rabidly religious among us who want to shove their way of doing things down every one’s throat, in opposition to the official separation of church and state.  One day, while at this gathering, a young man sat next to my sister and asked her how long she had been an atheist.  He was confused when she set him straight.  My sister’s not atheist, she’s a pagan; she worships differently from the mainstream, but she does worship.  Apparently he skipped the `thinking’ portion of the title.  That’s why I say they’re generally atheists, not all Free-Thinkers believe there are no gods.

My own view, which I state as seldom as possible, is believe, or not, what you want, but for the sake of sweet charity, keep it to yourself.

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