Perpetual 9/12

** I generally hate to preface anything I write with a warning about being offended, but with as sensitive as this subject is, I assume there are some people who invariably will be offended (which I generally don’t care about, and also don’t now) but I hope that if they are offended it’s actually from something offensive I wrote (which I doubt I will) and not from the snap judgment to stop reading early.**

The theme of the ten-year anniversary commemoration of 9/11 was, in almost every circumstance, some version of “never forget”, which is unquestionably one of the most vacuous and empty thoughts to have about the whole thing, and it’s important from a lot of perspectives to understand why.

Now, I want to mention right up front that 9/11 is undoubtedly a horrific human tragedy. The loss of life that day should in no way be demeaned. The sacrifice of the first responders is truly noble. The courage and motivation of many young men and women to enlist in the military and volunteer for service is admirable.

The effect that the event has had on the American psyche is profound…but is that a good thing?

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Enraptured

Magic Carpet Ride

There is nothing going on in the world that has made me nearly as giddy as the Rapture that is supposed to be happening tomorrow. It is so hysterically funny that I’ve thought about it all day long and enjoyed every second of it.

Crazy person and church (cult) leader, Harold Camping, has predicted after a long and arduous study of biblical texts that the beginning of the end of the world will happen tomorrow, May 21, 2011.

Camping scoffs at those who think the world isn’t going to end until next year based on Mayan myth, calling their beliefs a “fairy tale”.  But Camping’s date is based on hard evidence from the Bible (not a fairy tale, right?) and has interpreted that evidence with a mathematical system of analysis which he came up with himself.  Hard to argue with such legitimate data.

And this is nothing like 1994 when Camping first said the world would end.  He made a mathematical error that time.  Now he’s got his system all worked out.  So, for sure, mark it down.  Count on it.  Tomorrow, we’re fucked.

The sad part is that a lot of people actually believe the guy.  In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, one of his followers, Ted Solomon, 60, said, “I’m looking forward to it.  This world may have had an attraction to me at one time.  But now it’s definitely lost its appeal.”

Only a religious person could say something so incredibly dark and depressing and think that they’re actually a happy, healthy individual.  The world has lost its appeal?  Now you’re counting on a god you’ve never seen to ride down to earth on a white horse or something and take you up to a heaven you can’t even coherently describe?

And what happens if he knows what you’ve really been doing when no one is around, Ted?  You know what you did.  You goddamn sinner.

When people like Solomon stare the stark, blatant reality in the face tomorrow evening that their world is going to be exactly as it was today, what then?  Past “end times” cults have seen mass suicides after their day of reckoning never came to be.  How many people will take their lives after Camping’s bullshit prophecy fails again?

Ted Solomon seems to be one candidate at least, sadly.  Don’t do it, Ted.  Give up your faith in ridiculous fantastical ideas, not your life.

Non-believers like me relish events like this because it’s an easily falsifiable religious claim…and we thought that was an oxymoron!

It’s also fun to watch the “moderate” religious people scramble to explain how guys like Camping are interpreting the Bible improperly or that they don’t understand the difference between literal and metaphorical interpretations.  Implicit in this, of course, is that Camping is just a nut – an outsider.  His religious views are clearly mistaken, extreme, and uninformed.

And then they’ll tell us how a man who was also god was born of a virgin who was impregnated by god who was also her son and then he died and came back to life for a while and that helped everybody and also a guy put two of every species of animal on a boat to save them from a flood.

Because believing that shit is waaaaaaaay less crazy.

But wait, there’s more bright side.

If the world does indeed end tomorrow, we can be happy to know that there will never be another episode of The Jersey Shore, never another Limp Bizkit album, no more Seth Rogen movies, no more LinkedIn messages in your inbox, and never another chance to hear Sarah Palin say something stupid in that absurd accent of hers.

Just think, if Jesus comes back and takes all the Christians up to space that will probably solve so many problems!  It will definitely help with overpopulation, probably end wars, improve our environment, and give people equal rights.

Us non-believers will have so much fun.  It will be like a shopping spree on leftover houses and cars and boats and stuff.  Just think how much you can make on Ebay selling all the blinged out crosses that rappers wear!

Oh, and if you think this is all one big joke, think again.  The most recent Pew Research study found that 41% of Americans believe Jesus will come back in their lifetime or their children’s lifetimes.

So while Camping will have obviously gotten the date wrong by this time tomorrow, 4 out of 10 of your friends think essentially the same thing as that insane cult leader.

If you’re reading this and you’re not worried that the world will end tomorrow, please ask yourself why, especially if you’re religious.

The answer probably has something to do with the fact that it’s a religious person predicting the end of the world and not a team of scientists, because you can be damn sure that if the world’s top scientists were saying it was going down tomorrow, we would all be making preparations instead of a small batch of suicidal lunatics.

Interesting that your religious mind doesn’t apply the same logical methods to things like global warming and evolution, isn’t it?

Read It…

Have you read it? No? Then shhh...

Hey Christians, this is the Bible.

Read it before you ever preach to me or anyone else about what Jesus thinks I should do.

If you, as a Christian, haven’t read the Bible from cover to cover, you have no right to ever tell someone else they should be finding Jesus or acting in any certain way based on your Christian “beliefs”.

This is particularly true when I, and most other atheists, have studied your religion more than you have, generally speaking.

Continue reading

Hellfire, Continued

God changed his mind.

So the crazy religious zealot with the mustache who has turned his congregation of 50 other insane people into the #1 national news story by launching a proposed “International Burn A Koran Day” has yielded to outside pressures and made the smart move and abandoned his radically stupid idea.

Kudos for not being a complete and utter fuckface, Terry Jones.

It’s funny that just the day before, he had prayed to his god and was told to go ahead with the book burning.  Now he’s either defying his god by canceling the Koran burning or his god has changed its mind about it, which seems unlikely due to his god’s obvious infallibility (that’s how we invented him, remember?).

Times like these are when it’s important to notice that even those who claim to be the most religious really just aren’t.  If he (or you) was half as devoutly religious as he (and you) pretended to be, the obvious contradiction would be way too much to deal with.

It is unquestionably good that he has decided not to go through with his idiotic and destructive plan, if for no other reason than it would put US soldiers in immediate danger.  Being that there’s no positive impact to be had, it’s simply not worth the risk.

That said…

Last night on Larry King, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the proposed Islamic community center near Ground Zero in New York, appeared to address this situation and of course, the proposed building.

During his appearance, the Imam declined to budge on canceling the building project or moving the community center further from Ground Zero.  I’m not bothered by that decision, because, as I said yesterday, I’m neither for or against the building, except to the extent that I don’t want to see any more religious buildings built anywhere.

His reasoning for the decision was problematic though, and I think it’s time that, as a leader in the Muslim community, he begins to take responsibility for that community, even on the fringes.

He warned that moving the site of the proposed mosque and community center would be seen as an affront to the Muslim community abroad and that it would surely be responded to with acts of violence against Western targets, likely in more extreme ways than their reaction to the cartoon depiction of Mohammed in a Danish newspaper.

When is this going to stop?  When is it going to start being condemned in a major and public way by men like the Imam?  Moderate Muslims owe it to the Muslim community at large to do everything in their power to condemn this sort of behavior.

It simply isn’t okay, no matter how devoutly religious or how completely insane you are, to want to kill people because they drew a cartoon picture of your prophet or because they burned a “holy” book.  It’s not okay to threaten the lives of the creators of South Park and the people at Comedy Central for talking about Mohammed in an episode of the show, and it’s about fucking time we stop excusing it.

As a religious person, you have to respect your religion.  I don’t.  You already think I’m going to hell for not believing what you believe.  You think I’m going to go to fucking double hell if I make fun of it too?  That’s so fucking stupid.

This means war!

Like in all religions, the moderates ask for respect and tolerance of their beliefs.  In this argument, we hear that we must accept and respect the beliefs of all people. It’s no surprise then that this respect is expected to be extended to those with more extreme beliefs (except of course when people act on their extreme belief because, well, that’s just going too far!).  This has to stop.  It’s hard to argue that these religions are solely “religions of peace” when so much of what their “holy” books describe and prescribe is incredibly violent, prejudicial, and extreme.

People with those beliefs do not deserve their beliefs to be respected by the community at large.  Unfortunately, once we accept that truth, it puts the beliefs of “moderates” in jeopardy, and they don’t like that.  So they cry and complain and demand respect and in turn, they allow what should be an intelligent civil discourse to devolve to the point where we must pretend that those who hate gay people, or those who think murder over cartoons is okay, become acceptable.

It’s not enough to say that the fringes are distorting the true meaning of the religion.  They’re not.  They’re distorting what the modern, moderate followers of those religions would like for the true meaning of their religions to be.  The problem is that their more moderate interpretations aren’t, provably, any better a representation of what the true meaning and intent of those books was than the interpretations of “extremists”.

The Imam simply cannot continue to argue that his religion be allowed to do whatever it wants due to the possibility that the extreme segment of the community will react violently.  The only argument for the building of the community center should be that it’s their right to build it, and under the Constitution, it is.  Arguing that we should bow to the fear imposed by Islamic extremists is a tacit acceptance of their behavior, and this can’t be denied.

When will that become the central issue?

Hellfire

I'm fucking crazy.

This mustachioed mental midget is Terry Jones.

He is the pastor of a Pentecostal church with a congregation of about fifty people where they speak in tongues and the pastors carry sidearms, you know, just in case.

The only reason we all know about this guy is because he’s scheduled an “International Koran Burning Day” on September 11th, where his congregation will burn copies of Islam’s Holy Book, and others around the country and the world are encouraged to do the same.

This is undoubtedly an unfortunate turn of events, as there’s literally nothing good that can come of this stupid display, but this sort of thing is the price of enjoying the freedoms of expression we enjoy.

There are a bunch of issues surrounding this…

1.  I don’t believe there’s anything “holy” about any book, but devoutly religious people do, and there’s no doubt that the Islamic world, particularly the extreme elements of it, are going to react in strongly negative ways.  This shouldn’t be any different than burning a copy of a Scientology book.  In fact, it shouldn’t be any different than burning any work of fiction, as all religious books naturally are.

How insecure in your beliefs must you be to become enraged when someone else challenges them or defiles them?  “Oh, you don’t like my story about a guy who flies around in the clouds telling us how to act, huh?  Well, fuck you.  I’m going to kill some people.”  That is fucking insane, but then again, that’s religion for you.

2.  Most people who want to disavow the burning of the Koran by Pastor Jones and his church of right wing lunatics attempt to o so by preaching tolerance and saying that Jones’ actions are rooted in a misunderstanding of his own faith, as if their reading of a 2,000 year old book of impossible and contradictory stories somehow provides proof that his action shouldn’t be taken.  The problem of course, is that it’s the very same book that provides Jones with the justification for burning the Koran in the first place.

What is the argument then?  That Pastor Jones is crazy and you’re not?  You believe in a boat that held two of each species and that a man rose from the dead and erased all our “sins”.  You believe in a talking snake and that someone stayed alive in a fish’s belly!

Oh, what’s that?  I’m taking it too literally?  Sure…that’s probably true.  Those people who thought the world was flat were probably just writing really cool metaphors to explain things.  People around that time weren’t known to believe those sorts of things.  Yes, I’m being sarcastic.  If I carried a television into town, those people would think that I was god.

Yep. Still crazy!

Is it really hard to believe then that a man like Pastor Jones would see no problem burning a book that his own book says is an account of a false prophet and against his own god?  “You shall have no other gods before me”, right?  And what respect should be paid to those who do pray to another god?  Well, considering it was the proper recourse for misbehaving children, I’m guessing they should be stoned. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 “If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city…And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die.”

The very book that says, “Judge not lest ye be judged” provides a detailed account of everything that people should be judged and persecuted for.  It’s ridiculous to pretend that Pastor Jones is “incorrect” in his interpretation of scripture, just as it’s ridiculous to believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old.

His church preaches against abortion and homosexuality, too.  The point is that it’s hard, from a religious perspective, to claim that you are any more right about an interpretation of the Bible than someone else is.

There is no “correct” interpretation.  People use it as they see fit, which brings me to…

3.  Pastor Jones claims that he and his congregation have “prayed on” what to do, and whether to carry out the planned book burning.  Apparently, god has told them that it’s all good, because after all their praying, they’re still doing exactly the same thing they wanted to in the first place.

And of course that’s so surprising.  You’d never expect people to employ their religious beliefs in whatever way they need to to justify their desires, right?

4.  Where is the Republican machine in all of this?  It’s mostly silent.  There is a good argument to be made that the reason this is happening, or at least the reason it is such big news, is the summer-long “debate” about the building of the Islamic community center at Ground Zero.  With respect to the Constitution and to the laws of the land, there’s really no debate.  The private group has a right to build there, and the government is supposed to be indifferent as to how and where people choose to express their religious freedom.  The building has been made an issue to score political points by capitalizing on fear and xenophobia in an election cycle.

Still crazy, but now wearing sunglasses.

I don’t support or oppose the building in and of itself.  I don’t think it’s helpful that any more religious buildings are built anywhere.  It’s not like they’re helping anything.

But apart from that, the controversy has created more unnecessary tension between the Muslim community and the United States.

Now, you’d be hard pressed to find Republicans willing to say that they oppose the burning of the Koran.  It’s hard to take that sort of stand when you’re trying to look passively anti-Islamic for the Tea Party crowd that may be holding your good party standing in the balance.  And man, no one wants to look sympathetic to those people with the beards, right?

5.  Those same people are holier than thou (pun intended?) about the role Christianity plays in American society.

While they cite the spread of Islam as a threat due to the imposition of Sharia Law, they have no qualms about posting the Ten Commandments in courthouses, and believe that their beliefs, no matter how insane/obscure/unrealistic should be imposed on society through the law.  Gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research, etc…  They don’t hesitate to cite their Christian beliefs as a reason that their judgments on how other people should live should become the legal standard for a country in which one of the founding principles was the very idea that government should have no hand in religion and vice versa.

Some people make the argument that Islam is more primitive, more violent, more…whatever than Christianity, but it’s not, inherently.  In practice, it’s certainly true that at this point in time, the two religions aren’t on the same ground in regard to the usage and spread of violence – though let’s not pretend that the slaying of abortion doctors, the cruelty perpetuated against gays, and the denial of possible medical advances aren’t real.

Can it really be argued that a religion responsible for the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch hunts, and extreme prejudices of all varieties is somehow on a higher moral ground, just because we’ve managed to tamp down the extreme segment to people like Terry Jones?  It wasn’t that long ago that Christian beliefs justified all sorts of violence, torture, persecution, and prejudice.  We can’t just pretend none of that ever happened.  We can demand that the Muslim community does the same with its extremists, but we can’t just make believe that our own house is in great order.

6.  And speaking of violence perpetuated in the name of Christianity, what else can we call what Terry Jones’ group of psychopaths is doing?  Regardless of whether the reaction by the Muslim community is warranted or not, extreme or mild (and every indication is that it will be extreme – these people get mad about cartoons) the bottom line is that Jones’ and his people are inflaming a community that really doesn’t need inflaming…for no reason.

Our own generals have warned that images of the Koran being burned by Americans will put our troops in the Middle East in immediate danger.  We’ve seen what Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib have done in this regard.  They’ve been used as recruiting tools for groups looking to harm our country and our soldiers.  Why would we give them more ammo?

_________

In the end, there’s no way to think that what Terry Jones and his crew are doing is much more than a very stupid, very ignorant, and very pointless attention grab.  They think they’re going to put a stop to the spread of Islam in the United States.  That is a ridiculous thing to think.

Maybe it’s time that we learn the very important lesson that we need to stop taking religion so seriously on all fronts.  If your religion brings your inner peace and a sense of purpose, enjoy that…just don’t make it your life’s goal to force other people to think as you do, when there’s really no basis for those beliefs in the first place.

We should be advanced enough as a society to understand that religious wars are ridiculous and futile, yet that’s exactly the direction we’re heading, and until people on both sides stop feeling the need to impose their beliefs on everyone else – and it’s as true for Christians as Muslims – we’re eventually going to be real screwed.