The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

An open letter to Fred Nile

Dear Reverend the Honourable Mr Fred,

I am writing to you for two reasons. Firstly, I would like to congratulate you on finding love again. Secondly, I thought I’d better let you know that you can’t actually get married.

That may surprise you, so allow me to explain.

1
My personal definition of marriage is “the union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others, entered into voluntarily for life, as long as the man is not more than one year older than the woman”.

You and your fiancée are 23 years apart, so, obviously, you cannot possibly get married, and to do so would be intolerant of my beliefs.

2
You may think your marriage and my marriage are completely separate, and your perverse version of marriage could not possibly affect the sanctity of my own. But you’d be wrong. I have no evidence for this, however, so you’ll just have to trust me.

3
If I allow you to marry someone 23 years younger, then soon people will want to marry people 30 years younger, and then 50 years younger. Eventually we will have a whole swarm of 90-year-olds wanting to marry embryos, and even you’d have to admit that no one wants that. I mean, even if she could find a dress that small, just imagine how hard it would be to try on in the changing womb. And I don’t even want to think about how the groom would put the ring on at the ceremony. Ew.
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I’m really sorry, Reverend the Honourable Mr Fred. I know this has probably been a difficult letter to read. If it makes you feel any better, it’s been a difficult letter for me to write. Mostly because I’m a really bad typist, and my ‘W’ key is a little sticky.

Anywho, please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions. In particular, feel free to e-mail me when you meet someone new, as I am more than happy to tell you if your choice of partner offends me in any way.

Yours sincerely,

Tim

GBAV – Genesis 6 Part 1

Gn 6:1And it came to pass that men began to multiply, and possibly add and subtract and divide. And they had daughters, Gn 6:2and some of the daughters were hot, so men grabbed all the hot daughters they could carry, and married them.

Gn 6:3In a completely unrelated matter, god decided that letting people live to 700 was maybe not such a good idea, for there was a lot of adultery due to the 700 year itch, and actuarial reserving was becoming increasingly difficult. And lo, he set an age limit of 120, which was a little redundant since life expectancy soon plummeted to about 40.

Gn 6:4In another completely unrelated matter, giants roamed the earth in those days, and some of them were six feet tall! And women had babies with them, and one of their giant babies, Andre, went on to have a mildly successful film career.

Gn 6:5So, where was I? Oh yeah, men marrying each other’s daughters. Around this time god realised if you make everyone marry their relatives and then give them 700 years to think about it, they tend to not turn out so well. Gn 6:6And god regretted making man, and wished he had invented Lego instead. Gn 6:7So he sat down to think about what he should do about it. And lo, he considered giving them another chance, and a little more moral guidance. He even considered just lightening up a little. But in the end he thought he should probably just kill everyone. So he turned his attention to figuring out how best to destroy every living thing on the planet in the most convoluted way possible. Gn 6:8-10Well, every living thing on the planet except Noah and his wife, and his sons and their wives, for apparently they were the only good ones. Which was quite a lucky coincidence, really, having all the good ones in the same family.

Gn 6:11For lo, the earth was corrupt, and filled with violence, Gn 6:12and god looked upon the earth and saw that it was corrupt, and filled with violence. Which means god’s eyesight was pretty good, for the earth was indeed corrupt, and filled with violence. Gn 6:13And god said unto Noah, “The earth is corrupt, and filled with violence”. And Noah said, “The earth is corrupt, and filled with violence?” And god said, “Yes, Noah, corrupt, and filled with violence. So I am going to destroy it in the most convoluted way possible.”

Gn 6:14“Really?” asked Noah. “You’re going to give everyone a lifetime supply of deodorant, and although everyone will smell nice, over the course of 500 years the chlorofluorocarbon propellant will create a hole in the ozone layer, and eventually everyone will get skin cancer and die?” “Oh no,” replied god, “I’m going to cover the earth in water and drown everyone. So go and make a boat out of gopher wood. And don’t forget to pitch it with pitch.” And Noah asked, “Pitch it with pitch?” And god said, “Yes, pitch it with pitch.” And Noah asked, “What if I want to seal it with seals instead?” And god said, “Don’t be silly.”

Gn 6:15And lo, god then got down to the nitty gritty, and said “The boat should be quite big. I’m thinking, oh I don’t know, roughly one-third of the size of the Titanic, but harder to sink, obviously. Let’s say 300 x 50 x 30 cubits.” And Noah was confused, for he wasn’t sure if God had said ‘qubits‘ or ‘cubits’, and it was a fairly important distinction. And lo, if you understand that joke, then, verily, you are a nerd.

Gn 6:16And god said, “Put a window in the ark, and a door in the side, and three levels, and lots and lots of animal cages, and a gaming lounge, and three restaurants, and a waterslide. And I’d recommend a toilet, but I’ll leave that up to you.” And Noah said, “Hang on… that doesn’t sound right. I can only put in one window?”

Gn 6:17-21But god ignored him, and said “And I’m going to make it piss down, and drown every living thing. Except you guys, of course, cos you’ll be on the boat, and two of every animal on the planet, cos they’ll be on the boat too.” And Noah started to wish that he was one of the ones being drowned.

Gn 6:22But Noah kept his composure, and said “I will do as you ask, god, but first, I have a few questions…”
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<< Genesis 5 | Genesis 6 Part 2 >>

Found in translation

Oh Holger, you didn’t. Please tell me you didn’t say that “women should shut up in public”.

Because that’s what the Herald Sun, The Age, The Gaurdian, The Daily Mail and the ABC are saying you said. And, oh dear, I just checked YouTube, and it’s on there too, for all to see. “You push me around like my wife”, you said. “Women should shut up in public”, you said. What do you have to say for yourself?

You thought you were off the record? Come on Holger, you’ve been playing the press game long enough to know that nothing’s really off the record, especially when you have about 20 microphones in your face and you say something stupid.

Oh hang on, it was only a joke? A private joke between you and your wife? Well, sorry Holger, but just because you and your wife think it’s funny, it doesn’t mean the rest of us have to.

Wait, wait, what was that? What you actually said was “Mulieres taceres in ecclesia”? Haha, nice try Holger, but saying “Women should shut up in public” in Latin doesn’t make it sound any better. In French, maybe… but definitely not Latin.

Ahhhh, I see now. You were just quoting the Bible. 1 Corinthians 14:35, to be exact.

Well that can’t possibly be sexist. Carry on.
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Spotted by the eagle-eared Martin from Furious Purpose.

Syria? That’s that place where that thing’s happening, right?

So, recent sarcastic posts about Syria on a related page have led to a request from our fearless blogger, Tim, that I knock up a rough guide to the current conflict in all its convoluted glory. Not something I’d generally inflict on the world but, if you’re interested, read on…

First up, it’s very important that you understand straight away that in the Middle East, history is not just some vague stuff it’s cool to know about the past. It is the living, breathing body of the dog that wags the tail of the present.

So. What is this history?

It’s rich, varied and complicated, and I am about to do vile injustice to it by compressing it into a couple of paragraphs.

We’ll start with the 4th century a.d., when Syria became a heartland of Christianity – a jewel in the crown of Constantine’s newly converted  Roman Empire. Syria under the Romans, and later under the Umayyads, was a much larger and richer province than the modern state, with greater access to the sea – a key point to remember for later. Fast forward to the 7th century and we have a confederation of Arabs under the prophet and war leader, Mohammed, who swallowed up Syria almost immediately after taking care of business at home, and Syria became what it still is today – a major part of the beating heart of the Islamic world.

It has been said that Damascus, for the moslems, carries a religious and cultural significance that is similar in magnitude to the ideological and symbolic importance of New York for the West. Syria was also central to the main schism in Islam today. Briefly, the Shi’ite moslems believe in a hereditary succession of prophets leading down from Mohammed, whereas the Sunni school of thought rejects this. Back in the time we’re talking about, they rejected it so violently that the Sunni Umayyad dynasty killed Mohammed’s nephew in order to take control of Damascus and, therefore, Syria. Syria became the centrepiece of one of the largest empires the world has ever known, and it was a decidedly Sunni one. It is important to note, however, that Syria has always held a reputation for absolute tolerance – which is part of why the current conflict is such a tragedy.

There were a number of ructions and changes – Syria, with real justification, claims the Turkic war leader Saladin as one of their own. Fast forward a few more centuries and we have Syria at the heart of the Ottoman Empire. T E Lawrence (of Arabia), with significant help from the Pan-Arab revolutionary Prince Faisal, broke the back of the Ottomans in the closing years of the First World War. Lawrence, the man on the ground, made promises to Faisal that the Foreign Office had no intention of honouring, having handed the territory over to the French in table-top warfare nearly at the outset of the conflict. A completely gormless official drew a basically random line partitioning it and its surrounding territories, cutting Syria largely off from the sea, screwing over the heroic Faisal and basically setting the hearts and minds of pretty well the entire Middle East against Western intervention forever more.

It is important to note that during the years of occupation, local militia were formed in order to curb the rambunctious and economically and politically powerful Sunni blocs within the territory. Finding motivated and loyal militia was easily accomplished by scouring the hills for a persecuted and beleaguered Shi’a minority known as the Alawites. By the time of independence, Alawite ascendancy in the ranks of the military was a fait accompli.

Syria gained independence from France in 1946, after some extremely bloody fighting, and proved solidly over the next twenty odd years to be incapable of playing nicely with itself. They drafted four separate constitutions during that time, and a fair amount of blood was spilt. It was around this time that the idea of Pan-Arabism began to sweep through the region in earnest, and Syria at one point even formed an integrated state with Egypt. During this period, Syria was consistently aligned with the USSR, which helps to explain their relationship with Russia to this day. Also during the period, the Baath party – a secularist, hard-line communist organisation, replaced the Syrian parliament and ruled over what was increasingly becoming a military dictatorship.

After a couple of embarrassing wars with Israel the defence minister, Hafez Al-Assad, seized power in a bloodless coup (1970). Hafez did a number of good things for the country, standing on a platform of absolute and universal religious tolerance, a focus on commercial prosperity and modernisation and a simultaneous attempt to re-vitalise the agrarian economy. He was also a paranoid and murderous tyrant, who commanded and oversaw numerous artillery strikes and death squad corrals on his own people. The apple doesn’t fall far, and all that. His rule was marked by ruthless authoritarianism but, and most importantly, it was stable. The Syrian people, by this point in their history, were by and large willing to swap just about anything for a country which was not on fire or being bombed every five minutes.

Hafez died, in due course, and his son – a medical doctor trained in London and known as Bashar Al-Assad, succeeded to power. Bashar’s early rhetoric was indicative of major government reform. A phenomenon known as “The Damascus Spring” took place, where open dissent and dialogue on reform was conducted on the assumption that it would be tolerated. This assumption was incorrect. The demonstrations, meetings, fora, etc., were cracked down on ruthlessly and with brutal violence. Bashar seems to have done a reverse Scrooge – starting nice and very quickly turning very naughty indeed. Resentment grew amongst the people as well as amongst elements of the army, who were frequently called upon to supplement the efforts of the security forces. There are accounts of summary executions of army personnel refusing to fire on demonstrators. There was also a major drought and, for oppressed populations, hungry and angry is never a good mix.

Eventually, units from within the army – sometimes whole platoons – cast off the chain of command and vanished into Syria’s expansive hills and plains to conduct guerilla warfare against government forces. Ostensibly, their mission was to: “Protect the right of the Syrian people to conduct protests in safety”. These units eventually banded together in a loose confederation known as the Free Syrian Army. Initially the FSA were mainly seen running herd on demonstrations and funerals, but they very quickly began mounting a highly effective war of attrition on government forces.  It should be noted that this was not Sunni against Alawite – some senior figures in the FSA are, and always have been, Alawites themselves.

After about a year, and feeling above themselves through riding a localised groundswell of support, the FSA seriously overreached itself by taking and attempting to hold a sizeable chunk of territory around the Homs/Deraa area. They were absolutely mullered. This was not something that was going to go unnoticed, however, and several things happened during and after the battle for Homs.

Firstly, foreign Jihadi began flooding into the country. This is not an uncommon occurrence in any conflict involving moslems, but it is abundantly clear to any watcher of Syria that the FSA is far from comfortable with the ideology and tactics of its new helpers. Lacking credible centralised command and control, however, there isn’t a great deal they can do about it.

Secondly, the Arab League and, at something of a distance, the UN, became involved. This necessitated the recognition of a central body that could be engaged with as being representative of the rebels. This group, formed ad hoc and specifically to meet this need, took the name of the already extant Syrian National Council. I have no idea who is speaking for that group this week, or whether they’ve dropped or re-engaged with the FSA in the last hour or so.

Thirdly, the Western media machine rolled in, spreading disinformation, half-understood truths and flat-out lies over the front pages of scream sheets and at the top of prime time broadcasts all over the world. This fatally coloured the uprising in exactly the wrong light at the very outset. Now, with embedded specialists and brave war journalism professionals in country, the information situation is much better, but it seems that the world simply stopped listening after digesting exactly the wrong story. As far as mass-consciousness is concerned, we are stuck with the wildly inaccurate version of events promulgated in the early days of the West noticing that something was happening.

It has been said by people on the ground that this is rapidly degenerating into a sectarian conflict. What is also clear, is that the rebel side is working very hard to retard that process, insisting on a message of tolerance, often in strange dissonance with the announcements their crazy jihadi mates. The government claims that it is trying to do the same thing, but nobody really believes them and neither do I.

So, there it is. Not the whole truth, but at least it’s not the hysterical pack of lies that seems to constitute the vast majority of what I will loosely term ‘popular thinking’ with regard to the conflict in Syria.

Don’t call me bigot

There are some things that people don’t being called. Like arsehole, for example. Or bitch. Or Quincy. Most of us are fairly immune to such taunts, however, because of a quiet confidence in our true nature. “That’s OK,” we tell ourselves, “I know I’m not an arsehole, or a bitch. And I definitely possess no quince-like qualities.” There is one label, however, that is almost guaranteed to result in an outpouring of outraged indignation.

No one likes being called a bigot.

And, my, have lots of people been called bigots lately. Same-sex marriage opponents have been called bigots. Same-sex marriage supporters have been called bigots, too. Not even Mr James Bigot of Wetherill Park has been safe, despite assuring everyone that the ‘t’ is silent. But it all became a bit much for some people when our Finance Minister, who is raising a child in a committed lesbian relationship, said that the Australian Christian Lobby, and, by implication, all Christians who shared their view, were “peddling prejudice” and engaging in “bigotry that has no place in a modern Australia”.

Needless to say, a lot of people were a little unhappy. The ACL itself said that “the bigotry card…played by none other than the Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Senator Penny Wong [made] no attempt to engage with our argument. Why bother when a slur of Christians will do?” Reverend David Swan shared a similar sentiment, saying that “if Senator Wong could take a moment to engage with the argument that has been proposed rather than simply accuse people of bigotry…then perhaps a better discussion might ensue”. And Gary Bigelow, who I’m told is most definitely not related to Deuce, felt that calling someone a bigot was “divisive and inflammatory…and unworthy of a politician in this country”. Because as we all know, Australian politicians are never divisive or inflammatory, are they? *cough*

So… are any of these criticisms justified?

To answer that question, it might be helpful to revisit what a bigot actually is. According to Merriam-Webster, a bigot is “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices”. I prefer, however, the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said that “The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour upon it, the more it will contract”.

It all comes down to open-mindedness, or, more specifically, a willingness to consider that you might be wrong. If you’re the kind of person who considers the evidence first and forms an opinion second, or if you adjust your view in light of new evidence, then you’re probably in the clear. But if you decide before you think, or you cling doggedly to your opinion as evidence to the contrary piles up around you, then, I’m sorry, but there’s a very good chance that you’re a bigot. And if your opinion is a basis for discrimination against a particular race, gender or sexuality, that “good chance” becomes a certainty.

So I guess the three people above just need to ask themselves two questions.

1
The first question is a simple one: “Does my view form the basis of discriminatory action against a race, gender or sexuality?”

Why yes, yes it does.

2
The second question is slightly harder. “Can I conceive of any evidence that could change my mind?”

Note that this isn’t asking if such evidence exists, but merely if such evidence is possible. Is it possible that same-sex marriage will not automatically lead to plagues of bestiality and incest? Is it possible it will actually increase societal cohesion, and not lead to complete moral decay? Is it conceivable that a study might show that same-sex families are as happy or happier than their heterosexual equivalents?

Sadly, the answer for many of the opponents of marriage equality seems to be “no”. But, strangely, such people are actually less infuriating than the people who answer “yes”. For, while these people will trumpet any evidence that happens to confirm their particular preconception, they will summarily dismiss any evidence that contradicts it. Say hello, Lyle Shelton.

And they do this because they have to. You see, for someone like Lyle, all these many questions are different versions of just one.

When it comes to homosexuality and marriage, could god be wrong?

And I think we all know how Lyle would answer that one.
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So, are you one of these people? Are you willing to consider that you, or your god, could be wrong on marriage equality? No? Then you’re a bigot.

And just like anyone called an arsehole, or a bitch, or Quincy, all you need to do now is decide if you care.

Why I believe I can’t believe why this person believes what he believes

The latest Outreach Media poster is out, and I really don’t get it. Just what, exactly, is this poster trying to say?

Outreach Media - Why I believe

Apparently, it’s important that we know why this particular person believes in Jesus. But why? Oh yes, it must be because this person, Professor Ross McKenzie, is a world expert in condensed matter theory. That means he’s smart. Real smart. Much smarter, in fact, than anyone who happens to stop and read the poster, myself included.

Fine, fine… but what’s the point?

As we all know, there’s a lot of silly stuff in the bible. So maybe the point is that if a really, really smart person believes in something silly it’s OK for us to believe it, too. Which I guess means the poster is kind of saying this:

Why I believe 1

But perhaps that’s unfair. I don’t know what flavour of Christianity Professor McKenzie follows… maybe he’s so smart that he doesn’t take the Old Testament literally. Maybe he’s more of a New Testament kind of guy, and the poster is actually saying this:

Why I believe 2

OK, OK, I’m picking on a silly part of the New Testament. He’s probably just trying to highlight some of the more general beliefs shared by most Christians. You know, like this:

Why I believe 3

There, that sounds about right.

But hang on. They picked someone really, really smart for this campaign. That’s gotta be significant. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they have just picked Doris, world expert in condensed milk theory? Perhaps it’s because being a physicist means you have a better understanding of the universe’s origins… in which case, the poster is really trying to say this:

Why I believe 4

Hmm… perhaps I’m getting away from the original question. Why does Professor McKenzie believe? Maybe… just maybe… he studied all of the world’s religions objectively before deciding to believe in the one that had the most convincing evidence.

Or maybe he’s a Christian for the same reason pretty much everyone else is.

Why I believe 5