The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

The Relative Irrelevance Of Ideology… Explained Through Tinder

When I first heard about Tinder, I was very excited. You see, I’ve never really been interested in having a long term relationship with anyone, and the whole notion of creating a home and filling it with prototype humans has about as much appeal for me as a bareback ride on a machete. Of course, so many people have exactly the opposite view that it’s almost impossible to convince anyone else that this is a sincere or enduring position. People just smile puffy, self-satisfied smiles and say things like: “Well, you might think that now…” implying that my considered choices about my mode of life are just a temporary aberration that will be fixed when I finally decide to be just like everyone else. Maybe they’re right, or maybe not. It couldn’t matter less. What does matter in the here and now, though, is the fact that practically everyone who is single and my age is completely sold on the picket fence and SUV model for happiness, which brings up the practical issue of how to acquire sex without love.

So, Tinder is announced and the concept is one that seems tailor-made for my situation. It’s apparently a community of people who are interested only in “hookups”. Gone is the tiresome business of trying to determine likes and dislikes, political affiliations, compatibility of both the mundane and spiritual variety – it’s just a matter of liking what you see and then arranging to meet. To a person in my position, Tinder seemed to be absolutely heaven sent. A purpose-built community of people who, like me, do not see their future solely in the context of who else will be in it and who are nevertheless saddled with a practical need for temporary companionship. Perfect, right?

Wrong. The problem with Tinder is that it became phenomenally popular. And the whole thing with popularity is that it enforces, with crushing inevitability, the Poisson curve of statistical normality. Completely disregarding the deliberately shallow, hardbitten engineering of the system and ideology behind Tinder, the hookup app became overwhelmingly a dating app. What started as a simple means of obtaining casual sex became, under the pressure of sheer single-minded human banality, yet another place where people emote at each other and look for love. Don’t get me wrong – there is still a minority core of sex addicts and other assorted extremists who wish to use the app in the spirit in which it was intended, but they are  drowned out by the sheer volume of people using Tinder as a low-budget form of eHarmony. Even when they say they’re not.

And this, really, is my point. Systems, ideologies, creeds, faiths – it doesn’t really matter what they are: people will just be people. And it is this fact, so obvious that it attains the status of a truism, that many of us seem to have difficulty understanding. Take the people who think Islam is the root cause of violence and extremism in the Middle East. They smugly quote passages of the Quran, share around images and video of extremist nutbags saying extremist things and then use these things as ‘evidence’ that Islam is somehow intrinsically evil and directly responsible for everything that’s wrong with the world today. The massive, ten million dollar problem with such a view is that it ignores the reality of human experience  – that depressing Poisson curve of normality.

It really doesn’t matter what your religion says – people are pretty much just going to go on being people. Christianity can be interpreted as a mystical creed of universal love, abnegation of the self before God and the embracing of poverty, which clearly explains why Christendom has become one of the most peace-loving and frugal regions of the globe today. No, wait… bad example. Buddhism is a creed of universal love, tolerance and the transcendence of base human impulses, which clearly explains why Buddhist nations like Sri Lanka and Thailand have embraced ethnic minorities and… no, hang on – another bad example.

It really doesn’t matter what any creed or code actually says – get enough people involved and they will basically screw it up by being themselves. There are constants in human behaviour that can be identified across more than ten thousand years of civilisation and, while the exciting backdrop of philosophies and systems flickers and changes over time, human behaviour does not. I could start a religion today that advocates the worship of Satan, whose primary virtues include rebellion against God and the state and promiscuity. I guarantee you that as soon as it has a large enough membership, it will be filled with people who pay their taxes and raise children in nuclear families. And it will probably contain a fringe element of weird beards who actually read the holy texts and call the rest of the congregation apostates. Sound familiar? That’s because it is – it’s the story of every established religion in the history of humanity. The reality is that people ignore or twist ideology and faith to provide sovereign justification for whatever it was that they were always going to do in the first place. Which is why Tinder is just another dating site, and Islam is just another religion.

A media release from the Australian Christian Lobby

MEDIA RELEASE
For immediate release
_____

The Australian Christian Lobby has questioned the wisdom of a campaign by some Australian corporations supporting a change to the definition of marriage.

“I just wonder if they have thought about how legislating a family structure which causes children to miss out on one of their parents is fair,” ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton said.

In order to keep his position internally consistent, Mr Shelton then also called for legislation to force married couples to have children, and to ban marriage for couples who don’t want children or who have children from previous marriages, and to ban unmarried couples from having children, and to force married couples without children to get divorced, and to ban divorce. When asked how he would both ban and require divorce, Mr Shelton shouted “OMG THAT TREE LOOKS LIKE JESUS!”, and ran from the room.

When he returned, Mr Shelton went on to say, “This debate needs to move beyond politically correct ideology to a mature and open debate. Men have pee-pees and women have hoo-has, and that’s all there is to it. Furthermore, you’re all poopy-heads, and I will now close my eyes and stick my fingers in my ears until you leave”.

Noting that the Football Federal of Australia had also backed the campaign, Mr Shelton wondered where this left the tens of thousands of Australians who play soccer but also believe a child should be raised by their mother and father. “I wonder where this leaves the tens of thousands of Australians who play soccer but also believe a child should be raised by their mother and father,” he wondered. “Mexico? Aruba? That place where all the refugees come from? Even if it leaves them exactly where they were before, playing soccer and believing a child should be raised by their mother and father, I’m pretty sure they all stand around during games thinking about children not being raised by their mothers and fathers instead of thinking about whether they’re in an off-side position, and it will make them sad to think that the governing body wants to change the definition of marriage, and much sadder than the thousands of gay, trans and intersex players who stay in the closet because they think the governing body and society in general won’t accept them. I just really feel for them.”

“The corporates involved in this latest campaign really are not showing very much tolerance to those in the community who have a different view about marriage and the rights of children,” Mr Shelton said. “Of course, if the FFA came out in support of my own personal view of marriage, that would be fine.”

When asked whether he understood the meaning of irony, and whether it was intolerant to be intolerant of intolerance, Mr Shelton yelled “POOPY-HEADS!” and ran from the room.

END OF MESSAGE

Whatever it’s about, it ain’t about the children

There are a lot of arguments floating around in the continuing marriage equality debate, but there is one argument that just… won’t… die. Which I guess makes it (a) a little bit like Jesus, and (b) a little ironic given that the vast majority of its proponents are big fans (of Jesus, I mean, not marriage equality). It’s a textbook case of post-hoc reasoning, and the religious argument you use when you don’t want to look religious. And it annoys the crap out of me.

In its simplest form, it consists of a middle-aged white man wearing a brown cardigan and corduroy pants, running around in circles screaming “WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!”. The slightly more academic version, however, goes something like this:

    Same-sex1 couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry because:

  1. Every child has a right to be raised by their mother and father; and
  2. Other things being equal, children raised by same-sex couples fare worse than the children of heterosexual parents.

Let’s have a look at these in turn.

1
This statement is obviously predicated on the assumption that the very purpose of marriage is children. And yes, traditionally almost every couple that traditionally walked down the aisle did so because traditionally that’s what you did when you traditionally wanted children. Traditionally that kind of made sense at the time, because traditionally no one really liked bastards. But tradition can take a hike, because not only are most of my good friends absolute bastards, but nowadays lots and lots and lots of couples get married with no intention of ever having children. Some couples even get married knowing that they can’t have children, even if they wanted to (say hello, Fred Nile!). Which is perfectly fine, and in some cases, probably for the best (say hello again, Fred Nile!).

The corollary to this argument is that, because marriage is all about children, any same-sex couple who is allowed to wed will make their marriage about children as well. Because that’s what marred couples do, see? That will of course involve at least three people out of biological necessity (or in the language of the bigot, “Poofs gotta get eggs from somewhere”), and there is a risk that the resultant child will never get to know the owner of the ovary (or nut) from whence they came. The consequences of allowing same-sex marriage, therefore, are very, very bad.

But let’s break that down.

There are, right now in Australia, lots of gay couples that want children. And do you know what they do? They have children. Which makes them a lot like straight couples who want children and then have children, except they can’t get married. There are also lots of gay couples who don’t want children. And do you know what they do? They don’t have children. Which makes them a lot like straight couples who don’t want children and don’t have children, except they don’t get abortions. Straight singles go out and have children, too. So do gay singles. And intersex and trans couples and singles. All of this is going on right now, with or without marriage equality. And there isn’t anything you or I or Fred Nile or the ACL or Bill Meuhlenberg can do about it.

What this argument is basically saying, then, is this: “The purpose of marriage is children, but you can have children without getting married, and you can get married if you don’t want children, and you can get married if you can’t have children, and there are thousands of gay couples out there who want children and could have children if they wanted to but aren’t having children because they can’t get married, because marriage is all about children, apart from all the married couples without children”.

Or, put another way, “I don’t like gays, and, furthermore, I don’t like gays”.

The only way this argument could possibly make sense is if people only get married to have children, and non-hetero couples aren’t having children because they can’t get married. And since neither of those things is true, the argument doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

It makes even less sense if you follow it one step further: If you truly believe that stopping same-sex marriage will prevent non-hetero couples having children, you are essentially saying that, rather than having non-traditional parents, it is better that those children don’t exist at all. Which is odd, given that almost everyone against same-sex marriage also follows that whole “right to life” thing. Think about it.

2
The second half of the “won’t someone think of the children” argument says that the children of gay parents fare worse than the children of hetero parents.

They don’t.

That should be the end of it, of course, but for some reason same-sex marriage opponents aren’t too impressed with “science”. Unless of course it’s bogus, discredited science that supports their established prejudice.

Even if we’re being incredibly generous, and concede that non-traditional families aren’t ideal, no reasonable person should be able to argue that the outcomes of such families are catastrophic enough to warrant their complete abolition. We know this because, if the outcomes were catastrophic, marriage equality opponents would be telling us about that, instead of mindlessly appealing to a specious defense of an outdated tradition.

Besides which, as we’ve already established, the marriage equality debate isn’t about children anyway. If you want to argue against same-sex parenting, go do it someplace else.
_____

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that this argument is a classic case of post-hoc reasoning, and the religious argument you use when you don’t want to look religious.

There’s no denying that there is a strong correlation between religious beliefs and opposition to marriage quality. And there’s no denying that the generally accepted position of all three Abrahamic religions is that marriage should be reserved for one man and one woman. Statistically speaking, the chance that this is due to pure coincidence is infinitesimally small. That alone should be enough to convince you that any time someone says “Won’t someone think of the children”, what they are really saying is “Won’t someone think of Baby Jebus”.

If you happen to be one of those people, however, and you genuinely believe that your opposition to marriage equality isn’t religiously motivated, ask yourself this.

If we, as a society, could somehow address all your concerns, would you still oppose it?

What if we could guarantee that all children raised by same-sex couples got to know their biological parents? Or if all those useless, horrible same-sex parents undertook a year-long course on how to be as good at parenting as heterosexuals? Or, perhaps better still, all married same-sex couples were forbidden from having any children at all?

Granted, those seem a little far-fetched. What about this, then: what if a multitude of independent scientific studies were published that proved that the children of same-sex couples actually do better than their heterosexual equivalents? If it’s all about the children, surely you wouldn’t object then, would you?

Perhaps I’m being presumptuous, but… yes, yes you would.

And if that’s the case, then you should wait for your cognitive dissonance to subside a little, grab your bible, and see yourself out. Because you’re simply not qualified for meaningful debate.

_____

1. I use “same-sex couple” here, for the sake of brevity, to mean any non-heterosexual couple.

So, you agree with a fückwit…

A curious thing happened to me a few years ago. I found myself agreeing with a bunch of fückwits. Well perhaps that’s unfair. It was more like they were agreeing with me… but they were still definitely fückwits.

It was 2010, and a big year for Australia. Not only did we have our first female prime minister, we also had our first dead Catholic wizard. Meanwhile, over in nice, friendly Belgium, they already had 66 dead Catholic wizards, but they also had something that we didn’t – a nationwide ban on the burqa.

It was, at the time, an issue I hadn’t really thought about much before. I mean, like all good atheists, I had read The God Delusion, God is not Great, and The End of Faith, so obviously I was really smart and more than capable of thinking about it and coming to a sensible opinion. So I thought about it for a bit, and my opinion was that maybe, just maybe, banning the burqa could be a good thing.

My reasons were noble. Burqas are, after all, disgusting tools of misogynistic oppression, and perpetuate the idea that women are evil temptresses and men are slobbering sex-crazed idiots. They also can get pretty hot in summer, and don’t have enough pockets. And, I thought, maybe banning the burqa would send a message that those kinds of ideas are not OK. I was on their side, you see. It was for their own good.

Then I stumbled across a Facebook page, called “Ban the Burka in Australia“. And what I saw there kind of horrified me. Did you know, for example, that a burqa could be hiding Alan Jones?

Ban the Burka 1

Or that sometimes burqas walk around with no one in them at all?

Ban the Burka 2

Or that Australia is the last place on earth that allows them?

Ban the Burka 3

Or that soldiers died under our anthem to protect Christmas at school assemblies or something?

Ban the Burka 4

Then I started reading some of the comments. Comments from ordinary Australians, like me, who had genuine, ostensibly noble reasons for thinking that banning the burqa might be a good idea. Like these guys:

Ban the Burka 5

Cause “their” stupid. That says it all, really. Well, almost. Say hello, Andrew Moose:

Ban the Burka 6

Needless to say, views such as Andrew’s are repellent, and bring to mind the wise words of Ricky Gervais – ignorance may be bliss for the ignorant, but for the rest of us it’s a right fucking pain in the arse. The more comments I read, the angrier I became. How could people think this way? But then something started to slowly dawn on me, something almost as repellent as Andrew Moose – “I kind of think this way.” Sure, I didn’t want to ban the burqa because I wanted to wave my uncircumcised penis on the streets of Islamabad, but there was no escaping the fact that Andrew Moose and I were both in favour of banning the burqa. We may have been reading from a different book, but we had somehow found ourselves on the same page. And that wasn’t a nice feeling at all.

So I started thinking about it again. And I realised a few things that, in my initial haste to strike a blow against religious oppression, I hadn’t really considered before. Like people are able to make their own decisions, for example. And further ostracising an already repressed minority by locking them in their own homes perhaps isn’t the nicest thing we could do. And there are better ways to try and educate people about religious oppression. I very quickly moved from cautious, in-theory endorsement, to full-blown rejection – banning the burqa would be a colossally stupid idea. It would be like banning girls from school because you don’t want the boys to pick on them. Oh, and you’re worried that they’re bank-robbing terrorists.

In the few years since, I’ve occasionally found myself in a similar situation. For example, I used to think we should be able to burn Korans or flush consecrated Communion wafers down the toilet if we wanted to. I’ve crapped on enough already (not literally), so I won’t go into the details – suffice to say I had high-minded reasons at the time, but I no longer think we should do either of those things. Most recently, I learned that the Victorian Labor party was going to repeal a certain section of the Crimes Act that criminalised the deliberate transmission of a serious disease. That sounded to me like a reasonable thing to criminalise, so repealing it sounded like a rather silly thing to do. Then I read Bill Meuhlenberg. He also thought it was a silly thing to do, because… well… because gays. This worried me. But a little help from a friend led me to Michael Kirby’s thoughts on the matter. Guess who had the better insights on the issue – the bigoted, hypocritical, fundamentalist Christian, or the respected former High Court judge?

So what did I learn from all of this? Well, for starters, I learned that good intentions are lovely, but they don’t always compensate for shitty opinions. And that sometimes people’s feelings are more important than my noble ideals. The one thing that really struck home, however, was this.

Agreeing with a fückwit doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong, but it should at least make you think.

Because chances are, the fückwit hasn’t.

Let’s discuss Islam. Or Islamism. No, Sorry – Racism. No, Wait – Liberalism. Whatever. It’s a discussion, Right?

Ben Affleck had a spat with Bill Maher and Sam Harris and Reza Aslan have taken sides and meme, cat picture, outrage, racism. I know that doesn’t make any sense, but neither does paying any attention whatsoever to an argument about politics between an actor and a comedian.

The fact is, though, that most of us have, which means that an international humanitarian crisis has been reframed as a series of questions about ourselves. This being as embarrassing as it is pointless, I would like to dispose of some of these questions in order to clear the way for the discussion we should actually be having. And also to stop the constant stream of Ben Affleck memes inundating my social media feeds. Seriously, people – letting an actor frame a discussion on these issues makes about as much sense as letting a salmon fold napkins.

 

So, some of the questions we are currently asking include:

 

“How can we separate anti-Islamic bigotry  from opposition to Islamism?”

  • By understanding the difference between Islam and Islamism. One is a religion, practiced with varying degrees of liberalism around the world. The other is an ideology committed to using force to achieve political objectives.
  • By learning something about a culture other than our own.
  • By the spelling.

“Does Islamophobia exist?”

  • Yes
  • No
  • Who really gives a fuck?
  • Since when does the existence or non-existence of the inchoate concept behind a poorly defined buzzword actually matter?

“What kind of relationship should the religious have with a secular state?”

  • A normal one.
  • Like the one they all already have.
  • Which is, broadly speaking, the one they’ve always had.

“What moral grounds do we have for intervention against Radical Islamism?”

  • Our share of culpability in the creation of the current situation.
  • The threat to regional stability, life and freedom represented by IS.
  • Not, of course, to be confused with self defence against an existential threat to ourselves.
  • Isn’t that right, Mr Abbott?

 

Now, some of the questions we should be asking are:

 

Who are the key stakeholders in the conflict we are engaged in?

What are their aims and objectives?

What our ours? And how will we measure their achievement?

What role do we intend to play in the eventual reconstitution of the Area of Operations?

What factors drive radicalisation and how can they be eliminated?

Why is so much of the Moslem world in a constant state of outrage and to what extent is this our fault?

Why is our government wasting taxpayers’ money drafting legislation aimed at a tiny minority of a tiny minority group?

 

Please, by all means, feel free to answer these ones for yourelves.

The Moslem Problem in Australia and How to Solve it.

Our country is under siege. Insidious foreign fanatics, hiding amongst our neighbours, aided and abetted by a fiendish fifth column of intellectuals and anyone else who refuses to acknowledge that Islam is an evil, violent cult and that all Moslems are terrorists waiting to happen, are all conspiring to explode themselves in airports. Or something. I don’t really know anything about radical Islamism, Islam or the background to the various global Islamist insurgencies, but what I do know is that we’re facing some kind of terrible crisis. Thank God Tony Abbott and the Telegraph were there to tell me about it or I never would have known.

We face a terrible and frightening situation. Perhaps not on the same scale as having your country invaded by crazy fundamentalist mass-murderers, or living with the direct aftermath of nearly half a millenium of constant warfare, but it’s disturbing nonetheless. Just like our friends in the Middle East, we are threatened by the rising tide of radical Islam. We too, apparently, have come face to face with the fearsome spectre of militant radical Islamism at home. Just like the residents of Homs, Falluja and Basra, we walk streets haunted by sectarian hatred and violence. Sure, we generally don’t know the names of any of these sects, and most of the violence appears to be on the front page of the Telegraph, but still – it’s a serious problem. Especially since so few of us in this country are, in fact, Moslems. It just goes to show how virulent the problem is. Those other countries are chock full of Moslems, whilst we’re having this terrible crisis with nothing more than 2.2 percent of the population. It’s a constant source of wonder that so many of us are able to go safely about our daily business. The amazing courage with which we doggedly continue to watch television, drink beer and quaff lattes is a constant source of inspiration. Any other nation facing such a dire threat would probably spend all their time fortifying their houses and building panic rooms. Not us, however – we go on living our lives as if the clear and present existential threat represented by these demented killing machines simply doesn’t exist here.

In fact, one could be forgiven for believing this to actually be true. It’s very tempting to look at recent events and apply rational thought, evidence based reasoning and statistical analysis, but why would anyone do that? It’s bloody obvious – we have been completely swamped by these Islamic invaders – there’s even a McDonald’s somewhere that’s Halal. If that’s not enough proof of the crisis, I don’t know what is. Except perhaps all the kebab shops and Lebanese, Malay and Indonesian restaurants who have been quietly poisoning us with Halal foodstuffs for decades. No, never mind the numbers. Or the facts. Let’s just go with how we feel about the whole situation. That way, we can all enjoy holding strong opinions without the inconvenience of having to learn about the people we live with, or what exactly our issue with them is.

Besides, you only need to read the newspapers and look at Facebook to see that everything is changing radically for the worse. We never used to have all this violence, angst and conflict before we were flooded with Moslems. Okay, sure, there were numerous anti-Chinese race riots in the 1800s, and there was all the violence that accompanied the various waves of Greek and Italian immigrants in the early and middle twentieth century, and all that neo-nazi versus Asian crime gang business in the nineties, and the ongoing feuds, riots and racism involving the Lebanese, and, of course, the never-ending toxicity of our two hundred year relationship with Indigenous Australians, but none of these things really count. That all happened in the past and I have Greek friends and Asians are good at maths and cooking. This Moslem thing is totally different. Not the same thing at all.

Friends of mine are beginning to suggest that if Moslems are so fundamentally evil, we should get them out of our country. Except, of course, the really violent ones who want to go and fight overseas. Clearly, it’s our duty to keep those people here. Other people are wondering if a few tactical nukes might not solve the problem once and for all. Deportation and nuclear strikes are expensive, but how else are we going to protect ourselves from these crazy Moslems? Have you seen how they treat their women? And they’re always beheading people on the internet. Clearly, something has to be done and the government’s no use – all they have is a bunch of spy agencies, a military and a national budget. Clearly, it’s all down to us.

So what can we do? Don’t worry – I have a plan. All we have to do is regard all Moslems with deep and obvious suspicion. This can be helped along by constantly running offensively ignorant, inflammatory news stories every day, and generally letting the Moslem interlopers know that we are watching them and that we’ll be ready for them. And as an added bonus we can get some of our politicians to suggest that people who obey Sharia law should leave Australia while the Prime Minister declares on national television that domestic intelligence agencies are specifically targetting anyone and anything to do with Islam.

The brilliance of this plan is that it creates, albeit on a different scale, exactly the kind of circumstances in which radicalisation is achieved overseas. Marginalise, ostracise and alienate them enough, and very soon finding home-grown terrorists becomes much easier.

And most importantly – this part is crucial – it is hugely important that we, as concerned citizens, ensure that we learn absolutely nothing about Islam, Moslems, Middle Eastern Politics or anything that might actually inform the conversations we have about these issues. It would be a critical mistake, for example, to discover that Sharia law is not a single, unified body of law created by the evil Islamist conspiracy, but a myriad and varied, and often mutually exclusive and contradictory, collection of findings from various Ummahs around the world, mostly to do with ethical and doctrinal issues. This just needlessly complicates things and, more worryingly, makes it seem less frightening. And necessitates learning what the word ‘Ummah’ means. It also raises the problem of having to similarly deport anyone who obeys canon, ecclesiastical, Masonic, Buddhist and other secret, sinister, unofficial laws whilst pretending to be decent, hard-working Australian citizens. But we can’t let any of that rubbish stand in our way. We need to solve this problem once and for all, and no amount of being vague as to what the problem actually is, or who or what is actually being threatened, can be allowed to distract us from being completely outraged about it all.

So that’s it folks – our duty is clear. If we want to solve the Moslem problem, we first need to make certain that it exists, and this strategy is by far the best way to ensure that it does.

The Importance of Being Earnestly Who I Want You to Be

Hi, Norrie, my name is Tim, and I’ve been thinking about you a bit lately. Well, ever since you won the right to be recognised as neither male nor female, which is to say, the right to be yourself.

Now, you don’t know me, and I don’t know you. In fact, as far as I know, I’ve never met anyone who has grappled with gender-identity issues. So I really don’t have any idea what your life has been like. I know nothing about how difficult your childhood might have been, or how much bullying, scorn and hatred you have endured. I know nothing of the internal struggle that none of us can see, nor the external struggle that we all perpetuate.

But one of the benefits of being a heterosexual male born into a heterosexual male’s body is that I am pretty much an expert on you. No one is more qualified than me to talk about you. Not even you, Norrie.

Because I actually do know you. I read about you in the paper, see. Sorry that’s not quite true. Bill Muehlenberg read about you in the paper, and I read Bill Muehlenberg’s blog about Bill Muehlenberg reading about you in the paper. And I heard all about you on talk-back radio. And I got 84% in Year 10 Biology. And I like apples. Especially Pink Lady apples, which are tastier because they know they’re ladies. If you were an apple – good lord, what am I saying? You couldn’t be an apple, you’d just confuse everyone. Who’s ever heard of a Pink Sir-or-Lady-I-haven’t-decided-yet apple? Or a Non-gender-specific-Grandparent Smith?

But it’s not just about apples, Norrie. It’s about freedom, and Jesus, probably. Oh and the children, I’m pretty sure it’s about the children somehow. But mostly it’s about me, Norrie. Me. Did you not think about how your court case would affect me?

Up until last week, my man-brain was happy sitting in my man-body, smiling a man-smile, and thinking man-things, like “Jeez it’s awesome being a man in a man-body, which is but one of the two options available, the other being a chick with awesome boobies”. But you just had to go ruin everything, and now everything is ruined, because you ruined it. The words “man” and “woman” don’t mean anything anymore, so I have no idea what to call my mankini, which is devastating. Worse than that, anything with two options now confuses the shït out of me. The last time I drove up to a T-intersection, I went straight ahead. And if someone asks me a true or false question, I answer frue, but maybe I should answer tralse. Either way, I sound like an idiot, Norrie. What’s next? Rosé? Three-quarter pants? Dimmable lights? Labradoodles? Michael Jackson? It’s madness, Norrie. Madness.

Please stop. If not for me, then for freedom and Jesus. And apples. Oh and the children, but don’t ask me whose children, because I don’t know. Actually I’ve changed my mind. Please just stop for me. Thanks, Norrie.

Yours fruely,

Tim

Alexandria and The Rule of The Book

The date is March 8, 415 CE. It’s probably a bright and sunny day, as the place is Alexandria, and most days are bright, or at least sunny, in Egypt. By this stage, Alexandria has enough Christians in it to allow for a Christian schism – moderates on one side under Orestes and hard-liners on the other, led by the Patriarch Cyril.

In this awesome, wonderful and wondrous city is a woman called Hypatia. She is a mathematician and astronomer. She teaches. Not just that, she’s held in the highest of regard across the ancient world. Many of her ex-students are powerful political figures in this, one of the most powerful and influential cities of the Roman era. She is credited with great moral authority within this same city. Silesius the philosopher can think of no-one greater on the whole face of the planet. She creates a staggering number of devices for measuring azimuths, tables for all kinds of calculations, is credited with improving the astrolabe to such a degree of fine accuracy that it can be used, not just for navigation and measuring mountains, but for telling the time of the day by just about any celestial body.

She is a shining light in a city that has already produced ideas like the earth being round, the sun being the centre of the solar system; where a philosopher accurately measured the circumference of the planet with what was essentially two sticks and a massive brain… In fact, speaking of brains, this is the city where the West first heard the idea that the brain might be the boss of the body.

And amidst all this, Hypatia is rated an exceptional mind.

But not by Cyril and his cronies. Cyril has been cynically using ignorance and prejudice to condemn Hypatia as a witch. He puts about the idea that her instruments are for divination – black magic. It doesn’t help that an astrolabe can be used to (broadly) predict the tides and weather. Eventually, a mob consisting largely of Christian monks hunts Hypatia through the city and drags her into the Caesarea (once a temple to the Caesars but now vandalised and invaded with a giant cross). Here, in this scratch church, they cut the philosopher into pieces, pick up the dismembered body parts and dump them outside the city.

This murder is often seen as a sort of critical starting point for the process that eventually resulted in the destruction of 99% of the texts in this amazing city’s amazing library.

And certainly, the deeper motives behind all this murder and vandalism can be seen as more political than religious – more temporal than spiritual, but it is impossible to deny that the perpetrators on the ground were motivated by a religious feeling that was as sincere as their ignorance was deep. It is therefore irrelevant that they were manipulated by cleverer men – their prejudice and ignorance was a lethal weapon, honed, aimed and used to devastating effect by their political and spiritual masters.

Sound familiar? It should. What we have here is a clear and specific warning from history. Any time you meet an evangelical who tells you that he doesn’t need to think because faith is his reason, every time you see a fundamentalist screaming and frothing about his right to religious ‘freedom’ over and above the civil rights of any and everybody else – remember Hypatia. Every time you encounter an anti-academic, anti-scholarly, anti-critical right wing bible thumper, or hear a rant from a Tea Party spokesperson, or other spurious ‘defender of the common man’, remember Alexandria. Remember that this is exactly the sort of person that set the development of the modern world back a thousand years or more. The kind of person that did so much damage to our corporate human knowledge that we will probably never know the extent of our loss.

Remember, and also note that these people and attitudes can’t just be scorned, ignored or laughed at.

They have to be fought.

A Clarification

I recently wrote a post (Atheism, Some Assembly Required) that appears to have confused some people.

Some readers thought that I was advocating some sort of atheistic ‘priesthood’, or that I believed that formal education in atheism was required. Some were even confused about whether or not I was an atheist. I am.

Put simply, what I was trying to say was that in order to talk about something, one should probably make some attempt to know what one is talking about. In the case of talking publicly about religion, which atheists do almost all the time, this is especially true. Otherwise, we look just as stupid as the religious proselytisers.

The entire article was aimed at the increasingly prevalent atheist slacktivism that I have been encountering on the internet with depressing frequency. Sloganeering and the endless repetition of maxims do not an argument make, and the important – scratch that – the most vital part of atheism is that it should rest on a basis of reason. To cede this basis and imitate the behaviour of the religious right is, in my opinion, the opposite of helping.

Atheism – Some Assembly Required

According to Richard Dawkins, everything in the world is reducible to reason except, apparently, his beliefs. In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he fails to see that religion has ever had any positive affect on humanity at any time in history. Then he starts going a bit frothy and saying things like “Religion is Evil”, over and over again, just to show how rational all us atheists are.

I’m sorry: “Religion is Evil”? Which one? All of them? And is it exclusively evil that is practised by all these religions, or are they occasionally known to indulge in the odd good deed? And while we’re at it, are we talking absolutely and including past and future times, or am I to take the statement as representing a contemporary snapshot of the entirety of Earth’s religions? Aren’t we atheists supposed to be the sane and thoughtful ones?

And then it occurs to me that all these questions are irrelevant. There is no point asking them as there is next to no likelihood that they will be satisfactorily answered. It isn’t a considered, rationally derived statement of position. “Religion is Evil” is simply a declaration of the Secular Humanist Creed, recited faithfully from the Gospel according to Richard Dawkins. This is totally fine. Everyone has to believe in something, so why not Rationalist Secular Humanism? There are worse things to believe in. Mosaic law, for instance. Or anything said by Cory Bernardi.

Where this simple, uncomplicated kind of belief becomes problematic, however, is when it is applied in public religious and political debate. In the never-ending argument between the faithful and the unbelieving, there is a depressing tendency for each side to appear as wacky as the other.

Unfortunately, one rational decision (atheism) a philosopher doth not make. Logic and the rules of evidence are not innate – they must be painstakingly learned. Attacks on the Church, to stand any chance of being taken seriously, require equal or greater levels of scholarship to that commonly possessed by priests and theologians. This requires serious and lengthy study in several diverse academic fields. Just conducting a considered evaluation of the Bible, OT and NT, represents years of careful study.

So, a mind that has vacated God is not a mind that can automatically be considered enlightened by reason or illuminated by the pure light of science. Nor is it a mind that has necessarily been equipped to do effective combat in the atheist cause. It’s very much the same mind that was recently capable of believing in the resurrection of some bloke called Christ. The same mind, no smarter or dimmer, no more or less ignorant, just changed.

Atheism is not a free pass into intellectualism. Atheism does not make anyone an automatic expert on history or comparative theology. An atheist who doesn’t know what he’s talking about is just as wrong as a believer who is equally ignorant.

But it is only the religious who have an excuse for talking nonsense. The atheist is supposed to know better.