The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Monotheism And The End Of The World

When the Romans came to Bath, they found a set of natural springs and a thriving local religion based around a deity whose name they rendered as ‘Sulis’. Sulis was not a goddess with whom they were familiar, but they did not doubt her existence, destroy her shrine, or suppress her worship – far from it. Noticing that Sulis had many qualities in common with their own goddess Minerva, they decided that they must be different aspects of the same idea. They therefore built a massive sacred complex dedicated to the worship of ‘Sulis Minerva’, and then presumably got on with their lives.
It’s important not to make the common mistake of projecting modern values onto ancient people. Constructions such as ‘Cyrus the Human Rights activist’, or ‘Hatshepsut the Feminist’, are patently ridiculous. But one thing which can certainly be said about paganism is that it was essentially pluralistic. Naturally, there were limits (the Romans and human sacrifice, for example), but the general tendency of pagan mentality was to search for commonality over difference, and to co-opt and co-exist with alien cults. Religious intolerants like Akhenaton and Nabonidas are remembered as anomalies in what was an overwhelmingly pluralistic religious world.

The Romans at Bath, the Greeks in Bactria, the Egyptians in Nubia – all demonstrate similar patterns of encounter. Contact is made with a foreign deity, inquiries are made as to their attributes, and a native parallel is found, not to replace, but rather to combine with it. This tendency must reflect a mentality which was as intellectually curious as it was tolerant. 

When we compare this with religious encounters as conducted by the Abrahamic monotheists, the comparison is not at all favourable. From Joshua (either in reality or imagination) to Cortes, it can be clearly seen that monotheism walks a much shorter track to genocidal violence. Even curious, ethnographically-minded Jesuits or Caliphate scholars all eventually arrive at the same place: ‘Your gods are false, my god is not.’

It’s easy to see why the rise of monotheism is seen as such a significant event in human history. Viewed clearly, it was nothing less than a psychic apocalypse – the death of ancient pluralism and a catastrophic interruption to the globalising movements of the age. It created an epoch of murderous intolerance and a world where religious war became not just a norm, but a near constant. It drew, much more harmfully and definitively than Sykes/Picot or the British Empire, the lines which so bitterly divide us to this day.

Waddya bloody mean, “Invasion Day”?

January 26. Australia Day. A day where we can all take a day off, have a beer, listen to a hipster music countdown, and argue about Australia Day. Oh, and celebrate just how lucky we are to reside in this great country.

For yes, we may be a small country, but we’re a great one, too. The country of Shakespeare Andrew Bolt, Churchill the Prime Minister that skolls beer at the cricket, the Beatles beetles that will probably kill you, Sean Connery every Hemsworth ever created, Harry Potter Wizard Home Loans. David Beckham’s Timmy Cahill’s right foot. David Beckham’s Timmy Cahill’s left foot, come to that. And why shouldn’t all Australians take a day off to come together and celebrate all that?

Well, of course we should. And we do. On January 26 – the day that our great nation was founded. For it was on January 26 that Captain Arthur Phillip sailed into Sydney Harbour and claimed Australia for Great Britain by the time-honoured law-of-the-bags. The anniversary of our nation seems like a great choice for a day we can all celebrate being Australian, right?

Well, sorta.

January 26 is certainly the day that the British started making themselves at home… the only problem is that they apparently didn’t much care for the fact that it was already someone’s home. Initial signs suggested that this wouldn’t be a problem, since “the official policy of the British Government was to establish friendly relations with Aboriginal people, and Arthur Phillip ordered that the Aboriginal people should be well treated”. Meanwhile, the local Indigenous people looked upon a bunch of British criminals grabbing prime harbour real estate, and initially merely “seemed curious but suspicious of the newcomers”. Despite all that, I think we can all agree that things went a little pear-shaped from there. So it would seem that perhaps January 26 isn’t for everyone. Especially when you throw in the fact that apparently only about 20% of us are descended from the First Fleet.

But what other days could you choose?

Well, while January 26 is the day that Arthur planted his flag, he actually arrived about a week earlier. The first ship of the First Fleet, Supply, arrived in Botany Bay on January 18, with the rest of the ships arriving by January 20. Arthur soon realised that the landing location, now known as La Perouse, wasn’t suitable for a new colony, what with all the jet-skis and lowered Commodores. So he said “Stuff this, by Jove”, and sailed a little north, where he cruised past the cultured hills of the Eastern Suburbs and into Sydney Cove. He soon picked the site as a great location for opera, although his dream was not realised until Jørn Utzon came along many weeks later. So yeah, January 26 could more accurately be thought of as the one week anniversary of a fairly dubious real estate decision. Add that to current Sydney house prices, and maybe January 18 makes more sense.

Of course, there are other days that might be suitable that are completely unrelated to the founding of our nation. As this article notes, there are many other days that would do just as well:

  • February 13 (the apology to the Stolen Generation)
  • April 11 (White Australia Policy was scrapped)
  • May 27 (Aboriginal people granted full constitutional rights)
  • December 1 (first day of the glorious Australian Summer)

My personal favourite is a proposal by Jordan Raskopoulos, who suggests that perhaps May 8 would be good. May 8? M8? Maaaaaaate!

Now I know what some of you are thinking. Depending on your political leanings, some of you are reading this and thinking, “Yeah! Up yours you January 26!”. Others are thinking “Yeah! Up yours you bleeding heart liberals!”. But you know what the best part of all this is? It actually doesn’t bloody matter. Arguing about what date it should be is pointless. January 1, April 11, May 8, September 33… who cares? Because, whatever your political leanings, there’s only one question you need to ask yourself.

When it comes to moving Australia Day, who does it hurt more?

On the one hand, we have Indigenous Australians, for whom January 26 marks the descent into genocide, loss of land, cultural destruction, stolen generations, disproportionate incarceration and shameful life expectancy. For these Australians, January 26 doesn’t commemorate the beginning, it commemorates the beginning of the end.

On the other hand, there’s the rest of us, who pretty much just want another day off, so they can go the beach and have a barbie. I mean, let’s face it – no one really feels any affinity to the day Arthur Phillip landed in Sydney (after deciding Botany Bay was cräp), do they? We might be mildly annoyed at the change of date, but do we really, truly care? Or do we just need a day – any day – where all of us, no matter where we’ve come from, can get together and appreciate how lucky we are?

The fact is that it’s a pretty big deal to Indigenous Australians that we celebrate the day they lost their lands. It’s much less of a big deal for us to move it.

So why don’t we?


GBAV – Genesis 10

In which having sex with your family leads to a whole bunch of people with silly names.

Gn 10:1These are all the people who were born after Noah’s family all had sex with each other. And by people I mean boys.

Gn 10:2-5The sons of Japheth were Smeagol, and Gary, and Spencer, and Gomer, who was apparently a surprise, surprise, surprise. And the sons of Gomer were Hoochie, and Flowerpot, and Pooface. And the sons of Hoochie were Vlad the Impaler, and Snoopy, and Zoolander. And they all went off and invented new languages, for some reason.

Gn 10:6-9And the sons of Ham were Barry, and Andrew and Terrence. And the sons of Barry were ugly. And the sons of Ugly were Dumbledore, and Jabba, and Sauron. And Jabba begat Nimrod, who was a mighty hunter. Hence that really well known phrase, “OMG you are such a Nimrod, and by that I mean a mighty hunter.”

Gn 10:10-20And Nimrod begat Gilligan, and the Skipper, too. And the Skipper begat Krusty, and Stimpy, and Wolverine, and Jamiroquai. And they all went off and invented new languages, for some reason.

Gn 10:21-31And Shem was just as bad at inventing names as his two brothers, so all of his sons had silly names, too. And they all went off and invented new languages, for some reason.

Gn 10:32So that’s pretty much what happened after the flood. And everyone was happy, even though they had silly names, because at least they didn’t have to have sex with their family any more.

<< Genesis 9

On Remembrance Day…


Image sourced from the Australian War Memorial

Image sourced from the Australian War Memorial

Tomorrow marks the 97th anniversary of the end of one of the greatest catastrophes in modern history. Millions upon millions were killed, nations were swallowed up, overrun or erased and whole empires shattered. And then there was the meatgrinder of the Western Front, the shocking, mobile attrition of the battle at sea, the hellish nightmare of the sappers, the Eastern Front – I could go on, but I think we all know these things all too well. Remembrance Day, originally called Armistice Day, was instituted to remind us not so much of all these horrors, but as a memorial to those who fell. As time went on, and the hollowness of the epithet ‘war to end all wars’ became apparent, the day was expanded to include all of the fallen from all of our wars, and further invested with symbolism by the poignant burial ceremonies of Unknown Soldiers from various countries, including our own in 1993. This makes it a truly national and international day of reflection and one that should, by all the normal laws of decency and basic humanity, be free from politics, hatred or partisan or sectarian squabbling.

Would that it were so. With depressing regularity, pointy heads from both sides of the political spectrum choose this day to come out and push the more hateful parts of their ideologies. On the right, for reasons that beggar understanding, the world’s various fascists choose this day of all days to push the idea that white countries belong to white people, that exclusion is the key to national happiness and that everything is the fault of brown people. Which is ironic when you consider how many Nepali, Indian, Bangladeshi, African and Aboriginal troops were under arms for the British Empire. But, irony, logic and fact-proof as ever, the extreme right will share its poppy photos on social media and pretend to be decent citizens and human beings right along with the rest of us in the hope of gaining a new audience for the hate that they spew from their hatches.

And let’s not forget our friends on the extreme left, who are convinced that any kind of patriotism or commemoration of our war dead plays into the hands of the control of plutocrats, or capitalists, or alien lizards who have taken over the CIA, or whatever other garbage they’ve managed to convince themselves of this week. That’s right – these very same people who we applaud for throwing half-bricks at fascists have a horrifying tendency to paint the ANZACs as sex-offending, murderous war criminals. Which is to ignore the fact that such was the rate of volunteerism that pretty well all of our Imperial contingent was made up of perfectly ordinary, decent men and women. The very same ordinary people that these idiots purport to defend. And more to the point, many of them died in the belief that they were defending our future. So the hardline lefties can shut up too.

The point is that radical groups from both extremes come out of the woodwork on days like Remembrance Day, with the sole purpose of hijacking an anniversary that belongs to civilisation in order to push decidedly uncivilised ideas. The point is that we cannot and should not let them. I’m not suggesting that we attack, refute or argue with these people. That just wouldn’t be appropriate – not on a day as solemn as tomorrow. But we should definitely enforce the principle of silence. Let our moment’s silence spread so that it encompasses the silent rejection of all those who would outrage the memories of history with their hideous, politicised filth. When we see vile material from the likes of the UPF or Britain First, or any other extremist group, we should let them know by simply ignoring them that we are not disposed to discuss their lunacy on any given day, and especially not on a day that is dedicated to the heroes of generations past.

I Stand With Ahmed Or I’m With Stupid

Earlier this week, the suspiciously named Ahmed Mohamed brought a digital alarm clock to school, in clear violation of Texas State Law regarding the use of ‘hoax bombs’. He was very properly pulled out of class and sent to the principal’s office to be arrested. A storm of protest erupted when the story broke, with the Irving School Board and Irving’s heroic mayor, Beth Van Duyne, coming under quite unjustified attack for “following protocol” and ensuring the safety of their little town.

Because obviously, in the world we live in, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that any Moslem, Moslem-looking or Moslem-sounding activity is, by definition, deeply suspicious. We all know that Moslem women only wear Burkhas to conceal the fact that they are all AK toting re-incarnations of Osama Bin Laden and that every one of the 1.6 billion Moslems in the world seek the downfall of the West and the death of all Westerners, even and especially those sneaky, sneaky Moslems who have moved to Western countries and become citizens of them.

It makes absolute sense, if you just think about it for a moment. A population that has moved to the West in order to benefit from Western prosperity is clearly hell-bent on attacking and destroying that very prosperity. It’s not at all possible that the tiny number of attacks on US soil that have been carried out by Moslems (less than 10%) can be a function of anything other than the vigilance of fearless heroes like Mayor Van Duyne. The alternative, that there isn’t actually any threat from Moslems on home soil that warrants any kind of hysteria whatsoever, is plainly laughable. Van Duyne can tell you – she recently proposed a bill attempting to outlaw an imaginary outbreak of Sharia law in her community, and was stunned when the local Moslem population perfidiously refused to support it. Some of them even had the gall to be offended. Imagine!

This kind of stupidity has to stop. If people are really that concerned about the Islamist threat, then they should probably attempt to find out something about it. In so doing, they will discover that the ratio of violent extremists to practising faithful is statistically negligible. They will further discover that violent extremism in the cause of Islam is pretty well non-existent because Islamist terrorists, like all terrorists, primarily pursue political goals. They will further be able to distinguish between the kind of violent rhetoric we get on tape from lovelies like Zawahiri and Al-Baghdadi, and the frustrated yelling of perfectly ordinary people that the Telegraph so dearly loves to inflate upon. And most importantly of all, they will be able to tell the difference between the kind of raving lunatic who thinks they can turn the clock back 500 years using bombs and RPGs, and a Moslem.

And if all this seems like too much effort, then it’s obvious that these people can’t actually care that much about the Islamist threat after all. How bothered can a person really be about something if they can’t be arsed to learn the first thing about it? We have to conclude that they couldn’t give a tinker’s damn and are just using the most current anxiety as a vehicle for their perennial xenophobia, bigotry and A-grade, 100% pure and unadulterated stupidity.

So yes, I stand with Ahmed. Not because I’m some kind of liberal leftard or a traitor to my race or an apologist for Moslem ninja face-covering suicide-bombing crazies. No, I stand with Ahmed because the alternative is standing with stupid.

Tony’s Gone, And All Is Well… Or Is It?

So, the age of the Tones is over and there is much rejoicing in the land of Oz. We now have the smooth smoothie Malcolm Turnbull sworn in as Prime Minister and, from the jubilation on the internet, it would seem that some kind of golden age is in prospect for the long-suffering people of Australia. But while I hate to be the ghost at the feast, I really don’t see how this can happen.

Sure, there are a bunch of immediate and significant benefits to the ousting of the Tones. There’s the fact that now we have a leader who is capable of expressing himself in recognisable English, which is always helpful both for our own political discourse and our reputation worldwide. There is also the fact that Mr Turnbull’s appeal is much more amongst the centre right. No longer do we need to endure a PM whose broad base appeal rests so firmly with the pointy-headed, protectionist, racist and homophobic sections of our population. Mind you, I don’t accuse Mr Abbott of having been any of these things, but his disconnected mumblings over the past couple of years have mobilised these subhumans to an extent that we haven’t seen since Howard tried to tap into the “Australia for Australians” line to garner popularity.

Further to all this, Mr Turnbull has a surprising range of progressive ideas. He wants Australia to be a republic, cares deeply about climate change and is also in favour of gay marriage. Which is good, right?

Well, it depends on your definition of ‘good’. If by ‘good’, we mean having a PM whose ideas we can once again be proud of, that’s probably right. I personally don’t see the point of becoming a republic, but it’s a question that deserves a much better airing than our last farcical (and wasteful) attempt at a referendum. As for the other two, they’re no-brainers.

Except, of course, in the party that our new PM happens to be a leader of. And this means the opposite of good if, by ‘good’, we mean a return to effective and focussed government.

After a breach like this, all rhetoric aside, a frantic reshuffle needs to take place. People who had been elevated in the wake of Tony cannot all be cast aside – such a decimation would permanently, and possibly fatally, split the party. So what we’re looking at here is a significant portion of the same old people with the same old ideas. These exact same people who previously ousted Mr Turnbull for being too progressive, among other things. Which means that the Liberal Party is going to have to take some time to heal itself, smooth ruffled feathers and work out some kind of compromise between Turnbull’s ideas and what have now become the party’s core ideologies. And by the time they’ve done this, it’ll be time for an election.

And even if, as seems likely right now, Mr Turnbull can win out against the uninspiring Mr Shorten or, as I like to call him, “Mr Luckiest Opposition Leader Ever”, there’s still the small matter of every significant position he has being directly at odds with at least half his party room. So we’re looking either at a significant watering down of this promising agenda, or its paralysis in hostile home territory.

We can see the ousting of Tony Abbott as a good thing, I suppose, because in many ways it is. But there’s a few discouraging aspects to it. We shouldn’t expect an era of golden government, for a start. Our new PM is going to be far too busy with politics to even worry about government until after the next election. This leadership ballot was about one thing and one thing only – ensuring that this government can survive that election. We would be foolish if we did not see everything this administration does in the light of that single, solitary priority from now on in. Expect a Liberal Party in survival mode, attempting to win back popularity with a long-neglected section of the population and far too pre-occupied with this and with its own internal wranglings to do much else.

Basically, business as usual, only with smoother soundbites and more syllables per sentence.

It’s Not a Jihad, Mr Dutton, It’s a Substitute

Lots of people are very upset about Immigration Prevention and Border Scare Campaign Minister Peter Dutton’s use of the word ‘jihad’. I’m very upset about Peter Dutton. Don’t get me wrong – I’m sure he’s a lovely bloke. His Facebook page certainly gives that impression. Until I read the posts about refugees.

It’s then I remember why Mr Dutton makes my fists itch. The fact that watching him speak is like watching a plough make an uncertain path through a field of solid concrete. The fact that his answers to perfectly simple questions are generally less relevant and informative than responses from a magic 8-ball. The fact that he pulls a face like a disappointed horse every time he refuses to comment on something because ‘operational’. The fact that in his eyes, at all times, there lies the panic of a man who has been promoted several light years beyond the level of his competence.

The 'Disappointed Horse' Face

The ‘Disappointed Horse’ Face

And now he thinks the media is out to get him. It’s probably the first accurate thing he’s said since being elected to parliament in 2001. Of course they’re out to get you, Peter. If you throw a bucket of blood into the water and jump in after it, you really don’t have much right to complain when the sharks come. The same applies (in the case of Dutton and the government’s rhetoric) to throwing in a bucket of shit. Or the word ‘jihad’. What planet do you have to live on in order to think that that’s going to make anything better?

Dutton is quoted as saying,

“[The media] aren’t supposed to be political players, they’re supposed to be objective reporters of the news and I think many of them have morphed into frustrated politicians themselves.”

Well yes, of course they have. This government’s continued failure to act at all like a government that knows what it’s doing and why has turned the entire nation of Australia into “frustrated politicians”. All of us, right, left and centre, are playing politician because, in true Australian ‘fair go’ style, we can see that the team on the field is making an absolute pig’s breakfast of the game themselves. We’re not doing it to you, we’re doing it for you.

Put simply, nature abhors a vacuum. If we can’t get any sense out of our elected representatives, we’ll just have the conversation that we should be having with them amongst ourselves instead. So no, Mr Dutton, the media is not conducting a jihad to bring down the government. It’s providing a substitute for a government that has removed itself from the coherent discussion of politics.

Fear of Isolation – The Anti-Gay Anxiety

People who don’t like gays are becoming increasingly worried that nobody is going to like them any more. My first reaction to this very public concern is to worry that I do not possess a violin tiny enough to provide appropriate musical accompaniment. My second reaction is to laugh uproariously.

My third reaction, however, is to think about it. You see, I’m serious in my belief in an inclusive society. I really don’t care if you believe in flying pasta gods, more traditional gods, libertarianism, alien lizard folk or the efficacy of Tony Abbott. I couldn’t care less if your world view is Old Testament, New Testament, Pastafarian or Liberal Democrat. I really couldn’t. No matter how crazy your beliefs may be, I believe that you still have a place in society and that you should not be disadvantaged by your mental incapacity. So I find myself asking the question – should I be concerned about the increasing ostracism of those elements of society that disapprove of gays, gay marriage and gay culture? I mean, if I really am as serious as I think I am about inclusion, I really should care about the fact that a statistically significant portion of society is likely to be in the same position as the fat, unco kid waiting to be picked for a touch footy team.

And it is a fact that the religious right, despite its volume, posturing and snug housing under Tony’s wing, is becoming an increasingly beleaguered minority. They don’t seem to be able to say or do anything without instantly being screamed down as ‘homophobes’, ‘racists’, ‘sexists’ or ‘dinosaurs’. So when I see right wingers and conservatives bleating about the fact that they are a forgotten faction, that their views are not being given proper consideration and that they are the victims of a ‘left wing media conspiracy’ to silence them, I can actually detect a disturbing grain of truth in their piteous maunderings.

So, this has to be thought through. Are we, in fact, in danger of violating these people’s rights and does this actually matter?

I answer this by using my favourite logical technique – the reductio ad absurdum. I ask myself, does my inclusive philosophy extend to, let’s say, Neo-Nazis? Of course it doesn’t. And this is not because of their beliefs, hateful as they are. It is because these people actively attempt to exclude me (I’m ethnic). So I can’t actually be inclusive towards them as they themselves make this impossible.

The same applies in this case. The position of all anti-gay thinkers is the same, regardless of its basis, in that it actively seeks to exclude or disadvantage a section of society. This is logically where the line has to be drawn. You cannot include or tolerate a belief set that excludes or fails to tolerate other belief sets. Put simply, their ostracism is their own stupid fault. There simply isn’t any moral or ethical requirement to tolerate the intolerant. This, of course, doesn’t mean that the next necessary step is to attack them, Antifa-style, but it does mean that our collective conscience needn’t feel any more of a twinge at their exclusion than it does at the marginalisation of the Klu Klux Klan.

So, now that’s settled, all that’s left to do is to rummage around for the tiniest violin I can possibly find.


We No Longer Deserve Democracy

I know some people with right wing views. Obviously, they’re all bigots, homophobes, racists and Nazis. But that’s alright, because apparently, as a leftie, I’m a bleeding heart, elitist, Islam loving atheist. And a Nazi. As far as I can make out, both the left and right wings of Australian politics are made up exclusively of people who wish to push insidious foreign agendas in order to bring about the destruction of our great nation whilst simultaneously stamping on the faces of the poor. So we’re screwed, basically.

This presents a very big problem. On the one hand there is a bunch of power and money worshipping fascists who wish to abolish education, social security and, to judge from their online presence, spelling. And on the other side of the fence are people who wish to flood our country with foreign criminals arriving by boat and spend every cent of public money on people who refuse to work. Especially if they’re foreign. It’s very difficult to see a way forward, unless, of course we place our faith in the basic decency of human nature.

But even this is problematic. If I’m to believe what I read, nobody in the entire world is well-intentioned. Either they want to destroy our heritage and kill God, or they want to funnel all the world’s money into the hands of the world’s plutocrats. And they always have such dastardly reasons for wanting these things. Either they’re evil extremists, foreign agents, war-crazed capitalists or ultra-fascist monsters. Or, in a lot of cases, it would seem that they are mentally defective lunatics.

Give me a fucking break.

The only mentally defective lunatic in this particular situation is the one who thinks that this is how the world really works. Liberal, Labor, Greens (to a certain extent) – all these parties have one thing in common. They are run by people who entered politics because they wanted to help – to contribute to the running of the country and, in some cases, to correct perceived wrongs occurring in that process. I can hear the chorus of tinpot cynics now rambling on about corruption, gravy-trains and trotters in troughs, but that kind of rhetoric is just cheap. In any group of people we can and must accept a certain amount of deviance, and the amazing thing about our politicians as a group is not their corruption, but their astonishing general probity given the opportunities for malfeasance and embezzlement with which they are presented on a daily basis. Compare our pollies with the ‘governments’ of Tanzania, Libya, Sierra Leone, the local governments of Indonesia or the absolute bloody shambles that pose as the governments of Italy and Greece, and you’ll see that we’re actually pretty well off for principled, hard-working politicians and civil servants.

But no, we’re all on the brink of ruin because everybody is either a ‘leftard’ or a ‘teabilly’ and must be seen and judged by those terms and those terms alone.

Let’s please, if at all possible, just try to grow up a little bit. Our system of government, the way in which we attempt to find the balance by which optimal government can be achieved, is basically adversarial. This means that people of differing opinions, beliefs and ideologies, through opposition and compromise, work out a way forward. There is no room in this kind of system for zealotry, absolutism or hate speech. We need to remember that the people on both sides of politics are people. And that it’s impossible to persuade any person of anything by insulting and berating them. If we forget this, we play into the hands of real despotism. The more we carry on the way we are, the easier it is going to become for some clever dick to point at the electorate and say: “That’s not a polity, that’s just a screaming mob. We should remove all power from this dangerously stupid group as quickly as possible.”

Because democracy can only be effective when we, the people, are worthy of it.

INC – The Murky Line Between Church, State and Organised Crime in the Philippines

A few hours ago, a man called Isaias Samson Jr hastily called a press conference in Manila announcing that he had escaped from ‘armed detention’ in his own home and that at least 10 of his colleagues were being held in similar circumstances in homes and local prisons around the country. He attributed his detention to being accused of speaking out in public about his organisation’s financial dealings and leadership. He said that he and his family had been confined to their house by armed men, mostly corrupt army and police force officials, for over a week.

Isaias is not, as you might imagine, a high profile mafia witness or government whistleblower – he’s a minister in an evangelical church. One of his jobs is editing their newspaper Pasugo (God’s Message), which ran a story about possible financial misconduct in the higher echelons of his church. He denies knowledge of the articles which either makes him a very bad editor or a very ambitious liar. In any case, we need to take a breath and think about this for a second.

An internal conflict within a church organisation has led to the alleged unauthorised mobilisation of armed government officials and the (alleged again) abduction of at least 10 people and their families. How is this even possible?

Well, firstly, INC is not your average evangelical backyard outfit. It’s the third largest religious organisation in the Philippines, which is really saying something when you consider the extent to which the Roman Catholic Church dominates the country. The INC was founded in 1914 by a discontented visionary (or loony, depending on your perspective) called Felix Manalo who seems to have described a kind of low rent Lutheran arc through the religious establishment of the then US colony. Gathering followers on the strength of his denunciation of Catholic practice and theology, he slowly attracted followers and firmly established a family dynasty of front men for his ‘Iglesia Ni Christo’ (Church of Christ). Today, the INC has over 1200 chapels worldwide and a couple of Guinness World Records – one for largest gospel choir (close to 5000 strong), and one for largest mixed purpose arena, being a 55000 seat stadium constructed for the purpose of their centenary celebrations last year.

While the world records must be nice for them, the family dynasty side of things appears to be a little more problematic. A few days ago, relatives of the current ‘monarch’ of the church released a Youtube video pleading for help, claiming that their lives were in danger and that their supporters had been kidnapped by armed men. This was initially seen as a bit of a bizarre blip, but Isaias’ ‘escape’ seems to confirm that this might actually be happening. Some commentators are saying that the Manalo family members are making a power play, angry at having been marginalised by the current executive minister, Eduardo Manalo. Others are saying that recent revelations about financial misconduct and extortion have resulted in the excisement of those Manalos who have failed to keep quiet. It really doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that the INC congregation contains roughly 3% of the country’s electorate, votes in a block, and has a reputation amongst its followers for blind and total obedience. These people are a very big deal indeed – basically, if you want to run for president, you’re not winning without the endorsement of the INC.

What also matters is that nobody is even blinking at accusations that the INC could use its influence to extort millions of dollars from various local governments and commit fiscal malfeasance on a breathtaking scale. Sure, they’re denying it, but nobody has even suggested that such action would be improbable or impossible.

This is deeply, deeply worrying. In a state that purports to be democratic and secular, there is a religious organisation who can influence, intimidate and extort governments and (apparently) suborn the country’s armed forces into illegally detaining people who are inconvenient to them. Whatever the ins and outs of their internal squabbles, the real take-away from this is the potential power of rich, indifferently sane organisations if they are allowed to expand unchecked and infiltrate the mechanisms of the state.

This is not to say that we should immediately ban and patrol all church members. But it beggars belief that a church as crazy as this one could have been allowed to become so large and influential. INC is very much a restorationist and end-times church that believes all other denominations are apostates and that their first minister was Jesus Christ’s last messenger on Earth. In this country, believing crap like that would seriously limit your options in government employment, largely because we don’t hand out security clearances to cult members. In this particular case, we can see the tip of the iceberg of implications of failing to check and monitor what are, in effect, subversive, insidious and just plain whacky organisations as they form and grow.

And disturbingly, the INC is not a million miles away in doctrine, beliefs and power, from many of the church organisations currently operating in the USA. In fact, it’s pretty certain that the USA is where the first Manalo probably got his template for how to build a major church. One can only hope that the US, with even more at stake in terms of firepower and power in general, can get better at limiting the influence and operations of radical, apocalyptic and messianic lunatics.