Archive for the ‘Religion and Atheism’ Category

Does this look dangerous to you?

Remember: the fascist has no problem being punched. It’s being laughed at that he finds intolerable.

Many…were outraged. One Saudi citizen, Hassan al-Ghamdi, tweeted: “The director offends the Muslim women in our country. Where are our preachers to deny this?”

Another man identified as Majid called it “cheap and extremely inappropriate”. A third said it was “disgusting”….

Under Saudi Arabia’s strict interpretation of Sharia, women are barred from obtaining driving licences and those who flout the ban are jailed. All female citizens are subject to a crushing guardianship system that obliges them to seek permission from male relatives to do everything from opening a bank account to travelling.


Two Quotes

Both of the following quotes are from Josef Škvorecký’s autobiographical essay “I Was Born in Náchod….”


After a brief career as right defence in a soccer minileague, I fell ill with pneumonia. This was before the days of antibiotics, and one could easily die. I very much did not want to die and promised, therefore, to say ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys daily if I survived. As the days, made hazy by fever, dragged on, I kept raising the numbers until I ended up with a burden of about a hundred Our Fathers and Hail Marys per day. In the year that followed my recovery I tried to live up to the promise. For hours I knelt beside my bed, night after night, and in the morning, I looked like a child suffering from a bad hangover. This intense religiosity exhausted me so much that in another year I had another bout with pneumonia. This time I was wiser. I only vowed that, if I recovered, I would– at the age of eighteen–enter a monastery. When the deadline was approaching I postponed the day until twenty-one. A girl– two, in fact–were unwittingly involved in that decision. With my twenty-first birthday closing in on me, I shifted the date once again: to twenty-five. Eventually, it was the Communists who saved me for secular life. When they took over the country, one of their first acts of class justice was the closing down of all monasteries.


During the first four years of that Götterdämmerung I attended the local Realgymnasium… It was the Nazis who introduced the term “ideology” into our vocabulary; can anyone wonder why, ever since, I have mistrusted that word and all the varying contents it signified?

RIP Christopher Hitchens

Sad news from a few days ago informs me that Christopher Hitchens has died. I certainly didn’t share all of Hitchens’ beliefs, but he was a man of both wit and conviction, and I admired that he always argued both forcefully and in good faith. He didn’t pull ideological cheap shots, because, one got the sense, those were beneath him. When he gave offense it was only due to his scathing wit and his refusal to hedge or pad his beliefs. He said what he meant and refused to pull punches. He was a voice against sophistry and for reason.

I found this quote, reproduce in The Portable Atheist particularly apropos:

“The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.” – Ayaan Hirsi Ali

“To gild refined gold / to paint the lily / to throw perfume on the violet / is just fucking silly.”

The amazing Tim Minchin teamed up with an incredibly talented illustrator to create this stunning animated version of his poem “Storm”.

Written and performed by Tim Minchin. Animated by DC Turner.

I Want Michael Bywater’s Job

Seriously. I don’t know how much he gets paid to crank out tripe like this, but I’ll do it for half the price. Not only does this guy butcher basic grammar, he also has the stylistic sense of a high school Freshman who’s been told he’s a genius a few times too many. And I should know, I used to be that high school Freshman.

And honestly, I can overlook bad grammar and bad style if the content is solid. After all, it’s better to be right than to seem right. But Bywater’s entire column is so wrong that it’s not even wrong. It’s just hundreds of words of nonsense mixed liberally with factual errors. Don’t believe me? Here’s his fourth paragraph in its entirety:

The last really successful religion – the only successful one for 1,340 years, since Islam kicked off with the Qur’an – was started way before the online Distraction Machine. One article in the May 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction started the whole thing going. The author was a red-headed pulp sci-fi writer with a sideline in Westerns and fantasy who to the astonishment of his colleagues churned out about a million words a year at 70 words a minute. Clearly he hadn’t just been cooling his heels for the remaining 46 weeks of the year, but thinking up something spectacular. The new religion (or at least its core idea) was no flash in the pan; its author, writes sociologist Stephen Kent, “had been discussing and developing his ideas at least as far back as the previous summer”. Assuming he could think twice as fast as he could type, that’s roughly 18 million words of thinking before he went into print. No wonder the idea caught on.

Bullshit on stilts this is. It starts with a baldfaced lie, descends into illogical horseshit, and ends up in one of the most stunning non-sequitors I’ve ever read. Bywater comes across as so clueless that he couldn’t get a clue if he walked into a discount clue shop with a suitcase full of hundred dollar bills.

Scientology is the only successful religion since Islam? Sit down, Mr. Bywater, this list is going to take awhile:

  • Tibetan Buddhism
  • Shingon (Japanese) Buddhism
  • Sikhism
  • Lutheranism
  • Anglicanism
  • Calvinism
  • Presbyterianism
  • Baptism
  • Russian Orthodox
  • Wahhabism
  • Sunni Islam
  • Shia Islam
  • Suffi Islam
  • Shakers
  • Quakers
  • Mormonism
  • Baha’i
  • Seventh-Day Adventism
  • Swaminarayan Hinduism
  • Wicca
  • Rastafarianism
  • Yogic Transcendentalism
  • Iglesia ni Cristo

All of these religions were founded between Islam and Scientology. And shit, this even leaves out some of the weird ones that were never popular, but still had huge influences (e.g. Thelema, Church of Satan, Raelism). Even with the most stringent interpretation of “successful” the list above still contains several that have many more followers than Scientology and/or have much higher name recognition. To skip over these faiths and simply state that there’s a 1300-years of religious downtime between the founding of Islam and the founding of Scientology is, at best, horribly ignorant. And I mean that literally; that is absolutely the best possible interpretation. The best case scenario here is that Michael Bywater is so ignorant about religion that he’s unqualified to write a vapid puff piece on a minor freakshow of a religion.

A more probably and far less flattering interpretation of Mr. Bywater’s statement is that he knows about at least some of these religions, but their existence was inconvenient to his thesis, and so he ignored them. I would say that this makes Mr. Bywater a rhetorical whore, but I’m sure most sex workers have a hell of a lot more professionalism and intellectual honesty than does Mr. Bywater.

Then there’s the absolutely mess of a description of L. Ron Hubbard that follows. He writes a million words a year. But he apparently only writes for 6 weeks of the year, because there’s a nonsensical reference to “the other 46 weeks”. Also, apparently a million words at 70 WPM is an astounding number. That 40 minutes of typing per day must have really taken it out of ol’ Mr. Hubbard.

Then there’s some odd implication that he worked long and hard on Scientology, followed by a quote that says he’d been working on it for at most a year. Then some bizarre calculation about the number of “words of thinking” that Hubbard put into Scientology. A calculation, by the way, that is wrong, even by Bywater’s own standards. If L. Ron wrote a million words a year, thought twice that fast, and took a year to invent Scientology, that’s two million thought-words.

Which would mean something if “number of words of thought” meant anything at all, which it doesn’t, because Michael Bywater is a hack who is so full of shit that it makes me irrationally angry just thinking about it.

And none of this even touches on his bizarre sidetrack into Solipsism later in the article. Apparently everything (literally everything) is bollocks, according to Mr. Bywater. Well, as the saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Maybe if all you can write is bullshit, every topic looks like nonsense.

In summary, Mr. Bywater is, at best, incompetent. At worst he’s an unprofessional and sophistic hack.

In other news, I really need to learn how to get less worked up about these things.

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Magic Blue Smoke

House Rules:

1.) Carry out your own dead.
2.) No opium smoking in the elevators.
3.) In Competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
4.) A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place.
4a.) Penalty one stroke.
5.) Pilsner should be in Roman type, and begin with a capital.
6.) Keep Calm and Kill It with Fire.
7.) Spammers will be fed to the Crabipede.