School Chaplains: why can’t you lot just stick to the pulpit #auspol

It appears the Abbott government still wants to exclude secular workers from the School Chaplaincy program, despite widespread opposition and two High Court challenges.

Religious people have numerous avenues available if they wish to seek spiritual guidance for themselves or their children; this constant push by some of them to have exclusive access to other peoples’ children while in school is distasteful and extremely presumptuous (and possibly even un-Constitutional – while Section 116 has historically not been applied to state funding of religious schools, implementing exclusively religious programs such as this in state schools might be a different basket of loaves and fishes. While the Abbott regime might be able to use the general term “religious” to escape being accused of favouring of one faith over another, the very term “chaplain” has an exclusively Christian origin and I doubt very strongly that we’ll see a great many imams, rabbis or whatever those used-god salesmen-for-Xenu call themselves counselling state school students).  

Apart from the blatant discrimination involved in barring secular counselors from consideration, kids with serious problems (or even mild ones) don’t need Divinity lessons, they need trained professionals. Religious exceptionalism of this sort is highly likely to expose vulnerable children to inappropriate proselytising and unhelpful advice – when compared to the likelihood of a properly trained secular counselor attempting to proselytise their philosophy, it’s practically a stone-carved certainty.

If a counselor is appropriately qualified and experienced they should be hired; their religious status, just like their age, marital status and orientation, should be irrelevant to their practice. It’s not legal for the Commonwealth to refuse employment in any other area of operation on religious grounds; how such a proscription wouldn’t apply to state school counselors escapes me. This appears to be yet another example of a government operating by ideology and working off a checklist, with pragmatism, fairness and perhaps even legality being secondary concerns.

Evangelising students in school is not only preying on an audience that’s legally compelled to be there, it’s also based on the offensive and arrogant presumption that the evangelists have the right (God-given, of course) to undermine whatever religious traditions those kids’ families may already observe in their own homes or places of worship or whatever non-religious philosophies they may subscribe to.

Not only that, but those churches that evangelise more often than not subscribe to fringe conservative and flat-out fundamentalist interpretations of Scripture which have absolutely no place in our public schools, where there frequently is a plurality of ethnicity and culture.

I’m sure we can all imagine the outcry from decent Christian folk if Islamists or JW’s or Mormons were given privileged access to state school students (even if ostensibly to use their powers for good and explicitly not for the purposes of conversion attempts); it’s much better for all concerned (chiefly the kids who’ll need professional advice and support) if preachers (or preachers-by-other-names) stay in the pulpit.


Noah’s Ark – retold for realism #noah

You may have heard that Rusty Crowe is starring in a new film about Noah’s Ark – you may also have heard that some Christians have a problem with its historical accuracy and have forced it to be edited.

Yes, really.

I won’t spend any time discussing the sheer hilarity of the idea that an obvious and clear myth – which is itself an obvious and clear reboot of at least one prior Babylonian flood story – could be at all “accurate” in any meaningful sense of the word.

However, I do believe a Noah film could be shot realistically. Make it from the point of view of one of Noah’s neighbours. It’d start off with Noah being a normal, decent chap but a little quiet. After a little while, he starts being a bit withdrawn, even reclusive; you don’t see his family much any more either. When you do see him he’s furtive and glances at you sideways; he’s always hurrying somewhere, always ushering his wife or family members back inside. People start talking – is he drinking? Does he hit his wife? Then the noises start. Sawing. Nailing. Is it a house extension? Eventually something takes shape. It’s big. A barn? You go over to ask Noah what he’s doing. He’s up a ladder and shouts something unintelligible; he seems angry. You leave it for the moment.

Months later, Noah’s construction is still growing – but it’s still just framework. Noone knows what it is but noone bothers to ask anymore. It appears he’s spending all his time and money on building whatever it is. It’s too big for a barn. A marketplace? A new temple? Maybe, but of wood? Surely stone or even mud bricks would be more appropriate. You ask the local elders and merchants and priests but none have any idea what’s going on. The whole family seem to be involved now; always up ladders, fetching tools, timber, following instructions barked by an increasingly preoccupied (and dishevelled) Noah.

The thing – now called “Noah’s Folly” by the people in town – is taking shape and there’s cladding on it now. It’s shaped like a boat but there’s no rudder, no masts, no oarlocks, barely even a porthole. It’s also far too big to be practical as a river boat – you’re not even convinced it’ll float, let alone be able to manouevre downstream where it becomes shallow. The smell of pitch now fills the air; Noah’s sealing it against the water. It’s a boat after all.

Eventually curiosity, and hatred of the smell of pitch, gets the better of you. Over you go to ask what Noah’s up to; this time you’ll not leave without an answer. Noah arcs up, enraged and perhaps a little terrified. He rages on and on about how all are doomed, including you; only Noah and his family are righteous and deserving; all will be judged by God and washed from the Earth. You glance at his wife; she just looks haunted and avoids your gaze. Noah’s children don’t even look up from their tasks. Something very curious – very wrong – is happening at Noah’s house.

After a while, things go quiet. Construction appears to have stopped. No more hammering, no more smell of pitch. You think maybe it’s over and Noah’s giant boat – which must surely bankrupt him if it hasn’t already – will sit there as testament to what you now assume is his madness (or perhaps his well-known love of wine) until it rots.

But then the noise starts again – it’s different this time. Livestock. Goats, geese, camels, sheep. Maybe this boat is a barn after all! It will be the rainy season soon – maybe he’s starting a new career as a breeder and wants to protect his investments. But it doesn’t end with livestock. Noah’s even bringing creatures in from the wilderness: wolves, ostriches, even a pair of lions. All restrained (barely) with ropes. Maybe it’s a menagerie like the ones you’ve heard princes and kings keep! They keep coming, brought in by his family. You marvel at how eight people could do all this; you notice how tired, hungry and defeated they all look – all except Noah, who seems consumed, obsessed – perhaps possessed. Noah ushers or just drags all the creatures into the boat. At night you can hear them complain – has he any water or food for them? You hope the ropes on the lions are strong, lest they roam the decks in search of prey. How do they even breathe with just a single window in the top cabin? How can they not suffocate on the stench of their own waste? This isn’t constructed like any barn or boat you’ve ever seen – even in this winter weather, it must be like an oven during the day and a dank, stinking cave by night.

Noah stops bringing the animals after a while. Then all he does is stand atop his boat and watch the sky all day, as if waiting for something. He becomes increasingly agitated. After a week, the rains come – just like they always do. The river floods, just like it always does. It’s a little bigger than last year (though smaller than some you can remember from your youth) and you thank God you built your house halfway up the hillside instead of moving further down on the valley floor, like Noah (you recall asking him why during the last planting season; he just smiled and continued pushing his barrow).

The river widens and deepens as the rains continue. Eventually the water laps at the sides of Noah’s boat. He hurries his family on board, carrying what seems to be a bare minimum of supplies. The water keeps coming (it’s definitely a big one this year!) and consumes Noah’s yards, enters his house. He seems unconcerned, just watching the sky. Some of his other neighbours wade through his submerged yard to confront him; they plead with him to get to higher ground. They’re very concerned about the safety of this boat or floating barn or whatever it is. Noah curses them and spits at them. They retreat back up the hill and watch the water rise.

Two days later; nobody’s seen anybody on the top deck but Noah and the water’s a few feet up the side of Noah’s boat; you’re wondering if the pitch will keep such a large thing watertight, let alone whether it’ll float. You’re not the only one; the hillsides are packed with people curious (perhaps morbidly so) about the fate of Noah’s boat. After a few more hours of steady rain, the boat shifts a little. You hear a gasp from the assembled spectators. More rain. More water. Just before dusk, the giant craft creaks, groans, protests and is finally shifted from its cradle of gopher logs. No sound from the crowd – everyone’s just staring, breaths held. Noah’s boat is now floating. Maybe it’s seaworthy after all! Maybe Noah’s some kind of strange, misunderstood genius (though that still wouldn’t explain the animals).

As the boat is taken downstream, you hear Noah bellowing something over the sound of the rushing water and falling rain – you can’t make it out but it sounds triumphant. Then you hear a sound that chills you to the bone. A creaking, groaning sound. It graduates to a cracking, splintering sound. The vessel is visibly twisting as it’s turned by the current – as if some unseen giant is wringing it out like a large wet cloth. Cladding bursts free from the side of the vessel. Water rushes in, animals fall out. You see a lion, an ostrich, a goat, all fall in to the river. Then a man – one of Noah’s sons? Frantically they paddle and kick but more cladding and beams fall on top of them. You and the crowd are now running down the hill to the riverbank. Perhaps you’ll be able to help save one of the crew. The stricken craft, now waterlogged, runs aground on a sandbar downstream, but it doesn’t stop dead. It starts to tip over, one side dug into the sand. The weight of its own timbers and waterlogged lower decks makes it collapse in on itself. Above the roar of snapping timbers you can hear the desperate screams of animals and people alike.

When you draw level with the sandbar you see among the cracked, twisted ribs of the boat some of the dead: sheep, an ox, some people floating face down. From your vantage point on the riverbank you see Noah on a small patch of sand. As he was on the top deck he was thrown clear by the impact. He’s on his side, still moving. The wreck of the boat is forming a dam, diverting the still-rising water around him. You and some neighbours start talking about a rescue plan – how can we get across the river to the sandbar? Will the wreck hold long enough for us to bring him back? Another grisly cracking sound answers your question as the rest of the hull begins to give way. You and your neighbours rush back up the hillside and turn just in time to see the hapless Noah engulfed by the merciless grey river and the shattered remnants of his creation. You and the other villagers sit in silence as the wreckage flows beyond the sandbar and out of sight down the river. Some of it remains where it fell, stuck in the sand or snagged on the riverbank. As the rain eases and the river subsides, the full extent of the carnage is revealed. Gopherwood beams, planks and logs and the carcasses of animals and people litter the riverbank from the sandbar onward. Noah’s body is never found.

After the funerals are held for Noah’s family, the dead animals disposed of and the remnants of Noah’s vessel cleared away (and reused – it was good timber!), people start retelling the tale of Noah and his “ark”, as people are now calling it. Each time you hear the story, whether in the marketplace, the tavern or via some passing travellers, it appears to grow in magnitude. Some giraffes here, two hippopotami there. By the time you hear a version where Noah’s floating menagerie is an astonishing three hundred cubits (!) long, contains a breeding pair of every animal on the Earth, endures forty whole days of rain and spends a year afloat without any creatures starving to death, you give up trying to correct people. Yes, you were actually there, knew Noah personally and saw the whole thing unfold, but noone wants to hear that. Nobody wants to hear the truth when it’s so much more fun to tell a good story. Next thing you know people will be saying he was called on by God!

Update 16 March 2014: Yo, Aronofsky – this is the film you should have made, brah! 😀

"Your problem is with God, not me…"

A Dangerous Intersection post of mine (a duplicate of this one here) attracted, surprisingly for me, a quick splash of comments from users. One born-again young-earth creationist respondent, a Mr Brewer, after pasting the usual slabs of fundie garbage & evangelist catchphrases, decided it would be ok to label me “depraved” (precisely, that I had a depraved or useless mind) because I’m not down with Jesus (I was already familiar with Brewer’s work as we’d had a brief stoush in a post of Erich Vieth’s about sex education. A pet project for fundamentalist ignorance and arse-backwardness, their stance on sex-ed amounts to “don’t tell ’em how to do it safely, just tell ’em not to do it at all.” Right. Worked a treat for Bristol Palin). And, yes, being called “depraved” annoyed me somewhat, as my responses no doubt indicate. So I bit back a couple of times. Who is this guy to judge & insult me because I disagree with him? At least I was only trying to, respectfully but firmly, smack his arguments (such as they were) down without resorting to insulting the guy.

But, really, being insulted (someone who thinks the entire planet is younger than verbal communication, the discovery of agriculture and the domestication of animals, no less, thinks my mind is useless?) wasn’t the problem. I can cop an insult, and “depraved” is pretty mild. Even so, I called him on it and pointed out that it’s not how grownups talk to each other. I didn’t expect an apology – at best, a cessation of such ad hominems in further posts would have been perfectly acceptable. Anyway, instead of an “ok, fine” or even just ignoring it and moving on (which would have been fine), he did it again. But this time he offered a justification – that it’s God who thinks my mind is useless. My problem shouldn’t be with Brewer whipping insults around the place in place of actual arguments, it should be with God. “Hey, don’t blame me, talk to God about it! It’s not me who thinks you’re depraved, it’s God. I’m just passing on his message. You can choose not to be depraved by accepting Christ! Gee, I’m sorry if you took offence at being insulted but hey, again, take it up with the Lord. I just want to help you poor pitiful atheists find Jesus because I care about you!” (I paraphrase here, but that’s the thrust).

Interesting, Mr Brewer. Even though it’s you who thought it and typed it and clicked “post” (repeatedly), it’s not your fault. The depravity – the “useless minds” – of all atheists might not necessarily be what you yourself truly believe but because you think God thinks it, you have a duty to pass it on for our own sake because you care … which is about the most gutless, laughable, pathetic and classically fundamentalist piece of rank bullshit I’ve ever heard. It’s on a par with “the devil made me do it!” as a complete abdication of personal responsibility. It’s a classic passing of the buck to someone who is completely unaccountable (and, to throw in my extra tuppence, whose existence is so gargantuanically improbable that it’s more or less safe to say he’s non-existent, or at least completely uninterested). You might think it’s okay, as many fundies do, to just throw shit like that out there and absolve yourself of any responsibility by hiding behind your god’s apron. “It’s God’s word, talk to him about it.” Or, in more accurate parlance, “Don’t blame me, blame my secret friend. He did it!”. Hey, it worked when you were six, why not keep it up?

I guess your average fundie clown would see this kind of thing as an epic win: you get to call the nasty old atheist whatever you want, be it “depraved”, “immoral”, “stained with sin” or whatever else you want to paste in the comments box from your weekly, talking-point filled email from Answers In Genesis or Ray “Watch Me Wank This Banana” Comfort or Ken “Not That Much Smarter Than A Leg Of” Ham. Then, if anyone gets shitty you can just say “Don’t blame me my friend, that’s just what God says.” Ha!

OK, I’m trying not to harp here. This isn’t a BAWW because some troll called me a name. Like I said, I’ve had worse. This is just a simple, honest Fuck You because the guy weaseled out of it by laying blame at the feet of his God who, conveniently, isn’t the kind who just answers you when you say “Oi, what’s this shit about me being depraved?” Shit, if you’re going to insult someone, have the balls to stand by it and accept whatever response you get and not refer me to your manager. Seriously, if you’re going to stand there, insult a person and say “oh no, it’s not me, it’s God” then you can go fuck yourself. Such blatant hypocrisy is a lot more insulting than an actual insult.

It’s really very amusing, and pitiful, in hindsight. Being accused of having a useless mind by a guy who is so mindless he won’t even take responsibilty for his own words & who believes the Earth is 6000 years old despite centuries of evidence (evidence – remember that?) to the contrary is probably the best & clearest example of fundamentalist hypocrisy I’ve ever seen. Sticks & stones, Mr Brewer. Hell, not even your words faze me that much. Actions, though, are something different. When you accuse me of having a useless, depraved mind, deny your own mind as the source of your words and then attribute responsibility for those words to the mind of your god (who’s conveniently unavailable for comment), you reveal yourself either as the worst kind of cowardly liar, eager to absolve yourself of responsibility for your own actions and pass it on to someone who’s completely unaccountable, as a rank hypocrite or merely as an intellectual zombie – an empty vessel for the thoughts and opinions of others, be they your god, pastor, community or whoever it was who originally put that idea in your head.

To me, a truly useless mind is one that can be used by others for their own purposes as easily as yours seems to be, Mr Brewer. The pity I now feel for your empty mind is far more than any annoyance I previously felt at being insulted. I can think of no worse fate than being a mere vehicle for someone else’s bigotry and ignorance. If I had a religious bone in my body, I’d pray for you.

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Score one for the "religion of peace"

From the Beeb:

At least eight women and one man are reported to have been sentenced to death by stoning in Iran.

The group, convicted of adultery and sex offences, could be executed at any time, lawyers defending them say.

Under Iran’s strict penal code, men convicted of adultery should be buried up to their waists and women up to their chests for stoning. The stones used should not be large enough to kill the person immediately.

Men up to their waists; women up to their chests. Fair enough, I mean, you don’t want them to run away or be able to cower and protect themselves, but I suppose you don’t want to hurt their breasts or genitals either (or even admit they exist, this is fundamentalist Islam after all). Also, good that the stones shouldn’t be big enough to kill them immediately. It’s perfectly understandable that you’d want to cause someone immense pain through dozens, maybe hundreds of blunt force traumas first. You want to draw it out so the stoners can enjoy their work. They could perhaps have competitions to see who can blind the prisoner or break their nose first. Don’t throw too hard though – perhaps the vicious, sinful sex criminal could suffer some kind of brain damage first or even slip into unconsciousness which would mean they wouldn’t feel the rest of the stones hitting their face and body. Can’t have that – they have to realise the error of their ways before they slip into unconsciousness and have their heads bashed in.

I thought Catholicism and Christianity in general was Dark-Ages retarded (retarded in the literal sense of the word, as in “held back or delayed”). Most of the time when I rant I concentrate on Christianity because it’s the religion I’m familiar with, but I often seem to forget how Islam – which makes similar claims to Absolute Truth and Moral Certainty – always manages to eclipse Christianity in almost every way. Sexual discrimination/homophobia/sexual hangups in general? Islam wins. Brutal punishments like the above? Islam again. Strident demands to not be offended by someone who disagrees? We can all recall the Danish cartoon fiasco and the poor teacher in the Sudan who had to be spirited out of the country after her students, not her, named a teddy Mohammed – then she apologised!! Vicious demonstrations calling for the deaths of critics? Think of the infamous fatwa against Salman Rushdie (his is still in effect twenty years later – these people don’t forgive or forget). What about actual deaths of critics? Think of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. He was found gunned down & stabbed to death in the street. Pinned to his chest with a knife was a note, addressed to Somali-born, Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, which said “you’re next”. As an apostate and vocal, public critic of Islam, Ms Ali has her own fatwa against her and requires 24hr protection wherever she goes. I probably don’t need to mention honour killings or 72 virgins or Bali, do I?

I got your Religion of Peace right here:

Of course, it would be completely unfair to characterise all Muslims as potential faith-based murderers. I won’t lie and tell you that some of my best friends are Muslims, but I have many Muslim co-workers and they’re all decent, gentle, caring people (this is a humanitarian organisation after all). The last thing on my mind would be to feel uncomfortable or frightened around them. What would not be unfair would be to say that, simply looking at the numbers, their religion, unfortunately, produces more than its fair share of brutal violence. Violence which, more often than not according to the very words of the perpetrators of such violence, is scripturally-inspired. How many pre-suicide bomb films have we seen where the soon-to-be martyr proclaims the greatness of Allah? Not even that – just look at theocracies like Iran & Saudi Arabi where punishments like stonings and beheadings are carried out daily and where Koran-based prohibitions on what an adult can do are ruthlessly enfored by “Public Decency Police” or what-have-you. Look at what happens to gay people/adulterers – even hetero, umarried couples who dare to defy their families in those countries (more often than not it’s the woman who takes the brunt of punishment). Look at the world Osama bin Laden & his ilk want to create – everyone under the bootheel of Wahabbi Islam, the strictest, most fundamentalist version that can be found.

Yes, obviously it’s always the extremists that cause the problems, that small minority that make all moderate, decent believers look bad. But when can we expect the moderates all over the world to say “No! That’s not our Islam, that’s their Islam, ours is about peace and quiet coexistence and acceptance. Those ranting muftis do not speak for us!” And what if the moderates did stand up for decency? The extremists would say “Their moderate Islam is wrong; ours commands us to spread the word of Allah by whatever means are necessary; our Islam demands we wage jihad! Their Islam is weak and diluted and corrupted by decadent, permissive, infidel Western whores!”

That, by and large, is my biggest problem with religion. With so many different competing sects, versions and levels of literalism when it comes to interpreting the texts, how can anyone be sure that theirs is the right one? How can any of these people, apart from the fact they were marinated in it for their entire lives, actually know they’re doing it right? This is a point frequently raised by atheists/agnostics/rationalists and to my knowledge it’s never been adequately addressed by a believer or priest or theologist. What if your moderate version of the religion is actually wrong and God actually wants you to behave like an illiterate desert shepherd from two or three thousand years ago? What if he actually does want you to execute infidels and de-converts and people who work on weekends? What if he will condemn you to hell for the slightest infraction? Face it, you and your sect have evolved & adapted your faith to conform with your own personal morality and that of your modern society. But you had absolutley no right to do that; God’s word is law and it’s the only law you need. How dare you defy God’s will and make up your own rules? May God have mercy on your soul!

Sam Harris and others have said that it’s the moderate form of any religion which provides the environment in which the extreme element survives (after all, pretty much all religions start of as fundamentalist and then evolve toward moderation through time – today’s fundamentalists are just getting back to basics). The moderates provide cover for the extremists to grow and thrive, like weeds in a cornfield. Some weeds manage to exert a disproportionate influence on the rest of the crop though – in cases like Iran and Saudi Arabia, the weeds have full control. It’s not the spread of Islam that the world must be on its guard against (it’s the fastest-growing faith in the world and it’s everywhere anyway); it’s the stunted, poisonous, parasitic weeds that Islam allows to grow and spread that we should stamp out and uproot wherever we find them.