Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Truth About Matts and Dogmas

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." -Mahatma Gandhi

Disclaimer: It is not my place to convince anyone that their religion is wrong. If your faith is shaky, I'd prefer you didn't read this. Nor do I want you to read this if you're going to retaliate by trying to convert me to your religion/denomination/cult/wireless plan. I was raised Christian, I've read the Good Book from cover to cover, I've studied it in countless Bible classes, and I've attended service in at least five different churches. And in my experience, I usually know more scripture than most of the Christians who try to convert me.

If there is a god, then I thank him very much for my existence. Which is pretty appreciative, I'd say, considering how much time I spend wishing I'd never been born. I consider myself agnostic, which means that I try to keep an open mind, and I don't rule anything out. Considering how much humans have learned about the universe just in my lifetime alone, it would be complete idiocy to rule out anything at this point, including the concept of a supreme being.

But I can't believe in a god whose doctrines would advocate cruelty for my fellow human beings, or one who would condemn people to eternal pain just because of the way they were born. I can't believe in a god who would sculpt something as artistic and beautiful as the human body, and then tell us it's a sin to see it. I can't believe in a god who would tell his followers, "don't think for yourselves, just read my book and follow it word-for-word, because after all, thinking too much gives you wrinkles." And I flat-out refuse to consider a god whose average followers are as mind-bogglingly stupid as the ones I see here in the Bible Belt.

It's not that I require proof of God's existence. I understand that believing in God is a test of faith. However, there's dozens of religions/sects/denomination/etc that say the same thing: "You have to take us on faith." What, do I just throw a dart and pick one at random? "Take it on faith" is a cop-out, pure and simple. It's a way of saying, "We've got nothing to go on but the beliefs of people who lived 2000 years ago, and articles that were written before science had been discovered. But... but... but... that's our proof! Since our religion is based on faith, then the fact that there's no proof is proof in itself! In fact, God took away all the proof on purpose, just so he could find out who really believes in Him! Yeah, that's the ticket!"

Christianity is full of cop-outs like that. Like if someone finds a contradiction in the Bible, the nearest Christian will point out that "even the Devil can quote scripture, and will do so in an attempt to trap you." Which is cop-out-ese for, "If you find any damning mistakes in our doctrine, it must be because the Devil was making you think too much." How can you argue with that?

It's funny, with so much rationalization going on, that more Christians can't accept the idea of evolution. The two theories go right together; if anything, evolution supports the Christian bible. Both beliefs present fairly similar ideas about the order in which animals started to appear on Earth, etc. If creationists would just get past the whole "7 days" thing, and rationalize that each "day" was several million years long, and most importantly THINK, there might be fewer picket lines at our high schools.

From my POV, I really don't see any compelling difference between the Christian Bible and Greek mythology. Both use fanciful speculation to close the gaps that were waiting to be filled by science. You'd start with a mystery, like "what's the deal with that big yellow ball in the sky?" People would scratch their heads and shrug, then some egotistical Cliff Claven type would stand up and say, "Well, there's this guy named Apollo who likes to fly around in a flaming chariot..." Or he might just say, "Well, God said 'Let there be light', and then He separated light from darkness." Either way, he was just talking out of his ass, because it made him feel smarter.

In my opinion, Christians would have a lot more credibility if they would actually read their Bible, and follow it as a whole. As opposed to what they really do, which is pick out their favorite verses, misinterpret the rest, and plow their way through life doing whatever they were going to do anyway, their natural hatreds now reinforced by divine approval. Because that's how religion works - it doesn't change beliefs, it strengthens beliefs people already have, and grants assertiveness to people who really don't need to be assertive.

Why do so many people focus on certain verses? For instance, if your Bible tells you that homosexuality is a sin, then fine, believe it. But why center on it? With such a long list of sins in the Bible, many of which are committed by everyone, including you, every day, why should you single out gay people as being evil sinners, when you're just as much of an evil sinner yourself? "Let he among you who is without sin..." yada yada yada. Even if I was mentally-stunted enough to believe that homosexuality is a choice, it's not like they're actually engaging in homosexual intercourse 24 hours a day. To flat out hate them, you're condemning them for their state of being, not for their individual sins.

The Bible may or may not actually condemn the act of homosexuality (I'll save that debate for some other time), but I swear to you, sinners or not, nowhere does the Bible instruct you to HATE these people (or anyone, really). And if your copy does, then I implore you to find a new copy, a new religion, and a new brain. Possibly a new planet as well - with attitudes gradually improving, it won't be too long before homophobic rednecks are such a minority, they'll be afraid to open their mouths for fear of being beaten to death by purses. It'll be a good day.

So.....

In the interests of keeping the peace between the religious and the not-so-much-religious, to bridge the gap between different denominations (split because people found two ways to interpret a vaguely-written verse), to help the "it's-easier-to-do-whatever-my-preacher-says-than-to-think-for-myself" people get along with the "God-likes-people-who-can-think-for-themselves" crowd, and possibly to save the planet itself from total destruction, I have decided it's time to start my own religion.

Introducing... (drum roll please)...

>>> The First Church of DOYC <<<

The name "Church of Bob" was already taken, believe it or not. Anyway, for those unfamiliar with internet lingo, "DOYC" stands for "Deity Of Your Choice". In my church, you will be allowed to worship any god (or gods) you wish, or even none at all. Our sermons will preach about nice things people can do for each other. We will include inspirational stories from all sources, including the Bible, as well as the bibles of other major religions. Think of it as more like a "comparative religion" course, combined with an ethics class.

For the first few years, worship service is going to be sort of abstract. Meaning we won't actually meet, we'll just all stay home and visualize going to church. If we make enough money from our imaginary collection plates, we'll start visualizing a much larger church. Obviously the concept of "tithing" is going to be a little different in this respect. If (and only if) you can afford to give away 10% (or any amount) of your earnings, then let's just skip the middle man. Give your donation straight to charity. Preferably something to do with education. After all, what good does it do society for me to spend your donations on more comfortable pews?

Our Ten Commandments:

1. Thou Shalt Not mix religion with politics.
Morality and legality are both important entities, but should be kept seperate. Save the government for important things like murder and property theft. Things that hurt you. There's no reason to call the police because you're offended by someone else's favorite TV show. If you're so sure your neighbor's being immoral, then trust your god to handle that one in the afterlife. If you don't think your god can take care of a little matter like that, then why do you go to the trouble of believing in him? He is the "supreme being" after all. In fact, your god is probably highly offended that you think so little of him. "Hey, 911? I was peeking into my neighbor's window with a telescope, and I noticed that he's masturbating to an issue of Cat Fancy. I find this highly offensive, and I think he should be punished, but my god has a small penis and just isn't powerful enough to send this guy to Hell later. Can you send an officer over to arrest him, so I'll feel like justice has been done?"

2. Thou Shalt Not push your religious views onto other people.
If they don't want to hear it, don't make them. People will be more likely to follow your example if you're not actively trying to piss them off. Why in the world would I want to join your church, when everyone in it is obviously such an annoying prick?

3. Thou Shalt Not use religion as an excuse to hate people or groups of people.
Religion is just a more active version of philosophy, and the nature of philosophy is to question your beliefs from time to time. Philosophical disagreements are an invitation to think, not a reason to hate. Some people have a tendency to reach a certain age, and decide that they now know everything. Then when they're presented with something that challenges their set beliefs, they immediately go on the offensive.

4. Thou Shalt seek peaceful solutions to your disagreements.
If someone slaps you, turn the other cheek... then sue them. But don't get yourself in a fight just because you're afraid of looking like a sissy. For the love of DOYC, you're just going to make matters worse. What do you think's going to be solved? After a fight, the two guys still don't respect each other, only now they both have broken bones. All they did was give in to their emotions... the same thing these "macho" men constantly accuse women of doing, and try to use as "proof" that men are superior. Bottom line: People who get into fist fights are pussies.

5. Thou Shalt Not be a fuddy duddy.
I can't tell you how many times I've seen one person tell a slightly off-color joke, and then watched the nearest Christian try not to laugh. "Oh, I can't find that funny, or God'll get me." Dude, if it tickled your funny-bone, the damage has been done. Laughing isn't going to make it any worse. Have fun with life, for DOYC's sake. What fun is heaven going to be if everyone there has sticks up their asses? But this really goes back to my previous blog on "offensensitivity". If you're so easily offended that every casual conversation leaves you fuming, then you're no fun to be around. And if your friends and co-workers don't want to be around you, what makes you think God will?

6. Honor Thy Father and Mother, but not to the point where you forget they're human.
So many people pick the religion their parents worshipped. Of course, if they'd been born in the house across the street, they'd worship a different god, and would still be claiming that proof didn't matter, because they have faith. In fact, people base lots of their beliefs on that of their parents, under the assumption that they're older and wiser. Which is forgetting that their parents' beliefs are based the beliefs of their grandparents, the same grandparents who still buy them Garfield underwear for Christmas and call them by their dog's name. It amazes me how many other beliefs - not just religion - start out as, "because that's how my parents did it." Do you realize that if everyone thought this way throughout history, we still wouldn't have electricity?

And that's the type of rationalization that really makes Baby Doyc cry - everyone believes themselves to be the perfect human being, and therefore the way they were raised must be the perfect way to raise a child. I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone say, "I support child beatings. My daddy beat me every day growing up, whether I'd done anything or not." ...and I'll reply, "Yeah, but you're an asshole. I don't want my kids to grow up to be assholes." It's particularly hard growing up in areas where racism is considered acceptable. I had several friends growing up who were decent, smart kids, but whose parents were trying their damnedest to raise their children racist. Some of my visits didn't feel so much like "play dates" as they did "damage control".

7. Thou Shalt Have No Other Blogs Before Me.
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9. Thou Shalt Not Notice I Skipped #8.
I only have so much time on my hands. What, you think I get paid to make up commandments all day?

10. Thou Shalt not be an asshole.
This is just in case I missed anything. Basically, don't kill, steal, rape, molest, punch, kick, torture, vandalize, or incinerate anyone or anything that oughtn't be killed, stolen, raped, molested, punched, kicked, tortured, vandalized, or incinerated. Heck, most of the original Bible's laws could have been summed up as "don't be an asshole".

For your reference, here's a handy Good-to-Evil chart. Note that "well-meaning" Christians fall two notches below average citizens.

GOOD
God, Jesus, DOYC - Good-aligned deities, whether fictional or real.
Ghandi-types, Heroes, Martyrs - People who risk their lives for the sake of others.
Good Samaritans - People who donate to charities, help the downtrodden, etc, whether they do it for religious reasons or not.
Average citizens - Athiests, Agnostics, and Religious people who don't rub your face in it.
Petty Criminals - Those who would steal property, but wouldn't want to hurt other people.
"Well-meaning" Christians - Those who feel that homosexuality is evil, "immoral" should be illegal, nudity is disgusting, etc.
Hitler-types, Serial Killers, Sociopaths - People who cause pain on purpose, or have no qualms about taking human lives.
Satan, Anti-DOYC - Evil-aligned deities, whether fictional or real.
EVIL

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Offensensitivity

I believe there is a direct correlation between how intelligent a person is, and how difficult it is to offend them. To put it bluntly: Stupid people are easily offended. I like this theory, mostly because it makes me look smart.

Often, people who are being offended are actually displaying cultural intolerances. For example: Bill grows up in the small town of Duck Nostril, Tennessee. Jill grows up in Squidlips, Utah. In Squidlips, the word "flurfle" means "to roll a ball". In Duck Nostril, "flurfle" is a vulgarity that means "to copulate". The two meet, and Jill uses the word in casual conversation. Bill is shocked and outraged. Jill realizes her mistake, and decides not to use the word in his presence again. But it's too late, Bill has already filed a suit for sexual harrassment.

A more realistic scenario: In Bill's hometown, the word "girl" is used interchangeably with "woman". There is no disrespect meant by the term. Children are "boys and girls", and adults are "guys and girls". Jill, however, feels that the word "girl" diminishes her, and is used by men to treat women like children. And in many cases she's right, but even so, Bill has the highest respect for Jill as well as all women. He simply thinks that "girls" are females of any age; that's simply what the word means to him. If Jill decides to correct him, that's fine. But if she is offended right away, then she is refusing to see other cultural variations of language.

I was at a restaurant one time with my stepmother. Our waitress kept calling me "Honey" and "Sweetie". After the waitress was gone, my stepmother asked me, "Doesn't that bother you? Don't you find it disrespectful?" I replied, "No, I'm not insane." I understand why some people would be offended by that sort of thing... I guess... but so what? This woman obviously meant the words as compliments, so why should I take them as anything else? The waitress must have grown up in an area where that was considered acceptable and complimentary. My stepmother obviously did not. And I was raised in some third place, possibly an alternate universe, where children are taught to consider the context more than the actual words.

But my stepmother is also very religious. That has little to do with the conversation above, but there does seem to be a connection there. Over-religious people are more easily offended than sane people. And having rejected science, over-religious people also seem to be a bit less intelligent. Okay, I'm overgeneralizing. Believe it or not, I have no problems with religion in and of itself. That's why I say "over-religious" - these are the people who not only worship a higher power, but also insist that everyone else do the same. These are the ones who go to church twice a week, listen to their pastor read Bible stories about loving your fellow man, then somehow turn that message into "why gay people should be killed."

But they're not the only ones. Everyone has thick skin these days, hence "Political Correctness". Thanks to PC, I have no idea how to describe someone. Like, "differently abled" - when something is bad, people don't like to talk directly about it, so they dance around the issue. So the more syllables a description has, the worse the condition sounds. That's one reason I don't like terms like "people of color" and "african american"... it makes it sound like there's something wrong with being black.

Question: in the "flurfle" scenario, did the genders sound reversed to you? You sexist pig :)

So, what offends me? Censorship. Sexism. Racism. People who put their own preferences above that of all others. People who burn books. People who think all TV shows/movies/books/video games should be wiped clean of anything they consider offensive, just in case a child should happen to watch one of them. People who think that this country should be ruled by religion. People who are offended by the nude human body (to clarify: it's okay if you don't particularly want to see nudity, or don't want kids to see it, or find certain bodies a "turn-off", but being "offended" by non-sexual nudity is unnatural and mentally unhealthy, IMO). But the bottom line is, what offends me most is people who are easily offended.

The difference between what is offensive, and what should be offensive, lies in the heart of the offender. Often the people who try to say something diplomatically, do so because the subject matter is offensive in itself. If you ever find yourself saying something like, "I'm not racist, but..." ...don't even bother finishing the sentence; you're about to say something racist. Heck, once in college, I overheard someone say, "I ain't racist or nuthin', but I just think all those n*****s should go back where they came from!"

Some other examples I hear a lot:
"I'm not racist, but I just don't think whites should marry blacks."
"I'm no homophobe, but I don't think they should show two men kissing on TV."
"I've got nothing against fags, as long as they stay away from me."
"I'm not sexist, but I think a woman's place is in the home."

So in cases like that, I'm offended. But I'm not offended by what was said; I'm offended by what was felt. Words are just words; it takes an entire idiot to offend my sensibilities. If you disagree - if you've said one of the above examples and feel totally justified by it - feel free to post, I'd love to discuss it further.