Friday, April 30, 2010

A fatwa against South Park?


Jewish date:  16 ’Iyyar 5770 (Parashath ’Emor).

Today’s holidays:  Day 31 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Feast Day of Pius V (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Elvis Costello (Church of the SubGenius), Walpurgis Eve (Thelema).

Topic 1:  Today’s dose of anti-Semitism:  “In-Depth Media Analysis:  BBC:  January 1- March 31, 2010”.  Much effort has gone into quantifying bias in the BBC’s reporting.

Topic 2:  “'South Park' and the Informal Fatwa”, “South Park”, and “‘South Park’: Drawing a Line in the Sand”.  These articles deal with the recent censorship of South Park.  South Park is a cartoon which reportedly vile and insults practically everyone, the sort of thing which if all the vileness were removed would result in little or no show at all.  If only show on television were going to be censored, this would be near or at the top of the list.  And yet people are complaining that an episode of South Park has been censored.  Why?  Because what was censored was a depiction of Muḥammad, the prophet of Islam due to an ambiguous death threat; rather than maintain the show’s reputation for equal-opportunity offense, Comedy Central caved and decided to treat Islam a lot better than it treated other religions.  This is a form of the logical fallacy appeal to force, in which one wrongly assumes that whoever is going to hurt someone else if he/she does not get his/her way must be right.  Not to mention caving in to threats teaches people that making threats works; as a result, it is now more likely that there will be threats the next time Muslims are offended.  And the more threats work, the more endangered is our freedom of speech.  You should be ashamed, Comedy Central, for caving.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor:  “HAVING MISPLACED BOTH THE CHESS SET AND THE VIOLIN”:
Funny Pictures of Cats With Captions
Hint:  The Seventh Seal and “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”.

Peace and Shabbath shalom.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

The theology of The Color of Magic (Discworld Series, book 1)


Jewish date:  15 ’Iyyar 5770 (Parashath ’Emor).

Today’s holidays:  Day 30 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Festival of Ridvan (Bahá’í Faith), Feast Day of Catherine of Siena (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Tito Jackson (Church of the SubGenius).

Today’s topic:  The Color of Magic (Discworld Series, book 1) by Terry Pratchett.  


Before discussing religion in The Color of Magic—or the rest of the Discworld Series, for that matter—it is imperative to briefly explain the world that Pratchett creates.  The Discworld fictional universe is something like what would have happened if Douglas Adams had tried to write Oz books with all the systematics of J. R. R. Tolkien.  It is a well-constructed magical fantasy world in which it seems practically everything is lampooning something from someone else’s fantasy world or something in our world.  And since religion is a huge part of human thought and culture, religion receives the same treatment as everything else.

Discworld theology, so far as is presented in The Color of Magic, is a mishmash of religious ideas from many sources, particularly ones suitable for lampooning.  

The Discworld has a Creator, but He does not appear in this book.  Reportedly He is less mechanically competent but more imaginative than the Creators of other universes.  (And perhaps He is a plagiarist, too, considering what He created.)  His method of creation was magic, specifically with eight spells recorded in the grimoire Octavo.  One of these spells leaped from the Octavo and lodged itself in the head of (then) novice wizard Rincewind, forever keeping him from ever learning any other spells and threatening to force him to say it whenever danger presents itself.  Why the Creator ever left something as dangerous as the Octavo lying around is not explained, though since almost everyone in The Color of Magic is incompetent or crazy (quite common in lampooning), intuition suggests that the Discworld Creator is also incompetent or crazy; He may have simply been careless and forgot to remove the Octavo when He finished the Discworld.

The Discworld itself is a huge disk (hence the name), supported on the backs of four gigantic elephants, which are in turn supported on the back of the gigantic turtle Great A’Tuin.  (The idea of world-elephants comes from Hindu religious tradition, and the world-turtle comes from Native American, Chinese, and Hindu religious traditions.)  At the center of the Discworld is a ten-mile high mountain supporting Dunmanifestin, the abode of the Discworld gods.  (Shades of Mount Olympus).  The gods in this book secretly drive much of the plot by playing a game using mortals as the game pieces.  (Perhaps this is a parody of Albert Einstein’s famous quote “God does not play dice with the universe.”  These gods literally play dice with their universe.)

Note:  Though mortals do worship some of the Discworld gods, mostly they just blame Them instead.  This makes perfect sense considering the game.

Most of the Dunmanifestin gods are quickly knocked out of the game, which turns into a contest between just two gods who are personifications of contradictory principles:  Fate and the Lady.  Fate (unsurprisingly) is the god of predestination, while the Lady is the goddess of luck.  The result of this conflict is something even more cruel than the predestination scenario of Oedipus the King.  The mortals caught between these two gods are Rincewind (long ago expelled from Unseen University the Octavo incident), the tourist Twoflower, a small demon which lives in Twoflower’s camera, and Twoflower’s luggage (which is self-moving, made out of sentient pearwood, and extremely loyal to its master).  Fate is out to kill Rincewind and company, while the Lady is trying to keep them alive.  The result is for Rincewind and company to get stuck in one insanely dangerous situation after another, only to escape each time by the skin of their teeth.  The dark humor of this scenario is heightened by the fact that Twoflower is completely unaware that he is in danger and (even worse) actually seeks out dangerous situations.  Not to mention that Rincewind has to save Twoflower, despite being a coward and the Discworld’s most incompetent wizard.  The contest between Fate and the Lady eventually reaches such a pitch that Fate does something He never ever does:  He strikes a deal with the Arch-Astronomer of Krull.  In exchange for the sacrifice of Rincewind and Twoflower, the Arch-Astronomer is guaranteed success for a venture into space to discover the sex of Great A’Tuin. 

Fate and the Lady are not above enlisting (or drafting) other gods into their game.  The first such beings which act as trouble for Rincewind are dryads, who are angry since he damaged a tree and want to kill him.  The dryads are depicted as being made of a sort of animated wood and having a rather spacious domain inside trees.  Clearly breaking with ancient Greek religion, there are a few male dryads.

Even worse is the Temple of Bel-Shamharoth (AKA the Sender of Eight), an evil being lampooning the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft.  (Because when it comes to insanely dangerous situations, an evil god is extremely hard to beat.)  The Temple of Bel-Shamharoth is supposed to be the most dangerous place on the Discworld and is avoided by everyone with even a smidgeon of sense who has a choice in the matter.  Bel-Shamharoth has a monstrous form with tentacles, sleeps in a special chamber (think “That is not dead which can eternal lie, / And with strange aeons even death may die”), and, at least when it comes to interior decorating, is pathologically obsessed with octagons.  Mentioning the number eight for any reason can wake Ben-Shamharoth.  How He is dealt with makes sense in terms of Him being a chthonic deity.

Even more blatantly plagiarized—and unexpectedly promoted to deity—in The Color of Magic is Death, who is essentially the Grim Reaper.  (A skeleton in black robes with a scythe who takes the souls of the dead.  Who else could He be?)  While Death has assistants, He always comes Himself to collect the souls of wizards (unless He is too busy).  Considering the constant danger Rincewind encounters, Death is always lurking nearby, suggesting that he not resist and accept death willingly.

Also to be noted is the power of will on the Discworld.  In our world, human will can only change reality by being expressed as action.  But on the Discworld, will can interact with magic to manifest itself rather more directly.  One of the places Rincewind and Twoflower visit is the Wyrmberg, an inverted mountain located in the middle of a strong magical field.  The royal family of Wyrmberg uses this field to manifest otherwise impossible dragons into existence, and Greicha the First manages to survive as a talking corpse after being poisoned by his daughter by refusing to die.

Overall classification:  Humorous fantasy.  Some content not suitable for children and may cause certain people’s heads to implode.

Theological rating:  Cookie Monster.  (This is an absurdist book.  It’s getting an absurdist rating.)


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Monday, April 26, 2010

V is for “five”


Jewish date:  12 ’Iyyar 5770 (Parashath ’Emor).

Today’s holidays:  Day 27 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Festival of Ridvan (Bahá’í Faith), Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Jethro Tull (Church of the SubGenius), Universal Ordination Day (Discordianism).

Worthy cause of the day:  “Close the Gun Show Loophole - The Petition Site”.

Topic 1:  The latest episode of V, “We Can't Win”.  (Yes, I know I have to get around to reviewing these things faster.)  This is not a heavily religious episode, but there are two items of note.  The first is that Father Jack uses his position as a priest to get to talk to a person of interest on his deathbed.  (Think last rites.)  The second is that Chad metaphorically calls Anna a god, which certainly fits in the image she works to create for herself.  Anna strongly implies in a retort that if she is a god, Chad is her prophet, which works considering his position as her favored reporter.

Side note:  It has occurred to me that the name of the Visitor opposition group, “Fifth Column”, is extremely appropriate.  After all, the Roman numeral for 5 is V.

Also:  Someone prod me on faster reviewing in general.  I finished The Color of Magic (Discworld Series, book 1) by Terry Pratchett the other day, and I need to start writing up a review on it very soon before I bury what I read under thoughts of the next book in the series, The Light Fantastic.

Topic 2:  Daily dose of anti-Semitism:  “Could Hamas Be Any More Disgusting?”  I really cannot make up anything this lopsided.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor:  “devil skwerl”:
Funny Pictures


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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Divine punishment, the pointlessness of the peace process, and the disgraceful Richard Goldstone


Jewish date:  11 ’Iyyar 5770 (Parashath ’Emor).

Today’s holidays:  Day 26 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Festival of Ridvan (Bahá’í Faith), Fourth Sunday of Easter (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. T (Church of the SubGenius), Feast of Manes (Thelema), Apostle and Evangelist Mark (Greek Orthodox Christianity).

Worthy causes of the day:  “Reform Immigration For America | Racial profiling? Not in our America!”, “Tell Obama to Further Support Malaria Vaccine Research - Take Action Today @ The Hunger Site”, “Friends of the Earth U.S.:  Tell the Obama Administration to Reject a New Pipeline for the World's Dirtiest Oil”, “CARE:  Child Marriage:  A Promise of Poverty”, “Health Care for America NOW! | Demand Our $$ Spent on Health Care Not Profits”, “Take Action:  WITH WALL STREET OR WITH US?”, “Stop senseless wolf killing in our country! - The Petition Site”, “Take Action | Earth Day Network”, “Take Action: Speak out for Sudan | Save Darfur”, “ Political Action: We need a criminal investigation of Wall Street”, “Tell Big Banks: Party's Over - The Petition Site”, and “Close the Loophole: Help Close the Gun Show Loophole. Keep Guns Out of the Hands of Criminals.”.  (My posting got put off due to working on a review of the Uplift Series, so there is a big backlog.)

Topic 1:  “Iranian cleric blames quakes on promiscuous women”:  Considering that Hojjat ol-eslam Kazem Sediqi is not a prophet, HOW DOES HE KNOW?  Also to be noted, but which he does not seem to realize, is that it takes two to tango.  Therefore the young men allegedly being tempted into adultery should be held accountable for their failure to resist temptation.

Topic 2:  The periodic anti-Semitism roundup:  “Anti-Israel Programmer Suspended by Montreal Campus Radio” (baseless accusations), “A taboo that harms Arabs too” and “The False Religion of Mideast Peace: And Why I'm No Longer a Believer” (forget the peace process; the way things are now it will not work).  On the bright side (submitted by Harold), “Palestinian Zionist Organization is Founded”.

Topic 3:  “South Africa: Religious Uproar Over Jewish Judge Who Criticized Israel”.  To make a long story short, the man from which the disgraceful Goldstone Report takes its name will not be attending the bar miṣwah ceremony of his grandson, as people really hate his guts and do not wish to be around him.  “This isn’t about Goldstone, it’s about Judaism” and “Condemn His Report, But Welcome Goldstone” argue that despite the fact that Richard Goldstone has committed has done something truly despicable, he should not be barred from attending the bar miṣwah ceremony because that is simply not the way Jews are supposed to behave.

Topic 4:  For today’s religious humor:  “You know your haircut’s bad”:
Funny Pictures of Cats With Captions


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Friday, April 23, 2010

On the Uplift Series


Jewish date:  9 ’Iyyar 5770 (Parashath ’Aḥare Moth-Qedhoshim).

Today’s holidays:  Day 24 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Festival of Ridvan (Bahá’í Faith), Feast Days of George and Adalbert (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Susan DeLucci (Church of the SubGenius), Feast Day of St. George (Greek Orthodox Christianity), Feast of Sir Richard Payne Knight (Thelema).

This is a photo of David Brin.Image of the guy responsible for the Uplift Series via Wikipedia
Topic 1:  Continuing on the topic of catching up on reporting on my readings and watchings relevant to this blog, I recently finished reading the Uplift Series by David Brin.  (A bibliography follows my description and commentary.)  Please forgive your humble if the description presented below is somewhat disorganized.  The major themes are woven together tightly, and trying to present them in a linear form feels rather like trying to make sense of knotted yarn.


The Uplift Series is a series of science-fiction stories in which the Five Galaxies (including our own Milky Way), have been dominated by a multi-species civilization of oxygen-breathing sentient beings reaching back over two billion years.  The way things normally work is that promising nonsentient species are modified into sentient beings (“uplifted”) by existing sentient species.  The uplifted client species then serves their patrons for 100,000 years and may afterwards go on to uplift other species themselves.  Successful uplift of client species is a way of gaining prestige.

Species do not simply continue on as they are indefinitely after being uplifted and uplifting clients of their own.  Eventually they mature sufficiently that they withdraw from general Galactic society and take up residence in fractal variants of Dyson shells and become contemplative.  At some point, they may even “transcend” and leave Galactic society completely.  Explaining what “transcendence” really involves here would risk giving away too much of the plots, but suffice it to say that this information is not available to lesser races and is a subject for their religious speculation.

Tradition has it that the chain of uplift reaches back to a single species known as the Progenitors.  Many rival (often warring) religious traditions have grown up dealing with the Progenitors, often predicting their eventual return or claiming they dwell secretly among the younger civilizations.

Another somewhat religious thread is the Library Institute, which is the repository of all knowledge for the Civilization of the Five Galaxies.  Given the sheer amount of data collected by it in over two billion years detailing the histories of untold numbers of sentient species, it is commonly assumed that practically everything doable has already been recorded by the Library Institute and that further improvement is impossible.  As such, Galactic civilization, while far in advance of human civilization, has stagnated.  Furthermore, there is a tendency to assume that the information in the Library is completely reliable.

Notice the themes of order and tradition.  Both of these are very common in real religions, with traditions being passed down from generation to generation and rules ordering society being prescribed.  Also like most real religions with enough members and existing long enough, the primordial ancestral traditions of Galactic society have bifurcated into a plethora of variations on the same theme, even while all claiming validity within the framework of the original tradition.  Many of the variations have gone ideologically rigid, with adherents too often assuming the correctness of their ideology rather than honestly reexamining it as necessary to make sure it is actually correct.  Also dealt with is the common fault of hypocrisy; many groups ignore inconvenient parts of the tradition or rationalize their way around them, e.g., in dealing with environmental regulations or in warfare.

Humanity does not fit well into the highly-ordered Civilization of the Five Galaxies.  No patron species is known to have uplifted them, yet they have managed to become star-farers on their own.  (This is supposed to be impossible.)  Unlike other “wolfling” species, by the time of first contact, humanity has already uplifted two client species:  chimpanzees and bottlenose dolphins.  And rather than assimilate into Galactic society culturally and technology, humanity largely clings to its own ways, persisting even in its own science and mathematics.  All this makes for much of the tension which powers the plots of the series.  While there are oddball species in the Civilization of the Five Galaxies, humanity violates the rules to the breaking point.  Having clients is the only thing which really prevents humanity from being wiped out immediately by aliens trying to avoid embarrassment, even though chimpanzees and dolphins are given freedom and legal rights that no other client species have.  Much of the plots, indeed, revolve around war against humanity.  Unfortunately, intolerance (as opposed to mere lack of acceptance) for those who do not fit into the system is all too common in real religions.  This is found in two forms:  built-in (as in Islam) and hypocritical (as happens periodically among members of other real religions).  Such intolerance is based on the logical fallacies of appeal to force, that squelching the opposition actually wins the argument, and wishful thinking.  Let us take these stories as a reminder of what not to do.

  • Aficionado
  • Brin, David. 1980. Sundiver, Uplift Series, book 1. New York: Bantam Books.
  • ———. 1983. Startide rising, Uplift Series, book 2. New York: Bantam Books.
  • ———. 1995. The uplift war, The Uplift Series, book 3. New York: Bantam Books. Original edition, New York:  Bantam Books, 1987.
  • ———. 1996. Brightness reef. Bantam mass market ed, The Uplift Series, book 4; Book one of a New uplift trilogy. New York: Bantam Books. Original edition, New York:  Bantam Books, 1995.
  • ———. 1997. Infinity’s shore. Bantam paperback ed, The Uplift Series, book 5; Book two of a New uplift trilogy. New York: Bantam Books.
  • ———. 1999. Heaven’s reach. Bantam paperback ed, The Uplift Series, book 6; The Final book of the New uplift trilogy. New York: Bantam Books. Original edition, New York:  Bantam Books, 1998.
  • Temptation
  • Brin, David, and Kevin Lenagh. 2002. Contacting aliens:  an illustrated guide to David Brin’s uplift universe. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Topic 2:  “Video: Is the Western Wall in Israel? - HR Interviews 'Confused' Tourists”.  Just a demonstration that the United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority is backing an idea which does not reflect the socio-political reality that Jerusalem is part of Israel.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor:  “Umm, scuse but befoo yoo go to light at end of”:
funny pictures of cats with captions

Peace and Shabbath shalom.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

FlashForward and Muslim anti-Semitism


Jewish date:  5 ’Iyyar 5770 (Parashath ’Aḥare Moth-Qedhoshim).

Today’s holidays:  Day 20 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Israeli Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day (Judaism), Monday of the Third Week of Easter (Roman Catholicism), Feast St. David Koresh (Church of the SubGenius; I have no idea what they are thinking).

Worthy cause of the day:  “Continue Progress on the Human Rights Council - The Petition Site”.  (And I am fully aware that expecting most parts of the United Nations bureaucracy to do the right thing is like expecting to win the lottery.  But we still have to prod them anyway.)

Topic 1:  Several of the more recent episodes of FlashForward:  “Revelation Zero, Part 1”, “Revelation Zero, Part 2”, “Better Angels”, and “Let No Man Put Asunder”.  While FlashForward is a lot less religious show than one would have thought for a show in which people see the future (and try to avoid undesirable fates), lately the topic of religion in various forms has crept into the plot-lines.  There is a window-washer who survived the Blackout by a lucky accident who, based on his FlashForward, became a preacher and founded a religious organization, Sanctuary.  He promotes love and, violating a common cliché, claims that fate and free will are compatible.  This is not as crazy as one might think.  E.g., every human alive must sooner or later die.  Yet if we have free will, it is within our power to influence how and when we reach this ultimate fate.  One could choose to live a healthy lifestyle and thus have a good chance of living to a ripe old age, or one could choose to abuse one’s body and have a much higher probability of dying early from a drug overdose or a disease.

A different religious type is Nicole’s mother, who has gone crazy.  She is seen wearing fake angel wings, citing Genesis 2:17, and burning a Bible.  She also covers a wall with pennies minted in 1989, the year Nicole was born.

A third religious type is the Somalian warlord Abdi.  In his FlashForward he sees himself as a great leader.  He decides that it is God’s plan for this to happen, and he makes the illogical conclusion that the ends justify the means.  He thus becomes a warlord and works towards conquering all of Somalia.

Finally, almost as comic relief, one of the characters is revealed to have become a minister over the Internet.

Topic 2:  Relevant to Israeli Remembrance Day:  “A mother’s reflection on Remembrance Day” and “Continuing Herzl’s dream”.  The first article reminds us that there are innocent Jewish victims of Islamic terrorism, despite the Muslim propaganda trying to gloss over that fact.  The second gives some historical perspective on the current set of anti-Semitic attacks by Muslims has gone on and the tactics they have used.  Arguably the article does not go back far enough, since Arabs trying to grab Israel for themselves goes back to at least the 1920s.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor:  “Basement Cat”:
funny pictures of cats with captions


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Sunday, April 18, 2010

V is for “values”


Jewish date:  4 ’Iyyar 5770 (Parashath ’Aḥare Moth-Qedhoshim).

Today’s holidays:  Day 19 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Third Sunday of Easter (Roman Catholicism), Feast of St. Lady Macbeth (Church of the SubGenius).

Topic 1:  The last three episodes of  V, “Welcome to the War”, “Pound of Flesh”, and “John May”.  (I know I am tardy in reporting.  I got behind due to Pesaḥ, and I hope this will be a start towards catching up.)  The resistance is taking morally questionable, desperate actions.  This is to be expected in war.

More interestingly, the V leader Anna is being filled out as a disturbing character.  She has a severe lack of empathy, and she sets out to purge the Vs of anyone who fails a test for lack of empathy, lest such people have qualms about whatever the Vs are trying to accomplish on Earth.  So lacking in compassion is Anna that she orders those to fail the test to commit suicide, even if they have never shown the least sign of rebellion.  Not to mention that after mating with a V with the intention of producing soldiers, it is strongly implied (though not actually shown) that Anna eats her mate.  Coupled with the revelation that “Bliss” is a form of emotional control, there is enough evidence to believe that is any sane, functional society of sentient beings, Anna would be locked away in a mental hospital for being a psychopath with a goddess complex.

Tangent:  Given that the Vs live under a dictatorship, they may well be in a period of technological stagnation—despite all appearances of them being advanced.  Innovation requires freedom to question.  Anna wants to be obeyed without question, and she is prepared to slaughter anyone who gives the least hint that they may ever question her.  This is not a good setting for progress.

Also brought up in the question of when it is morally acceptable to lie.  Most notably, Ryan has been lying to his girlfriend Valerie—enlisting her obstetrician to lie, too—about the baby she is carrying.  Unfortunately, the writers decided to go ahead with the original series’ bad idea of human-V hybridization (the chances of which being possible are dwarfed by the probability of successfully crossing a human and a cabbage), and Ryan initially hides the fact that the baby is not normal human and sneaks a supplement into her tea so that they fetus does not kill her.  Eventually he changes his mind about lying to her, leaves her a packet of information about what is really going on, and expects to be dumped.

Topic 2:  “A Surprising Reward for Abstaining from Lashon Hara”.  This short article deals humorously with the importance of correct translation.

Translations for those who do not know Hebrew:

  • Lashon hara‘ is any needless speech which is true but which may be harmful.
  • A moreh is a teacher.
  • Gan is short for gan yeladhim, a literal translation of “kindergarten”.

I will not spoil the punchline here; you will have to read the article yourself.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor:  (courtesy of Mike) a Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic:

(Yes, you are getting a break from LOLcats today.)  This cartoon is clearly simplified, but there is a kernel of truth in it.  Often people will think only in terms of the last link in their tradition without asking about the whole chain.  At the top of the depicted chain is Jesus.  At the bottom of the chain is someone from the much loathed Westboro Baptist Church.  Why is Jesus so unhappy in the last panel?  As best as I can remember, Jesus says nothing about homosexuality in the canonical Gospels; even if I am wrong, it is not something which Jesus put much emphasis on.  “God hates fags”, virtually a slogan among the Westboro Baptist Church, simply does not reflect anything Jesus reportedly said.  Jesus complains about competing Jewish groups, but he never attacks anyone for having the wrong sexual orientation.  Even if Jesus does not approve of homosexuality, which would be normal for an observant Jew, he is very compassionate towards sinners.  Think “Do not judge, lest you be judged” and “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone”.  The Westboro Baptist Church has failed to look back towards the top of the chain to check whether their views actually derive from that of Jesus.


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Friday, April 16, 2010

Are you GameStation’s slave?


Jewish date:  2 ’Iyyar 5770 (Parashath Thazria‘-Meṣora‘).

Today’s holidays:  Day 17 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Friday of the Second Week of Easter (Roman Catholicism), St. Messalina/All Hookers’ Day (Church of the SubGenius).

Topic 1:  Silly anti-Semitism:  “UK Bans Western Wall from Israel Tourism Ads”.  The United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority has prohibited Israel from claiming or implying in tourism advertisements that eastern Jerusalem is part of Israel.  This is despite Israel annexing the territory in 1967.  Or Jews having being in Jerusalem for millennia.  Or the fact that the Advertising Standards Authority does not have any real authority to dictate what territory belongs to which state.  Note the logical fallacy of proof by assertion:  anti-Semites claim enough that eastern Jerusalem (or any part of Israel) does not belong to Israel (or is not Jewish), expecting this to be taken as the truth.  Of course, reality does not work this way.  I could claim billions of times that the Sun is purple, and the Sun would never turn purple.

Also notable on anti-Semitism:  “Not quite free” (on Europe covertly sticking its nose into Israeli politics through funding nongovernmental organizations) and “A dangerous silence” (on the hypocrisy of the US government treating Israel shabbily while coddling Muslim dictatorships, with little in the way of protest).

Topic 2:  “7,500 shoppers unknowingly sold their souls” and “GameStation: "We own your soul"”.  In a twist on the classic Faustian bargain, GameStation added a clause to their terms and conditions of sale asserting that they owed on-line purchasers’ souls unless they opted out.  88% of such purchasers did not opt out, strongly suggesting that few people read such contracts.  (They are pretty dull and too long.)  The point proved, GameStation nullified this clause.

I would like to note my puzzlement at the notion of selling one’s soul.  One’s soul is not merely a part of oneself; it is oneself.  Literally selling one’s soul would thus be tantamount to selling oneself into slavery.  There is also the question of what the buyer would do with a soul.  If the buyer is Satan (as in the classic Faust story), then one is going to Hell.  However, if the buyer is mortal, like the people at GameStation, then it is unclear what he/she could do with a soul, especially if there were no body still attached with it.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor:  “Basement Cat”:

Peace and Shabbath shalom.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Beware of ignorance and alleged infallibility


Jewish date:  30 Nisan 5770 (Parashath Thazria‘-Meṣora‘).

Today’s holidays:  Ro’sh Ḥodhesh (Judaism), Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter (Roman Catholicism), St. Adolph Hitler (Church of the SubGenius; I have no clue what they are thinking).

Topic 1:  “JewWalking”:  This video is a demonstration of the problem addressed in Religious Literacy by Stephen Prothero (a book I have previously described), that a lot of people in the United States are severely ignorant of religion.  In this instance, someone stood outside a Jewish Community Center and asked Jewish people around basic questions about Judaism—and many got many questions wrong.  This may be humorous, but the humor is a very bitter one.  Being ignorant about a topic makes it difficult or impossible to make correct decisions about it.  In religion, this may include matters of salvation, damnation, afterlife, and reincarnation—no small matters. Even if one comes to the conclusion that no religion can be correct, being ignorant of religion makes for severe trouble in understanding and dealing with religiously knowledgeable and active people, which includes a very sizable fraction of the planet.

Note:  Those wishing to know more about Judaism can always talk to me or ask their local Orthodox rabbi.  Clergy of all religions should be open to sharing what they know.

Topic 2:  “A Fallible Pope, an Imperfect Church”:  Rav Shmuely Boteach reflects on the recent scandals from the Roman Catholic Church and argues that the Church has to come to terms with its imperfection and not try to pretend otherwise.  Major rule:  Reality is what it is, regardless of how we want it to be.  Therefore ignoring one’s faults is a sure way to screw up.

Topic 3:  “That’s Random!  A Look at Viral Self-Assembly”.  This article deals with the often-misunderstood notion of randomness and discusses how it is harnessed biologically, specifically in the assembly of viruses from their basic components.  Videos are included showing this actually works.

Topic 4:  For today’s religious humor:  “Mecca Cat”:
Mecca Cat


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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Amnesia and morality


Jewish date:  29 Nisan 5770 (Parashath Thazira‘-Meṣora‘).

Today’s holidays:  Day 14 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Feast Day of Martin I (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Bill Hicks (The Great) (Church of the SubGenius).

Topic 1:  “Happy or sad, emotions persisted beyond remembering an event in people with amnesia”:  This article correctly notes that making people with poor memory still retain emotions even after forgetting why they are feeling they way they do.  As such, treating them with kindness is not a waste, even in cynical moral systems; one can brighten their day even if they do not remember their day being brightened.

Topic 2:  “Evangelical scholar expelled over evolution”.  The scholar in question, Bruce Waltke, was forced to resign from his post as Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary because of his public acceptance of belief in evolution.  Now, I wholeheartedly support the right of religious groups to choose who is in good standing with them and who is not.  Reformed Theological Seminary is trying to fight something which is objectively true, that evolution is real.  Physical reality pays no attention to what any of us believe is true, and firing Waltke is not going to change the truth of evolution one bit.  They have therefore decidedly placed themselves on what is inevitably the losing side of the argument.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor:  “Lord, Fanx foar the fud I am about tu lick…”:
Funny Pictures - Cat Lord Fanx


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Monday, April 12, 2010

This July 5, the World ends for the 15th time (sort of)


Jewish date:  28 Nisan 5770 (Parashath Thazria‘-Meṣora‘).

Today’s holidays:  Day 13 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Monday of the Second Week of Easter (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Print Olive (Church of the SubGenius), Feast of Mary d’Este Sturges (Thelema).

Topic 1:  “UFO Cult Awaits Doomsday For 15th Time”:  The cult in question is the Church of the SubGenius, which as far as your humble blogger can tell is on the border between serious religion and parody religion.  The parody part involves lampooning serious religions, to the extent that they have created a model of reality which incorporates the most bizarre and unlikely religious ideas they could find.  It is doubtful anyone takes this model seriously, but some people actually seem to find “truths” hidden within the exterior of absurdity.  The Doomsday in question is X-Day, celebrated on July 5th.  On X-Day, a group of aliens known as “X-ians” is supposed to invade Earth and bring about the end of the World as we know it.  As should be expected for a parody religion, despite the repeated failure of the X-ians to invade, the “true believers” keep expecting it to happen every X-Day.  The moral of this silliness is that rational people should question the reliability of those who make predictions which do not come to pass, especially multiple times.

See also:  220 Dates for the End of the world!!! Date Setters!, which has an extensive list of predictions for the end of the World, most of which have already occurred.

counter-protest Aug 1st, 6PMImage of an advertisement for a counter-protest to the Westboro Baptist Church by kristinamay via Flickr
Topic 2:  “W.Va. rallies against hatred of Westboro Baptist Church”.  I have been especially requested to write about this topic.  The Westboro Baptist Church, as noted in a previous post, is a church group which travels around the USA protesting very insensitively, claiming that God hates everyone who does not agree with them and that disasters are happening to the USA because of people’s sins.  Descriptions for the reasons for their protests on their Web-site are poorly structured rants which make claims which have little to do with reality.  A major question that those offended by the Westboro Baptist Church’s antics (i.e., almost everyone else) ask is how to deal with this bunch of delusional hate-mongers.  Clearly many people just ignore them.  However, as noted in this article, some people form counter-protests, as it is written about what happened recently in Charleston, WV:

Local people peacefully overwhelmed the Westboro group. They carried their own signs, including: "I Love Everyone" and "God Bless Our Troops and Veterans."
Others signs had humorous messages: "This is a Sign" and "God Hates Signs."
Arguably this is a valid approach.  Given the disconnect of the Westboro Baptist Church from reality, nothing is likely to make them stop (at least quickly) other than physical force.  (And considering that they are nonviolent hate-mongers, justifying that either in court or in many moral systems may be difficult or impossible.)  Given that the point of the protests is attention, counter-protests serve to give anyone reporting on the protests an alternate message:  that others do not quietly accept what the Westboro Baptist Church, that there are others who reject indiscriminate hate.  Given all the trouble there is in our world, it is good to be reassured that not everything is wrong and hopeless.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor:  “I do not believe in”:
and “Buddha Cat”:

Peace be upon you and all the world.

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Is shaving blasphemy?


Jewish date:  25 Nisan 5770 (Parashath Shemini).

Today’s holidays:  Day 10 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Friday in the Octave of Easter (Roman Catholicism), St. Tommy Geogiarides (Church of the Subgenius), Feast Day of Francis Bacon Lord Verulam and Feast Day of Rabelais and Feast for the Three Days of the Writing of the Book of the Law (Thelema).

Topic 1:  “Georgian convicts swap cells for monastery”:  This is an interesting approach to rehabilitating criminals.

Topic 2:  “Islamic groups block shaving contest”:  Gillette Pakistan decided to create a new world record of the most people shaving at the same time.  I see no problem with Islamic groups protesting the contest, claiming that shaving is against Islam.  After all, freedom of speech includes expressing offense, no matter how innocuous others think something is.  However death threats are beyond the limits of civil society and legitimate discourse; threatening to kill one’s opponents does not make one’s claims any more correct.  Very strange is referring to the contest as “blasphemous”, as if it were all about defaming Islam.  (People interested in defaming Islam usually are much more explicit.)

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor:  “Ceiling Cat please hides me!!”:

Peace and Shabbath shalom.

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